The Organizational Strategist

October 12, 2013

Pathways to success: Anders Westby’s take on personal strategy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Whit @ 12:26 am


Every now and again, I come across someone who has an unusual, yet interesting take to their own personal strategy.  At times, I’m fortunate enough to be able to interview them and get a chance to share what I learn from that person.  Here is another interview that takes ahold of personal choices in management and leadership styles. The content below is an edited and summarized version of an oral interview done in a similar style to the earlier interviews with Fred Collopy and Robert M. Mason.

Anders Westby (Professional Profile) and I met at Logic20/20, Inc. I was fortunate enough to be able to choose him as my career counselor.  His take comes with a very refreshing strong personal conviction and intentional positive orientation.  I’m happy to be able to share a sample of what Anders brings with him at all times.

Interviewing Anders Westby, Senior Consulting Manager

1) How do you define yourself?

“I’m generally optimistic. I’m almost always in a good mood, which is normally good, but can sometimes be to my detriment.  I’m always on the lookout for the good things in a person or project and in my role, I often need to be critical.  I’ve found that while I can get specific results from someone if I’m really focused and in front of that person all the time.  It will work for that day, but longer term results become much harder. I’d rather see the positive in what they were able to accomplish and talk through the remaining tasks and help them figure out what it will take to deliver.

I believe a part of [my view] is due to my Midwestern work ethic and Scandinavian heritage [regarding the conscious choice to have a happy outlook].  I’ve tried various approach as different times in my career, ranging from complete hardass to accommodating. Part of what I had to figure out is when to make the shift in approach and how far I need to shift in this situation.  There are stressful times and moments in everything you do, and you need to be careful that that stress doesn’t become part of your life.  You have to minimize the risk and basically project manage.  I plan a lot and try to think through the dangers of the project at hand. 

An example of this is how I love working with my hands.  One of my habits is working on old vehicles.  I was rewiring an old truck where the wires were like a rat’s nest.  When I went through to replace things, I thought through it carefully before starting the first step.  By being very deliberate, I knew exactly how things were going to work out in the end.  The result was that every new circuit worked the first time I tried it.   The problem there is that can take a long time to do anything.  What I do by being an optimist is to plan things out and that leads to results.”

2) What do you do? Feel free to answer this question from a professional and/or personal view.

“In my role, I try to empower others.  With my kids it’s all about learning, figuring out how to be productive, and doing well at academics, sports, and socialization.  With work, it’s about empowering the teams.  My work is thru other people.  I’m always checking to see that they know what they need to do, what they want to learn, what they need help with in order to be successful I try to find creative ways to make everyone happy about it.

Early in my career, it was about being the most skilled, fastest, etc.  As I took on more responsibility, I had less time to do the work myself.  I had to figure out how to leverage others and it’s a continual process of learning.  There are still too many times when I could’ve done things differently to empower my team, give people tools, information, etc. to make them more successful.”

What else needs to happen to make it even better?

“One of the things I’ve learned is that my vision may not be the only vision to meet the objectives.  I ask lots of questions, poking, prodding, and so forth to see if alternative approaches meet the objectives.  Depending on the person or engagement, I might need to give more or less guidance.”

3) What has been your strategy that has led to your success?

“I think it comes down to three things:

Persistence: My Midwest spirit of never going to give up.

Optimism: I know it’s possible and I’m smart enough to figure it out.

Ability to Pivot: Being able to turn on the spot and tackle the next approach.

You take the various assumptions of the objectives, resources, time, etc. for a problem. From there it takes the ability to pivot to understand the implications and all the while thinking through the different possibilities for ongoing efforts and the future.  Understand the implications of today and what the future may be.”

4) Please describe an occasion where you had to change or course-correct your strategy.

“There was a project that had changing project management, client requirements, architecture, developer staffing, timeline, and scope.  It wasn’t doing well when I came onto the project.  No matter how dark the tunnel, I could still see the light at the end of it.  I just had to buckle down and do it.”

5) What advice would you offer to others so that they may achieve their own success?

“Find work you’re good at, passionate about, and find a way to do that well.  Don’t try to be everything to all people.  Find something that makes you happy and do it better/faster than others.  If you can find a way to make a great living at it, that’s great.

One thing I heard from a mentor long ago was that every job has a dirty 30.  That is that 30% of the job is doing things you don’t want to do.  It might be administrative stuff, interacting with an person, or being in a role that isn’t interesting.  However, the other 70% can be really cool.  Figuring out what that 70% is allows you to find something interesting in every role and opportunity.  It takes time to find that and find something that’s in your wheelhouse that’s fun.”

Thanks Anders!


July 13, 2010

Pathways to success: Robert M. Mason’s take on personal strategy

Filed under: Interview, Strategy — Tags: , — Whit @ 8:23 pm


I have found that strategy takes many forms and journeys. The manner that some organizations or individuals succeed can be radically different from others. I decided to explore and interview specific individuals to record their background and thoughts so that others may learn from their experiences. From these interviews I hope to get snapshots into different takes on strategy to broaden our own thinking and potentially learn some good tips for our own strategies.

Bob Mason (Professional Profile) was kind enough to meet with me as I shifted geographies from Cleveland to Seattle. His story is one of an evolutionary manner that has guiding principles and a clear direction forward. However, the exact footsteps that his strategy walked were not on an easily understood and predetermined ascent.

Interviewing Robert M. Mason

Whit: How do you define yourself?

Bob: “Multiple ways, but typically by roles:   family (father of grown children, grandfather, husband); professional (professor, member of organizations).  In a global sense, I think of myself as a builder (perhaps metaphorically “mason”), as someone who adds value to the people with whom I engage and organizations with which I am involved.”

Whit: What do you do? This can be from a professional and/or personal take.

Bob: “I have a senior academic role in the Information School of the University of Washington.  Until recently, I served as the associate dean for research, a role which called on me to support the research culture and activities of the school.”

Whit: What has been your strategy that has lead to your success?

Bob: “I suppose it could be described as strategic opportunism—akin to Mintzberg’s enacted strategy; I try to keep fundamental values in mind, look for opportunities to add value to endeavors that are compatible with these values, and take opportunities as they arise.  I try to avoid the rigid pursuit of an elusive objective if there are better opportunities…but this requires some judgment on “when to hold them and when to fold them.”  For example, my first consulting business started while I was still working on my PhD.  An acquaintance suggested we become partners in a business that would pursue an early opportunity in fiber optics.  This initial idea did not work out, but we did discover additional consulting project opportunities that gave us satisfaction and helped us establish a going business.  Later, recognizing that my partner and I had different objectives and values, I sold him the business, and started a new, more focused, consulting business that did not involve a partner.  This new consulting firm (still in existence) became the basis for the next phase in my career.  Five years later, when my wife had an opportunity to become the director of the Cleveland Public Library, I became the “trailing spouse” and moved to Cleveland, taking my small consulting business with me.  In connecting with others in Cleveland who had an interest in startup firms and technology management, I became one of the tenants of the CWRU “incubator” for early stage businesses.  This meant that I became more involved with the Weatherhead School of CWRU.  Soon, my academic colleagues and I recognized an opportunity for an interdisciplinary center that focused on the management of science and technology.  We formed this, received foundation funding, worked with both engineering and management, and created an executive program in technology management that was recognized globally for its value. 

None of these successes was based on a pre-determined strategy.  They each resulted from recognizing an opportunity and pursuing it.”

Whit: What are the most critical elements in implementing your strategy?

Bob: “Openness:  to people, to recognizing opportunities (both seeing the possibilities and thinking positively about what can be achieved).  Each of the examples in the previous question arose because my colleagues and I recognized an opportunity and envisioned how it could be successful.”

Whit: Describe an occasion where you had to change or correct your strategy.

Bob: “In my senior year of high school, I applied and was accepted to MIT.  However, financially I could see no way I could attend, so I prepared to attend the U. of Tennessee:  rented an apartment, began to select a course of study, etc.  At the last minute, I received a scholarship that paid the tuition to MIT (only the first year), so…major change of plans—enrolled at MIT and moved to Boston.  As in the career examples that came later, this experience demonstrated that even firm plans should remain flexible.  In this case, I had a goal (attending MIT) and recognized the opportunity when the financial door opened.  Even after entering MIT as a freshman, however, MIT continued to raise tuition, and I recognized that the opportunity to enter the co-op program (a year-round program that enabled me to earn a salary for alternate semesters) would enable me to continue to finance my education.”

Whit: What advice would you offer to others so that they may achieve their own success?

Bob: “Know your values—know what is important to you and be conscious and aware of your own world view.  These values and worldview determine what you see in the physical and social world; they highlight (and hide) different features of your environment and they are the (often subconscious) determinants of how you make decisions on spending limited resources.  You find these values by being mindful of what excites you, delights you, and gives you joy.  By knowing these values, you become mindful of the opportunities you have each day to express these values.  In whatever you do—whether a dream job or other endeavor—find the part of it that you can embrace with enthusiasm, and engage it fully.  The rest will follow.”

Thanks Bob!

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