Random musings, observations, squeaks, whimpers and perhaps the ocassional rant. About what, I'm not sure.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Asking for Help... Scarcity...

Paraphrased from a great post at Incite by Design:

We live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet, so many of us are mired in a "hoarding mentality," terrified that we will lose our abundance. In turn, we create a form of spiritual poverty that permeates everything we touch.

One of the hardest things for any of us to do in life is to ask for help. This is especially true in business where we are supposed to be a pillar of self-sufficiency and unmitigated triumph.

I've found the best leaders are those who have struggled in some capacity - sought help - and showed tremendous gratitude in their continued path. In learning how to ask for assistance, humility is cultivated, yes, but also the important lesson of learning how to accept with an open heart and mind.

This is a small part of the post, but I found it interesting how two of my (past) recurring corporate experiences with the same company - asking for help and hoarding or a feeling or scarcity - intersected. The firm's not in existence anymore, but I'll refrain from naming it anyway.

I once did a big project as a favor for Apple at one of their Fortune 100 customers. Our work caught the attention of company that published/developed the software we applied. They were in the Mac software business and had somewhat accidentally gathered a nice little portfolio of larger customers - but had no field service, system engineering or consulting personnel. At all. When something for one of these large customers broke (it was software, remember? It breaks), an engineer hopped on a plane to visit the customer and try to fix it.

Anyone see a problem with the model - gathering up large companies and then having to send software developers into the field to support them?

To the company's great credit, they asked for help. I was not only flattered, but the alliance turned into great business for all parties for some time. We shored up the product, expanded, dumped unprofitable business and customers; in summary, we did a bunch of things right - in the beginning. In the end, though, the motivation to take the company to the next level just wasn't there... I guess we were really a "lifestyle company" (which is code for "we don't want to grow much beyond our own skills"), not a company that wanted to grow to our $100M potential.

The folks I worked with were great, but they couldn't all personally do what they'd done so well a couple of years before corporately - ask for help solving the biggest problems. Some of them did, and the company profited, as they did themselves. We parted ways, though not altogether to bad result financially.

The tandem quirk to growing until the management team needed a serious makeover and then getting out was the rampant scarcity mentality. The founders of this company are some of the smartest, hardest working, most honest guys I've ever met. I respected their tenacity, and still do. But they nearly starved themselves and the company out of existence despite a product, talent and customer base most would envy. Their own pay was nowhere near equitable, they'd miss paychecks rather than push for performance and accountability where they knew they needed it most. But, in the end, it was their company by a couple of votes.

One of the things I'm most proud of from the whole experience is testing and providing ghe "rising tide floats all boats" scenario. When we wrapped things up, we'd increased each of the founders' compensation to nearly 5 times what they were making when we started, we had more large enterprise customers than ever, and the company flourished.

If this company had not asked for help when it did or changed radically, it would have died. If the scarcity mentality hadn't been checked, it would have died. These two dynamics continuing to intermingle would have strangled the company within a year or so if the customers didn't first. Glad that didn't happen, for all our sakes.


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