Monday, June 30, 2014

The Train Ride from Memphis to Milwaukee

I had the pleasure of driving to Memphis to catch an overnight train from there to Milwaukee, connecting through Chicago. As you are well aware, there's not much to see on the train in the middle of the night, but there is certainly a great deal to experience.

The train heading north actually originates in New Orleans, flowing up the Mississippi River from the severely hot to the unbearable cold. The ride helped me appreciate the journey most took during the extreme times of racial oppression in the south, to head north to something a little better. What many found were new opportunities and a new chance. The racism was still there in a different form, but the venture upward to the midwest brought about a new environment of an area better equipped to tolerate, sometimes appreciate, diversity. Germans, Italians, Catholics, Jews, all assembled to find prosperity and freedom.

There are remnants of that past, some evident in blighted buildings of the industrial boom's past, others in the form of abject poverty for those who never quite found a good base to build that bright future. Nonetheless, it's a place I can truly appreciate, especially from the fact that I was born in the area. I spent some time during the train ride and my time in the area wondering what would have become of my life if all I knew was the mid-west. And strangely, I didn't find it to be a bad thing. I saw in Chicago, and even Milwaukee, a life of never-ending opportunities. A place to be an artist, an engineer, a banker, an academic, or just a local with strong ties to the area and the pleasures of sports and culture. I saw a world much different than the south where I have spent most of my time.

The ride back was much more scenic, as the sunlight didn't fade for a few hours of the ride. I guess I could summarize all the little towns and quaint areas as a testament to how we design our environments to be what we choose them to be. In the areas from Milwaukee to the middle part of Illinois, I saw a framework of accommodation, not just in the faces and hues leaving and boarding the train, but in the architecture and infrastructure that seemed to be more, well, public in nature. As I headed beyond that point, southward, the environment seemed more personal, more specific. Better put, less inclusive and inviting. And to say it plainly, I want to be included and I want to be invited.

You can make your brand whatever you want it to be. You can pay millions for agencies and consultants to reinforce what you think the world wants to hear about you. But upon first sight, your presentation to the public will clearly state you true promise. I sometimes wonder if we should return to the days of being ignorantly honest. I know we should strive to have the world function in a better manner, but how long can we hold up to the resistance from inclusion? I sit here writing this blog thinking about all the time I may have waisted investing in a region for what it could potentially become. And I wonder if the tradeoff was the simple pleasure of walking off a train to some small town that accepted and appreciated me, and left potential for those who feared change. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Necessity of Failure: What Fuels and Informs Success

So, I have started using my Evernote platform to do all the diary stuff, in order to spare everyone the random personal thoughts that have nothing to do with branding, strategy, or marketing. It has helped me to properly use all the digital outlets necessary to express myself in different sorts of ways. As for this blog, I will keep it dedicated to business-related topics. My other blog will continue to focus on research, public policy, and strategy in public affairs. And my twitter account, well, that will always be a scattershot of thoughts, expressions, and ideas.

The most recent body of work I have found interesting is the interview with Michael Bloomberg and Lloyd Blankfein. They both have some interesting backgrounds, including humble beginnings and tenacious appetites for doing and achieving more. The one piece I found interesting, among all the good discussion points, was the notion of early or immediate success for some professionals. Both of these moguls seemed to be in total agreement that failure was necessary to learn, grow, and develop into a well-qualified professional and leader. It makes me think of the goal for most of us, if not all of us, when we graduate from college. The plan is to land a place in a growing company, with a good environment, with opportunities for advancement, with great pay, and a promising future for us. In many cases, some land directly on that spot upon graduation. For me, experiencing three different graduations, I have seemed to miss the spot every time.

The first time was the completion of my undergraduate degree in graphic design. I had dreams and plans for some high-end design or advertising shop, where I could spread my wings and become some world-renowned creative mind. Instead, my path led me to a pre-press shop at a local printer in Nashville, for $8.00 per hour. A position I am very grateful for. My other positions in this arena were not much better. I mean I missed all the marks of the goals for success - environment, pay, advancement, etc. I gave up on graphic design and ventured into business administration. During the time of my graduation, the world was experiencing the worst downturn economy since the great depression. Having interviewed and landed a position with a prominent insurance brokerage firm, I thought I had finally made some progress by entering an arena with good pay and a promising future. No need for details, this opportunity dried up like all other jobs during this time. So, I embarked on the quest for a Ph.D. in public administration. While my graduation is only a month old, I am feeling the volume of the same old song rising, as no offers have come my way, and few positions seem to have a need for my skills. It appears I am a three-time failure.

But according to Michael Bloomberg, these failures are necessary, and are common to most successful people in the industry. I am sure you are thinking, "this guy is really reaching for anything, maybe he is either unlucky or not good", and I would say you have a really good point. But while I have not had the outlandish demand for my skills in the marketplace, I have significantly advanced in my career to uniquely leverage my creative, business, and research skills. What also gives me hope is another recent Bloomberg Sarah Lewis interview, this time with Charlie Rose. Sarah's words invigorated me to remember the creative process from my undergraduate days, and the necessity of failed attempts and the value those artifacts have to success and advancement. I even recall Einstein doing the same sort of methodology (unplanned) to develop the theory of relativity. So, here is what I learned from my most recent, but interrelated failure of not being accepted in the marketplace, at least not right now.

  1. Sometimes you are equipped to build the organization you wish to be employed by
  2. Your leadership style depends on the people you choose to lead, and your choice in the right people to lead should be directly correlated to the people who readily accept you as a leader (work with what's in front of you)
  3. When they don't buy from you, you have more R&D time to get it right, use the time wisely
  4. The longer you stay off the radar, the greater the impact you will have when you finally get on the stage (momentum is real)
  5. Anyone who's giving you a chance, is giving you a chance (demonstrate it whenever demonstration is possible)
Those are just a few things to note. For me, I need to rethink what my new assets can help me create, in terms of a new business, a new product, or a new service in the marketplace. The challenge is on me now to develop the right mix of skills to try again to be successful.