Shadow of photographers on the sand

Me and My Shadow

I try to spend time everyday listening to a Ted talk, watching a Webinar or reading part of a business book. I find that by hearing or reading about how others have made mistakes and learned from them – or been exceedingly smart, lucky or stupid – I am more contemplative about decisions I am facing. Since increasing my weekly dose of business intelligence, I have been exposed to various topics and people and the available list seems endless. Although I sometimes question the use of 30 minutes to an hour of my time, I have yet to feel the same way afterwards.

In a recent conversation, as I discussed my weekly goal of increased business intelligence/exposure with a confidant, she rolled her eyes at me and said something like, “Why don’t you just improve your own skills instead of copying those of other people?”


I thought about her comment and first wondered how long it had been since she had eaten anything. Maybe her blood sugar was low. Being in a well-sugared state, I was able to ask her to tell me more about what she meant by that statement instead of shutting her down. She shared a perspective with me I had not considered – which was that if we spend time listening to others’ successes and failures we won’t be using that time to succeed on our own or improve our weaknesses.

Again, I was astounded at the black and white way she interpreted exposing oneself to another’s experiences. I use percentages and decimals and semicolons all the time, despite that fact that I had not come up with them, I explained. I incorporate best practices into meetings, keeping the ones that jibe with my team and punting those that don’t. Our company uses approved accounting principles and back-up procedures because they work. We are not concerned that they were not our ideas to start with. I wear running shoes and gear invented by other people and love the results.

“Don’t you have some original ideas of your own to implement?” she asked.

“Absolutely. We come up with original ideas all the time and many of them come during or after we expose ourselves to the experiences others are willing to share – even when they are examples of mistakes they have made. In fact, I share my own experiences, whether examples of intellect gone awry or on track, with my executive team as often as they will listen (or read my blog).”

In fact, in a recent INC article (March, 2013) Sandy Lerner, co-founder of CISCO systems, shared her experience regarding a disastrous partnership which led to her losing her job, marriage and pride. After I read this short but powerful article, I sent it to everyone on my executive team and made notes about things to consider as our company works on an acquisition – we have to make sure that all our assumptions are discussed and documented before the deal is inked.

“So you didn’t figure that out before reading the article?” she shot back.

“Woah, Nellie. Now that is enough of that kind of talk. Listen to this next Ted with me and then let’s revisit your view of taking time to be inspired by others.”

We listened to a short Ted talk by Richard Turere, who used a mixture of existing ideas to create a new one which resulted in improved business practices in his family’s business and, better yet, has been adopted all over Kenya with amazing results (Richard Turere – My invention that made peace with lions).

After the Ted talk, she quieted down, nodding affirmatively. In case you’ve been wondering who this Negative Nellie is, she is simply a voice in my head that on occasion questions my choices. Sometimes, I drown her out immediately and successfully move on to more positive self-talk. But other times I listen intently, wondering if there is a lesson to learn, a danger to avoid, a weakness to improve. Just like the many tools I rely on to grow, I am grateful for those shadow voices, especially when taking the time to listen to them results in an increased awareness of the importance of exposure to a wide breadth of experiences.

Smiling, I opened my weekly list of goals and increased my ‘improve business acumen’ one by 15 minutes. So there, Nellie.

– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO

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