Status Quo

The Path of Least Resistance

I had dinner with my friend Jerry Solomon last night. We stopped by a party that mourned the end of an iconic New York advertising agency, Cliff Freeman and Partners.  And then went to dinner at a restaurant Jerry’s sister the Gotham Gal recommended on her blog. Breslin.

Cliff Freeman was known, among other things, for Where’s the Beef. Though I don’t think I ever consciously decided to eat at Wendy’s because of Clara Peller.

The Gotham Gal’s blog, however, has become a trusted source. Except for the wait, Breslin delivered as promised. A testament to the power of earned versus bought media.

During dinner we talked about why companies like Cliff Freeman fail. Companies that for years appear successful and often aspirational. Companies that know they need to change and talk passionately about change even as they do nothing to change.

In every company we work with, the reasons some successfully evolve and some don’t are many and varied.

The ones that do have four things in common:

  1. A conviction that change is necessary

  2. A willingness by the owners and senior managers to see themselves differently

  3. A vision for what they want the company to become

  4. A means to get from today to tomorrow through a process

They do not look for the path of least resistance.

Because, as Jerry observed last night, the path of least resistance is not, in fact, a path.

It’s a self-deception.

Designed to offer the illusion of progress.

While keeping you firmly in the same place.

Is Your Business Injured or Ill?

We unlock the potential of businesses. To do that we have to first diagnose whether they are injured or ill. The treatments for which are entirely different.

A business that is injured is fundamentally sound but damaged in a particular area. The symptoms are repeated inability to perform specific actions despite the desire and intent to do so.

A business that is ill has systemic problems. Typically they start in the head and eventually spread to infect the circulation, the heart, the kidneys and the liver. It can take a long time for the symptoms to appear. But when they do, they manifest themselves as tiredness, weakness, lethargy, bloating, confusion and nervousness.

In the end, the illness affects every part of the organization. The longer you wait, the harsher the remedy required.

If you look around at your company today and see recurring problems, decide first if your business is ill or injured.

Either can be treated.

But only if the patient is interested in being cured.

Change - An Epilogue

We left Chicago yesterday after a four day visit. It was our first trip back since we sold our house in July.

We saw friends, went shopping and felt as comfortable and as warm as if we had returned to the womb.

In many ways we had. Chicago is where we met, fell in love, built a business, adopted five dogs, and sucked the marrow out of a temporary retirement. It has been safety and security for as long as we can remember.

It is a beautiful city. The most beautiful in the world to my eyes. And in many ways we found it better than when we left. We had dinner in the new Trump Hotel, which might be the most magical setting in Chicago. We drove the newly resurfaced Lakeshore Drive, marveled at the new wing of the Art Institute, and walked the Christmas lights of Michigan Avenue. Yesterday morning we woke to a perfect snowfall. Light enough to offer no impediment. Dense enough to paint everything perfectly, gently white.

It felt like a personal acknowledgement that we were in town.

And yet, yesterday evening as we boarded the plane to Los Angeles I was certain of two things.

Chicago is not our home. That, and our lives lie in New York. A decision that was hard to come by but which has become more obviously right as the year has gone by.

And we will be back.

We have not done everything right over the last couple of years. But we end 2009 where we should be.

And, at least for now, exactly where we want to be.

Bravery + Strategy = Innovation (part 2)

I’ve received an enormous amount of feedback to my post this weekend that innovation is what happens when you combine bravery and strategy.

Particularly the bravery part.

We talk about this a lot with clients. And we’ve become more sensitive to the fact that many times the real reason a business is struggling is because the owners have lost confidence, and so are clinging to what they know.

We learned when building our own business that it’s easy to be brave when things are going well. But much, much harder when your backs are to the wall. Pressure of every kind makes acting instinctively fraught with anxiety and restricted by second guessing.

This year I’ve started to work with a remarkable woman who specializes in helping people find their voice.  Jennifer Hamady is a singing coach, but her expertise extends far beyond the auditory manifestation of notes and lyrics. Her genius lies in helping people understand how to release their talent. To coin Sir Ken Robinson’s definition, she helps people find their Element.

There is greatness in all of us. And if for now that seems unlikely, history suggests that those who are willing to look for it, will find it.