Life is never static. There is always motion. Where in history one went one way, others went somewhere else.
What the future holds I do not know, but I do know this—I look forward to the journey. A journey that will take me from and lead me to somewhere. Hopefully somewhere productive, worthwhile and rewarding.
Do you approach life by having all the answers?
Have you ever considered alternative views and approaches?
Is your product singularly the greatest thing since sliced bread?
Are you willing to embrace the process of discovery?
Will or won't you embrace the difficult by asking yourself questions and then revel or squirm in your discovery?
Have you ever considered taking a road not taken or less travelled by on your lifelong journey to learning and enlightenment?
Whether you are comfortable with where you are or excited about a new horizon awaiting you somewhere out there, I hope you find this slightly worthwhile.
Can you take the journey with me? I would love to hear your thoughts as they will help me as I chase, look to and work for the horizons in my life.
To me, whether you start with Why or somewhere else if you don’t have a comprehensive understand of YOU; then ultimately the other Who’s in Who-ville and the What, When, Where, Why and How that follows just may be irrelevant.
Whether a good or bad orientation I use a construct of five questions to help me on my journey and others on theirs. I wonder what would have happened to Kodak had they thought through this when they invented the digital camera, but I digress.
1. Who is your customer?
2. What is your product?
3. How do you deliver it?
4. How do they want it delivered?
5. Are you relevant?
I have used this simple construct repeatedly throughout my life. Ok, most of my life as there was a time in my youth when I was oblivious to anything else other than having a good time. Then again, maybe even in that approach I was still using it, just didn’t know it.
I think the turning point came when I graduated from High School and my dad gave me William Danforth’s book, I Dare You, as a graduation gift. As he handed it to me he merely said, “As you get ready to embark on the next leg of your journey, whichever road you choose, rise above it all and be bigger than you are, leave your footprints where ever you go, and make a difference with your passion for and service to others.” ( https://www.bebee.com/producer/@joel-anderson/daring-footsteps)
Even then it took me another five years to fully embrace the essence of his comment and the importance of a simple book. Once I realized that I had to put on my big boy pants and actually had to contribute to the world I live in, I returned to the book and his comment and asked myself a simple question: “What the heck do you want to do with your life?”
The question was not about starting with my Why.
Initially it was not about trying understand my What.
At that moment it didn’t start off with my How.
It started out as a conversation with myself. A conversation that really made me start thinking about my future and where I would be taking new forwarding steps in my life’s journey. A journey that continues across the changing landscape of my experiences. Where each day, my journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sometimes as a continuation of the day before. Sometimes on the same exact path that I have beaten on previous days. Sometimes in a totally and altogether different direction.
You see, back in the day, where the roads in my life suddenly hit a point of divergence it was a fundamental realization that my When had come. I was confronted with choices and had to make decisions. I had to grapple with Who I was and what was I passionate about. I needed to understand what were the core passions in my life that would serve to take me into the future?
Was it one passion or several? Did it matter as long as I could use them to start and propel me along my journey?
Where would they lead me?
How would I use them to carve out my little niche on this planet and make a difference?
Yep, I also had to ask the fundamentally important Why behind it all as well.
I would like to say that I pondered the questions and came to an immediate epiphany. You know those moments of revelation where everything becomes crystal clear. It was not a moment, but a series of moments all relatively compacted and for me, time coincident. I would equally like to say that once I gained clarity, I latched on to the knowledge of my W,W,W,W,W,H and stayed firmly planted on the road I had chosen. But alas, in reflection of the Time aspect of it all, it was not a singular self-contained epiphany and snap shot in time. It did provide a foundation for the rest of my life, but as one committed to lifelong learning I have endeavored to constantly grow and assess my steps along the way, growing with them as they occur.
These steps are not just about me and my journey. They interact with my world. They intersect with the people around me near and far. My journey is full of the linkages and interdependencies of it all.
As for me I have never been a singular path kind of person but one who comes to the forks in the road of perpetual choice where inputs and outputs are a constant reminder of both my past, my present and yes even my future. Roads that often time present themselves with options and even deviation from the status quo. Like Frost, I have taken roads wanted with wear and yes, ones less traveled by:
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
So with Frost in mind, I offer you the five questions again, this time with some of my contemplations for each over time.
Who is your customer?
· As Shakespeare penned in Hamlet: “to thine own self be true.” To me, this simple line in a play, rings oh so true.
· If you do not know, ignore or hide from your true self, then you really do go through life with a self-deception that ultimately will catch up with you.
· Through my deeds and actions, I try to stay committed to being true to myself in all that I do. Unfortunately, I have failed in that endeavor more than I would care to admit.
· Regardless of profession-selfish or no, my ultimate customer is me, myself and I. Yep, got it. It may be naïve and won’t put money in the bank, a house over my head, a car to drive or food on the table.
· But if I do not know who I am then the why I do what I do and the how I do it, when I do it, and where I do it really becomes a distraction and lesson in futility.
· Fear not, ultimately it is not about me. Rather, knowing the true essence of my being I can then travel on my journey—embracing and serving others with a passion handed to me by my dad so many years ago.
· So I guess I start with Me and then adjust and adapt from there. Why, because it is kind of like that tree in a forest. You know, the one without anyone around and it falls, does it make a sound? Without a me in the equation, do I or we for that matter really make a sound?
What is your product?
· My product is me.
· My product is my passion.
· My product is those whom I serve and support.
· My product is us.
· In all I do and all I say, ultimately my product is the earth I live in, the air I breathe, and that nice little blue stuff called water. Why? Because ultimately we are one and all the rest just falls in to place. Think about it. All the rest are just derivatives.
· Everything else are just components, tools of the trade and by-products of Me and Us, and IT. You and They, you know Them and We. It and US.
· In order for me to get to the Why of the product, I need to embrace the fact that I am an active participant of input and output/cause and effect/action and reaction. Then I can more effectively understand the rest of it. What it is. Who is working whatever it is from end-to-end. How it is I intend to convey it to or receive it from others.
· Again you got to start somewhere.
· It doesn’t matter if I work for someone that makes something, sells something, researches something, produces something, grows something, or any number of other incantations of what a product might be.
· If I do not believe in me, then I am ill positioned to do anything else as I will either halfheartedly pursue my life, ineffectively approach my day, or I will begrudgingly follow someone else’s lead with something slightly above or below a lackadaisical approach.
· To me it really doesn’t matter what the particular product is. I may have the most monumentally important thing on the market that drives my why and how, but if I don’t care or just go through the motions, in the end it really doesn’t matter.
· So I will start with me and then ask in no particular order the rest of the W,W,W,W,W, H &T behind and or fueling my engine and making that helps make the sandwich I am trying to sell, market, brand etc.
How do you deliver it?
· In person.
· At a store.
· Through a vending machine.
· Through a distributor.
· Out of a garage.
· In a huge department store.
· In a mom and pop shop.
· In writing.
· Across the Internet of Things (IoT).
· Through the Thing of Things (ToT).
· By email.
· On a blog.
· By branding.
· By marketing.
· By selling it.
· Dependent on someone else.
· Independent of others.
· Them coming to you.
· So ultimately I need to deliver it in a way that resonates with whom I am trying to deliver it to. Not the way I think it needs to be delivered, because if I don’t deliver it correctly—it really doesn’t matter.
How do they want it delivered?
· To them.
· You coming to them.
· Them coming to you.
· By a friend.
· By a family member.
· By other human beings.
· In the mail.
· By ship.
· By rail.
· By air.
· By vehicle.
· Sometimes by a drone
· Maybe electronically.
· When, where, how and why they want it the way they do.
· So ultimately it is them that matters, whomever they are? Then it is simply a matter of how you deliver it and convey it to them on their terms. To me, that is what is important and really matters. Again, not the way I think it needs to be delivered, because if I don’t deliver it correctly and to their expectations or levels or oodles of satisfaction—it really doesn’t matter.
Are you relevant?
· Depending on your answers to the first four questions, then you either are or you aren’t.
These five questions seem simple on the surface. But I have found it intriguing to see how often I have used them with people in my life, only to have immediate, definitive and absolute responses to the question of Who. All I do when the responses are made, is ask those to whom it has been posed to really think about the essence of the question. I simply ask them to think about if for a few seconds and then provide their answer again. Without fail, their original answer is modified—sometimes significantly; sometimes subtly. Rarely if ever has the initial response ever stayed the same.
To put them in context, I would like to share with you a simplified version of the conversation on the first two questions. These are from the vantage I now find myself and where I have asked these questions since my arrival in academia/higher education. A place where we have professors and students, where some do research, others publish, most if not all provide some kind of service while at any given moment we collaborate and participate in outreach on any given topic, issue, challenge or need.
1. Who is your customer?
a. Immediate/Initial response: Our students. Are you sure? Can you rethink your answer and revise or stick with your response?
b. Revised response: Society. You see, the customer is actually in our mission statement.
2. What is your product?
a. Immediate/Initial response: Education. Is it really. Will you think about it and tell me if you still think this to be a true statement or do you have a different answer?
b. Revised response: Our students. Our research. Our publications. Our service. Our outreach. You see, if our customer is society then the classroom and everything else leads us to delivering a graduate who will then go forth as contributors to society whether they work in government, industry or remain in academia. Or, we deliver something of benefit through research, publishing, service and/or outreach.
You may or may not agree with the results but I have found it interesting to have the discussion in the context of the five questions as it changes perspective and orientation.
Part of my rationale in penning this is just an overwhelming number of topics that we find ourselves inundated with that provide us this top list and that top list and these best practices for any given topic. You know those informative pieces that help you find what you need to get in touch with yourself and make your mark and become memorable, worthwhile and impactful. For me, they provide insight but unfortunately don’t help me get to the essence of it all. I take them into consideration, and use them if and where appropriate.
Whether you find any of this of interest, I recommend you ask yourself the five questions and see where it leads you. You may be surprised.
So whether you start with Who or What or When or Where or Why or How? Start somewhere.
“Take advantage of every opportunity you have to practice your communications skills so that when the important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.”
Either you run the day or the day runs you.”
Emanuel James “Jim” Rohn
For other works by Joel Anderson: https://www.bebee.com/@joel-anderson
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author