Let's All Whack Jack

Fortune‘s 24 July cover, “Sorry, Jack,” is already famous. Fortune played a/the lead role, bar none, in the Beatification of Saint Jack. The way he unspooled exec bathroom toilet paper in Fairfield CT became a “best practice” worthy of Immediate Global Emulation. America being America, them that build must subsequently lead the Great Diminishment Parade.

So, on 24 July we got the “New Rules.” And here they are, contrasted with St Jack’s Tired Old Ways:

OLD RULE: Big Dogs Own the Street. NEW RULE: Agile Is Best; Being Big Can Bite You. OLD: Be No.1 or No.2 in Your Market. NEW: Find a Niche, Create Something New. OLD: Shareholders Rule. NEW: The Customer Is King. OLD: Be Lean and Mean. NEW: Look Out, Not In. OLD: Rank Your Players; Go With the A’s. NEW: Hire Passionate People. OLD: Hire a Charismatic CEO. NEW: Hire a Courageous CEO. OLD: Admire My Might. NEW: Admire My Soul.

First let me say: Hooray! The “new” rules, down to the chosen punctuation marks, are damn close to what I have been championing since In Search of Excellence in 1982. New to Fortune, a quarter-century old to me. But “Welcome Aboard”! I and my soulmates need all the help we can get—as the stakes get higher and higher.

On the other hand, Welch’s rejoinder has merit. It boils down to “Do both.” And indeed many of the “old-new” pairings are not mutually exclusive. At least they aren’t if you have a maniac in charge like Welch. (Most, alas, don’t.) For example, if you go to the horse track of management principles, I’d urge you in 14 cases out of 15 to bet against the “agile giant” idea propagated by Welch and the likes of former IBM wizard Lou Gerstner.

Another semi-gripe. Fortune‘s conceit is high circulation, yet read exclusively by 500 Fortune500 CEOs. Which is a way of saying that the “new” rules may come as a rude shock to $20 billion corps.; but they amount to old-fashioned survival rules for me and CEOs of almost all companies with, say, less than $500 million in revenue. E.g.: agility, market-creation, passion, courage.

My biggest gripe, my joy at the “new” list matching my biases notwithstanding, is that both Fortune circa 2006 and Welch got it wrong. The real Welch magic, as I see it, can be summarized in just two words: EXECUTION MANIA. GE folks make promises—and keep them. This turns out to be Novel Idea No.1 in virtually all Big Cos, and most not-so-big-companies. Welch and GE live by: Execute. Execute. Execute. Despite my Nardelli barbs above, I was careful to say he did do an extraordinary turnaround in an extraordinarily short period of time. And his “secret” was … A Culture of Maniacal Execution.

(You’ll find a PPT with the New Rules vs Old Rules attached.)

Tom Peters posted this on July 18, 2006, in Strategies.
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