Of Carousels, Coasters and Bumper Cars

Written by: Ron Scheese

I love amusement parks. The lights, sounds, smells, and thrill rides bring out my inner child. The business world can be tough and sometimes it feels as if you are perpetually riding the carousel, roller coaster or bumper cars.

Carousels are sentimental. They seem calm and relaxing. We want our organization to run with the smoothness and efficiency of a carousel; never going too fast, some ups and downs, but nothing too drastic. The danger of the carousel is that we can be lulled into contentment. When times are good, we want to think we have everything right and enjoy the ride. While we might not be going anywhere, the world around us is constantly changing. Contentment is a land where we no longer look to improve – we think we have everything fine-tuned. In many ways, carousels represent our comfort zones. They are okay to ride for a little while, but at some point, you want to experience something more exciting.

Roller Coasters focus on energy and excitement. The climbs, dips, 360° loops, cork screws, and speed best describe the normal business environment. Just when you are comfortable accelerating in one direction, momentum shifts, and off you go into a new challenge and experience. Every business should have some roller coaster excitement from time-to-time. It keeps the organization vibrant. Enjoying the ride builds a healthy and resilient team.

Bumper Cars are unpredictable. You control your car and sometimes make a dent in the market. But somewhere along the ride, you are likely to be blindsided and hit from all sides. There is not a moment to relax on the bumper cars. You are always on and sometimes it feels like you are being hit by one crisis after another. Instead of accomplishing your plan, you become reactionary and manage in survival mode. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic feels a lot like riding the bumper cars – plenty of outside influence wreaking constant havoc with internal plans and policy changes. The common element in these ride analogies is CHANGE. In order to build a business that lasts, we must learn to hang on and enjoy the ride. An appreciation for the comfort zones, ups and downs, twists, turns, loops, and blindsided bumps will make an organization stronger and more resilient. How does one go about building that resiliency? A few of suggestions:

Awareness: Recognize that your organization or department will experience different types of rides. Some rides will be smooth, others thrilling and others bumpy. But you will always be on the ride. Learn to switch your mindset to embrace the ride you are on at the moment. The most resilient individuals I know don’t live for the destination but enjoy the journey. So, enjoy the ride because you will be on another ride in no time.

Focus on others: Your organization or department exists to serve others – be it employees, customers, the community, etc. No matter what ride you are on in the moment, those you serve are also going through a ride of their own. Engage by serving others and you will improve your situation. The result is often the catalyst for enjoying your ride experience.

Retrospectives: Each ride is a learning opportunity. Everything you do contributes to your development. Take time to analyze and self-reflect. What could you have done better? How might you handle a similar situation differently in the future? Where did you grow the most? What do you need to learn in order to be better prepared in the future? Looking back provides the best way to look ahead – and that is the very best way to prepare for the next ride.

Teamwork makes the Dream work: Amusement parks are fun, but they are more fun when you share the experience. Don’t go it alone. The ability to hang on during seasons of challenge and change is made easier when shared with collaborative, caring colleagues. Make time to invest in relationships with those people who share the ride with you.

The world is going through accelerated change and it does feel like a roller coaster or bumper car. No one knows for certain when things might go back to a semblance of carousel normal; or what normal even means for our immediate future.

Recognize the ride you are on, focus on serving others, take more time for self and organizational reflection, and share the burden with others to navigate this ride. You will emerge stronger and more resilient as a result.

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