Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 22, 2017
We are well into the new year. Moguls are lurking on the mountain, and a funny thing happens to me on the ski lift to the top. A stranger says to me, “What are your New Year’s resolutions?” While I gave up making resolutions years ago, I was intrigued by the idea.
It was the Babylonians who first started this nonsense by using the new year as a time to make promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. (To that end, I returned a life preserver from the boat and paid my son-in-law the $79 I owed for the dinner at the Chinese restaurant.)
In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at this time of year to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry. I like this idea and am all in on a recommitment to proper behavior to all women at home and in the workplace. No issue there.
For us Jews, the New Year comes a little earlier (October), but again, we atone for wrongdoings — past and present — and make resolutions to do better in the future. (It would be nice if we could buy a call option.)
Now, of course, the list of personal resolutions is more than lengthy, starting with losing weight and ending with being a better person — and all manner of personal improvements along the way. By the way, statistically, the failure rate for resolution success in our society, across all categories, men and women, is 88 percent. But at the beginning of the year, 52 percent of the respondents were “confident” that they would meet their goals. I love statistics and the fact that most of us are lousy at predictions.
Now let’s think about resolutions in a slightly different way. What about the ability to resolve things, meaning to bring to completion? I know that at least one of my failures in 2017 was a result of an inability to resolve management issues. Lack of resolution led to a loss. We kicked the proverbial can.
What about resolution as in physics, the ability to see deep? Think of the electron microscope that lets us see molecules and atoms. Can that level of insight and inquiry apply to your company? I spend a lot of time teaching “strategery,” and to do it well requires getting into the weeds. It is the need to ask really hard questions, and when the answer is not quickly or easily forthcoming, to then go harder and deeper and grittier and be willing to use the magnifying glass to look at the small problems — which of course will metastasize into bigger problems, like a cancer, and kill you.
How about dispute resolution? “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” said Henry VI. It never ceases to amaze me that the first reaction is to send a hostile email, suggesting that the other person drop dead, versus perhaps picking up the phone (I know that is an anachronism) and calling the person — before you call the lawyer.
Resolution is also a digital concept. It applies to music, data, images etc. Resolution is a function of clarity. I place a high value on that, so one of my new year’s resolutions is to sign up with the shrink for another year — and also to go see the eye doctor at least once. There is a lot to be said for clarity, especially when the world is basically cloudy. At the top of the mountain, if the snow is blowing hard, then the trip down might be just that — a long trip.
And what about new investments? I resolve to not make any stupid ones. Hah, unfortunately, I will need a soothsayer for that before I need a microscope. The innovation business remains complex, and the real skill to be acquired and perfected is to keep sifting the soup until you find the one matzoh ball that can change the world.
Finally, I would make the same resolutions as all of you — to improve my little world and be kind and supportive to all the people in it. And if I have some extra bandwidth, to extend that to the rest of the world as best I can.
So new year resolutions are a good thing to make, a hard thing to keep and a valuable reminder that we are human and vulnerable and need all the help we can get — including from some of those Medieval knights.
Rule No. 544: I resolve to.