It’s been a few weeks since I visited mijn man-grot aan de Maas: fortunately the flat and the bicycle are still intact and functioning. I may need to prevail on a neighbor to scatter some welcome-tulips around so that there’s some color and life to the rooms, but it’s nice to have the boats and people rushing past along the ‘skade again.
I’ve been fighting a negativity spiral back in the UK for months now. It’s corrosive. When the business tasks get difficult and the milestones stop accumulating, people seem to lose heart and interest. They start looking for a way out rather than a way forward. I’m a can-do optimist, but the daily grind of calling partners, directors, vendors, and lawyers has not been much fun.
I know it’s a game: I play to win and I will succeed. But sometimes, sometimes, I feel like it’s a game I shouldn’t have to be playing at all.
We are facing problems that I understand and know how to solve. I have confidence, drive, and good people alongside. It should be easy, fun.
But with the short time available, our diminishing cash reserves, and need to utterly destroy one thing for the good of all the others, we are facing tough constraints. It becomes stressed, frustrating.
I realize, more than I ever did before, the fragility of business, dependent on intermittent revenues and financing to sustain constant and growing expenses and commitments. It’s worse if you are small, your assets few, your backers distant, and you’ve made a few enemies along the way.
What restores me each day is a combination of big vision and small steps.
Every day I spend time practicing the principles that underlie our business. Bakken’s Medtronic Mission (1960) and Johnson’s J&J Credo (1943) are solid reminders of what a medical device company should strive to be: responsible to their physicians and patients, to their employees, to their communities, and to their shareholders. Both were written by company founders at difficult times in the firm’s early development. Those principles, and the people working to realize them, are the reason we’re in business.
And every day I achieve at least small steps forward. The big problems may not be solved when I turn off the computers and extinguish the lights each night, but I’ve learned something, completed important tasks, contributed towards finding the answers, secured the resources that advance us towards solutions. It’s a bit like learning Dutch, mastered an hour at a time towards Gladwell’s 10,000: there isn’t a fast or simple fix. There’s just the persistence that multiplies the cards in your hand and the skill to play them well.
My favorite film critic, the recently deceased Roger Ebert, wrote that there’s a point where an ending becomes inevitable, when there are no more plans to be made that forstall it. At twilight, I wonder. As CEO, I worry. At 58, I doubt.
I reflected on all off this with a friend, turning 60. How we never feel old because of the living things, family, friends, skills,and interests that connect and enrich life. You only realize how long its really been when you remember the the obsolete technology, vintage cars, broken toys: the things discarded along the way.
Not the living things and relationships that we create grow, and nurture. There are still plans to be made, cards to be laid. We’ll get through this. And if we don’t, well then: As long as I had my family, a patch of land, something to eat, I’d be happy. MR