Business is all about solving problems for other people; which in turn means finding answers to questions, both for your customers and your own business. The larger your business, and the higher you go in it, the more apparently simple (and yet truly profound) the questions are likely to become.
One of the most fundamental, whether you are a Global CEO or simply the captain of your own soul, is this:
“We were heading from Point A to Point B; somehow we finished up at Point C. What happened - and where the heck is Point C?”
Whether that is a career move that didn’t pan out quite as you expected, or a multi-billion-dollar investment that is currently underperforming, there will be no end of data and explanations available to you. What you will hear can range from an explanation based on the state of the economy or the state of the weather to some complex structural or technical issue (or opaque consultancy construct!); most of which will amount to misdirection.
The truth is, even in an age where up to 90% of the workforce might be replaced by robots, at least 80% (and I would argue, well over 90%) of what happens in your business is about people - and that is not going to change.
What follows on from any organisational mishap, though, is the clearest example of not seeing the wood for the trees you are ever likely to encounter: yes, some lucky person may be blamed for what happened, and have to carry the can; but the actual human dynamics, capacity issues, motivations, perspectives and blind-spots which caused all those other factors to come into play, will be completely ignored.
How do I know this? Well, I measure all of that stuff - human dynamics, capacity issues, blind-spots and the rest - for a living. I have regularly sat down with organisational leaders after we have done some data collection and said something like “you are looking strong in a and b, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you had some challenges around x and y” - and been met with dropped-jaw astonishment.
“How do you know that?”
It is always something of a let-down to have to confess that I am, in fact, no genius: I have just been looking at the data.
The point is this: if you are trying to find answers - whether about your own career or that billion-dollar project - start looking at the fundamentals. Alongside people - how they see things, how they understand things and how they work together - pretty much everything else is incremental leverage; or even just plain noise.