Recently my 11-year old daughter gave the solo violin performance of her young life, playing Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) in front of a packed house of 1,500 for a Charity concert. She was thrilled and floated on a cloud the rest of the evening and all through school the next day. Needless to say I was pretty proud and already looking forward to her next event, which will be a violin competition in Italy in late May.
But then something interesting started happening and for the next week she made every excuse imaginable in an attempt to avoid her normal practice schedule. She complained of being tired, of “post-concert” depression (where did she learn that?) and of course exaggerating aches and pains. She has been practicing hard recently and does have some pain, but to listen to her it’s as if a herd of elephants had trampled her wrist!
This got me thinking (rethinking, actually) about the mind games we human beings play on ourselves. In this case I surmise her avoidance has to do with not wanting to follow such a stunning success with a possible failure, so she is subconsciously shying away from the next event. Playing it safe may be another term for it.
I also see this behavior quite clearly in leadership teams who, after achieving their stretch targets for the current year, are reluctant to set even more aggressive, breakthrough targets for the following year.
But is playing it safe really safe?
I suspect not in the world of global competition with the rapid rise of companies from nowhere out to grab your customers and eat your lunch. Another way of looking at it is called “playing not to lose”, a tendency which holds us back from putting forth all our energy and creativity. Larry Wilson and his son wrote a very good little book on the subject some years back, Play to Win. It’s available on Amazon and is a very good overview of the concept.
We all have a desire to “play it safe”, or even more insidious, just safe enough to get by. So how do we get our organization off this slippery slope?
I suggest the best way is to talk about it, openly. Talk about what it took to win last year, what we learned, how we can take that learning and make it “the new normal”. How we can leverage that learning to go even further this coming year. Let’s open up the debate inside of our organizations, open it up to all employees. Together we can reinforce and support each other to achieve even greater breakthroughs year after year. We are all on this journey together. Remember, big challenges create big people!
That’s what we are doing with our daughter, opening up the discussion about success and failure, how much she learned about her skills and herself in the run-up to the Charity concert. And most importantly letting her know that she doesn’t have to do it all alone. We are all on this journey together.
Tight Lines . . .