Are you a ‘Lone Genius’?: You need a Thought Partner!

You create, build, manage, make, run and organize things – adding value to a multitude of stakeholders in a complex and volatile world. You are accomplished at what you do, recognized by your peers as a leader. But there is a lot on your plate – or more accurately plates – with the prospect of only more being heaped on. It’s a constant juggling act, and as good as you are, you admit to yourself that you don’t have all the answers – in fact more than you’d like to admit or show, you’re frequently stuck.

Sound like you? If you are like most senior executives that I’ve met through my my business career and coaching/advisory practice (including most especially -me), the answer is yes. In discussions with literally hundreds of accomplished individuals over the past year, from CEO’s (start-up to Fortune 500) to senior civil servants to NPO leaders to performers and artists, most report experiencing the pervasive sense of loneliness and uncertainty that comes from being an accomplished builder/creator/operator.

It’s tempting to look to the 180,000+ books on leadership on (just for example) for inspiration for the most current 5 or 10 step solution to your problem, but logic suggests that they ALL can’t be correct. In fact it all becomes ‘noise’ – the bleating of thousands of advice-givers more interested in advancing their agenda than in supporting yours. And in a world of exponential advances in technology, and of industries/societies impacted for better and for worse, the noise gets ever louder – even desperate.

Of course, the ‘answer’ does not lie without – with ‘them’ – it rests within you. It’s why so many of us engage in constructive self-talk – we are constantly discussing with ourselves our situational awareness, our ability to both understand our environment and to positively shape/impact it. It’s this self-talk that speaks to the need for a true partner that can offer a second-set-of-eyes perspective to your ever-changing relationship with the world around you.

Which leads us to the concept of Thought Partner. In a 2012 guest post in Forbes Magazine, Rania Anderson well defined the concept;

A Thought Partner is one who;

  • Challenges your thinking
  • Causes you to modify your paradigms, assumptions or actions
  • Has information or a way of thinking that provokes you to innovate or otherwise leads to value creation in your business, career or life.

Thought Partners are usually people who possess information, knowledge, or a way of thinking that challenges and provokes divergent thinking for you.

I would add that a Thought Partner is a sometime coach, sometime mentor, sometime advisor, sometime connector of dots and resources, and sometime friend, who is above all else – often even more so than your business or life partner – your confidante alone committed to think with you, rather than for you. Safely, securely, in the greatest confidence.

Critically, the need for a Thought Partner is not a one-off, sequential exercise. We have all witnessed the demise of the five year business plan – now reduced far more appropriately to one year and ever more iterative planning cycles, due to the complexity and volatility of the exponential change noted above. Instead, just as planning is now an all the time, real time activity, so too is the need for your Thought Partner. As an oft-repeated quote paraphrasing Albert Einstein puts it “enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius“.

As you contemplate this New Year, the question is – is 2016 the year you cease being a lone genius, and instead seek out your Thought Partner, or are you going to continue to talk to yourself to cross-pollinate, conceptualize and execute the initiatives and actions that determine your future?


Google Puts Money on Robots, Using the Man Behind Android

Google Puts Money on Robots, Using the Man Behind Android

In an out-of-the-way Google office, two life-size humanoid robots hang suspended in a corner.  If Amazon can imagine delivering books by drones, is it too much to think that Google might be planning to one day have one of the robots hop off an automated Google Car and race to your doorstep to deliver a package?  Google executives acknowledge that robotic vision is a “moonshot.” But it appears to be more realistic than Amazon’s proposed drone delivery service, which Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, revealed in a television interview the evening before one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.   […]


Microsoft Reorganizes Itself–Crafty or Confusing?



Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer  appears to be planning a major reorganization. His apparent objective is to help the company move toward becoming a “devices and services company,” as presented in the company’s annual shareholder […]


Business Plans are for Bureaucrats

@ itcouldbedifferent.combusinessplan

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe. Anatole France After a dozen years developing new products for large companies and running business units, I knew how to write a business plan. I even knew how to follow the plan. So […]


Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything


Launching a new enterprise—whether it’s a tech start-up, a small business, or an initiative within a large corporation—has always been a hit-or-miss proposition. According to the decades-old formula, you write a business plan, pitch it to investors, assemble a team, introduce a product, and start selling as hard as you can. And somewhere in this sequence of events, you’ll probably suffer a fatal setback. The odds are not with you: As new research by Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh shows, 75% of all start-ups fail […]


The new digital customer journey: Cross-channel, mobile, social, self-service, and engaged


images (31)Businesses planning today to improve their connection to customers in digital channels are increasingly looking at the discipline of mapping out what’s being called the ‘customer journey’.  Over the last ten years, the fragmentation of customer engagement across dozens of channels has turned into both a highly vexing problem […]


How scenario planning changed corporate strategy

HBR 2013-05


In their recent article in the Harvard Business Review Angela Wilkinson and Roland Kupers  take us on a enjoyable and educational time travel to the early days of corporate scenario planning. Having both worked for Shell they share how the globally renowned scenario planning practice has been born out […]


A Better Way to Think About Your Business Model

Business Model Canvas


The business model canvas — as opposed to the traditional, intricate business plan — helps organizations conduct structured, tangible, and strategic conversations around new businesses or existing ones. Leading global companies like GE, P&G, and Nestlé use the canvas to manage strategy or create new growth engines, while start-ups […]


Of weeds, checklists and crash reports

Near where I live, the City was inspired to rebuild and improve a busy street – a challenge to juggle the needs of commuters who use the road as a thoroughfare from the hinterland to downtown in the morning (and vice versa at night), and the locals who use it to access the residential streets that feed off it.  In order to ‘naturally’ slow down the commuters to a rather somnambulistic  40 km/h’s, the City erected a veritable tribute to urban planning – a beautiful new boulevard with elevated gardens dividing the two lanes reminisecent of ancient babylon. In order to ensure that the new gardens rose to dramatic heights dramatically, a multi-million dollar irrigation system was installed on top of the already-mulit-million dollar cost.  No stone unturned as it were.

It was magnificent.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

Evidently, it had not occured to anyone in the extraordinarily lengthy design or build stage that the locals turning left from their access road on to the the new magnificent boulevard would actually care to see someone tootling along at 40 km/h before the were T-boned (it turns out that being hit broadside at 40 km/h can be surprisingly effective accident-wise). In fact, in the short time since the new road was completed, the foliage had risen dramatically and virtually and effectively hid the view of each lane from the other.  Aesthetically quite tasteful – just not in the least practical.

This minor event in the speed bump of existence reminded me of a thought that has been forming for sometime – and that is that we need to consider something I’ll cleverly call checkbox management.  We are assured to see pilots running through their checklists to keep us in the air without event, but here on the ground all evidence is that we are content to use our faulty memories (individual and collective) to guide us in the execution of even the most complex manoeuvers.

Life is arguably an on-going process of making, avoiding and yet still (often stupendously) repeating mistakes.  I wonder if we conducted a crash report at the end of each success-chalenged event, and then developed a checklist to avoid a repeat, whether we might avoid some of our more impactful debacles. All the money you need?  Check.  World renowned designer? Check.  Anybody want what you’re selling? er, well, no.  Make that mistake once and you’re human like the rest of us.  Make that mistake, run a crash report and prepare a checklist so that you never repeat it – you my friend are positively empowered by failure, up for the next opportunity.  Make it a third time and you should work for Microsoft (see this month’s Vanity Fair article).


Mea Culpa

We all make mistakes.  If success is hitting a bull’s-eye, then most of our effort (or at least a very great deal of it) goes into shooting blanks.  But of course, are they really ‘blank’ – that is devoid of value?  The truth is that the only way to hit the bulls-eye, other than through blind luck (or rarer still – you are supernaturally gifted), is through a great deal of trial and error.  And given the time, energy and emotion invested in the blanks, they are anything but worthless.

When we talk of gaining experience, in many respects we are speaking to the collection of scars we have earned as we experiment with plans, strategies and actions that ‘work’ and those that don’t. And yet strangely, while we might no longer grab a hot frying pan handle (that scar on your hand), we tend not to reflect much on how to employ the lessons of the past as we contemplate future action.  While our business life lessons may be buried in our sub-conscious, they tend not to see the light of day when it comes to planning tomorrow’s big meeting.

I have this mental image of all of us cruising through our careers looking through the front windshield of life with our keen execu-eyes fixed firmly on the horizon, while in the rearview mirrors the carnage and debris of countless fenderbenders and near misses is thrown off into the ditch.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I like to think of myself as a ‘through the windshield’ kind of guy (don’t go there), but I have concluded that I, and perhaps a few of you, should spend more time reflecting on the mishaps that follow each of us.

Accordingly, my objective herein is to explore the art of erring in business – the thin edge of success.  Of how to ensure that what we do is captured, cataloged and processed so that we collectively profit from our mistakes and in fact make our mistakes pay a dividend.

To err may be human, but to be a serial errer is just not conducive to success.

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