Sunday, March 28, 2010

Here is THE list, subject to change...

I tend to be a methodical person, occasionally I might have even heard the word 'anal' whispered behind my back. My love of process, steps, and the like are really at odds with existence in the neutral zone. What I would really love is '29 steps to navigating the neutral zone, and to finding the perfect future for you'. I've been told by several people that this doesn't exist. Yet the neutral zone is not a white space either. There are numerous people that have navigated it before, and they have useful tips. I guess I'll be happy with tips, but what I really want are those '29 steps...'.

Several people have emailed me or called and pointed out that I haven't provided my preliminary list yet. You know THE list of "things that would give me a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose, and could be meaningful in the context of my future". Yeah, that's the one. So, not wanting to disappoint my blog readers, but also realizing that I really don't have a complete list yet, I'm going to provide two lists. For interested readers of my blog, particularly if you know me, feel free to click on the "comments" button at the end of this post and suggest other ideas of things that should be under consideration. Or provide your observations. Or just say that you think I've gone monkey! Say something!

My first list is the safe list. This is the one I took with me when I met with Bob M. a couple of weeks ago. I'll enumerate it, and then offer his feedback.
* Buy a business
* Start a non-profit
* Work for or volunteer for a non-profit
* Consult (on what, was a little harder to pinpoint. For now assume 'business strategy, operations strategy, or acquisitions')
* Write, most likely fiction of the type that I enjoy reading, and similar to "Leverage", the novel I completed last year.

Bob M. commented that these choices are all very close to what I have been doing. If I have the entire world and all its immense variety to choose from, why am I looking at 3 degrees of a 360 degree spectrum. After some reflection, I've decided he is right in some ways and wrong in others. I think this list represents incrementalization (another new word?), where I am thinking about what I didn't like in my previous experience, and trying to design a role around eliminating the negative. For example, when I went to my last senior executive position, I took great care to make sure that the negative aspects of the last position I had would be different and hopefully better in the new one. Unfortunately, this process didn't work in my last position (lots of new negatives), and probably won't get me out of the neutral zone by itself. Of the five choices above, four of them are certainly incrementalization. Problem: don't seem to like having a boss -- Solution: be the boss. Problem: not excited by the mission of the organization -- Solution: select based on a mission that is important to me. The only choice that doesn't fit this pattern is writing, but that is 'safe' because I've been doing it as a hobby for quite a while.

Bob asked me a good question, which I have given some thought to, and which helped me with an expanded list. The question was -- what would you do for free? There were several things that immediately popped into my head: dispense advice - particularly career or business advice; outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing, running, etc. -- although I acknowledge that this, in and of itself, would probably bore me fairly quickly; read & write -- heck, I've been doing that for free for a while; do projects or deals -- I love the clearly defined end point, the clear win/loss and the focus on a single objective; help friends or others in need -- sometimes it seemed like I was running a part time recruiting business from my office; Dig for facts on controversial issues that catch my attention and argue -- one of my more recent favorites has been global warming.

So with these insights in mind, and not limiting myself to things that I already know I'm good at, here is an expanded list...
* Sailing charter operator
* Fishing guide, hunting guide
* college professor
* proofreader
* Researcher
* Anti-Global warming analyst / agitator
* lawyer
* write poetry or rock songs
* sing rock songs (hey, I'm not THAT old)
* executive recruiting
* game designer
* merchant marine or forest service (thought I would throw that in as they were the two highest matches with my interests when I took an interest inventory in high school)

When I look at this list, it just looks goofy and impractical, but impractical as these choices may be, by looking at them and thinking about them, I might still manage a serendipitous insight. At least that's what I'm hoping. I'm already planning some steps to explore the safe list -- discussions, playing around the fringes, experimentation, and the like. I have no idea where to even start on the expanded list. That is most likely me looking for '29 steps...' again. I think I need to just let them ferment and grow into something else over time, but we process oriented types just have a tough time doing that.

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