On Choosing A Path

Ten years ago I was coming back from a business trip and found my self waiting at the baggage claim for the bags to start coming out. I had just spent 2 weeks inside an office in the beautiful mountains near Grenoble, France.

It was an overnight flight, so I was a little groggy when all of a sudden two paths for my life became instantly clear. It was like a fork in the road, with brightly-lit signs for both paths, had appeared right there at baggage claim. Each of these paths were being represented by two distinct groups of people.

Path 1
To my left, two men and a woman were returning from the some major sporting event in Switzerland. They were waiting for their athletic equipment to come around the baggage carousel. They were in sneakers, athletic type wear, and appeared to be in the best shape of almost anyone I had seen before. They appeared to be older in age, but looked better than most people I knew who might of been 20 years younger. They were animated while they talked and laughed and were playing off of each other’s energy and had a camaraderie that was so strong it was apparent from even 20 feet away where I stood.

Path 2
On my right, three gentlemen were returning from some type of corporate business meeting. They were waiting for their bags, with their heads down staring into their blackberries (this was so long ago it was when blackberries were just starting to be ubiquitous). They didn’t seem to want to talk to each other, and they had slightly miserable scowls on their face. They seemed drained from the overnight flight. They had on these horrible 90’s type camel hair blazers on top of the standard corporate guy’s outfit of slacks and a blue button down shirt.

That’s when it hit me, without consciously choosing, I was more likely to end up down Path 2 than Path 1. 

I’m not even talking about the choice between being a top athlete vs. a corporate businessperson–I’m talking about the level of energy each group exhibited in their lives.

For years, I thought about having to choose between those two paths and used that story to talk about going towards one vs. the other. I know I didn’t want to end up the begrudged corporate miser staring at my blackberry (or iPhone) in a camel hair blazer, but I didn’t necessarily think it would be possible or even desire to train for the upper echelons of sport everyday, like I did for a period in college.

Not until very recently have I started to think “why not be both.”

What would it look like to have endless energy and engagement and focus of a Olympic-type athlete, but still engage in the work and opportunities of someone building a business?

What is the fork in the road that you’ve been thinking about for a while? Could you take the best parts of both and make something new?

Don’t have one or the other, have it all.

The Power of Small Comments

People often ask me how I was able to make the first switch within my Company from one group to another.  I had been in the IT group for about eight years at that point and then switched over into our Consumer Products Marketing group. Up until that time, going from IT to the Marketing group was not common and there might have only been one other person to do it before me, even though many talked about it.

While I’m sure my amazing abilities and born greatness for marketing had everything to do with it (sarcasm), one of the main factors was actually much simpler.

Shortly after starting to be the IT relationship leader for the Marketing group that I would eventually join, I went to an after-work happy hour event with the Marketing team.  While I was there, one of the senior leaders in the Marketing group and I started talking. I mentioned to him that “I had always wanted to try a position in the Marketing group.”

A year later, that same person called me up, reminded me of our conversation at the bar, and asked if I wanted a Marketing role within his team.

Because of that, I always try to remember the power of small comments:

  • never underestimate the power of a random / inconsequential conversation.
  • always seize an out of office conversation opportunity.
  • realize that the comments I make may have power, even if not immediately.
  • understand that people do remember what you say.
  • remember to communicate and tell people things that I want to happen.

So what can you tell someone about today?

The Business Around The Business

When I was a kid I collected comic books.  There were some I read and some I collected just because I liked the artwork, but my main goal (along with a whole mess of other ventures in those days) was collecting them with the hope that one day they would be worth a ton of money.

After weekly shopping trips to the comic book store with my friends, I would carefully protect my comics with the special holders and backing boards. I’d also do things in support of my habit like get the updated pricing magazine that came out every few weeks to do a current evaluation of my collection.

That was well over twenty years ago.  Then, a few weeks ago I had the random thought that I would look up some of the prices of the comics I had to see what their current value would be if I went to sell them today. Needless to say, even though I had some pretty decent selections, I wouldn’t be a mega-millionaire if I went to sell them today.

Which got me thinking: where was the real money and value generated from collecting comic books, baseball cards, etc.?  

The real money was generated in supporting the collecting behavior.  If I spent more time finding ways to help my friends with their collections, I probably would have made much more than in actually collecting myself. All of those protective bags and backings, the storage boxes, and even the french fries and sodas my friends and I stopped for on the way home from the comic book store was the real way for someone to make money from our collecting. The four bucks per month, by every kid who collected comics, for the pricing guide was another secondary product (and industry) that sprung up around the collecting.

This is true in many places. Is more money generated from the actual stocks in the stock market or from the countless industries and offerings supporting people who want to buy and sell stocks?

What business could you develop supporting the perceived value of another business?

P.S. After lugging my comic book collection around in boxes between my first two apartments after college (yes, I kept them ‘in storage’ at my parent’s house through high school and college) I did decide to sell them on ebay.  Three quick thoughts:

  1. wow, ebay or the internet wasn’t even ‘a thing’ when I started collecting back in grade school
  2. I sold them in bulk as 1 whole set because I didn’t want to go through the detail of individual listings management and therefore had to knowingly sell them at a steep volume/non-individualized discount, and
  3. the real value in my whole experience with collecting comics came from the fun I had on those weekly shopping trips and the discovery of seeing what’s new at the store. Those memories are priceless and why I will highly recommend my kids start any kind of collecting of something they want.

Using Urgent for Urgent’s Sake

One particular summer Friday a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be working from a remote location at a beach town.  I wasn’t supposed to be working that day, but an “urgent” (in quotes because it was someone else’s definition of urgent) project meeting came up that was four hours long that I “had” to attend.  We were told to have the meeting urgently because it was described as a critical meeting to get something designed and moving that HAD to be completed immediately.

Beach towns aren’t always the greatest at WiFi connectivity (thankfully) so I had to ride my bike around town till I found a spot with internet connectivity. I sat on a rickety chair in the town library for the next five hours taking part in the meeting. Thankfully, because I was already at the beach, I could put the meeting out of my mind about ten minutes after it was over as next steps could wait till Monday.

Fast forward to that same weekend, one year later, and as I drove into that beach town again for the first time in the season I saw the library building and immediately had flash backs to that meeting–the meeting that had to get done on that particular day, because we had to get the project moving immediately.

Quickly my flash back turned into a great teaching moment as I realized that while it was now a year later, that particular project had still not started and was still having “urgent” meetings.

I just drove by that library again this season, and now every time I see it it becomes a great lesson in building trust with a team and how taking action to move a project forward is usually better than just talking about doing something.

Business Boot Camps

There are plenty of programs for students  to learn more about career choices and industries in their field (think internships and co-ops).  Why do businesses stop doing that for experienced people?

What if you could build a bootcamp / externship-type program for your business where you bring in talent from other industries to work in your space for a while?  What if you could even do this between the different groups within your company?

Do you think skills you have from working in one industry could be useful in another? There’s an easy way to find out once you find a company with this type of program embedded in the organization.

How else could you benefit from the knowledge someone else has in another field?

Online Learning Team Building Platform

I’ve been thinking about how to strengthen online teams… Many online courses require participants to form teams to complete some of the work. There are two ways to go about this:

  1. Create a team of people you already know
  2. Join a diverse team of strangers supplied by the platform

If you’re with your friends and colleagues, team building aspects may not be an issues. But if you’re on a new diverse team, you might benefit from some additional team building activities.

Instead of nesting team building activities into each separate online platform, why not build a platform that specializes in creating stronger bonds between online teams for the purposes of coursework? Then the teams could utilize this new team building platform for becoming a better team, and the learning platform can focus on being a better learning platform.

What would you do to help online teams get stronger?

 

Instant Meeting Feedback

Have you ever ran a half day, all day or multi-day meeting and wanted to get better live feedback about how it was going? Would you like to receive real time feedback about your performance, without disrupting whatever was happening?  What are some ways you could receive this type of instant feedback, and make it as simple and non-disruptive as possible?

What if…?

What if you handed everyone a red, yellow and green card at the start of the meeting and asked that at any point in time a participant would put one of the cards on the table to indicate their feelings.  What if everyone vote at every break?  What if it’s an app that people can click their feedback and it gets aggregated to a continuous monitor on your screen?

Incredibly simple ideas, but the start of what could be very powerful and even more elegant ideas to immediately improve your process and outcomes.

The main idea is that you should start to ask for more instant feedback.

 

The Hard Question Finder

One of the best ways to improve anything is to find the right and hard questions to work on addressing. The toughest part of that strategy is identifying what those hard questions are. Too many times the person that needs to address that question is so bogged down in the actual thing that wants/needs to be improved that they are blind to what the hardest questions are.

Instead of a suggestion box, we need hard question boxes.

What if the group/person/organization had a way to specifically ask for insight into what those hard questions could be from reputable sources?

Suggestions mean that the person submitting thinks they know the answer, a hard question box gives the actual owner(s) of the thing being addressed the chance to see the areas that could be addressed then decide what/how to address them. Of course, they could always open up for suggestions, too.

How else could you identify the hardest things to work on, because chances are those are the most important as well.

**This is related to the The Question Recorder

Failure Awards

Very similar to Beg Forgiveness Cards

How about creating an awards program in your group specifically to highlight failure.

Celebrating success is great, but celebrating failure could just lead to better success.

What else do you need to celebrate in your group to help entice more of that behavior?

 

Beg Forgiveness Cards

Getting your team to believe that failure is an option or that taking prudent risks are OK is sometimes hard.  Most people in a work environment are trained to believe that things need to work out correctly all the time.

If you’re trying to get your team to live into the phrase “beg forgiveness rather than ask permission” maybe you can help accelerate their adoption of this with “Beg Forgiveness Cards.”

Think of little business cards that simply say “I took a risk and it didn’t work out. I am begging for forgiveness.”

Give out 2 or 3 to your team per year as a way to signal that they have a free pass to try something they think is risky, even if it does fail.  Maybe even include a line on the back like “and the thing I learned was ______.”

This shows that even when someone messes something up they can learn from it as well. After some time, you can display the collected cards for everyone to see what was learned and increase the overall risk tolerance of your group.

What other types of cards could people use at your office?  What could this little piece of “permission” unlock in your organization?