Business Strategy | Leadership / Management | Organizational Development

The best business advice ever: Be willing to change

My wife and I are huge Dave Barry fans, so when we heard that the Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist was coming to St. Louis, we made sure we were there — second row, center aisle.

You don’t expect to find a life lesson in one of Barry’s gut-busting stories, but there it was anyway, tucked inside a single sentence. Recalling the class-clown days of his youth, Barry told us, “My high school guidance counselor pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Son, you’ll never make a living being a smart ass.’”

Almost 50 years later, the scoreboard reads: Smart ass 1, guidance counselor 0.

His point, of course, is this: We spend too much time listening to other people tell us what we should do, and not enough time exploring the things that we want to do. If we look at them in the right light, we’ll find those things are often one in the same.

It all depends on how you define your terms. A guidance counselor looks at a student and sees a smart ass. The student simply wants to make people laugh. “Smart ass” isn’t much of a career trajectory, but making people laugh? There are a million ways to do that.

In the same light, many people hear “accountant” and think they know exactly what you do, and why? Because it’s always been done that way. Truth is, the traditional definitions of “accountant” don’t fit anymore. We’re quickly moving toward an era where accountants spend less time looking at the past and more time helping clients prepare for the future. People might call you an accountant, but what you’re really doing is solving problems.

Advances in technology have a lot to do with that, but the IT world is dealing with the same issue.

“Right now, we take new technology and give it to an architect who sees the world as it was yesterday,” best-selling author Brian Solis writes. “… They see something new and put it into a familiar box, just because this is the way it’s always been done. They take something that’s native to a new world and force it to comply within a legacy paradigm defined by dated philosophies, systems, and reward systems.”

New stuff doesn’t fit neatly into the rigid confines of our closed minds. The latest technology won’t work for us because we don’t work that way. You won’t succeed because you don’t think like us. We don’t need to change because we’re already making plenty of money.

Most of us are still living in a world of round pegs and round holes. When a square peg shows up, what’s the first thing we do? Look for a round peg to take its place. We don’t stop to consider that we might need to drill a few square holes instead. We try to force new things to work the way the way we do, then get frustrated when they won’t.

Maybe we’re the ones who need to change.

“The only way to take a meaningful step forward,” Solis writes, “is to understand how to adapt legacy investments, systems and processes to pave the way for a more engaging and productive future for all.”

So let’s make room for a few smart asses. They’re going to find a way to succeed anyway.

It might as well be with you.


Bill Sheridan