Learning from Big Corporate Mistakes

The bright side of big ugly corporate failures is the potential for learning powerful personal and professional lessons. In this article on GM’s Biggest Strategic Blunder, the author highlights two mistakes that GM made:

  1. First, GM had too many mouths to feed, all lining up and saying “my turn.” It was Oldsmobile’s turn for a new model, and even though the Oldsmobile brand was in trouble GM could not then bite the bullet and do away with the brand.
  2. Second, there was a preoccupation on short-term profits and a lack of strategic vision and scenario planning, a problem not at all unique to GM.

How does these lessons translate for us?

gm-logoWell first, I would deliver the advice in reverse. The first problem is a pre-occupation with short-term profits which resulted in not being able to say “no” to all the mouths to feed.

For me, the temptation to satisfy short-term goals shows up in a variety of ways. It could be a desire for instant gratification (let’s buy that cool consumer electronic product to revolutionize our business) or a desire to make money now (let’s take on a project, any project). We shouldn’t underestimate the power of thinking short-term. We get results right away. We feel like we’re doing something productive. Even our bodies reward us with an adrenaline hit. The consequences: impulse buying, taking on too many projects, or failing to be disciplined.

If we want to play the bigger game and be the strategic general of your life, then it requires the audacity to prioritize the future over the present. The Wright Brothers spent ten years working on designing their plane. Joseph Campbell read books for years during the Great Depression. The Beatles practiced in dimly-lit clubs in Hamburg for years before they became famous. They built their knowledge, skills, and capacity to reach a bigger vision. Are you prepared to do the same?

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