What events in your life have become, upon reflection, your defining moments? End of last year, my son landed a new job. He had landed a tremendous not-even-starter position right out of school. In December, 2012, he relocated to take on new responsibilities with a new company. He was going to be leading, rather than following. He was confident. And he reflected on all the “everything” that led to his new appointment. And to his new colleagues, and the collaborative reception he received. That was his defining moment.
He earned the respectful collaboration of his new colleagues as a result of his ability to not only lead, but follow and collaborate. As a result of his former position. Qualities that are something more than just being categorized (and commoditized?) as being a “team player.”
He thought about all the team-based projects he had participated in, during his college years, as well as in the workplace. There was one project, in particular, which was far from sexy. In fact it was fraught with contention, politics, egos, shifting priorities, risk. Yet everyone got to the finish line, together. And the relevance of that experience, as well as the collective output of the team, was valuable to everyone and to his now-former company.
He realized that this one project led him to his current position. Because it brought out everything he knew, was good at, and also needed to learn.
Sometimes, we are involved in projects which end up defining who we are. Except it’s too early for us to realize this, especially while we are in the middle of that defining moment.
As a corporate newbie in the pharmaceutical industry, I already had been identified as someone who (perhaps naively) could sit down at the table with folks from warring departments, and get them to speak productively and profitably with each other. So I got put on a highly contentious, sure-to-fail, new product development project in a product category that made absolutely no sense for my company to be playing in.
I recall that first project meeting. Gosh. Did all of us pick short straws? What did we do to deserve this appointment, which top level management surely felt led to a road to failure? Seriously, did they want to get rid of all of us?
And then we did something remarkable. Because we all had worked together on other projects. And, quite frankly, sort of were each others’ fans. We were looking forward to working with each other, regardless of the project. We knew how to succeed together. So we were prepared to fail together, as well.
Most importantly, we wanted to learn from one another. Because of the respective expertise each of us brought to that table. Regardless of age, gender, years in the field. We were each others’ compasses on this strange entrepreneurial journey.
We decided we were going to succeed. We were going to have the most successful skunkworks* in the history of new product development in the pharmaceutical industry. *Skunkworks – a risky project that is approved by management, minimally funded, that essentially takes off on its own and is subsequently run under corporate radar, with little funding, little visibility, allowing you to get the best people on board, with the greatest amount of sometimes pro-bono resources, creativity, and expertise, for the greatest optimized output.
We looked forward to those meetings. We learned so much from one another. We gave each other tours of our respective departments. We shadowed each other for a day. We learned the languages of each others’ respective disciplines.
We led when it was our turn to lead. We followed when appropriate. We asked questions: of ourselves, of current market category customers, of folks in other companies. We had conversations with customers that they didn’t know they had wanted to have with us. We took a boring product idea, turned it on its ear, and reinvented the category.
And to this day I still get asked: “how on earth were all of you able to create such a robust product concept that is enduring (25 years later) due to its ability to be effective and adaptable to market place needs?”
We had a dream team. But didn’t fully appreciate its impact on our careers, at the time. We succeeded due to the type of people we were, and still are. Our values and our ethics. Our willingness to collaborate and have each others’ backs.
That single project defined us. What is your defining moment?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.