Looking at the Big Picture of Business Today: Stupid is As Stupid Does?

In today’s business environment, I don’t know if “the big picture” overshadows the smaller one, or if it’s the other way around. But I absolutely know they are of the same landscape. Even in its current first draft, when the history of this era is written they will report some astonishing (connected) story lines:

1. An era where professional athletes turned to steroids as a way to put up some big short-term numbers.

2. An era where the financial community went against all logical and accepted practices as a way to put up some big short-term numbers.

3. An era where the federal government initiated a war and engaged in unprecedented activities like Guantanamo Bay to meet their short-term objectives.

4. An era where a law and order crime and punishment DA cum Governor can build a career on straight & narrow ethics yet get run out of office for hanging with hookers.

5. An era where gambling replaced drinking as the biggest vice on college campuses.

6. An era where people knew they could not afford houses they were “buying,” but were unconcerned because in 2 years (or less!) they could sell that house and turn a huge profit.

7. An era where lip syncing was introduced for “live” concerts to assure a better quality performance.

The list of find-the-easy-way, short-term thinking, it’s only a lie or a scam if I get caught, and so on, examples can run for many pages. How did this all suddenly happen all at once? Did the “Big Picture” set the wrong example, or did a conspiracy of small individual acts conspire to just lower everyone’s tolerance and expectations?

To me, politics has also been on this steady march to absurdity for well over a quarter century, but the defining moment remains the poll question that really did decide the 200 election: “Who would you rather have a beer with, Al Gore or GWB?” At the same time, people treat their obligation to vote on programs like “Dancing With The Stars” or “American Idol” well, as pretty serious business.

On the heels of Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Tyco (remember those?) and many others we didn’t get reform or better run businesses. Company after company studied what those companies “did right” to boost the stock prices and then also tried to learn what they shouldn’t do. Effectively, the latter was studied for “how not to get caught” as opposed to behaviors that should be eliminated.

On a micro level, I always ask the same question of every executive I meet: “Who is your customer?” At best the typical answers are stock, not well thought-out or overly insightful; in the worst cases these executives show utter disdain for the markets they serve. Is it any wonder then that employees throughout the ranks are confused, misdirected, or unable to execute very well at all? If business leaders are not deeply in tune with
their markets, with their prospects and customers, does anyone think a company can meet, let alone master, rapidly changing competitive and economic conditions?

Forest Gump and his mama shed light on all this: “stupid is as stupid does”. I’ll interpret this as meaning one need not be perpetually stupid because doing better tomorrow is always a redeeming option. However, excelling tomorrow means confronting the realities with logical and decisive action. Fundamentals rule, they always have and they always will. The smart leaders will take the initiative to focus their companies on the fundamentals that are always produce results.

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