About four years ago, I was so disgusted with the non-performance of Young Isaac that I thought about shutting it down. The creative and account teams were doing their darndest and — to be sure — they were producing moments of brilliance. But they were just moments and, frankly, led to only moments of profitability. Neither were sustained and the life wasn’t worth the aggravation. In hindsight, we know that we were relying solely on individual energy and talent — not on the power of managed collaboration.
So I took two steps.
The second one — the managerial step — is chronicled in the Business First article that ran in May.
But now it can be told: the first step was emotional: I began to walk the plank. Even though we had hired Mary Kall, a very talented and experienced CEO, I had emotionally concluded that Young Isaac would simply and inevitably fade away. I figured it would take about 18 months. Then I would go onto some next career: teaching or writing or bartending.
This was not the mature emotional step of a fully-formed adult, I admit. Any adult, any true MBA, would think, "I’m making an intelligent decision to delegate. Now I can confront higher level issues with the business." I did think that. But that’s not what I felt. I’d spent 15 years going out of business, or so it seemed. I didn’t emotionally believe that Humpty Dumpty could be put back together again.
Two years ago, people asked: Can you afford to bring on a top executive? Won’t that add too much to overhead? "We can do it," I said, because there is no other intelligent answer. However, I felt:
"This position will cost so much that, instead of going away in 18 months, it will take only six months. But that’s OK, because why would I want to spend an extra year shutting down? I’d rather close sooner, so that less of my life is spent walking the plank."
Of course, I was intellectually betting on Mary’s ability to right the ship. But emotionally, I was OK with the inherent danger of adding weight to a sinking ship. After all, I was OK with hiring someone to sink the ship faster than I could sink it, so I could get on with life.
I was simply becoming efficient at walking the plank…
So a funny thing happened on the way to the business end of the plank.
Within six months, the operating and financial results — from morale and quality of work to recurring revenue from continuing clients and new business wins — turned the corner. Young Isaac began to perform consistently and increasingly profitably.
So, back to the plank. I found myself walking it and, yet, I started to notice that the rough hewn plank (you can’t find well turned planks these days) was suddenly carpeted. I walk on, expecting to fall into the future, into the water. And, then, I notice, on the side of the plank: a couch…a table… What? Is this a fully-furnished plank?
No, it turned out that I was no longer walking the plank. How nice.
But how unplanful. My plan was, after two years to be starting on the road with a new career, a fresh start toward teaching, or writing, or something. I was expecting to fall into the cool, potentially shark-infested waters of an uncertain future. I was willing to, as Pink Floyd sings, "exchange cold comfort for change."
Yet, I was not forced off the plank. I was squarely back on the boat. And the boat was — and is — sailing smoothly, with wind in her sails. I find myself in the business of marketing and advertising and enjoying it more than ever. I’m doing the (few) things that I’m good at and not being distracted by managerial challenges for which I have little talent.
I’m still right here. Wonderfully, everything around me is different. While I was out on the plank, willingly walking toward the deep, the new captain rebuilt the ship. And, surprisingly, I’m enjoying the voyage now more than ever.
Onward. Man not overboard!