by Aviv Shahar
Every episode, I will explore ideas and insights that can awaken and inspire you to the opportunities you have to create new futures for you, your family, your teams, and for your business. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram or visit avivconsulting.com to hear the latest episodes.
This is Aviv with a new episode of Create New Futures. I call this episode: A Tale of Two Lifeguards. What I’d like to do on this episode is bring the focus to a critical factor. Actually what I’m going to address is a live or die factor. What I’m going to reflect on is not only pivotal and central for success or failure — and even more so victory or defeat — it often defines life or death.
Here is my tale of two lifeguards. First, let me paint the picture and offer you the context. We do what I call the bi-coastal American dream. This means that Seattle is our home base during the summer and Jupiter, Florida is where we do the winter. During the winter months, I get to run on the beach and swim in the ocean every morning; quite a spectacular way to start the day. In fact, when it gets stormy or chilly for Florida in the January-February time frame — chilly for Florida means mid-60s — I’m typically on my own in what I fondly call my semi-private beach. My rule is I never miss my ocean visit: calm or stormy, warm or cold, I have to visit Dr. Ocean. I should do a different episode on Dr. Ocean one day. The best, most reliable, and most faithful doctor on earth.
Over the last few years, I’ve developed friendly camaraderie with our local lifeguards. One day, a few years ago, I rescued a drowning boy and they insisted I should put on the lifeguard’s red swimming suit to make me one of them. Occasionally, a couple of them will join me for their morning workout and for a swim from flag to flag that mark the perimeters of the guarded beach. Mikey is the best swimmer of them all and he introduced me to the body-surfing rolling technique and helped me refine my butterfly style to a point that he even pulled me into two sets flag to flag; swimming the four swimming styles in sequence.
This year the lifeguards started to rotate positions and they brought in a number of new team members. One morning as Sara and I showed up at the beach, we noticed that Mikey was collecting the dry seaweed on the shore. He explained that at the edge of the guarded beach, the dune was destroyed earlier in the season because of the maintenance work that heavy tractors performed in the area.
“To reconstruct the dune, you cannot just dump sand there,” he pointed. “You need to add seaweed and then plants to help the dune hold its structure.”
“But why do you do this Mikey? This is clearly not part of your job description as a lifeguard,” asked Sara.
“Well, I love the place. It gives me sustenance and I want to protect it and keep the ecosystem healthy so that others can enjoy too. In our job as lifeguards we are expected to use the first hour for workout. So, for a couple of mornings, I can give this time to pay back to the place I love and that provides me with both livelihood and the love of my life.”
The following morning was a stormy and windy day and a different crew was hiding in the lifeguard’s tower when I showed up. As is often the case in such days, I was the only person at the beach with two fishermen outside the guarded area. I did my running against the wind, which is a robust workout by itself, and then dove in the water. When I looked up for my swimming markers I realized the two yellow flags defining the perimeters of the guarded beach were not up. I dashed out of the water to the lifeguard tower.
“What’s happening? Where are the yellow flags?” I asked, catching my breath.
“No one is here today, so they serve no purpose,” was the dismissive reply from Parker, a new lifeguard I had not met before.
I looked at him with surprise and turned to dash back in the water. It was just too cold outside. Now I was swimming hard in the stormy ocean and thinking. Something about what I’d just witnessed didn’t feel right. The easiest thing in the world would have been to dismiss it and move on, but I have a part of my mind that captures the odd moment that carries learning and teachable value and works to develop a picture. This was part of my process. I allowed the slow deciphering mind to do its work for me. It gets into a process when I allow myself to be puzzled and it has an interesting way of working.
In an old photography development room — I’m talking pre-digital photography— you develop the film and create the pictures in a dark room using a chemical developer that converts the latent image to a visible image on the paper. If you’ve experimented with this process, you know it takes a little time as you put the paper you projected on and place it in that chemical liquid to let the picture gradually appear. The picture gradually comes out of latency and into focus and you have part of your mind that works just like that. I describe in my book, ‘Create New Futures’, the three speeds of the mind. I call the middle speed the ‘pondering mind’. That’s the pondering mind in action, as it develops that picture and connects the dots gradually.
But there is more to it. Your pondering mind knows what you’re interested in, especially when you’ve been working to solve a problem for a long time, and when you have a lifelong inquiry and fascination with the subject. The greater the intensity of your inquiry, the richer the yield of insights and revelations that the pondering mind will produce for you. In my case, my fascination and inquiry relates to the human story at the convergence zone of learning, discovery, innovation breakthroughs, the human spirit, and its renewing and developmental potential, including all other adjacent and surrounding fields to these inquiries.
For example, I’m interested in what enables people to produce remarkable results. I forensically decode what allows them to do so and what blocks them from producing breakthrough results. What are the behaviors, attitudes, mental models, practices, and ways of being in doing that produce breakthroughs or that leads to breakdowns? My pondering mind always works in the background and it takes mental photographs of situations and then develops this photograph to a point of discovery and revelation.
That’s what occurred on that morning. What came into focus was the stark contrast and juxtaposition of Mikey and his ways of being on the job, versus Parker, the new lifeguard, who stayed in the tower that day. I reflected: where have I seen this before? I’ve seen these two opposing attitudes in corporate offices in hotels and restaurants. I’ve even seen these back in my flying years in the air force. It came sharply into focus. The difference in these two attitudes determines everything. It can even be a life or death decisive factor.
Mikey was the example of going beyond the call of duty to do the unnecessary work because he could, because he cared, and because he wanted to. Parker exampled the opposite attitude. His choice was to get by with the minimal work possible. He had no respect for protocols and rituals that were part of the job. Mikey understood deeply that you can shape your ecosystem and cared to do so. Parker demonstrated on that day that he didn’t register the ecosystem or that he cared for it.
There is more in this. Mikey represents the people that show up for work to make a difference and create a contribution. Parker was not operating inside the contribution mindset, but was in the convenience and expediency mindset. It did not occur to him that putting up the yellow flags is about much more than the utilitarian value of the moment. What was the missing consideration? What was the attitude that Parker was not sensitized to? I’m talking about the presence of attentive care that’s prepared to do the extra, unnecessary work.
Where do you see it? You see it in the farmer who walks the perimeters of his grounds to find out what needs fixing. You see it in the policeman who walks the street and greets people to demonstrate his presence and to give the neighborhood assurance. You see it in the pilot who walks around the aircraft to run his visual checklist, not because he distrusts the ground crew, but because the ritual itself puts him in the mental frame of attention to details. You see in the nurse who provides confident encouragement as she patiently holds the hand of the patient. And so is the case with every profession.
You will find the protocols and rituals of alert readiness of quality control and of watchful surveillance and they always have multiple purposes. There are rituals that declare presence. They are saying: it is safe. I am here and I am watching. They alert the person performing the ritual to join in the great traditions of all the other professionals who perform their job too. There is an invisible bond to these acts. A form of an unspoken oath which connects and ties the person involved to a web of professionalism, know-how, competence, and that activates the alertness to perform at the highest possible standards as represented by the keepers of these jobs.
Mikey goes beyond that in working to restore the sand dune of the place he loves, the place that supports him. He chooses care over expediency. It is the choice that creates a legacy of continual improvement. On the other hand, get by expediency enables the erosion of standards. Doing the unnecessary work when no one watches, out of love, devotion, and care is at the foundation of almost everything good and beautiful we find in this world. Show me something awesome and we will be able to find the people that exercised tremendous care and dedication to enable it. Cutting corners and abandoning purposeful routines and rituals for convenience because no one is watching is the beginning of most great disasters.
These two attitudes and ways of being and doing not only separate glory from oblivion, but in moments of crisis they separate life from death. Creating a new future for you and your family, for your team, and your business begins with just such a choice. The choice to do the unnecessary work, to go beyond the call of duty, to bring forward your focused presence, love, and dedication.
Here is my insight. We each have both lifeguards in us. We each have both Mikey and Parker inside. Every day we get to choose: who will we be? Who will we bring to life? I’ve found that when I make the Mikey choice, I am always the first to be rewarded. When I choose care over expediency, I experience a rush of energy, uplift, and a sense of renewal. It’s quite simple. The receiving is in the giving, and the joining of blessings find those who care without counting.
I bet you have that experience too. I bet you have those moments and days when you do what’s right when no one watches. And then you decide to go the extra mile beyond that because you can and because you care. I bet you have experienced the empowerment and the fortifying joy that came with that choice to improve quality, to ensure safety, to be present, and even to offer a simple act of kindness and help a stranger. When you and I make this choice, we set in motion new futures for all souls and for the people we touch.
That’s what we are here for; to bring forward care, dictation, love, and to help create new futures.
But wait…there’s more?!