Mar 082012

I recently reviewed the book Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen. While written about making businesses great, I believe they have perhaps inadvertently written one of the best books on improving oneself. I am taking the next few posts to lay the case of how we can ourselves be Great By Choice.

Collins and Hansen’s last behavior of great companies is Return On Luck. Luck, as defined by the authors, is an event that occurs independent of the one’s actions, has significant consequence (good or bad), and is unpredictable. There is, of course, both good and bad luck. What surprised them in their research is that the 10X companies did not experience more good luck or less bad luck than their competitors. In short, it isn’t the luck that you get, it is what you do with it.

We all have what we consider to be luck, both good and bad, in our lives. How we respond to the luck has a lot to do with our character and the other traits described in Great by Choice. Obtaining return on luck takes dedication and foresight. How we handle bad luck is even more telling than good luck. After all, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” That is all about luck.

One point that the authors make that resonated with me is what they call “Who Luck”. This is the luck of finding the right mentor, partner, teammate, leader or friend. They maintain the best way to maintain a strong current of good luck is to associate with great people and build strong relationships with them. When luck turns bad, they will be there to help out. When times are good, they will share unselfishly. This is what building a professional network is all about. I have had the thrill of having a large amount of Who Luck. It seems everywhere I turn, people are eager to help me.

The authors recommend throwing ourselves at luck events, using all the other behaviors of success: the 20 mile march, firing bullets, then cannonballs, staying above the Death Line and maintaining the SMaC rules. By employing these skills, the most can be made of any kind of luck. Do I consider my experience of being laid off as bad luck? Yes, but it is also one of the best experiences of my life. The results the subsequent experiences have changed my life for the better. I was able to use the experience to my advantage and built a wonderful network of people who helped and an provided more profitable experiences than I could have ever hoped.

So, when regardless whether life hands us a lemon or a rose, take it and use all the skills to make it into something even more wonderful. Don’t get discouraged. The experience can be, in time and with work, some of the best luck ever experienced. Keep in mind the importance of Return On Luck.

Great By Choice Personal Improvement Series

Great By Choice: Personal Success In Reach
Great By Choice: The 20 Mile March
Great By Choice: Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs
Great By Choice: Leading Above the Death Line
Great By Choice: SMaC

Great By Choice: Return On Luck

Jun 102011

After moving twice in six months, I'm sick of boxes.

Naturally, packing ones family up and moving to a different state is a pivot point. This was a major life upheaval for everyone. For awhile I wondered if my children would ever forgive me.

The events leading to this pivot started a couple years ago. I had a good job in Boise, doing what I liked with a great team of some of the smartest people I know. However, I was worried. The company I worked for continued to lose money year after year and didn’t seem to have a plan that would reverse the trend. The recession had really hit Boise hard and it was reported nearly 10,000 IT professionals had been laid off, all struggling to find a job. After my experience five years earlier, the last thing I wanted was to be in that situation. As things worsened at work, I started thinking more seriously about changing jobs.

After many discussions, my wife and I decided to widen the search and consider locations beyond Boise. Shortly after, I interviewed for a position in Salt Lake City. Initially, we decided against it and turned the offer down. However, three months later, they contacted me again and asked me to reconsider. By that time, things had worsened at my current company and I felt an immediacy to taking another position. I accepted the job and we began to plan our move.

Long story short, it was not the easiest move. We couldn’t sell our house in Boise. I commuted on weekends for ten months before we finally moved the family down in time for school, leaving an empty, unsold house behind. My wife was blessed to find a great job almost immediately. We enrolled the kids in new schools and held our breath.

The kids made a rapid transition to their new schools and friends. I had committed the unforgivable sin of moving my daughter for her senior year. I was very worried about her, but by November, she had decided returning to Boise wasn’t an option. My son discovered singing and drama, participating in two musicals during the school year. Over one year later, I have to say this transition is a success.

This pivot is very interesting to me. Unlike the other pivots I have written about, this was a conscious, planned change. There were many unknown aspects that scared us silly, but we knew this was the right thing to do. That knowledge helped us through the tough times. I would be ungrateful if I didn’t acknowledge God’s hand as well. We experienced miracle after miracle throughout the transition. Some of the greatest came last February. We were renting, with no real plans to buy a house until later this summer. However, THE house appeared on the market.

I listed a dozen seemingly insurmountable roadblocks that would have to be cleared before we could buy a house. One of the largest was our house in Boise had to be rented. Another huge one was the house we wanted to buy was a bank-owned property and those were taking anywhere from six to eight months before they would even accept an offer. Within 7 days, every roadblock had been resolved. We closed on the house three weeks after we first saw it and moved in a week later. How’s that for miraculous? We are supposed to be in this house.

I have no idea where this pivot point is going to take us. It is way too soon to tell, but I believe this is really going to be a great change for the entire family. The opportunities here far outweigh the cost of making the move. A new adventure seems to be presenting itself almost on a daily basis. I am so glad I made this pivot.

Jun 062011

Layoff is one of the most feared words in the English language. Through no fault of their own, the job has disappeared. Layoffs are usually unexpected, traumatic and devastating to both the family and individual being let go. No one wants to be laid off.

I was laid off from the small software company I worked for back in 2004. Perhaps I was nuts, but I actually volunteered. The company was laying off 40% and I didn’t believe for a minute that would be the end of it. As a manager, I knew it was coming and had a view of the future most didn’t. I knew our parent was planning to sell the company. The severance package being offered was not likely to get better with the next round, so I decided to take it.

Starting in mid-January, I became unemployed. I took a vacation with the family and a little time for myself. On the surface, this may have looked foolish, but we had the money from the weeks and weeks of unused vacation time I had accrued. Since I hadn’t taken the time with the family earlier, they deserved it. We had a wonderful time and it was very relaxing, especially knowing nothing was piling up back at the office. Yes, I had that nagging concern of not having a job to go back to, but the severance package went a long way to keeping those feelings at bay. I had a year’s cash in the bank.

In March, I began investigating franchises, thinking I wanted to start my own company.Over the next few months, I looked at several, but couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on any of them. I came very close to one, literally a day away from signing. However, I developed second thoughts and backed out. I decided owning a franchise wasn’t for me. It was time to find a job.

It quickly became apparent that I hadn’t developed a network over the years. I had to start from scratch. With the help of a great coach, Paulette Esposito, I began networking in earnest. Through the summer of 1994, I met with over 125 fascinating people in all walks of life, position and places. It was an education in people and I had a front row seat.

In October, I finally got the break I had been hoping for. Through a networking contact, a job was created for me, where I was the only applicant. Those are the odds I was praying for. Corporate America being what it is, it still took until the following February for all the paperwork to come through and actually start the job. I worked a temp job while waiting, but I remember the wonderful feeling of getting back to the status of “full time employee.”

So why tell this long story? The pivot point for me was that long year out of work. Being unemployed is not something I would wish on anyone. However, the experience is not something I would trade, either. I learned so much about myself through that year. That learning has changed the way I look at myself, my career and my skills completely.

I discovered I love meeting people. I thrive on it. I have said more than once if I could find a way to make networking pay, I would do it full time. Learning stories and making connections to solve problems is the most gratifying work I have ever done.

What was really exciting was when I could start helping others by connecting them with people I had already met. This happened a few times, most notably when I was able to connect a woman in the Department of Education to a man in the Board of Education, who had told me the week before he had solved the exact problem she was facing. The relief on her face was priceless.

I also learned one of my strengths is mentoring and helping people. I recognized it through my meeting with people and telling my story. When asked for their advice, they would parrot back to me this skill I hadn’t recognized as valuable. I thought every manager grew the people they led, advised them on their careers and coached them to greater productivity. As they told me it wasn’t the norm, I discovered those were the skills I most wanted to use. These conversations gave me confidence and trust in myself that set me up for success when the opportunity did come along.

Odd as it may sound, I treasure the year I was out of work. I learned more about myself during those months than I thought possible. While the time was stressful for both me and my family, the introspection set me up for greater success later. This is one pivot I will appreciate forever.