Get Good, Stay Good, Get Better, Become Great

Finding positive synergies is all about getting good. These are proverbially the “good problems” to have. After a while though, all things evolve. To stay good, we need to seek the stressors that enable evolution. We have to ask, “what’s next?”There’s two thing to compare the sum-or-the-parts against: the whole, and the goal. The difference between just being good and becoming great is this awareness.**That’s because “what’s next,” divides further into two more categories: staying good and getting better.Staying good is like diet and exercise; think proper maintenance. Staying good is about examining the current “whole.” Getting better is like dieting and exercising to train for an event. It requires a more aggressive mindset; think preparing for battle. Getting better is about examining the future “goal,” and the path required to get there.If you help me chop up some wood and then stack it, there comes a point when the job is done. Maybe there’s another tree to chop and stack. Maybe we’re so good that we decide to spend the rest of our days just completing this task on repeat.Even if doing a job in perpetuity is an option – won’t the technology change over time? Won’t our process deviate? Won’t people come and go? Won’t change and experimentation come with a time and efficiency cost, even if it’s just to try a new wood chopper/stacker model?Of course it will. Just talk to a dentist about what has changed since they started practicing, or Google-search “New Coke.” This is real, and this is hard.Here’s the problem with asking “what next” after you’ve gotten really good at a task: it becomes harder to tinker with the task itself, and even harder to tinker with other things, related or not, that could ensure our business’ survival if the nature of our task gets disrupted. Everybody knows it, but nobody is trained to really think this way.So how do we learn to get better? How do we learn to embrace the right kind of what outwardly may appear to be negative synergies? How do we learn to be successful and still accept failure?While time and cost efficiency are features of great businesses, we have to remember that great things rarely start that way. Managers have to “make them just so” over time. Therefore, in order to be great, sometimes we have to go in the opposite direction of time and cost efficiency. That’s right, we have to spend MORE TIME and MORE MONEY than the current task apparently demands, and we have to do it in the name of our goals.*** In other words, if we solely focus on maximizing positive synergies, we can miss out on the seemingly negative synergistic ideas that have the potential to one day replace or at least restructure whatever seems great today. No pain, no gain.Maybe the useless friend who can’t help us with the wood pile is the one who will design “the wood chop and stack android 3000.” Maybe somebody else is out there who can teach us a new technique. How do you know if you don’t ask? How will you find it if you don’t look?When we add up the sum-of-the-parts, we’re basically doing a calculation that’s based on today. We’re betting on the status quo. The “whole” stops here. The best SOTP analysis uncovers “options,” or parts that have low downside risks and big upside payoffs if they pan out. The “goal” begins here.The best managers MAKE those options. They know the future depends on it. The only way to get good, stay good, get better, and become great is to keep taking chance.

**Literally see anything Jim Collins has written. If you don’t know where to start, try Good to Great.
**In Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, he points out that the management practices that allow companies to be leaders in mainstream markets are the same practices that cause them to miss the opportunities offered by disruptive technologies. The book is a masterclass in thinking about this problem.

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