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Corporate Wisdom?

The other day I was reading through some old articles that I had stashed in a ‘management’ folder in my file cabinet. Some of these articles were 10 years old; a few were 20 years and older. What was interesting was how relevant some of the commentary was to what’s going on in business today. I had to wonder – have we not learned anything about running our companies in the last 20 years?

I love this quote on branding from Roy Disney, brother of Walt Disney and co-founder and CEO of Walt Disney Productions:

“Branding is something you do to cows. It makes sense if you’re a rancher, since cows do tend to look alike. It’s also useful to lots of businessmen, and they brand things like detergents or shoes for almost the same reason as ranchers. Branding is what you do when there’s nothing original about your product.”

Ouch. How much time and money is spent today on branding? Could it be better spent on creating something original about your product?

Here’s one on the corporate belief in strategic plans.

“A good deal of corporate planning is like a ritual rain dance,” said Dartmouth professor Brian Quinn. “It has no effect on the weather that follows. Much of the advice related to corporate planning is directed at improving the dancing, not the weather.”

That kind of goes along with the old “Ready, Aim, Fire” approach – lots of planning and preparation and little time on implementation. Seems like the companies that take the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach get there faster.

And then there’s the pursuit of ‘synergy’ between companies. How many mergers of big companies in defense, health care, pharmaceutical and manufacturing are purportedly based on creating ‘synergy’ between the organizations?

“Most are lame excuses for the failure to create genuinely new products, service and markets; a tribute to the absence of imagination on the part of two companies’ leaders,” said Management Consultant Tom Peters.

It’s interesting that as I’m reading this stuff, it could just as easily have been in yesterday’s paper as in the articles I was reading from decades ago. On one hand, we can look at the progress the corporate world has made in implementation of technology, advancements in communication and speed to market of products and services, and yet, some of the basic premises of business continue to be a challenge.

And it’s not just at the senior management level; it’s also at the individual employee level. A couple of other supposed ‘beliefs’ of the corporate world:

– “People don’t want change.” Change can be a pain. But we all seek it. Humankind has two basic and equally strong needs: stability and change. The issue is not either/or; it’s creating an environment where pursuing the novel is valued, not scorned.

– “The average person is not creative.” I disagree. The average person is creative. Just look at what they do between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. and on weekends. Maybe it’s the environment in which they are working that is squashing the creativity.

– “Job descriptions are essential road maps.” Not sure I agree with this one either. If we’re not careful, job descriptions can end up being “no” guides…don’t do this, don’t go there. It’s not my job. We’re working in a world that needs more fluidity between people and what they do, not less.

It does kind of make you wonder how we as a working culture have been able to progress to the level of sophistication we believe we have in the corporate world when some of the very same issues being written about decades ago are just as prevalent and applicable today. Guess that’s what keeps so many business consultants gainfully employed…

See you on the show floor!

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry over 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He can be reached at jobermeyer903@gmail.com.

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