Always willing to help but never able to ask for it, Tara Collison’s journey as a student of Influence Ecology is a useful case study in the conceit of independence. She discovered that her independence was merely ego and that this view and the subsequent actions alienated others, left her exhausted, and had long-term consequences to her finances, health, and family.
Now, eager to discover more of her own flaws, warts, and vulnerabilities, she’s currently collaborating to expand her newly branded consultancy, Meddlers. As “Chief Meddler,” Tara blends her two decades of experience working in the Fortune 50 and her training as a psychologist to meddle where most are afraid to go. Here’s the interview.
John Patterson: Welcome, Tara Collison, to the Influence Ecology Podcast. It’s great to have you here with us.
Tara Collison: Well, thank you for having me. I’m really excited to talk with you today and share my experiences.
John: Tell us about who you are and what you do.
“It’s a perfect symbol of the independence of an Inventor and wanting to be completely independent, completely in charge.”
Tara: I am a psychologist by training, and after spending about 15 years in tech I decided that my passion and the thing I loved most about all of the roles I had was bringing out the best in people and understanding the intersection between what an organization is trying to do and the people who are trying to do it and maximizing the value to both. So, that’s what my company, Meddlers, does. We come into organizations and help them align their people to their strategy so that everyone is winning.
Many companies like to say that they’re all about the talent and they’re all about the talent being their competitive differentiation, but very few companies do it and the ones who do really do have a competitive differentiation and they perform much, much better than those that don’t. And so that’s what we do. We help people unlock the power of their talent.
John: Great, I would agree absolutely. I also love the name of your company and some of the things that you sent us. So, to say your name again, it’s Meddlers.
John: Like, to meddle with something: M-e-d-d-l-e, right?
Tara: That’s correct.
John: So, Meddlers.com. And you sent to us some coffee mugs and some squeezy brains. In other words, they’re typically stress balls, but they’re in the shape of brains. And then, what’s the message on it?
Tara: “Mind your business.”
John: “Mind your business.” Very, very great. All right, so mind your business. Say a little bit about the name of your company and what we should all think about when we think about Meddlers.
Tara: Meddlers is the second name of the company, and it’s actually something that we did as a result of my involvement with Influence Ecology, is rebranding the company. And the reason we chose Meddlers is—what we do is—we come into the business and we help you get into those points in the business that might feel a little uncomfortable, that might feel a little bit like we’re going someplace we shouldn’t go.
And we’re doing that because what we’re trying to help our clients do is understand those elements of their business that maybe they don’t want to talk about, maybe they don’t want to even look at, and help them look at those things in a way that unlocks what might be holding them back. And so, what we want to do is help them mind their own business. We help them at the beginning, and eventually they’re helping themselves. And so that’s why the tagline, “Mind your business.”
John: You mentioned that you rebranded during your participation with Influence Ecology. Say a little bit about why you got into studying with Influence Ecology.
Tara: Somebody who was in the program recommended me and I started having conversations and I really, at first, was doing it because what I wanted to do was grow my business and be thoughtful about how I started this endeavor of what has now become Meddlers and a growing business. At the time, I had just started and really felt a little intimidated by all the things that I would need to be able to do to run a business.
And I wanted a structure to think about all of that. I got into it, and in my conversations at the beginning of the program, I realized that it wasn’t just about my business. It was about all these other areas of my life which I was completely convinced were completely fine and there were no issues—”I don’t have any issues with my money, or my house, or any other thing.” And what I quickly realized is that all of these things were related, and to make sure I was doing the right thing for my business I would have to think about all of the things I wanted to do for my family, for my health, for my finances, and that they were all actually connected.
And I didn’t realize that right away, but definitely got started in my business and found out it was about so much more. Which eventually led to rebranding, of course.
John: That’s great! And everybody has a journey through Influence Ecology, and the journey typically looks like before, during, and after. And some of what I love most about reading your notes about your own journey, especially since you come from psychology, that particular background, and then obviously you’re doing a lot of work with businesses and assisting them: We all have our own journey. One of my favorite notes in all the things that you said is that you were getting super comfortable with your flaws and warts and vulnerabilities and all those kinds of things because, for many people, their success often comes with confronting or being okay with their warts and flaws and all of those kinds of things and being able to look at them rather directly, as you said in talking about Meddlers . . . being able to have the conversations that aren’t neccesarily so comfortable. Looking at the reality of this or that. So, I would love to hear anything you want to say about what was it like for you to just get comfortable with all of that through your study here.
Tara: At first it was very uncomfortable, and when I started articulating what did I want in all of the areas of my life and looking at how they intersected, how I was faced very quickly with the fact that I can’t do all of this, and then that led me to, “Well, then I will need help in certain areas.” And then needing help in certain areas, my mind works fairly strategically. I went to a complete logical place: “So if I need help then I should get help in the things that I’m not as good at.”
Of course, I think I’m good at almost everything because that’s what an Inventor does, is we think, “Oh, we can do anything, just give me a little bit of time and I’ll figure it out.” So, I decided that I needed to get help in the areas with all the things that I wasn’t good at, and in examining those things I started getting really comfortable with identifying and being okay with the things that I would say, fall below the line. I like to think of what I’m going to spend my time on as above the line and the things that I shouldn’t be spending my time on as below the line.
And instead of having that line be drawn by what could get done by a certain time or what was directly related to what results I was trying to make happen, I found that it was better to think about those things in terms of the things I do really well and the things I don’t do really well, which was a whole new way of thinking about it. And then this just opened the door to start looking at those things and confronting, “Where am I just not that good at things?”
And I just need to be okay saying, “Hey, I’m just not so good at that,” and let other people who are good at those things do those things on my behalf, or with me, or in some cases, take it completely off my plate, and I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. That’s always nice.
John: That’s fantastic. I have a similar journey. You and I both identify as Inventor personalities, and for those who maybe this is their first ever podcast listening, do you want to say what that personality is or what are some of the characteristics of that personality?
Tara: Well, I think the biggest one that I identify with around the Inventor personality is living in the future and really thinking through what this thing is going to look like when it’s done, when it’s finished—this ideal future state. I live my entire life through that lens. It comes with quite a bit of ego and a little bit of arrogance, if you will, about what we can do and how we can do it, and I have to admit that sometimes on the inside I feel less confident, but what I project out to the world is quite a bit of confidence, and that can look a lot like ego in some cases.
Then we have this filter that we use with the world where you either get it or you don’t and if you don’t, that’s not a great thing. And so, I see the world with that filter as well, and all of those three pieces of the Inventor personality . . . many other pieces to the Inventor personality . . . but those three are the ones that I most identify with and quite honestly, they were running me instead of me running that.
That future vision that you have is quite a useful thing, and I use a lot in business. I remember I was transitioning out of one role to another role in my career in technology, and they had like a roast, a go-away dinner for me in that role, and my boss, who had been my boss for a very long time, he compared me to a prophet.
He said that “You see many years in advance, two or three years in advance what’s going to happen, and you’re able to bring that to fruition and pull people along towards that vision. But sometimes, when you only live in the future, you’re missing a lot of things in the present,” and that I’ve learned about all of that and how that future anchor was completely running so many aspects of my life and causing me ignorance to the things I needed to do now and the things I needed to really be spending my time on. To me, that was both the beauty of the Inventor personality but also some of the things that I really had to face in the time that I took FOT, and even into MAP, but I got a lot of that in FOT.
John: It’s a kind of asset / liability bet. I think it’d be useful to spend a little time on that piece because this ultimately is a case study for someone who may not know anything about Influence Ecology, or perhaps somebody that does. So, if I want to study some things about my own personality . . . I’m an Inventor and I want to study things about my own personality . . . or if I want to study the personality Inventor, let’s say I’m another personality . . . I’m a Performer or I’m a Judge, and I want to know, how do I talk Inventor? How do I address with that personality, or what do I need to account for in the work that I might do with other personalities?
There’s different ways to relate to what we can address here, but you wrote some beautiful things about the ego, the conceit, the arrogance of independence. I think what’s great about that is there’s a rich body of things to account for in the arrogance, conceit, ego of independence. Many inventors do find themselves working independently, in their own to mind, out into the future and all of that you just said. But many people who are kind of out there, leading the charge, you could say, find themselves suffering from the ego of independence. In other words, the error of independence.
You said some really great things about your own experience of that independence. You said some things about assuming you could do it yourself, happy to help other people but not asking for it, trying to do it all but alienating people, different things like that. I’d love for you to just tell us a little bit about some of what you discovered was the downside or the liability of the error of independence.
Tara: For me, even from a very young age, I grew up in a family where my personality was very different from the rest of the people in my family. I was very responsible from a very young age. In fact, just this last week had a passing in the family, a very, very wonderful family member who did a lot of really wonderful things for people, and my dad says to me, “You’re the matriarch now, and you have been since [your] sister was married about 17 years ago. How does that feel, does that bother you?” I was like, “No!” I was like, wearing that, like a badge of honor! This is wonderful! I love that!
I like trying to help, and I really identified with that because it’s a perfect symbol of the independence of an Inventor and wanting to be completely independent, completely in charge, seen as, “She can help us with anything,” . . . right? I love that, but there is a lot of conceit in that and there is a lot of arrogance and a lot of misjudgment in what you can do, because you fuel this story for yourself that you can do everything and anything and therefore you should, and that you’re going to do it better than anyone else, and that . . . you . . . commit to that. You see the world through those glasses.
As a psychologist, I use a lot of neuroscience in my work . . . very fascinated with the brain, have been ever since probably my second psychology class in undergrad, and we are pattern-making machines. If you tell yourself a story about how your way is the best, you’re going to see all of the evidence that confirms that. It’s called confirmation bias, and once you get that story going in your head you’re going to just keep doing it over and over and over and over and keep seeing it.
I had a lot of that going on, and I faced a lot of that while I was going through the program, of understanding that actually, no, my way is not the best and that other people’s ways of doing things, especially in areas that are not my strength, are going to be way better, way simpler, way more effective, and cause me a lot less pain.
Then that brought me to the second problem, or a challenge of an Inventor, which is asking for help and being good at asking for help. Feeling comfortable asking for help. Because the minute you ask for help, there’s an implicit acknowledgement that there’s something wrong and that you can’t do it. That’s a really hard thing for Inventors to admit, and hard for me to admit, and I feel sometimes like a failure if I have to ask for help.
“The minute you ask for help, there’s an implicit acknowledgement that there’s something wrong and that you can’t do it. That’s a really hard thing for Inventors to admit, and hard for me to admit.”
I’m still not good at asking for help, by the way. That is still a journey. It’s going to take me a long time to get better and better at that. I’m working on it, and I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for my journey through Influence Ecology.
I wouldn’t have been forced to look at those things. My study group is an amazing group of people who will just put that in front of my face, in a really uncomfortable way sometimes, if I’m not doing what I need to do, if I’m wearing my Inventor-ness or my independence as a badge too much. I was really fortunate to have a great group of people surrounding me, both in the staff and the teachers that I’ve had throughout the Influence Ecology experience, but then also my study groups, both of them, have been amazing.
“I was really fortunate to have a great group of people surrounding me, both in the staff and the teachers that I’ve had throughout the Influence Ecology experience.”
John: I think it’s safe to assume—but I don’t want to put words in your mouth—that now with your growing or emerging ability to ask for help where you identify you could use it, perhaps you identified that you’d ought not do this thing or that thing. What’s beginning to unfold? How is it impacting the business, the growth of the business, the experience that other people have in your company or with the people you’re working with? What’s happening?
Tara: So, a few things happened. First, I realized I needed to build my business in a way that there was a system attached to it. A system that did not rely on me. My business when I started was 100% about Tara Collison coming in and consulting, and I needed to build a system, and I needed to have tools and products, if you will. We sell services that are packageable and can be delivered by other people besides myself.
That was my first big challenge. In fact, I took a break in my Influence Ecology studies to find that thing, so that when I went to MAP a I had that anchor of what that thing was. I took about a three month break and identified that thing and started building it up.
The second thing I did in between was find some help in the areas that I’m not good at, the things that I don’t like to do, I’m less comfortable with. I brought on the first employee and also found that thing. That then led us to rebranding, because the company when I first started it was again a hundred percent about me.
I needed to find a way to brand the company and talk about the company in a way that’s not about Tara Collison, hence the name Meddlers. We went to an agency and started doing the work that we needed to do to rebrand the company about the work we do and the outcomes that we provide to accompany who’s struggling and came up with the brand. Probably the first half of MAP was spent doing that work.
John: I’m curious about that because going to a company to get help with that, I would imagine, may have been a new thought for you or a new kind of endeavor. You probably in the past would have just done it yourself.
John: “I know what I want, or how this might look,” and so forth. Was there any letting go in that process? Anything you want to share about your Inventor journey through that process real briefly?
Tara: Yeah, I think two things that are big. I did run a marketing team. In my corporate career, I was on a track and I had done a lot of different kinds of things, run a lot of different kind of groups, moving up to management. I ran a marketing team that did a huge identity and rebranding project. My normal Inventor-ness would be like, “Ah, I can do this. I know I can do this.”
John: “I know what to do. . . .”
Tara: “I’ve got this covered. [laughs] I’ve done this before. I ran a marketing team. I rebranded a global program once back in 2006 or 2007, whenever that was.” Instead of going there, I actually said, “I know what it looks like to do it right. I know what the value of getting it right is, and I know this is part of the foundation for what I’m trying to build.”
I leveraged a few things that would feed my Inventor-ness and then said, “Okay. Let’s find people that can do that.” I delegated the finding of the agency to the new person on the team. I said, “Here’s what we need. I want you to interview X number of local companies. Bring me your top five, and then we’ll talk to the top two,” and then we found it that way.
All I had to do was look at the top fives’ website and say, “No, no, no. Yes, and yes,” and then we had two phone calls and we hired the agency. From there, it was going to meetings, and it was great. There’s no way I ever, ever could have come up with Meddlers, or “Mind your business,” or the color scheme, or any other stuff that they did.
They were fabulous. They did a fantastic job and way better. That reinforces, “Ah. This works.” That starts getting you going a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more.
John: So good. Such a great demonstration of exactly what we’re talking about. Very, very good. Now is it your vision and intent that the systems and structures and the process that you’ve now created that can be led by others, can grow and scale? I’m assuming yes.
Tara: Yes. That’s right. Absolutely.
John: It’s a little obvious in the story about your having turned over the rebranding process to another person—I would imagine that freed you up in ways that are new to you as well. Since you initially started talking about all the other areas of life and how they’re really tied together, how are you starting to see this new approach impacting the satisfaction of other Conditions of Life and the work you no longer have to do or your free time or relationship with loved ones or family?
Tara: There’s a few things. First, I am able to . . . I call it integration instead of balance because to me the reason why . . .one of the reasons why I have my own business is to be able to have a more fluid integration between my home life and my work, and that they’re really the same thing. It’s just that, “Where am I spending my time in that moment?”
I work out of my home office, primarily. We do have some office space, but I don’t spend a lot of time there. I am here when my kids get home from school and I’m able to go to every soccer game, so long as I’m not on the road or traveling at the time.
If the kids need me during the day, I can go pick them up from school because there’s fluidity to how I work. I think the second thing is that I’m able to think about the organization and serving a particular client as a fluid thing. How do I create a system in which I’m not needed for every single piece of things? Even if I am the primary on a particular engagement—I have one right now where I am the primary—and a woman that works for us is secondary.
If I needed to step out for a moment, I have it set up where she can step in. She knows everything that’s happening with the project. She’s able to step in and do things. I’m continuing to hire folks that are complementary to my Inventor personality so that I have certain things that you can just turn over and you don’t have to do it at all because it’s their primary personality type and it’s what they would want to spend time doing.
We have other things where we’re backing each other up so that none of us feels like we’re a single point of failure. Now, I’ll be honest. I’m not all the way there yet. I have a lot more to go in terms of creating the right systems, but I’m getting there. This trickles into my health, of course, because my peace of mind is so much greater than it was a year ago, and 18 months ago, because I know that I have a way to handle anything that comes my way.
I have systems built into my life around working out and eating healthy, around my finances. All of this stuff is now integrated, and it’s a system. It’s not a bunch of things that are independent of each other. It’s a system.
Tara: I used to think of them as discrete things, like a waffle. It’s not a waffle. It’s a pancake. It’s a pancake. [laughs] It’s all there. If one part of your pancake is not working then you’ve got a problem with your syrup, right? It’s not going to work. I like to think of my life as a pancake instead of a waffle. [laughs]
John: That’s very good. That’s great. I think what I’d like to do is just to recap, and you tell me if there’s any aspect of this that’s missing because your journey is a beautiful demonstration of an independent consultant in a role where there’s only so much of you, and only so much you can grow, and only so much you can do, and only so much you can scale, and therefore it impacts how much you work, how much money you can make, it impacts your free time, it impacts all those things.
What you’ve done is basically confronted the ego. You’ve confronted the need to be recognized for being able to do it all and now have created an entire new brand, systems, structures, gotten help, unafraid to ask for help. Sort of, now, it sounds a little bit like, “Hmm. . . . Where else am I to ask for help?” . . . and then freed yourself up to live life as you desire.
I think that’s basically the journey. Yes, of course there’s always now testing and modifying, testing and modifying, but that captures the journey as I heard. Is there anything else you want to say about that?
Tara: It’s affected prioritization as well. That’s the one thing that I think so much differently about. I still have a little bit of the “What’s up for this week? What’s up for tomorrow?” That kind of thing in terms of being able to just manage, find engagements, and things like that. How I prioritize the system looks so much different today than it did 18 months ago, before I started getting involved in this journey.
I have a long way to go still, but how I think about where I’m going to spend my time, and spend my precious resource of my effort, and spend the precious resource of somebody else’s effort—it looks so much different now than a year and a half ago.
John: Beautiful. I want to give you an opportunity to soap box about anything . . . Anything you’d like to say?
Tara: The way I think about what I got out of Influence Ecology is that I think I implicitly understood some of this stuff, but definitely my journey made it explicit. I can’t overstate how important this is. What you learn about and what you find out about is that this intersection between what you’re trying to make happen in your life—your aims or your goals—and the intersection between that and personality and what you’re naturally good at because of who you are, and then the overlaying of experience and expertise and what you bring to the table because of your experiences, and that with a moment in time—what are you trying to do right now towards that long-term journey?
The intersection of those four things, if you can manage those things simultaneously, and understand each of those elements enough with enough clarity that you can be playing in that intersection, it’s like the most important accelerator that is out there. That’s one of the things I try to do for businesses. If you can do that in your own life, you’ll have this ease and flow you can’t get anywhere else.
It’s really about bringing those four things together, and that’s what you get when you work with Influence Ecology. That’s what you get when you take the time to invest in yourself, because it’s work. Facing this stuff is hard and uncomfortable, and sometimes you’re wishing you could go to the movies with the kids instead, and it’s work to do it. It’s a commitment, but it’s worth it because you get yourself in that intersection and then you get all of those rewards on the back end.
John: Really great. You were brilliant. I haven’t had the opportunity to spend this much personal one-on-one time in a dialogue with you, but I’m thrilled with what your clients must experience in working with you because you’re articulate. You do a great job of creating examples and analogies like waffles and pancakes. You do a really great job, and it’s a pleasure to share your journey with our listeners and I appreciate your time. It’s been fantastic.
Tara: I appreciate it. Thanks so much. Thank you for everything that you and Kirkland and the entire team does. It’s really such an important investment in time and energy that you guys put towards it to make it an experience where we all get these benefits on the other end. Thank you both so much, and thank you all so much. I appreciate it, and I look forward to more.
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