Look, Lead, Love, Learn: Four Steps to Better Business, a Better Life -- and Conquering Complexity in the Process


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  • Do we have any World War II buffs here today?This is the U-505.It is a German submarine, used in World War II, and she was a pretty nasty foe for the allies.She conducted 12 patrols in her career and sank 8 ships, including 3 American vessels.She’s one of only four World War II-era German U-boats in existence as a museum ship, and today she makes her home at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.Impressive display, but really, I was more interested in how they got the monster inside the museum’s basement. It’s not like moving a couch; you don’t just wiggle the thing through the front door and down the stairs.
  • So they altered the museum itself. They built a new underground wing by digging a hole, lowering the sub into it, then walling it up and building an exhibit around it.What’s my point? Simply this: The big changes that are rocking our worlds often don’t fit neatly in the confines of our rigid business processes. Too often, we try to change the new stuff to fit our needs.But we’re the ones who need to change.
  • That’s the kind of thing that Tom Hood and I have been writing about in the MACPA’s blog, CPA Success, for the past six and a half years.We launched the blog with the idea that we would write about the things that CPAs can do – or ARE doing – to succeed in this rapidly changing world.It’s been a lot of fun, and a very rewarding experience as well. The blog has earned praise throughout the profession as one of the top accounting blogs around.About a year ago, I noticed that a lot of what had written seemed to fall in four distinct categories – four ideas, really, when it comes to the future of the profession, the changing face of leadership, change management, all of that.So I started to compile blog posts from throughout the years and drop them into these buckets in the hopes of creating a short e-book. I wanted something that members could take with them that would offer them lessons in leadership, little nuggets of inspiration, or even just a way to kill some time on an airplane. That’s good too.
  • The result is “Look, Lead, Love, Learn: Four Steps to Better Business, a Better Life — and Conquering Complexityin the Process.”We published the book literally THIS WEEK. It’s available on Amazon right now.And I want to spend some time today sharing some of those stories with you. I think there are some important lessons here that we ALL can learn from … or at the very least get us thinking about ways in which we might begin to change ourselves to accommodate some of these huge opportunities.
  • So let’s break down those four words.First: LookWe’re busier than ever trying to solve today’s problems, but the key to overcoming change and complexity is not our reaction to what’s happening today. It’s our ability to see what’s going to happen tomorrow. Plenty of opportunities loom on the horizon—if we take time to come up for air and look for them.Here are a few tales about the rewards of looking ahead . . . and the perils of looking away.
  • So here’s a question: What do you think of when you hear the word “Innovation?”Most people are likely to conjure up images of some groundbreaking new device or idea, right? The iPhone. The Cloud. 3D Printing. Driverless cars. Things like that are the face of innovation right?Absolutely not. Not according to Andrew Zolli.He’s a futurist and CEO of the annual highly influential Pop!Tech Conference. And he says that real innovationis less about producing something new and more about anticipating what’s going to be new—and we all can do that.Here’s how he defines innovation.
  • What he’s saying is this: In order to innovate, you don’t have to know what people need. You have to know what they’re going to need.Those types of innovation are what Zolli would call “weak signals of disruptive change.” They’re not here yet, but you can see them coming.Great leaders are the ones who detect those signals early and act on them.To do that, though, we have to look. We have put aside the day-to-day, pick our heads up and see what’s coming at us from the horizon – before it steamrolls us.“Our normal metaphors about innovation are all about breakthroughs, change, things that are different, a radical reframing of an industry,” he said. “The reality is that most innovative work is incremental improvement. It’s about staying ahead of trends as opposed to reacting to trends.Again, from Andrew Zolli:“We need to engage the very top levels of the organization in a conversation about embracing a different kind of risk portfolio. That means having an established set of processes in place in which you have no expectation of return. You make investments not only for operational excellence but for learning and adaptation.”
  • Peter Sheahan has some suggestions along those same lines. He’s the author of “Flip: How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head--and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings.” Here’s how HE says we need to tackle change:1. Our job going forward is simple . . . and supremely complex. Question all of our assumptions about what’s happening now and what it might look like tomorrow. Those assumptions will almost surely be wrong.2. Are you a steward of the past or a driver of change? Are you beholden to clients, members, or employees who are stuck in yesterday, or are you committed to leading people into a brave new world? If you’re the former, you’d better figure out how to become the latter.3. The hardest thing about staying awesome is the gravity of success. The more we succeed, the more we want to keep doing the same old things. In a world of change, that’s a mistake.4. Complexity breeds specialization, and specialization breeds silos, and silos stifle communication, collaboration and innovation. We’ve tried for years now to tear down silos, yet we find ourselves in an era that promotes the very creation of silos. Walls destroy innovation and collaboration. Walls destroy our efforts to outpace the rate of change. Proceed with caution.5. In times of great change, action must come before clarity. We don’t have the luxury of examinations, studies, task forces, and white papers. We need to act—and fast. Don’t wait for a blueprint. We’re building the blueprint on the fly. Take a leap of faith and adjust things after the fact.‘
  • What does it mean to lead today? What separates the world’s best leaders from the rest of the pack?Here’s a guess: They use the word “we” more than the word “me.”Leadership today isn’t about barking orders and command decisions. It’s about nimbleness, flexibility, and collaboration.At CPA Success, we’ve written a lot about the changing face of leadership. Here’s a taste.
  • My wife Alison has a non-negotiable rule about eating out: Don’t order anything you’d make for yourself at home. No chicken. No salmon. No spaghetti. If you’re going to lay out that kind of cash for a meal, make it an experience.She took that rule to an extreme for my 2012 birthday dinner. We went to an incredible place called Stone Soup Cottage, just west of St. Louis. This place opened in 2009; by 2010, it had been named the top restaurant in St. Louis. It’s that good.When you go to Stone Soup Cottage, you eat what they decide to feed you. There’s no menu with a million options. In fact, you’re given a list of what you’ll be eating that night—take it or leave it. It’s called a tasting menu with six small courses, some of them paired with wine.Right away, I liked it. No menu meant no decisions and fewer things to worry about. I didn’t even mind that two of the courses featured truffles (which I hate) and that a third consisted entirely of something called “periwinkles” (obviously a fictional food). No matter—this was going to be a God’s honest experience.And it was. Simply put, it might have been the best meal I’ve ever had. Because the chef wasn’t spread too thin with an overpopulated menu, he could concentrate on a few things thoughtfully and artfully prepared. Heaven!
  • So what’s the point?Here it is, leaders: Take a few chances every now and then.Sure, you can take the safe route, do the same old tired thing over and over again, and produce the same old results. You might even make money doing it.Here’s what you won’t do:Stay relevant.Improve yourself.Learn anything new.Stay on top of the latest trends.Help your clients stay on top of the latest trends.Notice the weak signals of disruptive change and the game-changing opportunities they provide. Remember the formula stated at the beginning—that your learning must be greater than the rate of change. Yes, it’s possible to keep coasting ignorantly along until change crushes you.But do yourself a favor: Try the periwinkles.
  • And one more thing – maybe the most important thing. Have conversations. Here’s what leadership expert Emmanuel Gobillot says about conversations.Finally, says Emmanuel – end each conversation with this question:Has this conversation made my team members feel stronger and more capable?
  • The word Love covers a lot of ground. Love of family. Love of life. Love of work, justice, and your fellow man. It’s the notion that there’s something greater than self-interest at work here. We’re here to serve, not be served. Once we learn that, the world is ours.Life sometimes has funny ways of teaching us lessons in love. Here are several of our favorites.
  • Nice guys finish last? Not in Tim Sanders’s world.He’s not alone, of course. The antiquated notion that says you have to be a bastard to get to the top has been rotting in the corporate landfill for a while now.Sanders, though, goes even further. Not only is it OK to be nice—it is absolutely essential.The best-selling author of Love Is The Killer App, The Likeability Factor, and Today We Are Rich (which is required reading, in my opinion) offers this straightforward message: Relationships matter.Check that. Relationships don’t simply matter; they might be the only things that matter.“Your network defines your net worth,” Sanders said during his keynote at the 2011 CCH User Conference in San Antonio. “Relationship quality is everything.”
  • So if relationships are the only things that matter, what must we do to take advantage of that fact?Sanders offers these ideas: Don’t hire unhappy people: Your culture is at stake the minute you sit down to interview a potential employee. Too often, we focus on a prospect’s skill sets. But the most important factor is not performance; it’s happiness.High-performance jerks suck the life out of the office. Hire for happiness first and performance second.This is vitally important. If you hire happy people, your office will be a happy place to work. How much more pleasant, productive, and progressive will you be if your employees are happy and engaged? I don’t need to provide the answer.Smile. A smile says, “I like you. I appreciate you.” That creates a culture of friendliness, making life at the office infinitely better.If friendliness is top priority, relevance is a not-too-distant second. Relevance is the only thing that keeps relationships going. And since relationships matter, relevance matters. You add value to your clients’ lives by being relevant.Be generous. Mentor others. Give away the stuff you know. Network relentlessly. And keep this in mind: Networking is not about you. It’s about connecting people to other people and then getting out of the way. If you do that well, it will come back to you.Be empathetic.Feel for the other person. Feelings are facts. “You shouldn’t feel that way” is not an appropriate response. To reach the pinnacle of relationship success, be emotionally available. Treat all feelings as facts. Listen. Respond. If you do that, you’ll have become the most important person in your clients’ lives.My mother’s favorite saying comes from the Disney movie “Bambi”:“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”Based on what Tim Sanders tells us, I might change that to say:“If you can’t say anything nice, you’re doomed to fail.”That’s because in today’s social world, relationships do matter. Friendliness is essential. Relevance is non-negotiable. Add value and do it nicely. Fail to do that, and you risk becoming irrelevant.It’s your choice.ALSO, Seth Godin on generosity = profits.ALSO, new Molly / nice post.
  • And by the way, this isn’t just touchy-feely stuff. This is about the bottom line, too.This is Seth Godin. Seth, of course, invented the Internet … and thought of everything before anybody else … and basically is here to make us feel worthless, then kick our butts and turn us into better people. That’s just what he does, and he’s good at it.Anyway, Seth has this theory: One of the first steps in becoming indispensable to our clients is to give them stuff for free. Specifically, share what we know with them. Share our knowledge. Add value to people’s lives. IIf we do that often enough, we build trust and respect with our audiences and expand our networks at the same time. People start to see us as leaders in our fields, and they start to turn to US when they help in our areas of expertise.In Seth’s words, “Generosity generates income.” The more we give away, the more we stand to make in return.It’s an entirely new business model, and one that’s built for the era of social business. Our opening play is no longer, “Let me sell you something.” It’s, “Let me solve your problem. Let me make you smarter. Let me give you something of value.” If you do that often enough, selling stuff becomes ridiculously easy.
  • Never. Stop. Learning. It’s the only way to conquer change and complexity. It’s been said that the most valuable skill we can have in this ever-changing world is the ability to acquire new skills. Success is ours for the taking—we just have to be open to learning new skills, earning new knowledge, asking, listening, absorbing.Keep your L > C—that is, keep your rate of learning ahead of the rate of change. Piece a’ cake, right? Actually, yeah. Consider these ideas for doing it.
  • My daughter Molly had one of those “why do I have to learn this stuff?” episodes on the way home from school recently.Using math skills she’s learned on the way to 4th grade—and without a hint of irony—she said, “I can’t believe I have to go to school for twelve more years!”Partly because parents are required to say stuff like this but mostly because I believe it, I replied, “If you do it right, sweetheart, you’ll be learning new stuff for the rest of your life.”That’s what I love about CPAs—we get to learn for a living. Most of us struggle to carve out time to learn new stuff, but our designation—our very careers—depend on it.How cool is that?
  • And yet I still hear instructors complain about folks who come to their CPE programs and hide behind newspapers or laptops for two or four or eight hours. “I don’t really want to learn anything,” these so-called students are conveying. “Just give me my credits.”Really? In a life this short, you prefer to blow this opportunity to learn something new?Jeff Magee is a Business Learning Institute instructor and thought leader, and he spends more time thinking about personal and professional development than almost anyone I know. He said something to me recently that really struck home. Here it is:“In today’s workplace, we’ve learned that just being average is acceptable.We’ve created a society in which everybody points fingers at problems but nobody gets into the game to fix them. The worst part is that we have clients and customers who are paying us to be trusted advisors. They want us to be the plus in the conversation. How can we help someone if we’re bringing a minus to the equation?”Given the rate of change and complexity these days, you could throw a digital dart at the MACPA’s online catalog and find a relevant technical topic you need to learn. Or ditch the technical stuff and brush up on success skills—leadership, sustainability, social media, change management, or personal growth. There’s plenty of that to be found through the Business Learning Institute.Or forget about CPE and learn something really radical, like computer programming, or web development, or pretty much anything MIT has to offer. Even places like iTunes U, TED, and the Khan Academy offer fantastic education opportunities—and they’re all free.Look, I don’t care what you do. Play guitar. Cook. Needlepoint. Map your family tree. Rewire your house. Create a blog and write a post every day. (Imagine that!)  Just learn something. Then learn something else. Then share it. Don’t forget about that part—share what you’ve learned with others. Help other people learn. (Using social media is a great way of doing that, by the way.)The point is this: Always be learning. Most everything else is a waste of our all-too-short lives. 
  • So let’s talk about what’s happening today that makes this conversation worth having.It all boils down to one word – Change.Always had change, but rate of change is intense today.-- legislative / regulatory changes. Makes SOX look like a walk in the park.-- demographic shifts. 4 generations in the workplace.-- that leads to all kinds of leadership shifts and succession issues.-- biggest of all, technology shifts. Moore’s Law – processing speeds, or overall processing power, for computers doubles every 18 months or so.-- Aspen Intitute rate of change: As it relates to science and technology, the rate of change in the next decade is likely to be 4 to 7 times faster than in the previous decade. If it is 4 times faster, it would be like planning for today in 1890. If it is 7 times faster, it would be like planning for today in 1670.
  • My boss, Tom Hood, likes to put it this way:In an era of constant change, the most important skill we possess today is the ability to learn new skills.This is Tom’s formula: L > C. “To keep pace in your industry, let alone as a leader, requires your rate of LEARNING to be greater than, or equal to, the rate of change.Social media helps us do that.
  • So what does all of this mean?To me, it all boils down to 3 letters – and no, those letters aren’t “CPA.”They’re Q.E.D.How many math geeks do we have in the audience? Know what that stands for?It’s Latin: “Quod erat demonstrandum.” It literally translates to “which was to be demonstrated.” It’s basically a fancy way of saying that you’ve solved a problem. When you get the answer, you put “QED” at the end of the problem. My high school calculus teacher used to tell us that it stood for “Quit. Enough. Done.”Your job, CPAs, is to solve problems. Your problems. Your company’s problems. Your clients’ problems.And in an era of great change and complexity, to solve those problems, you need to look. And lead. And love. And learn.And then do it again.
  • A great way of building up your list of followers quickly is by “power following.” Find an influencer in your area of expertise, and look at who he or she is following.Let’s take Tom Hood as an example:
  • Look, Lead, Love, Learn: Four Steps to Better Business, a Better Life -- and Conquering Complexity in the Process

    1. 1. Four steps tobetter business, abetter life — andconqueringcomplexityin the processFrom the pages ofCPA SuccessBill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    2. 2. The U-505 252 feet long Nearly 31 feet high 880 metric tons Sank eight ships before theU.S. Navy captured it in thesouth Atlantic on June4, 1944. One of only four World WarII-era German U-boats inexistence as a museum ship.Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    3. 3. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    4. 4. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    5. 5. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute(Available nowon Amazon.)
    6. 6. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    7. 7. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    8. 8. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute“Innovation is the creation of new formsof value in anticipation of future demand.”-- Andrew Zolli
    9. 9. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning InstituteThe world according to Peter Sheahan1. Question all of our assumptions.2. Be a driver of change.3. Overcome the gravity of success.4. Beware of specialization.5. Action before clarity.
    10. 10. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    11. 11. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    12. 12. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute• Be relevant.• Improve.• Learn.• Adopt.• Help your clients adopt.• Look.
    13. 13. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute“Engaged people will do whatever it takes to get thejob done. Engagement comes from conversationabout the task at hand. Those conversations lead todreams of what could be, which lead to talk of whatmust be done.”-- Emmanuel Gobillot
    14. 14. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    15. 15. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    16. 16. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute1. Don’t hire unhappy people..2. Smile.3. If friendliness is top priority, relevance is a not-too-distant second.4. Be generous.5. Be empathetic.
    17. 17. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning InstituteMeet Seth.
    18. 18. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    19. 19. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute
    20. 20. Bill Sheridan, CAEBusiness Learning Institute“An investment in knowledge always paysthe best interest. “-- Jeff Magee
    21. 21. Bill Sheridan, CAEThe Business Learning InstituteChange
    22. 22. Bill Sheridan, CAEThe Business Learning Institute
    23. 23. Bill Sheridan, CAEThe Business Learning Institute
    24. 24. Bill Sheridan, CAEThe Business Learning InstituteQuestions?
    25. 25. Bill Sheridan, CAEThe Business Learning InstituteDownload these slides:Slideshare.net/BillSheridanFollow me: MACPA’s blog: CPASuccess.com Facebook.com/BillSheridan LinkedIn.com/in/BillDSheridan Twitter.com/BillSheridan Gplus.to/BillSheridan YouTube.com/BillSheridan SlideShare.net/BillSheridan Flickr.com/photos/Sheridan