Monday, March 30, 2009

Are You European?

A couple of weeks back, Iris and I spent the weekend with Stan and Sanja, friends in Boston. We had an amazing time talking about pretty much everything and anything. No topic was off-limits. No question was out of bounds. New ideas and concepts were all greeted with openness and excitement. Except, in some cases...

For some reason, when we came to questions of what could be accomplished or how much could be done or how quickly something could be achieved, well, the openness frequently morphed into resistance and doubt. I started to notice this when Iris, Stan and I were talking about Iris' new business. Stan (who's a successful entrepreneur) and I were helping Iris brainstorm new ideas for marketing and sales, etc. Iris, who normally is totally engaged and excited by new ideas and concepts, started to go into this mode of responding immediately with why something wouldn't work. Hmmm....

Later, we were talking with Sanja about her latest endeavors and again brainstorming approaches and what could be done. Sanja almost immediately shifted into the same mode of responding with why something couldn't or wouldn't work. So, we stopped talking about Sanja's latest venture and started talking about Iris' and Sanja's responses to new business ideas and concepts. Since both Sanja and Iris grew up in Europe, one of the ideas that emerged was that "it's cultural". Iris and Sanja both talked about people who loved to sit in the cafe drinking coffee and reading what might be interpreted as good news in the newspaper, and then discussing all the ways the good news would turn to bad news.

Of course, the idea that this is a strictly European phenomenon is a bit of a stretch as this may be more about coffee shop culture than georgraphically defined culture, but nonetheless, we now have a new shorthand code for someone who's resisting a new idea, "Are you European?"

So, over the past couple of weeks, I've found myself asking people this more and more, and surprise, surprise, none of them has been European.

However, I have found some common threads and themes that may be more useful.

First, the question typically arises when discussing new opportunities and ventures (they may be business ventures, but they may be something else like learning to play a new instrument).

Second, the response of why things won't work out, almost always overwhelms and derails the original conversational thread; a new idea doesn't stand a chance.

Third, the reasons why things won't work out always seem to have deep, deep roots. Our beliefs in what we cannot do seem always to be stronger than our beliefs in what we can do.

Of course, I totally buy into the Henry Ford philosophy of "whether you think you can do a thing, or you think you can't do a thing, you're correct."

So, here are a couple of Teflon guidelines for approaching new ideas and ventures:
  1. Don't spend any time trying to figure out why things won't work when brainstorming. There's plenty of time for that later.
  2. If you do find yourself resisting or doubting, don't try to figure out the reasons why while brainstorming; instead, just decide to abandon disbelief for the moment. Then, at some other point, find someone to dialogue with and figure out what's up.
  3. This is my favorite: never, ever use the "I/we tried that before and it didn't work" line when creating and exploring new opportunities for yourself or your organization. So often, we confuse a bad idea with a badly executed idea, and it's often difficult to tell the difference.
So, what are the great things that you want to accomplish in your life that you haven't accomplished or even begun to accomplish? Why haven't you? Are you European?

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