Tapping into the Power Grid: A Series

What fuels the long-term success of an organization? It’s a question that senior leaders ask over and over, and one that generates a variety of answers. Our people. Our values. Our competitive advantage. All correct, but not sufficient on their own. Because thriving companies don’t just tap into one power source. They tap into six, or as I call it, the power grid.

Brainpower, horsepower, willpower, power of the heart, power of the team and lore power — when used properly — are the reliable energy that every prosperous enterprise needs. It is this alchemy of attributes that makes the organizations that have it hum and fire on all cylinders.

Over the next several months, I’ll share more about these power sources. But I’ll start by focusing on the intellectual fuel of an organization — brainpower.

As Steve Forbes astutely points out in his foreword for George Gilder’s book Wealth and Poverty, “the greatest source of wealth creation is the human mind.”

That’s why the best organizations are teeming with lifelong learners. These curious folks are pushing each other in collaborative fashion to maximize their collective minds and to secure a competitive advantage. Not the type that resides in not knowing the most, but one that comes from absorbing the most and, as a result, staying ahead of the competition.

Salesforce, the cloud-based software company headquartered in San Francisco, is a prime example of an organization that attracts lifelong learners and takes full advantage of their brainpower. The company was founded in a small apartment in San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill in 1990. Now, it has over 32,000 employees and was ranked in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2018.

They have two key characteristics that really strike me. First, their culture of accountability ensures that they empower and inspire their employees to deliver customer success. Secondly, they have an ongoing cycle of learning that motivates their people to work hard, have fun and give back to their community.

But the focus on lifelong learning doesn’t spring up organically. The leaders of highly successful organizations, who are not distracted by their success, walk the walk on the learning front. They are curious. They are students. They are teachers. They remain humble. Their brains are moving rapidly as they contemplate various ways their operations can be better today than yesterday. They don’t just model good leadership, they epitomize “learnership” — teaching and molding their people as they themselves strive and stretch to reach new business-acumen heights.

Charlie Munger serves as the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. This role has given him an inside look over the last 40 years into the ways and business patterns of his good friend and business partner, Warren Buffett. Munger says there is one quality of Buffett’s that he holds in very high regard — Buffett’s steadfast commitment to be a lifelong learner.

In a commencement speech to the University of Southern California, Munger said, “If you take Warren Buffett and watched him with a time clock, I would say half of all the time he spends is sitting on his rear end and reading.”

Munger went on to say to the USC students that “without lifelong learning, you’re not going to do very well. You’re not going to get individually very far in life based on what you already know.”

That same belief is at the heart of every thriving organization, but it’s not the only source of success. Next time, we’ll explore the extra gear that companies tap into — horsepower.

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