January 16, 2015

Thought-less leaders: the future is not now

B2B Sales, Marketing Strategy

Jeff Cooper is the General Manager of Step Change Marketing. This article appears in Jeff's monthly column in Adnews - Australia's leading publication serving the advertising, marketing and media industries.


The smartest guys in the room

‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’ is my favorite movie of all time. It’s about the Enron guys, the geniuses responsible for ‘market-to-market’ accounting, and the largest corporate implosion in history.

The theory was that they could book and realise company value now, based on a projected future profit that they made up (with a little collusion from the largest accounting practice in the world, Arthur Anderson, and their law firm Vinson & Elkins, among others).

I love it because the scheme was a simultaneously brilliant piece of thinking, and completely ridiculous. It’s like selling your property now for what you assure someone it will be worth in the future.

A little less bleeding edge leadership

We do this with ideas and I often feel this way when listening to Thought Leaders. I want a little less bleeding edge leadership from my Thought Leader. I want a Thought Less-leader. I want their heads out of the clouds and right into the practicalities of what my business and my clients’ businesses are facing in the next 1000 days.

It’s our own fault. We celebrate the big ideas, the bigger the better. We seem to reward those that can project a hypothetical future as far out as possible. We throw around the term ‘doer’ for those that are ‘just hands’, that get things done.

The age of the generalist and the ‘doer’

I think it’s the age of the generalist and the ‘doer’ not the age of the specialist and the dreamer. You see the thing is that the further out these Thought Leaders project, the less likely that future is accurate and the harder it is to validate or action.

But we love it don’t we? When people make us dream and wonder. Actually, I just want some money in the bank for my clients and me. That’s my bag. And I’ll take it to the bank and rob the joint before I sit around daydreaming about the infinite possibilities of the next 10 years again.

How can I realise the real and maximum value now?

I was listening to a Thought Leader in marketing procurement recently, with all the ho-hum judgement you’d expect from someone in my position. I’ve just never really had a value-adding experience with a procurement department (I live in hope and still love you guys).

What was being said was revving me up. All the talk of transitioning the procurement profession from ‘cost-cutting purchasing officers’ to ‘value creating strategic thinkers who work with both parties to create mutual value.’ I liked what I was hearing. Then THUD!

I realised that this person was at the forefront of their industry, a sluggish saviour perhaps, but that I was unlikely to meet my saviour in a commercial exchange for sometime.

The obvious question for me, with all industries we deal with, is not ‘Where will they be in 10 years?’ but ‘How can I realise the real and maximum value of that industry or skillset in a practical way, now?’

A little more practical thought, with a little less leading edge. Now that’s the smartest guy in the room.



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