Monday, June 22, 2009

What is your ball and chain?

Those of you that know me understand that I solve the world’s problems each afternoon as I am running on the beach listening to my iPod. Unfortunately, I usually forget the solution by the time I get back from a four-mile run.

Something occurred to me while listening to Social Distortion’s 1990 hit “Ball and Chain” yesterday. They never say exactly what the ball and chain is. I always assumed it was a partner.

If we assume for a moment that we all have some self-inflicted constraints, then we are all bearing a ball and chain. Some of us assume talent or time limitations; others view the benefits of peers to somehow be our constraint. I’ve mentored people who believe their family responsibilities are holding them back. There are people who think they are too old to finish their education and others who are convinced their constraint is race, sex, color or religious-related.

While I understand there are real constraints in the world, what would happen if we each decided to “take away this ball and chain” and move on? I know I find that every time I forget my personal constraints, I accomplish something amazing. The biggest challenge is overcoming the fear of trying the unknown.

Have you ever left behind a constraint and accomplished something you did not think you could?


David Edwards said...

Mine has always been that people who I reveal ideas to who are in positions of influence in policy positions look at me as if I am daft.

Time goes on and this disappears eventually.

What a gross waste of time and money

It is like the following -

“To receive appreciation, each solution to a problem has to pass through three stages:
In the first it is ridiculed, in the second it is combated and in the third it is
taken for granted.”
- Arthur Schopenhauer -

Clare Novak said...

One of the links in my chain is surely that I assume that if I know something everybody does. So, I'm constantly relearning that simply isn't true.

I find that if I really want to do something and the front door is closed, that rather than pound on it or argue, I'll just go around to the side door or the back door, those are usually open.

Thanks for the question, John, well worth thinking about.

Ronald Vermeij said...

Chain = The assumption process in my ego
Ball = All f**kups that where a result from the assumption process

So I stopped assuming a lot of things, have thrown away a lot of assumed fairs (false evidence appearing reals .. to the ego), traveled a long way down from my ego to my heart and now i only try to feel things. This saves me an awful lot of "assumption weight" (aka head aches) on the brain and my perception of things is starting to improve rapidly.

Jim Kennedy said...

Maybe our contraint is our assumption that things really work the way we're
told they do when each of us should check them out for ourselves.


Michael Beason said...

In Aerospace & Defense terms, the supplier would say the "ball & chain" is the customer (some but not all customers in A&D deserve this). And in the case of a prime or tier one contractor, they might say the ball and chain are these poor-performing suppliers!(again, some but not all deserve this)

This "ball and chain" discussion brings up the love/hate relationship that often develops between two parties who have known each other for a long time.

It's like the relationship with cable companies. Every year they have more subscribers and spread their overhead over more and more paying customers. Meanwhile technology costs go down. But at the same time they charge you more! How can you possible keep from hating someone who takes advantage of you like this? So you wait until an opportunity comes up and WHAM! you speak with your pocket book - you switch to Direct TV or Satellite - anything to send a message.

So from a supplier perspective, my customer implements this huge expensive ERP system that sends me orders with due dates that are already past 2 months. And then they score my on-time delivery according to these bad due dates I never agreed on and then their other divisions won't do business with me because my scorecard is RED! and they sit down and talk about a new program and promise the specs the next day. Two weeks go by and I still don't have them but they call to remind me they need first article on-time in two weeks. Still no specs. We sent the first article. It fails. What a surprise. And the list of transgressions just goes on and on. How do we get rid of this "ball and chain" customer?

And from the prime perspective, the supplier promises on-time delivery and then gives me 95%. And they're proud of it. We send out a team to help them get their production to 100% on-time and their best people tell our team that 100% on-time is impossible in their industry. We're feeding a moving production line and need 100% on-time and 0 PPM errors. How do we lose this "ball and chain" supplier and get someone who "gets it?"

People used to refer to their spouses as a "ball and chain" -- but how does your marriage change when you talk like that? better? or worse?

Just as referring to a "ball and chain" is no help in a marriage, it can also easily change the relationship between a supplier and a customer.

We are all in this to ensure that our end customer is successful. Nothing else will ensure future business flow like the success of our immediate customer. You can't hide from the issues when customer success is your imperative. You have to act on it. Whatever the issue is, you have to be tough on problems, easy on the people.

SEA is a group of suppliers and customers who get this simple truth and are working together to solve the problems. Why don't you get out of the stands and into the game? This is not a spectator sport - it's time to stop complaining and get involved.

Anonymous said...


Wanting things to happen more quickly than they take. When you feel passionate about something the time between idea to outcome can seem great. Patience + Passion + Tenacity are all good in equal measure.

Julie Poland said...

Ron, before I read your comment I was going to say that my assumptions were my ball and chain, but I'd concur with you that ego is hanging on as well.

These two factors together can so effectively weigh us down into inaction, the results of which will likely reinforce our negative assumptions. I'm not certain that we can ever become truly ego-less, but our awareness of its hold on us at moments can help us transcend it temporarily.

As for assumptions, I'm reminded of the good-natured scientists on Myth Busters, one of my family's favorite shows. They have no attachments to the myths - rather, they test the assumptions and declare victory no matter whether their experiments prove or disprove them. What's more, the process of obtaining proof is fun. Perhaps without so much ego attachment the fun is possible for all of us, even when we find ourselves "busted."

John Devine said...

Hi John:
An interesting perspective. I think that we all do have a "ball and chain" that we bring from out past. Whether it is something concrete, something emotional, fear of the unknown, or fear of failure, we've all got something. The difference is in how we use this baggage. Do we let it weigh us down, or do we use it as a stepping stone to climb up to new goals and achievements?

Sometimes that fear is a healthy thing. We look at a risky venture and are a bit apprehensive, then decide to do a bit more analysis and find a key fact we overlooked before. Sometimes that fear weighs us down and we're afraid to move. I guess it all comes down to how badly we want to achieve our goal, and how we motivate ourselves to achieve that goal.


Amadize Tai Silveira said...

John, thank you for your thoughts. I lived in the United States for 15 years. When I returned to my part of Brazil, I found that I was way ahead of people in many areas. Today, everyone has caught up with me except in one thing: Fear. Everyone expects someone to be the first one before embarking on something new or innovative or creative or even ordinary (except if someone else is doing it). I´ve never allowed a ball and chain to tie me down or prevent me from doing something; if I really want it, I just go and do it. So, I hope one of my former journalism professors is a member of this group. When I first enrolled at a higher ed institution in the U.S. to study journalism in 1978, he said that wasn´t a good career choice for me because I had three strikes against me: gender, race and being a foreigner. Well, sir, I graduated with honors and was a first choice for a Texas newspaper during career week. You didn´t stay long enough there to see that but I overcame my three strikes, and many others, and have never looked back. So, John, no ball and chain for me but that doesn´t mean that I don´t carry some, attached by others. It´s up to us not to let them slow us down. Best,


Carlos Antunes (Kuca) said...

Totally agree, if you can not change the world, change yourself,

the level of production and research of someone that is not performing

a more than 8 hours job in a desk is higher.

A wise man once said at the beginning I wanted to change my country,

but I failed, than I just wanted to change my city and there was nothing I could

do about it, than I just tried to change my family and they did not listened to anything I said. Only when he was in the last days of his life he came to the conclusion, that the only way to achieve it, was to change himself.

X-Change your life.

Pam Haskins said...

You certainly got us all thinking! I'm usually good at not carrying by ball and chain around - proof is that at 54 I finally graduated with a Bachelors degree and at 58 I got my Masters! But sometimes (like right now) they hold me back - I want to start a life coaching business but just can't seem to get going. The balls and chains are many and heavy, but I will do my best to throw them to the side and strt marching on.

And Michael I am just grateful that I don't have your issues. Have you thought about calling the ERP company yourself to tell them your customer (and theirs) is having a difficult time with it?

Anonymous said...

One of my mantras is "never let security be your anchor". The ball and chain is an 'anchor'. A flip side to 'security' is to create ADVENTURE. How would it help you to approach life with a sense of adventure?

For me, it has enabled me to live and work in different countries/continents; obtain a motorbike licence in my 40's and ride my BMW motorcycle across Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, amongst other things.

And I'm just an ordinary girl from a small town in Australia (one of my other 'pet topics' right now is how we are ALL extraordinary).


Clay Greiffendorf said...


Thank you for starting this thread. Some of my thoughts:

"Ball and Chain", it can be one of thousands of ideas that hold people back. Most people have more than one "little" ball and chain, and these are most often the resulting symptoms of a deep rooted and much larger ball and chain and is simply just part of the human condition. Not one person ever born to this planet has been absent of such feelings.

We all have certain fears that reside deep within us, whether it be simple phobias, or insecurities that cause us to pause for a moment of indecision. Most people go through life never even aware of that which guides them in their decision making process, and there are those of us that tend to look for these and affect a change.

Some wisdom was passed to me a long time ago by my Father and it came from his Father, simply put "There are people in this world who make things happen, and those that let things happen to them.".

Not a single day has gone by since hearing that statement where I have not been faced with the decision of letting it happen, or making something else happen. Not every one of these decisions has been what I would consider a success, actually I would place my score under .500.

But my point is that at every occassion I have faced that particular "ball and chain" and I have lived with the outcome. To my Grand Father's credit I consider those outcomes to have shaped me into a much better person and to have afforded me a moderate mesure of success in my career.

I have not eliminated my ball and chains, yes I have more than a few, I have learned to live with them and to shape them when needed to get the outcome I think is best. Every morning as I look in the bathroom mirror I ask myself the following question:

"What can I do better today than I did yesterday?"

At first the answers to that were hard to imagine. That was my very first ball and chain, overcoming the fear of self examination and acknowldging my own personal weakness and barriers. Break that chain, and you are on the road to becoming one that makes it happen.

Michael sums up the rest in his post...

Colleen R. Tye said...

I really like your thoughts about self-inflicted constraints & totally agree. We often set ourselves up for failure and/or disappointment, because we don't support our own dreams and desires. I once read a book that taught an interesting concept. It discussed our fears and how we often felt "paranoid" or afraid that life situations or people were "out to get us" and as a result, we didn't venture far beyond our comfort zone & frequently limited our own successes because of such fear. Instead it suggested that we reversed the self-talk to convince ourselves that life was "out to get us" SUCCESSFUL & HAPPY. So...I often tell myself & my daughters that "the Universe is CONSPIRING to bring me GREAT SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS". I figure....if I'm going to be paranoid...or worry about a might as well be one that is bringing me something exciting, abundant & fantastic!

Amitabha Sengupta said...

I had once worked with a man who was truely a great listener. I would often feel that he was listening, as it were, with his whole body , his mind, with an intensity, which is rarely observed. When I entered his room ,he would listen for emotions with his eyes and then he would receive my words like precious gifts. There were times when I would confront him with the intention of picking up a fight and he would sense my mood without exchanging a word , and in no time he would calm me down with gentle understanding and with few words and mostly silence.

Great listeners are jewels of the workplace.I have been in situations, when people felt rewarded by the sheer act of being listened to , specially about something they have been proud of achieving.Sensitive listening made people catharsize and get overcome with emotions and gratitude.

Thomas Tanel said...

Perhaps we need to handle uncertainty better. This profession, which we call ours, is not a craft or a job. It is an art and a science, not a skill set or latest technology. It is based on facts, functions and good practices, not high-priced buzzwords, many splendor things, or canned computer magic. It is also not “fluff” or hype or the latest fad. The "ball and the chain" constraint seems to be our aptitude to be risk minimizers rather than risk optimizers!

Daniel Feiman said...

Continuing this theme, Dr. Edward de Bono, author of Lateral Thinking, Six Thinking Hats, among others, in How to have a Beautiful Mind, talks about how each of us has the ability to "control" what we do & how we do it. His chapters on "How to agree" and "How to listen", How to respond" etc., go to the point that, although we all have our own "ball & chain" we can overcome it in our daily choices & actions. We do not need to be a slave to our B&C. Use it as an excuse, if we must, or get out there & do our best despite it. Our choice. Frankly, I choose to raise above mine; at least as frequently as I can.

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