If there is any one secret of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.Peter Drucker
Our company was recently recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing private companies in the United States. Recently asked about it, I mentioned that we launched Northwind in 2008, that the Inc. 5000 list reflected growth from 2016 to 2019, and that growth in 2020 was strong as well. The listener paused and I realized instantly what he was thinking: What took you so long?
The question cut to the heart of so many things I’ve encountered on my entrepreneurial journey and reflects the great challenge facing anyone who wants to accomplish anything. Though he was trying to get at the formula for our recent growth, I realized that the real question centered on effectiveness across a span of time. Why us? Why now?
Merriam-Webster says that effectiveness reflects an ability to produce a “decided, decisive, or desired effect.” In other words: to be effective is to know the right thing to do and then find a way to get it done. Success can be defined in many ways. Effectiveness nets it out as a measure of forward movement and asks: Are you doing enough “right” things to actually accomplish something?
Vision for Your Future
Considering the unspoken question posed above, I realized that the first part of the answer involved focusing on the right things. What are the right things? Of course, that depends on what you want to accomplish. Many of us struggle mightily with that question. In my case, the first five years in the life of our company centered on survival. Guess what? That’s pretty much what we got.
Whether you realize it or not, you are acting upon a vision for your future. It may be unwritten and unspoken but it is guiding your behaviors. For many, the disconnect between the life they have and the one they want begins with that guiding vision. You may actually be quite effective in attaining the vision you didn’t realize you were pursuing.
In my case, I discovered that I was aiming too low. Survival can become a habit and I had become pretty good at it. I think we all spend too much time in this place. You know you are there when you feel like you’re bobbing along on someone else’s river.
Many feel that crafting a vision for their life, company, team, etc. is the biggest barrier to forward motion. It really isn’t. Your vision is simply what you want. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? Start with those questions and you will begin to realize that you had way more vision than you suspected.
Effectiveness begins with those first faltering steps toward a vision. From there, you can begin to identify the right things to do. This applies whether you are guiding yourself, guiding a team, or guiding a company.
The Right Things
What are the right things? They are the necessary steps to take in moving toward our vision. The “right” things are the ones we need to get done if we are to move forward. Easy enough right?
Not really. In a world full of possibilities, finding the right combination of strategy and action to be truly effective is more art than science. However, we are better equipped than we realize to figure this out and we can move with intention to answer our own questions.
What holds us back from clearly seeing the “right” things? Put another way, what helps us see the “right” things?
Nothing freezes us up more quickly than doubt. Typically, doubt comes from gaps in knowledge. Fortunately, there are many paths to learning more and we have incredible sources to help explore our most challenging questions. Seek expertise in and around the world in which you move.
Without a baseline of knowledge and a progressive accumulation of new information, you will not be positioned to identify or understand the things necessary to be effective. There is no substitute for experience and the process should never stop. If you are not accumulating additional knowledge every day, you will greatly hamper your ability to be effective.
Academic knowledge is good but only the ante to the game. Staying current on trends. Attending conferences. Talking to customers, partners, and others playing within your space. Reading everything you can find. Following competitors, analysts, researchers, and others who are sharing their discoveries. Investing yourself here builds the foundation of effectiveness.
What is happening in the world around you? What are others doing? What are the problems? We cannot identify the right things unless we are acutely aware of our own environment. Awareness serves several purposes:
- Helps us learn through the actions of others.
- Helps us understand where we fit in our world.
- Helps us see what we do and don’t have relative to those around us.
- Helps us see the problems that hold us and others back.
To be aware is to see things as they are. All of the knowledge in the world will not make a difference if you can’t see what’s happening around you. Awareness helps us be appropriately reactive as well as proactive. When we watch and listen, we become aware of other patterns, other gaps, and other opportunities.
How do you cultivate awareness? Remember that nothing we do occurs in a vacuum and awareness helps us adjust and anticipate. You cultivate awareness by being aware of your need for it. Become a student of the world by spending more time looking outward than inward.
From knowledge and awareness we move to insight. Here, we begin to see answers to the problems around us. Sometime it comes to us but more often than not, we need to seek it out. Insight is where we pull it all together.
Remember the awkward question I mentioned earlier in this post? Why did it take so long for our company to hit its stride? Perhaps the question is not completely fair but it is worth asking. I mentioned aiming too low from an unintentional vision perspective but that is only part of the answer. Two major insights form another part of the answer:
- Unsolved problems
How did I come upon those insights? I lost. Twice. In both instances, we were chasing new business. With both opportunities, we offered a good story, solid product, and strong pricing. In the first loss, I was told that I was not focused enough on the client’s particular market segment. Understand, it was not that my company was not focused, it was me. In the second, we were unable to address a specific customer problem.
Our response? We got focused on solving problems in a specific market segment. The insights were jarringly profound and served as a wake up call. From there, the “right” things became clear quite quickly. Knowledge and awareness will not be enough if you don’t seek the insights that will help clarify your understanding in the context of your particular circumstances. Here, we begin to see more clearly.
The Path to Effectiveness – Part I
Earlier in this post, I defined effectiveness as knowing the right thing to do and then finding a way to get it done. The process starts with a vision for the future. With a vision, we can begin to determine the things necessary for us to bring it to fruition. The path to seeing the right things centers on:
Next week, we’ll explore the second part of the path to effectiveness: execution.