EPISODE 3: COLUMBUS BROWN

Episode 3
24:53

Podcast Excerpt:

“…in terms of letting your mentors know. I think a key part of that is understanding who you are and where you fit in in. You know, for me, I have an intention statement and it’s “to develop leaders to build communities of practice and to design meaningful things that impact the world and buy things”. It doesn’t necessarily have to be machines. It can be systems, organizations, ways of working. It took some significant self-work to really understand where I fit in into, you know, what are my skills, what are, what is my end goal? You know, what do I want to have said about me by my family, friends and the community at my funeral and then live every day of my life in that way? And so that statement for me reflects that.”

Episode Transcript:

Tracie:

Hello everyone, and welcome to the traceability podcast. I’m your host, Tracy Edwards. And today our guest is Columbus Brown. Columbus is a business strategy consultant with over 16 years of expertise in strategy transformation and market initiatives in business architecture and project management. He’s been a featured speaker at business analysis and project management conferences around the country. And we are so excited to have him here to share his story. So was there anyone that was sort of a, a mentor or someone that sort of saw something in you that would, um, help you be beneficial to that particular project or, and that kind of, um, led you that way, so to speak?

Columbus:

So ironically, a lot of my mentors were some of the top notch consultants from those consulting firms that I saw hand that are really solid engineering tools that I knew how to do a project or make mechanical things, but yet people to that and you had change and they’re very different. So one particular, um, consultant, you know, would come in and draw on whiteboards and you know, facilitate conversations and have these really neat analyses. And I just started sitting back and watching and picking up those soft skills and those techniques. And it really drew me in.

Tracie:

You know, that’s often something that we sort of, um, don’t pay as much attention to in our careers when he, when we have sort of those serendipitous moments where we’re on projects and working with, with people, um, that can sort of help us broaden our horizons a little bit. And it sounds like that’s, that’s what happened for you, sort of led you down a different path. How did you get into consulting at, at that point? Was it through some of those contacts that you had made or

Columbus:

so, so it was a weird, it was weird and ironic. So I was working with Microsoft and another consulting agency approached me and my capacity as I was over the SharePoint environment for my company and they approached me to do SharePoint type consulting at the same time. You know, I was looking at what’s going on at Microsoft and they approached me in terms of doing an interview and the general manager of this particular company just took me out to lunch. And so it was a awkward situation because I’m just from a conflict of interest standpoint, you know, this, uh, they were definitely conversations about, um, career for my PO point of view. But I also wanted to, you know, be just clear about if they’re going to work with the company. That felt a little weird. And so I told the company, Hey, why don’t you talk with my team? I’m gonna sit out of the conversations. I went lunch with this GM of this company and he was just very charismatic. I really liked where he was going. I found it as, um, United 10 years of experience, but not in consulting, but he was willing to bring me on the team and help me learn the consulting skillset. So he’s a major and he’s a major influence in that decision. And that’s how I made that transition. So

Tracie:

we, we often don’t work as hard as we probably should, uh, letting our mentors know where our interests lies or expressing that we might have an interest in something else and, and that kind of thing. Uh, something that I’ve learned as I’ve been talking with a lot of the folks on the podcast is, uh, the responsibility that we have to our own careers and that we’re responsible for sort of putting ourselves forward and taking advantage of those opportunities when they come to us. It’s not something that, that typically just sort of falls upon us. Right, so to speak. So, and it sounds like a, that was something that was important to you in your career as well,

Columbus:

you know, just adding to what you’re saying in terms of letting your mentors know. I think a key part of that is understanding who you are and where you fit in in. You know, for me, I have an intention statement and it’s to develop leaders to build communities of practice and to design meaningful things that impact the world and buy things. It doesn’t necessarily have to be machines. It can be systems, organizations, ways of working. Took some significant self-work to really understand where I fit in into, you know, what are my skills, what are, what is my end goal? You know, what do I want to have to be morbid, but what do I want to be, have said about me by my family, friends and the community at my funeral and the live every day of my life in that way. And so that statement for me reflects that.

Tracie:

That’s a great one. A lot of us feel somewhat lost on occasion as we’re trying to sort of figure out where do we want to go on our careers. And there’s always the sort of mantra to follow your passion and, and that kind of thing. But it sounds like, you know, you’re sort of more interested in the finding your purpose kind of thing. One of the ways that we do that is really just finding out what our gifts are and the, it sounds like that that was something, a process that you went through. Um, were there certain techniques or anything that you use to sort of the discover those things in yourself?

Columbus:

I met a good coach and, um, she walked me through a lot of that, um, for a period of time. And I also went to a leadership training where that was kind of the, it was a theme, you know, in terms of, you know, what are the blocks to you achieving the things that you want to achieve in life and how do you remove those blocks and just into your purpose. And it really colors for me what I do on a day to day basis because it’s either, it either fits in that or it doesn’t. Right. It makes things a lot easier.

Tracie:

Oh, I love that. It helps you sort of, um, winnow out the, the things that are maybe not as as useful to your intention statement. And I a big plug for coaching as well. I’ve been going through a coaching program the last year and a half or so and it’s been so beneficial. And it sounds like it was for, for you as well. So big plug for coaches and the work that they do to help us discover our gifts and talents. Segueing sort of into business architecture where you always sort of, um, at the business strategy kind of thing. And is that where the business architecture interest sort of came about for you or

Columbus:

So it all came down to a boat for me, you know, it came down to a boat, so went to engineering school and you know, you’re excited and you’re going to, they tell you you’re going to design these really exciting things and you get there and if you’re in production but you get to design a boat and you’re, you know, working on a boat and it could be holding really important things together. That was for me at that point, who is realizing that, um, I had gone to school and I wasn’t going to see the big picture was like the awakening for me. Right? So I, I shifted and I think it was around early two thousands. I went and I got my MBA and, um, I was, I was teased by my peers are like, you should get a master’s in systems engineering or a master’s in mechanical engineering or pursue the black belt curriculum.

Columbus:

And I was like, you know what? I don’t want to be that guy that, um, is, you know, and rightfully so that some people, that’s their life’s calling. But for me, I wanted the whole airplane. I wanted to see how things get together. And that shift was really when I started thinking about strategy and business architecture. When I went to business school, I got to see how the whole business worked together. And so when the quarterly report would come out, I’ve listened to the end of the investor call for my company and I would know which programs are going to be canceled because I had a better understanding of business strategy and what decisions were going to be made when I came to performance time. You know, it was less about, you know, Oh why did I get a four, three? It’s like, Hey do you like me this year because you and I both know this process is jacked up and you got to do some things that aren’t fair.

Columbus:

So this year you’re going to like me next year. Cause that’s what it’s really about, right? It’s opened my mind to thinking about the big picture and the blueprint. And how things fit together versus just the piece that I was alright. And I think as product owners and um, even as agile professionals, business analysts and project managers, often times we love what we’re doing and we’re all comfortable with it. But we ha we have a framework for a boat and the business architecture elevation of that where you’re getting to see a holistic picture of how everything fits together. Or then just an application or a rollout or a product of how does the whole business fit together. You know, where, what do we, what are the needs of the customer? How do those drive different products and services? You know, how do we reach those customers?

Columbus:

What are the costs that are going to be incurred in delivering value to a customer? What are the revenue themes that I’m going to receive? And then from an operation standpoint, what capabilities or what are the abilities that I need to achieve the business strategy or outcomes? Who would I need to partner with? And what specific resources do I need to deliver values? Just a business plan. But it’s a holistic way of looking at things. And you can take that at a big E enterprise level. You could take it out of the enterprise, you can take it at a business unit or a little business inside of a business, or you can take it down to a department level and [inaudible] you can even take it down to an individual level. What is my personal business model? How do I add value to other people’s cool. Um, what are my strengths, you know, who are my customer, you know,

Tracie:

So something that I have noticed, especially recently, most of my stakeholders are sort of on the operations side of things. And, I’m definitely quite interested in sort of that big holistic picture of, of everything. And I notice, how hard it is for organizations really to sort of take the long view. Especially when they’re tasked with, you know, meeting sort of, operational goals and, and that kind of thing. So what are some things that you recommend, I guess, both to people and to organizations to, um, sort of figure out a way to, to meet those goals while also sort of taking that long view?

Columbus:

That’s a good question. I think the first part is to understand, we have a very idealized view of how things work. And, um, to me it’s very simple. It’s about tribes, incentives and lobster. Let’s say I am a decision maker in an organization and I want to choose a piece of software, we’ll call it, um, sales board, right? We’ll call it sales board. So sales board. So the first thing is my tribe, my family or my significant other. How do I do what I need to do to provide for them or, or provide for myself or, you know, maybe I want a new BMW in three, or maybe I want a Corvette. Or like what’s important to me as an individual. That’s the first motivator, right? Um, so it could be like, Hey, I need to do X, Y, and Z because I want to send my kid to college.

Columbus:

Or, um, you know, the different things. My partner has a lifestyle that they’ve grown accustomed to and I support it, right? Is it true? What’s important around my tribe as an individual? Second part is incentive. The incentives in most corporations are siloed and so it’ll be around a department’s goal and it’ll tie back to that person. So we’ve already introduced to things that are conflicting with what you’re sharing about understanding the overall admissions goals and aligning it to strategies. A lot of, most of the decision makers, even the good ones, they have, their tribe comes first, second year incentives are benefit their tribe and their decision making is going to be based on that. Then you throw in, I said lobster, but it’s really sticking lobster. You get a sale and who comes and they have a really good steak and lobster dinner and they take the wine and dine you and they tell you how if you buy sales board, it’s going to benefit you because you achieve your incentives regardless of whether it’s successful.

Columbus:

But if you just deploy it and here’s a solution to a wicked problem, which we’re not going to get too much into that and it’ll benefit your tribe. I’ve just defined the silo. That is why the silos don’t talk. It’s because we’ve, we’ve allowed that type of sale to come in around technology and software. So we’re, we’re looking for, uh, we were looking for incentives that benefit us personally and we make those decisions based on, we had a great steak and lobster dinner. It’s gonna match up with my incentives. If I do this, I’m going to be a rock star, whether it makes sense or not and I’m concerned about my tribe. Then we get to what we encounter. Like your business analysts and you know, if you’ve been looking at sales board, but dynamic dynamics, BR BRM or whatever, it’s much better. And you know, because it’s what the company needs and you, you look at the end, you ask what are the requirements and the decisions are had been made.

Columbus:

We’re going with sales board, if that makes no sense. But did anyone talk to the other department? They, they already deployed sales board and they have an incidence of it and we’re deploying it. Again, that doesn’t make sense, right? That’s the, that’s the world that we live in and, and we’re reaching back trying to make sense of it. But most of those decisions are because of the way the corporations are structured and how people are incentive now. What if, if people were incentivized differently to collaborate, you might have different outcomes. So it’s a core problem and I think that that’s, that’s where we struggle. Um, have great facilitation. We can have safe, we can have frameworks, but it’s really not about those things, you know, it’s about, um, what’s most important to people who are making those decisions.

Tracie:

… that is such a great example and that’s certainly, you know, what I’ve run into and in my career and why I have sometimes struggled on things don’t make sense and, and that kind of thing. What would be some advice that you would give folks? Cause I know one of my frustrations over the years has been that that decision has already been made and that I sort of had no influence over that decision because I’m a little fish in a big pond kind of thing. So what, uh, what is some advice that you might give to folks when they sort of feel like they’re bumping up against that?

Columbus:

So three C’s. One, um, and let’s hope I can remember the RA, uh, three C’s – conflict, collaborate or conform. So you faced that situation, a little fish in the big pond and you know that sales board is not the right decision. So you can, you can create the conflict. You can say, I’m going to stand up. I’m going to say not by me. Most of the times what’s going to happen is you’re going to be murdered. So by you murdered, you might in your death and death could be career-wise or reputation wise or financially and your death. You’re going to make a point. And that might start a revolution that changes things, right? But you’re, you’re, you’re going to take a personal hit to buck against the system. That’s the conflict, right? We all understand we can go along with it conform and say, Hey, you know, it’s, it’s my three and, and that’s good with me or my four and no more.

Columbus:

Or like you can say it’s about my tribe and you know, I’ll just trade off whatever it is and take the financial benefit or not get into it and I’ll just go along with it. And the other one is to create and we forget that it could be a couple of things. It could be reframe the problem in a different way and create a different solution to it. Create a new system. It could be, um, as drastic as, Hey, I’m going to leave this organization and do my own thing and create something new that fulfills what my, what my intention statement and my purposes and go do that. So you could create something from scratch or you could create another department know. And there’s some folks who have been in that situation who that’s launched their business architecture career because they saw that there’s something greater that needed to happen. And so they, they on one hand, they conform to how it was while at the same time they created a whole different department that Rose up and address those things, cross silos inside of an organization.

Tracie:

Yeah. I always find that, that fascinating how, um, the, the creators are able to, to sort of, um, balance that kind of thing. So what’s coming up for you? How are you doing? Um, with sort of the COVID 19 craziness right now and

Columbus:

the initial reaction for me, like everyone is shock, fear. Um, we just, these are different times, you know, no one, no one could first see the economic and total things that have just happened over, um, disease. You know, like no one saw this coming. You know, if you have strategy, if you have a big strategy document, you need to rip it up because it’s all irrelevant. It’s a different world. The future doesn’t look good. There’s a lot of things that could lead to civil unrest. A lot of, lot of bad. Right. You know, it’s kind of shocked, like, you know, my, my whole world is changing. Our whole world is changing. My son’s world is changing. My wife’s world is changing my, it affects everybody. You know, my family, my friends, I have a different view. Like I, I, I believe in the good of humanity.

Columbus:

And I think that this is actually a time for us to just come to reckoning about who we really are. And, um, it’s, you know, are we going to be selfish or are we going to keep to ourselves in terms of not just our toilet paper and sanitizer and other things, but are we gonna show true humanity and reach out to our fellow woman and fellow man and, um, use the gifts and skills and abilities and talents that we’ve had to show, like in humanity. And that might, that might seem a bit philosophical, but it’s really nice, you know, like, are we gonna choose to be selfish? Are we gonna choose to embrace and help one another? And, uh, we were, we were one of the most connected. We’re, we’re so connected, you know, right now, and I’ve seen some beautiful things, you know, looking out my window.

Columbus:

I’ve seen families walking together. I’ve seen kids actually go outside and get off their tablet and play. You know, I’ve seen families figuring out situations and working through, um, balancing the workload at home, sharing responsibilities. I’ve seen people, um, step up and go grocery shopping and you know, there is, um, for other people, you know, there was a sheriff recently said on Twitter something like, what if the store is opened or opened early and let, um, our elders go in early and, and that became the norm. So I think this is really a, a time for everyone, including me. You know, like, you know, do I want to secure my lifestyle and make revenue, but how can I help my city, you know, how can I help my, how can I help my neighbors through this and not be afraid of the disease, but be, I’m charged with light, you know, and, and good and do good things.

Columbus:

And, um, you know, I’m, I’m even challenged in the stuff I know around business architecture. Can I take that to my city? And how out set a challenge for myself that you guys can help me accountable, hold me accountable to that I reach out to my local government and see how I can help out and help with, um, strategy around the biggest thing that’s happening right now that is concerning, which is we don’t have enough capacity in our hospitals if this disease really quickly and how can we go in or around that and help regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or libertarian, you know, we all bleed red, we all bleed red blood and we’re human and how can we help each other in the States? And how can we help our global community with the resources we have? So I don’t know if that was what you’re asking, but um, that’s, that’s really where I think we’re at.

Tracie:

I love that because I think, um, tribes and incentives, it’s really easy to sort of want to stick with that set status quo and um, be, be frightened about anything that might be impacting that status quo. But I think it’s also a time for, like you say, encouraging, um, new conversations the we might not typically be having, um, or pursuing, um, in sort of our regular regular world kind of thing. And, um, so I really appreciate that. I think it’s a really positive message and it’s a very hopeful message and I think those are the messages that we need at this particular time that the way through is not to sort of shrink from the conversations, but to pursue the conversations and to pursue different things that might be a little difficult or a little challenging kind of thing. And so, um, I really appreciate you, you sharing that message and I’m anxious, uh, to get a report back from you on how those conversations go within your local government. And in that, I think, uh, you’ve definitely got the, the skillset and the attitude for helping them out there. If folks want to connect with you, what’s sort of the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Columbus:

Two ways. Um, LinkedIn, Columbus, Brown MBA, and the other one is on a company site fromhereon.com, we’re doing really great things, not just for companies but also for municipalities and governments. And so if you want to hear more about how you can use business architecture and design thinking to impact the world and realize what’s possible, check us out fromhereon.com

Tracie:

well thank you and we definitely will be checking out from here on.com for those of you listening today, if you’ve liked what you’ve heard or if there’s something that resonated with you, uh, your call to action today is to leave me a comment at traceabilitypodcast.com or send me an email at tracie@traceabilitypodcast.com and just let me know what action you feel inspired to take as a result of our show today and Columbus, some really excellent takeaways and I thank you so much for your time this evening and look forward to hearing more from you.

Columbus:

Thanks. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share.

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