Step into the Stream: It’s Time to Be Disruptive

Chapter 1

In this chapter:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

Life has prepared you for something extraordinary that is uniquely yours. Have you thought through what that means for you?

Your success can cause an economic uprising the likes of which Canada has not seen for a century. Do you wonder if that’s possible? It’s been done before, when the federal government legislated Prohibition one hundred years ago.

During Prohibition, my great uncle William (Bill) Hume was president of Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts Ltd., the makers of Canadian Club whiskey. At the helm of a distillery under those circumstances, he was faced with a systemic gap and a leadership challenge. The distillery could sell spirits, but saloon owners were not allowed to serve them. How would he be able to move his product?

My Uncle Bill, it turns out, was a logistics expert. He saw an opportunity for ordinary people to distribute an unprecedented volume of product through networks of trust. People who didn’t even work for Bill’s company assumed great risk and moved his product. They established transportation routes by air, land, and water. They built elaborate underground tunnels. Independent businesses prospered, and they sold whiskey like crazy!

My point is, to infuse your communities with the passion and energy needed to drive your business forward, you must understand the desires that motivate people to act. The key is to know what makes people feel.

I have seen entrepreneurship defined as “the activity of setting up a business and taking on financial risk to hope to make a profit.” I dislike this stale definition because it omits the best part of the story: the initial spark of desire for something better.

I facilitate intensive entrepreneurial and business development programs. Leaders begin the process by looking deep within themselves to discover profitable business opportunities that align with their passions and purpose.

Something happens when the fog lifts and people get crystal clear about what they want to do with their lives. They are moved by what they see.

A key aspect of this process is outcome-based thinking. This concept runs counter to the incremental approach taught in school. Start at the end—your ideal future—and work backwards. What result do you want to produce? What outcomes are you looking for? How do you want people to feel? How much money do you want to make? In the wisdom of Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.”

When we’re not aligned with our heart’s desire, then day after day our pain, regret, and frustration grow. Emotional pressure builds, impacting our performance. The same is true for the people who work for you.

Author and scholar Brené Brown, known for her work on vulnerability, courage, and empathy, has confirmed in her research that this emotional pressure turns either inward or outward. We then underfunction, becoming less competent, or we over-function, steamrolling others and micromanaging. The consequences are unhealthy either way for both people and organizations.

We say we want change, but what do we do? Instead of getting to the heart of the matter by learning to positively channel emotional energy, we tinker with the tangible aspects of our business. We tweak our sales and marketing, upgrade our technology, or buy new equipment. We think we’re solving the problem. In reality, we’re repeating old behaviours held in place by recurring cycles and patterns.

True systemic change is rare, for two reasons:

  1. Systemic change requires creativity, which is a function of being grounded in the now, focused on what is. But most people’s minds are either in the future or in the past. Habitual behaviours and automatic reactions that we are unaware of hold the current system in place. Creativity flounders.
  2. We are fearful of and threatened by systemic change, which requires everyone impacted by the current system to distinguish unconscious habits and patterns, starting with the leader. People disengage.

Let’s look at how to address these limitations.

Beginner’s Mind

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few

As you start to examine your business, and your habitual way of thinking about your business, remember this:

When I first read that statement in Tom McGehee’s book, Whoosh: Business in the Fast Lane, it packed a punch. I’m willing to bet it lands true in your gut, too. Beginner’s mind reveals what’s right in front of us (rather than what we hope to see) and opens new possibilities.

Beginner’s mind allows us to separate “fact” from interpretation, manipulation, and wishful thinking, making it a valuable and powerful business development tool. Fresh eyes on the business removes bias and alleviates the pressure we feel as owners to have all the answers.

We can resolve any problem once its root cause has been discovered. Unfortunately, with our expert mind at the helm, we don’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. I’ll give you an example.

My husband Randy and I were in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. He supplied packaged homes and taught the locals how to rebuild four villages. I accompanied him as the photographer on his final trip.

The motor vessel Apung, an electrical barge weighing 2,600 tons, had been carried five kilometres inland on the crest of the tsunami and landed in a residential area near Banda Aceh, on the island of Sumatra. The foundations of flattened homes are still visible as eerie reminders of the disaster.

I knew about this ship. I’d heard stories of people who couldn’t see it for looking right at it. Out of context, seeing an ocean barge surrounded by homes is surreal. It tricks the brain like an illusion.

That wasn’t going to happen to me! I knew better. I was prepared to see it.

Even so, I was wrong.

We approached in a taxi. The driver pointed it out to Randy, who’d seen it during prior trips.

“Where?” I said. “Where is it?”

Randy pointed and laughed out loud. “Right there. At the end of the street.”

Much to my chagrin, we were nearly on top of the structure before it registered in my brain and came clearly into view. A massive electrical barge, unseen, yet right in front of my eyes.

We can fail to see something conspicuous if our attention is focused elsewhere. Scientists call this phenomenon inattentional blindness. In 1999, two Harvard researchers, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, asked subjects to watch a video of people passing basketballs and count the number of times the players in white passed the ball. During the video, a person in a gorilla suit walks into the action, stops to do a chest pound, and walks off. Amazingly, roughly half of the people who took this test, replicated all over the world, failed to see the gorilla. Half!

This experiment reveals not only that it’s easy to miss a lot of what goes on in our business but also that we aren’t even aware we are missing anything. We must look at our current reality with fresh insight if we want to see where and how our success is being held back. In the absence of a “systems intervention,” we see only what our perspective allows us to see, missing the gorilla as it walks on by.

Only through keen awareness can fundamental shifts be made to put us on a new path. As you continue reading past this point, I encourage you to let go of what you know to be true and embrace beginner’s mind. I will help you by coming at business systems issues in unconventional ways—what I call my inside-out, upside-down, and backwards approach. British philosopher Alan Watts said, “This is the real secret of life—to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it’s play.” That’s beginner’s mind in a nutshell!

Beginner’s mind helps to overcome the first impediment to systemic change: the difficulty of identifying root cause, the real issue behind whatever problem you face in your business. Systemic change is often impeded by our own thoughts and fears. Like a reflex, we automatically resist taking responsibility for playing a role in what’s not working.

Fuel from Fear

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Stop now and consider. Are you where you want to be, doing what you love to do? If not, what are you afraid of? What stories do you tell yourself to rationalize being where you are now? What fears have held you in place?

If these questions stir uneasy feelings, stay in the inquiry. Don’t turn away. Listen attentively and take steps to lean into your discomfort.

I know a thing or two about fear because I was incredibly shy as a child. I could name a hundred everyday things that terrified me: reading aloud, solving a math equation at the chalk board, dance recitals—even dinner parties at our house.

People tell me I look confident. Some have even said I am intimidating. I’ve adopted strategies to hide my vulnerabilities.

Underneath it all, I have always been a big chicken.

But that doesn’t stop me. I take risks because I’m afraid. In the words of Walter Anderson, “Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.”

When I was a teenager, I realized my discomfort wasn’t going to go away. I knew I had to choose between sitting at home in a glass bubble or going out into the world to try new experiences. Over time, I discovered a little-known secret:

It was equally uncomfortable for me to try something adventurous as it was to play it safe. I learned to mask my fright by selecting bold new things to try. Daring was a shield that protected me from judgement and shame. I started small by learning sign language, something most people didn’t do. At eighteen, I started a business.

I used a similar approach when applying for jobs after I finished college. If the position sounded inspiring, I applied. At twenty-six, I applied to be general manager at the newly formed Steveston Harbour Authority. My marine experience and business education landed me an interview with the board of directors. I wasn’t qualified for the position, but the successful candidate hired me as a manager. Every day posed a new learning challenge. I worked there for six years and grew exponentially.

Taking risks and playing a bigger game taught me that failure is a result, not a reflection of who I am as a person. Defining ourselves by our actions—or inaction—traps us. No matter what gets done, or what stays undone, we can only show up and do our best each day.

Consider Brené Brown’s words: “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” Doesn’t that ring true for you? If not, you wouldn’t have busted your butt building a business.

Something magical happens when we follow our heart and take risks. Whatever the activity or experience, risk provides an access to something new and unknown. Chance leads us in a new direction.

Instead of talking about your products and services, paint a picture of what the future looks like because your business exists. Help your customers, employees, suppliers, and lenders to imagine the exciting new possibilities. Invite us to participate in making the future happen. Help me see how I can fulfill my dreams and desires by helping you win your end game. Do that with everyone. Speak to our values and personal aspirations.

What’s the worst that could happen if you try … and fail? Aim so high, try so big, that no one expects you to achieve. Aim for the stars! Even if you fall short, by then you’re liable to land on the moon.

I have always taken lessons from someone who was either trained to teach or had a proven system I could follow. There is a big difference between mastering a skill yourself and knowing how to teach that skill to another person. My husband knows how to ski, but he is not the best person to give me ski lessons. (Just ask him!)

We are all tiny frogs living in a giant pond. It’s impossible to assess every danger and opportunity that lies ahead. However, we can determine the best lily pad to leap to next. Which one beckons? That’s the next right action to take.

Cautionary words, “should’s” and “have to’s,” and other people’s expectations can grind us to a halt on the inside. Don’t get sucked into the vortex of responding to outside forces. When you make the leap to the next lily pad, take time to reflect before jumping again. What worked well? Celebrate it. What didn’t? Determine what can you do differently on your next leap.

Don’t get attached to the outcome looking a particular way. Nobody responds well to somebody driving an agenda. Instead, adopt beginner’s mind to assess your results. If you don’t take time to check in with yourself, your forward motion will get hampered by fear.

Are you on the wrong path? Look to see if your choices have been influenced by others’ expectations of you, or by the singular pursuit of money. Did you park your real ambitions on the back burner somewhere along the way? If so, move them to the front now and avoid end-of-life regrets.

Many business owners try to hold things together at work by looking good and avoiding looking bad—staying busy, busy, busy. I call it surface-skimming. Unfortunately, a frantically busy owner does not inspire meaningful action from employees. Unexpressed ideas, opinions, and dreams don’t just go away, no matter how hard we try to ignore them by working hard. Suppressed communications fester inside us, either eroding our confidence and self-esteem or building our resentment. This happens to business owners and employees alike.

Brené Brown says human beings should come with a warning label, like cigarette packages: “Caution—if you traded in your authenticity for
safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment and inexplicable grief.” It’s so true! Sacrificing who we are to follow the money, play it safe, or meet other people’s expectations of us is never worth it in the long run.

I believe we all have goals and dreams. No matter how hard we try to ignore them, they haunt us if they go unrealized. Clarity is king. Get
crystal clear about the future, and you can then return to the present with new insight.

Embrace the opportunity to shift direction and align your outer business aspirations and career goals with your inner desires. You get only one life. None of us knows how long it will last.

Denying what our heart longs for eats us up inside. Make the discomfort of inaction more painful than the risk of failure. Breathe deep and step into the stream.

Breakthrough Boosters

  1. On a scale of one to ten, where one is stress and anxiety and ten is purpose and fulfillment, where do you sit? Your rating will help you determine if you are getting a reasonable return on the investment of time and effort you are putting into your business.
  2. Is the work you are doing today consistent with the ideal future you envision for yourself? Stop and think about it. Choose something important to you, an activity or experience you hope to engage in “someday.” How Would it feel to have done it? What difference would your fulfillment make for others? Envision yourself having already accomplished it. If it matters to you, think of a way to begin it now.
  3. Begin to paint a picture (a narrative, bullet points, or images) of your ideal future. Think it through with beginner’s mind and be as specific as possible.
  4. Make a list of the fears and concerns that come up as you envision your ideal future. What bold actions might you take to gain fuel from fear? How can you overcome those concerns?

Remember: Life is too short to let self-doubt and uncertainty take you out at the knees. If you know in your heart your business is not performing as it could, it’s time to give yourself permission to rock the boat and get things moving in the right direction.

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