Time for a little Philosophy 101 debate!
The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’ Paradox, is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object which has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late first century. Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing each and every one of its wooden parts remained the same ship. When I present this question at a team building event the debate often becomes heated!
Is it the same ship? Yes? No? Maybe so? Yes, it’s the same ship! No, it’s not the same ship! Back and forth the argument would go like a tennis match being played at warp speed.
I let the debate continue for a bit of time. When the room agrees to disagree, I go on to ask the audience to look at it from a team perspective. I ask them to shift their focus from the make up of the ship and turn toward what needs to get done for the ship to reach its destination and not sink!
I have seen many a team, be it corporate, athletic or even a family, celebrate the foundations and pillars that make up their chemistry! They all have belief pillars! Respect, communication, support & trust, balanced team roles, cooperation through understanding, clarity of aims/goals etc. All quite nice and tidy in the theoretical application but not as easy in the practical delivery.
Belief pillars are easy to believe in and apply when the sea is calm! Everyone can buy in! It’s when the calm turns into a calamitous chaos that you get a real sense of what your team is made of. Is the focus on the “we” or does it turn to “I”. Is it abut the collective or the individual. When the captain declares that the entire ship needs to be replaced en route, is the response “We can’t do that..I am going to drown!” or is it “Forget plan A, let’s go to plan B,C,D and continue to adapt until we find land. Drowning is not an option”? Roles may have changed. Becoming adaptable in the face of crisis may be the ask.
Avoid panic. By choosing to panic, the belief pillars are no longer applicable. They have shifted in the sand, displaced an ineffective. By choosing to forget plan A and moving to contingency plan B,C,D and so on, the belief pillars hold their value!
I remember a moment during a football game when we became aware that the game plan we had built would not work and that we had to do something. Our offensive coordinator tweaked some pass route combinations, altered some blocking schemes and changed our point of attack on run plays. It all made sense but a couple of guys were in a state of panic because we had not practiced it. I remember as a child playing football with my friends on the street in front of our house. The game plan was simple. If Roger was near the parked car then go to the street sign across the street. If he was at the street sign across the street then go to the parked car for the pass. Simple but even professional athletes have a difficult time with change.
“Let’s work the problem” is a line from NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz in the movie Apollo 13. As basic and rudimentary as it sounds, it was the next logical step in averting what could have been a significant tragedy. Big problems often require a series of small solutions!
When asked about the Apollo 13 mission he said…“The missions run on trust,” he said. “When you turn seven-and-a-half million pounds of thrust loose on a Saturn that contains three men, trust is the thing that allows you to make a split-second decision and very rapidly seek out every option that may exist.”
Some say a miracle took place! Truth is, the miracle would have been the crew of Apollo 13 returning safely while Mission Control fell apart! No, the Apollo 13 mission was a success because it trusted in and remained dedicated to their belief pillars.
A ship, be it a spacecraft, boat, business, team or family, manned by challenge seeking believers, armed with a concise strategy (today we replace this piece, tomorrow this piece etc. and here is why, when and how we are going to do it) sets a team up for success.
A team willing to trust and adapt when chaos arrives doesn’t care if it’s the same boat or not. The focus is on doing whatever it takes to find land without leaving anyone behind! Don’t panic and magnify the challenge. Poised problem seekers are what the ship captain is looking for.
Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!
To contact Ken email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken Evraire is an award winning coach, team building strategist, keynote speaker, author and former professional athlete.Through his professional career he was been traded, released, waived, retired, cut, celebrated and inducted. Visit his website at www.kenevraire.com or email him at ken@kenevraire for more information.