P is for Pacesetters

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Pacesetters have a different kind of psychology. They take the lead, maintain the lead and extend the lead.

Dick Fosbury created a revolutionary method of high jumping. Sony invented the Walkman. Abraham Maslow gave birth to a new view of humanity.

Pacesetters recognise that there are many different levels of invention. Some ideas are incremental and help to improve existing approaches.

Some ideas are transformational and change the rules of the game. They introduce a new paradigm that enables people to see the world in a different way.

Thomas Kuhn popularised the term paradigm shift in his 1962 article on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He explained how breakthroughs in science sometimes come from seeing the world in a different way.

The example that is often quoted is the Earth once being considered the centre of the universe. Seeing that it actually revolves around the Sun enabled people to see reality in a different way.

Let’s return to pacesetting. Can you think of a person who you have known or heard about who has done pacesetting work? They may have done it in the area of education, sports, business, engineering, medicine, thought leadership or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a person you have known or heard about who did pacesetting work.

Describe the specific things they did to do pacesetting work.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of them doing this work.

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Pacesetters recognise that they can only lead the way in a specific activity for a certain length of time. Others will catch up by copying the ideas and maybe implementing these more effectively.

How to deal with this fact? Pacesetters sometimes move on to tackle other fascinating challenges. They then repeat the process of doing pioneering work in a particular field.

This has implications for people who want to build and sell pioneering companies. The old model was to build a business and sell it after perhaps three years. The owners would then spend another three years running the business to qualify for their earn out.

I have worked with many pioneering companies that have taken this route. Providing things went well, the founders might eventually pick up a huge cheque.

There were, however, downsides to this approach. Pacesetters like to do transformational work. They get bored staying in a business, making incremental improvements and following processes laid down by the new owners.

Some pacesetters are now taking another route towards building and selling pioneering companies. They realise that ideas are easily copied in a connected world.

Bearing this in mind, they are taking another approach. They are aiming to build and sell a company much more quickly, but for a smaller cheque. They see each new business as a project.

They aim to do pioneering work, deliver proof of concept and win several key customers. Pacesetters then sell the company for a reasonable amount, but not many millions, but do not stay around. They then go on to the next project.

Knowledge workers who have done pacesetting work sometimes take another route as they get older. They may choose to specialise in a specific area.

There are several reasons for taking this approach. The person may find a topic fascinating and want to delve deeper. They may also want to channel their energy in another way.

Pacesetting can take a lot of physical and mental energy, especially if somebody is leading a business. A person may decide they want to reflect, make sense of their experience and pass on their knowledge to other people.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, is there any specific activity in which you may want to do pacesetting work?

You may want to do this in the field of mentoring, counselling, education, engineering, marketing, medicine, science or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific activity in which you may want to do pacesetting work. 

Describe the specific things you can do to do pacesetting work in this area. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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