Is falling the path to growth? Is failing the prerequisite for success? Is slowing down the way to create speed?
Yesterday my niece, Anna, came over to visit. She's going into her senior year of high school and taking full advantage of her summer break. Luckily for us, our house is a frequent stop on her summer circuit and we've seen her more in the last month than the rest of the year put together.
We were having friends over for an easy dinner and as we got things ready, Anna sat down at the piano to play. Gorgeous, delicate music filled the room. I was mesmerized at her intricate and tender playing.
From time to time she would stop, back up, and start again. I went in to ask her the name of the piece. She looked at me with a frown on her face. "I played this at a wedding a few years ago. It's called 'Falling Slowly,' from the musical Once. But I can't quite remember it."
Man, you could have fooled me. Who replaced my little niece with such an accomplished performer? I felt the stirrings of my heart as she coaxed her way through the song: "Words fall through me and always fool me, and I can't react." Where she saw her own tentativeness and mistakes, I was simply struck by her musicality and growth.
Falling Through Turn-Around
It's been another week of learning, studying, and helping with growth at Plenty. Our wonderful clients, idealistic individuals and organizations alike, tend to come to us with one of two challenges. One challenge is the challenge of entrepreneurship: These clients are already growing and now want to create a new campaign, build a new team, launch a new venture, or start their next life chapter. They are full of excitement and ready to fly. We help them clarify their ideas, create concepts, and keep moving. These engagements are rich with creativity, insight, and ideation.
The second group, though, is different. This group has the challenge of turn-around: Something isn't working and they need help getting back on track. These engagements have a distinct tone. They require creativity, but more than that they require patience and kindness. We spent time on a few such engagements this week, and in each case I was reminded of how success often comes because of failure — not in spite of it.
A Culture of Failure
When we do an initial assessment of clients in turn-around, we often see that they, too, have been falling slowly. Yes, there are sometimes cases of acute crisis and rapid decline. But usually, we see that there's been erosion in revenue, in support, and in morale for quite some time.
Often clients in this category have tried, perhaps for months or years, to correct the problems themselves. They've exhausted the short-term solutions and the easy ideas. And they've exhausted themselves in the process, becoming more stressed, more frenzied, and more unsettled each month. As one of my clients recently said to me, "We just don't have a culture of winning anymore." And it seemed so poignant to hear, because as I looked at her and her team, all I could see, like Anna at the piano, was talent and growth. Where she saw failure, I saw winners all around.
The Strength to Slow Down
Our viewpoint on growth has been informed as much from our turn-around experience as our entrepreneurial backgrounds. We believe, adamantly, that tactics aren't enough. We hold a model we called the Five Keys, a holistic approach to unlocking growth by ensuring strategy, leadership, wellbeing, community, and funding are intertwined and working together.
The model, which includes an assessment and lots of underlying subject matter expertise, is a big step in the right direction for our clients — not because it holds easy answers, but precisely because it doesn't. And so instead of promising quick fixes it guides our clients towards discussion, cooperation, and new thinking. It guides them, when everyone around them is telling them to speed up, to slow down.
When the passages on the piano get difficult, the player has to slow down. And so it is in our companies, our work, our families, and our lives. When the board is telling you they need results sooner, your boss is telling you to get ready for longer hours, your team looks more anxious by the day, and your spouse needs more of your time, it seems counter-intuitive to ratchet down the speed. But you can't usually speed your way through the challenging part of the song.
It's hard to see this when you're in it, but that culture of winning you're looking for starts with sitting back and seeing just how far you've come. And then giving yourself a break.
At Plenty we say that hope needs help. Hope can't find you when you're moving so fast. You're not falling — you're about to touch ground, so you can reach up and grab the stars.
You have suffered enough And warred with yourself It's time that you won Take this sinking boat and point it home We've still got time Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice You'll make it now