I am often inspired by great thinkers who explain complex phenomena using simple language and frameworks. Those whose work is entrenched in the creation and application of frameworks know that frameworks are like onions. When we encounter frameworks that appear simple, we are often conscious that we might only be looking at the outer layers of an onion. To get to the core, we need to keep peeling away the layers. That way, we hone our skills and become more qualified to apply, discuss and improve these frameworks. Not coincidentally, this is also how we usually absorb and acquire meaningful skills, or how we achieve significant growth: from Outside (of the onion) In – cutting through one layer at a time.
In 1980, Harvard professor Dr. Michael E. Porter proposed a framework of generic strategies that would help companies obtain competitive advantage in their chosen markets. These generic strategies were cost leadership, differentiation, and focus. We know that this is a deceptively simple framework. Interestingly, I have noted a strong resemblance between these “business competitive advantage” strategies and personal growth strategies. In my research (as summarised in my last article Rapid + Core + Fresh = Transformation), I suggest a strong linkage between true organisational transformation (that must lead to a significant refresh of its competitive advantages) to personal growth.
Let me elaborate.
Personal growth only occurs at a meaningful level when changes take place in the essence – in other words, at the core of the onion. This means, if outer behaviours have changed that lead to positive outcomes, that is great but not good enough. The inner intents and core beliefs also need to change. Otherwise, those positive outcomes are unlikely to sustain, as they are products of “shallow change”.
If you consider Personal Growth a Castle, then I would name the three gates of this castle as: Authenticity, Efficiency, and Focus. Achieving true personal growth means being able to enter the Castle. To enter the Castle, you need to go through at least one of the gates. Do you notice that they resemble Porter’s generic strategies? Cost leadership is a form of Efficiency. Differentiation – or finding your own competitive ground that accentuates your positive differences – is a by-product of Authenticity. And Focus starts with the courage in making a small number of necessary commitments at any given time, and manifests through the clarity of thought and intensity in meeting those commitments.
Recently, one of my friends entered the Castle through the Gate of Focus. I have asked for his permission to share his story. Thank you, Tobin, for your generosity!
Tobin has always had a talent for painting. He took up painting at a young age and found this creative activity a great passion of his. However, for years, like many of us, Tobin’s life has been dragged about and swept away by the torrents of time. He has become so busy with many other activities that one of the very few things that define him – painting – became neglected. This has led to a sense of frustration and lack of personal achievement over an extended period of time.
During several tennis sessions, we discussed topics ranging from motivation to purpose to high performance. Then we agreed on the necessity of discovering our authentic core and conserving our energy for what really mattered. It was through these conversations that I learnt about Tobin’s passion for painting. Tobin and I also agreed that taking up long distance running would be something worthwhile for both of us. (I would save the readers details behind this).
Our tennis sessions stopped abruptly after Tobin moved to another suburb. I started running half-marathons, then marathons and some more. On our training app, I noted that Tobin’s runs would occur only sporadically, and often wondered if Tobin managed to spend any time rediscovering painting.
Last month, Tobin hit me up for lunch. We talked about a bunch of things, but the topic of painting did not come up. At the end of the lunch, Tobin produced a neat little card and said with a broad grin: “Ducmeister (that’s how Tobin usually calls me), I have a surprise for you!”
Opens 6 Mar at 6pm. Runs to 3pm, 19 Mar 2015
322 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. Cnr Argyle St
I was stunned… but somehow not surprised. Tobin has always been oozing potential. I have known him professionally (and on the tennis courts) for some time, and he has always promised a lot. He just needed to find the right gate to push through. And looking at the quality of these paintings, it looked like he had. Before we parted ways, Tobin talked to me about the many late nights, and the many questions that he needed to answer working through this significant investment of time and energy. As I admired his new glow and the way delight shone in his eyes when he talked about painting, I knew that Tobin had also rediscovered passion and meaning in other parts of his life, and that some of his fundamental core beliefs and intents had shifted.
It is no mean feat juggling your family commitments, professional career and other time consuming activities simultaneously. Tobin’s story is an example which illustrates the power of taking a simple step – in this case, the commitment to Focus. As you can see in the result, this simple gate has allowed Tobin to enter a complex Castle – a mysterious territory which has eluded him for years. I believe that once we have been inside this Castle, we would never want to leave. One of the rules of the Castle is that to remain in it, you will need to continue working on yourself. The journey of change, thus, will continue for all of us who try.
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus” – Bruce Lee
See you at the gallery opening, Tobin!