How is it possible that 20 years have passed?
On May 30, 1996 I was laid off from my job. The next day I unpacked my boxes and let a few people know. On June 1st, I decided I was now in business for myself.
That makes today my anniversary. Marie and I always recall stories and consider what we’ve learned on birthdays, our wedding anniversary, and New Year’s Day.
20 years feels like a significant milestone. It deserves some reflection. Let me tell you what I’ve learned from being out on my own for all these years.
- Who I know makes a huge difference on my success. Meeting people is an excellent use of my time. I don’t do nearly as much of this as I could. I’m going to triple my connecting efforts in the next 20 years. You can help me celebrate the milestone by sending me a LinkedIn invite.
- Being in the consulting business isn’t about selling services. It’s about finding ways to be helpful. Sometimes people pay for my help. Sometimes I give it to them for free. There are always interesting ways to help. The trick is seeing the opportunities when they are before me. I need to remember to keep my eyes open.
- I don’t need to hire employees to expand my capability or capacity. These days it’s easier than ever to build and maintain an amazing network of partners who know how to do what I don’t. My job is to stitch together our unique skills to provide my clients with just the right solution.
- Business booms and business busts. The economy might have an effect, but it’s more likely random variation. Because I don’t know which way the winds will blow, I live in a way that allows me to be okay when things are slow. That keeps the stress levels low.
- Diversification is important. Large clients represent a big risk. Over the years, I learned, more than once, that 20 small clients are much better than one or two large ones.
- I can always improve on what I’ve done in the past. Maybe that’s why I always change up workshops that I thought were good to go for years to come. When I compare my late 90’s work to versions I’ve done recently, I’m almost embarrassed, but then I turn that around by recognizing how far I’ve come.
- Just because I can use PowerPoint when doing a presentation doesn’t mean I should. If it doesn’t add value, I don’t use it.
- Big consulting firms spend way too much money trying to impress clients. Fancy offices, expensive suits, and power lunches isn’t what this is about. That just adds extra cost. It’s about uncovering problems and finding ways to solve them. It really is that simple.
- Between the library and the Internet, there is no excuse for not learning. Every day I try to learn something new. It’s even better when I find an immediate application for what I’ve learned. Today I’ve already learned how to clean a weed wacker carburetor. Can’t wait to try out my new skill.
- The difference between activities that add value and those that don’t is clear. If it doesn’t help my clients or help me find new clients or make me better, then I don’t do it. These days I work hard to stay focused on that which matters.
- Nobody hits a home run every time they step up to the plate. When I have an off day, I recognize it as just that. I don’t let my disappointment about a poor performance turn into, I’m not good enough. I pick myself up, dust myself off, and give it another go at the next opportunity.
- The number one expectation I work every day to make sure I meet is to do what I said I would do. People depend on my word, and it’s important that I keep it.
- Just because I haven’t done something doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I’ve gotten quite good at judging whether I’ll be able to figure it out. And when I think that I can, I tend to go for it.
- My job is rarely, if ever, to be the smartest one in the room. Even if it was, I likely wouldn’t pass the test. People hire me to help them be smart, especially when they need to work on a problem together.
- Whenever frontline employees refer to leadership as “Management,” I know there are big problems. Us and Them is never good for teamwork. Never.
- Most relationship problems at work are caused because people don’t meet one another’s expectations, and the reason they don’t is because few people express their expectations in the first place. A big part of my job is to help people talk to each other.
- The worst organizations are full of people who have quit but haven’t left. Trying to reengage them is pointless. Figure out what caused that to happen, help people leave, and start fresh; creating a new kind of environment this time around.
- Teamwork problems are just as common in the executive team as they are in a frontline department. It’s much more serious, though, because top level dysfunction infects the whole organization.
- Organizational bad habits grow and spread because nobody calls them out and does something to change the practices. Anything you and others are willing to accept tends to become a defining characteristic of the culture.
- Having to troubleshoot all my own computer problems is time consuming and often frustrating, but when I am successful, I feel like I can accomplish anything.
That’s enough reflecting for now. The title promised 20, and that’s what I offered. Remember item #12?
Perhaps I’ll try again in five years. I’m sure that 25 will once again cause me to pause and mark the milestone. And because of #9, I bet I’ll have some new insights to share.