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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Show gratitude always – don’t delay, start today!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving nearing the end of another odd year. In thinking about writing about being thankful or gratitude, I thought back to posts from the last few Novembers. I can’t say it better, so here is my annual blog for the week of Thanksgiving.

This is a good time of year to think of gratitude generally and what you’re thankful for specifically. At the same time, it’s a great time of year to spread good feelings, which you can do by letting others know when you appreciate something they have done for you. In the time of the pandemic it may mean a phone call, email or text, but it’s import to take the time to reach out, thereby investing in your relationships.

Those of you who have younger children (or older ones…) know you end up reminding them to say “thank you” all of the time. That is because thanking someone or showing gratitude is a learned behavior. If it came naturally or from observing others we wouldn’t have to teach children to do so.

Hopefully you remember to thank people as appropriate in your daily life. In a usual year, this may be thanking someone holding the door for me when I get to my office, for holding the elevator for me, or for making a pot of hot water so I can have tea and get that needed caffeine injection upon arriving for work. In this year, it includes thanking people on my team for coordinating between those working in the office and at home to complete tasks needed to serve my clients’ interests. Many of these situations are universal to all of us, but I am sure we all remember holding a door for someone and they walk through without saying anything.

Of course, if you go through your day looking for when people should be thanking you, you likely will be disappointed. Instead, I think about how I want to come across to others, as well as ways I don’t want to come across to others.

We all have bad days, but most days we should recognize when thanking someone is proper and appropriate. This time of year is a reminder to says things you may usually only think to yourself. Positive feedback is energizing, and hopefully the person you provide it to pays it forward. Plus, it has the added bonus of making you or the other person feel good, making it a great way to go through life.

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Wealth is the company you keep

Who you associate with is important in business and in life. You should surround yourself with people who add value. In business it may be a mentor or connector. In your personal life it may just be someone who makes you laugh. Never underestimate the value of humor and laughter.

The saying “everything is who you know” exists for a reason. In the context of business, this makes a difference.

I used to grab lunch or coffee with anyone who asked or was connected with me. Over time, I came to value my time enough to think about who I was meeting with and whether they added value. Of course some people did and some people didn’t. I actually kept some of the people who didn’t add value to me professionally because I decided they added value in other ways. They may have been someone who makes me laugh or with whom I really enjoy our conversations. By making these decisions I was being honest with myself about the company I was keeping, why I shared their company, and the value proposition.

Making these assessments was a valuable exercise. By thinning my “regular” contacts I spent time on in relation to my business, it freed me up to be connected with and meet new people. The new people then went into my continuing analysis of whether they added value. Sometimes it took more than one lunch or meeting to make this determination. Once I did, they were on or off my list. Over time, some people who I took off of my list made it back on for various reasons, all of which had to do with the value proposition. This happened because most things aren’t static and someone can go from not adding value to adding value or vise versa, so be open to reassessing whether someone should be in your circle.

I’m speaking to the company you keep in the business context because this is a business blog. The same rules apply in your personal life. Whether they apply with family I leave to you, but your choices to maintain relationships or not belongs to you alone. As we head into the holiday season, it’s a good time to assess the company you keep. It may cause you to rethink some connections and relationships, but it also will remind you of the wealth you have based on the people you surround yourself with, which is something to be thankful for.

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Success = opportunity + preparation

There are many facets to success. The road is different depending on your profession, but in all situations it involves opportunity and preparation, as well as timing and hard work. The preparation and hard work count as investing in yourself and your future.

Preparation makes the hard work look easier to those on the outside. It’s the investment in yourself. Sometimes you can wing it, but most times you aren’t fully prepared, someone who matters will know. Preparation may be easy, which is always nice. But other times it’s hard and trying. In all situations it’s imperative to do so and enable yourself to do your best.

The hard work you put in helps create the opportunities you need along the road to success. It could be your boss noticing the hard work and giving you more opportunities or a promotion. Or maybe it’s your client or customer recognizing your efforts and directing you more business or connecting you with other opportunities for business. The point is people recognize when people are putting in time and effort, especially when it is bringing results.

This happens for me where my work for clients has resulted in the referrals of their friends, family and peers. It is a great complement when someone sees your hard work and trusts you enough to make such a referral. People don’t want to refer their friends and family to others unless they think the person can assist and will put in the time to do so, because referrals reflect on the person doing the referring. You want to be the person they trust to help people they care about.

The road to success is littered with potholes of all shapes and sizes. You will not be able to avoid them all, but the ones you hit provide lessons so that you can avoid bigger ones in the future. By continuing down the road of hard work and preparation, you will create opportunity and put yourself in the best position to achieve your version of success.

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Celebrate the moments

Thinking about celebrating is inspired by my wife, who has a big birthday tomorrow. We have made special plans with people we care about. In these times it would have been easy to not do so, have a quiet moment with immediate family, and move one. But when you do that time keeps marching forward and you’re missed an opportunity.

The opportunity missed is the chance to celebrate a person, an occurrence, a moment worth celebrating. This applies in the workplace too. For me, I know the times I received a huge ruling from a court on a trial or appeal, or closed a large complex transaction, and then kept working. I read a long ruling, emailed congratulations to my team, and called my client, but, in hindsight, I should have done more. I should have taken my team out to celebrate for lunch, dinner, or drinks. The what doesn’t matter as much as doing something. If my client lived in the Phoenix area I should have done the same with them, maybe along with the team.

Once you miss that opportunity to celebrate in the moment, or on or close in time to a birthday or anniversary, the moment has passed. Letting it pass also loses opportunity for connection with others, which even we all crave. Sometimes a big celebration is called for. Other times it could be a small, quiet event. The next time a reason to celebrate arises, mark the moment and do something. Those are the times remembered and spoken about into the future.

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In our scattered multitasking world focus still matters. Our brains aren’t built to do multiple things at once, at least not well. This is a problem when we have tasks or projects requiring focus and attention.

You probably have tools or processes you use to try and focus. This may include closing your office door, putting your phone on do not disturb, or doing the work at a time or day (think early or on the weekend) when interruption is less likely. I find it easier to have uninterrupted time earlier or later in the day and I’m not the only one.

I saw a quote from Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, where he said about beginning his day earlier than most “I do that because I can control the morning better than the evening and through the day. Things happen through the day that kind of blow you off course. The morning is yours. Or should I say, the early morning is yours.” I agree and have spent many early mornings working on matters requiring me to focus. Do you have a time of day? There is something to be said for doing important work when it’s less likely you will allow yourself to be dragged off track by email, calls, or something else.

This is important because it’s much easier to do high quality work when you can focus. If you think about recent tasks or projects you worked on, and are honest with yourself, you know whether you did your best work or not. People don’t pay me to provide legal services at a middling level. Clients expect I’m giving them my best always. I try, but know I fall short at times. We all do. But by thinking about how and when I work best and can focus, I have a better chance to hit the mark.

I encourage you to take the time to think about the setting, time of day, and other factors allowing you to focus and do your best work. Doing so is an investment in yourself, and what’s more important than that?

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Listen fully and then question respectfully

We live in a world of entrenched people and positions. Right now you may be thinking of politics and similar high level issues, but I am not. I’m considering this on a day-to-day level in relation to your work and personal lives in how you deal with people on any topic. For me it’s about my clients and who I have to dal with on their behalf.

I certainly deal with entrenched people and positions professionally dealing with opposing parties and attorneys who have positions directly conflicting with my client’s positions. I dread conversations where an opposing attorney is going to try change my mind through their words. Their positions come from the narrative they have been told by their client, many times contradicting the contracts, emails and texts underlying the matters at issue. Of course, when they speak with their clients they receive positive feedback on their apparent understanding of the their client’s narrative, thoughts and ideas, but their job is to listen, analyze and question. Accepting what someone tells you as the truth comes with great risk when their voice is not the only source of information. This moves no needle, changes nothing, and actually can be detrimental to the result ultimately achieved for their client.

I can’t give you any ideas on how to help change this in a large way, but I have some ideas on what you can do in your world to start moving the needle. This speaks to how to get along with the people you work with, live with, and deal with on a daily or regular basis, including, for me, those pesky opposing attorneys. It could be about which shop has the best coffee, the best route to get where you’re going, or, in my world, how to interpret a law or contract provision.

The most important thought I have is to think and act independently and constructively. Don’t get sucked into groupthink without analyzing the situation or issue yourself, even if you trust the person pushing a certain idea. I always say I trust what my clients tell me unless and until I review materials that make me question their version of the “facts.”

Even really smart people aren’t right 100% of the time. You can reality test ideas respectfully and constructively with questions, but you also have to listen to the answers. Again, this could be about a discussion with a co-worker on whether to hire a new employee or whether to switch IT vendors, or me questioning why my client’s position and a contract term don’t match.

Groupthink is the killer of innovation and ideas. When everyone piles on about how great an idea is without respectfully questioning it, opportunities are missed. If you jump on the bandwagon with your superiors, let alone friends and family, it may be at the price of your identity or personality. You may advance your career or a personal relationship by always being a yes person or team player, but notice the people who achieve professional success or seem to have healthy personal relationships can respectfully question or disagree with another’s thought or idea. Done in this manner it can result in better ideas and results, and serve as opportunities for learning and growth. It has helped me be a better advocate for my clients, set reasonable expectations, and achieve better results for them.

By asking the hard questions and not just agreeing with others you won’t end up being buddies with everyone. You will earn peoples respect as a thinker and as someone who doesn’t jump on the bus without thinking through ideas and issues. Up your game by thinking and acting constructively. It will make your corner of the world that much better of a place.

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Deliver outstanding advice

Delivering outstanding advice to your client or customer is what you should strive for. My firm has defined its culture and “Deliver outstanding legal advice” is fundamental #1 of the JW Way – http://www.jaburgwilk.com/mission-statement. Without this, nothing else we do matters because this is central to why clients hire us. The same is true of your clients or customers no matter the nature of your business.

To achieve the goal of delivering outstanding legal advice, I have to strive to meet the challenges of the other fundamentals set forth in the JW Way. The list is long, but without clarifying and managing client expectations (JW Way # 3), listening fully (JW Way # 5), walking in my clients’ shoes (JW Way # 4), demonstrating respect you (JW Way # 11), and otherwise following the fundamentals, it challenges my ability to deliver outstanding legal advice. You get the idea.

Delivering outstanding legal advice is what I want to be remembered for by my clients. When a client remembers me for this, it means I did my best to support and honor them, their circumstances, and their thoughts in relation to their issues. Isn’t this what you want of your clients and customers?

Sometimes it means I have to tell a client I’m not sure of the best course of action and want to think about it. Sometimes the best advice involves taking a moment to think through the options and their consequences before making a recommendation. It’s the analyzation of issues and client concerns, as well as caring about the recommendation I’ll make, that makes the difference between going through the motions and truly delivering what I believe to be outstanding advice and service.

Other times it means explaining to my client why their legal position isn’t good. In those instances I have to leave my ego at the door (JW Way # 9) and communicate to be understood (JW Way # 10), among others. This is another moment it’s good to think about what I’m going to say and how I’m going to communicate the message I want to convey. Taking a few minutes to prepare can go a long way in making a difficult conversation more productive and comfortable.

Clients and customers come to me and to you to make recommendations and direct them, whether it is legal advice or for a retail item sold where you work. In every interaction strive to be honest, direct, and clear. Your clients or customers will thank you and will be much more likely to tell others about the outstanding advice they received, as well as the outstanding experience even where, in my case, they may have been on the wrong side of the legal issues.

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Do the right thing, always

I recently heard someone on a podcast say part of why he thinks his children have grown up to be good young adults included ingraining in them the idea of “doing the right thing, even if it sucks.” Many times doing the right this is easy (and some people still choose doing the wrong thing). Other times it’s hard.

An example of the way this comes into my world is when a calendaring or similar mistake is made and may negatively affect the client. I haven’t had this happen in a long time, but when it has happened it may have been my error, or an error by another attorney on my team, or my assistant. In those situations I have the opportunity to lay or take the blame. Human nature is to blame others, but it’s wrong. In these situations, I am the outward facing client contact and leading the team. I always take the blame even if I know it was someone else’s fault. My clients look to me so to do otherwise would look like passing the buck, and likely have a negative effect on that attorney client relationship.

After hearing the gentleman on the podcast say “do the right thing, even if it sucks,” I thought about how to impart this pearl of wisdom to my children. The opportunity to do so was right in front of me. My youngest had summer homework to finish before school started a few weeks later. My wife and I even had him make a to do list for the coming days so he could finish it all with time to spare. So imagine my (non-existent) surprise when I found him playing video games or streaming shows on Netflix every morning. In that case the doing right is for him is to do his homework before the activities he finds fun, which can be hours long blackholes. And, like all of us growing up, he thinks homework sucks.

The point is this saying applies to issues large and small. As you go through your day, see how many times it fits a given situation. I have discovered it works at home, at the office, and otherwise. Plus, doing the right thing is something good to be known for, even more so when not doing so is easy, and no one else will know. But you will know and that would suck.

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Follow your dream?

Dreams are great. They can sustain us through hard times or hard work. They can lift us up and let us down. We can learn from them no matter whether they are realized.

Have you followed any dreams in your life? Most dreams die. When this happens to you, what is your reaction? Does it drag you down or paralyze you? If so, you need to rethink how to look at failure; you just need to find another dream.

I know I’m making it sound so easy. For you it may or may not be. But if you don’t try you won’t like where you find yourself. Many times it’s not giving up on the dream, but tweaking it because of what you’ve learned and what negative things have happened. It’s like the story of most successful entrepreneurs, many of who suffered through many failures before the dream that made it big.

Clichés are clichés for a reason; they’re true. In this case the appropriate cliché is “you learn more from failure than success.” I think this is true for many reasons. This includes people generally investigate, dwell on, and think through failure more than success. Even though continued success can be dependent on thinking through success and how to maintain or tweak it, people tend to do less of this.

Always analyze your successes and failures. It will help you keep the dream going, retool the dream, or change to a new course, all of which are good paths to be on.

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Make mistakes and move on

We all make mistakes. Regularly. Do you think about what happened and try to learn from them, or do you beat yourself up? Or does it depend on the mistake and what and who it affected? Next time you make a mistake, take a step back and think how you prevent such a mistake from happening again.

The cycle of beating yourself up does no good. It wastes time, which is a precious commodity. It also can be a vicious cycle dragging you down and affecting all aspects of your professional and personal lives. This will compound your issues and likely result in more mistakes being made. If you beat yourself up and continue thought processes of how dumb your were, etc., it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And others will view you from a similar lens, which only will further bring you down.

Instead, get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game. This doesn’t mean to simply move forward and ignore what happened. It means to think about in an effort to not have something similar happen again, but not to dwell on it and drag down your own self-image. Always take responsibility for your mistakes, but do so constructively and with an eye for moving forward.

Learn from your mistakes, but don’t define yourself by them, or others will too.

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