Personal Finance

The risks of businesses creeping at a petty pace

risk pic

The antidote to the risk of creeping at a petty pace is constantly evolving, adapting. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • In the ebb and flow of business, things will get worse, then get better, with managers strutting upon the corporate stage, often claiming credit for their brilliance.
  • Almost inevitably, the star companies of yesterday, experience significant losses, and undergo a management reshuffle, going through an almost Shakespearian ‘purging of catharsis’.
  • What leads managers and their employers astray is a preoccupation with success, that unreasonable fear of failure, a mindset that inhibits risk-taking.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death.

Out, out, brief candle.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more.

It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

These are the words of Macbeth when he learns Lady Macbeth has just died in William Shakespeare’s play written in 1606.

Is the field of management confined to thinkers like Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Adam Grant, and doers like Jeff Bezos, or can one learn from those contributors, who lived centuries before us? “A person who does not know the history of the last 3,000 years wanders in the darkness of ignorance, unable to make sense of the reality around him” were the thoughts of Johann Goethe.

We call what we do from 8am to 5pm the domain of business and management. Yet, this distinction, this drawing of the line, this pigeonholing of what we do, to earn a living is artificial. It’s a comfortable convention we apply because it suits us. Perhaps we are too lazy in our perspective? But what if every waking hour, was management? What if for every moment, we are always on?

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY

For most small business people this is the reality, always thinking about how to grow the enterprise, and deal with the inevitable constant stream of problems. All to see the customer’s problem, as a possible business opportunity.

In contrast, for a small sample of salaried staff members, theirs is a different lot, secretly disengaged, they can cruise through the day, like an actor on the stage, saying all the right lines, yet in their heart, when the workday ends, that’s it, they switch off.

It’s all ebb and flow. A new monk enters the Buddhist monastery anxious to please. After the first month, he comes to his master and shares his concerns.

“I am having trouble fitting in and doing my tasks, plus I have difficulty focusing on my breathing in mediation. I get distracted easily.”

“This too will pass,” says the master.

With a big smile on his face, clearly pleased with himself, after six months, the new monk, once again meets with his master.

“I am delighted with my progress, I can contribute significantly in my work at the monastery, and with the community, and have been able to focus on meditation practice. I feel quite enlightened.” On hearing this, the master responds: “This too will pass.”

In the ebb and flow of business, things will get worse, then get better, with managers strutting upon the corporate stage, often claiming credit for their brilliance.

Almost inevitably, the star companies of yesterday, experience significant losses, and undergo a management reshuffle, going through an almost Shakespearian ‘purging of catharsis’.

In the corridors of commerce, a business version of catharsis 2.0 takes place, the equivalent of purification of emotions, leading to a sense of renewal and restoration.

Stuck in the cycle. Are managers stuck in this almost Karmic cycle of decline and rebirth? How can one anticipate the decline? Is it possible to be proactive?

Bright ideas, management insights, solutions to problems don’t generally come sitting at your workplace desk, or in a Zoom call virtual meeting. They can come at any hour of the day, and believe it or not, even in your dreams.

Your subconscious mind is the supercomputer running the show.

Students being sent home from school in a time of an epidemic is nothing new.

At the time of the Bubonic plague in England, the University of Cambridge closed its doors and sent its students home. One of those young scholars, Isaac Newton, on his enforced leave sat in a field and watched an apple fall to the ground. The rest is history, Newton’s law of universal gravitation states that “every mass attracts every other mass in the universe, and the gravitational force between two bodies is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.”

So ‘just chilling’ has its unexpected virtues.

FEAR OF FAILURE

What leads managers and their employers astray is a preoccupation with success, that unreasonable fear of failure, a mindset that inhibits risk-taking, a focus on past performance rather than potential, and blindness to the role of luck in successes and failures.

Required reading are Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s books: Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, both of which examine the random events that influence us, that have significantly altered the course of history, yet they are almost impossible to predict.

Let’s take the random observation that value does not necessarily correlate with price. Imagine you take an Uber taxi from town, and given it’s a beautiful sunny day, you decide to get out before your destination, and take 20 minutes to walk the rest of the way. At the roundabout, you come across a little informal clothes market. You look down and see a 100 percent cotton sweater, just the blue-green colour that you love, and it fits perfectly — Sh 100 and it’s yours. Yet in an upmarket mall, trendy shop, the cost of a similar sweater could easily be thirty times the price. A random eureka, Isaac Newton-like revelation: value is in the eye of the beholder.

Apply mental jujitsu

Whatever is thrown at you, probably out of the blue, ask what can I learn from this, and in a sort of mental jujitsu, how can one turn the problem on its head, and use it to one’s advantage?

There is no unthinking perpetual motion of constant upward success, it’s all ebb and flow, yin and yang. Best to schedule some breaks and make time for reflection. Just chill.

Notice the tendency to conform, stifling innovation.

Encourage your staff to build on their unique strengths and to speak up when they have ideas for improvements. The antidote to the risk of creeping at a petty pace is constantly evolving, adapting.

More than a century ago, Charles Darwin wrote: “It is not the strongest of species that survives, not the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.”