Sorting Out What’s Important…

Sorting Out What’s Important…

Years ago, those of us who worked for Bell Atlantic in the 90s, went to a management training program called The Bell Atlantic Way.  The Way was one of a dozen management training programs we were sent through.  Management training was in vogue back then and the phone company was still transitioning from the old guard to the new guard.  This just means that the old time phone company employees were being brought along and lead into the brave new world of cellular and other new technologies like the Internet.  The company feared that the employees were not really prepared for this change.  They were the old time operating phone company employees.  In fact one lady, Elsie, had her 50th anniversary of work for good old Bell in my group.  Her first job was teaching people the rotary dial!  But I was not one of the old timers.  I was in my mid 20s, but I attended these brain changing management programs as well.

There was a Quality Training program and other programs that we went through.  Seemed like there was one every 6 months.  The one that stuck in my mind and still does was The Way.  Most of us who attended The Way seminars probably still remember the core points.  In particular the one lesson that I remember the most was Blue Chips, Red Chips and Yellow Chips.  What they were trying to teach us is that we needed to look over all our chips, work tasks, and make a determination of which color each task or chip represented.  Important ones got a Blue chip, Red for medium and Yellow for chips that could wait.  We would need to reorganize our priorities based on the Blue Chips.  Sounds simple for most of you out there.  But for engineers (and almost everybody at the phone company was an engineer) it is not possible to always prioritize on what is really important.  In fact I have seen many engineers focus on minutiae and details that are not important to the overall business.

Fast forward 20 years.  Seems like many of the Internet start-up guys did not need to learn this blue chip lesson.  They figured a lot out on their own.  But let’s just say that for every successful tech start-up there are something like 3 that don’t make it.  Why?  Because (trust me on this) they may have been thinking like an engineer and not a business person.  What was important was getting to critical mass or revenue compared with making something cool.  Now there is a second part of this, a conundrum.  What is quite ironic is the cool technologies make the big bucks in the end, so for many start-ups having Google Engineers is quite important and all this talk about what is important from a business stand-point may not matter.  But when you are an Internet start-up out there in small town in America or overseas and not in Silicon Valley, NYC, Chicago, Boston or Austin, you are pretty much having to figure out what is important.

So, let’s say you are in a start-up and you partner with a technology guy or gal.  Please make sure that you don’t let them drive the business.  If you are in charge, and you want to succeed and you wrote the business plan, don’t let it go in a different direction.  It is important, as long as you are quite sure about your target, that you don’t let technology people drive the business into the ground because they became consumed with small details that were not critical.  It happens to me all the time.  And it even happens when I take on the role as developer.  Sometimes I build some additional code that was not necessary.

Thinking.  That can be a problem for the technology mind.  Sometimes you have to close down your creative mind and just do what you are told if you are not driving the bus!