Blog post October 2011
When I was young and foolish, my buddy Ken and I decided to test our rock-climbing skills on Mt. Cascade in the Canadian Rockies. Having done almost no research we drove to the mountain, picked out a route that looked promising, and began to climb. Without ropes, of course.
It was all going well. Until it wasn't. The climbing got increasingly difficult and we realized we were at the limits of our abilities and risk tolerance. Just one problem. We now had to downclimb. Hmmm, hadn't planned for that.
At one point Ken couldn't find the next move down and his legs started shaking from fatigue. "I don't think I can hang on," he yelled, his voice faltering. This, at the exact moment I was about 20 feet directly below him on the rock face. Which meant if he were to fall, he would crash into me and send us both plummeting off the mountain and into the obituaries section of the annual alpine journal.
Fortunately, Ken was able to steady himself, find the next move, and with considerable anxiety we were able to downclimb to the base. At which point we noticed for the first time the memorial plaques bolted to the rocks for the climbers who had lost their lives there.
The point? It's easy for you and your team to get jacked up about a goal. Just make sure it's the right goal. Know your capabilities. Know the risks. Do the research up front. Be clear on why it's the right goal.
One more thing. Have a strategy for retreat and know when to trigger it. It may keep you out of the obituaries section of the annual business journal.
Do you have what it takes to successfully create a fast-growing organization?
Take out a pen and draw three horizontal scales from 1 to 7. Resisting the temptation to go easy on yourself, rate yourself on the following questions (1=low, 7=high):
1) How well do I truly learn from mistakes by changing my beliefs, decision-making and actions?
2) To what extent do I surround myself with - not "good", not "very good" - great people?
3) How persistent am I in strategizing, taking action and making adjustments to achieve results?
These are the three attributes common to CEOs on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies. If your total score is less than 18, then hold a meeting in the mirror and ask, "How do I need to change to help my organization grow?"
When addressing a class of Stanford grads in 2005, the late Steve Jobs said, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do."
When researcher Jerry Porras and his colleagues interviewed 200 people around the world who "made a difference" in their fields, what do you think was their common trait? What they do matters deeply to each of them.
Get people whose inherent sense of purpose aligns with the role you're hiring them for. Or who can discover a sense of purpose in that role. Having a clear and compelling "why" provides the motive force behind the "what" and the "how".
People who love what they do take initiative, reflect on their work, and continually look for a better way. They are deeply engaged.
That's the purpose of purpose.
Here's a formula for you. It's the motto of D.O.A., a hardcore/punk band: Talk - Action = 0. If you talk about something but don't take action then it means nothing.
Like the strategic planning charade. All strategy but no execution equals zero results. (It's actually worse as you've squandered time, money and effort.)
This is the touchstone for evaluating every strategy, every project and every initiative: What did I do versus what I said I was going to do? Hold yourself to this exacting standard and you will find that, like all of us, you commit too much in too little time. Your ambitions overtake reality.
Commit to less but do more. Under-promise and over-deliver. It enhances your credibility. D.O.A. has figured this out. Will you?