Fast-forward a decade. The world has changed a lot and we are in an interesting place now. Technology has drastically transformed and democratized much (but certainly not all) of the world. There are creative outlets for anyone with a browser, the chance to go viral overnight, and smaller startups changing the landscape at an amazing pace. Not all of them are going to make it, that’s a given. But cloud platforms, hackathons, and the supercomputers many of us carry around in our pockets fuel innovation and opportunity. It happens at such a rate that large companies across industries find themselves compelled to innovate and/or acquire smaller, more innovative businesses. The alternative is die off and be replaced by newer models. Software as a service, mobile payments, car sharing, VOIP and people dropping wired phones, music and movie streaming are all prime examples of the new reality shaking things up.
Today’s entry is on being awesome. Not somebody else. You. Me. Us. But only if we choose to do it.
I’m traveling this evening with someone who has worked at the same company as I have for the last dozen years. We were reminiscing about the good old days and how they really weren’t all that. It was easy to party like it was 1999 back in 1999. By the time 2001 rolled around, the .com bubble had burst. Jobs in my industry were extremely tough to come by and those that had them were really in survival mode. This wasn’t a workplace nirvana by a long shot and people felt their jobs were threatened for several years. There was some upside to struggling to the top of the heap but for the most part, envision a pile of fire ants in a flooded river trying not to drown. You did not want to end up at the bottom of that stack and the penalty of failure loomed large. As a result, there was a lot of risk in attempting to stand out and be awesome. It wasn’t something many people really did from what I saw.
So where does that put us and how does that factor into personal awesomeness? There’s clearly the opportunity to start your own thing. Crowdsourcing and Kickstarter concepts have even changed that. If you’re in an enterprise that’s adapting or innovating – as all must do these days – then you’re probably in a different spot that you used to be and may not even realize it. As I noted above, I was trained into a survival mode in a tough environment. This type of situation gets your mind in a safety-above-all-else mode. Today’s world is actually different partly because of the stress on existing business models and partly because of this democratization. Even in areas under pressure, it’s generally more acceptable to stand out. It’s even encouraged and that’s where opportunity lies. If you keep quiet about your ideas then you maintain your status quo. You might be totally safe. But you actually may be totally safe if you speak up with some well-founded passion for change as well. You will probably have a greater perceived value and respect as an outcome too.
All of this leads to confidence and it fuels more creativity because the risk gets continually lowered as respect builds. When those factors are combined with a genuine desire to move things in a positive direction then the result is awesomeness. It’s tough because there are moments where the perceived risk is higher and those are also times when the possible outcome can be transformative in a good way.
A great example is a good friend of mine who had to get up at 4AM and jump on a plane with some execs from his company to fly cross country and then be “on” for about 18 hours. That’s an exhausting proposition, particularly since – at least for me – a flight that early means that quality sleep doesn’t happen (because all sorts of strangeness happens at 4AM). There are all the ideas that you’d want to get across, a view from the top, and the hope that all of this is additive and makes sense as a whole. He is the kind of person who is passionate about what he does and continually educates himself which includes asking others what they think. I don’t have the full story yet, but he ended the day still buzzing from the high of being “on”.
There’s a point where you can lose the exhaustion and the planned talk track you program into your brain, and just be yourself. Unless you’re dealing with a set of unreasonable egomaniacs, you get genuine respect for sharing well-founded ideas and perspectives based on your knowledge. If you’re quiet or just a yes-man then that respect doesn’t happen and you lose future chances. In today’s world, if you can’t be counted on to speak your mind and bring perspective to the table then your co-workers, management, customers, and peers won’t have reason to seek you out.
This isn’t about some wild carpe diem into-the-blue jump from a plane with no chute. You may really fail and it may really matter. If you can let your inner awesomeness shine in a natural way then you can truly succeed. But it’s on you to take that step. Even if it’s a baby step.