Mission Critical

In preparing to write this week’s post, I couldn’t help but think of a friend of mine.  Someone who is in his fifties and has a lot behind him in terms of experience and career. What made me think about him is how whatever he is working on at the time takes on a weight … of being something of such importance that it dominates thoughts and conversations.  It becomes mission critical to him.

To the outside observer, the “something” might not seem to be all that significant. In fact it may feel minor and something which is deserving of passing mention and a question or two, but it becomes that which drives him.  It is what gives him meaning in the world at that time.

Geoffrey Moore's Cycle of Innovation
Geoffrey Moore’s Cycle of Innovation

In my post last week, I spoke of Geoffrey Moore’s model of core vs. context, focusing on the definition of core and context.  The model is actually a 2 x 2 matrix with the vertical dimension being about core and context.  I’d like to explore the horizontal dimension this week – and the concept of mission critical.  In Moore’s model, mission critical activities are those where failure to execute can do serious harm or be fatal to a company.

When we combine this idea with the definition of core and context, we get a 2 x 2 matrix that Moore calls the cycle of innovation. As we see there is a flow to it as ideas start as non-mission critical inventions and then grow into something that differentiates the company.  Over time, competitors respond to this competitive advantage and work to neutralize it and thus shift it to more of a commodity which now needs to be managed differently in the market place, although they are still mission critical to the business.  Eventually, offerings are totally eclipsed within the market and companies extract their resources from it and re-purpose them into new offerings.

I’m wondering if there is a similar flow to the way we engage in our world?  Aren’t we always dreaming and planning for the future? Don’t we always have “ideas” we are kicking around?

“Wow life’s been fun but maybe I should get a real job.”

“Maybe its time to settle down and get married.”

“I didn’t realize kids took so much time … now that they’ve grown, I need to find some time for me”.

Those ideas often turn into reality and they really do become the core of our being.  But they change over time.  Jobs cease to become challenges and become work.  Marriage becomes family, family becomes responsibility, families grow up and leave home, leaving us with an empty sense of responsibility.

But do we still feel that the identity we created for ourselves as a productive professional, as a spouse, as a parent and caregiver is mission critical to who we have become?  Do we even notice that what was once core has now become context?  So when we find ourselves in that upper right quadrant of our personal core vs. context do we feel trapped?

In Moore’s model for business, he suggests that when concepts become mission critical context, resources become trapped as there is no upside but a lot of downside associated with not taking care of this quadrant.  We don’t invest in new innovations because we are too busy taking care of the old stuff.

Is there a parallel process at work for each of us? Do we develop skills and feed passions in a given stage of life that truly are core, but as we move on in life move to mission critical context and thereby hold us from moving on to the next chapter?

For example the young adult who has spent the past decade in self-actualization … experiencing life without parental guidance.  Her adventurous side as helped her develop new skills, make new connections and understand more of her interests in life.  But the overly social, party-based lifestyle is what she knows so she hangs on to it instead of putting her new-found skills to work in a more productive chapter.

Or my friend.  He found his productive chapter, and he excelled in it.  He built his identity around it and accumulated sufficient assets to make his life comfortable through retirement.  There’s a really joyful, creative, giving back potential chapter right in front of him with all the experience and wisdom he needs to be an amazing contributor, but what he sees is the downside of letting go of his past, that which feels like it is mission critical to his identity.

Release our bindings and renew!
Release our bindings and renew!

How can we be more deliberate about letting go of mission critical context ways of being? What if we embrace a new way of being valuable to ourselves and to others and build up a new set of mission critical skills? Once we know “what we will be next” can we then find ways to let go of what used to define us?

As leaders, how do we help others go through this process smoothly.  For example, how do we help a team member see that their core mission-critical analysis skills as a professional may become context as a leader and thus need to be offloaded to make room for leading, mentoring, coaching and planning?

Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

5 thoughts on “Mission Critical

  1. I love how you pose really important and intriguing questions — they open up possibility. Which is what I think is possible in your last question — offloading mission-critical context is necessary for leaders to inspire.

  2. You give some great examples of people at crossroads. That young lady gaining independence from her parents yet still clinging onto her ‘young-free’ image rather than stepping up to a level of greater responsibility; and the older voice of experience clinging on to his productive chapter rather than stepping back and giving back. There is a lot in this post to think about.

      1. The example you gave of the young woman… I really see my daughter there. She is fighting against the next stage in life (settling down and commitment). It is a fascinating topic, this one of transitions.

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