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Things That Make You Go Boom

RetreatToday was another opportunity to spend more time with the local suburban SWAT teams.  As I mentioned before, these guys have been helping me with some needed business research, and I'm very appreciative of the fact that they let me tag along when they are practicing various scenarios to improve their skills.

One of the purposes of today's practice was learning how to retreat effectively.  Recently, one of the SWAT reality TV shows had shown a team that penetrated a house only to find a bomb.  Instead of acting like a team, it became every-man-for-himself, and they ran helter skelter out of the building.  The commander and team leaders today did not want their teams to react similarly when faced with those circumstances, so they created the "bomber" scenario.  I was fortunate enough to be in the room where the bomber and his hostage were located (but when you wear the bright orange vest, that puts you "out of play" and you get to enjoy just observing).  Of the three teams, two retreated fairly effectively when the knowledge of the bomb was introduced.  One team, in their effort to dominate, continued to proceed into the room... and were promptly "blown up."  (No SWAT team members were hurt in the writing of this blog... but the noise was really loud.)

One of Stephen Covey's seven habits is to seek the Win-Win, but too few people actually read the entire chapter to find out the "or else" of this habit.  There are times a win-win isn't possible, and you have to be willing to walk away.  In other words, you must embrace the possibility that a "no deal" scenario may occur.  Brian McNary of the Sun Valley Idaho blog posted his commentary on Covey's habit a few months ago.  While it was in the context of local government and community, he summarized his point nicely:

I think many of us grow up with the win lose mentality. It is clearly evident in sports where it should be. It is clearly evident in the court room. But when we apply that mentality to other pursuits, particularly our work, it creates nothing but hardship and distrust and mires us in a tar pit where future leaders will say, “what the hell happened to them?”

We all have to know when to retreat.  If the win-win isn't going to happen, we need to quit throwing good money and energy after bad in order to force it to happen.  The SWAT teams today learned a valuable lesson about retreating when it was evident that they were in a no-win situation.  Listening to their debrief provided further evidence that there's a reason why these guys are so good at what they do.  I've had a couple of projects recently that I was up for, and I was willing to walk away from?  Why?  I knew that the win-win wasn't possible.  The hiring managers both had issues and hidden agendas which would have made my job as a consultant very challenging.  At the same time, a former client presented me with a wonderful and challenging project, and I know that I'll enjoy working with them again.  If I had not been willing to retreat to the "no deal" of the two earlier projects, I would not have been able to open myself up to the win-win of this one.

What projects, relationships, habits, and activities should you be retreating from rather than engaging?  Are you in danger of being "blown up" by forcing your way into the door?

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Comments

Scot Herrick

This post reminded me of the movie War Games, where a computer takes over NORAD and wants to start a thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union (at the time).

When the computer finally learns futility by playing tic-tac-toe, it shuts down the real war game and says to the NORAD crowd referencing the nuclear war scenario:

"An interesting game. The only way to win is not to play."

That is the "or else" part of this post. I nail most things in my life, but there are a few where the "dominate" part just doesn't work. After a while "the only way to win is not to play" has been the mantra that bubbles up from the situation.

And, with no regrets, I walk away.

And I'm not even going to ask why you are observing SWAT teams...but know you'll relate it back here!

Timothy Johnson

Scot - great reminder - I'd totally forgotten about War Games, but it is such a great fit for this issue. You always bring such thought-provoking comments to the table. Thanks for sharing!

Tom Haskins

Tim: Nice point about win/win not always being possible. One way I assess a set-up to win/lose is this: Win/lose deals win at the other's expense. They are predicated on that loss being contained by the loser, not spreading into the context that affects others or the long term situation.

When the losses cannot be contained, they create repercussions for the winner. It's a different deal then: either everybody wins or everybody loses, "we float all the boats or sink all the boats". If everybody winning is not available, it is time to retreat, to cut our losses, and to disrupt the illusion that someone can win at another's expense.

Timothy Johnson

Tom - that's an excellent point about the so-called winners in a win-lose situation. Eventually, the point may come where their win costs them more in the long run.

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