Flying Without a Net

A recent issue of Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge blog highlighted a new book by Professor Thomas DeLong, Flying Without a Net: Turn Fear of Change into Fuel for Success.

The book profiles high-need-for-achievement (HNAP) professionals. Here’s how the Working Knowledge article profiles HNAPs: “He’s the guy who leaves his coat on his chair so his boss thinks he works all night. He boasts loudly about how much time he spends zigzagging the planet for work. He pretends to listen to you while he’s punching away at this BlackBerry. He worries why his office isn’t as big as his colleague’s. And he blames others when he screws up.”

Instead of experiencing happiness or well-being, HNAPs seek relief in the accomplishment of tasks. Moving immediately to the next task on the list, they never savor accomplishments for long. This creates a vicious cycle marked by a feeling of little sense of purpose and a flatness in career and in life. HNAPs can go through life without creating or enhancing meaningful relationships, and even lack strength to deal with life’s failures.

DeLong describes himself as a card-carrying HNAP, now in recovery. Recovery, for DeLong, means confronting and getting control of the four traps that define an HNAP: comparing, business, worrying, and blaming. He estimates that 80 to 85 percent of investment bankers would identify themselves (if willing to reveal the weakness) as HNAPs.

Letting go – flying without a net – is a big part of DeLong’s prescription. He recommends that HNAPs:

  • Stop and reflect with self-awareness
  • Let go of the past
  • Create a goal or a specific vision with an agenda
  • Begin a new relationship
  • Take a new job, or start a challenging new assignment

Seeking out others is key to recovery, asking friends and family to hold you accountable for your new commitments. More honest, no-holds-barred conversations with bosses and direct reports are also part of the recovery process. Finally, it’s important to create “sacred” time to be with family and close friends, with smartphones officially off limits.


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