Thermostat for controlling the temperature in ...

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I finally got around to looking at Sunday’s paper and in the Times’ magazine I found this interview with Cornel West.  Now, as you know we don’t do politics here so I have no comments in this space about most of what Dr. West had to say.  However, there was one quote that I found to be relevant to those of us with a business focus and I’d like to share it with you.  While Dr. West was referring to President Obama, I think what he had to say applies to any of us who are responsible for managing organizations and dealing with changing circumstance.  But let’s see what you think.

This is the quote:

You’ve got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it. If you’re just going to reflect it and run by the polls, then you’re not going to be a transformative president. Lincoln was a thermostat. Johnson and F.D.R., too.

Substitute “executive” for “president” and I think he’s on to something.  The companies that have done well over the course of the last few years of technological and economic upheaval are the ones that have reacted to the changes and not those which just acknowledged and reported on them.  Thermostats, not thermometers.  Proactive people, not people who sit on the sidelines to watch and report.

Thermostats sense changes in the environment and employ the correct heating or cooling mechanisms to maintain a comfortable space.  Isn’t that exactly what each of us is supposed to be doing in our business lives?  We’ve talked a lot in this space about monitoring markets, customers, and competitors.  But it needs to go beyond that monitoring – that’s the thermometer’s job.  We need to act on the information.  If any of you have ever had a malfunctioning thermostat you’re aware of how uncomfortable things can become.  If your HVAC guy placed the device in a bad location (near a vent, next to a window) you know how badly deployed research can skew results and have things go horribly wrong.

So which are you:  thermometer or thermostat?  What’s the mindset of your team?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

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