Burning Platform? Don’t Put the Fire Out, Use it to Move Forward

What would it take for you to go after the job you’ve dreamed about?  Take some time right now, before you read any further to consider the question?  If you’re in the job you’ve dreamed about then congratulations…you’re part of only 13% of people who are actually engaged in their work.  That means that 87% of you reading this article aren’t engaged passionately in your job.  What will it take to get you to take the decisive action to make your work something you love?

The majority of people need to have a substantial pain in which not acting is worse.  They get laid off, their supervisor gives them a bad rating and puts them on a dead-end project, they gain 25 pounds.  At some point each of us has a threshold beyond which we will not allow things to deteriorate.  In business parlance these might be someone’s “burning platform”, their impending crisis that absolutely has to be avoided, fixed, and made to go away.   

Everyone of us has at least one situation, either in our professional or personal life, where we could use someone with a canister of gas and a match.  Someone to light the platform for us when we lack the fortitude to strike the match ourselves.  We might be going after our engineering license, the masters we’ve talked about for the past three years, starting a workout program or spending time with our family.  Over eighty percent of people who establish goals either don’t follow through on them or fail to achieve them.  Sometimes an assist in pushing the ignition switch is appreciated.

So what will it take to get you to take action on the one situation where you know decisive action is needed?  What’s the threshold at which point you have no option but to take action?  If you determine that, then ask the next questions:  do I need to let the situation get to that point for me to take action?  Will it require losing a job you’re already in to get your license to better position yourself for a new job or to increase your earning potential?  Will it require your doctor telling you your cholesterol has set a world record for you get your diet in check? 

Whether you really have a burning platform or make one up in your mind, use it as motivation to get yourself focused and to take decisive action.  The reason Cortes burned his ships at the shoreline in 1519 wasn’t because he lacked a strategy to achieve his goals, it’s precisely because he had a strategy.  It’s because he was very focused on winning and giving his soldiers the burning platform they needed to conquer overwhelming odds.  Unlike Cortes’ army, you don’t have to worry about fighting to the death and fear.  You only have fear to combat.  Mano-a-Mano.  And nothing overcomes fear like a burning platform.

Your burning platform can be your laser, you magnifying glass, your vector to breaking through.  Use the motivation it gives you to do what you know needs to be done.

Need outside motivation?  Enlist a colleague, a mentor, get a professional coach, make a public statement, write a blog!  

Don’t wait on an inferno outside you to force you to act on what you know you need to do.  Otherwise when you do act the timing may be off, you may lack the support you need, and let’s face it; procrastination doesn’t do anyone any good.

“Unbroken happiness is a bore; it should have ups and downs.”  Moliere

Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leader, civil engineer, and author.  He’s an accomplished professional specializing in A/E/C work internationally and author of The Engineer Leader, a recognized blog on leadership and life design for engineers and professionals. 

Image courtesy of Ambro and FreeDigitalPhotos.net