There is a mystique about assessing the first hundred days of just about anything. Presidents are compelled to take stock of their first hundred days in office, and Napoleon managed to fumble his comeback in “les cent jours.” So when I realized today (don’t ask me why I thought of counting) that this is the 100th day since a slightly forced repurposing of my professional life from corporate type to independent consultant, I asked myself if my recent experience could create a teachable moment for other would-be consultants.
In fact, it is amazing, when you do something like this by yourself, how many distinct and diverse threads of activity you need to pursue almost simultaneously. First, I made a list of domains in which I could and wanted to consult. I also connected very early, over the phone and over lunch, with several friends and ex-colleagues who could advise me on key things to do or to avoid. I started a mindmap to track all my action items, contacts, partners, opportunities, ideas for articles, etc. I wrote several flyers to sell myself and those services. I chose a corporate name. I created a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I designed a logo (and trademarked it). I hired a webmaster, proving to myself that I am not totally unable to delegate things that I can do, but that I needed to delegate to save my own time. I signed an agreement to become affiliated with the Cutter Consortium. I got a business bank account, and business liability insurance. I had many more lunches and dinners with many more people, exploiting the network I had started to build about seven years ago, before social networking was even a phrase. I published 6 issues of a free biweekly newsletter, and found to my surprise that, so far, I had no trouble filling up at least one issue in advance. In the midst of all that, while undoubtedly limited by the current economy and preoccupied by some personal events, I managed to perform my first two small engagements, sell two more, and to be included by acquaintaces in two proposals that may lead to more work later this year. And I almost forgot to mention buying a new computer, installing software, recreating distribution lists, migrating dozens of professional registrations to my new email address, etc.
I didn’t rattle this off just to brag. In the company of the distinguished gentlemen and -women who grace these pages, I have the good sense to be humbler than that. My real point is that in order to pursue all this, especially in parallel, we have to be rather comfortable with different foci, especially these: ideas, people, process, and action.
When my colleagues and I trained new leaders of Communities of Practice in the last few years, we used a gimmick to make people think about the impact of personalities on job performance. We used a test called “What Color Are You?”, derived from the Birkman method (less well known than Myers-Briggs). You ask people some questions of the form “Would you rather do X than Y?” and, through a scoring grid, transform their individual answers into an assignment to one of four personality types: Blue (idea-oriented), Green (people-oriented), Yellow (process-oriented) or Red (action-oriented). Then we would make the students perform an assignment in homogeneous groups, to prove the point that a group composed of people of a single color does not function as well as if they learned to work with people having different personalities: the Blue group draws complicated conceptual diagrams (but no conclusions), the Yellow group’s flip chart looks like a spreadsheet, the Red group’s chart has bullet points ten seconds after they start (but little consensus at the end), and when time is called, the Green group has talked and talked… and written nothing.
So, back to the “teachable moment”: if you need to conduct a novel, risky, and complex activity as a team, it would be well worth your time to analyze the personalities of the people you work with and to make sure that the team includes “idea people,” “people people,” “process people” and “action people.” Typically, the less senior members of the team are likely to be more strongly “boxed” into one of the roles. More senior people, at least the trainable ones, develop a more balanced view over time and cultivate, deliberately or by osmosis, the qualities that may have been their weaker points in their earlier years.
When you’re a one-man show, however, things are harder, unless you happen to have strong aspects of each of the four personalities. You should seriously ask yourself whether this is the case, or whether you need to rely on someone else to complement the areas in which you might be weaker. It turns out that when I took the test myself, I was almost in the center of the rating system, typically more in the Yellow group but at the edge of the Red one, and not that far from the other two — which of course is consistent with the seniority-related remark above. I hope that this is one of the reasons why I have been able to reasonably well mix and match all the activities listed above in a short period of time.
In another hundred days, I may tell you if this continues to work or if, like Napoleon’s, that road led to my Waterloo.