Tag disruption

Future-proof Business Leadership from Mark Twain – Sort of

Mark Twain

Business Leadership Quotes that Ain’t So

My wife and I watched the 2015 movie “The Big Short” the other night. The protagonists “future proof” their investments by betting big against the housing market before its 2007-2008 collapse. The film about the 2008 collapse of the U.S. housing bubble used an introductory quote from Mark Twain:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

That quote really spoke to me. It applies just as much to business leadership today as it applied to the failure of the global economy and the Great Recession.

Interestingly, the next morning I went to Quote Investigators, a website that traces quote origins. They found no substantial evidence that Mark Twain ever said or wrote this remark. The earliest similar statement came in 1874 from Josh Billings, a pseudonym of the humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw. Billings wrote, “I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.”

Departing Now: The Old Definition of Future Proof

Well, independent of who said it, the quote takes on a whole new meaning toward future-proofing your business when I add my thought: “It is not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble as much as what you did know 6 months ago that is no longer true.”

This quote reflects back to the reality that from now on, business leadership must look at “future-proofness” in a different way. The future will be a departure from the past, not a projection from the past.

I have been saying this for over 5 years now. And given COVID, Rusia/Ukraine, China/Taiwan, globalization/deglobalization, free trade/tariffs, nearshoring/friendly shoring/reshoring, hurricanes in Los Angeles/drought in Panama, inflation/interest rates, uncertain consumer demand/uncertainty of supply, value of AI or not, peak season or not, inventory overage/shortages, etc., business leaders certainly must realize that uncertainty is the only thing that is certain.

Business Leadership: Building for Success with Insight

The ramifications of perpetual uncertainty were the premise behind my 2022 book Insightful Leadership: In the context about the quote on what “ain’t so,” the insight business leaders have about the future will dictate your ability to future proof your enterprise. What you know about the past will likely dictate failure.

So, it is a good thing Mark Twain did not say what some have attributed to him. And even if he did, in today’s uncertain times he would be wrong.

What Business Leaders Need to Know – By Mark Twain

So, not to spread rumors, but I recently met a retired riverboat pilot on a paddle boat going down the Mississippi River. His complexion was fair. His eyes were blue. He wore a white suit and a bow tie. He sported a striking, bushy white mustache and goatee.

He told me: “The problem today ain’t so much the things that a person thinks he knows, it’s the things he thinks he knows that have changed, and the person does not realize they have changed, and they ain’t no longer so.”

Did I dream that? Seems I remember the person’s last name was Twain. Don’t believe I heard his first name. Maybe I need to go back to Quote Investigator?

Want to Hire from the Class of 2023? Re-engineer Work.

Class of 2023

Large companies, particularly the tech titans who are laying people off by the shipload, may not be that interested in entry-level workers.

But it turns out they’re not that much into you either.

Recent research from Handshake, an early career community for U.S. students, reveals that the class of 2023 are less likely to consider familiar brand names and fast-growing companies during their job search. They know that high-flying enterprises can turn south real fast. (See Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, First Republic Bank and others.) And if they land that job, today’s graduates would like to also be employed next week, thank you.

All of a sudden, practical benefits like stability and starting salary look a lot better than adding a brand name to your resume.

This, of course, is an opportunity for smaller, more nimble companies to take advantage – as well as larger ones who don’t see every economic bump in the road as an excuse to shed staff. The CEO of software giant Intuit recently said it’s much easier to poach engineers who know a thing or two about artificial intelligence than in recent years.

Beyond luring talented professionals from tech titans or hiring recently laid off staff, there’s a lot to like about the class of 2023. According to Handshake’s report, “The Class of 2023 Prepares for a Future of Work, Disrupted,” members of this younger cohort are confident in their skills, tech savvy (even if they do not have an underlying technical degree) and expect to continue learning throughout their career.

Of particular note, they aim to build skills in critical areas such as data analysis, product management, IT, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and more. Again, this is regardless of whether they studied technical subjects for their undergrad.

Personally, given my noted preference for the new world of remote work, I was surprised by their desire to spend time in the office. Upon further reflection, this makes sense. While Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures are comprised of seasoned veterans who know what to do and have decades in the workforce, those entering professional life value making personal connections face to face. And remember, the class of 2023 missed a lot of “face time” during the pandemic lockdowns.

Just don’t expect them in the office five days a week. More than 70% want hybrid jobs. Without the hybrid option, they are split 50-50 on in-person vs. remote. Note that students of color largely prefer fully remote over fully in person, something to keep in mind as leaders aim for more diversity, equity and inclusion.

Clearly, the class of 2023 is taking account of the fact that we live in a world of perpetual disruption. Leaders who can re-engineer work to handle this era will be the winners.

Getting Back to the ‘Good Old Days’ of Innovation

Brainstorming Session

The pace of disruption has required an increase in the pace of innovation.

Unfortunately, the pace of innovation means leaders seem to spend much or all of their time fighting the fires of disruption, slowing your ability to innovate and create. Can you as a leader relate to the situation below?

A strange thing happened Tuesday in the supply chain planning department of ABC Company. Between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., there were no crises, no fires to fight. Everything worked. The leaders took a deep breath, looked up from their computer screens and thought: “What now”? It had been several months since their pants were not on fire.

John checked his LinkedIn account and found 143 messages and 47 invitations to connect. Mary peered into her data science reports that she had not had a chance to review for several months. Bob dove into his file cabinet and eliminated a whole trash can of files. Now, once again, he can file things without his fingers sticking between the folders.

And then there was Anna, who stared out the window and reflected on the old days of 2019 and before. Prior to the advent of perpetual disruption, Anna spent several hours a day trying to innovate and create enhancements in productivity and customer satisfaction. She reached for her innovation folder and discovered that she had not touched it in 9 months.

Do you recall the good old days when you had time to be innovative and creative? When on a regular basis you actually worked on making your company better? That seems like so long ago.

Everybody agrees innovation is important – here are 13 good reasons alone from The Business Journals. And here is some information from Forbes on how to encourage employees to innovate.

But for yourself as a leader, why don’t we just pretend that between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. today (or next Tuesday if today’s calendar is already booked with fires), there are no crises – that we actually have the time to THINK about innovations and how to add value.

I know, a weird thought, but it may be interesting to give it a shot. You may turn an hour of thought into a solution to a problem. Not having that problem next week will actually create two hours for innovation. Just like the good old days.