As you and your family and companies all navigate the uncharted waters we are in, remember that we can all be better for it. Our businesses can be stronger, families closer and society more aware and careful going forward. An old client friend shared this quote after the financial crisis of 2008, and I was reminded of it recently, "These are the times when great companies are made." He was referring to how the challenges really cause a company to make decisions and choices that improve their services and their effectiveness, and in doing so become stronger, greater companies because of it. Great parents can be even greater as they have managed to work from home, help children keep up with schoolwork, and dig deep to be patient and kind at every turn. We all feel the importance of staying connected with friends and family members to encourage and support each other and find a few laughs along the way.
Bob Coulter, our partner at JP Horizons, made a statement that really made an impression on me. "In the midst of everything going on right now, it is ENERGIZING to understand that we have the power to create our own reality." This was his way of saying that we make a choice of how we are going to deal with the current state of the economy, business climate and a world-wide health crisis, and having that choice gives us the freedom and the power to succeed in spite of everything going on around us. Every now and then, he will say something like that, and you hear a thunder crack followed by harps and trumpets. It really is awe inspiring!
Another client boldly said discussing important strategies to implement over the upcoming months, "I know one thing we are not going to do; we are not going to hunker down and die."
"HUNKER DOWN AND DIE!" I heard a voice echo through my consciousness. "HUNKER DOWN AND DIE!" What an incredible explanation and warning of the dangers and traps we can fall in to. "HUNKER DOWN AND DIE." It begs for us to not get caught in the downward suction of the whirlwind created when a company begins cutting budgets, laying off workers, reducing advertising, downsizing the sales team, cutting out all forms of training and company meetings and setting people up to work from home. Oh, the wisdom I found in the statement "I know one thing we are not going to do: hunker down and die."
Why was that such a powerful statement? Because from that moment on, my Reticular Activating System (RAS) kicked in and I became acutely aware of the companies that had unknowingly taken the hunker down and die approach and were becoming just that, either dead or close to it. "What is the Reticular Activating System?" you may be asking and "What are companies supposed to do if they do not respond with cost-cutting measures and labor reduction to survive the hard economic times?" Great questions! I will deal with the RAS question in a moment because that is the essence of the newsletter, but first the "what are we supposed to do?" dilemma. Planning, strategizing, and making decisions that have the company's best interest in mind are exactly what the best leaders are supposed to be doing and need to be doing right now. The problem comes when it is being done out of a sense of fear, doom, no alternative, and a host of other mental states that lead to "hunkering down." Then we have created the mental images of defeat, loss and yes . . . death of the company. This is where the RAS can separate those who hunker down and die from those who will hunker down and REACH FOR THE SKY.
The Reticular Activating System
I first became acquainted with the concept of the RAS over 40 years ago in a book called PSYCHO-CYBERNETICS by MAXWELL MALTZ. Dr. Maltz called it our "goal seeking servo-mechanism" and says that it is the filtering process that passes input from our surrounding environment back and forth between our conscious mind and our unconscious mind. WHEW! That was quite a concept for a teenager reading a book that had a title he could not pronounce. And now I was being introduced to a concept on how to use something that up until that time had not really been used all that much . . . the brain. But I got excited about the idea that I could actually learn to program this brain and, in doing so, accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish. That was an awesome discovery. Then I went off to college and had to delay using my brain productively for another four years or so ... I did not realize it at the time, but I was still using my RAS and had unknowingly programmed it to be aware of every opportunity to have fun and a host of other things that college brings. And do you know what . . . my RAS helped my brain do just that.
Then reality set in. You know that moment when a man or a woman looks around and discovers . . . hey, I am on my own here! I have a family to support, a career to build, a business to grow, a household to run. We then make another unconscious decision that we'll either do it in a positive, energetic way, enjoying the journey and challenges, or we'll become burdened and bitter by the work and effort we have to put forth just to survive. Whichever alternative comes from that unconscious decision, the programming immediately begins in that little bundle of nerves attached to the brain stem. If in our conscious mind we believe that our careers and our lives are one great, exciting journey taking us from one opportunity to the next, then our subconscious mind will help us find and achieve those opportunities. The RAS has been programmed to filter in the opportunities and filter out fears and doubts that can plague the person seeing life as a one big, long struggle. The person who sees life as an endless struggle has programmed the RAS to prove him or her right each step of the way. This filter causes the subconscious mind to realize the obstacles and effort that are not going to be appreciated by anyone. Ultimately, this continual negative message going to the conscious mind causes a course for unhappiness and self-doubt to be set. That course only leads to failure and unfulfilled dreams.
Maybe the power of the RAS can be better explained by examples we use in our seminars. When my wife Beth was pregnant with our sons years ago and would send me on an errand to a store, I was amazed at how many pregnant women there were in the world and thought we would soon run out of room on this earth. Today, as I have no real conscious example or thought of a pregnant woman, my RAS has not been influenced or programmed to see through that reference point, and it filters out any awareness of a pregnant woman ever reaching my subconscious mind or in turn my conscious awareness. Simpler yet, if someone owns a classic 57 Chevy, chromed up and shiny, what do you think they see almost every weekend when they are out for a drive? That's right, other 57 Chevys where you and I may have absolutely no awareness of the line of classic cars we just passed. The conscious mind programs the RAS on what to filter in and out and then the subconscious mind helps us to see what we have programmed it to see.
You may now have another question, "What do the last 657 words explaining the anatomy of the brain have to do with my business, career, or family surviving the economy and health crisis, and what happened to the discussion about "hunkering"? (By the way, watch how much you wonder about the number of words in a sentence, paragraph, or this entire newsletter because your RAS just became aware of the concept of counting words.) The answer to that question is simple. The strategy you use in order to survive is what you will be immediately programming into the RAS, and we know your subconscious mind is going to help you realize and achieve the things it is "looking" for. If we are constantly making the statements and taking the actions that confirm we must cut back, reduce, and simply revert backward to working hard and long hours because if we don't, this terrible economy is going to put us out of business, then we are programmed to see all of the things that will put us out of business and we will operate from a position of fear. Companies operating from a position of fear and panic "hunker down and die." (In case you were wondering, that was another 129 words, but we will let your RAS be concerned with that.) All of this is in no way denying the reality we are all living with. What we are wanting to achieve in this discussion is to recognize the importance of how we choose to deal with that reality. Those companies that choose to make the moves, set the strategies and make the tough choices that are necessary because they know they ultimately create opportunity, growth and success for everyone in the company, have now programmed the RAS to be aware of the things that will bring this success about. These companies are seeing new opportunities with old customers and realizing that cutting costs doesn't have to mean cutting people. It also means improving processes. They are doing the same things that made them successful and because they have programmed the RAS by making these conscious efforts to maintain their success, the subconscious mind is seeing every opportunity that is out there. Possibly the most challenging thing you and I will have to overcome as we accept this concept of programming the RAS is to realize this awareness removes the responsibility for our success from the economy or any other outside influence and puts it right back on us as individuals. That is right where the companies that know the magic of hunkering down and reaching for the sky want the responsibility to be. (1,117 words total in that section if your RAS was counting and your subconscious was wondering.)