Updated: Aug 18
During my corporate career, there were times where I'd open up secondment opportunities in sales and marketing. These 'slots' were six-month placements where someone in my team could move from their regular job and experience a different part of the business. They worked well. I had medical people doing marketing, marketing people doing sales, and - the most popular - sales people doing marketing.
Generally, these secondments went extremely well and everyone got something from the experience. Sometimes, people stayed in their new discipline. Sometimes they didn't. But for every secondment we did, we always learned something. And sometimes, those learnings came as a surprise.
Case in point.
There was one particular sales chap who was desperate to get into marketing. He applied for the secondment and we brought him into head office for his six-month stint. At the time of his secondment, we were losing market share in one of our big portfolios so I tasked him with coming up with solutions to reverse the trend. Part of reversing that trend is, of course, to get to the root cause of the problem.
Within the space of a few weeks, this chap had developed some of the most creative and innovative solutions I'd ever seen. They were 'off the wall', imaginative, and incredibly clever. I was blown away. I remember sitting in the boardroom for his first presentation and thinking, "Wow; this guy is a bloody genius."
And creatively, yes he was. But he had one major achilles heal.
He had a complete block when it came to getting to the root cause of problems.
During that first presentation, after he'd blown me away with his inspired solutions, I asked him how he had gotten to the root of the problem so quickly. His response was, "Market share is falling so these ideas will increase it." My next question was, "How do you know?"
Silence. And then a slight 'plop' as his chin hit the floor.
While this chap was brilliantly innovative and creative, not once in his six month secondment was he able to identify a problem correctly. He spent the best part of his time creating solutions for problems that didn't exist.
And this is precisely what happens when we repeatedly try to fix problems in our businesses by looking outside ourselves first. We rarely, if ever, look inside ourselves first.
But here's the thing: What we tend to focus on in our businesses are the symptoms of a problem, and not the actual problem itself. Why? Because the actual problem is often far too personal and uncomfortable. More often than not, the actual problem is any one or more of these: shaky commitment, inconsistency, not putting in the work, complacency, wobbly confidence, unreliable self-belief, or giving up before you've really given anything a good chance to succeed. We look for things outside of ourselves to fix problems that are caused by what's going on inside us.
Listen, I get it. It's uncomfortable to go poking around inside your mind to find out what's causing the trend in your business. The same is true for our lives too.
When you dig, really dig, inside your own head you will ALWAYS find the cause of your problems. Your business and your life are simply manifestations of what's going on inside your head. And before you ask, yes, this is true in corporate life too. For the record, that market share decline I referred to earlier was caused because we - the team - had become far too complacent about our product. We knew it was good and we stopped working hard to sell it. We became arrogant and lazy and we stopped putting in the effort. We fixed our attitude and market share grew by two and a half points in one month!
There is not one time in my career or my life where I didn't cause my own problems. Were there mitigating factors? Of course there were. But it was always, without exception, my reaction or response that ultimately led to the problem. But when I came to realize that solutions to problems also reside inside my own head, life - and business - got a whole lot better!
So I challenge you to do this: Next time you see a 'problem' in your business, before you try to find a solution outside of yourself, shoot up into your mind and find out what's going on in there.
I guarantee you'll find the source of your problem, and the solution, sitting side by side inside your own mind.