I was reminded, as we dropped our daughter off at college, about my favorite things college offers. Ideas! Lots and lots of facts, opinions, and everything in between. The best stuff humankind has come up with over the last 10,000 years or so.
If you’re open to it, that is.
Some young people go to college with a very specific idea about what they will study. Others have very fixed ideas about how the world works. They ignore anything that doesn’t conform to their views and reject anyone who tries to alter them.
Business is not different. How many organizations suffer from the “not invented here” syndrome? It’s easy to detect. New managers come in and immediately change the ad agency. The same new managers will tear apart a system that is functioning well simply because they want the system to be theirs. Prior management is, by definition, incompetent, short-sighted, and foolish. In software, any code not written within the organization is rejected. Wheels are reinvented. You get the picture.
The web has moved to open standards. Wireless is on the way there. So why are some managers and organizations working with a closed innovation standard? Just because something wasn’t invented by you or within your company doesn’t mean it’s bad.
I reminded my daughter to keep an open mind. There are a tremendous number of great thoughts in the air and it turns out that a great many of them were invented elsewhere. This isn’t a paean to the status quo, just a reminder that a closed mind and knee-jerk reactions are generally not the best assets for a smart businessperson. Or student!
We dropped our youngest off at college today and are now officially “empty nesters.” The president of the college made a brief speech to the parents of the Class of ’12, reminding us that while we had delivered these young adults to the world, they (and we) are now at the point where they’re ready to take on lives separate and apart from us.
Which, of course, got me thinking about managing projects (OK, actually it was during the car ride home). As an executive, very often one initiates something that is fleshed out and executed by others. Like children, while these projects may start off being very dependent upon the person who brought them into the world, at some point they involve many other people who have a big influence on what they ultimately become. Even later, one often finds that the project has taken on a life very much of its own and it may or may not be what the initiator had in mind. That doesn’t make it bad, just different. The key, as an executive, and a parent, is to have the courage to let these ideas develop on their own. Make sure they don’t get off track, keep them out of financial trouble as best you can, but if the idea’s foundation is sound and you’ve entrusted it to good people (in business, your staff; in the real world, teachers) part of the fun is seeing how it develops.
I can’t wait to see how our little idea turns out after the next four year developmental cycle (and aren’t you glad people don’t speak management in the real world!). So far, so good!
As I’ve said before, this blog is not about politics. However, with the opening of the Democratic Convention and the true beginning of the Presidential race, it seems an appropriate time to write about an aspect of politics that holds very true in business as well.
One big mistake about which I used to caution the people I managed was what I called the Sonny Corleone error. As Tom Hagan says, “Your father wouldn’t want to hear this, Sonny. This is business not personal.” What I meant by that was that personal attacks can’t ever take the place of sound logic and a good plan. In debates, they call this argumentum ad hominem. The fancy Latin simply means argument against the person and is the error of attacking the character or motives of a person who has stated an idea, rather than the idea itself.
I am very hopeful that the two candidates will not commit this error. I believe that most Americans want to hear what each of their respective plans are for our country and then make a decision about which plan to support. You can do business with people who aren’t your cup of tea – you don’t like their clothes, their hair, their political party, their world view – as long as they don’t stray ethically in a manner that affects your dealings with them. What I mean by that is that it’s unimportant to me if a business partner likes to drink or gamble as long as that drinking and gambling doesn’t cause him to rip off customers. I’ve done plenty of business over the years with folks I probably would not invite to my home (and I’m sure they’re not itching to have me over either). That doesn’t mean we didn’t have productive dealings. Yes, I’m concerned if either of the two candidates is on the mob’s payroll but I don’t care if they got drunk 25 years ago.
As the campaign rolls to November, listen for who is emphasizing a plan and who is committing the error of argumentum ad hominem. It’s not good in business and it’s no better in the business of politics.