Monday, March 03, 2008

Take Time For Foundations

A friend of mine recently asked me for input on a strategic planning meeting he had scheduled with his company. His plan was to conduct a nine-hour meeting that would accomplish the following: Establish goals, review company mission, reflect on clients, review the effectiveness of their team, examine the economic model, clarify corporate values, review corporate mission, discuss “brand” identity, identify key questions regarding strategy, solidify strategic objectives and strategies for future growth, and gain thorough understanding of the competition. This was to be accomplished in eight hours … with a one hour lunch break included! Then the agenda called for one more hour as follows:
First - 30 minutes to build an effective team – which was to include (a) what it was going to take from everyone to deliver on the strategy, (b) uncover the “team norms”, and (c) establish how they would work together; and
Finally – 30 minutes dedicated to coming up with “next steps”.

My input was … “Hmmmm … this is an awful lot chew on in one day.” “In fact,” I said, “Two full days could easily be spent working with a group to uncover how they are and what it’s going to take to be effective with each other as a good team so that they might have a chance to begin moving from concept to the initial stage of effective team practice.

Years ago my mentor used to talk about the aspects of development. He would stress that, like a building, the most important to thing to focus on … the most important thing to work with is … foundation. Consider the effects of erecting a house or office building, yet hastily attending to the foundation. With such an approach it doesn’t matter how well engineered and sturdy the walls, windows, ceiling and roof – unless adequate time, energy and expense go into a good foundation any structure will collapse.

A client of mine lives about four hours south of Denver. His main business for thirty years has been constructing “undergrounds” for cities, dams, schools and community developments throughout southern California and southern Colorado. When his employees get done with a job just about all that anyone can see is … well … flat dirt. And getting to that (flat dirt) takes enormous time and energy and effort. A casual observer looking at a completed project of his might claim, “Doesn’t look like much has been done.” In fact a tremendous amount has been done; but it’s hidden from plain view.

Take a leaf from Mastery by George Leonard, one of our nation’s most accomplished teachers in the field of human potential. In Mastery, Leonard writes:

“The courage of a master is measured by his or her willingness to surrender. This means surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. It also means surrendering your own hard-won proficiency from time to time in order to reach a higher or different level of proficiency.”
We all need to consider what Leonard calls “the demands of a discipline.” Quite frankly the primary demands of any disciplines include: adequate TIME and adequate PRACTICE.

One thing the past five years of travel abroad has shown me is just how addicted we, in the US, have become to attitudes, beliefs and actions aimed at the quick fix. We yearn for immediate results with such a passion (actually an obsession) that we have are sadly addicted to - I Want What I Want When I Want It! “What’s wrong with that?”, some may ask. Well, if nothing more, it’s somewhat unrealistic and juvenile. If not attended to the art of surrendering to the “demands of discipline” – the art of practice – is lost by many and not developed by others.

A master aikido teacher, Mitsuge Saotome, was preparing to lead a class one day, and asked me and about 30 other students, “Would you like to learn this martial art fast?” We all answered with a resounding, “Yes!” He paused and responded, “Ah … good answer … then practice slow.”

Invest your time in the foundations.

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