The end of the year is the time that many of us are thinking about how we can improve ourselves in the future, how we can have more fun or be more effective. The space between the two years, that seems to come from nowhere, gives us ample time to consider ourselves both in the present and in the future. And so it was on Christmas eve, while driving to the butcher to collect a six kilo Turkey, I heard an interview on the radio with a very natural and enthusiastic sounding person – the interviewee was telling how a simple piece of advice had changed his life.
His girlfriend had left him a while ago and his life had changed in a way that he hadn’t expected. He became insular, staying at home, turning down invitations and avoiding unnecessary social contact. Until one day a friend told him that he should ‘say yes more’. He said “it’s not good for you to stay in so much”. The interviewee thought about it for a while and decided to take his friends advice literally. He also considered that ‘just say yes’ would make a good title for a self help book, and so it was that he decided to give the advice a try.
He started to say ‘yes’ to literally everything; Yes to buying a secondhand car he didn’t need, yes to learning Flemish, yes to invitations to parties and yes to offers of daring and adventure and even yes to mundane activities. And all the while he documented his experiences and set about writing his book.
Several months later the phone rang, on the other end of the line was a film producer (apparently the maker of the Harry Potter movies) – “I have read your book” he said, “very interesting – I think a broader public would be interested in it, may I make a movie of it?” Of course the answer was ‘yes’. I don’t know the name of the interviewee or the exact title of his book but I do know that Jim Carey is playing in the movie and his ex girl friend in real life is being played by a famous actress.
The moral of the story is pretty obvious I guess but I thought it worth pondering for a while. Especially while considering ones New Year resolutions and how to stick to them. However, in my case, I am going to do the opposite. In 2007 and 2008 I said ‘yes’ to too many people with the result that I overstretched myself. In 2009, I am going to concentrate on what I know and do best, in environments where I have influence, in situations where I can be most effective. And, if I can have some fun at the same time, then so be it. My five year strategy plan is going well and all I want to do in the difficult months ahead is to try and keep it all on course.
So here’s wishing all my readers a very happy new year and a successful 2009!
In London and New York the taxi drivers have a reputation for offering advice, even when it is uncalled for. Ask them anything you like; politics, a topical moral issue, business, football or even show business and they’ll give you their opinion. What’s more they’ll often back it up with “I had that Gordon Brown (or any other name that fits) in the back of my cab the other day and you know what he told me?......”
So let me introduce you to Sonia. Sonia is my pedicurist. (I have a toe that regularly causes me aggravation and once every few months needs her attention). I went to her this week, I hadn’t seen her since the funeral of her husband back in the Summer. Sonia is a positive soul and just like taxi drivers, she always has something to say. And so it was of no surprise that during my treatment Sonia took it upon her self to give me some advice for 2009. She told me that the number nine is a very solitary number and that because in 2009 it is accompanied by two zeros only enhances that fact. According to Sonia 2009 is going to be a very difficult year. “It will be a time to look forward” she said. “It will be an individual journey for everyone. Don’t look back, the past is the past and is not the same as now, what applied yesterday does not apply any more. When people look backwards, they tend to fall over. Don’t be afraid, find your own path, your journey will be enriching and from it you will enrich the lives of others.”
When Sonia says something, it’s a bit like listening to the advice of a wise aunt. You know you have to stay polite and to listen and yet, almost annoyingly, there is something to be taken from what she says. I know better now than to question – my cynical brain goes into standby mode and I accept what I hear as an uncompromised view on things – a message driven from spirituality, rather than logic. After all what do we business leaders, politicians, lawyers, and teachers know any more than Sonia about the future? If we are all as clever as we like to think we are, how come we are where we are and not in some other place or situation?
In less than half an hour, I had received treatment for my toe, nutrition for my head and a hot cup of coffee, and all for less than twenty Euros! Despite the icy steps that lead down from her door, I left with a new spring in my step, feeling confident and ready to face anything that comes my way.
Everyone has a unique place where they tend to get their inspiration from. For some it is in the bath, for others it maybe walking the dog. ‘Ureka’ moments are precious and yet they are the creative solutions that allow us to offer real value.
Senior managers and interim managers are paid to be creative, they are not expected to be operational. And yet so many of us find ourselves going from one information download session (otherwise commonly known as meetings) to another without space between to reflect, and to process high quality inspirational thoughts and creative solutions.
Walking the dog is fine for one problem, but if you have attended five meetings in one day (or more), walking the dog may only solve one of them. As a result our meetings tend to get longer to allow us to think the issue through. The result being that they turn into inefficient brainstorming sessions, without the chance to mull over the the potential consequences of decisions taken.
Of course there are executives that have teams around them that prepare perfectly for meetings, that have already thought all the issues through and are just presenting to senior management in order to share their findings and to obtain approval. In my experience, however, these situations are rare.
Yesterday I went from giving one interview to another, with a two and a half hour investment pitch and an advertising campaign purchase meeting in-between. Decisions were made and the world is still turning but this is not ideal. I know it is not trendy to slow down but in this case I believe less is more.
If we are not taking the time out to contemplate potential opportunities and risks, then at least we should have members of our team doing so. The only question remaining is – ‘Do we trust them and their judgment sufficiently?’
Tip: if you drive home from work everyday with the radio on, or spend the time on the phone extending the day – perhaps once a week you should switch everything off and spend the time reflecting on conversations of the day (this is assuming you are good at multi-tasking and are driving along a boring motorway, not in a busy city).
I am off for my bath,
Everyone has experienced a time when they stepped out of their comfort zone: perhaps turning a wrong corner in a foreign city, walking into unknown territory. The effect is immediate; heart rate increases, adrenaline runs high and suddenly all our sensory receptors are processing massive amounts of information, looking for creative exits. This is also true in business.
In the good times, we have a natural tendency to cruise into our comfort zones, we switch to ‘cruise control’ and make boardroom statements such as; “let’s stick to what we know”, “is this idea really our core business?”.
The week before last I wrote about utilizing resources and this blog leads on from there in as much as in difficult times we need creative solutions to complex issues. My personal view is that we must ensure that our teams are not staying in their comfort zones, they need to be stimulated into facing new challenges, rather than idle their hours contemplating internal politics and possible outcomes.
In recruitment, my message to our customers is not to study CV’s for new interim assignments by looking for exact matches. Exact matches are very likely to fail – simply because you will be recruiting someone into their own comfort zone. What is more, they are likely to pass their day driving you and your team mad by endlessly saying things like: “in my previous company we did it like this” or “in my previous company we did it like that”. They are likely to get bored too quickly and maintain a narrow vision of the solution. Exact matches should not be considered 'a safe bet'.
My advice is to give a clear brief of the problem you are trying to solve and describe the type of person you think you need to solve it. Look for a character match first and only then look for a knowledge fit. An applicant that is stepping into something new, that has the right emotional and intellectual capabilities, is likely to work far harder and to keep their eyes wide open, simply because they are outside their normal comfort zone. They are very likely to act cautiously but keep all their options open. They will be forced to adopt a creative approach and to look to solve the issue in innovative ways. What is more, they are more likely to take their new responsibilities very seriously, relying on all their resources, not just their own opinion. In my experience, even the fixed employees that surround them are less likely to feel threatened because the interim manager will not be continuously manifesting themselves as ‘experts’.
I do have a caveat however: There is a difference between stepping out of one’s comfort zone’ and drifting too far from the shore. But as long as you can judge the distance and make the necessary provisions – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Times like these are very good to consider creative internal re-shuffles too.
Have a good week,