Some people create bucket lists of places they want to go and things they want to do. I create lists of things that I don’t want to do – things that scare me, or challenge my view of myself, or what I think is possible for me.
Last week, I went on a retreat with some members of the New England chapters of the Women’s Presidents Organization. Our time together was loosely structured, with a lot of free time to explore various classes, activities, and lectures while we were on the property. I signed up for a few things that were right up my alley, like a hike and an indoor rowing class. The majority of my schedule, though, I intentionally filled with things that typically terrify me or make me roll my eyes.
If you know me at all, you would take one look at my schedule and think that they got me confused with another Meghan Lynch. I spent time immersed in hemlock groves practicing shinrin yoku (loosely translated as “forest bathing”). I inverted myself suspended from a hammock while singing bowls and drums were played during a session of aerial yoga with sound healing. I tried hard to tap into my inner artist, painting a pear still life, even though I have never painted anything beyond high school art class or fingerpaints with my son. I learned how to wield a saber and sparred in a fencing class. Everything offered that I noticed made me say, “NOT ME!” was prioritized on my schedule.
Why? Why would I spend the precious little time I have away to relax doing things that I am not that interested in?
The answer is simple. Every time I do something that I think I can’t, or open myself up to something or someone that I want to reject outright, I walk away just a little bit stronger and smarter.
It’s true that I am not going to quit my day job and become an artist, but I am proud of my little pear and I might actually try painting from time to time. I had a blast fencing. I actually ended up loving the aerial yoga with sound healing, and secretly wished that the session was twice as long. And did you know that one of the reasons why we feel better in nature is that trees naturally produce phytochemicals that suppress our cortisol (stress hormones) when we breathe them in?
I am a firm believer that in order to be better strategists, business leaders, and humans, we need to expose ourselves to new experiences and ideas constantly. This enables us to evolve our strategies as the world evolves.
The most successful family businesses I have worked with have leaders who did not grow up only working for the family business. They deliberately went out and exposed themselves to what scared them or made them vulnerable. In these companies, it is not uncommon to have the second or third generation work in a different industry (or sometimes even the competition!) for years before coming back to the family business. Or they may recruit a non-family CEO with experience the existing team is lacking to step in and lead at a particular inflection point. These businesses and teams are stronger with diverse experience and new ideas, and it allows the companies to “see down the playing field” and evolve more quickly and effectively than their competition.
We built Six-Point with this in mind, developing a team of strategists and project managers with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Our goal is to help to bring family businesses intelligence and perspectives that they don’t have on their own teams, so that their strategy is smarter and their execution is more effective.
For example, Ashley was a data analyst for the CIA, lead enterprise marketing at HP and Symantec, and managed Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) communications at Micron Technologies. Ony worked in logistics and supply chain for General Mills before transitioning to brand strategy at Danone and Target, and also teaches an MBA course on the business landscape in Africa. Brianna managed operations for Google and quality assurance for Wells Fargo. Danielle managed marketing and graphics for Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia. Other Six-Pointers have spent time working in global financial markets, biotech, and cutting-edge universities like Yale. They are pursuing MBAs and even DBAs…the list goes on. When our team works with family businesses, they have a wealth of experience at innovative, complex, and global enterprises that they can draw on to expose our clients to new ideas and strategies.
Of course, new is not inherently better, and teams can easily fall off course if they start to think so. This kind of exposure is valuable only when there is a deep understanding of and respect for what already exists.
I don’t try new things looking to change who I am. I know where my strengths lie. I try new things to enhance who I am. I want to make my strengths stronger. I want to think more broadly about how I can apply them. This is also the key to growth strategy in family businesses.
You don’t work at the competition to be the competition. You don’t get ideas from a global conglomerate to become one. You get ideas to enhance the strengths and uniqueness of what already exists and to apply it in new ways for the benefit of more people.
So the next time you say, “that wouldn’t work for us” or, “we can’t do that,” notice that feeling. Think about what it would be like to lean in instead of backing away. What could you learn? How could you stretch? What are you missing by saying “NOT ME”?