There's no conversation stopper quite like death. As life's ultimate punctuation mark, it remains a taboo subject in most circles. So how is thinking about death good for your business?
I've just finished reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz, and was struck by this passage:
I follow the principle of the Bushido--the way of the warrior: keep death in mind at all times. If a warrior keeps death in mind at all times and lives as though each day might be his last, he will conduct himself properly in all his actions.
Strategically, business leaders know that it always makes sense to begin with the end in mind--the end typically being the conclusion of a project or achieving specifically defined business goals. But visualizing death is infinitely more personal--and important.
A healthy and regular awareness of the end of our days on this planet should serve as inspiration for greatness. Maybe I'm especially aware of the need for urgency because of my personal history. My wife died when she was just 47 years old, after we had been married for 26 years. My mother died at the age of 46 while I was in college.
The idea isn't to be in a constant state of morbid depression. Rather, it's about the importance of seeing the big picture and the finiteness of our lives; from there, we must rise to the challenge by never being complacent and never standing still.
One of my company's core values is to Improve Continuously, a value lived out by employees daily that encourages (and rewards) evolving in both our personal and professional lives.
The idea of continuous growth is even more crucial to success when placed into a life-or-death context. Simply put: Each day at the office puts us one day closer to the grave, so let's make it count and lower the obstacles to greatness that more shortsighted folk may place before themselves.
Invest in Your Future
We use this same ethos in many parts of our business. Act now. Grow now. Experiment now. When looking at ways to improve customer experience, we don't set up a task force to spend months plotting our next big move. Instead, we move quickly with measureable steps to hit our goals. What doesn't work gets cast off or improved upon, and onward we march.
In 2008, when the economy collapsed, we grew rapidly with record profits because we made the decision to continue testing and growing with agility. We continued training our people and organically growing our culture, invested in marketing and new advertising platforms. There was never a day when we slowed down out of fear for what might be. We saw the potential for the future (both the good and bad possibilities) and never stopped running toward it.
Business strategy is not about war. It's about living today. In both my business and personal life, staying committed to fully appreciating life and leveraging and building on the great things within it have made the difference between failure and success.
And I realize that it starts with me as CEO. When I live fully in the present and stretch into the future, it sets the tone for my entire organization.