Rigidity

Hands breaking a twig. Isolated on white background.

The branch that won’t bend is easily broken. – Chinese Proverb

Recently, I had an important project to do, and, unfortunately, things didn’t go so well. I ended up doing a very poor job, and the product that I provided fell well short of expectations. I wish that I could say that being a CEO means that you never do substandard work, but I’m afraid that just isn’t the case. My shortcoming, my failure on this assignment, was a plain and simple lack of preparation. I was quite frustrated with myself in the aftermath of this project, and my post-mortem analysis led me to reflect deeply on what exactly had happened.

Strong preparation is one of the keys to doing good work. If we prepare properly and rigorously for a meeting, a call, a presentation, or an interview, then we’re far more likely to be successful. I am usually a beneficiary of preparation. I do it well, and that typically leads to good outcomes. Unfortunately, in this case, rigidity got the better of me. You see, I have a ritual that I go through when it comes time to prepare for a major project. I schedule time for it, and then I go through a useful set of routines and processes. My preparation rituals have served me well over the years.

On this particular project, however, my failure to adjust to changing circumstances did me in. The task required collaboration, and I was working with a team. When the time arrived for my scheduled preparation, certain files and materials were not available to me because I hadn’t requested them yet. I made one effort to reschedule the prep, but something came up. I failed to accommodate these and other disruptions, I didn’t collaborate as well as I probably should have, and in the end I just never recovered.

I completed the assignment with a substandard product because I was too rigid, too set in my ways of doing things. When my routine was disrupted, I allowed it to scuttle the whole effort.

We all have rituals. We have systems and processes for getting things done, and patterns that have been useful to us in the past. That’s fine as long as we don’t let habits become handcuffs. We can’t let the way things were dominate our perception of the way things are now. The world changes every day, and you can’t successfully navigate it if you’re constantly staring at your rear view mirror. I learned a lot about myself, the way I work, and the way I’ll need to work in the future through this mistake. I’m sharing it with you in the hope that you can learn the same lessons a little less painfully.

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