Katie and I went to see a play at our local theatre the other night, which doesn’t happen that often – but it was excellent (see here for details of The Herd, written by Rory Kineear). And like all good books or plays or films, we came out talking about it, and it set me thinking.
The bit that stayed with me was late on in the play (#notaspoiler) when the grandfather says that life ultimately comes down to “Luck and doggedness…nothing more than that; sometimes good luck, sometimes bad, and doggedness either way” – I may be slightly paraphrasing, but you get the gist.
It got me thinking about how this applies more widely than family + relationships (which is what the grandfather was talking about) and particularly how it applies to success in the world of work. My gut feel is that we tend to be extremely impatient in the world of social enterprise – that’s no great surprise, because most people work in this sector / movement in order to change things…and because the problems being tackled remain huge. And, on the one hand, that impatience can be harnessed usefully – it motivates, provides urgency, prompts innovation, and can lend a focus to action. But I’m increasingly thinking that it leads us to ignore history, not wait long enough for results, and be on the constant hunt for things that will accelerate change…rather than those that will sustain and deepen it in the long-term (see this recent article on social enterprise accelerators). And that we therefore underplay the role of both luck and doggedness.
I remember reading Forces for Good (a US book about the six practices of high-impact non-profits) which detailed how one thing the organisations featured had in common was a) the length of time the organisations had been going and b) the length of time their leaders had continued with that organisation. [Interestingly, I heard Andy Street from John Lewis speak last week, and he made the point how most corporate CEOs last around 2 and a half years, an extraordinarily short period of time; he’s currently in his seventh year…and is approaching 30 years total at John Lewis] Doggedness – which I think of as commitment allied to persistence – played an important role in scaling impact….over a long period of time. Similarly, looking at the ‘scaling social innovation’ literature, one finds that most of the featured ideas or innovations that have scaled have one thing in common – they were at least a decade or more old. Doggedness and keeping at it, and making incremental improvements constantly, and big decisions when necessary, are a key part of success in this world.
The luck can manifest itself in various ways – it is well know that the amount of time you put into a bid or proposal is often inversely proportional to the likelihood of you being successful with it; chance encounters lead to opportunities where planned blueprinted approaches do not; the right government Minister at the right time can make huge change in an area of work (and vice versa); the perfect person can apply for that role you’ve struggled to fill…and so forth. Some of this, of course, comes through doggedness – keep articulating the impact of what you’re doing, keep going to those events, keep improving the quality of what you do, keep building relationships…and the ‘luck’ follows. But sometimes it is pure chance – and, like Royal Mail shares, luck can go down as well as up.
For me, and this may be a very personal view, it is about remaining open whilst being dogged – too often, the latter can mean ‘heads-down, narrowly-focused, on-to-the-next’…which can mean that opportunities, or lucky moments, are missed or not seized. Or the doggedness is only applied to operations rather than business development….this was part of my theme on a related topic, which I spoke about at the excellent Social Enterprise Wales conference in Cardiff last week. I was asked to speak about how social enterprises could innovate to grow and sustain themselves….the powerpoint is embedded below, but my key points were that innovation was about
– implementation, not a nice new idea…(innovation is often incremental, not radical + disruptive)
– staying open to new ideas and new learning
– making time for it to happen amongst the day-to-day
– collaboration – it’s easier to be ‘lucky’ the more people you know and work with…
and, of course, that change is both relentless and continuous…so you have to keep doing it. Or what another person on another day might call being dogged.