Is there something you feel so strongly about that containing your enthusiasm is virtually impossible? Is passion burning inside you?
Do you have a big idea that you feel confident will change your world? Are you willing to take the risk of being audacious?
How do you react when something you really want and/or believe in isn’t happening as or when you would like? Is your level of commitment such that you are determined to find a path to success? Are you prepared to persevere?
If your answer to these questions is yes, then you are in a good position to lead. If, on the other hand, your answer is negative or uncertain, step back and find a shining light to follow.
We live and work in exciting, complex, and unpredictable times. There is little space at the head of the line for those too timid to risk giving voice to the full force of their innate creativity.
For those unwilling to allow the fervor of their belief in an idea to flow freely, a future of passive observation awaits. People who retreat in the face of resistance will find themselves escorted off the playing field and into the grandstand.
Why is it that these three states of being — passion, perseverance, and persistence — are on my mind? Over the last year, we have been working intensely with leaders, teams and companies that have enjoyed decades of success by comfortably and routinely doing what they do very well. Now, faced with abrupt change as a result of the rude introduction of disruptive innovations into their market space, these bastions of predictable performance are faced with a cold choice between transformation and extinction.
Yes, I do realize that this is no longer a new or even a particularly newsworthy story in the wild, wild west of the 21st century economy. But there is an aspect of this challenge that is all too often unreported or under-reported. It is the down and dirty human side of radical change.
It is one thing for a company or mission-driven organization to find itself squarely in the jaws of a whale with the rushing tide of incoming plankton and the ebbing flow of the seawater of change pushing it rapidly toward the darkness of the unknown belly of the beast. It is another to be among the individuals leading, managing or operating the enterprise while this phenomenon gains steam.
People react differently, of course. But, a common phenomenon typically appears early in the process of transformation. This is the conditioned tendency of people facing radical change to marshal their reserves to hold tightly onto what they already know and are comfortable with.
We see this phenomenon of holding on to what is known rush solidly and undeniably to the front in the cultural transformation initiatives we are asked to lead. When people are asked to go to the edge of their comfort zones and then take at least one step more, the tendency to hold on comes front and center. Even the bravest of individuals will often find it hard to let go of what they know in order to explore the unknown. Yet, embracing and exploring the unknown is just what we are being routinely asked to do today.
How then can we build the “bodies” to step beyond the edge of what we know to listen to our passions, conceive and evangelize big ideas, and stay the course through the many hurdles that we will surely find along the way? Is it possible to build mastery in passionately driving life and business forward? Is there a way to learn to be more effective at generating audacious ideas?
As you no doubt guessed, YES is the answer. As humans, we are inherently creative beings. As emotional entities, we are hard-wired for passion. As dreamers, we revel in audacious ideas. As survivors, we are built to persevere. Yet, as life progresses, these inherent strengths drift away from all too many of us.
So, when we realize that our passion has been subjugated to the day to day, when our big ideas are held inside rather than voiced, and we find ourselves giving in to convenience, the most direct path back lies in awareness, new practices, and coaching. When you see the symptoms, chart a new course. Make a plan.
Notice what you are doing when time passes by without your knowledge. That is a place of passion.
Bring awareness to the dreams and aspirations that live deep inside you. Choose one that is central to what matters to you. Begin to speak about it to a close and committed listener. When that becomes comfortable, broaden your audience.
Look at where you are facing resistance. Imagine that you are a basketball player moving down the court through interference on the way to a three-point goal. Each time you encounter a member of the opposing team, make your move and continue onward until the roar of the crowd lets you know that the three pointer you sent toward the hoop found home.
Find yourself a coach. Make sure she is one who keeps her eyes on the horizon rather than on the boulders that litter the path along the way.
At the same time, do a bit of research to discover examples of passion, audacity, and perseverance that you find to be relevant. Here are a few examples that I have found to be helpful recently:
‘Gates’ in Central Park
For those of you who had the pleasure of walking the trails of Central Park in New York during the 16 days of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Gates, as Jo Anne and I did recently, the memory of an intimate encounter with passion, audacity, and perseverance probably continues to live at or near the surface of your memory. You may still be able to feel the wonder of the moment you first saw them.
During periods of stillness, the sight and sound of a million square feet of saffron-colored fabric draping gracefully over the frames that suspended it elicited waves of profound emotion. When the wind blew hard as it did from time to time, the fabric of the gates billowed dramatically in the wind. As the quiet of snow blanketed the paths and fields of the park, the fabric of the gates shimmered brightly in contrast with the whiteness of deep winter. There, in the heart of the City, the tangible presence and exhilarating energy of passion, audacity and perseverance permeated.
For those of you who did not have this opportunity and/or do not know the story behind the Gates, the audacious idea of having miles of brightly colored fabric snake through the natural beauty of Central Park required 29 years of passionate advocacy and deeply committed resiliency. I encourage you to read more about this extraordinary couple who invested $20 million of their own money and almost three decades of life to seeing their dream come true.
In the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. hang a series of paintings by Eduoard Manet. Manet is considered by many art historians to be the father of modern painting. Relentlessly derided by the French establishment of his time, Manet clung to his vision of a new way of seeing the world. In the face of unyielding criticism and ridicule, he persevered. Eventually attracting the attention and reverence of a number of young painters, Manet spawned the stream of late 19th century painting that led to impressionism — producing, arguably, the most admired collection of paintings in the history of art.
In Cupertino and Emeryville, California, Steve Jobs and his band of audacious renegades at Apple Computer and Pixar Studios continue to routinely redefine boundaries and standards of the computing and entertainment industries. Relentlessly innovative, passionately committed to customer ease of use and spiritual delight, Jobs and his merry band at Apple laugh their way to the bank as media pundits drone on about the scarcity of their market share and the certainty of their near demise. At Pixar, animated story telling has and will continue to set new standards for the medium.
IBM’s Radical Rebirth
In the natural beauty of Armonk, New York, Sam Palmisano has declared a new future for IBM. Sam’s vision is to return the company to its past position of being considered the best company in the world. In his passion for restoring the greatness of IBM, Palmisano and his team at IBM have charted an audacious new path. In a matter of just two or three years, the company has been radically reconfigured from a provider of technology to partnering with its customers through consulting and services to produce innovation that matters “on demand”.
A Veteran’s Courage
Just today, as I made my way to my departure gate at the Oakland international Airport, I saw a veteran of Iraq gingerly making a path through the early morning chaos on an artificial leg and with an artificial hand. This courageous man had the audacity and perseverance to rise from the ashes of war to move more gracefully and quickly through the crowds than 90% of his fellow travelers.
Nurturing Growth at The Sonoma Institute
On a more personal note, five years into the building of The Sonoma Institute, I am beginning to come to grips with what we have accomplished. Jo Anne and I, along with our team of innovative colleagues, are following our passions with the audacious idea of reinventing the way companies see, think about, and execute strategy to generate and accelerate market leadership and sustainable growth. At the same time, our commitment is to redefine consulting. Why not, we ask, design and bring to life a new and fully accountable approach to helping individuals, teams, and enterprises accelerate growth while giving voice and expression to human creativity?
Our core belief is that value lies in people. We hold that the success of any enterprise is a direct reflection of the success of its people. By optimizing the way people relate, create, communicate, and coordinate, organizations build sustainable competitive advantage and differentiation. It is the combination of innovative strategy, products and services with deeply motivated, profoundly engaged people and teams that separates those who recurrently define their industries from those who do not. When we launched in 2000, this was not a message many wanted to hear. Back then, it was all about technology and the wonders of option-induced 24/7 servitude.
But, as things do, the world turned upside down. Through the burst of the dotcom bubble, 9-11, illness, loss of parents, and far too many weeks and months of wondering where the money to pay our bills would come from next, we persevered. At times, the hill for us appeared to be almost too steep to climb. But, with determination and resilience, we persevered to build our business step by step. We arrive today at a place of having a track record of catalyzing industry-defining performance in multiple industries and across the boundaries of for- and not-for-profit enterprises while the bottom line results our clients realize grow steadily.
In our quiet moments we share our gratitude for the passion, audacity, and perseverance that brought us to the edge of a dream realized.
There are as many examples you can learn from as there is time in the day to tell their stories. Deep within all human beings there is the fire of passion, the audacity of innovation, and the will to persevere. If yours has been dampened a bit by the vicissitudes of life, find a quiet spot, bring your attention to your breath, and allow the cells of your body to remember the life that burns within. Take a moment or two to recall what matters to you. Fantasize about the way you want things to be. Relax into the notion that all good things require both commitment and resilience.
Before it’s too late, resurrect your passion. Run the risk of audacity. Rebound from adversity to bring home the prize.
Sandy Nelson is the president and co-founder of The Sonoma Institute. For every business there is an optimal design, culture, set of values, standards, guiding principles, and business practices. The job of The Sonoma Institute is to help clients to identify, implement, and innovate within these to build and sustain market leadership while giving voice to the soul of the enterprise.