RENO, Nev. — Savvy is the key to success in both your personal life and workplace, explained STN EXPO keynote speaker Billi Lee, as she shared her “Bear Story” that has helped organizations globally, including the CIA, FBI, Caterpillar and IBM.
Everything in life is a “game,” explained Lee at her Monday morning session. She added that some people may not like that terminology, but everyone wonders, “how do I respond effectively?” in both their personal and professional lives.
She encouraged listeners to view things through a “different prism.” The Minnesota native shared that she discovered savvy was required throughout her action-packed life. She worked her way through college, traveled abroad, was held hostage three days in Entebbe, Uganda, by Idi Amin’s government, taught with the Peace Corps in the Congo, was held in a Congolese prison, and has run restaurants and ranches.
“It takes time to become a savvy person,” Lee declared, and it is both an innate and acquired ability which sometimes requires help from others.
And it’s sometimes uncomfortable to play the game, but doing so is preferable to “always getting in trouble and causing a ruckus with the powers that be,” Lee said. Not making that decision, she added, results in the “Big But” syndrome, which equates to people who know you, saying so-and-so “is great, but....”
Lee also spoke of how gender roles play into the games people play and the savvy they develop through life. “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness,” she quoted Sigmund Freud. Everyone’s lives should include being loving and working at tasks, even though work is often seen as a man’s domain and loving as a woman’s role, she noted.
This is where complications arise, since workplaces are task-oriented. This is also where the Bear Story comes in.
“In the beginning, there were men, there were women and there were bears. We had a hard time surviving,” she began. Consequently, people withdrew into caves for survival and started desiring to control their environment. “Safety became very important to us,” so rules and regulations came about.
This cave system is the system predominantly taught at home and school, Lee said. “But at some point, you reach a point where you aren’t being taken care of. You’ve got to take care of yourself and others,” she went on.
She revealed that you may be working with cave-dwellers who still desire the world to be fair and safe. Bear-fighters, on the other hand, display a readiness and willingness to meet challenges, or bears, head-on.
In prehistoric days, cave-dwellers made deals with the bear-fighters, even though both jobs “were equally important for the survival of the human race,” said Lee. “But through the centuries, we’ve downgraded taking care of people and elevated the tasks.”
This has resulted in two different systems of politics. Politics of exclusivity results in formation of cliques and “limits who you deal with, because you think you have to like someone to be an ally of theirs,” she said.
“When we go into the workplace, a lot of people look for friends. Stop that,” Lee advised. “Sometimes you’ve got to pick people not because you like them, but because they work!”
The politics of resiliency, on the other hand, are the mentality that “if you can’t stop it or control it, figure out how to use it,” said Lee.
She said that each person’s personal home life should be their cave, because it is there that they are loved and appreciated no matter what; the workplace, though, should be considered differently. “If you stay in the cave all the time, you won’t be effective when you leave the cave and go into the workplace,” she added.
Work is like white-water rafting that grows more challenging all the time, so you must “adapt to the river.” And don’t rely on others to play the game for you. The Bear-fighters leaving the cave had to think quickly, change, and be resourceful, she pointed out.
And you don’t have to like something to be great at it, Lee declared. Your boss or company is your customer—what kind of customer service are you giving them?
“If you want to be in business for yourself, you have to be adaptable and resilient.” She added that a major failing in modern times is being critical of new and emerging trends in the global society we are in now, instead of being open to adapting to it, or equipping people and workers for it.
“Things are changing, you’ve got to figure it out—how can I make it work for me?” She counseled.
Bear-fighters cooperated when one or another was being chased by a bear, even if they had been fighting that morning. Lee remarked, “You didn’t have to like each other, you just had to know who the enemy is.”
Lee questioned, “Who are the bears in your organizations?” Attendees responded with “parents,” “school boards” and “legislatures.” There’s more politics to a team than there is working hard, Lee responded. She suggested joining ranks to demonstrate more power. This goes along with determining the best person to present a message, and it may not be you, she revealed.
Surviving outside the cave—at the workplace—requires competition and depersonalization. In the school bus industry especially,” you have to play the game to get the money.” It’s a harsh truth that, at work, tasks come before people, Lee said. She recommended not getting upset, but figuring things out instead of reacting emotionally.
Organizations, even heartfelt ones like the school bus industry, place tasks before people. Cave-dwellers may have a harder time being a Bear-fighter in the workplace. Vice versa, workplace bear-fighters may have a hard time being personable when it’s called for.
Savvy involves realizing who you are, but also what the current situation calls for—cave-dwelling or bear-fighting, said Lee. And consider what you’re willing to give up to get it.
“Look at how strategic you are in your moment-to-moment decision making,” she suggested. This increases your effectives and decreases your frustration.
“(Your job) is just a game, folks. The real stuff is at home. If you’re going to play the game, you may as well play it well,” Lee concluded.
One attendee said after the session that she was initially resistant to the characterization of “playing games” at work, but added that as the presentation went on, Lee’s points became more and more valid.