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Thoughts from Rick Snyder

October 30, 2020

By Rick Snyder, originally featured in our September/October edition of FOCUS Magazine.

LAST WEEK, I PRESENTED AT CAMPUS Party Digital 2020 on “Navigating a Path in an Accelerating World.” I picked this topic because many people, particularly young adults, are feeling very stressed about how to engage in the world today and in the years ahead. I have been studying this issue for decades, beginning with my own career.

This topic could be an entire book; but I wanted to keep it simple—three underlying assumptions, six principles to navigate by and two important items to address.

Here are three underlying assumptions that I use as part of my decision-making process:

1. The Velocity of Change in Our World is Accelerating

Social media, smartphones with their video capabilities, and technological innovations replacing workers have become the norm. All of these items and many others are forcing us to address more changes coming at an ever-faster pace. It has become too much for many of us to handle in a rational fashion. Some people are simply getting overwhelmed, leading to major mental health challenges.

2. The Globalization of Our World Will Continue

The world has become much more connected. What’s happening in one place quickly spreads throughout much of the rest of the world. Generally, this is a good thing. The more we understand and know about one another, the better we can understand how to handle our differences. This should lead to a more peaceful world long-term. But, it also has a major downside as we have seen with the COVID pandemic. The speed at which this virus has spread around the world has been scary.

3. Whatever Your Plan is, it Will Turn Out Differently

As you will see, I believe it is critically important to have a plan for your future. But there are too many independent variables in this world, so it is highly unlikely your vision will happen as planned. You need to be flexible in your plan and realize as things progress, there will be zigs and zags to your path. Don’t assume all of these deviations are bad, as many surprises could end up being a good thing. The worst answer is not choosing your direction since the world will choose it for you.

The Six Principles of Navigation are:

1. Develop a Clear Direction

Having a clear direction in one’s life seems like a simple item, but most people don’t really think about this need. It can seem like a daunting task. Just do it! What are your goals in life, what are reasonable time periods, what do you need to do to accomplish your goals, and who would you want to be with you on this journey?
My goal was really simple—to help people. I broke it down into three parts. First, I wanted to have a career in business to learn about the world most people are in and to do well enough that I could do the next two phases. Second, I wanted to move to a career in the public sector where the focus was helping people on a larger scale. Third, I want to continue helping people on a smaller, more personal, scale.

2. Build Trust

Trust is having people believe in your honesty and reliability. Trust is earned by doing what you said you were going to do. Trust is a precious item that can disappear quickly if you aren’t honest and reliable. This is an area where first impressions do matter.

It is important when you meet someone new that you start building trust. Also, trust is a two-way street. When you first engage with someone, the topic of who trusts whom first comes up implicitly or explicitly. I believe in showing trust in someone to build a relationship. It is a risk, but worth it in order to expand your world. There is a great phrase—trust, but verify. Try it!

3. Earn Respect

Trust and respect are like cousins. I view that to be respected, you need to be trusted. But you also need to show you are a person who accomplishes things. You need to show meaningful and measurable results. Also, I believe respect involves showing you truly care and want to help others achieve success.

4. Manage Risk; Don’t Avoid it

This point is a big one. Most people avoid risk in their life. Avoiding dangerous or crazy risks makes common sense. But, if you really want to live life, you need to take some risks and understand you may fail. I was a start-up person much of my life.
I have always told people that an inventor/founder is not a fully rational person. I also said it was great that they were trying something new since they saw something the rational world didn’t see, and they were dedicated to bringing their creation to the rest of us. Many of these ideas failed; but they improved the world by trying and the inventor often became even stronger and better in the long run.

You shouldn’t avoid risk; you need to manage it. My personal model is to always develop a Plan B along with Plan A. If your original plan doesn’t happen, what are you going to do? Having thought through Plan B gave me more confidence to push ahead with Plan A. I have gotten down to Plan E, F or G in some cases, which I will admit becomes stressful.
One other key item is for people who manage others. A great manager is not one who does all the work, but helps the people they are responsible for become great managers or great contributors themselves. To do this right, you need to learn to manage risk and help others learn this skill.

5. Constantly Learn

You should have expected this point from a nerd! Continually work on learning new things, work on continuous improvement, and try new innovations. All of these items can help move you toward your goals and occasionally can significantly accelerate your progress.

An important item is to learn the most from your mistakes and what doesn’t go right. Use these experiences to make you a better person. Pass these key lessons on to others. When I mentor people, I always tell them that one of my goals is to help them avoid the dumb things I have done in life.

6. Be Positive

I firmly believe it is important to work on always keeping a positive attitude. The phrase “Relentless Positive Action” (RPA) rose out of this belief. RPA means no blame, no credit, define the problem, and be relentless in pursuit of a solution. It works!

The Two Key Items to Address are:

1. Mentorship

I am a huge believer in mentorship. I have had wonderful mentors in my life and they have defined who I am. At this moment, I believe the role of mentors has never been more important. As the velocity of change continues to accelerate and people have more anxiety over this pace, the best answer is to have a trusted guide who provides good counsel and advice. I will write more about this topic in the future.

Also, mentorship is a two-way street. I have had the good fortune to mentor some great people. I have learned a lot from them. What do you get for being a mentor? It’s simple: you have helped someone and hopefully they will help someone else, including you.

2. Balance in Life

During my college and early work career, I was a workaholic. My life was about my career. Over time, it became clear that this wasn’t a good long-term situation. I give Sue, my wife, credit for bringing balance in my life. Thank you!

I also credit Jeff, our oldest child, for being a big help. Thank you! He will like this shout out, but I hope he remembers that all of our kids are equally wonderful in their own way. Sue has always been an independent person, but when our first child arrived he was dependent on us. I will always remember coming home after work when he was young and him running to me for a hug. He didn’t care whether I had the best or worst work day in my life, he just wanted love. Having a balance between your work and home life will make you better at both.

I hope you find this article helpful. It is taking what could be a book and condensing it down to a five-minute read: three assumptions, six principles and two key items. Please pass it on to others who might benefit from it. Also, feel free to comment to add your own thoughts on what you have learned and what works for you—or maybe what hasn’t!

Remember, Relentless Positive Action in your life will help you and others. So, I wish you RPA every day!

Article originally published in July 2020 on

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