“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.” --Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Dejà vu all over again?
How often have you heard that phrase banging against your skull … and how often was it telling you … “I’ve been here before” … “Didn’t we already solve this problem?” … “Why does this subject keep coming up all the time?”
Late last year, I embarked on a retrospective of my first 100 newspaper columns from the last four years. You may recall that I emphasized how often so many of those issues continue to be the same challenges year after year. They’re constantly resurfacing, often in disguise as a different issue altogether … but really, the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.
I promised you then that we would attack the litany of reasons that these same issues keep popping up like whack-a-moles. I don’t think we’ve gotten “dumb and dumberer,” so what’s going on? Why are we tackling the same problems over and over again?
What I discovered is that there is a consistent swarm of resilient little creatures that appear like marbles on a bedroom floor … we’re constantly dodging them, looking for ways to step around them, kicking them to the side … but rarely do we take time to permanently organize them so we don’t trip over them again tomorrow.
In my last column, I tackled one of the biggest reasons these issues keep reappearing … our inability to make the tough decisions … but there’s much more. By my count, there are at least a dozen universal forces that have united to defeat our best-laid plans. I’ve decided to rip off their masks and let them be seen for what they are … mostly, our own creations. But for our comfort or timidity or lack of conviction, they have a life of their own and prevent us from getting done and permanently resolving those things that are most important to us.
The next demon on this list rhymes with “it’s the economy, stupid.”
Jim Collins in his latest book, Great by Choice, explores what differentiates the most successful companies … during chaotic and unpredictable times … from the also-rans. Why do some companies fail to successfully respond to the obstacles thrown in their way … by a wayward economy, rising energy prices, oppressive regulation, predatory pricing, you name it … while others thrive despite the obstacles?
What Mr. Collins found in his empirical research is that the most successful, 10X companies he studied refused to be overcome by these external forces. They recognized that unexpected roadblocks, even the black swans that Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about in his popular book of the same name, were simply grist for their mill. The most successful companies modified their plans but followed them relentlessly, dodging bullets, sidestepping land mines, and confronting immovable objects as just one more tripwire to step over. It was simply unacceptable to “blame” these outside factors or to even proffer them as a reason for failure or disappointment.
More than anything, for these companies, it is a mindset. They embrace the notion that obstacles, of one kind or another, are a permanent part of the natural landscape, and don’t let these inevitable forces derail their plans. They don’t blame these uncontrollable events for every shortcoming and don’t let uncontrollable environmental factors strangle the initiatives over which they do have domain.