What the Heck is a “Ding in the Universe”
I never appreciated Steve Jobs’ quote, “I want to put a ding in the universe,” until I talked with Gary Hamel, Wall Street Journal’s #1 most influential business thinker.
I asked Gary what leadership behaviors have the most impact on organizations.
I started thinking “ding in the universe” when Gary said, “It’s easy to feel hopeless.” Maybe you’ve fallen into the abyss of “It won’t matter.”
Thinking it won’t matter, matters. Thoughts always matter.
Gary elegantly restated my question by asking, “What does it take for you to make a bigger contribution than you expect?
Gary explained that disproportionate impact happens when you, “Tackle problems above your pay grade that defy easy answers; problems bigger than you.”
Light bulb – that’s a way we make dings.
You may not be a V.P. in a fortune 500 company. How can average Joe’s follow Gary’s ding-path?
Solve big problems in small contexts.
Don’t wait for the perfect ding-moment. Work on today’s persistent nagging problem – the one others hate but accept because they think it won’t change.
- Get pissed off. Problems hang around because we aren’t pissed off enough. “Big problems,” Gary said, “require contrarian spirits.”
- Move through anger. Foolish leaders get stuck in anger; wise leaders work through it. Anger is reactive. Solutions are proactive.
- Solve big problems informally. Don’t waste your time in meetings. Bring them up over coffee or lunch. Everyone’s too busy to solve the problem that’s been hanging around for ages. Meetings come later.
- Connect problems with outcomes that everyone believes in.
- Implement small solutions. Useful anger drives you to try things.
There’s much more to tackling big problems. What strategies that help people make a ding in the universe can you add?
Gary’s new book: “What Matters Now”
Hi Dan. Nice post again. am just reading Martin Seligmans Learned optimism – where he talks of the different components of optimism and pessimism. Permanence, Persuasiveness, and Personalization. It’s a great view of situations lik e- not chasing your “ding”, i recommend it as a great companion piece for much of what you talk about here. Best, Richard
Thanks for starting off the conversation and for the book recommendation.
Optimism is central to leaders who make positive change.
You’re not likely to ding the universe by yourself. Find a wingman – someone who sees the problem and wants to solve it too, and who will be just as persistent as you are. The two of you can bring other folks on board as those coffee talks start to bear fruit. Eventually you’ll have an ad hoc group, but you need to start with a battle buddy or you’ll struggle to maintain your energy. We all need encouragement, and nothing saps initiative like feeling that you’re taking on the whole world.
Wonderful addition and so true.
It took me years to realize how to find battle buddies and to be open.
You encourage me.
Thanks for the post, very thoughtful as always. I’m currently working thru Kaplan’s “What to Ask the Person in the Mirror” and it aligns well to your post. In my experience I see leaders (business owners) get stuck in a “victim cycle” and never get passed #2 in your strategy list. They spend time in this cycle because I believe they have difficulty accepting full responsibility when the business goes bad and don’t trust others enough to invite them in to contribute to solutions that may help the business pursue new initiatives. Initiatives that they themselves don’t feel competent pursuing…..its not their thing. So they sit in #2, plenty pissed off, blaming someone or some group for the challenges they face. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately they have to feel a great deal of pain before they move beyond #2. We see this daily on the news, particularly in the political realm from all sides. I think people are sick of what feels like CS Lewis’s notion of “men without chests”! If you work with a leader who looks and feels like the above, think deeply about the problem and try to place questions to the leader/owner that will help him/her break free from the cycle. Help them see the problem in terms of what you will do(hope) rather than looking back (dispair) at what has failed.
Thanks and keep up the great work!
I couldn’t agree more. Central to moving forward is learn how to move THROUGH anger. Staying in anger is a sure way to frustrate others, get depressed, and eventually fail.
Thanks for your encouragement,
Interesting post Dan. Thank you for starting the week with this.
“Solve big problems informally. Don’t waste your time in meetings….” really hit home for me. Sometimes allowing people to process information naturally trumps the ‘meeting to solve the issue’. This was futher confirmed when I watched Susan Cain’s TED presentation on Introverts and started reading Quiet.
May we all make our “Ding”.
Well said. I’ve been guilty of not giving time or seeking various perspectives. In the end, that leaves us out on our own.
Keep on dinging 🙂
Love it, Dan. Particularly love the admonition to “get pissed off”. I have said to “give a damn”. But I like the urgency and passion of your phrase. I may steal with pride!
Steal away. Give a damn is good too 🙂
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I think I would add to your list: quit talking around the problem and starting talking about the problem. So often these are problems that everyone knows about but no one talks about. People go out of their way to find a work around but no one tries to solve the problem.
Great add. Dance with that dang elephant… get cozy… get close… look it in the eye and name it.
I find it incredibly easy to get distracted.
This aligns nicely with your 3/3/12 blog about ‘hoop free zones’ in having the clarity to see simultaneously with dual focus…take small steps that are part of the vision.
Wonder what the ratio of true problem solving initiates in meetings versus over lunch/coffee? Bet it is higher than we realize.
Interesting that within a nanosecond, we choose to reactively ‘own the hopelessness’ of the self-imposed cross we climb up on in contrast to proactively ‘own the option’ to ding.
Then an inordinate amount of time and energy is spent staying stuck and hopeless. It is a short term/long term perspective–initially it feels easier to not do anything (illusion of safety, minor pain with what is already known) and stay stuck than take action, that first step (unknown risk,unknown pain, unknown rewards). Dinging the universe can cause pain…but oh, the benefit!
I read your comments with joy. Your eloquence and insights help and inspire me.
You are so right. It feels easier to not do anything. Sometimes, we make up things that excuse our lack of progress. Stagnation can become nearly heroic.
I’m thankful for you,
I really love this post today Dan.
I’m not familiar with Gary or his book, however, his comment rings of truth. ‘It’s easy to feel hopeless.’ How can ‘I’ change things? Who am I to be able to make a difference, contribution, impact, etc.
And you are right. We have to believe that we can make a difference in some way, that begins to make all the difference. For everyone. Leadership and lay people, alike.
This is the bright and healthy side of optimism. An essential ingredient that fuels our ability to rise above the ‘problem’ in order to focus on possible solutions.
I also loved your strategy points. ‘Get pissed off’. Yes!
All throughout my life experiences I have found that when I was forced to deny my anger in any way, I had to deny ‘reality’ to do it. This leads to remaining stuck in systems that don’t work.
This leads to the ‘dark side’ of what I call ‘forced optimism’. The exact opposite of the necessary optimism you address today to help fuel energy to proactively tackle problems and find solutions.
In this context, I’m not referring to leadership, but the conditioning on average people to ‘pretend’ to be optimistic even when things are going wrong. ie. a serious issue in the workplace. School. Family, etc. When people aren’t ALLOWED to admit their feelings of anger, and are forced to deny it in order to not rock the boat. This is what keeps us stuck in dysfunctional systems. This is what prevents us from being able to use that necessary anger energy to LEAD us to facing reality, tackling problems head on, and finding necessary solutions.
Love this post Dan. Good stuff.
Thanks for a great comment. I’m sure it will help many LF readers.
You made me think about healthy optimism. Healthy optimism looks the big bad problem in the eye and names it. Yet, healthy optimists have can do attitudes. Progress can be made. Maybe we can find a solution alone. It’s more likely that solutions will be found with others.
Optimists don’t need to believe they can solve problems alone.
You have my best,
I particularly liked “move through anger” coming right after “get pissed off.”
Getting pissed off generally means that one of our values is being stepped on. It’s also a sign that we are a point of choice: we can either become a victim or a creator. Victims stay in the anger. Creators move through it. Victims suck the air out of a room. Creators make dings in the universe.
When someone steps on one of your values, get pissed off. Take a moment to pause, figure out what that value is, and then take action that aligns that value to your real purpose. You can’t help but make a ding somewhere then.
I’m so glad you brought values to this discussion.
I’ll go as far as to say that our anger both expresses AND shows us our values.
Thanks for joining the conversation,
Interesting post, but how do you reconcile this with your post the other day about the causes of burnout? A lot of these strategies might be tried by a person in a burning out situation but they might actually accelerate the problem.
It’s true that a person in burnout should focus on recovery.
Many of the posts I’ve written contradict each other. The answer is usually the situation. Situations make principles relevant or irrelevant.
The other reasons some of my posts contradict each other is I’ve learned something that changed my mind. 🙂
Thanks for jumping in today,
Yes getting pissed off will spring people to action. I like to think of it as being uncomfortable and when the pain of the problem is greater than the comfort of inaction, people usually respond. Recruiting help as Greg pointed out is always a great idea. There is a lot to be gained by the many eyes and the little sacrifice from everyone builds momentum and obstacles seem smaller and the little wins seem bigger. I also am reading Quiet by Ms. Cain. Fascinating book with validation of us all that are introverts, closet or not, transient extroverts by need, inescapably introverts by deed. Although introverts supposedly work better alone, I believe it is only in the intuition and creativity space and not the execution dimension. One architect yes but many builders please to erect quickly and solve the problems. I too have been out of pocket with a little surgery but hey nothing like you Dan and your resilience encourages me so I will stop complaining now! 🙂
Great seeing you. I think of you every day.
I’m wish you a speedy recovery.
You have my best,
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Perhaps I have a different definition of the word “ding” than you do. I do not understand how one could not appreciate Steve Jobs’ quote, “I want to put a ding in the universe.”.
thank you for this interesting blog!
Many of the issues that are being disussed here also happen in my company and surroundings. Of course. It’s natural to have friction in a dynamic environment.
The company I work for has about 150 people and my small department is responsible for delivering creative solutions and “products” on a daily basis. We are forced to be problem solvers.
What really worked for me was to find what someone here called battle buddies. I believe it is not too difficult if you can communicate your goals or a vision.
However, with some people it is NOT possible. They do not have a vision of their own and they do not think that others can have one.
This is one of the things that took me a while to learn and accept.
It took me a lot of energy to try to include those people into my team and workflow. The positive approach was not honoured at all. It was completely the other way around. They found it suspicious. It feels like those people’s real job is to work on their self fulfilling prophecies. The motto is: “Don’t trust anyone”
Well, do not waste energy on these people. Do your best and produce results that you are proud of. Work primarily for those who appreciate it and always for yourself.
Based on this you will always be able to use the quality of your work as a statement. Especially in such situations when you need to bring some inconvenient truths to the table.
It helps you to prove that you are a hands on person willing to reach goals and also able to do it on a high quality level.
And if that doesn’t work out in your current workplace – find a new one.
Have a nice day, Mig
PS. Sorry my english is not perfect – I am not a native english speaker 😉