Just One Thing—Don’t Fall Victim to Doom and Gloom

Don't Fall Off the CliffSpend too much time reading the headlines, and you’re to be excused if you feel like climbing back into bed and pulling the covers over your head.

Certainly, there’s a lot to be unsettled about on this planet at the moment. The early 2016 economic, geo-political and weather indicators suggest that this lap around the sun will be interesting. And remember, “interesting” isn’t necessarily good.

While the glass might not be half-full, there’s always something left to be positive about. Instead of falling victim to the psychology of the herd and withdrawing or hunkering down in your business, seize upon the positives and make some of your own good news.

6 Tips to Help Your Firm Prosper in a Period of Doom and Gloom:

1. Grow closer to your customers: they need your help now more than ever. Customers still have needs and problems and will spend and invest to solve those problems. The question is how good are you and your team at identifying and solving those challenges. Strengthen your sales and marketing operations and challenge them to lead the way.

2. Use the force…or, the tools. We’re rich in powerful tools to help us work smarter. The tools, technology and data available to you to help your firm work smarter are truly remarkable. Leverage technology and data to pin-point audiences, assess performance, gain early insight to trends and out-maneuver your clunky competitors.

3. When everyone is playing defense, go on the offensive. Well-managed firms survive and even thrive in difficult circumstances by playing offense while others play defense. Look for opportunities and don’t become paralyzed by the specter of failure. Your tendency is to hunker down and wait out the storm. The right thing to do is put all hands on deck looking for the opportunities.

4. Your competitors will do stupid things. Guaranteed. Exploit these opportunities. As long as you avoid mimicking your competitors, you will find ample opportunities to move some of there business to your top and bottom lines. Be there to capitalize when they cut marketing budgets or eliminate entire teams of engineers. And when they back away from that early, promising market, it’s time for you to plant your flag and begin building.

5. Quit waiting for the spark of genius to ignite innovation in your firm. You don’t need the reincarnation of Steve Jobs to innovate. Innovation is as much (or more) a management challenge as it is an outcome of inspired genius. Put eyes and feet in your customer’s offices and focus your filters on identifying opportunities to remove burden from their operations. Burden relief must be your new mantra.

6. Hire the gray matter. Expect a buyer’s market in gray matter to emerge. As said competitors move down the stupid-decisions path, there will be an incredibly variety of talent available for the picking. Get strategic about your talent recruitment and internal top-grading.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Humans follow the herd, and when the herd runs toward doom and gloom, we make stupid decisions. While it never pays to have a Pollyannaish view in a time of challenge, there are ample reasons and opportunities to not race pell-mell off the cliff of despair with everyone else. Frame the economic and industry challenges as opportunities and fight like hell to exploit those opportunities while your competitors jump off the cliff.

Read more in the Just One Thing series

Read Art’s All-New Management and Leadership writing at About.com

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator/adviser. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Just One Thing—Captain Obvious and The Fresh Start Effect

Retro TV CommercialI’m not certain we needed a research study to prove that we naturally appreciate fresh-starts, nonetheless, now we have one. A team at Wharton discovered (seriously?) the Fresh Start Effect, in a study that suggests, “new beginnings can prompt us to tackle personal goals,” because, “we feel empowered to leave our past selves and all their failures behind and embrace our new selves and their potential for success.”

Yes, there’s a certain “Captain Obvious” tinged with “I’ve lived this many times over,” to these findings. Anyone who has resolved on January 1 to do more or less of something can relate. Any professional who engages in regular personal, team, unit or organizational goal setting, and then monitors and refreshes the goals based on actual performance, can relate.

The study’s findings  hint at something interesting when the authors suggest, “For individuals who hope to curtail bad behaviors but struggle with initiating goal pursuit, temporal landmarks that open new time periods may prevent vicious cycles of impulsive behavior stimulated by ‘what the hell’ rationalizations.” I’m looking hard, because I suspect there’s a pony in there somewhere on improving our goal achievement.

As an aside, any sentence that isn’t referencing time-travel and uses the phrasing, “temporal landmarks,” requires some serious editing.

OK, so now we understand why health clubs fill up in January. And human nature explains why they seem to be a bit emptier by late February.

What’s the cure for human nature? That would be an interesting study.

Just One Thing—Dream Big and Then Fight Like Heck

One Inch at a TimeThe Just One Thing series is intended to provoke action in pursuit of goals.

“What you see depends not only on what you look AT, but also, on where you look from.” –James Deacon

Think for a moment about that unrealized dream you put a shelf in your mental closet, waiting for “someday” when the timing is right. Is it writing the book you know you have in you? Is it going back to school for that next degree (or for your first degree)? Is it learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, starting a business or changing careers? Or, is it earning that next promotion or moving from one role into a role that matches your work with your superpower?

Our goals and big dreams often are rudely shoved out of the way in favor of the urgent issues of life as well as those activities we deem more easily achievable. Some are abandoned due to the mirage of size and complexity. “It’s too big for me to accomplish.” Or, “I’m not sure how I would even get started.”

We make excuses for ourselves, mostly, because we don’t know how to fight what author Steven Pressfield calls resistance. This nefarious quality is present in all of us. It manifests around things we care about. Our diet. Our weight. Our goals. Left to its own designs, resistance inserts itself into every important situations in our life and revels in our failures. Its greatest victories are when we fail to even get started.

Just One ThingWhatever your big dream is, the only way to truly, profoundly fail on all levels is to fail to try. This means, you have to get started. You have to find a way to grab resistance and pin it to the ground or shove it rudely into the corner. Motion beats resistance every time. Actions shove resistance back into the corner where it cowers in fear of its own failure—of its inability to derail you from something important.

But, you can’t even think about beating resistance without getting started.

The punch line to the old joke, “What’s the best way to eat an elephant?” offers more truth than humor. The answer: “One bite at a time.”

The people leading our biggest corporate initiatives long ago learned to break big visions down into small component pieces and then work on them one at a time. Some plan all of the pieces out ahead of time, and then sequence them and get started. Many others operate with a clear end goal, but focus on the bite in front of them and then pause, assess and determine where to take the next bite from in pursuit of this vision.

Much like my work in moving from the world’s worst, slowest runner to my goal of running a half marathon next Spring, the only way I’m getting there is by putting the time into the hard work of training and conditioning. Running, lifting, interval training, managing my diet are all part of my daily routine and it’s a battle. The first steps were painful and humbling. Now, I’m halfway to the goal and feeling great. I’ve got resistance on the ropes for this one and I will win.

So can you.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Ultimately, you’re the only one who can decide whether you’ll capitulate to resistance or fight back and win. The resistance is inside of you. So is success. Just take it one bite, one step and one action at a time.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Just One Thing—The Hard Work of Pivoting To Purpose

Just One ThingA good number of individuals I know are battling professional adversity in one of its many forms. In these particular cases, circumstances converged to push them to embark upon personal quests.

One is responding to an unanticipated career interruption to pursue what she believes is her true calling via a start-up business.

Another has had enough of workplace toxicity and is writing a book to help people victimized by bad bosses.

A third person is shifting her focus from pushing the top-line as a leading sales representative to pushing the development of others as a sales trainer.

Whether it’s a life-stage issue or a sign of the times, I seem to regularly run into individuals who are active in pursuit of vocations that focus on helping others. They are pivoting to purpose.

With the view gained from decades in the work place, I believe that too many (most) people stop short of their life’s goals. Like so many Hollywood movie scripts, time takes them far away from the “change the world” aspirations and dreams that propelled them through their early years. The goals and aspirations give way to acceptance of something far short of those original goals. The memories of these dreams remain safely tucked away, occasionally surfacing for a moment in the form of, “What if I… ?” or, “Only if I had… .” thoughts. Those thoughts are painful and are silenced quickly by rationalizing them as the silly dreams of youth.

In conversations with each of these individuals, I hear common themes. The mission is exciting. The end-goal is tangible. But obstacles are everywhere. Forward progress is measured in small increments. One feels like he’s trying to run with his feet encased in cement. Another describes herself as feeling as if she’s perpetually running uphill against the wind.

Ask them if they are going to quit and the reaction is fierce and immediate. “Heck no,” or some colorful variation of that answer was what I heard from each individual.

“This pursuit has given new meaning to my life,” offered one.

“If I quit moving forward, I feel like I’ll wither,” said another.

Change is always difficult. Changing ourselves…our situation…our livelihood is extremely difficult. It’s easy and tempting to stop. For many, the idea of pivoting away from what we know and what we’ve done and who we are (at least in our own minds) is unthinkable. It’s too hard, too abstract and too risky.

For those who wake up and dust off those dreams and then pivot to pursue them, it’s your time. Keep moving. You inspire us.

Read more in the “Just One Thing” series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Just One Thing—Think Big(ger)

Just One ThingI confess to having cultivated a strong affinity for Big Thinkers in my advancing years as an executive. The flip-side of this growing affinity is my creeping impatience and dismissal of small thinkers. Given the scale and scope of the challenges in our world and in our industries and firms, small thinkers are a drag on the drive to change. And yes, life and our careers are too short to think small.

Big Thinkers see unlimited opportunities presented over a stream of endless tomorrows. They are unencumbered by the shackles of the status quo and the narrowness of their own experience.

In prior generations, the Big Thinkers would have been arctic or sea-faring explorers or inventors challenging the boundaries of dogma and human experience. In our time, they’re the ones found rethinking everything in a world where the pace of technological change enables everything to be rethought. They’re app developers solutions architects and entrepreneurs and researchers and the business professionals stomping all over the philosophy of: “But we’ve always done it this way.”

And while ideas without actions just take up empty space in the universe, the Big Thinkers I admire revel in the view to the future while promoting actions in the here and now. They are Big Thinkers and Big Doers. Consider:

  • There’s the senior product manager who watches his customers run their operations and identifies an opportunity to save tremendous amounts of time and money by adapting off-the-shelf technology in a way never envisioned by the technology’s creators.
  • There’s the sales manager who sees the market declining over the next few years and immediately begins building an all new (to the firm) approach that will open up new customer segments.
  • There’s the engineer who takes on the de-facto industry standard technology for high value applications with a radically different and dramatically less expensive approach. But it wasn’t just the technology, it was the established dogma and the ecosystem surrounding the old technology that had to change. He won the market.
  • There’s the senior manager who tires of the price and feature battles with competitors and reinvents the firm as a systems integrator. When he presented the idea to his Board, they laughed. They’re not laughing now–they’re too busy helping govern a growing firm.
  • And there’s the customer service manager who grew tired of what she describe as, “managing reduced expectations,” and built a team that rethought what it really meant to “serve customers.” She changed the fate of the firm in the process.

In each of the examples, these Big Thinkers stared down complacency, overcame the powerful gravitational pull of the status quo and convinced others to try something new and different and even frightening. They looked up from their desks, pushed their view beyond the one from the conference room window and embraced the philosophy of: “What If? and Why Not?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The real leadership issue of our time is to find and engage and help the Big Thinkers who are Big Doers. If you’re a dreamer and a doer, you’re in the right place at the right time. Small thinkers need not apply.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.