Welcome to the Deep End – This Way Out

By Richard Eaton posted 10-24-2018 12:26


hike.jpg‘The shallow end of hope is usually the deep end of grace.’ Bob Goff 

I’m willing to bet that you feel like you’re being ‘chucked into the deep end’ more and more often at work these days. As you are no doubt well aware, ‘Deep Ends’ can yawn open in a variety of unexpected ways such as:

  • Being ‘volunteered’ to take on a new assignment, usually by the boss, usually during a Monday morning meeting;
  • Getting blindsided by previously unknown customer or stakeholder complaints;
  • Picking up important assignments from colleagues who have, intentionally or otherwise, dropped the ball;
  • Stepping into a new job or role and discovering, to your horror, that you are in way over your head, or, of course;
  • During a crisis.

It’s folly to assume that you can successfully avoid visiting the deep end at some point during your career. How, then, can you get out of it in a way that will ensure you can continue functioning, and be successful, despite the initial shock? 

I was an Officer in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment for 8 years, including a couple of years spent working with the Royal Marines. In that time, I deployed to Arctic Norway, 600 miles above the Arctic Circle several times, over several winters, amounting to about 18 months of continuous operations in the snow covered mountain ranges of northern and eastern Scandinavia. If you want a good example of ‘the deep end’ take large groups of young people, recruited mainly from Britain’s Inner Cities, into an Arctic environment where the temperatures can plunge to minus 40C in a couple of hours, with the intention of turning them into ski commandos. Here are three things I’ve learned about successfully negotiating this particular deep end that you may find helpful in your own particular part of the pool:

1. Snow is Warm

Those unaccustomed to sleeping in snowbanks for a living may be forgiven for thinking that snow is cold. The actual truth is that a large proportion of snow is comprised of air: an excellent insulator. With the right training, troops formerly afraid of snow become adept at using it, digging deep snow caves to use as temporary, comfy protection from some of the harshest weather imaginable. Armed with such knowledge, it is possible to safely shed a huge amount of heavy and unnecessary equipment, like tents, to help you learn to ski easier, as well as move faster and more nimbly than any potential arctic opponents. Therefore, the more knowledge and experience you have, or that you can draw upon from within your team, the better prepared you will be to survive your next, inevitable, deep end plunge.

2. Green is Good

When your main goal is to be adept at traversing many miles of mountainous terrain, skiing far behind enemy lines to cut them off from the rear, you need to be really good at selecting and applying the right grip wax to the bottoms of your skis. Matched to the snow temperature and texture, cross country ski waxes come in different colours corresponding to their softness. The warmer the temperature the softer, and redder, the wax. Thus, red is the softest, and white (or ‘Polar’) the hardest. Green lies in about the middle of the spectrum, and is the wax we normally applied as it matched the conditions we encountered most of the time. Also, with a good base of Green wax, you could either layer up quickly with a warmer overlay, or scrape skis fast and apply colder wax because green was hard enough to be removed quickly too, if required.

So, in readiness for your next deep end experience find your optimal equilibrium – or Green Wax equivalent - as an individual, team and organization. Then understand what you have to do to adapt to meet the challenge of an increased, or variable, tempo so that you can meet the needs of the unknown future without burning yourself out.

3. Fall Forward Fast

Inevitably, with people who have never before seen, let alone strapped on and used, cross country skis there will be falls. Lots and lots of falls. As a ski instructor, one of my first steps was to teach people to fall without hurting themselves, a real danger where foot and leg movements are restricted by skis and bindings. I have taught dozens of people how to ski and noticed that those who fell the most, and who were not afraid of falling, learned the fastest. So, when you find yourself in the deep end, understand that there is a good chance that you will try something that won’t work out the first time, and that’s OK. 

It’s not OK if you don’t first prepare for those failures in some way, or quit after your first black eye, because the right way out of the deep end involves true grit and, sometimes, just a little bit of guts. 

About the Author

Richard Eaton is a co-founder of Berlineaton a management consulting firm that specializes in continuous improvement, strategy & execution, and leader development. If you are interested in finding out how your organization can improve its effectiveness, please contact Richard at 250-472-3767, reaton@berlineaton.com or visit www.berlineaton.com/practice-areas/continuous-improvement

1 comment



10-29-2018 19:29

I love the metaphor, Richard and the ideas. Falling a lot and feeling OK with that, making sure there is an appropriate amount and type of wax (is that expectation, and risk tolerance?) and knowing that snow can be a comfort zone with the right experience and preparation, brilliant! Thank you for offering your thoughts and what experience you have had in life, we learn.