Since 1998, my career has mainly consisted of joining companies that are a start-up in nature and immature in the product acceptance curve. I have been so blessed to work through the productization and commercialization of ideas with amazing mentors and leaders; I can now see how they do much of what is described below. Typically, we hear about the successes/wins, but since there are so many stories of challenges/obstacles I wanted to share some thoughts on this subject.
Recently, I was given the book “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. This is an excellent book for people dealing with a business/industry challenge or is thinking about big ideas. It helped me process and formalize my strategic thinking. Here are my top 10 takeaways from the book:
1. Turn obstacles into launchpads/ how to deal with hardship. (Page 3)
As I read this section, I was reminded that “the harder the idea, the bigger the opportunity!” The book gives concrete examples from John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, and Ulysses Grant to name a few.
Working in a traditional industry, Agriculture, and introducing new solutions I find there are many reasons new ideas are not quickly adopted. When we turn those ideas/obstacles into launchpads, it completely reframes the situation. That is one approach I have taken over the last 18 years.
2. How to Deal with Chaos/Unknowns (Page 18):
Up until now, I mainly leverage the Stephen Covey Model – “The Circle of Influence” regarding obstacles.
I plan to add these 8 principles to that model when I think/pray about challenges. It is a framework to make chaos lets chaotic for me!
3. Turn your current situation into a learning workshop (Page 21)
It is all in our perspective and how we want to view the situation. My point of view changed forever in 2010. I turned my hospital room into my workshop. The book goes through how Nelson Mandela transformed his prison into a workshop. If prisons and hospital beds can be the starting places for new thinking, it can be done anywhere!
4. Rush to the Fire (Page 25)
My first year out of college, I was part of the .com boom/bust. When the company I was working for closed shop, I saw two kinds of people. First, were those who rushed toward the “fire” and created new businesses and keep iterating on the “good” ideas. The other group, was the other camp I fell into; I ran for safety by brushing up my resume to take the safe route and get a new job. I learned from that and now try to look at these situations differently.
In the book, Holiday lays out the historical perspective of Ulysses S. Grant and how his leadership style was to steady himself and move toward the scene of the explosion. Again, I think about this mentality where visionaries and leaders run to the problems and chaos vs. running from it.
5. How to greet obstacles (Page 70)
No excuses, no exceptions. No way around it…. here is a framework for how to approach those big hurdles.
6. The value of MVP- Minimally Viable Product (Page 82)
Much of my career has been in software development. It is important to remind ourselves that it is called software “development,” not software “developed.” The software is never finished, the best projects I have been part of included getting the base product to market and then letting customers respond. In my experience, customer-driven feedback can shape not only product but also strategy. No, customers can’t always tell you what product to build, but they can tell you what pain points they have. Are we willing to listen? That is the question.
7. Trust the process (Page 92)
I am a process person; I try to systematize many things in my life. Here is an example of my personal systems I have built . I love how Holiday finishes the process chapter;
“The process is about doing the right things, right now. Not worrying about what will happen later. In essence, look at the problem, lean on current processes, decide which path and go.”
8. Non-action can also be THE action (Page 110)
While patience may be a virtue, it is not one that I possess. There are times when situations present themselves and the way through them may be by not taking action. My dad gave me advice when it comes to big decisions; he encouraged me always to sleep on the decision and in the morning I would have more clarity. This advice combined with quiet/prayer time help guide me in times of turbulence. Sometimes I want to hit reply or immediately pick the phone up; taking a pause or nonaction path can help us use obstacles against themselves.
The example in the book detailing how the Russians retreated and let winter take action again Napoleon is an excellent example of letting obstacles work in one’s favor.
9. What stands in the way becomes the way (Page 178)
Fate doesn’t have to be fatalistic. This book reminded me that obstacles can be viewed different ways. It is how we frame them up and how we continue to overcome. Going forward, I challenge myself to say, what opportunity lies within this obstacle.
10. Death makes life Purposeful- (Page 168)
To me, this point generated most of my critical thinking. Maybe is it because of my lifelong faith walk combined with my experience with heart surgery that I went through a few years ago but the quote that I really analyzed on so many different levels was; “Death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather purposeful. And, fortunately, we don’t have to die nearly to tap into this energy.”
At the age of 32, when I was forced to seriously think about death and the end of my time on earth; my sense of purpose became much more clear. Our family created a vision stating that we will Honor God by: Loving each other unconditionally, serving others as Jesus modeled and appreciating each of our daily blessings.
This book was a reminder to try and reframe obstacles and evaluate any potential opportunities that may exist. More importantly, I am learning to evaluate the SIZE AND SCOPE of the obstacle relative to my purpose.