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Failure is necessary for growth.


Sometimes things don’t go the way that we want and we consider that to be a failure.  Right now I’m experiencing this in my own life.  The fortunate thing is that I’m learning some very important lessons and taking it as it comes.  I lost my job in February and decided that I had two choices: sit and wait for one of the jobs that I was applying for to come through, or I could start my own business in the meantime, and see what happens.  I chose the latter.

My wife has been tremendously supportive through everything, and I’m very thankful to have her.  She allowed me to sink in a considerable amount of money over the last 7 months to build my brand, website, advertising, etc.  She has supported me when I was going to networking event, after networking event.  And all of this to say that to date, I have secured exactly zero clients.  I could say that the economy has something to do with it, or any number of other external factors, but ultimately I’m learning quite a few lessons through this experience.  The first thing I’m learning is that breaking in to the consulting business is extremely difficult unless you have about 10+ years of consulting experience, or have worked on multiple contracts/accounts.  I have also learned that no matter how much you know, your age will always be a factor, and will almost certainly intimidate people and alienate you from getting the job.

I believe that I have done many of the things right in starting my business, but I have learned quite a few lessons from this experience.  I believe that in the future there may be more success but at the moment, I have to accept the fact that I must take a step back and try a different approach.

Since we moved back to Maryland, my wife and I have been applying to jobs like crazy and finding very little luck in securing employment.  Needless to say, these are little failures every time you interview and don’t get it, or even apply and don’t hear anything or get an interview.  But you have to learn a lesson each and every time that you go through the process.  One thing I have learned is that your world will not crumble and fall apart when you hear “no”.  A very important lesson in business!  Also, the support of those around you means more than you can ever put a price on.

Thomas Edison said “I have not failed.  I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  This was said in response to the 10,000 attempts at creating the lightbulb that didn’t work.  I’m choosing to look at my situation from the same perspective, as scary, frustrating, and depressing as it can be at times.  By keeping this outlook, I know that success will come and I can hardly wait to embrace it when it does.  So how are you looking at your business and your life?  Are you so scared to find the ways that won’t work that you fail to try?  Are you playing it too safe?  What does your support system look like?  Make sure that you ask yourself these questions every now and again, and perhaps bring your feet back down to solid ground and reality that can help you experience the much-needed growth of small failures on the pathway to great success!

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On A More Personal Note


It has been a little while since I wrote my last entry, but I promise I have good reason: my family and I have finally moved back to Maryland!  The last year has been absolutely crazy, and while this may not seem like a huge event, for us it is.  My wife is from Maryland, and I lived here for almost 4 years before getting a promotion last year and being moved to Philly.  After losing my job in February and starting my own business in March, things have been very tough on many fronts, so this is a much-needed change back to an area where we want to be.

As I have finally been able to sit and gather my thoughts and think about what my next article should be about, I came upon a blog by Roger O. Crockett called White Executives Should Head to the ‘Hood.  At first glance, this article sounded interesting, potentially politically incorrect, and possibly crazy, but once I read it I really thought about myself and my own experiences.  The premise behind the article was that many more executives should take the time to get out in to the “‘hood” and take some lessons from the people there, as well as use it to help bridge the gap in communication and understanding of others situations.  I can relate, and think about this quite often.

I grew up in a town that had the rural areas, as well as some of the city lifestyle.  My parents separated very early on (before I could remember) which made me somewhat strange in a time when that certainly wasn’t the norm, at least for everyone else.  I had a step-dad who didn’t really want much to do with me because I wasn’t really his child, and he let me know that physically, emotionally, and mentally through degradation and abuse.  We didn’t have a lot of money, and I was always told that if I wanted to go to college I was going to have to figure something out on my own, because we just didn’t have the money and never would.  I was gifted intellectually, but didn’t want to be branded a nerd and get picked on any more than I already did for not having name brand clothes, being a big kid, and being smart.  Because of this, I downplayed my intelligence in school, and did just what I needed to get by.

My Mom owned and ran a print shop where I was fortunate enough to gain quite a bit of business experience, as well as my grandparents owned their own concrete servicing company (building and servicing concrete plants internationally).  Even with all of this going on, I managed to get in to the wrong crowds and spiraled down very quickly from about age 13 to age 21.  I became involved in drugs, drinking, and anything else that I could get in to, simply trying to find my way.  I don’t blame anyone for my mistakes, and know that I have myself to blame for my decisions.  After a failed marriage, receiving an Other Than Honorable discharge from the US Navy, and essentially losing everything that I had gained up until that point, I knew it was time for a change.  At the age of 21 I made the decision that I wanted more than what I had and what I saw myself as ever having on the path that I was on; I knew that I should and could have more.  I left everything I had left, and where I was, and moved back in with family and started over.  That was about 7 years ago.

I still don’t have a college degree, but I have had a tremendous amount of experience over the years, both in business and in life.  I have accumulated education over the years, and look towards the future and getting a formal education, but now it’s because I find what I do interesting and I want to learn as much about it as I possibly can.  So why am I even telling this?  How many people do you think ever ask about, or even care about, my life experience or my intelligence past my formal education?  Believe me when I say very few.  I have had recruiters tell me outright that my resume looks great and my experience is impressive, but I must have a Bachelor’s, no exception.  It makes me wonder how many bright, talented people out there are missing out on opportunities and how many organizations are missing out on their next bright start because of this thought process?

Because of my history, I have an appreciation for everything that I have, and loyalty almost to a fault.  My work ethic is above reprieve and I am proud of that.  My passion for what I do is just about second to none.  I have a diverse understanding and appreciation of life and the people in it.  Those are the good traits.  I also know that because of my history, I am more direct in my communications than most people like, and generally speak matter-of-factly.  I also know that I tend to take on more responsibility than I should at times, and allow myself to get overburdened.  I strive to continuously receive praise and recognition for my work, and to make a real impact.  How many of you would want an employee that exhibits these traits? 

How many companies are missing out on these opportunities?  Which is more important, someone who has the passion and wants to learn and grow and is excited about it or someone who comes in and does the job and has a sense of entitlement, or does it simply because that is what they are “supposed to do”?  I’m not saying that this is specific to any one generation, ethnicity, age, sex, religion, or otherwise; what I’m saying is that organizations need to put more time and effort in to finding the people, like myself, who once given the opportunity can and will strive for excellence and helping the organization that they belong to.  I have seen it time and again, as I am sure that many of you have as well.  As I say many times, everything in your organization is impacted by your human capital; are you diversifying your portfolio enough, or are you playing it safe with degrees and credentials that will get steady results and obedience?  Could your organization use an injection of innovation, creativity, and passion?  I encourage you to give an opportunity to some people whom you might otherwise overlook (a measured risk of course), and see what kinds of results you get.

Everything that I ever needed to know, I learned from…


I remember a book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum, which talks about some of the simplest rules in life that everyone should practice as they get older.  Some of these include such truisms as “play fair”, “put things back where you found them”, “say you’re sorry when you hurt someone”, and “flush” (you can see the complete list here).  Needless to say many of these are seen to be applicable to the business world.  That is what really got me to thinking!

I was watching my 14-month-old son the other day, as he was playing with a toy.  The toy is a Chuck The Dump Truck, which talks and moves, and sort of reminds me of a cartoon version of the old Tonka trucks.  Now, generally that wouldn’t be a big deal except that until now he really had very little interest in it, but as time has passed and he continues to develop I am amazed at the changes that happen.  When we got him the truck two months ago for his birthday, he showed little to no interest and really didn’t understand the concept of it.  But after some time, he has figured it out on his own and was rolling it around the living room; it was a proud moment, and I was so excited to see it happen!  As soon as I saw it, I told him “Good job!  I’m proud of you buddy!”  to which he sat up on his knees, smiled, and clapped his hands, and then went back to playing.

There are quite a few lessons to be learned from being a parent, and from watching kids grow and develop, that can and should be applied to the business world.  I find myself always marveling at the natural development of small children and how the constantly find everything around them to be interesting.  Most adults are very similar to this, but too often I think that this trait gets stifled (amongst others).  This in turn stifles the organization that they belong to and affects every component of the organization.  We can call it what we want (satisfaction, engagement, etc.) but the truth of the matter is that there is certainly a piece missing.  Children are looked at as being amazing and special, and treated as such.  They are told the rules by those more senior around them, and then generally have those things modeled for them.  They are encouraged to grow and develop, and to see the world as a wonderful place.  What happens when they get older?  Why is it that the support component disappears?  Who continues to tell them “good job” and show excitement for their growth and development?

These are components that need to still be alive and well within each and every organization, and the leaders in the organization truly need to be leaders, just as parents and grand-parents are.  This isn’t to say that people should be removed of responsibility for themselves, but the support structure needs to continue to be there.  Ask yourself, where could you/would you be today with that type of support structure?  Or where are you today after having that type of support structure?  Are you passing it along?  For those of you reading this that are parents, what have you learned from your children today, and how are you using it?

Appreciative Leaders Must Support The Change and Improvement


Sometimes I get the urge to go back and re-read publications, journals, and books and I often find things that I may have forgotten reading or a concept that really sticks out to me.  Over the last few days I have finally found some time to get back in to my Performance Improvement Journal from the International Society for Performance Improvement, and came across a couple of articles that I felt really speak to the current times, and the needs of organizations today.

With the current climate of business, change is inevitable.  We are living in one of the most dynamic environments that has ever existed.  Just look at BP, the fall of AIG, the challenge to GlaxoSmithCline’s diabetes drug Avandia, the new regulations for the financial industry about to be signed in to law, the constant change and advancement of technology such as mobile phones and services, or cable and satellite television services.  In all of these scenarios change is happening in a rapid and radical manner and the success of these companies relies on the ability of each of these organizations, and the many systemic components of each, to be agile and be able to adjust.  At the very least they must be able to adjust adequately and adeptly, at the best they must be innovative and revolutionary. 

Imagine for a moment the impact that these changes has on each one in the organization!  You’ll probably notice the weird structure of that last sentence; the use of “each one”.  In “The Power of One” (Roger Kaufman, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010), Dr. Kaufman talks about how “all change, or lack of change, starts with one.  That one might be an individual, a small group, an organization, or society.”  Think about how many “ones” exist in most (use your own for a moment) organizations, and as I said before, think of the tremendous impact to each of those ones from these radical and incremental changes.  Every business unit, division, team, and individual person…every one of them will be impacted differently by the dynamic environment and must adjust in their own ways.  The key is that each of them must also be aware that they can and should be the catalyst for change.  But how do they get there?  It is up to the leaders in an organization to make this happen.

As a practitioner of Human Performance Technology (HPT), I find myself questioning why more leaders aren’t looking at their organizations from the systemic and systematic perspective that is at the root of HPT.  This means looking at it as a whole system made up of parts that must fit together properly, and understanding that ALL of the parts will impact all of the others.  How many managers, supervisors, executives, and even the front-line employees in many cases understand this?  It has to start with the leadership.  Many people believe that a system’s perspective must be very rigid and static, which is completely counter to the dynamic environment as described above.  However, as described by Jennifer Rosenzweig in “An Enlightened Look At A System View” (Jennifer Rosenzweig, Performance Improvement, vol.49, no. 3, March 2010), “A  complex adaptive system can be characterized as being dynamic and constantly changing.  When it is vibrantly humming along, the people within it are adjusting smoothly and efficiently to change on a continual basis.”  Based on this, we can say that in fact it is possible to have a dynamic system that can meet these ever-changing needs of business, and can be done without getting stuck in “analysis paralysis”.  Rosenzweig goes on to say “Although plans, processes, and strategies are in place, new decisions are made when new input arrives.  And these are not decisions imposed by senior leaders but instead are made in the moment by people embedded in the system.”  In other words, it truly must be adaptive and dynamic and involve all ones, and it has to be the leadership of the organization that supports, fosters, and facilitates this environment!  This is not an impossible task, and can be achieved through the utilization and support of HPT at all levels of an organization.  Individuals must come to realize and know “his or her role and ties his or her efforts to a larger purpose to do what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Jennifer Rosenzweig, Performance Improvement, vol.49, no. 3, March 2010)

One of the important pieces of this is helping people to go from being “brick layers” to “cathedral builders”.  For those that have never heard the story, I’ll choose to use the one from “Transitioning from Brick Layer to Cathedral Builder: Performance Consulting and the Power of One” (Darlene Van Tiem and Jeffrey McElyea, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010). 

” A performance consultant was conducting an analysis of brick layers.  The performance consultant approached the first of three workers and asked, ‘What are you doing?’  The first man, not wanting to participate in the analysis, answered, ‘What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m laying bricks!’  undaunted, the performance consultant walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question.  The second man responded, ‘I’m making a living.’  The performance consultant was intrigued by the different perspective.  Finally, the performance consultant asked the third bricklayer the same question: ‘What are you doing?’  The third looked up, smiled, and said ‘I’m building a cathedral.’  The performance consultant thought, ‘Now, that’s what everybody should be doing!'”

This has such a powerful message!  How many people in an organization, including the organization itself, know what the big picture is other than making the business money?  Making money should be a given and expected to happen.  But what does the organization hope to accomplish in the process?  How is it defined?  What is in place to drive the decisions of all stakeholders involved?  It is the leaders in the organization that must make sure that these questions are answered and supported throughout the organization, and that is what drives success and creates a “complex adaptive system”. 

In “Leading Positive Performance: A Conversation About Appreciative Leadership” (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010) all three authors are discussing a book that they have written talking about appreciative leadership.  I think the concept of appreciative leaders is an important one in creating the environment that we have been talking about, and to supporting the growth and development of HPT in the workplace.  Appreciative leadership, as defined by Dr. Whitney, “refers to a set of practices that turn human potential into positive performance.  It is a positive, strengths-based approach to human performance, collaboration, and change management.  It represents a shift from individualistic and deficit-based leadership processes to relational and dialogical leadership processes.”  This is a concept that can be supported by Dr. Rupert Loyd as he talks about much of the same topic in his blog “Relational Leadership“; relational leadership is truly the way of the future.  It means involvement and communication (two-way, not one) and is absolutely imperative if organizations want to have a team full of “cathedral builders” and not just “brick layers”.  This is accomplished by studying “the times when the organization is performing at exemplary levels and the quality is flawless.  From this process, we can learn specifically what it takes to support high performance in all areas all the time.” (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010)  Once we discover what we want to happen we need to “Frame them as statements of what we want more of rather than statements of what we do not want,”  (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010) and this must be done in conversation with the other stakeholders of an organization, not just at them or to them.  As Dr. Whitney states, “Nothing stimulates creativity and innovation more than inclusion of different people, different perspectives, and different ideas.  Inclusion enables people to exchange knowledge and ideas.  It fosters engagement, commitment to a shared future, and collaborative action.  It is generative.”  (Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Kae Rader, Performance Improvement, vol. 49, no. 3, March 2010)  

What better way is there to create a complex, dynamic, adaptive system than this?  In order for the changes that organizations want, and need, to take place there needs to be a shift in the leadership and management style in place today.  Otherwise the other systemic components, and thus the overall system, will fail to have the desired impact and any change associated with them will be weakened if they don’t fail all together.  Until these factors are realized I’m afraid we will continue to see the types of failures and destruction described at the beginning of this entry.

Is “Monkey Business” a reality in real business?


One of the things that I inevitably find myself drawn to is science of any kind.  I think that’s why I fell in love with cooking; it’s simply a form of chemistry that’s edible (and for those that know me, I LOVE to eat!).  With that in mind I always seem to be reading a new article somewhere about some type of science, which then causes me to make connections and comparisons to things I already know.  In fact, I almost wrote a blog today talking about how we need to challenge what we already know in business and scrap what we thought we knew before based on an article that I read yesterday involving a string theorist who is challenging the concept of gravity(if you’re interested, you can read that article here).  That is, until I read an article that I think really speaks to why we are where we are currently in the business world, and why having an outside perspective can really help in making change.  I think as you read this, you will understand the connection quickly as well as be entertained with the test itself.

First, before you go any further, I want you to take a look at this video:

So how did you do?  It’s really interesting how something so obvious can go unnoticed.  I’m pretty sure that you can already begin to make the same connections that I did.  How often are we told what to focus on in our business life (or any aspect of life for that matter) that we miss something so big, hairy, and conspicuous?  I’m fairly certain that we can all relate to this.  In the business world I think this is where there are many mistakes made, because we’re so focused on expected outcomes, or measurements, or whatever it may be at the time that we fail to see the unexpected things that are happening or could be coming.  That stops us from being able to adjust and be agile enough to meet needs as they happen.

Wouldn’t you think that someone would notice?  This is where I think that it’s important to understand that there are those around you that can see what’s going on, but the question is whether or not you will listen.  Of course, there are also many people who you are surrounded by that are seeing exactly the same thing as you are, because they are as focused and immersed in the situation as you are.  I believe this is part of the reason for the proliferation of consulting.  It’s also the reason that leaders are saying that the number one trait that they are looking for in their senior leadership is innovation, which if we use this study can be primarily described as the ability to identify the unexpected issues as, or before, they happen and then create solutions based on that vision and understanding.  Everyone knows that there are things that they are missing, but just can’t quite seem to grasp.  (It begs the question if this is why MBA’s are beginning to be questioned as the grail of the business world.  That’s not to say that education is bad, but perhaps there needs to be some changes to the program.)

Even with all of the people who are able to see what is going on and being able to discover or create solutions, many business are mired in what they have always been doing or are concentrated on the new hot focus of the moment and miss the opportunity to identify the gorilla in the room.  Just as in the video above, it’s obvious that it doesn’t make you a bad person, or a business a bad business.  But by being so focused on only one thing, you can really lose sight of the things happening around you and the business and the related human capital will suffer because of it.

So now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s try again (don’t read ahead until you watch this!):

Okay, so I’m going to guess that this time you noticed the gorilla…but what about the curtain change and the person leaving?  i will admit, when I watched the second video, I noticed the gorilla and the person leaving, but not the curtain change!  So what does this tell us?  When we are given a suggestion of only one thing to look for or focus on, whether it be directly or indirectly, we can lose focus on other things that are changing around us.  In other words, we need to be able to keep our, and our team’s,  focus broad and be willing to listen to feedback about the changes happening when we get it.  Just because we didn’t or don’t notice it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real, and unfortunately we don’t generally get the opportunity to rewind and see it over again (or at least if we can, by that time it’s too late!).  It’s also important to note here that we need to involve multiple perspectives consistently, so that we can see all angles of a situation, and facilitate proper measures to address, embrace, and capitalize on the changes.  As Dr. Rupert Loyd often talks about in his blog Relational Leadership this is an important concept, albeit a difficult one for many leaders to genuinely accept and utilize.

In conclusion, many of the things that I talk about for change management, organizational development, human performance improvement, and performance consulting as a whole is summarized through these videos and the concept surrounding them.  Utilizing outside perspectives can certainly help, but even more important is to develop your organization and yourself to function in the same manner as a performance consultant: questioning, analyzing, evaluating, gathering input and feedback, looking at things both systemically and systematically to ensure that all pieces fit at all times, and continually looking for ways to improve what is being done.

The original article from which these videos were pulled can be found here.

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