Let me tell you about a group that remains nameless. They don’t want publicity. They don’t want new members. I cannot share names. They gather together to talk freely about business problems and help each other find solutions. It’s amazing to me that this is going on in Chicago. I plan to learn a lot here.
It’s just after dawn on a weekend morning and I’m sitting among Chicago’s top thought leaders by invitation of a friend. The best of Chicago’s business thinkers come here in blue jeans with sleeves rolled up. The members meet me with a warm welcome. The founder holds everybody’s respect and has quite a history, including a street named after him. I also find that I’m now a permanent member. A sweet lady hands me a cup of warm coffee.
I see a number of familiar faces. That breaks the ice for me. One tells me he’s afraid to speak up in this group, so he just listens. I on the other hand rarely hesitate to blurt out an idea or opinion. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not so good. But I embrace the philosophy that says, if I throw ten ideas at the wall and one sticks, I’m good. There’s very little downside to that. What do I care if somebody rips up my argument? I’m fat, bald, old. I know my IQ. What more can anybody say? So I raise my hand and the moderator calls on me in due course.
These meetings follow a couple of formats. One week, a member brings up a problem and the group tries to solve it. Another week, somebody prepares a topic and leads us in discussion. This is high-level thinking, highly stimulating, and I love it.
This week’s speaker presents his problem. Here’s a guy that wrote a famous and highly respected management book. I’m glad to call him my friend.
His problem is interesting. He’s developed an extraordinary software application on the wave of a creative spurt. He has no financial goal for it yet. He wants the project to succeed and help people—maybe 10 million people. If he makes a little money doing good, he’s happy.
He explains the details and I’m amazed that he bootstrapped this complex and practical tool in such a short time at almost no cost. While sitting in venture capital meetings, I’ve seen lesser offerings looking for major funding. This one addresses the pertinent problems, deals with them rationally, and offers real solutions. The inputs are simple and elegant and I wonder how he managed to create this in his spare time. We ask questions—a lot of questions. Then we consider alternate value propositions, added features, and disparate business strategies—the basic steps skipped over because of the speed of the development process. Once we’ve kicked those around, the solutions start coming through a formalized brainstorming process.
I’m a writer and constantly take notes. That afternoon, I am delighted to email my friend an outline of the entire meeting. It occurs to me that I can make use of this brain trust in the future and I feel a smile coming on.
Not all sessions go smoothly. You need to check your ego at the door. On another weekend, a member presents his project but disappoints us by not framing his question. Everybody tries to help, but he turns defensive. Instead of pursuing new ideas creatively, he turns them away with rational arguments. That’s not the way to get to a solution. I doubt he gained anything from the session and I reflect that ego is the stumbling block for most businessmen.
On yet another weekend we’re presented with the question of leadership. What is it? What’s effective? The interesting part of this discussion is that it starts with a number of highly educated definitions, but after the session rolls on it all comes down to delegation. We talk about delegation almost the entire morning. My contribution is as follows: Surround yourself with people more intelligent or more expert then yourself, then facilitate the team.
Check your ego at the door
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