Tall Poppy Podcast with Tathra Street

I recently did a podcast with Tathra Street on making leadership safe for humans.  Tathra has an series of interviews on the idea of Human Centred Leadership. In our 30 minute conversation, we discussed my leadership lessons, how work is changing, the demands of digital culture, working out loud and more.

The discussion was great but sadly the audio quality did not hold up to the content of the discussion.

What is Specific. Why is General.

Many people define their career by what they do. Ask them to describe their experience and they will give you an account of years in a role in an industry. The answer will be a dry recitation of their curriculum vitae. Focusing on this list of what narrows their potential future opportunities. If we start looking to fit them to another similar role in the same industry we have narrowed the world of opportunity down significantly. Poor recruiters consider candidates against a role and industry checklist, but we all know that roles and time is a very narrow understanding of how people contribute to their organisation.

Change the question. Ask people why they enjoy their work and you will get a much richer answer. They will tell a story and their eyes light up. Perhaps the answer will be about the challenge, the learning and the problem solving.  Perhaps it will be about the ability to help others or to achieve a particular personal or strategic goal. Perhaps they enjoy their work because of others with whom they get to work.

That answer is much more powerful in helping an individual frame what opportunities are ahead. Focusing on the why increases the opportunities to contribute to that purpose beyond one role or one industry. Focusing on the why also makes it more likely that future opportunities deliver a sense of personal reward.

Roles and industries come and go. With accelerating change and disruption, we need to all be open to the adaptation that arises when you focus on why.

What is the Opportunity Cost of Your Time?

Opportunity cost is the value you give up by making a choice. Every moment of your life has an opportunity cost. What you decide to do with that moment is a choice. Every moment offers other choices that can create new value and opportunities for you.

If you don’t make choices, there is a good chance opportunity costs are accumulating against you. The paths you haven’t considered and the choices you have deferred might be more rewarding. These choices are rarely as difficult as you think.

If you don’t insist on reciprocity for your relationships and your efforts, then you will likely find that you will rue the opportunity cost of your choice. Work, relationships and other opportunities tend to be like buses. They all come at once. Take the first one on unfavourable terms and you might rue the missed opportunities later.

Consider the opportunity cost of your time. You will make better choices.

The Hustle

Want to do something meaningful? Meaningful is hard. It is going to take hustle.

Meaningful is Hard

There is no truer statement than “if it was easy, someone would have done it by now”. Making change that matters and doing purposeful work takes effort. The obstacles are real. They are the real work.  Do the work.  

The effort begins with understanding what impact you want to have. Then you have to understand how you can fulfil your purpose. Lastly you need to find people to work with and opportunities to tackle. Finally you get to find out whether you can make a living through working on your purpose. Some times purpose is a living but others times purpose turns out to be a hobby or a calling.

To make matters worse, you need to do all that work in the wrong order and in overlapping steps. In many cases the answers are unclear or contradictory. You do the work and you learn a little more about where you are going.  You keep doing the work and you learn even more. The work sustains you and provides momentum & networks that matter. 

The Hustle Required

There is far more hustle required than you expect. Here’s one example of the hustle required to persuade others: 2% of sales are closed in the first meeting. Yes, 98% of the pitches fail when every failed pitch feels like time to call it quits. 80% of sales are closed after more than 5 follow-up calls, when every empty call feels like time to move on. No wonder 44% of sales people give up after only one follow-up. The winners are those who hustle more and hustle longer. Remember these numbers come from enterprise sales, if your change is more unique or more unusual it could require even more hustle to find your market.  The winners in change stay in the game and they hustle.

The hustle is just working intensively on your purpose: making connections, building relationships, identifying problems and offering ways to solve them. You don’t need to use sharp practices. There are no shortcuts. They will only cut you in the end. You need to do more than “build it” and “turn up”. You need to get out into the market and challenge people to listen to your pitch. 

Hustle. Work your purpose hard. Remember to take the odd break to reflect and reset yourself for the next burst of hustle. If you work it continuously, the hustle will become the Grind.

You Can’t Live A Cliché

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
– Dialogue from The Graduate. Directed by Mike Nichols. Written by Charles Webb, Calder Willingham and Buck Henry.

A cliché like any other meme appeals at first because of its comfortable familiarity. However we soon discover that overuse has robbed it of its meaning or worse drawn in a the dark side of platitudes, cynicism and other unwanted resonances. We can’t live a cliché. We must choose our own new path.

Many people stress that they can’t live the life of a comfortable cliché. Either they don’t want one of the well trodden paths or they have met an accident on the way that changes their trajectory. They think that their path should be the same as others, the same as the expectations of their society or even safer, easier or more comfortable, like the nodding response to a cliché.

Every cliché begins as a novelty – an unique choice. It becomes tired when others fail to exercise their choice and just repeat it unthinkingly. The lack of choice and consideration opens up the path to dullness and darkness.

A cliché usually disguises a much more complicated reality. Life is much more complicated and the real paths that others take have many hidden vicissitudes. Trying to force thinks to meet a template of success is usually an exercise of much frustration and little value.

We cannot escape choice. The paths of others can be a guide and an inspiration. However we still need to choose our own way. We must embrace the novelty of our own choices & circumstances. Our desires and accidents are guidance to our own unique path, not a delay or a distraction from the cliché.

We can’t live in the light plastic emptiness of a cliché. Our daily choices push us into something far more valuable.

2016 – Tackling Reality

We may doubt that we’re up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: “Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear? 

– Pema Chodron

Welcome back old friend. I’m glad you’re here. Now, let’s get to work 

Carl Richards “Learning to Deal with Imposter Syndrome”

It may be cheaper and easier in the short run to ignore failures, schedule work so that there’s no time for reflection, require compliance with organizational norms, and turn to experts for quick solutions. But these short-term approaches will limit the organization’s ability to learn.

– Francaseca Gino and Bradley Staats “Why Organisations Don’t Learn

Let’s add one more detail to the picture
the much longer,
much less visible chains that allow us freely to pass by. 

Chains by Wislawa Szymborka trans. Clare Kavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Leading into year end, I have been reflecting on what I learned in 2015 and what it means for 2016. All of the quotes above appeared in things that I read today. Reading these quotes clarified for me one of the key insights of 2015 that I had been considering (but perhaps was ducking) – life is far better when you are dealing directly with reality.

Tackling Reality Personally

Life as a solo consultant has its challenges. Over two years into that journey I have come to better understand, accept and deal with its ups and its downs. Work isn’t always consistent or predictable. The point at which you need to give up is usually when things change. The best work arrives all at the same time. There are human limits in time and capabilities. Some times you have to say no. You don’t get to do everything you want or need to do. Others will do differently. Things never go quite as planned. Big risks are essential to progress and so are the small (& big) failures. 

Accepting these realities has made me far more comfortable in my practice. Accepting these some times harsh realities has made me more ready to take advantages of the opportunities that are created.  These opportunities might be the chance to play a larger role in Change Agents Worldwide or another community, the new work that comes unexpectedly or the ability to leverage down time for reflection, connection and new projects, rather than panic.

I have found too that a better & richer focus on what is really going on for others and for me has strengthened both the personal and work relationships in my life.  Taking the time to really understand reality of the situation matters more to me than ever. Confronting reality isn’t always easy. Engaging with some perceptions and beliefs can be painful, some of these are deeply hidden and it can take a long time to accept some of the more difficult realities. However, reality will not and cannot be ignored.

My lessons from applying this effort with others have been equally insightful. So many times in our busyness, we assume we know what is required, we rely on expertise and miss the opportunities to really engage, to really help and to make a real difference. Our ability to work and collaborate with others depends on a rich shared context based in reality. Don’t accept things at face value. Take the time in 2016 to probe and to query the reality of the situation. Without feet planted firmly in reality, we have no way to step forward alone or together.

2016 will be another year of working deeply connected in reality for me. 

Helping Organisations Tackle Reality

In 2015, I blogged in a number of different ways about the need for organisations to better engage with reality. I called our hierarchical organisations dumb. I talked about hierarchy as filter failure. I highlighted that these organisations ignore complexity and even need satire to prick their bubbles some times. Change Agents need a good grip on reality and pragmatic skills to move organisations forward. There are many more examples of the battle to hold organisations accountable to the reality of their situation in the blog posts this year.

The future of work demands organisations step out from their cloisters and engage the reality and the pressures of the world inside their organisation and the world around them. Effectiveness of purpose demands that we look to the real human costs and benefit of that which we do. Internal efficiency or narrowly defined success metrics are no longer enough. Global networks and dynamic disruptive global competition will hold us to account for our failure to confront and leverage reality. 

The better organisations are learning how to use the reality of their people, their capabilities and their networks. They leverage the human capabilities of the people, their networks and their capabilities to continuously create change to grow and be more effective. These organisations recognise the reality that they are a human organisation, that they must base their actions on real conversations and real human capabilities for success. The future of work must be much more human to deliver their purposes. 

The need to tackle reality more effectively is why I focus on learning, leadership and collaboration as core enablers of the future of work. I believe that these three are essential to my personal purpose of making work more human. 2016 will be a key time helping organisations improve their effectiveness and better deliver that purpose in the real world.

Your next career network

Your next career is about your networks as much if not more than your expertise. 

Jon Husband made an insightful comment on my post asking ‘What’s your next career?’ Jon noted your next network is an important question too. 

I meet many talented people who haven’t had the success that they deserve. They have great expertise & potential. What they lack are the networks to grow or share their expertise. Without the support of networks to remain current and to offer new edge opportunities the expertise goes wasted. 

Today global networks power expertise in ways that change the game. In Moses Naim’s End of Power he highlights that there are more chess grandmasters than ever because there are more opportunities than ever for people to connect, learn and play. With access to global experts powered by global connection you can’t assume opportunities will find you if you are not engaged in building and sharing your expertise. 

Your step into your next career is going to ask people to take a chance on someone unproven. Whatever your expertise, people will make that decision based on their relationship with you or your relationship with people that they trust. Network connections enable career change. 

We have all heard about the 10,000 hours to build mastery. What is less discussed is the deep network connections required to support mastery. As you commit 10,000 hours to developing your next career spend half that on the network and you will get exponential results. Thick networks of connection help with any transformation.  

What’s your next career?

A simple question that shocks people.

In my twenties I hard worked really hard to get into my chosen career. I looked around the organisations I worked in and I noticed something. All the grey haired people were being pushed out. A few successful ones got to stay but most were gone with their potential ahead of them. I realised I needed a second career for later.

I have only a little grey hair left today and I’m still not as old as the people I saw leaving. My life today is more like a sixth career but it had its foundations in asking myself the question ‘what’s your next career?’ I still have more options to go.

Too many people have no answer or haven’t even considered the question. They are just lucky the question has not yet been forced on them.

We may not be able to predict the average number of careers easily but it is more than one. When we add robots, automation and new career options, there is a good chance that we need to be at least considering future options. There’s an opportunity cost to every decision to stay put.

Understand your options. Grow your skills and capabilities. Build networks for careers beyond your first one. Experiment with different things to discover your purpose and to gain experience for next steps. You will find these things make it more likely you get to stay in your current career too.

This career won’t be your last so plan an answer to the question. Then when you have that plan start bringing it to life. If nothing else, prepare yourself that you might need to stop defining yourself by your current role.

Opportunity Cost

The value of your time is not what you are doing now. The value is what you could be doing.

In economics, the opportunity cost is the value of the best option forgone in making a choice. The option given up may well be more valuable than the option chosen.

We don’t consider opportunity cost of our time quite as often as we should. Time is scarce. Time comes only once and expires every minute. We either allocate time well or we miss out on the value it can create. Realising the value of time is about choices. If we don’t consider our options or don’t chose, we waste time.

The value of time need not be measured in money. Often the opportunity cost of our current great income is a far larger sense of satisfaction, happiness and better relationships with others in our lives.

The opportunity cost may also be our learning, growth and new options. We often discount the value of options and uncertainty. We can’t find out the uncertain value of an opportunity if we never try. The comedian Jim Carrey shared a little wisdom about options when he said ‘You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well do what you love’.

Ask yourself ‘what’s the best use of my time now?’ Make choices taking account of the opportunity cost of your time. Realise the value you might otherwise be missing.

What you don’t do

We think in life about what we have done and it’s influence on who we are. The flip side is what we don’t do. What we don’t do defines us just as much.

What we didn’t do: the conversation we wanted to have, the followup we missed, the extra effort we could have made, the thought we overlooked, the ideas we never shared, purpose unmet, and the plans left unfulfilled.

What we can’t do: the skills we haven’t yet learned, the practice not yet perfected, the knowledge unknown, the bias & privilege we can’t see, the conflicts avoided, the sponsorship we missed, the advice unheard, and the deadline that’s gone.

What we won’t do: the values we will keep, the choices rejected, the beliefs unquestioned, the paths abandoned and the changes embraced.

Not all of what we do we control. Some opportunities depend on others. Some moments are so deeply held that they don’t feel like a choice. Whether we control it or not, what we don’t do affects us and deserves attention.