After writing 12 books  on how to run a business, I was asked if there was an overall practical theme to making an enterprise work that could be distilled from those nearly 3,000 pages. Besides the obvious response that ‘respect works’ I believe the answer is best summarized by reading the last operational book, Volume X, Great Companies Never Rest  of the 12-volume series. “Give me a break!” demanded the inquisitor, “I’m not about to read a book!” So to be more concise, to provide the essence of the essence, it is boiled down to a few words:
Balance is the key.
By coincidence, this same theme shines though an oblique evaluation of our society in a recent popular publication, Our Inner Ape, by Frans De Waal , which shows that apes offer us an object lesson on survival. Let’s look at the wisdom that evolves from this predecessor of humankind.
The Ape within us
Dr. De Waal, after a lifetime studying and caring for apes, noted behaviors not unlike those displayed by, and deemed to be unique to, humans, such as streaks of terrible violence, and moments of great compassion or empathy. He found these behaviors explained many of humans’ more unpleasant sides – such as the ability to hate fellows that do not belong to our group while showing great tenderness to those who do belong. The reason for this dichotomy becomes obvious – if one is purely compassionate in the wild, one cannot kill for food. Yet, if one is uncooperative in the wild, one will not be able to hunt the common meals or enemies. De Waal terms these apparent contradictions as ‘bipolar’ – extremes at opposite ends of the same stick.
Apes, wolves and other beasts have discovered the advantage of social activities, being able to bring down a prey larger than themselves only though group efforts. Wolves feed this bounty not only to themselves but also to the disadvantaged of the pack – cubs, nursing mothers, disabled, aged members, etc. Understanding the importance of cooperation to the group’s survival, wolves are quick to ostracize members who focus too much on their own interests and such canines find themselves alone, chasing smaller game such as mice.
Apes’ solidarity is demonstrated by actions towards their injured such as licking wounds, to clear away dirt, shooing away pesky flies, slowing down their travels to accommodate those who can’t keep up.
Strife among ape members is prevalent as leadership is determined with maiming and killing. It is done not only with violence but also with manipulation, forming power cliques, playing pretend roles, as do human power seekers. But yet, the harshest among the animal groups know enough to limit the degree and the timing of internal battles for the betterment of the societal group. And, as with the wolves above, primates who do not abide by the social codes, find themselves alone; they usually meet a quick death in the wild without their supportive allies.
Nature’s Checks and Balances
Every animal has a leash of some limit – it checks that balance. Birds have optimum egg size, optimum distance to travel to forage for food, etc. Should they not keep this in balance and extend themselves frequently beyond the ‘leash’ by laying too many eggs or searching for insects too far from the nest their lives becomes severely threatened. They must keep their activities in balance to survive.
Now, to Volume X
Back to the world of Volume X, Great Companies never Rest, the description of how to stay at the top. With it, we now have a control for comparison between Frans De Waal and the postulates of this paper. Great Companies Never Rest describes the analyses and the resulting checks and balances that allow the CEO (or anyone else in the enterprise) to continually test that all is working well and that the ship remains cruising at high speed despite occasional rough seas; namely the company remains at Excellence – that lofty position of superb capability, performance and fun.
The Checks and Balances
A company at Excellence is defined as having a balanced PAVF (outlined by this author when originally describing a business at the top of the Evolution Pyramid ). Besides the obvious matching of four personality traits, PAVF, it means that the company balances P & A, short-term drivers and issues with V & F, which are long-term considerations. Actions performed today to meet the company’s immediate needs, are done with the thought as to how those activities would affect the company’s future well-being. And management would instill mechanisms aimed at directing the company towards its long-term objectives that offer little or no benefit today – planning, problem-solving council, etc.
The checks administered also indicate the need for a balance of P & V (effectiveness) with A & F, (efficiency). That is, the company not only delivers the goods (effectiveness), it does so with a minimum of wastage (efficiency), which creates the profits for the enterprise.
The balance between A and V is manifested by the company matching its efforts towards responsiveness (namely its ability to adapt to change [V]) with control (meant to ensure a systematic approach [A]). It means that the company protects and enshrines the importance of its creativity and innovation (V), which otherwise risks being dragged down by naturally expanding and growing control or bureaucracy (A).
The balance between P and F is ensured by testing if the company is respecting the drivers and leading performers (P) – top sales people, esteemed specialists and superstars – all the while achieving results with cooperation (F) among various peoples and groups.
Then a match or balance must be assured between authority and responsibility at all levels within the company so that individuals have the authority that is appropriate to the responsibility or task thrust upon them.
Thus, six checks and balances are installed in the company, which, are continuously monitored and are continually responded to. In summary the balances are between:
- Each of the composites of PAVF personality traits applied globally
- Short term and long term
- Effectiveness and efficiency
- Responsiveness and control
- Individual drive and cooperation
- Authority and responsibility
Avoiding the Extremists
Turning to the broader picture of our society today, we find that it seems to gravitate towards a battle of balances, one extreme or the other rationalizing the benefits of being competitive or being social, doing so at the expense of one pole over the other, even within political domains – and has been doing so since recorded or biblical times. Humans falsely use the animal kingdom as justifiable examples – ‘survival of the fittest’, ‘the rule of the jungle’. In fact animals frequently take care of the maimed, the inept and the genetically deficient, tolerating their mentally disturbed members at least as much as we tolerate and care for our own.
Nature is a great teacher. Its lesson is that we need to have balance or the system will break. Achieving balance within a company is the key to the enterprise’s continuing success. Measuring and responding to those balance shifts is what we at CCCC do as we attempt to direct companies towards greatness.
As already noted in this paper, the need for balance extends beyond our business domains, to the world at large. Societies must themselves find balance or they will fall apart, just as the animal kingdoms, lacking balance, quickly collapse. When the world’s rich and poor nations view a widening gap, the alarms must sound. And closer to home we see the most powerful society in the world with a growing gap between rich and poor (the top 1% in the U.S. earn as much as the bottom 40%). As well, we can see each day on our news reports that an increasingly greater part of U.S. society feels disenfranchised. When we learn that the health of that nation’s members is actually measured as declining – serious out-of-balance signals are showing. They need to be listened to soon and properly addressed – for the betterment of us all.
How do we correct these imbalances? Whether a business or a society, we begin by ensuring respect for the individual and keeping group sizes to manageable levels, where the top person knows the bottom. We apply bottom-up management strategies and keep things as direct and as simple as practical. More about these in the References.
Have a great spring.