Feeling Relevant is Important

Sokol exercises in year 1924

A part of the human condition is a desire to feel needed. The reality is that in most of our interactions, we won’t be needed… but we can be relevant. And our relevancy doesn’t need to me immediate, there is a similar benefit to thinking we can be relevant in the future.

When I interact with people, I ask enough questions to start to get a feeling for how I might be relevant to someone, and how they might be relevant to me. At a party, this could be as simple as trying to find the subject area that they love to talk about. They feel relevant through an area of their knowledge. If I’m flexible or clever enough (or they are), we find the way that our interests intersect and then we can both be relevant. I may not be a model train enthusiast, but I am interested in the modeling of landscapes. We become relevant to each other and provide mutual value.

Professionally, the people that actively try to understand my relevancy (value) create a bridge to me. I can see when people expend the effort to understand how I might help them in the present or the future, and it’s a natural inclination for us to then try to do the same for them. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. This person is filed in my brain as someone I’d like to work with.

In comparison, it is very obvious when people take no interest in you. I might find them to be interesting, and the conversation might be great, but it’s typically one-sided. I take knowledge value away from it, but I rarely take away anything more. This person doesn’t get filed in my brain as someone I’d like to work with.

It doesn’t take much effort to invest someone with a feeling of being relevant, now or in the future. At the worst you might just walk away with an excellent conversation. I like good conversations.

What Value Will You Leave Behind?

construction

This might be the best interview question to ask someone: if you leave us, what value will you have left behind? People move on to bigger and better things, and at some point will leave your company. The true test of how good an employee was is what value they created in your company, and successfully left behind for the company to use.

Interview advice always includes researching an employer and showing interest in them. Taking this a step further is showing a company that you have the initiative to not only do your job, but to make your employer better. It’s an active realization that companies don’t just need workers, they need people who understand the company’s mission and want to take it someplace. Employee initiative builds on the foundation of a business plan, and begins to create a place that is not just the owner’s vision… but a collective vision.

If the right employees are hired, and they are actively engaged in building such value, a real benefit is that they will be less likely to leave a company (except for bigger and better things). It creates a collective agreement that all parties are invested in one another. ‘Collective’ is an important part of that statement. It leads to the fact that the question that started this post has an equally important question the potential hire must ask: How does your company enable employees to build long-term value within it?

It’s a partnership.

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About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see: www.highestexpertise.com/who-is-peter/

Free Energy For All

tesla

I’m fascinated by the concept of think tanks. I have this vision of one of those sci-fi war rooms with glass partitions that people draw and write on to illustrate their ideas for how to stop that asteroid from destroying the earth. It’s a room of highly (dys)functional people (the ‘dys’ part for Hollywood effect… and some reality likely). All of the stereotypical movie characters are there: thinker, firebrand, action guy, lone wolf, leader, genius, wisdom. There are sparks, conflict and… alignment (usually based in an achieved grudging respect). It’s a boiling pot of intersection chaos that slowly takes form and aligns with more and more clarity. Brainstorm.

My wife asked me what my dream job would be. My response was to be with a group of people operating at their highest level of expertise. The intent of this is to work at that tension point where you have a room brimming with skill and experience, and you can achieve the cold fusion of ideas from the future.

Talking about cold fusion… where do you get your energy?

Batteries on Samsung phones have been combusting. Things might look normal, but then a bunch of protons and neutrons get excited and can’t control themselves. Boom. Burnout. The goal for a battery is to have controlled chemical reactions that release energy as needed, not less than nor more than what you need. When the battery gets low, it gets plugged in and replenished. Eventually it wears down for that graceful slide into being replaced.

We all need to have an idea about how our batteries work. How much energy can they produce? How sustainably? What peak demand can we exert on them? How do we recharge them?

I asked a friend the other night where he gets his energy from. He spoke for a while, and I needed to laugh since I realized that his response was effectively “cold fusion”. His energy comes from ideas and the opportunities that have not yet materialized. His energy comes from future possibility. He’s drawing from the future to power the present.

How do you draw from the future? The future exists purely as an idea. In order to draw from that energy, you need to be a broker or participant in the realm of ideas. There are some among us that are visionaries who have a direct connection to this, but for the majority of us… the energy that the future provides requires a chemical reaction in the present.

A chemical reaction requires something precipitating change. My friend has placed himself in a position where he has access to people and the ideas that they bring. Another way to look at this is that change occurs when two things intersect. When we optimize our ability to harness intersections, then we can begin to direct and manage change, and the intellectual result is the ability to harness ideas.

So, he harvests the energy of ideas. Conscious or subconscious, he’s not fully drawing power from the land of the future. He’s tending a farm of potential intersections where each collision creates sparks. His excitement and drive come from a knowledge that some of these sparks can then be grown into something more. His energy comes from interacting with people who also align themselves with ideas and the potential for change. It’s a bit vampiric feeding on this energy created by those around you, but… we all find our ways to contribute. Or, just get to be lucky to be along for the ride?

Where do I get my energy? Some intrinsic instinct to try to make sparks.

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About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see: www.highestexpertise.com/who-is-peter/

Design: What Are You Buying?

My ultimate goal in these posts is to try to provide concrete ideas and actions. A previous post (The Beauty of Being a Hack) was more along the lines of musing, but a few minutes after I posted it I realized one of the more concrete things to which it might lead: you get what you pay for. [brilliant flash of the obvious!]

One of the tangents in the post was that I’m in a creative profession, but as a landscape architect much of our work relates to function. When we are scoping new projects, I usually have two very important questions:

  • For the client’s aesthetic, how ‘high’ of a level do they want? (I see the simpler version of this now which is, “How much design/art do they want?”
  • How linear do you expect the project to be? (I see the simpler version of this now is, “How actively will we have to manage the process to keep it on track?”

We work in a city with a landscape ordinance. At the simplest, our projects provide a client with a landscape that meets local requirements. We have systems in place for this that allow us to do it quite efficiently, and we have the design experience to add some flair within it as well. These projects can be super linear, without the intricacies of reflecting a higher design aesthetic. We can be confident in providing a very reasonable fee.

BUT… realize that you are hiring us for our project management capabilities. We have an agreement based on the very high level of knowns required for that very reasonable fee. You are not hiring us as designers/artists. Luckily, that’s what you generally DON’T want for this particular scenario. You’re looking for fact and a successful permit, not design and opinion.

When we are approached as designers, the interesting by-product is that we need to provide an even higher level of project management services. Design is incredibly messy and opinion-based, and takes significant time and effort to create what might seem to be a linear design process. The fees will be higher.

A small fee indicates a discrete and known task. A less discrete and less known task has a higher fee. All of the above is logical and sets the stage for the conclusion of this post. The above has a foundation of us wanting to deliver an optimized client value. Our goal is to find the fee where the client gets best value in our market, and to have our internal processes where for this fee we make money.

So… as a client there is the spectrum between frugal and patron. Reasonable frugality gets good value that leans toward the sparse. The emphasis on control in this relationship lies with us. A frugal client will always hope for more scope for less, and we are in control of what we deliver. My interest is in the concept of patron. The emphasis on control in this relationship is the patron. They need to determine the level of patronage that gives them their desired return on investment. There WILL be a point where the value of patronage is optimized, and beyond which will have no benefit… if not beginning to result in negatives.

The tongue-in-cheek point of the above. Pay us little and you get exactly what you pay for. Pay us more and you get what you pay for, but you do place some more control in our court to exceed your expectations. Pay us a lot, you might just make us lazy.

 

Beyond the humor intended within this, the summary point is: As creative design professionals (a licensed profession), your fee always gets you a high level of project management to ensure that we meet your expectations. We will be very careful about setting good expectations (which takes a high level of effort for small fees, disproportionate). To enable us as creative designers, we need to be compensated. We are fair in our approach, and our goal is to find the right level of value for you. With the right fee, you will engage us in a manner that you may just get more than you pay for… that’s the beauty of creatives. We develop new and unique things that sometimes deliver much more than what they cost.

Endnote: If you see us driving an Audi… it’s because we eat ramen for lunch. =)

Endnote Two: I drive a 1998 Ford Bronco II… because I grow attached to things… and it has an awesome turning radii for city driving. And I’m frugal. And I like to fix things.

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About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see: www.highestexpertise.com/who-is-peter/

This blog post was originally posted on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/design-what-you-buying-peter-briggs?published=t

The Line Cook Crux

Restaurant_cook,_Seattle,_1954

Who’s your line cook?

A new friend owns some restaurants in Portland. When it comes to hiring, a challenge in that market is finding and retaining a good line cook (def’n:”Line cooks are usually responsible for prepping ingredients and assembling dishes according to restaurant recipes and specifications. Kitchens can be hot, noisy and stressful places, so you’ll need to be able to work efficiently and quickly to be successful as a line cook.”). The challenge in finding and retaining line cooks is that in most markets, the pay isn’t great and the work is hard. Those two conditions mean that it’s not necessarily an attractive position. It’s a pathway to something else inside the food industry, or a temporary stop on the way to something outside of the industry.

A dishwasher, a busser, a waiter, a manager. All positions that are somewhat formulaic and transferrable. They basically are about the successful delivery of a product. Without a product, they have no job. Who creates that product? The line cook. Hence, I find it interesting that this position is typically undervalued.

In your industry, who’s your line cook? What happens when you lose them?

The answer lies within specialization, and how an organization develops its staffing through evolution or importation. A line cook not only needs preparation and cooking skills, they need to be familiar with your recipes, imbued within your culture/brand, and have that certain zest/zeal/initiative where food gets  a bit of its magic. Whether an eye for detail, or artistry, patrons love to love their food.

Specialization. What kind of a person can step in and immediately get the job done? What proportion of the potential employee market have the ability to do this? How much training will it take?

Evolution. Do you have the ability to smoothly transition people within your organization from one position to the next? Do they have the skills and interest to do this? Do you have this person when you need them? Has someone already passed through this position and are they able to step back to it in a time of need? If they step back into this role, can they do both jobs?

Importing. Is the position one where someone can step in from outside and carry your business vision? How much training is required to provide them with the skills and knowledge they need? How much is required to invest them in your vision?

As an employee or business owner, you’ll identify with the challenges of having the right person in the right place at the right time… and the effort needed to manage doing it. The point of this post is for you to go out and find another business person to speak with. Ask them who their line cook is? What position is undervalued? What position is harder to fill than you think it should be? Then figure out why.

The restaurant owner I spoke with emphasized how important his company culture is to him. Vision/passion/brand/promise… whatever term you use, how his staff operate and interact with each other and the public is critical to him. When it comes to the ‘line cook crux’, his approach was to stop and look at the market around him. He sees it as an undervalued position, so his response is to value it through higher than industry pay… and also to value it through the culture he fosters for all of this employees. If the rarity of good line cooks is related to being undervalued… solve some of the problem by creating value.

A certain position within your company may always be a critical skill or resource. When you imbue that position with the right value, then people might seek you out, and certainly lessen the impulse to see  whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Once again, a brilliant flash of the obvious… but it’s a good exercise to go through to recognize that staff are your most important resource. Some are more ‘replaceable’ than others, but why put yourself in a place where you need to replace someone except when they are moving on to the next phase of their life? When your line cook goes to another company to be the same line cook there… what happened?

 

Survey Says? Fact, Value or Policy.

1280px-Dennis_Weaver_Gene_Rayburn_Michael_Landon_Match_Game_1964-ed

Sitting down on a plane, within the first few minutes you can probably predict whether the person beside you will be an interesting conversation or not. Some never even get to the point of acknowledging your presence, and most never get past hello. Some… they really get someplace!

Fact. Value. Policy.

When supervising, a goal is to give people the framework within which they can get things done. A fantastic in-flight conversation left me with the memorable fragment that one of the keys to success in enabling people to get things done is to train them to understand whether an answer is based in fact, values or policy.

Fact.

There are such things as facts. These answers are knowledge-based, and team members should be fully comfortable in making decisions based on facts.

Value.

Some answers will lie within value calls. These answers need some more consultation, as answers that lie within values need someone that is responsible for them (and experience/wisdom is also helpful). Typically, this needs to move up the chain of command until someone not only has the power to take responsibility, but also says they will stand behind it.

Policy.

A form of value, this one becomes more political in that it relates to the organization surrounding you. It may differ from your values, but it follows a similar pathway where something moves up the chain until someone recognizes the grounding in policy, and approves the answer as reflecting policy.

That’s it…

I’ve made the decision that some blog posts should be short. Hopefully the above gives you something interesting to contemplate… and to make into your own thing.

The Beauty of Being a Hack

Pinning

(Working Title: Fake it until you make it… and beyond)

Let’s assume that change is good. We’ll call it positive change. Change typically means being placed in situations that are unfamiliar. The unfamiliar has the ability to produce discomfort. Let’s introduce the concept of positive discomfort.

In order to grow, discomfort needs to be recognized as a good thing.

In conversation #8 of 100 Conversations, a goal was phrased as wanting to speak with authority about a subject. It was also phrased in wanting to get to the point of not feeling like a hack. The phrase “fake it until you make it” came to mind. I think that we have all been there, or are still there. It can take a long time until we achieve expertise (or close to it), and it sometimes takes even longer to actually realize that we’ve made it there. The trip to expertise is long and gradual, so we probably carry the feeling of being a hack with us beyond when we could have left it behind.

So, we get to a point where we have the tools and skills to deal with the majority of what we encounter. Things become more static, and there is a resultant decrease in discomfort. Well… in theory. The truth is that we find ourselves opening doors to new opportunity for new experiences, and the accompanying ability to be a hack again. This time you get to be an experienced hack rather than a freshman hack. Reassuring, right?

[I’m going to try a new thing in my blog posts. You’ve just reached the first point that I’d like to make: we do fake it until we make it, and then keep on faking it BUT in a more controlled/experienced manner. It’s normal. You can head on over to People magazine now, or continue on for an expansion of this reassurance.]

There is truth in this ever renewed hackdom. Most of us seek to develop a core expertise, and then we build upon it or expand it in new ways. When my work is directly related to my company’s mission statement, I am a landscape architect and apply that skillset for our clients. The episodes of truly being a hack relate to major chapters in our lives. I can be a landscape architect with my eyes closed, but when it comes to the current chapter where I’m the guy running the company? That’s where my discomfort lies. That’s my current chapter. These chapters take the form of receiving a big promotion, moving to a new company, changing careers, having a kid, etc…

The conversation that spurred this blog post was with an artist. And, my brain is finding some challenge with processing where it wants to go within this discussion. Let’s assume that success is predicated on having a specific set of skills to apply to a specific set of problems. Most careers are based on someone approaching us for a specific expected outcome. What happens when the specific expected outcome IS being new and different?

We look to artists to provide us with things of aesthetic beauty (which is in the eye of the beholder), but we also sometimes seek a deeper need to have them connect us to new ways of looking at our world. The easiest “specific expected outcome” for an artist is to provide us with something of beauty. An artist can achieve an expertise and spend their life creating the things of beauty that we surround ourselves with. This can be their career.

If their artistic identity is grounded within a higher level of engaging an audience with ways of looking at the world, then comfort is a stale sign. Positive discomfort is the indicator that they are in the place that they should be. The level of discomfort probably being directly proportional to whether growth is incremental, or a massive shift. My empathy for artists is huge. “Success” is grounded within finding popularity. The majority of people like the familiar. How many times does our culture reject the “new” that our artists create? At a concert do you shout loudest for the new songs, or the old one that you know by heart? How did you feel when Picasso entered his blue period? [you probably don’t have first-hand experience unless you’re immortal]. So not only does discomfort arise from the challenge of investigating a new approach to your art, it comes from how people will react when you change how pleasing you are to them.

As a landscape architect, I am in a design profession. We exist within a spectrum between the functional and the artistic. Technical expertise. Craft. Art. The discomfort that I experience relates to the vagaries of running a business, and trying to do new things.  We do artistic things, but are we artists? At least in my world, I don’t think we have enough discomfort to be artists. Our artistic efforts are grounded in function.

The tangent I find myself considering now in this post is how much discomfort can we accommodate? At the moment, I spend much energy on the discomfort that arises from running a business, managing clients and the challenges of communicating with all involved. I think my discomfort quota is mostly full. That (unfortunately) leaves less room to seek the discomfort of the artistic side of what we do. I think that’s typical to our world and what happens as we age and gain expertise.

This leads to the beauty of patrons. Perhaps the most important role of a patron is that they free artists from the discomfort and constraints of ‘fitting into’ society and ‘making a living’. They can focus their discomfort quota toward pursuing the change and vitality of examining (and shifting) views of the world within and around us. They gain the freedom to seek discomfort.

So, back to the concept of being a hack. Over time most of us pursue vocations or careers where we incrementally develop our knowns and the certainty that tomorrow will look mostly like today. We get better at being a hack, as the hack we were yesterday looks like the hack we’ll be tomorrow. For artists (or creatives in general), the beauty and pain of it is that they might wake up as a completely new and different hack. Perhaps yesterday provides some tools for them, but maybe not. What they carry with them as their core certainty is a desire to look at the world and show others what they see. Comfortable or not.

Well, I find myself at the concluding paragraph (and once again, it just feels like I spent hours contemplating something that is just obvious once I get to it). Most of us are like kids in a scouting program. We work within a system where each badge you get prepares you a bit more for the next one, and the sash that you wear them on illustrates your incremental momentum toward being less and less of a hack. There are those around us who just wander off into the woods alone to create their own badges. The freedom of discomfort. The perpetual hack.

Benevolent Manipulation (aka Helping Someone Out)

Helping Hand

Our work lives require us to be professional. Being professional requires that we train ourselves with a filter that kicks in instantly to cancel out our base instincts. There may be times where that filter malfunctions. If the relationship is good, we can recognize what needs to happen. We can apply that filter for that person. And, it’s reassuring to sometimes hear that something sucks and someone understands. Then we can talk about how we’ll try to respond better next time.

In firms, bad things rise to the top. That’s a fact, and that’s actually the way it needs to be. Leaders are responsible for cleaning up messes and trying to keep everything neat and orderly. The tasks that arise that no one else can do, those are their tasks.

It’s a fact that in addition to the strengths they have, they also have weaknesses. Beyond what work throws at us, life adds another layer of surprises. As a leader, you are required to strive to be the best person you can be all of the time, and to certainly always be professional. If you show weakness, it will have impacts on those around you. If you are grumpy or if you snap… the ramifications go much beyond what you would experience at home where forgiveness is more often applied (hopefully). A work relationship can be seriously damaged by misplaced actions and words. There is such a thing as opening Pandora’s box. You are expected to be the solid and fearless leader… and you need to strive to achieve that.

Being a leader means that your brain churns with one non-optimal situation or another, trying to find the appropriate resolution. I know that I firmly believe that every situation does have a win-win option. It’s hard to constantly juggle all of the variables and organize them into something good.

That’s what it is. The higher you are in an organization, the more variables you are likely to be juggling. Just like algebra, an equation with one variable is pretty easy to solve. Two variables is a bit more tricky. Get to three and more, the complexity sky rockets. Not only do firm leaders work with multi-variable problems… they have multiple problems happening at the same time.

So, I titled this post benevolent manipulation… or, helping someone. Empathy and sympathy can be hard when we can’t identify with the experiences of someone else. We can’t be expected to know what it’s like to be responsible for the success of multiple people in a firm, until that’s what we do. Maybe the first step is to understand that the leaders of your firm firm are probably actively thinking about the best ways to activate you and enable you to be the best person you can be. They are trying to adapt themselves to maximize the benefits of your relationship. They have been where you are now, so they have access to direct sympathy  and empathy. One challenge is that their efforts to assist you will likely be invisible. They are trying to match your world-view, so it might just seem normal to you (and thus invisible).

Then, your boss has a bad day. Or a number of them. Where they might have addressed something perfectly constructively before, they now are short and perhaps negative. Empathy goes a fair ways… but, your duty is actually to try to adapt to those around you. If you notice that a certain action on your part resulted in a sub-optimal reaction… the first thing you need to do is to assess it. Can you separate the intent from the delivery? Can you empathize with their reaction? Is there anything you can do to manipulate future situations to ensure that reaction doesn’t happen again?

You are responsible to adapt to those around you and make their lives smoother (just as they owe the same to you). We don’t want to lose ourselves in the mix, but we can make choices that benefit those around us. Control the situation to help the other person be the person they want to be. We all want to be good… and it’s easier with help.

If you want another post with a more applied discussion of ‘benevolent manipulation’, see Benevolent Manipulation. [Am I already running short of titles?]

Tools… Not Tales.

Tools not tales

My posts relate to me trying to find “order” in my experiences and those of the people I speak with. I come from a design background, and have learned business and project management without the benefit of an MBA. I’d say that my goals are to learn a new shared language, find commonalities, and maybe discover a bit more clarity in what we are all doing no matter our background. To some I imagine these posts reflect the thoughts of a freshman in the land of business and management, but if viewed kindly, I think they still offer the value of a different perspective.

BUT…

30 Motivational Quotes to Help Realize Your Entrepreneurial Dreams!!!!!

I fear that some of these musings bear a likeness to all of the motivational sayings that we find online that are supposed to make us better: they might give us a vision, but they certainly don’t fill in the blanks on how to achieve it.

Seriously… I am now a target for clickbait with titles like: “30 Motivational Quotes to Help Realize Your Entrepreneurial Dreams.” The concept Jump the Shark came to mind in a large way. The thing is, it wasn’t clickbait. It was coming from a source that I assumes produced things of substance. For this one, maybe not.

I love a great quote just as much as the next person, but inspiration without strategy just winds up leaving us feeling bad about ourselves when at the end of the day… we’re still at our desk with that beautiful inspirational poster above us,  facing the same problems. It’s just that this time we have a handy saying to summarize where we’d rather be: soaring with the eagles or something. [ED: As a tangent.. I hope that you’ve had a laugh with www.demotivators.com]

I’m intentionally being hard on myself, because we all need to be reminded that the point of our introspection is to get us to someplace new and better! My posts are a way for me to work through the things I’m facing in my career. It’s therapy for me. The reason I try to share it is that my existence is not unique… nor is yours. We’re all facing similar things, and we need to talk about it. I keep on repeating “you’re not crazy, other people are facing the same things, it’s just that we’re not talking to one another”. The fact is that it IS reassuring when we realize other people have the same kind of crazy, but it doesn’t really go anywhere until we find ways to get to the point where it feels less crazy. This requires tools.

Tools… Not Tales.

Publishing posts is typically a one-sided thing. I publish, you read. You publish, I read. Rinse and repeat.

You might like my post… and I’m super happy that my posts have been shared once or twice. Literally. I am SUPER excited that one person chose to share one of my posts. That validated my existence. AND… that’s the level of interaction that we get within social media. It’s a one-sided conversation.

That’s one of the reasons I started 100 Conversations. Talking to real people in person results in a dialogue! I say this tongue in cheek, but if we want to spur interaction… social media isn’t really the place. [ED: except the comment sections online. But… I wouldn’t call those a meaningful dialogue.]

Anyways… I’m currently distilling conversation #7, and wanted to post about an unexpected benefit of that conversation. That conversation linked me to a professional in Anchorage who deals with management, communication and all of the things that resonate with me right now. Looking at a single post of his provided me with some tools that I really need right now. I never would have found what I needed if the connection hadn’t been made. The connection. The reality is that for me there is nothing altruistic about seeking these 100 Conversations. I’m trying to learn. For me to learn, I need other people to share their worlds with me. Connection.

So… I challenge you. Connect with people online and offline knowing that they actually might need and want YOUR thoughts and resources. Chances are that in your bag of tools, you will have some of the missing pieces that someone else has been seeking. [ED: I hold out hope that people who have an MBA have the keys to a secret mythical part of the internet where these conversations fall from the sky like rain. They’re just not telling those of us who didn’t earn the degree and secret handshake.]

At this point in our careers… I guarantee that we gain more by sharing and interacting than by just absorbing what other people put out. Yes… even you. Put down your half-fat mocha latte and realize that you have something to offer. Even if you just ask the questions you haven’t given yourself the time to ponder.

The Challenge for You

I think a lot, but I don’t prioritize reading (shame!). I’m trying to catch up with a backlog of mental processing. If you’re in a similar place in your career (or ahead), you are likely familiar with more resources than I am. If you read any of my posts and realize I’m just repeating something from an existing business book or resource, I need you to give me a reference for it by posting a quick comment. Even if just the author’s name or similar. If you do that, you’ll be helping me… and others. That way we all shift the discussion to include the tools to get to where we need to go. I need you for that. You are needed. Even if it’s not a reference, I’d like to hear your voice.

And, just like the kid in the sandbox who threatens to take his toys away… if I wind up needing to get an MBA to gain access to their mythical world, you might lose out on someone who’s interested in your growth and success.

The Challenge for Me

I realize that not every post will offer a new tool for a reader. Sometimes it will just be me finding some meaningful realization. Just know that I am very aware of the fact that we all need a variety of tools that we can experiment with… and bear with me as I try to share things that might be useful.

With the above, I’d like to share this blog post from William Dann: Servant Leadership Revisited that lead me to The Root of Management Lapses that led me to the start of what I needed Putting the Questions to Work. They aren’t exhaustive posts… but I think they might give me enough to adapt the tools to my needs. Many times, we just need that small push to get us to our next step.

When No Mentor Exists

may i have some more

It’s easy to speak to mentoring and peer learning when there is a clear pathway to reaching out to someone. There will be times when it’s not as easy as that. You will have a situation that is so complex that describing it requires providing someone with a short-course. You will have times where you are dealing with sensitive information. While briefing someone can be a difficult task to relay all of the information fairly and effectively, it can be done. The challenge of seeking guidance on sensitive information is that you might not have access to someone within which you can confide. Sensitive information can benefit from speaking with someone in confidence, but you need to have a few degrees of separation between your confidant and the issue at hand. This becomes a huge challenge when you are working within a small community, whether a population area or the community of people within your discipline. Since you are seeking wisdom for something sensitive, it’s likely that you will look for someone who shares your background. If not many people share your background, or you are in a place where everyone knows everyone, it just might not be an option.

The realization is: there will be times within our lives where we can’t access the wisdom of other people. How to make up for this? Perhaps the two components are to ensure that we have a balanced life in order to have the ability to absorb the unknowns and difficulties of having to sort through things on our own, and/or becoming skilled at working with our networks to find the parallel wisdom that might assist us.

Let’s identify two kinds of problems. The first one is a shared problem where you can speak to someone else who can understand the whole problem, and provide you with a complete package of advice. For example, your problem is that you can’t find a really good sushi place. The odds are good that someone in your network will have discovered the best sushi, or can at least upgrade your sushi experience with something better on your way to finding perfection.

The other kind of problem is a composite problem. You can’t go to just one person, so you will need to break that problem into pieces and seek input on those pieces. You will then need to assemble them on your own as you work to solve it. Composite problems are either complex in that they have multiple variables that need specific expertise, or you are in a situation where you need to break your problem down into pieces where you can seek input without compromising the sensitivity. You are not able to draw on one source for wisdom.

Break it Down

So, going back to our original issue of having a problem where you can’t talk to someone directly about it. You will need to establish whether your problem can be broken down into component pieces that you ARE able to work on with others.

A side benefit of this approach is that to be fully intentional, you stop and take the time to assess your concern (we don’t stop and think often enough). There will be aspects of it that you will need to solve on your own, but there may be components where input from others might be sought. It is likely that you won’t find any solutions, but you will find tools.

Solutions versus Tools

At a certain age, we stop finding and applying pre-packaged solutions. We’ve solved all of the easy problems, and our value exists in the fact that we HAVE conquered the easy stuff. Our value lies in the fact that we possess a suite of tools that allows us to adapt to new situations, and that we have the skills to seek and add new tools. When we encounter new problems, the reasons we consult with other people are likely:

  1. Confirm application of the tools we have: we seek validation that our assessment of the situation is reasonable, and that we have applied our tools in an appropriate manner, and
  2. A search for new tools: consciously or subconsciously, we engage with someone else to find the tools needed to work on a problem.

So, in a complex situation the first option above is likely not available. But, the second solution provides us with the ability to find tools that we can apply to our problem. The challenge is taking the time to understand the components of our complex situation, and finding the conversations/resources where we can seek parallel guidance and the tools that they hold. We can then take these tools and adapt and apply them to our problem.

I think the summary of this #6 of 100 Conversations was a realization that there will be some problems where direct application of mentoring is just not possible. I’m lucky that my world doesn’t usually have an overlay of sensitive information where I can’t identify someone that is removed enough from the issue that I won’t compromise confidentiality. When those do crop up, I know that it involves me adapting the tools I have to a new situation. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t (learn, adapt and try again). At a certain point in your career, mentoring will no longer assist you in teasing apart the world’s problems to find clarity. At some point your problems may each be new and unique, and only for you to solve. You will be alone for brief periods of time. But… you talk to your friends to blow off steam (and read this blog?) …  and be reminded that you’re not crazy. As Run DMC said, life’s like that.