Sowing Seeds

I really have no idea how American businesses compare to businesses from other countries and cultures, but my impression is that American businesses are far too short sighted. How ironic that a county who's two greatest natural assets, and probably biggest reason for success, are ignored in many of today's large companies.

What are those two assets? Agriculture and risk taking. What is agriculutre about? Long term planning, pattern recognition and adjustment, working with others (cannot farm the same plot for the same crops year-after-year-after-year), adjustment to events outside your control, etc. Why risk taking? That's what the first several generations of immigrants had in common - they were willing to take a risk, come to a new world, and work to succeed.

Yet I do not see American companies reflect such cultural values; rather, companies have developed short-term, low-risk cultures (the great irony to me is that "short-term" is inherantly "high-risk," not low risk). Before I got into consulting about 10 years ago, I had a VP tell me one of the challenges of consulting was having to prove yourself over and over. Or, put another way, all you do is plant seeds, wait for them to grow, but do not get to harvest to "show" anyone your results.

A key component to the success of any organization must be the alignment of individual incentives and motivations with the goals of the organization. Jim Collins says in Good to Great (one of my favorite books) "People are not a company's most important asset... the right people are." With the right people, you can achieve the right alignment.

Perhaps the challenge American companies have is rather than aligning people with the company, the company needs to align with the people. Clearly as a company grows, at a high level it becomes more conservative; it has to. As a company grows the risk of failure is bigger, and the loss of investment is bigger. Hence The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.

How can companies ensure long-term growth without sowing seeds? Perhaps that is where our youth as a country presents some challenges. We are a "baby" on the timeline of world history. Our bretheren in Asia would be considered the grandparents of the world, and perhaps that is why they take such a long-term view of their businesses.

What's my point? There is none. I'm just babbling on a cold Saturday afternoon. If you read this far I will be shocked... in fact, if you did read this far please post a comment and I will owe you a lunch!

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