Trophy Hunting

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day, and he made an interesting comment. He said that we were now in the day and age where a man could go and do what he likes to do, and what so many others had done before him, but now could wake up the following morning and have ten million people worldwide, hate him for doing it. He was referring to the hunter who killed the lion a few weeks ago in Zimbabwe, Africa. I think his name was Cecil. The lion, not the hunter.

Here is a man that has lived his life in relative anonymity, at least with respect to the ten million people worldwide that now hate him. He had gone about his business (as a dentist I think), and probably conducted and acquitted himself well. He must have, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to afford the relatively astronomical costs of flying half way around the world to pursue his desire to hunt big game.

He had been doing it for years (Big Game hunting that is). By several accounts he was very successful at it. Others have also been doing it for years. There are a lot of people around the world that do this. It is also a significant source of income for Zimbabwe in the form licenses from the state and fees for guides, and the costs associated with outfitting the trip. It is the commerce of big game hunting. There is a lot of money involved, and remember that Zimbabwe got paid all their fees well before Cecil got shot.

I also remembered (and through the wonders of Google went back and verified) seeing pictures of the famed author Ernest Hemingway on the cover of various magazines posing with various dead lions, leopards and water buffaloes that he had shot while big game hunting in Africa. He was also a big game hunter. Nobody thought Hemingway was a schmuck for shooting them. On the contrary, he had an image as a man’s man.

I suspect that none of the animals that Hemingway shot had a name though. It was probably a time where people didn’t name wild lions.

This is what happens when you shoot the wrong lion.

People also didn’t seem to mind nearly as much when Ahab went after the white whale that they named “Moby Dick”. That could possibly have been because that was an instance where the big game trophy fought back and actually won. I suspect that Moby was also probably not some country’s national pet.

Now back to the topic. Here was a man from Wisconsin, who flew half way around the world. He complied with all the legal requirements of Zimbabwe, hired a supposedly knowledgeable guide, and achieved his goal of shooting a lion. He didn’t break any laws. It appears that he was in an area where it was legal for him to shoot a lion. He had paid for all his licenses and permits. As I said, he just shot what turned out to be the wrong lion.

Now ten million people hate him. He is in hiding and can’t go back to work, which he obviously must do if he ever expects to be able to afford the now increased prices that Zimbabwe is charging for big game trophy hunts. It seems that everyone else who wants to hunt big game in Zimbabwe will also have to pay these higher fees, not just dentists from Wisconsin.

So, what does all this have to with anything?

I draw several parallels to business from all this. The hunters in business are usually called sales people. They are the ones that go out into the field, search out the opportunities and try and bag the mythical big game creature known as an “Order”. This is what they are paid to do.

As we all know, orders are the life-blood of any business. But not just any orders. It is orders for products and services that the business can actually supply that are desirable. It is also desirable that these bagged orders come with requirement of profitability. That means that by getting these orders the business can sustain itself and hopefully grow.

The guy who shot Cecil wasn’t doing anything like this. Shooting Cecil wasn’t going to enable the dentist to sustain himself or grow in any appreciable way. I don’t think that you can actually eat lion meat. At least I have never heard of it. He was shooting Cecil because for whatever reason, he wanted to be able to say he had shot a lion (in general, I think Cecil was just the unlucky individual).

What this brings up, is what should be the first law of hunting: If you don’t want someone to do something, don’t make it legal, or allow them to do it. If you don’t want the hunters to bring you undeliverable or unprofitable orders, make a rule or law that indicates this is not acceptable behavior.
If you don’t want Cecil specifically to be shot, make a law that says you cannot shoot lions. Cecil was a wild lion. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and a dentist from Wisconsin shot him. It could have easily been prevented if Zimbabwe had just said:

“We no longer allow anyone to shoot any of our lions, regardless of the foolish amount of money they are willing to spend or offer us to do so.”

The second law of hunting should then follow on or corollary and be: If something is allowed, or not specifically disallowed, don’t get mad at people when they do it. Hunters are focused on the goal. Bag the order. Bring down the target. If you are not specific about the type of orders to get and the requisite behaviors to be demonstrated during the hunt, you cannot be unhappy when improper, or undeliverable, or unprofitable orders are presented.

Zimbabwe had said in effect:

“You can hunt our lions.”

They didn’t say you could hunt every lion but Cecil. They did say you couldn’t hunt lions in certain areas, and to my understanding those areas were actually avoided by the hunters in question. I guess nobody ever thought that a wild lion in his right mind would ever leave a protected area where he couldn’t be hunted and wander into an unprotected area where Wisconsin dentists were hunting lions.

I think what we have learned from the adventures of Cecil and the dentist can probably best be described as the third law of hunting: In sales, like big game hunting, trophy hunting is probably not a good avocation.

In sales there are those that hunt orders to sustain and nourish the business. As I said, these orders are the life blood of the business. There are very few if any of these orders that are mounted and put up on the wall where people can come in and see what a ferocious order was bagged.

And like sales in this instance there are hunters who actually utilize hunting as a way to provide sustenance to their family or group. I don’t think anyone can have an issue with this type of hunter. However in the instance we are discussing, I don’t think this was the final disposition of Cecil. I believe he was destined to end up as either a rug or in a semi-ferocious mounting on the wall of some dentist’s office.

One of the best ways to tell if a sales person is trophy hunting or not is if they use the phrase “Strategic Business”. If they use this phrase, chances are that they are either looking for a lower price or trying to mount some sort of big game trophy on the wall, as opposed to actually doing the business that the business needs or may want. In that way trophy hunting doesn’t really serve a purpose in business. It may provide a nice visual for a wall but it doesn’t provide any value to the business. If it doesn’t provide a value, why do it?

If the dentist in Wisconsin knew this earlier, he probably wouldn’t have shot Cecil, and definitely wouldn’t be hated by ten million people, worldwide now.

Do We Still Want Teams

It seems that throughout our lives we have been indoctrinated into the idea and benefits of teamwork. I think it starts off when we are children and our parents sign us up for the various team sports that are available. Whether it is little league soccer (or football to my European friends), or little league baseball or youth football (American football, again for my European friends), many of us have been conditioned to want to be part of the team. While this may in fact be a good socializing activity for children, I am beginning to wonder if the current idea of teams and what they have evolved to in business, may have outlived its usefulness in the business game.

Those that know me probably can try to understand how I can possibly question such a basic and heartfelt tenet of business. Everybody else is probably wondering what planet I am actually from. Please bear with me as I go through some of the observations and thinking (or lack of thinking as the case may be) that are going into these questions regarding business teams.

A little background first. I actually played little league baseball as a kid. I wasn’t real good, but I wasn’t bad either. I played third base. As I recall, I didn’t enjoy it all that much. You only really get to play when a ball is hit to you, or it’s your turn to bat. The rest of the time it seemed to go pretty slow.

I moved on. I took up tennis. It was more active, more involved, more of an individual sport. By this I mean that there were usually only me and my opponent on the court at any one time. Oddly enough I was also part of the tennis team. However the difference here was that whether I won or lost was not the result of how the rest of the tennis team played. No one could “pinch hit” for me. I could win and the team could lose. I could lose and the team could win. The success of the tennis team was the result of the sum of the successes of each of the individuals on the team.

It was interesting in that no one individual could win a baseball game, but I guess it could be construed that an individual could lose one. An example would be the baseball player that commits the error that allows the winning run to score. It was also interesting that no team could win a tennis match. It was solely up to the individual performance as to who won or lost.

It was also interesting to note that whether you won or lost was the key. That was the reason you kept score. Unlike today, there were no “participation” trophies. I’ll leave that rant for another time.

As another aside, I think there have been several attempts to create a “Team Tennis” league or format over the years. I don’t think any of them have been successful. It seems the public is not buying into the idea that you can turn what is viewed as in individual contest into a team sport.

When you look at great advancements and successes in business you rarely have them associated with a “team”. You have Bill Gates, and to a much lesser extent Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen at Microsoft. You have Steve Jobs and again to a lesser extent and Steve Wozniak at Apple. If you want to look at historical game changers look at Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. You don’t hear about their teams. You hear about them, and how they led the way and what they did to succeed.

Teams seem to only be good if a leader steps up and provides the vision and direction and an unwillingness to accept anything other than the attainment of the goal. At that point “the” team actually seems to become “their” team. I am sure that there were many others involved with the successes attributed to the men I listed above, but it was the leadership and the force of will associated with the names listed that actually carried the day. The teams may have been good, but it seems that in many instances it was the individuals that were better.

I have written in the past that I believe the consensus environment present in business these days is the evolution of a defensive mindset. The appreciation and value associated with success seems to be overshadowed by the fear and avoidance of making a mistake. The consensus environment has evolved as a way to homogenize the business decision making process. If consensus is achieved there is a security in knowing that if the wrong decision was made, everyone else made it too and the blame will be equally spread.

More and more it seems that teams are created not to achieve a goal, but to achieve a consensus.

If we look at Gates, Jobs, Ford, Edison and Tesla, it is apparent that there were in fact teams associated with their achievements. But they were not the teams of today. They were teams that were organized and structured specifically to realize the vision of the individual. There are many stories associated with each individual where they would not accept less than their vision or compromise their goals based on the input of the rest of the team. There are also stories associated with what the teams went through in order to achieve the visions and goals of the leader.

There was never a question about a consensus or who would be responsible for any failures associated with the team.

They understood that if there was a failure, it was their failure, not the teams. Their team was an extension of their drive and direction. They also seemed to have a different definition or approach to failure. Thomas Edison had this to say about failure:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 1,000 ways that won’t work.”

Bill Gates had this to say about failure:

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

And finally, Steve Jobs said:

“Embrace every failure. Own it, learn from it, and take full responsibility for making sure that next time, things will turn out differently.”

These were leaders that failed and were not afraid to fail again. They didn’t like failure. They hated it. They didn’t accept failure as the final decision. If they failed, they viewed it as temporary and something to learn from. They moved on and found another way to succeed. They didn’t stop until they succeeded.

In the team built, consensus oriented business environments of today it appears that company and organizational teams are more afraid of the perception of failure, no matter how transitory than they are driven by the need for success. These leaders understood that success had to be driven, that failure was to be learned from, and that mitigating responsibility for it was not part of the plan.

The team that was once organized to fulfill the vision of the leader seems now to be structured to protect the team members from the stain of possible failure. The avoidance of the responsibility for failure seems to have limited the team’s value as well as its ability to succeed. If everyone on the team must agree on a direction if the team is to move forward, then the team only moves forward very slowing.

If the structure and value of a team has indeed been reduced to furthering the consensus approach to doing business, is it time to step away from it? Gates and Jobs and all the others were very successful without it. Or rather, they built their teams to specifically follow their vision. The fear of failure didn’t paralyze them. They weren’t really all that interested in a consensus. They all knew failure for what it was and used it as the springboard for their next attempt.

Perhaps it is time to get back to vesting the responsibility for performance and success with the individual, instead of the team. If the individual has responsibility then there will be an entirely different dynamic in the team’s work process. It will no longer be so focused on getting everyone to “buy in” or agree on the direction to be taken. It will be more about each individual member of the team delivering on their responsibilities in alignment with the leader’s vision. As noted, those leaders never accepted failure as the final outcome and found a way.

It seemed to work pretty well for some pretty successful individuals.

Darwin and China

I think it is safe to say that we are all experiencing some sort climate change. I am not just saying that because it is one hundred and four degrees here in Texas. It is mid-August in Texas. It is always one hundred and four degrees in Texas in mid-August. Remember Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get.

What is interesting about this year in Texas is that we had almost four feet of rain in the first five months of the year, and now it hasn’t rained since then. That is a little odd. We have had something of a drought for the last few years where all of the water resources were way below normal. Most municipalities had instituted water conservation rules because of it. Needless to say, there were a lot of dirty cars because we could not wash them and a lot of brown lawns because we could not water them.

We then had a short period of a few months where it rained a lot and filled all the reservoirs to literally over flowing. Everything got green and lush. Most importantly, the golf course fairways were lush and the greens were soft. Life was good. And now we are back to no rain, a drought, but with full lakes. And on top of that it’s August and really hot, again. Go figure.

There are many that would like to point to man as the cause of this perceived global climate change (global warming). I am not entirely convinced of this causality since the geologic record across hundreds of thousands and millions of years indicates that we have had multiple periods of global glaciations (ice ages) followed by significant periods global warming in the past. I’m pretty sure that man didn’t cause these as he (we) weren’t around for most of them. It is possible that man is potentially affecting or exacerbating this cycle with carbon emissions and the like but with a data sample of only a few hundred years (against a historical record of millions of years), as I have said, I am not sure I am entirely convinced.

Be that as it may, this entire introduction regarding environmental change brings up the topics of how do you recognize environmental change, and how do you cope with that type of change. As always there seems to be some significant parallels between what is going on (and has gone on) in the environment and what businesses are facing on almost a daily basis.

Darwin in his “Origin of Species” postulated that organisms either adapt to their environments, or they go extinct. This is pretty interesting stuff when you remember that he figured this out by looking at some little birds in what are now Galapagos Islands. This is now a basic tenet that we all seem to agree on.

It is those that adapt to their changing surroundings that survive.

About ten to eleven thousand years ago North America experienced a period of rapid warming associated with the end of the last glacial period. During this time lions, cheetahs, mastodons, and various types of bears that were present in North America went extinct. It is interesting to think that there were lions, cheetahs and mastodons as little as a few thousand years ago in North America, and that they are now extinct. That is a veritable “blink” of an eye in climate or geologic time.

It is believed that several of these species were unable to adapt quickly enough to the changing environment associated with the post glacial period warming and began to die off. It is then thought that other species in that particular food chain (predators and such) also began do die off as they could not quickly enough adapt to utilizing other prey. The net result is that they are gone, and we only know about them here because of the bone and fossil record.

When we look at what is going on in the various markets, not only in the Americas, but globally, we see similar adaptation and extinction events occurring. Businesses and organizations must be quick to recognize shifts and changes in their environments and be agile and flexible enough to be able to adapt to them.

This adaption – extinction pressure requires businesses and organizations to continually perform a balancing act between their desire to codify and stabilize the activities and functions that allowed them to succeed yesterday into a repeatable format, and the ability to be flexible and change these activities and functions in order to meet the new demands of the environment (and the competition) of tomorrow.

There is an old joke that if you are a member of the group that is being chased by a bear, that you don’t have to be faster than the bear. You just have to be faster than the slowest member of the group.

This idea works for a while, until the bear has caught all the other members of the group that are slower than you. Now you had better be faster than the bear, or able to figure something else out. Just running, like you always do is no longer good enough. If you don’t change, you are probably in line for the next personal extinction event.

All this leads to the rather simple position: Changing environments require businesses and organizations to change.

We have all heard the platitudes that organizations have with respect to change and their ability to change. They have to plan on change. They have to react to change. The only constant is change (a particular favorite of mine). This is all well and good. They may or may not do these things. It appears certain that if businesses cannot accept and come to grips with the idea that the way they are doing things today will not be good enough “to outrun the bear” tomorrow they may not get to see the next “tomorrow”.

Climate change may involve the possible change of tenths of a degree across tens or hundreds of years. It is not constant or consistent, as demonstrated by the fact that average temperatures have actually declined slightly in the last few years. It seems the past changes were small and slow, but it was enough to send multiple species into extinction, rather rapidly when looking at things from a climate and evolution time frame point of view.

Such is not the case in business.

Over the last few days the Chinese government has “officially” devalued its currency, twice. In global warming terms this is the equivalent of announcing tomorrow the world will officially be five degrees warmer and good luck to all you seals, walruses and polar bears. This move in China fundamentally alters a business’s ability to move products from other countries into the world’s second largest market by making them significantly more expensive, and at the same time makes products manufactured in China far more competitive in other global markets by making them significantly less expensive.

A business that finds itself on the wrong side of this type of import-export governmental cost equation manipulation has a very short time to change its model for doing business. Maintaining that a company is flexible and that it prides itself on its ability to change isn’t any good here. When there is a recognition that the environment has changed, there needs to be the accompanying recognition that in reality the bear is now running faster.

The only thing that counts in a situation like this, or just about any other situation where a business is confronted by a reality that is in conflict with its current operating model is, does the leadership recognize the new environmental reality, and do they have what it takes to get to the new required business reality? Discussions, meetings and attention to process improvement do not “change” the need for a new approach to doing business when you find yourself in a change or extinction situation.

Sometimes the changes in the business environment occur like they just did in China. They are blatant, easily recognized and either drives a business response, or extinction. However sometimes they are more similar to the changes associated with global warming in that they have occurred slowly, and somewhat erratically and inconsistently over time. There will be those (like me for instance) that recognize and agree that an environmental change is occurring but differ on the attribution of its cause, and there will be those who deny that any change has actually occurred.

It is very clear though that in either case there comes a business morning where you wake up to an unseasonably hot day, and smell bear breath over your shoulder. What you change and how you change will then decide which side of the adaptation – extinction equation you are on.

I think Darwin would be agree.

Cartoons and Strategy

My son was being abnormally quiet the other day. Actually he was being quiet with periodic outbursts of laughter. This is not the normal state of affairs. For those of you with teenage boys you also probably know this to be the case. There is normally an ongoing chatter followed by screams of either anguish or happiness depending on who was most recently vanquished in the current on-line military game being played. I won’t mention which one. They all seem the same to me. We have all seen the commercials on television.

It was so odd to hear him in this mode that I did the unthinkable. I went upstairs to the game room to check on him. He wasn’t wearing his gaming headset. He wasn’t even on the internet. He was watching the Roadrunner and Coyote (more specifically Wile E. Coyote for those fellow purists like me) cartoons. I remembered watching these cartoons when I was young. It was amazing to me that they were still on. He had stumbled across them on a network that only played old cartoons; surprisingly enough called the “Classic Cartoon Network”.

Being of sound mind and body, a guy, and having cartoons on the television, I did the only logical thing. I went in, sat down and watched old cartoons with my son. Some of them I remembered and some I didn’t. It was fun to hang out with my son, but as usual, it got me to thinking. The humorous aspect of the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons was based on the simplicity of the task at hand; catching the Roadrunner, and the ever more complex slate of strategies employed by the Coyote in his attempts to complete the task.

Leave it to me to compare perfectly good classic cartoons to business. It’s an insult to the cartoons.

Sometimes his failures came from obvious, predictable and expected issues. Sometimes they came from unexpected directions. They were all entertaining. The Coyote’s single mindedness regarding catching the Roadrunner always made me smile.

I always wondered, if he could actually buy, build and fly his own ACME rocket, why didn’t he just use that same intelligence to order take-out from his favorite restaurant, or switch to chicken, which might have been an admirable substitute for Roadrunner and bought some at the grocery store? It probably would have saved him a great deal of wear and tear from all the falling off of cliffs and having large rocks fall on him.

Undaunted by each successive failure, the Coyote would generate a new strategy to capture the Roadrunner. Each new strategy would invariably contain maps and charts and plans on what to do and where to do it. Each new strategy was usually also more complex and more intricate than the last, but was guaranteed to work this time. They never did.

What Wile E. Coyote Inc. teaches us about strategy is something we all probably recognize but occasionally need to be reminded of: Simpler is better. This obviously applies to other business strategy as well.

A good strategy has only a few major attributes. I’ll try and go through at least my opinion of them, just as a refresher course.

First: The goal must be achievable.

On the surface one would think that catching a Roadrunner should be an attainable goal. It probably was, but it was how the Coyote went about it that was entertaining.

As a corollary it’s also okay to want to double or triple in size as a business. It may also on the surface appear to be an attainable goal but the question that should always be asked is: What is going to fundamentally change in the business that is going to enable, or even drive this kind of growth? Everybody else in the market wants to grow too, and they also have strategies. You need to have a very solid and strong precept that makes you different.

Second: The strategy must be simple.

Rube Goldberg is a name that is synonymous with creating very complex machines to achieve very simple goals. He also appears to have been the chief strategist for Coyote Inc. in its desire to overtake Roadrunner Inc. There is even an annual competition in his name where a simple task must be accomplished in no less than twenty different steps. The 2015 objective was to “shine a shoe”, and due to the complexity of some of the past entries (with over two hundred steps) the contest has been limited to a maximum of seventy five steps.

In business the goal should be to shine the shoe. Find the shoe, apply the polish and buff till the desired luster is achieved. That’s it. As the Coyote taught us, the more complex the strategy, the greater the chance there was for something to go wrong.

Third: No strategy survives contact with the real world intact.

This is a paraphrasing of the original quote:
“…no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”
Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (The Elder)

Now for those of you who are not up on your nineteenth century Prussian military history, Moltke was the Prussian military commander during the middle part of the century, and he wrote this in his book “On Strategy” in 1871.

Again we look to Coyote Inc. for examples of what not to do here. He would usually achieve one of the attributes he was striving for in his quest to get the Roadrunner. With the help of his trusty ACME rocket he could achieve the speed of the Roadrunner. He would close in only to see the Roadrunner demonstrate his ability to stop before running off a cliff, or turn sharply before running into a cliff. The Coyote with his ACME rocket usually would not be able to match this agility and maneuverability, with the (now) expected results.

The very act of implementing his strategy caused a change in the behavior of his target. Coyote Inc. was able to go as fast as Roadrunner Inc., so Roadrunner Inc. learned to stop or turn quickly in order to elude its pursuer. The same goes in business. Things change. The competition will react to competitive behavioral changes. Customers will do the same. You had better be able to learn how to change direction quickly.

The idea is to be ready for it. The simpler the strategy means there are fewer moving parts in it. The fewer the moving parts means the fewer number of things that can go wrong, which in turn means the fewer the number of things that will need to be modified as conditions in the market change. This is especially useful when it comes time to change direction because a cliff suddenly appears in front of you.

Keeping goals attainable, strategies and the number of contributing components simple, and preparing change direction as the conditions warrant seems to be enough for any business. It is the complexity that is introduced into the plan that is usually the cause of issues. When it comes to strategy and its components, I am a firm believer in the adage that “Less is more”.

It was an enjoyable time with my son watching old cartoons. It didn’t last nearly long enough. It seemed in no time he had his headset back on and was busy wiping out whichever opponent was on line at the time. I on the other hand was ready to impart all of these strategy and strategic insights that I had drawn from the Coyote’s obviously poor performance to him. He didn’t seem very interested.

I really didn’t expect him too, but still it was mildly disappointing after sharing a solid thirty minutes of quality time as we did. Still the cartoons stuck in my mind and the basic tenets about strategy were there. I suppose if Wile E. Coyote Inc. had actually employed the simple and straightforward strategies it should have in its quest to overtake Roadrunner Inc. the cartoons would have been much shorter, and probably not nearly as funny.

And I probably wouldn’t have gotten to spend some extra time with my son.