The Powers (And The Dangers) Of Following Your Own PathDec 09, 2020
By Dino Tartaglia
Ever felt hidebound or constrained by what you’re supposed to do? Being told that what feels aligned to you ‘isn’t what works’ or ‘isn’t the way to be successful’?
If you’ve followed any of the things I’ve shared in the TFCEO Community thus far, you’ll know that our entire focus at Success Engineers is to help you build a joyful, dependable business around being brilliant at what you do (because you are). And the focus of helping you do that is to help you move the needle on your business, to ensure that your efforts get you closer to What Matters Most.
So, it follows logically that you need to connect with what you’re doing with your daily, weekly and ongoing activities. But, equally, it’s foolish to plough on with ‘your way’ (or any way) when the evidence tells you something’s ‘off’ and that it isn’t working. Which is where early or leading indicators of whether something is working - ‘green shoots’, as we call them - become vital.
You know what? Seeing as Christmas is around the corner, let me share a story about this from one of my all-time favourite Chrimbo films - the dripping-with-cheesy-sentiment Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street (original 1947 version).
THE WISDOM OF KRIS KRINGLE
First off, if you haven’t seen the film, I urge you to watch it even if Die Hard is your must-see Christmas go-to. Also, try and catch the Frank Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life - it’s quite special. Also, naturally there are spoilers here and Miracle on 34th Street really does drip a bit with cheesy sentiment, so you have been warned
Summarising the story: an old man (played by the delightful Edmund Gwenn) who looks like Santa shows up at Macy’s annual Christmas pageant and saves the day (the hired Santa is drunk). He’s so good that Maureen O’Hara’s character, Doris Walker, hires him to be ‘Santa’, to sit in the grotto at Macy’s flagship New York store on 34th Street and chat to the excited children who line up to ask for their Christmas gifts.
Of course, from the stores’ perspective, his job is to sell overstocked and slow-moving toys (read: do what everyone does because that’s what ‘works’). On his payroll entry, he signs his name as Kris Kringle stating that his age is as “...old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth”.
Walker thinks nothing of this, as he’s “a dear old man”, but it comes back to haunt her when Julian Shellhammer, the head of the toy department, is horrified to overhear Kringle directing a child’s mother to Macy’s arch rival, Gimbels, because they have a better version of the toy her daughter wants. This, of course, goes against everything Shellhammer has been brought up to believe, and his survival instincts kick in.
He corners Doris because she hired Kris, and anxiously asks her, “What will Mr Macy say when he finds out?!?”
But Kris Kringle is doing what Kris Kringle does - caring for the well-being and the delight of the children and their parents; “The only important thing is to make the children happy.”
Gimbels (in this case) really do have a better toy for this child, and at a better price (which clearly helps the parent).
From Shellhammer’s intervention, the plot spirals into Kris being put in a psychiatric institute and eventually being put on trial to establish his clear case of insanity for claiming that he, in fact, is Santa.
THE GREEN SHOOTS
The problem with Shellhammer’s approach here - because Kris was totally undaunted in following what he knew to be right - was that he had had an early indicator of the likely success of Kringle’s approach, but was so wrapped up in his reaction to what he thought might go wrong, that he missed it completely. Just after he had pushed Doris to get rid of the new Santa, a customer corners him and, although Shellhammer expects a bit of a pasting over her being sent elsewhere for toys, she applauds Macy’s for “this wonderful new stunt you're pullin’. Imagine, sendin’ people to other stores. I don't get it. Why, it's...it’s... Imagine a big outfit like Macy's puttin’ the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commoicial (commercial). It's wonderful! I never done much shopping here before...but from now on, I'm goin’ to be a regular Macy customer!”
Pretty soon, Kringle’s approach has the store more than doubling its overall sales as customers seem to agree with this lady. And Mr Macy takes the unprecedented step of directing his Heads of Department to roll this approach out across all the stores, with registers of competitors’ stock and pricing being printed up to enable every store assistant to ensure the customers’ needs are put first
Had Shellhammer (or Doris, for that matter) registered that ‘green shoot’ - that early (leading) indicator that hinted that Kringle had gotten hold of something different and more aligned with what customers really wanted from Macy’s (or any big store) - and had he not allowed ‘how we have always done things here’, ‘this is what works’ or, indeed, his personal fear and anxiety to do his thinking and decision making for him, he’d have held back and let Kringle’s approach play out. Evidence builds confidence, after all.
But this was not to be...to the detriment of Kris and the store.
BUSINESS IS A THEORY
What Shellhammer failed to realise, and what Kris ultimately taught him, is that if you understand both yourself and your customer, and you do what feels right, it’s a stone-cold certainty that some good will come of that. Being more strategic in our businesses simply means having a ‘True North’ - a guiding set of principles, standards, vision and desires that give us direction. I call this What Matters Most.
And, because business is a theory and because nothing is guaranteed, adopting the understanding that we have to try some things in order to gather the data that tells us if it’s working, is a natural function of building a business. Kris had hundreds of years to figure this stuff out (I reckon he was the real deal, but you’ll have to watch the film to make your own mind up).
We, on the other hand, are in danger of being in the position of Shellhammer and Doris, wondering if this will lead to us being fired at worst, or reprimanded at best, because we blindly follow a way that we’ve been led to believe works. Often, this is someone else’s ‘blueprint’, or playbook. And it’s right that we should stand on the shoulders of those who have had success in what we’re trying to achieve – no one is successful on their own. No one.
We all need help, guidance, support, tools and additional skills, and these can certainly come from people who have had success walking what appears to be the same path as we’re on.
But it’s not our path.
BUILD YOUR OWN PLAYBOOK
So, how do we begin the process of becoming more aligned, but also of knowing that what we feel pulled to do will likely be commercially successful?
Well, the thing with following your own path when you aren’t clear on some foundational business principles, is that you can get into hot water - real quick. So, learning those principles from those who have gone before but then adapting them to suit who we are and what we want, is how all of our most successful entrepreneurs have built truly joyful, dependable businesses around their brilliance.
Principles – Traits – Models – Frameworks
And, if you’re already truly doing your own thing, tracking whether that’s taking you in the right direction rather than blindly following what you think will work, is critical to avoiding burnout and ruin. Don’t believe or guess. Know.
A great place to start is Trait #1 from our 5 Characteristics (Traits) of Wildly Successful Entrepreneurs. We’ve observed that all long-term successful entrepreneurs - man or woman - align their passion with a BIG problem that needs solving. Simply, they direct their curiosity and their skill to creating a solution for something that has value to a lot of people. They don’t ‘follow their passion’ or try to monetise their skills, which is so often taught or preached by well-meaning coaches. They get passionate about a problem that a lot of people have, and the task of solving that and having that impact, and/or enabling others to have that impact (which can be just as rewarding).
And the really big difference from most of the coaches, consultants, creatives and service providers whom I’ve come across since starting to bring our thinking to the online space, is that they build their own playbook. They learn what works from successful people because success leaves clues. They then incorporate that into their way of doing things, their concept of success, their personal path to What Matters Most. And they look for ‘green shoots’ - the early signs that something is either working, dying, or is off-track. They don’t waste valuable time, money, energy and focus (and often a lot of other resources) on things that aren’t taking them closer to that goal.
BE LIKE MR MACY
In the story I just shared, there’s a great scene where Mr Macy, the eponymous owner of Macy’s retail empire, gathers his people into his office and says, simply, “I admit this plan sounds idiotic and impossible. Imagine Macy's Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels. Ho-ho. But, gentlemen, you cannot argue with success. Look at this. Telegrams, messages, telephone calls. The governor's wife, the mayor's wife...over-thankful parents...expressing undying gratitude to Macy's. Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy. And I'm positive...if we expand our policy, we'll expand our results as well.”
Mr Macy didn’t jump all over this at the first sign of a deviation from ‘the way things work around here’. He let it ride until he saw which way it was going. Free of the encumbrance of a boss (other than his board and shareholders), he went with his experience and his gut, and let the indicators he knew to look for tell him if the initiative was working.
What really allowed Macy to behave in this way?
A ‘True North’: a vision for his stores that he believed in, that had already begun to deliver and move him closer to What Matters Most for him and for his shareholders.
A True North that allowed him to build his brand in the style and in the way that suited his values.
A True North that enabled a strategy and a plan, against which everything the stores did could be checked, to see if they were aligned or not.
YOUR TRUE NORTH
So, let me ask you this as we move towards another year:
What is your True North?
Have you mapped it out?
Do you know how to?
Are you working a Strategy and a Plan?
Are you simply doing what you believe (or hope) works, or are you experiencing - as many of us have experienced - a kind of ‘Groundhog Day’ where the money’s coming in but you seem to be waking up every day trapped by the same routine and circumstances?
Or perhaps you have time and money, but something else is missing…?
What Matters Most is, after all, entirely personal to you. We have a multitude of ways to help you really move the needle on your business so that you develop more confidence in your direction and in your actions to enable you to move closer to What Matters Most.
As we move into 2021, if you’d like help with getting crystal clear on where you are on your journey (your ‘Point A’), what your True North looks like (your ‘Point X’) and how to build out your own Yellow Brick Road to get you closer to What Matters Most, hit me up, or come join us in Success Unlocked, our free Business Owners Coaching Environment.
Click here to jump in (it’s free). You can also find me in The Female CEO Community or in any of the places linked to below.
Have a fabulous Christmas, and here’s to a 2021 that really sparkles!
Dino Tartaglia is a former Electronics Engineer, now a businessman, mentor, coach and troubleshooter working to help you, if you’re a coach, consultant, creative or service provider, to Build a Joyful, Dependable Business around Being Brilliant at What You Do.
In his own coaching, and together with world-class coach Simon Hartley, the other half of Success Engineers (their joint business), he helps you to improve your thinking to ask better questions, so that you solve the right problems in your business at the right time, develop your own personal performance as a business owner and get closer to What Matters Most.
So fire up your engines ladies, we're heading straight to the top!
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