CODA: Hardball

Russ Volckmann

Remember all of that work that has been done to propagate the idea that the culture of a company and its people count? And remember all of those reports of near death experiences and the visions that people have? Well, George Stalk doesn’t put the lies to those, but he does challenge our images about what near death experiences are like.

George Stalk is one of those high powered consultants who has traveled the world learning about and consulting to the mega-Corporations and earned a reputation as one of the best. He is focused. He sees problems and solves them before others realize they are there. A strong competitive strategy is what counts.

Sure, culture and leadership are important in business competition, but what is REALLY important is strategy and – if you want to win – the strategy must challenge the competition to the point of causing them pain, even putting them out of business. In that way you stay in business and survive to take on the next challenge. Well, all of that has been spelled out in his co-authored book

Hardball: Are you Playing to Play or Playing to Win? Where you can find principles like the hardball mind-set:

To win at hardball, you need the guts and the passion to confront the fundamental issues that are harming your business. Here’s what you have to do:

Live at the Rock Face. You – not just your assistants or vice presidents or salespeople – have to truly understand your customers and your marketplace.
Don’t Know. Having the courage to admit ignorance or asking the simplest of questions-“Why?” or “Who are our customers?”-can lead to winning insights.
Build a Truth-Telling Network. Hardball doesn’t mean managing down. It means building a team of people who aren’t afraid of the truth, even if the truth hurts.

Fast Company

What I find intriguing about this recent Fast Company article is the account of Stalk’s recollections of a three-month brush with death, much of that spent in a coma. In the early stages, Stalk’s hallucinations centered on war (nuclear – between Great Britain and Japan) and death (his own and that of others he knew). Then he reached a point at which he shifted to seeking a way to avoid death. The turning point featured this memory:

As he contemplated his own death, Stalk suddenly had an idea for a management story: Where have all the gurus gone? He consoled himself with the fact that he wasn’t the only one about to disappear; many of the management strategists who had been big names throughout Stalk’s career were dead or no longer adding new ideas to the field. But Stalk couldn’t write the story because he was going to die. So how could he communicate it to someone on the ground? There was no way, he discovered, to send faxes or email from Heaven. “I have to come up with something better here,” he thought.

From there, his hallucinations moved to survival challenges from flying invalids in a helicopter with a heavy hospital bed attached during a Colorado snow storm, to a scuba diving obstacle course and a “Survivor” challenge in the 1700s. From those emerged his own survivor strategy: be able to answer three questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Where are you?
  3. What’s the date?

If he could answer those questions he would survive.

Well, survive he did. He regained much of his health – although to date is altering his work style and staying close to home, completed the bookHardball, and seems even more certain that business is about survival of the company with the fittest strategy. The lessons he learned from his near death experience? Not much. He says that this is outside his area of expertise.

And what are we to make of this? A clear red-orange demonstration that even near death experiences don’t change us much? What of all of the hype about moving to second tier in this lifetime? Congratulations and condolences to those who manage it. I hope they can help us all see life from such lofty heights.

Well, it all reminds me of this quote from Ray Bradbury who some might say could see into the future well enough to know what such visions might be:

“The first thing you learn in life is you’re a fool. The last thing you learn is you’re the same fool. Sometime I think I understand everything. Then I regain consciousness.”

> Russ Volckmann