By Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO.
Have you ever read the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” It’s an easy reading parable about two mice (Scurry and Sniff) and two little people (Hem and Haw). Scurry and Sniff relentlessly scour a maze looking for cheese. They don’t overthink it, they’re engaged only in the present as they tactically focus on their efforts to hunt cheese. Scurry and Sniff always keep moving. Hem and Haw are people so they have bigger brains and a more analytical perspective. They consider the difficulty in hunting for cheese, wonder and worry when they’ll find cheese again, and spend a lot of time trying to discern effective strategies to locate the cheese. To the simple mice, cheese represents a next meal. To the complex humans, cheese represents success. We can learn from both of these mentalities. The meanings behind the parable suggests sometimes it’s best to act tactically and relentlessly focus on the task at hand. The other macro takeaway is that the human ability to scrutinize, examine, and strategize is an amazing advantage, however it can also get in the way and prevent success from occurring with over-analysis or negative thinking. If the humans use their strategic intellect AND keep moving tactically, they’ll never lose for long.
So, why am I mentioning my version of cliff note synopsis of a dated book? I promise I have a point! I hear from a lot of executives looking to revitalize their companies and I hear from a lot of executives in some stage of career transition. The scenarios are different but share a common thread – what has made them successful in the past is not enough to make them successful moving forward. Their cheese has been moved. A bump (or fork) in the road has taken place and how they respond to the challenge now confronting them will determine their forward success. Some executives see the storms ahead and adjust in anticipation, while some executives see the storms yet take no action, and still some simply don’t see the storm at all. Whether you see the storm coming or you’re in one now or even if you’re currently a raging success, you must keep moving. Perhaps it is best to ride things out because it’s just an economic cycle near certain to come around, but perhaps it’s CD technology to your tape cassette and standing still will soon equal irrelevance. Look at the trends. Look at where investment dollars are going. Is your sector growing? Is your function necessary? Is your business model sound for tomorrow? Nobody thinks they are, but have you been overpaid in a bloated industry no longer paying that compensation? Are there fewer companies hiring in your area of expertise? Are there too many companies doing the same thing and only a tiny fraction of them will enjoy reasonable success? Have you had 10 different jobs over the past 15 years without a consistent track record of truly verifiable success (be honest with yourself!)? Whatever road you’ve traveled, your patterns of success (or not) will be concurrent with the decisions you’ve made and the effort you’ve put in. We are all the one common denominator in our lives, personally and professionally, and we must own our results. Wherever you go, there you are.
So if you’re a CEO of a company at some stage of business evolution (how could you not be?!), you MUST: ideate new monetization models; innovate new solutions and build new products; identify new sectors, verticals, and land/expand clients; build for scale in balance with guarding capital reserves; and perhaps most importantly you must develop, incentivize, and inspire your best people. All of these actions are blending the strategic planning WITH pragmatic action. Knowing to combine these two key elements is only important if one puts them into practice…..knowing and doing are not the same thing…..you must KEEP MOVING.
And if you’re an executive bored or frustrated with your current leadership position or if you’re between opportunities and actively seeking ‘what’s next’, you’ll need to go through some honest self-evaluation of your marketability. Does the market you’re in need you? What do you truly want, anyway? And what are you willing to CHANGE to get what you want? Even if you’re content with your current situation, it’s prudent to perpetually evaluate if the career vehicle you’re in will get you where you want to go. To each his own, however answering some of the questions in this blog is critically important. If your sector is contracting or evolving rapidly, odds are that the expertise needed in the past might not be as necessary in the future. Is that you? You’ll either need to develop new areas of marketable competencies or you’ll need to take your transferable skills into a tangential or possibly completely new sector, function, and/or career path. Your cheese has been moved (or will be soon). Unless you’re one of the innovative pioneers steering some of your industry’s evolution, you must adjust to those changes or you’ll face extinction. Sorry, but it’s true. I get calls and emails every single day from people I’d love to assist in their career transition, but I simply can’t because my clients (operators and investors) don’t require their expertise. This isn’t gloom and doom by the way, it’s actually a phenomenal gift for newness, for intellectual stimulus, for invigorated learnings, and for happiness itself. It will not likely come easy. It will be hard. This is where the balance between Hem and Haw and Scurry and Sniff take place: examine your situation, identify what you truly want, make a plan for how to get there. And then WORK. You’ll need to really work, to grind, to learn, to grow, to improve, and to achieve what you say you really want.
By the way, I need to practice what I preach and I’ve been on all sides of this in my 25+ year career. I spent 12 years in progressively elevated leadership roles in the telecom industry (increasingly uninterested) before taking a giant pivot into entrepreneurship and executive search. The first couple of years were both exhilarating and challenging learning experiences that I couldn’t have replicated other than going through it. As a firm we’ve benefitted from the growth of the ad-tech space having made hundreds of VP/C-suite placements in the industry. We also saw the growth of the mar-tech space early on and got immersed in that tangential sector which ultimately outgrew what we had been executing in the ad-tech arena. Now consolidation and wash-out along with a slowdown of external investment has taken place in both of those categories. A few years ago, we recognized the shifts taking place and started working with b2b data, analytics, and cyber companies that had nothing to do with advertising and marketing. That broader enterprise sector now represents the majority of our projects and searches. We’ve been pretty good at seeing and taking action, however I can also see many many areas where we’ve failed to take action and could have. We’ve expanded, but I had opportunities to scale more aggressively and didn’t see it through. We’ve had opportunities to build internal processes and efficiencies and have done well, but it could be better. That’s on me. My cheese keeps moving and so does yours. The key is what are we going to do about it?
“The price of success is perseverance. The price of failure comes cheaper.” – Anonymous