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Jungle Rules: Resilience and Reflective Time Shifting

Written by: Ralph Twombly
Published: January 2012

In my article in December we were examining how people fit in or didn't fit in with their respective organizations. As I was writing the article, it had occurred to me (again) that just because someone doesn't fit or doesn't choose to fit doesn't mean that they don't have value or are less personally important in the long run of work and life interests.

If you missed the December article or want to review it, please click on the following link:

Jungle Rules - The story goes like this. There was a young water buffalo who was thirsty and he journeys to the watering hole for a drink. For the first time he notices his reflection in the water. He thinks, "What a handsome dude" and feels just a bit self-satisfied. As he continues to drink he notices something else. The other animals drinking look very different from his reflection. In fact, he discovers that the other animals at the watering hole look very much like the ones he witnessed chasing, catching and eating the ones that look just like him. The other guys have stripes and long teeth and seem to be licking their lips as they stare at him. For the first time he starts to realize that he is different and by no means the dominant animal at the watering hole. Instinctively and wisely he thinks to himself, "Choices need to be made right now."

Everyone likes my story because the analogy is not lost in business today. Being the water buffalo at the watering hole is not such a bad thing if you are surrounded by other water buffalos. Many times we find that we are something altogether different than the rest of the herd and, if different enough, there can be real danger. If you are a water buffalo in a tiger herd, your odds are not good for survival. For the record being a water buffalo is not a bad thing. Water buffalos are not inferior or less valuable. Water buffalos are simply different from tigers.

I have always had great respect for those people who could look like a tiger and still be a water buffalo. If they are happy and if that is where they feel they belong, my salute goes out to them. Sometimes, as we have all witnessed, it is not that difficult and sometimes it is. This article is for those who have been that different animal at the watering hole or are experiencing symptoms of "I'm the wrong animal" and want or have to find a new herd.

Here is the survivor's guide for moving onto or into the next place (herd).

  1. Fitness (or fitting in) in the environment is not simply preferred, it is essential in many people's lives for happiness. Just because you are not right for the environment you're in does not mean that there is not a perfect place for you. For example, I could never be a used-car salesman because of my mental models of that type of work and that would cloud my judgment every single day. On the other hand, I could sell organizational or person development services (and I do) because I believe in what we do and know the value. I fit. As I look around the watering hole I am surrounded by animals that look a lot like me (the right herd) and share the same values and beliefs. Examine your fitness by determining the values in the herd as compared to what you value. We do this with the people in our lives we love. Why would it be different with our work? You can have it all.

  2. Be resilient. All of us admire the people who have battled adversity and are still standing tall. Rags to riches stories abound and the high-school dropout who makes millions continue to fascinate and inspire us all. Interestingly, the more you are in the wrong herd, the more adversity you will undoubtedly face. Conversely, facing little or no adversity will make your skills dull and your senses sluggish. So, take risks, pull hard on your abilities and eventually you will end up getting hurt.& Pain is a wonderful confirmation that you are alive, not defeated unless you don't get up from the beating. Understand and practice the art of working through your emotions, taking fresh perspectives, own your contribution to your defeats and then apply rational thought and process to the next thing you do that is risky. Quick note: try to get rational before you have completely worked through your emotions following a defeat and you will find yourself set back. If it takes time to get through your emotions, find ways to shorten the cycle like talking to a trusted ally who will listen, not judge and give you feedback and perspective. We all love a Phoenix.

  3. When you enter or join a new herd, you need to watch, listen and learn. We have quoted Covey many times, "Seek first to understand and then to be understood" and that quote has never been more valuable. Sometimes we feel like we need to make a quick contribution and we try to be valuable too soon. Relax, tell people that you want to learn from them, observe the rules of the group, feel the rhythm of the team and tell team members that they should let you know if you are not contributing enough, soon enough. Give yourself time to fit in and practice humility at your highest level.

  4. Learn to reflectively time shift. Each day of your life learn to look back in time and size up what happened without bias, look at the current reality of today without pain or regret and look ahead at the future without fear. This is kind of tough because you have to really work at it. On the plus side, if you can do this with every personal and business situation, setback, and success, you can honestly say you are turning into the master of not only emotional intelligence but you are also turning into the master of your own destiny. This is easier said than done if you feel defeated, or inferior. Here are some ideas:

    • Looking back is fun if you apply perspective to your role in the past. Folks struggle with this part because it can be hard to be really honest with personal frailty but try to look at what you did well if you can. Size up the things you did right as efficiently as the things that didn't work. If you learn this essential emotional intelligence skill and practice them every day, you will get better. To survey the past you need to really understand and accept your own behavior. Sometimes, we make too many excuses when it is simpler to own the issues as our issues and be done with it.

    • To look at the reality of today you need to open your eyes and see the real world and not confuse what is going on right now with what you want or where you have been.
    • Finally, the easiest thing to do is to simply use the past and the reality of today to build something beneficial for the future.

Thanks for reading. Hope you didn't mind a little trip to the jungle and if I were to provide a moral to the story it might be that we all fit someplace but it is up to us to find our herd. Unfortunately, if we don't it is left to others to find a herd for us and I like to make my own choices. How about you?

See you next month and best to all.

Ralph Twombly

Ralph Twombly

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.