Hi, I hope you are doing well. Before you read any further, take the attached self-assessment. It will only take 5 minutes.
I just spent the weekend in Baltimore with my kids. We ate at Lexington Market, watched the buskers and the boats at the Inner Harbor, and saw the Orioles beat the Rays 11-2 at Camden Yards. We had a great time. However, we were not supposed to be in Baltimore. We were supposed to be in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the Oshkosh Air Show, one of the largest in the country, because one of my kids is airplane crazy. We planned this trip months ago and we were all set—flight to Milwaukee, rental car, hotel, tickets, parking passes. We were scheduled to get there Friday night, but there were thunderstorms in the Baltimore/DC area, so they stopped planes from flying into Baltimore, where we were scheduled to make our connection, and we didn’t get there until after our connecting flight had departed. All this was very uncertain until we got to Baltimore, because it looked for a while like our connecting flight was delayed also. But I got on my phone before we left Hartford and checked when the next plane would be, and they were all booked, so I already knew that if we missed the flight, we were not flying out again until Sunday. No air show.
When we landed in Baltimore and learned that we had missed our flight, I turned to my airplane crazy son and told him that we weren’t going to make it to the air show. “It’s fine,” he said, “This is an adventure.”
I was originally going to write about grit and resilience and adversity, but I decided that that would be overselling what happened. Serious disappointment is not trauma or toxic stress. But how you handle what is, on the surface, a major let-down does say a lot about how you think and your orientation to problem versus opportunity. And it reminded me of Richard Wiseman’s book, The Luck Factor.
His premise is that you make your own luck, and that there are smart ways to think and act that contribute to your own sense of how fortunate you are as well as to different outcomes. The self-assessment that you took is Wiseman’s, from the beginning of the book. The items are correlated to the points he makes explaining why people are luckier than others—or see themselves that way. The higher your score, the better positioned you are to take advantage of the vagaries that come your way—good and bad.
You’ll have to read the book for the full treatment, but there is one point that I want to call out. First is the “every cloud has a silver lining” mentality that my son espoused—or, “when life gives you lemons…” My grandmother used to say that everything happens for a reason, and I used to think that that was superstitious bunk—and it is, but it is a very useful superstition to have. Psychologists call it framing—the idea that the way you think about a situation influences your feelings about it and your actions.
Hoch & Kunreuther (2004), define frame as “a stable, coherent cognitive structure that organizes and simplifies the complex reality that a manager operates in. Many frames reside in memory and are usually evoked or triggered automatically.” (The automatic part is why we frequently refer to them as unexamined assumptions.) They describe a frame as less complete than a mental model, and less widely shared than a paradigm. Kahneman & Tversky (1979) helped popularize the construct by showing that subtle changes in the way that decisions are framed (in politics this is known as spin) change the way people think about the decision and hence changes the decisions that are made. Peter Senge uses the line “The way you see the problem is the problem” (see CL #8, attached), but you could equally say that the way you think about an opportunity is an opportunity.
For coaches and leaders, these are very useful ideas. Most leaders already frame ideas through careful choice of language when speaking to others, but may not be as adept at framing ideas, especially challenges, for themselves. I ask coaches to challenge assumptions and mental models—and this is all about asking people to examine the frames that are in play, and making intentional choices about whether a re-frame is in order.
We definitely made the most of our time in Baltimore. As we sat watching the Orioles hammer the Rays on Saturday night, my son (newly in possession of a Machado jersey deeply discounted now that Manny plays for the Dodgers) turned to me and said, “I’m really glad we got stranded here.”
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106