Both Auburn and the University of California fired their football coaches within the last week, moves that got me thinking about short-term thinking.
Auburn fired Gene Chizik after a 3-9 season – two years after he had led the team to a national championship. Cal fired Jeff Tedford after 11 years because he’d taken a losing football team (the Bears were 1-10 when he first got the job), turned it into a winning football team (his overall record was 82-57), and then he turned it back into a losing football team (his record over the last three years was 15-22).
They were fired for being unable to fulfill expectations.
But I wonder – is that the coaches’ problem? Was it incumbent upon them to manage expectations, or have we become just too damn impatient as a society?
I can sympathize with these guys. The last full-time job I had, during the tech boom days at the turn of the last century, was a nightmare. My manager questioned my skills and second-guessed my decisions constantly. Because the tech publishing industry in San Francisco in those days was clustered within the same South of Market neighborhood, I was only about three blocks from my previous place of employment. When things were particularly bad at that last job, I remember telling a co-worker, “I didn’t get stupider just by walking three blocks down the street.” Yet the same people who’d been so anxious to hire me initially were now visibly unimpressed with my capabilities, and eventually laid me off when the boom busted (along with half of the staff).
Consider, too, the example of a Silicon Valley company that was once the epitome of greatness: Hewlett-Packard (disclosure: HP has been a client of mine in the past and may be again in the future). In 2005, after six years, its board dismissed its CEO, Carly Fiorina, presumably because the value of the company had dropped by half after its acquisition of Compaq. After that, HP cycled through two more CEOs, each of whom was hired and discarded for various reasons, either personal (Mark Hurd for fudging his expense reports) or professional (Leo Apotheker for trying to turn a hardware company into a software company overnight).
Here’s the problem, as I see it: there’s a new kind of thinking afoot in the world where different is somehow better. Some Mitt Romney advocates supported him not because they thought he would make a better president, but simply because he would be different from Barack Obama. How many people do you know who divorced a spouse or jettisoned a long-time relationship in favor of someone new? Did it turn out better? Or was it just different? The grass is always greener …
Who’s to say that Jeff Tedford wouldn’t have been able to turn around the Cal football team a second time? Who’s to say that Carly Fiorina couldn’t transform HP, given more time and support from the board? It’s arguable, after all, that the company is now worse off after the travesties of her successors. Act in haste, repent in leisure. And think of all the millions everyone could have saved in severance packages!
I know where this thirst for short-term results comes from. It comes from stockholders demanding quarterly results. It comes from ordinary people accustomed to seeing television detectives wrap up crimes in all of 52 minutes. (Let’s get something straight – real DNA tests take about three weeks to perform.) It comes from people like former NFL coach Bill Parcells taking not one, not two, but four NFL teams to the playoffs, most of them within two years of his taking over.
But most people are not Bill Parcells. Most people just do their best and don’t expect to be fired when they hit a slump. We all hit slumps. Most people learn from them. Why? Because we learn more from our failures than our successes. Yet too often people think our failures make us stupider, not smarter.
It’s time we remembered that different is not necessarily better; different is just different.