Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, November 7, 2016
Today is Nov. 7. Soon our long national nightmare will be over.
But before we turn out the lights on this one, let’s find a bit of wisdom from one of my favorite Harvard Business School professors, Clay Christensen, and ask (of both the candidates and the American people) — “What job did you hire that product to do?”
Christensen’s new book is “Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice.” In this book, he explores why people pick one product over another. And of course, the American people have some choosing to do. So the question I want to ask is this – what job did you hire the product to do?
Christensen says, “when we buy a product (the president) we are ‘hiring’ it to get a job done. If it does the job well, we hire the same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it.”
Well that might be true for vacuum cleaners, but it seems that politics might resist that rational explanation — because some jobs are not just functional — “they have critical, social and emotional dimensions.” In part this explains why some companies demand huge loyalty (Coke, Facebook, Nordstrom), as well as the current phenomenon of rallies — where large numbers of previously-thought-to-be-semi-rational people yell things like “lock her up.”
Christensen says that when you take a new job, you are not only being hired, but you are hiring the company. True enough, but in the case of American politics, at best you are only hiring 52 percent to 54 percent of the company — the remainder hate you.
Christensen goes on to talk about happiness (I have been in therapy a very long time, and I can tell him that categorically happiness is only attainable in blocks of time measured in nanoseconds), and his theory is that lack of happiness is the result of a “fundamental misunderstanding of what really motivates us” (not taking off your shoes when you get on Air Force One isn’t enough). He says that just because you are not dissatisfied with your career path, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are satisfied with it. (Sure, go try to prove a double negative). He says we are driven by “intrinsic” factors, not just the perks in a new job. He asks three questions.
1. “Am I being challenged and learning in this job?” Well, learning the nuclear codes is not that easy, and finally getting out of Iraq will be like getting 2400 on the SATs.
2. “Am I respected by my peers and my boss?” Dude, I am the boss, but that respect thing, I am not so sure. Why are they filing articles of impeachment?
3. “Does the company have a mission I truly believe in?” Whoa, that mission thing is my responsibility, but getting 100 senators and 535 congressmen to go along, that is quite another matter — the only thing harder would be two on the aisle for Hamilton.
Christensen talks about interviewing candidates for the “Jobs to be Done.” He wants to figure out if the candidate has the right fit. In his Theory of Jobs, he explores the concept — why would anyone in their right mind want to work here?
Put differently, if you want to be president, you should not be allowed to run. You can’t work remotely, your vacations are interrupted by terrorist attacks, you have to give press conferences (very few if you are lucky), where rabid journalists looking to make a name for themselves ask you questions about your bathroom habits or your email, claiming that they are of national interest and the company (that’s us) has a burning right to know.
Can a job provide long-term happiness? Not if you have to reapply for it every four years. We, the company, love certain products, but I think what we really love is the blood sport of actually picking the products. After we buy one (from Amazon, delivered by a self-guided drone), we get bored. The presidency is like a box of Legos — fun to open, but after you make a cat and a dog, you lose some of the pieces and who needs another version of the Millennium Falcon — we’d rather watch a re-run of the “The Walking Dead.”
But we are the company and we pick the job to be done — but this job is unlike any other. You can’t be sure, there are no guarantees, but don’t give up, don’t phone it in — vote with thought and care, but vote.