No Shortcuts - But I Got Good Grades

School is in a very interesting place right now.  Most current school curriculum was driven from the needs of the industrial revolution.  Create obedient people who do what they're told.....repeatedly.

Show up on time.  Listen to your teacher.  Do the exact same work as everyone else no matter your talents.  Go to recess when the bell rings.  Find the "right" answer in your studies.  Get rewarded for finding more "right" answers than everyone else.  

I'll come out and admit right away that I was not a fan of school and struggled throughout.  I was NOT the person who always had the "right" answer.  When I did I usually had to work 2 to 3 times harder than my classmates to get there.  I thought I was an idiot for most of my youth and beneath all those "smart" people who just got the answers so easily. 

What I thought was a defect has actually turned into an asset for me in my career.  As we shift out of the industrial revolution and more towards a place where there isn't a "right" answer it's turning out that the people who NEED that right answer struggle a bit.  Things are now ambiguous.  You need to use other skills besides reciting from books to succeed. 

Are you curious?  Are you collaborative?  Do people like working with you?  Are you smart.....enough?  Do you think of new/unique ideas to solve problems?  Do you work your ass off?    

Traditional school does not give you a grade on any of the above.  You might have all of these skills and school tells you that you're dumb based on you not being the best as calculus or world history. 

When I look at talent around me I could not care the least about what school they went to or what GPA they had.  Are they willing to hold hands and think outside the box to solve unique challenges? 

Keep this in mind as this world shifts and different skillsets become required to succeed.  Grades are just one part of you, but I do not seem them as an important indicator of success.  Sadly, it took me years to realize this!  Do not let them hold you back from what you are capable of.       

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No Shortcuts - You Don't Need Permission

You control your own destiny.  The times when you worked at a company for 40 years and got a solid pension is over.  The company was your safety shield.  If you followed orders, didn't piss anyone off and executed you'd be good.  In these crazy COVID times companies are laying off their "loyal" employees as quickly as they can to stay afloat.

As turbulent as these times are I also think they're very exciting.  The person who follows orders and doesn't do anything extraordinary is at risk.  That was the safe thing to do before and now I think it is the least safe thing you could possibly do. 

A good test that I like to think through is if there was a group of people who decide my faith at a company.....what would they say about me?  Would it be hard for them to think of anything?  Do I just do the basic stuff and stand out at NOTHING?  Or am I seen as the most innovative thinker in the group?  Or am I the person that needs to be brought in to think through a startup challenge? 

The follower and order taker is the person who people have a hard time thinking of things that make them astounding.  I have been in the room when talent is discussed and it's very awkward when names are brought up and there is a room of silence.  No one has anything to say???  Not good. 

Sadly, many times these people are doing exactly what's on their work plan.  Checking off boxes.  Updating their manager every week on progress.  The manager is nodding.  The manager isn't hearing anything negative.  That doesn't sound bad, right?  

You do not want to be this person.  I actually think it would kind of suck to be this person.  Just doing what needs to be done.  Not leveraging an exceptional talent.  Not pushing the team or org in a unique direction.  Not making the organization better in any way.  

It takes some guts to push outside of what's on your work plan.  It's not easy.  No one gave you permission to think more broadly than that, right?  I am hear to tell you that you don't need permission.  Do it.  Your organization needs your smart mind operating at the highest levels.  Not just pushing paper around. 

YOU need yourself operating at the highest levels.  That gives you energy.  People WANT to be challenged at work.  Challenge yourself if your work plan isn't delivering on that.  Plus, you need to stand out in some way.  Delivering the work plan is no longer enough.  EVERYONE is delivering the work plan.  

Find a place where something could be done better and do it.  Period.  Take on the challenge.  Bring in people.  Update your manager on what you're doing.  Make.  It.  Happen.  



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No Shortcuts - Playing it Safe is an Asset....Until it's Not

I've worked at a Fortune 25 firm for the past 10 years and run my own small business for the same amount of time.  The amount of change we have seen over these years is pretty unreal and I expect it to accelerate over the next 10.  Here are a few that I have seen firsthand. 

- People are watching less and less TV, which was the go to media platform to drive awareness of your brand for 50 or so years.  

- eCommerce is a thing.  Bezos was seen as a whack when he started selling books online.....and now he is the richest person in the world.  eComm will continue to expand.  In China eComm is 50% of sales.  I believe it is around 20% in the US now. 

- Startups can wreak havoc on HUGE companies/industries that have dominated for decades.  Dollar Shave Club.  Uber.  AirBnB.  Netflix.  Amazon vs. Everything.  It can happen very quickly. 

- AI/Machine Learning is changing industries by doing processing jobs cheaper, faster and more reliably than humans.  As the AI gets smarter it will overtake more and more of what humans are currently doing. 

- Schools have become less relevant and will continue to do so if major changes aren't made in curriculum and costs.  Are they educating their students to live in a world that I just mentioned in the examples above?  If not, then their relevance will continue to decline. 

There are lots of examples of companies who did not see the consumer behavior changing and got overtaken.  I think that is a sign that the people at those companies were not living in reality.  Either they underestimated the speed that the change would occur or were just living in LA LA Land thinking their business would not need to adjust.  Either way.....they are finished.  

The people who are seeing these trends and respecting them are the ones that will win long term.  That requires the person to be unique.  Most people aren't seeing these trends.....or are choosing to ignore them because at this very moment things are good.  Be careful of what these people tell you.  Too many people are have the attitude of playing not to lose....versus playing to win.  

Playing not to lose makes you conservative.  Playing not to lose makes you uncomfortable hearing differing points of view.  Playing not to lose requires lots of yes men/women around you.  Playing not to lose stifles innovation.  It's safe.  Safe worked for a very long time, but now playing it safe is absolute worst thing you can do. 

I am not calling for drastic measures.  Quitting your job to start a business.  Dropping out of school.  No.  I am just recommending that people start broadening their horizons.  Become aware of what is happening around you and put yourself in a position to gain longer term. 

Are your current skillsets where they need to be to be successful long term?  If not, then start taking some classes.  Is your current attitude towards work just following orders and doing what people say?  Are these people aware of what is coming?  If you are comfortable taking orders, then maybe start recommending some things that would be in the organizations best interest long term?  That might make some people feel uncomfortable, but the people who really matter will see that you are thinking about the future and are planning for it.  You will become an asset and someone they want to keep. 

Stay on top of things.  This might not help you today or next week, but it will help you in the next 2 to 5 years as more and more disruption occurs.  Do not be the person left out asking yourself where you went wrong! 





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No Shortcuts - What COVID Has Taught Us

COVID has brought doom to many many many small businesses.  Consumer behavior is shifting.  Many brick and mortar locations are forced to close.  What consumers needed 8 months ago is very different from today.  This stuff happens that is totally out of our control, but it has drastic impacts on businesses. 

Sloane is surviving and I am very grateful for that.  Our sales are down by 50%.  We have just adjusted how we operate to ensure we can still stay in business.  We have low overhead, which is very helpful in periods like this.  Having many employees, buildings, equipment, etc would have made the adjustment MUCH harder. 

The main selling feature of our undershirt is that it cannot be seen by others.  We run into an issue when people aren't leaving their homes, so a big benefit is no longer relevant.  I know I wear Nike shirts and casual track type pants daily now.  No polo shirts.  No button downs.  They are all collecting dust in my closet.  I don't wear my own product even close to what I wore it before because I barely leave the house anymore!

Starting a new business is risky.  COVID was a Mike Tyson level punch to the gut reminding me that a global pandemic can happen and stall the plans that you had for your business.  The focus is now survival.  Conserve and live to sell another day. 

I read articles on how COVID is now creating so much opportunity in new spaces.  eComm is growing.  People will be working from home much more.  Health safety (masks, cleaning products, etc) will be much more in demand.  Businesses can be started to take advantage of these trends. 

What about all the businesses that are closing and struggling to stay alive?  What happens to the owners of those businesses who worked for years to build them?  How do they pay off the loans/investment they took?  What do they do next? 

If you are interested in starting a business, then I think it's a great time to look at what's happening in the market.  Could you take the stress of seeing your company take on water?   Could you fire loyal employees?  Could you pivot to something quickly?  We are seeing a very unique situation happen right in front of us.   It's the equivalent of the car wreck you can't turn away from looking at. 

The articles are out there.  Read them.  Learn from them.  Starting a business is always very up and down and we are seeing as down as it gets.    

I am a very optimistic person and try to stay positive as much as I can.  I am a realist though and what is happening right now is as real as it gets for business owners.  

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