An amazing range of accomplishments is possible when you Change the Game— like building a career around the interest you love most, restoring a faded brand to its former glory (and then some!), or rebuilding a life that doctors had essentially given up as lost.
Why isn’t everyone doing it? Too many potential Extremers get distracted by how others play their game or how they decide which risks are worth taking.
Here are three ways to keep your focus.
1. Cultivate Extreme Independence
If you want to Change the Game, it won’t be enough just to think outside the box and work incredibly hard. As important as creative thinking and hard work are, you will also need what psychologists call “field independence”— a willingness to do what you intuit is possible, what you love in your heart and feel in your gut— and to ignore the doubts and overcome the obstacles of those who don’t feel it. When I think about my team at Gatorade, about Boz Saint John, and about Mary O’Hagan, what we all had in common was being told repeatedly by experts and people with power over us that we were wrong. Dead wrong. Wasting our time. Making a terrible mistake. And we had to insist that we were going to play our game, our way, anyway.
Do you have your own sense of Extreme independence, or do you need to develop it? Think about some of the most pivotal decisions in your life—a risky job offer that you desperately wanted or a school that you wanted to attend. Did you follow your own Extreme intuition despite advice that told you not to? By looking back on your own significant decisions, you’ll start to see if this is a trait you need to develop to start changing the game around you.
2. Forget the Competition
It’s not just that doubters and haters can stop you. Even other people’s successes can steer you wrong. We all have moments of doubting ourselves and envying whomever seems to be in the lead. You may have found yourself thinking, Why didn’t I do that? Couldn’t I be more like her? Couldn’t our organization be more like theirs?
But that question is wrong. Other people are always going to be better at being themselves than you are at imitating them. Other companies are always going to be better at what they do best than the companies around them. The extreme wins come not when you try to do what others do best but when you look for broader inspiration, then take your own specialties and use those to change how the game is played.
So, stop worrying so much what your competition is doing. I don’t mean to forget being competitive. Extremers are super competitive. Put Extremers on a treadmill, and they will inevitably steal a look at their neighbor’s stats. (Admit it— you’ve done that!) But Extremers also know that the competition that matters most is the competition with themselves. They want to improve their own personal best. And the ultimate version of improving one’s personal best is to insist on playing the entire game your way.
As a leader, I love to take people’s minds off the competition. For that reason, I loved Michelle Greenwald’s list in Forbes of examples where one industry has looked not to the competition but either to nature or to totally unrelated industries for inspiration in innovation. Japan’s Shinkansen “bullet train” design didn’t grow from competition with other train systems but from the aerodynamics of the hummingbirds’ long, pointed beak. Velcro was inspired by thistle burrs. The design firm IDEO helped think how to make hospitals’ nursing stations more efficient and effective by studying Formula One race car pit crews. And the founder of Pinterest reportedly came up with the idea for the digital platform based on the mounted insect collection he had as a kid. I will never look at Pinterest in the same way again!
In my personal life, too, I have tons of people whom I admire and turn to for new ideas and insights. But there is no competitor I want to be and no personal nemesis I’m trying to bring down. I’ve learned that if you try to keep up with the Joneses, you’ll just wind up an imitation Jones. I’m not trying to be anyone except Extreme Me.
So, take a moment alone to ask yourself a candid question: When you rate your own performance based on how well you are doing at work, at school, or in life, are you competing with yourself or with others? There’s only one way to go if you want to be Extreme!
3. Don’t Wait for Proof
When you’re out to reframe the game, by definition you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. A whole new ball game. That means that it’s uncertain, it can make you crazy, and there will be many days when you wish someone could come along and give you proof that it will work. The trouble is, though it may be possible to prove that a certain approach won’t work— the numbers don’t add up, the theory is faulty, the product is too expensive to make—there’s really no way to prove it will work except by making it work.
So, don’t wait around for proof. You have to trust your gut and make a decision. When I think about how I unleashed my own strength to stay the course all those months at Gatorade with no certainty of success, I credit my amazing career coach, Dr. Anthony Salemi, who gave me a great line when I was in my most scared and fearful place. He said, “Stop worrying about whether you’ve made the right decision with this transformation, Sarah— just make that damn decision right!” Lots of people told Boz Saint John not to leave a secure job to work for PepsiCo. Then lots of people told her not to leave PepsiCo. She had to make her decisions without any proof that she was right. Alli Webb got lots of advice about business, advice that may have saved her from making some fatal mistakes, but in the end she trusted her gut and her experience that there was an audience for what he had to sell. Will Dean of Tough Mudder was told that no one would pay to run a race that wasn’t timed, but he went for it anyway.
Changing the Game is a voyage of exploration— the only proof you’ll get is when you arrive at success. So, go ahead, think about something going on in your life where you’re struggling to make a decision. It might be a job you want to take, a girlfriend you really need to leave, or a house you want to buy, but you’re scared of the commitment. Whatever it is, just get on and make a decision— and commit to yourself that you’re going to make your decision right!
Every Extremer I spoke with for this book had to make a personal decision to go with their Extreme plan, and they did it without guarantees. But they did have a secret weapon I need to tell you more about, the skills of imagination leadership— and imagination followership!
Don't miss Sarah's presentation in Orlando at CRC, October 8-10 in Orlando where she'll share how you can use these skills to bring out the extreme in others, too!
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