Although I haven’t had too many mentors, I did have the opportunity to meet on numerous occasions with former Alberta Finance Minister and Chancellor of the University of Calgary for four years, Jim Dinning. Jim took interest in his the students at the institution he represented and made a point of offering a helping hand any chance he could. Being a Vice President of the Student Union certainly helped, but I suspect that with enough interest and effort, he would have helped anyone who dropped him a line or knocked on his door.
One morning in particular stood out in my mind tough. At a breakfast at a his favourite diner in downtown Calgary, we sat down for breakfast in late 2014. I wanted to know more about his experiences and learn some key bits of advice he might have for a young person trying to make his way in the business community in a city that was starting to feel the pinch of a economic crisis that became much darker than even some of the brightest people the in province could have sketched up. He told me something I’ll never forget. Sell problems, provide solutions.
Taking this advice, we were able to take a start-up company into something that provided the lives we wanted to live. I was able to travel more, relate to more people, and really speak to people without ever feel like I was selling to them. What I found is that people love credit, and they love to feel like they’re making a difference. If we address problems, and work together to provide solutions, we can all be engaged in the conversation and collaborate to find solutions. It turns out that in a typical management consulting relationship, the trade is monetary compensation for the solving of a problem. Why fix a problem that doesn’t exist though? Why provide a solution to something that isn’t wrong?
See, if I were to try to sell you a raincoat when it was 30 degrees out, you’d probably tell me I was crazy. In the same breath though, if I told you that it was going to be cold and rainy tomorrow and ask you how you were going to stay dry, the solution would likely be that you tell me you need a raincoat. I have one, and even though its raining out, you’re probably going to want it.
What I’ve found is that this key bit of advice extends much past sales though, and rings true in our daily lives too. Now, instead of trying to sell the things that I want to do on a Sunday afternoon, for example, I will sell why we shouldn’t do something that I don’t want to do, and let the people I’m with come to the conclusion that I was hoping for anyways.
Where I find this most interesting though, is how we can apply this to our daily lives, and what we want to get out of work. If we start addressing our own problems instead of trying to solve things we don’t think to be wrong, how is it that we can really ensure that we’re getting the most out of the action we’re making?
When I started Gen Y Inc. with Emerson Csorba, I often thought about the lifestyle I wanted to live, and the problems with the life I was currently living. In my life, I didn’t get the opportunity to travel as much as I would like. I learn the most when I’m in a situation I don’t understand well and so I wanted a job that could get me out of my comfort zone and learning a lot. To solve this problem, we had to create something remote and service based. This allowed me to solve a problem I addressed right away. The entrepreneurial path has simple been solving this problem by solving others first. This allowed for flexibility and the lifestyle I dreamed of.
Jim Dinning is a wise man that I look up to more and more, the better I under I understand. He asks the right questions at the right time, and always provides great advice. What he always asks first though, is ‘what’s the problem?’