What does it take to become successful these days? For those struggling to survive the economic doldrums of our Modern Middle Ages the answer may seem elusive. A better question might be why. Why, in an age of plenty where we have more computing power to solve very complex issues, programs and apps that makes us more creative and keep us “in the know” and technology and platforms that allow for instant connection and collaboration, don’t we at least feel more successful?
Not feeling successful is manifested in other troubling ways. Surveys from respected organizations like the World Health Organization, Edelman and Gallup demonstrate, convincingly, that we don’t trust leadership in our companies or governments, that we are losing hope for the future and those of us in the industrialized world are not very happy right now.
The good news is we have choices. We can choose to accept that this is just the way it is. That not trusting or hoping or being reasonably happy is just the “new normal” of business and life in these Modern Middle Ages. Choosing to accept the way it is is choosing to survive, the choice we made during the 1000 years of the Middle Ages.
Or we can choose the way that could be. That not trusting or hoping or being reasonably happy is just “not normal”. Choosing what could be is choosing to thrive and is the first step to becoming successful. This was the choice taken by Renaissance people and their organizations 500 years ago when they chose to reject the Middle Ages as their “new normal”.
Today, there are numerous people in organizations making similar choices and rejecting the “new normal” of our Modern Middle Ages. What these organizations have in common with successful Renaissance organizations of 500 years ago is the path chosen in their pursuit of becoming successful.
Deciding to thrive and become successful is the important and difficult first step. Choosing to be successful may sound easy but it takes more than simply saying “yes to success”. Choosing success often means rejecting the comfort of the past and the notions and attitudes that got you to where you are today. And you can’t do it alone. That singular feeling of success when others around you continue to struggle will be fleeting. Organizations serious about success know that a definition of success must be inclusive and participatory.
Definition of Success
The great Renaissance cities of Florence and Urbino found ways to frame and harmonize various individual views of success into an inclusive definition. Florence found success in “a place where all could flourish and rise to the best of their abilities”. Urbino achieved remarkable success as the city that became “a centre of intellectual and artistic excellence”. These definitions of success were not the quantifiable goals found in strategic plans (critically important to a successful plan but not a definition of success). They were qualitative, participatory statements that relied on others in its achievement and focussed on the feeling and the becoming successful rather than its arrival.
Today, there are two small companies operating with grand visions and inclusive definitions of success. Richelieu Group, a Canadian company restarting a sock manufacturing business in North Carolina, has defined their success as the renaissance of manufacturing for small-town America. How interesting and participatory is that? A rebirth of an industry and with it the rebirth of small town America.
The other, Roma Moulding, another Canadian company, is in the custom picture frame business. They have defined success as handcrafted frames as unique as the people who make them. In an age of over-manufactured and commoditized products (surely picture frames would be in this category) Roma has decided that uniqueness and all its interesting and unquantifiability would be their definition of success. These two companies, like the great Renaissance cities before them have breathed new life into their organizations by defining success as an act of becoming more successful.
Elements of Success
With success defined in their own terms the two great Renaissance cities discovered, independently, elements of success that became a working model for other cities. It seems that our two companies, Richelieu Group and Roma Moulding have rediscovered these same elements and are fast becoming successful due, in some small part, to the following;
Two Dimensions of Purpose
An inclusive definition of success gave the Renaissance cities renewed purpose and reasons for being. Definitions of success that are participatory create tenacity in the organization and a single-minded yet collective purpose to the work. Importantly, the sense of purpose was both strategic or organizational and felt or individual. In the case of Florence and Urbino both cities had a strategic purpose of becoming centres of excellence but worked very hard at creating the conditions that activated their citizens’ felt purpose. For Florence it was a felt purpose of individual excellence and for Urbino one of intellectual and artistic development.
We can imagine what Richelieu and Roma’s strategic purposes might be; preferred vendor status to American retailers in the case of Richelieu and leaders in custom framing for Roma. But, it is in their felt purposes that you begin to feel their definitions of success more forcefully; a felt purpose of craftsmanship and that work is art in the hands of the people at these companies is accelerating them along the path to becoming more successful.
A Values System in Full View
A definition of success, like goals or objectives in your organization’s plan, defines where you are going. Strategies will define how you will get there. But, it is your values system, the power and energy in your operating system, which will determine the level and speed of success achieved. Values and beliefs that are harmonized and activated throughout the organization determine how quickly you get to where you are going. This is walking the talk.
The Renaissance cities and our two companies made the idea of excellence or leadership their objective. But, it is the values system at work in their operating systems that helped or are helping them become more successful. For Florence it was a belief in the individual and a values system that placed human potential at the centre of civic decision-making that moved Florence to its place as a leading Renaissance city. For Urbino, it was a belief in the power of intellect and artistry and a values system that celebrated the beauty of knowledge and the possibility of collaboration that helped it achieve its goal of becoming a centre of excellence.
For Richelieu Group we can surmise it to be a belief in the “common person’s ability to do uncommonly good work” and a values system that places perseverance and commitment at the centre of their operating system. For Roma Moulding it is their profound belief in the creative potential of the individual and their values system that celebrates artistic and creative freedom that is helping the company become more successful.
Right place, Right Time
Renaissance Florence and Urbino, Richelieu Group and Roma Moulding all found themselves in the right place at the right time. And not by accident. Becoming the right place meant hard work and tough decisions on what would make the place right for employees and customers. It meant doing right by these important groups of people. Being there at the right time was also no happy accident. The cities and the companies have had to make it happen, make it their time. Not one of these organizations waited for attitudes to turn or markets to improve or competition to falter. Rather, they found ways to become more successful by doing what was needed for all the right people and for all the right reasons.
So, to answer the question of what it takes to become successful these days? It takes an inclusive, participatory definition and a collaborative effort in working elements of success to become more successful. But, it starts with a choice. All that computing power, those apps and the collaborative platforms can help take us there. But first, we have to decide; survive or thrive?
What would you choose? How will you get there?