In the prior post we talked about how the world reveres visionaries. While that is true, as the post discusses, any conclusions about the future that are worth working toward have to begin with a solid understanding of the present. Once that is in place, however, if a person or an organization is seeking to grow and stay relevant a vision must be cast for a future that is more than the present state of things. In this post we are going to take a look at the next logical step, building a clear understanding and vision around what the future circumstances will be.
The future motivates us. The hope of something bigger and better is what keeps us going. Why bother with years of school unless there was a payoff? Why go through the hard work of exercise unless there was a future in better health in it for you? Most of us logically can think of what things might look like in a better work world or personal life, however, it’s the ones that can refine that future view and share it with others in a compelling way who reach goals surrounding that view and become people of influence.
While millennials get tagged with a lot of slacker generation accusations Gloria Larson, the president of Bentley University, recently wrote an article on why she is optimistic about them. As Larson shares, millennials are in her experience “natural agents of change” as well as “practical.” These would certainly be key on the list of characteristics for people of vision. When building a vision for the future, whether for your personal goals or for your work, one has to have the ability to be willing to think about new approaches to old problems that can be solved in ways that make sense. In order to be able to effectively think about the future and come up with ways to make it brighter a person must:
- Not be afraid of failure
- Not be afraid of change
- Not be afraid to invite others along
A degree of failure can be found in most successes in life.
Now, I’m not blind to the title of this series of posts being around the idea of successful planning. So, why bring up that we have to get comfortable with failure? Because pieces of it are inevitable in life. There will be things that don’t go as we expect due to either unexpected circumstances or unintended outcomes. From degrees of failure come most successes in life. Sometimes this is because one plan totally failed and a better came from what was learned or it may just mean that the
overall plan succeeded but there were parts that still need to be refined. Anyone who wants to be a person that moves a plan forward has to get comfortable with the fact that no matter how much you plan and prepare some or all of the plan won’t go as intended. While this may seem scary, especially in a professional setting, I can tell you from my experience that as long as the plan is reasonable, not reckless, and had solid research behind it that failure doesn’t tend to be career ending on the grand scale of things.
None of us like failing. It’s sometimes humiliating, often disappointing and never fun. All of us, however, experience it. When this does happen the key is accepting responsibility (no supervisor likes to hear how it was everyone else’s fault) and demonstrating what has been learned for the organization from it. There’s an old adage in sports that says you have to lose a championship before you know how to win one and much of that carries over into life as well. While you certainly can’t build a satisfying personal or professional life around failure you can certainly grow from it when it does happen.
If you take nothing else away from this series know this:
Change is inevitable and your choice on how to handle it will determine if the changes bring you opportunity or leave you behind.
Technology drives change for many of us on a regular basis. The ways we both communicate and receive information are very different than they were even a decade ago. One would think that given the constant change around us that most people aren’t afraid of it. That’s not my experience at all, in fact it’s just the opposite. Most people you encounter on projects or in your work don’t want too much change to happen. Why is this? Because, on a practical level, change is threatening. What if the changes make my work less important? What if the changes make me irrelevant? What if the changes make me have to ditch all the ways I know how to do my work and learn all new ways? These questions become very important to understand. The key is to train your mind not to see the temporary obstacles to change but instead the long-term opportunities in it.
There is one fact to know here and if you take nothing else away from this series know this: Change is inevitable and your choice on how to handle it will determine if the changes bring you opportunity or leave you behind. I’ve seen this play out dozens of times. Something new is coming and a group of people dig their heels in and put off adopting to it as long as they can. You know what happens to those people? They end up having to live with the changes anyway usually under the leadership of those who embraced the change in the first place. Now, how’s that going to move one’s career along when they end up with the reputation for not wanting to adapt and working for someone who helped make it happen? The answer is obvious. While change for the sake of change will rarely improve a situation there has to be someone on the watchtower looking and thinking about the next opportunity. Why can’t that be you?
There is a direct correlation between how informed people are on the front end of potential change and the level of fear they have regarding it.
Lastly, if you want to move a team toward a vision you’ve got to invite other people along. While it can be tempting to hold onto an idea to get credit for it the fact is most of the time you are going to need others to buy into the concept to move it forward. There is a direct correlation between how informed people are on the front end of potential change and the level of fear they have regarding it. (Incidentally, leading change is an important topic unto itself and the best data on it belongs to John Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change.) While it is true that in some instances some will fight against initial change the best ideas tend to win and, given time, many peoples’ levels of concern about change will drop. This is a key part of vision, a team of people need to buy into it for it to stick. The best way to do this is through collaboration. Taking the time one-on-one to meet with key team people, walking through the vision, and helping them see how it can work for them can help get critical support. If one will take the time to patiently walk individuals through their questions they will not only likely receive critical support they will also find that the idea will become sharper through the questions they receive on it. Having team support is crucial to moving a group of people to buy into a vision of the future of the work.
You must recalibrate your own mental processes not to see success at the end of the day in the completion of tasks but in evaluating them and seeing if there is a better way.
So we’ve talked a lot on process but how does one get the initial “spark” of ideas that lead to improvement in a future circumstance? By observation and asking critical questions. You will find most people tend to say buried in the daily to-do list. What you must do is recalibrate your own mental processes not to see success at the end of the day in the completion of tasks but in evaluating them as well and seeing if there is a better way or unrealized opportunities. Ask yourself when looking at your personal and professional life such questions as:
- What are the biggest problems being faced?
- What will improve the current situation?
- What are the significant risks to the current situation?
- Are there new changes in technology that would make the current situation better?
- If you, a co-worker, or a customer could change one thing what would it be?
These are the simple, broad questions where vision begins. It begins with a simple “how might we make ________ better?” As I wrote earlier in the article, you will be surprised how few people stop to ask this. It’s easier to just complain. But those who do ask and come up with ways to make it happen gain influence and bring improvement to their personal and professional life. Again, why can’t that person be you???