Random Hiking Analogies for the Office
I love hiking and running trails. Correction; let’s put air quotes around “running” because my idea of running a trail is simply moving slightly faster than a walk and my run is essentially a controlled fall. I love trails mainly because it gives me ample time to reflect on life, love, and the crazy stuff that happens throughout the day. A good trail typically brings a refreshing new perspective to everyday problems. Trails have taught me so much about how to navigate real-life situations. While this list of my epic fails is absolutely incomplete, it does start the conversation. I’ve learned things like:
Watch out for snakes
Make sure you can finish the trail before the sun goes down
Don’t let armadillos scare you away
Bring a paper map because GPS is a fickle bitch
Watch out for snakes.
Just in case you did not know, snakes can be found on trails (as in rattlesnakes and moccasins) as well as in the office (as in the co-worker that narcs on you to the boss while sweetly smiling at you). Snakes can be scary or scary-dangerous and it is really important to know which one you are dealing with.
The scary ones are the snakes you fear but, when push comes to shove, they back down and slink away. Scary snakes hope you will do exactly as you are told and they maintain this disguise until you confront them. Scary-dangerous snakes are the ones who really hope you will fight back because they like the challenge of manipulating you into doing their bidding. If all else fails, they will not hesitate to throw you under the bus with the boss after assuring you “they’ve got your back”.
Either way, the best way to deal with office snakes is to (1) identify them as soon as possible, (2) determine the areas or subjects in which they like to meddle, and (3) build a cohesive support network to mitigate their effects. Sometimes mitigation is about having a network that gives you a heads-up that trouble is coming.
Make sure you can finish the trail before the sun goes down.
Being stuck on a trail when the sun is setting is a little disconcerting especially when you have known predators in the area … like cougars or alligators or deer during mating season. Just to clarify, deer during mating season can be erratic and those cute little Bambis have hooves that will leave a mark not to mention what the antlers can do. But, I digress …
For office environments, be realistic with regard to resources (e.g., labor, materials) and timelines when taking on projects. There is nothing worse than taking on a project when your Subject Matter Expert (SME) doesn’t have time to frame the problem or provide insight to possible solutions the organization can employ. The result is a shoddy product and a serious hit to your reputation. Remember, your reputation is an asset you cannot afford to damage.
I am something of a procrastinator and, to combat the negative aspects of waiting until the last minute, I establish accelerated timelines to give the illusion of a short deadline. This triggers my arousal threshold and the drive to ‘win’! However, I always schedule slack at the end of the project just in case there are unexpected hiccups like … an impromptu audit and corrective action plan that eats 5 days of your project timeline.
Don’t let armadillos scare you away.
I admit I once allowed an armadillo to scare the crap out of me while my kids and I were hiking. I acted heroically by shielding my children from the “unknown predator” then realized it was only an armadillo. Had I allowed the my thoughts of predators (i.e., snakes, mountain lions, etc.) keep me from the trail, I would have missed making memories with my kids and communing with breathtaking scenery. *As a side note, I wouldn’t be surprised if the armadillo had to change his shorts when he got home. I can be scary like that.
The armadillo is a euphemism for the “unknown”. Don’t let the unknown keep you from taking calculated risks and being flexible with the outcome. Being a consultant helped me get over the fear of the unknown and taught me that fear of failing is a major cause of hitting ‘false ceilings’. (Another side note, false ceilings are self-imposed while glass ceilings are externally-imposed.)
While the unknown is scary, it is hardly ever as bad as our imaginations. I ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I do this?” Then I ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I fail to take this opportunity?” (This is the proper way to structure an argument for a risk-averse person. Switch “worst” to “best” for a risk-tolerant personality.)
Bring a paper map because GPS is a fickle bitch.
I absolutely love GPS because it shows real-time progress and allows me to make changes along any route. The only problem is I also like running trails that transverse ridges and valleys but I haven’t convinced myself that I need a better GPS tool. This means I lose my signal as I drop into valleys.
Makiki and Tantalus trail outside of Honolulu
How does this translate to your work? Have a back-up plan for virtually everything you do because technology is fickle. Do you own a restaurant? Make sure your staff can manually add a ticket, apply the correct tax rate, and give the right change if electricity goes out. Do you have a presentation with a new client? Give yourself at least 30 minutes to set up for the presentation (i.e., sound check, digital presentation, video conferencing, etc.) and have hard-copy tools just in case Murphy arrives and wants to institute his laws. Did you just put the finishing touches on a project schedule? Back it up in a location that won’t be locked if your profile is compromised and, maybe, print a copy. I’m all about saving our environment but I kind of lose my mind when I can’t access my files from a remote location, have no hard-copy, and the deadline is fast approaching.
So, what did we learn?
Snakes are everywhere. Keep your eyes out for their tracks and step lightly when you find your ankle just inches from a rattlesnake hiding in the bushes.
Make sure you can finish the trail on time. Most predators aren’t looking for a fight but they will attack if backed into a corner.
Armadillos are only scary the first time. Learn to take calculated risks and be flexible.
Always have a back-up plan. If anything can go wrong, it will. And it will happen at the worse possible moment.