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.
I know it’s early in the week for an obscure Pink Floyd reference so let me explain. The Olympics ended the other day and Nielsen is reporting some very large viewership numbers. In fact, according to the Hollywood Reporter…
NBC Universal smashed yet another historic ratings benchmark: The Beijing Olympics is the most-watched U.S. television event of all time. Through 16 days of coverage, 211 million viewers tuned in to the Olympics on NBC Universal’s broadcast and cable outlets, according to NBC citing Nielsen Media Research. That’s 2 million more than watched the 1996 Atlanta Games, the previous all-time record-holder.
Lovely story, good for NBC, go USA. But let’s spend a few seconds to look behind the numbers as an example of how one always needs to ask questions about any statistic. There are roughly 115 million homes in the US and nearly 113 million of them have a TV (112,800,000 out of 114,890,000 to be precise). There are multiple viewers per home so there are around 285 million persons 2+ in the universe base. I don’t have the 1996 people estimates but I think it’s fair to assume that ratio hasn’t changed very much.
In 1996, there were 97,540,000 homes and 95,900,000 TV homes. So whilst TV homes grew nearly 17 million since 1996, and the number of people in those homes probably grew by 30+ million, Olympics viewing grew only by 2 million viewers. Now, is that as impressive? I’d say yes, given the fragmentation of media since 1996 but one could also argue that Olympics viewing has lagged, with 10% – 15% of universe growth actually reflected in viewing. Heck, you’d expect a 15% pop in viewing just from the growth of homes.
The point is that in business, one can’t just hear a number and nod one’s head. Ask questions, look for the numbers behind the number. Challenge whomever is delivering the number to you. Great executives will beat you to the punch and make sure every number they deliver is in perspective.
I was in New York yesterday for a couple of meetings. As someone who grew up in and around the city, I generally have very little patience for the hordes of tourists who clutter the sidewalks and take photos in the worst possible places for those of us that have places to go and things to do. It’s pretty easy to see they’re tourists, by the way. No self-respecting New Yawker would behave as they do (nor dress in many cases!). I’ve often advocated that the airlines give out a piece of paper as you land at Kennedy or LaGuardia reminding tourists to stand out of the way to take pictures, to keep moving on the sidewalks, to cross against the light if there is no traffic, and not to spend their life savings on fake Gucci from street guys.
But yesterday something struck me. Maybe they have the wonderment part right (but not the standing in the middle of the sidewalk to take photos part!). Maybe the lesson for all of us is not to take the familiar as all that familiar. We need to ask questions constantly, even about those things with which we’re very familiar. Because even if you walk down the same street every day, things change. Maybe there’s a new place to get lunch. Maybe there’s a new pothole you need to avoid. It’s the same with your business. Things change and you need to be alert.
I do enjoy being on flights into NY when there are people on board who are seeing the city for the first time. They squish against the windows, even from the aisle seats, to see. I’ve flown in hundreds of times but there is nothing like flying over NYC on a clear night – I put down my book and enjoy it every time. We all need to look with new eyes as best we can as we fly over our business landscapes, no matter how familiar they have become.
But please step to the side when doing so!
I used to love hearing the coach say “Ritter, you’re in.” It meant I was going to get in the game rather than just stand on the sidelines trying to stay warm and keep my head involved. Ironic, I guess, coming from someone who now works in a profession renowned for standing on the sidelines and kibitzing to the players (best line ever – the commercial – where the consultants look at the client and say “oh, we don’t actually DO anything, we just recommend.”)
I’m thinking about this because I had an interesting experience this morning. You may have seen the announcement that konnects, a new social network, is having its official launch today. Like you, I need another social network like a third armpit, but I figured I’d search the Twitter community to see what was being said. Interestingly, of the 35 (as of this writing) tweets in the last 24 hours on this subject, it seemed as if exactly one was from a person who had signed up and was using it. The other 34 were either people reposting the announcement or asking for thoughts on the network.
How many blogs do you read that are just that? Folks who are standing on the sidelines but really don’t have the skill required to play the game? How many naysayers are there like that in your office – folks who are ready to criticize at a moment’s notice but who don’t move the ball up field themselves?
The perspective in the middle of the field or court or rink or tee box is very different than that from the sidelines. We all need to get in the game and sweat a bit before we make a lot of noise from the bench. I understand that it’s all a part of the conversation, and it’s certainly OK to ask questions or seek opinions (and I wish more people did both!). But I think there’s too much uninformed chatter out there. Maybe it’s peer pressure to blog/tweet/fill up the lifestream. We’d all be better off sharing experiences, not just opinions.
“Tell me about the last bad deal you didn’t make,” I asked. My friend looked back at me blankly. “Well”, I said, “you’ve just spent the last 15 minutes telling me about a few bad ones you did make. What about the ones you didn’t make?” That’s pretty much when he decided we’d chatted enough about business and the conversation turned back to golf.
Awhile back, Seth Godin, whom I admire, wrote a piece on making bad deals. His article was more directed at the deals made between individuals as they start new ventures, but I’ve taken some of what he had to say to heart as I look at any business deal.
Not all deals are worth doing. One has to know the point at which NOT making a deal is a better option and overcoming the very human desire to make something happen, to get something, to WIN! But in so doing, you LOSE. Get rid of those deals – set them free! Very much like the Buddha I am, I know. But the Buddha’s teaching is not so much of divesting one’s material possessions, but of not being overly crazy with our desires. Sometimes the desire for a deal outweighs its true value. The ones where the value of what you’re offering is disproportionately less than what you’re receiving are the ones I mean. The ones where someone will take your product (grudgingly, it seems) and almost want you to pay them or demand you give up any chance of making back your investment in supporting them, the client.
So what’s the last bad deal you didn’t do?