It takes a lot of thought to be spontaneous, at least if you want to be effective. I have been thinking about planning and achievement because it is EER season. EERs are like some made for TV movies; they are inspired by a true story. But a good story is not enough. I am very interested in figuring out what exactly I had contributed to the significant success we achieved. It is not only for personal aggrandizement. I need an idea of what I contributed so that I can manage the process and improve it.
If it is mostly just luck, I can do nothing except hope it continues. If I just blundered into a good strategy, I need to know so that I can adapt it. I think our success is a combination of luck, opportunity and a type of planning. I say a type of planning because I don’t plan in the step-by-step way. Actually, I sometimes do, but I don’t expect those exquisite but fragile plans to survive contact with reality.
I plan less now than I did twenty years ago, but I think the planning is better. I don’t need to overt discipline I forced on myself earlier in my career for a few big reasons. The first is that I can rely on my colleagues to protect me. They do lots of the details and backstop for me. Thanks. Life has also become simpler because of technology. Think of travel. You don’t need to keep track of tickets anymore. They are all online. You can do your accounting online; actually the accounting is done for you online. Many of the chores that were so hard for me are gone. Life is easier. But the big reason I don’t have to plan consciously is because I now have internalized the processes and I plan automatically in ways that I could not do before.
At my level, almost all my planning is contingent. It is not step by step and it is full of feedback loops. What I learned in business school just doesn’t work. I know that I sometimes give the impression that I am a mystic and/or I am just not paying attention. This is not my intention but it comes with some advantages. After they get to know me, people come to trust me, which is an important prerequisite. My vagueness gives them license to innovate but their faith that I know where I am going provides direction. Almost all of what I accomplish is done through others and returning to my original question, where do I add value?
I think my main contribution is as a connector and a facilitator or shared vision. I say facilitator because it would be an oxymoron to claim to be a creator of a shared vision. A shared vision requires that participants share in its creation and then in its flexible implementation. The better the shared vision, the more people want to be part and contribute, the less you can tell where your ideas and skills stop and those of others begin. The more successful you are in facilitating the success, the less you can identify the parts you “did” but the better the results. I guess it is a sort of mysticism.
None of my teams greatest accomplishments at the end of this year could have been predicted in detail at the beginning. They resulted from opportunities offered, taken and expanded. We knew where we wanted to be and we developed a range of tools and skills and then waited for the chance to use them.
All greatness is based on contradiction and we should not try to resolve all contradictions and tension. Contradiction and tension are the fonts of creativity. But I will add that in addition to being creative, you really have to be excellent first in some basics. I worked hard to get my basic skills up to standard. Without my capacity in Portuguese, I could not be successful here. My basic ability to understand accounting procedures made it possible to work with budgets. Things like this make a difference too. The poetry of creativity needs to be based on a prosaic base, else it comes to nothing. I suppose that is the difference between dreaming and making them happen.
Of course, in my EER I sound a bit less tentative and more take charge than I do above. As I said, it is inspired by a true story and reads a little more coherently than it was lived.