Sparking company potential.
Even though computers have streamlined the way we do business, management still needs some fine tuning, according to Somerville-based consulting firm PNA Inc.. As high-tech firms struggle with technology issues, PNA’s founder, Adrian Savage, says they should also be thinking about organization basics as well. He talks about screwing up, potential, and finding a better way.
How did PNA Inc. get started?
Slowly and painfully. We launched just a month before 9/11, so you can imagine what that did to our immediate impact on the market. Since then, we have been struggling to cope with corporate scandals, stock market collapse, the war against terrorism and now the threats to Iraq. We could write a textbook on how and when not to start up a new venture.
What got you personally interested in doing this kind of work?
Irritation, I think. I looked around me and saw people getting into the same problems that I had to deal with 30 years ago. However, then we did not have the computing technology to be able to do what we’re doing today. I said to myself: “Why haven’t we learned anything? Why are we still screwing up our careers and organizations in the same old ways?”
So I got mad and decided to try to do something about it. It kept on striking me that we are all stuck in doing what is “accepted” and “best practice,” even when it plainly isn’t working very well. There are so many hard-working, well-intentioned people struggling to produce a result and failing again and again. No one is helping them to find better ways. Now I can at least say that I tried.
What kinds of issues do you talk about in your book, “A Spark from Heaven,” about organizational and individual development?
If something happens on our watch, it’s down to us. Not completely–we aren’t omnipotent–but enough to make us at least partly accountable for what happens in our lives. In the book, I rattle on about the difference between being responsible and being accountable. Being responsible means I caused it to happen. Sometimes that’s true, but mostly things just happen out of the basic perverseness of the universe. But being accountable means that I can be called to account for what I did next. That’s always true. Potential isn’t a spark from heaven. It’s us either doing what we can or lying back and letting the universe walk all over us again.
Do you find that most people and organizations don’t live up to their potential?
Yep. It’s far more pleasurable to complain. There has never been a time when organizations have had a greater need to use all their potential. But what do they do instead? They frighten their people with threats of cutbacks and so ensure that very few will take the risks involved in stepping outside their comfort zone.
Living up to our potential takes guts and effort. It means always accepting that we’re accountable, even when we want to run away and hide. It means accepting our share of the blame, when all we want to do is yell at the other guy for screwing up our plans. Part of the “Spark from Heaven” myth is that people who have “it” sail through life producing marvelous work without any effort. Total nonsense! Look at someone who’s produced something extraordinary and you’ll see a person who probably works harder at it than anyone else.
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