Sometimes I envy those who are satisfied traveling alone on life’s journeys. How easy is that? You get to choose where you want to go, which route to take, what pace you want to travel. You don’t have to convince anyone else. You don’t have to build consensus.
I often think about this in business terms. One of the reasons that I’ve been involved with six startups is for this very reason. I’m confident that I understand developing market trends, especially around digital marketing. I set the vision and off I go. Along the way, I take on partners and companions but the vision has already been set and people are joining the journey because they agree with the business plan.
Much more difficult is changing the direction of your journey midstream with a new vision. Now, you must convince people who didn’t initially sign up for the “new” vision. It has to be compelling and yet simple enough for everyone to understand. You need to be patient, persuasive, thick-skinned and articulate. And in many cases, you have to admit that the original direction that was set was wrong. Basically, you need to be a leader, which is hard work.
I respect those effective managers who are able to implement a new strategic direction that keep large organizations viable. They move people, which is the only way to move “mountains”. This article, “Good Leaders Acknowledge What Can’t Be Done” (Harvard Business Journal), explains how ”even when things clearly aren’t going right, strong psychological tendencies keep the average leader from admitting it and correcting course.”
The ability to acknowledge that a new strategy is needed is in of itself quite a unique skill. Then, to course-correct and effectively take a whole oragnization on a new journey would be showing superior leadership skills. Think about all the great corporate turnarounds today (Starbucks, IBM, Apple, etc), and the companies that need new strategic direction right now but are struggling to make changes (i.e. publishing companies). The difference is in the leadership.
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People often ask me how they might find their “passion” in their careers. Simple question that is difficult to answer.
I’m a firm believer in being passionate about what a person does. However, many people think that they only have the ONE true passion in their lives. It’s kind of like finding that one “soul mate”. In either case, I believe there is more than one potential option. And in both cases, it is committment that creates fulfillment.
We all have the potential to have passions in different careers. As a young man, I would have never thought that I could be so passionate about company-buiding as I am today. I was passionate about sports and wanted to be a sports journalist. I’m still a big sports fan and may have had a passionate career as a sports writer. But in my life journey, I found another more compelling passion.
When people are young, I recommend trying different things. Then, narrow the focus to things that you are really good at — or have the potential to be really good. Also, pay attention to tasks that really focus your attention, where you often lose yourself in the work. These are areas where you can get into your “zone”, when time flies and you reach a high level of productivity. You probably can find your passion in those types of work.
Then, when you make a career choice, commit to it. Many people are always looking around to see if there is a better opportunity. Life is always full of other options, but you can only be passionate if you commit to a direction.
A few of us are lucky and discover our passion young in life, maybe as an artist, musician or as a teacher. For the rest of us, we need to be deliberate about recognizing what we are good at and then making a commitment.
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One way to understand the level of development of an economy is by the availability of paper napkins and/or tissues in local restaurants.
When I had lived in Seoul in the late 1980′s, it was really difficult to get decent-sized paper napkins at local restaurants. If lucky, you would be given a small single-ply piece. Please understand that Korean food can be very messy to eat with the red sauces. I remember my American female friends treating soft tissue from the states like they were strips of gold. Now, napkins and tissues are relatively abundant in Korea.
Even in the UK back in the 1990′s, I remember my wife complaining about the lack of quality paper napkins at some restaurants. Things have improved a lot since then. Of course, at nice restaurants you would get the cloth napkins there.
Now, as I visit Vietnam frequently, I’m usually in search of bigger-sized paper napkins (unless at Western style restaurants). What Vietnam restaurants do, however, is provide pre-packaged wet towels. This is very convenient given the tropical weather. These are placed in front of you but if you use them, you are charged extra for them. So, technically there still aren’t good free paper napkins.
Of course, this is all from an American perspective, where we consume an embarrassingly disproportional percentage of the world’s natural resources. Go to any fast food restaurant and watch people grab handfuls from the unlimited supply of napkins, much of which is never used before being thrown away.
I once heard a story while in Korea about a man who would use a paper napkin and then put it back into his pocket. This was truly a frugal man who would re-use his napkin again.
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