Thoughts on a turnaround
This weekend, I spent a few hours reading through a business memoir recommended to me by someone for reasons I can’t recall.
The book was ghostwritten on behalf of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. and probably is best scanned.
In Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Gerstner spends most of the time extolling his ability to move IBM from a failing hardware-based company to a service-led success (which is admittedly, an impressive feat).
Below are some of the bits I highlighed, along with a quick thoughts inspired by the citation…
I am heavily involved in strategy; the rest is yours to implement. Just keep me informed in an informal way. Don’t hide bad information — I hate surprises. Dont’t try to blow things by me. Solve problems laterally; don’t keep bringing them up the line.
This is basic, but essential advice advice that too few employees understand. Truly getting that it’s not about identifying problems, but identifying solutions to those well analysed problems is what leads to recognition, appreciation, and long-term career success.
That said, if you can’t see the solution, that too, serves as its own solution. Showing that you’ve done the work and are stymied will ideally lead to a conversation that helps unlock the blockers that limited your solution space, or more likely, a admission that the leader you’re sharing it with is similarly flummoxed.
Hierarchy means very little to me. Let’s put together in meetings the people who can help solve a problem, regardless of position. Reduce committees and meeting to a minimum. No committee decision making. Let’s have lots of candid, straightforward communications.
Easier said than done, implemented, and believed. The trick is helping people see it’s not the hierarch that matters but how the different elevations can combine to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the issue being evaluated.
[An] integrator [is a firm that is someone who,] before the components reach the consumer, somebody has to sit at the end of the line and bring it all together in a way that creates value. In effect [they take] responsibility for translating the pieces into into value.
More digital media companies need to see themselves as integrations, not innovators. (Emphasis added.)
[E]very wall [was] adorned with the advertising, packaging, and marketing collateral of all [IBM’s] agencies. It was a train wreck of brand and product positioning.
Note to self: This is one solution to help illustrate why cohesive experiences matter…
[A] human-intensive services business is entirely different. In services you don’t make a product and then sell it. You sell a capability. You sell knowledge. You create it at the same time you deliver it.
Again, digital transformation will live or die on this. Very few companies sell digital products right now. And this is especially true with media companies. The more you admit you’re in the service business they faster you’ll find the paths to success.
We need a vocabulary to help the industry, our customers, and even IBM employees[,] understand that what we saw transcended [the tactical solutions (e.g., e-business vs e-commerce cica 1995)]
Never stop explaining. When your partners understand your ideas, you succeed.
[The common worldview of tech companies:] “What we could make” was the starting point, not “what they [the customers] need.”
Products have to be town down and examined for cost, features, and functionality.
True. Most likely, with any product a few months after launch one of those three is bloated. For digital products, within a year one of those is weighing down the business.
[N]o credit can be given for predicting rain—only building arks.
On a crowded streetcar
I vividly recall riding home on a semi-crowded King streetcar, a year ago today, and getting a notification on my phone I’d been expecting for a couple of weeks.
Canada had its first confirmed case of Wuhan, China’s mysterious “coronavirus.’
No one seemed to react to the alert I received. No one seemed bothered. But I remember thinking this might be the last time I rode a streetcar (I remember SARS).
I was wrong, but not for long.
Six weeks later, I was speaking at an event with hundeds of people. We were already bumping elbows and feeling awkward about shaking hands.
Ten days later, I began working from home.
I’ve not worked a day in the office since.
My wife is in the hospital right now and people are still coughing and yelling without masks.
We’re a long way from where we were, and I can’t imagine riding a streetcar as full as it was a year ago anytime soon.
Hope and fear
The day after the inauguration of a US president who isn’t a huckster, it’s striking to see how in awe the American public I’m exposed to (i.e., mainstream media, digital workers, and people living in urban environments) is. The hyperbole they are sharing is at one hand understandable given the lived trauma of the past one…two…four years. But the exhalations are oversimplifications at the best and naively myopic, at worst.
This is why so many people in that country opted for someone so toxic in the first place.
And then did so again in the most recent election.
When living in the US, I heard the same hopes applied to Obama in his first term. As a foreigner, I was wary to comment, especially given how much I knew the colour of his skin meant to them.
But I do remember a conversation with some friends where I said, in essence, “His policy changes are fairly modest.”
They went silent.
Although it wasn’t said, I’m sure a few thought I was anti-progressive, possibly even a closet racist.
So I stayed quiet, despite knowing how much his election could bring about an opportunity for Americans to see each others as equals.
And those friends grew disappointed.
And a salesman was elected president.
And just like before, when a potential war criminal was replaced by a Black man; a man who’s found wisdom in his lived experience replaces an enabler of white supremacy.
And that is, without a doubt, a monumental step forward.
But I worry for my friends—and rest of the America I see—will build up hope so high, it can only lead to disappointment, and they will miss hearing the cries for help from a so many people still in pain.
And I believe that to be true.
Coincidentally, the newly elected US president echoed a mentor of mine, who said: “Hope is better than fear. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.“
And I believe that to be true, too.
And as more Americans come off the high of realizing they don’t need to have leaders who thrive on hate and anger and ego, I hope they also know they don’t need to hold all of their leaders to a more than human ideal.
I hope they can see their leader’s failures and gaps, and demand more.
That they ask for more than an improvement over the past, and instead demand, once again, a future that exceeds expectations.
Not sure what sparked this, but…
One of my secret frustrations in my work at The Globe and Mail was that I never was able to introduce, or test, my ideas about marrying the digital medium of online news with the print medium of newspapers.
Two more ideas I would have liked to bring to life:
- Aging paper (similar to what The Guardian did with its warning labels on old articles): The idea would be the older the article was the more yellowed the background became and the more faded the type grew.
- Doodles: Some kind of ability to draw on page, using your mouse or finger. Little sketches in the corner, or notes in the margin. Maybe its just for you, maybe you share it. But it’s your space to think, and return to, or be remind of.
In a revenue-driven environment, where cost is scrutinized, there’s limited capacity for these quirky little ideas that bring a bit more humanity to our digital world.
My frustration, though, to be honest, is not that these ideas didn’t see the light of day, but rather I couldn’t find a way to make them happen even with the opportunities I had.
Like the last drunk at the bar
”Trump impeached again” was the banner headline across, at least The New York Times and The Washington Post and it was the definition of anti-climatic. After all, the world knows the outcome. In seven days, Trump is no longer president, regardless of what he believes or the the US Senate does.
And the world has literally already seen him be impeached only months earlier.
He has broken the rules, broken the system that enforces the rules, and broken the patience of almost everyone. Yet he won’t leave. Even out of office, he’ll loom as a constant, if toothless, annoyance for months, if not years.
But its important to acknowledge, and accept that reality, and move on.
With everything this world has collectively experienced during the past 12 months, we know how essential it is to find potental in a world of diminishing expectations.
Nothing much to say, but wondering how much of a nudge I’ll need to write 100+ words a day, every day for the year?
Factoring in emails, Slacks, and business documents writing, I’d likely be able to hit that stride without being aware of it. All I’d need would be some kind of mileage tracker for my key strokes connected to each laptop (because, really, I don’t write write on mu touch-devices).
Regardless, the fresh snow outside is a nice mental reminder (more so than the calendar change), of how this season allows for a new start. The ground is frozen, with the dirt and mess of the past year buried under a bed of crystallized fragments of clouds.
In conjunction with the meeting-free quiet of this period at work, when I finally give myself permission to read what I’ve set aside for when I have time to synthesis it all, this time of the year can be restoratvie. In fact, though I rarely make New Year’s Resolutions™, I usally fnd myself writing bigger picture strategy documents about what I’m hoping teams will do at work. Though it rarely happens (underestimate how much bridge-building I need to do to bring people along), each year feels like it gets closer to possible. And despite the mess of this year, I may actually to finally be in the right place to make this decade-long vision for come alive.
But I am getting ahead of myself…
For now, it’s time to enjoy the contrasts of light and dark playing outside my window in those barren tree branches and take all of this time in.
One last note…spent the last couple weeks reading Until The End of Time as an ebook. May need to revisit as an actual book again soon. The book captured more of my disparate curiosities with each new section—it was unexpected and profoundly resonated.