Imagine yourself escaping from the daily pressure of decisions to be made, demands on your time, and disruptions to your schedule. You find a quiet oasis, where the atmosphere is suited for relaxation, reflection and rejuvenation. It is carefully designed to provide just the right amount of stimuli to enhance your productivity and creativity. You’re able to think through problems, strategize, and plan your next steps. This is your thinking spot; the environment where you’re optimally suited to work through the challenges in your life and work.
While the thought of periodically removing oneself from the hub of activity is scary to some people, some of the most successful leaders have made a habit of frequenting a thinking spot.
- Harry Frampton, executive chairman of East West Partners, a property developer, manager and brokerage in Avon, Colorado has a vacation home in Hawaii where he and his wife spend about 12 weeks each year. His visits there during the 2009 recession helped him get away from overwhelming problems and think through which projects to put on hold, and which ones to move forward on.
- Martin Puris, an advertising executive and owner of Puris and Partners has a vacation home in Long Island’s Hamptons where he and his wife spend most weekends. There he has some of his “best creative thoughts”, and can think “uncluttered and focused”.
- Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, a fast food restaurant chain headquartered in the Atlanta area has a “thinking schedule” that helps him to prioritize intentional thinking. He blocks out a half a day every two weeks, a whole day each month, and two or three days each year to make sure he blocks out distractions and keeps focused on the primary things in life.
- John Maxwell, internationally known leadership guru and author has a “thinking chair” in his office. He brings a list of issues to think through while he sits in the chair and spends the necessary time to gain clarity on them.
Effective leaders understand and embrace their thinking spot. They plan time to think that includes:
- Reflecting on what did and didn’t work in the past.
- Focusing on the present challenges.
- Planning for the future.
- Creating new solutions.
Their thinking time may include different forms of solitude. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, describes Darwin Smith, the unassuming but successful CEO of Kimberly Clark for 20 years, as spending his vacation time on his farm in Wisconsin, digging holes and moving rocks on his backhoe. While this may have looked totally unrelated to his leadership role, it no doubt provided the quiet thought time needed for the demands of his position.
Steve Wozniak co-founder of Apple designed the first personal computer working alone. He met with others periodically to discuss the technology and possibilities, but he largely toiled long hours by himself, thinking through the process necessary to reach his goal.
Find Your Spot
So where do you get your inspiration? Where is the spot that stimulates your thinking? Have you carefully protected that environment to ensure that it’s conducive to your needs? How often and for how long do you frequent it? What has it produced for you in the past? Do you run from it or to it? In other words are you comfortable sitting in quietness or do you need high activity and stimulation around you? Does the thought of sitting still make you nervous? Are you constantly thinking of all the other things you can do instead of being there?
My preferred style is to spend quiet time in the early morning in meditation and prayer. I focus on what I need to accomplish for the day, engage in positive self-talk, reflect on my priorities, and thank God for His goodness. Ideally, if the weather and time permits, I’ll take a walk, alone with the unlimited expanse of nature. Sometimes I get great ideas during this process, and at other times mental breakthroughs will come later in the day, but I know it’s a product of that time alone.
The key is to understand the environment where you’re most productive, and replicate that on a regular basis. In your gut, you know when you do your best thinking. You know the right atmosphere for you to generate ideas, work through problems, develop your action plans, and learn new information. You know where you get your energy, ideas, and motivation; your time of fruitfulness where seeds of ideas take root, are carefully formed and watered over time until they finally blossom. Make it a priority to find and frequent that thinking spot.
Copyright 2014 Priscilla Archangel
Steve Wozniak reference from iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Stephen Wozniak with Gina Smith, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, NY, 2006.
John Maxwell reference from Success 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 2008.
Picture from IStockPhoto
New Ideas, New Work
Recently, while perusing Forbes Magazine’s list of the top 30 Under 30 people in 15 different industries, I was struck by how many of them were listed as “founder” of a company. In industries such as Media, Technology, Energy and Industry, Food and Drink, Education, and Social Entrepreneurship, more than half the individuals held this title. In Sports, Music, Hollywood Entertainment, Art and Style, independent individual contributors comprised the majority of the list.
Many in this millennial group of 30 Under 30 have rejected the traditional notion of graduating from college and finding jobs. Instead they have used the campus environment to facilitate networking to create their own jobs. They have avoided the conventional corporate environments in favor of unconventional workspaces and work relationships, like living and working in the same space to increase productivity and connectivity. They have pushed back on the established methodologies of getting things done, and created new pathways to purchase art online and process financial transactions.
Their advantage obviously is that they aren’t entrenched in a “this is how you do it” mindset. Their educational process and developmental upbringing likely placed greater emphasis on creativity instead of conformity. Research shows that millennials as a group, are less interested in considering a career in business. According to an article by Shama Kabani in the December 2013 issue of Forbes, millennials are projected to comprise the majority of the workforce by 2025, however data from Bentley University’s study on the preparedness of college students to move into the workplace shows that:
- 6 in 10 students say they are NOT considering a career in business, and 48% said they have NOT been encouraged to do so.
- 59% of business decision makers and 62% of higher education influentials give recent college graduates a C grade or lower for preparedness in their first jobs.
- 68% of corporate recruiters say that it is difficult for their organizations to manage millennials.
- 74% of non millennials agree that millennials offer different skills and work styles that add value to the workplace.
- 74% agree that businesses must partner with colleges and universities to provide business curriculums that properly prepare students for the workforce.
This data, and the accomplishments of the 30 Under 30 speak loudly about how current organizations must adapt to and embrace the future generation both as employees and as customers, to be able to leverage their ideas and intellect to solve problems, and effectively compete in the marketplace.
A New Model
Many companies still operate based on the old model of experience taking priority over innovation at the individual employee level. Employees with greater technical, policy or process knowledge, and therefore experience in a particular area, teach the younger people how the organization works. Such companies may externally broadcast their innovative products and methodologies, but internally they muffle creativity at the expense of familiarity. Instead they need to place innovation and creativity of the culture and work style on par with their innovative products and services. Those who fail to adapt and become more flexible will pay the price of failing to keep pace with the speed of technology and change.
A glaring example of this is Eastman Kodak, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two years ago in January 2012, after more than a decade of falling sales and stock prices. Kodak, a name long synonymous with photography, didn’t go bankrupt because people stopped taking pictures, but because they couldn’t adapt to the new way pictures were being taken. People started using their smart phones to capture, send and store pictures electronically, instead of solely using traditional cameras and hard copy prints. Twenty months later, Kodak has emerged from their restructuring transformed into a technology company focused on imaging for business, in a way that will hopefully produce better corporate results.
Preparing for the future
So what about these 30 Under 30? Instead of just talking about new ways of doing things, they take new ideas and develop them into marketable strategies, trends and entrepreneurial ventures.
For example, Carter Cleveland (#1 in the Art and Style category) founded Artsy as a student at Princeton when he realized that there was no quick and easy way online to find art for his dorm room walls. His website now provides more than 85,000 works of art from 1,800 museums, galleries and foundations. Most of it is for sale and he also recommends artists to users. (This is an idea I’m sure I could have thought of, but would I have done anything about it?)
So how are you leveraging innovation, creativity and technology in your team or organization to capture the next NEW idea or process? How are you finding new and different ways to meet customers’ needs? Are you developing intrapreneurs (in all demographic groups) who will keep your team fresh, or are you attracting entrepreneurs who will collaborate on new ways to accomplish organizational objectives? Whatever your strategy, recognize the value of new ideas and build a culture that embraces the new world of work for millennials.
Photo from iStockphoto
Copyright 2014 Priscilla Archangel
Convictions are firm beliefs in a position or theory of how things should or do operate. They’re developed as a result of our learning experiences, values, dreams and hopes, and our knowledge of facts. Each of us holds a unique set of convictions, but only some of us hold convictions that are game changing. If acted upon, these convictions may change our environment, and the way we live and operate. Such breakthroughs have shaped our world over centuries, like Thomas Edison’s light bulb; Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity; and George Washington Carver’s inventions from peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes; to name just a few.
Today, convictions and their resulting innovations and inventions occur at a much greater speed, fueled by technology and the wealth and capability of those who hold them. Together they form a catalyst for those convictions to change our environment. Meet two men who demonstrate just that.
Elon Musk has had a great year. He was named Fortune Magazine’s 2013 Business Person of the Year based on the success of Tesla Motors’ new electric vehicle. Revenue at the company skyrocketed during the first three quarters of 2013, and as of late December the stock has increased by five times it’s January 2013 start price. In spite of several recent battery fires in the Model S vehicle, NTHSA has reaffirmed their five star safety rating for 2014. Musk used his proceeds from selling PayPal to Ebay in 2002, to fund this business along with his two other companies, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and SolarCity.
SpaceX’s mission is to design, manufacture and launch advanced rockets and space craft, thereby revolutionizing space travel in a way that enables interplanetary life. They are developing reusable rockets that can make multiple trips between the earth and outer space, drastically reducing the cost of travel. This makes space travel similar to commercial airlines, where one airplane is capable of tens of thousands of trips. Solar City provides clean energy to customers at a lower cost than coal, oil and natural gas.
Musk has the capability to reconceptualize the way things work. He doesn’t just push on the boundaries of the possibilities, he reconstructs them. With SpaceX, he didn’t simply pick up where the U.S. space program left off; he reframed the concept of space travel. Chris Anderson, curator of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) describes Musk in a recent Fortune article as possessing the ability to make decisions that are “technically possible…economically intelligent, and…experientially satisfying.” This is supported by a deeply held conviction of how the world should be, and the ability to convince others of his perspective. He is heavily involved in detailed decisions at his companies, while at the same time looking broadly at the overall system of how things work.
Patrick Soon-Shiong is a Chinese physician who immigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago from South Africa. His U.S. medical career started when he was recruited to UCLA, where he was a well published researcher, a groundbreaking transplant surgeon, and most importantly, inventor of Abraxane, a cancer fighting drug. Forbes reported his net worth at around $9 billion, making him #45 on their September 2013 400 Richest Americans list.
According to the story by David Whitford in Fortune’s December 9, 2013 issue, Soon-Shiong’s business endeavors began in 1998 when he pieced together enough money to purchase a generic drugmaker. He turned the company around and used the profits to fund the development of Abraxane. A decade later he sold the company and used his profits to purchase a share of the Los Angeles Lakers, and with his wife joined Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s giving pledge as major philanthropists in the medical arena.
Most importantly though, Soon-Shiong is using his wealth to support his conviction in the power of transformative medicine. He’s used $700 million of his own money (and partnered with others), to buy small companies with the intent of leveraging the latest technologies to help physicians and researchers develop new therapies to diagnose and treat life threatening diseases like cancer.
This conviction is a life passion and a mission for him. He sees the world in a systems integrated approach, and his vision is reportedly sometimes greater than his capability to express it. This is his plan to change the practice of medicine and thereby change the world.
Musk and Soon-Shiong each have a rather unique philosophy about how to apply technology to world problems, and to essentially change the way we live. Their capability as demonstrated by past business successes, has built a level of confidence (and cash) that enabled them to further develop and pursue these beliefs, and resulted in a strongly held conviction about what the future should be like. Both have the ability to view a large system along with its component pieces, and use that view to drive change. They’re persuasive, possess a drive to persevere, and believe in what some might call audacious change, a trait held by other serial disrupters like Steve Jobs. Instead of adjusting to the world’s way of thinking, they’re trying to make the world adjust to their way of thinking.
So what is your strongly held conviction about your environment; your surroundings; the people, tools and systems you interact with? What do you strongly believe that will benefit others and change the way we work and operate? Scale it to your area of influence and capability, and identify the catalyst to move you forward in this area. It could be a theory on life, a process, a service, or a product…something that excites you. Review all your experiences, because they have served a purpose to bring you to the point you’re at now. As you begin a new year, resolve to take action on your convictions. Let them be the catalyst to your success.
Read the Fortune Magazine story on Elon Musk here.
Read the Fortune Magazine story on Patrick Soon-Shiong here.
Photo from iStockphoto
2013 Copyright Priscilla Archangel