Leave the Squirrels Alone – Put Energy Where It Matters

Today at breakfast I watched the squirrels eat at my bird feeder.  Remember – I called it a bird feeder.  I grew up watching my Dad chase the squirrels away with every trap and method imaginable, so to this point in my life I saw the squirrel as an enemy.  Then I realized that 25 lbs of sunflower seeds was less than $10 . . . and that squirrels are just hungry.  Suddenly, the reason I had started this battle in the first place was fuzzy.  The only thing I could come up with was it was a matter of principle because I wanted to feed the birds.  So I decided to feed the squirrels and turn my energy to other things.

Seth Godin calls the part of our brain that takes over when we feel threatened the lizard brain.  More specifically, it is the amygdala or inner brain, and when it takes over the thought and reasoning parts are idled and fight/flight thinking dominates.  The resulting behaviors have been researched and identified by the Birkman Method as stress behaviors, and they are not normal or productive.  They happen when the lizard brain is in charge.

So what are the ‘squirrels’ you are battling?  In the business world I have seen operations square off with sales, engineering with design, quality with suppliers, finance with sales, and purchasing with just about everyone.  There are lots of battles going on, and in many the lizard brain is in charge.  Getting out of the lizard brain is one of those things that is simple, but difficult. Here are five steps to taking the control away:

  1. Step back and see the behaviors (yours and others) as lizard brain thinking.
  2. Ask the questions:  What is our common goal here?  What is the solution we are each offering?  Why are we so passionate about our solution?  (keep asking Why? until you get to the basic answer)
  3. Listen well and write the answers so everyone can see.
  4. Ask:  What solution best fits our common goal?
  5. Make a decision – and move on.

A grown man, in his pajamas, sneaking through the snow with a club to attack a squirrel is an image that reflects some lizard brain thinking.  What is a good image of your lizard brain taking over?  Identify it, remember it, and take the power away from it when it happens.

2 thoughts on “Leave the Squirrels Alone – Put Energy Where It Matters

  1. Scott,

    I find this post to be an interesting contrast with your next post about Richard Winters. Of special interest, the comment that, “[t]he resulting behaviors…are not normal or productive.” While I agree, they are not normal when operating in a non-threatening, non-time-critical situation, they are normal and productive when landing on the beach at Normandy or in the midst of “death march” project. In these environment, I am skeptical that the decision-making process defined above can be effective. Just my experience from too many marches.


  2. Brian,
    Thanks for pointing that out – it is an interesting contrast. The military recognizes what it will take for soldiers to function under stress that goes way beyond what normal jobs face, which is reflected in their training. Even with all that preparation, some still cannot handle it. The ultimate test is the battle, and some like Richard Winters display clear thinking and decision making that sets them apart. I continue to be facinated by the preparation these soldiers go through and how it translates into their ability to make clear decisions under very stressful situations.

    But probably the thing I find most special about Richard Winters was his servant leadership style, even in battle, and his definition of who were the heroes.

    Thanks for the comment.

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