Thoughts on stray cards on my desk
I confess just to tidying up my desk and wanting somewhere to put a sentence I wrote on the back of one my business cards. Looking at the card, I must have written this 18 months to 2 years ago.
“The give-and-take between us as we follow our dreams strengthens us as individuals and as a group.”
A touchy-feely sentiment perhaps but also a profound statement of the essence of business.
Give-and-take is the heart of business
The heart of any business is the give-and-take between us. Give-and-take is not something we add as a layer of style or a way of resolving tension. Give-and-take is the heart. Our business exists only to give-and-take.
We have give-and-take with our customers. We have give-and-take with our suppliers. We have give-and-take among ourselves.
Too many businesses, though, set the process of give-and-take in stone. The give-and-take evolves and it is the ability to build a business the grows the give-and-take that is genius.
Losing the give-and-take
Let me give you examples of misunderstandings of give-and-take.
Some Terms & Conditions on the internet put all the responsibility on the user. Totally back to front. The Terms & Conditions should phrase the responsibility and limits on the person who offers them. In plain English, the T&C should state what I bring to the table and how I will honour you.
A standard role play in assessment centers sets up a “customer” as a bit of buffoon. Managers, particularly those with accounting and legal training, often try to put the customer in the wrong and wring out of them monetary concessions based on the letter of their contract. The smart manager judges the situation and looks at it as a way to deepen the relationship with the customer and the customer’s reference group. A bad situation is simply an opportunity to grow the relationship and do more and better business.
How many times do employees tell managers that something is going wrong only to have their “heads bitten off”? It is usually productive to ask for more details of the “symptoms” and to find out what the employee proposes. Both are likely to be interesting.
Open-ended interaction is not always right nor is it predictable
It’s tough to interact with people and just to “see what comes of it”. I don’t want to do that all the time, of course. I am not really interested in “generative moments” with an immigration officer at the airport. Beyond being as cheerful as possible, I just want to have my passport stamped quickly. On a short haul flight, I also have no interest in manufacturing social moments, though I might do it to lessen the pain of standing in those ridiculous queues.
Long haul flights are quite different. Being cooped up for 12 hours is a recipe for climbing the walls. But the nature and quality of the interaction depends on my neighbor as much as me.
I’ve moved out my seat to allow someone two seats and the possibility of a nap. I’ve asked the airline to find me a bank of seats so I can sleep. I’ve baby sat. I’ve had people help me.
The story unfolds in a an unpredictable way and the flight is always better for flexibility rather than rigidity. Of course, I hope there has been no vagueness about the fuel or the engineering. But most of the human side is generative. And we are more likely to chose an airline again when the interaction went well.
Give-and-take and management theory
Give-and-take is a difficult concept though. Too often, in the management sciences we treat organizations as if they are the sum of individuals. It is true that the interactions between individuals depends on the individuals. I doubt Professor Stephen Hawking would find my thoughts on physics very stimulating, for example.
But after, all if the interaction of physicists wasn’t stimulating, then it wouldn’t really matter who was around him.
As it is much harder to stimulate and manage generative interactions than it is to find and hire people (buy their time), firms who understand interaction are likely to be the winners. Brilliant people are probably better off in the company of less brilliant people who interact well than with other brilliant people who interact badly.
The practice of give-and-take
This is all theory though. I didn’t want to lose my pithy little statement and this blog is my filing cabinet. What I want to keep goes here.
Hope you find it food for thought.
If nothing else treasure the interactions you have with others. Guided by their dreams, we grow stronger together.