Learn the norm and then push the boundaries

Some time ago I mentioned if we all were the same, the world would be a boring place. This remains a favorite saying of mine. In relation to work, there always are “in” jobs and professions, or the new better way to do your job. In reality, there are many ways to do the same job. Certain tasks may have specific steps, but otherwise, creativity and differences reign.

No matter your business or where you work, it is your individuality that makes you stand out to others. It also is your creativity and the ability to think outside of the box. Do you do that, or is the same old same old? It’s hard to come up with or do something new or different. Ideas that seem so obvious weren’t to most of us. If you are an entrepreneur, whether in a startup or any other type of business, what makes you and your business stand out?

Colleges should teach creativity along with entrepreneurship, business, etc. Tapping into other parts of the brain is important and can be life altering. It is good to think outside of the box and differently than others in your space. Of course, in all businesses and professions, you need to learn the ropes and rules before trying to push any boundaries.

Doing what others have done is safe and where learning begins. We need people to do many jobs that are decidedly not hip or “in”. In fact, being safe or working as others have or in an unhip job may make you a success. Once you have learned the basics, being creative, unique and different has the possibility to make you a trailblazer or visionary in your field.

It’s up to you to determine whether you are okay with the status quo or not. It sure seems more interesting to blaze your own trail within whatever path you choose.

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The importance of relationships can’t be overstated

People and relationships provide opportunities. Ignoring this in the course of business and life is at your own peril. The saying “everything is who you know” is true. These people make up your world, which is expanded by people one person knows, but another doesn’t. Connecting with your connection’s connections is a learnable skill with the possibility to expand your network, world and possibilities.

Sometimes it works to ask people you know to introduce you to someone they know who has a specific expertise, whether an accountant or a plumber. I regularly ask people I know well who they know who I need to know. That is the start of connecting and the chance to forge a new relationship. By doing this you exponentially increase the reach of your network and opportunity for good connections.

You may be thinking this seems like real life LinkedIn. Of course, LinkedIn is an online technology driven world trying to imitate real life. The difference to me is I have many connections on LinkedIn I haven’t met and don’t actually know. This doesn’t mean LinkedIn has no value, just that it’s different than connecting in person and through people you know.

One year I tried to meet any new local LinkedIn connections for lunch or coffee to see if I could forge any meaningful relationships beneficial to me professionally. I met some nice people, but, for what I do professionally, the time and money spent didn’t result in any work or good connections. Instead, I was offered a lot of insurance products and asked to trust people I just met to invest my money. It was a failed experiment, but resulted in me honing my focus on connection through real human contact and interaction through people know. In the years since, this has proven to be a good path to follow.

Of course, these are what is referred to as “warm connections” because they come through someone you know. There is a more immediate trust when someone who knows two people is willing to introduce them. It doesn’t mean every connection made will bear fruit, but you don’t know if you don’t try. Start today.

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Experience and opportunity

If you didn’t know experience and opportunity matter before, I’ll bet you do now after being trapped inside for so long during the pandemic. Think of travelling or meeting new and different people. In the near future you may be offered an opportunity for an experience. Will you take it? Does it challenge the boundaries of your comfort zone? It’s even better if so. Experiences and people make you and your life more interesting, which will provide you with other opportunities.

Sometimes the experience will breed opportunity. I recently sold a car. The couple who purchased it were very nice. After they had seen and decided to buy the car, they came to pick it up. In the course of speaking, one asked me about an area of law and whether I practiced in the area. I do. From speaking with these people we learned a bit about each other resulting in the possibility of a business opportunity. If I had solely viewed this as transactional, only spoken about the car, negotiated the price, etc., this wouldn’t have happened. I like learning about people and taking the opportunity to do so creates opportunity even when you don’t expect it.

Everyone can be interesting to speak with. You need to picture people you meet as wearing a hat saying “make me interesting.” This is a reminder it takes asking questions and good listening to learn things about people. This is where opportunity comes from. It could be a business opportunity as I describe above, or an invite to a cool event, or a spot on an amazing sounding trip. The possibilities are endless, at least if you’re open to people and possibilities.

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Going deep

Many people exist on the surface. By this I mean they know a little about a lot, but not the opposite. This can create a short conversation, but no chance to really learn more on a subject. The more knowledge you have on a subject, the better chance for you to be viewed as an expert and someone people look to.

Whatever you do for a living, people are looking for your expertise. All day everyday, people are looking for help from people who have gone deep and know what it takes to get the job done. People don’t hire me to assist on their legal matters because I’m a nice guy and friendly (though these things are helpful in the big picture), but because, when we meet or speak, it’s apparent I have the experience and knowledge to help them. If I can talk the talk, but not walk the walk, it will become obvious soon enough, and only lead to problems for me and my client.

This applies to you whether you are in sales, an attorney, an auto mechanic, or something else. By going deep in areas important to your work you’re investing in yourself. This is the type of investment that pays off, makes you a person of substance, and allows you to move forward in your chosen line of work with the best opportunity for success.

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Change creates energy, excitement, and learning

People enjoy being in their comfort zones. The challenge is in order to grow change is essential, but getting people out of their comfort zones is hard. Adapting to change is important because it’s inevitable. If you choose not to keep up you will be left behind.

A great example is technology. No matter what you do for a living, technology is improved or created, and then you have to (or some may view it as forced to) learn to incorporate it in your daily work routines. For attorneys, it could be a new billing software, document management software or changes to an online legal research portal. When this happens, it requires all users to learn the changes or how to use new software. This is easier for some and harder for others. For many it’s uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable can be difficult, but being a lifetime learner is important. Being sedentary with your learning and brain is as bad for you as being physically sedentary. Allowing yourself to feel discomfort will take you out of your current comfort zone and, hopefully, to the next level of what your comfort zone will be.

You need to embrace change. Striving to improve and learning make life better and more interesting. Think of it as adjusting and finding your next comfort zone. Of course how long you stay in your old or new comfort zone depends on you, and whether you allow yourself to be open to the energy and excitement of consistent learning and change.

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Corporate culture in the time of Covid

Your business has a specific culture whether you are aware of it or not. All corporate cultures have been affected over the past year during the pandemic. The changes may be good or bad, depending on your view, but know where your company’s culture ends up as we move forward will be different than what it was in early 2020. The question is what do you want your corporate culture to be?

This question has many answers and the new procedures or rules you implement for your business will drive where your culture goes. Some threshold issues are whether your business will be virtual in whole or part, with employees working from home or around the country, or will you require your employees to be vaccinated. One overriding issue will be whether you treat all employees the same or not, and the related fallout.

By this I mean do some employees have the ability to choose to work remotely some or all of the time, while others are required to come into your place of business? If some employees are remote full time, some are coming in 2 days a week and others 4, each group may think the other is receiving preferential treatment and that they aren’t being treated “fairly.” I put the word fairly in quotes because how you define the word depends on you: what is fair to me may not seem fair to you. The risk in all situations is the potential for issues such as resentment in the workplace

I think issues such as resentment can work themselves out. Employees either will adjust to how they and other employees are working or opt out. This means there will be conversations to be had to know where employees stand, but some may opt out by leaving your company. This may be difficult in the short term, but in the long run your company will be better off with employees comfortable with what your company is post-pandemic and the manner in which your employees are working, i.e. comfortable with your evolving culture.

There are no easy answers. There will be bumps in the road. Your company likely will lose people you currently view as important to the success of your business. But this also will provide opportunity in the form of new employees who fit in your new corporate culture.

Embracing change always has been important. Now it’s as important as ever because businesses are reinventing their identities in part or whole. If you don’t consciously work on the reinvention of your company and its culture, it will happen anyway. Don’t you want to have a say in what your corporate culture becomes?

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Make goal, work hard, achieve

A few weeks ago I wrote about checking in on your goals. I was inspired bya goal I was working towards: a very long one-day hike in the Grand Canyon and the idea I would emerge at the top of the Grand Canyon at the end of the hike feeling physically well.

I have long been a hiker. This year I have been on a hiking tear. I enjoy hiking and it’s a great way to take a break and relieve stress. Despite hiking more or hiking less during and through the years, this year I was focused on my big goal. This was to be, by far, the longest single day hike I had ever done.

Months before, I came up with a plan of how I wanted to train. I set up accountability by creating a spreadsheet through which I could keep track of how often I trained, the length of a hike, the elevation gained and the time spent hiking. By doing this I regularly checked in on and knew how I was doing on staying focused on the hard work it takes to reach such a goal. It wasn’t always easy to break away to hike, but, when I did, I knew the hard work and time would be worth it.

Fast forward to last week. Saturday was the day. I was lucky to have a co-conspirator, who had done the hike before, my wife. We made our way to the Grand Canyon Friday evening and woke up early Saturday morning in the dark with a plan to start as or just after the sun was rising.

Throughout the day we hiked down the south Kaibab Trail and up the Bright Angel Trail for a total of 17.6 miles with close to a mile of elevation gain. You go through stages during such a long hike, but when we emerged at the top of the Canyon Saturday afternoon my training had paid off as I felt really good. I am speaking to more than the feeling of reaching a goal and finishing a long arduous task, but I physically felt really good.

I know I usually speak on topics related to business. It may not seem like it, but this is that type of topic. Instead of telling you about my training and the hike, this could have been a story of me spending hours a week to learn a new area of the law and getting my first case in which I was able to put my time and training to use. If you take the time to invest in yourself you can reach goals. It takes hard work, but is worth it in the end.

As for my experience, it left me thinking about the next big goal I can set for myself in relation to hiking, as well in relation to other areas of my life, including business. You know the saying “Just do it.” Start today.

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Check in on your goals

Setting goals is as important as it’s difficult. Once you do, you need to review your goals regularly. In addition to reading and reviewing your goals, you need to assess where you are and whether a goal needs to be revised.

Sometimes you don’t know a goal needs to be revised until you’re on the road trying to reach the goal. Once it becomes clear change is needed, make it. There is no reason to follow steps you have sketched out if you find there is a better path.

If you don’t review your goals it’s unlikely you will reach them, or it will take longer than if you had changed course. If, when reviewing them, you determine there is a better course of action, make necessary changes then. Then check in again regularly to see how you’re doing and whether additional tweaks are needed.

By constantly reviewing and working on your goals, the path you’re on, and where you are on the journey, you’re investing in yourself. The time to start in now.

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Commit to the current business environment and the future

We’re a year into the pandemic from when schools, businesses and most of the country shut down. Some businesses were able to transition in this environment with minimal disruption to productivity, while others weren’t. Your business may be back to operating in the manner it was before everything shut down. As a member of a law firm, we aren’t there, and likely won’t return to how things were at the beginning of March 2020.

Attorneys at our firm were long able to log in remotely from home or elsewhere (or vacation…). Our IT people did amazing work deploying all attorneys, paralegals and staff in a few short days. Having all of our assistants, accounting staff and others work remotely hadn’t been on our radar. Now it will, in part, be our future.

Before the pandemic, my partners and I knew as new attorneys came out of law school, their expectations on how and where they work would be different from those of new attorneys from just a decade ago. Think hoteling offices and hybrid work weeks. The pandemic has accelerated these discussions and when decisions will have to be made.

The main difference is it now involves all employees, not just attorneys. This will result in fundamental changes in how people and teams work. Maybe my team and I will be in the office three days a week and another will be there two, with one day crossing over.

Some people would prefer all employees come back five days a week. There is something to be said for what happens when people are in the same office in relation to collaboration, consultation and culture. Those pushing for five days a week are right, as are the those pushing for hybrid schedules for all. There are no easy answers.

Companies have to commit to plan and execute. The current business environment is the future and it is coming at us fast. Many people continue to work remotely and some will never go back to a physical office.

As a business you have to come up with a plan and stick to it, i.e. the equivalent of doing what you say you are going to do. If you don’t, your employees will not trust you and it will affect potential hires in the future.

Part of committing to the current environment is being honest with your employees. This doesn’t mean your company won’t have to adapt as you try new work schedules and ideas. It means you will have to try things and see what works, as well as what doesn’t. Then you will have to keep adjusting, just in a different manner than you may have thought a year ago.

Remember, change, while difficult at times, brings opportunity. Be ready to change or be left behind.

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Be kind, be cool, be courageous

Do people see you as you see yourself? If so, is that a positive? Are you kind to those you deal with throughout your day? The point of these questions is kindness is a choice . If you practice it, your path likely will be smoother and people will see you in a good light.

They may think you are cool or courageous, or simply nice. Any or all of these support a good reputation. I think kindness is cool and can be courageous. The situation dictates how something like kindness is interpreted by others. I sure would rather be thought of as kind than unkind.

Some people view kindness as a weakness and would rather be thought of as tough or hard. There is a difference between being kind and being a pushover. Kindness is a strength. It doesn’t mean letting people take advantage of you. It helps if you are good at sniffing out those who aren’t honest or have bad intentions.

Try being kind and see what happens. People will look at and think of you much differently if you don’t treat people well or are okay rolling over others on your path to success. At the end of the day you get to decide how you deal with people.

Don’t you want to do your best to leave a positive legacy? Of course, others write legacies, but you are the one who provides the underlying substance they use to write it. Choose kindness.

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