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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shangrila May Be Closer than You Think!

Have you ever been so focused on something that you missed the obvious? I did recently, but fortunately I learned a lesson from it...

Last Friday night I was going out to meet some people for dinner at a restaurant I had never been to. It was called "Shangrila" (there's a restaurant that has no confidence issues) and it is out in the Philly burbs.

I don't own a GPS yet (I really think I need one - if the good people from Garmin are reading this and want to trade GPS for speaking services, give me a call...) so I used Google Maps. If you've never used Google Maps to print out directions, let me give you a little insider's secret: Sometimes, when Google Maps tells you to take an exit, it won't tell you whether to take the "north" or "south" exit. I suppose the system feels that we should all have well calibrated internal compasses that automatically know which direction to go. So you have to guess.

This happened to me on my drive to Shangrila. I knew I had to take this exit, but I didn't know if I was supposed to take the north or south version. I make a decision (important improv principle: take action!) and start with the north exit.

I quickly feel this was the wrong choice (I have no idea why, I just did), so I pull into a parking lot so I can look at my directions again turn around. I head the other way, and after a couple of miles I realize that no, this is clearly the wrong way as now I am in a residential neighborhood. I was right the first time.

I turn around again and head back. I get back to where I started and lo and behold! The restaurant is right there!

I pull into the restaurant's parking lot and suddenly, embarrassingly, I realize something:

The restaurant's parking lot is the exact same parking lot I pulled into earlier to check my directions and turn around! DING!

That's right. I was actually at Shangrila, but was so focused on my directions and on turning around that I didn't even notice.

This got me thinking about improv comedy, martial arts, and business. In my experience, I have seen one common trait amongst people who are great improvisers, great martial artists, and great business leaders (especially in turbulent times). All of these people are able to focus very intently on one thing while still being aware of what's going on around them.

The improv comedian needs to be focused on what they are doing and saying while still being aware of the audience, their partners, and the environment. Martial artists must focus on their techniques while still being aware of what their opponent is doing, what other people may be doing, and what dangers/opportunities are in the environment around them. Business people must focus intently on the task at hand (indeed, single-tasking focus is a core productivity principle) while at the same time being aware of new opportunities that may arise, changing market conditions, and what impact their actions may be having on others.

Most productivity type people speak intently on "having focus." This is great, but if you are so focused on what you are doing that you lose your peripheral sense of what's around you, you may very well be hurting yourself in the long run.

You can not flow with the unexpected by keeping your head down and "bulling through." You can not take advantage of opportunities if you don't know they are out there!

I was so focused on reading my Google Map I wasn't even aware I was at the restaurant. As my friend and fellow speaker David Newman pointed out when I told him the story:

"Sometimes when you're looking so hard for Shangrila, you may not even notice that you're already there."

True words, True words...

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