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The Big Picture Isn't Big Enough

High school math contest. My team took second. Not first. Why? Because someone on my team knew the answer and I didn't. That's totally fine and what teams are for. The problem? I didn't accept the fact that I didn't understand the answer so I asked, "Why?" My teammate explained it to me and in that time, another team answered the question. Second place.


First kiddo starting pre-K. The rule was kids had to be at least five years old. Mine was four. Based on all the other information, my child met all of the expectations. Knows all letters, fully potty-trained, knows numbers, interacts appropriately with kids and adults. When I spoke to the lead administrator, I brought my concerns. All behavioral competencies are met. Why can't a kid who meets all of them, except from spending a specific number of months on the planet, start school? "Because you have to draw the line somewhere." Do you? Is there a law or regulation? Why is five the magic number that overrides competencies. "It just is." Why? Kiddo didn't start at four years old, by the way.


On the job, assigned a task. I come from a working background and have no problem putting my head down and getting some work done. In this particular case, I asked my boss; why? He spent two hours meticulous walking be through the evolution of the department, recent changes, where we were headed, and why. At that point, I'm donning all the armor and ready to go into battle for the Why. Then and now, I really appreciate his engagement.


On the job in higher education, we're trying to increase enrollment. The conversation is around "catchment areas." Basically, how far out do we cast the net to try to get more students. I didn't know enough then to ask about yield rates or when in the process prospective students turn into "formerly" prospective students. I knew what I thought was needed and asked, "Do we need a bigger net, or a better one?" If our goal is more students, shouldn't we examine each piece of the process? No. We should just buy bigger or more nets, apparently.


On the job in higher education, we're trying to increase enrollment. The conversation is around enrollment which for this purpose is generally the number of students. When discussing, these were some key phrases: we need to advertise more; we need to advertise better; our alumni are happy so we're doing well; graduates are happy with their experience. Okay, but we see that our graduation rate could improve, should we try to keep more people who've already agreed that education with us is for them rather than try to convince more people to sign-on? Maybe we should make a product (educational experience) that is so great that more people come to us. Or, we should be content with alumni satisfaction and do more to attract people.


This isn't about me not getting my way. This is about my desire, possibly psychological need, to see, understand, and appreciate the big picture. Why would I engage in an activity that is not going to meaningfully support the mission or vision? There is nothing inherently wrong about wanting to get more customers and accepting some customer attrition (okay, even typing this is difficult). It's one track to a desired outcome.


But for me and my brain - I have to see the big picture. I have to try to continuously improve. I didn't have as comprehensive understanding of this until I read The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.


If you like or dislike Sinek's work, super. Buy his books or don't, it's your call. For me, The Infinite Game provided language that helped me understand my approach to work and some related frustrations. Even if teenage me had this info, maybe he could have thought, "I don't fully comprehend this frog-leaping-out-of-a-well logic puzzle. But my friend appears to. What's important now is for me to accept this, have him answer, and get the information later." Or, teenage me could have thought, "Save it. Ask later."


I had known for a while that I needed the big picture. What I didn't know is that I needed the big picture, the screenplay, and the crystal ball. Part of the joy of the infinite game is NOT having the answers, or a script. The joy comes from possibilities and exploration and learning and failing and recovering and connecting and doing a little better than the day before.


This is why when helping my clients, we explore when things went wrong and think about how to move on. Not even necessarily improve or fill a weakness, but from here, how to use strengths to ensure future successes. It's healthy to be upset when things don't go well. It's healthy to learn from that and look for the next opportunity for highlighting one's strengths.


It doesn't mean there's no success or "win." In sports, we celebrate moments. We celebrate when the scoreboard that shows our team ahead at the end of the game. We also celebrate a touchdown, a dunk, an ace, a throw, and a dive. None of these are the goal, but they are all milestones or events in the process of the infinite game. Even the end of the game is just that game. There will be another, repeatedly for the season, for the team, and for the franchise.


The successes and wins in the infinite game are great boosters and opportunities for reflection. They are not the end result of anything. They are opportunities to celebrate, learn, and set our sites on the next goal. Infinitely.


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