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.

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 “Why Am I Here” Score

I looked up the websites of 75 different organizations in a particular industry for a small project. My goal was to look at the sites so I could figure out which of 6 or so different buckets that each of the organizations fell into. This would help me develop a plan to research the right ones more effectively.

Unfortunately, 65 of the 75 websites I went to did absolutely nothing in the first 2 clicks (I left each one after two clicks) to tell me

  1. what the organization offered
  2. identify any nugget of information that could help me categorize them effectively or
  3. help me understand how that organization made money (they were all for-profit ventures)

Bloated, confusing, jargon-filled mission statements and copywriting on the main pages of a company’s site do nothing to help the new visitor understand anything about the company or what to do next.

So, how about developing a way to quickly asses website (or other media) designs in terms of the consumer/customer/visitor and figuring out why they happens to be on the site in the first place? 

One simple way this could be evaluated is by whether or not someone knows what to do once they land on your homepage. There’s a ton more, but the overall message is to come up with some kind of generic benchmark (like CTR is a generic benchmark) that helps designers understand if they’re confusing the visitor.

How else could we measure this?

 

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?

 

Learning How to Learn for A New Role

Taking on a new role in an organization or a new company is an interesting opportunity that can make people experience a myriad of emotions ranging from being charged up and motivated all the way to feeling imposter syndrome.

When the role is out of the traditional field or work that the person has been doing, or even in a new company, one of the key challenges the person faces is learning how to learn.

After being in a role or place for a while, a person develops the ability to know where to go for information, how to stay ahead of the curve in terms of what’s next in their respective field, or even where to start when they doesn’t initially know something.  When starting something or somewhere new, that usually has to be learned all over again.

The key then is knowing that, while initially obtaining certain specific information (like laws, codes, or processes) could be important to hit the ground running,  the focus for longer term success and growth in a new domain or place is really figuring out where to go to get the right learning.

Some of the vital places to look are standard industry or internal group resources that are readily available, but there are a myriad of less obvious resources as well. I like to search for people on twitter that have conversations or are well known in that field, and then see where they re-tweet information from or list as their sources. These types of resources are the ones that aren’t as obvious, but more valuable.

So, how do you learn where to learn from?  Who could benefit if you wrote out exactly how you’re learning in your current field? And would that process even surprise you? Any good tips on hacking the on-going learning process for a specific field?

Accelerate Your Career Growth by Understanding How Promotions Happen

When you start to analyze how and why people get promoted in any large organization you can see that interesting patterns have developed.  The important part in understanding those patterns is making sure that you are using them as you develop your career plans. I imagine every organization is different to some degree, but there must be some universal truths as well.

Can you accelerate your next promotion or opportunity within the same company?

Note: I’m not commenting on the topic of how to do it by moving out and around other companies.

Here are some thought starters on the topic:

  • Which matters more–your skills and track record or the actual role? Look around, are some positions geared towards faster advancement opportunities just because of the role itself and not even the skills or work you might be able to do within that role?  Yes!  Sure, it does even out over time, but if you can get it to work in your advantage earlier it could be a good bet.
  • Do certain groups seem to be have a better track record for advancement?  If no one from the group your in has been promoted within in the last few years, how much harder would it be to work out for you? Go where it’s more normal.
  • Can who you work with help or hurt your advancement?  Not just the team, but what business partners are you working with and do those groups generally aid in your career development in some way?  For instance, supporting or collaborating with other groups that are fast-growing and expanding probably give your position a better chance of advancing vs. collaborating/supporting a group that is historically stagnant or declining.
  • Are the skills you’re learning in that particular role going to help or exponentially accelerate your growth to the next level?  Finding a role that helps is not nearly as transformational as a role that will accelerate exponentially. Of course, the latter type roles could also bring about a bigger risk as well. One good example: my company (this is public info) recently had a mid-level job posting for a person to work directly on a deep and daily basis with one of our new Executive Members that has an amazing track record of success. I’ve never seen a role like that and the things the person would be exposed to and get to interact with, not to mention the networking aspects, would be almost even a level above exponential acceleration.  Seek those types of roles. (For those of you wondering if I follow my own advice – I didn’t even try because of the 60% travel requirement and I was a new father at the time. Sometimes life decisions easily outweigh career decisions.)
  • What can you create to completely change the career growth trajectory curve?  Who says you absolutely have to follow the traditional trajectory through each level of your company’s hierarchy? What can you create or do that is so amazing that it helps you radically jump through the organization?

I’m not saying you should use promotions merely as a way to guide your career planning.  In fact, I’ve taken some interesting steps back or sideways in my career to learn different skills that have proved to be absolutely more valuable in the long run.  What I am saying is that you should understand the different ways advancement happens if you hope to continue growing through your career.