I was in a meeting recently – to discuss a product development idea with an animal nutritionist, when he made a comment that piqued me. We were talking about the addition of a set of amino acids to improve the quality of a poultry feed ingredient when he said “… at the end of the day, it’s about cost.”
I could not help but correct him – “No it’s not, it’s about will. It’s about whether the manufacturer believes that he can come up with a better product than anything else.”
Why is it that some people appear to walk on water despite facing the most difficult circumstances, while the rest struggle to even stay in the same place on the treadmill? Education, experience, connections, money, karma? I would argue it’s something else: a will, a life force. Deep down inside all of us, there is a force that makes us all alive, the same force that is in everything around us. All of us have it – the difficult thing is, are we able to harness it to give us what we want? Do we believe in it enough? Do we believe in ourselves?
One of my favourite quotes is in the book Siddharta by Herman Hesse, who describes how it is when Siddharta has a goal, a resolution.
“His goal attracts him, because he doesn’t let anything enter his soul which might oppose the goal.”
Whether it be in life or in business – we are programmed to want more, to want bigger, because of the promise that it is better. In the hunt for this, we let people and things into our individual and corporate spiritual DNA that ultimately oppose our goal, which ought to be to create as much value as possible, every single day. You let enough in and you end up diluting the above mentioned life force to such an extent that you are no longer in control of what needs to be done.
And this is why corporate Turnarounds are so meaningful – it gives one an opportunity to scrub up a company tarnished with so much dirt that its true core does not get a chance to shine. Your employees are demotivated, your customers think your products suck, your suppliers treat you like a leper and worst of all, you are the laughing stock of your competitors. At times, you feel like there is no escape – people come to you with analysis after analysis (each one more complicated than the other) of what could and should be done but none of it makes any sense.
This is when the job becomes practically divine: roll your sleeves up, get on your hands and knees and give the dirty plumbing a good scrub. In a manufacturing company – simplify the product portfolio, simplify the customer / supplier book, simplify payment terms, simplify metrics, simplify processes and more than anything – remember what it feels like to be in a mess and harness this feeling as a basis for the revenge mission out of this mess.
I was brought up to think that always keeping calm was the answer to all problems. I followed this advice for 30+ years and can now conclude that it is some of the worst advice my parents ever gave me. Keeping calm gives one clarity of thought, but I have found that forcing yourself to be calm all the time makes you passive aggressive, uncommunicative and far too accepting of the status quo.
If your company is in trouble – a lot has to change. For a lot to change – we have to feel that fire, express that fire and every now and then, lose our temper. To feel and express the fire – we must have the will, that life force to run through a wall for this mission.
How do I relate this back to Hesse’s book, life force, or least of all to my meeting with the animal nutritionist? Clean, scrub, simplify, remove all blocks, allow yourself to feel the ferocity of your own fire and above all, believe in your ability to fulfil your mission. It’s the least we can do.
And for the record – we absolutely will come up with the best poultry feed ingredient out there.