One Simple Action Can Change Your Life and Your Business

August 23, 2010  

Innovation On Many PathsRecently, a number of people have asked me how I became an author and professional speaker.  I reflected upon it and realized that it all started with one simple action.  And maybe, to make major change happen, that’s all you need: one small move.

The year was 1993.  I was a relatively junior person at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture).  I was 7 years out of college and was working on projects like everyone else.  I blended into the woodwork and was not distinguished from any of the other 40,000 consultants.

And then one day I had an idea:  I realized that I was interested in “cultural transformation” work and felt that Andersen’s culture could use a little transforming.  Therefore I decided to call the CEO, George Shaheen, and ask for a meeting to discuss this, um, idea.  Yes, I admit, it sounds a little crazy.

I moved into action.  I found a company directory, looked up the direct dial number for George, and placed the call.  I remember the call well.  His executive assistant answered the phone and asked what I wanted.  I said, “I want to speak with George Shaheen about transforming Andersen Consulting.”

I am certain she must have looked at the phone and thought, “Who is this crazy person?” She responded, “Excuse me.  What do you want?”  I repeated myself.  She was polite and said, “Ok, let me see what I can do.”  She hung up and I assumed that would be the end of things.

The next day, the partner leading the project I was working on came to my desk.  Although he was many levels down the totem pole, word got to him quickly. He asked me, “Did you call George Shaheen?”  I confirmed that I had.  I’m sure HE thought I was crazy.  He said, “Maybe I can help you.”  I proceeded to tell him my idea about transforming the company’s culture.  His response – “I know someone, Bill Stoddard, who is involved with an effort called ‘Enterprise Transformation.’  Maybe you want to meet him instead.”  I said, “I would love to meet with Bill.  And I still want to meet with George.”

Long story short, I did eventually meet with George, and it was an interesting meeting.  But the person who changed my career forever was Bill Stoddard.  Meeting him put my career on a totally different trajectory.  For some reason he liked me and asked me to work with him on a new initiative he was leading called Value Driven Re-Engineering (he was only an adviser to the Enterprise Transformation initiative). I stopped doing full-time client work and started working with Bill.  Our re-engineering work turned out to be big.  VERY big.  At one point, over one-third of the company’s revenues could be tied back to re-engineering.  I was busy leading training sessions and giving speeches around the world.

This started me on the path towards the career I have now.  A career I absolutely love.

And none of this might have happened if it weren’t for that one phone call to George.

Sometimes one action can forever change the course of your life, or your business.

Of course, I did not realize that this call would lead me down a totally new path.  But sometimes, we can predict possible futures based on actions.

What action can you take TODAY that could change the course of events for you or your business. If the action doesn’t seem outrageous or crazy, keep on thinking.

  • Who can you call that you would never typically have the guts to call?
  • What can you do that is out of your comfort zone, but could have life changing implications?
  • Where could you go that you would never go, but might open up new opportunities?

Sometimes, just taking the first step on a new path can change the course of future events.

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2 Responses to “One Simple Action Can Change Your Life and Your Business”

  1. Ivana Sendecka on August 24th, 2010 5:19 am

    ;-) What a wonderful story, Stephen!

    It is funny, but I have very very similar experience;-)

    13months ago, I have walked in my CEO’s office (of one big consulting company’s office in Slovakia). I went there with burning desire to confess with my aspirations and how I can help the company rock and why.

    I have got response, which changed my life and took me on the journey of being speaker, blogger and educator.

    What was I told?
    I was laughed at, when I have said that I love coaching, people, facilitating of workshops etc. I was told I am like a toy car and world out there is formula one..My passion for social media was source of many jokes in that office…I was told no one will ever listen to me, that I should go back to my seat and carry on re-typing those excel sheets…

    Next time I have walked into his office was 2 days later, when I have put down my resignation.

    It is 13 months now and I am so grateful to my ex-CEO for that nasty putting me down, because only after it, I was determined enough to follow my inner calling.

    And what is happening now?
    I am running movement NGLS – Next Generation Leaders of Slovakia. We had 2 days long conference (just 4 months after I was told I cannot do anything like that) for 100 emerging leaders in Slovakia…
    And much more…

    And the greatest reward I could get arrived just one day after my working for free – 1 year anniversary;
    Jim Kouzes featured me and my NGLS story as epilogue in his new book The Truth About Leadership.
    And none of that would have had happened, if my ex-boss would not make clear for me that I cannot serve my best there.
    So I found my own place, where my life will matter.

    cheers and my regards to George Shaheen ;-)

  2. Stephen Shapiro on August 24th, 2010 8:20 am

    Ivana, thanks so much for sharing your story. It would be great to collect stories from people who (in the words of Neil Armstrong) took “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    Clearly your CEO had a different response than mine. George was totally attentive and supportive. It was supposed to be a 15 minute meeting and it went on for 45 minutes. We debated and discussed, and it got heated at times. When the meeting was over, he put his arm around me and said, “Steve, you can go toe to toe with any CEO.”

    I’m so happy you found the life you love!