Perspective From Higher Ground: Business and Problem Solving

I remember as a kid always talking to ankles and knees when an adult approached to greet me.  And then there was that awkward look up to try to see his or her face.  As an adult I'm sensitive to that moment, so I bend down to get at eye level with a youngster. 

Recently I visited the Gettysburg Battlefields and I felt a little bit of that looking at the ankles feeling as I looked at the base of large trees that surround portions of the grounds. 

As we got to Cemetery Hill, we found ourselves atop the tree line, overlooking the battlefield, and what happened there became very clear.

As I reflected on the moment later, it got me thinking about how some of us conduct business today.  You know ... a few years ago the "big thing" movement  in business was to think outside the box.  The battle cry was if you want to advance in your career, don't do what you've always done.  That will just get you what it's always gotten you.  You must think outside the boxif you want to move your business forward.  So, business men and women began to look increasingly to technology for creativity in leadership and for new ideas in communication and in management.  And now as we move to higher ground and we review where thinking outside the box has led us, we find that what's happening outside the box isn't all good, and in some significant areas.

For example, communication has grown exponentially digitally.  Voice mail, email, text messaging, video conferencing, while great tools, have left younger entrants into the business world lacking in face-to-face communication skills.  Leadership sometimes delivers bad news digitally, coldly, mercilessly to save difficult face-to-face moments.  Teamwork is conducted in less than a civil manner often initiated by carelessly crafted e-mails.  Here are some other thoughts about outside-the-box thinking. 

A website called Lateral Action states,"The research evidence suggests that thinking outside the box fails to produce the expected creative solution. And far from being a hindrance, past experience and training can actually be the key to creative problem-solving."

So, before you think outside the box to create new solutions to age-old problems in business, take a look from a higher perspective.   Like experience maybe?  Training is a good idea, too.  It just so happens that Outfluence is conducting a 3-part series this Fall in Westminster, Maryland that will address this question:  What did we leave behind when we began thinking outside the box?  Visit in a few weeks when we will begin publishing information about the series.  It begins in September.

This event occurred in the Fall of 2016.

Business Owners: Who Are We Listening To?

If you are a business owner, you most likely receive a lot of unsolicited advice and unwelcome comments.  You may also receive advice that you pay for.  Who do you listen to and who do you ignore?  I listen to all of them.

Here's why:  The unsolicited advice and the unwelcome comments keep me motivated.  Not too long ago I ran into a guy who went into business a few years after I began Outfluence.  He took on a lot of debt and constructed an impressive facility for his business.  He got off to a great start.  The visuals were excellent.  But now the doors were closed and litigation was looming.  As we spoke, he asked me how my venture was doing.  I told him we were still "climbing the mountain."  He laughed and commented about how long we had "been at it."  I chose not to incur outside debt in my venture but instead chose to invest time and personal funds to gradually improve my product and slowly position my company.  I was still climbing while he had been derailed by debt. 

Another person told me that his friends told him that my business would not succeed because I didn't have the ability to make it work.  Now, how many times have you heard stories of successful people of whom similar comments were made?  Oh, he'll never be able to do it; or, she's too weak to withstand the pressure.  I chose to listen to successful people who were encouraging me to keep going, people who were leading me to resources that would support me, people who were where I wanted to be.  Why would I listen to someone who was going south when I wanted to go north? 

I have written before about my friend who counseled me that it sometimes takes 10 years for a business to reach maturity.  I am in a business that requires others to make a commitment to change.  Change does not occur quickly.  It took us six years to reach maturity in our business.  Most businesses fail in the first three years.  Had Ilistened to the naysayers, I may have ended my business journey too soon. 

Remember that clear vision you had for your business in the early days?  Chances are your vision has been changed by circumstances, or opportunity, or market conditions, or knowledge gained over time.  Listen to the marketplace, listen to your customers, listen to your heart, and persist.  Never quit.  Be open to change. 

Listen to everyone but listen most intently to people who are where you want to go.

Why Not Finish?

Is it important to finish what you start?

Yes, say these finishers:

The Importance of Finishing What you Started, by Larry Lewis –    

But to me once you start something you’ve got to stick with it no matter what. You’ve got to finish what you start. Success in whatever it is you do is very much down to self-discipline and perseverance. But there is one element that to me is absolutely key, and that is …..

Our inner thought process is what is behind our successes and failures, it is responsible for us completing a mission that we set out on or giving up. It’s when we start to think: this is so difficult; I can’t do it. Or I hate this; it’s not fun anymore.

Well cut the crap. No longer allow your negative self- talk to stop you in your track and prevent you from finishing what you started. When paralyzed with doubt, remind yourself that you have gone that far in the project and you can complete it if you stick with it.

Why It’s Important To Finish What You Start, by Alex Mullan –

Every morning, people awake bursting with brilliant ideas. Many of these ideas have the potential to change the ways of the world. Some of these ideas hold the potential to shape one’s surroundings into something fresh, invigorating and alter their course to take him or her on an entirely new path. These ideas, if fulfilled, have the power to transform the life of the creator.

Yet, these brainwaves are often ignored, neglected and cast aside, much like trash and last night’s stale meatloaf.

Looking back now, I realize I was afraid of failure and rejection, two things which I believe are the guiltiest culprits of the ever-accumulating wasteland of abandoned ideas and shattered dreams.

The Secret of Finishing What You Start, by Time Management Ninja

Are you good at starting things? Can you get a project or idea in motion quickly? Some people are fast to charge into a new task. However, finishing them is another matter. Undone projects litter their desk, inbox, and to-do list. How are you at finishing things?

Being good at starting things is an important skill. After all, you cannot finish if you don’t start. However, being good at completing things is an entirely different skill. Many people spend their lives “starting”things…However, the ones who are successful are the ones who actually finish them.

Lots of people come up with great business ideas. Few people actually make a business a success. Many people start writing a book. Few people actually publish one. Most individuals have a dream. Few fully realize it. As a general rule, we are good at starting things but we tend not to finish them.

Here are a few Things You Should Finish…

  1. The Thing You Should Have Done Last Night 
  2. The Promise You Made to Someone Else
  3. The Item You Forgot
  4. The Todo That Is ALMOST Done
  5. The Never Ending Project
  6. The Dream You Started

The attributes needed to finish what you start include tenacity, integrity and creativity.  The subsets of those attributes are what Outfluence can help you to understand and to develop.  Those subsets include awareness of the soft skills, knowledge of communication elements particularly the 90% of communication that happens silently, ability to inspire your performance, and familiarity with sensory gateways and sensory perimeters.  These subsets form the foundation of success in your personal life as well as in your business life because they enable you to put your focus on others and relate to their motivations.

Support the Future Workforce

Businesspersons I speak to lament the unpreparedness of the workforce.  When asked what improvements they would like to see in new entrants to the workforce, the near unanimous reply is help them with the soft skills, communication in particular.  Now, soft skills and communication happen to be in the Outfluence wheelhouse, so we know how to fix that.

Business leaders generally prefer not to spend their money teaching these skills to the workforce.  They believe that these fundamental skills should be taught either at home or in school.  To bring about soft skills and communication improvement we need to reach high school students.  One method for enticing students to want to learn these skills, and an incentive for attracting the attention of busy school administrators who must approve programs such as the Outfluence program You Are Here . . . Next, You Are Hired,  is to ask business leaders to award a number of internships and other benefits to students who successfully complete the program.

This is a clear win/win/win/win - Students win because they gain valuable knowledge and experience.  The schools win because they are meeting their mission.  Parents win because not only do their children advance their personal development but parents will have the option of also participating in the program. Reinforcement at home of the skills learned in school is a valuable learning tool.  Finally, businesses win because they receive an improved workforce and they gain early access to their future workforce.

(Outfluence, LLC is a teaching and training organization headquartered near Washington, D.C. )

What Not To Do

A videographer arrived at a legal proceeding dressed in tennis shoes, blue jeans, open-collared shirt, and no sport coat. All of the other professionals were attired appropriately in business suits and related professional apparel. During a recess in the proceeding, the videographer engaged one of the parties in a conversation in which he expressed the fact that he only did legal video to keep busy, that his real passion was in making television pilots. He said, in language that matched the subject matter in vulgarity, that he was currently working on a pilot following the tasteless and crude Girls Gone Wild format. By his insensitivity to the environment in which he was working, the videographer silently branded himself as unprofessional, vulgar, and possibly untrustworthy.

The bottom line? Maintain professionalism, no matter what. Be aware of how you come across, to anyone, because everyone is watching.

(This is a story from Outfluence, The Better Way to Influence, which is the basis for our high school program You Are Here . . . now what?".)