The slow swell of business cycles

I’ve been pondering a cycle that I’ve noticed in my business. It seems to go action, reflection, reinvention and back to action. As a consultant and coach, I deliver as long as the client needs my help and wants me to be their helper. Fortunately, I get repeat business. But even so, the process has a fairly stable cycle to it. There’s always “slow time”, during which the client is regrouping, or getting funding for the next cycle. During that time, I reflect on what went well, and what I’d like to improve. I follow that with decision-making and beginning the new behaviour or activity. Then the next gig starts.

What’s interesting to me is to ponder the possibility that we are all participating in a meta-cycle, both creating and reacting to it, resulting in economic bubbles and recessions. We could all be on a slow swell of action, reflection and reinvention, which collectively creates a kind of macro-cycle, like traffic on the highway. One car slows, and all the rest slow too.

A macro-cycle would make sense in the organic view of business since life does proceed in cycles of output, rest, renewal and more output. It’s anathema to the machine model of business, born in the factories of the Industrial Revolution, which requires and expects production to never stop. That could be why business people are caught off-guard when the cycle plays out.

Thoughts? Do you see patterns in your business? Let me know…


Quitting to succeed

Seth Godin, author of Tribes and Small is the New Big, has another book out – The Dip.

An important and audacious premise of The Dip is that quitting is sometimes the very best action to take to get what we want. Godin says, “we fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit”.

I see this in business often – the distraction of failing work. The project that started off as a good idea and has become a death march but no one will pull the plug because $2M has already been spent.  The job you stay in because you can’t imagine starting again despite knowing in your heart that it will only get worse and suck every last ounce of energy out of you for the rest of your career.

It happens at home too: The marriage that is being held together “for the kids”, thought the kids are miserable watching their parents slowly give up living. The children’s sports that parents keep the kids in even when the kids no longer love it, just because “we’ve invested so much already”.

Godin says in some situations no amount of work will lead to success, or there may be a light at the end of the tunnel but you’ll be almost out of oxygen by the time you get there.  The trick is to know when you’re at the decision point, when it’s time to throw one more log on the fire or move on to a better place.

His premise clicks nicely with reading I’ve been doing on Strengths, particularly the work of Marcus Buckingham in Now Discover Your Strengths. The premise there is to replace the painful and limiting improvement of weaknesses to a subjective level of “normal”, with the recognition of and improvement of natural Strengths. In the Improving Weaknesses model, you start at D or C- and get to B.  In the Strengths model you start at B+ and get to A++ with significantly more fun and less wasted energy.

Both approaches nicely work for clients in Adaptive Coaching – notice where you are in your journey and connect with others about the potential for success and how your strengths will help you get there.  Then take action to either quit and start something new based on your strengths and current resources, or keep going.  Based on the result, learn, adapt and start again.

10 things businesspeople can do to adapt in the new economy

It’s rough out there.  Customers have lost their discretionary income.  Some have no income at all.  If you do business to business  then you know budgets have been severely cut back.  It seems like nobody’s buying.  So what do you do while things are slow.

10.  This economic situation is temporary and if you can wait it out, times will be good again.  But the world will be different and you can be ready for that.  While things are slow, use the time to reevaluate your business strategy.  Who are your customers and what do they really want?   Now’s the time to go visit or call or email them and ask!  You might be the only business person who does, making you stand out.

9. Catch up on your reading, and not just books but online resources as well. Often the most relevant information is available on the web first.  Set up news alerts and RSS feeds for the area you are in.  Keep tabs on the new thinkers, not just the old faithfuls – they might end up redefining your world. 

8. Make some new friends.  If you’re on Twitter, try going to a TweetUp, or Jelly. Try some new activities in your business or home community.  Ask someone new out for a coffee, someone in a different business entirely.  Ask them about their business and interests.  Be curious and open and you may synthesize ideas into something no one else in your industry has thought of.

7. Start a conversation.  Start a blog, join Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.  Sharing your knowledge for free and being transparent about your thoughts and actions is the new business model.  It gives people a sample of the kind of thinker and communicator you are and creates trust and connection.

6. Learn something new, go to a class, try a webinar.  The possibilities are enormous for learning new skills and methods of doing what you do.  Also, the connections you make at learning events can open doors to new ideas and customers.  While you’re learning, take the opportunity to connect with others in the audience or class and find out what kind of work they do, how they do it and genuinely seek to keep in touch.  This isn’t about selling something – it’s about creating authentic connections.

5. Help someone else.  Mentor a young business person.  Provide free speaking engagements to chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, colleges and universities and other business groups.  Write articles.  Volunteer for organizations that provide services you are passionate about and get to know the people involved.  

4. Focus on your strengths. Here’s where you start looking inward and perhaps start making some changes.  Start by understanding your values and strengths.   Take the VIA signature strengths test  to identify the strengths that come most easily to you.   Then work on projects that align with your values and use those strengths.  Try some of the other questionnaires on the site as well – learn what makes you tick.

3. Check your intent.  When you connect with customers do you intend to create a relationship or simply to sell a product and move on?  Do you intend to adapt to changing circumstances, even if you don’t yet know how, or are you content to join the grim chorus calling for the end of the world?  Be honest.  People can smell a snooker a mile away.  And remember that optimism is contagious and your customers will sense your good intent, strength, optimism and belief in your business, and be attracted to you.

2. Think and act positively.  An accurately positive attitude, including confidence and optimism about things you can control, is attractive.  People want to be surrounded by, and support, positive influences, especially now.  Seek out others who have the same approach and who will support you looking for opportunities to make realistic and achievable changes.  Lead the change you want to see.

1.  Ask for help.  People love to help, both professionally and personally.  In addition to the help you receive, you can make some great connections by asking experts to help you.  And one day you will be able to help in return.

Spiders are adaptive – are you?

A recent Globe and Mail article tells us that spiders sent to the International Space Station were able to make webs in zero gravity. The author compares their initial failures, and quick adaptability, to the path we can all take in the new economy.

The spiders did not strike for better gravity, sink into helplessness, or demand compensation. They just got on with it.

The spider experiment is a great metaphor for human adaptation: Notice, respond, learn, adapt. They tried webmaking as usual and failed, but learned something from the failure. Taking action is the key, and continuing to take action after failure using the new learning is the way adaptive organisms thrive.

Can you adapt and get on with it?

Group selection and coaching for adaptability

For background:

There is a scientific theory in evolutionary biology called Multilevel Selection Theory, or Group Selection Theory.  The short version is that Darwin wrote about only one part of evolution – the evolutionary success of adaptive, fit individuals.  However, some groups survive even if the individuals in them are not the fittest in the total population.  This is what is known as Group Selection.  

What’s the bottom line that makes a group fit?  THe group has to compete.  For individuals to be collectively competitive, it all comes down to efficient communication, giving and accepting timely help, and trustworthiness.  Groups that have all these things can compete where individuals in the group may not survive.

So, for a logical segue, what does that mean for a coaching client?  Here’s what I’ve been noodling:

If individuals can become more competitively successful by being part of a fit group,

And if being part of a competitive group requires certain behaviours like communication, helping and trust,

And it is reasonable to assume that fit, competitive groups will select members based on their ability to display those behaviours,

Then it is reasonable for an individual to seek help to become great at those behaviours, to become desirable to the most successful groups.

What would those behaviours be?  Well, noticing what’s important to individuals and the group, asking for help from group members, helping when asked, contributing to the development of the group vision, taking action cooperatively to achieve the group’s vision when possible, learning what works and what doesn’t, committing to only those things that work and leaving the group if it no longer serves the individual – because it is certain that the individual will no longer serve the group.

These are very different from the behaviours we have come to associate with the successful individual – not needing help, getting it done alone, being wary, being competitive with other individuals, being “the best”.

So if the behaviours of individuals in fit groups are potentially more successful than the behaviours our culture has told us are the ones to pursue, it gets a bit confusing.  What should I do?  Should I be an individual achiever and go it alone?  Should I give up my competitive skills?

Like everything, there’s no black and white.  In some circumstances it is absolutely necessary to be able to go it alone.  However, it is probably smart to balance the “hero” our culture tells us to be with some other behaviours that give us a chance to join successful groups.

We need to be adaptable!

Top 10 tips for managers working with Millennials

Here’s the top 10 tips for managers working with Millennials:

10. Put yourself in their shoes.  Remember what it was like being 26.  Did you understand why your parents and their friends did what they did?

9. Rewind 20 to 30 years.  You’ve had years and years to learn.  They haven’t.  Start there.

8. Delegate using the Tell, Show, Watch, Give model.  If all you do is tell them and then give them the task, you’ll be back again and again.  Instead, tell them, show them how you’d do it, watch them do it, then give them the task.  High initial energy, but low long term energy.

7. Use their communication methods.  You learned to write long professional, dry status reports every week.  They just don’t understand that.  They work in frequent sound bites of 140 characters or fewer (the limit on sms, text messaging and Twitter). 

6. Imagine how their ways of doing things could actually make business better.  Wouldn’t it be great if all communication was 140 characters or fewer?  And if you could get realtime updates?  How long would it take you to do email in the mornings!?

5. Learn to love social networking.  It works if you give it a try.  And in the end, if you don’t learn to love it, you’ll be left behind.

4. Understand that the environment in which they grew up taught them to believe in themselves without having to get results.  “You’re all special” in grade 5 translates into “you’re all special” in line management.  Remember kids getting promoted to next grade even after failing?  

3. Check your perceptions.  Are they really a challenge or is it you?  How did you feel about your first manager?  Were you a challenge?  Did he think you were?

2. Take the time to coach them.  You had lots of time and training.  These days, most companies provide technical training to Millennials, but not teamwork, communication, time management, etc.  You can fill the gap and build trust by coaching them yourself.  That relationship you build will be worth much more than the time you spend.

1. Be the change you want to see.  Have integrity about what you’re asking for.  If you want more communication, more accountability and more maturity, model those traits every day not just with your boss but with your employees! 

Attributes that make vendors valuable to CIOs

In, Eric Lundquist in CIOInsight lists the attributes CIOs believe make employees valuable who are headed for mid-level manager positions (Society for Information Managers (SIMS)).  

Turns out they are the same attributes that make vendors valuable, too.  In my opinion, they are the attributes that make ANYONE valuable!

All of those attributes are coachable.

All of those attributes are made better through adaptability: to the boss, the customer, the team, the environment, the economy…

See the list below:




1. Ethics and Morals. 



2. Collaboration and teams. 



3. Critical thinking and problem solving.



4. Communication oral and written. 



5. Project leadership.



6. Managing expectations and user relationship management.



7. Decision making.



8. Business analysis. 



9. Creativity and innovation.



10. Budgets, leadership and project integration.