The Benefits of Uncommon Wisdom

The Benefits of Uncommon Wisdom

One of the relative advantages of freelancing is that it provides more time for reading (at least, sitting in the comfort of my apartment rather than on the bus or train). I've been making more of an effort to read business-oriented books; part of it is wanting to broaden my mind (after all, I'm used to working at non-profits), but most of it is wanting to see if there are any unique strategies which I can apply to my overall job search.

And thankfully, I've found myself an unofficial guru....and by "guru", I mean "guy who actually kind of thinks like I do".

His name is Jim Collins, and he's written several books about how businesses stay successful - Built to Last (focusing on successful companies); Good to Great (focusing on leadership style), How the Mighty Fall (focusing on how businesses stay successful), and the new Great by Choice (focusing on how companies thrive despite difficult times). I like his books for several reasons - he bases much of his work on empirical research; he writes about companies in a very casual tone, but most importantly, he writes from a very common-sense base.

Much of why I like his work is that he avoids the obvious hyperbole of many other business books - there's a very distinct humility in his work, focusing on data but putting it within a casual context. Much of his work seems like "uncommon wisdom" - things that are apparent, but don't often get talked about. Observations that may not receive much attention, but that are critical to success.

Thankfully, many of the lessons he describes are critical to job seeking - and job retention - and which I'm going to summarize here. (No, I won't go book by book - check them out of the library nearest you. You'll thank me later).

For one thing, the most successful leaders (or job seekers) aren't necessarily bold, paradigm-shattering visionaries...in short, they're quite the opposite. They tend to be introspective, determine what the best course of action is, and stick to a plan based on their own principles. I'm reminded of a networking event that I attended this past week, where it seemed that almost every other business person was involved in multi-level marketing. I've been fortunate enough to have huge successes not by taking large gambles, but by knowing how to approach key opportunities.

Many successful companies also know how to weather tough times by doing critical self-appraisals, looking at both circumstance and their own action. It would be tempting for me to blame my lack of job success on....well, anyone and everyone within earshot. But it's much more important to know what works, and what is not working.

Finally,  leaders who have taken companies through tough times have certain traits in common: they maintain a consistent goal (rather than charge full-on one day and recharge the next), they tend to take advantage of good fortune, and indulge in "productive paranoia" - namely, creating strategies to handle anything that can go wrong.

Much of this philosophy - of being practical and grounded - is an attitude that I am continuing to embrace (and try to foster) within my own job search. It's easy to fall into grandiosity or despair - it's more challenging to believe that slow and steady (and methodical) win the race. Case in point - two hours before sitting to write this post, I received an e-mail message asking for a connection to Linked In, and requesting my assistance with an RFP. Within five minutes (thanks to modern smartphone technology), I made a connection, set up an appointment for an interview, and made some progress in my job search....with a current freelance client and several other efforts made earlier in the day.

This may or may not work out, but in the end, part of job stalking involves patience, prudence, and hope. I'm hoping I live up to my end of the bargain.

Have you read any of Collins' work? Any thoughts or reactions to this post? Please leave them in the comments below, and as always - thanks for reading!

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  • Great post! Jim Collins is such a terrific author- I've read many of his articles about leadership.

    I think the most important aspect of leadership is the quality of self-awareness. A leader has to know their values, strengths and weaknesses to be successful. Otherwise, he/she is in way over their head!

  • Caitlin - thanks for the great comments.

    His books are *really* good (and easy) reading, and I'm finding them invaluable not only as a freelancer, but also in how I'm approaching my job search - I heartily recommend everyone read them for a great inkling as to *how* you can be successful in a work environment.

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