Tag Archives: growth

Which Step Am I On?

image of question mark

Which Step Am I On?

Where am I in my current situation?

 An Art of the Question Blog

We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?

                                                                   –        Steve Jobs

Sorry I’ve been away so long. You see, I recently started a new job. But I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps a bit of background is in order here.

I have worked in the wireless industry for nearly 20 years. From early in my career, I was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to move into disciplines outside my initial area of expertise. For example, I was hired as part of the accounting group. From there I went on to manage the State level financial analysis team. Later, I managed customer operations and currently I am part of  the network engineering management team.

This movement has broadened my experience and expertise as a manager. It has also made me a stronger leader. It was a great way to give me a better understanding of the industry, the company and all its disciplines. At the same time, it gave the company good insight into my strengths and lesser strengths.

OK, now that we have that out of the way… recently I started a new job in yet another part of our company. As I have been working to get my arms around the new responsibilities, I was reminded about the Stairway to Competence.

In The Boss, I wrote about Dean, a young man who worked in a fast food joint. During his time there, he met The Boss, who became his mentor. The Boss taught him life lessons that revolutionized his thinking. Those lessons changed the way he looked at work. They changed the way he approached things that needed to be done. They changed how he interacted with other people. The time that Dean spent with The Boss put him on a new path that led to success in pretty much every area of his life.

One of the lessons Dean learned was the Stairway to Competence. The Boss taught Dean how a person grows when they start a new experience. The journey is defined in four steps: Confusion, Confirmation, Clarity and finally, Competence.

Confusion – When we begin a new job, a new hobby, a new process, a new – well, you get the picture – whenever we begin anything new, we start out on the first stair. It is called Confusion. In the Confusion stage, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what questions to ask. We don’t even know all the things we don’t know! As we begin to understand the players, key points, actions, tasks, steps and other parts of the new assignment, we move to the next phase. That is the second step, called Confirmation.

Confirmation – As you can imagine, the first stair of Confusion is very humbling, especially if you have just left a job, situation or assignment in which you were at the top of your game. Maybe you have changed careers, or moved to a different role within your existing company. No matter what the reason, starting over is tough. That’s what makes this second level of Confirmation such a key part of the process.

In the Confirmation stage, be patient with yourself. As the “newbie”, you need frequent encouragement. When you do something right, it helps to have it affirmed. When you do something wrong, a gentle correction is in order.  (As a manager, a good rule of thumb if you are working with someone in this stage is to complement them when they do the right thing, and gently guide them if they make a mistake). When we are on this stair, we know what we don’t know because someone is telling us. The goal at this point is to build confidence to propel us to the next step. That stair is called Clarity.

Clarity– This is the stage where we begin to have a little spring in our step. We speak a little louder and with a little more confidence. We speak up in meetings. We offer input. We have begun to “connect the dots” and better understand the relationships between the things we are learning. Our growth at this point is accelerating.

In the Confusion stage we didn’t always recognize what we needed to know. In the Confirmation stage we began to learn, but often the knowledge was “piecemeal”, without a full context. It is in the Clarity stage that these disparate pieces of information begin to coalesce. We begin to put the puzzle together. Things become clearer and our confidence grows along with our understanding. We know what we know if we think about it.

 The Four Stairs





Competence– As the pieces come together in the Clarity stage, we fill in the gaps. Our knowledge increases and we move more fluidly through the task, the job or whatever we are doing. Ultimately we reach the top stair, the final stage of Competence. At this level, most of our responses are intuitive.

In the Confusion stage we lacked understanding, in the Confirmation stage we understood if someone gave us direction. In the Clarity stage we had a grasp on the knowledge, but still had to think carefully through the steps. But the Competence stage is intuitive knowledge. Our experience and familiarity help us to move more quickly and accurately through the decisions and actions necessary to do the job at hand.

Here is the challenge. During each stage we have to push to make it to the next stair. We can’t settle, can’t idle. If we aren’t growing, we are dying. An old German proverb says, “When I rest, I rust.”

We need a wholesome discipline to ensure we are grounded. We need rest and relaxation. We need emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual balance. As Solomon put it, to everything there is a season. The foundation provided by our balance will help propel us to the next level.

Steve Jobs urged the team at Apple to “put a dent in the universe”. That is good advice for each of us. Remember, no matter what step you are currently on, the next one is there waiting. Over the course of our career and our life we climb many stairs. The process repeats itself over and over as we move to new jobs, new relationships, new companies and even new careers. Each thing we learn is a stepping stone to the next thing we need to know. Each stair we climb brings us closer to fulfilling our dreams and our destiny.

So go make your dent.



For more information on The Boss, visit terrynewberry.com.



The Card or the Gum?

The Card or the Gum?

An Art of the Question Blog

What do I value?

Don’t let your special character and values, the secret that you know and no one else does – the truth – don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.                                                                                                                        – Aesop

It is roughly four square inches in size.  It’s a piece of cardboard with a couple of different color inks on it. The image is of a person that many of us have never heard of.

It sold for $2.35 million dollars.

What the heck is it?  It’s a baseball card.  Yes, you read correctly – a baseball card.  A remarkable baseball card, termed by some collectors as the holy grail.  It was issued in 1909, and features Pittsburg Pirate Homer Wagner, dubbed “The Flying Dutchman.”

One of the reasons for the card’s value is that only 50 or 60 are believed to still exist.   Think about that for a minute.  I wonder how many kids bought a pack of gum, and tore into the packaging, damaging the card in their eagerness to get to the gum.  Or how about this – how many cards were tossed into the trash, because the kid just wanted the gum? They literally threw away millions of dollars, and didn’t even know it!

Thinking about this, I began to wonder.  I wonder how many times I missed the best option available because I didn’t think through the consequences of my decision?  How many times have I inadvertently wasted an opportunity because I was in a hurry? Have I settled for less than the best because I didn’t listen to good advice or spend a little time in research? And most important of all – how many times have I wished I could have a do-over because I didn’t make a decision that was in line with my values?

Now, don’t get me wrong, we all make mistakes. We all have things in our past we wish we could change. Focusing too much or too long on things that we can’t change is a sure way to become discouraged, so let’s not go there.

But if we are wise, we owe it to ourselves to learn from the past so that we can always be improving.  We can learn from our own past, as well as the lives of others.  And that is the purpose for this question – what do I value?

It isn’t necessarily just a financial question.  Our values extend into every area of our life.  Relationships, moral views, work ethic, faith, family – the list is long and varied.  Our values are just that – things that have value to us.  A value is a belief, a philosophy, a viewpoint – something that has meaning to us.  A value influences our decisions, and guides how we spend our time and resources.  Values provide a foundation upon which we build our business, our relationships, and our life.  Do your decisions reflect your values?

Mother Teresa valued the poor and sick, those that society had mostly forgotten.  Despite personal pain, discomfort and serious health issues, she spent nearly half a century investing in them, because they had value to her.

Galileo publicly defended his scientific views on heliocentrism.  He was mocked by his peers, accused of heresy by the church, and denied the opportunity to publish his work. Ultimately, he was jailed for his views.  He spent the rest of his life under house arrest for his beliefs, because they had value to him.

On a business level, Marriott values service to its customers and communities, and encourages its team members to operate in a “spirit to serve”.

Nordstrom has based its reputation – and indeed has become  famous – for their top quality associates and their customer service reputation.  This excerpt from their handbook gives insight into how highly they value the team member and the customer.  It reads, “Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Starbucks core values include community service, ecological responsibility, and aid to underdeveloped nations.  

Wal-Mart has a core value of everyday low prices.

Whether a corporation, a small business, or an individual, values are fundamental to our identity and our success.  Values serve as a constant foundation.

Here are five key areas in which values benefit us and our organization:

  1. Values help us focus on what is important.
  2. Values help us communicate what is important to our family, friends, and business associates.
  3. Values drive and inspire us to achievement.
  4. Values demonstrate and help shape our character.
  5. Values demonstrate our uniqueness. (For more on your uniqueness, see my blog “Fingerprints and DNA” in the July 2011 Archives.

Your values can change the world, one decision at a time, one action at a time.

What are my values?

If you like this post, please feel free to Like It, Share It, or leave a comment!

The Comics or the Career?

The Comics or the Career?
An Art of the Question Blog

Do I Prefer a Comic Book or an Business Book?

“With great power comes great responsibility”       –  Peter Parker (AKA Spiderman)

“It’s not what I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”     —    Batman

It was 1938. The world was on the brink of World War II. The U.S. was in the grip of a recession, with 1 of every 5 people unemployed.  

And on the shelves of magazine racks, a new comic book appeared. A new hero – Superman. Blue tights, red cape – and he could fly! The cover price was 10¢.

Fast forward 72 years. Same comic book. Same cover price. But oh my how things change! One of the rare copies of this comic book sold to an anonymous buyer for…. $1.5 million!

Comic book or Business? Which would you prefer to read?

It was comics for me! I can almost hear my 1st Grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, groaning even now.  I loved comics – especially Batman. I even had my very own BatCape, handmade by the mom of one of my buddies. It was yellow, with a black cut-out bat stitched on it.

Then I went to college. I went into the undergrad program reading comic books and Rolling Stone, and came out reading the Wall Street Journal, business books, technical texts, autobiographies, on and on. It was all about the business.

But I have learned that there is wisdom to be found in my old favorites.

From Superman, I learned that selflessness and integrity are foundational in the life of a leader. From The Hulk, I found that it is best to keep your cool under pressure. From X-Men I learned that there is strength in diversity. And from Batman, I learned how to swear (Holy BatBelt Robin!) without getting in trouble with my mom.

The truth is, there is wisdom to be gained from nearly any book, nearly any person, nearly any situation. The key is to learn what to look for, and how to apply what we learn.

I read an autobiography about Helen Keller, and was moved by one of her quotes. In fact, my entire blog series was originally inspired by this quote. She said, “External conditions are the accidents of life, its outer trappings. The great enduring realities are love of service. Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulty.”

Joy is the holy fire…wow. What a life lesson. So from Superman to SuperHelen, there are lessons everywhere.

People have told me, “I don’t like to read.” Well, may I share a nugget that a friend once told me?  He said, “Terry, as long as I read I will never be completely lonely or completely stupid!”

I read a lot. A lot. I read novels and textbooks and business books and motivational books. I read cereal boxes and magazines. I read. I usually read with pen in hand, underlining and taking notes. Many of my favorite books are filled with notes and notes and sticky notes and highlighter underlines. I refer to them often and try to put their lessons into practice.

Let me encourage you to find something to read. Even a comic book! You and I can grow faster and deeper by drawing on the life lessons that others share.

What book have you selected to read next?

What area of your life would benefit from someone else’s experience? Is there a book that would provide you with the information or insight or motivation that you need?



Fingerprints and DNA

Fingerprints and DNA
An Art of the Question Blog

Do I Understand I am Unique?

Every man and woman is born into the world to do something unique and something distinctive and if he or she does not do it, it will never be done.”                                        –          Benjamin E. Mays

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”      — Warren Buffett

He is married, and has 3 kids. He has lived in the same house in the suburbs since 1958. He is a businessman who brings home a base pay of around $100,000 per year. He plays bridge and loves Nebraska football.

Oh yeah – he is also the richest man on the planet.

Warren Buffett is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $62 Billion. Yes, that would be billion with a “B”. What that means is that assuming he only earns 4% compounded monthly, he is earning around $5,000 in interest income – every minute of every day. So by the time you and I finish this blog, Mr. Buffett will be even richer, depending on how fast we read.

Warren Buffett is no doubt a unique human being.

One of the things about him is that he seems so… ordinary. But clearly there is much about this man that is beyond any definition of ordinary.

And yet – isn’t that true of each of us? Every one of us is unique in our own way. And not just in fingerprints and DNA. We each have very specific gifts, talents and skills. Every person you and I meet is unique – and that includes the two of us!

There is a passion inside you. There is something that you want to do, something you love to do, something you were meant to do. Find it! Find the thing that sets you apart, and do it! No one can do it better than you. No one can even do it as well as you.

What is it?

In his amazing book Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about the Hedgehog Concept. He describes a fox, always moving forward, always aggressive. He also describes a humble hedgehog. In contrast to the fox, the hedgehog is not very aggressive, or sexy. Just consistent. It does one thing very well.

Collins compares that simple hedgehog with companies who find their unique area of effectiveness. They find their “sweet spot” and perform in a consistently excellent manner.

The same concept applies to individuals. Jim poses three questions to help us define our “sweet spot”:


  • What Can You Be The Best In The World At?


  • What Drives Your Economic Engine?


  • What Are You Passionate About? 

Do you know the answers to these questions? If not –

What is your driving passion, your unique-ness?

Who can help you to develop this area into your “sweet spot”?



The Art of the Question

The Art of the Question

An Art of the Question Blog

 What Can I Learn From Asking Myself Questions?


He was born in 1879, and died in 1955.  In the 76 years between those two dates, he literally changed the world.

With questions.

His name is Albert Einstein. He questioned what he had been taught about the science of motion and physics in the universe.  Along the way, his name became synonymous with “genius”.

He published over 300 scientific papers along with 150 non-scientific works; however, it was in 1905 that he upended the world of science and rational thinking.  During a period of blistering productivity he published five papers in six months. Those five papers forever changed the world of science. The world learned of the now-famous equation, E=MC2

Jacob Bronowski once described Einstein as “a man who could ask immensely simple questions”, and from whose answers he could “hear God thinking.”  And it was true. Einstein’s revolutionary theories of special and general relativity each started from simple questions.

One of the management skills I work to master is the Art of the Question.  It is a powerful tool for working with your team.  By asking the right question, a leader is able to guide his or her team to the right answer.  This allows the team member to think through each step of the decision, rather than having the answer provided to them.  The result is that their decision is better thought out and they have ownership in it.

Leading a team this way is a great skill. But recently I began to think about leading myself through the Art of the Question.  What if I asked myself a question, and then wrote my answer? What if I used the Question to generate some real soul-searching? What if my growth on spiritual, intellectual, physical, professional and emotional levels was stimulated, not by to-do lists, but by questions?!  What if the answer was in the question?

Hmmm… maybe I am on to something.

So I am going to ask myself some specific questions over the next few weeks.  And I am going to think about my answer, and write down a response.  I already have the questions.  I have printed them, separated them, and put them into a bowl.  I plan to draw each one out at random, so I won’t let my mood affect the question I pick.

Hey – how about you? Want to come along? Who knows what you might find out about yourself!

So, here goes….




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