Each of us is born with a set of DNA that determines a good amount of our basic physical, intellectual, and emotional makeup. We also get a set of parents, extended family, and friends that shape us into who we become. That’s the life we are given. If we are truly fortunate, the life we were given will lead to success, but for most of us it doesn’t. Success in life comes through a combination of building on the strengths we were given as well as overcoming the deficiencies and shortcomings – that we were also given. The same thing is true in our organizations and careers.
Companies that are heavily externally driven (mostly by customers but also by events, investors etc.) often fail. Two easy examples today are the US auto industry and the banking industry. Look at what happened to the auto industry in the past recession. Auto companies had been giving their customers exactly what they asked for: big, fast, and relatively heavy vehicles. When the economy turned down, they started talking about smaller vehicles with better gas mileage. Now that things are looking better they are back to designing for current demand instead of the future. They are basically following the life they are given. The financial industry has had a similar experience. Banks have been taking more risks due to shareholder demands for growth that matches the returns generated during the last acquisition cycle. The only way to keep the growth going was to increase risk. Banks responded to shareholder demands. Look where it got them.
On the other hand, organizations that are internally driven (not without regard for the customer but with the customer in the forefront of their thinking) are highly successful. Apple might be the best example, as they so often are. Who was clamoring for an iPod or an iPhone? Who wanted Apple to be more than a computer company? It was Apple’s (or Steve Jobs) internal vision of who they wanted to become – not the customers’. Google is another. When Google executed their IPO they explicated stated they were not going to give quarterly shareholder advice. Wall Street said Google was doomed. They seem to be doing pretty well to me.
So it seems to me that if you really want to create a successful company or organization or career, then your response to external drivers (including customers, internal and external) should be augmented with your internal drivers aimed at your own vision. My personal experience confirms this. For two of the seven organizations I managed, I created a compelling vision for what we would become. Those two outperformed the other five by an incredibly wide margin. These two groups had a buzz that is hard to define but if you were in the room with them you would actually feel it.
THE BOTTOM LINE____________________________________________________________________________
A key ingredient to growing your organization and your career is doing more than you are asked. Not more work – but different work. Doing exactly what your company (and your boss) asks of you will lead to an average organization. Working longer hours might get you a better organization. But to have a truly great organization you have to go beyond what you were given.