Thursday, November 8, 2007

Everyone Should Have a Motto

Have you, by any chance, read the book "Built to Last" by Jim Collins?

The book analyzes the success of 18 big companies that fell into 2 criteria: they were at least 50 years old (when the book was written) and they had excellent brand-names. I'm talking about Disney, Merck, Wal-Mart etc.

The writer then went one step further and compared each company to a competitor who followed the same rules, yet was less successful (in the case of Merck, he chose Pfizer. That was, I guess, before that tiny little blue pill has arisen and caused Pfizer's graph to swell ... er, insert your own joke here). Anyway, this book is considered one of the cornerstones of business books.

The book followed in the footsteps of another cornerstone, "In Search of Excellence" by Peters and Waterman - a book that analyzed the success of American companies (in the early 80's, a time when all innovation was coming from, or going to Japan).

"Excellence" was crowned "the best business book ever written". But the funny, less known fact about that book, was that years later, it turned out it's 2 authors, both financial reporters, played with the numbers a bit (read: falsified reports) so that the data would fit their theory.

Another mishap for them was that most of the companies whose excellence they've celebrated went out of business before the 90s started.

Funny enough, even though these facts have been in the public domain, people still treat the book as a great tome of truth, leading me to think that Lincoln might have been wrong when he said "you can't fool all the people all of the time".
(To read more about it, check my recommended book "In Search of Stupidity" - the first chapter covers its namesake).

Back to "Built to Last": In one of the companies I worked for, my boss bought me and every other manager, a copy of the book. He believed in every little notion of it, read it several times, an in general, treated it like some kind of bible. He actually wanted every manager to "prepare a chapter" to discuss at the next management meeting. I actually spent a full trip to California poring over a chapter about companies mottos and core values.

You see, every great company has to have a short and concise motto (so the book maintains) that will display the company's core values and commitment in the following order: investors first, then customers then employees. You can then add the environment, the planet, or the hungry people in Somalia - if you so choose. The motto usually includes a lot of big, empty words like "empower", "synergize", "diversify" and "harmony".

I visit so many companies that took this to heart and are actually displaying their motto proudly in their main office. I will not name names, but some of them are extremely stupid (the mottos, not the companies).

So, when I came across the following motto in one cartoon ("Harvey Birdman" - an irreverent series dealing with an ex-superhero working for a corrupt law firm), I started laughing out loud. Then I froze the screen and took this shot (click to enlarge):

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