You’ve felt it before: you create an intention – you want to leave your job, start a strategic project at work, write a book, start a new venture – but instead of truly living that intention, you are waiting, like a shy high-schooler at your first school dance, for a reason to jump in.
I felt this myself last week. I was burning to get into the game, to finish my PhD and launch a consulting firm. But the usual mental blocks emerged: can I do it when I’ve failed before? Is this really my calling? Will I see it to the end without getting discouraged or bored? Why start today when there is always tomorrow?
And as I sat there on the edge, contemplating these questions, the game was underway without me.
How do you get out of the stands and get in the game?
To answer this, I studied three books – The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, Ownership Thinking by Brad Adams, and Strategy Maps by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton – and put myself into the Fortune Magazine Gazelles Leadership Conference where I heard from a powerful line-up of business thinkers including Daniel H. Pink (To Sell is Human), Jim Loehr (The Power of Full Engagement), and Jack Stack (The Great Game of Business). Along the way, I also interviewed two CEOs and a naval captain who oversees a big chunk of strategic execution for the Southern Command.
There were four key themes that these books and speakers repeatedly touched on. They are the closest hints we have to universal laws of success:
Create a game: Remove the seriousness from your decision by conceiving it as a game. You play to win, but if you lose, there is another game coming. This frames the game in a series of sprints and provides a healthy dose of detachment, which will have you playing with more energy. I realized my ambition to start a consulting firm seemed daunting because I viewed my new firm as a permanent extension of me, like the only painting I would ever paint. Instead now I think of it as a game called “launch and build in five years the world’s first true strategic innovation firm … something that will live on without me.” Knowing that this game is not the last you will ever play will liberate you.
Name the game: To win the game, you need to always remember you are playing it. This helps if you have a memorable name. Pick a name that is short, fits a metaphor, rhymes and/or evokes a story. Game names I have seen work include “Win the Lighthouse,” “5 by 5,” and “The 180.” We haven’t named our game yet, but I am going to propose “tent pole” – we need four to five core clients to be the poles to our tent.
Pick one score: My 3-year old son just started playing soccer. Now, he doesn’t know off-sides from out-of-bounds, but he does know one thing – the goal is to make a goal – and that drives him around like a bee in search of honey … “Get the ball in the net!” Similarly, your game should have one score. Sure you will have other KPIs (key performance indicators) to track, but in any given year, in any given quarter, focus yourself and your team on just one goal. The most important goal for my consulting firm is pipeline value. Later on we may switch our score to “client satisfaction” or “intellectual property,” but if we don’t win enough clients now, we’ll never get a chance to play those games.
Monitor the board: Nearly every source I read or heard touched on the need to keep the score top of mind for you and your team by reviewing it in a rapid rhythm. I missed a flight once because I was on the phone and didn’t see the boarding notice. My client was visibly stressed out when an hour before I was set to take the stage, they had 500 people seated, but I still hadn’t walked through the door. Everything worked out. The following flight got me in just in time. But now in airports I check the board every three minutes and I haven’t missed a plane since. My team and I have set up a daily “huddle” and weekly “opportunity call” to track our board.
This all it takes to jump into action: create a game, name the game, pick one score, and monitor the board. Do it now. It will take 20 minutes and the results could pay off for a life time.