Profiting from play
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
—George Bernard Shaw
I’m testing the theory that if I don’t act my age, I won’t grow old. When I look in the mirror, it appears that my theory is bunk, but damn I’m having fun! Luckily, my wife believes in this theory as well.
Some of you started work in, or maybe even founded, a small organization. Then, through success, you ended up in a larger organization, either because yours grew or you went somewhere else. If it was Microsoft, Apple or eBay, you might be reading this while you jet to Paris for dinner.
I was fortunate to spend 20 years helping grow Kinko’s. FedEx eventually bought the company and eliminated the name, but before that, a large private equity firm purchased Kinko’s.
In our “formative” years, we had lots of fun. Perhaps too much fun. However, many of us were willing to work obscene hours partly because we had so much fun with our co-workers. We had an annual event called “The Picnic” where we flew thousands of people to a beach location (e.g., Hawaii or San Diego) and had some meetings but mostly had lots of fun.
Guess what we talked about when we were having fun? Work! Who had the best store, region, division and why? “Hand me another beer, and while you’re doing that, explain how you grew so fast last year or have such low labor costs or such high service quality scores.”
After a few of us left, the new management team weren’t as excited about fun. It was too expensive in their minds. Maybe they were right, but I don’t think so. Correlation is not causation, but growth plummeted.
When companies grow, they need to standardize processes, leverage size, systematize the business, add layers of management and perhaps even become professional. But they don’t need to quit having fun. To paraphrase Shaw, we don’t get “professional” or big because we quit having fun; we quit having fun because we get “professional” or big. And then, we too frequently get smaller.