I grew up near Cape Canaveral, Florida. My father worked in the space program and as a boy I could watch from my bedroom window and see the missiles carrying astronauts into space. In that place and at that time new ideas were abundant. The drive to get a man on the moon brought an amazing variety of people and activities to an otherwise small quiet town on the east coast of Florida. I was taught from a young age to pay attention to new ideas being bandied about in the news, the space program (everyone in the area was immersed in the impact of NASA’s undertaking), and the spillover effects in the schools in our area. So I became fascinated with new ways of looking at old problems, and innovation in general.
So like a lot of people I went off to college and then on to graduate school. My first job was with a major US corporation in the New York metro area while I was still in graduate school. I reported to a Vice President, Mr. Fox who turned out to be a great mentor. He was an engineer who was also a space program nut, so he and I found a lot of things to talk about.
Under his wing I learned something that none of my professors talked about. My job was to research and develop new product concepts and test them with real people. After completing a research study I was frequently made presentations to senior management and others about our findings. Mr. Fox always asked me the most important question: “So what?” At first I was taken aback by the question. Rarely did I encounter that question in graduate school. What he was asking me to do was take the results of our research and make it useful and usable.
As I began to understand the importance of the question, along with a little gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – prodding by Mr. Fox, the effect I had on our products and our business activities began to change and I was taken more seriously by senior management.
I soon took a detour from research into management, and later held roles as a CMO, COO and CEO. In those roles I always kept Mr. Fox’s question in my mind as I went about my responsibilities. Getting into consulting has only made Mr. Fox’s question more relevant. A consultant’s role is challenging. You have to learn a lot very quickly, and take decisive actions as quickly as possible.
The question of “So what?” is always on my mind and I get a lot of fulfillment and pleasure in looking at situations, developing new ideas or solutions, and hearing Mr. Fox’s question in my head, so I know the actions I am taking or recommending will improve my client’s situation. In the end, you may not be trying to put a man on mars but your business can feel just as daunting. Helping you make a solve those key problems and seeing your business succeed is all that really matters.
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