What the Books Don’t Teach You?

Post is inspired by a Twitter Thread by @sahilbloom regarding the book “Good to Great”. This is not a criticism.

It’s just a look at how you think about what can be applicable to you Vs. looking at things that sound good but might not be for you.

Jigsaw Puzzle

The beauty of a jigsaw puzzle is that it makes you think of possibilities and combinations that stir your imagination and the thrill of putting it all together even if you have solved the puzzle hundreds of times.

Every time it seems like there is a new dimension to the problem.

You randomly pick up pieces and try to put them together to see if they fit in.

Sometimes they do and at others they don’t.

Through this hit & trail method you arrive at the right combination.

There are similarities that our life and whatever else we do to a jigsaw puzzle.

However, the challenge in life is that the life-puzzle is infinite and hence pieces never seem to fit together.

The same thing happens with business, there are so many moving parts that to think that you can solve the jigsaw puzzle when life and business is changing by the moment around you is giving yourself too much power that you don’t actually possess.

What Characterizes a Business?

Products, brand, technology, intellectual property give competitive edge to the company to succeed in the marketplace.

However, the piece of the puzzle that makes and keeps a business a running ship is its culture and its biggest bane that ultimately can push it back.

When a company is successful, its culture is hailed and when it stops being a market leader or fails, the same culture is reviled.

Who is talking about GE today?

In Management meetings, often the CEO asks, how do I improve the efficiency, productivity, growth of the Company?

Focus groups are created, and initiatives are laid down, often times without realizing that the pieces being created do not fit the puzzle and maybe not even required.

Then there is lure of the “Latest Management FAD” that a consultant with a best-selling book behind brings to the table.

Good to Great

11 companies participated in “Good to Great” original list-

Wells Fargo, Nucor, Kroger, Abbott, Gillette, Circuit City Store, Fannie May, Kimbery Clarke, Philip Morris, Pitney Bowes & Walgreens.

This is apart from the 6 companies that the author says could not sustain “Greatness”.

These are- Burroughs, Chrysler, Harris, Hasbro, Rubbermaid, Teledyne.

A very quick google search will tell you that none of these companies can be characterized as market leaders today.

If anything, they have lost market share as well as market cap from their heady days.

Circuit City Store went bankrupt.

Pitney Bowes all time high was in 1999. Its trading at 20% of that all time high right now.

What Happened?

Whatever method a book advocates is what I described above as bringing more pieces to the puzzle rather than making it easier to join the current pieces together and sometimes they could make you believe you have changed, improved basis criteria like share price gain which might not have anything to with you perse.

If the market is in a positive territory, it is not extraordinary for share prices to go up, but you cannot use share price as a barometer of greatness.

As Jeff Bezos said-“my share price is not my company”.

Bumper Sticker Management

To be seen to be doing something and failing is considered better than “Not to be seen doing something and failing”.

This creates the pressure to hire consultants and create company-wide initiatives.

In the 1999 anniversary issue of “Business Today” (Indian publication), there was stories of companies that had put in place transformational processes and succeeded.

When I met the HR-Head in 2000 of once such company and asked him how things were now-he couldn’t even re-call what was it that I was referring to.

In another instance Head-HR of a large Indian Insurance company was gushing to me about the transformational journey of his company and support from the CEO.

After 6-months I learnt that he had left the company as under revenue pressures all his initiatives were abandoned unceremoniously.

Adapting the lessons from a book is like adapting bumper sticker philosophy to run your life.

It sounds good but it might be a piece that is not part of your puzzle.

Long back I heard an Indian Actor talk about his process and he said and I quote-“I listen to the Director, however when I am enacting I out it all at the back of my mind so that my emotions seem genuine on screen and convey my interpretation”.

This is solid advice-you read books, you listen to consultants and experts, however, you do what is applicable to you rather than adapting something that your system revolts against-like an ICE engine will not run on CNG, it will need petrol/diesel to operate.

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