Let's Not Make a Big Deal

I waited tables in high school. The person who trained me was excellent and offered numerous small tips I have found valuable in just about every professional role I have held since.

One of the gems he stressed has been on my mind lately. Hal insisted that servers should do nothing that would unnecessarily draw guests' attention to our work. Even when the restaurant was busting at the seams and operating at full volume, we should never move too hurriedly or appear frantic in front of customers. Doing so would only cause them to become concerned about how busy it was and how that would affect their food and service.

It was wise advice and it worked miracles in lots of settings since I first heard it at the age of 16. Think of your own experiences in busy venues. When servers or sales reps treat us in an efficient yet unhurried manner, the pace and potential stress of the activity that surrounds us seems to melt away. In contrast recall a time when a frantic server spread her anxiety to your dining party so that you, too, felt rushed and harried. Not the ideal eating experience.

This has been on my mind lately because I'm involved with some organizations whose leaders see the innovative projects they are taking on as risky, challenging to their members, or fraught with potential pitfalls ... all of which is probably somewhat true. But the more they frame their efforts this way, the more distant they grow from their excitement for these new ideas and the value they can deliver to their members.

If these leaders let their anxieties take too great a hold, they might overreact to some of the decisions they need to make or spread their own anxiousness out into the membership, inflaming those who might already view the new ventures with skepticism or cynicism.

It's one thing to be pragmatic and acknowledge that "whoa, we're taking on some pretty challenging ideas here." It is quite thing to make that a central part of the public conversation you have with your target audience or to constantly drop back to that thinking even among the leadership. 

Think about it initially, acknowledge the realities, plan for them, but for heaven's sake quit talking so much about it. Don't make it something that it might not be for a large number of the people who are approaching your new ideas with a neutral perspective.

The way we view the work in which we are engaged is very likely the way we will cause others to view our efforts. Act as if something is a big deal and it most certainly will become one.


P.S.  I think this is doubly true for any rapid prototyping or pilot efforts. They are just experiments, so keep your anxiety in check about their potential outcomes and frame them as opportunities to "learn what works."