I was standing in line at one of those office superstores to buy a plastic file box as preparation (and motivation) for the annual ritual of cleaning up my files, and I happened to glance up at a huge poster with an incredible promise. There, within that very building, it claimed, was everything I needed to be "wildly organized".
Like all clever advertising, the idea had its appeal, particularly for someone trying to keep a lot of balls in the air, someone who felt just the opposite—confined and out of control.
But is it possible to be "wildly organized"?
I'm sitting in the cozy living room of a house perched on the side of a steep hill overlooking Skaneateles Lake. (Pronounced "skinny-atlas", it's the second easternmost of New York's Finger Lakes).
From my comfortable wide-armed mission chair I have a 180-degree view of the calm, glistening water through the windows that surround me on three sides. There is no sound except for the gentle lapping of the waves, the chatter of a kingfisher, and the clicking of the keys on my computer.
I am on retreat from the office, from my complicated schedule, from being flat out.
My decision to come here was a strategic decision, and I use the word "strategic" intentionally for three reasons.
First, because one of the best things I can do for my clients (and myself) is to leave them periodically.
Second, because how I "lead" in my personal life is just as much a function of being a leader as how I run my business.
And lastly, I have to use the same care and diligence in planning renewal time as I do in planning any other element of my professional life. It's the only way I can keep it from slipping away from me.
As I rushed home to catch Andre Agassi in the final stage of his transformation from tennis celebrity to endearing human being at the US Open last month, I was looking forward to the tennis, but dreading the commercials.
Yet much to my surprise, one of the ads spoke to me with the power and precision of a 130 mph ace about a phenomenon that universally limits human potential—labeling.
In the ad, we see an attractive young woman (Maria Sharapova) entering the Waldorf Astoria in New York, walking through the lobby, emerging from her room after a change of clothes, getting into a cab outside the hotel, and arriving at Arthur Ashe stadium.
She moves with a straightforward, I-know-where-I’m-going demeanor past doormen, desk clerks, elevator operators, business men, security guards, etc., and each person she passes sings, in his or her own cracking, out-of-pitch voice, Stephen Sondheim’s tribute to being female from West Side Story, “I Feel Pretty”.
Thirty-four years ago this month, I put my oldest daughter on a school bus for the first time. The emotions that were a part of that day come back to me every year when I see school supplies on sale, and when the first day of school comes around and I see kids congregated at the bus stop at the end of our road, I relive the experience.
You don’t forget how frightened and small your firstborn looks climbing aboard a big yellow bus that is taking her away from you. I can still see her bravely walking toward the steps in a new dress and shiny shoes, biting her lip and clutching a Flintstones lunchbox, a large name tag handpainted by her kindergarten teacher (it was tear-stained by the time she got back home) hanging from a purple wool string and flapping in the breeze.
I hid my feelings behind a camera, and when the pictures came back (we sent them away in those days) I discovered there were a dozen of the school bus pulling away that I didn’t remember taking!
Today you enter the Boott Cotton Mill at the Lowell National Historical Park the same way that the thousands who worked there from 1835 through the early twentieth century did—through the white wood Gothic-arched doorway leading to a five-story spiral staircase enclosed in a vertical brick tower.
Although the stairs are made of stone, they are worn by the steps of the countless men, women and children who passed up and down them for almost a century.
They went to work when the bell rang at first light and left twelve to fourteen hours later, depending on the season, when the bell rang again to mark the end of the day. It was grueling work, and many died.
For those of us who live on the outer part of this hook of sand known as Cape Cod, Hyannis is our “big city”. It’s where most of the big stores we shop in and the larger businesses and organizations we rely on are located.
To get there, you almost always have to deal with heavy traffic, especially during the warmer half of the year when the second-homeowners and the tourists are with us, but if you know your way around, you can avoid a lot of congestion and a good deal of aggravation by getting off Route 132, the main road in from the highway, and turning right onto Bearse’s Way.
On the Saturday morning last May I was scheduled to make a presentation in the conference room of a community bank, that was exactly what I intended to do.
I am often asked to present at large business gatherings, the kind that offer ample opportunities for networking.
Recently at a particularly well attended event, I overheard a woman who was just leaving say with great excitement that she had had a great networking day.
She had come with a hundred business cards and was leaving without a single one!
When I heard this, I couldn't help thinking of all the times I've put my hand in my jacket pocket after one of these events and pulled out a handful of business cards without a clue who the people were or why I thought I'd ever want to talk with them again. They were just names to me.
On the other hand, whenever I've had a real conversation with someone and felt a genuine connection, I've always made a point to get their contact information, even if I had to jot it down on the back of a napkin or a receipt.
A few years ago, I did a full-day workshop on transition for a group of alumni of Bentley College. Right after we finished lunch, just before we started back again, someone expressed frustration with the inefficiency and wastefulness of traditional job-search practices, and I made the offhand remark, “If I had my way, we’d throw out resumes and stop networking.”
It was as if an electric charge went through the room. Thirty business professionals, all of them well-trained in the standard job-search methodologies, came alive. They knew instinctively there had to be a better way.
I’ve often wished I could have put aside the agenda I had planned for the afternoon to pursue the subject with them. What I suspect would have happened is that they would have told me they keep following the standard practices because they don’t know what else to do. The inability to answer the question, “What do I do instead?” is the reason people looking for work keep doing the same old things and expecting different, less frustrating results.
If you’ve decided to launch a new business venture, you’ll find plenty of books telling you how to go about writing a business plan, securing financing, setting up payroll, etc.
Likewise, if you’ve been laid off or you’ve decided you want to make a change, there’s no lack of information on how to start a job search.
But where do you turn when your start-up activities are completed, and things aren’t going so well, when the initial excitement you felt at owning your own business has cooled, and no one is walking in the door, or you’ve perfected your career marketing package, and the phone isn’t ringing. There are far fewer resources for dealing with the low points in our professional lives.
Fortunately, however, there is The Art of Possibility by Roz and Ben Zander. Ben Zander is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, professor of music at New England Conservatory, and a speaker on leadership and creativity. His wife Roz is an executive coach and family systems therapist.
In last month’s column I described how a consultative sales approach made it possible for employees who were unaccustomed to functioning as salespeople to be effective in that role.
A consultative sales approach is just as valuable to people who are engaged in work search, whether they have been laid off or have chosen to go out on their own. After all, work search is sales, and many people who find themselves thrown into it feel out of their element.
Yet they can be effective and comfortable in selling themselves if they pattern their work search on a consultative approach rather than aggressively cultivating leads and pushing to close the deal.>