I was running a Leadership @ the Speed of Change workshop with a group of participants who were struggling with staying positive during a very tumultuous time in their organization. We were talking about the choice we all have: either we can focus on a problem and let it overwhelm us, or we can keep things in perspective and re-frame what’s wrong within the much larger frame of what’s going right.
To illustrate this point, I drew a large heavy dot on a clean flip chart page with a blue marker. I then talked about how we can narrowly focus on just the dot by restricting our field of vision to this problem and ignoring the rest of the page. I demonstrated this by forming a circle with my index finger and thumb, encircling my eye with it, and thrust my finger and thumb encircled eye right up to the dot on the flipchart page, so that’s all I could see.
I didn’t realize the marker was leaking and blue ink was all over my index finger. When I pulled back from the flipchart and looked back at the audience, instead of seeing participants enraptured with my graphic demonstration, I was greeted with hearty laughter. Apparently there was a very large blob of blue ink around my eye. A participant in the front row offered me a moist cloth to clean myself up. I began wiping around my eye as I continued to make my point about how our focus becomes our reality.
As I was saying this, I was greeted by more laughter. I had apparently smeared much of the ink all around my eye and the side of my face. This time I was given a mirror and more wipes and paper napkins. The group continued to be amused by my attempts to clean off the ink. I reduced the ink, but never did get it all off my face until I got home later that day.
This messy and amusing event turned out to be an accidental and quite profound illustration of an even bigger point. When we get overly focused on a problem we not only can’t see much else, but we often smear ourselves and make an even bigger mess of things. We can easily go from having a problem, to making ourselves blue.

The March 2004 issue of my monthly e-newsletter was built around this example and focused on my experiences and suggestions for keeping personal, team, or organizational problems in perspective. Click here to read it.

How do you keep problems in perspective? How do you help others do the same?