When the Going Gets Tough

When the Going Gets Tough, the Successful Do Something that doesn’t make Sense:

When doing something counter intuitive makes sense

I have noticed interesting phenomenon for people who recreate success over and over.

Three things:

  1. Finding out what else works
  2. Doing things that don’t make sense at the time
  3. Use systemic thinking and strategies

Find out what else works

The old saying, When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”  is a particular strategy for change that may work some of the time.   This, in my experience,  works only if what you were doing in the first place was working.  Sometimes,  the tough dig in their heels and strengthen their resolve and then do more of what was not working.

In any system, there are always dynamic parts.  In other words, things change.  Eventually what you are doing will stop working because what goes on around you changes.  The economy changes, people change, organizations get bought or sold, taxes go up, relationships become unstable.   Or sometimes you stop doing the things that made you successful. 

Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, said that nothing recedes like success.  Richard Bandler, a founder of NLP, said,  be suspicious of success.  Whenever you feel certain, and  you succeed at a task several times, I want you to become suspicious of what you’re not noticing”.

The typical response to success is to keep doing what is working.  Richard Bandler says  when you say, Boy, this really works!”  Then say right then, What else will also work?”    That is usually not what happens.  As a result, innovation usually takes a long time to develop. The more success you have, the more certain you become, and the less likely you are to stop and think, What is it that I’m not doing?”

Doing what does not make sense

Einstein said, No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  And The significant problems we face in life cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

When I got into NLP twenty some years ago, I had no job, no income and no money.  I was heavily in debt, very bad credit.  My marriage was ending (not my choice).   Desperation makes us do some dumb things sometimes.  Fortunately NLP was not one of them.  I was introduced to NLP through an acquaintance of mine.  Nothing in my life seemed like it was working. In the past, my favorite fix-it” was to move, go back to school, find another job, get into a new relationship.  This time I was desperate enough that I was willing to take a risk.  It didn’t make sense at the time.  My decision to take NLP didn’t follow logic or good sense (especially given my economic condition) but it was the best decision I ever made. 

In business, the typical response to tough times is to cut expenses, lay off people, cut training.  My friend, Joe Tigue, who owned Westway Ford in Irving (at the time in the top 10 dealerships of any variety in the country) taught me when faced with slow times, the best thing to do is do the opposite of what makes sense. When the car market was down, and his competition was pulling in the reins, he would spend more money on advertising and training or whatever he needed to do to get more people in the doors or make his people more effective salespeople. He said it never felt comfortable because it was a gamble.  But it always paid off.

I recently talked with a friend of mine who heads a large security monitoring company.  He said that tough times called for creative, aggressive measures.  They will often give bigger commissions to their salespeople to incentivize them to pull in more business.  That does not make sense.  Yet it works very well.  Pulling in and taking the fear” approach becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Pulling back usually means the beginning of the end.

Another client with a security guard firm with around 500 employees says that he reassures his employees by taking his staff out or having a cocktail hour.  He says that when times are good no one needs boosters”.   It is when times are unstable that people need to be reassured that although things are tight, they are still considered valuable to the company.  Even in tough times when they land a big contract they have a celebration party.  He said it is counter intuitive to spend money that way.  It keeps the morale up. 

A third client, a young woman, had a bad relationship breakup leaving her without funds.  It was right when a masters class was starting.  She called me and signed up and made arrangements to make payments.  She could see down the road that her situation, however painful now, would not last and the class would help her get back on her feet much faster.  Not only would she be learning new skills but also making much needed belief changes.  In fact, her recovery was remarkable.  She did what it took to take care of her and her child.  She had renegotiate her payment schedule a couple of times but she stayed with it.  Today she is a Master Practitioner in her own place again and with a new job that she really likes.  She did what I mentioned below:  Did something that didn’t make sense and got professional help.

Benjamin Franklin said, If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”  Today’s translation:  If you were to invest the coins in your pocket into your mind, your mind will fill your pockets with coins.”

 I am a living example of this.  I would have nothing I have today if I hadn’t taken that risk.  Every choice we make get us closer to where we want to go or in the opposite direction.  The norm is if you have less money, you spend less.  That is true… you spend less on nonproductive, non-business related things.   Spending money on things that will grow you or your business is not logical but it solving the problem at the different level of thinking.  

Use systemic thinking

What is systemic thinking?

Systemic thinking is a unique approach to problem solving in that it views certain "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than focusing on individual outcomes and contributing to further development of the undesired element or problem. Systems thinking is a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. The only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand the part in relation to the whole.

Systemic thinking is a simple technique for gaining deep insights into complex situations and information very quickly.  It is both:

  • a process that anyone can follow and
  • a skill that anyone can learn.

Systemic thinking is different from both systematic thinking and systems thinking.

Systemic Thinking

Systematic Thinking

Systems Thinking

Finding and seeing  system-wide patterns

Thinking about things methodically

Thinking about how things interact with one another


Systemic thinking combines analytical thinking (breaking things apart) with synthetical thinking (putting things together). 

Until recently, our society has placed a strong emphasis on analytical thinking – and not much on synthetical thinking at all.


Systemic thinking enables one to find systemic (system-wide) focus by identifying the common theme (repeating pattern) across the situation one’s thinking about. Walt Disney used Systemic thinking when using his strategy to create and develop new ideas for entertainment. 

The opposite to systemic thinking is what I call a Knee Jerk Reaction.  Hurry up and do something about a problem without considering the long-term ramifications to other parts of the system.  The ecology movement was originally designed with systemic thinking.  It has morphed into analytical thinking where individual action is taken without looking at the whole, long-term effect of the action.

If someone’s kids are literally starving, spending money on training or anything else for that matter is not systemic thinking.  I have seen the same type of thinking engaged when someone is struggling to get a business going and refuses to take a part time job to buy necessities until they are over the hump”.  This is especially important when there are other family members involved.  Someone living by themselves is a different matter.  This taps into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Certain basic needs have to be met, such as food and shelter, before attempts at self-actualization are appropriate.  When I took my first NLP training, I did not have kids to feed.  I could get food and I had a car. 

So what to do when facing a crisis

  1. Stop calling it a crisis.” Even the word sends chills up my spine.
  2. Know where you are at with money and business – realistic assessment.  If you cannot balance your check book, learn or hire someone to do it.
  3. Get professional (CPA, coach, bookkeeper) help and pay for it.
  4. Do something that does not make sense.  Get training to take yourself to the next level or change your beliefs or thinking.  This will allow you to look at possibilities  and choices in solving tough Situations.  It will give you inner security when outer security doesn’t exist. (There is no such thing as outer security.  The environment is always changing.  If you rely on something other than yourself for homeostasis then you are fooling yourself.)
  5. Look at the system as a whole,  through time.  Six months from now when you are looking back what can you expect to see differently. 

The last trainings of 2008.
 Do something different: take a class!