“The reality is, shareholder value or stock price is not something you can create anyway. It’s a by-product that only happens if you make a difference in people’s lives.”
Panera [Bread]’s [Ron] Shaich says it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when company leaders start caring too much about quarterly financial results. “The reality is, shareholder value or stock price is not something you can create anyway,” Shaich maintains. “It’s a by-product that only happens if you make a difference in people’s lives.” And you can only do that, he adds, by continually asking mission-related questions--about what truly matters to you as a company and what’s needed in the marketplace or the larger world.
But unfortunately, says Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School, many business leaders have been trained to care obsessively about short-term results--specifically, he says, they tend to put too much weight on financial metrics like IRR (internal rate of return) and ROCE (return on capital employed) because they’ve been conditioned to treat capital as precious. In reality, Christensen points out, “Capital today is abundant and cheap” (so much so, he notes, that “investors had to pay Square for the privilege” of having the hot startup take their funding). With so much available capital, it’s an opportune time for companies to invest in expansive, game-changing innovation--and in “people who have the skills to solve not only today’s problems but to ask what tomorrow’s challenges will be,” Christensen says.
Yet many businesses have remained focused on what Christensen calls “efficiency innovations” (aimed at reducing costs) in order to free up more capital, which in turn is used to create more efficiency. How to break this cycle? Christensen thinks tax incentives for long-term investment may help, but he also believes, like Shaich, that business leaders must step back and ask: what do we actually care about, beyond today’s stock price or short-term return on capital? What are we trying to achieve and how will we get there, in the long run?
Read more: Forget The Mission Statement. What’s Your Mission Question?
Two among the many things I learned during my internship in McCann-Erickson still reverberate to me clearly:
One, the "busy working-class person" is one of the lamest profiles to describe today's professionals. Our mentor, strategic planning expert Hans Lopez-Vito, gently but firmly reminded me that lesson, while our group was working on an exercise one summer afternoon years back. As I recall that incident now, I chuckle inside and tell myself how right he was, and still is. After all, in this day and age, who isn't? We're always preoccupied, always going here and there, always barraged by a list of to-do's and to-be's. This is a busy world, and we are a busy people.
Two, the best ideas don't happen when you're busy. Dan Matutina, also one of our advisers back in the day, quickly reminded us youngins that we should set a limit to fretting and fumbling over a plan. You have to step back, relax, and enjoy other things, and let the lightbulb moment happen on its own. The idea has to incubate inside you before it comes out, fully-formed: an amazing concept consolidated from personal experiences and other ideas.
We need our downtimes. We need space outside of work to see the world from a grander perspective. We cannot process the bigger picture if we stay holed up in our cubicles, listlessly checking our inboxes for emails. It's integral to commit to a life outside of work so you can bring in fresh perspectives the moment you return to your office.
Jeff Weiner, Linkedin CEO, echoed my thoughts when he said: "There will always be a need to get things done and knock another To Do item off the list. However, as the company grows larger, as the breadth and depth of your initiatives expand -- and as the competitive and technological landscape continues to shift at an accelerating rate -- you will require more time than ever before to just think...That thinking, if done properly, requires uninterrupted focus; thoroughly developing and questioning assumptions; synthesizing all of the data, information and knowledge that's incessantly coming your way; connecting dots, bouncing ideas off of trusted colleagues; and iterating through multiple scenarios. In other words, it takes time. And that time will only be available if you carve it out for yourself. Conversely, if you don't take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it. The resulting situation will inevitably require far more time (and meetings) than thinking strategically would have to begin with."
(To read more about his article, The Importance of Scheduling Nothing, click here.)
Last weekend, while talking to a lawyer friend who was very committed to balancing her work and life (this is another story of course), I realized how important it is to live life fully, now more than ever. It sounds like cheap advice we often read from self-help books, but it pays to remember that our work productivity depends on the quality of our life outside of work. To be frank, I believe the best ideas I've put in in my years of working came from the time I actually spent outside of work.
At the end of the day, take note that work is a means to an end, not the end itself. So enjoy the ride, have fun, and make it worthwhile.
Some people are naturally curious and others are not. No matter which category you are in you can benefit from behaving like a curious person. Next time you are listening to information, make up and write down three to five relevant questions. If you are in a lecture, Google them after for answers. If you are in a conversation you can ask the other person. Either way you'll likely learn more, and the action of thinking up questions will help encode the concepts in your brain. As long as you're not a cat you should benefit from these actions of curiosity.
Read more: 5 Things That Really Smart People Do
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.