Margery Kraus is the founder and chief executive officer of APCO Worldwide, a women-owned global consulting firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. Started in 1984 APCO was transformed from a company with one small Washington office to a multinational consulting firm in major cities throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
When I started APCO Worldwide 30 years ago, I had little more than a vision and the courage to pursue it. Nothing quite like APCO had ever really existed before, and starting a business from scratch is always challenging regardless. Over the years, APCO grew from one small Washington, D.C., office to a global company with more than 30 offices, more than 700 employees and representing more than 40 nationalities in major cities across Europe, North America, Middle East and Asia. In most of these markets we grew organically and my guiding philosophy has always been to look for the smartest people in each market we entered.
Confucius, one of China’s notable thinkers and philosophers, famously said that true wisdom is knowing what you don’t know. I took this on as my guiding principle and throughout my career tried to surround myself with clever people with diverse skill sets and experience…always listening and learning from those around me.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way is the necessity to challenge convention; to look ahead and never settle for the expected. It’s a guiding principle for me personally and the foundation of our firm. Challenging convention isn’t merely choosing a different path than your competitors. It is rooted in the strategic counsel of smart colleagues, the wisdom of knowing what is possible and the experience of having been there before. It can also mean taking the unconventional path, which is often unforged, to get to an even greater destination or result.
With experience, we become more comfortable with who we are and what we’ve accomplished. My generation has learned a lot and through our successes and failures. And by being more collegial and candid with the next generation, we can encourage them to make the best choices for themselves, and in the end, produce the greatest generation of leaders the world has seen.
Providing and receiving counsel doesn’t have to be a formal process, and it doesn’t have to happen in regularly scheduled times or with formal conversations. One simple piece of advice is to listen more and talk less. Any opportunity you have to engage with others in your field is an opportunity to build a knowledge base from which to grow. Wisdom, like experience, is gained over time.
Alan Kay, one of America’s foremost computer scientists and brilliant minds coined the phrase, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
And so we must all meet the challenges constantly posed by the globalizing and changing markets and opportunities by refining our message and sharpening our focus. Challenge yourselves to think smarter, be more creative and never be afraid to seek the counsel of everyone on your journey; from the newest intern to those who have reached the highest levels of success in your field. Good ideas come from anywhere, in any setting. Never be afraid to ask for guidance.
The ladder of success will not be straight, and the path will never be linear. Mistakes will be made and opportunities will be lost, but the wisdom attained and experience gained will help navigate with confidence and clarity the road ahead.