Be Bad First, Get Better Fast, by Relying on Strategic Relationships

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

Few of us are great at new things right out of the gate, and learning curves for many can be a long, slow climb. In my experience, strategic relationships are the key to overcoming our “beginner badness” more quickly.

My friend Erika Andersen’s next book, Be Bad First: Get Good At Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future, explores her insight that whenever we learn something new, we have to start by being bad at it, and that’s simply not comfortable. As adult learners, we’re used to feeling competent. Learning something new means we have to be willing to let go of our pride.

I submit that strategic relationships not only make this process more bearable, but help us get through it faster. This was recently brought home to me — in every bone of my body — on a weekend back-country backpacking trip. Now, I am an Eagle Scout. I consider myself a fairly competent outdoorsman. But my body, my skills, my knowledge, are all at a very different place at 47 than they were at 17.

I began serving as a Cubmaster six years ago with my son who was in the first grade at the time. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. This past year my son crossed over to Boy Scouts. Now we’re preparing for more adventurous activities, teaching the boys to be more self-sufficient, master new outdoor skills. True to Erika’s insight, they start bad, but with good leadership, they get good fast. Next June the older boys in our troop will go toPhilmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico to hike 110 miles over 10 days. I’ll be one of the adult advisors accompanying those boys.

Remember the last time you hiked 110 miles? With a backpack? Through rough terrain?

To support our Scouts in this process, not to mention survive it myself, I need to prepare. That’s why I recently attended a Backcountry Outdoor Leader Skills Training class. It exemplifies all of the things I’ve done in Scouting, multiplied to the Nth degree of difficulty — all of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors. This may have been a personal experience, but it is tremendously relevant to what we are asked to do every day on the job. If you’ve led an initiative or been responsible for a project, you probably recognize the four phases I went through:

  1. TREPIDATION: “What have I gotten myself into?” Reality hits. You feel fear. You know you’re going to be bad at this.
  2. PREPARATION. “It’s not going to go away.” You commit to getting good at it. You do what it takes to prepare. In my case, the camping gear I had previously owned is for car camping; so I needed to research and buy backpacking equipment. They told us to expect a 20-mile overnight hike through wilderness: no running water, no roads, no park rangers, no bathrooms. You prepare.
  3. EDUCATION. “I can learn this.” You immerse yourself into education. I attended a classroom session, picked up Backpacker magazine, read a couple of books.
  4. RELATION. “We are in this together.” The day comes and despite all your fears, you show up — because others are counting on you. You find other beginners, just as bad as you, and guides to help you get good. This is where the relationship component accelerates that learning and growth, minimizes the pain, and in the process, elevates the experience, the enjoyment, and ultimately, the desired outcome.

In her forthcoming book Erika Andersen outlines specific steps for starting bad to get good; throughout this whole backpacking experience I was thinking about those steps ofaspiration, self-awareness, endless curiosity, and willingness to fail.Our group walked through each of those steps, literally.

When we are learning something new, relationships help us delineate the important from the mundane.

It started in the parking lot, where two great instructors took us through “the Shakedown.” They had us empty our backpacks and then taught us what we DIDN’T need — like deodorant or toothpaste, as they attract wild animals, and extra gear you won’t use! Once we hit the trail, they helped us navigate with a map and compass, far beyond cell signals for a clever smartphone app. Twenty miles later, those instructors taught us to position our “bear bag” of food and smellables 20 feet up in the air and 6 feet from any tree; in bear country, that’s essential for safety. Thanks to relationships, our group got from bad to good, fast. I learned to minimize my requirements, push through the pain, overcome hazards (like copperhead snakes!!), and reach the sweet reward of the campsite.

Whether in back country or the boardroom, strategic relationships can be that guide, that mentor, that sounding board, throughout your learning and growing process. Through relationships with people who have done that thing you are trying to master, you learn what you need. And it elevates the experience far above solo learning.

On Saturday night one of the instructors led us in what he called “Thorns, Roses and Buds.” Thorns: what didn’t you like? What could have gone better? Roses: What was a highlight? What went well today? Buds: What are you looking forward to tomorrow and beyond? Think about it. If you don’t get those thorns out, they fester, and you’re likely to blow up at someone for minor infractions. Through any project or initiative, a great leader creates an environment where emotions can be aired, before they become a volcano.

The stages of team formation have practically become a cliché — forming, storming, norming, performing. We went through them all that weekend. We had to carry the group gear together, cook together, work together. We had to figure out how to pull that heavy bear bag up a tree, problem-solve where and how to cross a waist-deep river. We were a living, breathing, smelly, muddy metaphor for any kind of work dynamic — a team working together to get through an environment.

On the last day, I led us out on an 8-mile uphill hike. I admit, I was sucking down air like it was cheap beer back in college. But you know what? We did it. Up in the dark, walking at first light, munching trail mix, stopping only for brief breaks — in the end, you feel incredibly gratified. And in the process, you are grateful for the relationships, and for that quality time together. Through those ups and downs, you nurture a bond. Acquaintances become friends. Going forward, we will find ways to become an asset to each other.

We may all have started out really bad at this thing, but thanks to relationships, we got good fast.

In the spirit of relationships, I am now paying it forward. I am writing a report of the experience for my troop leaders and mentoring our young Scouts in how to overcome similar adversities. And to nurture the relationships formed on that mountainside, I am inviting the two instructors to talk to our troop about their adventures and what we need to do to fully prepare for the Philmont Scout Ranch experience next summer.

What do you need to overcome, personally or professionally? What is that activity that you are bad at today, but can get good at fast, with the help of strategic relationships?

Nour Takeaways

  1. Learning anything new requires that you accept the truth: you will be bad first, before you get good at it. Don’t beat yourself up for being bad, just get down to work. Pre-order Erika’s book now.
  2. Expect trepidation, preparation, and education, and when you overcome those, relationships that elevate the experience.
  3. Relationships help you distinguish the important from the mundane, whether it’s what goes in your backpack or how you approach a complex multi-year project.

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David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® — the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Hilton, ThyssenKrupp, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possess, large and small, public and private. He is the author of nine books translated into eight languages, including the best-selling Relationship Economics — Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger), Return on Impact (ASAE), and the 2016 forthcoming CO-CREATE. (St. Martin’s Press), an essential guide showing C-level leaders how to optimize relationships, create market gravity, and greatly increase revenue. Learn more at www.NourGroup.com.