Posts Tagged ‘Change’

Take RisksContinuing with periodic posts in December about the major lessons learned throughout 2013, today I turn my attention to the matter of taking risks. Each of us takes risks daily to some extent. We do so in relationships we establish, goals we pursue, changes we attempt, causes we promote, work we devote much time to, and incalculable other small decisions made consciously or unconsciously. Some also choose to take more obvious risks on a grander scale that may be devastating or even deadly if unsuccessful.

We all live somewhere on a risk continuum and our perception of where we are on that continuum may or may not match others’ perception of the risk. It is difficult for me to imagine being on the extremely risk averse end of the continuum if I desire to make an impact in any area of life. Always playing it safe doesn’t appeal to me very much. There are too many needs and too much potential out there to stay only in the confines of the immediate, familiar, comfortable surroundings that bring little sense of risk.

I wrote about a month ago on the subject of taking chances and wrote in that post about the risk I felt launching the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat in September for business professionals involved in their company’s enterprise social networks. I won’t repeat all of that content here, but as I reflect on 2013 and major lessons learned, the importance of taking that risk deserves a place in the top few lessons of the year.

The impact of that effort continues to grow in importance not just for me personally and professionally, but, I believe, for a much larger network of professionals worldwide. It has the potential of being a positive force in advancing the field of enterprise social networking – not so much because of what I’m doing, but because of the amazing people who are now involved with that weekly chat, and the value of their pooled insights being recorded week after week from which others can also benefit. It is filling a gap that I perceived to be there earlier this year. The success of the chat confirms that the gap is being filled.

I wouldn’t know some incredible kindred spirits around the globe I now know and communicate with weekly without taking the public risk of starting that Twitter chat. I would not learn weekly all that I’m learning for my own professional development and to help my company without taking that risk. As a side note, I am thrilled at the uptick in the quantity of requests for interviews, articles and speaking engagements that are coming my way as a result of contacts made over the past few months. That isn’t why I started the chat, but it does seem to be a consequence that will bring yet more opportunities to meet and work with some wonderful people I would not otherwise know.

In whatever area of your life you may be considering taking a risk, I encourage you to do your due diligence in weighing the possible outcomes. I also plead with you to not always follow the age-old advice of erring on the side of caution. You shouldn’t take enormous, life-changing risks daily, but you probably ought to do so at least periodically. For me, 2013 will be remembered in part as the year I started #ESNchat – perhaps a small things in the eyes of most, but a pretty big deal for me.

In the earlier post mentioned above about taking chances, I wrote:

“Sure, it’s possible that things might not turn out the way you wish. Taking the chance may cost you. But not taking chances is also costly. The minimum price you pay for avoiding risk is the uncertainty of never knowing whether you would have succeeded or not. The actual cost may be far greater.”

I’d rather take a risk and know if I fail or succeed instead of play it safe and never know what might have been. I’m grateful that one of the major lessons learned for 2013 for me is this: take risks.

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Tweet: “Take Risks” – blog post by @JeffKRoss –> http://ctt.ec/8nm0c+ #risk

Go Ahead – Take a Chance!

Posted: November 10, 2013 in Risk
Tags: , , ,

diceWhen was the last time you really took a chance and tried something significant with no guarantee of success? Maybe it was related to your career. Perhaps it was taking a huge step in a relationship with someone. It might have involved financial risk or a shift in educational direction or geographic location. The last big chance you took might have been physically risky or mentally challenging beyond your comfort zone or embracing some belief you had previously resisted for years. Whatever comes to mind from your history of taking chances, how long has it been since you took such a leap? How did it work out?

Most of us have no interest in living in a constant state of uncertainty, moving from one major risky move to another day in and day out. The emotional toll of that kind of constant behavior would be too great, not to mention the other likely costs when several risks don’t work out positively. But if we aren’t careful, we can easily talk ourselves out of taking chances that we, in fact, ought to take.

Here’s an example of a chance I took recently…

As a community manager for a company’s enterprise social network (ESN), I value interacting with and learning from those in other companies who share similar responsibilities and interests. I belong to different organizations that allow me to be in touch with many social media professionals who share similar passions. However, earlier this summer I realized that there was no ongoing, regular opportunity for those of us responsible for ESNs to get together and share ESN-specific expertise. There are such opportunities for those who may use a particular vendor for their ESN, but not one vendor-neutral frequent gathering place for all in the field regardless of industry, vendor used or geographic location.

So I did my homework, talked with a few trusted colleagues, and then decided to launch the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat in early September. I purchased relevant Web domain names, reserved the Twitter handle @ESNchat, started planning initial discussion topics, and began promoting it through various avenues. I felt like I had a decent idea, planned it out and tried my best to get it off the ground, but there was a giant unknown – would anyone actually show up and take part? Would it be a giant bust that left egg on my face for failing miserably and publicly?

When the first chat day rolled around and the time was getting close, I was more nervous than I recall about any other situation in recent memory. Ask me to speak to hundreds or thousands of people at a time and I’ll do it without a care in the world. Put me on live TV teaching or preaching and I’m as comfortable as chatting with friends in my living room. But in the moments before launching that Twitter chat with an unknown and possibly nonexistent audience, my stomach was in knots.

Fortunately, about 25 wonderful people showed up that first week and we’ve had great chats weekly since then. I have developed some new relationships with people across several continents from various industries as a result. Other opportunities to speak or be interviewed for articles have come to pass through connections made and I expect far more of those kinds of things in the months to come. In fact, I’m thinking that 2014 may need to be the year that I finally write a book on the subject or at least collaborate with others to write one together to advance the field of enterprise social networking.

So there’s my example of a business-related chance that I took a couple of months ago that is turning out well. I have no idea where it will go in the months and years ahead, but I’m hopeful that the chance I took makes a positive difference in the field over time, regardless of whether I may personally benefit from it or not.

As you’ve been reading this, perhaps you’ve had one or two chances you’ve been considering taking come to mind. They are surely very different than the one I described above, but they are potentially significant for you. So what will you do? Will you take a chance and act on the idea?

Sure, it’s possible that things might not turn out the way you wish. Taking the chance may cost you. But not taking chances is also costly. The minimum price you pay for avoiding risk is the uncertainty of never knowing whether you would have succeeded or not. The actual cost may be far greater.

I don’t know anything about the chances you’re considering taking or whether you should do so or not. I suspect, though, that a lot of people reading this will do more than just satisfy an urge or random curiosity by taking a chance they’re considering. It may well be that taking that risk is exactly what you need to change an important part of your life forever.

I’m not suggesting you be flippant, fail to consider the possible cost or fail to plan. I’m just encouraging you to consider taking a chance at something important to you even in the face of uncertainty. I suspect many (and maybe most) of life’s greatest adventures and accomplishments begin that way.

It is what it isEvery now and then I hear someone resign themselves to the perceived reality of a situation by saying with a bit of a sigh, “It is what it is.”  When I hear that (imagining the voice of Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore character), it is usually offered as a concluding statement that indicates there is no hope for changing the situation.  The implication is that we just need to accept it and move on.  Others present in the room when such a pronouncement is made typically nod in agreement and the conversation ends because, after all, “It is what it is.”

Or is it?

While I don’t claim that we will always be successful changing the circumstances about which we tend to say “It is what it is,” I want to encourage you to not automatically accept the statement as the final word.

What if it doesn’t have to be the way that it is?  What if all that is needed is for one or more determined, hard-working people to put in the effort to transform the situation into something entirely different?  What if it can be changed, but nobody has invested the time, energy and resources to make it happen?

I may be OK (reluctantly) with accepting a situation as “the way it is” if I know I have first done everything in my power to try to change it, but I really shouldn’t accept unwanted situations until I have exerted every bit of effort I can muster to make a positive impact.  As the graphic above suggests, there is always the possibility of making a difference in our future reality.

Don’t resign yourself to unfortunate circumstances under the false assumption that “It is what it is.”  Work hard (and pray) to change what is into what it can become.

Cat Bad DecisionWhat do you do when you realize you’ve made a bad decision?  I hate saying “it depends,” but correcting bad decisions really does depend on the significance of the decision and the reality of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It isn’t always easy, quick or possible to correct a previous bad choice.

Some decisions are mundane and easy to change.  If I make a wrong turn driving to a destination, I simply find a way to turn around and head in the right direction.  No harm, no foul.  On a more significant level, if I’m in school and realize I’m in the wrong degree program, I switch majors to head down a better path, understanding that there may be consequences such as more time spent in school and more cost because of my decisions.  If I accept a new job offer and then find myself working with colleagues or a company far from what I envisioned, I have to decide whether to try to make the best of it and improve that situation, or start the process of changing jobs once again.  If you’re an employer and realize you’ve hired the wrong person, what kind of sticky situation have you just created for yourself?  Do you follow the adage, “Hire slow, fire fast”?  If I realize I’m in a bad relationship, it’s one thing to change if you’ve only been dating someone for a short while versus being married where working on the relationship is more vital.

A few big-picture thoughts come to mind when I consider how to respond to situations born from bad decisions:

Bad DecisionsIt is best to reverse a bad decision quickly.  Allowing the negative consequences of bad decisions to linger, fester and continue to negatively impact the current situation may seem kindhearted and hopeful where other people are concerned, but it’s probably doomed.  Make the right call given the new understanding and move on.  Swallow any and all pride that may be keeping you from admitting the previous decision was wrong.  It’s OK to change your mind.

Get advice from others before major decisions.  Seek the wisdom of those who have traveled a similar path before.  Don’t rely just on what your best friends say because they may be biased in your favor to an unhelpful degree.  “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” – Proverbs 19:20.  “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” – Proverbs 12:15.  This won’t help you with bad decisions in the past, but it can help you avoid future blunders.

Some situations may not be reversible.  I have for decades appreciated and reminded myself of the saying, “You have control over your actions, but you have no control over the consequences of your actions.”  There is a lot of humbling truth in that.  I can’t control consequences, but I can control subsequent actions on my part.  Perhaps those subsequent actions will result in better consequences.

Learn from your mistakes.  If we’re honest, we can probably think of multiple occasions in our past when we’ve made the same type of mistake repeatedly.  We have friends who make the same kind of bad relationship choices over and over.  Some people follow the same pattern in job hopping from one place to the next for short tenures, always finding a way to blame others for their circumstances.  It is all too easy to allow hope and emotion to cloud better judgment, even though past experience should warn us that we’ve been down this failed path before.  Proverbs 19:20 quoted above presumes that as we listen to advice, accept instruction and follow it, we eventually gain wisdom from that cycle and from our experience that makes future decision making easier and more likely to be wise.

I’ve written a number of posts over the last couple of years related to decision making that you’ll find listed here.  I’ve written about it a lot because it is a process that never ends.  We make decisions daily.  We face the consequences of past decisions daily.  When all goes well and we’re basking in the glow of a good decision, life is good.  But when we come to the harsh realization that we’ve made a bad call – perhaps a very bad call with significant negative consequences – then it’s time to admit it and do something about it.

Does that ring true with any circumstance in your life right now?

Clearly Bad Decisions

SimplicityWe’re nearing the end of this five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana.  Those values, again, are:

I’ve also written about the helpfulness of using these values in decision making.

With five excellent, simply stated values such as these, it’s hard to have a favorite, but today’s subject of Pioneer Simplicity may be my favorite of the bunch.  Why is that?  Why is this value important?  How can I model it and encourage it in others?

At a personal level, I’m a fairly simple guy.  I live in my modest 70-year-old Cape Cod home that I would happily empty of half its contents.  I drive a 12-year-old car that I will drive until it has no more miles left in it for anyone to drive.  I try to live out my core values of faith, family, hard work, integrity and kindness daily.  I’m planning to cut my hair back to a buzz cut or shaved completely soon because I’m tired of messing with it.  My happiest trash pickup days are the ones where I’ve cleared out more clutter from the home or garage that we haven’t needed or used in years.  One or two weeks a year I book a room at a monastery for an extended period of reading, silence, solitude, rest, reflection, study and renewal.

I am perfectly happy having a few slices of bread and butter or peanut butter and crackers for dinner.  I like my personal spaces at home, work or on the drive between the two to be clean and orderly.  I want no drama queens or kings complicating my daily existence.  I subscribe to the most basic cable service available for $15 a month that gets me 24 channels.  You will rarely catch me spending $4-5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks (which should have been named “Five Bucks”) because I prefer my hot tea with honey in the morning, water in the afternoon, and my nightly luxury of one soft drink. I have an extremely low tolerance level for institutions, organizations and processes that are unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

So when I consider the value Pioneer Simplicity, it resonates with me personally.  Still, I know that there is more I can do to model this value in my personal life.  I could still have far fewer things.  I could be less dependent on technology.  I could choose not to fill every waking hour of the day with things to do from my unending task list.

Professionally, my perception of this value is shaped greatly by the fact that my company is a large, Fortune 100 company, over 50 years old, in a highly-regulated industry, with about 45,000 employees scattered all across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  It is probably inevitable that as companies grow, they get more complicated.  Processes get new steps tacked on to the simpler steps that accomplished them before.  New concerns and fears spawn new steps, processes, approvals, policies, restrictions and the corresponding frustrations that go with them.  But is all of that really necessary and beneficial?  I doubt it.

Old ways of thinking and those who harbor them tend to hang on for dear life when challenged by newcomers, outsiders and others more concerned with getting things done than with getting things done in a certain way.  Turf wars linger.  Silos emerge.  Barriers get erected that stifle creativity, innovation, ingenuity and fluidity.  If companies aren’t careful, they eventually morph into complicated, bureaucratic, hierarchical, controlling entities more concerned with protecting tradition and process than they are with accomplishing their business objectives in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

That’s why it is a beautiful thing to stop in the midst of a convoluted, complicated process and ask, “How does this pioneer simplicity?  What can we do to simplify this for ourselves as employees and for our customers to improve their experience?”  We need to develop the habit of asking these questions in conversations and meetings before bad, complicated processes get written in stone.  Let’s start thinking of radically simple ways of doing what we are charged with doing.

Take corporate policies, for instance.  How many internal policies are so detailed that it would take one’s full-time effort just to be aware of the details we are supposedly adhering to, much less to actually abide by them?  By attempting to imagine every scenario and respond via policy update to every unfortunate situation that occurs, we try to take simple human thought and accountability out of daily decision making, thereby dehumanizing the environment and constricting creativity.  This is an area where I’d like to know how many pages of policies we actually have on file, and then mandate that they all be simplified to no more than 1/10th their current size, maybe no more than one page each.  If you can’t explain something to me simply in a way I can grasp it, that’s your problem, not mine.

What about the processes we follow by choice or my mandate?  What would happen if individuals and departments selected just one process that they believe to be too complicated or time-consuming, and worked on simplifying it?  Do all of those approvals really have to happen in that order over that time frame via that method, or can we empower the people we have hired to make decisions to do things in the manner they deem best within, of course, the confines of state and federal regulatory requirements?  Similarly, do we have to lock down our technology devices to such a degree that many employees have better tools and software at home to work with than they have at work?

I don’t know what processes and policies contradict the value of simplicity for other areas of our company, but you can rightly deduce from the above examples that the ones that most often cause our team to bang our heads against the wall are related to restrictive policies, time-consuming approval processes, and efforts to control technology to the point of keeping us from doing our jobs efficiently and effectively.  We still find ways to get things done and to do them well, but there is room for improvement.  Your experience may be very different.

As we consider this value, let’s not forget the verb in the phase Pioneer Simplicity.  The word pioneer brings to mind those daring people of old who didn’t wait for others to lead.  They took off in directions uncharted because they believed in the value of the adventure and the potential of what that exploration might yield.  With or without others, they weren’t afraid to try something new.  They faced the danger.  They left behind the familiar.  Perhaps they suffered some along the way, but in the end, our world is a better place because of their efforts.

There is an elegance and beauty in simplicity.  For ourselves personally and professionally, we really should try it more often.

Pioneer simplicity.