There seems to be a lot people to day that believe in order to get on the fast track to promotions you have to use the latest buzz words in all your communications, presentations, reports, etc. It gives the powers that be this impression that you are right there, on the leading edge, when it comes to technology, marketing, sales, investments or whatever else is related to the business.
I want to emphasize the word “impression” because I believe that these people, in most cases, haven't a clue what they are talking about. On the other hand, they know that people, including their superiors, will rarely challenge them because they don't want to give the impression they are not up to date.
As an example, a young, up-and-coming executive I once knew told me that it was not necessary to know your job to get ahead. All you had to do was use the latest buzz words whenever you communicated with your superiors. You would give them the impression that “here was a progressive young man right up to date with the latest thinking, just the kind of person the company needs.”
You would think that someone would ask questions to see if this guy knew what he was talking about. But people will rarely do this because they don't want to look stupid.
You go to meetings today and you get swamped with the paperwork that people pass out, statistics, graphs, trend charts, and what have you.
The computer has made digging up statistics, and making all kinds of beautiful charts extremely easy. In the old days, before computers, you were selective on your pass outs because it took time to make them up. But nowadays with computers you can produce pass outs by the boatload.
Instead of people being more informed, they now have become less informed and more confused. It's “information overload.” You become so swamped with paperwork you don't know where to begin, and besides, who has the time to wade through all the stuff? So what often happens? It all ends up in the wastebasket. The bad thing about all this is the important issues that should be addressed are buried in this mountain of paperwork.
Where are the people that really understand what's going on and can prepare an executive summary that will identify the issues that should be addressed? Meetings should focus on the issues, and everybody should feel free to participate. A lot of detail should not clutter up the meeting, but could be available should it be requested to support the discussion.
I like the Eisenhower approach. The general wanted all his reports on one page. He figured that if you couldn't state what you had to say on one page you probably didn't know what you were talking about. It must have worked: It got him through the biggest war in history and two terms in the White House.
There are far too many meetings today that are cluttered with fancy charts, bewildering statistics, and buzz words. So instead of being informative, they are confusing, and this limits participation. This could result in making important decisions based on a very narrow viewpoint.
For example, the latest buzzword being tossed around is “virtual company.” So what is a virtual company? Well, virtual sounds a little like virgin and virgin means untouched. So I guess a virtual company must mean a company that doesn't touch its product and somebody else makes it.
To quote Bob Lutz, he is forming the ultimate virtual company to make his new car, the Cunningham. What he means by ultimate is that his company will have no factories, no engineering, and someone else will put the car together. I guess the only thing he will have to do, when the car arrives, is put on the signature hubcaps, wash it, and push it out the door. The car is virtually “untouched” and all his company does is collect the profits. That sounds like the ultimate to me.
Mr. Lutz has the reputation of being a pretty smart car guy. So people could be saying to themselves: “If he thinks that his virtual company is the way to go, maybe we should be looking into it as well.”
Wait a minute. Lutz is talking about producing 400 cars a year. That's like one car a day, and it makes sense not build a factory to produce one car a day.
When you are talking about building hundreds of cars a day, however, the situation is a little different.
The virtual company outsources everything that isn't essential in marketing the product. Why? It reduces capital investments — like in factories and other facilities. You source your parts to companies that specialize in making them. Thus, you improve efficiency, innovation, reduce costs, improve quality, etc. All this then allows you to focus on the important things like marketing the product.
This all sounds great, but what people should be asking is that “We have the factories, we have the engineers, we have the designers, why can't we be as efficient, as innovative as someone on the outside?”
Besides, if you outsourced everything to suppliers, that in all probability make the same parts for other companies in the industry, how are they going to create uniqueness in your products?
The American press keeps gushing about the superiority of the Japanese, German, and yes, even the Korean cars in their performance, handling, and the use of advance technology.
If this is so, how are the American car companies going to regain their leadership in the industry? I can assure you it is not going to be accomplished by waiting for the virtual supplier to come up with something. Can you imagine? Here are suppliers that are being continuously beat over the head to squeeze every last penny of cost from their operation. Where are they going to get the manpower to be innovative and to create all this uniqueness?
This all reminds me of something that happened in my former career. I was attending a meeting. The speakers, who were trying to impress me and everyone else, were really tossing around the buzzwords. When everyone got done talking, I felt that I should add something to the presentation. So I said, “The problem we have is that we have too many psycho-ceramics.” There was silence. After all the great man has spoken. I could see bewildered looks on everyone's faces. They were wondering “What the hell was a psycho-ceramic?” After a while I finally said, “Gentleman, when I refer to psycho-ceramics I'm talking about crackpots.”
Stephan Sharf is a former executive vice president for manufacturing atCorp.