This column is the fifth in a five-part series on creating purposeful lives using the same business principles that guide decisions in corporate boardrooms. The target audience is you, the CEO of My Enterprise (ME) Inc.
Veterinarian Mark Olcott was devastated when a simple surgical procedure on a dog resulted in its loss of life. Operating in an emergency clinic over a weekend, he did not have access to the medical files that would have alerted him to the animal's anesthesia allergy.
This led him to ask what if? What if there had been a simple technology platform that would enable record sharing among veterinarians, emergency clinics and families with pets?
Mark decided to pursue a solution as his dream venture. The problem was that he had skills in animal medicine, not computer science. To turn his vision into reality, he needed help.
People who take charge of their lives as CEO of ME Inc. start by looking inward at their purpose, passions and abilities, as discussed in the first and second installments of this series. Then they look outward at market conditions to determine their value proposition and identify potential trade partners, as discussed in the third and fourth installments.
Mark did exactly that. The process led him to Kalpesh Raval, an information technology expert and classmate in my executive MBA course at the University of Maryland. Together, they launched VitusVet .
The startup had a strong foundation. But to scale up, the venture needed contributions from multiple stakeholders — each functioning as the CEO of ME Inc. — building mutually beneficial ties at the individual, team and organizational levels.
That's a lot of moving parts. Any person who has worked with others understands the challenges. In addition to increased coordination and communication costs, risks include strategic and personality conflicts, lack of incentive alignment, incivility and burnout.
At the same time, the potential upsides are immense. Organizations and markets provide rules and structures that allow individuals with different passions and abilities to create value in ways they never could do alone.
Veterinarians, technologists, digital marketers and others can apply their specialized skills and passions, while working together toward a common purpose.
To find a good fit for yourself when considering a job offer, business opportunity or any potential collaboration, I recommend a nine-part framework that integrates the principles in this series.
Trader Sudoku fits nine pieces together like the Japanese puzzle, as described by Kendall Justiniano in his Trader Mindset talk at the 2015 STRIVE Conference.
The first piece is "me," the one constant in anyone's world. The other eight parts represent choices that can change over time.
As CEO of ME Inc., I must consider my aspirations, abilities and actions. That is my fiduciary responsibility to myself. Then, I must consider yours.
The model hinges on voluntary trade, which means I cannot choose your path for you. But I do maintain freedom of association and veto power in any alliance. So do you.
To work together, we must find common objectives. What dreams do we share? How do our missions overlap? And then we must define our activities. How do our abilities complement each other? What actions do we undertake?
Within this model, "you" could be an individual, team or entire organization. The model can be extended beyond two people by adding columns for each person engaging in voluntary trade.
What unifies everyone together is the common objective. The possible combinations are endless.
People who hope to get what they want 100% of the time underestimate the challenges of working with others. They look for clean solutions, like a logic game with answers printed at the back of the booklet.
In reality, Trader Sudoku is messy, and the notion that the nine parts will seamlessly fit with effortless continuity is a fallacy.
People who fall into this trap often quit at the first sign of conflict. Often, they ascribe negative intentions to the other person's actions.
As my research with Serguey Braguinsky and Atsushi Ohyama shows, however, enterprising people who create high-growth firms take time to resolve conflicts, rather than avoid them.
The key is to follow the ABCs of voluntary trade: Acquire information that goes beyond the actions to the underlying aspirations and abilities. Build on common interests. Create a win-win.
While it may be hard and require cognitive and emotional effort, the payoff can be rewarding.
A second fallacy is doing the reverse — sticking with a situation no matter what the cost, often based on the assumption that there are no alternatives. Giving yourself permission to walk away if the nine-part alignment is too difficult to maintain enables you to be more honest and kind with yourself, and your trading partner.
Paradoxically, this can actually be a key to a longer lasting and more fruitful relationship.
The Trader Sudoku can be used in almost any setting and for almost every relationship in three ways.
First, the framework can serve as a diagnostic tool to assess current relationships. At work, you can use it to answer questions such as: Should I leave one job and take another? Are there reasons to change my current team members or trade partners? What is the source of misalignment?
Diagnosing requires objectivity and moving beyond the immediate "transaction." Halelly Azulay at the TalentGrow Show notes busy leaders often make the mistake on focusing on getting the work done and interacting with team members on a task-basis only.
Instead, they should delve into the underlying aspirations, ensure mission alignment and help team members acquire requisite abilities. Not only will it develop mutual trust, it will increase their discretionary effort.
What matters most is alignment in terms of objectives and complementary skills. So start there with your troubleshooting.
Second, the framework can serve as a touchstone, particularly when the going is rough.
When conflicts arise, or when the external environment presents adversities, having your Trader Sudoku at hand helps remind you of the bigger purpose. This can provide you the psychological and mental wherewithal to sustain you through hard times.
Referring to this touchstone can also reaffirm your dedication to the common objective, and provide you with the resilience you may need.
Finally, the Trader Sudoku can truly come to life as as a creativity tool. Rather than waiting for someone else to orchestrate an objective, you can dream of your own what if? And then use the nine-part framework proactively to choose trade partners, align aspirations and complement each other's skills.
That's what Mark and Kalpesh did. Since then VitusVet has grown from two to more than 50 employees. Each person in the organization has different beliefs, values and skills, but the common purpose of providing seamless information for quality pet care unifies them all.
Most importantly, Mark and Kalpesh followed their dreams by creating a fit that fostered their psychological, intellectual and economic growth.
CEO of My Enterprise (ME) Inc.
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