Archive for July, 2011

Starting With Common Objectives May Be Overrated

Most would agree that when trying to develop effective strategies to drive transformative change it is helpful to start with agreement regarding objectives.  After all, if we are each working toward a common objective, how hard can it be to reach agreement?  Look!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s a Debt Ceiling!

The current debt crisis in the U.S. provides ample evidence that starting with common objectives may be overrated.  I would like to believe that there is a common objective to which every member of Congress can agree.  Oh, I don’t know.  How about something like, “we all agree we would like to maintain a AAA bond rating?”  The problem is that finding a common objective that becomes the common denominator is often too far removed from strategies to be useful.  Said differently, the more abstract an idea, the farther it is from concrete strategy or policy.

Over the past two days I was involved in a strategy advance (as opposed to a strategy retreat) with a group of my colleagues at Drexel University.  At the beginning of the first day the facilitator asked each of us to reflect on past meetings or strategy sessions that were particularly productive.  She then asked us to recall if there was an essential ingredient that made it successful.  Upon reflection, I settled on one ground rule that I feel is essential–complete transparency of objectives.

While it is not necessary that we start from a common objective, it is essential that we be honest and transparent regarding our objectives.  Said differently, there should be no hidden agendas.  Often, facilitators argue that everyone must check their egos at the door.  One can check one’s coat at the door.  One can check one’s purse at the door.  One can even check one’s smart phone at the door.  But it is very difficult to check one’s ego at the door. Even if we could, it could prove dangerous.  All those very large egos would likely block the exit, creating a fire hazard! Furthermore, our passion, creativity, drive and intellectual power is often fueled by our egos. How transformative would our strategies be without passion, creativity, drive and intellect?

During those two days, I witnessed a diverse group of very bright, passionate, creative people working together in an energetic and collegial fashion to tackle tough issues toward positive, transformative growth.  As a result, we were able to celebrate the victory of a great start on a long journey.  One reason for the success is that we established realistic ground rules up front.  Not the least of which was to ensure complete transparency of objectives.

© Mark Loschiavo

Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys

In a conversation with a colleague earlier today I was reminded of a phrase I have heard repeated over the years—feed the eagles and starve the turkeys.  At first glimpse this phrase may seem harsh and uncaring.  After all, aren’t we called to help those who are less competent?  Aren’t the strong supposed to help the weak?  Quite simply, no!  Not if it makes the strong weaker.  Not if doing so makes it more difficult for the strong to produce.

If the overachievers in an organization become hamstrung by blanket restrictions, budget cuts, or increased taxes, which are often the result of the mediocrity or failure of others in the organization, it stands to reason that total production will drop.

If this argument holds, why do organizations refuse to allow this logic to inform their decision-making during times of crisis?  An obvious answer is that it is much simpler to declare an across-the-board cut.  That way we can offer platitudes like, “everybody is being asked to tighten their belts.”  Sadly, I think the answer is more insidious than that.  I think it is based on the fallacy of CAN and WILL.

The fallacy of CAN and WILL is based in the faulty logic that because overachievers and high performing teams CAN produce more than others with the same resources, they WILL do even more with even less.  What makes this logic so dangerous is that it feeds the turkeys and starves the eagles.  In a backhanded way it rewards mediocrity by not holding it fully accountable.  Moreover, instead of rewarding overachievement it discourages it.  Why pull out all the stops to run a lean operation if it is not going to be recognized?  Why go to all that trouble only to be hamstrung?

Turkeys often store fat in preparation for a cold winter.  Eagles carry little, if any, fat.  If you are heading into a cold winter of crises, it would be wise to keep your eagles well fed!

© Mark Loschiavo

Perpetuating the Myth: The Tall Eighth Grade Entrepreneur

I was recently contacted by a columnist asking me for examples of, and connections to, successful entrepreneurs under the age of 20.  As the executive director for the Laurence A. Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship at Drexel University, I frequently receive similar request, but this one got my dander up.

I embrace the idea of celebrating the entrepreneur.  One of the things I enjoy most in my role at the Center is celebrating the entrepreneur.  As a society, we need to celebrate the entrepreneur.  They are as important to the 21st Century as John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Tom Watson, Sr., and J.P. Morgan were to the 20th Century.  Today’s entrepreneurs will drive the change, growth and prosperity for years to come.

So, being asked for successful entrepreneurs didn’t bother me.  What bothers me is the relentless desire to write about the successful entrepreneur under the age of 20.  Such articles might increase readership, but they do little to encourage meaningful entrepreneurship.  Instead, they are perpetuating a myth, equivalent to positing that all young people should drop out of college so they can start a Dell Computer, or Microsoft.

Instead, we should be celebrating the entrepreneur who endures the typical experience of countless hours/days/years building and growing a successful business.  We need to herald the entrepreneur that exercises a strong internal locus of control, a need to achieve, ambiguity tolerance, discipline, and a singularity of purpose that increases his or her chances of success.  We need to lift up the entrepreneur who constantly exercises her skills of persuasion, connectedness and networking to build and maintain a fan base around her business.  Our heroes need to be those entrepreneurs with the endurance and perseverance to fail often and early, so they can fail forward.  We need to stop perpetuating the myth that it is easy and it is an over-night phenomenon.

Hopefully, there will always be the Michael Dell and Bill Gates of the world.  They also are heroes of the late 20th Century. While they are the exception regarding scale, they are not the exception regarding internal locus of control, need to achieve, discipline, ambiguity tolerance, singularity of purpose, persuasion, connectedness and resilience.

© Mark Loschiavo

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