Invite Input, But Keep Your Hands on the Wheel

Chapter 4

In this chapter:

You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself

A ​​wizard, just like the Wizard of Oz, is an ordinary person we put on a pedestal, compare ourselves to, and find ourselves lacking. We see wizards as being different from us. They appear to be smarter, stronger, sexier, wealthier, happier, and more courageous than we are.

Your favourite author, film star, or recording artist could be a wizard for you. It could also be your neighbour, with his enviable new home addition; your real estate agent, with her luxury car; or your local director of community economic development, with the sixteen-syllable job title that causes you to trip over your tongue as you pitch your case for rezoning.

I prefer to take my advice from risk takers who have not only accomplished what I hope to accomplish, but who have the courage to tell the truth about what it was like for them. Those people are my wizards.

We often think wizards are unapproachable, that we can’t have what they have. We magnify our flaws and imperfections, and when that happens, the gap between “us” and “them” grows wider.

It’s a disconnect to be questioned. We walk in the world among equals; distance is our own creation. The perceived gap is navigable once we get our insecurities out of the way.

Who are your business wizards? Who are the people—near or far— whose life’s work or performance you admire? Who could give you insight or clarity on your current situation? The fact that you respect their gifts and talents is an indicator of relevance in some way. We see in others that which is present in ourselves. They appear to be eons ahead of us, and we think we have no hope of ever performing at that level. But you’d be surprised at what can happen when you muster the courage to write a letter, pick up the phone, or walk over and introduce yourself. Let go of your expectations and make a specific request.

The wizards named on your list are keepers of resources. They could have a way of making sense of the world that saves you time. They may have mastered a skill or a talent that you’d like to develop. Perhaps their business dominates your market, they possess physical assets that would increase your capacity, or they have cash to invest. Find out if there is alignment between the wizard’s values and resources and the future your business is creating. You never know what could happen.

We miss out in life if we don’t connect with people we could learn from. They may bring clarity, reveal new resources, or hand over a piece of a puzzle you’ve been trying to solve.

The Internet makes it possible to study any subject under the sun. Virtually anyone can exchange ideas and interact with world-class professionals and professors in online forums. Never has solving a problem or pursuing an idea been so accessible.

One of my favorite authors is Michael E. Gerber. His first bestselling book, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, has sold millions of copies and is published in twenty-nine languages. I probably couldn’t even name twenty-nine languages! I learned a lot about wizards, and myself, when I met him.

I stood on stage with Michael Gerber in Newport Beach, California. I’d immersed myself in five days of intensive training to develop the business model for the Discovery Centre for Entrepreneurship. During my final pitch, Michael stopped me mid-sentence. He lifted the Panama hat off his own head and placed it on top of mine. The action was a testament to how far my business concept had evolved, and it was a personal endorsement I’ll never forget. It was a symbolic moment that gave me a boost of confidence.

It’s intimidating to walk up to the curtain that separates you from your Wizard of Oz. But if you finally pull the curtain back, you’ll discover an ordinary person. Most of the drama, rejection, and suspense is a fabrication of the mind. The outcome of your exchange may not be as you’d hoped, but you will have crossed a boundary, a line of separation that you drew in the sand.

I encourage you to seek out wizards who can help you build something great or shorten the time frame it takes to build it. When you are trying to create a new possibility, one that adds value and meaning to people’s lives, go to a wizard. He or she may be able to hasten your journey or guide you along the way.

Promise yourself before going into the conversation that you won’t make another person’s refusal to help mean anything about you. Share your view of what’s possible from your heart. If you discover alignment, explore it together with childlike curiosity. If no connection is made, move on to the next name on your list.

Crazy Canaries

We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions

I expect you’re familiar with the advice I just gave: Find someone who has accomplished what you want to do and learn from that person. But I doubt you’ve heard anything about Crazy Canaries. They are valuable assets, naively discounted as having no value.

Crazy Canaries are found in small businesses and organizations. They are people who see things differently than most. Their nonlinear point of view throws people for a loop. To managers and co-workers, their ideas seem off-topic, irrelevant, disruptive, impossible, or even “crazy.”

Crazy Canaries begin as self-starters who value freedom and autonomy. They don’t like being told what to do. They are frustrated by formal authority figures who fixate on symptoms or take too long to make decisions. Band-aid solutions that fail to address the root cause of serious problems drive them crazy. They crave radical change to the status quo.

Unless a grudge has them withholding their talents, Crazy Canaries are competent at their jobs. They have high standards of excellence and a low tolerance of mediocrity or poor performance. They find slackers distasteful. At peak performance, they are among the first to roll up their sleeves to make things work. In their haste to produce results, they will sometimes take over responsibilities that aren’t getting done or micromanage others. That’s what happens when they are trying too hard to make things work.

Crazy Canaries find it frustrating to be in a superficial environment that compels people to look good and avoid looking bad. They know that nothing meaningful happens in a pretentious environment, so they assertively advocate for change. Putting in too much effort and advocating for solutions to be implemented with little appreciation for a job well done leads to frustration, burnout, and disengagement. Crazy canaries are used to having their ideas criticized, but over time they are left feeling trapped, unappreciated, misunderstood, disillusioned—and alone.

There is tremendous value in how Crazy Canaries analyze problems and conceive of holistic solutions. When conducting an organizational analysis for a new client, I look for Crazy Canaries. Their names rarely appear on the list of key staff the client suggests I speak with. This oversight is unfortunate, because like the canary in the coal mine, these rare birds detect system failure early. On the flip side, with the right approach to engagement, they can be instrumental in causing transformation.

If you have trouble assessing your business inside out, upside down, and backwards, enlist a Crazy Canary. Their insights and frustrations often reveal process gaps, dormant assets, and opportunities for action that traditional decision-makers simply don’t see. They hold clues to reversing a downward spiral, removing structural impediments, and disrupting counterproductive patterns in organizations. As Nietzsche wisely noted, “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be crazy by those who could not hear the music.”

When operating in their element, Crazy Canaries are passionate difference-makers and pacesetters. They see a bigger picture and factor interconnectedness of disparate functions into the holistic solutions they envision. They will often recommend a shift of focus to a different part of the system. Don’t disregard what they’re saying as being irrelevant to the problem you’re trying to solve. They may have intuitively tracked the system backwards to a root cause. When their words seem off-topic, consider whether they are alerting you to a high leverage point in the system but without the appropriate language to make their message clear.

Crazy Canaries are easiest to spot before the slow creep of suppression, complacency, and emotional withdrawal has set in. They may sound like a broken record if their attempts to implement practical ideas and meaningful solutions have been unsuccessful. Frequent disappointment leads to frustration and burnout. If their input has been ignored for too long, they will either blend into the woodwork and stop caring or quit the company to go where their contributions are valued.

If you have an intuitive ability to see the bigger picture, or if you attempt to solve problems holistically by introducing innovative ideas, you may be a Crazy Canary. On the other hand, a problematic employee, annoying co-worker, or chronic complainer may be one in distress.

In Part II, I give you new language, communication skills, and proven strategies to harness the expertise of the people around you and get the best ideas implemented with ease.  If you’re impacted by the idiosyncrasies of a Crazy Canary at work, involve that intuitive individual in your business assessment. Approached with beginner’s mind and the tools I share, the people around you may be key to helping you connect the dots in a way you’d never thought possible.

The Possibility Zone

Start by doing what's necessary, then do what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible

Wizards and canaries are two sources of insight to breathe fresh air into your business, but a word of caution as you look to others to gain insight: Don’t let conflicting opinions steer you off course. You are the driver of your business, nobody else. Others can help you identify off-road hazards, manage conflicting demands, and monitor the dashboard, so to speak, but you need to be the one steering.

Don’t despair if you feel suppressed at work or hopeless about influencing relationships. Consider it a breakdown in leadership and communication—which you can resolve by getting yourself into the Possibility Zone. That’s when you know you are steering straight toward your ideal future.

Your self-mastery, your decision-making, is like controlling a steering wheel. Keep your eye on the horizon and steer straight. When your head is in the clouds you veer into the yellow and red zones on the left, with a false sense of security, too little structure, and over-confidence that things will work out. You are under-functioning. If your decisions come from fear, scarcity, or doubt, you will steer into the yellow and red zones on the right, controlling and dominating others and over functioning. I’ve crashed and burned in the red zones on both sides.

Think about it: We stand in one of three places when we think or act: the green zone, the yellow zone, or the red zone. (Hint: Only one of those zones leads to the best possible outcome.)

Knowing how to get yourself into the Possibility Zone, and stay there under pressure, is a critical skill for business owners. Remember the Three Big Buckets from the previous chapter? Consider how common causes of upset can trigger a reaction, sending us off course into the yellow or red zones:

  • You’re avoiding a conversation you fear may be awkward to initiate or difficult to address (Bucket 1: Uncertainty).
  • Your expectations were not met in terms of time, money, quality, or relationship (Bucket 2: Lack of information).
  • Something or someone has prevented you from accomplishing something (Bucket 3: Loss of control).

When you perceive a Big Bucket issue, your body mounts a stress response. The moment this happens, stop to feel what you’re feeling. Practice stopping when positive things happen, too, and when you sense a new possibility for your business.

Follow these five steps to get yourself into the Possibility Zone where you can perform at your peak:

  1. Name the emotion you feel. Dig deeper than happy, sad, or angry. Do you feel rejected, inspired, open, powerless, irritated?
  2. Stay with the emotional tension for at least one minute. During that time, refrain from acting as usual. With practice, you can increase your self awareness before acting habitually, allowing you to shift gears.
  3. Take full, deep breaths. Deep breathing will help you process emotion consciously without trapping it in your body unconsciously.
  4. Ask yourself if the threat is real or perceived. Examine the situation with beginner’s mind.
  5. Notice the physical sensations you are experiencing. Pay attention to how and where you are feeling your emotion (goose bumps, stiff neck, back pain, chest tightness, heaviness in the pit of your stomach, tingling sensation, gut feeling, vibration, headache).

None of us is perfect, nor should we pretend to be. Recurring yellow zone behaviour signals that the leader is operating outside the Possibility Zone, hindered by the Invisible Barriers discussed in Chapter 2. Have you been reading through Part I thinking the material was not applicable to you? And yet can you see how we all have Three Big Buckets? Can you see yourself in one or more of the eight leader response patterns?

Have another look at the image on page 18 of the woman communicating from a place of fear, scarcity, and doubt. It may be time to get to know your backseat driver. Neuroscience confirms we all have one.

It’s especially easy to overcorrect when we invite other people’s opinions into our decision-making process. Your best work is done when you are pointed straight up the middle. When you are grounded and centred in who you are as a leader, not too soft and not too hard, you’re operating in the Possibility Zone. The more you release expectations and let go of “should,” the straighter you will travel. Trust the signals your body gives you and the content in this book to guide you.

As a business owner, you have something that is more valuable than any psychologist, academic expert, or money mogul can teach. Do you know what it is? It’s the opportunity for course correction, the ability to act, receive feedback, and adjust on the fly.

I call it the wisdom of risk.

I talk about risk often in these pages. It takes guts to cut through the crap and face the truth about what’s holding us back. That’s emotional risk. Successful entrepreneurs act with a ready-fire-aim mindset. With action comes feedback, and feedback allows for course correction. In the words of Frederick B. Wilcox, “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base without taking your foot off first.”

The wisdom of risk involves action, correction, and feedback:

  1. Action: Even if your organization is large, start small. Start with yourself. Concentrate on small actions: your words, your behaviour, and your patterns are catalysts that affect other people. Your actions must be consistent with your intentions to steer straight ahead in the Possibility Zone. That’s when you are at your maximum effectiveness.
  2. Correction: Allow small wins to grow to displace the status quo. You can’t do everything at once. Complex challenges are hard to dismantle. Build systemic solutions and allow momentum to build and carry them forward. Lead, teach, and inspire people to evolve alongside you.
  3. Feedback: Focus on the process and your intention, not the goal or outcome. Your goal is the result of consistently applying the Possibility Process to align your actions, behaviours, and systems with the ideal future you want to create.

If you consistently apply these simple strategies, feelings of trust, appreciation, and abundance will gradually displace fear, doubt, and scarcity thinking. It takes work and self-discipline, but creating a great company is that simple.

Invite feedback, inquire with beginner’s mind, and question the disconnect. But also, trust yourself. Nobody else is sitting on your lily pad. You are the only one who knows which leap is right for you.

Make your next move from the Possibility Zone. From that position, you can steer straight toward your ideal future instead of being buffeted off course by other people’s reactions. You’ll need the stability as you bring everyone else’s backseat drivers and Invisible Barriers into the mix, and we’ll look at just how to do that in Part II.

Are you ready to adopt the Possibility Process? Game on. Let’s do it!

Breakthrough Boosters

  1. Is there a wizard you want to learn from? Do your homework. Choose someone who has created a proven, step-by-step process you can follow. This approach reduces risk and gives you the best chance for success. Find a way to tap into that person’s expertise.
  2. Each of us can become a wizard. You may not realize that something you know like the back of your hand is a new concept to others. Who could benefit from your expertise? What could you teach or mentor? Kevin Spacey said, “If you have done well, it is your duty to send the elevator back down.” Most “doers” struggle to teach what they know to others, which makes mentoring an excellent leadership development practice.
  3. Are you a Crazy Canary? If you aren’t one yourself, does one irritate you? Keep that person in mind as you read through Part II’s content. Make it safe for anyone, even a Crazy Canary, to confide in you about what would make things better for everyone involved. Ask that person for feedback and then listen. With the right approach, he or she might spark an exhilarating a-ha moment.
  4. For help identifying your yellow and red zone patterns and setting your intentions, download our Possibility Zone worksheet from (account login required).

Remember: If you can conceive of a business idea, you can engage your team in creating a workplace that works for everyone.

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