Road Signs for Success – February 27, 2008

By Jim Whitt

Wife: I have some good news and some bad news.
Husband: What’s the good news?
Wife: The good news is I found a picture that’s worth $500,000.
Husband: Wow!  That’s wonderful!  What’s the bad news?
Wife: The bad news is that the picture is of you and your secretary!

This story proves news may be considered to be good or bad depending on the eye of the beholder. Consider this real-life good news/bad news story. In my last real job I scheduled a meeting with the management of the division I worked for. I was a marketing manager and decided I needed to inform them of the direction my group’s segment of industry was headed. That was the good news. The bad news was our company currently wasn’t headed in the same direction as the industry. I felt obligated to point that out along with my plan for what I thought we could and should do to be successful.

The gentlemen in the room listened politely. After I made my case the division vice-president thanked me for what he called a very enlightening presentation. He didn’t dispute the fact the industry was headed in the direction I had described but simply said we (the company) were not going to go in that direction.  End of meeting. History has since validated my assessment of the industry’s direction — and the V.P.’s assessment of the company’s direction. The industry went one way and the company went the other — the division of the company I worked for no longer exists.

Bad news is sometimes, in reality, good news. For example, you’re driving along the highway on a pitch black night and encounter a sign that warns: “BRIDGE OUT AHEAD.” Now, you can’t change the fact that the bridge is out. Would you rather see a sign that lets you know the “bad news” so you can change your course or would you rather have no warning sign and drive blissfully off into the Twilight Zone?

We don’t want to hear bad news because that means we have to deal with it. It requires us to engage in that most difficult of human behaviors — change. Change is hard. It requires effort and struggle. It’s much easier to engage in another behavior — delusion. Maybe the bridge isn’t really out. Maybe it was repaired and they forgot to remove the sign. Maybe…maybe…wait…I think I hear a voice…it’s saying something…oh, no! It’s saying, “Welcome to the Twilight Zone.” This behavior enables us to avoid the thing we don’t want to do — turn around and head in a new direction. In psychological terms this means developing a new pattern of behavior. Traveling down the old road is much more comfortable because we are addicted to the old pattern. It feels good — because it is the path of least resistance — but it’s a wreck waiting to happen. That’s the real bad news.

Six months after my meeting with the management I quit my job. That was nearly 20 years ago. The bad news is — because of my propensity for sharing bad news (sometimes known as reality) with my bosses — I haven’t had a real job since. The good news is — because of that same personality trait — I now get paid to do that same thing as a consultant. I thought the management’s decision to not change course was bad news. But it was good news — because I decided to change course.

See, sometimes bad news really is good news.

Leave a Comment