July 6, 2005
News & Opinion: The What and Where Generation
This a little further into the Immelt/Fast Company interview:
What makes a growth leader today, and how does that differ from the sort of leader who was effective at GE in the past?
GE has always been a believer in leadership development. When the economy was growing at 5% a year, when oil was $14 a barrel, and when the world was at peace, the science of management was all about the how-to. That was the how-to generation. You didn't have to think about the what. Instead, there were management initiatives such as Six Sigma, which was the how.
So most of management literature, certainly for the past 10 years, was all about the how-to. I think we're now in the what-and-where generation. Global economies are slow and more volatile. Oil is at $50 a barrel. So this ability to pick markets, growth trends, customers, and to do segmentation-that is management today. We have a generation of people who know how to process flow charts. We have a generation of people who know how to do quality function deployment and things like that, but don't necessarily know why we're doing them. What's the what and the where? I believe that wholeheartedly. Nothing is completely black and white. But we are in a completely different cycle of what good managers know how to do.
This is what Jack (and I mean Covert) has been saying about business books. It is kind of cool to see the CEO of the largest, most successful company in the world saying the same thing (I should mention I am a GE alumni).
I think the great business books right now are the ones that give us a different way to look at the world -- Blink, Wisdom of Crowds, A Whole New Mind, The World is Flat. It is about starting the conversation, but not necessarily being given the conclusion. These books don't give the how-to to go do it. And that is because the world is changing and the next set of rules and practices aren't clear yet.
So while we are travelling through this crazy time, you need to keep an open mind and be willing to read a different kind of book.