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How to Make Good Choices from Ivory Towers

by Larry Chiang on June 3, 2011

Larry Chiang helps engineers graduate with street-smarts. What they don’t teach in b-school they now do teach in engineering schools and via the Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s channel “What They Don’t Teach You at Business School”. He holds a JBA (Jedi in Business Administration). After Chiang’s Harvard Law keynote, Harvard Business wrote: “What They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School“ (the same title as his NY Times bestseller). If you read his scandalously awesome “How to Hack at AfterParty“, “What a Supermodel Can Teach a Stanford MBA” and “How to Get Man-Charm”, you will like his latest post:

How to Make Good Choices from Ivory Towers

By Larry Chiang

I get to go to board meetings.

A lot of them border of the cliche of an Ivory Tower meeting.

Ivory Tower meetings imply
– disconnection with reality
– elitism to the n-the degree
– general pompousness of upper management dictating ludicrous commands to troops in the trenches

Ivory Towers are not exactly in tune with reality
Art credit: HideYoshi

Well, here is actually some insight as to how to actually make good choices from the tower of ivory:

-1- Location Aware

Selecting a meeting location at the Four Seasons Palo Alto when you’re discussing micro-loans to inner-city  is silly

At UCMS when we would do QBRs (quarterly business reviews) we would have them on a college campus versus a banks headquarters.

-2- Rotate in a Board Observer

The same people tend to make the same decisions.

Just like a TV show, rotating in a guest star spruces things up.

-3- Pay Some Commission

Cash as commission is tough.

Board members may be seasoned executives but they still like the same stuff that kids like.

Meetings go better with sugar so use cupcakes and cookies to incentivize

-4- Message from the Front Lines

Make board members think they know what the front lines are like is ok. Make them really visit the front or actually bring in front line battle weary soldiers is a big, big gamble.

-5- Customer Feedback

Nothing brings an ivory tower down faster than having it come into contact with real customers.

Nurture your boards’ fragile egos by not bringing in real customers, but instead a board member from the customers board. If they don’t have a board, find some senior person who advises them who is similarly disconnected from reality.

Board members tend to speak board-ese.

-6- Corporate Minutes

Did you record that jaunt to the strip club after the board meeting in Scottsdale Arizona?!

Did you record what was said on the tahoe ski slopes?!

Well corporate minutes are to be taken seriously so discuss what your goal corporate minutes should be looking like BEFORE your ivory tower meeting.

-7- Meeting With Board Members…

Are technically different from board meetings.

With the onus of corporate minutes being taken, no one wants to say or do anything remotely aggressive

A typical Ivory Tower board meeting is where everyone is stating the obvious and recapping business history. What is worse is personal war stories from by-gone eras.

Avoid this by…

-8- Finding a Pastie

A patsy is a fall-guy who takes the blame
A pastie is like a fall-guy who takes the blame it better because it looks good, covers up something awesome and is disposable

An example board member who is a pastie is me.

I come in.
I look good*
I get it done and you dispose of me when the agenda is accomplished

This week the Board of Wal-Mart is meeting.

I’m lobbying for it to meet at the employees lounge of the Scottsdale Arizona store off the 101 freeway. Wish me luck

If you liked this… default

Larry’s mentor Mark McCormack wrote this in 1983. His own book came out 09-09-09. It is called ‘What They Don’t Teach You At Stanford Business School
*** BONUS ***

a party invite for you…

This post was drafted in an hour and needs your edits… email me if you see a spelling or grammatical error(s)… larry@larrychiang com

Larry Chiang started his first company UCMS in college. He mimicked his mentor, Mark McCormack, founder of IMG who wrote the book, “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School”. Chiang is a keynote speaker and bestselling author and spoke at Congress and World Bank.

Text or call him during office hours 11:11am or 11:11pm PST +/-11 minutes at 650-283-8008. Due to the volume of calls, he may place you on hold like a Scottsdale Arizona customer service rep. If you email him, be sure to include your cell number in the subject line. If you want him to email you his new articles…, ask him in an email :-)

You can read more equally funny, but non-founder-focused-lessons on Larry’s Amazon blog

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