Good day, team,
This week’s challenge comes from an article that my good friend,
associate and coach extraordinaire Kate Dwyer shared with me. Here are
excerpts from “Job Survival Advice: Don’t Fear the Whitewater,”
published Nov. 12, 2008, online at Knowledge@Wharton.
According to Gregory Shea, adjunct professor of management at Wharton,
and business writer Robert Gunther, change is the new status quo, and
success at work will require agility, talent and the ability to learn
from—rather than fear—failure. The two recently co-authored the book
“Your Job Survival Guide, a Manual for Thriving in Change.” In an
interview with Knowledge@Wharton, the authors compared the economy and
job market to a whitewater river in which every kayaker is certain to
spend a significant part of the journey under water.
In the book, the authors tell a wonderful story about an Eskimo kayaker
who instead of dying when he capsizes, actually plans for that
eventuality and enjoys it. He’s equipped for surviving because he has
practiced what is known in kayaking as the Eskimo roll, in which
kayakers right their boats by twisting their bodies and using their
paddles to roll the boat rightside up again. They resist the natural
impulse to panic when they’re underwater, without air; they don’t bail
from their boats, which would leave them vulnerable to rocks and and
other hazards. The Eskimo roll protects them from dangerous situations,
and it allows them to play by surfing waves and popping up out of
The authors contrast this orientation to failure by using another
analogy, suggesting that “most of us go into our careers thinking that
we’re signing up on the crew of an ocean liner,” not anticipating that
at any moment we could be “thrown into the water.” They suggest that
instead we make a habit of experimenting—practicing our Eskimo
rolls—thus preparing ourselves for what might be a modified or even
completely new career.
Your challenge this week? Try looking at your job, your company and
your team as being in whitewater. Try to look at failure as a given
rather than the dreaded end, and plan for it, recover from it, and play
within it so that when you do roll upright, you’re better off for it.
Look around you and see where people are hiding out, holding on to a
false sense of security by trying to do things the way they’ve always
done them, and make some suggestions to experiment instead. In the
current world economy, the rules are changing and whatever
worked six months ago may not work now.
Don’t be afraid to change your attitude about how you work and where
you can improve your approach. Be courageous. If you normally move at
super high speed, try slowing down. If your approach is to plod, try
speeding up. When you’re in whitewater, you have to be versatile enough
to determine how you paddle, when it’s critical to slow down, where you
turn, how you plunge into one wave and skim over the top of another.
To end the article, the authors interviewed a highly successful woman
executive. She had worked in both a large corporation and a small
entrepreneurial company. They asked her, “How would you sum up your
experience?” Here’s what she said, as a successful senior person who
went through these and other changes in a permanent whitewater world:
“Work hard, do the right thing, keep your eyes open, and don’t be
I think this is the best advice of all!
Have a great week.
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