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“Good morning. Thank you for making time for this important announcement of the launch of our collaborative innovation program, the Idea Juggernaut. I first want to thank the people who committed to making this day possible. Stella and Frank: nicely done. Nicely done. I rejoice to see that the two of you continue to talk to one another.
I also want to take this opportunity to relate the program to the current state of affairs with our organization and the world at large. Where are we? Where can we go? Where can the Idea Juggernaut take you, personally?
I start with a family story. My grandfather was a child of the depression. He grew up in the unforgiving economic conditions of the 1920s and 1930s that, unfortunately, appear to mirror our own times of late. He did not enjoy the benefit of safety nets we have since put in place. The government did not insure from loss money that individuals deposited in banks, for example.
When he passed in the 1970s my mother and her sisters helped their mother put his affairs in order. They were surprised to find that he had been saving his money—a rather large sum of money for that time—in his mattress, literally. My grandfather saved everything, including every penny. He would walk an extra quarter mile to the next bus stop to save a nickel’s fare. He wore the same suit, year in, year out. He accumulated a large quantity of twine and rubber bands.
At the time, banks in the U.S. paid a federally regulated rate of 5 ¼% on passbook savings accounts. Inflation was likewise high. I know. I smile, too. Different times.
I can to this day see myself asking my mother, “Why?” That is, why was he so capable in preserving his money, but not in investing it, even in the safe confines of the local savings and loan?
My mom offered little explanation. What could she say? How does one explain to a child that, when you lose all your savings in the bank runs of the 1930s—my grandfather’s experience—that that experience stays with you for life, influencing your outlook and your choices? Years would pass before I could begin to grasp this truth. Perhaps your family shares a similar story.
My grandfather’s story comes to mind as I think about the launch of our program today. As you know—as we all know—many of our colleagues—our friends—do not stand with us today to celebrate this launch. The last couple of years have been rough. Very rough. To not recognize this reality would be remiss of me and insulting to you.
So, here we are. There you are. You ask yourself, rationally enough, “Do I stick my neck out? Do I contribute at a time when lying low might be the most prudent course?” How have the recent years affected your outlook? Your choices?
In other words, why not preserve your wealth—your intellectual capital—in your equivalent of my grandfather’s mattress?
I cannot answer this question for you, other than to observe that there is no price to pay here for deferring to participate. The innovation police will not pay you a visit. As Peter Block, a writer that I admire, says, “Our ‘yes’ means nothing without our ability to say ‘no.’”
That said, I would like to offer you a perspective on the current state of the world—some career advice, perhaps. Contrary to popular belief, my job is not to secure your job. In fact, if this afternoon someone approached me with a way to boost profits without sacrificing customer satisfaction that, unfortunately, made your position unnecessary, I would move forward without hesitation. Yes, we would try to find you another role or, barring that, offer outplacement support. Make no mistake, however: your job would be gone.
It’s the conundrum of our age. Whereas society looks to the enterprise to create jobs, the enterprise looks for every opportunity to remove them.
If we do not commit to relentless improvement then we put the entire business at risk to the guy down the street or around the globe who chooses to make this commitment. Relentlessness is the price we pay for living in a global, digital, 24/7 economy. That’s reality. The reality will intensify in the years to come.
Okay. Where does this reality leave you? What cards can you play? My guidance: you owe it to yourself and to those who rely on you—those whom you love—to refrain from treating your job as a job and instead to treat your work as a practice. You do not work here as a finance manager. You practice the profession of finance and, in your efforts to perfect your practice, you choose to work here because here offers you the greatest opportunity to master taxation or strategic planning—or whatever aspect of your practice interests you the most. Your commitment to learning offers you insights. As is human nature, you desire to share your insights with your colleagues or perhaps with the local chapter of your professional association.
The Idea Juggernaut, thus, helps you close the loop. It provides you with a forum where you can share your insights and, in doing so, perfect your practice. Do not participate because you’re a good corporate citizen—do not take up that martyr’s role: doing so benefits neither me nor you. Rather, you do so because contributing your insights helps you realize your potential for leadership in the practice you have chosen for yourself. It’s my job—and the job of the campaign team—to explore and assess in turn the possibilities that your contributions offer in terms of advancing our charter.
Do not hide your gifts—the authentic source of wealth—in the proverbial mattress. Fortunately, unlike my grandfather’s story, you cannot lose your intellectual capital. You can only build it through your practice.
In closing, let’s bring this line of enquiry full circle. I leave you with the following food for thought. What if you contribute a compelling idea—an idea that resonates with you and the community? And, what if, for whatever reason, you cannot gain traction or find a way forward with realizing that idea within this organization? Come see me. Let’s talk. One of two things will happen. Either I will help you break the internal logjam. Or, I will be the first high-level supporter and, potentially, investor in your idea if that idea represents a business opportunity that you want to pursue—and that can be pursued—as a new enterprise, either inside or outside this organization.
My commitment to you is that, if you choose to commit to this program as a way to realize the potential of your practice that has brought you to our doorstep, then I commit to helping you pursue your practice in whatever way makes sense to us. I take the mattress option off the table if you feel comfortable removing it as an option.
Thoreau tells us that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What if we created an environment where men and women lead lives of quiet inspiration?
Thank you. I look forward to reflecting on the ideas and insights you bring to the table as we tackle the tough challenges and pursue the larger opportunities in front of us. I commit to participating with you. Now, please join me in the atrium for mimosas and coffee, courtesy of the Idea Juggernaut team. Stella and Frank, please pop the cork.”
By Doug Collins