David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

Who Likes You? And Who Doesn’t?

post # 44 — April 6, 2006 — a Careers, Strategy post

In ‘The Wisdom of Confucious’ (translated by Lin Yutan London, 1958) there appears the following exchange –

Zigong asked Confucious ‘What would you say if all the people of a village like a person?’ ‘That is not enough’ replied Confucious.

‘What would you say if all the people of the village dislike a person?’ ‘That is not enough, replied Confucious.

‘It is better when the good people of the village like him, and the bad people dislike him.’

Confucious died in 479 B.C., but his lesson still applies to strategy, marketing, managing and careers.

The essence of strategy is to achieve a positioning in the market where you can be truly the best on some key dimensions that clients care about. McDonald’s is the best if what you want is clean, cheerful fast-food service. Some high-cuisine restaurant is the best in serving customers with other preferences.

As companies keep discovering to their cost, it is certain business decay if you try to please both of these distinct customers. To have some people really like what you have, it is necessary that some other people do not like what you offer.

Picking a strategy takes courage, which is why so few companies stick to their own. They can’t stand anyone not liking them. It’s like a customer walks into their McDonald’s store and asks for a curry, and, since it’s cash, we can’t resist trying to adapt the restaurant to accommodate the new request.

And that, of course, will quickly make you cease being a finely tuned operation to deliver what you originally chose. You’ll stop being the best at anything.

The same is true in marketing. Marketing is not about the number of people you can reach, nor the number of proposals you get to make. The essence of marketing is that you know exactly what your positioning is, and you don’t waste time marketing to people who don’t want that.

Just because millions of people despise Coca Cola and would never think of drinking it (the snobs!), it doesn’t mean Coke does bad marketing –quite the opposite. It knows its constituency and plays to it.

All this also true of managing. It is not the job of a manager to be liked, nor to create a culture that can accommodate the broadest possible range of work and employee preferences.

As my research has shown, managers serve best when they create a clear (internal and external) ideology that says – this is what we believe in around here. If you can believe it too, come on in and welcome. If you can’t subscribe to our beliefs and way of doing things, please go elsewhere.

Done this way, companies achieve what Jim Collins in Good to Great called ‘getting the right people on and off the bus’- right up front – and have fewer subsequent management problems.

Since everyone has signed up for the same thing, the organization can focus on getting to work fulfilling its purpose. The bad people did not like it there and either did not join or they left – what a brilliant conclusion!

Finally, Confucious’ lesson applies to each of us in our career and life. I remember being in college worrying that I didn’t know enough about ballet, football, philosophy, what was on TV, modern art, jazz, my appearance. The list was endless on things SOME people would judge me on, and I couldn’t possibly shine in all those things.

I also discovered that every discussion everyone alienated someone. The socialists annoyed the feminist who annoyed the environmentalists, who annoyed the religious groups.

There was only one solution, and it wasn’t trying to please or be loved by everyone. The right answer turned out to be figuring out what I truly believed in, passionately throwing myself into that, and then seeking out the company of those who liked that, and avoiding the company of those who did not.

So, the test is – do the good people like you and the bad people don’t? If so, all’s well!

Good strategic, marketing, managerial and career advice, after all. Thanks, Confucious!

1 Comment

Orikinla Osinachi said:

One of the best posts on business I have read so far.

Thanks and God bless.

posted on April 7, 2006