In a way, the talk by the keynote speaker at a recent business lunch was like one of those Facebook click-bait links with the headlines that warn you, for example, You Have Been Drinking Your Coffee Wrong All These Years.
But that is what the speaker, the CEO of a large golf equipment company, told his audience of business managers: You’ve Been Running Your Business All Wrong.
Taxes are taxes, and regulation keeps us safe, he told the audience. Your business will be taxed and regulated no matter where you are located.
There was a nervous tittering of soft laughter in the room after that line. Corporate bigwigs do it like being told that they are not overtaxed or overregulated; it is what they spend all their time with the accountants and lawyers trying to avoid.
It is also what they pay politicians to say for them.
There were four key words in the speaker’s talk: Innovation, creativity, and the two most important, disruption and aspirations.
That’s what the real leaders of business are; he said: Innovative, creative and disruptive. Because those values reflect the times we live in. These are disruptive times, with the bottom and the top swapping, and a great swirling of ideas and events in between. But they are more disruptive to those who cling to the fading, old rules of top-down management styles that have dominated business, religion and family for eons. I’m the boss, do what I say.
The message he delivered to that business audience was unmistakable. Don’t sit on your hands while the world is exploding. Instead, lead, create, innovate. Get ahead of the disruption. Or preferably, become the disruption.
I have been reading snatches of a wonderful book called “The People’s Chronology,” written by James Trager. It is more than 1,000 pages of historical notes of mankind’s 3 million year-long life on earth organized in brief paragraphs.
It gives rough equal weight to the birth of Christ and the discovery of soy sauce, although it suggests that Christ’s birth had a greater impact.
Read in order – I mean, why would you read about the Third Century and then jump ahead to the 15th? – besides the mesmerizing march of history, the book, without editorial comment sets forth one clear point: Life, and time and history, is progressive.
And, well, bloody.
But in those periods when we stop conquering and killing each other, the book details the explosion of ideas, philosophy, math, science, art, music, writing, medicine. All growing, spilling over one another, one idea spawning another, and another. Political arts, religious thought, business theories and practices. Exploration of both earth and the skies.
The search for the human soul.
Were all the ideas progressive?
No, but even the most conservative, backward-looking of them generated a positive, progressive reaction.
What is amazing in this long march is how the ideas grew, and with it, the wealth of the world, which made life better for most.
So, what does this have to do with a golf executive’s theory of business?
This: That every step in human life has been disruptive, otherwise we’d still be living in Central Africa trying to eat rocks.
The theory would only be useful if it worked.
And it did.
During his tenure, his company overturned the rules about how golf equipment is marketed, changing decades of tradition. It also turned golf clubs into fashion statements by adding color to equipment, starting with a product called the “ghost putter.”
The company took the idea and created white drivers. The result was that the company went from being an also-ran to the market leader.
The other driver choices were three shades of black.
And what does that have to do with the upcoming Presidential election?
This: Aspirations. The key to the golf company’s success and the key to the election.
The golf company exec said he had a choice to grow his business: Cut costs, (meaning people) refinance, shuffle the financial deck and earn an extra few percent of market share. Or he could throw out the rules.
He chose to throw out the rules.
In a way that is what voter face this fall. Aspirations or reshuffling.
One note: The 2016 election is taking place in the middle of one of the most important generational shifts in U.S. history: The end of the Baby Boom generation.
The speaker mentioned this, and I hope when they heard it, the audience gulped: By 2030, the last of the Baby Boomers will reach retirement age.
That’s 14 years. Say it out loud. Fourteen years.
Who, then, is the workforce or the leaders?
The children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers.
Who are the Boomers?
The kids who befitted from the efforts of the war generation, the kids who lived off the wealth of our grandparents and parents whose possibilities exploded, and exploded them even more; the generation that wanted everything, invented it, and exploited it. Disrupters. The generation that produced some of the best things in life, and many of the worst. (Hello, Me Generation.)
Who did the Boomers leave in their place, and who will be in charge?
Kids with dreams and aspirations (and hand-held computers) who expect a different world. Kids who have seen robots on Mars, or screaming into the netherworld outside our universe; the kids who ask why is this still broken; kids who ask why not.
Those kids, the speaker said, want more from work that just a salary.
They expect to be well paid, and well benefitted. We, the Boomers, taught them to expect that. Because, for the most part, we were.
They want to believe in something, he said, to work for companies that want to create change; companies whose leaders want to use commerce and free enterprise, and yes, government, for the greater good.
Companies that are disruptors.
So we have an election filled with candidates who claim to be disruptors.
But for what?
Progress or regression? Isolation or inclusion. Anger and dismissal or discussion and resolution.
If the 21st Century had taught us anything – reminded, actually; we do often wear our rose-colored glasses – is that nothing is simple.
Not power, not money, not influence, not commerce, not religion, not even hate or love.
When all the fear talk fades, there is still this: Change requires persistence and patience, and the only change that matters is that which promotes our better natures; for change, like time and history, is progressive.
Business, like politics, is about setting goals, and creating results.
What’s in between, the speaker said, are aspirations.
We don’t reach goals without aspirations.
We get to choose in this election whether we are aspiring for the ghost putter or three shades of black.