Nope - this is not about the TV show. Seth Godin wrote a post about making lists in business that prioritizes your goals in order to help you hone in on what's really important.
Building that list is not easy, and prioritizing it is even harder. In sales, if you had XXX additional resources (time, money, people, whatever), do you spend it on improving customer service to create lifelong customers; up-selling existing customers to grow revenue per customer; or as Seth put it, try to win game-changing deals? What's the right choice? This is why leaders get paid the big bucks.
Before Dell entered the computer business, what did the other manufacturers think about and prioritize? In all likelihood, the Compaqs, HPs, and IBMs of the world focused things like Six Sigma for process improvement. I'm willing to bet none said - "our customers deserve to get made-to-order vs. our generic models, let's rethink this." I bet there was even argument about offering a different colors or specs due to their impact on metrics, quality, cycle times, and throughput.
Why does it happen? Size matters - my theory: the farther away you get from the real intention of the organization, the less likely you are to contribute to it. It's true at the top, middle and bottom.
At the bottom, you're too close to the action and have to focus on your context and what you can control. At the top you're too far away; whatever insight you get is colored and filtered by your minions' interpretations; and worse, it's also shaped by your entrenchments - your past successes constrain your future opportunities. I'm convinced the latter is one of the greatest causes of decline in successful corporations. The middle is caught - they're too far away from the trenches to viscerally know what's going on, and too far away from top to really understand where the company's headed.
Let's face it in the business world, you don't succeed by raising your hand and asking the director "what is my motivation in this scene?" So what do you do? You control what you can, in the hopes that executing well in your microcosm will have positive effects on the world outside you. This might work in some instances, but it's not predictable, and you have to overcome the organization's natural (almost entropic) tendency to girth, which requires the ability and willingness to fight human nature.
When your small world becomes the whole world, you don't see context properly - motivation becomes about self-preservation and self-elevation vs. overall organizational success. You can be and feel righteous about your vision in your small world, you don't know if that micro-view really helps. As with the people on the factory floor at Compaq or HP or IBM, until someone (Dell) hits you on the head with it, you're mired.
Many parents in America know that they can't afford to send their children to university. Beth Breselli wrote an article yesterday at Rethinking Higher Education about Financial Aid Reform. In it she questions whether recent legislation aimed at making all student aid public will succeed or not. One of the benefits Beth cites is a simpler application form. But if we were really interested in this problem, why fix the process at all? The only reason to focus on this is because we're mired in the micro at the expense of the macro.
The problem is not who lends, who qualifies, or how the forms get filled out. The goal is to ensure every student who can attend university does so irrespective of financial situation. The easiest way to do this is to make university free (in Finland it is not just free, you actually get a stipend for being there). Assuming that's not possible (or at least the topic of another blog:-)), then start at the beginning of the process. when do parents (and students) eliminate university from consideration due to economics? I have no data to back this up, but I bet they explicitly do this during the freshman year of high school, and tacitly do it long before.
If I ran the government, I'd make it simple - once you declare your child as a dependent on your tax return, the IRS does an evaluation of your financial situation and tells you that your child(ren) are pre-qualified for financial assistance for university. There are no forms to fill out, here are the amounts and limits, don't worry - you're good - once the university accepts your child, we will automatically pay the amount based on their social security number. Every year, they update your status based on your current financial situation, if all other things are equal, you're still good. I bet many more parents would encourage their children, pay more attention to school, etc., and in the end, with minimal effort on either side, we achieve the goal and eliminate complexity, bureaucracy and cost.
Peter Drucker is in my opinion the single definitive voice in modern business thinking. I had a chance many years ago to spend some 1:1 time with him - it was the single greatest moment of my professional life. Our conversation was wonderful, wide-ranging, provocative and inspiring. This quote to the right should be the first and last words read at every meeting, planning session, review, etc. in the business world. We talked about this at length over lunch that day - business leaders need to understand the difference between management and leadership. Leadership is about subverting the natural tendency towards organizational entropy by making sure the list is correct and properly prioritized. Management is implementation.
Our guiding lights are waning. Why are most of our leaders now merely managers?