"No man is an island." This is the first line of John Donne's famous poem "For Whom the Bell Tolls," written back in 1624 as part of his private notes, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.
Also popular in corporate circles is the story of a butterfly flapping its wings causing a hurricane: a small event far away that creates a large impact. While some of the nuance is usually lost, the point remains that we can be affected by events outside ourselves.
Surroundings are important, as they determine in large part what the effect will be of actions we take. The better we know our surroundings, the more effective we can be.
All of the things happening around you, as well as how you engage the world, are part of your surroundings. They can be broken into four levels and five types.
The four levels of Surroundings move from the macro level of world events and currency fluctuations, as well as the micro level of teams, daily interactions, and your personal connections. Some examples are below to get you started.
- Macro: Having an understanding of world events may seem almost too far removed to consider, but think about some of the dramatic changes to the American workplace over the past 20 years. The rise of the Internet has allowed for more remote working arrangements. At the federal level, recent legislative and executive decisions have directed an abundance of resources towards green energy and environmentally friendly products. The actions and reactions between the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury, government-sponsored agencies, and large players in the financial services industry have changed the landscape of banking, finance, and how money flows for years to come.
- Med: A step closer to your daily life may include things like state highway planning and what that means for your business, real estate holdings, or territory expansion. If agricultural subsidies were refused at the state level, it may impact pricing and business at your retail grocer, your favorite restaurants, and even at the pump (ethanol is a government subsidized fuel that often uses the same manufacturing input as feedstock). The livability of a region is a key driver in attracting both high quality talent and high quality employers.
- Micro: This is your town, city, or close network, and the links become easier to make to your daily life. Commute time is a very real driver of work satisfaction, and may be a factor in selecting your next role (even in the same company). The rise and fall of local media and advertising venues can have a very real impact on sales revenue and profits. Taxes levied by municipal governments may change the way employees are compensated.
- Work: The work level includes the teams, individuals, systems, and processes you interact with on a daily basis. They directly affect your satisfaction, productivity, and ability to get work done in the most efficient manner possible.
It's important to note that influence doesn't only go one way. You are part of others' surroundings, and have differing degrees of influence across the different levels and types. Seminal thinker Daniel Goleman refers to "social intelligence" as the enlargement of emotional intelligence beyond the individual "to a two-person psychology," and writes that our connections with each other have a tendency to influence the well-being, emotional state, and actions of both.
The five types are guidelines for your thinking, and you will find some overlap in the examples that come to mind. The five types are defined as:
- Regulatory, Compliance, and Legal: If you've ever taken a class called Legal Environment of Business, studied for FINRA licensure, or earned your CPA, you've touched a bit of this world. These are all the legal and regulatory parameters within which you and your business must operate.
- Area Competitive Position: This one is about comparing your environments with others around you. How your city, county, region, state, and nation stack up with others is one example. The metrics can be things like GDP, culture, livability, talent, per capita income, education, roads, etc.
- Industry: Understanding what's happening in your industry, be it financial services, energy, or retail.
- Company: Get a new CEO recently? Is there a culture change happening? What are the latest initiatives and projects, and just as importantly which ones are winding down?
- Function / Role: Staying fresh on where your function or role is headed, what skills and abilities are needed for you to remain viable, as well as team dynamics.
As a bonus, that John Donne poem is below.
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by John Donne. 1624, from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of they friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.