Lessons from stormy travels – Ask the right question

Thursday, the central US was hit by a nasty winter storm that fouled up both the Chicago and Dallas hub airports (among others) in a big way. I left my home in Austin, Texas at 8 AM and arrived at my hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina (without a suitcase) “only” 17 hours later. Along the way, I learned three lessons that seem worth thinking about.

First, commitment can change the impossible to possible. I really wanted to be at this meeting in Greensboro. I mean REALLY. So, each time I met an obstacle, I just assumed I would find a way around it. Now sometimes even that commitment can’t get you there. But sometimes it can and I don’t want to miss those chances to make the impossible possible for me or my clients.

Second, attitude is everything. Those who responded to the chaos that is inevitably created in airports when the weather turns nasty had a really terrible day – they were grumpy and angry all day and into the next day. Since I left home expecting things to be less than ideal, I approached the day as a long series of puzzles. I kept my eyes out for folks doing a great job, things to make me laugh and moments of beauty. I was never disappointed for those things popped up all day long. This isn’t a Polyanna attitude; it’s simply choosing the lens through which you look. And it makes all the difference.

And last, if you don’t like the answer you are getting, change the question. When my flight was cancelled, like most people on the plane, I asked the agent to find another way to get me to Greensboro that night. Nothing available, she said. Route me through Atlanta or any other city, I asked. No, nothing available. This went on for a few rounds. Finally I changed the question – “How close to Greensboro can you get me tonight?” After a few more “nothing available” replies, she found a flight to Charlotte, 90 miles south of Greensboro. I landed in Charlotte at 11 PM, got a car and was in Greensboro at 1 AM. Not exactly an easy way to go, but I was there when my meeting started at 8:30AM the next day. Travelers who stuck with the standard question arrived at noon the next day.

So, now I’ll ponder my business from a new direction for a while. What questions am I asking myself that are getting me answers that don’t work? How can I change the questions I ask to improve the way my business works? Could be a pretty powerful process.

Am I happy about arriving at my destination almost 9 hours later than I planned? No, of course not. But this just might be a payoff that makes it all worth while.