Nov 052011

By Wednesday, I had stopped thinking about the "next deal"

I had a crazy first week on the job.

As I write this, I actually just finished my third.

I waited for this long because it struck me that I’m still learning what I learned even in my first week of work… and that’s pretty exciting, to my way of seeing things.

Perpetual motion

After consulting for twenty years, I see how it shapes my thoughts about the next sale, the next customer, the next project…

I see how, in some ways, it seems easy to move on from one place to the next… though I never took an engagement for granted or quit without doing everything I could to hold my promises.

Nevertheless, there was always the next deal. And I always knew that. In some ways, I see how my current position was sort of the “next deal”, too.

There were also many times when my customers didn’t act on what I thought was my best coaching and counsel through the years, my most grounded assertions and assessments, for which they actually paid premiums. Some of my strategies, once delivered, sat on the drawing table and never stood the trial of execution.

Learning opportunities

How many times have you entered into a situation saying “This will be a great learning opportunity?” It seems to me like a powerful way to think of situations, whether good or bad.

After twenty years, I am pretty confident that I can make a sale, write a strategy, build a team, deliver a software product, audit a technology platform, build methodologies, coach young professionals…

Learning opportunities abound

Now I get to do it ALL.

AND I get to learn about our networks and our server environments. I get to hear concerns and complaints outside the structure of a consulting “assessment.” I get to experience outages and I get to work with my staff and our customers as we take care of business.

And I get to see it all through to the end. We don’t just fix a problem, finish a project, deliver an artifact and then shuffle off to the next customer.

That is VERY cool!

The stakes

Oh, and the stakes are high. I could fail.

It may seem strange to you, but it also took me a while to realize that my mistakes don’t mean I just get fired like a consultant – I get to live with them and learn from them beyond the incident itself.

But losing is the other side of winning. I get that, too.

All of this means I can be more fully invested in the outcomes I produce than I’ve been to this point in my career. Now, I confess there’s nothing special about being CIO that I couldn’t have been just as invested as President or Executive VP of a consulting firm.

It just seems different to me than those roles did. In the past I could fail to make a sale or make a mistake on an engagement, and I could engineer some non-negative story… and then just move on to the next customer.

I didn’t think of it that way back then, but it seems different to me now. My stories now have longer time horizons, there is more we can accomplish, and I get to execute the path I lay out.


The need for speed

One phenomenon I didn’t consider in this “learning opportunity” is the speed at which I can learn so many new things.

In The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins mentions the speed with which a new leader has to learn.

Michael starts from an ROI perspective, and speaks of rapid learning as an important strategic objective and tactical focus.

Holding the promises I make requires me to assess situations and decide whether 1) I can take direct action myself or 2) I need someone to help me (more likely the latter at this point). Then I make promises that matter to my customers, and work to fulfill them and build trust.

Either way I get to learn, and the more help I get, the more opportunities abound for learning.

On being tired

I also noticed in my first week being tired at the end of each day. In that, I saw different ways being tired could appear to me.

In the past I’ve been tired and fatigued, tired and stressed, tired and anxious… even “sick and tired”.

Right now I’m doing something I really enjoy, getting up early, charging through the day and going to bed tired… and happy.

It’s kinda cool, actually. I can’t imagine I’ll sustain it forever, and after all it’s not about my comfort. So I’ll count it as a “season” in my life – my intention is to lean into it and revel in it while the season lasts.

I’m amazed at the speed with which I can learn, as if I were coming fresh out of school again. It’s invigorating and energizing. It’s just what I was looking for, and I’m grateful for all that led me to this point.

Maybe it’s just the honeymoon I’m describing. Stay tuned and we’ll come back to this in a few months.

For now, I’m curious if you’ve had similar “learning opportunities”. Have you been surprised at the velocity you’ve achieved at those times as well? What about a healthy level of being tired? It’s worth writing about.

  8 Responses to “Learning opportunities – velocity, being tired and happy”

  1. Mr. Faw,
    Congrats on your learning experiences and becoming a self aware CIO. Your words resonated with me and my empathy with your situation is complete. I too have a new job, I too feel the incredible pace of learning, I too know others are watching and depending on my successes and failures. Thanks for being so frank even at your experienced and high level. It helps me to know that the learning never stops, and that its uncomfortable squeeze on my mind is crucial to new ways of thinking taking root.

    • Thanks, Alicia. I saw your position update in Google+… UX/Agile is a very important space you are diving into, so I can anticipate some of what you are working through right now.

      With regard to openness, I had resolved earlier this year that the less I hide, the less I have to hide. Crazy, huh?

      There are strategic decisions we make that are not public, but my thinking about a new role and my need for the help of others (who incidentally may be going through similar thinking) is some of the power of the social web. To take care not to betray the trust or confidence of others, to avoid sharing confidential information or items of a strategic nature is really important… but beyond that we are all building the story of our lives, so why not share our interpretations and look for those of others?

      When people lose interest, they stop reading. So if I were writing a blog that was hoping to make everyone else happy, I would have to paint stories to keep “the readers” happy. Instead, we get to have a conversation and maybe build something that is helpful to others and those of us who join in.

      With regard to learning quickly, I wrote an email response to a friend recently who asked about my new role, “I am learning things faster than I realized I (still) could… so in that I feel much younger”. It is a neat thing to keep learning… but to learn not only how much there is to learn, but that you can actually do it is immensely cool.


  2. On Google+, Jason Hittleman wrote:

    Great post Ken. I can totally relate to your experience. The honeymoon as you describe will evolve, become more mature so to speak and take on a more strategic and vested shape.

    • Hi Jason. During my preparation for transition, I thought of you and a few others we know who have recently done similarly. In the short term, I anticipate how the relationships with the management team will play out and how we will work together creatively. I want to avoid putting people on pedestals and having inflated expectations they cannot match, which is a historical pattern of mine, and be flexible in this.

      I can’t claim any competence yet, but the wisdom and knowledge of those who have gone before is important to me.


  3. On Google+, Thomas Gagne wrote:

    Ken, it’s fascinating to read about your discovering the role of CIO, as it reminds me of discovering the role of a consultant after having been a CTO, and the things I regret leaving behind.

    For instance, you’re comment about being able to see things through and about your decisions having longer horizons. Consultants are temporary by design, and so are unable to see things through, but their horizons aren’t necessarily short by design, they’re sometimes short by contract/intent and a desire/need to overcome short-term or temporary problems before the longer-term and permanent issues can be attacked.

    Sometimes change is needed at the top, but consultants risk losing the customer by suggesting that change, or even pointing it out. When that’s the case they’ll definitely not see it through to the end and their horizons risk being abbreviated. X-)

    You get to BE the change… and good for you and American Laser Skincare.

    • Hi Tom. At this point I don’t regret leaving “things” behind, but I do miss some of the people! But it’s still early, maybe that will change? 😉

      The time horizon issue really started for me when I saw a customer outsource the maintenance on a platform we had built in 2001 and turn it from one of the most stable to one of the worst platforms in the company. It came to a head as one client after another seemed to force me into conspiracies to give them help…

      So now I have the torch and we will get to see what I do. I figure I will keep writing, and where I can find colleagues and partners to help in my learning, it will be a fun ride together.

  4. On Google+, Michael Back wrote:

    A wonderful tool to keep in your belt too is how powerful of an asset perspective really can be. I’ve often said that what helps me more than anything to be effective as a business analyst is the experience I’ve had in wearing the various business user hats. It gives me an understanding and provides we with a means for clearer communication that I just wouldn’t get solely from studying elsewhere. I take those new skills I’ve acquired and apply them to the ability to speak “business talk”.

    The same is true with any transitive move we make. By carrying all of those years of experience and having an understanding of what the consultant role really does, it will give you a perspective unlike others. Ultimately, it is those unique views we have combined with the commonality we share with others in similar roles that provide our value, in that we bring something to the table that others will rely on us for in terms of expertise and new methodology.

  5. […] if, like me, you want to act quickly and decisively, look at situations like my last Friday as opportunities to practice discipline.  Posted by ken at 7:43 pm  Tagged with: business, career, cost, disciplines, […]

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