I Watched From The Back As They Crashed.


I WATCHED FROM THE BACK AS THE PRESENTATION BOMBED. They had been trained and rehearsed by one of the nation's top experts in presentation skills. They were ready.

When their moment arrived and they stepped forward, they left everything they learned behind. Everything. The first speaker droned. No energy. No questions to draw the audience in or get them excited about their idea. Just the same old monotone manner they had before their training. Each of the team's other speakers followed suit.

They blew it -- and they knew it.

The expert who trained them was in shock. He had prepared them to fly... and instead they crashed.

Afterward, he and I tried to figure it out what happened. His view was that they reverted to what they were used to. They played it safe -- even though they told him their old ways didn't work very well.

I wondered if the team ever truly believed the new approach would work -- in their ability to pull it off -- or if they had the courage to take the risk.

Whatever the reasons, the first team just stood there... and died. They died in a room filled with their CEO, their bosses and their colleagues. It was embarrassing and needless.

Their presentation could have been sensational. Instead it was ordinary and pathetic. The judges' feedback was polite and short. The idea the speakers proposed would go nowhere.


The team that followed was trained by the same expert -- and soared. By comparison, they seemed brilliant. They believed in their idea. They showed courage. They took a risk. And it worked. At the end, the team was ecstatic and empowered.

Their CEO and everyone in the room was impressed. And said so. This proposal had merit, they were told, and the CEO would help make it happen. The team instantly became leaders among their peers.


What's the lesson here? Perhaps it is that the path to progress and success often contains two kinds of risk.

The first kind of risk comes from doing things the old way -- the way that hasn't worked very well -- yet we continue doing it anyway.

The second kind of risk comes from believing there's a better way -- and that you can make it work. It comes from being willing to be uncomfortable for a little while. To crash through the old fences that are holding you back.


UPFRONT posts are glimpses inside MBA and Executive Ed classes that Carl teaches or participates in at Drexel University's LeBow College of Business.