Not long ago, I launched a new presentation that focuses on how an elite group of advisors have achieved Absolute Engagement. And something remarkable began to happen.
As I stepped off the stage, people came up and talked to me about ‘feeling stuck’ and about ‘breaking through’. Instead of asking about tactical issues, the conversations changed. They shared stories that were personal and hinted at a lurking discontent, despite their obvious success. And they talked about wanting to change.
Having just immersed myself in new research on Absolute Engagement, I knew these advisors were on the precipice of something great. They weren’t just tweaking their business models, making small adjustments to drive incremental growth. They were asking a different question about the future they wanted to create and the way their businesses would have to change to support that vision of the future. They were no longer focused solely on growth, but on fulfillment.
And as I listened to their stories and heard their questions, a pattern emerged. It became clear that there are three stages that almost everyone moves through in the process of transforming a business into something great. And that matters to you if you, like them, want to see real transformation.
Stage One: A Fleeting Glimpse of Something More
After one such presentation an advisor shared a story. He told me that every day, as he left the house for work and hit the button on the garage door opener, a question came to his mind. Is this really making me happy?
For some reason, the act of hitting the button (the symbolic start to his working day) triggered this question every single day. He told me that he loved his business and had had a lot of success – but he knew that something would need to change, once he figured out the answer to that question.
Stage one of any transformation is a question that forms in your mind, a fleeting glimpse of the possibility of something more.
In the language of Absolute Engagement, the question changes from ‘how can I grow my business in the next 12 months’ to ‘what do I really want to create’?
Stage Two: The Crystallization of Discontent
The question in stage one is often a trigger for stage two in which you become more acutely aware that a change is needed. In our research, those who are Absolutely Engaged have paused, at some point, and evaluated what they want to create. That ‘pause’ was like a fork in the road and, for many, feels like an epiphany. The reality is, however, that it’s more likely the result of a much slower process, something called a ‘crystallization of discontent.’
Sue van der Linden is a financial advisor in Washington, D.C. She has a successful business, a husband, a young daughter and a passion for horses. Like so many professionals, the couple moved out of the city to a bigger home that they loved. They loved the home but the commute was tough—32 miles each way. Every day Sue woke up early to make the trek, returning at 7p.m. if traffic was cooperative. If not, it was more like 8 o’clock.
One morning Sue describes watching her then seven-year-old daughter sleeping soundly. It was 6:30 a.m. and she was about to wake her up, as she did every morning, so they could get to school and work on time. As she reached down to shake her awake, she asked herself a new question. “What am I doing? I’m waking up a small child just to drive to work.”
Not long after, the house was on the market and shortly thereafter the family moved closer to the city, to work and to school. They loved the house they were in and had invested so much of themselves in creating a home. In what seemed like a moment, however, she realized how much she was giving up to have that house and how much the family would gain by having more time that wasn’t spent in traffic. It seems like a small change, but it ultimately gave her more time to connect with her daughter and more time to pursue riding, a passion that was put on the back burner while she tried to juggle work, family and a home in a distant suburb.
What Sue experienced is an example of what American psychologist Roy F. Baumeister calls the crystallization of discontent.
What felt like an epiphany was, in fact, a moment in which the story became complete for Sue. Leading up to that point there would have been frustrations with traffic, a grumpy child, rushed family meals and an occasional twang of loss because she had given up riding. These disparate issues suddenly came together in a coherent and clear storyline: Living here is making our lives worse, not better. The discontent was crystallized.
It’s important to note that, in response to that epiphany, Sue didn’t suddenly turn her life upside down. It’s not as if she gave up her lucrative job as a financial advisor, stayed home and started selling homemade jam to her neighbors. She simply changed one aspect of her world that was getting in the way of greater fulfillment, even if it involved a sacrifice.
Yes, some people pause and realize they should be doing something completely different, but for most of us it’s about refining some aspect of our existing business. The epiphany, in my experience, is often quiet—a realization that there’s something more and that you need to go down another path.
Stage two of any transformation involves a crystallization of what is wrong with your business, as it is running today.
Stage Three: A Clear Vision
The moment in which discontent is crystallized, however, isn’t what triggers action. To take the first step toward change it’s not good enough to know what’s wrong, you need to be able to visualize a better or different future. Without that skill, discontent remains just that. You need a vision.
To understand the impact of vision in our lives, it’s helpful to look to the work of renowned psychologist Martin Seligman and others. One of the theories that Seligman studies is called Prospection. Prospection is the ability to envision a better future and it shows up in everything from goal setting to day dreaming. It’s that ability to imagine something better that causes us to take action.
Seligman’s research runs contrary to traditional wisdom, which suggests that human beings are programmed to take action because they are running from pain. His research suggests that while our decisions are influenced by past experience, we’re actually driven to take action based on a positive view of the future. Without a compelling vision of the future, we tend to put up with the pain.
Stage three of any transformation involves a clear vision of the future you want to create.
What Does It Mean For You?
If you’ve moved through one or more of the first three stages of transformation, you’re at the start of an extraordinary journey. Some among us, of course, have greater clarity about exactly what they’re trying to accomplish and jump to phase three. The rest of us mere mortals tend to come to that realization over time. And a small percentage of us ever take action.
Rest assured, there’s no single tactic or strategy that will trigger transformation; it’s the result of self-reflection, intentional design and a healthy dose of grit and determination. It’s about pausing, defining your personal vision and then structuring your business to support that vision. That’s the essence of Absolute Engagement and I’ll talk more about the research, the concepts and the steps you can take in future posts.
Thanks for stopping by,
P.S. Transformation is at the core of Absolute Engagement and the focus of my upcoming book, The Pursuit of Absolute Engagement. Click here for a sneak peek.