“Getting over a painful experience is like crossing monkey bars.
You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
This is about business leadership but I’ll begin with business itself (because what is business leadership, but understanding the business of people).
Business: the business of monkey bars.
Business is all about monkey bars. Yes. Many people will point out its about process, systems & efficiency and they would be partially right. That’s the foundation for sustainable profitable business. But once that foundation is built, from there on out, it is about monkey bars. Now. A lot of people will not agree with me. They will be the people who see the framework as a network of highways & wireframe in which people & ideas & work traverse making right & left hand turns.
I don’t see it that way.
The process & wireframes are simply hamster wheels. Jump on and you get some speed, but no velocity. The speed & work & going around and around can make an organization feel good, feel like they’re doing a lot, but it really doesn’t get you anywhere.
Inevitably to gain some velocity, get somewhere, achieve some lift, you have to navigate the business of monkey bars. Make the leap from the lanes in your network to new place & new people. Make the leaps outside the existing wireframe to new places & ways of doing things.
Simplistically those leaps are Monkey bars: strategically, tactically, projects & people.
Simplistically those monkey bars are letting go and taking a leap of faith you will grab the next rung.
Well. There is nothing simplistic about that. Businesses don’t like making leaps and they really detest swinging out from the nice safe rung they are holding onto, letting go of a rung and grabbing onto another.
I will say whether a business detests it or not, monkey bars are not meant to hang on to just one rung. The whole idea of monkey bars is getting from one end to another swinging from one rung to another and letting of the past rung to get to the next one.
If that isn’t metaphorically what business progress is about, I do not know what is.
This leads me to Leadership.
Navigating monkey bars with people.
My favorite leadership quote is:
“Consider becoming the type of energy that no matter where you go, or who you’re with, you always add value to the spaces and lives of those around you”
I thought of that quote because that type of energy is different than the business of navigating monkey bars. Navigating monkey bars isn’t really about energy it’s about reaching across from where you are to where you need to be. Its faith. It’s risk. Its uncertainty. Its doubt.
That said. There are so many leadership views, definitions, articles, etc. your head will spin. Go on twitter, hashtag leadership and you will be barraged by a gazillion good, and not so good, leadership thoughts you will wonder which to use.
We all have our favorites. I would argue none of them matter particularly if you want to think about Monkey bars. Monkey Bars is about pragmatic progress. Not inspiration, nor energy, nor necessarily fulfilling meaning or potential, it’s about letting go and moving on.
While most Good leadership articles discuss developing ‘tools’ for the team to verify which actions have value, and, crucially, which have not (affirm & assess behavior) when it comes to Monkey bars it may be more relevant to think of Tupac: “at some point you just have to leave the pieces behind and move the fuck on.”
Monkey bars demands you empower people to move on. But it’s a different moving forward. This one isn’t about walking or taking baby steps or giant leaps, but rather about letting go and having faith you can find another thing to hold onto. And, like monkey bars, it is not just once to get to the other side but a series of ‘letting gos’ to make it where you want to go.
Which leads me to leading in a monkey bar world.
Philosophically it would be great of you, as a leader, could actually place someone’s hands on the next bar and get them going. That ain’t the way it works. A leader’s job is to encourage letting go, have some faith and grab onto the next bar <even if they aren’t sure there is a next bar or know exactly where the next bar is>. To be honest. I’m not sure if this is objection management (eliminate objections to swinging out), unstuck management (getting people to unfreeze) or fear/uncertainty management (it will be okay, there is a safety net, the next rung is solid, etc) or idea management (make the next rung look like such a great idea it actually ‘pulls’ people to swing to it) or some combination of all.
What I do know is that this type of leadership CANNOT be about control, its about faith.
People monkey bars
You are dangling by one hand and reaching for another bar and … well … there will be a moment of uncertainty and reaching. But. That’s the gig. That’s the deal.
Letting go is the monkey bars of life. Letting go also means letting go of “fear” (not sure this is the right word but let me stick with it). Letting go is a double whammy to people:
- Fear of leaving what is known & comfortable. Fear of leaving what you may be good at and what you have proven to others you can do. fear of leaving an environment in which you KNOW you can survive.
- Fear of, well, the unknown. And its 2 unknowns:
- The space between the rungs
- The next rung itself
Suffice it to say letting go isn’t simple. In fact, it’s exactly like the first time you try the monkey bars. It takes some faith and confidence and, ultimately, desire to just go and swing out.
“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.“
I have one thought for people here. You have to stop looking at the space between the bars.
It actually helps to view with things in black & whites. Fear thrives in the gray of unresolved emotion and feelings. It festers there. Eliminate it.
Process monkey bars
Process is inherently not about Monkey bars, but rather concrete solid highways. Well. At least that is the way most businesses view it. They are wrong. Most process is not linear A-B-C-D-etc, but rather solid lily pads which should be used in different configurations depending on challenge and context.
This is counterintuitive to most business people. They see iterative doing and not monkey bar doing. The truth is efficiency & effectiveness are maximized by properly utilizing the Monkey bars.
I would venture to guess no business school says what I just said.
Ideas (or innovation) monkey bars
80% of innovations and ideation are iterative. They are improvements upon what is. Extensions, shifts, lifts, etc. These are like constantly tuning up the engine. 20% are monkey bar ideas and innovations. None, I may add, are out of the box ideas or innovations.
The 20%. The big ideas are swinging from a rung on a solid construct, letting go and grasping another rung across a space. The rung is separated by space, but the innovation is strong enough for the organization to hold on to. Please note. You are making a leap, but not outside a box. Please note. This actually increases likelihood of success. Just as scary (letting go and grabbing onto something you trust will hold you), yet, the leap is made within a construct the organization can withstand.
I would venture to guess no innovations guru says what I just said.
In the end.
- Business loves linear solid tidy things. they are safe, theoretically predictable and typically showcases the characteristics of efficiency. But not everything can be reduced to a 5 step process, a 6 stage model, or even a production schedule. That is why I believe the power of the Monkey bars concept is it is tangible and intangible. Where it gets interesting, is that it enables us to understand how to move away from slow and incremental improvement, to leaps of improvement.
- People hate change (but mostly for a different reason than you may think).
“A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organizations. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the organization they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organizational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasizes what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching. Counterintuitively, then, effective change leadership has to emphasize continuity — how what is central to “who we are” as an organization will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.”
Monkey bars maintain their structure you simply swing from one run to another. Same playground, same structure, heck, even the same kids playing with you, just another run. In overcoming resistance to change and building support for change, leaders need to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity. Unless they are able to ensure people that what defines the organization’s identity — “what makes us who we are” — will be preserved despite the changes, leaders may have to brace themselves for a wave of resistance.
So. In the end?
Letting go in business is certainly hard – and healthy.
Just be sure you don’t avoid the monkey bars because of this following thought for it would be a shame to suffer solely because it was familiar:
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.
Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
Thich Nhat Hanh