Your personal development toolkit

A few tools will help you better yourself in relationships and on the job.


John SuzukidaOn my den shelves is a collection of books, some great, some good. A common element among them is that they use many words to communicate a small number of concepts, making them patience-testers to find kernels of useful information. Here, I’ve distilled some key concepts to consider including in your personal development toolbox.

Customer requirements: No matter what you do, thinking from the perspective of the end-user or client makes for stronger results. Whether in product design, business, or other initiatives, establishing a reference point of what the customer needs or where the audience is coming from works. Often, internal company issues can become turf wars, or battles of opinion. Pointing toward real, external needs helps everyone involved keep the right perspective and helps avoid internal political battles that don’t add value. 

Win-win: The importance of this concept is that as you negotiate—in business or life in general—you should truly look for mutual success rather than an “I win, you lose” result. This builds long-term relationships and long-term success. It sounds simple and it can be, with practice. When you practice a win-win philosophy, you will find that it develops trust and often moves others to help you accomplish what needs to be done. They want you to succeed because you help them succeed. 

The goal: Here is one book recommendation: “The Goal, A Process of Ongoing Improvement” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. In a very readable format, it teaches that the weakest link in a chain defines its strength. That deep understanding applied to many circumstances helps you focus on the biggest obstacle and not get lost in the forest for the trees. While the concept is simple, it is often difficult to practice in real-life situations. This phrase captures the essence of the book’s teachings: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” (from Steven Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”). Find your bottleneck/biggest obstacle, eliminate it, move on to the next bottleneck/biggest obstacle, and so on. Don’t get confused by things that aren’t as important as the main thing. 

Unshakeable facts: This is a concept that drove Harold Geneen, CEO of ITT Corp. Although his tenure was decades ago, this concept endures. You hear a lot of things—some true, some not—and most of the time you have to make decisions with incomplete data. It’s critical to be able to distinguish an “unshakeable fact” from things that may be presented as fact but in reality are not. Knowing that you’re dealing with conjecture or an assumption rather than an unshakeable fact makes a difference. If an outcome of any event is not as expected, you can better pinpoint why. What’s unshakeable? “The failure rate on these motors during the first year of warranty period is 1.9%.” What’s not unshakeable? “Our motor reliability is pretty good, not a problem,” or the other extreme, “We have a motor failure epidemic.” 

Communication: Surveys indicate that more people are afraid of public speaking than of dying. Stand out by not being one of them. Being able to clearly articulate your thoughts separates you from the masses, no matter how qualified or intelligent are those masses. Toastmasters International is an organization that can help you hone your public speaking skills. You don’t have to be an expert in speaking to dozens or hundreds of people; being able to express yourself clearly, succinctly, and confidently in meetings can be your goal, with surprising results. 

Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on energy efficiency, product-to-solutions transitions, and strategy. He has facilitated meetings for the West Coast Zero Net Energy Coordinating Council, Daikin, Danfoss, and the National Conference on Building Commissioning, and has authored articles for industry publications. He has a BSME and distinguished alumnus award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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