No More Stupid Punts

No More Stupid Punts

What do I mean by “stupid”?

“Mah momma says: ‘Stupid is as stupid does, Forrest'”

~ Forrest Gump

We’re all trying to get our needs met. How we go about that can span the whole spectrum between very smart, and very stupid.

In my vocabulary, “smart” means we’ve chosen, found, or stumbled-upon an effective way of getting our need met, and conversely, “stupid” simply means that we’ve chosen an ineffective way to get our need met.

And boy have I been stupid.

A Series of Stupid Punts

Over the past ten years or so, I’ve taken a series of engagements (jobs, contracts, etc.) in the hope of helping folks – folks who’ve assured me that they wanted help, btw. Generally I’ve directed my help towards improving their company in some way. Sometimes this has been related to an Agile adoption, sometimes to some kind of Lean transformation, and sometimes to improving e.g. software or product development in general.

These engagements have all been punts. That is, the outcomes have been uncertain, and the clients’ commitment to change, although avowed and often emphatic, unproven. Stupid punts.

Ill Met by Moonlight

In all cases – whilst, of course, getting paid for my efforts – I’ve just been trying to help folks. And have been focussed primarily on their needs. And in the process, not paying much attention at all to my own needs. So, unsurprisingly perhaps, my own needs have often been ill met.

My Needs

Here’s a list of the needs I’m talking about:

  • Meaningful connections – the opportunity to make meaningful connections with people. Given that my help is most often directed towards seeing the whole organisation thrive, flourish and become more effective, “meaningful connections” includes everyone in the organisation – from the executives (board, management team), to the frontline folks (devs, ops, sales, marketing, support, etc.).
  • Mutual learning – exploring interesting topics together with other folks , and learning together about things to do with making businesses more effective.
  • Contribution – actually making some appreciable contribution to the improvement of folks’ lives at work, and to the healthy growth and progress of the organisation as a whole, too.
  • A sense of progress – a.k.a. accomplishment. A feeling that folks’ efforts are not wasted, that things are in fact moving – and in the “right” direction.
  • Regard – being “successful” enough that folks would hold my contribution in sufficiently high regard that they would recommend my services to others.
  • Well-being (of self and others) – in particular, helping folks get their needs met, relating to one another humanely, and – for those who wish to – fully realising their innate potential.
  • Mutual joy – in the nonviolent communication sense of the term (through e.g. self-empathy, empathy, and honest expression). See also: Brahmavihara

Aside: The correlation between the above list and Martin Seligman’s idea of P.E.R.M.A. is a happy coincidence, yet unsurprising, I guess.

I wrote a post recently explaining how my then-job was not meeting my needs in that particular position. It may come as no surprise to hear that I resigned shortly afterwards.

Turning Point

To date, I’ve often been so focussed on the needs of others (clients, co-workers, employers) that getting my own needs met has been pretty much squeezed out. This regularly leaves me feeling depressed, angry and, often, alienated.

I’m resolved to find a more balanced position between my needs and those of others. And to begin to work on less stupid ways of getting my own needs met, too.

I’ve reached a point in my life, with the help of Marshall Rosenberg, where getting my needs met seems crucial to my happiness and peace of mind. This has become sufficiently important that I’m resolved to take some steps to significantly increase the likelihood of that happening in future. I am presently thinking on what such steps might look like.

If and when this is working well, I anticipate better outcomes not just for myself, for all. I will still keep taking punts, just not quite such stupid ones. Semper mirabilis, indeed.


In closing, I note a certain irony. For some twenty years now I have taken careful account of the needs of all stakeholders in whatever endeavour I have been involved. Just not, it seems, my own needs. Cobblers’ children, anyone?

– Bob

  1. Bob,

    Interesting. I suspect many of us who seek to serve end up in a similar situation.

    One thing I look for that helps is a shared, common purpose.

    That one thing can help when things get tough and people fall back on old patterns.

    The “higher’ the purpose the better. One that I avoid is making money. That is a secondary purpose if you find something that both parties can create together. A self-serving huddle to make money very rarely works – and certainly does not fulfill you with many of your other requirements.

    Interested to know if this resonates.



    • Hi Lorne,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Can you help me better understand your comment with e.g. some examples of shared, common purpose that have worked out well?

      – Bob

  2. I find that the most effective way to find a common purpose (as a consultant) is to focus on one of two things: Growth or Transformation. By creating a design for a shared vision on either of these two, then you become part of the client’s team and help them become more effective in whatever the area you are skilled in.

    I personally enjoy finding a common purpose on a growth agenda – because it externalises the conversation (and actions) onto a client’s own market – as well as the products they are positioning to service that market.

    “Transformation” can be more complex and more political. However, there is still good work to be done there if you can connect close enough to the centre of the vortex of change. Too far away, and you will be spun out!

    Without a shared, common purpose in an engagement, the work often becomes full of irrational, ego-centric behaviours, self-congratulatory huddles or ineffective work patterns (which have no real value in the outside world).

    Design everything with a common purpose in mind, and the rest will flow. I would say that it is a much easier and less risky way to fulfil the list of your needs!

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