Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The "Indirect" road to success

As a follow up to my last blog essay, I wanted to explore this topic further. As often happens, my posting an essay prompts a few emails, texts and calls from friends that follow my blog. This happened right on schedule after my last posting earlier this month, and a number of good discussions ensued. Rather than keep them to my self, I thought it best to share a few of the themes here.

First of all, it might make sense to have a quick re-read of the last essay, “ Some times you need to go up to go down …” The core idea is that life, leadership and success are not linear, and have not been in my life. My experience was not one of a single well laid out plan, with no twists or turns, clearly leading on a single upward trajectory. In my essay I encouraged readers to reflect on my experiences and think about ways/avenues where those same experiences may be coming to life in their lives.

In a number of my follow up calls/discussions, I talked with friends about possible enablers or drivers to that approach. The following are a few of those principles highlighted and reviewed:

Be Open

Maybe the toughest idea of all, how to “be open” to new ideas/concepts/approaches as you move through your life and career. I especially think this is tough for those who have been successful early in their lives/careers. Why “be open” to new ideas when what I am doing now is working so well?? Seems like a good question! My experience is that the key drivers of what has made you great, will not only NOT be the drivers of your future success, they probably will be the biggest barriers to that success. I talk about this in great detail in a previous essay, “The Gravity of Success” which you can find in the “Perspective” section of the blog archive to your left.

Be Inquisitive

Such a simple idea! Since the time of Socrates we have been taught to ask questions as a path to knowledge and learning. Why are we so busy preparing our comments, ideas and critiques that we don’t spend much time thinking about and crafting the significant questions that can help us grow and succeed? I have seen this so often across the business landscape, where individuals who have the “quickest” and most “well crafted” responses and actions plans are advanced quickly in their careers. Too often those early advancers don’t end up with a long and impactful career. I have specifically witnessed this in the landscape of sales, and have gone into more detail in a previous essay, “Selling: The art of the “question” which you can find in the “selling” section of the blog archive.

Be Attentive

Even when we ask good questions, are we really listening? How do we use all of our senses to pick up data, deeply “listening” for the underlying meaning and innuendo of the comments we receive? I think back to all the times that I had with mentors from my past and wish that I could find one time with them to dig in an ask questions and really “listen” to their thoughts and comments. Finding ways to really pick up data in life and in business is a rare and precious skill! I have touched on this in a number of previous essays, most recently in an essay titled “A moment in the 3rd person can change your world”, found in the “Perspective “ section of the blog archive.

Be Active

Life and business is not merely a set of reflections and introspection! We need to take those isights that we have uncovered and put them to work! I so often say that we have an inifinate INABILITY to affect yesterday, but an infinite ABILITY to impact tomorrow. Remember the lesson from my old boss Bruce, “Regret is a trap.” Don’t squander your energy on the “what if’s” or the “should have/could have/would have’s” of life. Take the insights and perspectives that you gained above, and turn them into action today! A good example of this idea if covered in my most read essay, “A teachable point of view”, found in the “Leadership” section of the blog archive.

Here are four principles that I hope you find helpful and productive as you seek success in your life and career. Look for ways to be MORE “Open/Inquisitive/Attentive & Active” as you move into your week ahead; always scanning the landscape for more data/input and insights that you can take action quickly!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sometimes you need to go Up to go Down, Left to go Right, North to go South.

While this essay is not intended to be focused on geography or route mapping, I will start with a recent moment in a rental car to set the stage. My sweet son Bryson and I were on a trip recently to chilly Minneapolis /St. Paul to visit colleges. With the high one day forecasted to be -4 degrees Fahrenheit, I wanted to make sure that my driving directions were tight and without detours or potential issues. At one point in the afternoon, we needed to drive across “the cities,” leaving St. Paul for an afternoon appointment in NW Minneapolis. Not knowing the local area very well, I pulled up the map function on my I-Phone and entered our destination. While the route seemed simple enough, the last few miles had us exiting the highway, heading north a few miles, looping under the highway and heading back south toward our destination. At first it seemed crazy, I could see on the map a much more direct route, what the heck??? Well maybe the combination of the temps and the unknown city lead me to squelch my intuition and follow the directions on my phone. Crisply and very quickly we followed the routing commands, went north to go south, and found ourselves at our destination early for our appointment. What the mapping system “knew” that I couldn’t was that the seemingly straight route was under massive construction, highway exits closed and/or re-routed, and my “direct route” would have failed miserably. This experience got me thinking about how the dynamic of the “indirect route to success” is actually common in many moments of life.

We live in a time of supercharged, overscheduled lives and careers, where the idea of planned inefficiency seems out of place and almost unthinkable. The idea that you would intentionally NOT take the seemingly most direct route literally sounds crazy writing this paragraph. The reality is that in many facets of my life, this “truth” continues to come to life. The following are just a few examples….

Examples in Life:

As I look back on my education, it is easy to see how the “direct route” almost got me in trouble multiple times. As a boy I was convinced that I wanted to be a Lutheran Pastor. When I looked at colleges, I only reviewed religion departments, and ultimately chose an undergraduate college very much based on that single strength. It wasn’t until my junior year when I was studying in a divinity school in Edinburgh Scotland that I realized that while I was academically challenged and fascinated by the realm of Theology, I wasn’t “called” to it as a career. I came home from Scotland with a major need to find a “plan B; ” ultimately completed a BA in Economics, an MBA with a focus on Marketing, and then off to a 30+ year business career.

Examples in Business:

There are numerous examples of companies that became so focused on the “direct route” of their existing strategies; they missed the chance that some “indirect exploration” might have created. On either sides of this example, think about Xerox and Netflix. Xerox, the home of copying and copiers was also the home of the engineer who created the original “mouse” used to enhance early computing efforts in the late 1960’s. While originally applied sparingly within Xerox, uncertain how it lead to better, enhanced copier/copying experiences, “the mouse” became well known after 1984 and the introduction of the Macintosh 128k computer. A bit of “indirect exploration” might have created much more value for Xerox in that example. With today’s “House of Cards” Netflix in mind, it’s hard to remember that Netflix began as a mailer driver DVD rental model. While mailer rental DVD's are still available Netflix is not only streaming content broadly, but now a major player in content development and production; seemingly a bit of an indirect route from the original example. The examples are numerous, but the challenge to be open and flexible enough to take “the indirect route” in business is no small thing. I will explore the drivers and barriers to “the indirect route in business” in an essay in the near future.

Examples in Careers:

It is so easy and tempting to think about mapping your career “ladder,” taking roles that lead one after the other always upward climbing the proverbial “corporate ladder.” I learned this lesson from a good friend and I have now described it to others as following “Irma’s Rule.” Irma is a good friend and one of the brightest marketers from across my career. I had the fortune to have her join my team in a key role in which she flourished. As her time passed, instead of looking for the obvious advancement opportunity, she looked for and secured a lateral assignment where she could expand and build her skills. This “indirect route” seemed not only counterintuitive, it WAS counter cultural and very unusual. I dug into the situation and realized that she had a number of lateral moves under her belt and a big part of her success was the breadth of her experiences combined with the depth of her capabilities. This “indirect career route” served Irma well, propelling her to significant career growth over time, built on a foundation of a breadth of career experiences… “Irma’s Rule.”

As I mentioned above, this essay is not meant as a primer to “Google Maps,” or any other mapping app. I have mentioned this idea obliquely in earlier essays, “Ode to a Shunpiker,” and “Longlook Gardens.” I am convinced that we need to find ways to take the less direct approach, the “indirect route” personally and professionally; as a way to help us gain perspective on life/business and ultimately to achieve greater results, success and happiness.