| BEEP! BEEP! |
By Chip R. Bell and Oren Harari
Genre: Business & Money
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"And in This Corner, Weighing Twenty-three Pounds . . ."
Two cartoon characters meet on the New Mexico desert to match wits. Spectators are instantly struck by the David and Goliath parallel. The program that came with the tickets says that coyotes can run thirty miles per hour . . . and this particular coyote is hungry, already tasting his next meal. And it tells us that roadrunners can't really flysoaring short distances is about itand can run sixteen miles per hour . . . tops.
Wile E. Coyote brings several other advantages to the fray. He has a seemingly endless arsenal of roadrunner-trapping gadgets, provided by a mysterious manufacturer named Acme. And he relentlessly uses these tools against his scrawny, defenseless opponent with great cunning and stealth. He is a master planner, obsessed with visions of fricasseed roadrunner!
The line on this match heavily favors the Coyote. Who would bet a dime on the multicolored, gawky bird who seems oblivious to the fact that a contest is even underway? Yet time and again, the Road Runner eludes and escapes! As we toss the stubs of our betting slips, the Road Runner's victories baffle us.
The Road Runner's feats defy logic. He races through imaginary tunnels as if they were real. He never gets wet when there's water everywhere. He outmaneuvers a faster, stronger opponent by making speed superfluous. He turns the ingenuity of his opponent into embarrassing results . . . so embarrassing that spectators laugh, even though they bet on the Coyote. How can we comprehend such absurdity? The Road Runner has a secret that Wile E. never figures out. He is operating under completely different rules. He understands what Albert Einstein once said: "You can't solve the problems of a paradigm from within the paradigm."
This book is about the Road Runner paradigm. Wile E. can't even pronounce paradigm, much less understand that as long as he clings to an outmoded set of assumptions to guide his plans and actions, he cannot avoid the blunders and errors that doom him to perpetual hunger.
A paradigm is a way of viewing the worldlike Newton vs. Einstein or Ptolemy vs. Copernicus. You remember from school days studying about the lengths people will go to hold on to their favorite worldview. When nature did not fit the "Earth is the center of the universe" paradigm of Ptolemy's day, astronomers added a fudge factor called epicycles to make it work. Like Wile E., they worked harder to protect conventional wisdom than to give it up. Ptolemys are still out there in full force today.
Success in this new millennium requires a completely new way of managing ourselves and our enterprises. The rules of the road have changed and we must master them quickly if our businesses and our lives are to be successfuland fun. Solving future challenges with present-day patterns will be as futile as the Acme schemes on which Wile E. relies. It's like trying to solve a Zen koan with Western logic (" . . . so, what is the sound of one hand clapping?"). Like Wile E., we scratch our heads in confusion, even after we hear the answer. It isn't that Wile E. doesn't know that he loses; he doesn't understand why he loses! Our hope is that you'll be ready for the riddles of the new millennium by the time you've read the last word on the last page.
Bugs into Bulldozers: Surviving Managers Are Transformers
When a young child was asked to explain why he liked the transformer toys that were the current rage, he said, "They're neat! If I have a plain old toy car I might be able to take stuff off of it and make it a hot rod. But with a transformer, I can turn a bug into a bulldozer!" We believe that the next few years will have us wanting fewer "ordinary cars that can become hot rods" and wanting more "bugs that can be transformed into bulldozers."
The world of enterprise often attempts to operate in a Porsche world with buggy whip thinking. Many "truths" that now are albatrosses around the necks of new millennium pioneers are vestiges of an irrelevant past. It's like public schools still closing for the summer fifty years after the end of the agricultural era. Or, it's like . . .
The patterns, paradigms, and rules practiced in today's world of management and leadership have a long and rich history. And they once worked! But no more . . . take it from Hewlett-Packard CEO Lew Platt: "Whatever made you successful in the past won't in the future."
As we move into the new millennium, we face completely new business realities, requiring completely new management mind-sets and leadership models. The winners in this era will be the nimble, mobile organizations that can, on a dime, gather and shed diverse constituents whose loyalties are less to the current concoction and more to their own competencies and talents. Free-agent mercenaries will be in; gold watches, out. Independent proprietors will be in; subordinates, out. New realities call for new paradigms.
Enter . . . the Road Runner! The Road Runner is unencumbered by mass and fat (and meetings, and sign-off approvals, and huge sunk costs, and politicking). He is the essence of versatility, ingenuity, turn-on-a-dime agility, zigzag mind-set, and sheer joy. The Coyote relies on a ploddingly predictable set of tactics and style of executionincluding his dependence on one of the most inept suppliers imaginable. He's stuck in a rut, which invariably costs him his meal . . . and his pride.
A Map for the Millennium
The contrasts between roadrunners and coyotes are most instructive for leaders who seek a map for maneuvering in the new millennium. If you look at the Spirit of the Road Runner as a desired effect or result, what is the process for achieving it? Stated differently, if you wanted your organization or unit to be a roadrunner among coyotes, if you wanted all your employees to act more like roadrunners and less like coyotes, what actions would you take as a leader? Beep Beep is about bringing a new spirit to the work world. It is intended as a practical blueprint and a courage-builder for business pioneers who are unwilling to be lulled into complacence by the latest Acme trick or fooled by a painted tunnel. The book is designed to be your periscope for envisioning the future and a guidebook to ready you for the trip from here to there. It is a working bookone aimed at being more edgy than conventional, more vivacious than staid, more sensible than scholarlyand much more about practice than philosophy.
It's important to emphasize that Beep Beep is not a simple homage to small companies. There are many little coyotes out theresmall companies or units that are slow in decision-making, ponderous in market response, ruled by a dictator, behind in technology, and just plain uninteresting in the products and services they offer. The issue is not big vs. small. In the Age of Road Runner, the issue is, which species are you striving to be? The key question this book seeks to answer is: How can I help my team, unit, or organization become a roadrunner? This book will show you how to prepare forand succeedin the Age of the Road Runner. But beware! The Road Runner himself is giving us a very important clueand warningthat we must heed before getting on the racetrack to our future. Review these two scenes and guess the clue he gives us.
Wile E. holds a medicine bottle. A tight shot on the label reveals its contents: "Acme Hi-Speed TonicContains vitamins R-P+M." He gives a spoonful to a small mouse, who runs around at turbo speed. Wile E. then drinks the whole bottle and jets off turbo speed in pursuit of the Road Runner. The Road Runner suddenly stops, extends his foot, and trips Wile E., who goes tumbling into a construction zone and into a small shed with a door sign, "Danger. Dynamite. Keep Out." The shed explodes, sending Wile E. through the chimney and into space.
The scene opens with a close shot on a box labeled: "One Acme Jet Propelled Pogo Stick." Wile E. removes the pogo stick, starts it up, mounts it, and waits for the Road Runner to run by. As the Road Runner races by, Wile E. starts pogoing up and down in hot pursuit. But he soon loses control of the pogo stick and goes straight backward over a cliff.
What these scenes show is that you cannot remain a coyote and expect to compete against roadrunners by simply copying their movements. Sure, the coyote can buy high-speed tonic or jet-propelled pogo sticks, but his body and soul are still coyote. If you are a coyote team or organization, no matter what fads or quick fixes you jump into, you are just imitating a roadrunnerand the real thing will beat you every time. In this book, we'll help you learn to be the real thing. Sometimes we will be focusing on roadrunner organizations, sometimes on roadrunner leaders. Success comes through embodying the spirit of the Road Runner, whether that application is to a person, a team, or an entire organization. The cartoon characters created by Chuck Jones are both male. But we approach the concepts of roadrunner and coyote as gender-free. Likewise we will refer to the cartoon characters by their proper names: Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. We will refer to the concepts in lower case.
Take a Closer Look
Wile E. Coyote is preoccupied, earnest, conniving, and grim. The Road Runner is joyful, light, and free. Wile E. does nothing but go from pursuing one meal to the next, with perpetual frustration; the bird is gleefully living life to the fullest. The results are always the same: Wile E. somehow manages to dig himself into the hole of failure, while the Road Runner strides on, undeterred and unaffected by life's bumps and obstacles.
Are you a coyote? Or are you a roadrunner? And how about your organization? We all like to think we're roadrunners. The truth is most of us are not. After all, the coyote way has worked for years. In the coyote world, solid professional management means being persistent and focused. Coyotes are lean and meanespecially "mean." Coyotes develop a smart idea or great plan . . . then ruthlessly obsess on execution, never deviating from the plan until they reach the last step. Coyotes never give up or stray from the course. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?
Coyote thinking has worked in the past. But supervisors, managers, and executives, if pushed to be candid, will confess that in the last few years the old formulas for success are beginning to feel wobbly. Pressing the pedal harder only spins our wheels in place, maybe even digging us in deeper.
Too many of our goals seem unreachable, the pace seems too fast to negotiate the steep slope ahead. It feels like we've bought a bill of goodsperhaps from the Acme Company. We got the right degrees from the right schools, paid our dues, and kept our noses clean, yet now watch raw, unrefined upstarts (sometimes college dropouts) outdo us by redoing the rules. What do these mavericks know that we don't?
As we watch the cartoons, there are many reasons we admire the Road Runner. He's a free spirit, marching to his own drum above the mundane, minute, and meticulous. He's light, joyful, and seemingly fearless. He's fast, bouncy, and always looking ahead. And he's garbed in glorious color, not dull like the Coyote. It's somehow much easier to imagine Wile E. in a drab three-piece suit than the Road Runner.
We have mixed feelings about Wile E. Coyote. He's true to his name"Wile E."as in sly, cunning, clever, crafty . . . wily. We admire his tenacity and endurance; yet we disdain his dark side. There's an appealing curiosity in him in a sinister sort of way. But he's way too myopically obsessed . . . which leads to narrow vision and appallingly poor execution. We appreciate his ingenuity. Yet he operates out of such a small, narrow picture of the world that he's unable to adjust to his environment. His goals are winner take allhe wants to kill and eat the competitionliterally. He defines the game as win-lose and, ironically, becomes the loser.
Scene opens on an Acme Street Wagon, a 500-pound anvil, a self-inflating weather balloon, and an electric fan. Wile E. stands in the wagon, which is attached to the balloon, anvil tied to one side, fan on the other. He checks the contraption over and turns on the fan. The fan propels him over the edge of the cliff. As he flies smirking through the air, he spies the Road Runner through the clouds, zooming along the road. He unties the anvil and drops it over the side. The sudden loss of weight causes the balloon to shoot up. Then the tie holding the balloon begins to unravel, causing the balloon to release its air and jerk around wildly. Finally, all the air is out of the balloon, Wile E. falls, passing the anvil on the way down, and crashes onto the road. The anvil falls on his head. The Road Runner runs over the anvil.
Thinking of trying a middle ground? Forget it. It's impossible to be a blend of Wile E. and the Road Runner. You might alternate from one persona to the other, but you can never be both at once. Biologically and organizationally, the two will never merge . . . there will never be a Wile E. Roadrunner! Taking the moderate, safe route in search of a hybrid not only produces deformed offspring like the mule; it leads to sterility and extinction.
The Origin of the Chase
The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote were born on September 16, 1949, in a cartoon titled Fast and Furry-ous, the creation of Warner Bros. cartoonist Charles Martin "Chuck" Jones. "The Road Runner seemed funnya bird that runs," wrote Jones in his autobiography, Chuck Amuck. "They're like flying fish of the land. And the Coyote, by his very nature, is never well fedhe's always hungry. So you don't have to explain it. You come across a coyote chasing a roadrunnerhe'd chase anything."
Jones chose the name Acme Corporation as Wile E.'s sole supplier because, as he describes in his autobiography, "My sister Dorothy fell in love with the title Acme, finding it was adopted by many struggling and embryonic companies because it put them close to the top of their chosen services in the Yellow Pages. Acme and Wile E. were the perfect symbiotic relationship; whatever his needs were, Acme was there to supply. No money was ever involved."
Jones established a framework for the Road Runner cartoons that gave them resilience and coherence. In his book he outlines some of the boundaries.
Excerpted from BEEP! BEEP! , by Chip R. Bell and Oren Harari . Copyright (c) 1999 by Chip R. Bell and Oren Harari . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top