Sunday, September 04, 2016


Pre-Labor Day, in case you were wondering.

Years ago, during the brief period when I was in Australia, I bought a book for my wife.  It was about woman and the businesses that they had built.  Most of them were small, while a few were quite large.  At the time, my wife was doing a lot of reading about women and success, and I guess I got it for her as a combination of this is that sort of thing, you might like it and wouldn't it be cool if she started a business?  As it turned out, she did like the book, but never started a business, and this evening she said Hey I found this on the bookshelf, do you still want it, or should we give it away? And me being me, I started leafing through it, and said well let me look at it a bit, and when I am done, we'll put it on the pile to donate to the library. 

[Man, my neighbor is making a lot of noise.  They hardly ever make noise, so even a little is a lot, and now that they have several relatives-or-something over, its noisy here.]

Anyway, the first article that I dipped into was about a woman who started a real estate business as a way of generating some badly-needed cash for her family.  It turned out that she had a knack for the business, and after working for a large real estate firm for a few years, she was able to start what would be called now a boutique firm, specializing in unique properties.  She talks a bit about how she came to do this, and it got me to thinking about that time in my life, when books on business were very popular, and everyone had a book out about Strategic Thinking and Multi-Level Marketing and Enhancing The Bottom Line and Your Inner Zen Manager and all that.  Most of the books were and probably still are crap, but they were hot, and since (like a lot of people) I thought that they had the Secret to Success (maybe they did, but not for me), I read a fair amount of them.

One idea that was particularly popular was that you could find the answer to a lot of your business questions by asking the people who actually delivered the service -- the telephone answerers, the customer service reps, the people who delivered to the stores where the product was sold.  Some books said that if you did this, not only would it become apparent to you what you should do in questionable circumstances, but you would get insights into the market that your competitors, those stodgy bastards, simply didn't have.  The books would have examples of how companies that did this were able to take advantage of changes in the market simply because they knew that the market was changing.  They knew, because they talked to the deliverers, the people with their fingers to the pulse of the market.

Apparently, someone where I worked read that book, and one day he announced to us that whenever we learned something interesting, we should tell him.  The idea was that he would weave these strands of information into a golden tapestry that would show him the future, guaranteeing success to the company, and, of course, to him.  He was pretty vague as to what these strands of information would look like - you mean, like, if the guy changes his phone number, you want to know?  Or if they get a new line of software out that looks like someone elses? Or .... at which point he would wave his hands irritably. Just the important stuff!

That idea didn't go very far.  Much later, it occurred to me (and again while I was glancing at this book), it wasn't a bad idea.  Little indicators do tell you what the market is going to do, if you know what to look for.  But we didn't know - and neither did he.  He thought it was magic, and it could be summoned at will.  It wasn't, but it could have been.  If he had given us a list of the types of things he wanted to know, or if he had backtracked on surprises that we had had in the past, to see if perhaps we could have predicted them based on what we knew at the time, perhaps it would have worked.

Someone - I think it was Robert Heinlein, a science fiction writer, or perhaps it was Arthur C. Clarke, also a science fiction writer - said that Any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic if you don't understand it.  Thats true too for management. You have to have an idea of what to do to get what you want.  Or like the joke goes, Christ gets out of the boat in the middle of the lake and confidently walks to shore.  He is followed by Peter, his chief disciple,, who also walks confidently on the water.  Gritting his teeth, an acolyte steps out of the boat - and drowns.  Peter turns to Christ and says Think we should have told him where the rocks are? 


Tabor said...

I had never herd that joke on the Apostles. But it has immense truth in its core!

Cerulean Bill said...

The alternative is 'then a miracle occurs'. Never liked that response very much.