Squirrel Spotting: A View From a ‘Between-Jobs Guy’
Peter Smith reflects on the connections he’s made during his time off and explains why change is so hard for everyone.
There is the odd juxtaposition of not wanting to drift too far from the ship, lest I find myself unable to get back on board, while at the same time fearing a quick re-boarding might not be the best idea, as I later could realize the ship’s sailing somewhere I don’t want to go.
The incoming calls and conversations to date have been, and I suspect will continue to be, interesting.
There have been calls from people at small and large companies. There are newer operators, and older, more established businesses. There have been retailers and vendors/suppliers. And a partridge in a pear tree … OK, wrong season.
There is, I confess, a real thrill in having the luxury of engaging conversations with company principals about their businesses, and where they want to take them. That exciting stew of frustration, passion, optimism, and history makes for wonderful theater and genuine human connection.
The biggest challenge for me, thus far, has been maintaining a level of sincere interest in learning about the business, the personnel, the company aspirations, etc., if I concluded quickly that joining a given company is just not right for me.
In those situations, I try to be respectful and, where possible, point the interested parties in a direction that might be a better fit for them.
Having a large industry Rolodex (yes, a digital one) has facilitated many solid connections for industry colleagues and companies through the years and I have always enjoyed making those introductions.
One of the more interesting aspects of this between-jobs period has been the number of companies that’ve reached out to enquire about using me in a consulting capacity.
The premise being, one assumes, that if they can’t make a significant hire, they can at least tap into my accumulated experience and know-how to gain an objective assessment of their business.
That has been a great deal of fun, as it allows me to bring my experience and perspective to interested companies without either one of us having to buy the cow, so to speak.
There have also been, naturally enough, a few head-scratchers.
There was the company that wanted to reconstitute their sales team but ended up doing nothing.
The business that was sick and tired of taking two steps forward, followed by two steps back, but decided ultimately to continue as they were because … well, because of Russia.
The company that wanted to buy another organization as an acquisition play but ultimately dropped the idea because of costs that would be no more than rounding errors in any eventual transaction.
In “The Catalyst, How To Change Anyone’s Mind,” Jonah Berger wrote, “Change is costly and requires effort, so as long as things are good enough, the impetus to switch is muted. Research suggests that the potential gains of doing something have to be 2.6 times larger than the potential losses to get people to take action.”
Psychology has a term for believing you want to do something, and then not doing it. It is called the status quo bias.
It’s why we stay with the same insurance company when we would be better off making a change.
It’s why we continue to visit the same barbershop, even as those haircuts become less satisfactory.
It’s why we continue to give our business to the same old dry cleaner while lamenting the quality of their work.
Companies, even those that self-servingly sprinkle their communications with buzzwords such as “innovative,” and “disruptive,” are more often risk-averse. In fact, a Boston Consulting Group survey from 2015 identified risk-averse cultures as being the major impediment to innovation.
Neuroscientist and author Robert Cooper wrote in “The Other 90%” that, “The amygdala’s instincts, which have evolved over thousands of years, tend to spill into every aspect of life and promote a perpetual reluctance to embrace anything that involves risk, change or growth.
“Your amygdala wants you to be what you have been and stay just the way you are.”
With all due respect to Mr. Cooper, I’ll end it there. I’ve got to wrap this up for now, as I need to find a ship that just might be going my way.
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