I wrote about my top CliftonStrengths theme a few posts ago – Restorative. In brief, it indicates that I enjoy problem-solving and that I like making things whole. My second-highest theme is Futuristic, which means that I get energized by my vision of the future and inspire others to accomplish that vision.
As I reflect on this, though, I don’t feel I’ve been inspirational. That said, I am highly future-oriented, and I’m motivated by big goals. Gallup says that people who rate high in this theme are visionaries. Still, I think my creative ability has been neutralized. My assumption is that most people have big dreams and that, with the right motivation, they can make them come true. So in that way, I don’t feel unique.
One experience comes to mind when I went to a former boss and said that I realized I’m very different from the other managers. The other managers were operations-focused (which was good because we were in operations). Still, I was more focused on why we did what we did and how we did it. Getting “in the weeds” is mostly a miserable experience for me if it’s not on the shortlist of things I’m passionate about. He said, “Bruce, you’re an idea guy. You have lots of ideas, and we need new ideas on the team”. In some ways, I wonder if he was saying, “you’re not a strong manager, but you are great at coming up with new things for us to do.” Maybe he meant it. Either way, it showed me that not everyone thought the same way I did and that I needed to find a role in which I could be a big thinker.
My “biggest” thinking occurred during training design and implementation. One of my favorite projects was designing leadership development around trending topics in organization development. I liked to build exercises and focus on ways the managers could immediately apply their skills in their jobs. While training, I’d still be nervous, but I believed in what I was saying. The conviction came across. I know it did because there was always at least one person who said – “were you a motivational speaker? You seem like you’d be good at it. “
The idea of being a motivational speaker always seemed corny to me, but I did fit the profile in some ways. Now that I’m not designing leadership training, I don’t feel like I can motivate people to do anything. I’m out of the habit of thinking big because it feels like I get shut down when I try. I know that sometimes you have to get down in the details and that you can’t have your head in the clouds. But that’s been my sweet spot.
Maybe part of the solution is to practice motivating people again. I don’t want to regurgitate things I heard other people say; instead, I want to come up with my own insights and share them. I am afraid of the moniker of “motivational speaker,” but that’s a fear of judgment that I can acknowledge and let go of. I’m also not sure of the medium through which I can motivate or what I can motivate people to do. But maybe I’m already inspiring people…
A while ago, I read this book called “Executive Warfare.” One of the author’s main points was to exploit your strengths. Find a way to minimize the weakness but don’t spend too much time there. Instead, focus on your strengths because that will make you successful. Of course, this isn’t advice for every situation, but sometimes I think it’s right.
My challenge with being Futuristic is that I don’t focus on where I am and what I have right now. Chasing after a vision of the future gets draining when you don’t like where you are right now and don’t know how to get to where you’re going. This is where I can use some work. How can I keep my vision of the future while not rejecting where I am now? One tweak I can make is to be more active. Instead of envisioning the future, the magic happens when I create it through deliberate actions.
I’m doing some of this now. If I want to be a thought leader or visionary, I have to articulate my thoughts and share them with an audience. I get to accomplish this through blogging. And if I pair this with my strongest theme – Restorative – it would seem that problem-solving would be significantly influenced by my vision of the future. That is to say that the way I can solve problems is by looking ahead to where I want to go and then deciding how to get there. I break the path down into smaller steps and whittle away at the list. It’s also important to reflect on how my vision for the future changes. Then, I can refine it over time.
This is where I have an opportunity. I dive head-first into achieving m,y goals. Still, I would benefit from a more systematic approach to breaking down the big problems into small parts. This means I need to clarify my goals and the path to get there. Part of the problem is that I’ve tried to keep all of this in my head, but this is where project management principles/software comes in – especially Agile principles.
Agile starts with a big picture – sometimes called an epic. It’s not a detailed requirement but rather an inspiring statement about some product, service, or benefit that you’d like to see in the future. This epic is broken down into features or user stories. A user story is an example of what you’d like the program, service, or person to do. Maybe the epic is – “I want my restaurant to have a Michelin star.” One user story might be, “all diners should have a seamless experience between entering the restaurant, enjoying their meal, and leaving the restaurant.” You then break the story down even more into sprints. Let’s take the first component of the user story – entering the restaurant. The next step is to break down “entering the restaurant” into small building blocks. You focus on one or two blocks ONLY for a predetermined amount of time. That’s a sprint.
It’s not terribly difficult to come up with an example epic, user story, and sprint, but it gets tricky when I try to apply it to life. But this is where I think there is some goodness to work with. Though I have not proven this yet, I believe that you can use project management principles to manage the goals you have around your life. It’s hard, though. Many agile principles are best suited for software development, and I don’t think software is a good parallel for life. But then again, maybe it is. I suppose I need to look at the process for software development and see for myself.
I still have a fear that I won’t find an answer. And that it’ll be a waste of my time. What happens if I do all of this mental gymnastics and it turns out I haven’t made any helpful breakthroughs? I only have so much free time to devote to this, and I want to make good use of it. That said, time and again, I return to this idea of using project management – and change management – principles to not only run a business but to live a successful life. I’ve seen that what you start working on is almost definitely not going to be the finished product. But you still have to put in the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In the end, the time isn’t wasted. You learn from it, making you better at handling similar problems in the future.
This exposition has not made anything more precise, but I suppose it was good to get my thoughts on paper.