Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Telling Stories of How Great It Is on the Other Side - Seth Godin and West Point Intersect

I had a flash of pattern recognition yesterday as I was processing some of the information I was reading. Seth Godin and West Point intersected. Let me explain.

The West Point Association of Graduates publishes a periodic newsletter entitled "Gray Matter." Yesterday's article was about the annual March Back from Camp Buckner for the plebe Class of 2014. It has become a tradition for graduates of the United States Military Academy - members of "The Long Gray Line" - to join the plebes as they march back to the main campus to be incorporated into the rest of the Corps of Cadets.

"This year, 160 signed up for the full 11.8 mile trek from Camp Buckner while 29 opted for the two-mile final march down Washington Road. The oldest graduate was COL Dick Williams ’45, who completed his eighth full march back; the younger COL Roger Conover ’48 completed his ninth full march back. The youngest graduate, LT Andrew McKinley ’08, recently returned from Iraq, marched with his mother Teesa ’81, sister Kathryn ’11, and brother Chris ’14.

Grad marchers assembled at the Class of ’48 Ski Lodge for refreshments and war stories, joined there by those marching only the last two miles. After all of the new cadet companies had arrived, the grads formed up for a group photo and then marched to a position just inside Washington Gate. The new cadets then formed, the Cadet Spirit Band played, green smoke was set off, and the Class of 2014 marched through Washington Gate, past the cheering graduate marchers. Even two Army mules joined, and the road soon was lined with families from post as well as families and friends of the new cadets, wishing them well and cheering them on. Most held homemade signs of congratulations.

Finally, the new cadets reached the end of their march back, passed in review for the Superintendent, Commandant and Dean in front of Quarters 100, and began the frenzied activity known as Reorganization Week. The Superintendent congratulated them all, noted the presence of the Hyde family, and congratulated the oldest and youngest graduate marchers. The 50-Year Affiliation Class of 1964, in turn, presented him with a walking stick commemorating the march back. For the Class of 2014, however, their 47-month West Point experience was just over two months along. As Churchill said in November 1942, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Gray Matter Article

Shortly after reading this West Point article, I browsed through Seth Godin's daily Blog offering. There are always nuggets in his concise postings. Yesterday's topic was entitled:

How big is your red zone?

Seth's main point is that "Every activity worth doing has a learning curve." He presented three graphs (shown above) that progressively show the disconnect between joy experienced in mastering a new experience and the hassle encountered in getting over the tough first awkward experiments.

Seth explains the graphs:

"The second graph shows the hassle of that same activity. Riding a bike, for example, is horrible at first. Skinned knees, bruised egos. Twitter is really easy to use the first few times, so not so much red ink there.

The third graph is just the two overlaid. That zone on the left, the red zone, is the gap between the initial hassle and the initial joy. My contention is that the only reason we ever get through that gap is that someone on the other side (the little green circle) is rooting us on, or telling us stories of how great it is on the other side.

The bigger your red zone, the louder your green dot needs to be. Every successful product or passion is either easy to get started on or comes with a built-in motivator to keep you moving until you're in."

Seth Godin Blog

There is a huge "Red Zone" when you are a plebe at West Point - lots of skinned knees and bruised egos. 1,375 cadets reported on "R Day" on 28 May 2010. In the intervening weeks, the class experienced 51 losses (those for whom the Red Zone was too daunting) plus 13 on medical leave. 1,311 new cadets remained to join the graduates for the March Back. The graduates that joined the March and the parents and family members who lined the march route,, and the three upper classes that greeted the new cadets all represent the "Little Green Circle." By their presence, there were loudly and eloquently representing . . .

. . .that someone on the other side (the little green circle) is rooting us on, or telling us stories of how great it is on the other side.

As an institution, West Point has learned the importance of making that Green Circle as large and as loud as possible to invite the neophytes to push themselves through the discomfort of the Red Zone to be able to finally experience the joy that awaits them when they have mastered their new skills and identities. Leaders in business and in families could learn a great deal about the importance of creating traditions that expand the Green Circle.



Ravi said...

You might recognize gap in spirituality as "the dark night of the soul."

Dr Synonymous said...

Thanks for the enlightening message and WP March Back info, esp the message of connection. Viva Long Gray Line!
(and '68, No Task Too Great!)
AP Jonas
(aka Dr Synonymous)