Years ago, Gail and I went to Maui to celebrate our anniversary. On the second day, we took snorkeling lessons. We started in the swimming pool, then progressed to the coral reef next to our hotel. We loved it. It was like swimming in a huge aquarium.
Later that same day, we rented some snorkeling gear and determined that we would venture out on our own. We had discovered a new sport that we could do together.
The next morning we ventured down to the beach. There wasn’t another soul around. It was like a scene from Blue Lagoon—pristine, tranquil, and stunning. We couldn’t wait to get into the water.
As we paddled about in the lagoon, facing down in the water, we were mesmerized by the aquatic life teeming just a few feet below us. We saw brightly colored fish, gently swaying plants, and, of course, the coral reef itself—alive with activity. It was truly a wow experience.
At some point, I decided to lift my head out of the water and look around. I gasped. Caught in a riptide, we had drifted more than a mile out to sea. The shoreline looked impossibly far away. Our hotel—all the hotels—looked like toys in the distance.
I immediately shouted to Gail who, fortunately, was still just a few feet from me. She looked up, saw our predicament, and then looked at me in near-panic. “Oh my gosh. What are we going to do?”
Fortunately, we had a “boogie board” with us, on which we could place shells and other items we hoped to find on the ocean floor. We both grabbed on to it and started paddling for our lives—literally.
We swam for more than an hour. Eventually, as we neared the shore, we stood up in the shallow water. We trudged up to the beach and collapsed in the sand. We were utterly exhausted. We realized just how close we had come to disaster. This was not the outcome we had intended when we innocently slipped into the water that morning.
So much of life is similar to this experience. You start out with one thing in mind and then, without consciously intending to do so, end up in an entirely different location. It is the power of the drift.
Put this into an organizational context for a moment.
We’ve all attended that first Big Vision Meeting. Someone has a dream for something great—a wow product, a service, or event. People are energized. The creative spigot is turned on. The ideas flow. The room is alive with possibility.
But then we come to the second meeting. A few people report on the assignments they were given. Maybe they share a sketch, a proposal, or a demo. It’s not bad; in fact, it’s pretty good. But it just doesn’t quite match up with our expectations. Something is missing.
Everyone is polite. A few even make suggestions. But somewhere deep inside you realize that the dream has taken a hit. It hasn’t died, of course. But it has been dialed back—calibrated to the reality of deadlines, budgets, and limited resources.
At this very moment, you face a decision. Will you take a stand for the original vision or will you—and everyone else in the room—be swept out to sea, drifting along with the current, oblivious to what is happening.
The one thing that will keep this from happening is courage. This is the only thing that gives life to the dream once the initial enthusiasm wears off. In my experience, there are six ways to find the courage you need to swim against the tide and stand for wow:
- Take a stand for greatness. Like many important things in life, creating a wow experience begins with making a commitment. You must resolve in your own heart that you will not sell-out or settle. This isn’t necessary for every project, of course. But when you decide that the dream warrants it, you have to take a stand and play full-out.
- Connect with the original vision. King Solomon once said, “Without vision the people perish” (see Proverbs 29:18 KJV). This is also true for wow. Before it exists, it is only an idea. The only place it exists is inside your head. Sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and once again become present to what it is that you are trying to create.
- Remind yourself what is at stake. I have found that the best way to do this is to ask, “Why is this so important?” When I was writing my first book, I had a list of seven reasons why I needed to write the book. I reviewed it every morning before I began writing. It gave the project an almost epic significance, but it kept me going when I wanted to quit.
- Listen to your heart. Most of us have spent a lifetime ignoring—or even suppressing—our intuition. I don’t know if this is a product of modern rationalism or American pragmatism. Regardless, I believe intuition is “the map to buried treasure.” It is not infallible but neither is our reason. And, it can point us in the right direction. We need to pay attention to this inner voice.
- Speak up. This is he crucial step. You must give voice to your heart and go on the record. If you don't, who will? You may be the original dream’s last best chance of staying alive. Most people will happily give in, give up, and move on. Most people have more to do than they can get done, so they are reluctant to go through one more iteration to get it right. But if they don’t, they will never get to wow! This is why you can’t afford to remain silent.
- Be stubborn. This is perhaps the toughest part of all. We all want to be liked. We don’t want to be “high-maintenance” or unreasonable. But think back on your own history. Aren’t the people you respect the most also the ones who demanded the most from you? You may not have fully appreciated it at the time, but, looking back, their stubborn refusal to settle is what made the difference.
Look, mediocrity is natural. You don’t have to do anything to drift there. It just happens. But if you want to create truly wow experiences, then it is going to require courage. Are you willing to be brave?
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