Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Time is the enemy

I recently had a good conversation with a very rare creature, a printing sales person who has been working for the same company for over 20 years, is doing ok, and basically loves his job.

I say "basically" because he is forced to spend his time in nonproductive activities. For those who follow this blog, I think they will understand what I mean when I say, he has to spend lots of time on bullshit. See Princeton University Press.

This professional has to go to many internal meetings. The meetings can be seen as "important," But they have a very low ROT. (ROT is a term coined by Dr Joe Webb to capture the idea of Return on Time) as opposed to ROI. Since the most valuable resource is time, it's a very useful idea.

Here's how it can play out in the non printing world.

The financial industry reorganized itself last week. Merrill, Lehman, Bear Stearns gone. Morgan and Goldman becoming commercial banks. Neither investment banking nor the most talented investment bankers will disappear. Print is Dead? . . . or is it just that some printing firms will change or go out of business?

The most likely outcome is that investment banking and the people who know how to do it, will move to small "boutique" shops. Experts in niche markets. Firms with lower head counts and much more efficient product delivery infrastructures. A significant one-stop shop business model is broken.

It happened in one week.

The members of Congress, who are "very, very busy, important" people are usually vigorously engaged in partisan power struggles. Now they have made the time to put that to one side and focus on the problem at hand. It was amazing for me to watch C Span and see everyone in the hearing room, asking pretty intelligent questions, getting pretty intelligent answers, moderately little grandstanding or speeches. In short, there was a minimum of bullshit.

"The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully" said Samuel Johnson. And nothing cuts through the bullshit like money disappearing. When an existential crisis hits, the most important metric becomes ROT, return on time. Congress has a week, maybe two. If they don't do it by then, whatever they decide to do will probably be irrelevant. Perfect decisions, made too late, are bad decisions.

What does it have to do with the printing business?
Many printing firms are in a crisis. Like anyone else, including congress people, for most the first response is denial. At the same time, or right after denial, comes anger and blame. Then comes the rushed response to deal with the crisis at hand. When the smoke clears, it's "back to business" as usual, which is often follows the same trajectory, only at the daily level. Lots of small crises to handle. Everyone again becomes busy bees.

Meanwhile, some firms got it right. Morgan started the application for becoming a commercial bank back in March. They planned for the worst, hoped for the best. When the storm made landfall, they were ready to act. I assume that Goldman did the same. They faced the nasty fact that their business model was falling apart. They prepared to move into a much less lucrative, but still a good business, commercial banking.

Morgan and Goldman obviously understood that spending time on alternative action options and looking very clearly at the invisible crisis had a very good ROT. The others did not.

1 comment:

  1. i was watching "sons of the desert" (laurel & hardy) this morning. and one set of dialogue reflects the financial bailout perfectly:
    Stan: I've certainly got to hand it to you, Ollie.
    Oliver: For what?
    Stan: Well, for the meticulous care with which you have executed your finely formulated machinations, in extricating us from this devastating dilemma.
    Oliver: Get in bed.
    Stan: What?
    Oliver: Get in bed. "Meticulous." Hmph.