Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 08/83 item 01 - scanned

CLOSER TO OUR OBJECTIVES (column)

Robert Townsend once wrote an amusing and instructive book called Up The Organisation. It is full of pithy business advice and anecdotes. It suggests wild things like sacking your personnel department, or dispensing with all staff whose title begins with 'Assistant to', but it also contains a number of very useful tips and hints. One that has served me well over the years is the question "Is what I'm doing or about to do getting us closer to our objective?" Just stop and ask yourself that at random moments through the day and you'll be amazed at how frequently the answer is a resounding "No". Well, it is for me anyway.

I'm the sort of person who will go and make a cup of coffee rather than decide an advertising schedule. I'll read MicroScope in preference to answering the mail. I seem to spend days avoiding certain jobs which, when I actually tackle them, are no big deal anyway. There are certainly days when the company seems further away from its objective in the evening than when the day began.

Robert Townsend's 'objective' advice is good because it forces your attention back from the minutiae of what you're doing to what you're trying to achieve. It puts a longer, more strategic view on things and you can quite often be pulled up with a jolt, if you've been beavering away, totally at odds with your objective. Of course, the trick is to know what the objective is in the first place.

A couple of years ago a man came into my office with a software offering for an obscure machine, hoping I could mass market it for him. He had failed to notice while he was deep into the programming that the machine didn't even have a mass-market! I gently pointed out that he should translate it to a more popular machine or operating system if he really wanted to hit the big-time. The product was very good and the machine he had implemented it on was a technical masterpiece. It was also grossly overpriced, had hardly sold and was aimed at the wrong sort of user for our friend's software offering.

Last week our friend reappeared having rewritten his software for a different machine. Somehow he's managed to choose a computer which hasn't sold at all well nor does it look as if it's going to. With its unique programming dialect and operating system it offers our friend no choice but to start again with yet another version of his program. Of course with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight it is clear that he had got his objectives a bit muddled up. He though he needed to install his product on the best machine rather than on a best-seller. His second choice of machine was technically excellent and overpriced too. This time it was even aimed at the right market. It just didn't take off. The serious flaw in his thinking, and it is common with many people who know too much, was that the public makes its decisions on the technical facts alone. Of course, it doesn't. It does for the products with the best publicity, the most software, the nicest dealer, the best support or simply the best price. The one thing it does not go for is the technical specification.

If our friend's objective had been more measurable like "I will sell at least 500 copies of my product in 1983", he would have seen immediately that he had chosen the wrong machine. And even if he was deliberately taking a chance on the machine becoming successful, by regularly monitoring its success against his personal target he would have realised that he'd backed a loser again. To sell 500 copies of a software product, you probably need a few thousand installations to pitch at. By then though he had bought the machine and had spent an awful lot of time converting the product. Could he have brought himself to admit that he'd goofed again? Luckily, he found a site with one of these machines and was able to build a tailor-made system around the 'package' thus recovering his development costs. He's still no nearer his dream of a mass-market package and that's after three years continuous effort supposedly pursuing that objective.

It's easy to see why people pursue wrong objectives. Once they've decided on a course of action they get down to such a level of detail that they lose sight of the broad picture. The fact that their days are busy convinces them that they must be progressing forwards. The good of the company is often better served by sticking your feet on the desk and dreaming of the future rather than getting bogged down in some mind occupying but misguided work.

Will what you're about to do get you closer to your objective?