As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. – Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
Let’s talk about transformation today.
In the last post we looked at a technique to look back at your career in terms of stages.
Along the way you’ve done much, achieved much.
But how have you changed things?
That’s what we need to find out next.
What is a transformation?
The essence of transformation is in taking something in, doing something with it and pushing something out.
You could have a transformation that does nothing – and that could be because of the input what happens in the process of transformation.
For example, if you just pour water through a sieve, nothing happens – the water drains out even through the sieve’s purpose is to hold something back.
But if you use a sieve to drain a saucepan of potatoes you’ve put on the boil you’ve transformed wet potatoes into dry ones.
Transformations are all around us.
Everything we see that’s made by humans has involved taking in raw materials, doing something to them and producing something different.
It’s the most fundamental act of human creativity and every single manufactured thing that you see in front of you right now is an example of how it’s done right – how raw materials turn into a finished product that someone like you is willing to buy.
It’s a concept that’s so ubiquitous that we don’t always recognise that’s it’s happening so it’s worth spending a little time digging into what this means for you.
What have you made today?
Let’s start with something simple.
What did you make today?
What raw materials did you gather and shape into a product that someone else found valuable?
Arguably, everything you do meets that criteria.
As long as you haven’t spent the last eight hours asleep in bed or in front of the TV, you’ve been doing things that involve transformations, even if it’s just for your benefit.
You’ve transformed a sink full of dirty dishes into a sink free of dirty dishes.
You’ve transformed dirty clothes into clean ones.
As I write these words, I’m working on transforming an idea on a slip of paper into a small essay on the subject.
The thing to remember about transformations – the absolutely essential point – is that something has to change.
If something doesn’t change it’s all just talk.
Which transformations matter
If everything humans do is some kind of transformation then which ones matter – which ones create value?
Value is something that is created in the eyes of the person who benefits from the transformation.
The same activity can be classed as a transformation or a waste of time depending on how the observer sees things.
The easiest way to see this is to think about any kind of expert consultancy activity.
The first thing a consultant will do is transform facts into an opinion.
For example, a lawyer may give you an opinion on whether the facts of the situation surrounding your dismissal justify bringing a claim against your employers.
If the opinion favours what you want to do then you might judge it worthwhile.
If it doesn’t, you might judge it worthless.
If you see an opinion that is negative as one that has potentially saved you from spending a lot of money fruitlessly then you might judge it worthwhile.
Value is a layer of perception built on something that passes for an agreed reality.
We agree I have transformed something into something else – for example, an idea into an essay in this post.
You judge if that was worth doing, if it is valuable.
What valuable transformations have you done in the past?
This idea of transformations is something that you need to take a good look at if you want to get started on that new business or project.
It’s not enough to have skills, to say that you can do something and are available for hire.
That’s just a job – one for which you’re either paid a steady salary or an irregular one, depending on how you’re hired.
But it’s not a business.
You have to look back at your career and look for examples of where you helped someone in a situation move to a better situation.
In business, this often comes down to increasing revenues, cutting costs or improving operations.
Preferably all three.
For example, if your marketing services helped a client understand what their customers needed better, created a focused project scope that meant they could make it with fewer resources and associated costs and, in the process, cut down their sales conversion from 12 months to 6 weeks, you have an example of a valuable transformation.
The more experience you have the more of these examples you will have to draw on.
Think back over your career and life so far, and list the times when you did something that was transformative and valuable.
These are the examples around which you can build your story.
But what if you don’t have any yet – what if you don’t have anything to talk about?
If you haven’t got a past, you first have to create one before you can move forward.
Let’s talk about that in the next post.