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The 7 Feet Under model – losing good people

October 26, 2012

It’s time for me to finally publish and share my famous 7 Feet Under model.

WARNING: this post contains strange things as Zombies, dirt, graves, stupidity, sarcasm and some other weird thoughts that may hirt the reader. enter at your own peril.

The ‘7 Feet under model’ is a simple visual summary of  my observations during a Workshop, as a second title I called it ‘Losing good people’ because this is what happens when we submit people to constant failure without listening or helping them to take actions.

After drawing this model, actually without thinking about it but just drawing it by heart while listening to people talking, I became aware of several things. The biggest one may be that I realized that people aren’t demotivated just because they like it, people are not giving their best because they don’t want to. This happens also off course (not liking or not wanting), but what I observed is that most of people in the room had aspirations and dreams, and they were all lost due to a long exposure to failure. And, I’m afraid to say, they no longer knew what to do to change, whom to talk to about it without showing vulnerability. And as we all know, vulnerability is a funny thing and leads to an amazing distorted perception from those who show their vulnerability and from those who hide it. In short: It means weakness to those who hide it, it is strength to those who embrace it.

Well, but let’s not go through vulnerability today, Let me just explain you what happened and the model, let me take  you back in time with me and show you what I’ve observed, learned and reflected later on.

The Stage

I was asked to run a workshop where people would reflect on the meaning of Sense of Urgency (SoU) and later brainstorm what could we do to wake up or boost everyone’s SoU.

(It was actually a funny workshop where I heard lots of, well, silly things, if you have time just enjoy yourself here).

It was an interesting session full of different reactions, although the most common one was blaming and denial. At the time I was  a bit stressed and losing my patience because I was feeling like I was in a freak show. I saw people I knew better blaming everyone and finding the most extraordinary escape goats to every single thing being discussed as a probable root for lack of SoU.  I knew they were ,are, capable people. Fighters. People who can and do better. So I could not understand why they couldn’t just deal with it – Face it and deal with it!

As a facilitator I tried not to intervene much, and if at the beginning I was stressed with the things I heard, the fact is that after embracing my observer role, I start finding it funny (the proof is the post I’ve made at that time). But after some time I stopped amusing myself and tried to understand why such good capable people showed so much despair and lack of faith in others and consequently in themselves.

I was listening and I noticed myself drawing this thing I called the ‘7 feet under’ model.

You may not agree with the things I’m about to write, but actually in this post there’s no place to agree or disagree. This is the result of an observation, as such I really hope you read it and find something helpfull to you, to your own inspiration, reflection, perception or simply to your aspirations. I added some advice – which actually you can take at any stage (check the ‘Try this’ sections) and I hope you see the value and usefulness in it, maybe for you or for someone next to you.

The 7 FEET UNDER model
(click image to expand)


Explaining the Model


1st Project / 1st foot under

The Ignorant

When you fail for the first time, or your project fails, mainly you feel Ignorant, as if you didn’t see it coming. You feel as you couldn’t know better and that’s because you are new so you had no way to predict, or expect and deal with so many bad things at the same time. So in the end, when you fail for the first time you feel a bit ashamed but you dont feel ike the worst professional in the world, specially when there are more people working with you and they’ll surely finding other reasons for failure.

Try this:

Reflect on this: During first failed project you are learning. Everything, including failure, is part of learning process and it does grow your knowledge, in business, impediments, risk, people, in all that surrounds you. Includes also a bit of learning on how to feel bad afterwards, how to be humble and how to live with it. So, as I see it, your first failed project can still bring you something good: you can learn. Just don’t expect things to be great by default. You need to, you have to, do something about it. You have the power to influence things around you, so just do it. Use all the energy you couldn’t use in celebrating that first project into making the best of the next project.

2nd Project / 2nd foot under

The Blamer

Second failure and you start feeling.. well.. angry. It shouldn’t have happened again, something went wrong and it certainly wasn’t you because this time you had more experience and you prepared yourself. So, you get into resistance mode, you blame others for failure and you point your mighty finger to every single thing that made your project fail. You take sides. We did everything right, it was their fault, the platform guys, the architects, the designers, the dog…

Although this is demotivating, the good thing is you can still learn. And trust me, you have a lot still to learn, else your project wouldn’t have failed. Also this is the first time you can start feeling some willingness to change. Change your behavior, as in collaborate more openly and often with people around you. Or simpler solution, you can also change your job, but keep in mind that if you do so, you have to leave behind your frustration.

Try this:

You got to realize that blaming takes you no where but demotivation and frustration,  and it endangers your credibility towards your colleagues. Read about the @ChristopherAver’s Responsibility Process , you’ll understand how usual your behavior is and that actually you can change it by mastering the  responsibility Keys.

 3rd Project / 3rd foot under

The Indifferent

When your 3rd project fails, you feel…nothing but dirt upon you and the grave getting deeper beneath (My apologies to sensitive readers).  You are feel indifferent.  It’s like you don’t care, you are getting used to that flavor in your mouth and you already said last time that the dog is the one to blame. This is a crucial time for you and your turnaround. Being indifferent to the things you do is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to you as a professional and lately as a person. Just think about the long hours you spend, in misery I say, in the office.. do you think it will be easy to leave that frustration behind office doors? No buddy, you’ll take it home with you..straight into your personal life. This is the right time for you to jump. Up or Out.

Try this:
Stop for a moment. Reflect on what makes you happy: Your passion. What drives you? What brings meaning to you? If you don’t know how to find the answer to these questions, you can always start by reading something about what drives humans- if you understand what we value, it may happen you’ll find out what makes you go forward. You can read about motivators in @DanielPink ‘s book DRIVE  (or watch in youtube the short animated version) and in @jurgenappelo‘s blog here

4th Project / 4th foot under

The Proud Ignorant

Congratulations, you reached the peak, from now on no way up, always down. This is the  phase of conscient Ignorance. At this point you don’t care, you don’t know what’s going on and you know it and you don’t give a damn.

Basically you are like this guy?

(BTW, I love this picture. I don’t know who did this, but my appraisal to this amazing human being.

Please forgive me for not adding your name here, but I don’t know where to find you.

If by any chance you find this, let me know and I’ll fix it immediately. Respect!)

Try this:

Pair work with newbies. Work with people new to the project and shake down your sarcasm and skepticism.  Working with new people gives you a new perspectives  plus may boost your own energy by watching how passionate they can be regarding the things they do. Let yourself be influenced by their motivation. Grow a relationship with someone that needs help fitting in, nurture that person. You’ll be asked a lot of things and you may actually feel like it’s important to provide and answer or, better, to find out a solution together. I propose this because I believe that at this stage you are incredibly fed up with everything, so having someone in need around you may actually rescue you from all that and give you a chance to build something great and recover the sweet taste of usefulness.

5th Project / 5th foot under

The Self Inflicted Ignorant

Boy, from this point onward there’s no return (almost). You better find yourself a winning  project and turn the table else you are doommed.

People that unfortunately reach this phase, get into a state of Self Made Ignorance. As in first failed project, the ignorance they carry is genuine. They really don’t know better. They are completely alienated from the current world. But if on the first failed project your ignorance came from inexperience, now it exists because you let yourself grow stupid. Basically this is it. You let yourself grow STUPID (I felt this several times already in my short life, not always it comes from failed projects… grow stupid is a natural thing, sometimes because we are lazy or just because we chose a different road and forgot to keep up our knowledge).
In this stage, because you feel you’ve been failing for too long, you got used to it, there’s no apparent punishment (if it may be true that no one fires you, actually your punishment is worst – you are growing exponentially stupid day by day).

Try this:

Start small projects at home. Recall the things you used to be happy doing and do them again, even if that means rewriting the same small application or paper you did in college. Start small, grow big. Go to meet-ups, conferences, interest groups. You don’t have to speak, actually you  shouldn’t or you may loose respect  at first sight :D (kidding) (I guess), just listen..and as you feel yourself  less stupefied you can start sharing.

6th Project / 6th foot under

The Zombie

Your 6th project failed. Should I thank you for that? No, because I guess you didn’t even notice it. You come in the morning because you are used to. You sit and you do some stuff on the web (facebook keeps you alive still).

You lunch with people you used to know (the one’s calling you for lunch are just like you, the others avoid you), you wonder around the coffee area, you feel lost and lonely, and there’s nothing like some gossip to sparkle your mind.  You manager keeps rating you as low performer and you don’t care as long as the paycheck is  the same. People stopped asking you things because they don’t find it funny anymore that you answer to every question with a:  ‘uh?’

Try this:

Find someone patient and respectful in your team and ask if you can sit next to him and learn. Call it pair working. Be honest by say you have given up sometime ago but you would like to know more about the project and learn something and who knows? even be useful. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, maybe you can try to do some other stuff the team is not doing (because they forgot it, delay it, don’t like to do it or simply don’t know about it) and do it. You can, e.g.,  test some of the stuff your colleagues are doing, but watch out!, testing is not easy and it requires great skills to be a good tester, but maybe you can start slow. Test simple things and compare them to the requirements. Then humbly help team improving their stuff (don’t throw crap into their vent else your a dead arrogant useless zombie).

7th Project / 7th feet under

The Coma

At this stage you have some similarities with the zombie but, you don’t move anymore, nor you talk to colleagues.

You come to office, not too late because people would dare looking at you and salute you. You leave early though. But no one cares or even sees you. While leaving you try to look like you are busy, like if you need to leave for an important meeting. Meetings are your favorite place, not lunch time anymore, no. Now you like meetings, specially Calls. You just sit there with your headphones and you turn on all those voices talking about products and budget and funny stuff, you don’t understand half of what they say but it’s your job to attend those Calls. So you just do it. Headphones on and some excel report with lots of numbers. And so you day goes by and you feel as if you’ve done something.

Try this:

Find a new job. Honestly: Find another thing to do.

Lots of people have done it before you, actually lots of people are doing it right now, while I write these lines and also while you read them..and in between! Change is difficult, of course! All good things carry risk or uncertainty but after doing it, when you look back you’ll feel proud of yourself for having the courage to take that first step. I advise you to read about change in @olaflewitz ‘s blog , or here in @yveshanoulle book you can see how lots of people changed their lives and found some meaning to it!

Seriously! What are you doing there? Wasting your time, being unhappy, frustrated, no passion, lonely.. useless. You can do better. You know better, the world is full of possibilities…get out and find something that makes your eyes sparkle… maybe some other area, doesn’t matter, don’t waste your life.  Life is just one shot, don’t throw it away for nothing.

And there you go… I salute you because you finally got there, 7 feet under!

To everyone in or getting into any of this stages, or just slightly disappointed with life, I advise a few books and talks (feel free to add more here):


The Dip by Seth Godin

Epiphany by Elise Ballard


The Power of vulnerability by Brené Brown

3 things I learned while my plane crashed by Ric Elias

The 3 A’s of Awesome by Neil Pasricha

Dare to disagree  by Margaret Hefferman

School kills Creativity Ken Robinson




From → Agile, People, Tips

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