Monday, January 3, 2011

The Cosmic Banana Peel

My holiday reading included the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by bestselling author Anne Lamott (pictured). It was a gift from Directors & Boards lead columnist Hoffer Kaback. Here is a passage that jumped out at me:

"Remember that whenever the world throws rose petals at you, which thrill and seduce the ego, beware. The cosmic banana peel is suddenly going to appear underfoot to make sure that you don't take it all too seriously."

Were truer words ever spoken? We are all familiar with the dynamic: At the moment, or period, of maximum accomplishment, success, recognition, the cosmic banana peel gets underfoot, resulting in disappointment, disdain, even disaster.

It is true in all fields of endeavor, from sports (Brett Favre, anyone?) to entertainment (Tom Cruise?) to, of course, business (BP, Toyota, Mark Hurd).

For board members and top management, a good two-fold resolution for the coming year will be to not get enamoured with your press clippings or glowing analyst reports and, paraphrasing the famous advice of Intel's Andy Grove (re his book Only the Paranoid Survive), be paranoid — of slipping on the cosmic banana peel.

Actually, as I heard it put by another cautious soul, it's not just a question of being paranoid but . . . are you paranoid enough?

Watch your step every step of the way as you exercise leadership and judgment in 2011. Don't let this be the year that you — and your shareholders — take a fall, courtesy of the cosmic banana peel.