As youngsters, we’re often thrust into situations we don’t have any control over. For me, this led to an important discovery that turned into a life lesson I still call on.
I realized that I had a choice. I could choose how I was going to respond in those types of situations, and I decided then to put all my energy toward figuring out how to creatively and positively respond to what other people experience as negative situations.
Calling on this lesson during my army days.
From 1965 to 1967, I was stationed in South Korea and, unfortunately, one day, I missed an assignment, which got me into trouble with my sergeant. He immediately put me on penalty detail, and came up with a one-day punishment that he felt would ensure a miserable time for me.
On the base, there was an ammunition dump, a deep hole where all the grenades and bullets were stored under a huge mound of earth that would lessen any impact should they ever explode. All around this area, there was a seven-foot-high thick brick wall.
My job for the day, along with six Korean soldiers who worked on the base, was to cut the grass on the hill, which I don’t think had ever been done. The tool we were given to complete the job was a table knife.
Because I couldn’t speak Korean, and they couldn’t speak English, the six soldiers began work, leaving me out of their plans and conversation. I was on my own. I walked down to where the hill met the surrounding wall and discovered that the grass was so thick and matted that when I tugged on it, it came away from the soil easily, and I could roll it up, just like a carpet.
I had an idea.
An out-of-the-box idea.
I approached the soldier who spoke a little English and got across to him my plan. With the seven of us working steadily, in about an hour we rolled the whole width of grass up to the top of the hill. It was hard, exhausting work, but it was encouraging that with teamwork, we got it done in good time. And underneath, there remained very short grass, which looked neat and tidy.
The next step would be rolling it down the other side of the hill so we could get the roll to the gate and into a pile for pick-up. That part was relatively easy, so with the job done, we were resting.
An MP on duty came around, and when he saw us lounging around, he asked us why we weren’t working. When we told him we were finished and showed him the huge pile of grass and the cleaned-up hill, he decided the job was done and told us we were free to go for the rest of the day. And so, what was intended to torture and frustrate us for eight or so hours, we had done in about three.
“Faced with a setback, come at it from a different angle and aim for a unique solution.” Dan Sullivan
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Great teamwork deserves a celebration!
We all went to lunch together, and despite the language barrier, I could see how excited the Korean soldiers were about our accomplishment. I was their hero for coming up with a solution that put us all out of our misery.
When I saw this, I realized how exciting really creative teamwork is for everyone involved. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live on the planet, when you accomplish something challenging together, morale increases tremendously.
This experience from my army days is an important one for me. In my entrepreneurial career, like most entrepreneurs, I’ve experienced a lot of setbacks, especially in the early days.
When faced with a setback, I’d think back to the ammo dump and remember that no matter what the negative circumstance, most times you can overcome it by being creative — coming at it from a different angle and doing something unique. Combine that with great teamwork, and you have yourself a breakthrough.