There are many incredible authors writing compelling books on improving career success.

Yet instead of immediately running from one book and point of view to another, ask yourself this basic question:

Before trying to learn and adopt someone else’s personal success story, what more can I do to understand my own personal success story?

imageAs so often happens, this message came together over the course of a day from multiple directions. The common theme with each piece of the message was the importance of knowing what creates success for you before rushing to adopt an external view of success.

It’s a lot easier for many people to look for answers by bouncing from one author’s 5 tips for success to another’s 5 lessons of success. 

It’s vital, however, to know what success means for YOU. And right after that, it’s important to have a solid handle on how you improve your own likelihood of success by finding, adapting, and/or creating the work and personal situations to  support achieving personal success.

5 Questions to Revisit Your Personal Success Story

You simply have to KNOW what will lead to improving your career success.

If you struggle with this, work through these five questions to help you get a handle on this:

  1. In the instances where I’ve enjoyed the best career success previously, what were the situations, themes, types of people, relationships, opportunities, and challenges involved?
  2. How did the characteristics I just identified work together to pave the way for success?
  3. In situations where I have not enjoyed success, what things got in the way of creating success?
  4. In those same situations, what things weren’t in place that appear necessary, in retrospect, to support my career success?
  5. From the exploration in these questions, what’s my short list of personal critical success factors?

We actively use the concept of critical success factors with clients to ensure we’re improving the likelihood of organizational success. You can and should use the concept personally as well.

Think about critical success factors in two ways:

  1. What needs to be in place to maximize the likelihood of success?
  2. What things need to be avoided, prevented, or eliminated because their presence will minimize the likelihood of success?

See what I mean about your inability to READ your way to critical success factors?

Your knowledge of them comes from reflection and exploration of your past and deliberate experimentation in your future.

Improving Career Success

So put down the popular author’s personal success story, and spend some conscious and quiet time if you haven’t already, to revisit and learn from your own personal success story.

Ultimately, it’s the only one you’ll earn a grade for in this crazy thing we call life. - Mike Brown

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Clementine-AsleepIf you tend to be an overachiever when it comes to delivering on expectations, maybe that’s not the best idea in the world for improving career success.

Sure, there are some areas where it’s pretty important to over-deliver. But if you do it uniformly with little regard to the situation, it could be time to consciously deliver less and invest your newly available time, effort, and energy in other places.

By the way, the first paragraph has been me for much of my career.

Increasingly, however, I see the need to differentiate where and how I over-deliver.

7 Questions for Doing Less than Before

Here are some questions I’m using to identify opportunities to begin doing less than before:

  • Is something really important to me, but I’m the only one who thinks it is?
  • Will anyone notice the impact of delivering less?
  • Will there be obvious unused leftovers if I over-deliver?
  • If something is finished, will adding to it only make it seem less finished?
  • Have the standards of everyone that matters already been surpassed?
  • Is it true that more effort won’t result in more beneficial results?
  • Will spending more time on something that has a little room for improvement create disproportionately negative impacts on something else that has MORE room for improvement?

Improving Career Success

I will readily admit these questions are more easily asked than answered. In turn, they’re more easily answered than the answers implemented.

But these questions ARE a start to better connecting productive effort and results in the hope of strengthening the results we can all deliver and improving career success.  - Mike Brown

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Creating-a-Strategic-ImpactWith any new initiative in an organization, it’s not enough to simply do the strategic planning on how to shape and implement it if you really care about creating strategic impact.

Even before launching strategic planning with a new initiative, you should start figuring out how the new initiative will be successfully sold and implemented.

Doing this involves many of the same steps as the actual strategic planning, and it’s incredibly beneficial to do it upfront. The approach you develop should influence how the initiative is developed (and who participates in the subsequent strategic planning) to maximize opportunities for success.

12 Strategic Planning Questions Before You Start

Before you launch strategic planning, here are twelve questions to ask and answer in three key areas:

  1. Issues to help or challenge the initiative
  2. Decision making
  3. The implementation process

1. Issues to Help or Challenge the Initiative

Identify broader issues in the company that might impact a new initiative’s success:

  • What are the issues that could help or hinder implementation?
  • How likely is each issue to be a factor?
  • How do we address these issues to enhance the enabling ones and mitigate the challenging issues?

2. Decision Making

Identify who will decide on recommendations about the new initiative as it is implemented:

  • Who are the decision makers and who influences them?
  • What is important to them?
  • What motivates them?
  • Do they support the effort conceptually?
  • How do they process information and make decisions?

3. The Implementation Process

Identify who will likely have to participate in implementation

  • What motivates those who will be involved in implementation?
  • What reluctance will those involved in implementation have relative to implementation?
  • What challenges will they have (skill sets, capabilities, resources, etc.) with implementation?
  • Do these individuals like to shape things, do things, or both?

Creating Strategic Impact Before Strategic Planning Starts

If you can get a handle on the answers to these twelve questions, not only will you be better prepared for strategic planning, but your path to new initiative implementation has a much better chance of creating strategic impact. – Mike Brown


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Clemmie-BoxI’m frequently asked how it was possible to stay, survive, and achieve career success for so long in one corporation.

The easy answer is I was “built” to thrive in an organization based on background, education, and temperament.

But that’s a pretty vague answer.

9 Ways to Get 9 Lives in a Corporate Career

When it comes to improving career success, here are my 9 ways to get 9 lives in a corporate career.

  1. Stand for something that means something and grow from it, but don’t waiver in it.
  2. Make sure what you stand for is relevant to what’s going on right now and will be relevant in the future as well.
  3. Know what your toolbox of skills is and keep adding to it all the time – with both your own development and surrounding yourself with others who complement your talents.
  4. Make sure you are low maintenance and represent minimal overhead so it’s clear there’s more value to be freed up by letting you do more things than getting rid of you.
  5. Build beneficial relationships with many people.
  6. Become recognized as a corporate historian, remembering what’s been done, what’s worked and hasn’t and why, where ALL the bodies are buried, and who was responsible for putting the bodies where they were buried.
  7. Deliver objectively unmistakable value that transcends opinion.
  8. Invest time to imagine what the future is going to look like and how you’ll need to adapt to fit into it.
  9. Always know where a door is and what situations will make you want or need to use it.

Those are nine career success principles I tried to follow then, and still do now to the extent they make sense in a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment.

What about your ideas for improving career success?

If you’ve been in the corporate world for some time, what are your keys to getting your full nine corporate career lives?

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I spoke for the third time recently as part of an internal leadership development program for a client organization.

Across the three creating strategic impact workshops, the client has made significant changes to its multi-day program. The modifications have had ripple effects on the creating strategic impact workshop, including changes to its location, length, day of the week, time of day, and room size / configuration.

We’ve also changed the workshop’s content and format each time to dial in the content specifically for the attendees’ complex needs.

That’s a lot of change.

And, at least from my perspective – and from attendee feedback – this recent workshop was the most successful presentation so far.

5 Ways to Help a Speaker Deliver a Successful Presentation at Your Event

Event-AudienceA major part of the success is the internal event organizer’s ability, determination, and eagerness to improve the overall program for attendees. Those positive characteristics spill over into her willingness to create an environment where the speakers can help her be most successful in her objectives.

Her willingness to share information and actively work with us is wonderful and NOT something you always receive as a speaker.

She knows details in five areas that allow a speaker to deliver a successful presentation, all for the benefit of the attendees, by providing:

  • Updated learning objectives for the event
  • A thorough description of the audience members, including the relevant current opportunities and challenges they face that speakers can help them address
  • What they know or will have learned before the workshop
  • The type of experience the client wants the audience members to have overall and from the workshop
  • Ways other speakers have successfully approached the audience previously

If you organize events or even a single speaker for a learning opportunity for your company or association, ask yourself whether you can address these five areas to help your speakers deliver for you and your attendees.

If you can’t address them now, it’s worth the time and effort to be ready to provide this information as you start recruiting a speaker you hope will deliver a successful presentation at your event. Mike Brown


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Baseball-FieldWith the major league baseball season upon us, think about an innovation lesson now common in many baseball leagues, but not all: the designated hitter rule. (Or more specifically, Major League Baseball Rule 6.10 for you precise baseball fans.) 

The designated hitter rule, which Wikipedia suggests was almost implemented in the 1920sallows a baseball team to substitute a hitter for the team’s pitcher in its regular batting lineup.

While preparing a strategic thinking workshop for a client, it struck me that the designated hitter rule takes what used to happen as an irregular event for a baseball team (and still does for National League teams) and simply extends it.

Extending an Irregular Event

Specifically, it’s always been possible to substitute players in a baseball lineup. Before the designated hitter rule, it was common for baseball teams to substitute for the pitcher, especially late in the baseball game. The reasoning behind this is using a pinch hitter to get a strong batter to the plate in place of pitchers, who are notoriously weak hitters. A team is willing to bet that the pinch hitter’s effectiveness in a particular batting situation will be greater than any downside of losing access to the current pitcher for the rest of the game.

In essence, the designate hitter rule says, if that move is a good one in a specific situation, let’s extend it, doing it all the time for the benefit multiple audiences.

And that’s a great innovation lesson.

The Innovation Lesson in the Designated Hitter Rule

Rather than only looking for high frequency situations in your organization and exploring them for innovation opportunities, look in the fringes for innovation opportunities you can extend to more situations.

Ask, observe, and identify what your organization is doing that might be considered an irregular event, a temporary situation, or only done in very special or specific circumstance.

After identifying possible innovation opportunities, see if you can extend these special cases to apply all the time to improve performance and results.

It all comes down to finding ways to get your smart, but infrequent moves, into the starting lineup of your business every time you go out on the field of competition! Mike Brown

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From the Road

From-The-RoadSome people have always had the EXACT same travel problem every time you see them. At some point, you realize it’s them, not the airline / car rental company / cabbie / hotel . . . I rented a car with 8 miles on it. That’s the runner up in my rental career next to a 3 miler in Orlando on the way to Daytona for a NASCAR race . . . At a sea food restaurant the other night, every painting in the place was of some boat, ocean, or river scene. And nearly everyone had lights behind the windows in the boat or lighthouse. You don’t see that every day . . . I’m not sure why it smells as if someone immediately behind me is eating a pot roast dinner on this plane.

Branding and Experience

I asked on the Delta Airlines Facebook page why they now call the Biscoff Cookies they serve simply “cookies.” They used to be called “Biscoff” by flight attendants. Not surprisingly, there hasn’t been a response . . . An intriguing, but untrackable customer service metric? The percent of times your employees refer to your brand in the first person versus the third person . . . Every time I see a happy, fun, engaging flight attendant I automatically assume they started at Southwest Airlines.

Talking Business

It’s great to talk shop with someone who does what you do. It’s even better to “ask shop.” Then you can just sit back and listen, and that’s where you get some great learning and new ideas . . . A cramped room can bring out the best questions and conversations with a presentation audience. When a room is too big, there’s too much space for staying aloof. Just the reverse is true for a strategy session . . . One warm-up exercise we use asks who people say you look like. I had NASCAR driver Tony Stewart’s doppelganger in a workshop, but didn’t have time to do the exercise and see if he hears that all the time.


Being able to keep writing this blog post on my iPad while we land is a new great part of flying . . . Trying to beat my personal best of writing ten blog posts on a business trip from the East Coast to Kansas City. We’ll see how that goes . . . I don’t generally connect on LinkedIn with people I don’t “know” in some way. After accepting an invitation from someone locally who immediately sent a message for me to make time to learn about what she is doing, I remember why . . . I don’t “get” game apps like other people don’t “get” Twitter. I just don’t have the time . . . I’m cranking on blog posts recently because I’m avoiding getting tax stuff organized . . . These columns are the intersection of “Too long for Twitter” and “Too many for Facebook.” Thanks for indulging me. Mike Brown


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