How far can you reach?

Creative Strategist & Partner

One of my favorite aspects of being a father is watching my children overcome their fear to reach their goals. I’ll never forget the day my seven-year-old daughter told me that she wanted to conquer the monkey bars. On a crisp Fall day, we took the six-block walk to her favorite park and entered the giant sandpit where the two-part structure with monkey bars and rings waited patiently for us. That day, my daughter realized a meaningful life and business lesson that prolific poet, playwright, and essayist T.S. Eliot expressed, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

My daughter beamed with enthusiasm as she hopped on the foot-high platform to scale the famous bars. A few of her friends had made it across the monkey bars at school, and she was anxious to join the club. However, the vertically challenged genes bestowed by me did not grant her the height that her friends had. As a result, her efforts on the school playground bars were not fruitful and rather embarrassing. But it was different at the neighborhood park that day. I was the only one watching, and she was ready to take more considerable risk to conquer the bars on her own.

After a few words of fatherly encouragement, she jumped confidently to the first bar. But her tiny body didn’t move. Instead, it hung like wet clothes on a line for a few moments before her grip gave way, and she fell like a sack of potatoes to the sand. Then, without skipping a beat, she looked up at me and smiled, jumped back on the platform, and made another attempt. I watched the grueling cycle of defeat last nearly ten minutes before it ended in dusty clothes, frustration, and tears. Sadly, she never made it past the first bar. She tried the same strategy repeatedly without reaching her goal.

Companies often face the same fear of stretching out of their comfort zone. Over time, established organizations grow too contented with strategies that no longer work. They repeatedly execute the same plan and expect different results, a behavior the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein defined as insanity. The feeling of comfort hides the fear of trying something new because it risks an unknown outcome. The anxiety created from the unfamiliar prevents companies from reaching more growth and my daughter from reaching the next bar. My daughter was afraid to expend the energy to do something different despite the risk of falling harder like a company fears spending the time, money, and resources without a guaranteed return on the investment. But like American novelist Henry James said, “Until you try, you don’t know what you can’t do.”

Like companies that cannot step back from the challenge, my daughter needed some strategical advice despite her insistence that she surmount the bars alone. Like most seven-year-olds that haven’t mastered the bars, she lacked the height and experience to make it across by sheer will, and since the sun was setting, we needed to implement a new plan before it was too late. After a short discussion, we determined that the best way forward was to focus on her jump, swing, and reach. I demonstrated how a mighty leap would give her the momentum to swing further, and at the apex of her swing, she could grasp the next bar. She liked the plan, and I felt that if she maintained a constant swinging motion after each release, she could grab the subsequent bars until she reached the end. Finally, I offered to film her attempt to share her triumph with her sister and mother when we got home to provide further motivation.

After a deep breath and another quick fatherly pep-talk, she ascended onto the platform and made the fateful leap. However, this time, she didn’t just hang like damp clothes drying on a line. Instead, she swung, reached, and grabbed her way across the monkey bars with rampant determination. I’ll never forget the beautiful blend of joy and accomplishment that beamed from her precious face. I lifted her from the other platform, gave her a proud-papa hug, and praised her exuberantly. She overcame her fear, took the risk to reach farther than she had before, and she made it triumphantly to the other side.

Businesses can learn a lot from a seven-year-old determined to conquer the monkey bars. Too often, companies lack the time, resources, and experience to maximize their customer reach. Instead of seeking strategic advice from others that offer a fresh perspective, they attempt to solve the challenge internally, often employing the same tired strategy expecting different results. But like my daughter, the company only grows more exhausted and frustrated with each unsuccessful attempt. Companies must recognize their strengths and limitations and continuously adapt strategies to the changing circumstances. A malleable approach to new challenges helps reinforce the notion that anything is possible as long as you are willing to reach it. Getting stuck in cycles will weaken a company’s ability to adjust quickly to save valuable time, money, and resources. If a company is not willing to take the risk to reach it will never know how far it can go.

After I lowered my daughter from our celebratory embrace, she bounced right back up to the platform and crossed the bars again. She wanted to show me and prove to herself that she could easily repeat her feat. After her third pass, she decided to try the rings. The sun had set, and it was time to head home, so I told her she could make one attempt before we had to go. She bounced up to the ring platform and attempted to do what she did on the bars. Unfortunately, the rings were a little trickier than the bars, and she only advanced to three of them. As we stepped out of the sandbox, we looked back at the metal structures one last time. I told her that the rings were different from the bars, and we would have to return the next day and develop a new strategy for the challenge.

Please contact us if you’re interested in learning how Tansley can help your company reduce the risks and reach its potential.