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“What difference do you make in the lives of those around you?”

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What difference do you make in the lives of those around you

Having followed Jim Collins work for 20 years (I first read “Build to Last” in 1995 and have read each book since) it was wonderful to hear him speak earlier this year in Sydney courtesy of The Growth Faculty

I was not disappointed. Here was a person who had done the work and while his review of his research was energizing, it was his 13th Question, which I found most encouraging and affirming. Essentially it was:

“What difference do you make in the lives of those around you?”

It is something I have pondered throughout my working life and there is abundant literature, which speaks to the issue! The first time I seriously addressed the question was in an early consulting assignment. The project focused on Management by Objectives. One question we asked the Managers of the day was: What is your unique contribution to the Business? An hypothesis was proposed that each manager needed to make a unique contribution and that it needed to be articulated clearly so that work could be defined and roles clarified. For a neophyte consultant it was a challenging assignment. It was even more challenging for those who had to articulate their unique contribution. If two people were making the same contribution, one was redundant!

While I moved on from there, the question remained and haunted me in many ways!
In my early working life I was lucky enough to be exposed to the “organization development” movement and the education and developmental opportunities it created. Sensitivity training, Encounter groups, Psychodrama training, Gestalt training were the basis of my early training and as part of those experiences, I had many opportunities to explore the big questions. In fact, at this time, I was conducting a workshop and as part of the session on career planning and personal development, I was challenged by the questions:
“What are my life priorities?” and
“What are my career goals?”
I blustered a little. I was still inexperienced and naive and had not fully addressed these issues!
These questions inevitably lead me to think much more deeply about many of the great existential questions?
What is my unique contribution?
What difference do I make in people’s lives?
What difference do I make in the world?
It was a challenging time! These were the early days of training within organizations. Management development, supervisory development and a multiplicity of social skills programs were on the agenda within organizations. Leadership, the buzzword of education and training today was barely mentioned.

The organization development movement was focused on introducing change into the organizations. I even trained as a “change agent”! My view was and still is that it is very difficult to lead a change process unless you are willing to undergo the same level of change as the people you are working with.

These early opportunities provided me with some basic skills to address the BIG questions? During this period I married and we had four children. This certainly provided further motivation to address these questions and come up with some serious answers!

As my working life unfolded and I became a management consultant moving from change management and developing some competence in strategy development, it became clear to me that the whole strategic process had at its very core a question not dissimilar to Jim Collin’s 13th question:

What difference do you make in the lives of those around you? Or
What difference do you make in the lives of your customers? Suppliers? Employees? And shareholders?

As I have discussed earlier, the strategic process in business is very similar to the great life questions (Blog 14 -

Having a focus on something or someone who is not US is potentially much more inspiring, more sustaining and /or more fulfilling a mission than the continued pursuit of self-interested goals. (e.g. being No 1 or the biggest or the best.)
Essentially these are what might be called egocentric goals (the goals begin and end at the Self).

It is a genuine truism that “money does not guarantee happiness or fulfillment’ and neither does achievement! The human spirit requires much more. In our current business world the “pursuit of money” and / or “shareholder value” distorts the conversation and causes a form of “short termism” which is destructive. Human beings require so much more. Just consider how many people work for voluntary causes in less than ideal conditions for nothing. What drives them? The chance to make a difference in another’s life!

One of the real challenges in today’s world is to create meaningful work for a new generation who are better educated and have much higher expectations.

At the very heart of it all is the question Jim Collins asked as his 13th question:

What difference do you make in the lives of those around you?

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