Exactly a week ago I covered the news conference where Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford announced the bloodletting naming of new CEO Jim Hackett and other management changes at the Blue Oval. What struck me, besides how fast the deposed CEO, Mark Fields was shown the door to the Glass House, was one of the roles Ford said he would play in the new regime. Ford put it succinctly in a story for my current workplace Automotive News, saying “”I plan to be very active with Jim as a thought-partner.”
A few years ago, when I headed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles digital communications team, I was asked to appear on a panel in Chicago to discuss “thought leaders.” Now I’m not sure that “thought partner” and “thought leader” are much different from each other except a “thought partner” may not have cogent enough thoughts to be a “thought leader,” although I would think as executive chairman of a giant automaker, Bill Ford’s thoughts must be considered “leading.” One of the reasons given for the dismissal of Mark Fields was the nearly 40 percent drop in Ford’s share price since he took over a little more than three years ago. One would think the man whose name is on the building would have contributed some leading thoughts on how to stop that slide. Apparently not. But as a “thought partner” to the new CEO perhaps it means he will now share the responsibility of thinking up stuff to keep the automaker afloat.
Honestly, a term such as “thought partner” reminds me of when I gave my “thought leaders” presentation. I refused to use that term because to me it’s just another one of those cute little phrases those who consider themselves leaders in thinking think up to build themselves up and then write books that are obsolete by the time they are published. See my previous blog post re self-help books.
I like to encourage those who work for me and with me to always be thinking of new, better and more creative ways to accomplish our goals. Some are stronger thinking artistically while others are especially adept on the business side. There are some folks who can think in pictures and abstract concepts. You’ll always find people who seem to be more literal but are nonetheless leading thinkers on that plane. That’s why you have to empower colleagues and teammates to come forth with their thoughts since it’s not uncommon for the best, fully-baked ideas to rise from a recipe that includes combining dollops of collective thoughts. If you can make that happen, then the true “thought leaders” are actually groups of “thought partners” working together.
Some observations about lack of observation. Over the weekend my wife and I took a quick trip down to Florida and found ourselves at the sprawling Sawgrass Mills mall, just to kill some time before heading to the airport for our return to Detroit.
As we strolled down the outside section call The Colonnade we were approached by two friendly women who asked, “Hi! Are there any restaurants here?” Were they freakin’ kidding? All one had to do was lift one’s head beyond one’s smartphone and there, in front of your famished face, would be the site of no fewer than three restaurants.
I got thinking about this episode and how people have grown less observant in this era of almost constant focus on what’s on one screen or another, rather than what’s actually in front of our own two eyes, within earshot of our cochleas and just a sniff away from the assembly line of our olfactory nerves.
Example. Something bad happens. Any eyewitnesses? That’s the question police and journalists would ask. Police want to crack the case. Journalists want to tell the story. Eyewitness could provide valuable information. What did they see, hear, smell, notice? How about a description of the assailant or crook? Oh sure, eyewitnesses are still sought, but it’s more likely someone will step forward with a smartphone video or audio recording. Ask the person what happened and the answer probably will be, “Duh, I dunno, but I shot this video because I thought it would get a lot of views on YouTube or CNN would buy it. Here. Watch.” True, the video would surely be more accurate than someone’s recollections but it simply points to the fact we’re in a world now where electronic devices are doing the seeing and hearing for us with the information going to a memory card, instead of our memories.
In the workplace this lack of personal observation results in inability to sense a co-worker’s sentiments, whether it’s acceptance of an idea, willingness to contribute to a project or impending desire to commit the most serious workplace sin, cooking fish in the office microwave oven. Hmm..didn’t notice, but I got the feeling there may be a dead body in the office supply cabinet, which would make an awesome Instagram post.
I think of young children and what they’ll tell their kids. “Oh little Emma…my parents took me to the Thanksgiving Parade. They told me the floats were awesome. I don’t remember…I was tweeting about how much the butts of the mounted police horses stunk. Why don’t we go this year. You can Snapchat your friends with shots of Santa diddling his favorite elf…they’ll go viral!”
I grew up idolizing so-called “observational” comics like Woody Allen, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and much later, Jerry Seinfeld. They saw and heard things that went on in life, pointed them out, commented on them and turned them into hilarious routines delivered to live audiences by use of their mouths, enhancing their humor through vocal inflection, timing and physical gestures.
Nowadays, I fear to observe means to capture on a device, delivering that observation via unspoken words on the web and any laughter is the recipients private experience.
As the observational comic might ask, “What’s the deal with that?”