'Anyone who stops learning is old,
whether 20 or 80.
Anyone who keeps learning
stays young.'

Henry Ford.

Complacency kills. So does inertia.


ARKING time in a warp of complacency has driven many executives into premature pasture. As business consultant Noel Tichy observes: 'They stayed in the same place doing the same things they'd always done in the same way they'd always done them while the environment around them became more hostile ...

'And soon they were dead.'

Tichy, who's also a professor at the University of Michigan's School of Business, has an antidote:


It's a new turn-up for the business books.

If nothing else, it prevents complacency, the death knell of many a business, from gaining a foothold.

Now consider this scenario - one beloved by so many of the people at the helm of business in South Africa and so many of those who aspire to occupy the driving seats ...

A plush office with dark wood panelling, a large desk as well as a settee and lounge chairs separated by a coffee table in the 'discussion area'. The desktop is clear except for a long playing telephone and an intercom unit.

Mr Executive flips the intercom unit switch and summonses his mini-skirted minion, variously described as a 'private secretary' or 'personal assistant'. When she enters her boss's lair, he issues a long stream of instructions. He orders her to:

involves ongoing learning
plus the
continual destruction
and rebuilding
of management routines
and procedures. 

  • write and distribute a batch of memos;
  • photocopy his daughter's school project;
  • organise the monthly sales meeting plus a 'finger lunch' for those who attend;
  • reserve cinema tickets for him and his wife/mistress, and
  • prepare and fax confirmations to a collection of suppliers and customers.
Mr Executive's
word is law
in the work domain.
When he convicts
and condemns,
there is no appeal.
In addition, 'Girl Friday', who also makes a passable cup of copy, cocoons her boss from persistent life assurance sales representatives, irate customers, disgruntled employees, trade union officials and other forms of executive pestilence.

If you do whatever managers do in this type of environment, prepare yourself for a shock so rude it's bound to send your stress level soaring to unprecedented heights. And if you're edging up the corporate ladder to this sort of executive ambience, don't hold your breath.

It isn't going to happen.
Your job as an executive is about to be redefined. And in its new form, as I suggested in the previous chapter, you won't manage.

You'll lead.
Which means you'll guide and motivate.

It's a whole new ball game.

The new-age manager knows he doesn't hold a monopoly on either wisdom or knowledge. He often seeks advice because he realises that people who know best know how to do the jobs are the people who them. Yet the new-age manager ensures that he knows enough to step into the breach in any capacity whenever required.
To keep your job at the head of the team, you're going to have to learn to do more than those things that business schools define as management - barking orders, dictating memos, juggling debits and credits, planning tactics and strategies and downing a martini or three after a round of golf on Wednesday afternoons.

What more can anyone expect you to do?  


Follow my five-point plan to keep yourself fully primed for almost every new business age contingency.

  1. Build up your intellectual capital.
  2. Know all the functions required to produce a result. 
  3. Do perpetual homework.
  4. Upgrade your knowledge across the board.
  5. Work yourself out of your position.

Today's manager
must handle finances,
technical innovation
human resources.
He must
define clear goals
and draw up
clear strategies.
And must
communicate them
to his employees.



Microsoft, the international computer software giant, boasts that its only factory asset is human imagination.
Brain power.
Canadian philosopher Marshall McLulan gets it right when he says: 'The future of work now consists of learning a living rather than earning a living.'
The way things are going, you'll probably have to relearn what you do at least five times during the course of your career, according to a behavioural psychologist at the Ford Motor Company in the United States. And some people believe that even that is a gross under-estimate.
So how do you build up your intellectual capital?
In three short word:
Open your mind.
Insist on looking for more answers, even when you think you've solved the problem. Look at what's bothering you from different angles. The fifth solution may be a lot better that your first 'right' answer.

Think like a beginner

Opening your mind also means thinking like a beginner even if you're an acknowledged expert in your field. If you're like most of the experts I know, you thrive on complexity.
Apparently simple solutions are not professional.   

Experts have an obsession. They have to be 'right'.
They have to do things the 'right way',
no matter how complicated. 

Blocking out
your knowledge
and thinking like
a beginner
almost forces you
to look at a problem
from a
fresh perspective.

They overdose on historical precedent, trying to force everything to fit into what they already know. They invariably define what is new in terms of what is old and what is unknown in terms of what is known.

Here's a story  -  said to be true  -  about an expert who beat the so-called expert syndrome.
During World War Two, the Allied Supreme Commander, General Douglas MacArthur, summoned an army engineer to his headquarters. The general wanted to know if it was feasible to build a bridge across a certain stream that was holding up the arrival of military supplies.
The engineer assured him that bridging the stream was well within the bounds of possibility.

'Good,' said MacArthur. 'Get your draughtsmen to make the necessary drawings. Immediately.'
Three days later the general again summoned the engineer. 'How's the bridge coming along?' he asked.
'It's ready,' the engineer replied. 'You can send the supplies across right now. That is, you can send the trucks across if you don't have to wait for the drawings. They ain't done yet.'

The driving force
In the ever-changing business environment, your value to your company is only as great as the contribution you can make to the bottom line. Intellectual capital rather than
product inventory has become the driving force of business. And you must constantly update it to keep yourself a head of the pack.
Writing this, I took another look at my computer. It set me back a little over R8 700,00, which included the peripherals. I'd be surprised if the materials used to make it came to R700,00. So what I really invested in was the formidable brain power that designed the machine to do what it does.
I think it was John Wooden, one of America's greatest basketball coaches, who said that it's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
o welcome to the world of grey matter and ...




Today, a marketing manager can't just be a marketing manager. Neither can a production manager confine himself to production. They need a broader range of skills to increase their flexibility and value.
So do you.
International executive head hunter Gary Knisely warns that betting on your speciality is like putting all your money in one stock. 'imagination'

Consider a military example.

If you narrow
your options,
you narrow
your marketability.

Members of Britain's elite and feared Special Air Service (SAS) usually work in teams of four. Each member of the team is a specialist. The first may a fundi in free-fall parachuting; the second may be an explosives expert. The third member may have sharply honed diving skills, while the fourth may be a past-master in vehicle handling. But each member is obliged to master more than his own speciality. He must have sufficient knowledge of what his colleagues do so that he can take over at a moment's notice in an emergency.

 Since secretary birds are high on the list of species heading for extinction, you're going to have to learn to:

  • keyboard your own letters;
  • dial your own phone calls;
  • send your own faxes, and
  • make your own coffee.

The front-line

The implications are clear.
   In the new business order,
 you must be prepared
to get your hands dirty. 

More frightening, perhaps, is that as protective layers of corporate blubber are siphoned off, you get closer to the front-line  -  closer to the people who interact with your customers; closer to the customers themselves.

So you'll gave to upgrade your people and selling skills.

And it doesn't stop there.

Militant behaviour

You'll also have to acquire industrial relations skills.

Increasingly militant behaviour by trade unions led to constant work disruptions that sapped profits, forcing a friend  -  the sales and marketing director of a large Johannesburg-based company  -  to go back to school to acquire skills in industrial relations.

It's to do everything that needs to be done that will keep your business, your department or your division running at a profit. That includes admin, selling, customer service, working out and submitting quotations, advertising, public relations, distribution, personnel recruitment and selection, and industrial relations.

So, if your job
as a manager
isn't purely to
what is it?

Lord Brougham neatly encapsulated the concept when he said: 'Try to know everything of something, and something of everything.'



Everything becomes obsolete. Rapid advances in technology, for example, gives most machines a useful working life of between four and six years. After that, they're fit only for the junk yard.  That is unless you're prepared to extend their useful life by heavy retooling.

You're not much different.

Everything you learn comes with built-in obsolescence. What you know now may keep you going for another four to six years. Then you're going to have to retool intellectually if you want to remain in business.
Like everything else, knowledge has a limited shelf life. It goes out of date quickly.

So, if you want to survive business wise and, perhaps, prosper, you will have commit yourself to a lifelong learning curve.

If you refuse to constantly acquire new skills, you'll either slip backwards or be left to mark time in a world in
which anything that doesn't move forwards is to all intents and purposes dead and buried.

We operate in a business environment that will become increasingly brain-based. Ongoing training is vital.

Treat it as an investment in endless research and development.
Remember that unlike machinery, which depreciates, knowledge constantly refreshed is the only instrument of production that is not subject to diminishing returns.

So to stay in the lead ...




Earlier I suggested that you go for a broad base of knowledge rather than over-specialise. A specialist knows everything about something and nothing about anything else.

Consultants around the world note that we're in the midst of a major repolarisation of work.

Which means you must be prepared to learn about things that you thought you'd never need to know about.

Business Week (December 20, 1993) sums up the situation in an editorial:

'Companies have recognised for a while that they need to become nimbler competitors by eliminating layers. But what businesses are learning is that real horizontal go much further than that ...

Companies now need
fewer and fewer
better and better

'Companies have to organise workers into self-managing teams, altering management and employee responsibilities  -  and everybody's compensation. Senior managers must relinquish control, something rare in the absence of a guillotine ... And lower level managers must take more responsibility for wider issues  -  anathema to the organisation man. Nothing less than a corporate cultural revolution is needed ...'

In South Africa, local organisations, like others in the industrialised world, are moving towards a more effective teamwork approach, which enhances workers' level of delivery. A team structure, in which members support each other, allows members to work together to make decisions that streamline operations.

Now pause for a moment and ask yourself: 'Do you and those who work for you have the required abilities to take your business where you want it to go?'

You can answer this question honestly only by constantly assessing your collective skills to identify gaps that exist between what you're capable of doing and your corporate goals.

If you fail to conduct regular skills evaluation tests, you could be committing business hara-kiri. For example, you may be writing your own marketing strategy without the necessary expertise. This could be the reason why your competitors have moved into the fast lane to overtake you.

The answer ...




You're the boss. The managing director, perhaps. Or maybe you head a major department or division. You may even be a regional manager. And you're about to leave. Soon. Without a heir apparent.

After your departure the business could find itself in trouble. Big trouble. It may even collapse.

So what can you do about it?
Dismantle your job. Pull it apart.
Then train your subordinates to take over.

In effect, work yourself out of your position.

Let's backtrack a bit.

You must acquire at least four skills before you can consider yourself a business leader in the entrepreneur mould. You must:

  • become business literate by developing a flair for the type of business you're in;
  • develop conceptual skills that allow you to think  systematically, creatively and innovatively;
  • cultivate decision-making skills that allow you to resolve problems quickly, often with access to only  incomplete information, and
  • develop people skills so that you can recruit and  motivate the right type of people for your type of business.

Read the last point again. 

These are the people who you are going to train to take over your position in the driving seat. Business consultants call it 'empowerment'. And it isn't just another business buzzword.

Empowerment allows you to harness and exploit the many talents that your employees bring to the job. It calls on you to hack through the chains that bind then job-wise. They'll be eternally grateful, happier, more motivated and more productive.

That's the theory, anyway.

On a practical level, if you're a typical South African boss, you'll pay lip service to the concept of empowerment through cross-training. But there's no way you're going to train anyone to fill your shoes, especially while you're still wearing them.

However, it pays to loosen the reins, even if you don't vacate the driving seat. The powers-that-be at Eltron International, a bar code manufacturer did, and turnover zoomed from $400 000,00 in to $6,5-million in three years.

To bring your subordinates up to the level where they can take over from you:

  • Cross-train everyone to extend their range of responsibilities.
  • Give them all the responsibility they can handle.
  • Don't monitor their every move. If you constantly look over their shoulders, you'll quickly drain their enthusiasm.
  • Set performance goals. Then get out of they way while your employees get on with it.
  • Reward performance. A worker will only bust his gut if he knows his hard work will pay off.
  • Be lavish with praise, but only when it's deserved. And when you dish it out, make sure all your workers hear the applause.
  • Hire smart. Hone your staff recruitment programme to filter through only the best. Remember that intelligence is as important as skills, particularly in the driving seat.

Repeat the procedure to replace yourself in the executive suite regularly  -  say every quarter. It's frightening, but it will improve overall performance  -  including yours  -  no end.

So don't just sit back and dish out orders ... 


Previous   Next

  Authors Note
    Introduction: Prepare Yourself for the New Business Order
1. The Evolution of Change
2. Give your Company a 'New Look' Profile
3. Run Your Own Show
4. Lead, Don't Manage
5. Cross Train Yourself
6. Become a Self-Contained Profit Centre
7. Think Network
8. Benchmark Yourself
9._ Have Heart
  Return to FunZone!