Sunk costs, adapting and connecting!

I just spent a day at a 2 day Change Management Conference. I hoped that it would provide critical and meaningful insights into change, and help shape my future as a change leader and manager. The agenda had references to a variety of exciting change specialists (Rick Maurer, John Kotter), creative thinkers (Michael Bungay Stanier) behavioural economists (Neil Bendle) and a host of others on the cutting edge of business change. But I left the conference without my expectations being met. Not even close.

On the drive home, I called my father and he asked me what I learned, despite my disappointments. This caused me to do some critical thinking as I explained my thoughts. I then sat down this morning and reviewed the notes to compare them to what I had shared with my Dad. There, I found some ideas from Michael Bungay Stanier of Box of Crayons fame ( (that I had read on my iPad while I was bored during one of the presentations). These made real sense to me, and had it not been for my distraction at the conference, I may not have read them. Have a look and see what you think:

Be guided by opportunity, not sunk costs: This conference was expensive. As an independent consultant, I rarely indulge in professional development that costs more than my per diem. But I decided this might be worth it, and “sunk” a lot of money in the Conference – the registration fee was my sunk cost. (Economics 101 tell us that a sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered.) In my case, the first day of the conference was a bust, but since I had already invested the money, surely I should return the second day. But if I returned simply because I had already invested in the conference, I would let myself be led by that sunk cost.

Missing the conference to enjoy morning coffee was all worth it!

Missing the conference to enjoy morning coffee was all worth it!

I chose to be guided by opportunity. If I didn’t return, I would be gifted with the opportunity to have a morning coffee on my deck, to complete an exciting project proposal AND go for a long trail run with Lucy Blue. I jumped at those opportunities, because they were more valuable to me than the sunk costs of the conference.

Be ready to adapt: Michael explains that he saw a presentation by a senior manager at McKinsey, a company known for its strategic planning excellence. This individual noted that they don’t really do strategic planning anymore, and to paraphrase Michael (who is also paraphrasing the individual) …”We meet every three months, test out a range of different scenarios and imagine our best responses to them … and then make our best guess on the direction for the next 90 days.”

Clearly this rock was heavy, so I adapted by holding it up!

Clearly this rock was heavy, so I adapted by holding it up to get by!

If McKinsey can adapt and excel, then so can I! I started my career as a wildlife biologist and educator/interpreter; adapted to become an education specialist, and as I moved further in my career, found that the skills sets that I was acquiring – communications, facilitation, consultation – make me uniquely qualified to help lead and facilitate change. My plan of being the best educator/interpreter got re-routed as I acquired new skills, and I adapted to become the new and improved Susan Gesner!

Connect with those who matter: To quote Michael “To get back on track, reconnect with those who hold you with love and generosity in their hearts. “ I believe that’s not always easy in the business world, but  if we do it in our personal lives, it may make us stronger and more capable in our business life. This is one idea that I take advantage of on a regular basis. Connecting serves to ground me in reality. Too often, sitting in board rooms or conference rooms, I find myself wondering if senior managers with whom I work have a real life on the outside, or if they tuck themselves under their desks at night and rise, fresh and refreshed, the next day. In my work, I strive to meet the real people behind the leader/manager role, and remind them that human connection is both acceptable and beneficial in the business world.

I can't think of any people I'd rather connect with than these two.

I can’t think of any people I’d rather connect with than these two.

Don’t sweat the sunk costs – be guided by opportunity and what might be the unexpected result of an expensive conference. Be ready to adapt: if it makes more sense to read your iPad or talk to your Dad, or take advantage of evolving skill sets, then do that and adapt to those new outcomes. And don’t forget to connect with those who matter, because they will help you realize what is really important in business and everyday life.

Those three pearls of wisdom guided me today: I took the opportunity not to go to the conference and to finish a proposal (and have a coffee and go for a great run); I continue to read, learn and adapt as I aim to become a better change leader, facilitator and consultant; and I will be heading out to my deck shortly to have a cold one with my friend Bonnie and try to answer all the important questions of the world.

Consider your own day (week, month or life), and share with me how you’ve embodied these three ideas. I find it helps if I write things down and share them. Why don’t you do the same and share them here!