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NOW AND THEN… (#BysterChat)

I used to love Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid.  One of my favorites was The Jetsons;  I couldn’t wait to see what George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, and Astro were up to each week.  And I loved to dream about whether the life of the Jetson family really reflected what it would be like in the 21st century—with flying cars, robotic maids, and three-course meals served piping hot to you at the push of a button. Even though these luxuries are not part of everyday life today, so many inventions that we now have are things the Jetsons lacked, like email, the Internet, smart phones, DVRs, and paper-thin computers, All of these were created and continually improved upon by brilliant outside-the-box thinkers.  Innovative technologies are typically developed by one company to stay ahead of the competition.  But, in areas where there is not much corporate competition, technology has not advanced much from the time I was in my pajamas watching those classic, forward-thinking animations.

Take, for example, the automotive and transportation industry. True, automobiles are so much nicer and reliable than when I was growing up.  My uncle bought a used car when I was a kid and when he drove us around we had to keep our feet on the seat because there was a hole in the floor and you could see the road go by as you drove (more like the Flintstones than the Jetsons).  Twenty-first century cars are much more high-tech and luxurious than they were back then.  But, today I live less than a mile from where I grew up and it still takes close to an hour to get to downtown Chicago during moderate traffic times, just like it did for my dad decades ago. If there were companies striving for your business in this industry, we might see commercials saying “Take our twelve-lane uncongested route to Chicago and you will get there in twenty-five minutes with rest stops and gas stations every two miles.”  And to stay ahead of the competition, corporations would find a way to make it happen. Toll roads do exist in many cities to divert traffic and lure drivers willing to pay for a shorter, faster route, but this area isn’t nearly as competitive as other industries so there’s less incentive to build more toll roads (and probably a lot more red tape to cut through with local government and cities).

When I was young every year or two we would have a bad storm that knocked out electricity for a few hours.  Now, many years later, we still experience storms that cause power outages for several hours.  In fact, last year in the Chicago area and this year on the East Coast hundreds of thousands of people were without power for several days after a bad storm passed through.  If there were a bunch of companies vying for your electric business, we might hear ads that say, “Our newly improved power lines are made to withstand winds up to 150 miles an hour, and if you are ever without power for more than twelve hours you get the next month free.”

Sixty years from now when my great grandson is watching cartoons on Saturday morning on his 300-inch super high-definition television with 2,500 stations—including the technology to pop in and be part of the cartoon whenever he pleased—he will be enjoying experiences I could not even begin to imagine.  But, if a storm passes through town or his family wants to go to dinner downtown, will he experience the same inconveniences that his great grandfather did?

-Mike Byster

(Source: mikebyster.com)

OUT OF BOX, OUT OF MIND

The business world is more competitive than ever.  To build your own company or climb the corporate ladder you have to differentiate yourself from others.  And to do that, you have to be able to think outside the box.  It’s one of my big lessons I teach kids so they are encouraged to use their imaginations and find their own solutions to problems. But here’s the cautionary lesson in that old adage that we as adults tend to forget: watch out for the fine line between thinking outside the box and being just plain “out of mind.” What do I mean buy this? Well, many of the same people who have been characterized as having brilliant minds for thinking differently have also caused much harm to themselves and their companies by committing egregious acts. There’s a profound difference between egregious and different, but sometimes people confuse the two.

This came to light again this past week when a lifeguard helped save the life of a distressed swimmer.  Instead of praising his heroism, however, the private company he worked for fired him for going beyond the boundaries of the area he was guarding to help the swimmer.  Soon thereafter, two other lifeguards resigned in protest and the media was quick to vilify the company as well. Granted, this is an example of a small company doing wrong, but it’s so emblematic of what can happen in any size company. Some of the most powerful business leaders in the country are not immune to making inane decisions and saying callous things that send their corporate public relations firm rushing into “spin mode.”

In 2010, while millions of gallons of oil were pouring into the Gulf of Mexico due to an April 20th explosion on a BP oil rig, which caused eleven death, environmental catastrophes, and great financial hardships for thousands of people, then BP CEO Tony Hayward decided it was the perfect time to go on a vacation.  When asked about his feelings during the crisis, Heyward thought it would be best if he cast himself as the victim and answered, “I just want my life back.” BP later announced Hayward would be relieved of his CEO duties.  It is hard to imagine why.

In 2008, the CEOs of the Big Three automobile companies went to Washington D.C. to seek Congressional support to access billions of taxpayer bailout money. Brilliant minds think alike: To show Congress and the American people how careful they would be to cut costs and make sure they don’t foolishly spend money, each executive—Alan Mulally of Ford, Richard Wagoner of GM, and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler—had the same idea: fly into Washington on his own corporate jet.  That prudent maneuver triggered Congressman Gary Ackerman to simply ask them:  “Couldn’t you have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?”

It’s one thing to think differently in order to get ahead and accelerate your success. But it’s clearly another to lose your ability to act sensibly while retaining that same uniqueness. Perhaps the most brilliant minds of all belong to those who can:

1) Think DIFFERENTLY

2) Act smartly or even heroically when pressed to handle challenging situations and circumstances.

This definition actually calls to mind the old Apple slogan, “think different,” which accompanied the iconic Apple logo. Among the many symbols that apples connote is one for smartness. Steve Jobs (now there’s someone who thought outside the box “smartly”) knew what he was doing. Do you? And are you operating from a place that’s out-of-box or out of mind? Something to think about!


-Mike Byster

(Source: mikebyster.com)