Navigating your way through complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world

In my previous post, I noted some of the factors that combine to create an incredibly turbulent, complex, rapidly changing, and information-saturated world in which we find ourselves. Our ability to navigate these turbulent waters is the single biggest challenge we will face for the balance of our careers.

Because these times are unprecedented, we need to intentionally create some mechanisms to help us. If we’re smart and intentional, we can build some routines, attitudes, and competencies into our personal lives and into our business culture that will help us to survive and thrive, even in these unprecedented times.
I offered the analogy of a sailboat, which is able to sail almost directly into the wind because of the dynamic tension between two opposing forces – the keel which holds it down, and the sails which drive it forward. One without the other renders the boat unusable. But, when the keel and sails are in balance, it becomes a thing of magic, allowing the sailor to maneuver safely in even the most difficult of situations.

That’s the idea. To successfully navigate our unprecedented and complex world, we need to build into our lives and businesses certain disciplines, systems, attitudes, and habits which hold us back and, just as intentionally, build in those things that drive us forward. In other words, to build sails and keels into our lives and businesses. The dynamic tension between these opposing forces is what will empower us to survive and thrive.

In the next series of posts, I’m going to describe my recommendation for the sails and keels we all need to build if we are going to meet the challenge of our turbulent times.

The first sail: An acceptance of personal responsibility.

I’m sure you are familiar with the concept: Every person is responsible for their own actions, and that those actions have consequences. As a rule, therefore, most people have created their own circumstances through the decisions they made and the actions they have taken.

Of course, there are exceptions. People are born with disabilities or encounter situations for which they have no control. Someone is injured in a car accident or orphaned at an early age, for example. Granted, events over which we have no control can overtake us and shape our lives. However, for the mass of humanity, at least in our work lives, the truth still remains that, generally speaking, we get what our actions have brought to us.

That idea, for many, if not the majority of folks, is a troubling, uncomfortable thought. It’s easy to see why. Every day we are presented with examples supporting just the opposite view. The media glorifies the victims. The courts are full of people wanting someone else to blame for their circumstances, and the government exists, at least in part, to buffer people from the consequences of their actions.

In this environment, the specter of personal responsibility takes on the semblance of a monster in the latest teenage horror movie – something to avoid and run from whenever it pops up.

I see this phenomenon most frequently in my work improving the effectiveness of sales systems and salespeople. Get a group of salespeople together and listen to the litany of reasons why sales aren’t as good as they should be. It’s the company, the product, the service, the price, the competition, the customers – everything but themselves. The idea that they could improve everything by improving themselves – personal responsibility – hardly ever crops up. It’s been my observation that in any random group of 20 salespeople, only one has invested $25 in his own improvement in the last 12 months. Only one of 20 get it – that their results are produced by their efforts. And they can improve their efforts. Only one of 20 accept personal responsibility for their own success.

I suspect that salespeople are no different than the rest of us. Probably that one in 20 ratio holds true for many professions and careers. James Allen said, many decades ago: “Men are often interested in improving their circumstance but are unwilling to improve themselves, they, therefore, remain bound.”

Getting to the point where you accept personal responsibility for your own life, your career, and your business can be a life-changing step in the journey, freeing you of the internal constraints of a ‘victim’ mentality, and springboarding you to a life of greater achievement and fulfillment.

My Story

At least it was for me. Here’s my story.

I had been the number one salesperson in the nation for a company – my first full-time professional sales job. I was comfortable – adequate salary, good benefits, company car, bonus potential, and the respect of my employer and colleagues. But the opportunities were limited, and I decided to move onto a job that was completely different. I took a sales job with a new company, selling surgical staplers to hospitals. It was a leap from the secure job I had to one that paid straight commission, and for which I had to buy my own samples and literature from the company.

But I was cocky, filled with the success of my previous job, and sure that I could make this work also. It wasn’t hasty. I looked at the amount of existing business in the territory I was slated to get, and determined that if I could double the business within six months—a doable task, I was assured – I’d be back making about what I was used to. Then, as I increased the business, my income and lifestyle would evidence the difference.

It all sounded good, and I left my old job and arrived in New York City for six weeks of intensive training on the new one. During the time that I was there, my district manager was replaced. When I arrived home after the training, the new manager was eager to meet with me. In our first meeting, before I had a chance to begin working, he informed me that he had revised the sales territories. The territory that I thought I had — the one I was hired for – was not the one I was going to get. Instead, I was going to receive just a fraction of that. And the new territory only contained about one-third of the existing business of the previous one. This change meant my plans for making a living were shot. It now became an impossible task.

I was upset and angry. How could they do that to me? At this time, I had five kids to support. I immediately began to look for another job, determined to quickly leave this unethical, uncaring company.

Things got worse. As I interviewed several companies, I discovered that they saw me as the problem. Instead of understanding what the company had done to me, they thought I was an opportunist who was looking for an easy way out. Basically, no one else was going to hire me!

I grew angrier and angrier and more and more bitter. In addition, I had little success selling the staplers. After six months, my temporary draw came to an end. I owed the company $10,000, was making almost nothing, and had no prospects for another job. I felt squeezed between the proverbial rock and hard place.

And then, somewhere in there, I had an epiphany. Yes, the company was unethical. Yes, they had done a bad thing to me. But the reason I was not achieving had nothing to do with that. It was my fault! It was me. It was my anger, my bitterness, my resentment – yes, my “victim attitude” that was keeping me back. The product was still exciting, and the opportunity was still great. The real problem was my attitude – my bitterness and anger were getting in the way of everything.

So, I accepted my responsibility to change my performance. I saw that I had to change my attitude. I set about to do so. I looked up Bible verses that were very inspiring. Versus like, “If God is for you, who can be against you?” I wrote them down on 3X5 cards. Then, as I drove into my territory every day along I-96 in Detroit, I held that stack of cards in my hand on the steering wheel and read them over and over to myself. Slowly I began to do away with my bitter attitude and replace it with hope and expectation.

My results began to change also. Things began to go better. Six months later, I had paid off the debt to the company and was making more money than I thought possible. The job became more fun, more financially rewarding, and more fulfilling than anything I ever expected.

The change happened when I accepted my personal responsibility.

I’m probably not unique. I discovered that which millions of others also have found. When you choose to remain a victim and hold onto the idea that your circumstances are the result of someone else, you live in a world of anger, impotence, and depression. Your life and your business remain in mediocrity, expanding energy in useless directions. When you accept personal responsibility, you go forth with empowerment and expectation.

Personal responsibility is not to be shrugged off and avoided. It should be embraced. It’s a sail that can power you forward by uncovering the potential you have, both in your life as well as in your business.



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