Posts Tagged ‘ambition’

Mei-Li has a Ph.D. and works for one of the biggest communication companies in the world. Originally from China, she has been in Silicon Valley, California for the majority of her adult life. Married with two children Mei-Li is very happy. However, she has been facing a very challenging dilemma for many years: Though she is happy, successful and fulfilled in her life as it is, she’s concerned that she should do more – be more.

Mei-Li observes her boss focusing most of his attention on getting ahead; she sees other women at her level of management working for the next promotion, the next level of leadership and responsibility. “I don’t want an increase in responsibility; I don’t want to work that hard; I don’t like talking with people that much that I want to move to the next level of management. But, should I want to? Is there something wrong with me that I don’t want to do that? I’m afraid there’s something very wrong with me.”

As Mei-Li shares with me over many coaching sessions, her consistency of feelings and truths about what’s true for her has me coach her to see the dilemma she is currently constrained by. On the one hand, Mei-Li loves her job and the team she manages. She has the free time she needs to be available to her children and to her husband in a way that fits best with her sense of the quality relationship she wants. She isn’t stressed and unnerved by unmet deadlines. She’s actually one of the 10% of the workforce that actually is fulfilled in her career.

On the other hand, Mei-Li’s culture married with our Western culture attempts to move people into work that isn’t their’s to do. Mei-Li watches people spend more time being people pleasers than effective employees of this company and she finds this frustrating and confusing. “People aren’t getting their work done while they are schmoosing for a promotion. Should I be doing that? The fact is, I don’t like schmoosing; I don’t like going to cocktail parties, playing golf or any of those other social things that you are supposed to do if you want to get ahead. I’m a pretty reclusive person who enjoys my life the way it is. But, I feel like I should be doing more.”

Many of us face this dilemma of being more – doing more; at the same time actually finding fulfillment in what we are doing right now. But, aren’t we supposed to want more money and power? Aren’t we supposed to want the bigger office, more contact with the more influential people of the world? Aren’t we supposed to want more?

My sense is, and I shared this with Mei-Li in our session, that what people want is to get to a place where there is fulfillment in their work and personal life – that there is balance with health and happiness. I believe that most people want what Mei-Li has. She already has it. Though the current within the corporate structure drags many people in its undertow toward some fantasy life that is wrought with a lot of what they don’t want to do and perhaps aren’t really cut out to be with, there are few who willingly choose health and fulfillment with what they have, what they do and how they be.

Mei-Li laughs as she begins to see a bigger picture – one that allows her free choice to choose for herself what’s hers to do. She laughs to hear that what people are struggling for is what she already has. She laughs as she realizes that she is presently free to choose to be happy in the life she has created and if in the future she feels inspired to grow her career toward greater degrees of leadership and responsibility, she can do that.

Mei-Li isn’t out of the current, and as long as she is in the corporate environment there will always be that field of influence. The degree to which she can stay aligned with her commitment to well-being and fulfillment in her career, the stronger her dedication and the less pull this will have on her.

Christopher, who I spoke of a few weeks ago, shared with me that if he could do anything he would work with inner city kids, teaching them math and computer skills. Then, the litany of “Why I Can’t Leave My Job and Give Up Everything I Worked For” began. There was no stopping him; the who would pay the mortgage, who would take care of my parents, I’d have to give up my addiction to Siamese cats; on and on, fully engaged in the undertow of a make believe reality, for too many, is actually real.

Mei-Li has found an eddy for now where she is out of the stream of influence by others. She is finding herself – the one she believes she has to continually pursue. It takes strength and courage to step out of the normal way of being for the sake of what we are all striving for – well-being and fulfillment in our careers. Kind of crazy when you think about it! Perhaps the pursuit of Mei-Li has come to a happy ending; right here where she has been, but now enjoying it to a much larger degree!

Over the last three years, I’ve asked hundreds of business owners this question:

What’s Been Harder in Your Business Than You Expected?

More than 95% of the time, the answer was immediate and unequivocal:

The People!

Jason Colleen owns Colleen Concrete and when I interviewed him he employed about 50 people.  Jason’s response to the question captured the essence of what I heard over and over again.  He said,

“I didn’t expect so many headaches to come from the employees.  Every little problem they have somehow becomes my problem.  People are just so high maintenance.”

Dealing with employees seems to be a universal challenge.  The truth is, people have issues and the more employees you have, the more issues you have.  But there’s another truth as well, and that is:

Great Companies Grow One Person at a Time

Or more precisely, great companies grow one great person at a time.  One of the things I’ve discovered in my own business and in the experience of the owners I’ve interviewed is that you can’t stack enough good people up to make a great one.  Good simply isn’t good enough.  Great people are far more likely than good people to do three things on a consistent basis:

  1. Initiate: Fundamentally, initiative is thought or action that is not prompted by others.  It’s the ability to assess independently and the willingness to take charge before others do.  The soul of initiative is an intensely active engagement – engagement with the company, client, problem or opportunity.  Initiative requires thought, which as Henry Ford said, is probably the hardest work we do.
  2. Stretch: Stretch is about setting your sights higher, much higher, than what seems reasonably achievable. Unless there is a critical mass of people in your company that are willing to reach for incredible, you’ll never achieve incredible.  When you stretch, even if you fall a bit short of incredible, you will inevitably wind up doing better than you would have if you didn’t stretch.
  3. Grow: Employees usually have an expectation that you’ll pay them more next year than you paid them this year.  But why would you?  The only logical reason would be that they contribute more next year than they did this year.  Great employees get that.  They’re always looking for ways to make themselves more valuable.  They improve their skills; they learn how to use new tools; they take classes to expand their knowledge.

That’s what great people look like.  Now, I’m not saying these great people won’t also have some issues.  But if I have to deal with people issues, I’d prefer to be dealing with the issues of highly productive contributors as opposed to the issues of the mediocre, uninspired or disengaged.

You will not finish reading this post.

Its in the statistics.

You will not make it to the end of this article without being distracted…

The true scarce resource of humanity: Attention

Nicolas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains”, says that it is extremely hard to manage attention.   We will get distracted before the 3 minutes that it will take to read this post.  This problem is growing as distractions multiply exponentially in our always-connected, web 2.0 world.

I look around me now as I travel on the underground train (the “tube”) through London today.  I see the person sitting across from me reading a newspaper, white ipod headphones in her ears and sms-ing on what looks like an Android touch screen phone.  She is receiving stimulus from the world, mainlining stimulus through all senses, maxing out on input.  I look up and around the carriage.  Everybody has a mobile out and sending and receiving electronic updates.  It is so very easy to pass through life in constant reaction to stimulus.

Distractions are Costly

“Distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another – stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance – increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%, a phenomenon known as “switching time”. It’s far more efficient to fully focus for 90 to 120 minutes, take a true break, and then fully focus on the next activity.”  Tony Schwartz, Manage your energy, not your time – Harvard Business Review.

The evidence from psychology is clear.  Interruptions have a major detrimental effect on your productivity.  School does not have classes on focus, on cutting out the email, facebook, twitter, mobile phone calls and concentrating for extended periods on something driven by me, something that is not a reaction to a tweet or a status update or a call.  This is a skill that you need to decide to learn for yourself.

There are times for distractions

There are times when letting the distractions in can be fun and necessary.  Total focus is not a state that you will want to spend all of your time in.  Responding to email, being aware of the action around you, twitter, facebook are part of being connected to the world around you.  However, in order to move beyond a permanent zombified state of reaction to incoming stimuli, you must develop the ability to create windows of focus in your life, where you really dedicate your attention for a specific time to one important task.

The ability to focus is something that great leaders and those that make a positive, lasting difference in this world need.

How do I improve my ability to focus?

Here are 10 ways of improving your ability to focus:

  1. Decide it is important – nobody else can do it for you.  Begin with small steps, your ability to focus will grow with practice.
  2. Cut out Obvious Distractions – Close down email, browser; clear your desk; get a glass of water.  Jim Collins talks about creating non-stimulus time.  He does not allow any electronic device in the same room as him before midday.  Start small. Do just 10 minutes today removing sources of distraction and focussing on one important task.
  3. Write things downReflective writing gives 3 powerful benefits:
    • Mindfulness
    • Improves clear thinking and
    • Allows perspective
  4. Set a timer – use the Pomodoro technique.  Set a timer for 10 minutes and do not let yourself stop working on the one task until the timer finishes.  Attention fitness takes time to grow, do less than you think you are capable of and accept that your capacity to focus will grow with time. Meditating Buddhist monks take 30 years before they are able to calm the flow of noise in their head and reach total focus.  Don’t get frustrated early on.  It will take time to grow your capacity to focus.  Like self discipline, focus grows with use.  Train like athletes preparing for a marathon: add 10% per week.
  5. Divide Actionable from non-Actionable itemsScott Belsky of Behance says that an actionable task starts with an action verb: “call A”, “buy a gift for B”, “follow up contract with C”.
  6. Take proper breaks. When you finish with your focus time, get up from your work area and really take a break.  Stretch, take a short walk, go outside and be with nature.  Opening a browser window and reading news or email is not a real break.
  7. Anticipate your physical needs. Go to the bathroom before you start your focus time.  Get a drink of water and put it on the table.  Make sure your chair is comfortable.
  8. Use Music – Listening to music helps me focus and cut out other distractions.
  9. Reward yourself. Celebrate small successes.  Eat some chocolate when you finish an important task.  Have a coffee only when you finish another 10 minutes of total focus.
  10. Do what Nike says – “Just Do It”.  Don’t let your resistance win.  When I start writing, I will not stop until I have written 500 words.  If I have to, I will write “I will keep writing, I will keep writing” until another idea comes to mind…  but I will not let myself stop.  Repeated practice has reduced the little voices in my head that say “why are you doing this?  Who is going to read this?  Who are you to be writing this stuff?”

You made it here?  3 minutes of attention?  That puts you in the small percentage of people who have found strategies to manage their attention in the overwhelming swarm of distractions that make up a typical life in the modern world.

The Origin of Leaders series

This series of posts has now looked at 6 of the powerful keys to unlocking leadership in your life and in the communities which matter to you:

In the next post I will start to look outside to how you affect those around you and scale and magnify the changes you wish to effect in the world

Stop.  Take a look around you.  Take a look at the people you work with, the people you meet at parties, even the people you just casually pass in the street.

How do they spend their days?

Most of them work.  They do some other activities as well. They sleep, eat, cook, hang out with friends, watch TV, play sport and some might play an instrument.  Nothing, however, comes close to the hours that they dedicate to work.

Now, honestly, how well do they do it?  Well enough to keep the job?  Maybe well enough to get a promotion every couple of years?  But are any of them great at what they do?  Truly world class?  Excellent?

Why?  How can they spend so much time at it, going through school, through university, maybe even an MBA, executive seminars, coaching, mentors, high-flyer programs…  but they are not great at what they do.

Why?  Some people have been working for 30, even 40 years.  After all these thousands of hours most people are no more than mediocre at what they do. This is sad.

Only two routes to get more done

There are two routes to double the output.  One is to work double the hours.  Instead of 4 hours, I give 8 hours.  I may get double the output.  It is unlikely.  The marginal utility reduces for each additional hour as tiredness and loss of focus become stronger.  There is also a physical limit to this approach.  I only have a limited number of hours in a day, in a week…  in a life.  So, I might increase today’s output by 20% or even 30% by adding hours, but this is not a healthy route.

Route two is to double the effectiveness of my hours.  How can I begin a process that continually increases the value of output of the hours that I give to a task or a job or a cause?

People who improve their effectiveness daily have two things in common:  they care about the outcome and they remain humble.

Care about the outcome

There is a Spanish saying that there is no good wind for a boat with no rudder.  Alice, when she reaches Wonderland asks White Rabbit “Which path should I take?”  White Rabbit replies “where are you going?”  Alice: “I don’t know.”  White Rabbit: “Then it doesn’t matter which path you take.”  Posts 1 and 2 in this series talked of Imagination and Ambition – about deciding and committing to a course of action, about clarity in what you seek to achieve.  If you don’t care where you are going, then effective learning is not going to happen.

Arrogance stifles growth, Humility enables growth

Learning requires change.  Change requires humility.  Humility does not come easily to successful people.  It did not come easy to me.

I was having drinks with a group of professors at IESE two weeks ago after playing football.  The conversation came around to “which program do you prefer to teach?”.  An MBA student at the table said “The MBA must be the best program to teach on.  Young, ambitious, successful people.  The senior director programs must be the hardest.  They must be so demanding.”

Alex said “No.  Years ago I preferred the MBA, but now I definitely prefer teaching the executive programs.  MBAs are typically 27, have done well in school, got to a top university, got a great job, done well, got into IESE MBA…  and believe they know everything.  The senior directors of 55 have learnt how little they really know.  They come humble.  They are aware of the value of education.  They come prepared and ready to apply the material into their lives.  The senior director programs are the most rewarding to teach.  MBAs are hard work”.

“Tinkering” and The Need for Deliberate Practice

The motto of the ActiveGarage is “Always tinkering”.  This is a great motto for this post on learning.  What is tinkering?  Playing with something.  Testing.  Changing inputs and looking to see what happens.

In school we do “book learning”.  We learn to memorize facts and to store those facts long enough to recall them during exams.

In life we do experiential learning.  We try, we fail, we reflect and we try again.  Tom Peters says that “the only source of good knowledge is bad experience.”  He is right.  The knowledge that a leader needs is not written in the textbooks.  It is not available from professors.  Textbooks, professors and gurus have there place.  They can help me make sense of my experience. Mentors, peers and coaches can play a crucial role in the process of experiential learning.  The can help me understand their experience.  However, there is no substitute for personal experience, for our own practice.

A science has been developing around the field of developing exceptional performance.  What leads to world class performance?  “Deliberate Practice.”

The 5 ingredients of Deliberate Practice and the 3 models of mastery is explored on The Rhetorical Journey blog.

Most problems we face in life are not solvable through thinking alone.  You have to try a few things and see how they work.  In business, you often have to try in a way that is visible to others.  Some of those others cannot wait to see you mess up and laugh at your attempt.  However you need the real world test in order to be able to reflect and refine your approach.  The person making 1% incremental improvements day after day will always beat the person looking to make a 40% improvement in one big step.  The humility of asking for help and sharing experience magnifies the value of the learning.

What do you think? Are you a “tinkerer?” How do you test and attempt incremental changes?

The next post in the series will combine Imagination, Ambition and Learning and look at what can only come from within a person.

On 9th August 2010, Ed Stafford arrived at the sea, having walked the length of the Amazon river.  Over 860 days of walking, 20,000 mosquito bites, 5,000 leeches, poisonous spiders and snakes.  No boss told him to do it.  Nobody paid him for it.  Why did he do it?  How did he keep going for almost 3 years?

Steve Jobs is worth billions.  He founded Apple with his friend Steve Wozniak.  Wozniak left 20 years ago worth millions.  Jobs is still there, still working, still pushing, still innovating new products.  Why?  What keeps him going?

Madonna was a star when I was 13.  She is still a star today.  She continues to tour, create new music, and maintain an exercise regime more intense than many professional athletes.  Why?

Ed, Steve and Madonna have ambition.  Each in a different way, each from their own source – but each have keep their own journeys going for long periods of time.

We began this series with a look at Imagination.  I called imagination the unique human skill.  However, an idea alone is worth nothing.  Execution is everything.  It is ambition that drives a person to keep going on the journey towards what they have imagined.

What is Ambition?

Where imagination guides the rudder, ambition powers the sails.  Knowing what to do but not doing it is the same as not knowing what to do. Dean Simonton, professor at USC-Davis says that: “Ambition is energy and determination. It calls for goals too.  People with goals but no energy are the ones who wind up sitting on the couch saying ‘One day I’m going to build a better mousetrap’. People with energy but no clear goals just dissipate themselves in one desultory project after the next.”

Ambition is the ability to transform purpose into disciplined action.  There are two components to this ability:

  • Visualization of the future – the mental effort to turn an idea into desire (imagination).  The clearer the image, the more powerful the feeling related to the image, the more powerful the energy.
  • Chunking – identifying the next simple step and taking it

A professional climber will look at a mountain and imagine what it will be like to achieve the summit.  He will begin climbing and shift focus to the single next hand movement, the next foot movement, the next breath…  the next meter…  but never more than the next meter during the journey.  Spain Ultraman? “just another 5 minutes… anybody can run another 5 minutes”.

Where does Ambition come from?

There is a genetic component – identical twins show a 30-50% overlap in their level of ambition.  There is an environmental component – FDR’s bout of polio gave him a sense of mission that led him to the presidency, Lance Armstrong survived cancer and won an unprecedented 9 tour de France victories.  Nando Parrado at age 19 was in a high altitude crash in the Andes, watched his friends and his sister and mother die – and when he walked out he took 100% ownership of his life.

Ambition is stronger in those that have a clear purpose in life

Nietzsche “Those with a clear why will overcome whatever how”.  To be good at what you do, you can depend on others…  but to be great, it must come from within.  You must find your source of ambition, the fire in the belly, the drive to give the last 1% that nobody else would notice if you didn’t give.  Only you can know.

Andre Agassi spoke about how he was number 1 in the world, playing great tennis…  and one day woke up and realized that he hated tennis.  It had lost meaning for him.  The goals of being number 1 were no longer important.  Over the next few months he dropped down to number 50 in the world and put on 10 kilos of weight.  After five months of drift he decided that he would open a school in his hometown.  He put effort into creating the foundation, fundraising and marketing the school.  He realized that his most powerful tool to further his aim of creating the school was playing tennis.  It was his most effective way of creating visibility and raising funds.  He returned to the top 10 and won 4 further US open titles.  He re-found a purpose that engaged him and gave him ambition.

One of the greatest books is Victor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning”, his autobiographical account of surviving the Nazi concentration camp system. 1 in 30 of those that entered the camp system survived.  Frankl saw that it was not random.  Those who survived had a purpose outside of themselves that kept them going, minute by minute, hour by hour as they overcame brutality upon brutality in the camp system.  Frankl identified the 3 sources of meaning and built a whole branch of psychiatry called logotherapy using tools to search for one of these 3 sources in each of our lives.

How to find your purpose?

What do you do that gives you energy?  What activities in your life seem to fly by?  You look forward to them when you know they are coming up.  You feel more energized afterwards.  I would ask that you do two things:

  1. Take a notebook and spend 5 minutes a day for 2 weeks and note down the specific activities  of that day that give you energy, and the specific activities that suck your energy.
  2. Say “no” more.

Identity – Marshall Goldsmith – what do you do because other people expect it of you, or you look to impress them.  What do you do that comes from within?

Mika de Waart says that we are driven by emotions.  “I should do more exercise”, “I should lose weight”, “I should get another job”…  are not driven by my own internal emotional drive – these are “shoulds”.  These are things that I want to do to impress others, to look good, to feel a significant member of my tribe.  Only when I convert a should into a must will it begin to be something that takes place in my life.  A must connects to my emotional inner life, into what is important for me.

How do I convert shoulds to musts?

Realize which are only ever going to be shoulds.  If you have 20 very important goals, you don’t have any.  If you have 1 or 2 then you have important goals.  If you don’t ever say “no” to people, then you are dividing yourself up into such small chunks that you will result in nothing real or lasting.  Let go of the shoulds that will never be more than shoulds.  Write them down on a piece of paper and set fire to the page.  Let them go.

“Carpe Diem. Memento mori.“  This was what was said to triumphant Roman Generals when they paraded through Rome on the day where they celebrated their greatest triumphs in battle.  Seize the day.  Remember you shall die.

Only in realizing the scarcity of our time and the reality that our time is limited will you have the strength to say no to the non essential.  Ambition is an expensive impulse, it requires an enormous investment of emotional capital.  In the words of Seth Godin: “only start what you mean to finish.”  Don’t burn yourself up on the unimportant.

Focus on process, not outcome.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Marathon runners say “I ran a marathon” they don’t much focus on times.  Everyone who has completed a marathon is a winner.

These tips for ambition are not just for the Ed Staffords, Steve Jobs and Madonnas of the world – they are most importantly for you.  You are here for a reason.  We need to you bring your talent to the world.

How can you develop your ambition?

  • Do less, get 3 important things complete each day
  • Say “no” more.  Stop using “busy-ness” as a badge of honour.
  • Meditate on how it will feel when you are old, when you look back on what you have done with your life
  • Don’t run from your fears.  Turn and face them.  Hidden in your fear is a message about your purpose. Demons are never as scary when you look them in the eyes.
  • As a parent, praise your kids for disciplined effort and not for results.  Same if you are a boss.  Same to your friends.

Commitment creates clarity. Do one next small step now.

Measure for Success

by Guy Ralfe on January 20, 2010

I don’t see myself as competitive but thinking about it if someone draws a line in the sand, I have to jump over it. My boss decided that we all needed a challenge to get us through the winter. He offered to everyone in the company an entry to Boston’s Run To Remember – 1/2 marathon. Not being a runner but seeing the line in the sand I signed up.

I asked a few questions to get an idea of how to train and how to build up to this race. I was told “…you need to get into the habit of running about 35-40km (about 21.5-24.8 mi) a week” and then build up on speed after you have established a base in attaining distance.

I had never run more than 10 km before, and to be honest if I recall most of those 10km were walked, how was I going to achieve this? Well I put on my trainers and set off aiming for 35 km in the first week. After a mammoth effort I managed just over 10km on my first run. Suddenly 35 km didn’t look so far but finding another 3 hour slots in the week was going to be the challenge. Getting daily email reminders from my boss on how far he had run, quickly helped overcome that problem, and surprisingly, after my first week of training I managed to log a respectable 37.5 km. Now that was some two months ago, and it has gotten a lot colder up here in the north east. What started to happen was that I began not keeping accurate records of what I was running so I began telling myself stories about what I had done to feel better, not what I had left to accomplish. The result was that suddenly I was not able to keep up the required standard.

Lately I have been trying to build up speed since all I had been focusing on was distance. (to you athletes out there I am not a runner yet so no laughing at my shared statistics) From discussions I heard someone mention that you need to be in the 4:50 min/km pace for this type of a run. So I sported a watch and off I set. In my mind, I was thinking that I must be getting close to the 5 min/km mark. Well after a good fast run the watch must have had a problem, I was averaging 5:32 min/km. I was suddenly aware how weak my training program was and that the performance metrics for running were both speed and distance. After some work I have now been able to break the 5:00 min/km mark for my training runs.

So just yesterday I went for a run in Copenhagen, it is flat with no hills and I felt like I had flown. At one point I sprinted alongside a cyclist to keep the pace elevated for 2 minutes – my time must have been close to 4:50 min/km. After looking at my watch I only managed 5:01 min/km. I was really upset and shocked, but I also learned a very clear lesson that us humans cannot be objective for our own sake.

We must know what we are going to do, what the criteria (metrics) are that define the standard if we are at all going to compete. Let’s not fool ourselves we compete all day every day. We need to ensure we stay ahead of the pack to succeed and realize our ambitions.

This is a great video emphasizing the point of knowing what the standard is and measuring against it.

(Click to Start Video)

Here is a brilliant blog post Don’t Do Your Best that gives more insight into the limitations we commonly set ourselves when saying we will do our best.

And from a business perspective here is a an insight to what it means to Run the Last Mile of the Race.

Know your ambitions, personal and business, set the criteria you are going to measure against then go out and perform. And if nothing else measure your performance!

Remaining Competitive over the Long Road

by Guy Ralfe on November 26, 2009

long_range_targetThanksgiving marks the beginning of the 5 weeks of holiday season in the USA. For many it will be a time when people’s focus is on the near term line in the sand, marking the end of the year – this will have people working to make/protect their targets, others resigned and looking forward to seeing the back end of this tough year and hoping for a better start next year and many public companies working every angle to close the quarter with the best results they can.

Whatever the case people are suddenly driven by the appearance of a tangible situation that they can  now envision. What we need to be mindful of is that what we do now in a tactical manner is still part of fulfilling our longer term strategic plan.

I’m a subscriber of Rajesh Setty’s newsletter (you can subscribe here) where he just  shared a beautiful story about “The Daffodil Principle” read it here. What this story exposed for me was the power of a long term vision and also that we need to achieve and produce over our entire careers and not just focus on the here and now. We would all like the quick win – like winning the lottery, but statistically that is as close to impossible as you can get – don’t get me wrong people do win the lottery but there is nothing other than buying a ticket that you can control the outcome of that situation.

Ultimately most of us are going to need to produce for our full careers to meet our ambitions. We must not forget that we are also playing for a longer term game, our careers, as we approach the year end. Think carefully about the consequences of the actions you may choose today, to meet your short term objectives, that you don’t have to live with the consequences after the horizon has passed.

I see similar action taking place on projects in the same way as careers. Projects have a lifecycle that we can equate to a career, but when we get close to delivery dates, slack is gone from the system, pressure is everywhere and people make rash illogical decisions to keep a delivery date. This action is the same as what happens in the marketplace approaching the year end deadline. As in projects, the consequences of shortsighted action always surface later and the consequential cost to resolve quickly becomes far more than the cost to have acted correctly in the first instance. An example I hear at this time of year  is how sales are completed in the closing weeks of the current year, which have a significant impact on the start of the next year when the fulfillment comes into play.

My message here is very similar to the ancient story of the tortoise and the hare, just that today’s market also requires some traits of the hare mixed in with the tortoise. Whatever we do we have to act with regard for the future consequence but at the same time remaining better than our competitors.

Remaining ahead of the competition is beautifully demonstrated by this slideshow shared with our organization today in preparation for the coming year. Enjoy and wishing a happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

Off Road - VW TouregI have been giving some thought to motivation and ambition and was trying to determine which is the more powerful.

My initial thoughts were that if you didn’t have any motivation then you wouldn’t be able to piece together any ambition, so that must be the most important. But then I reflected on what happens during those days that we have to dig deep for the motivation and what makes us dig deep, maybe that is where ambition kicks in.

Ambition is described as ‘a desire to seek after earnestly or aspire to

Motivation is described as ‘to provide with an incentive; impel

Assessing these two descriptions, ambition seems to imply a ‘Pull’ force and motivation a ‘Push’ force. I liken this to the ongoing debate about vehicles – which wheels are the most important to be driven. If importance is performance and driving feel, the argument always seems to settle on rear wheel drive, but if you want safety and efficiency then the argument is favored towards front wheel drive. There is however one scenario when everyone will agree and that is in off-road situations, everyone wants 4 wheel drive (or as many wheels as you have). We can all muster up some motivation on occasion, we can have some ambition and we can get somewhere. But, to be truly successful, we need to have both motivation and ambition clearly worked out and working together to get through the tough stuff and realize our goals!

I speculate that Ambition is the more dangerous of the two, because if we don’t have a real ambition that we are clear about with a tactical plan to achieve, we can easily get caught up in our own fantasies. These fantasies will allow us to still produce the motivation in the short term but will ultimately result in miss guided energy.

How many people have you heard have started a diet and given up just as quickly? People have usually packed on the pounds over a number of years and then suddenly wake up one morning expecting to change their habits and lose the pounds  in a couple of weeks of concerted effort. After the first week when they have barely lost a fraction of what they had intended to, the motivation goes out the window and the diet ends. In this case the ambition was a fantasy and the motivation wasted.

To be successful we need to forge our ambition, be clear in what it is and have a plan to get there. Going back to the diet, it would be to hold the ambition to lose X lbs and to go about it following a specific diet program, probably with some help, with a realistic target date. Now you have a solid ambition, your motivation can be held for longer and directed to produce results in keeping with your ambition and ultimately realization of your goals .

This doesn’t mean the road to accomplishment will be any easier, it just means that the road has a far higher chance of getting you to your destination and that is where the success is at.

Lock in the 4 wheel drive and hit the road to success with a clear ambition and aligned motivation!