Way back, when I still smelled of baby powder, an ad for a clothing company used to be aired quite regularly on Indian TV. It was about this young man who discusses his career options and his contempt for dad’s business. His point is that his dad wants him to join the family ball bearing business, which he finds oh so old fashioned. “Me? Selling ball bearings?” is his refrain. He wants to get into fashion designing! Isn't that cool? What comes through is not that he loves fashion, but that ball bearings are passe. I cannot imagine a more stupid attitude. What is this hunt for the cool, in business. Not cool, as in, "wow, my products really solve customers' problems!" but "wow! I want me and my company to be featured on Page 3!"
Now, 10 years later and 6000 kms away, I see that nothing has changed. Recently, we were looking for some really aggressive, intense sales leaders for our company. In all the interviews we do, majority of the people want warm, cushy jobs that require them to be in office and leave at 4 PM sharp. For the others, health products are not “cool enough”. The refrain goes: "Health products? No way! Gimme IT and I will try! Working in the field? Getouttahere!" Why is it that as long as an industry, company or job looks glamorous, fun and crazy, people are queuing up to get a piece of the action? Is it because they think cool, glamorous and visible equals attractive? Is searching for a partner and searching for a job fundamentally different? Do they really look deep into what makes a business tick? What separates successful businesses from failures?
What is the ultimate goal of a business? To create profits? To create a fun workplace? To create customers? If your answer is something like the above, you are probably right. But what if you dig deeper? Just what exactly is a business? I am sure all of us have our pet definitions about what exactly we mean by a business. Some look at it from anthropologic perspective and say that it is a collective of people trying to achieve some common goal; some look at it from economic perspective and say that a business is a deployment of resources in the most efficient manner. My favorite is a physical science perspective; a business is a violation of 3rd law of thermodynamics. You know the 3rd law: the law that says all systems in the universe move from ordered to chaotic state. That entropy always increases. Machines break down; people die; energy dissipates; all because of entropy. In a deeper sense, all human endeavors are a struggle against entropy. That is why, businesses like P&G, GE strike a deep chord within us. They have defied entropy far longer than a majority of human institutions. We might revile them; we might mock them as "old economy"; but the fact is deep down we hold them in awe because they managed the entropy creep successfully for so long. How did they do that? By imposing an order on the chaos of marketplace. By making the art of making money a science or at the very least, a boring, routine craft.
Do we want the process of delivery schedules to be exciting? exciting as in uncertain? or do we want them to be boringly predictable? Do we want the companies where we hold the shares to be predictable in their earnings? or do we want to hold our collective breath every time the earnings season draws near? Do we want our products to work with predictable efficiency? Or do we want to wake up every day and wonder if our car will start this morning?
I had enough of this celebration of glamor and fun and excitement. I want to stand up and celebrate the boring. I want to make my company the most boring company when it comes to its ability to deliver results, deliver products. I want my company results to become a cure for insomnia among my shareholders.
Now, that is an exciting challenge!