Even during a two-week break, the brain keeps thinking. In fact, in a more relaxed state, thinking improves. So, naturally, a few thoughts popped into my head while I was away. But, because I wasn’t blogging, the ideas remain rather ill-formed and brief. Here they are:
We Are in the Midst of an Ego Epidemic: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the railroad barons, oil magnates, and banking emperors of the era began philanthropic pursuits — but they did so in a way that many modern philanthropists might find perplexing. That is, the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and others gave their money to experts, whom they entrusted to create the best universities, the best parks, or the best hospitals. These people knew expertise was different from success. Now, it seems that people who think they’re good at one thing think they’re good at everything — from players becoming coaches to actors becoming thinkers to entrepreneurs becoming ethicists. Now, if you’re rich, you also think you’re superior rather than just lucky or a statistical anomaly. Humility and a sense of shame are two things we could do with a bit more of these days.
The MBA Programs Are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong: I was the guy wearing the “No Condo, No MBA, No BMW” t-shirt in college, the English major who knew better. Then, I was the guy who got an MBA later in life, basically because I wanted to level the playing field in a world increasingly obsessed with credentials. Going through my MBA program, the drumbeat of “shareholder value” was strong — every decision should be geared to increase shareholder value, as they are the true “owners” of the company. A recent essay in Pro Publica debunks this, both logically and legally, noting that shareholder power and rights are very limited:
. . . shareholders are more like contractors, similar to debtholders, employees and suppliers. Directors are not obligated to give them any and all profits, but may allocate the money in the best way they see fit. They may want to pay employees more or invest in research.
The viability of a business should be first and foremost on the minds of its directors and executives. Shareholder value can be a part of this, but it’s only a part.
Do We Throw In the Towel Too Early? An essay by Sophie Rochester made the rounds recently. In it, Rochester identified 10 challenges to innovation. While I don’t agree with the list entirely — neither its length nor its contents seem quite right — her fourth point (“There’s no ROI and we’re too quick to throw in the towel”) resonated clearly with my own experience. Investments in the future are risky, but often not as risky as the status quo. However, the status quo doesn’t require new investment, just repetition, which seems less risky and has an inherent if diminishing ROI. So, status quo often wins. But enlightened leaders know when to stop investing in the status quo, which is usually now, and begin investing in the next thing. The tension always emerges about how long to let things play out before you stop sinking money in the new venture. Two years? Five years? Two months? Unfortunately, most of us are in organizations that seem to be more of the “month” than the “year” mentality, another misnomer of the MBA generation (short-term returns and annual budgets rather than long-term vision and positioning).
Of course, the notion of giving up too easily came naturally, as I sat casting again and again, hoping for that elusive fish worth keeping (too many small fry found my lure). I was pleased when a 15″ brook trout finally made the waiting worthwhile. Patience and persistence often pay off.