It’s 6 a.m. and he’s awoken to the sound of a crying child in the distance. He turns over in bed to find his would-be-up-early-but-now-pregnant-and-exhausted wife fast asleep. He’s on. No more sleep-ins for this guy, but it’s come to be a welcomed and utterly necessary responsibility, for many reasons. He goes over to the next room and grabs his toddler out of his crib and the begin to spend the morning together. Before long, the child is sitting on the floor, gently smacking the laminate beside him insisting that his father “sit!” Before he reaches the ground, the boy looks over to the toys in his room that he’s grown so fond of playing with his dad with. “Blocks! Blocks!” he yells, and before even finishing his request, dad is opening up the bag of blocks and is happy—read excited—to play along. But there are two important things to note about this exchange: (1) The dad used to dread playing with blocks and (2) Playing blocks with his son has now become one of the most crucial elements of his day in preparation for his day at the office.
It may be obvious to some, but the father in the story is most definitely me and let me tell you, am I ever excited to play blocks with my son, daily. But as I mentioned, it wasn’t always the case.
Intimidation: The Inability to Comprehend the Opportunity
I remember the first time I sat with Ben to play blocks. The first thought I had as I stared blankly at those colourful plastic blocks was, “Where do I start?” I didn’t want to just build a tall rectangular structure and “inspire” my son with something so lackluster. Inevitably, my fear of failure to do “great work” left me even more crippled and unmotivated than when I started. Luckily, I decided to play blocks again the next day and that’s when it all marvellously changed.
Confidence: The Ability To See The Next Steps Quickly
The first day consisted of me looking at my performance and wondering how I could impress; how could my work be the best it could be and really look awesome to my son. But the next day I found myself looking at the scenario from a completely different angle. In retrospect, it seems silly that I didn’t look at it this way initially, but I found my instinct gravitating me toward a question we always come to ask when employing basic principles of design thinking: What’s not working here and how can we approach this differently? Before I could finish asking myself this question, I noticed my son had been trying to build with larger blocks on top of smaller blocks with an inevitable Babylonic fall to come. I quickly surveyed the floor for all the pieces I would use to create what would not only be a beautiful structure but one that completely supports the impossible structure he was building. I had seized the opportunity and performed in a way that actually shocked me.
Now as I play blocks with my son, I am employing a few key practices that I’m learning are crucial in business (and specifically within my workplace):
1. Human Empathy
My first reaction was to impress and make sure my work was original, inspired, and would be unrivalled in any block-building championship. That motivation, however, rarely seems to benefit the majority when other humans are involved. My initial approach lacked a key element: empathy. Without empathy, I would have never even begun to perceive that there was a problem to solve, nor would I have cared, should someone had pointed it out. Even still, had I asked the right questions without the element of empathy, my ambition would be vain and even my most successful efforts would likely be riddled with flaws due to issues that were not addressed or considered, questions that should have been asked and answered.
2. True Inspiration
One thing I realized I started doing was let Ben build what he wanted to build, while I did only two things: (1) warn him that a better foundation should be built (which is a whole other lesson entirely) and (2) build him a support at a rapid pace to hold up what he was creating. Herein lies true inspiration when guiding others on your team: allow them to dream and support those dreams as best you can while grounding the work in reality. Find true inspiration at the intersection of dreams and reality.
3. Throwing Caution
I’m not always the greatest risk-taker but boy do I ever feel alive in the moments that I am. The ability to crush fear and take many risks continually is a skill I try to build on every day. To truly throw caution to the wind and allow a “failure” to teach you and wins to build your confidence is really the only way you’ll be able to grow in your skill, workplace, business, and life.
Our fears are usually driven by failure. The problem is that as we swing a bat to avoid failure, we’re also taking the same swing at the ball of success. And more typically than not, the “worst case scenario” isn’t really that terrible. Sometimes our egos need to be bruised and our bank accounts can use a good flush. Let your failures detox you and prepare you for some serious success.