FROM THE TRENCHES: A New Cool Business Idea – Integrity

trenches-BritishVANITY FAIR HARPER STUDIO RE-SET 2010 BREAKFAST

Guess what happens when the leaders of industry get together over breakfast? They talk about feelings! Huh? If I hadn’t been there myself, I would NOT have believed that a five-person panel (only 1 of them a woman) + Seth Godin as moderator, (unquestionably, the least front and center he’s been anytime in recent memory) would set out to talk about what’s required in retooling business in the new mellinium and each one would push for passion, kindness, trust, integrity, self esteem, measures of character and even good manners. Go figya!

First, picture Hallowed Halls of the Harvard Club, 200 sold out seats at a rather steep $320/guest, hot and cold running waiters with syrupy mini french toasts and yummy, fruity, hot oatmeal shots.  Figure in a hearty mixture  of lawyers, publishers, accountants, professors, health nuts and entrepreneurs from as far away as Virginia (instructed on the registration confirmation to please dress with Ivy League flair), gathering at 8 a.m. on a sunny Spring morning in  New York’s midtown for the NYC Business Networking Group (NYCBNG) in partnership with VANITY FAIR and HARPER STUDIO “Business Forum With a Difference”, or re-Set: The Business Models of Tomorrow. reSet is an innovative speaker series designed of senior-level executives to share thoughts with the world’s leading visionaries about how the world does business in a variety of fields, today in the future”, or so says the event brochure. The universality of the message from today’s panel was staggeringly touchy feely and glaringly female. Ideas like respect, kindness, equanimity and excellence were rampant during this lively dialogue.

Michael Eisner, Anna Bernasek, Tom Peters, Gary Veynerchuck, plus Seth, inarguably, five industry heavyweights, will reveal their trade secrets  about the remaking of the American economy vis a vis the re start of American business.  Not-your-average panelists these gurus, soothsayers, media moguls, and of course, all authors, hawking their new books, (this is fun but the goody bags to the brim with autographed copies for everyone, weighed a ton) are poked, prodded and, I dare say, interrupted, by the Permission Marketing god himself, Seth Godin.

The panels’ introductions were pointed toward their latest theories and formulae while Seth interjected his own principles and prophesies, projections and wise cracks. None of this too earth shattering, Tom Peters set the tone I think, when he turned the topic to “People Don’t listen”!  Everyone sat up straight as the sugary breakfast snack slump started to take effect on attention deficit victims. What ever happened to words like “thank you”, “appreciate” and “I’m sorry” Peters asked us rhetorically, mentioning that where he was brought up, even God was a “deep second” to good manners. “No male in the history of the human race,”  he noted, “has ever been able to say I’m sorry.”  Less finance and more listening courses, urged Peters, author of <em>In Search of Excellence</em>, published in 1982, which in some peoples’ minds, permanently changed the world of business.

There was a lot across the board about “doing” not just talking. The knowing-doing gap, to be precise, is the one between finding out what you have to and shipping that sucker out the door. Discussed on his blog, Peters tells us that once you know, you cannot just sit still. Or can you? This is the running theme of this panel today.

Mr. Eisner talked about the passionate attraction Disney’s Training For Executives is down at Disney World in Florida. They come from everywhere to learn how Disney keeps employees, not just customers, happy. Once there, the trainees are all fired up and promise to change Everything once they return to their home fronts. Ultimately, nothing every does change, Eisner reminds us, because the head honchos don’t come around for seminars, only their underlings do.

Go to headquarters and grab these guys by the shirt collars and force them to change? Gary Vaynerchuk, owner of the NY Jets, and author of <em>”Crush It! Why Now is the Time to Cash in on your Passion,”</em>, , says, No Way. “My least favorite word in the dictionary,” he interjected, “is ‘motivate’. You cannot motivate anyone to do anything. Only they, themselves, can motivate their own change. Vaynerchuck’s book encourages people to determine what truly makes them happy and pursue monetizing around it on the internet. “Speed is killing,” he urges. Short shifty fast running backs, he said, would never have been drafted 10 years ago. New platforms are the golden age of brand building is the direct result of our (the consumer) taking the keys away from the gatekeeper. Vaynerchuck is a leading authority on wine and professes to have become that because of his total emersion approach to learning about wine. A 20 hour work day, he claims, has blown the theory of “working hard” right out of the water. It costs sweat equity, sure but the information is available if you want to source it online. You can go from zero to way out there because of the unprecedented speed and platform we have available to us, regardless of whether we grew up with it or not. The no-middle-man business world means, in Vaynerchuck’s vernacular, we all have an “at bat” chance to make a killing out there.

You expect a woman to talk about integrity and trust, sure and acclaimed journalist, Anna Bernasek is an authority on those ideas per her book, <em>The Economics of Integrity</em>. It’s all about wealth built on trust.  Ahh, but have you ever thought of it as a way to create economic value? or a path forward for wealth creation? Brilliant. Relationships of trust as part of a tool kit for providing integrity anywhere in the economy, and even to create widespread prosperity on the heels of the financial wreckage of 2008. Seems outrageous. Why do we see integrity and trust as obligations rather than an opportunity?

An even more revealing moment in the morning’s activities, was to hear Michael Eisner speak about partnerships. Sure he’s had a few, but those weren’t the partnerships forming the basis for his new book, the one he finished the day before appearing before us. The consistencies of the partnership concept and the control of integrity and ethics are essential contributions to business success, claims Eisner. Partnerships, even unsuccessful ones, lead to happiness. Happiness? Isn’t that a fairy tale? I guess the CEO of Disney (in “the Industry”, they call it the Mouse House) would know about that. But rather, Eisner posited that his study of ten famous partnerships, including his own, plus those of Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, to name a few. 2 chefs, 2 bridge players and even, designer, Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti and financial firm, Angelo, Gordon & Co. who did better than just survive the financial crisis. Eisner attributed that to  “integrity not leverage”.

Ultimately, it seems universal among the panelists that, as Tom Peters, noted, this is an incredible time to think about character resilience and trust. The question remains, does digital media add to or subtract from this concept?

Mr. Vaynerchuk, a man with boundless energy, endorses patience. “Don’t try and close the deal too fast.” Use social media like a real human being not, as he warned, like a “19 year old dude.” Even at the speed of business today, the watchwords are not be quick but think long term, strategic.

Seth Godin believes, not to bring our heads down, that we are in the midst of the death of the industrial age. The Industrial Age was about making the factory more efficient. Now, either because of offshore relegating, digital maneuvering or just plain change, things will never be the same. Is this a chance to whine or re-Set? Either way, it certainly bears self appraisal. These concepts plus resiliency and the courage to color outside the lines is the passport to prosperous creation.

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