Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Steve Covey Stays Loose

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Declaration of Independence gives us clues as to how difficult it is to stay loose. It says that "All experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."--July 4th, 1776
Here's how I was introduced to an academic approach to the attitude of being relaxed. Many years ago, I was in a college class in human relations. The subject matter was about the relationships of people with one another in organizations. The course was taught by Stephen R. Covey, an assistant professor at that time, and who later became a well-known public speaker and writer.
During the time the class was underway, the story was told a number of times about an old teacher long ago who once taught a class in human relations. It was explained how this ancient teacher would emphasize the critical need to stay flexible. The story goes that there was once a student who wanted to remember what the old teacher was teaching about human relations. While the old teacher was teaching, the student would write in his notes the things that the teacher was saying. The student went over the material persistently in order to know it better for when the final exam came around.
As the ancient professor's class rolled on, the student with the notebook wondered if he could remember the notes which he had written. Then the final exam was announced. To help himself prepare for the exam, the student cut his jottings to one page. The night before the exam he was still concerned about his recall abilities so he trimmed his notes to a half page. The next morning with exam angst gripping him, he reduced his notes further to a paragraph. But again this was not manageable enough so he condensed everything to one sentence. Five minutes before the exam was to start he took a big step. He summed up the whole course and boiled it down to two words which he figured he could remember once he began responding to the test questions in the exam room.
The student went into the exam room knowing his time would be brief. He sat down and thoughtfully began writing his answers. On the brink of writing something, he stopped in his tracks. He had forgotten the words. The words were the essence of the course that the ancient professor had taught incessantly. They had everything to do with how we could act more loosely and effectively instead of going berserk when we don't get our own way. It was a great story told by Steve Covey. Later on in Covey's class my own exam time approached. I thought and wondered about how I could ace it. The exam came. Walking into the room, I picked up a blue test booklet, carried it to a desk, and sat down and began writing. In seconds I was done.
After approximately a six second response, two pithy words had been written. they were on paper and now possessed a life of their own. It was written. Once in a while, decades later, people who had heard about this gutsy risk, ask about what it takes to pull something off like that. They want to know how I could be so cool in writing a two word final. Keep in mind that when you take an exam, see if you can arrange it so you can take it in a form more to your liking.
In the exam room itself, out of respect for the other 25 students allotted a three hour span in which to struggle over tricky questions on a worrisome final, the author stayed three more minutes. Having paused in that fashion in order to reflect to myself how ridiculously easy that little leadership caper had been, I stood up and walked to the front of the class. I placed the exam, without any fanfare, on the front table at a spot designated for placing the completed exams. The other students were amazed. Of course they were amazed. They were conventional students using conventional, typical minds to write out answers. It was such a fast finish. How can you take an exam that fast. They couldn't figure it. They murmured.
If you had understood the basic Covey, with an appreciation of what the uncomplicated S. R. Covey actually was, and what had been professed daily, and you had responded on the final in a manner absolutely consistent with what he was professing during the entire course, and then doing this on the exam, then my friends, then, it is precisely true, in fact, without a doubt, that if you had written "stay loose," on the first right hand page and been done with it, then, bam, like John Madden exults, you would have grasped the pith of the class in a tidy two word final.
Isn't that better than a long drawn-out effort on a warm, spring morning holed up in a classroom. It surely is. And I knew it, and I knew the others knew it. I had no intention of being in that classroom as one of the herd going about writing convoluted, laborious sentences in a blue book. Certainly not when Prof. S. Richards Covey with his Harvard MBA was more or less continually playing on a theme of "stay loose" for an entire semester.
What does it take, then, a super-human genius to get the meaning behind all that. Stay loose, amigo, means stay loose. When you're faced with what shapes up as a stressful scenario there are always methods to lessen the load for you. How you do it is to put stay loose into practice. It involves a risky route to final exam completion. I did it and departed. I was itching to get into the sunshine and into the university's memorable history books, here called the Annals Of Risk Taking Accomplished, or also known as AORTA.
You can imagine how good it was walking out. Think how I must have, in fact, been quietly relieved inside, having shucked off a load of weight with the flourish of a cheap pen. But it was not easy to pull off. The naive might think it could be done easily. In the early stages of deciding to write just two small itty-bitty words on a final exam there was yes, you guessed it, r over wondering if it could be pulled off. Questions of self doubt came up. The big one was "should I?"
Had it ever been done before? Who knew the answer to that? No one the author knew in his small circle of friends. Could it really be pulled off? In the early stages of figuring it out who would know about that sort of unconventional test-taking that you could talk to. No one knew anything like that. Covey had appeared entertainingly creative in class and had, in many ways, according to his own accounts of how he had handled various human relations situations in the past, been operating somewhat outside routine convention.
Covey was quite capable of trying a lot of things other people wouldn't try. So whether or not to actually go ahead with such an outlandish cut-short written answer in a final exam was the question, even if risk-taker S. Covey happened to be the teacher. It was known in my mind well in advance of the test, that the two word answer would be in response to any and all questions the class must answer, not just one, or some of the questions. All questions. The two-word answer was all of it.
Essentially no matter what Covey asked then, the words "stay loose," would be what I was going to write down. The two word answer had become, in my mind, a general response to anything and everything that could come my way as a way of putting me to the test. In the decades to come as a matter of how the two word answer took on a handy utility, the words "stay loose," cropped up regularly as a continuing general response to any manner of discombobulation. "Stay Loose" even became a parting shot. So in that sense, stay loose as an answer to a global set of problems, was a relationship position. It was a way of looking at particular things and all things. At the least it was that day in that exam room. It was a method of responding, generalizeable to an unknown number of challenges.
And with respect to the test, I had no intention to reveal to anyone, anything about my plan or precisely how I was going to write the final exam. In the days immediately before the writing of the examination I met casually from time to time, briefly in passing, with other fellow students walking across the college campus who wondered about the coming test and who vainly tried to predict what sort of exam it was going to be.
Various hypothetical exam scenarios were laid out by students who figured
they could out-figure the professor, but not a word was breathed by me about how truncated I had decided my own final test was going to be. The whole escapade was top secret.
You can imagine that if the plan had ever been suggested, even in confidence to another student, that this two word tactic was an easy way to walk into the exam room and write it, the word would be out. You can further figure that Prof. S. R. Covey could very well at that point come out with a bulletin board warning like "All students will take the allotted three hours and write a minimum of 1500 words..." and so on, etc. So the whole effort would not have worked. It definitely would not have been unique and it would have failed. Tactics told about beforehand lose their novelty and power to surprise. I got a nearly top grade out of that final and a nearly top grade out of the class.

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