August 17, 2012

Keeping it simple

leaf branch in glass of water

As an executive coach, I’m sometimes called on when a leader, manager or company has too much going on – people, projects, development, deadlines, decisions – and they’ve passed the tipping point of working to full effectiveness. It’s not a weakness to have said ‘yes’ to so many things (or, more likely, for additional responsibilities to have been given to you because there was no one else to take them on) but too much complexity never delivers effective business results.

A call for your executive coach is a call to streamline and to simplify.

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a writer and film director. There were about 8 projects he could easily invest time in – networking, event organising, putting together his next creative team – there’s always so much going on. I asked him – why do you do what you do? He said ‘I love to write. And I love to create.’ I asked him – knowing that, what are your priorities today? He said ‘To finish this script. To get the movie made.’ And even simpler than that? … ‘To finish this script’.

Sometimes there’s a really obvious right next move; often it’s one that only you can do. That’s why it’s on your list and no-one else’s.Everything else you’re investing time in is a distraction, or a subconscious procrastination because it knows that the things only you can do will create the biggest ripple effects – and that in turn will change your world.

There’s a classic story (which is worth repeating …) about a professor who held up to his students an empty glass jar. Into it he placed some large rocks up to the rim. He then help up the jar and said ‘is it full?’. The students nodded ‘yes’. Next the professor took out a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar. The pebbles found their way in around the spaces of the large rocks. ‘Is it full now?’ he asked. The students nodded ‘yes’. The professor then took out a bag of sand. He poured the sand into the jar and it filled in the spaces around the pebbles. He held up the jar, ‘Is it full now?’. The students nodded ‘yes’. The professor took out a beaker of water, he slowly poured it into the glass jar. The water meandered its way around the spaces of the rocks, the pebbles and the sand until it reached the rim of the jar. ‘Ok, so now it’s full’, said the professor, ‘So, what’s the lesson’?

One student raised her hand and said ‘Is it that we can achieve more than we think – but sometimes have to find new ways to do so?’. ‘A good answer, anyone else?’ said the professor. Another student put up his hand, ‘Could it be that if we assume a question means ‘more of the same’ we’re missing an opportunity?’. ‘Another good answer’ said the professor, ‘And here’s the lesson I want you to take away from today: I could only put as much into this glass jar if I started with the big stuff. In any other order, this quantity of rocks, pebbles, sand and water could not be contained. Prioritise the big things into your life – health, fitness, a vision, connection – and all the rest will fall into place around it’.

As an executive coach, I couldn’t have put it better myself!

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

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