Good Debate

Tom was hoping to continue the debate that started in the comments under “Built to Last. Built for Impact.” But he’s off to Norway/Sweden sans computer and so asked me to put some of those remarks into their own post. So here we go:

Brett: So Tom why didn’t you stop writing after “In Search of Excellence”? Why are you still involved in business when you could have long retired? Because we all want to last long … it’s a trite premise of human nature and a company is a human organisation.

Tom: Actually, wrong. I have never had a plan, and that is no lie. I just go from speech to speech and Post to Post and book to book—with no thought about “impact.” Your question is interesting, because the idea has never crossed my mind. (E.g., after every book I write I vow never to write another. Then something new pisses me off—and away I go.)

Years ago I named my power boat (sold long ago) “Cromwell.” It was because of a Cromwell quote I love/loved: “No one rises so high as he who knows not where he is going.” (Or something close to that.) For example, I get fanatic about design or women’s stuff for a few years. It’s not because it fits a framework—it’s because some inadvertent remark/s gets me going. You must believe me about this—as you know, I am blunt and personal and truthful to the best of my ability in these Posts.

Brett: And thank God you do get fanatically about various subjects or the rest of us would be the poorer without it.

But I still don’t think that diminishes the fact that we all believe we can last long producing at an “impact” level. Those pilots didn’t go up with the goal of having an “impact” and then dying, they went up to have an impact AND with a great desire to live but they accepted the risk of death. If they all had lived perhaps we can hypothesize that war could have been shorter? Having a goal of lasting long is not a bad goal in any aspect of human endeavour as long as you couple that with the goal of, to use your phrase, “having an impact”.

Tom: I do not care about longevity for longevity’s sake. Period. Amen. I would like to be around awhile—ASSUMING I AM IN GOOD HEALTH PHYSICALLY & MENTALLY—so that I can enjoy my family and farm. But for today (AND THAT IS ALL THERE IS) I will throw in my lot with Bernardo Bertolucci, who I quoted in a post a couple of days ago: “My only goal is to have no goals. The goal, every time, is that film, that very moment.” It, to me, is not a “good quote”—I agree operationally.

(PS This is a good debate.)

Arun: The thing is—I agree. But I also think that my definition of impact is very different from that of someone else. I define impact as “Value added per unit time”

If one added value to an organisation, society, herself or whatever at one point in time, and didn’t do any more, the value added by that person per unit time falls. The others in the organisation see her as not having much impact.

So you need to keep working harder, re-imagining the world, finding ways & means and influencing people to execute on your imagination.

That’s how you have impact. (long lasting impact :-)

On the flip side, you keep raising the bar for yourself, and your work life balance starts getting skewed. You then owe it to yourself to pull back perhaps?

Tom: Arun, I agree. 100% in fact. But my rejoinder, Zennish as it may sound, is that longevity is a nearly inadvertent effect of “living in the moment,” or Bertolucci’s focus on “this film.” Too many only see today’s project as a stepping stone to tomorrow’s promotion—that to me is a guaranteed path to non-impact. I heard General Powell say that the “big two” are (1) “taking care of your troops” and (2) “applying yourself 100% to today’s task, not tomorrow’s probable opportunities.” (I’ve put Powell’s stuff in quotes—though actually it’s from memory—but damn close.)

Plus, my own words notwithstanding, how do you “live for impact”? Impact on what? Warren Bennis says leaders don’t set out to be leaders—it’s that they have something they “must say” and thence must lead to say it. That fits me to a T. I JUST GOT SOMETHING/S I GOTTA SAY!! But, per Cromwell, the message shapes itself—it’s not the product of a Grand Design/strategic plan. Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher: “We have a ‘strategic plan,’ it’s called ‘doing things.'”

Arun: Your rejoinder isn’t just Zennish, the idea is the central theme of a 3500 year old ancient religious/social/execution oriented Hindu text called the Bhagwad Gita.

The Lord Krishna tells the soldier Arjuna: “Do what you’re expected to do—your duty. Do not worry about the rewards, for I will reward you for it.”

This is basically you’re theme of “work on the job at hand and don’t think of it as a means to a reward/promotion/money”

I think if you put your heart mind soul and passion into something, you’ll automatically learn something new about it. Like the character Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the eponymous book by Richard Bach, you elevate your own abilities to new levels and gain fresh insights.

These insights give you something to say, which others agree to (eventually) and they in turn execute on it.

Everyone who’s part of this then has a shared impact on the world.

But one key thing I’ve learnt is this—you need to keep learning—not just from books, but from any and every person you meet or interact with. But I guess that’s where Passion plays a role in getting that motivation to put in that kind of effort.

Erik Hansen posted this on August 10, 2006, in Strategies.
Bookmark and Share