Think of a period of time when you were so engrossed in what you were doing, that almost every moment of every day felt productive. When things are going right, energy flows, and action propels us forward. Candice Carpenter in the bookChapters describes this feeling as being in “the zone”. When we are operating on momentum it is easy to lose ourselves in our passion.

The reality is that no one stays in this kind of high-energy state forever. We transition between periods when we are firing on all cylinders, to times when we aren’t as motivated, to times when we feel just plain stuck.

When things are NOT flowing, it can be hard to gain momentum. We may struggle with a complex business problem and feel overwhelmed. And sometimes, it’s hard to even define the problem – we just know something isn’t “right”. Everyone goes through down or less-than-optimal operating periods. However, sometimes they go on too long, and we are ready to move on, but can’t seem to figure out how.

Back to Basics

In a car, an automatic transmission works just fine, but car enthusiasts will tell you that a manual transmission is the only way to go, even though it requires more effort and concentration. Why? Because a manual transmission gives the driver more control of the car, allowing the driver to navigate actively rather than passively, and to be more involved in the process. The driver needs to make decisions based on driving conditions, and needs to think more clearly and be more aware of what he is doing – and this not only increases the driver’s enjoyment of the driving experience, but also helps him deal more effectively with trouble spots on the road, such as bad weather conditions or bad driving by other drivers.

Just as when driving a car on automatic, in business (and in life), sometimes we operate on automatic for too long – and when we do, it is often difficult to get out of “bad driving conditions”. If you are ready to take back control, it may be time to take yourself out of automatic and take a closer look at the current conditions.

Our Realities

Be careful how you interpret the world: It is like that.” – Erich Heller

Taking a fresh look may seem simple, but it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. If only we could fly up in the air and look down objectively on our own situations.

Our deeply formed assumptions and beliefs can create blind spots that prevent us from looking at situations from new angles. These beliefs become what is “true” for us, creating a framework we call our “reality”. Sometimes we get stuck in our own frameworks, “boxing ourselves in”, so to speak. To break out of the box often requires someone or something from outside, to challenge our assumptions and test our realities.

I frequently hear statements like the following:

If I don’t do it myself, it won’t be done right. Nobody could possibly care as much as I do.”

If we take time off to plan, the business will fall apart.”

We must work 10-hour days — there is no other way we can keep up with our customer demands. Everyone in our industry does it.”

Despite the fact that often people desperately want to improve their situation, their “truths” might be preventing them from moving forward. To change behavior often requires re-exploring beliefs.

New Perspectives

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

A good place to start exploring our beliefs is by looking at our situations from some new perspectives. By looking from different angles it is possible to gain new understanding.

What does the outsider see? Ask questions to see how you (or your company) is viewed from the outside:

  • What do our clients think about us?
  • Why do our customers buy from us and not the competition?
  • What is going on in the world and how might it impact how we need to do business?
  • What is really going on inside?

Look at yourself

  • Are you satisfied with your career?
  • Are you applying your full potential?
  • Are you stimulated socially, mentally, and physically?
  • Are you living your values?
  • What if you applied more of your full potential in one of these areas?
  • What differences would you expect? What if your employees did?

Look at your business

  • Is your organization easy to do business with?
  • Do you understand your customer’s needs, wants, and expectations? Once you do, you have the ability to structure your company so that you have a true competitive advantage.
  • What do your employees care about? What are their long-term goals? What do they value?

Where are you trying to get to long-term?

  • Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 25 years?
  • How do you define success? What does your ideal day look like?
  • What trends are now occurring in your industry or in the marketplace that will impact your business, not just today or tomorrow, but years from now?
  • What’s different about the markets you serve and the markets served by your customers?
  • What will be different tomorrow?
  • How can these changes influence the products and services you offer?

What are you doing right now?

  • What are your priorities?
  • Do you have a plan to increase productivity? Improve time management?
  • Are you moving forward on your long-term goals?

By looking at a familiar situation from a variety of angles it becomes easier to identify what is really important, and see exciting new possibilities.

Summing Up

In any organization, and individually in your own professional life, to gain momentum it’s important to shift out of automatic. By shifting perspective with some strategic questions it becomes possible to innovate, problem-solve and challenge the status quo!

As Benjamin Franklin once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”