Five things I wish I knew before I started: Dirk McCormack


In our new series, we ask our key thought leaders to share a more personal perspective on their career journey and current position.

Dirk is our Business Development Director based in Sydney, Australia. Dirk brings 20 years’ experience in consulting services, and a further 10 years’ business development focus, resulting in an emphasis on problem-solving and matching business problems with associated capabilities.

Can you share with us five things you wish you knew before you started out?

It’s okay to fail

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” ― Ken Robinson

Early on in my career I assumed organisations had hired me to keep delivering results, and any resulting failure would somehow diminish my value to organisation. Potentially more damaging was any clear directive from an organisation that failure wasn’t an option.

As I have matured in subsequent roles, and organisations themselves have matured in how they view success, I now recognise how toxic both of those scenarios are.

Very little innovation comes without failure, and if the risk is calculated and supported by intelligence there is no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate those who are prepared to challenge the status quo, in an effort to find new ways to solve old problems.

Broaden your mind

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ― Dr. Seuss

Whilst there is little doubt your area of expertise requires constant iteration and refinement to keep you relevant, it should form only a fraction of knowledge development.

Travel as often as you can, even if it’s only your own country. Meet the locals, ask questions, gain an understanding of how others live, work, and play. Nothing broadens the mind quite like travel, and you’ll absorb almost subconsciously, the ability to adjust to different ways of communicating and better understanding the person sitting across from you in a business context.

Read a broad range of books. Aim for at least 1 a month, more if you can. Choose a range of topics, ask friends for suggestions, join a book club, or ask at the counter of your local bookstore.

Over time I have travelled and read more, but I really didn’t do enough early on, as I thought everything should be about my work. I read books on IT, I listened to IT podcasts, attended IT seminars, and it all made for a very dull boy indeed.

Consider your intent

“A fraudulent intent, however carefully concealed at the outset, will generally, in the end, betray itself” ― Titus Livius

This is always a difficult one, particularly when you know you have metrics to deliver, and that customer you are about to meet, might be the opportunity to close that disconcerting gap to budget.

As a late entrant to the sales profession, I found this particularly difficult to manage, as I was keen to prove to myself and my peers that I belonged. That meant staying on top of the leader board, outselling my peers, and delivering large deals.

An actual nightmare for my customers, as they recognised in my mannerisms, questions, and style of delivery that I had arrived with intent, and that intent didn’t much involve them.

I’ve learnt over time that little to no intent, often leads to better conversation, and ultimately better outcomes for the customer, which leads to better long-term successes.

This is easily my most cringe-worthy regret, and something I would have loved to avoid altogether.

Bring a point of view

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Through numerous sales courses, sales conferences, and sales mentors, I’ve always been drilled on making sure you ask questions to get to the point of understanding your customers objectives.

Over time I’ve come to realise that this can often be a form of subterfuge and may leave you unprepared to bring any value to the conversation, as you expect to fire off question after question without any meaningful contribution.

As the expert, its entirely appropriate to provide your customer with a point of view that helps them make an intelligent decision on how best to proceed. This does require preparation, and effort ahead of meetings, and shows that you have taken the time to do some research, which may be relevant should the conversation head in that direction.

Review your week, every week

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” ― Bertrand Russell

Ask yourself, before you put the burden on others, whether you could have done better. Try to get in the habit of reviewing your week at its conclusion, to see if there is anything you could have done differently to yield a better result.

I believe I have always done this, however, I would likely ask others to provide that feedback, before attempting it myself. Like the previous observation, I now recognise it’s probably better to build a point of view and then ask others to help you interpret those findings.

People are more inclined to help, once you’ve attempted to solve the problem yourself.

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