Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Power of Story

I’m reading Jim Loehr’s book, The Power of Story: Change Your Story, Change Your Destiny in Business and in Life (Amazon link). Loehr is a psychologist who runs the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, FL, and works with world class athletes, business executives and other high achievers to hone their stories so that they perform at optimal levels. His premise is that we tell ourselves stories that help us navigate through life because they provide structure and direction. The stories we tell ourselves give our lives meaning.

Because the stories we create and tell about ourselves form the “only reality we will ever know in this life…and since it’s our destiny to follow our stories, it’s imperative that we do everything in our power to get our stories right” (Loehr’s emphasis). Most of us, he asserts, get our stories wrong; or more accurately, tell a story that’s really someone else’s – our parents, our bosses, our spiritual advisors and others who have influenced us throughout our lives.

Loehr argues that the most important story we tell is the one we tell ourselves: “if you aren’t the author of your own story, you’re the victim of it” and at the heart of our story is purpose, one of the fundamentals of good storytelling. Purpose gives our life story meaning, it is never small, but grand, heroic and epic; it’s our ultimate mission in life, the thing that continually renews our spirit. Our ultimate mission spells out our most overarching goals that we want to achieve and how we must do it – our values and beliefs. Thus, our ultimate mission/purpose must be clearly defined; and until we can define it, we can’t come up with our own story, and remain trapped by our old story.

Loehr offers step by step exercises to determine our old story; discovering where it is out of alignment with our values and beliefs and then developing a new story based on our ultimate mission.

So the story we tell about ourselves is what gives our life meaning – in our relationships, our spirituality and our work. If we’re not telling the right story we’re not living the right life, but someone else’s sense of our life.

Have you examined your story? Does it align with your purpose, your ultimate mission? If not, can you determine the voice in your story (your parents, your boss, etc.)? Can you find and retain your voice?

Is the story you’re telling yourself precluding you from really doing what you want to do? Can you articulate what you really want to do?

Can you write a new story?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Do You Do?

What do you do?

How do you answer this question? Do you give your job title: Car salesman, plumber, housewife, career coach? Or do you respond with WHAT YOU DO? Do you give what you do meaning?

I can’t recall where I read this, but it had an impact on me. In essence, the idea was to give meaning to our work rather than respond with a job title.

Instead of responding with a title: Car salesman, plumber, housewife or career coach; respond with meaning.

I facilitate the process, from selection to acquisition, of customers choosing which automobile they wish to buy. I help them in this process, making sure they get exactly what want they want, within their price range” … or …

I keep people above water” … or …

I make sure that the most important people in my life get out the door every morning with what they need to be successful in that day” … or …

I help clients figure out what they want to do next in their life and how they can achieve their goals.

Can you give what you do meaning? Can you see by making what you do meaningful that you provide value?

What do YOU do?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Asset or Commodity?

Most all of us start out our careers as commodities for our employers. Regardless of our profession, we’re pretty raw talent needing refinement. Early on we are given discrete assignments, with specific deadlines, defined by someone else. We’re rarely provided with a sense of how our tasks fit into the bigger picture of the overall project.

We’re assigned to write code for a particular piece of software without any sense of the final product; or research a particular issue and draft a memo, which will be part of a larger report to a client; or design a particular part that will fit into the larger product or system; or frame a house that has been designed by someone else.

In each of these tasks, we are given parameters that are decided by someone else: the boss –team lead, foreman, architect, division director, partner – to whom we’re assigned. They decide who does what, how much time should be allotted to the task, and they determine the quality of the finished product. However, the boss may also be a commodity.

In his book, A Whole New Mind ( link), Daniel Pink notes the “three As” of Abundance, Automation and Asia that are influencing the shift from the information age to the conceptual age. In the information age, work was organized around knowledge workers – accountants, attorneys, doctors, engineers and executives – who acquire, organize and interpret data; and provide functional, logical and rational products and services. These workers, as educated and highly trained as they are, are commodities. Their skills are in abundance; their work can be easily automated and outsourced for cheaper, faster products. (A recent New York Times article reported on how new “e-discovery” software can analyze legal documents in a fraction of the time and costs that an army of lawyers used to.)

Commodities are easily replaced. Younger, cheaper, more nimble employees are always coming up through the ranks and ready to take their turn. If you have spent your career assembling a body of knowledge, an expertise, that is in overabundance or just no longer in demand, that computers can do faster and overseas labor can do cheaper, then you’re a commodity and in danger of being replaced.

Assets on the other hand, continually add value to an organization. Assets are creative, designing new products and services that improve the bottom line. Assets interact and empathize with clients to help define their needs and design solutions that fit.

So, what do you think? Can you distinguish yourself as either an asset or a commodity in your career? Are you comfortable with this distinction?

If you’re a commodity, are you comfortable with project-based tasks defined and assigned by others? Can you shift to more of an asset-based career path?

If you’re an asset, do you design products and service that continue to have meaning to customers and for clients?