Posts Tagged ‘managing moods’

Get Out of the Forest, Onto the Hill

by Guy Ralfe on October 14, 2009

Tallest Tree in the forestHimanshu wrote on the blinding effects of Task Orientation earlier and it led me to think a little further regarding this on Projects. I have just been immersed into a project that has been running for a few months in a European office. Like everywhere in the world, it feels like they too are trying to achieve more with less resources and still expecting consistent satisfactory results.

Entering afresh in to the project mix and not having being part of the stories that the project team have been living in up to that point, I came on board with a different perspective on the project, entirely. However, it became apparent to me very quickly that the project situation was dire after only a few hours of orientation. The reasons for my assessment aren’t relevant to this article but what I found fascinating was how people were waking up every day and just kept trudging on. When I challenged the project decisions the response was mostly met with “I am glad you see that, I have tried to …<insert concern>… with no success/response/ownership” etc. While I assessed that the poor situation I saw in the project could be resolved – those in the project had resigned themselves to the situation and saw no opportunity to change the course.

I don’t want to appear critical, but rather sympathetic to this situation as I know exactly what it is like to be in the trenches – to be battling along, working harder and harder every day just to hope you are going to power through this mountain, out the other side… only to be met by another mountain and the disaster repeats itself.  I am sure this T-Shirt is sold out!

The paradox here is that from the outside there were issues, but none that couldn’t be addressed. For those deep in the project, that have traveled the project road over the last few months, there was just a mess around them and to them, it was  a case of survival. They did not see any opportunity to challenge how they got to where they were and continued living in the mess until they could get out the other side – OR what was probably thought but never spoken, that the project just dies and the mess goes away with it! The paradox is that we are not talking about two similar projects, these are two views of the exact same project.

It is only human to get into this situation and to try and power our way through. We have been brought up in a tradition that is deeply rooted in the virtue called “hard work” where we are taught that hard work and hard work alone is enough to be successful. This might have been true in the industrial revolution where productivity was a direct measure of the output of the power driven machines but today, with the advent and accessibility of computers, productivity is as much a measure of “knowledge” as it is of “hard work”.

What happens on projects is that we become attached to the strongest story at any time and we interpret that as a reality from which we build up perceived truths about what can and can’t be done. These truths build up on top of each other and become like walls that start to channel our thoughts into a narrow passage of possibilities (like blinkers on a horse) when in reality all the possibilities still exist (everything was a possibility as a new project team member).

This was once described to me like this:

“when you are in the forest it is impossible to see which tree is the tallest, but from the hill overlooking the forest it is easy to spot the tallest tree”.

In today’s knowledge age we need to manage ourselves to make sure we survey the landscape from the hill and not from within the forest – this is not just for projects but everything that we direct our energies towards. We have to constantly notice our “vantage point” and rigorously challenge the perceived truths we create for ourselves that limit our opportunities.


I would like to acknowledge Steen Andersen who has had to take me out of the forest more than once, thanks – you can’t believe how clear it is from up here on the hill!


I wish that real life can be like reel life, where the hero just takes care of the villain and for a break just takes care of the lead actress every now and then. In real life, when you bootstrap a business, your family needs to be taken care of along with your business. If you are young and single, you don’t have to worry, but if you are like me, married and with two kids, family needs to be taken care of.

What if you get all the money in the world, but you lose your family? A true entrepreneur makes a difference in the world… but even in this case, charity begins at home first. So, the question is: How do you manage your family while taking care of your startup?

Here are some things to consider:

1. Notice and Manage Your Moods: If you throw a tennis ball at the wall, it will bounce back with the same force back at you. It is the same with your moods. Your moods affect you and the people around you. If you are angry, the people around you become grumpy. You say something to your wife angrily and she replies back angrily. Her only intent is to hurt you, since you hurt her. The same applies with kids. They may suppress it if they are young, but the natural reaction to strike back angrily is there.

So, the first step is to be calm in every situation. How can we be calm? I use a technique called the “1 second delayed response” All living beings including humans act by instincts. If something happens to us, we respond back immediately for e.g. If someone pinches us, we respond back with a shout or a hit immediately, but we as humans have one thing which no other species on earth has.. the ability to think. So, when something happens to us, before we respond, we can think… Just before you respond, think that you want to be joyful and calm. If you hold that thought for 1 second and focus on just that, your response will change. This whole thing about being calm and about managing moods is to make sure that we can think and act effectively most of the time in our life. If you are angry and upset , you would not be able to think and act effectively and this will affect your startup.

2. Spend quality time with your family everyday: We need to take a break from our activity to get our creative juices flowing. Even Winston Churchill used to engage in paintings when he was at war. Help your kids with their homework and you may discover something new. I discovered that I loved Math. I didn’t like math from my childhood, but I found that Math helps me think a lot and it was fun. You can also read to them for 15-20 minutes a day. Just to be with the kids wholeheartedly calms you down a lot.

3. Accept Failures With Grace: Children are drilled in school not to make mistakes, but that doesn’t apply for life and entrepreneurship. In Entrepreneurship, making mistakes is part of the game. It is good you teach kids this habit, before they enter school, so it is ingrained in them. Hey, they can break some things, it is fine.. the things are replaceable, but a habit developed for a lifetime is priceless.

4. Act Consistently: Don’t worry about teaching good manners and habits. If you force it, they won’t listen to you. So, what should you do, Easy.. You act the way, you want them to act. Remember, if you change, your kids change. I always remember this quote

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin

Once you master the above four qualities, apply the same to your startup. After all, the startup is your child, too… isn’t it? Replace family with your team. If you are thinking of starting a startup, first start and practice in your family, then it will be way easier when you start a startup.

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