The Thursday Thesis - 20/09/2018
Every so often we see something in a new way: our perspective imperceptibly shifts, snapping issues and puzzles into pin-sharp focus.
You probably know how it feels, because we all have moments of clarity and revelation: problems evaporate, conflicts ebb, and our way is clear at last.
It’s that sudden “Aha!” moment...when you and I “get it” and know that we can never go back to our old ways – that’s what I’m talking about.
I had one a while ago – a massive, punch-you-in-the-face “Aha!” moment – at a seminar for entrepreneurs.
The speaker was talking about the perennial fear of failure that everyone has. He told us his story of having a great idea for his business but holding back from getting started. He was afraid that it might not be perfect and the business would fail, exposing him as a nincompoop and proving right everyone who had told him he’d never amount to anything.
Perhaps you can relate to that fear?
Despite being a successful serial entrepreneur with multiple businesses which earn him millions of pounds, he is still subject to the fear of failure. He encouraged everyone in the room to take action on the business they wanted to start, on that great idea they’d had. And, as he talked, he drew a little picture that explained something with a clarity and precision that I’d never quite had before.
He started with a big square, then divided it into four smaller squares, forming a 2 x 2 matrix. Above the left column he wrote “your stuff doesn’t work”, and above the right “your stuff works” – nice and simple.
Then he wrote next to the top line of the grid “you don’t try”, and next to the bottom line “you try”.
Then he said “if you stay in the top line – where you don’t try – then it make no difference if your stuff works or not, because you will fail by default”.
He drew thick black crosses into the two squares of the top line.
Then he continued, his voice punching the message into my ears “Only in the bottom line can you win. If your stuff doesn’t work at least you know it doesn’t work: you can either improve it and make it work, or you can move onto something else that could work”. He drew a black cross in the bottom left square, paused and said “But if your stuff works, you get a “YES” here in the bottom right square”.
That was when the penny dropped: only when you try can you have a chance to achieve. The possibility matrix brought it all home with a clarity and force that had me speechless – I “got it” like I’d never “got it” before. I think it was the absolute certainty of the top line that did it; the 100% certainty that if I never tried I couldn’t win. There was no room for doubt in the starkness of that top line: not trying was the very best way to guarantee failure – how had I never seen it so clearly before now?
And that bottom line?
Well, that just looked like a coin toss – heads or tails – and if I called it right I could keep the coin and flip another coin. If I called it wrong I could flip the coin again, over and over, with an infinite number of coins.
But only when you try can you ever do anything. I’m constantly using this idea when teaching guitarists to improvise: often they are afraid of playing a wrong note that they are paralysed into absolute silence – unable to play any notes at all!
They’re stuck in top-line thinking, and my job is to move their thinking into the bottom-line, where there is at least a chance of success.
And I’ve come to understand that that’s what life is all about – giving ourselves a chance to succeed, but that can only occur if we are prepared to try. We must be prepared to risk failure in order to give ourselves a chance of success.
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