Recently a client’s Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing posed me this challenge: How does an organization not only go from good to great, but maintain a culture where creativity and innovation are a consistent competitive advantage?
On our conference call she let me know, that while my mountain climbing metaphors were a perfect fit her upcoming Scottsdale meeting, she was less certain about my statement about the inherently empty nature of the ‘summit experience’. “You say in your speech there is nothing up there,” she chided me. “Well for us there is something up there. Our CEO has mandated us with a billion dollar growth in the next five years. And we want your presentation to help us surpass the competition and make it to the top.”
The gauntlet had been thrown. I had to do some reflecting. While as a speaker my goal is to help the leadership team attain its strategic objective, climbers and explorers are not by nature competitive. How to align my philosophy with the expectations of my client?
The Easy First Billion Is Easy
Arriving a day early, I had the opportunity to spend time with dozens of folks from almost every level of the organization. All were delightful. From staff to salespeople to leadership there seemed to emanate a glow of the belief coupled with the glint of integrity. It was obvious that the executive team had assembled a group that could handily make that first billion dollars goal.
Taking the platform that afternoon, I found myself saying : “I know you’ve got what it takes to make your first billion. But how to do it and not burn out in the process. The question really is not be how to attain success but how to sustain it.”
Great climbers, explorers I explained are not competitive. In fact when you read the autobiographies of all the great inspirations in nearly every field - athletes, entrepreneurs, business leaders – all seem to share one great common denominator: they knew that success comes from the inside out. External greatness derives from an internal source, the alchemy and endless refining, honing, polishing of the inner game where we aspire not to be better than anyone other than the person we were yesterday. The key to that gleam-in-the-eye-wide-awake-can’t-wait-to-get-started feeling is the awareness that every day offers an opportunity unlike anything we have ever before known.
Here is the irony: When the game is external, immediate goals may be attained but exhaustion is sure to follow. When the game is internal, the process is not only self-sustaining it actually builds momentum. Extrinsic motivation is by nature self-limiting. Intrinsic motivation creates its own infinite momentum, ramping up logarithmically, ever-accelerating and ever- refining.
Harnessing the Power of Tao
The Chinese word Tao is most often translated as “the Way”. So The Tao or Way of Adventure is simply the pathway by which the greatest outcome may be obtained. Walk the ‘way’ with skill and grace and victory is guaranteed. Pay attention to one’s soul and mountaintops fall quietly and easily beneath one’s feet.
As I explained to my audience in Scottsdale: The elegant beauty here is that the metrics and method are elegantly simple. There is one question to pose:
Am I and my organization the best we have ever been?
If the answer is YES on a continuous basis, you are plugged into the perpetual power of the “Tao of Adventure”, where all things are accomplished seemingly without effort. If not, you know where to look.
I know my Scottsdale friends will attain their goal handily. They have a dynamic leadership team equipped with high intention, clarity of purpose and a commitment to the integrity of their process. They didn’t really need me, but I like to think my perspective gave them a boost of energy and a glimpse of how the pursuit of their initial objective not only need not diminish their dynamism but actually help it to grow over time.
If you are experiencing the joys of a sustainable culture already embarked on the adventure of excellence. Congratulations.