I arrived at the coffee shop on the first floor of her apartment building in Arlington, Virginia, early. Dory Hollander made her appearance on time, as always, and dressed to the nines. I admired her effort. We both knew this would be our last meeting. Cancer would take her within a few weeks.
Dory Hollander had been my business coach for almost all the years it took me to scale my consulting firm and successfully take it through a liquidity event. She was more than a coach. She was at times a family therapist helping me and my partners avoid implosion. I had learned to trust her advice and over time she became a friend.
As we came to the end of our reminiscing about our trials, tribulations, and eventually victory in the realm of business building I could see fatigue setting in and I knew it was time to say goodbye. Before we parted, Dory said, "So aren't you going to ask me?"
"Ask you what?"
"Aren't you going to ask me what final advice I have for you, Chris?"
So I did. "Dory, what is your final advice to me?"
She replied, "It's the same advice my teacher gave to me when I asked him that question just before he died. In all those years since, I have not been able to improve upon it."
I leaned in. Dory said four words. "Be intentional. Persist variously." I said, "That's it?" And she said, "Yes." That was the last time I saw her alive.
That was six years ago. And I totally get it now. Intention is more than a stated desire. Intention is the key that unlocks all the gifts the universe has to offer.
Here's a scenario that everyone can relate to. You tell a friend you might like to travel to Africa someday, and they might respond, "So let's go get a beer." But tell someone that you have decided to go to the Massa Mara in Kenya, and they might say, "Oh, you must call Cindy and Lisa at Virgin Bush. They are the ultimate guides in that region. Here is their number."
That's what happened to me. I called that number and my wife and I along with our six kids and their two grandmothers had a life changing experience. And it happens all the time.
Be it travel, business, or family, when I am intentional about something, I end up on the receiving end of gifts from the universe that I did not know existed. I know now that the clearer I am about what I want, the better the chances of getting what I want. This is why I advocate for precision and specificity in corporate planning.
The second part of Dory's final advice, "persist variously," ensures I do not get overly attached to any specific action plan. I have seen many leaders and organizations miss out on opportunities and fail to achieve intended outcomes because they are so committed to one approach.
Remember Kodak? Kodak was so focused on maintaining its core business that it failed to see there were other ways and other lines of business in store for the camera industry. Now Kodak is a small player that lost most of the market share to other companies that were willing to put cameras in the hands of consumers using whatever emerging technology they could.
Instead of focusing on one path and one plan like Kodak, it's critical to focus on a specific outcome or goal that you want to achieve. This will allow you to have a big-picture view and anticipate when you need to adjust your plan to accomplish what you set out to do. If you are too committed to one plan, you could miss warning signs.
Armed with clear intention, you can train yourself to expertly maneuver around inevitable roadblocks and inhibitors you may encounter. Grit and determination are the foundation for persisting variously.
How Steve Jobs used intentionality and persistence to succeed.
If you look at Steve Jobs's career path, you will notice that he was intentional and he persisted variously, which ultimately contributed to his success. Both Jobs (and Apple) came back from the brink of failure more than once, and they were able to do this because Jobs was intentional and persistent.
Jobs set out to create a "computer for the rest of us." He failed to achieve this goal after two unsuccessful attempts to find Apple's niche. Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985 due to the company's poor sales. He was out, but he wasn't down. Jobs went on to found NeXT Computer Company, which would later be acquired by Apple and put Jobs back in Apple's CEO seat.
A series of well-timed partnerships and a better understanding of market needs led to Jobs's (and Apple's) success. Steve Jobs is now an inspiration for entrepreneurs and successful business leaders across the globe.
"We started out to get a computer in the hands of everyday people, and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." --Steve Jobs
So here's the hack.
Whether you are an entrepreneur with a dream or a team leading a major company forward, always appear to others as intentional and persistent, whether you feel this way or not. Show up as intentional and have a reputation of being persistent. In the event you have some "intentionality meltdown," quietly go into your thinking closet and do what you need to re-establish intentionality and refocus on your goal.
And although I advocate the value of having a specific plan, I encourage getting plans done quickly. Endless planning is where the weak hangout to avoid any possibility of shame, embarrassment, or failure. Bottom line: Do whatever you have to as quickly as you can to establish and sustain intentionality, and, with that intentionality, persist variously until you realize it.