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What We're Reading
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales. Norton, 2003.
My actual reading has been limited for the last month due to some complications from cataract surgery, so I've been reaching back into past favorites to share ideas. Many of you know that I now live in Bend, Oregon; AKA "Oregon's Playground." Oregon is full of people who climb mountains, camp in wilderness areas, ski the back country and otherwise engage in activities that might lead to a need to 'survive.' So when my neighbor gave me this book last year, I began to recommend it to a number of other Oregonians, which has led to some very interesting conversations. It's a compelling read and while you may never find yourself in a situation like those described in the book, the lessons apply to all knowledge workers and leaders because survival is often contingent on the state of mind of the person in distress. I haven't met anyone lately who doesn't feel stressed by his or her job. So while the book is about physical survival, dealing with stress is very much a mental game. The book concludes with 12 rules of adventure. And what is work if not an adventure?
This book tackles the question of what happens when you become lost in the wilderness or your plane crashes, or you find yourself in a rip tide or the World Trade Center on 9/11. The first thing that occurs is an assessment of the situation. Your experiences, beliefs, assumptions or mental models are called on to help you interpret the situation. For example, some of the people in the World Trade Center went up to the roof because (1) it was away from the smoke and (2) they held an image in their mind of people being rescued from the roof after the 1993 WTC attack. While that choice is understandable, the author describes others that are not. You wonder, what were they thinking? Gonzales explains that different parts of the brain behave or 'think' in different and sometimes competing ways when under stress
Bending the Map
For example, one chapter is titled, Bending the Map. Two experienced outdoorsmen set out for a hike into a wilderness area of Colorado using one map and compass. The first hiker (with the compass) tires of the pace of the second and proceeds at his own faster pace, leaving the second hiker (with only a map) to catch up. An afternoon storm further separates the two, leaving the second hiker tired, wet, stressed and confused. Instead of turning around and retracing his steps, he chooses to press on even harder and faster. His mind had formed a mental map of where he was headed and he continued walking in the direction he had envisioned as 'right', believing he was 'almost there.' He did not check the 'reality' with the map, instead relying on his mental map. He didn't pay attention to repeated signals that his image was wrong. He moved faster to get to the desired destination despite a gut feeling things weren't going so well. He refused to turn back and retrace his steps because he had convinced himself he was almost at his imagined destination. Five days later, he was found, 30 pounds lighter and with injuries that required surgery. But he survived.
Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the research findings such as how few people actually backtrack while there is still time to retrace steps. There is also no evidence that people have a hard-wired sense of direction; instead they are trained to look for clues from the environment and create their own map. And according to Edward Cornell, a professor of psychology quoted in the book, "Being lost is a universal human condition. But there is a very fuzzy area between lost and not lost." Another scientist defines being lost as "30 minutes of not knowing where you are." (pg 155). There is even a book on Lost Person Behavior, which describes the panic that takes place when you realize you are not where you thought you would be. Different parts of the brain help you orient or 're-map' where you are. But emotions such as stress can take over and affect your drive to get to the place you're going especially when you are in a complex environment such as a wilderness area. You may start to run, wasting precious energy or you may be one of the 75% of the fatal cases, who just give up and die within 48 hours of being lost.
At the point where you realize you are not where you thought you were, you may actually look at your map and start to explain away why the map doesn't match what you see. You may start to say, "the lake dried up, or the "boulder moved." As the author says, "You're trying to make reality conform to your expectations rather than seeing what's there. In the sport of orienteering, they call it 'bending the map'" (pg 164).
Surviving essentially boils down to more accurately accessing and accepting the current reality, not the one you wish was there. Survivors don't give up, they begin to take action, using what the author calls the first Rule of Life; be here now. For example, the hiker described above did not start a fire for 3 days because as a firefighter he kept telling himself, 'fires were not allowed.' Another person less sensitive to forest fires might have made a fire the first night, thus increasing their chances of being rescued.
Those who survive are not the ones you might predict. For example, children age under the age of 6 actually have a higher survival rate than those aged 7-12. That's because young children live in the now, they lie down when they are tired, they drink when they are thirsty, they don't have a 'goal' of where they are going in mind so they don't hurry to get somewhere.
If you looked at a map of your career, are you where you thought you would be? Are you the leader you wanted to be? Or have you begun to bend the map? After all you can explain away a lot of things: the company you work for has poor leadership, or you have too much to lose to move on to another reality, or you have decided survival is about getting a steady paycheck despite clues that your skills are becoming dated or your job is about to be off-shored. For all of these reasons, you might find this a great summer read even if you don't plan a wilderness vacation or don't see your career through the survival metaphor. The author does a great job of presenting business examples throughout the chapters.
Coping & Stress Profile - On Sale in July!
To go with the theme of this book, our featured product this month is the Coping and Stress Profile. This online assessment will give you a measure of the amount of stress in your life (divided into personal and work categories) and the level of your coping resources. We can't eliminate stress, but we can enhance our coping strategies.
You can take the assessment online and print out the 22-page report with your results for a very interesting snapshot on how you're doing right now. It also has detailed suggestions on how to increase your coping skills. To order, go to www.thinbook.com, place your order and we'll send you the link into the assessment. I hope you enjoy it and better yet learn how you can better handle the inevitable stress of work and career. It will be 10% off for the entire month of July.
Thin Book Solution Series
We now offer free downloadable ideas (pdf format) on how to further maximize your use of Thin Book Publishing tools with other established products. Many of you use the books and products associated with Patrick Lencioni's best selling Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.
We, too, think Five Dysfunctons is very good. Here's some ideas to leverage Thin Book Publishing tools with Lencioni's work:
1. Using TrustTalk with the Five Dysfunctions model
2. Absence of Trust - DiSC®
3. Fear of Conflict - DiSC®
4. Lack of Commitment - TrustTalk
5. Avoidance of Accountability - TrustTalk
6. Avoidance of Accountability - Smart Talk
7. nattention to Results - Team Dimensions Profile
Click here to access the download page.
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Thanks for your interest and support.
Sue Annis Hammond