I’ve recently become intrigued by the phrase “leap then look” – a twist on the sage advice to “look before you leap” and a way of encouraging myself and others to become 10% braver when it comes to being more creative, experimental and adventurous. For me leaping before looking has resulted in a number of new adventures and experiences. It has encouraged me to say “yes” to stuff before I’ve had the chance to evaluate it and convince myself it isn’t a good idea (resulting in some great and rather scary speaking engagements including one recently at London’s Comedy Store). It has encouraged me to trust my gut instinct and spill out my spontaneous thoughts before running them through my self censor (resulting in some insightful and some nonsensical outbursts in groups, some of which have been more helpful than others). It has also shortened the time between an idea and action, coming up with new experiments and doing them as soon as possible (most recently I ran a masked innovation workshop which ended up being both insightful and fun but I would have talked myself out of if I’d thought about it too long!)
Leaping before looking is about taking a blind leap of imagination, curiosity or adventure and only then taking a look at the environment and reactions of others where one has metaphorically landed. I find it is a good mantra to help short circuit the fears and defence mechanisms that keep me safe and certain but also stuck and stale. When I’m running corporate improvisation or innovation workshops the exercises are designed to help participants feel what it is like to leap then look. Often they find it terrifying. Then, over time, they make friends with those feelings. Some even find them addictive!
However, I’m also aware of the perils of leaping then looking and the reasons why some wise man/woman originally suggested looking before you leap was a good idea. I am reminded of a story that the late creative guru Gordon MacKenzie tells in his wonderful book Orbiting the giant Hairball. He talks of the day he was walking along the cliff tops in San Diego, heading towards the cliff edge in order to find a way down to the beach when he came across some signs saying ‘DANGER!’, “STAY BACK – UNSTABLE CLIFF”, ” NO BEACH ACCESS”. Being curious and seeing others on the beach he decided to adventure anyway, dropping down on the ledge below and then onto the ledge below that. It was only when he got half way down that he realised that the next ledge down wasn’t visible – he’d have to jump and hope that it was there. He then also realised that he couldn’t get back up the way he’d come down! He was stuck and the only way down was a literal leap of faith. Eventually he managed to raise the alarm by shouting at the people on the beach and was eventually rescued (and severely told off) by the coastguard. As the helicopter lifted him away from the cliffs he realised that the ledge below was at least 40ft – had he jumped it would have resulted in serious injury. He also realised that 100 yards further up the beach were some steps! This was a case where looking before leaping was a very good idea.
So, as with most things, it is a balance that needs to be struck. That said, it does seem that human beings, particularly when talking about change and innovation in the corporate world, mis-associate the risks of leaping in with a new idea, concept or experiment with the risk of actually leaping from a cliff into the unknown! I therefore decided that, whilst I would continue with my “leap first” philosophy, I would also reflect on what my “look first list” would be – a list of things where it is wise to really suss out a situation before throwing oneself into it.
Firstly I was surprised as to how short my list was. Fair enough, if I gave it more thought it might evolve further but I trust my initial gut response for now. Secondly I was struck that most of the things I tend to hold back from doing on a day to day basis because they feel so risky wouldn’t qualify for my “look first” list! (E.g. Running an innovation workshop in a highly experimental way using Dr Seuss books as the main academic source and reference point isn’t likely to kill, maim or cause undue suffering – so why on earth am I procrastinating?!)
Of course, even if something is caught by my “look first” list it doesn’t mean that I won’t ever do it, it simply means I will employ a check step/pause for reflection before leaping to action. Without a huge amount of planning and training and “looking first“, Felix Baumgartner wouldn’t have leapt from the edge of space!
I have found that this mantra of “leap then look” has lead to many adventures, the majority of which have been very positive and my “look first” list has helped me to realise that i do have a choice and that I do hold back far more than I really need to.
What’s on your “look first” list? Have a go at writing one and really challenge yourself to be strict. You might be surprised how short it really is.