One of my favorite conversations to have with people is, “How did you end up here?”
I frequently kid with folks (especially bankers) that few of us ended up in the jobs or careers we planned on while growing up. Of course, that assumes we had plans.
One of my earliest memories of grade school was the chart on the wall on which we declared what we wanted to be when we grew up. Every boy in our class except one was going to be an NFL player.
That one other guy was going to join the FBI. I don’t think we shared any secrets with him after that.
Even when we become older and more focused on careers, most of us end up with career paths that we simply could never have planned.
And often, unpleasant detours along the way later turn out to have been beneficial course corrections.
That came to mind when I recently heard the story that Robert De Niro was originally cast to play a minor role in the first Godfather movie.
Because Al Pacino had already committed to another movie, Francis Coppola “traded” De Niro to that movie in order to get Pacino freed up for his.
Through no fault of his own, De Niro missed out on being in what became the highest-grossing movie to date. That was quite a dispiriting event.
However, because he was not cast in that smaller role in the first movie, it became possible for him to be cast in the second one.
That role was the younger Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II.
De Niro won his first Academy Award and became a star. This could not have happened if he was not dropped from the first movie.
That career detour actually put him on a more-successful path.
Most of us regular folks’ career turns do not take place in such public ways. Still, it’s hard to find a successful person who doesn’t have stories about initially negative occurrences that they now look at much differently with the passage of time.
No one enjoys the setbacks and disappointments that come with careers that involve exposing ourselves to rejection.
Yet it’s often those same disappointments that actually prepare and position us for greater successes in the future.
The key lies in not dwelling on those rejections and not giving up. The next better opportunity, or promotion, or great new customer, may be just over the horizon.
But we only reach that horizon when we keep moving forward.
I’ve long had the habit of striking up conversations with cab drivers.
If they aren’t the talkative types, or if I get a vibe that a driver may be using every bit of his bandwidth to figure out where he is going, the chats don’t last long.
But they can often be pretty entertaining. And you know that no matter if you agree on everything or find yourself in debates, that ride is going to come to an end soon, and you’ll likely never see that person again.
Over the past year, these chats are happening more and more with Uber drivers. On a recent trip, the driver and I had a friendly chat/debate over whether Uber is “fair” to the taxi cab industry.
What I found especially interesting was that this Uber driver volunteered that he owned three taxis in the metro area I was in.
When I asked how that business was going, he said, “You see what I’m doing right now, right?”
As our chat progressed, he shared that he thought the problem was that Uber is not as regulated as cabs. He was sure that the “Uber experience” had to be more open for negative experiences because of its lack of regulation.
I asked him if he thought his three cabs were as clean as his personal vehicle that we were sitting in.
His initial reaction was to say “Yes!”, but a little more conversation convinced me he wasn’t certain.
I gave him my opinion that Uber cars were often cleaner, and the drivers seemed to care just a little bit more because they “owned” the experience. If it is a negative one, it is reflected on their ratings.
Yes, Uber’s technology is impressive. But technology can be replicated.
The fact that drivers in that system have more personal reasons to deliver superior experiences is not as easily copied.
I explained that I’m actually “old school”. I like cab drivers who know their cities and share local flavor with riders.
But, they seem harder to find.
In one system, regulators try to enforce minimum standards upon people not always personally motivated to meet them.
In another, people are usually more personally vested in delivering a positive experience to their customers.
Regardless of the business, the engagement levels of employees trump the technology they utilize…and quite often, even the prices charged.
Who personally owns your customer experiences?