selective focus photo of brown and blue hourglass on stones


My dad was a wise man. He had many quotes that I still use today. One of such wisdom was this: “Time is the only democratic resource given to mankind.”

He meant that all of us, however rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, a CEO or a shepherd has 24 hours every day. Not a second more, not a second less.

What we make of it and how we use it to define who we are.

Timing is another dimension. In his book the Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explained very well that you need to be a bit lucky to be born at a certain time to become an outlier meaning a great success.

Since that is beyond our control and since we can’t all be outliers, I am more interested in about the time itself.

Time, it seems, is one of the worst managed resources of big companies. Nothing gets done on time. People don’t have the urgency at all. You go the expensive big buildings of large companies and you feel like time stands still. And if you attend the meetings in one of those buildings your overwhelming feeling is that there is no time constraint for those people.

Why is that?

Big size is the evil of many things my friends. Big size makes you comfortable. Profits come anyhow as the size ensures flattening out of low points with low profits. It is either the number of countries or number of product lines or large number of customers that play this trick. And let’s be fair. In a big company, things seldom go ALL wrong. There are always some bright spots. Some of the projects get done. The quality of staff overall is usually above the average as the big names usually attract good talent. The pay is good. And at the year end, most people get their normal bonus packages.

So in such an environment the name of the game becomes survival rather than achieve. Achievement means trying something that wasn’t done before which in turn means taking risks, or stepping the toes of other people and other people’s territories which make the relationships stressful. So in time, this is done less and less. You start playing the same corporate game. You prepare PowerPoint slides that are crowded and make you look work hard. You start saying “I cannot agree more”. You send emails at odd times to make you look work long hours. Since the company is big, you travel and take all the time during travels. On and on.

This is why many big companies are not innovators at all. Many cannot bring new things to the market as its people become compliant. Compliant with the de facto norms. And of course the best and brightest eventually start leaving for other companies with the hope of making a difference.

Lately there is also the start-up mania. Setting up a company is still difficult but the availability capital through the PE and VC and even with crowd sourcing, make it possible to start your own business as never before. So the best and the brightest take their chances with their own start-up companies.

How can smart managers in big companies change that?

  1. No matter how big the company may be, you define units as small as possible with a P/L responsibility if applicable.
  2. Smaller teams make it easy to define goals. No common goal no team!
  3. Goals should definitely contain P/L if there is one, if not internal SLAs may be used instead. KPIs are defined and measured and shared regularly.
  4. To achieve those goals you open projects,
  5. You assign people to those projects with CLEAR goals that include DEADLINES
  6. And the most important thing is you either move away from annual bonuses to awarding people when projects finish or you divide the annual bonus to smaller parts and discuss how much each person deserved when projects finish WITHOUT waiting the end of year.

You cannot, I repeat, you cannot walk around, repeating the words “we are going to be a very innovative company” and become innovative. You must change the way people work.

Innovation does not come from randomly shooting ideas. It comes from focus. A very clear focus on the task at hand defined as narrowly as possible. You cannot say let’s create the best consumer electronic device and innovate iPhone. You say I am sick and tired of the mobile telephones we carry in our hands. What is it that we can change radically to make it a much better device? And then you create a whole new way to interact with that device which becomes an innovation.

Innovation comes from limited resources not from abundance. You cannot say we have all the time and money and let’s invent something. As a company, as a team you must have a purpose, a vision that excites you and your team. Only when we are faced with a clear and present danger we change. So managers must create such an environment that if they cannot achieve it then all will be hell. Urgency means limited time.

Small teams, not big are essential to create anything. Until we die right after we are born, we cry for attention. That is human nature. A big team where nobody gets recognized is against that very human nature.

Small teams, with clear and narrow focus, challanged with time and other contraints innovate. Not big companies with almost unlimited resources.

What happens when managers cannot achieve such things in large organizations? Well time keeps running. Nothing stands still. You stay, the world moves away. If you cannot make a difference, nobody will remember you one day. Worse yet, nobody may remember the big company you were running.

Time. Tick Tack. Tick Tack. Same tick tack for you and for Queen Elizabeth and for the best and brightest and for the least educated and a Harvard graduate.

What are you making of it?

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