We know you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. From a business perspective, it means something along the lines of: “You can’t take a decision without making a choice; and not everybody is going to like that choice”
Deciding means choosing: that’s the key. And doing it, despite the way it often looks, doesn’t really take much. The first step is to assemble all the information needed to give you a fair ability to analyze the facts. But you actually need two more things to make a decision: courage and values.
Why do we need courage? Of course, courage comes in handy for a lot of things, but mainly it’s what prevents you from being overwhelmed by organizational inertia – or what we now call “legacy” – and all the systems, procedures, standards and hurdles which, little by little, weigh you down until you feel that your hands are tied behind your back and you just can’t make any progress in the direction you need to go.
In short, courage is the secret to overcoming inertia, putting your shoulder to the wheel and, in general, doing what is good for the company, even though it might not be so good for you, and not being beaten by that phrase which is far too common in business: “It can’t be done.”
Every time I hear someone say “it can’t be done”, I remember a scene from the film Pearl Harbor, one recounted by Winston Churchill in his memoirs. In this scene, the US generals were explaining to President Roosevelt how difficult it was going to be to get involved in the war and to attack Japan. Roosevelt, who had suffered polio and was confined to a wheelchair, adopted an expression of extreme irritation, placed his hands on the table and with extreme difficulty rose to his feet, and in the brief period of time he was able to remain standing, he said: “I never want to hear you tell me that something can’t be done ever again.” Which led on to one of his never-forgotten lines:“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
But why values? In practical terms, values are important for two reasons. First, so that you don’t fall into a Black Hole or, as they would say in Star Wars, onto “the dark side of the Force”. You only have to take a glance at the economic crisis to see where an absence of values has got us: anything goes, there are no limits, avarice, greed, corruption… It was only those with strong values who managed not to be seduced by that “dark side”.
And second, you need values so that you are not blown off course. When you find yourself in a situation in which you are not sure what direction to take or which decision to make, you’d be surprised how helpful it is to have clear, well-defined values. I have always been a great admirer of companies like Johnson & Johnson, which have based its decision-making procedure on their famous “Credo”. I love the simplicity of a decision-making procedure which consists of four steps, founded on their values. The steps are: (1) “Acknowledge the moral challenge”, which means working out whether there is a conflict between two positives that need to be protected; (2) “Look for a good decision”, thinking long-term; (3) “Test the provisional decision”, asking yourself how you would explain the decision to your family or to a third party; and (4) “Act courageously”, lowering your expectations if necessary or taking the consequences of your decision. Astonishingly simple.
In short, to decide, you have to choose, to accept that you must break eggs to make an omelette. And for that, it is equally important to have guts (to battle with all the obstacles) and values so that you aren’t led astray by the dark side of the Force. But don’t worry: if you don’t agree with me, you can always take a leaf out of Groucho Marx’s book, when he joked: “Those are my principles; and if you don’t like them, I have others.”
– Alberto Andreu is general manager of corporate organization and culture at Telefónica and associate professor of Economics and Business Administration at Navarra University