Acquired Resource Squandering Endemic

If you’ve witnessed the fate of many successful brands (little fish) after they’ve been devoured by larger corporate entities (bigger fish), you’re aware that, regardless of what they eat, bigger fish excrete the same thing, all the time. Why the consistent waste?

Bigger fish suffer from Acquired Resource Squandering Endemic (ARSE), which predisposes them to the mistaken belief that eating smaller fish is necessarily prudent, advisable, and profitable. Here’s why:

  1. Fish are congenitally predisposed to presbyopia, even at very young ages.
  2. Fish also are colorblind. More specifically, they see only green.
  3. Fish have no curiosity. It never occurs to them to wonder how anything actually got to be green.

So, large, hungry fish gobble up smaller, revenue-generating fish, without knowing how those smaller fish produced so much green. Because big fish don’t wonder what worked for the little fish, they can’t perpetuate it. The smaller brands begin their sad unraveling, leaving the big fish cutting bodies and expenses and wondering why that fresh, green asset depreciated so quickly. What happens?

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Let’s say I’m mechanically ignorant (I am) and obscenely wealthy (I’m not). One day, I go the races and marvel at the pavement-scorching performance of a top-fuel dragster (I do). I can’t resist the urge to buy it, even though I don’t know my lug wrench from my super charger (I don’t).

I also don’t know this beast runs on a 90/10 mixture of nitromethane and alcohol. I fill the tank with recycled vegetable oil, leap into the cockpit, rev the engine, and dump the clutch in an attempt to pull a textbook hole shot. But my road rocket limps down the quarter mile at a halting, smoke-belching five miles an hour, leaving me stunned by its lack of performance.

“But it worked so well for those guys!” I exclaim before I haul the rail back onto its trailer and drive home trying to imagine how I’m going to recoup my investment in this underperforming asset (I’m not).

Be Careful What You Count

When Ben & Jerry’s was still privately held, I heard the founders interviewed on the radio. After viewing the company’s website and much of its collateral materials, the interviewer asked, “You’re a successful company with tremendous profits. But I don’t find financial information in any of your communications. They’re all full of your people. Why is that?”

One of the two replied, “We learned a long time ago: You become what you count.”

If you’re going to play big fish, understand the asset you’re about to acquire. How and why does it run so well? What are its people like? What is its cultural environment like? How does it interact with its customers? How does it treat its employees? What’s important to it? How will you manage its integration with your own organization? And most important: If you’re acquiring another company because of its innovations, how will you sustain the innovation that made it attractive to you in the first place?

The Bottom Line

Every brand has a personality. That personality is the aggregate of the individual personalities that inform it. And it’s conveyed, celebrated, and perpetuated by what it counts.

If you don’t know those things going in, you’re likely to come down with a bad case of ARSE.

The Elevator Pitch

We’ve been hearing about the trite notion of personal brand for longer than I thought. In fact, I recently found a column from 2011. It said this, part:

Your personal value proposition (PVP) is at the heart of your career strategy. It’s the foundation for everything in a job search and career progression — targeting potential employers, attracting the help of others, and explaining why you’re the one to pick. It’s why to hire you, not someone else.

Translation: Your PVP is you. That’s it. As it represents you to others, it’s your brand. Period. But be skeptical: It also suggests there may be a kind of formulaic magic to branding.

Do the Math

Consider: Your PVP can be accompanied by a personal value statement (PVS). Perhaps it could be the profile statement on your résumé. Your proposition and your statement can be abetted by a personal value commitment (PVC), which would be an indication of your determination to fulfill the promise of your PVP and your PVS. If so, you and those you persuade via your proposition, your statement, and your commitment can expect a pretty valuable outcome (PVO). Hence, the magic formula for success becomes:

[PVP + PVS] x PVC = PVO.

Bunk. There is no formulaic magic to branding. There can’t be. If all of us — if every brand — weren’t different, there’d be no such discernible things as personalities or brands. The only thing scarier than the very idea of such an equation is that if we put it in a book today, it would be a bestseller tomorrow. Good grief.

Simplify

In lieu of such formulaic pie in the sky, consider these four simple questions:

A. Who are you?
B. What do you do?
C. How do you do it?
D. Why do A + B + C make you different from everyone else?

Answering those questions is simple. But it’s not easy. In fact, if you do it right, it’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. If it were easy, everyone would do it. That’s why the world comprises those who win and those who don’t.

Pop Quiz

Here’s a simple test to determine if someone’s done his homework: Ask him for his elevator pitch. If he answers in one to three clear, jargon-free sentences, you’ll understand the pitch, and you’ll be sure he knows himself and what he’s selling.

If he asks how many floors the elevator has to travel, wish him well and take the stairs.

Can We Talk?

I recently listened as an experienced salesman, employed by a software and professional-services company, bemoaned the fact that his prospects don’t seem to answer the phone anymore. He wondered if the phone had outlived its usefulness, if Alexander Graham Bell turned over in his grave at the thought of his most famous invention lying fallow while the world’s communications go the way of email, IM, SMS, Twitter, and the various other means of impersonally indirect media.

I had to consider his point. Most of my own phone use comes as a result of making an appointment to speak with someone, typically via email: “Please let me know your availability to have the phone conversation we otherwise could have had spontaneously if we weren’t convinced we’re so busy as to require the setting of a formal appointment to use the device that was intended to make such formality a thing of a quite ridiculous past.” It’s like asking for a date to make a date to arrange a date.

Conundrum #647,290,158

It’s ironic: We’re too busy to answer our phones. But we’ll pick up our PDAs for anything. How many widgets sold this week? Check your inventory app. Sales against quota? Check your SalesForce app. Friends on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn? Check the apps. Can’t remember that line delivered by Jim Nabors in Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Gomer Pyle? Check IMDB.

Is this a question of technology? If communication technology is ubiquitous, raising everything to the level of important, is anything important anymore? Or is it a matter of priorities? If anyone can get ahold of anyone else at any time by other media — especially if those media keep us detached by means of keyboards, screens, and cyberspace — should we heed the phone at all anymore? Imagine being too busy writing tweets, texts, and emails to talk to each other.

Full Circle

Everything in nature is cyclical. So, maybe we’ll ride the karmic wheel back to personal contact, impromptu conversations, and less insular forms of communication. Maybe we’ll get back to preferring the sound of a voice to the striking of keys, our mental image of the person at the other end of the phone to the virtual image of words on a screen, the immediate give and take of dialogue to the monologic typing of binary digits into the ether. Maybe we’ll take the time to talk with each other again.

We can’t be certain … at least not yet.

For tribal man space was the uncontrollable mystery. For technological man it is time that occupies the same role. (Marshall McLuhan)

It’s Not About the Office

On May 22, 2000, Lance Armstrong published the book, It’s Not About the Bike. He was right, of course. But it’s unlikely he’s developed a sense of irony since then.

Similarly, on July 6, 2022, a gentleman named Ian Bogost published an article in The Atlantic. He apparently shares Lance’s lack of irony because he titled the article, “Hybrid Work Is Doomed“. He should have titled it, “It’s Not About the Office”.

The article says this, in part:

Return-to-office plans … serve as affirmations of a superseding value … the policy has less to do with one specific firm than with the whole firmament of office life: the Office, as an institution. The Office must endure! To the office we must go. This should be obvious, but somehow it is not: The existence of an office is the central premise of office work, and nothing—not even a pandemic—will make it go away … The office is the structure that makes work possible, a kind of mothership for productivity, centuries in the making; a place to construct and preserve a way of life.

Close. But no cigar.

In reality, the office is a place to construct and — most important — to perpetuate the existence and to expand the size, scope, and reach of bureaucracy. And bureacracies exist to control. At the highest levels, bureucracies are petri dishes for power, entitlement, and corruption. At the lowest levels, they’re breeding grounds for frustration, stultification, invisibility, anonymity, and impotence.

End of story.

We’re Only Human

While Ian seems to have missed the memo, espousing humanity at work seems to be all the rage these days. Self-appointed self-help gurus and would-be coaches and consultants are encouraging people to be their real, authentic selves in the workplace. On a superficial level, that’s all quite noble and worthwhile, I suppose. But perhaps a bit more pragmatism might be in order. If we send our newly human acolytes into hostile bureaucracies to be their real, authentic selves, they’re likely to end up more frustrated than they already were … or on the unemployment line.

And how are we defining authentic in the first place?

In his book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber wrote this:

Everyone who works here is expected to work toward being the best he can possibly be at the tasks he’s accountable for … the business is a place where everything we know how to do is tested by what we don’t know how to do, and the conflict between the two is what creates growth, what creates meaning … A place where the generally disorganized thinking that pervades our culture becomes organized and clearly focused on a specific worthwhile result. A place where discipline and will become prized for what they are: the backbone of enterprise and action, of being what you are intentionally instead of accidentally.

There you go. Accountability. Conflict. Growth. Meaning. Focus on worthwhile results. Discipline and will. Being what you are intentionally instead of accidentally. In the context of any job you sign on for, that’s how authenticity should be defined. But you won’t find those things in any organization without buy-in from its leadership. And you’ll never find it in a bureucracy because the leaders are more interested in protecting their turf and getting more of it than they are in their people.

Let Them In

In their book, Get in the Game, Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker write this, emphasis theirs:

The best, most efficient, most profitable way to run a business is to educate everybody on how the business works, give them a voice in how the company is run, and provide them a stake in the financial outcome … build a business of businesspeople who think, act, and feel like owners … [get] everyone at all levels of the business as informed, involved, and engaged as the owner is in making the company successful … When you harness the collective wisdom of your people, great things can and do happen, not just to the bottom line but inside the hearts and minds of your people. The result is long-term success for your company and long-term success for your people. You will improve your business results and the lives of the people who create those results.

That’s a natural, enlightened, and inevitable evolution of what Michael Gerber wrote decades ago. It’s also an indication of the way we should now be defining authentic for people who are being paid to do a job and have reasonable expectations of deriving a sense of satisfaction from doing it. But it’s not possible in environments characterized by domineering egos and empire-builders. And it’s not possible without humility, transparency, the participation of everyone in the organization, encouragement, recognition, reward, and opportunities to experiment, to fail, to learn from failure, and to carry the lessons learned into their next efforts.

Full Circle

And that, of course, brings us back to offices, bureaucracies, and the objective(s) to which we should aspire in hoping to bring humanity back to the workplace.

It’s fair to say human consciousness is evolving faster than historical structures of leadership and management ever could. If our objective is to create environments of learning and fulfillment in the workplace, we should be clear about how we’re going about it, how we’re structuring our organizations, what we’re learning or helping people to learn, and what specific actions we’ll take to achieve our objective.

Hybrid work is not doomed. It’s not about the office. It’s not about bureaucracy. It’s about the philosophy by which you conduct your business. And it’s about people.

People first. Always people first.

Innovation: DOA

If you want to make sure your organization’s chances of innovating are as dead as its chances of succeeding long-term, follow these five steps, and innovation will be dead as the proverbial doornail. As an added bonus, if you follow these five steps, you’ll also completely demoralize your people. Now that’s a win/win.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Use a recruiter to help build the team. The good news is taking this kind of safety-first approach will ensure the candidates referred to you will be fully homogenized. No misfits. The bad news is the true innovators are misfits.
  2. Hold your team leads accountable to traditional business metrics. The good news is traditional business metrics drive the top line and the bottom line in the current fiscal year, addressing market demand today and filling competency gaps today. The bad news is if you’re not looking three years ahead, anticipating market demands, and developing talent for tomorrow, your team leads won’t save you.
  3. Deploy lean and six-sigma principles. The good news is lean, six-sigma, and ISO 9001 will ensure you’re consistently solving yesterday’s issues. The bad news is it’s not yesterday anymore, and innovation management is about breaking consistent norms and creating things that haven’t been created yet.
  4. Fund a project based purely on ROI. The good news is the more limited the financial and intellectual resources deployed to a project, the quicker the ROI. The bad news is innovation requires an integrated approach, with a broad mix of projects, in which ROI is estimated and tracked at the portfolio level to maximize long-term net outcomes.
  5. Reward quarterly results. The good news is rewarding quarterly result requires short-term thinking only. The bad news is innovation requires long-term thinking that rewards short-term efforts, supports experimentation, and encourages learning from failures.

On Further Review …

Take another look at that list. Chances are those five things made you very successful in your operations up to now. Ironically, you might have been unknowingly killing innovation all along, discouraging innovators all the time, and wondering why growth is slow and hard.

Innovation is a different game. It’s played by its own rules. Would you use the baseball rulebook to play hockey?

You might. But you’d lose.

Row Your Boat

It’s simply the nature of human nature to complicate; that is, give us something simple and we’ll create an unnavigable labyrinth of complexity.

Case in point: This is the definition of value stream found on Wikipedia:

A value stream is the set of actions that take place to add value to a customer from the initial request through realization of value by the customer … Value streams are artifacts within business architecture that allow a business to specify the value proposition derived by an external (e.g., customer) or internal stakeholder from an organization. A value stream depicts the stakeholders initiating and involved in the value stream, the stages that create specific value items, and the value proposition derived from the value stream. The value stream is depicted as an end-to-end collection of value-adding activities that create an overall result for a customer, stakeholder, or end-user … Value streams are a component of the business ecosystem that describe how a stakeholder – often a customer – receives value from an organization.

To summarize, a value stream is a set of actions. No, wait. It’s an artifact. Hang on. It’s a depiction. Ooh, maybe not. It’s a collection of value-adding activities. Oops. That’s not quite right yet. Ah, now I see. It’s a component of an ecosystem.

Got that? Neither do I.

Simplify

I know this is the kind of thinking that gets me in trouble. But what if we simplified by taking this approach:

  • Determine what the customer wants.
  • If it works, do it again.
  • If it doesn’t work, do something else until it works.

For an illustration of this concept, please see Figure A below.

Figure A

Is that ridiculous? It depends. How much have you complicated your value stream? Why? Was the complication necessary? For what reason? Was it effective? If not, why not? Would it benefit from simplification? Would you benefit from its simplification? Would your customers benefit from its simplification? I don’t know if asking and answering those questions would help. But I do know it couldn’t hurt.

Or maybe we should just sing the old children’s song to remind ourselves how simple it should be:

Row, row, row your boat
Down the value stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily,
Things are what they seem.

Common Sense

If you’re anything like me, you’ve noticed common sense is becoming increasingly uncommon. It’s partly a matter of hyperinformationalism. It’s partly a matter of our growing affinity for jargon. And it’s partly a matter of our wanting to sound important and smart.

But please remember this: If you give your customers what they want as simply as possible, they won’t care how important you think you are or how smart you think you have to sound.

Success can be simple, too.