Merge's Blog

Tag Archives: metaphor

What bungee cords are preventing you from moving forward?

moving forwardLast April, here on the blog I asked the question: What’s stopping you from moving forward?  And to answer it, I used the metaphor of paddling a kayak.  Today, I have another metaphor to address the same question.

Imagine a bungee cord

Imagine a bungee cord.  One end is attached to a fixed object and the other is hooked to the back of your belt.  As long as you stay close to the stationary end, the cord remains loose and there is no tension.  But as you walk away, the slack in the cord will begin to tighten and you’ll feel a pull on your back.  Continue to step away and you’ll find that eventually it will be a struggle to keep going. In fact, not only will the bungee cord hold you back from moving forward, but you will also be at serious risk of either losing your pants or getting smacked by a broken bungee.

All of us have bungee cords attached to us, links to the past that hold us back from moving forward.  And the more we try to get ahead, the more the stress and tension grows forcing us to stay where we are.  And often the fear of losing our pants or getting smacked by the broken bungee keeps us from continuing to try. Continue reading

When facing difficult situations as a leader, think about the physics of flying a kite

difficult situationsI’ve previously blogged about how airplanes take off against the wind.  It seems counterintuitive … you would expect that it would be easier if the wind were coming from behind the aircraft, giving it a push. Yet in reality, it is easier for a pilot to take off when flying towards a full-force gale, rather than with it.  Well, turns out that the physics of flying a kite is actually similar to that of flying an airplane.

The science behind the flight of kites is not only interesting, but also offers a powerful lesson in leadership and an alternate perspective on dealing with the numerous difficult situations in which you face resistance, opposition, setbacks and delays in the things you are trying to accomplish.  There are four forces that counteract each other in order for flight to occur.  Lift and weight act vertically, and drag and thrust act horizontally.

As wind moves over the body of the kite, speed differences means that the air pressure above the kite is less than the pressure below, and as a result an upward force is created called lift.  At the same time, the downward gravitational force of weight pulls the kite towards the earth.  Thrust is the forward force that propels the kite in the direction of motion.  While an airplane generates thrust with its engines, a kite must rely on wind or failing that, running by the kite flyer.  Drag is the backward force that occurs due to the friction of the air movement.

What does it take to stay in the air?

Two things must happen for a kite to stay aloft.  Continue reading

Periods of vulnerability can present both threats and opportunities

vulnerabilityRecently I had a conversation with a scientist friend who told me how biologists use information about animal life cycles to accomplish diametrically opposite objectives – in some cases to purge populations, and in others to conserve them.  The secret: determining in which stage of its life cycle is the animal most vulnerable.  And it’s at these points of vulnerability that either the worst or the best is the easiest to accomplish.  It is when the animals are at greatest risk that it takes the least effort to destroy them, or conversely, to protect them.  He gave me two examples to illustrate his point.

The Bertha armyworm

The Bertha armyworm is a significant insect pest of canola in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the interior of British Columbia.  Like many insects, it goes through a four stage life cycle – egg, larva, pupa and finally, the adult moth stage.  However, their vulnerability is greatest at the larval stage.  As eggs, they are not susceptible to pesticides; as pupae, they are buried in the ground and therefore well protected; as adults, they are widely dispersed and therefore difficult to control.  Because scientists know that the insect’s defences are the weakest when at the larval stage, substantial and successful control efforts are targeted at this point in the life cycle.  Continue reading

A lesson from a 10-speed bicycle on how to achieve goals

I often explore what it takes to achieve goals, to get beyond the “hope” stage and actually create concrete results.  In fact, earlier this year, I blogged about the importance of a “structured” vessel when one seeks to achieve goals.  Today’s blog post explores another aspect of setting and achieving goals – this time the importance of action.

Multi-speed bikes are an asset

10-speed-bikeWhen I was a child, I rode a single speed bicycle.  It didn’t matter whether I was biking up a hill or racing down a gravel road, my bike had just one gear, and I had to adjust my effort and speed in order to compensate for the riding conditions.  As I grew older though, I realized that one could actually make the bicycle-riding experience easier and more enjoyable by getting a 3-speed, a 10-speed or even a 21-speed bike.  The greatest benefit of a multiple-speed bicycle was that I could adjust the pedaling resistance to ride more easily over a greater variety of terrains.  Brilliant!

Shortly after I got my first 10-speed bike, I quickly realized one additional and extremely vital fact – in order to switch gears, you had to be moving.  Continue reading

What’s stopping you from moving forward?

As a leader, you no doubt have a multitude of issues to deal with – and what usually happens is that the crises get dealt with, but often everything else seems to drag on.  Thus, it’s useful to periodically ask yourself the question – what’s stopping you from moving forward?  Whether it’s streamlining an outdated work process, dealing with an ongoing interpersonal conflict, or getting that big project on your to-do list started, what is preventing you from moving forward?  I have a metaphoric perspective to offer.

Is your kayak moving forward?

moving forwardHere in the northern hemisphere, as the days get longer and the mercury begins to claw its way up out of the negative digits, collective minds turn to spring and upcoming warm-weather leisure activities.  I am no exception as I think longingly of my favourite watersport – kayaking.

Sitting low to the water at dawn, legs outstretched, the blades of my paddle slicing through the water like a knife through butter, moving almost silently across the vast expanse of the calm harbour, the stillness broken only by the rhythmic gentle sound of the oars and an occasional call of a seabird.  For me, the image evokes both serenity and triumph.  Serenity because kayaking gives me time to think.  And triumph because several miles of kayaking makes me feel like I’ve gotten a good workout.  But the picture-perfect scene quickly shatters …. when I realize that my kayak is still tied to the dock!

What is your workplace equivalent?

Sure, laugh if you must; I did too (well, much later) when it happened to me.  But I bring it up to make a very specific point.  Continue reading

Are limited resources really a problem? Or an opportunity?

Limited resources – people, money, equipment, and time – seem to be a reality in today’s workplaces.  This is usually perceived as a bad situation with negative outcomes.  We have come to expect that limited resources will be accompanied by poor service, fewer options, and lesser quality.  But what if limited resources were actually an opportunity in disguise?

limited resources

There have been higher-than-normal temperatures in Western Canada over the last few weeks and a result, the water levels are falling in some of the ponds and smaller lakes in our part of the world.  I got a first-hand look when I went on a day-hike this past weekend.  I was at this same pond at this time last fall, and the water levels a year ago were significantly higher than they were last weekend.  So much so that, what struck me immediately was the contrast between then and now.

The surface of this one specific pool when I was there last September was smooth like glass.  This time though, the water had dropped to a level where I could now see the garbage, trash and other debris at the bottom of the pond.  Continue reading

Are you inadvertently sabotaging yourself?

sabotaging yourselfAre you inadvertently sabotaging yourself?  A few weeks ago, I asked a different question: Would you run a marathon blindfolded?  It was in reference to how managers in organizations sometimes (usually inadvertently) set their employees up to fail by not giving them the tools and resources they need in order to get the job done!  This post prompted an email from a reader who shared the following:

[This post] reminded me of what one of my bosses used to always say when he saw people doing things in an unnecessarily difficult way.....You can climb Mount Everest in a pair of Oxfords, but it's difficult!

(By the way, Oxfords are formal lace-up shoes, usually worn by men as a necessary component of formal business attire.)

You can climb Mount Everest in a pair of Oxfords, but it’s difficult!

Which got me thinking further.  My original post was about how managers were the ones at fault … asking their people to complete tasks or fulfill responsibilities but neglecting to give them the tools and information they needed to make it happen.  But what if the guilty party isn’t your manager?  What if it’s you?  Do we sometimes, without realizing it, sabotage ourselves by wearing the metaphoric Oxfords when we should be wearing hiking boots?  Continue reading

What is your response to difficult workplace situations?

As a leader, you will often find yourself dealing with difficult workplace situations.  Many of which will test your resolve and tenacity.  Some will be people-related, others process-related, and yet others will have to do with ethical and moral dilemmas.  Several will make you stumble and even fall.  And more than likely, a few will cause you to question whether the entire leadership journey is worth it.

You don’t stop walking because you sprained your ankle

difficult workplace situations

You don’t stop walking because you sprained your ankle.  Instead, you take the unfortunate experience as an indicator of what not to do and what obstacles to watch out for, but you still keep walking.   Sure, you may rest up for a couple of days, perhaps even use a walking aid for a few more, but eventually you stand up, take a few tentative steps and continue walking towards wherever you need to be.  You may be more thoughtful about what route you take and you may be more aware of your surroundings, but at no point do you say “That walking thing didn’t work out so well, I think I’ll stop doing it.” Continue reading

Don’t set employees up to fail

I often blog about how managers, sometimes inadvertently, set employees up to fail.  Unfortunately, this issue comes up repeatedly.  Which leads me to the opening question in today’s post: if you want to successfully run a marathon, would you do it blindfolded?

Would you run a marathon blindfolded?

set employees up to fail

Of course not.  Yet, it is exactly what is asked of so many employees by their managers in workplaces across the country!  And every time they do that (often unintentionally), they set employees up to fail.

When people are asked to complete tasks or fulfill responsibilities but they are not given the tools and information they need in order to successfully get the job done, it is the metaphoric equivalent of trying to run a marathon without the benefit of sight.  Even if there are people on the sidelines shouting out instructions, yelling louder does not get the runner to the finish line.  What the marathoner really needs to be successful is an overview of the course with a mental picture of the finish line, adequate running gear (shoes, etc.), mile markers at strategic points to indicate progress, onlookers offering encouragement along the way, and oh yes, the crystal-clear ability to see where s/he is going.

How would you remove the blindfold at work?

In a work environment, the metaphoric “removal of the blindfold” includes: Continue reading

An ageless folktale about dealing with adversity

hot water as a metaphor for adversityEvery so often, a conversation with an elderly relative reminds me of a story from Indian folklore that I heard when I was a child.  Recently, that happened again, this time on the topic of how one reacts or responds to adversity.  The story tells of a young person who was complaining to his grandmother about the challenges he was facing in his school and job – difficult assignments, tough professors, a demanding boss, not enough time to relax, and always, a seeming shortage of funds.

Her response: to place three pots of water on the stove

The grandmother responded by placing three pots of water on the stove.  When the water in each was boiling, she placed two potatoes in the first pot, two eggs in the second, and a scoop of tea leaves in the third.  About twenty minutes later, she pulled out the potatoes and eggs and placed them on a plate, and strained the water out of the tea leaves into a cup, and placed them all in front of the young man.  Puzzled, he looked up at her. Continue reading