Category Archives: overcoming obstacles

Wanted: Crocodile Hunters


Thailand, where I live, is suffering from the worst flooding in over 50 years.  My home in Chiang Mai flooded a few weeks ago, but now the floods are in Bangkok, and most of the city is under water.

An unfortunate side effect of the flooding is the escape of man-eating reptiles.  This from the New York Times World a few days ago:

Thailand is one of the world’s chief exporters of crocodile products, and farms some 200,000 of the animals at 30 farms and 900 small breeding operations, according to the Fishery Department. About 100 were reported to be on the loose in Ayuttthaya, to the north of Bangkok…authorities have put out a call for crocodile hunters offering a reported bounty of 3,000 baht, or about $100 dollars each. (Seth Mydans – New York Times World http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/world/asia/flood-waters-in-bangkok-shut-domestic-airport.html?_r=1)

“Don’t worry,” they say later in the article, “these are friendly crocodiles who move slowly and willingly submit themselves to capture.” (…or something to that effect.)

The three men in this photo apparently believed it, and maybe it was true.  The crocodile might have willingly slipped into their restraining system.  But I doubt it.  He looks really uncomfortable.  And he was free!  Surely the gastronomic choices outside the breeding farm were much better than the slop he was fed inside.

So, assuming that he put up a bit of a fight, do you think the approximately $33 apiece that each of these men earned for risking life and limb was sufficient compensation?  Not for this crocodile hunter.

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Filed under Challenges, culture, funny, humor, motivation, overcoming obstacles, Rewards, Thailand

Thermopylae


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding

Breaking Out of the Silos (EXERCISE)


Purpose

This activity helps participants to challenge silo mentalities by forcing them to work collaboratively to complete a task.  The task is a painting task, in which each team (or individual) will only receive some of the colors they need to finish.  In order to meet all the requirements of the task, they will have to negotiate for resources from other teams or individuals.

 

Setup

  • Give each team (or individual, depending upon the size of your group) several colors of paint (poster paints work well).
  • Teams or individuals should get different color combinations so that no one group or individual has everything that he or she needs.  Recommended color combinations are:
    • Team #1 – Black, white, red and yellow
    • Team #2 – Black, white, blue and yellow
    • Team #3 – Black, white, green and yellow
    • Team #4 – Black, white, red and blue
  • Give each team or individual enough paintbrushes for each team member to participate in the painting, a large sheet of paper (a flipchart works well for groups), something to mix their paint on (a piece of cardboard or a paper plate) and several small cups with water in them for rinsing the paint brush.

Timing

Explaining the Exercise: 5 minutes.

Activity: 20 minutes

Debrief: 15 minutes.

 

Procedure

  • Tell participants that they are going to work in their teams to produce a work of art with the supplies that you have given them.
  • To be judged successful, each team or individual must paint a picture of Noah’s Ark complete with the rainbow that was God’s promise never to flood the earth again. (You can choose another theme if you like; the only essential element is the rainbow, because it uses all the color combinations that will force the teams to break out of their silos.)
  • The rainbow must be at least one-third of the picture, and it must contain all the colors of a rainbow (which can be remembered with the acronym ROYGBIV – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).
  • The picture must fill the paper.
  • They will have 20 minutes to complete their paintings.
  • (After they begin, observe how they solve the problem of not having all the right color combinations for the rainbow.  You may want to bring out your observations during the debrief.  When the 20 minutes are up, have the groups answer the debrief questions below.  Then, discuss their insights as a large group.  Emphasize the need to share limited resources so that everyone could succeed.  This is not a competitive activity.)

Debrief

  • How did you resolve the problem of not having enough colors to make all the colors of the rainbow?
  • How willing were the other teams to share their paint with you?
  • How willing were you to share your paint with them?
  • Why was this difficult at times?
  • How is this like sharing limited resources in the work environment?
  • What could you do to make it more likely that individuals and groups would share their resources for the greater good of the organization?

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Filed under Abundance, generosity, overcoming obstacles, performance, Problem Solving, Productivity, Resources, Scarcity, team

Achilles and His Heel


You may have seen the movie, “Troy,” with Brad Pitt as Achilles, greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan War.  What the movie didn’t cover was how Achilles got to be so great.  In Greek mythology, Achilles was the son of the sea nymph Thetis and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons.  The Fates prophesied that Achilles would die in the Trojan War, but Thetis sought to secure a different destiny for her son.  She took him to the River Styx (the entrance to the underworld), held him by his ankle and dipped him into the water.  As a result, Achilles became invulnerable everywhere on his body except for the heel with which his mother held him over the river.

Years later, Paris, prince of Troy, abducted the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.  The Greeks rallied behind the offense and set off with 1,000 ships for Troy.  Despite Thetis’ attempts to prevent Achilles from going to Troy, her son was persuaded by Odysseus to join the effort.  The Greeks lay a long siege to the city.  During the tenth and final year, Achilles was mortally wounded by a well-aimed shot from Paris’ bow.  The arrow struck him in the heel, his only vulnerable spot.

The term “Achilles Heel” has come to mean a weakness that seems small but is in fact potentially fatal.  Many leaders have an Achilles Heel.  Sometimes they know that it exists, and sometimes they are blind to it.  It can go undiscovered for years until they are given a challenge that exposes their shortcoming, but once it is revealed, it is almost always fatal to their forward motion.

Some managers have an Achilles Heel in their ability to deal with people.  Like Achilles, they are tactically superb, receive accolades from high levels, move up through the organization with dexterity and speed, but they leave dead bodies everywhere they go.  As long as they move quickly enough, no one traces the destruction back to them.  But once they reach a spot on the battlefield that will not yield (i.e. get stalled out in a position), those around them begin to make the connections.  And once their Achilles Heel has been located, it’s not long before their enemies use it for advantage.

The best managers identify their Achilles Heel by seeking frequent feedback from all levels and all directions (e.g. through a 360 degree evaluation).  In this way, their enemies become their allies, helping them to identify their weaknesses.  Once they have identified their Achilles Heel, they take steps to strengthen or eliminate their weakness through training, coaching, difficult assignments and other means.  They never allow success to be an excuse for not growing.

 

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Filed under Challenges, coaching, Denial, failure, growth, leadership, management, mentoring, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, parenting, performance, temptation

Crazy Maisie


Maisie DeVore had a vision.  She wanted to build a community pool for children to enjoy.  She was worried that there weren’t enough positive and healthy activities for kids in her hometown of Eskridge, Kansas, and she felt that the pool was just the thing they needed.

But she had a problem.  Money.  Maisie decided the best way to earn the money was by collecting aluminum cans and turning them in for recycling.  She began searching for them all around town – in trash cans, behind bushes, along roadsides.  When that didn’t net enough cash, she began collecting scrap metal, then making and raffling quilts, then picking wild berries to sell as homemade jellies.

Her neighbors thought she was crazy.  “Hide the toaster!  Maisie’s looking for scrap metal again.”

Her family thought she was crazy.  Said one, “I never came right out and told her I thought she was nuts, but I said, ‘You know Maisie, are you gonna be okay with this if it doesn’t happen?’”

In truth, no one but Maisie thought she would ever see ground broken on the pool.  But that was all the belief she needed.  She collected cans, scrap metal and berries until she had earned $100,000 ($83,000 from the 90 tons of aluminum cans she found).  When the state of Kansas got wind of what she had done, they kicked in a grant of $73,000 to make up the difference.  It wasn’t long before the pool was going in right across the street from Maisie’s home.

As you may have guessed, Maisie didn’t raise that much money overnight.  It took her 30 years!  During that time, Maisie kept her focus on her ultimate goal.  She withstood the teasing and the gossip and put in the incredibly hard work required to see it through.  Now, her neighbors don’t call her “Crazy Maisie” anymore.  As dozens of kids enjoy playing in “Maisie’s Community Pool” each day, all the neighbors call her “Amazing Maisie!”

(S – “Making a Splash,” CBSNews.com, 7/14/02)

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, belief, Challenges, commitment, creativity, dedication, delayed gratification, determination, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Problem Solving, sacrifice, Serving Others, success

Q3 Magnets


In Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix, Quadrant 3 (Q3) describes tasks that are urgent but unimportant.  It’s the quadrant of “Other Peoples’ Priorities.”  The tasks that fit into this quadrant are important to someone, but they don’t have to be important to us.

It may seem crazy that we would spend any time working on things that are unimportant, but we often confuse urgency with importance.  When a phone rings, we feel we have to pick it up.  When there’s a knock on the door, we feel we have to answer it.  When someone drops by, we feel like we have to stop what we’re doing to talk to them.

But what if we could make it so that they rarely dropped by anymore?  We can…by getting rid of our Q3 magnets: the things that attract and invite the interruptions in the first place.  Try these strategies:

  • Get rid of the candy dish on your desk. It’s an invitation to stop by for a sugar fix, and they will feel obligated to stop and talk if they are going to take your candy.
  • Remove chairs from around your work space. A standing interruption won’t last nearly as long as a sitting one will, and it may not happen at all.
  • Stay busy. If someone peaks in and sees you staring into space, he/she won’t feel bad interrupting you.
  • Take home the conversation piece. If you have something near your desk that invites questions or discussion, take it away.
  • Relocate out of high-traffic areas. If your desk is on the way to the restroom or the breakroom, you can be sure that a percentage of the people going that way will drop in to chat.
  • Get out of the line of sight. If people can’t see if you are at your desk when they pass by, they are less likely to stop in.
  • Put your inbox as far away from you as you can. Make it easy for people to drop things in your inbox without having to engage you.
  • Move popular resources elsewhere. If people have to come to you (or near you) for files, supplies or other materials, you’re inviting interruptions.
  • Kill the grapevine. It may be that people are frequently interrupting you because you’ve got the best gossip.  It may be painful, but if you stop passing along information, people will stop coming to you.
  • Close the “open door.” The open door policy is widely misunderstood.  It’s was originally intended to allow an outlet for employees who needed to air issues or unload burdens – not for unproductive interruptions.  Close your door (if you have one) when you need to concentrate, and let everyone know that they can come by and see you during a particular hour of the day.  Schedule your “interruption time.”

A word of caution:

These strategies are not meant to completely eliminate time that you use to interact with your coworkers.  Building relationships is important, even when it’s not urgent.  It’s a Q2 activity that requires a time investment but pays off in the long run.  Be careful that as you eliminate your Q3 magnets, you don’t send the wrong message to those you need to be building relationships with.

 

 

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Filed under Challenges, communication, fatigue, focus, habits, importance, Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity, Relationships

Spud-tacular and A-mash-ing!


The next time your team is faced with an “impossible” goal, try using this visual object lesson to help challenge their disbelief.  You will need a large potato (raw) and a sturdy straw (not the bendable kind) for every person on your team.  Once everyone has a potato and a straw, go through the following steps to impress and amaze:

  • Tell your team that not everything that looks impossible really is.  For example, you hold that it is possible for every one of them to put a straw through a potato (gasps indicating shock and awe!).
  • Ask each team member to stand and hold the potato at naval (that’s your bellybutton) level with their non-dominant hand.  (Fingers should go on the sides of the potato and not on the top or the bottom.  Neglecting this detail could result in an equally neat but somewhat messier object lesson.)
  • Have them hold the straw with their dominant hand.
  • Ask them to put their thumb over the top opening of the straw.
  • Have them visualize the straw going through the potato in their mind’s eye.  (They may need to do this several times in order to squash all unbelief.)
  • When they are ready, have them quickly thrust the straw through the potato.  It should go through cleanly.  (More gasps and some fainting.)
  • Point out that just like they put the straw through the potato, they can accomplish the “impossible” goal.  However, it won’t work unless they believe they can do it and fully commit to making it happen.

I could explain the complex physics behind the demonstration, but why?  Isn’t it enough that it works and has the power to elevate you to legendary status among the dynamic leaders of the world?

 

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Filed under Attitude, belief, Challenges, Change, coaching, creativity, determination, expectations, Goals, innovation, Just for fun, learned helplessness, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm shift, Problem Solving, success