The Power of Arches

Which part of the arch is most important? Put another way, which part of the arch can we do without?

Evidence of mankind’s use of arches dates back beyond 2000 B.C. The ancient Romans used arches to construct bridges and aqueducts across their empire. Arches made building the most impressive and beautiful churches and temples across the world possible. Arches, in varying forms, continue their reign as a fundamental building block in the 21st century.

Arches are simple on the surface, but their physics is complex. The curved shape of the arch allows it to resist and transfer a huge amount of compressive force from above to its foundation. This process converts the compressive force into thrust force at the bottom of the arch. The thrust force is managed with reinforcing abutments, buttresses, and other constructs that prevent the thrust forces from crushing the bottom of the arch.

Masonry arches consist of four main parts: the foundation, the pier/impost (sides), the voussoir (the curved part), and the keystone.

Which part of the arch is most important? Put another way, which part of the arch can we do without?

Some would say the arch won’t stand without its keystone at the top. Others might say the sides are most important since they give the arch its height and create the open space that makes arches useful in the first place. Without the voussoir, the arch wouldn’t have its curve. What about all of those thrust forces? With this in mind, clearly the foundation and its abutment structures are the most important part of the arch.

The arch won’t stand unless all of its parts work in unison. Each part of the arch is critical to the success of the other parts. Absence, or weakness, of any part will weaken the arch and could lead to its collapse.

I see the arch as a great metaphor for many of the organizational structures we have today. Families, businesses, charities, governmental entities…to name only a few. All have “arch-like” qualities. All are made up of multiple parts, relying on each other, organized into some type of hierarchy.

Their power comes from creating a strong, protected space where each of us can thrive. Unfortunately, their potential for weakness lies within each of us, whether we’re the foundation, the sides, the voussoir, or the keystone.


Your Talent Won’t Be Enough

Enough for what?

There are very few truly one-man (or one-woman) shops.  Show me a successful sole proprietor, and I’ll show you someone who leads, and relies upon, a team of talented individuals…whether they realize it or not.

How can this be?  Doesn’t the definition of sole proprietor mean that one person is the sole talent?  Well, sort of, but not quite.

Imagine that you’re an awesome flower arranger.  Your bouquets are exquisite.  Their beauty is unmatched.  You decide to take a risk and open your own flower shop.  Your confidence is high.  After all, your flower arrangements are incredible.  Customers will come from miles around to buy your arrangements.

A few weeks into the process of opening your new shop, you discover that flower shops don’t run on flower arrangements alone.  There are building leases to negotiate, furniture and fixtures to procure, point-of-sale systems to deploy, website interfaces to create (if you’d like to receive orders from some of the national flower delivery services), suppliers to line up, insurance coverage to purchase, merchant account services (if you plan to take credit cards), and payroll systems (for the one or two part-time employees you’ll be hiring, just for starters).

You’ll need to connect your talent with the talents of a wide array of other people, just to open your shop.

It’s the same thing in a larger company.  Your ability to build trusting relationships across your company, and across your industry, will have more to do with your long-term success than individual talent.  Creating a reservoir of trust with talented people, and relying on them, just as you’d rely on yourself, is critical to your success…and theirs.

Your talent, alone, won’t be enough.  Enough for what?  Enough to accomplish whatever your definition of success is.

The Most Important Strategy Presentation You’ll Ever Make

Was this the most important strategy presentation you’ll ever make? It probably seemed like it, with all of the hard work and sleepless nights that went into it.

You’ve figured out how to ask real strategic questions .  You and your team have used those strategic questions to layout your strategy for next month, next year, maybe even the year after that.

You’re working on the big strategy presentation for your boss, and his boss.  You have 30-45 minutes to present.  It has to be perfect.  Your PowerPoint slides need to be crisp, concise, and informative.  Most of all, they must smoothly convey the sheer mastery of your team’s strategy.

You rehearse with your management team.  You adjust and tweak each word, each number, and every bullet point on your slides.  You gather as much supporting information as you can to support your conclusions.  You write out every question you can anticipate, and make sure you have a clear and effective response for each one.  You are ready.

Your company’s dress code is business casual, but it’s tradition that you wear a coat and tie for these annual strategy presentations.  Your preparation pays off.  You deliver a brilliant strategy presentation.  There are a few questions thrown your way, but you’ve anticipated every one of them.  Your boss, and his boss, are clearly impressed and excited to offer their support for your strategy.

You gather your team for a short post-presentation update meeting.  You congratulate your team for all of the work they’ve done on the presentation.  High fives all around!

Was this the most important strategy presentation you’ll ever make?  It probably seemed like it, with all of the hard work and sleepless nights that went into it.  But, it definitely wasn’t the most important.

Having your manager’s support for your strategy is a big deal.  But, your manager, and his manager, won’t do much to help you deliver on the brilliant strategic vision you and your team have laid out.

Remember all the time and energy that went into your perfect presentation?  Imagine if you spent even half of that time and energy preparing for, and presenting to, your customers and your employees.

The most important strategy presentation you’ll ever make is to the people who will deliver on your strategy…your customers, your direct reports, and everyone who works within your organization.

It’s not a one-time event that lasts 30-45 minutes.  It’s a never-ending conversation that should be happening with your customers, and across all levels of your organization…every day.

We Are All Mountain Climbers

Until you face a climb yourself, you can never fully understand what it takes.

AlanAroras--Mt Everest 2013

There it is…Mount Everest from the air.  Each year, about 150-200  climbers attempt to reach its summit, 29,029 feet above sea level.  There are thousands of other mountain peaks in the world, but Everest is the highest, and most challenging.  Of course, from this angle it looks pretty tame.

That’s the thing about mountains.  Perspective is everything.  Until you face a climb yourself, you can never fully understand what it takes.  Watching others make the climb, or hearing their stories about what it was like, are no substitute for taking on the climb for yourself.

Look around you.  If you look closely, you’ll see that each of us are climbing a mountain.  Some mountains are short and easy, while others are as high or higher than our friend, Mr. Everest.

This is the point where I could wax on poetically about striving for the highest peaks in life, chasing ever higher summits, new vistas, and new challenges.  Yes, do all of that.  Don’t let anyone stop you…especially yourself.

No, I’m not going to talk about the standard, inspirational mountain stuff.  Instead, I’m going to talk about weight.

When embarking on a climb, is it better to carry twenty pounds, fifty pounds, or one-hundred pounds of gear on your back?  Obviously, all things being equal, less weight is better.  Gravity is not your friend.

How much weight are you carrying on your climb?  Only the essentials?  Anything extra?  Are you carrying baggage that won’t be used?  Why?  Carrying all that extra baggage isn’t helping you reach your summit.

What about your fellow climbers, especially those closest to you?  How much extra baggage are they carrying?  How much of it is yours?

The best strategy for extra baggage (and its unnecessary weight) is to avoid packing it in the first place.



Photo Credit:  Alan Arora, who owes me some details on how he was able to be in the cockpit jump seat of an Airbus A319 at the perfect time to capture such a beautiful shot of Mount Everest.

Moving Boulders

The boulder was huge. By all estimates, it weighed at least a ton.

The boulder was huge.  By all estimates, it weighed at least a ton.  It had rolled down the mountain and was blocking the main road into town.  Various city departments sent their top managers out to assess the situation.  All came back with the same assessment:  the boulder was huge, and there was no way their department could move it off the road.   

The road department recommended that they build a new road to go around the boulder.  Given the urgency of the situation, that was seen as the best option.  They worked around the clock to build the new road.  Within four weeks, they had successfully rerouted the road around the boulder.  The road department was hailed for their work and sacrifice in helping the city avert the crisis brought about by the boulder.     

Success?  Not really.

Sure, the city attacked the problem with its best minds.  They came up with a novel approach to solving the problem.  The road department employees put in a heroic effort to re-open the vital artery into the city.

But, something was missing (other than jackhammers and tractors).  In this case, the most vital ingredients to problem solving were missing from the story.  Those ingredients are trust and teamwork.

Each manager sought a solution from within the artificial boundaries of their own department, their own experience.  Their assessments were correct, from their limited perspectives.  None had the resources to move the boulder.  Each fell victim to, and tacitly supported, a culture that ignores (or avoids) cross-departmental teamwork.

Imagine what would have happened if even two of the departments had trusted each other.  Imagine if they found a way to pool their resources and ideas.  The power of teamwork lies not in having more hands to do the work, but in broadening the array of available solutions.

How does your organization deal with boulders blocking the road?  What are you doing to change it?


Last week, I had an employee come in and tell me how something is unacceptable.  The details of the thing that was unacceptable aren’t important.  As I sat there, considering how to best respond to this “unacceptable” situation, I wondered if the employee knew what she had done by using that word to start the discussion.

Merely stating that something is unacceptable, without offering up potential solutions, isn’t helpful.  The recipient of the news (in this case, the manager) is placed in a position of having to extract additional information, and then determine if there are any acceptable alternatives.  Of course, since one situation has already been deemed unacceptable, it’s quite possible that one or more of the alternatives may be similarly unacceptable.

It goes even deeper than that.  By starting the conversation in a deep hole of unacceptability, the potential for finding an alternative that is not just acceptable, but ideal, is very low.  In other words, finding an ideal solution is probably not going to be the goal.  Rather, it will be to find something that is at best “not unacceptable.”

There’s a mindset at play in the person who chooses to use words like “unacceptable” on a regular basis.  That mindset is focused on off-loading responsibility for finding solutions to someone else.  It is focused on creating short-term impact at the expense of a longer-term environment for success and collaboration.

It’s true that some things in life are unacceptable to us.  When these situations arise, we have an opportunity to express this from the perspective of trying to find a more ideal solution.  If your manager or co-worker holds the keys to an “unacceptable” situation, describe it with words like “challenging,” “difficult,” or possibly use the situation as a pivot point to what you see as more ideal alternatives.  Bring an understanding of the pro’s and con’s of your alternatives to the discussion.

Building collaboration is much easier when we seek ideal solutions together, rather than merely working independently to avoid the unacceptable.

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