One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about my job is the opportunity to meet people living in places I would otherwise probably never go, doing things I know almost nothing about. It’s given me a chance to see a much broader cross-section of the world than I think most jobs allow for, and my travels this September were a great example of the diversity of experiences that are out there.
In the past month, I have delivered keynote addresses to the following businesses:
- A pork production company that in the past 40 years has grown from a single 60-hog family farm to an outfit overseeing over 50,000 hogs
- An association of master-planned association housing managers, representing everything from country club neighborhoods to communities in Dubai of over 10,000 homes
- A group of IT professionals currently engaged in the largest IT upgrade in the history of American gas and electric utilities
- A multinational conglomerate of over 50,000 employees across multiple countries, cultures, and time zones
- An association of independent Canadian pharmacies that has grown from a single family-owned pharmacy to a network of over 300 in the last eight years
On the surface, these businesses would seem to have absolutely nothing in common. And when you look at it from the perspective of what they do, they don’t.
But when you start to learn about how they do what they do, how they’ve grown, and what challenges they’ve faced, you start to realize that they actually have a lot in common. Not in the particulars, but rather in the broad strokes that characterize each of these industries – and almost certainly your own as well.
Put very simply, each of these companies and associations is currently successful. They’re doing well, well enough to spend money to have a conference and hire speakers and throw their attendees a very nice party.
But none of them started there. All of them have grown slowly and jerkily over time – sometimes organically, somethings through mergers or acquisitions, and rarely with a clearly defined plan for how exactly their growth was supposed to happen. None of these groups look today the way their founders thought they would 8 or 130 years ago, and at best each of these companies has only a vague idea of how things will look 5 years from now. All of them have experienced their fair share of failures and setbacks, and all of them are dealing with challenges they aren’t entirely certain how to solve at the moment. Just like everyone else.
And if I had met them five years ago, or five years from now, I would be saying the same thing. Because the process by which each of these unrelated companies has found its current success – humble beginnings, stuttering growth, uncertain futures, innovative solutions to unexpected problems, frustrating setbacks – that process is true for all of us. It’s true of my business, and I’m certain that it’s true of yours. And over time, our successes almost always outweigh our failures.
So this month, I hope you’ll talk to a hog farmer or IT professional or circus clown or neuroscientist and ask them how they got where they are today. Odds are you’ll learn something that can help you on your own journey. Plus, the stories are pretty interesting. I now know more about Canadian health care and grow-finishing (official hog-raising term) than the average person, and I’m certain that this knowledge will someday prove useful to me – or at least make for a good story at a neighborhood barbecue.