Some students of the economy have been known to insist that the best investment you can make is to buy gold. They go so far as to say that you should not settle for making that investment in a mutual fund or some other financial vehicle. Rather, you must purchase the metal itself and personally hold it for safety and security.
If you have a sentimental attachment to a hunk of metal, I can see that approach. However, for most investors many other investment options glitter more than gold. You can occasionally point to periods in which holding gold had merit, but taking all factors into consideration (among them, diversification of your holdings) gold is not the wisest investment for the long run.
I think it makes much more sense to put your investment dollars to work in the numerous and diverse ongoing enterprises of our economy. James K. Glassman summarizes the matter (“Investments You Can Do Without” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. July 2017, pp. 18–20):
“Gold, silver, platinum and the like may be precious metals, but they aren’t precious investments. It’s fine to wear them but not to rely on them for retirement. . . . When you buy commodities, you are betting on things. But when you buy shares in a software developer or a restaurant chain, you are betting on the human imagination, which is the force that has added value to companies (and their shares) for centuries.” (p. 18)
Indeed, all that glitters is not gold, and that’s a good thing.
Automobile technology evolution has been amazing. From Henry Ford’s first Model T in 1908 to today’s modern marvels of speed, luxury, and efficiency, the ride has been fast but certainly not always free. I suppose it all depends on your perspective and priorities.
I remember in the 1960s, you had cars that were fast in their day but are dwarfed by today’s lean, mean speed machines. And of course that is true for whichever segment of the market you were shopping. It makes complete sense because automobile technology in general, as with any technology, gets better over time. Technology builds on itself continuously thereby producing higher quality results and usually at lower cost. Kyle Stock and David Ingold highlight a couple examples of this stunning technological advancement (“Autos: My Camry Cam Beat Your Aston Martin” Bloomberg Businessweek. 5/29/17–6/4/17, p. 35):
“A 1976 Aston Martin, the most powerful car in U.S. showrooms that year, produced 285 hp and got 11 mpg. Toyota’s most powerful 2016 Camry generates 268 hp at 32 mpg. In 2016 the median car could go from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. In 1980 the figure was 15 seconds.”
Automobile technology isn’t getting older, it’s getting better. Decades ago, if a car reached 100,000 miles before it reached the junkyard, that was a rarity. These days the case is becoming the exact opposite. Today I am the original owner of two vehicles, both of which are well into the six figures on mileage. Those engines just keep purring along mile after mile.
Now, if we could just see the same kinds of gains with . . . battery-powered cars.
Some of the simplest lessons we find reinforced from the most successful people. John Schnatter is the CEO and founder of Papa John’s International. This fellow knows a few things about making pizza that translate to many other aspects of business and life. In his earliest days of pizza making, Schnatter observed the connection between quality and customer engagement (“How Did I Get Here?: John Schnatter” Bloomberg Businessweek. 6/5/17–6/11/17, p. 64):
“If I made the pizza right, the plate would come back empty. If I didn’t, it would come back half-eaten.”
Additionally, Schnatter articulates the most powerful keys to success in business and in life in general:
“What gets measured gets done, and what gets rewarded gets repeated. . . . All you’ve got to do in life is find something you love and are good at.”
As I reflect on organizations and as I reflect on people, I am amazed at two things:
- Organizations that do not understand these simple lessons . . . and wonder why they are struggling.
- People that do not understand these simple lessons . . . and wonder why they are struggling.
Simple lessons are often the most powerful. Sometimes because they are so simple, they are overlooked. Other times people somehow automatically assume that they are already doing them when in reality they are not.
Never neglect that vital connection between quality and customer engagement. Always strive to put the right person into the right job. If we implement those simple lessons, then we will enjoy the success of them too.
We’ve all probably heard the advice not to switch horses midstream. Too much can go wrong and you might end up horseless. However, when it comes to corporate strategy, sometimes it is absolutely necessary to switch horses midstream. This is called industry disruption. As painful and as difficult as it may be, its pain and difficulty are only exceeded by its necessity.
Unfortunately, not everyone embraces industry disruptive change when it is needed. The results of a survey by the World Economic Forum identify some very interesting dynamics about barriers to change (“The Way We Work Now” Fortune. May 1, 2017. p. 9). Respondents said the top barrier to change and its close runner-ups are:
- Insufficient understanding of disruptive changes (51%)
- Resource constraints (50%)
- Pressure from shareholders, profitability (42%)
- Workforce strategy not aligned to innovation strategy (37%)
Last place was more distant and thereby more promising in this case:
- Insufficient priority by top management (21%)
These results say several things about the state of disruptive industry change today.
- The fact that top management is giving sufficient priority to disruptive industry change is definitely a good thing. Leadership wants to be in the right place at the right time. However, we seem to have an insufficient understanding of exactly what disruptive change is in any particular industry. By its very nature, we don’t know what it looks like. And that is precisely why the changes are disruptive.
- Resource constraints are a perpetual problem, and we are not going to allocate budget dollars until we understand the industry disruption. We don’t typically allocate budget dollars to something that we don’t understand.
- The pressure from shareholders and profitability all add to the resource constraints, and the misaligned workforce strategy is sort of a logistical byproduct of not understanding the industry disruption.
All the above tie back to the fundamental barrier to change: insufficient understanding of disruptive changes. Interestingly, painfully, and not surprisingly, everything about industry disruptive change links back to the fundamental importance of understanding it. We see this constantly. Companies that understand the industry disruptive change get ahead of the curve and profit from it. Companies that do not understand the industry disruptive change fall behind the curve and suffer from it. This is why strategy is of ultimate importance.
Many of the most successful companies today seized an opportunity to create the industry disruptive change. That is how they made their names. They were the industry disruptors.
Every leader must spend time with the metrics, the numbers, the budgets, the reports, and the routine. These are necessary mundane tasks. But every leader that wants its organization to stay on the cutting edge must spend time pondering the industry disruptive change. That is the 20% of time that will bring 80% of the results—that is when switching horses midstream is a winning strategy.
Some have called the uakari monkey the shyest animal in the world. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some have called the squid the most curious animal in the world. Although introverts might argue the value of shyness, that still leaves much to be discussed about the value of curiosity.
The squid is often extremely curious about its surroundings. That curiosity pays off because squids are very intelligent. They can learn more about their environment and acquire new skills. Squids have been known to use tools to protect themselves.
I’m not knocking shyness. Quietude has its own value. Everyone is different and we have to be who we are.
However, I am knocking shyness when it comes to corporations. Uakari behavior will not produce nearly as much progress as squid behavior. Jeff Immelt (GE CEO) definitely embraces the squid approach to corporate strategy instead of the uakari approach. Bloomberg Businessweek Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait asked Immelt how he had changed GE during his tenure. Immelt’s response (2/13/17–2/19/17, pp. 22–23):
“I think the company’s more technical. It’s more global. It’s more focused on the customer. Those are the main things. When I became CEO, we were 70 percent inside the United States. Now we’re 70 percent outside the U.S.” (p. 23)
Clearly, GE is placing an emphasis on technology and the customer, all within the context of a growing global economy. Companies that do this well will be the companies that survive and thrive. And this is where it pays to be a squid.