The misalignment of enlightenment (and living with no regrets).

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At our office, we have an indoor running track. It’s a converted gym, and it’s one of the coolest things about our office. I was walking on it yesterday having a phone call (yeah, it’s better than some sort of treadmill desk). The call was with an architect who was feeling stuck at his company. His reason for wanting to make a change was not due to pay or the type of work, but rather due to his firm. “Leadership here just doesn’t get it,” he explained. I asked, “you mean they aren’t enlightened?” There was a pause, and then he replied, “exactly.”  

Enlightenment is commonly defined as “education or awareness that brings change.” In the last 5 years, there’s been a shift in the building industry (architecture, engineering, construction, and real estate); people are seeing the benefits of driving change. This is a good thing, of course. But unfortunately, this shift sometimes results in a disconnect between a company’s state of enlightenment and the personal enlightenment of their employees.

Fundamentally, we are an industry of creatives and builders that generally attribute satisfaction and happiness to the project rather than the company. But as the industry changes, people are starting to care more about meshing well with their company. When there’s a misalignment of enlightenment, the employee and company may no longer be the right match. An enlightened employee may want to bring change faster than the company’s leadership. The opposite can also be true: some companies (like startups) are quick to bring change, and employees may find this challenging. 

One of my favorite books (and a must-read for anyone interested in technology and innovation) is Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore. Crossing the Chasm examines the realities of marketing innovative technology during the startup stage. Moore’s model of the diffusion of innovations puts people in five categories based on their attitude toward adopting new technology. When I run innovation workshops, many times the leadership wants me to find the right people to incorporate into the program. I use this framework to evaluate the “people factor” of an innovation program. The categories are:

  1. Innovators – technology enthusiasts who are fundamentally committed to new technology on the grounds that sooner or later it will improve their lives.
  2. Early Adopters – visionaries and entrepreneurs in business and government who want to use the innovation to make a break with the past and start an entirely new future.
  3. Early Majority – pragmatists who make up the bulk of all technology infrastructure purchases; their purchasing behavior is based on evolution rather than revolution, and they buy only when there is a proven track record of useful productivity improvement.
  4. Later Majority – conservatives who are very price sensitive and pessimistic about the added value of the product; they buy only when technology has been simplified and commoditized.
  5. Laggards – skeptics who are not really potential customers; goal is not to sell to them, but sell around their constant criticism. (Stanford University Strategy and Marketing Primer)

Re-read the above categories a few more times, and then think about which one of these categories applies to you. Then think about your boss, and the company leadership in your firm. Which category would they fit in? If they fit into your category, then you are probably on the same wavelength. But what if they aren’t? Then you have two choices, neither of which involves “enlightening” your company. That is a fool’s errand. Your choices are to change jobs or to find your satisfaction elsewhere. Join a community or group that has similarly enlightened people, or even launch a startup on the side that meets your vision. 

Why do this? Why do this today? 

I often look back and remember the day that I told my boss I was quitting to start my first real company. His response was, “I am surprised you lasted here this long.” I think about this on a near-daily basis. Why so often? To remind myself to make decisions that leave me with no regrets. 

One day you will have a moment in time that becomes your inspiration for living a life with no regrets. This could be the day.