Monday, July 15, 2013

New Thinking–No Guarantees For Old Problems

Have you ever wondered why, with the number of experts in the areas of positive thinking, goal setting, life transformation and the like, that the world hasn’t figured out how to heal itself of the many difficulties that it faces?

In fact, with the sky-high sales of self-help books, you would think that we should be walking around in a state of permanent euphoria and success and yet despite the number of experts in the self-help space, many people struggle.

Even within the circles of business, many organizations continue to struggle despite their adoption of the latest tools, best practices, frameworks, methodologies and the like that promise that their results are about to become amazing.

Within my industry, despite the incredible plethora of tools and best practices, many clients struggle with projects that are running later and more over-budget than ever despite assurances that such difficulties will disappear with the adoption of the process du jour.

I’m not saying that the words of advice of experts in these and other areas can’t add value nor am I saying that new processes, best practices or methodologies are inherently flawed.

In fact, the positive results that come from embracing new knowledge, ideas, tools, best practices and the like is critical to success and one should strive to embrace a mindset of constant knowledge acquisition and the application of said knowledge.

However, I am suggesting that the promoters of such things are either deliberately or accidentally not telling the consumers of their products and services two critical things:

1. Every human being and organization has their own unique set of circumstances in addition to the commonalities that bind us and for this reason, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  Anyone who believes that their offering solves every unique situation is deluded.

2. In order to layer new thought processes, belief structures and behaviors into human or corporate brains, old thought processes, belief structures and behaviors must be removed, nullified or retasked into something positive.

After all, if we didn’t have processes that were incomplete or incorrect, then we wouldn’t need to be learning how to do things better, would we?  If such is the case, how will layering more ideas on top of broken ones magically produce a positive result?

It’s like training someone how to be a competitive runner while ignoring the fact that the runner likes to tow a 100-pound anchor behind them.  All the great techniques in the world in the areas of breathing, energy conservation, eating habits, training, positive visualization and the like will still not power the runner to become a winner in his / her sport.

In fact, I would posit that such training will only frustrate the runner, since they now know what they need to do to win but they don’t know what’s holding them back and because the mystery remains, they move from one trainer to another, hoping to finally stumble on success.

They make the trainers wealthy while the solution to their problem continues to elude and frustrate them.

It would be like seeing your favorite dish inside a glass case – tantalizingly close but permanently out of reach.

So the next time someone promises you amazing success personally or professionally by offering to sell you a new process, methodology, way of thinking or something similar in ignorance of understanding the “anchor” that prompted you to ask for help, ask them this:

If you don’t know what was holding me back or preventing me from making progress, how do you know that implementing your “cure” without effectively diagnosing my “disease” will propel me to new heights of success?

Layering on more stuff doesn’t solve anything.

In fact, it merely hides the problem deeper and deeper under layers of “stuff” until it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to identify the anchor that is holding you back personally or professionally.

The anchor that prompted you to ask for help in the first place.

That’s why when I see people or organizations loudly trumpeting that they are now on the path to success simply because they have embraced “process x”, I can tell if they will be successful or not, merely by looking to see if they removed or retasked the inhibiting anchor first.

You’ve seen these people also.  They are the ones who tell you that this time they have finally discovered the secret to success, based on book x, technology y, etc. but you don’t have the heart to tell them that this is at least the n’th time they have told you this over the years and you don’t see any reason why this time will be any different than any of the others.

Do you know what your anchors are and their impact on your results personally or professionally?

Have you appropriately addressed or removed them?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – July 15, 2013

For the people who wrote me insisting that brute-forcing a way through the “weight of an anchor” is the best way to earn success and to develop one’s character and persistence, such actions usually take a lot more time, energy, money and pain then removing the anchor in the first place. :-) 

While it is true that this approach may occasionally be necessary, for people who routinely and consistently brute-force their way through everything, we usually label such people as “stubborn” (or something else).

It’s like suggesting that intentionally breaking one’s arm is the best way to learn about the pain that results.  I’d rather avoid breaking my arm in the first place and take someone else’s word that it hurts (learning from their experience). :-)


  1. Harry,

    You need to add/change your "anchor" metaphor to a different one. Why? Because an anchor in intended to keep you in one place at rest. Once the anchor is raised, there is little to keep you from moving. Few boats move with the anchor still dropped.

    As a former USAF aircraft maintenance officer, aircraft chocks or a "parking brakes" keep an aircraft from moving. A more appropriate metaphor is would be "drag." You can still fly (or move in the water) with drag, such as the landing gear and/or flaps are still down and lots of things hanging off of your aircraft, but you can still fly. Just not with the best of efficiencies. It is only when you reduce the drag (raise the landing gear and flaps) that you move with less effort.


    1. Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for the feedback, my friend.

      I appreciate where you are coming from but I will leave it for now.

      Two reasons:

      1. The anchor analogy is to suggest that people are trying to carry something around that is in fact holding them in place. If they could release the anchor (or raise it) instead of trying to drag it around, then they would in fact be able to move.

      2. As someone who grew up on the ocean, I know of another type of anchor, the drogue anchor, which is designed to slow a boat down (especially in heavy weather) and keep the hull perpendicular to the waves in rough seas. When one is ready to move quickly through calm seas, the drogue anchor must be raised. :-)

      Thanks for the kind comment, Kevin.

      Create a great day.