Sgt. Pepper’s and You: Evolving Your Songs (Part II)

Forty years ago, on June 2, 1967, the Beatles released their breakthrough

album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It rocked the music world,

shooting immediately to number one on the record charts and winning four

Grammy awards. Although there is much debate about whether it is the

Beatles’ best overall recording (some would opt for Revolver or Abbey Road,

for example), it has stood the test of time: After all these years, Sgt.

Pepper’s is still usually ranked in music polls as the best pop album of all


Sgt. Pepper’s represented yet another major evolution in the Beatles’ music,

and its innovations are almost too numerous to list here. What’s the point?

Think about how much the Beatles’ music had evolved from just a few years

earlier when they were churning out catchy but simply-constructed rock ‘n’

roll hits such as I Want to Hold Your Hand. Like the Beatles, you have to

evolve your songs with your clients. You can’t go on singing I Want to Hold

Your Hand for the next 10 years and expect to grow your business. You have

to develop new ideas, new perspectives, and new approaches that you bring to

your clients on a regular basis. How do you do this? You push yourself to

grow and evolve as a person and as a professional.

Last month, we looked at 8 strategies to help you engage in personal renewal

and sustain your thought leadership with clients. These were:

1. Push yourself out of your comfort zone at work and in play

2. Pick a new topic each year and develop expertise in it

3. Write

4. Teach

5. Cultivate the student mindset.

6. Focus on sustaining your energy

7. Be an explorer

8. Hone your powers of observation

Here are the next 10:

9. Consciously learn from your colleagues. One of my clients, a senior

partner in a leading consulting firm, told me, "I do a lot of my learning

from my partners. It’s a very talented and diverse group, and you can learn

an enormous amount from them if you open your mind up." Adopting a "student"

mindset-rather than the expert mindset where you are supposed to have all

the answers-allows you to do this. If you think about it, much of our

learning comes from the people around us, but it tends to be haphazard. In

whatever organization you work in, you are bound to have interesting

colleagues who bring completely different skills and experiences to the

table. Actively seek them out and learn from them.

10. Play. Studies have shown that many highly creative learners have a

childlike perspective when it comes to ideas. They "toy" with new ideas,

without fear of criticism or disapproval, rearranging them and looking at

them from many different perspectives. Like children, they frequently ask

"why?" Einstein saw playfulness as "the essential feature in productive

thought." Newton wrote, "I do not know what I may appear to be to the world;

but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore,

and diverting myself in now and then finding . . . a smoother pebble or a

prettier shell than ordinary whilst the great ocean of truth lay all

undiscovered before me." Interestingly, contemporary research on play has

produced evidence that adults who engage in play have superior cognitive

abilities. We don’t know if one leads to the other, but there appears to be

a correlation.

11. Create daily routines. Although equally successful professionals may

follow different strategies for personal renewal, they all tend to make

regular investments in personal growth. Staying sharp is not an annual event

or one-off activity-rather, it’s an ongoing process. Sure, you may write

that book someday, but in the meantime do small things like keeping a daily

blog, writing a new article every few months, or reading a book about a

subject you’d like to develop expertise in. Each week, pick a few personal

development activities or routines that you can commit to.

12. Start reading again. Once we get out of college or graduate school, the

amount of reading we do takes a dramatic dive, and you have to consciously

counter this trend. Some of my clients read fiction, including the classics.

Others swear by a few, key publications like The Economist. A recent article

in the New York Times focused on "CEO libraries" and the reading habits of

CEOs. According to the Times, top executives are very eclectic in their

tastes-as you should be also. They read fiction as well as books on all

sorts of odd subjects. Many claim that they don’t actually read very many

business books (a problem for authors like me!) Believe me, if you read just

5-10 books a year, this will put you way above what the average professional


13. Take a deep dive. As you become more senior, you

spend-appropriately-more and more of your time focused on the big picture

and on building and managing relationships with senior executives. But

insights and ideas don’t just come from only taking a 100,000 foot (or

30,769 meters!) view of the client’s situation. Sometimes, it’s critically

important to take a "deep dive" into an assignment your team is working on.

Nancy Peretsman, who is a top investment banker with Allen & Company, has

been described by Fortune magazine as a "confidant to over 20 ‘moguls’ in

American industry." She strongly believes she should never stray far from

hands-on client work. She says, "Investment banking has gotten very

functionalized at big firms-you might see only a narrow slice of the deal. I

like to stay involved in all aspects of a transaction, from start to finish.

For example, some years ago I advised on the merger of CDnow and N2K, two

Internet-based CD companies. For that size transaction, most senior bankers

would delegate the work to a junior team. I felt there was something

important to learn, however, so I dug in myself-it took months of my time.

Yet, based on what I learned during that period, I came up with the idea of

linking the new company with yet a third, Columbia House (a deal later

successfully completed). Without having gotten my hands dirty, I would never

have had the insight, confidence, or credibility to approach Time-Warner

about Columbia House."1

14. Add "outliers" to your network. Over time, we tend to draw on the same,

small group of people in our network. There are several studies, however,

which show that there is great value in reaching outside your traditional

set of relationships and connecting with so-called "weak links." These

individuals may offer several benefits. First, they can connect you to other

networks which you might not normally have access to. Second, compared to

your closest associates, they may have a more unbiased view of the problem

you’re grappling with and therefore be in a position to offer fresh advice.

15. Expand your expertise into adjacent areas. This process can represent a

natural extension of your knowledge base. The best industry experts, for

example, develop knowledge and insights across the entire value chain for

their industry, from suppliers through to end-users. Are you an expert in

the automotive industry? Then you should probably understand the dynamics of

energy prices and the latest developments in consumer electronics. Are you a

student of the innovation process? Then you may want to read biographies of

highly creative individuals in fields outside of business (Howard Gardner’s

book, "Extraordinary Minds," is a fascinating study of genius, profiling

Mozart, Virginia Woolf, Gandhi, and Freud).

16. "Minor" in a process or function. There are certain functions or

processes that are important to a wide range of clients regardless of what

industry they are in. In consulting these might include innovation and

change management; in banking the organization of the finance function or

capital markets theory; in law, the mediation and arbitration process; and

so on. If your primary focus is a geography or industry, for example, having

a secondary focus on one of these universal themes can be extremely

beneficial to clients and provide a great focus for your learning efforts.

17. Take time for reflection. Some researchers in the field of creativity

believe that our best insights develop during the moment of reflection and

relaxation that often occurs after a period of intense activity. In fact,

many of the great thinkers in history-from Sir Isaac Newton to Albert

Einstein-made it a conscious habit to get away from the hub-hub of their

daily life and create time for solitary reflection. Today, given the demands

on our time, it seems almost inconceivable to take an hour just to think.

Yet, this is exactly what we need to do. Everyone has to find their

particular time for this-for some, it’s an hour in the early morning before

everyone arrives at the office; for others, an extra-long shower or soak in

the hot tub. Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, famously goes away for

a week each year to a small cabin just to read, think, and strategize.

18. Get a mentor or coach. To grow and develop, we all need a bit of raw,

unvarnished feedback about our strengths and weaknesses. A good mentor or

coach can provide this, assuming you create the kind of open relationship

where that individual feels comfortable being totally candid with you.

Colleagues, family, and friends can also provide this perspective. Actively

seek out feedback about both your professional and personal development

needs. You might ask a more senior or experienced colleague-someone you

trust and are comfortable talking to, "Given where I’ve come from, and what

you know about me, can you give me some thoughts on things I ought to focus

on in the next 2-3 years?" You could ask a family member, "Do you have any

suggestions for how I could become a better listener?" And so on.

Complacency is the enemy of the successful professional. You have some good

clients and make a good income-why change? But this is exactly the time to

push yourself to develop and grow. The Beatles’ producer, George Martin,

said this about Fab Four’s recording sessions: "They were always pushing,

always aiming for a better or new sound. ‘Can we have a different chord

here, use a new instrument there, can you change our voices? At times they

just exhausted me, frankly."


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Andrew Sobel is a leading authority on client relationships and the skills

and strategies required to earn enduring client loyalty. He is a consultant

and educator to major services firms worldwide. Andrew is the author of the

business bestsellers Clients for Life (Simon & Schuster) and Making Rain (John Wiley & Sons). He can be

reached at (Tel: 505.982.0211).

Copyright by Andrew Sobel. This newsletter is available for reprint but only with the permission of the author.

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