Living in “Permanent Beta”

Today I was listening to an interview with Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, the world’s largest and most influential resume hosting and networking site.   The first part of his interview was about living in “permanent beta” – that is to say never considering yourself, or your business a finished product.  According to Hoffman, you should never think of yourself as “having arrived”.

He went on to say that a “having arrived” attitude can cause a giant of any industry to fall.  He used General Motors as an example:  In the 1950s the business was an empire unto itself with over half of the cars on the roads of America bearing one of their emblems.  And, yet the once legend of industry faced bankruptcy in 2009 and again in 2012.

I was intrigued so I did a little more digging on my own.  Here is a telling comment about GM that I found on The Week:
“Finance executive Nancy Rottering, who quit in frustration in 1987, said the attitude at headquarters was, “We’re GM. We know everything, we don’t need to change.” Executives were literally walled off from the rest of the company behind the double electronic doors to the 14th floor of GM’s Detroit headquarters. They entered the building through a private basement garage and took their gourmet meals in private dining rooms. They rarely interacted with customers or even their own dealers, who knew firsthand their customers’ likes and dislikes.”

Easy to read that and shake our heads and say how dumb and ignorant the leaders of GM were.  BUT, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves falling into some of the same patterns as dance studio owners.  We shut ourselves in our offices and defend our positions because we “know best” – we are the professionals after all, right?.  If we feel beaten down by parents, we avoid interacting with them and shrug off teacher’s input because they don’t understand the big picture, even though they experience first hand the students’ likes and dislikes.  And while I can’t say that I’ve ever had a private gourmet meal at my studio, I can say that I have entered through the backdoor to avoid the crowd in the lobby.

So, after listening to the interview I drove straight to the studio to do some “Beta-time”.  I greeted parents and students as they entered, commented on their pretty Halloween costumes (it is wear-your-costume day:), interacted positively with three employees, walked the halls and talked to parents, and most importantly…I just listened.

When I listen, I learn what the next step is that I need to take in order to grow and serve the students entrusted to my care.  When I listen, I avoid the path of GM.