Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Myths about Paul Revere

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.”

Sadly, the great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow understates.  As I wrote last month in my blog — “Is America Clueless? — 30% of Americans can’t name the vice president of the United States.  So I wouldn’t be surprised to find that — not only didn’t they recall an important date in American history — they probably didn’t know much about the man behind the date.  If they remember Paul Revere at all, it’s probably in the vaguest of terms:  as a patriot … something to do with the American Revolution.  But there was much more to the man and, as the Fourth of July draws nearer, it’s a good time to remember Revere as a great American communicator. 
Long before his midnight ride, Revere did what all good communicators do:  as the member of a secret group in Boston known as the “Mechanics,” he gathered intelligence on the activities and movements of a key stakeholder group:  British troops.  He also helped organize an early warning system and arranged for delivery of important messages directly to the rebels, another key constituency. has a fascinating posting on the “12 Things You May Not Know about Paul Revere” and his fateful 1775 ride.  Here are the top three popular myths about the Revolutionary War hero … busted. 
  • He didn’t ride alone.   He was accompanied for a part of the journey by William Dawes, who was tasked with warning John Hancock and Samuel Adams that they were in danger of arrest.   Along the way, Dawes and Revere were joined by Samuel Prescott, a young physician.  By the end of the night, as many as 40 men on horseback were spreading the word across Boston’s Middlesex County.
  • He never shouted, “The British are coming!”  The operation was meant to be conducted as discreetly as possible, since scores of British troops were hiding out in the Massachusetts countryside … so no shouting.   Also, at the time, the colonists considered themselves British, so it’s more likely the colonists would have alerted other rebels that the “Regulars” — a term used to designate British soldiers — were on the move.
  • He never reached Concord.  Revere was temporarily detained by the British at Lexington and Dawes lost his way, leaving to Prescott the task of alerting Concord’s residents.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

What the Revenue Machine Is Dependent Upon

Peter Drucker, the business sage, once commented that relationships drive revenue.  Like much of what Drucker says, this deceptively simple statement is packed with dynamite.

We operate in a numbers-oriented business culture.  Nearly everything that determines value in a business, we are told, relates to something explicitly measureable on the balance sheet or P&L statement.  The quintessential business measure, of course, is operating earnings, which, in turn, is most directly driven by revenue.

We forget, however, that revenue is largely a proxy, a number that ultimately reflects other, often non-quantifiable, values in the business.  Foremost among these is the strength of the company’s relationships — specifically, relationships with customers, employees, distributors and other corporate audiences.  As Drucker understood, business is ultimately about people.  If a company’s business relationships are stellar, weak revenues will almost always be short-lived.  If relationships are dysfunctional, strong revenues can rarely be sustained.

Maintaining good relationships in business has never been an easy task.  But today it is both more challenging and more important than ever.  Most companies operate in a marketplace that has become both global and hyper-competitive.  In this kind of environment, loyalty has gone the way of the three-martini lunch.  At the same time, the internet has dramatically increased the number of eyes on a company, and it has given once powerless “citizen experts” the ability to dramatically affect reputation.  These are just two of the many new relationship realities facing business.

Today’s business operating climate is indeed a reputation economy.  It is an environment where reputation has become an asset as vital as plant, property or equipment.  Therefore, one of the major management challenges facing executive leadership is vigilance about the company’s reputation, assessing the many ways in which its credibility could be damaged and its trustworthiness enhanced with all of its most important constituents.

Building, strengthening and protecting relationships is the centerpiece of corporate growth…as fundamental as the quality of the service or product provided.  At the very root of reputation and the relationships that build it, is corporate organizational behavior, which resonates today throughout the internet’s echo chamber every minute of the day.  Each and every one of us needs to be conscious of that every minute of every day.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

As a child I was always taken by kaleidoscopes.  I look back on those days and wondered why they fascinated me so.

Was it the designs—which appeared to be glass chips falling apart  and then, once shaken, coming back together again, only to make new beautiful designs?

Was it the chips that appeared to change colors and shapes miraculously falling in and out but always seeming to land in the right place.

Was it the toy itself?  How did all those pieces remain contained in that cylinder and not fall out?   If I had tried to destroy the toy, would the inside pieces just melt away as they chaotically scattered and spread all over the place?  What were kaleidoscopes communicating?

All of this came to mind as I was reading about a person whom, it turns out, I knew.  He had a collection of these kaleidoscopes that he treasured. No, this was not a child.   It was a grown adult.  I finally reached out to him and shared my observations, as stated above, to see if those were the qualities that made kaleidoscopes so magnetic for him.

No, the significance of the kaleidoscope for him was as much philosophical and symbolic as it was beautiful.  Sure, he related to all of my observations…but he saw something more subtle and profound.
He said, “When you look into a kaleidoscope, you see something beautiful.  But after you shake it up, destroying what is there, and hold it up to the light again, you will see something new and different, but equally beautiful.  Life is much the same as the kaleidoscope,“ he emphasized.  “After being shaken, it will always reveal something new and beautiful, but only if we take the time to hold it up to the light and look inside.”

Thus, the kaleidoscope has taken on a new meaning for me.  It represents the initiative we all must take to sustain beauty in our lives and land in the right place, as life continues to change and we are continuously challenged.  Things fall apart sometime, but they can always be put back together again, achieving ultimate beauty with a new look, but only if we “hold it up to the light and look inside. “

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