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The phone rang this morning, and I saw a number I did not recognize.
"Fred, it's Jeff Bezos. Got a minute?"
"Jeff, good to hear from you. I've been wondering about what you are thinking in buying the Washington Post. I heard George Will say it was probably an intellectual challenge. Others have said this is what rich people do. Something like your own ‘Jurassic Park’ except you buy dinosaurs instead of creating them. Everyone down here is talking about it."
"I know, and I'm a little surprised myself. I thought I was just another bidder for buying lunch with Warren Buffett but it went another way. So, I'm on my way to Washington to meet with the management and wanted to get your perspective. I'm a big fan of your blog and know you always have great reading suggestions. What do you think I should be reading right now?"
"Jeff, that’s a tough one on such short notice. How about a few quotes from books, articles and interviews? If any of them are useful, that works for me. By the way, just about everything is available on Amazon.”
So...here's what I sent him.
By James McGrath Morris
“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together," Pulitzer wrote. "An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.”
By Al Ries
“The minute management takes its eyes off the core business and starts chasing synergies and secondary opportunities, the company starts to go downhill. It may not be immediately obvious. Problems usually fester for some time before they become visible. The CEO is often quick to blame the manager running the core operation: ‘I turn my back and you let the operation go to hell.’ So it’s off with his or her head and on to the next executive in line.
“A focus problem often looks like a people problem. You can’t solve a focus problem by changing managers. You solve a focus problem by refocusing the company on the core concept. You need to put the power of the corporation behind the main line of attack.
“First things first. First, find a focus, even if that focus is unprofitable. Then make it profitable. If you develop a powerful, narrowly focused corporation, then the job of making it profitable is greatly simplified. If you take an unrelated collection of profitable businesses and try to build them into an organization, you are asking for problems.
“A focus exists in the mind of the customer and it drives your business.”
The Essential Drucker
By Peter Drucker
“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.”
“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”
“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.”
“Business has only two functions — marketing and innovation.”
Leadership Is An Art
By Max DePree
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”
The Change Masters
By Rosabeth Moss Kanter
"Everything can look like a failure in the middle."
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.”
Who Says Elephants Can't Dance
By Lou Gerstner
“It's about communication. It's about honesty. It's about treating people in the organization as deserving to know the facts. You don't try to give them half the story. You don't try to hide the story. You treat them as - as true equals, and you communicate and you communicate and communicate.”
“Charlie and I believe that papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly-bound communities and having a sensible Internet strategy will remain viable for a long time. We do not believe that success will come from cutting either the news content or frequency of publication. Indeed, skimpy news coverage will almost certainly lead to skimpy readership. And the less-than-daily publication that is now being tried in some large towns or cities – while it may improve profits in the short term – seems certain to diminish the papers’ relevance over time. Our goal is to keep our papers loaded with content of interest to our readers and to be paid appropriately by those who find us useful, whether the product they view is in their hands or on the Internet.”
"Those are great, Fred! Anything else?"
"Know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em."Comments
As you walk down the hall to my office and look up to the right you will see a sign that says, "Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life." I put it there for a couple of reasons. First, to remind me how much I love what I do - and how little I like jobs. Second, because I seem to have more than a few people drop by and disclose they are not doing what they love. I like to have them get a little foretaste of what I am most likely to say before we are finished.
I've probably lived by that simple code as much as anyone I know. I have actively avoided getting entangled by tasks that bore, de-energize, frustrate or take me out of my "zone" of enjoyment. In fact, in talking with a young friend the other day about my inevitable retirement he said, "Your working life is what everyone hopes for in life and retirement. To do what you love is what we are all after. What in the world are you thinking?" He was right. I have not worked a day for a couple of decades now.
Well, that's not entirely true because I teach a Sunday School and I have learned to do things that I do not love and, truth be told, have very little competence for. I tried to slough off the visitation, counseling, confronting, hand-holding and grief to others early on because it was not what I loved. I did not have the gift of compassion or mercy so there was no reason to go and sit with people about to go through surgery or just coming out. There was no benefit to them or me in saying hard things to a wandering spouse or sitting with my hand on the arm of one in deep waters. (I'm not proud of what I'm telling you.)
Then one day my wife, Carol, explained there is such a thing as duty. I knew that but always equated it with guilt or obligation. It was something that made you do what you didn't want to do. That's not duty. That's grudging obligation. Duty is what you do to honor your commitment to a calling to serve others. People don't care if I'm not good at compassion and they really don't care if I have all the answers in their darkest times. I realized it was not about doing only what I enjoyed or for which I had a feel. It was doing the necessary parts of what I had been called to do for them because that is my role and responsibility - even if it is not my love.
It is not out of guilt or obligation - and not yet out of love. Maybe someday. It is a duty and one that has begun to make me fit for eternity far more than doing merely what I love.Comments
William Bridges wrote “Transitions"” years ago which helped me think about the difference between “change” and “transition”. It did not seem like much at the time but the distinction is important. Change happens all the time and it doesn’t matter if it is small (change banks) or large (death of a spouse or loss of a career). What matters is making a transition from one thing to another. Change is situational and constant. Transition is psychological and is a process where people gradually accept the details of the new situation and the changes that come with it. Every transition has three stages: The ending, the wilderness (or neutral zone) and the new beginning. To make a genuine new beginning requires closure for the past and a time of “wandering” before we take hold of the next chapter in our lives.
A friend gave me an article from a recent issue of ”Fast Company” that is titled “The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes” by Brent Schlender. As everyone knows, Jobs was forced out of Apple and spent part of the next several years angry and vengeful about that. “Steve Jobs did not wander aimlessly into the wilderness after being ousted from Apple. No happy camper, he was loaded for bear; burning to wreak revenge upon those who had spuriously shoved him into exile, and obsessed with proving to the world that he was no one-trick pony.” Not a good ending! And then the “wilderness” begins – first with the failure of NeXT and then with the purchase of Pixar’s assets for $5 million from George Lucas. But it was in that wilderness where Jobs learned new skills out of necessity. It was the most pivotal time of his life – and the happiest. “Most important, his work with the two companies he led during that time…turned him into the kind of man, and leader, who would spur Apple to unimaginable heights upon his return.”
The application is obvious. I know people who need this story right now. They need to know that the wilderness is not permanent and, more importantly, it is productive. It’s what John Lasseter at Pixar says is the key to all their success. “It’s gotta be about how the main character changes for the better.”Comments
The only time I went fishing with my father – and the only time I’ve been fishing in my life – I was nine years old and we were staying for two nights in Camden, Maine. It was handline fishing from a boat rocking in a small storm on a cold day. Everyone was sick and all I remember is the repeated advice, “You’ve hooked him now yank him!”
Even though I’ve never been fishing since, I’ve read several books on fly-fishing and consider it an art. One of the best books I’ve read is by Howell Raines titled “Fly Fishing Through The Midlife Crisis.” Raines describes the difference between “hook ‘em and yank ‘em” and the subtlety of fly fishing after hooking a large trout in a stream: “That is how I came to understand the relationship between heavy fish and light lines. The act of setting the hook must contain within it an almost simultaneous act of surrender. Upon seeing or feeling the strike, the fly fisherman is required to pull back with precisely enough force to slide the point of the hook into the tissue of the fish’s mouth. Then he must release all the pressure and let the fish go where it wants to go. It is an act of physical discipline and of hope – the hope being that by and by when the fish is tired of going where it wants to go, it and the fisherman will still be connected by a thread that leads them to the same place.”
I’ve thought about this many times and in many situations with people when I find myself in a tug-of-war. I can either “hook ‘em and yank ‘em” to get them to do what I want or I can take the risk and practice the discipline and the hope of staying connected by a thread that leads us to the same place. It doesn’t always work because people are not trout and I’m no fisherman. Still, over time in my life I have discovered staying connected by that thin line is a far better way to live.Comments
I think ironies make life interesting unless they become cause for cynicism. One of those ironies is our spending a full day of thanksgiving with our attention on gratitude and blessings, whole families volunteering to feeding the poor at the Salvation Army or a homeless shelter and, so far, the retail industry has not figured out a way to turn the focus to presents, cards and extravagance – other than food.
Still, a whole population of shoppers cannot be content with a day of rest and a consumer economy counting on a 24 hour splurge for 40% of their annual revenue cannot allow more than a single day to celebrate what we already have. As if Thanksgiving were just a momentary “time out” or a brief penance, we are prodded into immediately celebrating Black Friday before Thanksgiving dinner has even digested. It’s the exact reverse of Mardi Gras, isn’t it? Instead of a binge preceding the intentional simplicity of Lent, we take a moment to be grateful before rushing into the stores at midnight.
Alexis DeTocqueville noted this characteristic of ours when he wrote about the causes of the “restless spirit of Americans in the midst of their prosperity” in the 19th century. “The recollection of the brevity of life is a constant spur to him. Besides the good things which he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others which death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon. This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret, and keeps his mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans and his abode.”
“A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach, that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications.”
This is not a sermonette or a lecture. It is just an observation…and maybe a pitch for making Thanksgiving a two day holiday and eliminating Black Friday altogether.Comments