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This blog is dedicaded to share ideas about personal and professional development.

When a mistake can be an opportunity

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Herbie Hancock, a famous jazz pianist.

I watched recently a video of an interview of Herbie Hancock, a great jazz pianist, who plaid with the most beautiful musicians. In this video, he explains that one day, during a concert with Miles Davis, he plaid a wrong accord during Miles solo. He was terrified and disappointed by the wrong note he did, but surprisingly, Miles pursues with a note that was in accordance with his wrong note and took another direction in his solo. It was totally improvised. Such anecdote makes thinking about serendipity, the fact that you get something different than expected.

In the industry, there are many examples of discoveries made by accident. For instance, the company 3M was experimenting glue that should be very resistant. The experience failed and it was the opposite results that the R&D team obtained. The glue was weakly adherent. Somebody saw an opportunity to use that glue, and this is how the post It was born, this small paper peace you can stick on your screen or other support.  What was considered as a failure has been transformed into an opportunity.

Talking about that wrong note and the improvised situation that followed, Herbie Hancock speaks about something that made growth each other. By playing another note to stay in tune, Miles showed he was keeping the dialog with Herbie and created another musical sentence. He was probably aware too that they can only succeed together, or fail together. The first option only was the good one. Such situation teaches about personality of each other and contributes to empower a relationship, and it is the contribution of a strong team spirit, from people who want to build something together.  Complementary skills and the desire to build an original project are the key ingredients of entrepreneurship. Like improvisation in a jazz jam session, a lot of things can happen in an entrepreneurial project, and the capacity of the team to pivot to another plan in function of the circumstances and to catch opportunities, will lead to success.

This nice story has to make think that failure is not definitive as success too. To fail doesn’t mean that you have to restart from zero. Experimenting, trying new things and make mistakes are a necessity to move things forward, to reach new level of knowledge.  Thomas Edison who filed more than one thousand patents, was used to say “I have not failed. I’ve just found then thousand ways that won’t work”. Experimenting and trying many times can only foster the emergence of serendipity, to create opportunities to expand your skills, to meet people and share skills and ideas, to develop your network. It reminds us that success does not come always when alone, that personal success does not exist without collective success.

Last but not least, making mistakes and learning from it contributes to empower your skills but also your self-confidence.  Step by step, you will be used to face new challenges, to push your limits and to face the future with confidence. Don’t forget that mistakes can be opportunities.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

April 4, 2016 at 19:05

Why volunteering is an opportunity.

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VolunteeringActing as volunteer implies some qualities to benefit from such experience. Each volunteer has his own reason to dedicate a bit of time to contribute to any social project. But sometimes, it appears that some volunteers are feeding only their own ambitions. I noticed this by some attitudes, or by some remarks they do. These findings make me think about the qualities people need to have in order to succeed in a volunteering experience and gaining a positive feedback, similar qualities needed in entrepreneurship.

– A question of value: You want to contribute to a better world, a better society. You strongly believe that to subscribe to values is not enough, but you have to act in accordance with your values, that are common values in the project. In other words, you are an actor, not a spectator.

– Contributing to a common goal: Contributing as volunteer will bring you some satisfaction which is probably one of your goal, but your personal goal cannot be reached to the detriment of the common goal. It implies that you have to store your ego in the closet, and acting in a way that each member of the team will gain satisfaction and value, will have the feeling to be a stakeholder of the project, a way that maximize the chances of success. You are working within a team spirit, working with and not against a team.

– Showing interest for other people: Volunteering is an opportunity to meet different people with different horizons of competences and experiences. By sharing each other knowledge and experience, you catch an opportunity to learn something, but you will get also another perception of the environment in which you are acting, you will adapt your strategy, and you will perceive more in depth the finality of your action. Such process can only succeed if you bring interest to other and not if you work only on your own.

– Curiosity and creativity: By living new experiences, you can discover in you hide and unexpected passions. It is up to you to be curious and to use your creativity to realize new things, to build innovative solutions. Moving your own limits and sharing what you do with other is an opportunity for each people to move his own limits too. Remember this quote saying that the only thing you increase by sharing it each other is knowledge.

– Commitment and leadership: Volunteering implies a commitment. The success of a project is linked to the commitment of all the stakeholders. It means that you are volunteering not to pass the time but to make succeed a project and to operate in this way. When you are filling your diary, consider volunteering as a priority, that it means to have an appointment not only with other, but also with yourself. Volunteering has to be a life project and you have to make it work.
In this common activities, consider each people for what he does and for what you can share each other. No question to consider your work as more interesting than the work of somebody else. As said previously the work of each team member will bring sense to your work. Each member work is useful and contribute to the success. Develop and show talents of leadership. Appreciate and recognize the work of others, listen to them, and you will maximize your chance to be appreciated and recognized too.

There are many other qualities we could quote, but time to time, I notice that some people are volunteers for “bad” reasons. How often some people told me that I am “doing this for free”. Yes, the purpose of volunteering is to contribute to a social and common project, not to be paid. And such remark sounds very strange from people criticizing the capitalistic system, and mentioning this as a motivation to cooperate in volunteering projects, but expecting money as reward for a service. Sometimes, in my experience, I had more satisfaction and learned more things by working as volunteer for specific projects than some days in my professional activities.
These people are often too those who attributes the collective success to themselves, and put the guilt of failures to the others. If looking for recognition is legitimate, you cannot gain it to the detriment of the other. It is a question of ego, and often, ego is inversely proportional with knowledge and capabilities.
That is why volunteering is an opportunity when you integrated these qualities. Increase your experience, discovering new interest and passions is probably the best thing you can do to maximize your chance of catching new opportunities, or to face and launch new challenges. It is an opportunity to expand the fields of the possible, to build new projects in other areas. We are not far from what Steve Jobs mentioned in his unforgettable speech at the Stanford university, when he talked about to connect the dots, meaning that you can innovate by making a link between things that seems nothing to do with each other. See your volunteering life and professional life like two things that can feed each other. Consider such experience for the long term effect you can get from it, and contributing to your personal goal, it means to build an interesting and passionate life.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 10, 2015 at 19:03

Looking for talents, create it yourself.

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Educate TrainI was reading recently an excellent article about youth unemployment. Youth unemployment is one of the biggest present challenges of our society. The author of the article mentions that companies are often more entitled to hire people having experience. For students just finishing their studies, it is difficult to have a first job. Companies, most of the time, want to hire people fully operational starting the first day. Is it the only and the best way solution? How many times will it take to find the rare talent?

This article makes me think about a story Luc de Brabandere, a Belgian consultant in creativity, is often telling in his speeches. An insurance company was looking to hire people having experience in the insurance industry for the sales department. As they could not find the number of qualified people needed, they hired also people having no experience in that field. After few time, the company made the statement that people who have no experience in insurance industry provided better results than the others.  How could explain we such paradox? One explanation is probably that the unqualified people were more motivated to learn, more creative as they have to proof or to reveal a talent, to take up the challenge.

Such statement has to make think business owners and managers about the following. Today, in organizations, people are an asset and the collective intelligence is a reality. With the complexity of the processes, each people are a key within the process chain. By developing competences and talents, and being aware that it is a necessity, people wants to be implicated in the processes of the organization activity. The wish to learn and to be implicate in the business, are the key of motivation. Companies that spend time to train employee have to see this time as an investment and will get more return on investment with motivated and dedicated people. By creating a process of collective intelligence, these companies can create a more sustainable and long term collaboration with the employees.

Faster changes are a trend, and people have to move with these changes, by acquiring competences, by following permanent training. Change is a constant and companies have to integrate such constant in their activities plans. We know today that diploma is not a sufficient element to have a job. Changes mean also the obsolescence of knowledge. Companies have to invest in this competences evolution and renewal. To create and sustain such dynamic, people need to have clear objectives, and should be encourage to make solutions proposals, to be creative, and to be considered as a real stakeholder, a player taking responsibilities within the organization.

Education is important, but self-made man can also develop talents and skills, they can also have brilliant professional careers. The quality of the diploma is not always a guarantee to have the best people for a job. As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” Changes implies different steps with new goals, new challenges. People who embrace changes have the desire to face new challenge, and to learn is an ongoing challenge.

If talents are lacking, try to develop them yourself by giving opportunities to motivated people. Today, the future resides in knowledge sharing, and if you can transmit also passion, the return on investment will certainly be higher.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 8, 2014 at 21:53

Freelance, a stronger collaborative work relationship?

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Team ConceptIn many areas of business activities, companies are contracting freelancer’s services. In a fast changing environment, where punctual and specific competences are needed for specific projects, freelance contractors represent a more appropriate solution. One of the differences with an employee is the nature of relationship between the company and the contractor. The employer-employee relationship is a subordination relationship, while the relationship between a company, here the customer, and the contractor is a collaboration relationship.

When you ask to freelancer what they appreciate in this way to work, they often mention the fact that their work is much more appreciated and that the positive feedback of the customer has much more value than the feedback of an employer. Why? The appreciation of an employer can be motivated by some political games. Some bad managers, lacking of leadership, appreciates people who are not too ambitious, only doing they work as usual. Some people feel that such positive feedback does not ring as sincere.

A real freelancer minded has no hidden agenda. When he is working on an assignment, the goal is to achieve what the customer defined within the fixed deadlines, and not to have a permanent position in the company. This means that regularly, the freelancer has to look for new opportunities, and he has to show capacities and proven records in order to catch these opportunities. Such situation, as each worker today, implies that he has to be up-to-date in terms of knowledge and competences, to be able to offer innovative solutions and a high level of added-valued services. In other words, he has to learn on an ongoing way.

Organizations are groups of people, having specific and complementary competences, working together on projects. These collaboration relationships imply knowledge sharing. We talk here about collective intelligence.  The complexity of processes, the development of technology makes that we have to learn more, faster, on an ongoing way, and sharing knowledge with colleagues is clearly a win-win process. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon that relationships between employees are conducted by competition spirit, not favoring the sharing of knowledge and collaboration, and particularly within companies facing restructuring times.  As freelancer, you are assigned on a project for a limited period, and your interest is to provide quality, but also to share and acquire knowledge.  You are not in this sphere of competition and your goal is not to have a fix job, but your goal is to prepare the next assignment, the next project. By working with partners, with customers who are aware about the benefits of collective intelligence, you can create a sphere of motivation and stronger collaborations, where each member of the team can acquire tools to face new challenges, to get better opportunities.

Collective intelligence is clearly an advantage in professional relationship.  It is an asset for people within an organization who have to reach a common goal. It is not forbidden to think about the fact that freelancer community is more favoring this concept in his way to work. Collaborative intelligence makes that people are building communities where everybody gets stronger, acquires more knowledge and competences that represent the only career security. Let us think about that knowledge what is not shared has no value. Collaboration is much more interesting than competition. The only healthy competition is the one with ourselves, in order to build more ambitious projects and reach higher goals.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

November 28, 2014 at 07:28

Be aware of your skills to live a passion.

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Norbert, former banker, now bus driver.

Norbert, former banker, now bus driver.

At a certain moment of our life, some of us dream to get another life, to switch to another professional life. We dream to do something totally different, something driven more by passion than by constraints. Such decision represents a major change with some consequences on our life. This is why such change happens often after a period of self-brainstorming.

Such changes we aspire are sometimes the result of a thinking process about our current and passed professional experience. All what we have learned to, all the constraints and the challenges we had to face to, our success and our failures are conditioning our future goals and our future decisions. Like on a sailing boat, we adjust our road function of the new cap we want to reach and function of the wind and streams we are meeting. In a changing environment, the need to learn on an ongoing way is obvious, not only in our own professional discipline, but also in the development of lateral competences. The more we learn, the more possibilities we offer to ourselves. Just remember Steve Jobs in his famous speech at Stanford University, explaining that learning calligraphy by passion, he saw afterwards the usage he can do of such skills, by creating fonts for Mac graphical interfaces.

I would like to relate an article I read on the website www.lemonde.fr, about a Dutch, Norbert de Kramer, who switched to another professional career, and so living an old dream. Norbert, who is now 62 years old, was formerly a banker. He started his career within ABN Amro, was credit analyst, in charge of training, and after, director of a subsidiary in Rotterdam with 40 employees. But his childhood dream was to drive a bus. When he was 55 years old, Norbert followed two weeks of training, and later took a sabbatical leave to do an internship of bus driving. When he was 59, Norbert was proposed to take new responsibilities within the bank. He declined this proposal in order to start a new professional life, to start his passion, to drive a bus. Today, Norber is free-lance drive for a bus company. He is transporting tourists, children, sport teams, and sometimes, ministers.

Some of you are wondering what could be the motivation for Norbert to switch from the job of banker to a job of bus driver. He had probably to face huge challenges within the bank, contributing to acquire and increase his competence level, giving him the possibility to conquer higher positions and face higher challenges.  What can he do now with the competences he acquired in his new job? This is precisely the question the journalist asks to Norbert, what are the common points between the banker and the driver? To that question, Norbert answers as follow: “People”.  Beside the fact to drive the bus, there is the communication side with people. The conversation he gets with them. He explains that some of them are surprised by the conversations he hold with them, and his knowledge of English and German languages.

What is interesting to underline in Norbert new life, is the use of skills in another context. Indeed, he is not a bus driver like another. With his language skills, Norbert can speak with people from different countries, and it brings something stronger in the relationship he can have with his customers. Let’s assume that if he looks for information about the destination where he drives customers, he can play also a bit the role of touristic guide.  The background he acquires in terms of lateral competences represents a real added value for his new job.

What we can learn from such experience is the following. If you want to start a new professional project, you will maximize the chances to succeed if your project is driven by passion. But as you know, to start a new project is a very courageous and difficult decision to take. By starting something new, you become a “junior” in your new market.  Beside the fact that passion gives you the strength of conviction, the use of skills you acquired in your previous experience will allow you to offer something more than your concurrent, something you customers will remember.

Another interesting point to mention is that in our changing environment, some existing jobs can be reinvented. Norber, is not a bus driver like another. With his multilingual skills, he can bring something more to the people he is driving, by giving information about the visited locations in the customer language, and it is for him an opportunity to spend more enjoyable and interesting days. In the way Norber is doing this honorable job, this job has much more value. Combining acquired lateral skills in another context is part of an innovation process.

For those who want to change of professional project, it is important to acquire skills and develop talents, to be curious and open minded. Trying new experiences allows you to open new doors to new opportunities, and to build innovative solutions. Be aware that you can value the skills you acquired in your previous experiences, and that it will allow you to live a hold dreamed passion, and reinvent it by adding your personal touch, making that you will be unique, but also authentic.

Picture from http://www.lemonde.fr

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

August 18, 2014 at 06:09

How to face uncertainty?

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rock-climberIn my previous post, related to the choice of studies, I was talking about the fact that to predict the future is something becoming more and more difficult. Since now 25 years I am working, and looking around me, what is for sure is that uncertainty is growing. Who can predict now how will be the world in the next 6 months, or in the next 10 years? We try to make predictions in many areas and sometimes, we have to note that these predictions are not verified. How many times have we heard some economists explaining us the origins of financial crisis they were unable to predict.

The big question is how to face uncertainty as we don’t know in advance what the evolution will be in many domains? There are in my mind two types of uncertainty to take into account; the uncertainty linked to our environment and the evolution of it, and our own uncertainty, or I would say our own uncertainties. Facing uncertainties induce questions and make people worried. What will be my future? Will I have a job? Or simply will I be able to do this task, to face this challenge?

Our own uncertainties and the uncertainties linked to our environment interact. Most of you probably know the famous Peter Drucker’s quote saying “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself”. But to be able to create something, we need to have a good perception of the future and be able to perceive the trends and the changes of our environment.  But facing the environment uncertainties means to face also our own uncertainties, with a range of questions we are putting to ourselves. What will be the future and will I be able to face it? Have I the capabilities to face challenges and what challenges will be? To face our uncertainties means to try to know a bit more about ourselves.

To consider our own uncertainties is to be aware of our lack of knowledge and experience. By mentioning this, we underline the key role of education but also of curiosity. Education and school are the fundamental tools to develop our knowledge and capabilities. Education and knowledge will give us the opportunity to become first human being and to develop our autonomy, giving us more possibilities to make choices. This is why the role of education and the way to educate people are fundamental. It is important to develop curiosity, to encourage people to learn new things by their own, to discover new interests. To develop our knowledge is probably the best answer to the question related to my previous article: what studies have I to choose? Most of the time, it is difficult to know in advance if we will enjoy things we don’t know now.

This is why people have to be encouraged to make experiences, to be curious and to try new things. It implies the necessity to take risks. By multiplying such experience in a process of serial trials, you expand your possibilities fields and you dispel your own uncertainties. You will probably enjoy something new that you never suspected before that you could enjoy. We never know in advance what things could be if we could enjoy it or not, as we don’t know them.  Such experimentation process make that your own uncertainty dispels: you know that you enjoy something, that you are able to do it or not. By expanding your interest and experience fields, you discover new possibilities, you build new competences, but you also empower your self-confidence.

Self-confidence and competences are probably the two most important key components to dispel your own uncertainties. The development of these two components will allow you to maximize your chance to attract challenges and opportunities. With all your experiences, you will build your background, a knowledge base including information that helps you to analyze situations and to develop appropriate strategies. Nevertheless, despite the fact that success cannot be guaranteed anytime, it is also important to develop and keep critical mind. When facing a similar situation we faced by the passed, we should avoid making a copy-paste of previous solutions we applied. Things are less linear than before, and we have to take all the elements of the situation into consideration to implement solutions and action plans. It is part of an efficient learning process.

It is obvious we cannot live in an environment without uncertainty. But by developing a learning attitude, we can create a virtuous circle, where experiences and risk taking contribute to empower our self-confidence. A zero risk environment doesn’t exist, but this virtuous circle will allow us to be creative and to be stronger to face it and to quit more easily our comfort zone.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

July 8, 2014 at 06:07

Predict the future or make it possible.

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StudentsRecently, I was part of a BarCamp with some entrepreneurs. The topic of the session was the passion of entrepreneurship. During a discussion, one of the members asked me the following question: “What kind of studies would you recommend to your children?” This question was a very good one, in this particular difficult time where in one hand, the level of unemployed people is high, and on the other hand, some countries are facing lacks of talents, as consequences that some jobs opportunities remain vacant.

Nevertheless, what should I tell to a teenager who has to choose studies?  My advice would be that he has to choose studies he is motivated by, independently from the fact that there are job opportunities in that field or not. My answer seems to be a bit unrealistic, but let me explain why I think so. I think and am convinced that it will be more useful and enjoyable to study something you like. One of the obvious advantages to make studies is that it contributes to open your mind, to discover new matters, to acquire knowledge. Each of us remember some matters we discovered during our studies, matters we found very interesting and that probably led us to new fields of interests and opportunities. In such movement of motivation, we can increase our chance to find our place in the society and in the professional world. Think about studies only in terms of job opportunities doesn’t make sense. If you advice somebody who hate figures to study accounting, you will make an incompetent and unhappy accountant, and his chance to convince an employer will be thin, as he will not be convinced himself.

To answer to that question is not so easy, as we are facing a strange paradox. On one hand, we try to predict the future and to organize our career, and on the other hand, we have no idea what will be our world in five years. I remember when I finished my studies, end of the eighties, we never heard about a webmaster, as the world wide web was just invented in 1989. When I finished my college in 1985, nobody could advice to do webmaster studies as it did not exist.  As said Alexandre de Saint-Exupéry with this nice quote, “Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it”. What we can only do is to maximize our chance to get a future job by acquiring a good basic knowledge thru studies. But does it mean that each type of studies enables us to get a job?

We know that today, a diploma is not a guarantee anymore to get a job, but the way we will make the difference by is innovation. If you remember Steve Jobs speech at Stanford University, speaking about “connecting the dots”, he was saying that you never know forward what you can do with something you learn. It is only backward when you discover new things, new interests that you see the value, the application of matters you studied, the opportunities you can catch with what you learned. To do studies can be an serendipity accelerator. Let me give you an example. I knew somebody who studies musicology in Berckley, and had a P.h.d. You are wondering what job opportunities are for such a qualification.  Music was his passion, and he was a fantastic bass player, but he had also another passion, software development. A few years later, he decided to create his own software company and start to develop software to learn music. The combination of two passions can open the doors to opportunities, and here, we are clearly in an innovation process.

Innovation is a key to invent the jobs of tomorrow. I saw around me many examples of people who made a kind of studies, taking interesting professional ways by combining what they studied with other skillsets. Often, they reinvent existing things by having another perception of the world. It is obvious today that in a fast moving environment, we are led to learn during all our live. It is a necessity but also an opportunity to find new opportunities or to build successful professional projects. But such ongoing process cannot be run without passion. Passion is the energy to build a successful life, passion is the key to convince people to subscribe to your project and to make it work. Passion is the only renewable energy.

The answer to the question of studies choice, is to listen to your inner voice, but also to be aware that you will have to manage your career in terms of knowledge development. Most of us will probably have different professional careers, or to do what we do on another way. It is only curiosity, interest and passion that will enable us to build a successful career in accordance with our expectations and our values. Passion is the key ingredient, not to predict the future, but to make it possible.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

June 23, 2014 at 17:42