As I do upon occasion, I speed walked yesterday listening to several of Martin Luther King’s most prominent speeches. I do so for reasons spiritual as well as, frankly, professional. No declamations, including Churchill’s, are so moving. (I listen to a lot of speeches.) In a professional vein, I have no idea who comes in second to Dr King as a public orator, but whoever that might be is a distant second. I could easily expend 5,000 words on the details of his speaking Excellence—from the emotion to the brevity to the excruciatingly slow build to the storytelling to the matchless use of alliteration to the urgent call to action to the shaming of those who would sit on the sidelines and not act. One of King’s most moving speeches was in Memphis, right before he was assassinated. He anticipated that tragic event. I stopped and listened to a brief section three or four times, scribbling as I did. Here’s at least a close approximation:

[Moving recitation of the last decade’s events in the Civil Rights Movement, such as Selma.] “And I got into Memphis last night, and some say the threats are all around. Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me, because I’ve been to the mountain top. Longevity has its place, but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I have seen the Promised Land. And I don’t mind. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. I am not worried. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

I get chills all over again even as I write this, but if I dare trivialize it, I want to make another point. “Longevity has its place, but I’m not concerned about that now. … I may not get there with you. …”

I simply don’t buy “built to last” in any way, shape or form—and this passage reinforced that abiding belief. “Built to Impact” is/has been/will be my Rallying Cry. Dr King changed the world—and died at 39.

To trivialize perhaps: Netscape changed the world … and died at about age 6. I am desperately trying to change the world in some teeny tiny way, I have but a few years to go, and I have purposefully not created any “institution” to attempt to move my case forward when I’m gone—the world will take care of that (or not) without me. I frankly don’t give two hoots about longevity—other than spending time with my family. I’ve done what I can do as well and as hard as I can do it up to and including last Friday in Singapore. And that’s that. Period. (I don’t want my professional life to be a run-on sentence.)

Kjell Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle bluntly make this point in Funky Business: “But what if [former head of strategic planning at Royal Dutch Shell] Arie De Geus is wrong in suggesting, in The Living Company, that firms should aspire to live forever? Greatness is fleeting and, for corporations, it will become ever more fleeting. The ultimate aim of a business organization, an artist, an athlete, or a stockbroker may be to explode in a dramatic frenzy of value creation during a short space of time, rather than to live forever.”

(NB: GM’s shining hour—and shine it did!—lasted from about 1950 to 1975. Hooray, thanks a ton, and I won’t really miss you if you go kaput.)

“Built to Impact”—TP
“Explode in a Dramatic Frenzy of Value Creation”—KN & JR
“I may not get there with you [but] mine eyes have seen the glory …”—MLK

Now consider this from Simone de Beauvoir: “Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and in surpassing itself. If all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying.” (Think about a surviving GM?) I scrounged this marvelous [Marvelous = Abets my Life’s Argument] quote from a marvelous book I picked up in the airport in Bangkok. It’s Robert Tomasko’s BIGGER Isn’t Always Better.

Tomasko makes a reasoned, data-rich argument that echoes Simone Beauvoir. He does not, for instance, dismiss big mergers out of hand, but provides a strict definition of the few that work. This wee saving remnant uses the merger to help the enterprise perhaps “explode in a new frenzy of value creation,” to paraphrase Nordström and Ridderstråle. (Immelt’s unabashed aim at GE.) Tomasko, however, devotes the lion’s share of the book to strategies and tactics for keeping energy and excitement going and growing in a corporation—this rarely or never encompasses growth-for-growth’s sake or bigger-ness for bigger’s sake. (Think Bo Burlingham’s Small Giants, much praised in this Blog.) Typical chapter titles are: “Growth Is About Moving Forward” and “Are You a Fixer or a Grower?”

“Built to Impact”—TP
“Explode in a Dramatic Frenzy of Value Creation”—KN & JR
“I may not get there with you [but] mine eyes have seen the glory …”—MLK
“If all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying.”—SB

My case rests.
(For now.)

Tom Peters posted this on August 8, 2006, in Strategies.
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