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Carved in Granite

Nan S. Russell -- "Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." -- George Bernard Shaw. A national speaker and consultant offers insight for achieving workplace results and success.

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, carved in granite, the six-story faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt create a grand impression viewed from a distant, or standing on the national monument's viewing terrace. Visiting Mount Rushmore on vacation, I found the documentary of its making fascinating. Weeks later, one story stayed with me.

It turns out the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, planned to have the figure of Thomas Jefferson on George Washington's right. But after painstakingly carving a portion of the massive face, Borglum reached such poor quality granite that he could not complete the stone portrait the way he desired. So, he decided to blast away the carved face he had worked months to create, starting again in a new location.

But unlike Borglum, many of us aren't willing to do major revisions to our work. We treat our endeavors, ideas and projects as if they were carved in granite. We cling to an original vision or stay the course even when results are lacking. We resist revision, redirection and starting over. We see our completed work as unchangeable, often resisting input, feedback, critique or suggestions that would cause us to rethink our approach. And because we do, our results are often mediocre at best.

I learned that lesson when asked to write speeches for a company president as part of my other job responsibilities. I found myself entrenched in holding-on behavior. Instead of tearing up a finished draft I wasn't pleased with and starting over, I treated my words with a permanence, working to preserve their essence no matter, only to realize I'd wasted enormous effort producing something inherently flawed. Only when I realized I had an abundance of approaches and words did I changed my behavior.

I learned in twenty years in management, it's better to let go of the attachment to completed work. It's better to start over, dramatically cut, enhance or revise projects, businesses, and work endeavors as needed. It's better to think of your work as if sculpted in sand, not stone; as a fluid and ongoing process, not a finished piece.

People who are winning at working have that mind-set. They practice non-attachment. They're comfortable with change, improvement, input and new ideas. They understand they can create a better work, come up with a better idea or develop a better result if they let go of what's not working. They treat their work like renewable putty, confident there are plenty of ideas inside them.

If you want to be winning at working then you'll need to make changes, correct errors, fix mistakes and enhance ideas along the way. Sometimes that requires the workplace equivalent of blasting granite. As Tom Peters puts it, "You can't live life without an eraser." And I would add, you can't achieve results and be winning at working without one either.

Nan S. Russell has shared her workplace insights and practical wisdom with a wide variety of people, from coal miners and Navy engineers to college students and senior leaders at nonprofits and Fortune 100 corporations, igniting passions, crystalizing thinking, and changing results. She's a national speaker and consultant, an award-winning author of three books: The Titleless Leader; Hitting Your Stride; and Nibble Your Way to Success. She's a blogger for Psychology and her column, Winning at Working, can be found in over 90 publications. She's spent over twenty years in management, including as a Vice President of a multibillion dollar company, and holds degrees from Stanford and the University of Michigan. For more, visit or contact Nan at

© 2013 Nan Russell

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