Monday 26 November 2007

Don’t listen to agree or disagree - just agree to listen

I am going to kick-off today with two great quotes. The first from Stephen Hawking who said, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” And the second from Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Today’s VLOG is about the process of learning.

I once heard a Rabbi give a talk. He said that modern audiences do not listen to learn. He said that they listen to see if they agree or not. If they agree they listen more, and if they disagree then they switch off.

Now, in previous VLOGs I have said that leaders need to listen more than anyone else. I have said that money and motivation have nothing to do with each other. So, how about this then: It does not take a great idea to start a great company. In fact, starting a company based on an idea might actually be a bad idea.

Thinking about what the wise Rabbi said, I am going to ask that do not read this from the angle of whether or not you agree or disagree. Don’t read to agree or disagree. This stifles learning; instead, give your full attention to understanding. If you fully understand and you disagree then that is your right. Having understood a different viewpoint, you are entitled to disagree. One has to learn to understand viewpoints with which you don’t agree with. You don’t have to hear what you agree with – what you agree with you know already. What one has to study and learn are viewpoints with which you don’t agree.

In the book Built to Last (which is a must read) the authors explore how many of the great companies of our time began. Some of the most inspiring and visionary organisations started off with no great idea for a product or service. Instead a group of people got together because they wanted to do something exciting. They wanted to change the world in some positive way. They wanted to make a difference, and they wanted to leave a legacy. And these are the same reasons why so many companies are formed. Just think of two people who get married because they fall in love, as opposed to learning to love each other. In a business if you have a love affair with a concept (a product or service say) and the concept fails (perhaps the market changes or technology makes it redundant etc.) then you are likely to abandon the company. If your love is for the company itself then it does not really matter what ideas are explored. The point is that a company will outlive ideas, and, products and services.

A company is really a grouping of people who come together because they like each other and because they share a common vision. They pool their different skills and they challenge each other’s thinking. Together they are stronger. This is what a marriage, a friendship, a sports team, and a business are all about. If you start a business because you are in love with a product then you will be in a volatile position. Things change. All the time. Legislation changes. Technology changes. Trends change. Your tastes will change. If you loose interest in the product you fell in love with then it is highly likely that you will loose interest in the business altogether.

The visionary companies of our time, businesses, soccer teams, marriages, cities and countries, all have got to where they are because they love the entities that they have created. And if you truly love something (or someone) then you will work at it continuously. The great brands we all know and love in the world today were born from people who loved the idea of inspiring their audiences. This is a never-ending mission. It is something beyond a clearly stated purpose. It goes to the very heart of what makes the world special. Visionary companies are built by special people and although charisma and charm always help, they are not a key ingredient. As the above mentioned book states, the visionary leaders of the past century concentrated more on architecting an enduring institution than on being great individual leaders. They sought to be clock builders, not time tellers.

This VLOG has been all over the place. I am probably over excited again or something. Perhaps it is something in the air at this time of year. Today’s VLOG really is about trying to understand as opposed to arguing. Think about why you want to join a business and, more importantly, why you would want to start a business. Think about the legacy you wish to leave behind as opposed to the profits that you want to accumulate. Think about the people you could bring together as opposed to the products you could enhance. Think about the relationships you can build as opposed to the services you can supply. Now all of this may be a lot to digest this fine summer day so let’s end off like we started, with a funny, provocative quote. I don’t know who wrote this. Whoever you are, you are right on, or off, the money. “Many people quit looking for work when they find a job.”

Posted by Ronnie Apteker