Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

I Learned A Lot In 2015

Winston Churchill

In so many ways, 2015 was a transformative year for me. There was no denying that “change is the only constant” was alive, well and all so very true. Each year, following the sentimentality that comes from the New Year, I take some time to think back on the past year and outline what I’ve learned. Knowledge is a lifelong quest. To me, that’s always been the beauty of it. 2015, the year I turned 36, was a big one.

  1. For the first time in my career, I found myself leading a team of subject matter experts that were much more the expert than I. Earlier in the year, one of my favorite colleagues and best work friends, left Walgreens to pursue an amazing opportunity. His team was transitioned to me. What an honor. I mean that. What a team he built. Smart, hard working, efficient and definitely subject matter experts. Every year, they could forget more than I could ever learn, about their disciplines. A first for me. A humbling experience. So what did I learn? To start with, how much fun it is to be truly not be the smartest person in the room. Every would be, self-help book, always says, surround yourself with smart people, so that you’re not the smartest person in the room. After living it for the past ~6 months, it’s exhilarating. You listen more. You speak less. When you speak, you ask questions. When you ask those question, there’s a split-second where you wonder, if what you’re asking, is a dumb question (usually, it’s not). I always knew my friend’s team was smart, but had no idea, just how sharp they were, til I spent meaningful time with them.
  2. In leading this new team, it was somewhat comforting to know there were still many things I could bring to the table to help them become better. That’s always the question I have for myself; how can I help my team-members become better. For example, in quickly recognizing that I wouldn’t be able to teach them new tricks/techniques to improve their daily craft, I could play the role of connector and instead bring to the table other subject matter experts, from different companies, that they could exchange ideas with. If I wasn’t going to be the expert, the least I could do is introduce them to other experts.
  3. Time management became a challenge as our new team approached ~40 members. I had to learn how to prioritize better than I’ve ever done before. I also had to re-think how to allocate time to spend with my team. It would be impossible to spend an hour with each person, every week, but were there are decisions I could make to ensure the each person on the team felt connected. This is work in progress. When you have a large team, with staff in different states, countries and continents, who are working on initiatives big and small, it’s a constant juggling act to stay connected.
  4. Early on in my career, I was taught to make sure you understand how dollars flow, how decisions are made and who influences perception of risk. More simply put, make friends with finance, legal and business operations. In a year where we formally finished acquiring a company, changed many of the players in the C-level seats, lost our CMO and announced the acquisition of another company, that advice helped ease the pain of change. Understanding how to navigate a large complex organization, is a skill that can often supersede your subject matter expertise’s value.
  5. We’re still trapped by the usage of old methods to evaluate new opportunities. Learning how to frame up the future in a way that fits into the containers of the past, is a challenge. Organizations, by design, are not wired or motivated to make changes that can’t be substantiated by the models, tools and methodologies that are broadly adopted and historically accepted. For example, a colleague of mine, laments that his paid search budget, while showing a ~7X return in pure .Com performance ($1 a click leading to $7 baskets) would seem like a great thing, the overall spend for paid search in his organization, is not big enough to be measured by their Marketing Mix Analysis (aka MMX) partner. Thus, his spend has been flat every year, for the past 3 years. Old methods for evaluating new media are hindering growth.
  6. On the personal side, my continued investment in snowboarding has been rewarding. Ever since I turned 30, I try learning something new, every year. Last year, was snowboarding. I took lessons. Purchased gear. Visited Jackson Hole and Park City. What a joy! This year, I’m picking up boxing and target shooting.
  7. I finally understood the nervousness, passion and craziness that comes from watching your kids play sports. My daughter, Cora, plays league basketball and this year is playing on the traveling team. What a rollercoaster of emotions. Her league team went to the finals, where they lost. As a parent, theres such a balance to be had, in coaching your kids, but not pushing them too hard…in cheering, but not embarrassing them…in wanting to curse out the ref, but not issuing restraint. I think I almost had a heart attack in every game.
  8. Last year and rolling into the New Year, I realized, I’m going to have to learn how accept that at 8 and 6, these kids are becoming completely independent. Case in point, John decided he wanted to come to Chicago to celebrate New Years and hang out with dad. But, Cora, while appreciating the offer, declined, because she had “plans.” You’re 8! You have plans! But, that’s the new reality. We’re rapidly approaching the inflection point where dad is no longer cool and my kids would rather hang out with their friends!
  9. The hunt can sometimes be more enjoyable than the treasure. In 2015, I hunted down the 5 bourbons/whiskeys I’ve always wanted to own, but could never find. In order of price/rarity: A.H. Hirsch 16, Michter’s 20, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Parker’s Heritage: Promise Of Hope, Black Maple Hill Small Batch. The Hirsch and Michter’s, while universally celebrated were just good IMHO. Black Maple Hill’s hype never delivered for me. But, Promise of Hope…WOW! So good, I tracked down 5 additional bottles and grossly overpaid relative to MSRP. But, it was so worth it! That said, on the whole, the hunt was far more fun than the actual prize. I wonder if this is how Tinder users feel?
  10. Things are awesome. They really are. I have a drone (don’t fly it in the house, trust me), a hover-board (haven’t fallen, but once!), shoes, etc. But, it’s a handful of experiences, most of which were fairly inexpensive, that are far more memorable. In 2016, I’ll be investing more in experiences and less in things.

Like I said, 2015 was a big year. Lots learned. Lots to build on!