Wating for the Great Leap Forward

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

The past year has been a time unlike any other in my life. I’ve been working so hard to create change and deliver results. A year ago I would have expected my efforts to have paid off in spades by now. The humble coconut has helped me to rethink my expectations.

It would be difficult to visit a tropical isle without seeing a few coconut palm trees. The trees stand tall, rising to over thirty feet. The fruit of the tree is heavy, since a full sized coconut can weigh three pounds. Almost every part of the fruit could be used for something. The coconut palm will produce over thirty coconuts a year – almost 100 pounds of fruit. To summarize, the coconut palm produces a lot of fruit and the fruit is highly valuable. But here’s the catch – it takes time. Coconut palms don’t bear fruit immediately. It takes 7 years for a coconut palm tree to bear any fruit.

Imagine that you have planted a coconut tree outside of your beach house. It is growing taller and taller. You can see evidence that it will one day bear fruit, but at the present time you cannot see any coconuts. What would you do?

Naturally, you would continue to nurture the tree and watch it grow. This progression towards fruit is slow and steady. There is no great leap forward. Just daily progression towards fruit.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Suzanne Pellican in June of this past year. I was introduced to her by some of my friends at the d.school. Suzanne and her colleagues at Intuit created a group called Innovation Catalysts and have done some amazing things with innovation and design thinking. (My friend Roger Martin tells the story here in the Harvard Business Review.)

I sat down for coffee at Intuit’s headquarters in Mountain View and began to tell her about some of my experiences over the past year. I told her about my life changing experiences at the d.school and how we were starting to implement design thinking. I mentioned the small wins we were seeing with behavior and culture shifts. She smiled the entire time I talked. I was a newly planted tree and I desperately wanted to bear some fruit. And then Suzanne gives me a reality check.

“You are at the start of a seven year journey. When we started Innovation Catalyst we told everyone it would take us seven years before we would see a payoffs.”

“Seven years? Really? I want to change things right now and I want it to be easy and fun,” I thought to myself. I just smiled right back at Suzanne.

It turns out she was right. Change is hard and it takes time. But don’t mistake a lack of fruit for a lack of growth. I believe I have grown more this year than any other in my working career. I have written more, read more and grown my network more than the past ten years combined.

Just like the coconut palm, I am convinced that fruit is coming. Like Suzanne predicted, substantial changes will take time, but I am committed to continue to grow.

I believe the lesson from Suzanne’s journey was to be patient as those around you grow. Nurture the tree and value growth. It takes a lot of patience to see and taste the fruit.

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I will wait

When have you waited for something really important to you?

The only times I tend to wait are when I have something challenging or stretching in front of me.

I mentioned a few posts ago, but I am giving a talk in a month at a TEDx conference. And I continue to wait to finalize my presentation. I’m excited about the opportunity to give the talk, but I continue to wait to develop the content.

What am I waiting for? I let smaller, less important tasks get in the way of something that is important to me.

What are you waiting for? Denying yourself is sometimes important, but don’t say “I will wait” on something important or challenging.

Dive in head first

p.s. this is a Mumford and Sons inspired post.