Editor’s note: Eric Jackson, a technology consultant and developer, is a regular contributor to Local Tech Wire. His column appears on Tuesdays.A few weeks ago I glanced over at the cover of the most recent issue of Business 2.0 and saw a title which annoyed me: “Management Secrets of Toyota”.
Admittedly, I was already in a bad mood that day. And I certainly don’t mean to pick on Business 2.0 in particular. Check out the magazine racks and you will find much more of the same. Secrets of a great sex life. Secrets of innovation. Secrets of success. Over and over, the implication that here, at last, is that one piece of information that we have been missing, the one little tidbit that will bring all of it together and tell us how to be better lovers, lose weight, manage well, and compete globally.
Will we ever learn?
It is only fair that I begin by admitting the unsurprising fact that I am no more immune than anyone. I am constantly tempted by the idea that there might be a simple, no, scratch that, easy answer. Whether book, magazine, piece of software, or gadget, I find myself entertaining the hope that this, finally, will be it. Never mind that, half the time, there is only the most tenuous connection between it and any problems I might actually have.
Secrets aren’t really secret
Now, I do believe in the progress of ideas in human affairs. While most of the time, the answers we need are simple, well-known, and ancient, still there are new things to learn, new ideas to be shared, and great value in the sharing.
The fact is, though, that the “secrets” of success are never secret. The word has been out on Toyota’s management practices for a good many years. The “secrets” of Dell, Southwest, Walmart, GE and every other company who is or has been a success have generally been quite visible, and well studied. Time and again a company that is experiencing notable success cooperates fully with researchers and media to explain just what it is they are doing right. They describe in detail the “secrets” of their success and continue to trounce their competition.
Many of these ideas are indeed innovative and that is an important part of their success. But the innovation, the new “idea” is only the start. What is critical is the execution. Almost every management fad that has come and gone over the last few decades has been as valid, if not perhaps as universally so, as its proponents have claimed. From re-engineering to learning organizations to lean manufacturing, from MBO to MBWA, the ideas are good, the techniques effective. And every one is very hard to do well.
That is the real secret. Management by wandering around requires that we manage, as well as wander. And of course we never can get away from all the basics: good process, paying attention, caring about our customers, caring about our employees, aligning actions with goals, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
But what’s the harm, anyway?
Beware the easy out
The harm is that thinking there is a secret to be discovered handicaps us. It predisposes us to seek the easy out, to wait for the “right” tool, method, or time. It inclines us to see the causes of our problems in circumstances, rather than accepting full responsibility for how things come out. This is true in all areas of life, of course, but let’s at least admit it in business. Toyota doesn’t have any secrets. We’ve known for years how they do it. The only problem is, it’s really hard. So let’s take their ideas and get to work, or come up with our own, and get to work on those, and leave the headlines about secrets for our sex lives.
Sorry, I’m just in a cantankerous mood. I’ll try to cheer up by next week so that I can get back to revealing the secrets of business success.
Ideas? Suggestions? Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Jackson is the founder of DeepWeave. He has built his career pioneering software solutions to particularly large and difficult problems. In 2000, Eric co-founded Ibrix, Inc. He is the inventor of the Ibrix distributed file system, a parallel file storage system able to scale in size and performance to millions of terabytes.