Three things you can learn from cute labradors that will make you more successful at work

There’s a video doing the rounds on Twitter that you may have seen – over 14 million people have so far. BBC sports commentator Andrew Cotter posted a clip of his two Labradors playing with a toy, overlaid with his trademark enthusiastic sports commentary describing the performance as he would an Olympic final.

It’s hilarious – Cotter describes his dogs’ intensity and tactical manoeuvring just as he would a set between Federer and Nadal – and if you left this article now to watch the clip and never came back I’d probably forgive you.

But watch the video a couple of times through a different lens and there are three important insights you can take from it that will make you much more successful at work.

1.    Understand your core skillset

What do you say when you people ask you what you do for a living? IT professional? HR Manager? Management consultant?

Cotter’s website says he is a sports commentator. But as you can see from the clip, that’s not his core skillset at all. His talent lies in being able to vividly describe what he sees in a way that engages, entertains and delights his audience.

He happens to do that most often by describing sports events, but the subject matter is pretty irrelevant: he’s just got 15m hits by describing his dogs eating their dinner.

Understand what your core skills really are and you can see opportunities to diversify or progress your career that you hadn’t expected. So you’re a management consultant, but what does that really mean? Do you like the sugar hit of winning new business and clinching the deal? Or do you love that clients come to you for your niche industry knowledge and thinking?

If it’s the selling that gives you kicks then you could take those skills and move into other sales roles – IT systems, hardware or software, washing machines or real estate. If you’re the pointy-headed expert in a particular subject then that wouldn’t work at all. But moving to a similar role in-house, or branching out into writing and speaking about what you do would be definite options.

“Management consulting” isn’t the core skill set, it just happens to be the industry that requires skills as diverse as sales and deep technical knowledge. Make sure you understand which of these is your defining skillset, and you can better understand how to manage your career.

2.    Look for opportunity in adversity

As Cotter balefully noted in an interview with The Guardian,  he is currently unemployed as a result of the covid-19 shutdown. He’s not alone. But neither is he sitting at home bemoaning his luck or waiting for sports events to resume.   

Perhaps, as he deadpanned in his post, he was indeed simply bored. But, inadvertent or not, this boredom turned into an opportunity to build thousands of followers and boost his global brand awareness. That’s not what he would have expected when all sporting events globally suddenly stopped, but Cotter has been able to exponentially grow his profile and reputation as a result of the disruption.

That’s not to say, of course, that the tragedy and chaos of covid-19 is actually a great opportunity. But approaching set-backs and adversity with a positive mindset is important.

That set-back could be redundancy, or it could simply be a failed project, an unexpectedly low performance rating, or negative feedback for some work you were proud of. Whatever the scale of the misfortune, take time to think about what you can learn from it, what you can do differently in future, and where there is an opportunity to take some positives from the situation.

There are thousands of sports commentators currently unemployed, but not many with tens of millions of people admiring their work on Twitter.

3.    You can find inspiration anywhere

How often have you come up with an idea at work and someone has wearily said “that will never work here”? When you are after new ways of working or innovative solutions, do you start by looking at competitors and industry peers?

There’s are many reasons why so much effort is spent on increasing diversity in the workplace, but one critical benefit is that it gives people access to perspectives, ideas and experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. This is a proven driver of innovation and creativity, and it leads inexorably to better business results.

It doesn’t need to be dogs fighting over a toy. Companies find similar inspiration in unexpected places. The design of Lexus car windows is influenced by the Japanese tea ceremony. Engineering company Arup used termite mound designs as the basis for air-conditioning a Nigerian shopping mall. Fashion designer Paul Smith even wrote a book called “You can find inspiration in everything (and if you can’t, look again)”.

Don’t be constrained by where you look for inspiration. Creativity and innovation can be found everywhere.

So it’s a one minute video on Twitter, born out of the boredom caused by unemployment, and it’s very funny. And quite possibly that’s all it was intended to be. But in the spirit of finding inspiration anywhere, it’s also a lot more than that. Watch it again and you can see three ways that you can learn from it to make yourself more successful at work.

Or just watch it again and then share it with friends; it’s very funny.

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