When our son Traylor came home from the hospital after being born in 2002 my spouse and I did what we’d taken classes to learn to do. We dutifully swaddled him up and put him into his bassinet at night so we could all sleep.
Traylor had other ideas and mostly cried when not being held. In the midst of night 6 of that first week (and night 6 of no sleep) I took Traylor to the living room couch, put him on my chest with a blanket around both of us and we had the first real night of sleep since he came home.
It was not my idea of fun but family bed soon followed until Traylor hit preschool a few years later. It was far better to have some inconvenience (family bed) than a lot of inconvenience (no sleep). The risk of upping the odds of an item that some adoptive families have on their radar – attachment disorder – was an added factor.
Successful execs and organizations crib from that same page of the “how-to” manual that we did with Traylor.
In a choice between how things are “supposed to be” and “what things work,” experience is those successful execs take the former with a big grain of salt and pay attention to the latter. More “it depends” than “this is always the way it’s done.“
What works in theory and what works in practice are often two very separate things.
As a consultant who spent most of my work life actually getting things done inside organizations rather than giving drive-by advice, there’s a world of difference when you have to live (or in our case with Traylor, sleep) with your “opportunities” rather than packing up and leaving them with someone else at the end of the day.
When you have to actually put up with your challenges you learn that easy solutions are frequently not so easy.
The corporate version of “Take to aspirin and call me in the morning” may work when you’re handing out recommendations; it’s not so hot on the receiving end and have got to figure how to deal with things like unhappy employees who feel like they’ve been screwed, or a board of directors that is signaling stink-nose (e.g. wrinkling their noses like smelling brie that’s gone bad) to your idea as a CEO on when to go public.
A favorite website Quora has a wealth of wisdom in its question and answer format but I’ve yet to find one answer in particular that really matters: How do you know when to ignore – and not apologize about it – popular advice and do what works best rather than do what conventional wisdom says you should.
The world according to place like Quora often seems to be chasing its tail to find the right template – another way to think of conventional wisdom – for things such as investment pitch decks, careers, organizational structures, how to hire or who to fire, or even who to be when you grow up.
Like our experience ending up doing a family bed with Traylor, the best solutions in work often come from that land of “It depends.“
It ain’t pretty. It might be awkward. But it works.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.
Picture: Traylor age 10.999