Reaching for the stars
The rise of great cultures, achievements in science and medicine and the exploration of the universe - all of this could happen because larger groups of people, united in a common cause, made a conscious decision to work together without having a clear goal in mind. If a missile that was supposed to go into space crashes, we'll find out what went wrong and try again ... and again ... and again. And even if we are successful, we will continue. We don't do this because we have a bonus at the end of the year - but because we have the feeling that we are contributing to something bigger - something valuable that will survive us for a long time.
While there is a lot to be said for acting in the endless, long-term perspective, it is not that easy. It takes a lot of effort. We humans naturally tend to seek immediate solutions to annoying problems and above all to rely on quick success to bring us closer to our ambitious goals. We divide the world into successes and failures, winners and losers. This “factory” setting can be very useful to us in the short term. As a strategy for running a company or organization, however, it is sometimes fatal in the long run.
The standard setting does not help
We are all too familiar with what this standard setting leads to: Every year we lay off employees en masse to comply with arbitrary projections, we work under grueling conditions, we crawl in front of the shareholders and neglect the needs of employees and customers, cultivate dishonest and unethical business practices, Reward high-performing but socially incompatible team members and ignore the damage they cause the rest of the team, and reward managers who clearly take themselves far more seriously than their people. All of this undermines loyalty and commitment, and increases the insecurity and fear that too many of us feel today. This impersonal, business-like entrepreneurial approach has apparently been on the rise since the Industrial Revolution - and even more so in our digital age.
Indeed, our entire conception of business and capitalism seems to have fallen under the spell of a short-term, finite mindset. While many of us complain about this state of affairs, it unfortunately seems that the market is more interested in maintaining the status quo than in change. Statements like "people are more important than profit" are often contradicted. Among those who exert a great deal of influence over the existing system - that is, our current ruling elite - many consider us naive and believe that we do not understand business "reality". That leaves many of us resigned. We come to terms with the fact that when we get up in the morning before the work day we dread, that we feel insecure at work and that we have problems living a fulfilling life.
The work-life balance industry
It is already so far that the pursuit of the hard-to-achieve work-life balance has become an industry of its own. This literally begs the question: Is there no other viable path? Maybe - just maybe - the "reality" that the cynics always talk about doesn't necessarily have to look like this. Perhaps our current business traffic system is not the "right" one, and certainly not the "best" one, but just the system to which we are used - and which is preferred and promoted by a minority, not the majority. If that is the case, then we would have the chance to live a different reality. It is actually up to us to create a world in which the vast majority of us wake up expectantly every day, feel comfortable at work and come home fulfilled in the evening. The changes I advocate are not easy to bring about. But they are possible. With good - outstanding - managers, this vision can become reality.
Outstanding executives are those who do not think “short-term” but “long-term”. They know it's not about the next quarter or the next election, it's about the next generation. Outstanding executives set up their organizations in such a way that they are still successful when they are no longer there themselves. If they succeed, the benefit is enormous - for us, for the economy and also for the shareholders. I did not write this text to convert those who advocate the status quo. Rather, I would like to gather around me all those who are ready to question the current situation and replace it with a new reality - a reality that meets our deep-rooted human need for security, to contribute to something greater and for us and ours Families tend to take into account. A reality that our interests as people, as Company, better justice as a society and as a species.
The question is what do we believe in?
If we believe in a world where we can feel inspired, safe and fulfilled every day, if we believe that it is the leaders who can make this vision a reality, then it is our common duty to find leaders who to train and support those who pursue an ideal of leadership that is more likely to bring this vision to life. One prerequisite for this: We have to learn what it means to take on a leadership role in an infinite game.
Let's think about how organizations are created and how decisions are made. Do we actually know why some organizations are successful and others not, or do we just accept it? It doesn't matter how you define success - selling a stock for a certain price, making a certain amount of money, meeting an income or profit target, getting a promotion, starting your own business, feeding the poor, getting elected to public office - the methods of achieving the goals are in most cases the same. Some of us just improvise, but most of us at least try to gather enough data to make an informed decision. Sometimes this data collection is regulated - for example in opinion polls or in market research. And sometimes it is informal: we ask friends or colleagues for advice or use our own experience to get an overview. Regardless of the process or goals, we all want to make informed decisions. But above all, we want to make the right decisions.
What to do with wrong decisions
But as we all know, regardless of the data collected, not all decisions are right by far. Sometimes wrong decisions don't have serious consequences, but sometimes they can be catastrophic. Regardless of the consequences, we make decisions based on a perception of the world that may not be entirely correct. Many were certain at the beginning of the chapter that I was describing John F. Kennedy. We were sure we were right. We might even have bet money on it - based on a guess. We were completely sure until the little detail of the date was added. Not only bad decisions are based on wrong assumptions. When things are going well, we often think we know why. But do we really know? That the result was what you wanted doesn't mean that it can be repeated. I have a friend who is investing some of his money. If things go well, he thinks it's because of his intelligence and choosing the right stocks. But when he loses money, he always blames the markets for it. I have no problem with either explanation, but either success and failure depend on one's own foresight or blindness, or they depend on luck or bad luck. But it can't be both.
So how can we ensure that all of our decisions will bring the best results that we will have complete control over? It seems obvious that more information and more data is key. And that's exactly what we do. We read books, we attend conferences, we listen to podcasts, or we ask friends and colleagues - anything to find out more and what to do. The problem is that we've all got into situations where all the data was available to us and we received a lot of good advice - and yet things didn't go as expected. Or the results were only good for a short time. Or something happened that couldn't be foreseen. A brief note for anyone who actually suspected that Adolf Hitler was meant at the beginning of the section: The details I have mentioned apply to both Hitler and John F. Kennedy, it could have been both. You have to be careful about what you think you know. As we can see, assumptions can mislead us even when based on careful research.
The power of intuition
We understand this intuitively. In the event that, even with tons of data and good advice, things don't go as we expected, we assume that the cause is probably because we have a small but essential detail have overlooked. In these cases we check our sources, sometimes we find new ones to find out what to do, and the whole process starts all over again. However, more data does not always help, especially if the whole process is based on a wrong assumption. There are other factors to consider, factors outside of our rational, analytical, information-hungry brains.
There are cases in which we do not have any data or in which we ignore advice or existing information and simply decide on gut instinct. And everything goes well, sometimes even better than expected. This egg-dance between instinct and rational decision-making describes almost completely how we do business, even how we lead our lives. Of course we can still twist and turn all options in all directions, but if we take into account all the good advice and sound facts, we are back where we were at the beginning: How can we determine a course of action that leads to the desired result and this too makes repeatable. How can we make predictions that are one hundred percent correct?
The fish rots from the head
There is a wonderful story about a group of managers from the American auto industry who went to Japan to see an assembly line. At the end of the assembly line, the car doors were hung on the door hinges, just like in America. But something was missing. In America, a worker would grab a rubber mallet and tap the ends of the door to make sure the door fits perfectly. Apparently no provision for this had been made in Japan. American auto managers were irritated and asked at what point the Japanese made sure the doors fitted perfectly. Their Japanese guide smiled sheepishly. "We make sure it fits when we plan," he said then. In Japanese auto production, the problem was not investigated, no data was collected to find the best solution - they made sure from the start that they would get the product they wanted. If the desired result was not achieved, it had to be due to a decision made at the beginning of the process.
In the end, the doors made in America as well as those made in Japan fitted on the cars as they rolled off the assembly line. But the Japanese didn't have to hire someone to pound on doors, and they didn't have to buy a hammer. The Japanese doors likely lasted longer and may have been more stable in the event of an accident. For the simple reason that the Japanese made sure from the start that the parts would fit together.
Short-term solutions don't get you anywhere
What American automakers do with their rubber hammers is a metaphor for the way many people and organizations do their jobs. If you are confronted with the fact that the planned result does not materialize, highly efficient, short-term solutions are used until the desired result is achieved. But how stable are these solutions? Many organizations live in a world limited to achievable goals and using hammers to achieve them. But those who achieve more, who do more with fewer employees and fewer resources, who exert a disproportionately large influence, will build products, found companies and also hire staff that all fit into the originally planned framework. The result may be the same at first, but great leaders understand the value of invisible qualities.
Every instruction that we give, every process that we determine, every desired result has the same starting point: a decision. On the one hand there are those who decide to work the door until it fits, and on the other there are those who start at an entirely different point. Both approaches can produce similar results in the short term, but long-term success can only be predicted for one of the two methods - this is due to an advantage that we do not see at first glance: The advantage is those who do not follow a habit, but rather a plan going on.
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German edition: ISBN 9783965965195
English version: ISBN 9783965965034 (Translation notice)
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