Business books are often written in the style of Aesop’s Fables. The morals are called “takeaways,” and the items are short enough to read in a minute or two. But the first rule of good writing is to show, not tell, so when I wrote Ice Cream Social, I stuck to the story. I think people will remember a lesson better when they figure it out themselves.
Now that the book is finished, and I am talking and writing blog posts about it, things are different. Talking is telling. I am told that blog readers won’t stay still for more than a few hundred words. And several lessons did occur to me while I was working on the book. The first is, Let The Cowboy Ride.
The very existence of Ben & Jerry’s is based on an innovation. Before Ben Cohen insisted on it, no one had ever mass-produced ice cream that contained chunks of candy, nuts, and fruit. The social mission is a series of innovations, too. Creating a retail store that breaks even while giving on-the-job training to at-risk teenagers was an edgy idea when Jeff Furman first tried it, to give just one example. Ben Cohen and Jeff Furman are at their best when they are experimenting.
The employees I interviewed were all proud of Ben & Jerry’s, but some of the old timers also expressed a longing for the pre-Unilever days when it seemed that anything was possible, that anything could happen. I heard again and again that when Unilever’s standards and practices came in, something important was lost. At the same time, I heard from other employees that it was a big relief when the company’s operations were standardized. That’s because cowboy-style management burns people out.
Whenever a company gets bigger and growth slows down, some of the spontaneity and excitement will go away. And when your owner is Unilever, with 169,000 employees doing business in 110 countries, bureaucracy is impossible to escape. But Unilever lost a great asset when Ben stopped designing new flavors and coming up with his lunatic genius-flavored marketing campaigns. And it almost lost another great asset when it spent a decade ignoring the independent board members and the Sale Agreements that preserved the three-part mission. As your business grows, important to figure out how to retain the entrepreneurial spirit that nurtures the brand. –Brad Edmondson
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