We’re less than a month away from the release of Jack and Suzy Welch‘s newest work, The Real Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career (Harper Business, 2015). It is a certain best-seller, and pre-orders for the book are rocking the online outlets. Considering their personal backgrounds, perhaps you join me in being perplexed that even before its release, the book ranks #11 in the Amazon.com best-selling list in Business Ethics.
“Say what?” If you don’t know the story, here is a brief account. Suffice it to say that much more detail is available to you through the Internet. Jack’s second wife, Jane Beasley, found out about an affair between Suzy Wetlaufer and Welch. At the time, Suzy was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. Beasley delivered this information to the publication, and Wetlaufer was forced to resign in early 2002 after admitting to having been involved in an affair with Welch while preparing an interview with him for HBR. Personal and professional ethics? This did not turn out too badly for Beasley. While Welch had crafted a prenupital agreement, she had insisted on a ten-year time limit for its enforceability, and therefore, left the marriage with around $180 million of Welch’s money. That interview was never published. Suzy and Jack married in 2004.
This is not their first co-authored book. Randy Mayeux presented their first one, Winning (Harper Business, 2005) at the First Friday Book Synopsis. It reached # 1 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal business best-selling lists. We did not present their next co-authored work, Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today (Harper Business, 2006).
They both have another single-authored book. Randy presented a synopsis of Jack: Straight from the Gut (Business Plus, 2003). In 2010, Suzy wrote 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family (Scribner). Randy gave that synopsis to several of our Creative Communication Network clients. I remember that audiences we delivered that synopsis to were not exactly thrilled at the quality of information transferred. In fact, at the Fort Worth Club, our event planner remarked that she wished she would have selected another book. Maybe her reputation backfired on that one. Of course, she didn’t write that one way to get unstuck is to have an affair with a famous married man. It certainly worked for her.
Note that both of these authors are very competent and successful. History will likely write Jack as the most successful CEO in American history. His style and substance led General Electric to a fast and furious climb to the top of elite and powerful businesses. All the labels, such as “Neutron Jack,” are applicable. His decisions were profound and effective. And, he believed in lifelong learning and professional development, even teaching courses on-site at the GE Learning Center. Many CEO’s don’t even know their company has a learning center, let alone take the time to go teach in it. Suzy’s role at one of the most prestigious business publications gave her strong credibility, as did her work experience at Bain.
Considering their reputation, most likely, this one will also fly to the top. It is not out of the question that you might hear a synopsis of this at our event. In fact, many of our regular attendees may push us very hard to present it. It will be exciting to see what the sub-topics will be from the Table of Contents. Only time will tell whether this one is heavier on style than substance. The title alone is appealing.
But, ethics? Is this really the best resource?
I have actually read a fair amount of Aristotle. Not in the original language (although, a little bit of that too). But in my graduate work in rhetoric, we had to read Aristotle. And he is really, really important. But, now, centuries later, his main ideas are usually summarized by others. And the summaries are accessible, make sense, and are profound. For many, a good summary is enough – enough information, enough to launch the thought processes that lead to real-world ideas and changes for the better.
From Aristotle, for example: to be persuasive (rhetoric is all about finding the available means of persuasion), you need logos (a good logical argument), ethos (a good ethical case/argument — true credibility on the part of the speaker/writer), and pathos (a good emotional argument – an engaging “this matters to me” by the speaker/writer). And a few others back from around the time of era of Aristotle add the power of a fourth element, mythos (the narrative appeal – this rings true to our story as a people/nation/company…). Now Aristotle wrote on many other themes, but you get the point. A person writes a book. Others read it. And with the passage of time, they are able to summarize, really effectively, the truths and principles and insights from books. And it helps us understand.
I thought of all this as I read this excellent summary of a series of recent books on the financial crisis. What Caused the Economic Crisis? The 15 best explanations for the Great Recession by Jacob Weisberg. (from Slate.com and Newsweek – I read it on the Slate site).
Though the crisis is recent, there is a large number of books proposing explanations for the economic crisis with clear themes and explanations proposed for consideration. Weisberg summarizes many of these, dividing the suggested explanations into themes and explanations, and concludes with this phrase:
But if we haven’t at least learned that our financial markets need stronger regulatory supervision and better controls to prevent bad bets by big firms from going viral, we’ll be back in the same place before you can say 30 times leverage.
I think the article is worth reading. I have perused a few of the books mentioned, and the article does a good job summarizing the key explanations. And learning these is important – we would really like to dig out of this crisis, and certainly to avoid similar crises in the future.
But the purpose of this post is more about the process of reading books and then learning something important from what we read. None of us (ok – very few of us) can remember all that we read. But we can remember key points, extract the most important principles and themes, and then allow these to inform our thinking and direct our practice. That is why we read (at least, why we read nonfiction and business books) – to learn, to keep learning.
I have learned this from my own experience from reading, and presenting synopses of, business books. In the last few months, I have read Outliers (Gladwell) and Talent is Overrated (Colvin), and learned that it takes 10,000 hours to get really, really good at something, and that those hours have to be spent in deliberate practice – practice for the purpose of getting better. I have read 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch, learning that decisions can be better made if we look at their impact in the next 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. I have read The Opposable Mind (Martin) and discovered that to make the best decisions we need to hold two opposing ideas in our heads at the same time.
These are just a few of the “summaries” that I think of just from the last few months. Are these books worth reading in their entirety? Absolutely. But with all of the stories, supporting information and data in the books, it is the key principles that matter, that shape my thinking, and that I remember most from reading these books.
Last Friday at our June First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented the synopsis of the book 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch. It is one of the few books I have read that just seems to pop up in conversation after conversation. The book states very simply that whenever we need to make a decision, we need to ask: what are the implications of this decision in the next 10 minutes, in 10 months, and in 10 years. She argues that many (most!) people don’t actually have any process they follow to make decisions. They simply go with their gut instinct, or they just “do” without “deciding, and then doing.” Here’s her sentence: “We decide by not deciding or by letting our gut instinct guide us… And we hope for the best.” It is a powerful, simple reminder. And it is espeically helpful in reminding us that we really do not think through the significance and possible consequences of our many decisions.
Well, I have not been able to get the book out of my mind. And one aspect is especially captivating – we are not very good at thinking through the long-term impacts and implications of our decisions. Read the news, and you learn this in a hurry. What our Congress passes, about financial regulations, about mortgage guidelines, about investor protections — these all have serious long-term consequences.
Recently, I was reading one of the many articles attempting to explain just what put our auto companies in the mess they are in. Here is one interesting theory — in 1962, after we got mad at unfair tariffs imposed on chicken exports, we imposed a 25% tariff on all truck imports. This led our auto makers to spend years (actually, decades) making the best trucks in the world — because they had a practical monopoly on trucks (remember, all of those ubiquitous SUV’s are trucks), and thus they put their best researchers and their best innovators into trucks, not cars. By the time the gas prices and the financial collapse finally hit, we were literally way behind the curve on car innovation, and leading in an area that can no longer be as profitable economically (trucks). So, a seemingly logical and understandable decision in one year had serious, maybe catastrophic unintended consequences over the long haul. (You can read the article, The chickens have come home to roost, here).
This is just one example. We all could provide many more. This question helps in so many ways. Should I finish (should I have finished) my: degree, graduate degree, project…? Should I do this, do that, go here, go there?
What does this short-term decison today do in the long-term? What will the consequences be in 10 years? This is the question we need to learn to ask — and keep asking.
In my speech classes, I frequently show my students the locker room speech delivered by Al Pacino from the Oliver Stone movie, Any Given Sunday (watch it one youtube here — my apology for the language). I think it includes the truest line I have ever heard: “That’s what living is — the six inches in front of your face.” There is no truer line. Every decision flows from this question: what do I put in the six inches in front of my face? How do I respond to what is right in front of my face? Pick any bad habit, or destructive behavior, and it is the result of putting the “wrong” thing in front of your face, and not putting/keeping the “right” thing in front of your face.
Start your own list: do I answer this e-mail, or do I surf the web? Do I meet with this person, read this book, go to this networking event? Do we allocate our resources in this way, or that way? Do I look at these numbers, hire this person? The questions are always demanding an answer. (Do we have/keep the right questions in front of us?) The decisons are always waiting to be made. We put information in front of our face, and then we tackle the important and hard decison making process. What am I putting/keeping in front of my face?
I thought of this as I began reading the new book by Suzy Welch, 10-10-10: A Life Transforming Idea. Her premise is simple: life works, or it doesn’t, based on the quality of our decisions. The decisions we make lead to success and joy and fulfillment — or the other direction. And then she adds this brilliant insight: about each decision, think about how this will turn out in the next 10 minutes, then in 10 months, and then in 10 years.
Yes, this is ancient widsom, pointing to the immediate impact, and the mid-term impact, and the long-term impact. But her formula, 10-10-10, is simple and tangible. In other words, what do I put in front of my face, and what will be the impact of that decision — now, later, and much later?
I think this is a question worth asking any time, all times — and especially in these especially challenging economic times.
If you live near Dallas, I hope you can join us for the June First Friday Book Synospis, as I present my synopsis of this book, and help us think of this simple yet life-shaping formula — for business decisions, and all-of-life decisions.