Hurricane Dorian packed a wallop. A category 5, its physical devastation was immense. But it came with an accompanying force, one that left a more insidious, psychological wake: the cone of uncertainty. The horrific after-storm photographs make clear the physical devastation of Dorian. But we'd be wise to pause and examine what the cone of uncertainty did to us, the danger of allowing it to linger on in our lives, and what we can do in response.
The cone of uncertainty was unmissable. For the better part of two weeks, a menacing, misshaped, conical red swath of threat overlaid maps of the Caribbean and southeastern United States. Visually it was ominous. But a steady sound track of speculation, some of it valid, most of it hyped, sent a more intimidating message: "It's bad, it could get worse, and it could get you if you aren't careful." Whether in the path or not, it caused some to move, others to stock up, and just about anyone near the cone or a phone to focus not on what was, but on what wasn't. And that may have been the most damaging impact of all.
For all it might yet teach about storm preparedness and the effects of climate change aside, Dorian offered up a more important lesson - a lesson about what you can control, what you can't, and how to keep operating at your fullest potential, even as the world turns more uncertain every day. Like many good lessons, this one isn't new. More, it's a classic, one that American educator and businessman Stephen Covey taught more than thirty years ago in his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book spawned a management revolution and made Covey a pseudo prophet of getting your act together and raising your odds of having impact. Habit 1 is the focus here, Be Proactive, and more specifically within the lessons of that habit, Covey's concept of circles of influence and circles of concern.
The insight is simple yet powerful. As Covey put it, "There are some things over which we have no real control and others we can do something about." Everyone's circle of concern refers to the former - those things over which we have no real control yet still worry about, a circle that, especially in uncertain times, can be as wide as a cone of uncertainty for many of us. But concentric and smaller within the circle of concern is another - the circle of influence. Those things we can actually do something about lie within that inner circle. The trouble is, most of the time, rather than focus on what we can control, we instead focus on those things that concern us, but which we have no direct control over. Herein lies the problem and within it, a key lesson for these turbulent times.
What Covey taught is that the more you focus on things beyond your control, the more you actually shrink your circle of influence. And undesirable as that is, it makes sense. If you are swirling around like a hurricane spending all your time and all your energy fretting about things you can't control, you hardly have time to leverage what you do and bolster your influence. But here's the silver lining in Covey's insight: if instead you choose to focus on those things you can impact, you actually expand your circle of influence - taking your skills, and ideas, and energy and honing them into a source of power. Making a habit of doing this raises the odds that you'll turn that power into a force of nature, honing your own abilities instead of dissipating your energies on the horrible things the cone of uncertainty might bring, but most often won't.
Do hurricanes real and figurative happen? Of course they do. Do they hit everyone everywhere? Never. When they do land can they be devasting? Yes, and yet the more we know about who we are, what we are capable of, and what we can actually influence, the greater our ability to rise.