The organizational development class I was taking at Harvard Business School included a group project. The project was based on a scenario in which all the members of the group were in a hypothetical plane crash in what the script called “the Canadian swamplands.”
The exercise required each member of the group to look at a list of resources available and put them in order based on their importance to survival. The list included things like the tires from the plane’s landing gear, pills that would purify water, matches, the fuel from the aircraft, and about 15 other items.
Each member of the group was to share their ranking with their team and make one single decision: Do you stay put and wait for help, or do you attempt to cross the 50 miles of “Canadian swamplands,” and make it to the nearest town.
As we ranked the items, we learned from each other. I ranked the pills that would purify water as my number one resource. One of the members of my group, however, was a doctor, and he insisted that in the Canadian area where we were stranded, the water was cleaner than almost any water found on earth. He said to throw the pills away. We all went through the exercise of discussing each item and re-ranking them based on the knowledge of the entire group. We were smarter together than we were alone. (Out of 125 or so people, no one had a worse first ranking of these items than me, and no one had a greater improvement after re-ranking them with their peers).
That learning outcome by itself would’ve been enough, but we still had to answer the question as to whether or not to stay put or attempt to cross 50 miles of harsh terrain. Of the 10 or so people in the group, only one of us suggested that we cross the 50 miles together. That one person was me. I have a strong bias for action.
At the time I was taking this class, I was routinely riding a bicycle 100 miles every Saturday and another 75 or more miles every Sunday, in addition to what I rode throughout the week. Fifty miles is a long way to walk, and over tough terrain, it would be even worse. I believed it could be done, and argued that the tires from the airplane and the rope we had recovered from the plane crash would allow us to cross the water safely. But my peers argued vociferously against my plan. They won the argument, but I negotiated that we would wait three days, and then we would walk together to the closest town.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who showed up on a videotape to describe our situation and what the right choices were suggested that we would have likely been lost and died had we tried to cross the 50 miles. He said it was better and more likely that we would have been found had we simply waited to be rescued. Honestly, I am not very good at waiting. Riding 100+ miles dressed in lycra with only water and a few energy bars would have given me the confidence to give it a go and start walking, even though I liked the idea of catching the tires on fire to generate enough smoke to allow rescuers to locate my team.
As I am reading Charles Duhigg’s new book, Smarter, Faster, Better, I am reminded that a “bias for action” and a “locus of control,” (believing that you have a choice and can complete some arduous task) is the foundation of motivation.
- When we win deals, we talk about what we did to win, as if it was all our volition. When we lose deals, we pretend that certain factors beyond our control caused our loss, that we were powerless. The problem with believing that forces beyond your control are what causes your losses is disempowering. It means that you have no control, that you have to sit passively while the world acts on you.
- The time to take the actions that ensure you win deals-or greatly improve your chances—is now. The time to deal without whatever obstacle you believe will cause you to lose is before you have lost. No one is coming to rescue you and your deal. You are going to have to save yourself.
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