Yesterday, a friend shared with me a funny story about when he broke an ankle. When he finished, I said, “That story contains an important business lesson; do you mind if I share it?”
He laughed. “What are you talking about? It’s a story about me being a jackass.”
“I don’t deny that,” I said, “but I think there’s more to it.”
When Steve was 11, he and some other neighborhood kids competed in an obstacle course race that wound between their houses, into the woods, over a creek, and back to the local park.
Steve’s main competition was a boy named James. James had always been faster and more athletic, and Steve was desperate to beat him – just once.
So during a lemonade break just before James’s final run, Steve snuck away and rearranged the most dangerous section: he removed three of the stepping stones that allowed runners to cross the creek… and he placed the stones in a less visible creek crossing about 20 feet downstream.
What’s more important: following the lessons of the past… or clearly seeing the path ahead?
A few minutes later, James straggled across the finish line – bare feet dripping, shoes in hand – and clocked his slowest time of the day by nearly a full minute.
Gleefully, Steve took off on his own final run, already imagining the shocked look his performance would leave on James’ face. He quickly made it to the creek, and jumped for the first stone. It was while flying through the air that Steve remembered: he had moved the stone.
With reckless momentum, Steve crashed into the creek. His foot twisted on a rock – something cracked – he screamed in agony. Luckily, James and some of the parents were nearby to help rescue a bitter and angry Steve.
“I was a jackass back then,” Steve remembers. “I deserved it.”
Steve’s not wrong: he was a jackass. But his story also illustrates a critical business lesson:
Don’t depend on your memory and conditioning to see!
James was able to avoid getting hurt because, even though he’d already run the obstacle course many times, he was using his eyes too see. So when he reached the creek, he noticed the stepping stones had disappeared, and found another way across.
Steve had a different experience. Even though he was the one who’d hidden the stepping stones, in the heat of the moment, he depended on his memory and the conditioning of his previous runs to get him across the creek.
It cost Steve a broken ankle.
In business, depending on our memory and conditioning to see can cost us even more.
Our memory and conditioning is full of baggage: past pains, past victories, past defeats – all important stuff. But not as important as the stepping stones we need to actually get across the creek.
When we use our eyes and our hearts to see, we give ourselves, our colleagues, our families the space that we all need to open to our full potential, to live out our next great story.
Steve may have been a jackass. But that’s not why he got hurt. Steve broke his ankle – and lost the race – because he forgot to see with his eyes!
—Daniel Jacobs, Avanoo CEO & Co-founder
Daniel Jacobs is a husband, father, inventor, and storyteller. His work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Apple News, HuffPost, and most major news publications in the United States. He is CEO and co-founder of Avanoo, which uses the power of stories to drive connection, belonging, and performance in the workplace.
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