The Little Drummer Boy and Alexander Hamilton make a formidable duo to power your business
In our recent post, “Hey Listen!” we discussed the power of listening as a vital business skill. The ever popular holiday refrain “Do you hear what I hear” from Christmas Carol ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ suggests that two people can hear the same thing in personal and business conversations and come up with entirely different conclusions. In fact, most everyone can reflect upon some critical conversation or another that resulted in “Did I hear what I think I heard?” or “Did they really say what I think they did?” These are but reminders that we need to be ever diligent in developing skills and awareness to our surroundings.
Henry David Thoreau, the Author and Transcendentalist, in the early 1850’s went to ‘live deliberately’ in a small unadorned cottage on Walden Pond in Concord, MA. He would spend 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days on the pond honing his skills and developing his senses. Unfettered by any personal or electronic distraction, In 'Walden, Life in the Woods', Thoreau encourages the reader to be “forever on the alert” and “looking always at what is to be seen.” Sounds simple in concept but incredibly challenging and beneficial to develop as a personal skill. Perhaps the biggest business takeaway is his observation “It is not what you look at but what you see” that is important.
Consider the value of seeing a situation or engaging with a co-worker first hand and not through the filter of the phone or email. Aren’t these in fact more meaningful interactions… and interactions that are increasingly rare? In our Lean consulting practice, we heartily encourage this. The proponents of the Japanese style of Lean Manufacturing refer to the importance of going to see and an event associated with ‘GEMBA’ which refers to ‘the Real Place’ or the place where things truly happen. As is suggested above, if you get to that place and don’t know what to listen for or what to look for, there will be little benefit.
Context is important. Yesterday, I was invited to walk a large wood lot with a well-known timber consultant in New Hampshire. In a bona fide effort to see the forest through the trees, I trudged, dumfounded about the science of property valuation through the eyes of a timber expert. Past a stand of Birch, and through a section of White Ash, we landed at the foot of an ominous and decrepit Sugar Maple (not that I knew any of it) where my guide commented, “that thing is over 200 years old, if it only had eyes to see what has transpired here over that period.” It seems we could all see things better and more clearly of we opened our eyes to our surroundings.
This brings me to Alexander Hamilton and the wildly popular Broadway adaptation of Ron Chernow’s biography. Hungry to replicate and improve upon advancements made in the English economy and industry, Hamilton, at age 26, conducted his report on Manufacturersin 1791. In the report, Hamilton concludes that,
“experience teaches, that men are often so much governed (authors note – perhaps these men should have had a woman’s perspective) by what they are accustomed to see and practice, that the simplest and most obvious improvements in the most ordinary occupations, are adopted with hesitation, reluctance, and slow gradations.”
Yes, people change when their eyes are opened and they see things differently and generally not until. So, we need to hear and see to expand opportunities in business. In this case, it is equally vital to act when you hear, see, and understand. Luis-Manuel Miranda the Hamilton Playwright embodies this idea in the song ‘My Shot’ in the blockbuster play in quoting Hamilton,
“I’m past patiently waitin’,
I’m passionately mashin’ every expectation
Every action is an act of creation.”
Channeling Hamilton’s frustration about indecision and a lack of innovation as spelled out in his actual treatise of manufacturers, he encourages the audience to act. Importantly in business, our wonderfully connected and technologically enabled world allows us see, evaluate, and act with speed and mitigated risk in a way that we never could before. Business analytics, business process modeling, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence are changing the decision making landscape. The real challenge lies in listening and looking for opportunities and in taking the time to evaluate what is important. Implementation is always the core issue.
My guide yesterday emphasized that “you need to take the time to see all of the things that are happening in a particular forest before you can come up with a plan to maximize its long term value.” If you are working with a forest of people, you need to take that time, too. Bill Gates, in a 2013 piece he published on LinkedIn reflects on “Three things I’ve learned from Warren Buffet” considers a lesson from Buffet: “No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time. There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day. Warren has a keen sense of this. He doesn’t let his calendar get filled up with useless meetings. On the other hand, he’s very generous with his time for the people he trusts.”
As you continue to ponder the value and importance of critical relationships at work and the way you communicate with co-workers you might likewise take the time to listen. If it sounds like a train coming, go see if that is the fact…. and if that is what is happening, be sure to get on board or out of the way.