Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is about the struggle to stay current as we get older. A recent experience illustrates my point.
My office exists above a successful bakery and coffee shop in NE Portland. Needless to say, the early morning aromas of fresh-brewed coffee, muffins and bacon, wafting from the first floor to the second, present strong temptations.
Until recently, I occupied the largest office at the front of the building in of a suite of five. When you live in Portland, getting any kind of light into an office space, especially during the gloomy grey days of winter, is a luxury. I rented that particular office because it had an entire wall of windows facing south.
This past year, three fellows moved into the smallest office in the back. They had recently left their employment with a successful company to create their own startup. I could feel their excitement about their new venture, and everyone in our suite of offices encouraged them in their efforts. After almost a year of presenting their ideas to venture capitalists (a grueling process at best), they received a considerable amount of funding for their startup. The money arrived the second week of December — what a great holiday gift and a terrific way to start the new year!
Along with the funding, however, came the realization that they would now need to hire more people and expand. They were already crammed into the small office in back and began to look at office space in other locations. If you’ve ever shared office space, you know how rare it is to find people who all get along, and none of us wanted our startup guys to leave. So I decided to sacrifice my large office with all the light and proposed that we switch places. The startup guys thought this was a great idea, and when we all returned from the holidays, we commenced the move.
Fortunately for me, these three, young guys helped move me out of my office. After moving all of my furniture, books, rugs and other supplies into our shared reception area, I looked at it all and wondered how one woman could accumulate so much stuff in a year’s time (perhaps fodder for a future challenge). As I stood there, one of our other suite mates commented as he walked by, “Geez, it looks like an antique shop!” I was devastated! Was all my stuff so conservative and old-looking that someone would make such an observation? I looked at everyone else’s office décor. One could only describe it as somewhere between contemporary garage sale finds and IKEA. My Oriental rug, mission-style desk and comfy chairs looked ancient in comparison. I wondered, “Are my office belongings a reflection of my antiquated thinking? Have I reached an age where my thoughts and attitudes, which I often don’t question, reflect my age and many years of business experience rather than being particularly relevant to the present modern times?”
A few days later, in talking with my landlord about moving my landline from my old office to the new, he asked me why I even had a landline. “Don’t you use your cellphone most of the time anyway?” I had to admit that I did. There it was again. Had I become such a fuddy-duddy that I hadn’t even thought about why I had a landline? In my world, if you have an office, you have to have a landline. “But Dan,” I said, “I’ve had that phone number for 14 years!” “Well, that’s not a problem,” he replied. “Your cellphone company can simply port the number to your cellphone. The real question is, why do you even need that number anymore?” As I considered this, I realized I was actually attached to my phone number. Like having a pet for 15 years, I had grown an emotional attachment to a set of numbers!
Whether or not I get rid of my landline is not the point, but how I use my landline and whether or not that’s still relevant for my business is what’s most important. This means I need to change my thinking from “That’s the way I’ve always done it” to “Is this the best use of technology for my business?”
These thoughts caused me to make a resolution for 2012. This year, I will try not to assume that just because something was true before, it’s true now. There’s a lot to be said for practical experience, and I’m sure many of the solutions I recommend to my clients are still sound and work well. But I’ve resolved to question my thinking more often and to try new things. Part of the benefits of sharing office space with young people involved in a startup is that I get to witness how flexible they are in their thinking. They come to the venture with very few preconceived notions, and they’re not afraid to explore new territory. In fact, their new company is based on just that, a brand new set of ideas and possibilities.
This week, try experimenting with your thinking. Don’t be afraid to question your assumptions and talk about new ideas with your staff or business partners. Maybe you’ll reconsider some of the processes you’ve had in place for a number of years and change them or maybe even eliminate them altogether. Try asking yourself “Why?” rather than “How?” when it comes to the way you do things. You might even create a new meeting each month for the sole purpose of generating new and creative ideas. Ask people to come to the meeting with the attitude that the sky is the limit and that no ideas, thoughts or questions are stupid or inappropriate.
With the passing of Steve Jobs last year, I realized how much this man changed my life because he wasn’t afraid to think out of the box. He thrived on new ideas, creative solutions and that wonderful energy that comes from successfully doing something no one has ever done before. As he said, “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.”
This week, consider thinking and acting in new ways. As this quote from author and inventor Roger von Oech advises, “It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago but will soon be out of date.”
Have a good week,
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