Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting into the Boat

I heard an old story last Sunday that gave me pause. I'll paraphrase it for you:

There was a big flood, and the water around a man's house was rising steadily.
The man was standing on the porch, watching water rise, when a man in a boat came along and called to him, "Get in the boat and I'll get you out of here." The man replied, "No thanks, God will save me."
The man went into the house, and the water starting pouring in. So, he went up to the second floor.
As he looked out, another man in a boat came along, and he called to him, "Get in the boat and I'll get you out of here."
Again, the man replied, "No thanks. God will save me."
The water kept rising. So, the man got out onto the roof.
A helicopter flew over, and the pilot called down to the man, "I'll drop you a rope, grab it, and I'll get you out of here."
Again the man replied, "No thanks. God will save me."
The water continued to rise, and soon covered the whole house. The man fell in, and drowned.
When he arrived in Heaven, he saw God, and asked Him, "Why didn't you save me from that terrible flood?"
God replied, "I sent people in two boats and a helicopter. Were you expecting angels?"

This could be a story about missing the obvious, failing to pay attention. But it reminded me that I hadn't sent my book draft to my editor. Huh?

A year ago I was planning my sabbatical at Tuck/Dartmouth. One of my goals was to work on a book of stories I've told over the years to illustrate the things I've learned about leadership and management.

The idea for the book began after I heard Stephen Denning speak about storytelling in companies during a conference in the fall of 2005. Something Denning said stuck with me: his observation that when people get together to talk outside of business, what do they do? They tell stories. And stories lead to more stories. Why don’t we use that for communicating inside our organizations?

When I thought about this, I realized that I often tell stories to make a point about managing people, projects and a business. So I started to think about all the stories I tell. I kept track for a month or two. My list of stories soon grew to twenty, then fifty, then over a hundred stories. I began to share these stories with others, and it resonated. People like to listen to and learn from stories.

So what's this got to do with the story of the flood? If I want to get my book out, I need to get into the boats. The first boat is sitting down each week and writing, the second boat is sending my draft to my editor, and the helicopter is the publisher on the horizon whose rope I need to grab.

The point? Without some action, a goal is a dream without legs. Sometimes opportunities come our way and sometimes we need to set sail for one. We need to get in the boat!

My editor sent me three reminder notes since the holidays. "So where's the book draft," she asked? I sent it yesterday.

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