“As a creative person, I see the end product clearly in mind, but slogging through the reality of producing it is another matter. I’ve learned to be more patient, to set realistic timeframes and then add some contingency to them and then some more. That saves me and everyone in the organization a lot of unneeded stress.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula Martin, CEO of the International Matrix Management Institute. She’s an author of several books, including the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge.
Thank you for doing this! Can you tell us how did you get started?
I love new ideas, inventing new paradigms, creating new systems, new ideas and new ways of thinking. In fact, growing up, I wanted to be Leonardo da Vinci because he was a Renaissance man. I feel like this is what I was born to do. I spent my twenties exploring, traveling, trying out this and that but what I really wanted to do was make the world a better place.
After my Master’s program, I was recruited to be a project manager where I climbed the ladder quickly and ended up as the director of new product development. We were a matrixed organization and thanks to some enlightened management principles that we employed (The Kenning Principles) the organization was one of the two highest rated R&D organizations in our industry. I loved my job but I was more intrigued with issues of organizational development — so in 1989, I left there to start my own organizational and leadership development company.
I published my first business book that year, “The Buck Stops Here,” based on the Kenning Principles, which I had learned from its source, George Kenning. When George died, I decided that it was time for me to leave the safety of the corporate world and continue his work.
How have you been able to use your success to better the world?
My mission in life is to help transform the world, one organization and one leader at a time. If we can become better people through learning to be better leaders and if our organizations can become more effective and more humane places to work, the world will be a better place. This social mission drives everything we do.
I love animals, and so we contribute to a wonderful organization called, Horse Plus Humane Society, run by Tawnee Preisner, a young woman of immense dedication and drive.
Is there someone who made a big difference in your life who helped you get to where you are today?
No one builds an organization alone. No one achieve much of anything of real value alone. The idea of the lone hero is just a myth. There are many, many people who have helped me along the way.
But if had to pick one person, it would be Cathy Cassidy, our Managing Director. She’s a Master Consultant and our clients love her. She’s smart, passionate about the work we do and has unwavering integrity – three traits I most highly value in anyone I work with. She’s been on this journey with me for over 10 years and I imagine she and I will be collaborating until the end. I’ve got a few more companies I want to start, mostly nonprofit and I imagine Cathy and I will be doing that together.
If you could travel back in time to before you started, what 3 tips would you give yourself and why?
1. The world isn’t going to be ready for your ideas for 20 years, so just chill. I wish I’d seen a psychic when I first started my business more than 28 years ago and they had looked into their crystal ball and told me, “Look. You’ve invented this great system for how to make organizations more effective and that will give them a culture of success, but the world just isn’t ready to hear from you, so chill out for about 20 years and then build it and they will come.” That would have saved me a lot of angst over the years.
2. Everything takes three times as long as you think it’s going to take. As a creative person, I see the end product clearly in mind, but slogging through the reality of producing it is another matter. I’ve learned to be more patient, to set realistic timeframes and then add some contingency to them and then some more. That saves me and everyone in the organization a lot of unneeded stress.
3. Don’t take action if you’re feeling desperate. The worst mistakes I’ve made was when I was feeling desperate. Not in the dramatic sense of the word, but more like I needed to act, now, or else. I’ve hired people who were all wrong. I’ve created business partnerships that were a disaster. I’ve tried to force things to happen when the timing wasn’t right (see mistake #1 as one example). I’ve learned to trust my timing to the Universe, and trust that things are going to work out exactly as they should.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
I would love to have a private lunch with JK Rowling. She created a complete universe and she had a patience to do it right, even when she was broke. She didn’t take short cuts. She took her time to do it right, and I admire that.
JK Rowling created a fictional world and that made the real world a better place. I admire people who change the world for the better. That seems to be the whole point to me.