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Winners, NYWs, and Others

January 17, 2009
by Joe Bormel
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Winners, NYWs, and Others

Getting to the Heart of the Matter of Success

This past week, I participated in an internal, annual, training and strategy conference and was reminded of a few lessons that I'm sharing here. There's a certain humility that comes with this exercise for me, humility that's best captured in these lyrics:


The more I know, the less I understand

All the things I thought I knew, Im learning again

Ive been tryin to get down

To the heart of the matter

But my will gets weak

And my thoughts seem to scatter ...

- From Don Henley's The Heart Of The Matter

Winners, Not-Yet-Winners, and Others:

My highest level observation regarding successful behavior is that people at the conference were in one of three "social states." The Winners had been recognized as having been successful in their roles in 2008. Some won public recognition awards at the conference. For others, it was more implicit, but their stature and accomplishments, perhaps more subtle, were well known to folks who were well plugged-in to real value.

Ours is an organization with a lot of specialization and sophistication. We have a lot of folks with long tenure either with our company, or in our industry. We find value in that. As a result, most of the "winners" this year have been recognized as winners in the past. It's definitely more fun and comfortable to be in the winner social state. Roughly half the folks at the conference were clear winners in 2008. Frankly, although that's important, I think the "Not-Yet-Winner" social state is far more interesting and important. Why? One hundred percent of the attendees, i.e. Everyone is Not Yet A Winner for 2009!

Observation #1 - All of the Winners for 2008 got there by doing something different from what they were doing in 2007 (whether or not they were successful in 2007).

Observation #2

- Everyone, Winners, NYW, and Others suffered the pain of cultural and social change in 2008. The Winners and Not-Yets adapted. There are always staffing changes, and often changes in direct superior, as well as other stuff. In our case, 2008 was the first full year post of an important business acquisition. They ALWAYS come with cultural clashes. These clashes can and must be worked through. Sorry for shouting at your with the ALWAYS full caps! For people who aren't in the winning or not-yet-winning mindset, these pains are devastating and debilitating. I'm labeling this mindset as Other. Suffice it to say, it's not winning or not-yet-a-winner. In fact, it's a mindset unlikely to lead to any kind of success or happiness.

Observation #3 - Timing is critically important. The winners all told stories. All of the wins took time. We needed to be aggressive and simultaneously patient with those aspects of processes we couldn't control. And we're all control freaks. The way I'm using this term, every reader of this blog is a control freak, too. So this is hard, but important. (See the

Hallowell Serenity Prayer, here

. It's the text in the comments in

lime green.)

Observation #4 - Four is too many observations. When I started this, I shared that the conference reminded me of lessons that I've learned but I'm learning again. In short, it's critically important to be nice, and do it seriously. Most of the folks at the meeting were pretty darn exhausted by each evening. That's when the socials were. When we get tired, we often become solemn. And that's exactly when we need to get serious. See Paula Scher's great 2008 TEDTalk, "

Great design is serious (not solemn)" for a great review of Serious Vs Solemn.

Another nice way of putting this was captured by writer Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988):

Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear.

Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together.

Often the very young, the untravelled, the naive, the unsophisticated,

deplore these formalities as 'empty,' 'meaningless,' or 'dishonest,' and scorn to use them.

No matter how pure their motives,

they thereby throw sand into the machinery that does not work too well at best.

Robert Heinlein, 1973 - from Time Enough for Love

I'll close by sharing, a

fifth and final observation. All of the Not-Yet-Winners for 2009, again, that's everyone, were anxious about 2009. What do we need to do that's different from 2008, whether or not it was successful and effective? If 2008 wasn't a clear winner, was it necessary on the path to being a Winner in 2009? And winning in life is a numbers game. We need to be anxiously learning and trying new things, and in doing so, finding new ways to win.

What do you think?



Joe, your blog consistently delights. Who else can reference Robert Heinlein, Don Henley and The Serenity Prayer in one post? :-) Observation #4, serious vs. solemn really resonated with me, thanks for that link to further explore something I instinctively understand but never heard articulated before.

Thanks Tim. I'm glad it's recognizable.

Yes, there was a lot of time that was planned and executed against to review the 'secret sauce' that went into the wins.

a. nothing goes as planned. the winners mantra? "Get up and keep going!"

b. communication takes a lot of time and energy, and then takes even more time and energy.

c. there are often seeming 'complete and final failures,' along the way to winning.

d. never under-estimate the importance and value of teamwork.

e. dont stop at "no"

f. find and cultivate the passionate people, both at clients and internally.

g. Special case of 'a': Winning usually takes longer than planned. If you dont have a portfolio of things you're working on, you will die. I have several CIO friends (at provider organizations) who advised me that pulling out wins accomplished in prior years can be very effective. In market-driven spaces, this, of course, doesn't work so well.

Did I leave any big ones out?

Thanks Anon.

One of the things that I've heard from several folks has to do with boundaries and emotional pain. It's very hard for people to tune out (or 'going black'), in order to focus or have time to reflect. During periods of intense focus, friends report that they have to set these boundaries, quietly but firmly distancing themselves to get their work done.

This is often one of the first things that people have shared in response to this post. It's clearly painful but a balance that's essential.

Thanks for the complement.

You'll be tickled to know that I'm currently writing a blog about the essence of Clinical Decision Support, relating it (powerfully I believe,) to the Butler in Disney's The Parent Trap (1998).

The concept actually comes from a friend, Scott Finley, MD, MPH, who has been evolving the Butler concept for years while doing solid informatics work for Cerner, the VA and many others. I'll elaborate properly, very soon... with the appropriate photo of the Butler, Haley and Annie.

How's that for eclectic?

Not too shabby. I can't wait....

  Thanks for bringing this together.  Anthony's comment, "TIME FOR REFLECTION" really hit home.  I suppose that everyone has their own system.  Here's mine, both the doing and the reflecting:

Doing the Right Things:
• Setting priorities at the beginning of each day before life happens
• Taking time away from the steady flow of information by removing myself mid-day to re-focus
• Going black by blocking out time on my calendar to focus on important tasks (no calls, no Internet, no interruptions, etc.)
• Maintaining strong personal and professional relationships - people come first

• Biking clears my head an allows me time to think freely - weekends mainly
• Mindless chores that allow me to think calmly
• Creating exciting meals for my family to enjoy because I love to cook opens up my creativity and renews my energy for work. It feeds my soul.
• Rest - sounds funny, but the more rest I have the stronger and more refreshed I am
• Sitting and walking on beach revives me


I was struck by your assessment and your comment that "As a result, most of the "winners" this year have been recognized as winners in the past". It's not always true but people have a tendency to repeat themselves and I am not surprised that some (or most) of the winners were previous winners. I will be attending our annual company conference in March and usually we experience the same thing year after year. Many of the same winners are recognized each year. What is more important to me is why and how the winners got there? Did they share their "secret sauce" at the conference with the NYW and others? That's what people want to understand and hear. Show me the roadmap to become a winner!

Joe - you astutely mention that winners and innovators are often one in the same. So that's Step 1 in our analysis: winner equals innovator.

Then we come to the question: what is innovation and how can one innovate? Innovation is doing something differently than it has been done in the past. What does this require? Thinking.

Ok, let's keep going. What does thinking require? It takes TIME FOR REFLECTION.

Takeaway: If you want to be innovative (a winner) you must set aside time to reflect, analyze, develop, incubate, refine, try, fail, try again, succeed, etc - you must have time to think.

How to make this happen? Check your Outlook calendar. If you don't have time blocked out to think, don't expect to make the winners list. I suspect that's one ingredient in the "secret sauce" of a winning career/life.