Notes From My Journal
Get Better by Todd Davis
Delray Beach, FL–I purchased the book because I liked the title – Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work.
It seemed like it was going to be the sort of book that contains observations and advice that are sensible but not remarkable. Like it was going to be a book made by taking a listicle and expanding each bullet into a chapter.
And that’s what it turned out to be. Not a bad book. But one that could be scanned (rather than read word-for-word) without fear of losing much.
Below, you can see seven of its ideas along with my reactions…
Idea #1: To be a good relationship builder you must start by identifying the various roles you play, both within your business and in your personal life.
Me: Half right. Building a good life requires that sort of thinking. Building a business affects your personal life (and vice versa), but there’s no rule that you have to pay attention to it.
Idea #2: Learn to differentiate between non-important urgencies and those that matter greatly in the long run.
Me: Yes. This is extremely important in terms of personal productivity and achieving goals. I’m not sure why the author included it, since it’s only marginally related to relationship building. But, yes, very important.
Idea #3: Focus on collaboration, not competition, by thinking how everyone can benefit.
Me. Yes. Competition has its place in business, but cooperation is much stronger and much longer lasting.
Idea #4: Become a good listener.
Me: I hate this advice. But I think it’s true. So long as by being “a good listener” you mean listening so that you understand what is being said (and not being said) with the goal of advancing the business relationship, not taking care of the other’s psychological needs.
Idea #5: Work hard to make your employees feel that you trust them.
Me: Yes… unless you don’t. If you don’t trust them, get rid of them.
Idea #6: Promote a safe and respectful work environment.
Me: This is a good thing to do if by “safe” you mean that people feel safe to work hard and contribute to the business. If you take “safe and respectful” to mean they don’t have to worry about getting their feelings hurt, you are focusing on the wrong thing. Every hour you spend dealing with gender pronouns, for example, is an hour better devoted to creating profits.
Idea #7: Learn not to react too quickly. Learn to mull things over before you respond.
Me: Right. I wish I could have learned to do that. I managed to grow my businesses without this skill, but it is something that would have helped me. I’m working on it and probably will continue to work on it till I fall over.
From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket
Can You – Should You – Value Knowledge in Dollars and Cents?
I try to limit my wealth-building and business advice to what I know to be true from experience. That’s because I am skeptical of advice derived solely from thinking.
When I first began to read business books, long after I’d retired the first time, I was surprised to find that many of the bestsellers were authored by academics who had no actual experience. Their arguments were sometimes convincing. But most often they were not. They contradicted the lessons I’d learned.
As for books and speeches and essays about investing, some of them, like Warren Buffett’s advice, made great sense. And those were based on experience. The others, based on theory, were sometimes persuasive. But when I put the advice to work I was almost always disappointed.
All that is to say that I want to discuss a theoretical issue today. If you have my bias towards experience-based knowledge, this may seem like bullshit to you. But I think it’s actually very important. So here it is…
There is a popular argument today that says you can’t measure the value of an internet business by traditional metrics, i.e., revenues and/or units of production. Internet businesses, the argument goes, are mostly about knowledge, and the old metrics don’t put a price tag on knowledge.
In other words, since knowledge is a primary asset of knowledge-based businesses, they don’t get the bottom-line credit they deserve when it comes to the balance sheet.
A Key Difference
I remember learning about productivity in ninth grade. The teacher made an effort to distinguish between productive work and the other kind. Productive work was building a house. Unproductive work was digging a hole and filling it up again.
Knowledge is a valuable thing. In business it is a currency that can be traded for power. The specific product and marketing know-how a business acquires is one of the most important factors in its growth and its ability to outperform its competitors.
Knowledge-based businesses are technical, and technical businesses rely heavily on knowledge. But that doesn’t mean the knowledge they have should be listed as an asset. The problem with valuing knowledge is one of measurement and obsolescence.
I know, for example, that contacting sales prospects as soon as possible is a very important factor in most direct-selling situations. But how valuable is it in any given situation? I couldn’t say, because there are dozens of other equally important factors that come into play. It is impossible to measure the value of any one in isolation of the others. And it is impossible to run a tab on all factors, because (a) you can’t know all of them, and (b) their importance is always changing.
Likewise, the value of knowledge is not permanent. A state-of-the-art database technique can become obsolete in 24 hours. It happens all the time.
So What Counts?
Useful knowledge sooner or later results in increased revenues or profits. (This is a tautology. I am establishing a premise: In business, useful is that which produces sales or profits, reduces costs, etc.) And so it seems to me that it is perfectly okay for the value of knowledge to go uncounted until its effect can be measured in dollars.
The real issue here, for me, is the argument itself. Why would you want to want to put knowledge on the balance sheet?
I can think of a few reasons, none of them good. We live in a very strange economic environment, where businesses are no longer valued for their productivity or profits. Everything is market share and potentiality. And the old tools of measurement have been discarded.
At the end of every fiscal year, incentive-based executives busy themselves with projects that will produce better profit-and-loss statements. Some of this activity is very good – e.g., putting into place sales programs that have been postponed. But much of it is ultimately unproductive – e.g., bringing forward next year’s income.
Looking good on paper (or in theory) is like having your face lifted. At a glance, you appear younger. But on closer scrutiny, you lose twice: You’re still old – and you’re vain to boot.
Today’s Word: tautology (noun) A tautology (taw-TAH-luh-jee) is a statement that is true because it defines its own meaning. It is a statement in which the same thing is said twice. For example, from my essay today: “Useful knowledge sooner or later results in increased revenues or profits. (This is a tautology. I am establishing a premise: In business, useful is that which produces sales or profits, reduces costs, etc.)”
Did You Know?: The cost of health care for General Motors’ employees now exceeds the company’s cost of steel.
Worth Quoting: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
Thirty years ago, long before it became a cliche, BB and I developed a theory about developing superstar employees. The idea was that trying to micromanage them was not only ineffective but often counterproductive.
We believed we had the most success when we allowed them a good deal of freedom to come up with and test their own ideas. This meant, of course, that they were going to make mistakes. But so long as those mistakes were not fatal, they would be valuable. The lessons they would take from their mistakes would be more deeply learned than any lessons we might have taught them.
As our business grew we encouraged our managers to do what we had done. We called this freedom “accelerated failure.”
At first, we failed to explain that there should be sensible limits to how big an experiment kit they should give their employees. And because of that, mistakes were made that were simply too expensive. So we modified the concept by explaining that while giving employees permission to fail is invaluable, you must also set some boundaries in terms of what sort of decisions they could make without approval. And, eventually, I added a third qualifier: that you must expect (and actually demand) that your employees learn from their failures.
As a term, accelerated failure did not catch on. “Failing fast” and “failing forward” replaced it. But most that talk about it today forget about its necessary limitations. In this TED Talk, Leticia Gesca reminds contemporary CEOs that it’s important to “fail mindfully.”