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February 2009
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Say Something Good

A good friend, the CEO of a Fortune 100 company, sent me a most disturbing e-mail.He was sharing that on top of all of the business issues that requires attention, he was forced to deal with totally unfounded and unsupported personal attacks. Detractors being negative because they can. As I read and reread his e-mail it was just another example of how negative our country and society have become. It is almost impossible when listening to commentators and talking heads on TV or even reading news articles to find anyone articulating a glass is half full perspective.

Without getting into the causes of our current national crisis it is refreshing that we have a President who is at least trying to be proactive and trying to find a solution. No one, including the President, can or should state with surety that what is being done is either enough or is guaranteed to work. What I find depressing is the fact that he has not even finished laying out a plan and the commentators, politicians and “news” people are already saying “it will NOT work.” How do they know it will not work when they do not know what it is?

Having spent a career inventing new products and reinventing businesses this negativity is troubling and disruptive. Where would our country be if this attitude of it will not work before we try it prevailed? Amazon almost failed a number of times and is now a successful company. The history of FedEx is legendary in the number of times it had to be resuscitated before it became a true success. Before the return of Steve Jobs, Apple was considered a has-been and a goner driven to almost extinction by status quo thinkers.

My mother, I am sure like yours, would say over and over again, if you cannot say something good do not say anything at all. That seems like very good advice right now. Another often used line, we have met the enemy and it is us, also seems appropriate. Sure things are bad for a lot of people but they are also good for even more people. Recently I was out to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law and as we looked around the restaurant he looked at me and said, “is this what a depression looks like?” Every table full and the bar was packed with people waiting for tables. Granted an appalling number of people are out of work, their homes are being foreclosed on and a larger number of people are getting farther and farther behind on their bills but there is also a lot of good happening.

If the entrepreneur or new products person gave up on every idea at the first sign of failure we would have no new businesses, products or services. We would have no reinvented businesses and we would have no economy. This country was built on never giving up but we are being encouraged by too many to give up. This chorus of it will not work, it is too expensive or is just not good enough is being beaten into everyone to the degree that could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, there are some who do not believe it. This group must become the majority.

Ideo is one of the most successful design companies in this country. One of the key tenants of their system is the belief that great design and success is built upon an iterative process. Not so different from what Amazon, FedEx or Apple has done – always on a quests to reinvent themselves. The lesson we should be learning is that success is built upon a factually derived strategy, flawless execution which is constantly being measured and revised as needed. As Deming taught us – plan, do, check, act and then do it all over again.

Brian Williams has a segment on his evening news called Making a Difference. He seems to try to highlight something positive as he ends reporting the news. One has to wonder what people’s mindset and attitudes would be if we were not being bombarded 24/7 about how awful things are and that financial Armageddon is a month away. As my mother was also fond of saying, it takes far more muscles to frown than it does to smile..


Comment from Kevin
Time February 26, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Good post Peter. Thanks for the reminder. Very easy to focus on all that’s wrong.

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