Saturday, July 16, 2011

Differentiate or Die

Source: Pencil Lead Sculptures via Google+ Post
Once upon a time, I had the opportunity to go for a job interview as a Director of Technology...someone who would be responsible for the whole kit-n-caboodle, not just instruction but also the boxes and wires. 

The interview took place on a Texas hot, sunny afternoon. Between you and me, it was the best interview I'd ever given, allowing me to marshal all my new-found skills and learning, show off letters of recommendation from highly esteemed colleagues in the field, people already doing the job I was interviewing for. 

The people on the panel smiled at my jokes, nodded their heads when I shared my philosophy in response to their questions, and I knew they'd seen my print portfolio--which is now online at When I left, I felt positive about the possibilities, very hopeful that the job would be mine. I made sure to stay close to my phone's answering machine during the week that followed...surely, I would get the call.

But, the call never came. Some how, I'd missed the mark, or worse, they had.
"REMEMBER, No matter how right you are, no matter how hard you work, sometimes the dragon wins"
Sometimes, someone else gets what you really wanted. Even though I tried to hold out hope, the piece of paper in my Chinese fortune cookie when my wife and I went out for lunch a week or so later after the interview sought to let me down easy..."Every failure leads to a future success" it read (my best paraphrase since I immediately obliterated the paper in a fit of cantankerousness as my wife and I laughed at cosmic messages). My wife smiled sadly, and said, "It's a sign." 

That night, we both dreamed about the job. I envisioned a meeting with the superintendent, having that critical first conversation, and when I awoke, I felt I had achieved "inner peace." It was a wonderful feeling to wake up to. When I told my wife, she said, "I dreamed about you getting the job, too. Since we both dreamed it, you probably aren't going to get it." I scratched my head and wondered, "Where do wives learn these tales?" 

True or not, a powerful illusion does some times grant one comfort for a time.


But not getting the job made me sensitive to how important it is to, as this article puts it, "Differentiate or die." 
To begin with, Hoffman says, ditch a grand life plan. Entrepreneurs don't write a long business plan and execute it once; they're always experimenting and adapting. 
It also means using your network to pull in information and intelligence about where the growth opportunities are — and then investing in yourself to build skills that will allow you to take advantage of those opportunities. 
You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then, Hoffman says, "find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it's differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us." 
Read more: Why Finding Employment is Tougher,
As I reflected on my failure to attain a position I went after with everything I had, I had to ask myself, how can I add value in a way no one else can? Worse, reflecting now approximately 14 years later after failing to get that position, I have to ask at a time when so many have lost their jobs, is what I have "value in" still "of value" to someone else?

It's critical I ask these questions but doing something about the answers I get is tough. As a blogger, educator, writer, would I be better off starting over and reinvesting my time studying to be something else? If not, what do I need to do to fundamentally move from "good" to "great," to someone who has value to himself to someone who has value that is prized by others?

Source: Martin Koser's Innovation Matrix on Google+
I'd like to think it's more than just marketing, or you end up in the "All talk, no action" box. Of course, this matrix is meant to refer to forms, but why not play and apply it to our lives? 
The main point with The Innovation Matrix is that improving your innovation performance is a journey of many steps, not simply one big leap. The matrix is designed to help us think about this more accurately, and to be more successful at improving our innovation performance.
Does being innovative correlate with getting hired as a Director of Technology for a Texas school district?
"Most things fail," and, as Watts says, “the curse of being able to measure everything is that you get slapped in the face with this reality all the time.”
Source: Why Social Marketing Doesn't Work
As a 28 year old, it was easy to "dust off" and get back up again. The stakes weren't as high, the salary not so large. After all, one's life is ahead of one at that age. One of my children was still in diapers, and the other had not even been conceived yet. As I am older now, What can I do as well in my area of commitment that is as innovative as a pencil lead sculpture? What can I do that will differentiate me from the pack in a significant way?

Simply, how can I move from good to great?

Leave suggestions in the comments...and share how YOU are differentiating yourself into your next job.


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Ric Murry said...

I feel your pain, Miguel.

Not that this makes things better, but sometimes the value a man like you adds to a school or system, is a value they don't realize they need to have.

You are decades ahead of where most schools know they need to go, and that includes the exponential growth and use of technology that will happen in schools.

All the best.


Miguel Guhlin said...

@Ric, thanks for the feedback. Seth Godin wrote something that hit me between the eyes...

That said, I like to write. Maybe I just need to accept that.

With appreciation for your kind words and what inspired them,

The Courage to Lead