Monday, June 20, 2011

Built to Last

I just returned from a 10 day trip to Italy in which I visited Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice.  As much as it was a wonderful environment in which to relax and unwind, those that know me well realize that I never totally divorce myself from my work.  I have the good fortune of having businesses that are fully integrated with and representative of who I am.  Therefore, my mind is always taking new experiences and applying them to my work.  I love what I do and it comes with me, no matter where I go!

I, along with thousands of others tourists, looked at, with awe and wonder, the famous sites of Rome (imagine seeing the Coliseum live, walking the same marble steps so many walked a thousand plus years ago), experiencing the Vatican, seeing the Sistene Chapel, in Florence seeing both Michelanglo's David, and Rembrandt's Portrait of an Old Man.  It's a seemingly endless list of experiences.  As I continued to layer new wonder upon new wonder, I couldn't help but marvel over not only the creativity, ingenuity and sheer intelligence of these historical figures but their commitment to creating and building legacies that would live on through generation after generation.

Additionally, I couldn't help but contrast this with our society's 'disposable' mentality.  I can understand technology that becomes obsolete due to new advances.  What I have difficulty in understanding though are manufacturers that deliberately build 'less' quality into their products in order to ensure an ongoing market.  They are capable of building better, but choose not to.  In viewing the Coliseum in Rome, there is clear evidence of the metal bars that were inserted into the stone walls to ensure that they were strong enough to not only support the weight of thousands of spectators, but to also ensure that the walls would withstand the ravages of weather and time.  They invested themselves fully in what they did, focusing on the longevity of their craft, dedicating themselves to leaving a legacy.

Although the Roman Empire itself did not survive, their legacy lives on.  How many of us, I wonder, have that same view or commitment?  In their book 'Built to Last', Jim Collins and Jerry Porras outline the results of their studies, summarizing just what elements help companies continue to be successful.  Not just what made them great, but what kept them on top.  This book became a bestseller because we have lost touch with what is needed to sustain greatness.  We have lost touch with what it means to produce quality.  We have lost touch with our commitment to delivering our best, rather than focusing on what it means to make a profit.  Certainly these two elements seem to be at odds more often than not and certainly it appears that the value of a dollar wins out.  One can't help to wonder though... at what cost?

As with all things, this commitment begins with each individual.  Consider the question... What is your legacy?  What do you represent and stand for, what messages will live on beyond you?  Your audience need not encompass the world, your messaging may extend out to include a much more narrow sphere around you, of people that you have reached, touched and influenced.  Regardless of the size of your sphere of influence, consider what legacy do you leave behind.  If your current legacy is not representational either of the authentic you, or of how you want to be remembered, begin taking steps now to create greater alignment between these elements.

A great exercise is to consider that you are attending your own funeral, listening to what others are saying about you, what they remember most about you.  Think about what you'd like to hear them saying and use this as a measure to guide the actions and behaviours you need engage in today to drive this result.

 Always keep in mind...
People are not as likely to remember what you said as they are to remember what you did.

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