January 16, 2005

It's all about soul

A few days ago, Joe Kraus (at Bnoopy) posted about the Stockdale Paradox, coined by Jim Collins in Good to Great. Kraus is reading it; I haven't and probably won't if only to be contrarian. (Besides, what of mine has Collins read recently?)

The paradox and the post resonated with me deeply and not only because of my entrepreneurial bent and past, but because it was the first time I'd read anyone lay out so eloquently the distinction between faith and optimism in the work sense. It's crucial, and it got me to thinking about faith, leadership, and making great things. In short, I think making great things -- say like an entertainment career, a new business, or a work of art -- are always about faith in the end (per Stockdale). It requires an unwaivering attachment to that visualized end
even through troubling periods and naysaying. It demands soul.

Let me give you a few examples from the worlds of art and business. John Mellancamp is affectionately known as the "little bastard" for his unflagging instistence on getting his way with the sound and meaning of his music. It has in no small part resulted in a stellar career. Bono, of U2, has -- I imagine -- driven the group's and his own status in the world of music over 20 years by managing his vision and the world's view of it. Madonna, similarly, had a view of fame that was unserving despite many various criticisms levelled at her. The number of "hardassed" musicians and artists goes on forever. The consistency is (a) that they ultimately reached their goals and (b) they were not the easiest to get along with because of their unflinching view and tenacity.

In business, it would seem that there are very few businesses that grew from nothing without the firm hand and vision of the entrepreneur. Note that among those who presided over the genesis of Walmart, Disney, Ford, Exxon, Microsoft, and so on there isn't a single technocrat, administrator, or professional manager. The story I find most interesting is Steve Jobs's. Bad boy who started up Apple. Brought in the professional marketer who, ironically, eventually booted Jobs out of the company he started and was the first in a line of professional business people who led the company into the abyss. Brought back to help out, it was Jobs again who gave Apple it's groove back. My take on it is that Job's is Apple's soul, and without it Apple had no purpose.

Not every organization has a soul though. Some -- perhaps all -- eventually become soulless like IBM, General Motors, and so on. They become entities with their own inertia and are for the sake of being. That is, however, an epistemological question best left for other times. The point though, I think, is that at the early days (which can be a long time -- remember Apple was already about 10 years old when Jobs was booted, and is 25ish now) a business is a reflection of its founder: the Stockdale who never lost faith in the end. It can't afford to lose its soul.

It's all about soul It's all about joy that comes out of sorrow It's all about soul Who's standing now and who's standing tomorrow - Billy Joel
Posted by Grayson at January 16, 2005 03:24 PM