For most of last week this New York Times opinion piece, written by David Brooks, remained on their most emailed list.  I went back to it several times during the week, as I think there are some very rich learnings for those in our industry. The piece was written as a response to the Obama-Romney debate about the degree of individual vs. community role in the success of a person’s business.  I don’t want to get into the politics but thought the opinion piece was an incredibly thoughtful response to a heated exchange.

Brooks responds to the question as to who is responsible by talking about how the view people have of their individual role in their own success changes over the course of their lives.  He states then when you are young and in your formative years you feel that you are master of your own destiny but this then evolves into a stage where you feel your destiny is controlled in some way by the institutions or companies where you work.  When you get into your 50’s Brooks claims you begin to realize how important other people have been in your career and how your mentors and coaches have formed you and allowed you to reach your fullest potential.  The final stage is where you start to realize that the deep traditions of your people, whether your faith community or country have had a pivotal role in what you have become. Take a minute and see if your thinking has evolved in the same way over the years?

As I am in my 50’s, the Brooks opinion seems right on.  I have personally evolved far away from thinking that I am totally responsible for what I have accomplished.  There was a period where I fully appreciated the great company and the culture where I worked and how that allowed me to do what I needed to do to succeed.  Today I give a lot more thought to those people who have impacted my career.  I had two tremendous DM’s when in sales who taught me to really love the industry and to always have fun while working hard.  Those who taught me marketing are among the most respected people ever to work in our industry.  Finally, the senior leaders who trusted me with their business both while on the company side and now as a consultant have had a huge role in my formation.  My life would have been significantly different had I not been connected with these and many other people.

What does all this mean for our industry?  First, it is always important to recognize our customers are also people and go through the same stages.  If you want to know what and why somebody thinks or works the way they do, it is important to look back at the institutions they came through and the people who surrounded them as they developed.  One of my KOL mentors taught me early on to learn the professional lineage of physicians and then you will understand how best to work with them.  I think this might even be more important than putting doctors into deciles!  For managed market customers, this may be even more exaggerated as there are fewer pathways through which they have been developed.

These things need to be carefully thought about when considering either personal or organizational development.  The people you have work with and impact your human talent are perhaps the most critical components for long term success.  People who can develop people should be viewed as the greatest assets in the organization or at least at the same level as those who can develop products.  There should be very little tolerance in an organization for people who hinder the development of others and by no means should they be allowed to manage other people.

It is critical that those thinking of their own development carefully study the Brooks piece and recognize how connected everything seems.  It definitely is important to start with a strong sense of individual responsibility, but recognize that in almost all cases that will only get you so far.  The institutions and the people you associate with, either formally through reporting relationships or through networking and mentoring, will allow you to reach your fullest potential.  Perhaps we should be thankful for the Obama-Romney discussion as it could be viewed as a lightning strike to really ignite some thinking about the factors that are so critical for our development.

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