Strategy + business recently did an interview with Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter, author of A Sense of Urgency. He talked about the importance of having a sense of urgency within a company even when goals are long-term.
1: Urgent patience (it's not a paradox)
I think his points largely apply to individuals as well. He said:
"I use the term urgent patience to describe what that balance point is. People have to understand that to make anything big happen, it's going to take a while. It might take one year, two years, three years, five years. But there's no reason you can't understand the patience true change requires and at the same time think, "I'm going to get up today, and I'm going to accomplish something that contributes to that change effort. I don't have to spend all day on it. But even if I succeed in redirecting one meeting for 10 minutes in a way that starts pushing on this issue, then OK, I've accomplished something."
ACTION: What in your life would benefit from some urgent patience? What can you do for ten minutes today to move toward that? (If you're not sure, see item 5 below).
2: What is your weakest link?
Innovation (which I define as creativity made tangible) has three phases: Creating (having ideas); Refining (improving on the ideas); and Execution (turning the ideas into reality). Very few people are equally strong in all three areas. I'm best with the first and my guess is that most of you reading this are the same. But for an idea to go all the way we need to either handle all three or find someone else to help with the aspect(s) we don't do so well. So what are the strategies we can use?
Refining: if this is your weak area, cultivate one or two people whose judgement you trust and build a little mastermind group in which you candidly discuss each other's ideas and suggest refinements and improvements. Usually the problem isn't that we are bad at improving ideas, only that we are bad at improving our own ideas.
Executing: Figure out what parts of the execution you can outsource. For instance, if you are a writer who is bad at regularly submitting your manuscripts, hand that over to a secretary or PA (even a virtual one you find on the internet) to do a couple of hours a week. If you are hopeless at keeping your accounts straight, find a left-brain person to help you. For those things you cannot delegate, divide the things you avoid into the smallest chunks possible and do one tiny sliver a day.
ACTION: Which of the strategies above could help you the most? What's one thing you can do today to strengthen your weakest link?
3: Are you a contrarian?
Mickey Drexler, CEO of clothier J. Crew, says the current retail environment is the worst he's seen during his 40 years in the business. His response? He's taking J. Crew upmarket - at a time when consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending.
His reasoning is that the dominance of the big-name designer is running out and by offering high-quality goods at a fair price J. Crew will become a viable alternative. CNN Money calls it a risky bet. What interests me is that it's a classic contrarian move - and that's often where the big gains are.
ACTION: What are the major trends in your business arena? What would be a contrarian move? Is there one that might pay off for you ?
4: Your hour of power
Top copywriter Gary Bencivenga wrote recently about what he calls his 'hour of power' – and yours. He said, "I rise early and the first thing I do, before showering, shaving, anything, is sit down at my keyboard and write for at least one hour. I do this seven days a week, every day of my life, no matter where I am…I love to write, so this starts my day off with tremendous satisfaction."
Since most of his income comes from copywriting, this is also in line with the 80/20 principle (that only 20% of your activities give you 80% of the overall value, so do more of that 20%).
He advises: "Whatever your highest pay-off activity is, start each day with your 'hour of power.'"
ACTION: How could you best use such an hour of power? If you're not ready to commit to doing this every day, how about trying it one day a week at first, then raising it to two or three? The results will soon reveal whether it's working for you.
5: Amber alert for those New Year's Resolutions for 2008
At the start of this year, what did you want to have be different by the end of 2008? Whether or not you made formal resolutions, you probably had three or four things in mind. Hasn't the time flown? Here we are in September already, with less than four months to go. But it's not too late, if you start acting now to make those changes a reality.
ACTION: Jot down three or four things you wanted to change this year and estimate what percentage of each you have achieved. Mine look like this:
Writing another book: 100%
Learning software programs: 10%
That gives me a good idea of what I need to give some extra attention in the next few months. Try it and discover what needs your urgent patience.
6: And a quote to consider
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain.