Business should be truly ambitious
I read two articles about ambition, risk, and innovation this morning. I'd like to share these articles and the thoughts they inspired about business's role in society and my own moonshot goal. THE ARTICLES
"The golden quarter: Some of our greatest cultural and technological achievements took place between 1945 and 1971. Why has progress stalled?" - Why was the post WWII period to technologically groundbreaking and why hasn't the trend continued? This article explores why.
"Google's Larry Page: the most ambitious CEO in the universe" - This is a profile of Google CEO Larry Page (who's a Michigan Alum, by the way) his approach to management, and his aspirations for Google & humanity.
Both pieces are more than worth reading. And as I said before, they helped me get one step closer to crystallizing the "moonshot" everything I do works towards.
But it also helped me better articulate my point of view about business's role in society. I'd like to share that with you first.
BUSINESS SHOULD BE TRULY AMBITIOUS
I'm an MBA at the Ross School of Business, and the new Dean has articulated how Ross is the school that creates leaders that make a positive difference in the world. The implicit assumption there, from my perspective, is that business should make a positive difference in the world.
I don't disagree with this (very much) as an outcome. What I disagree with strongly is the framing, because it doesn't emphasize what's really important. This framing misses the deeper point of ambition.
What I see now is that business should be truly ambitious. What I mean by that is business should create products and services for customers that solve their most challenge and most valuable problems. It just so happens that the most ambitious things are the ones that make a positive difference in the world. So I think it's a subtle mistake to advocate for business's purpose to be making a positive difference in the world, what really matters is for business to be ambitious.
If you do that, making a positive difference in the world is sure to occur. Notice however, that the corollary (if you advocate for making a positive difference, ambition is sure to follow) is unappealing and untrue. Put another way, what's the point in making a positive difference if it's incremental and not ambitious?
Business shouldn't be about incrementally improving software or developing a slightly more differentiated laundry detergent. Business should do be doing things that are hard and profitable, not easy and profitable. Business should be doing ambitious things that are worthy of the sector's resources and its brightest minds.
Something that truly kills my heart a little bit is to see tremendously bright people join companies that put their talents toward banal purposes. If a mind is a terrible thing to waste, wasting a great mind on uninspired ends is a tragedy.
And that's what I learned, It doesn't matter if we mint business leaders who make a positive difference in the world if they aren't truly ambitious when selecting the problems they choose to solve.
As many of you know, I've had a number of qualms with business school. I think the root of my frustration is that at its core, it doesn't breed true ambition.
MY MOONSHOT: "MANAGEMENT AS FREEDOM"
I think a moonshot - a transformative goal that far exceeds the possibilities of the present day - is something everyone should have. These moonshots are the goals that matter so much to you, you don't care if you fail when trying to achieve them. It's something that you want to take risks to achieve and want to connect with others around.
Moonshots are goals that evolve and become more clear as time passes. Here's my latest understanding of my moonshot.
In the past 100 years or so, organizations and management have been about control. Management has tried to centralize, streamline, and bring consistency to the organizational world. The way organizations treated people was like interchangeable parts in a machine.
I don't believe that management should focus on maintaining control anymore. Management should be about freedom.
I want to rewrite the playbook on management - from its purpose to its strategies to its tactics - so that it focuses on freedom, not control. This means rethinking a host of things, like leader-follower relationships, collaboration, cross-sector partnership, metrics, technology, strategy, and others.
My moonshot is to fundamentally change the practice of management so that every organization in the world is rooted in freedom and not control.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
- What's your moonshot?
- Am I full of it? Is business truly ambitious?