I sprained my foot.
There’s not even a good story, I was walking into a store, slipped off the edge of my sandal and before I knew it I was sitting on the ground, one foot now refusing to bear weight.
This is not a great turn of events in any situation, but to make it worse, today I’m leaving on vacation. To a gaming convention. Where walking from one end of a three block -long building to the other is pretty much required every couple of hours.
The urgent care doctor said there was no way I could attend this event in this condition. He said, there was no room for discussion.
I say, he’s not very creative. This event is the highlight of my year. I’m going to go. I may spend it in a wheel chair, but I’m going to be there, and I’m going to have fun. Just try to stop me.
Since I’ve already outed myself as a gaming geek, I might as well take this metaphor all the way:
This vacation is no longer a regular trip–now it’s a quest.
In this case, quest mode is all about achieving a personal goal–but the same concept works for dealing with all kinds of unexpected circumstances–like the ones that impact your work.
Make sure it’s worth the effort
Every setback does not necessitate a quest. If the newsletter is supposed to go out on Tuesday, and the internet goes down, drastic measures are not required–there are probably only 14 people on your list who can remember what day it is supposed to come anyway. A Wednesday delivery is not the end of the world.
On the other hand, if the building where you are scheduled to hold your annual gala gets hit by a tornado two weeks before your scheduled event, a quest is definitely in order.
Engage Quest Mode
Engaging quest mode is an attitude shift. Theatre people and secret superheros should feel free to don a costume at this point. The rest of you might consider doing the same. There is nothing like a costume to get you into character–why do you think you wear the power suit to the important meetings? But I digress. . .
The point here is to get your team together (or party for you closet RPG people out there), acknowledge that you are up against difficult odds, and pull together to overcome this freakish turn of events.
Quest mode requires you work together toward the common goal, so talk of blame is an absolute no-no. Even if someone on the team did contribute to the problem you are facing, dealing with that must come after the quest.
Focus on the Goal (not the plan)
In quest mode, the plan, no matter how excellent, is at best mostly pointless, and could even block your path to success.
Why? Because the plan is focused on how to achieve the goal in the usual way, and quest mode is all about achieving the goal by whichever path is still passable.
That doesn’t mean you should fly blind, you just need a different kind of map. Spend some time figuring out what the core purpose of your quest should be and focus completely on that. Any solution that meets the goal counts as a win on the quest–even if what you end up doing looks nothing like what you initially expected.
Storytime: Ripped from the headlines of my nonprofit career
Let’s say there is a theatre company out there somewhere that holds an annual gala to raise $50,000. The event includes a special performance, high-end dinner, all kinds of black-tie fanciness. Then, two weeks before the annual event, the headliner backs out.
In regular planning mode, the focus would be on doing everything possible to make sure the show can go on. Get a new last minute act, postpone the event, etc. It might work–at least you might have a show–but its very unlikely you will meet your fundraising goals.
In quest mode, your focus is totally different. Rather than figuring out how to keep you planned event together, you remember to focus on the real goal–raising $50,000 for the theatre. Now you’ve got all kinds of options. You may, for example, realize the best way to raise the money is to let people know about the freak turn of events and offer to return their money. As your loyal supporters, many ticket holders and sponsors will ask you to keep the money. With the ticket income, and limited expenses, reaching $50,000 becomes much easier. Ta-da! Goal achieved.*
Rest, then Celebrate
Yay, you did it! Aren’t you proud? Excellent, go home and sleep now. Seriously, don’t skip the rest part. Slaying even metaphorical dragons is exhausting. If you don’t rest first, you’ll fall asleep in your punch. No one wants to be that girl. After the team has had a day or two to recuperate, it’s time to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be a big party. Cake or even fresh fruit and yogurt in the office is enough. Just take the time to recognize yourselves for the major accomplishment you’ve achieved, and to capture the learning for next time.
A Word of Caution
Quest mode is powerful and amazing–but totally unsustainable. If you want to run your organization into the ground and burn your people out forever, ask them to run in quest mode all the time.
That having been said, deployed correctly, once in a very long while, quest mode can be a lot of fun. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush of a team of people working together to achieve the impossible to make coming to work seem important again.
What does your organization do that’s worthy of quest mode? When have you achieved your goals in spite of bizarre problems and seemingly insurmountable hurdles?*It goes without saying, this only works for a real crisis, and probably only once. If your annual gala gets “canceled” regularly, patrons will stop being so forgiving.