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Was Charles Darwin a Career Coach?

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection.”
– Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

Natural selection is the process by which those heritable traits that make it more likely for an organism to survive and successfully reproduce become more common in a population over successive generations. It is a key mechanism of evolution.

Natural selection and the idea of survival of the fittest are key elements of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. As a Career Coach, I often wonder if there are lessons that we can learn, by applying this theory to today’s current turbulent job market. After all, survival of the fittest and the notion of adapting over time to ensure survival has a direct correlation with job seekers competing against one other in a constricted job market for extremely scarce jobs.

For example, using Darwin’s lessons of natural evolution, we would understand that applying the same outdated job strategies like responding to job classifieds, searching job websites, relying on recruiters, etc. only lead to career extinction. Instead, we need to adapt and evolve in order to survive today’s constantly changing Twenty First Century global contract workplace. Job seeker survival of the fittest demands adaptive strategies such as:
• Customizing every resume and cover letter you send;
• Contacting the people we would report to in the Department of an organization we want to work in, to sell ourselves for a job they don’t even know they know they need to fill that we’d be perfect for;
• Forget elevator pitches! You need to brand yourself like a product using your USP/value proposition;
• Developing your very own personal marketing plan; and
• Creating a strategic networking plan to follow.

Americans will be expected to change jobs an average of 8-9 times during their careers. The pursuit of lifelong learning and transferrable skills makes sense as an adaptation strategy, for workers to deal with unexpected marketplace trends, developments and circumstances. In Darwin’s theory, species changed over time and space. In the wild, the importance of adaptation is self evident when chameleons change colors in order to blend into their surroundings to hunt more effectively. What can be said of workers that pursue new skills only to realize too late that the skills they learned are no longer needed in our post-Industrial, service and technology-based society?

Survival of the fittest has just as much relevance in the workplace as it does on the Serengeti. It means you HAVE to develop a strategy for dealing with abusive co-workers and bosses. You need to develop a survivalist mentality when you combat peers that attempt to sabotage you by taking credit for your work, blaming you for their failures, or slandering your reputation. It demands you align yourself with advocates to partner against stronger foes for protection, as is done in the wild.
The phrase “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” has as much relevance in an office setting, as its counterpart “mutual symbiosis” does when a bird rides on a rhino to pick bugs off its back.

“Nature encourages no looseness, pardons no errors.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Adapting to your natural environment is something that career changers learn how to do out of necessity. Elongated body parts to reach food sources are examples of how species change over time. An equivalent approach taken by a job seeker might entail making a career transition from an industry that is dying (printing, publishing, or manufacturing) to one that is growing (nursing, healthcare, Green initiatives.) As a society we make decisions that hurt our long-term survival, such as cutting down rain forests, polluting our water sources, and destroying our natural resources. The direct parallel of business owners outsourcing, off-shoring, and re-engineering jobs is scary.

An example of adaptation in the wild is when animal (wolf or lion) is ostracized by its pack to the point where it is forced to leave and become a “loner.” A strong connection can be drawn to disenfranchised career professionals that leave jobs working for an employer in search of freelance, contract, and consulting roles on a “go-at-it-alone” basis. In fact, research shows that one in four Americans are making this choice and the number is skyrocketing. Why is this happening? We can point to the death of the employee/employer contract as organizations have come to view employees as disposable assets.

Parallels exist between carnivores that learn to hunt in daylight or nightfall and job seekers that constantly pursue lifelong learning by taking adult education courses, pursuing professional certifications/accreditations, licenses, or taking specific skills training in your field of study or an industry you want to transition to.

A question that Charles Darwin would have certainly asked is: “Are we better off today as a society through the adaptive changes we went through since World War II?” Our educational systems are failing, a majority of the population has no faith in our politicians, entire industries are imploding, our actual unemployment rate has soared to 15-20%, the divorce rate surpassed 50%, our Middle Class is dwindling, our children are obese, we can’t afford to care for our elders or send our children to college, and many of our states are dangerously close to bankruptcy.

Darwin’s theory of evolution fundamentally changed the direction of future scientific thought, though it was built on a growing body of thought that began to question prior ideas about the natural world . Perhaps it is time for us to rethink the approaches we take to our 21st Century American Society, or we may find ourselves devolving even further.

The Power of Being a "Contrarian" Business Owner.

Does it seem like more business people are acting like lemmings these days? They gladly follow the herd ANYWHERE, even if it means heading blindly off a cliff in pursuit of outdated business approaches.

It does make sense to follow others blindly. It’s comforting to stick with the familiar and there’s safety in numbers. Plus, we all have a fear of the unknown. It requires a TREMENDOUS amount of creativity, courage and energy to buck conventional “wisdom” in the pursuit of non-conformity. That explains why many business owners and professionals alike cling to outdated (and often harmful) ways of doing things, when confronted with a turbulent business climate like we find ourselves in now.

If we all sit around waiting for business to improve, who is going to lead us forward? Conformists can’t. Conducting business from a conformist approach at Lehman Brothers, General Motors, AIG, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc. has led to widespread failures.

Our Nation requires contrarian leadership now more than ever. From Arizona to New Jersey, our states are becoming bankrupt. One in four Americans work in freelance, contract, and consulting jobs and the number will only climb higher. More than ten percent of Americans are unemployed (and many think the actual number is much higher.) The average American will be forced to change jobs 8-9 times in their career. Our cities are crumbling, and we’ve outsourced nearly all core competencies overseas. Entire industries like printing, advertising, publishing, retail, insurance, banking and financial services are imploding. Our two-party political system is dying. Now is NOT the time to accept the mediocrity that results from conformity.

Contrarians understand that the paradigm of work and the American enterprise itself has changed completely. We have seen the deterioration in the employer/employee contract. Businesses are faced with an extremely difficult lending environment, competition bombards us globally, and employees are accepted as disposable assets. It is times like these in which contrarian business owners LEAD with greatness.

Central to the contrarian business owner belief system is the fact that employees are critical to the success of an organization. They are not “disposable assets.” Contrarians NEVER subscribe to the myopic, short-term panacea of layoffs. While conformist business owners institute layoffs, contrarian employers invest even more in their EMPLOYEES in times like these. They throw away their job descriptions and find GREAT talent, without regard to positions. Contrarian business owners understand that you can ALWAYS find a place for truly talented people.

They don’t demand their people possess specific degrees or matriculate from certain academic institutions. Contrarians seek people who love to find solutions to problems, esp. problems that don’t even exist…yet. They thrive on teaching others, excel in chaotic environments that change constantly, don’t need constant hand-holding, and enjoy taking calculated risks when the potential reward is high.

You can spot a contrarian in an instant. They do crazy things like make all the Departments in their organization work together. Teamwork is most certainly NOT lip service to them, and it’s NOT relegated to a fancy picture in a frame in their lobby. Their organizations flourish with teamwork imbedded in everything they do. Managers of each Department have their objectives tied to other Departments. In the contrarian-run enterprise, the annual budgets of the Sales, Marketing, Product Development / R&D and Customer Care Teams are all developed and approved by each other. Heck, their budgets are tied to each other’s.

A contrarian is just as likely to hire circus folk, ex-convicts, military, High School drop-outs, retirees, and the physically/mentally challenged as they are an Ivy Leaguer. They pay more willingly, in order to recruit and hire the very best talent. They will even freeze the pay of their owners and senior management (or reduce it) in order to be able to afford to hire top talent at all ranks of the organization.

They go out of their way to make their employees feel special when they join their organization. They believe wholeheartedly in coaching/mentoring, training, recognizing, rewarding and promoting their people. A Contrarian does everything in their power to solicit ideas and feedback from their people ALL of the time. They even reward (and promote) their people for great ideas.

Contrarians understand deep down to the core of their Leader DNA that the PEOPLE closest to the work and their customers are in the BEST position to come up with new products and services. Their front-line employees know how to fix things and be more efficient. Contrarians seek ideas, input and direction from these employees constantly. Even better, they give their employees the tools, training, resources and AUTHORITY they need to succeed. Contrarians know how to get out of their people’s way, and WATCH THE MAGIC HAPPEN.

They “encourage” their people to fail GREATLY by taking huge calculated risks, and reward them with parties, gifts and raises for their “failures.” They cut back on their trade show expenses and take their employees on trips with those savings. Contrarians are crazy enough to set aside money to fund their people who are looking to start up their own businesses. The contrarian will go to great lengths to keep their talent, rather than let them leave to pursue their own business. They know it’s a great way to grow their own business by in effect acquiring a start up by staying “in-house.”

Being contrarian means increasing your marketing and advertising investments NOW. While competitors bury their heads in the sand, a contrarian boldly leverage these tools to achieve their goals. In a depressed market like we’re in now, they negotiate more favorable terms with advertisers, and KNOW their message will resonate more strongly when their competitors cut back their advertising. They march forward boldly in their contrarian confidence and send a message to clients, prospects, and markets that they are “in it” for the long haul.

In these turbulent times, only the business leaders that throw away the old ways will thrive. Contrarians understand that these times DEMAND we make emotional connections to employees, clients, partners, suppliers, and the media. For example, the Pareto Principal tells us all clients are not created equally. Your top 20% of your customers generate 80% of your revenue. Conversely, a relatively small number of customers demand a disproportionately large amount of your support team’s time and effort. A contrarian understands this, and cuts loose all those unprofitable clients who take time away from converting customers into repeat customers and repeat customers into apostles.

Contrarians don’t subscribe to today’s prevailing business “logic” that you need to take a wait and see approach. Contrarians relish the myriad challenges facing business owners today. Bold visionaries (contrarians) thrive on upheaval, and know how to tur
n chaos into opportunities and business profits.

Going For (Winter Olympic Gold) Success

Don’t look now, but our U.S. Olympic team is making history at the XXI Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as it blows away the rest of the field in total medal count.

At present, they lead with 32 medals, 6 more than Germany and 13 more than Norway. Some performance highlights by the Americans in these Winter Games include:

  • Bode Miller wins his first gold ever and his third medal in these Games, after nearly walking away from the sport a year ago;
  • Apolo Ohno has won three medals in Vancouver and now owns more Winter Olympic medals (7) than any other U.S. Winter Olympian;
  • Shani Davis became the first skater in Olympic history to win the 1,000 meter distance event in two Olympics;
  • Our woman’s hockey team wins silver; and
  • The U.S. wins SIX medals in one day, more than any other country EVER achieved (5).

QUESTION: Don’t our Olympic athletes know that this is NOT supposed to happen? Our athletes don’t typically perform very well at Winter Olympics.

What has brought about this dramatic change in THIS team’s results? Perhaps our athletes collectively brought an entirely new attitude and approach to these Games and said: “Forget the past, let’s dare to be great!” There is a tremendously powerful lesson that we can all learn from our athletes, and apply to our own business and professional efforts?

THAT GOT ME TO THINKING: What if each of us took the approach of: “No more excuses, we are going to dare to be great?” What if we each decided that it can NO LONGER be acceptable to strive to maintain the status quo? What if we ALL took our heads out of the sand and stopped waiting for the current economic storm passes?

What if we all decided to REALLY invest in our people, and began taking calculated risks with higher reward potential? What if we bucked the trend of cutting back on spending, to invest in cutting edge creative and effective marketing and sales strategies? Let our competitors shrink from the public eye. Our efforts will come through even louder as our competitors remain silent. What if we decided once and for all to tear down the processes that we established long ago (even the ones that aren’t broken), in a concerted effort to achieve Gold medal, world-class customer care, business operations, sales efforts, marketing campaigns, new product offerings, and strategic approaches?

What if it wasn’t good enough just to stop laying off employees but we started restructuring EVERY employees’ job description to leverage ALL their core competencies? If we can learn anything from our American Olympians, it’s that success is not measured in wins and losses, or Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Just ask the heavily favored U.S. woman’s hockey team. A gold medal loss 2-0 to the Canadians was shocking, but they won Silver. There is no failure or shame in achieving such lofty success. After all in life’s winding road, it’s not about the destination but the journey. What lessons can be take away from the past two years of Recession?

If anything our Olympians might quote Einstein for us – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is INSANITY. Apolo Ohno completely changed his skating style after winning medals at the last Olympics, and came up GOLDEN again. Only by daring to take a different approach can any of us hope to achieve Gold.

What do you think?

Should Undercover Boss Remain Hidden?

Show Preview

Have you seen Undercover Boss? It’s the latest reality TV show that follows CEOs of companies as they go undercover to investigate their businesses. The first episode aired after the Super Bowl and focused on Larry Hughes, President of Waste Management.

On one hand, I guess you could say “it’s about time.” Presidents of corporations are FINALLY getting out there and seeing what it’s like for their employees on the front line.
But a part of me sees this all as grotesque reality TV. Am I the only one who sees this as too little too late? We’ve suffered through decades of leadership deficit in Corporate America.

CEOs have failed miserably at communicating with their people. They have lost sight of what it’s like to be their employees or their customers, vendors, suppliers, partners, etc. They have alienated their workforce by initiating massive layoffs, instituting draconian employee compliance programs, and overworked, underpaid, undervalued, and underappreciated their people for so long that this new emphasis on hands-on caring CEO smells of grotesquely insincere gesture.

So, CEOs are going undercover to find out what it’s like to work in their companies? Here’s an idea. Why limit it to only ONE week out in the field? Why not take THREE MONTH tour with 2-week job rotations across all of the areas of their company? While they’re at t, spend time with their key customers, top suppliers, most valued partners, and other stakeholders.

The fact that this show was even produced is yet another slap in the face to the American worker. This is like dropping a coin in the tin cup of the homeless man on the corner, a momentary morality speed bump. If CEOs of American businesses really want to know what it’s like to be an employee in their organization, ASK THEM! Here’s a novel idea. Implement truly valuable programs for employees. Solicit direct feedback from workers by soliciting their ideas constantly.

Offer valuable incentives through reward and recognition programs, and match junior-level staff with more tenured workers in coaching/mentoring programs. Ant to REALLY show you are a CARING CEO? FREEZE all senior management bonuses, commit to NO MORE LAYTOFFS for several years. How about implementing cutting edge training & development programs for the employees?

Start by communicating with each and every employee. Use monthly town hall meetings to speak from the pulpit on the state of your business. Hold quarterly video conferences. Implement weekly “Breakfast with the Boss” talks, and send Monday morning emails from the CEO?

We all know there is a void in corporate leadership. Let’s not add insult to injury for the American worker by implying CEOs care. That ship sailed a LONG time ago. The landscape of American enterprise is littered with the fecal remnants of Adelphia, Enron, Global Crossing, Bear Stearns, GM, Lehman Brothers, AIG, etc.

If you want to get lost in mind-numbing reality TV, check out The Jersey Shore. Leave Undercover Boss.

The Great “Catch-22” Facing Job Seekers Pursuing a Career Transition

Today’s job seekers looking to transition into a new field face the greatest of all Catch-22s imaginable… how can one obtain the experience needed to successfully transition into a new field, when people in that industry won’t hire you without prior experience in the industry?
While the challenge facing career transitioners may seem insurmountable, it is NOT. Conducting an effective career transition into a new vocation is a manageable task, ASSUMING you approach it with the right plan. The first thing one must do is conduct a complete self-assessment to identify your strongest skills that are TRANSFERRABLE.

Transferable skills are the talents that you have acquired in past jobs that can help an employer AND can be utilized in a number of industries, environments, or jobs. Experiences like volunteer work, hobbies, sports, previous jobs, college coursework, or even your experience living through significant life events provide such transferrable skills.

Ask yourself what your core competencies are. These are the skills that you are strongest at. Some examples of core competencies might include: customer service, retail sales, direct marketing, project management, foreign languages, bookkeeping, fundraising, etc.
Any skill is transferable; the trick is showing employers how these skills of yours apply to the job you are pursuing in this new industry and how your competencies are useful to them in one or more of the following three ways: 1) help them to increase revenues; 2) reduce profits; or 3) improve their operational efficiencies.

Another way to transition into an industry you do not possess experience in, is to approach your job search as if you are selling a product called “YOU.” Using this approach will enable you to understand your product “features and benefits” and learn how to market these selling points of your background to employers. Some of your features and benefits include: your education, continuing education coursework, training programs, certifications, language proficiency, cultural diversity, the time you spent working, living and/or studying abroad, awards and recognition you received, your special leadership qualities, and experience managing others, your community engagement earned through your volunteer work, etc.

Research the industries you are interested in breaking into from top to bottom. There is a wealth of information on most companies especially if they are publicly traded. Some excellent resources for company background information include: Hoovers, the Securities and Exchange Commission Edgar database of annual and quarterly financial statement filings (, the public records database, (for industrial and manufacturing firms), Dun & Bradstreet, The Motley Fool, etc.

Of all the strategies available to those seeking a career transition, none is more powerful potentially rewarding as the informational interview. The informational interview is a way to meet people who are either doing what you want to do in a specific job in that new industry, people you know through your network who work in the industry, or someone that manages a Department that you might want to work in within an organization in this new industry.

During your informational interview, you want to learn how they got their start in that industry, what they love most about their jobs, what industry associations do they belong to, what publications to they read, what events do they attend, what special training or classes they have taken etc. It is important to note that the informational interview is NOT an interview. You are not asking for a job. However, you can and should ask if they know one or two people they can suggest for you t o talk to.

It is NOT impossible to break into a field that you do not have experience in. Like any truly rewarding venture, it takes a strategic plan, hard work and perseverance, and a willingness to embrace strategies you might not be comfortable doing.

Make 2010 a Success: Return Those Phone Calls!

Want to start 2010 on the right foot? How about returning those phone calls that you ignored or put off? You probably cut back drastically or avoided many business discussions last year, as you took a “wait and see” approach. Now is the perfect time to pull your head out of the sand and re-engage with those potential partners, suppliers, clients and vendors.

Make a prioritized list ranked from high to low of potential return on these people that reached out to you. Begin calling people back. You will be amazed at all the business opportunities that you have missing. You probably missed out on many special offers, discounts, lease renewals, restructuring terms on agreements, office space rental, and much more.

You road to success in 2010 should be all about making a comeback. Nothing prevents your own progress more than burying you head in the sand and hoping that external forces make your current business climate more favorable. Seize the moment…go into every potential discussion as a new opportunity to generate new revenues, reduce costs, of build strategic partnerships.

The longer you wait, the more likely the chance that the people who called you trying to pursue opportunities have moved on. Perhaps they contacted your direct competitors, as well. What if your competitors take advantage of those new opportunities instead of you?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Don’t sit on the sidelines hoping for Divine Intervention in the form of stimulus funding or that one RAINMAKER deal to materialize. Get on the phone, start talking to people. You were successful before by pursuing every opportunity, so…

Make it happen again in 2010!