J.P. Morgan once famously said that “a person has two reasons for what they do: A good reason and the real reason”.  And while there can be no doubt as to how successful Mr. Morgan became I do doubt whether his famous saying has had the desired impact on those that need to hear it most. 

The ‘good’ reason is usually based upon order and logic and commonsense. It is communicated confidently to all those willing to hear. While the ‘real’ reason is usually based upon passion and the desire for risk, adventure and fun. 

Recently, I have been struggling with how to find the best way to convince a group of very intelligent and highly experienced managers to step out of their comfort zones and to see that the serious challenges they are facing cannot be overcome by trying to apply the same logic and reasoning that got their company into the mess in the first place; and that the ‘good’ reason is not the one that will inspire their colleagues to help them out of it.    

The Economist Brian Arthur said “making decisions based on the habits of past experience is no longer optimal—or wise.”  Personally I find that a serious understatement. I believe that in order to break free from our tried and trusted ways we need to have the guts to accept that the business models of yesteryear simply do not apply anymore.  

If we are to achieve any kind of success at all in the new world then we need to take decisions based upon what we can see on the horizon rather than what immediately surrounds us. We need to move forward with a profound sense of purpose, with clarity of vision and a pioneering sense of daring.  

Kodak is going to the wall and it shouldn’t be.  Until fairly recently it had plenty of money, loads of highly skilled, intelligent people; access to markets and networks, filing cabinets full of patents, plans and great ideas.  But what did the executive committee do?  They gambled the company’s future on the false notion that, just because they invented a camera for the masses and then went on to produce world class industrial printing machines, perhaps they could somehow dominate the consumer market with Kodak printers too.  They honestly believed that somehow the mighty competition would politely step aside and let it happen. And where would they try and sell these very cheap desktop printers?  Via their existing photographic dealers and retail outlets!  

You only have to look at any high street camera shop and you will see the hopeless lack of vision they are all suffering from.  Tired products on emptying shelves with only a vain hope that somehow the phone manufactures will stop improving their built in cameras and that someone will come into their shop on the weekend and want to buy something they still have left in stock at a price way above what is available on the internet.

Right now, the very foundations on which we all do business are changing so fast that we have no choice other than to rely upon the wisdom that we have accumulated over the years; not to guide our decision process, but to give us the confidence to think outwardly and positively. In short we need to embrace the real reason for doing things and not kid ourselves by our ‘fail safe’ arguments.

So the next time you have to convince someone of the way forward, forget the usual bullshit arguments and talk about the challenge ahead and the energy and dedication that will be needed to achieve it.  For nothing in life ever worth achieving was done out of purely ‘good’ and logical reasons alone. We all know that the hidden agenda is the one worth unearthing and celebrating, because if we are honest with ourselves it is the only one that can fire enough passion to make things happen!

Have a good week,


PS: To be fair to Brian Arthur, I have taken his quote out of context in order to make a point (see more here).