Archive | February, 2012

Commenting on “The Only Question That Really Matters”

10 Feb

Every so often, I read something that knocks me back in my chair.

This morning, it was a blog by Tony Schwartz over at the Harvard Business Review entitled, “The Most Important Question You Can Ask”.  The question is “Why are you here?”, Schwartz’ answer:

I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up.

Simple… Powerful… What a great philosophy!  Imagine a world where everyone felt that way?

Many realizations came hard on the heels of reading this statement.  Take social media, for example.  What blogs/tweets do I gravitate toward?  The ones that add value.  The ones that give me an additional insight on a topic.  What are the blogs/tweets that make me want to move off the grid?  The ones that are blatantly self-serving; thinly (or not even thinly) disguised marketing product pitches.  White noise.

Look at any credible sales training methodology (Jeffrey Gitomer and Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage are two that come to mind).  What do they preach? Add value, show a genuine interest in the other person (the key word being ‘genuine’).

BTW: One of my favorite tweets;  Deirdre Breakenridge simply tweets “Good Morning” every day.  It’s almost like greeting an old friend.  I find myself looking forward to it.  No veiled (or unveiled) message, no hidden agenda, just “good morning”.  As Schwartz points out in his blog, even the simple gesture adds value.

Back to the topic:

I’ve always felt that the credit crunch and the financial malaise of the past few years can be attributed to an attitude of “me first”, exemplified by a VISA advertising campaign from decades ago:

“Who says you can’t have it all?”

What a siren song!  Of COURSE I can have that big screen TV,  I DESERVE it.   People (or institutions, or countries) are using money they don’t have, then demanding a bailout when it all comes crashing down.

As we prepared to invade Iraq following the events of 9/11/01,  I was debating the merits of that strategy with a former co-worker.  His view, we need to take over Iraq for the oil.  Iraqi national sovereignty had no bearing on the discussion.  We need the oil.  It’s all about us.

It’s disappointing that our political system seems to fall into one of two camps.  The Democratic “The rich must give to the poor” and the Republican  “I’ve got mine, you can’t have it”.  I find myself disillusioned by both.

I’m looking for a party or candidate that truly lives by “I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up”,  I’ll follow him or her anywhere.

In the meantime, I’ll just strive to live up to that ideal myself.  I have a long way to go.

Thank you, Mr. Schwartz!

– RTR

Why Didn’t I Think of That? Intellectual Diversity

9 Feb

Bronwyn Fryer wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “Wanted: Idea Fusers”.  She uses examples such as Steve Jobs (everyone’s favorite example) and his fusion of calligraphy and technology in creating the Macintosh user interface.

In the closing paragraph, Fryer issues a challenge:

Now, take a good look at the people your company hires. Do they come from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences? My guess is that there may be a diversity policy on the books, and that there are people of different genders and races. But we need more diversity than that. We need much more intellectual diversity, and we need to find ways to put unlike ideas together in new ways.

Connecting the dots here, I thought of my own family.  One of the things I always admired about my wife is how she encouraged our children to be self-sufficient and find their own way at a very early age.  They learned to make their own meals, do their own chores MUCH earlier in life than I would have expected.  I remember our youngest filling a pot of water and putting it on the stove to make tortellini when he couldn’t even see the top of the stove!

When the kids were frustrated, she would say “Use your words”.  When they were punished for some disgression, they would not be allowed out of “time-out” until they could present a ‘plan’ for how they would act in the future when faced with a similar situation.

I was more old school, resorting to “… because I SAID SO!” as a reason way too often.

Our children became independent thinkers, unafraid to present what we now call ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions.  All three of our children turned out to be great adults.

Ms. Fryer is really on to something with her comments.  Most organization do NOT gravitate toward people who think differently.

Our children took different educational paths when we moved to Cincinnati from Boston.  Our middle child started 1st grade in the local public elementary school, and followed the public school path through high school, the youngest was in Catholic school from Kindergarten on.   Regardless of the school choice, the boys (not as socially adept as their big sister) were sometimes a ‘challenge’ to the elementary school environment, due to their out-of-the-box independent thinking.  In both cases there were teachers along the way that saw their potential and nurtured it, but I sometimes wonder, what if my wife and I were BOTH “because I said so” parents?  What if our children’s educational experience had not included those teachers that saw their true value?

I think the same applies to business organizations.  We naturally gravitate towards people who think and act like us.  Free thinkers can be a burden.  They can be disruptive.  They’re not like us…

I believe that it’s a rare organization that can foster free thinking and idea fusing and survive over time.  Eventually the success of the free thinking culture is challenged by market forces, and management brings in a ‘proven leader’ to whip the organization into shape.  Think Apple during Steve Jobs ‘hiatus’.   The non-conformists desert, the company becomes another nameless, faceless organization and another ‘idea fusing’ start up kicks them out of the limelight.  What would Apple look like today if Steve Jobs had not returned?

It’s not enough to find idea fusers, you need to be able to foster their growth and understand that not all fused ideas will be winners.  It will be a wild ride, but definitely worth the journey!

– RTR