The Dreaded F (ired) word

I’m on vacation today and a little reflective about life, and life lessons. I’ve been sitting here on the balcony of a hotel in Mill Valley thinking about the tangible and intangible dimensions of success.
Success is relatively non-linear. Probably the least non-linear thing I know of. I have a thought that getting fired is probably the best thing that happened to my career and the one thing that forced to redesign of my work life. Getting fired is a dreaded thing — almost like losing a loved one in one’s life.
But it happens. It happened to me. It happened to one of my company’s clients recently, in one of the more awkward business moments I can recall. But that’s another story. It was strange to say to him that this would turn out to be a good thing. And I wasn’t lying. I really meant it. Being fired is so dreaded but I think it can be the turning point to find out who you really are, and to redesign what isn’t working, and then to come back anew.
A few thoughts on this:
1. There is no such thing as reality.
Failures might be a part of your picture, but they are a snapshot in a longer photo album of your life. I remember reading in some reader’s digest article a lot time ago that after Fred Astaire’s first screen test, a 1933 memo from the MGM testing director said, “Can’t act, slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Astaire kept that memo over his fireplace to remind him about perceptions are not reality. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for lacking ideas, and Lincoln lost more seats than he won. We all know similar stories. At any particular point in these people’s careers, they were ‘failures” but they didn’t stop then. They just kept going to build the reality they could see for themselves. And, that’s a key lesson for any of us.
2. Hanging on vs. letting go.
Many execs stay wedded to that which got them to their current point of success. If they know Enterprise sales, then they apply those same skills. If they’ve been doing product marketing for a long time, they might always start a new market strategy with a market segmentation approach. We hang on, we repeat. We stay wedded to ideas that have been key to our success thus far. Sometimes, to get ourselves moving forward, we have to jettison our “expertise” to see what a fresh approach could bring.
I love books about Andy Grove, because he’s such an icon of the Valley and of innovators. He once asked Gordon Moore, his co-founder a really strong question that any of us could ask. “What if we got kicked out by the board, and they brought in a new CEO, what would he do?” That question led to answer that Intel would get out of the memory chip business and move on to microprocessors.
And so history tells us that Andy could have held on his “old” but highly successful profitable business, or he could do the reinvention of the company, before it became necessary to do it. He avoided getting fired by essentially firing his old ideas and bringing in new ones.
The human brain is a unique thing in that it’s the only vessel I know of where the more you put into it, the more it will grow. We sometimes think we know enough, but we can always learn an incremental bit here and then and stay fresh. To train the mind to be that open to new ideas is in itself an amazing gift. Meet any successful executive and you’ll notice that they have the patience and humility with themselves to keep finding out what they don’t already know.
Look at the team you have around you also, and think about whether they keep you thinking and learning. Mine does. I’m blessed by them.
4. Real Time and Perspective.
Often when we are charge of something very big, we face intense periods of time working outside our range of experiences and comfort zones. When faced with the decisions of which road to take next, it’s not possible to find a guide, let alone a sign post. We take steps we know to take and that’s okay. One day, you’ll sit back and have perspective. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t worry. it’s all a part of the process to take steps we know how to take today and then know more later.
If you can, be compassionate with yourself during these times, you’ll be ever more able to understand what was going on later. And those experiences will shape future success.
At times in my career, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I managed to do amazing things like build a channel which no one in their mind should have thought I knew to do.
5. Seek to know.
I sometimes think that all of us are information-junkies wanting always to know more about the world and new situations. But I want to suggest we become really knowledgeable about ourselves, and what we know we need inside. When we know ourselves, we become more wise about knowing what situations to put ourselves in, what to manage for, and what pace to run at. Then you come into situations knowing more about what will make you successful. Perhaps that means you work well with a boss that coaches, or you like ot work in small teams. The context of our lives change all the time. But we are the constant and perhaps the thing that we need to understand the best.
I’ve become what many believe to be a successful CEO of a services firm. What most people don’t know is all the mistakes I’ve made and learned from to get the knowledge and experience and understanding to see situations so clearly today. Most people don’t know how many M&A activities I’ve sat in to understand business tradeoffs, or the # of compensation models I’ve personally F*cked up to learn what really works, or even the right spend to revenue ratios for different kinds of market segments have been developed by either overspending or under-spending for years and missing the market opportunity.
I really think getting fired can be a good wake up call to start anew. I hope for my colleague and former client that this turns out to be good for him.
Now, off to more vacationing.

0 Responses:

  1. John Quaresma. March 9, 2007 at 11:07 pm  |  

    I absolutely love this entry. Recently, I’ve been pondering many of the same concepts, and to find myself in such resounding agreement with you makes me feel good 🙂
    Many big changes are on my horizon, including a move, and a potential job change. Additionally, I’ve been considering starting my own business, which as you obviously know can be overwhelming. That said, reading your thoughts is inspirational.


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