The way you learn is the way we do business.


   The way you learn is the way we do business.


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Tony Kuhel

Sometimes we avoid talking with other people because we are afraid that problems or arguments will develop.  Sometimes it is our arrogance – we do not really expect someone to have much to offer and we are really busy…time spent on talking is not really time well spent.  And yet, I think we do know that helping others to better understand the situation leads to many good things (it is an investment of sorts), it avoids gossip, and it leads to figuring out better ways of doing things, prepares us for improved performance, better awareness of everyone’s skills and strengths, and more.

If we chose not to do that, we are doing things the way that works for “me.” And then you do things the way it works for you (your “me”)….and we are off to the races.

Why this topic?

Well, I think this simple topic starts to show us what the mortar of success, society, social construct, companies (including those resulting from M&A efforts) look like.

We were in a meeting yesterday to hear about a large (multi-billion dollar) project underway in a city that was among the poorest in the US.  And the concern one citizen had about the better ways of spending the money, in spite of it being a “regulatory” project, to make it “greener” and to do it at a lower cost.  There was discussion on how alternatives might exist, why didn’t we look at what other cities were doing, and so on.  The one word that kept coming up was “fragmented.”  The project was so fragmented…”we are so fragmented.”  So many small villages, governmental entities, jurisdictions, yadda, yadda.  So many “me’s”, so little mortar holding it together.

And then we heard of ideas presented years ago to look at greener – in the environmental sense – and possible approaches that would take much less green – in the money sense.  Ideas that had been forgotten – not considered.

We are also on a panel with our partner organization eKnow about mergers & acquisitions.  Why is the typical M&A likely to work only around 30% of the time.  Imagine building airplanes that are only likely to work say 30% of the time…or bridges, cars, surgeries.  That would be a problem.  The interesting thing in “me” is whether “me” is in the game or not.  Sitting in an airplane that might only work 30% of the time is one thing.  Sitting in a meeting about a city or an M&A effort that might not work…that is another.

And one obvious question….”are these things really different?”

The implications of not working together on say a battlefield are typically obvious, quick, and measurable.  The implications of a poor city doing fragmented projects or a successful company doing unsuccessful M&A…also leads to loss of jobs, families that are stressed, parents who have to be away when children needed them.  And so on.  Not as obvious, quick, and measurable…but not unlike the battlefield I would suggest.

Now back to the mortar for a moment.  In the mix is stuff like listening…really listening…as we talk with each other.  There is trust…we say we are going to do something and we do it…every time.  So in addition to fear of problems, arguments; controlling the arrogance (we ALL have)…we add in the need to do more work.  So many reasons not to work together.

And in most work efforts this is very visible if you watch closely.  Discussion springs back, as fast as it can, to what should we do in the project, the M&A, etc.  “What” we should do is way more comfortable than “how” we should figure out what we do.  If mortar is part of the construct – we know it.  Avoiding this discussion usually indicates we don’t really want to know. 

I point this out to suggest we watch how conversations on “small things” do go as an indicator of how the larger effort will go.  Challenge the small with a few strategic efforts – the mortar - to challenge how the bricks stick together.  Comfort is either a sign that participants know exactly what to do…and are spot on.  Or that they don’t know what they don’t know.

We are the things to look for? 

I am interested in your views on that. 

I see more smiles and tears (when people see what not having mortar has been doing to things and people they care about).  I also see hard results like innovative new approaches, lower costs, solving problems faster together (not finger pointing), projects that have people on board to make success happen.  A 30% success rate…not likely tolerated here.

My father-in-law was a brick layer and very good at it.  It was hard work.  As I watched him do his trade, it was clear the magic was really in the mortar.  He was meticulous.  The same for building social constructs that make for successful projects, communities, and companies.


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