The grind. The groove. The rut. And the grave.

It’s shortly before 9:00 AM. My colleague and I start down the hall of our 13th floor office suite, as a part of our daily morning routine.

To the elevator banks, down to the lobby, across the atrium to the other tower’s lobby. Up the elevator to the 15th floor, down the hall and to the left, where reams and reams of paper, stacked and lined up on both sides of the hallway, waited for us and the other 20+ companies that made up Turner Broadcasting.

We scanned the cover pages for our company’s 7-digit company code that would tell which stacks of reports were ours. These are our company’s financial reports, entered in the day before, run before the 3PM cutoff, processed overnight, then printed and stacked for us to pick up the next day.  

Physical labor was not a part of the job description.

We'd grab our stacks of reports and head back to our 13th floor perch and spend the rest of our morning validating our data entry from the previous day.

Rinse. Repeat.

Those were the days of the AS400 mainframes. Green screens. Function-key cheat-sheets for data entry. Overnight batch processing. Paper reports. Lots and lots of paper.

It was like clock-work. Repeatable. Predictable. It was the kind of job security you read about.

Until it wasn't.

Then came network computing and Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft Excel replaced LOTUS 1-2-3. Hey, I was an accountant, this was a big deal!

I had to learn advanced functions to perform both simple and complex analysis; visual basic to write macros for complex workbooks and data compilation; advanced formatting and charting functions for presentation aesthetics.

The days of pencil-pushing accounting, balancing debits (in black) and credits (in red), were over. As an “Accountant”, I was now also a financial analyst, a technical coder and a creative reports creator.

Then came the “Y2K” scare. Yes, I'm dating myself. At the turn of the century, 2000 (in case I need to specify which century), the world would be ending due to a 2-digit field length for the “year” value in these legacy systems.

The year would turn "00" in our AS400s and all hell would break loose. 

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems to the rescue, to replace all these home-grown AS400s and bring with them a 4-digit “year” field. These were out-of-the-box systems, built on process and technology best practices. End-users were empowered with customizable workflows, and real-time data-entry and reporting. Say what?

But complex system, data and process conversions would be necessary to make the leap.

Great, now I’m a process engineer, too!

Then came the Internet and SaaS (Software as a Service). What, no more CDs to do software installations?

I was now learning to write SQL queries to extract data and create advanced reports. Then HTML, to create web pages for presentation.

Change was happening. It was happening fast and getting faster.

Only the Paranoid Survive” by Intel CEO Andrew Grove and “Business at the Speed of Thought” by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates were must reads and served as fair warning that we were heading into a brave new world. And to be brutally direct, those who objected to or ignored this change would be left behind.

As I realized I wasn’t going to be an Accountant the rest of my career, I got the career advice that hits you between the eyes and leaves an indelible mark:

“If you’re not working your way out of your current job within 2 to 3 years, someone or something else will do it for you.”

For some, that might be scary.

For me, as an aspiring entrepreneur who thrives in chaos and creativity, that was music to my ears!

Ever since that moment, I’ve endured several different role changes and organization changes, and even a few flash-in-the-pan start-ups. Not because I'm not loyal, but because I heeded that advice.

Fast forward to now, and seeing what’s happening in our industry today with all the movement in "insure tech", it feels like "Y2k" all over again. Perhaps even more so the Internet boom of the early 2000's, Part II.

Change is happening. It's happening fast and getting faster.

But as humans, we generally don't like change. We like consistency. Predictability. Security. Especially in our jobs. 

Unfortunately, that's just not the world we live in. 

There’s a journey that we go through in our careers, whether we know it or not. As long as there is change happening, and there always will be, it’s a necessary journey that entails natural inflection points.

Those inflection points are road markers along the way that tell us when we need to get ahead of and stay ahead of inevitable change.

It's a journey I share as a part of our onboarding with our new hires. And it's a journey I think is important to understand for any young professional entering today's workforce. 

I think of that journey as the grind, the groove, the rut and the grave.

 

The Grind

In this stage, everything is new. A new job, a new project, a new assignment of some kind.

It's hard work because there is so much unknown and so much to learn.

The learning curve feels like a mountain to climb.

You're putting in extra time to figure things out. You're making mistakes. You've got questions and wish there were easy answers.

It’s frustrating, but you're grinding through it.

 

The Groove

Things are making sense now.

You're figuring it all out.

Things are getting easier, and you're making it your own. There's an ease with which you get through things now, and your confidence is high.

You feel like you're making a difference and adding value, effortlessly.

Life is good.

 

The Rut

Things are suddenly mundane.

You haven't learned anything new, and you're not being challenged. 

You’ve been lulled into a certain sense of security, given the fact that you're a master of your role. In fact, you're the only one who can do what you do, the way you do it.

You’re the expert in the room. You’re the proverbial “SME” (Subject Matter Expert) everyone is counting on.

They need you.

In fact, you convince yourself your company or your team would be screwed without you.

Job security is of utmost importance.

But there's a voice in the back of your head you can't ignore. You're wondering if what you do is valued. It's telling you that things are changing and you're not a part of that change.

You become a victim to your circumstances, and you don't know why or how to get out of it.

No one is coming to your rescue and you're realizing it may be too late to make a change.

The thought of going back to the "grind" (a new grind) is too much.

And you cling to hope that your assertion is right – they’d be screwed without you.

 

The Grave

Your intuition was right. Change happened.

But your strategy of hope was wrong. You’re no longer needed.

Your skills, your knowledge, and your role are now obsolete.

You've been left behind and there's no catching up.

You’re now the one who didn’t (or couldn’t or wouldn’t) adapt.

You're "dead" to your team, your company and your customers.

R.I.P.

 

Beware the groove. Embrace the grind.

There is a crossroad in this journey, between the stages of the "groove" and the "rut", where we need to either choose complacency or accountability.

Complacency leads us down the path to the "rut", and we see how that story ends. It sounds like this:

"That's the way we've always done it"

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

“Don’t poke the bear.” (my personal favorite)

"That's not my job to figure that out."

 

A "wait and see" attitude emerges. A culture of complacency takes hold.

Misery loves company.

 

Accountability, on the other hand, sounds like this:

"What more can I do to achieve the results we need?"
(credit: The Oz Principle by Craig Hickman, Roger Connors and Tom Smith)

That question takes us out of our comfort zone to embrace the unknown, the idea of what's next.

It leads us to the next new "grind", the next new thing.

It keeps us fresh in our thoughts and our knowledge.

It enables a growth mindset and an ever-evolving cycle of personal and professional development.

And it's why I get nervous when my team stops asking questions!

Yes, it's uncomfortable, because the "groove" felt so good. 

But as we know, in our discomfort is where we grow. It's where we innovate.

It's where being relevant outweighs being good.

 

The moral of the story? Beware of the groove. Embrace the grind.


 Chad Eddy, MBA, is the CEO at Indium. He has more than 25 years of multifaceted, multi-industry experience. In addition to serving independent agents, Chad is passionate about spending time with his family, playing and watching hockey, listening to good music, reading, and raising money for cystic fibrosis research.