It’s an old family story. We call it “The Glitch”. I had always told our twin sons that no matter how well you planned, every plan would have a glitch. Something would go wrong. There would be something happen you had no way of seeing or anticipating and threaten to crash your plans. Your success in life, I would tell them, would be determined by how well you would handle those glitches.
Then, the glitch happened.
The boys were Cal Ripkin fans, and when Southwest Airlines opened their hub in Nashville, I grabbed some cheap tickets and we headed to Baltimore for an Orioles game. We planned to stay in a hotel by the stadium, tour the Inner Harbor, catch the game, and then, catch a plane back home. What could go wrong?
Just this. When we arrived in Baltimore, we found a line of people flowing out of the hotel lobby and wrapping around the block. A computer glitch had overbooked the hotel by 300 reservations. We didn’t have a hotel room. Now, the hotel was more than gracious in giving us a hotel room several blocks over and a cab ride to the new hotel, but we had lost precious time on our adventure.
As you can imagine, the boys were beside themselves getting into the cab. “Our trip is ruined…we’ll never get to see Cal Ripken now…”
That much was true. We wouldn’t be getting to the stadium in time to get an autograph from their hero, but I was trying to help the boys learn a lesson.
“Guys,” I said, “looks like we just hit the glitch”. I heard grumbling agreement from the boys.
“Now, tell me what happened.”
“The hotel overbooked their rooms. We’ve got to go to another hotel.”
“True. Now, what does that mean?”
“We’re not going to get an autograph.”
“True again. And that is disappointing. Now, what’s the upside?”
“There is no upside,” they shouted back.
“You’re not thinking, guys. Now, what’s the upside?”
Again, they agreed there was no upside.
You’ll never be able to handle the glitch, I told them, if you don’t look for the new opportunity in the problem before you. I asked them again. What’s the upside?
They were too disappointed and angry to see it. So, I helped them out. “Guys, think. I’ve got $175 in my pocket your mom thinks I’m going to spend on a hotel room. Our hotel room is now free”.
Now, they saw the possibilities. “Can we get a fitted hat?”
“Sure, I said, “and probably a jersey, too. Just remember, there’s always a new opportunity in a glitch”.
The joke in our family continues. Whenever we talk to each other, the boys and I will have the story about hitting the glitch. And they now agree. Your success in life is largely determined by how well you address the glitch.
And in 2020, we’ve hit a glitch. Better said, we’ve been almost beat to death by glitches. COVID-19, the quarantine, the economic shut down, racial tensions, social unrest, and now, they’re going to cancel college football.
What do you do when you hit the glitch? Or, even worse, the glitches (plural) hit you?
First, keep your head. When something goes wrong – and it always does – act like you expected the problem to show up somewhere and celebrate you now know where the problem is. When things are going wrong, the last thing needed is some Chicken Little running around talking about how bad things are. Everyone knows. Focus.
Second, understand the problem. Before you can solve it, you have to identify the problem. In the clearest language possible, define the problem. You’d be amazed at the amount of time that’s wasted as people try to solve problems that aren’t problems at all. Make sure everyone is aiming at the same target.
Third, recognize what’s been lost. Grief is always part of it, maybe even anger. Give space to mourn what’s been lost, and then, recognize that anger is energy. Channel the anger’s energy into solving the problem and getting back on track.
Fourth, look for the new opportunity in the glitch. There’s always an opportunity somewhere in the rubble. You know the old saying, doors close and windows open. OK, sometimes doors close and nothing opens, but look for the dog door and slither through to the other side. The opportunity may not look like much when you first see it, but it gets you to the other side, and the other side of the problem is the first place you want to be.
Fifth, act decisively. Even if your first step is wrong, you’ll be able to change course much easier if you’re moving. You can always steer a moving truck. It’s doing nothing that causes panic and anxiety to rise. As soon as possible, articulate to your team the way forward and the next steps needed to get there. Everyone on the team should know where the team is going and what is needed from them individually as team members to get the team there. It’s your job as a leader to make sure this message is clear to everyone on the team.
Now, here’s the bad news. This isn’t the last glitch we’ll see this year. Bad things happen all of the time, and our success in life will be determined by how well we deal with these glitches.
Now, here’s the good news. After this year, we’ll be great at dealing with glitches! Bring it on!