An Open Letter to the Stanford Selection Committee

2012 is just starting and I’m snorting like a bull in a rodeo. MBA, Schmembeeaye.

One of my twitter friends highlighted a position recently posted at Stanford:

The SEED Case Writer is responsible for researching and writing new case studies and teaching notes related to entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in developing economy countries.

Respectfully, if an MBA is required, you are merely perpetuating the problem…

No less an authority than Forbes published on this just yesterday: The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives!


All the “E” Words

One of the biggest risks that enterprise executives take today is not embracing the need for new structures, new forms of engagement to capture their residual risks. To get people to tell key execs what they NEED to hear, rather than what their staff thinks they want to hear, we must:

· develop
· enrich and
· empower the workforce

through the critical blend of high-touch and high-tech. Neither will do it alone. As Louis Columbus writes so engagingly in a comment on Esteban Kolsky’s blog:

What most resonated with me was how knowledge and respect of customers is far more effective than the latest bright, shiny new software application, network, tool, technique or advice from experts.

As I read through your story I kept coming back to the fact that the intangibles which one couldn’t buy mattered most. Years of tying flies, practicing the fly landing on the water, how and where it hit – all were vitally important to attracting, not startling or scaring the fish.



Innovation cannot rest on “experience” because by definition if it’s something you’ve done before, it’s not truly innovation. (Just as a sidepoint, I’m all for kaizen, but those incremental changes are only part of the solution.) Because of the drastic changes in workforce demographics from Boomer Brain Drain, many of today’s leaders are the equivalent of the Texas expression: “big hat, no cattle.”


The Problem

The market’s focus on short-term results has allowed companies in almost every sector to ignore the end-of-career. Our stock-market obsessed culture has effectively gutted the practice of investing the time to master technical crafts, skills which are learned truly on-the-job, under the watchful tutelage of an experienced practitioner. Mike Rowe succinctly pointed this out in a celebrated TED talk, (cued up to the quote referenced), where he states that our modern culture has declared “war on work.”

· Colleges can’t do it; they don’t know how to teach experientially (that’s why they encourage internships).

· Technical Schools can’t do it; they don’t have the right combination of teaching mastery and in-depth experience.

· The people who are most qualified to solve your problem are the ones who have been actually making you money. (P.S. If you fire them, they’re surprisingly less likely to cooperate in your “exit interviews.”)



Betty, the fresh-faced HR new-hire, being tasked to conduct a round of exit interviews with the surly, gruff, but extraordinarily talented men old enough to be her father or grandfather. The likely result is not a pretty sight is it?

My Maltese Graduate students echo what Dr. Grabe found in her research: if you want to serve as a messenger, you may need to look like one.


Right for many reasons

Besides the fact that it’s the right thing to do, respecting talent wherever it flourishes—and doing whatever it takes to ensure that it flourishes—the real work of building resilient relationships is one of the wisest business investments any business could make. If it’s something your grandparents taught your parents, we certainly don’t need MBAs for that!

For non-technical people we actually have a full-length cartoon story (not a single equation anywhere, I promise!) that walks people through the “leadership discovery” process in a mythical company, so there’s no “we don’t do that here” objections.

Gary Hamel (of Reengineering fame) wanted to know the same thing: if all this “values stuff” was good business. What he found was startling: W.L. Gore, the maker of Gore-Tex® is among the “the most human of all businesses” and among the most successful—so yes, Virginia, what your grandparents taught you about good families is still as true as ever for good businesses, especially entrepreneurship in developing economy countries.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the remaining few rays of the Twelve Days of Christmas!

Carpe Diem,


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