My partner in this conversation is Bo Burlingham. Bo is an editor-at-large of Inc. magazine and the author of five books which have profoundly impacted the trajectory of values-led, intentional business around the world.
Bo’s work has been such a big inspiration to me and foundational to a lot of my thinking over the years, so it was such a privilege to sit down with him. I don’t know of anyone that has explored more deeply, through real-world examples, what it means to build a meaningful business.
Bo has given name and voice to multiple movements that continue to shape the world of business, such as open book management, transparent start-ups, and the idea of small giants—companies that live from the truth that greatness and bigness have nothing to do with each other.
This is a fascinating conversation for anyone interested in exploring what it takes to create a business that is both personally and externally meaningful. We discuss questions such as what does it actually mean for a company to be great? What makes a company meaningful? What is the foundation of a values-driven approach to business? What are the roots of business success and service? And, what makes for the kind of business that makes everything it touches better for the contact?
I saved this conversation for episode 50, because it felt appropriate to celebrate that milestone by talking with one of the people whose work has most shaped the way I see the world of business and what’s possible with companies as a force for good progress in the world.
Please enjoy sitting down with the sage, Bo Burlingham.
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Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew Skotzko 00:01:42 Bo officially, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
Bo Burlingham 00:01:48 Doing great. Thank you, Andrew. Pleasure
Andrew Skotzko 00:01:50 To be here. Oh, thank you. It’s absolutely. My pleasure. So I think I said this to you before we hit record this, one’s a real treat for me and for the listener. You’ve probably heard me talk about those work before Bo, I think I’ve said this to you, but I just want to formally say thank you because your work over the years has very quietly without me even quite realizing it until we were getting ready for this conversation. Been foundational to the way I think about things in business. And there’s a lot of ideas that I didn’t even realize I think had originally come from your work that I’ve now realized like the lineage of those ideas goes back to the things you’ve put into the world. So first off, thanks.
Bo Burlingham 00:02:26 Well, uh, believe me, every idea I’ve had, I’ve stolen from somebody else. So, uh,
Andrew Skotzko 00:02:32 You’re really good at it.
Bo Burlingham 00:02:34 I try to be, I try.
Andrew Skotzko 00:02:36 It’s working. It’s so interesting. We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this conversation. Uh, there’s, there’s a real through line. We’re going to talk about a lot of, you know, some of your past work, but also the new things you’re working on now and exploring now, there really is a real through-line there of how do you create and build and operate and exit a company that really matters. And we’re going to talk a lot about that, but I just wanted to ask you something. It just occurred to me when I look over some of the books that, of yours that I’m talking about, right? The Great Game Of Business, Small Giants, Finish Big, the other ones you’re working on now, and you seem to have this knack for like sniffing out these ideas. Like, I dunno, you just like sniff, pull them out of the ether. And these ideas have gone on to be like full on movements. I mean, Great Game Of Business, basically, as far as I know, launched the entire concept of open book management and that’s like the root of all the transparent startups, they’re open startups that people are doing now, how do you find these things? Like how do you decide what to work on?
Bo Burlingham 00:03:30 I, I will say this, the Great Game Of Business. Uh, it’s an interesting story because, uh, you know, the Great Game Of Business is really Jack. Stack’s thinking my, when I, when I write a book with somebody, my goal is to disappear basically. And I want the readers to feel as though they’re hearing directly from the people who have my coauthor, because the people who I do this with actually I’m on a third one right now, but the, uh, you know, it’s really Jack and norm Brodsky. They have a lot of wisdom. That’s why I wound up working with them. And I think that what they have to say is important and sort of my job is to just put it in context, in a form that is accessible to as many people as possible.
Andrew Skotzko 00:04:16 You’ve, you’ve been exposed to so many things over the years. Do you get some gut, like spidey sense when you’re like, oh, this one’s got legs? Or how do you know?
Bo Burlingham 00:04:23 How do you know she had never heard of it as spidey sense, but, uh, uh, I do, you know, I I’m, I’m like everybody else. I, you know, if I hear something and it strikes me as interesting, I don’t know. I don’t know exactly why it strikes me as interesting. It has to do with, you know, just who I am and, uh, something comes along and it, a lot of it has to do with just my whole relationship to business, which is, um, you know, this business did not come naturally to me. I was, I was in my youth. I was very anti-business. I thought this was the, uh, uh, the root of all problems in the world. And, uh, I mean, and
Andrew Skotzko 00:05:08 Can you go from a kid who thinks business is the devil to be, you know, the editor of Inc and writing what she right now has that happened?
Bo Burlingham 00:05:15 Well, I, um, I, uh, what happened was that I needed a job. I, um, I had been a freelance writer, um, and, you know, freelance writing is not really not like having a job. It’s, uh, you know, it’s sort of feast or famine and mainly famine. And, uh, and I had a family, I had two young kids and, uh, I finally got to the point where I realized that, you know, I need to get a real job where I’m going to get a paycheck every week. And, um, I happened to receive a call from a head hunter at that point. And the headhunter had been, a friend of mine had referred her to me. And, um, she was doing a search for fidelity investments. And, and I told her, she said that they were looking for a writer. And I said, well, I can tell you one thing for sure.
Bo Burlingham 00:06:22 They don’t want me. Um, I said, I don’t know the difference between a stock and a bond. I wish it was true. I didn’t know the difference between a stock and a bond. And she said, oh, don’t worry about that. They can teach you all that. They, they, what they wanted, somebody who can write, I was in need of a real job at that point. And I said, okay, well, I’m willing to go in and talk to them. So I went in and, uh, um, we, and I, I was interviewed and, uh, uh, they offered me a job. So I began going into work. I mean, I would get dressed up, put on a suit and tie every day and, uh, you know, go into work in Boston. I was living in Cambridge and, uh, uh, fidelity was in Boston. And, uh, I would do what they asked me to do.
Bo Burlingham 00:07:19 Um, you know, I, I will say this is that by that point, I had become a very serious meditator. Yes. And I had, uh, I, I, my boss, I went to my boss and, and, and I said, listen, I, I don’t really need to take a lunch break or anything like that, but I do need a little time in the afternoon to meditate. And he looked at me and said, oh, you’re a ma I didn’t say I was a manager. I said, I need a little time to myself in the afternoon. And he said, oh, you’re a meditator. And I said, yes, I am. Are you? He said, yes, yes. There are a lot of us here who are meditators. And I said, really, um, I wound up hooking up with some of them and we’d all meditate together. And, uh, you practice it’s, it’s just, uh, you know, the, uh, my Rishi, uh, Maharishi, Mahesh, Yogi, uh, what is transcendental meditation that’s right.
Bo Burlingham 00:08:18 And, um, there comes my cat. Um, and, uh, so I began working there at fidelity and, you know, from where I was coming from, this was like the belly of the beast. Um, but, uh, and I found that it really wasn’t anything at all. Like what I had imagined it would be, uh, these were all really nice people who were really trying to do their best in the world. And, you know, and there wasn’t anything evil that was going on here. That was really my introduction business. And it was the sort of the first step that made me think maybe I need to go back and reevaluate some of the things that I believed. I mean, after that, I would read, uh, articles in, uh, places like the nation about the financial services industry. And it was like reading my old FBI reports, um, because it was likely sort of knew what was going on and they got some of the facts. Right. But they really didn’t understand how it all fit together. So I just kept going on. And, uh,
Andrew Skotzko 00:09:31 Was there a moment where kind of the light bulb switched on for you that, Hey, there’s another way to do this?
Bo Burlingham 00:09:37 Well, it was gradual. I wouldn’t say it was one Mo I mean, there were a lot of moments. There were a lot of moments when, uh, things that I had thought were true. I had to say they weren’t true. Um, there was, it was a whole other way to look at this. So I was, I was at fidelity for a year. And, um, and then I got a call from a friend of mine who I had been there. He had been an editor, Boston magazine when I had done some writing for Boston. And he was now at this startup in, um, in, in Boston called Inc magazine. And, um, he said that, uh, ink magazine was looking for, uh, writers who had a background in sort of general interest magazine writing, which I did. Um, and, uh, who, uh, who knew something about business? Well, I’d been at fidelity for a year, so of course that’s about all I knew about business.
Bo Burlingham 00:10:44 And so I went and I said, well, yeah, okay, I’ll go. I mean, I had a choice at that point. I could’ve stayed at fidelity. I’d probably be a lot richer today. If I had, you know, I would have probably gone into marketing or something like that. And I don’t think it would have been a bad life, but, uh, it, it didn’t feel, uh, natural to me. Um, and so I, I went and I talked to the folks at fidelity and, uh, they decided to offer me a job. So I, I, um, I, well, I told them, I told my colleagues at fidelity that I was going to leave and, and, uh, you know, take this job. And they all, maybe they had a better idea of me than I did because they all said, well, yeah, that makes perfect sense. That’s where you, that’s where you belong.
Bo Burlingham 00:11:34 Um, so, so I went there and, uh, that was an equally, uh, enlightening experience for me, that challenged everything that I thought I knew about business, about business. I mean, the, I, I discovered entrepreneurs. Um, I hadn’t really had no exposure to, or understanding of entrepreneurship until then. And I found that a lot of these, these entrepreneurs are, are actually very idealistic people, um, who, yeah, exactly. A lot of them, uh, had sort of ideas about how you deal with people, which were, I mean, some people would call it progressive. I wouldn’t call it progressive, but they, they, they, they had this very, this view that, um, sort of, as one of the companies that I knew about and wrote about, um, said, you know, yes, it’s true that there’s a lot of terrible stuff that’s going on in the world out here, but that doesn’t mean it has to go on in here and we’re not gonna, we’re not gonna operate that way.
Bo Burlingham 00:12:55 And, um, I, I found that there were a lot of these, uh, entrepreneurs who I’d run into who were politically, they’re very conservative people. They were Republicans, all of them. Uh, but, but if you looked at it internally, how they ran their companies, they were running them with a set of values that were in fact much more geared toward people than a lot of the, I had friends who were liberals, who had businesses and they weren’t anywhere near as idealistic in terms of how they ran their companies. And they were sort of cynical about it. Whereas these other people were, um, you know, very, very idealistic about it. This really sort of opened my mind in, in a way I hadn’t, I certainly hadn’t expected by this point. I, I pretty much discarded a lot of this stuff that I had previously believed. I said, I would say that the biggest impact came in 1985 in 1986, when I met Jack stack. And I saw what he was doing at this company in Springfield, Missouri. And, uh, it was shocking, frankly. And it was particularly shocking in that context in the 1980s, because there was nobody who was saying, believing that you should in fact, uh, share your financial numbers with your employees. That was absolute heresy. Most people thought he was crazy. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And, uh, I was fascinated by this.
Andrew Skotzko 00:14:44 Thank you so much for sharing that story with me, because I, you know, with a Great Game, that book has been recommended to me by so many people that I’ve had on this podcast that, you know, I think I said this to you when we were talking last month, I was like, okay, I, now I, now I really have to read this book because you and I are gonna talk. So I gotta really do this thing now, now that we have a real sense for kind of how we got here, kind of what your backstory is. I’d love to kind of, you know, move, let’s jump forward in time and talk about some of the stuff you’re working on now. Um, and just to really quickly lay a conceptual foundation for folks who haven’t read your books already. Um, so we just spent a bunch, you know, we just talked about the Great Game Of Business. Um, but when somebody, you know, your other book that I think you’re probably best known for is Small Giants. Um, when someone, you know, someone who’s never read that book, isn’t familiar with it. Like what’s the short version you give people when they say, Hey, Bo, what’s a small giant, just so people understand what that means.
Bo Burlingham 00:15:35 It’s the subtitle companies that choose to be great instead of big. And, and, and, and what it’s really actually about a very simple concept, namely, what does it mean for a company to be great? Um, and you know, I I’ve talked to Jim Collins about this and he has is what is the difference between Small Giants and good to great is obviously there are many differences, but one of them is I’m a big admirer of Jim and his work. I think it’s, it’s terrific. You know, it’s had a huge effect on me and, and, but all of his companies are publicly owned companies and that frankly, they are very large, publicly owned companies. There’s a danger or that, that Jim is aware of that people confuse getting big with getting great. Uh, he doesn’t really address that directly in good to great. Um, and that’s what I was addressing and Small Giants, namely, basically one, once you say that, that, that greatness and bigness have nothing to do with each other, that, um, they’re just different, they’re totally different concepts.
Bo Burlingham 00:17:02 Um, and once you, once you’re aware of that, once you realize that you realize that you have a choice and the choice is if your main focus is you want to build a great company, um, you need to define what that means for you and different people may have different definitions of that. Um, and then you have to ask the question about, you know, since growth is, uh, it’s part of business, um, and, and, you know, all businesses are growing. Every book, everybody in Small Giants is growing every company. Some of them have gotten really, really big now. Um, but, uh, the point is, is that if your main goal is to have a great business and you define that, I mean, I found that the companies that I wrote about in small bites actually all had very similar ideas about what a great business was, and it had to do with it mainly with their relationship, with all of the people that they came in contact with, whether that was their community, that they, uh, that they operate, or the communities that they operated in, or their customers or their suppliers or their employees.
Bo Burlingham 00:18:25 These were all companies that were very focused on those arrangements, those relationships being as strong as possible. And, you know, that’s where the whole concept, what I call in the book of mojo, uh, is about it’s, uh, it’s. It was, it was a term that I wasn’t aware of when I started writing the book. Um, it was actually Gary Erickson that, uh, cliff bar who, uh, because, uh, you know, he had, he had had the opportunity to, um, Kraft and Nestle had bought his two biggest competitors now in the balance bar and PowerBar. And he’d gotten an offer from Quaker, uh, for $120 million. And, uh, at first he was going to take it, but then, um, he decided really literally at the last minute, they walked away right before. Right, right. Uh, and, uh, everyone told them it was a totally crazy decision that he was going to be wiped out by these behemoths.
Bo Burlingham 00:19:38 Um, and he, he, he said it was a very brave decision on his part. And he said, well, we’re going to give it a try. And he talked to his people and he said, I think we can, uh, I think we can go ahead. I mean, he, not only did he walk away from this money, but his decision to walk away meant he had one other partner was a 50 50 partner, and she didn’t want to walk away. She wanted the money, she wanted $60 million. And in order for it, because she was a 50% partner, not a 49% partner, she had the power to bring the company down. And, um, uh, Gary wound up having to do a deal with her. And, uh, so I wound up costing him a million dollars more. Um, not only that, so not only was he turning down the $120 million, he was, he was taking on a debt of, uh, eight.
Bo Burlingham 00:20:45 What, what turned out to be $80 million, because, you know, there was interest on the $60 million as he paid it off. You know, the company did w you know, B was still growing. And, uh, in fact it was growing very fast. Um, and, uh, they went to a trade show, um, and, uh, they were approached by a guy at the trade show, um, who was a well-known marketer in, uh, in, in the, in the food area. And, um, he came up to Gary and said, you know, I heard, I heard what you did and walking away. And he said, that was quite a decision you made. And, uh, he said, but, you know, you’ve got quite a lively booth going on here. I mean, there is a lot of energy around it. And he said, he pointed over to the balance bar, that power bar that was right next door and said, well, you know, I don’t know, they lost their mojo. Gary said, mojo, they lost their mojo.
Bo Burlingham 00:22:05 He was thinking about this. And he, he said, he came back to, to, uh, to the company. And he told everybody in the company, this story, and, and, uh, he asked some ball, uh, do you know other companies that have, uh, has lost their mojo? Or what, what do you think mojo is? And, um, and people wrote all kinds of explanations and he gathered them all on a big, uh, notebook, put them together. And then he said, do you think, do you know companies that have lost their mojo and how has that happened? So they got a lot of other ranchers and he put them all together in a big book. You know, obviously it had a big impact on him, um, because he wound up, uh, coming out with a whole line of products called mojo bars. Uh, but, uh, he defined something which, uh, I had noticed in some of the great companies that I’d seen in the early eighties when they were young, which was this sort of indefinable quality that sort of charisma that they had, uh, where, you know, people just wanted to be part of them, be associated with them.
Bo Burlingham 00:23:27 And, uh, yeah. Right. So I figured, well, that’s sort of what I’m looking for here. I’m looking for companies that have that. And then I said, well, the question is, where did it come from? I began to look at what they had, what these companies that I had found had had in common. And, uh, um, you know, it, it had to do, there were, there were certain qualities that the leader said, which, which was very important. And then there were qualities that had to do with the relationships that the companies had to all these people, they came in and, and in touch with. And they said, well, that’s how I’m going to write the book. You know, let’s look at each of these separately. And, um, you know, that was Small Giants. That was the book,
Andrew Skotzko 00:24:20 You know, as I’m listening to you talk about it, I realize that was so foundational to my world view in business. Uh, that idea of, I think that is probably where I got the idea for what became the original name of this podcast, which was enliven. And it was this idea that you could build something like a company that gave life gave more life to every, to everybody had touched. And I, I, I don’t know for sure, but I have a pretty strong feeling that if it didn’t come directly from Small Giants, that that was a major contributor to that worldview. So,
Bo Burlingham 00:24:53 Well, if you read the 10th anniversary edition, you also know that I, as well as the first, you noticed that, uh, there were certain things I got wrong in the first.
Andrew Skotzko 00:25:04 So I saw that you added that bit in the, the second edition of the book, uh, about what has changed. I’m curious, looking back on it now with a few more years, which of the Small Giants that you admire most are still operating. And is there anything you’d add to the book now?
Bo Burlingham 00:25:20 Yes. Um, there are a lot, there’s a lot. Um, what happened was that I chose all these companies in one of the criteria that I used was that I wanted them to have been in business long enough to sort of have experienced the ups and downs of business and remain and remain profitable. And so I thought, okay, so these are, these are companies that really know how to last, right after the book came out. One of the companies I realized was got into serious trouble. It was a rail precision manufacturing. I found it out because I wrote to one of the, it was a company with two CEOs. I wrote to one of the CEOs and I got back a message that was obviously not from the company. It was from the, uh, personal website. And, uh, I contacted the other one and the other CEO, and I said, you know, what’s happened, what’s going on there?
Bo Burlingham 00:26:20 And he said, well, we’ve had some changes. He said, uh, the founders had re had all less the board and the, the new board, which took over from them had decided that, uh, we needed a new CEO and they had basically promoted somebody who is at the company to be the, and that didn’t sit right with. Uh, one, one of the CEOs had already pretty much retired and, and gone to gone on to the board. Uh, the other CEO didn’t want to work under this other guy. And, uh, you know, morale is really down and people are leaving. And, you know, I realized after that happened, that I, I, since I had missed this, I have to write about it. So I, I waited for a while. I couldn’t write about it right then, because there were lawsuits going on and nobody could talk to me.
Bo Burlingham 00:27:26 So I waited until the lawsuits were resolved. I convinced my editor at ink George, that I should, uh, go out and write this other story and, uh, about what had gone wrong. And I did. And it was very interesting story. Actually, what rail did was they were making what are called, um, constant torque hinges. What that means is that, like, if you have a laptop and you put the top up, it doesn’t fall right down. That’s because of a constant torque hinge. And, and they had been the, uh, the pioneer in this, and, um, that had gone very well and for them, and they built the company around that. They, they had some other products as well, that weren’t really related to this. And, and so, um, they, they really sort of banked on this one product. And then what happened was it’s major manufacturers of laptops had all gone off shore, they’d go to Asia.
Bo Burlingham 00:28:42 They were no longer being made in the United States. They were being made in Asia. I think people sort of assume everything’s made in Asia, but initially they weren’t, they were made in the United States. And, uh, and when, when the manufacturer went to Asia, suddenly rail is in a situation where it’s going to start competing with local manufacturers who were also going to make constant torque hinges and who were going to have an advantage is significant advantage. So they’re getting huge margin pressure. Right. Right. Exactly. And, and, and, and they, there was a problem because this was a company that like the other companies, they didn’t want to lay anybody off. Uh, they had, uh, that was against their philosophy and, uh, the whole way that they constructed the company. And they had, uh, you know, they had expanded the company at that point in order to make enough laptop hinges to meet the demand.
Bo Burlingham 00:29:50 But now they’re suddenly, so, so they, what did they do? They went, and they, uh, the absolutely predictable thing happened, which is that, um, there was competition and it was pushing the price down and they had to decide, well, are we going to, um, are we going to stay on the game here and, and, and meet these low prices? And, and, and they said, well, you know, if we don’t do that, then we’re going to have to lay all these people off. And they said, so we feel like we have to do that. So they did it. And they kept, uh, reducing the price under this competitive pressure, um, to the point where, when I went out to visit them afterwards, to do this article, they were making more laptop hinges than ever. And they were losing money on every single one of them.
Andrew Skotzko 00:30:45 We reviewed it, the, the book, the, the lessons around the business model implications necessary, uh, to, to sustain as a small giant were huge for me, they just hit me completely, just completely landed for me in terms of really having to protect your gross margins, um, you know, watching your balance sheet and then making sure you actually have a viable business. Like it’s when you, when you hear that. And you’re like, well, duh, but at the same time in the ordinary pressure of things in the course of business, so easy to overlook those things, if you’re not, you know, if you’re not keeping your eye on that prize, really.
Bo Burlingham 00:31:18 Yeah. Well, the other example of course, was rhythm and hues, which was, uh, you know, uh, just a fabulous company that did computer special effects. And, uh, I suppose their greatest, um, one was the one that they did about, um, life of PI, which was, which was, you know, it had the, the boy
Andrew Skotzko 00:31:43 And the tiger
Bo Burlingham 00:31:46 In the, in the boat with a tiger. And, you know, this was all in the movie and it looked real realistic. And of course it was all computer special effects. There was no tiger in that boat with that, uh, with that kid. Um, and, um, but it was, it was a powerful, powerful movie. And, um, uh, they won the academy award for it. Uh, they, they, as the best picture and the director on it as best director, I believe 11 days after they’ve got the academy, we’re 11 days after they declared for, they went into chapter 11 to protect from their creditors. And eventually, you know, that company really disappeared. Uh, that company had to be, was bought the shell of it was bought by somebody else. Um, but the company that I wrote about the small giant was no longer. And, and there’s actually a very interesting and moving video, which you should watch if you hadn’t got a life after PI w which was about the, uh, uh, you can find it on YouTube.
Bo Burlingham 00:33:06 The irony of the whole thing was John Hughes. Who’s the founder and CEO of rhythm and hues never wanted to lay anybody off and never wanted to like, not provide healthcare for everybody. And in the end, his determination to do that wound up costing everybody else, their jobs. And he, you know, he’s, he said afterwards, he says in that, you know, was it the right decision that I made? And, you know, he didn’t know, but, um, these were both cases where, you know, as you mentioned, that there were certain things that you really have to do. The problem that they had was that the industry it changed and they had a business model that was based on an industry that was in Hollywood. And that was in, that was, um, you know, had a certain structure to, it, had a certain way of doing things and their, um, their own rhythm and hues business model was, was totally fit to that structure.
Bo Burlingham 00:34:16 But then the industry totally changed, you know, began movies being began, made all over the world. Um, and, um, the way that movies, uh, the kind of companies that movies hired to do things including special effects were distributed and, and suddenly, and they didn’t change their basic structure. Yeah. They didn’t, they, they needed to fundamentally change the structure of the business. They didn’t do that. And, you know, again, this is one of those lessons it’s similar to the one with Ray or with, uh, Nick’s pizza, which I is the third example that what got them into trouble were precisely the things that made them a special company, their loyalty to their people and their, uh, you know, unwillingness to sacrifice, um, their people in order to do what was necessary to keep the built the business alive. At least we’re all sort of incredibly enlightening episodes for me.
Bo Burlingham 00:35:32 And, uh, I realized that when we did the tender, we weren’t going to do a 10th anniversary edition. And I went to the publisher and I said, I really think we need to do, to do a 10th anniversary issue because there’s there have been changes and all these companies, and I need to sort of have an afterward or something that sort of brings people up to date with what’s going on with them. And, uh, discoveries that I’ve made, which are very, very important, which were not in the first book. And in this revised edition, I need to add those in. And, and my publisher is a wonderful publisher named Adrian Zackheim. Um, uh, he said, he agreed. He said, that’s fine.
Andrew Skotzko 00:36:18 Well, one thing I’m curious about though, just listening to you, the very things that made these companies so special, unfortunately in those three examples were the seeds of their undoing. There’s this sort of baked intention there, right? Between their commitments to their people and the kind of culture they want to have and adapting and doing what’s necessary to stay in business. And I was just curious, are you familiar with the idea of polarity management?
Bo Burlingham 00:36:41 No, I’m not. Uh, is this, uh, I understand the polarity or I know something vaguely about the polarity and I can sort of imagine what polarity management is. So a little mystical to me, but
Andrew Skotzko 00:36:58 Yeah, no, it’s, it’s, uh, I, it’s not a framework. I know very well, but I was introduced to it and it made a lot of sense to me for solving. It’s sort of a different class of problem, which this sounds like it might be one of those problems. And sometimes we drive ourselves crazy because we try to solve something that is sort of fundamentally unsolvable, right? It’s like a built in almost structural tension. That’s just part of the system, right? It’s just two sides of the coin. Uh, you know, classic ones are, um, the need for growth and the need for stability, right? Those can compete. And that that’s a central theme in a lot of the stuff you’ve written about. And the idea of a polarity is that sometimes things are not problems that can actually be solved in any sort of final definitive sense.
Andrew Skotzko 00:37:42 They’re just a built intention and they ideas you can’t actually solve. One of these tensions. All you can do is manage it well. And when you manage it, well, you get sort of more of the upside of both sides of that system and less of the downside. And so I just found that to be a really interesting idea, because since I learned that idea, I found myself asking sometimes, oh, wait, is this a problem? Or is this a polarity? Or I often my mind goes with it to call it like a paradox. And so I just find myself, sometimes it’s more effective to recognize when I’m in one or the other and, uh, you know, play respond appropriately. Basically. It just seems like that might be maybe useful for some of the tensions you’re talking about.
Bo Burlingham 00:38:23 Perhaps I don’t know, I’d have to Andrew to have to know a lot more about this. Um, you know, I’d have to read something and think about it and so forth. But I would say that in terms of the tension, um, and dealing with that tension, I mean, Ray L wound up dealing with the tension. It’s a better company today than it was when I wrote about it. And, and in fact, the fact that they went through this and then ultimately they did have to lay people off to survive. I mean, is, uh, it was actually a healthy thing for the company. Um, and the con the company is healthier today, uh, because they did go through that. Um, and, um, I would say that, you know, my sort of standard did I measure everything else against is Springfield, remanufacturing, SRC holdings. Um, and the fact when you are in a situation where everybody, what is a business, a business is a group of people who are trying to create something, a product or a service that other people want, and they w they want it so much that they’re willing to pay you more than the cost of whatever it took you to create this product or service they’re willing to pay more because they value it that much.
Bo Burlingham 00:40:11 That’s what profit profit profit is, uh, is, is, is, is a measure of customer value. If everybody who’s in this business sort of understands what is going on and what’s being done and why, and what the dangers are and what what’d, you have to look out for, what could in fact, cause people their job, and you could see that happening enough to be able to make the preparations for it early enough. Um, then, uh, the business will be fine. Um, you know, let me just take a Springfield remanufacturing, for example, one thing that the people there Jack in particular learned after they’d been through a couple of recessions was that these recessions tended to come every 10 years. That was just their experience. And, um, they also realized that if you know, 10 years in advance, that you’re going to have, uh, a recession. At some point, you can prepare for it because a recession is actually for a business that’s prepared a tremendous opportunity.
Bo Burlingham 00:41:32 It’s the time if you’re going to buy other companies, uh, you know, the prices are going to be way down, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a tremendous opportunity, but only if you’re prepared. So they set the goals 10 years ago of a 10 year goal of building a reserve in cash of a hundred million dollars. Now, if they’d been a public company, they couldn’t have done that because a public company, they would have had analysts all over them saying that they’ve got all this cash and they’re not using it is poorly managed, but given Jack and SRCs focus, which was, we don’t want to be wind up in a situation where we’re going to have to lay people off. We want to be absolutely ready for the next recession.
Andrew Skotzko 00:42:27 Yeah. They wanted to not only protect the downside, but have a war chest ready to build an upside.
Bo Burlingham 00:42:32 Exactly. Needless to say, this is the way our politicians should be thinking as well. But, um,
Andrew Skotzko 00:42:37 Yeah, long-term thinking kind of, kind of a good thing. Yeah,
Bo Burlingham 00:42:40 Yeah, yeah. And, uh, so they did, they built up this, uh, this, this war chest, and then lo and behold, what happens, COVID 19, the helicopter who the hell can predict something like that happening. And, and, and what do they have? They’ve got this, uh, this huge pot of cash pile of cash, which is exactly what they need going into this, uh, the COVID recession and, and they’re in great shape. Um, and the fact that everybody knew, I mean, you could have gone out. In fact, uh, I know somebody who did in fact go out in the shop floor and just talk to people and say, well, what are you doing? And they say, well, we have our goal. And our goal is to build this a hundred million dollars in cash, um, to be prepared for whatever comes along, everybody in the company, you can stop anybody in the company and ask, and they would have always told you the same thing. And, uh, they all did tell you the same thing. And, uh, um, you know, it, it, it creates, it makes for a company that just has tremendous strengths
Andrew Skotzko 00:43:57 And focus everybody’s pulling in the same direction that long-term thinking is, is a really interesting pivot point and a super important topic. I think that’s kind of a perfect pivot point into what you’re working on now. I’d love you to talk a little bit about this book with that you’re working on about evergreen companies and the tugboat Institute. Um, when I saw it, I just lit up like a Christmas tree, but I think people should hear it from you. Tell me a little about that.
Bo Burlingham 00:44:20 The tugboat Institute is really it’s companies that are that, uh, Dave warden, who is the founder and the CEO of the tugboat calls, evergreen companies. And by that, he means companies that last and last and last and last, and they just keep going on. Um, there is one company in the, uh, um, Institute that has been in business continuously for more than 300 years. It was chartered under, uh, George is second, not George George the third day when Massachusetts was the Massachusetts bay colony. And, uh, it has been continuously, uh, going forward since then. Now, obviously in order, if you’re going to do that, you have to have some very, uh, principles. So you’re operating on. Um, I mean, there are a lot of companies in this, or in this group that some of them are family companies. Some of them are employee owned companies, uh, but their aspiration, they ask the common aspiration is that they’re going to just keep going on. Um,
Andrew Skotzko 00:45:42 I saw on the website that, you know, and I’m quoting that evergreen businesses are led by purpose driven leaders with a grit and resourcefulness to build and scale private, profitable enduring, and market-leading businesses that make a dent in the universe. And when I read that, I was like, yep, that’s the whole thing right there. And I just thought it was so interesting because, you know, my background is out of the Silicon valley world, and it’s such a different world to you. And I, I’ve been sort of re-educating myself into different worldviews over the last several years. And I really am appreciating that there is this alternative and it, because when I saw it, it just speaks so much to my values and do like, oh, there is another path here that you don’t have to do the, you know, the five to seven year VC, rocket fuel, uh, thing, if you don’t want to, there’s another way to go about this and actually just build a great company that lasts and you know what, not only is that enough, that’s amazing.
Bo Burlingham 00:46:34 That’s actually what you just described is the subject of the book I’m working on with Dave Ford, Dave Borden, he was in the heart of Silicon valley. He was, you know, Kleiner, Perkins, you know what? I was a partner at Kleiner, right? Well, he wasn’t a partner. He, he w he worked for sort of the number one guy at Kleiner in the mid 1990s, John Doerr. And, uh, he was John door’s right-hand man. Uh, in fact, he got recruited to Kleiner right after Netscape, which was the first internet browser went public. And, uh, they had, I think Kleiner had a $4 million stake, which just one day it was a $4 million steak. And the next day it was a hundred dollars steak. And, uh, while he was there, John Doerr the investment into Amazon and the investment into Google and, um, Dave was involved in all of that and sort of his whole worldview was shaped exactly that way.
Bo Burlingham 00:47:44 What you, what you just talked about, Andrew. Um, and there, there were certain, uh, ways of doing things that, um, uh, that he just assumed was the right way to do it, that if you’re going to build a great company, this is what you have to do. And then he began to discover these other companies that in fact, we’re not doing it that way. Um, and he was drawn into them. Any, any began to see what you just said, Andrew, this there’s a whole different way of looking at business. So the book is really about that transformation, his transformation, what was it that his discovery of these companies and what was it about them that really sort of forced him to sort of reevaluate everything that he thought about business? I mean, ideally a reader will get to see that contrast between the Silicon valley way of looking at business and the evergreen way of looking at business
Andrew Skotzko 00:48:59 A hundred percent. I, I am more excited for that book than many. Any other that I know is currently being developed. So, you know, if there’s anything you can, you need to help make that happen, let me know, and I’ll try and help. Uh, but I’m so curious as you’re writing this book, you know, is there a story that is really that you think really represents this transformation that you’re talking about that, uh, you could share?
Bo Burlingham 00:49:20 Well, the transformation is Dave warden’s story. That is, uh, um, that really illustrates the transformation. I mean, in terms of the companies, um, that are operating with them, that, you know, there’ll be lots of stories in the book about the evergreen companies and what they do and how they do it. And, um, how Dave, um, I’ll give you an example. The SAS Institute in North Carolina, uh, is a, is an evergreen company, and it’s a, uh, uh, you know, it does analytics software, uh, and it’s, uh, it’s huge company. It’s a multi-billion dollar company, so it’s not a small giant, uh, but it does adhere to these principles that are frankly, very similar to the ones that the Small Giants have. And one of the things that they’re noted for is their ability to innovate. And in fact, it was quite Christiansen, um, who wrote the innovator’s dilemma and, uh, is sort of the, the number one guy in terms of innovation.
Andrew Skotzko 00:50:41 You know, I think there’s something really interesting when you sit with, with Christianson’s work between the innovation centered work, and then also the value centered work of how will you measure your life. And when you kind of put those together, I think you start to emerge into the kind of space that we’re discussing here. At least that, that was my experience.
Bo Burlingham 00:50:59 I think that’s right. Dave warden had been in touch with Christiansen and, um, Christiansen had urged him to go see his Institute. And so he did, and he took a bunch of members of the tugboat Institute with him to visit. And one of the topics that they talked about was innovation and how they go about innovation. So they talked to, they talked about it and, uh, you know, they told their method and Dave, um, kept waiting as he listened to this store. And he said, okay, well, so when do you write the big check? And they said, we don’t write the big check. And he said, well, you know, you’re, you’re putting in something that is going to require an awful lot of money. Where’s that money gonna come from? And he said, well, it’s gonna come from the customers. So what do you mean by that? It’s going to come from the customers. The customers don’t know what it is. He said, well, in the case of our, the things that we do, the customers will know what is your job as the innovator is to sell it to the customers. If the customers like the idea, and if you’re producing something that they really want to have, they’re going to pay you for it upfront and
Andrew Skotzko 00:52:25 A good old fashioned customer funding. I E bootstrapping I E what we did before VC was the predominant narrative.
Bo Burlingham 00:52:32 Right? Exactly. And, and that was, you know, for, for Dave, this was a revelation because he had just assumed that, you know, business had gotten to the point where if you were going to do something new, you’re going to have to spend lots of money on you are going to have to get investors to put that in. And, um, but they were telling him that the SAS Institute was, no, you don’t have to get investors to do that. You can get customers.
Andrew Skotzko 00:53:00 I read your article from 2015 about building a a hundred year company, which again, values, total values alignment there. And you made a point in it I really resonated with, right. Which is, you’d think, especially as you look at the decreasing costs of producing software and non non-physical technology, basically all your costs are in the people. Right. But once you’ve got it going margins for like SAS, businesses are extraordinary, you know, gross average, gross margins around 80%. And so you think you’d have a lot more of this kind of business, right? You’re like, well, you have the margins to reinvest in your own growth, especially if you actually have customers paying you for the thing. So, you know, one might expect, you’d see a lot more of this business and not actually need the VC funding because you have lower capital requirements.
Bo Burlingham 00:53:56 Right. It’s true. Um, and, uh, yeah, no, you’re absolutely right, Andrew, they, uh, the thing is this, and, and Dave was there when it happened. Was it, there was a huge philosophical change in Silicon valley from where it had been originally, which is we’re going to build companies, we’re going to give them enough money to get going. And then we’re going to get paid back when they go public or when we sell them. But before that can happen, they have to have several quarters, seven quarters, eight quarters of profitable growth, because that’s what people are going to be buying. They’re going, they’re going to be buying the future margin really with Netscape. And it was really, it really centered around Netscape. And if you haven’t read Michael Lewis’s book on the new, new thing, you really should read that. I’ll check that out. It’s about this pivot point. And so on valley, everything changed. They saw, you know, Netscape went public hadn’t hadn’t ever turned a profit. That changed everything. It was also because Jim Clark he’d been sort of pissed off at adventure capitalist before. And he wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just the venture capitalists who made money when they went public. He wanted the engineers to make money as well. That changed everything. Suddenly the predominant way of going about things in Silicon valley was get big, fast,
Andrew Skotzko 00:55:30 The first big tech bubble.
Bo Burlingham 00:55:32 Exactly.
Andrew Skotzko 00:55:33 If you watch the documentary something ventured it’s about the history of VC.
Bo Burlingham 00:55:37 No, I would love to do that. Where can I find it? I see
Andrew Skotzko 00:55:41 A few places to watch it online. I’ll send you the link after, and we’ll put it in insurance.
Bo Burlingham 00:55:44 Very good. Terrific.
Andrew Skotzko 00:55:46 Yeah. I remember watching it a few years ago and it features guys like Don Valentine, who is sort of one of the early one of the early people in the world of venture. Uh, it’s really interesting. And it kind of tells the story of how venture went from effectively a cottage industry in like the seventies to what it is today, which is, you know, despite being a subset, numerically, speaking of business, writ large, it is dominant in terms of media and peoples. And, you know, it’s mind share it’s the dominant way of business. But if you look at the actual reality of what is created, it’s, it’s not, you know, so actually raises a question that I, that I’ve seen. Some, some people struggle with and I myself have struggled with, especially coming out my background in that world, if you’ve spent any time around that world, as you just said, it’s now all about, get big, fast, right.
Andrew Skotzko 00:56:30 And that pivot point happened at the Netscape IPO in 1995. And it’s only more, more and more now with all of the rise in sort of the popularity of entrepreneur-ism and everything in that article you wrote in 2015, the a hundred, a hundred years, a company article, right. You told there’s a little snippet in there about, um, Jessica Heron who built Stella and dot, I believe. And, and you know, how, when she first presented it there, they gave her the sort of a derogatory response of, oh, if it’s not in a VC exit in like, you know, seven years, oh, it’s a lifestyle business. And I was like, well, hang on, there’s a little bit more than those two poles of the spectrum. Right. And so it just, that’s kind of what I’m pointing to. That just seems like a data point or a signal that there’s this narrative that if it’s not that VC thing, then it’s kind of bullshit. Given this sort of cultural backdrop fueled by the Silicon valley, get big, fast, you know, billions or busts basically. And I’m curious if you’ve encountered that as well.
Bo Burlingham 00:57:23 Yeah, well that that’s, that’s, that’s, uh, sort of the arrogance of Silicon valley. The fact is that if you sit down and do the math and you, you look at growing 15% a year, over 30 years
Andrew Skotzko 00:57:39 Is insane. Yeah.
Bo Burlingham 00:57:40 You, you, you wind up with much bigger numbers in the long run,
Andrew Skotzko 00:57:44 The resume, the Warren buffet quote, right? Like you find a good company, your holding period ought to be something like forever.
Bo Burlingham 00:57:50 Yes. Right. Exactly. The things that I’ve noticed is, you know, what’s going on is greed basically. I mean, people want to, people want to get rich and there’s nothing wrong with, I haven’t, I’m not critical of anybody wants to get rich. That’s fine. But if that’s really what’s driving, you, it’s driving. So many of the people who, young people who come out to Silicon valley, they’re thinking about getting their investment before they even have a company to invest it. And, um,
Bo Burlingham 00:58:26 Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s backwards. I mean, why are you in business? I mean, the, the only answer to that question for them is while I’m in business to get rich and, uh, a lot of them, some of them do because, you know, you sort of, the paradigm right now is you come out, you know, you go to, uh, one of the incubators or something like that. And, and, uh, um, you know, either develop a concept and then you sell that concept to one of the big companies. And, uh, that gives you your nest egg and, and your job, uh, at, at one of these big companies as sort of, I mean, it’s, it’s valid in the sense that it happens and it can happen. But the question then becomes when you sit down just by yourself and look in the, and you’re at a point in your life where you ask yourself, have I created anything of value? Is this, is this world better now because of my being in it,
Andrew Skotzko 00:59:33 Do we really create or contribute anything? Exactly. It really reminds me of, um, kind of the foundational point of your book finished big, right? The difference with people who have happy exits and transitions and those who don’t, and that, you know, for me, as I read it, there’s a lot of details to it, but kind of the foundational point that I took away anyway, it was like, well, it’s really about knowing who you are and what is it you came here to do, and what do you want to do? Because at some point you’re not going to be in your business anymore. And that might be because you died and that’s it, or you sold it or whatever. But that core thing that I feel like a lot of people, or not enough people go to, they don’t go to that depth of what am I really doing this for? Like, like besides the money. Sure. The money’s fine, but what, why are we really doing this? Well,
Bo Burlingham 01:00:19 I would say that’s also true of, uh, Small Giants as well. I mean, in, in everything that I’ve done, you know, that, uh, point about knowing who you are, what you want and why, um, and the why is important as well. I mean, you know, norm Brodsky colleague and co-author, um, he wanted to build a w in the eighties building a hundred million dollar company. So it was big stuff.
Andrew Skotzko 01:00:54 And
Bo Burlingham 01:00:56 He wanted to build a hundred billion dollar company, a hundred million dollar company. Well, if you’d asked him why he had no idea, he said he just wanted to build a hundred million dollar company because, uh, and you know, that, um, ultimately got him into trouble. Cause he got to a hundred million dollars. It took him about seven years. And then, uh, it took him about seven months to go from a hundred million back to about 10 million was a very important lesson for him.
Andrew Skotzko 01:01:29 But there is something here though, I think of, of, you know, what, what I’m hearing anyway, in, in the things you’re describing and what’s resonating with me is the through line is, you know, the, the versions of these companies that at least I aspire to. And I think the folks in this audience aspire to, they, they really are expressions of something, right. They’re not just chasing the money, you know, like they’re really about developing and expressing something in the world and using the business as a vehicle for that.
Bo Burlingham 01:01:52 It’s exactly right. It’s like, uh, you know, we all just, as, as human beings, I think we all, um, at some point, um, ask ourselves, why are we here? Um, what, what does it mean to make a difference? What kind of a difference are we making and, uh, does making a difference, make a difference? And
Andrew Skotzko 01:02:21 At some point it’s turtles all the way down.
Bo Burlingham 01:02:23 Yeah. Right. Exactly. And, uh, you know, those are, those are sort of basic questions that just as people we need to answer
Andrew Skotzko 01:02:31 Simple, but not easy,
Bo Burlingham 01:02:33 You know, when you say build a meaningful business, people talk about building a meaningful business, or what does that mean? What is a meaningful business? And, and I, I think it relates back to very, very basic concepts, namely that we’re here, not just for ourselves, we’re here for the people around us as well, and, uh, basically service. And that was where the finished big part came in. It was ultimately the people who had good exits, they found out how to serve afterwards. And I like to say that when you think about it, businesses all about service. I mean, when you’re in business, you know, you’re serving your customers or you wouldn’t have a business, you’re many cases you’re serving your employees, you’re serving your community. And when people ask you what you do, you say, what you’re doing and implicitly, what you’re saying is that you’re serving all these people and the problem that people who sell their businesses have often is that people ask them, what do they do? And they don’t know what to answer.
Andrew Skotzko 01:03:58 It really reminds me of a conversation that I had on the podcast with a woman named Amy Edmondson. Who’s a professor at Harvard and is pretty much the world leader in psychological safety. And we had this really beautiful realization in that conversation. Um, I don’t remember how we got there, but it was, it was kind of this question of like, w what’s work for like what’s what’s business for it. Right. Cause you know, she’s someone who’s thought a lot about, you know, the nature of work. And she asked me, I think she asked me like, well, what’s your answer to that? And, um, it really just, I resonate really strongly to what you’re saying right now, because for me the answer and it’s the best one I’ve come up with so far is that, you know, work or companies, they’re a place we go or a platform to develop and express who we are, but in service of something greater than ourselves.
Bo Burlingham 01:04:45 Yes, that’s absolutely true. Yes. Um, you know, I, I see these stories, these articles about quote unquote, the reinvention of work, um,
Andrew Skotzko 01:04:58 Yeah. The future of work
Bo Burlingham 01:05:00 And, uh, the principle of making things as simple as possible simplicity, um, is important here because, uh, ultimately it always pretty, um, and uh, if you can think clearly about it now I have to go and check on the Amy Edmondson. Uh, is that one of your podcasts? Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 01:05:29 Yeah. I’ll send you the link and we’ll put this in the show notes. Yeah. I I’d
Bo Burlingham 01:05:32 Be curious to
Andrew Skotzko 01:05:33 She’s terrific. She’s terrific. Um, well let me ask you this and then we’ll, we’ll go ahead. Start to close out here in a minute, but just, you know, I’m, I’m loving this idea of evergreen companies. I’m very excited to follow the development of this book and the idea is in it, you know, again, just reading what was on their website. I went yep. That’s exactly what, you know, what I’m about. That’s what the show’s about the whole thing. And I love that we got to this place in this conversation about, you know, what is a meaningful business. Cause I get that question from people they say, okay, make things that matter. Like will what matters, right? It’s that, it’s that same idea of like the sort of subjectivity of meaning. But I think at some level the, what it reduces to is what you hit on, which is it’s service on some level it’s service to something you care about.
Andrew Skotzko 01:06:12 And that has an ethical foundation, hopefully. But let me ask you this question and then we’ll go ahead and close out with a couple of rapid fire questions. Okay. Before we go to the rapid fire questions, one thing I wanted to ask you is a lot of the people in the audience who were so excited, you’re coming on the show, they know you best from Small Giants. We’ve talked about that a bunch. Now you’re talking to these evergreen companies so far, and I know that you’re still working this out, but when you look at Small Giants and evergreen companies, what characteristics do they share? And what’s different about them?
Bo Burlingham 01:06:39 Um, well that’s what my books are about.
Bo Burlingham 01:06:45 I think what they share, they share, they share the qualities that you’re talking about, Andrew, and that this, that your whole program is about your whole podcast is about, which is they are searching for meaningfulness and for, for doing things that matter. And, uh, um, I think we’re all doing that. And I think, I, I think that ultimately, you know, you, you face a choice, it’s a choice to do something that’s good for you, but not much good for anybody else, or you’re going to do something that really is going to make a difference in other people’s lives. And, you know, that’s, I mean, if I, you know, I don’t, I don’t mean to sound trite, but uh, you know, it’s about love and, uh, you know, who do you love
Andrew Skotzko 01:07:42 Perfect way to, to kind of put a bow on that. It’s, uh, you know, it’s funny, I think you and I share a lot of, uh, just in this conversation is clear to me. We share a lot of, um, a values based orientation to business and to all the things that we’re doing here. And one of the answers I’ve given to people and they’re like, how are you? So they’re like, why do you feel so good about business? Why are you optimistic about business as a force for good in the world? Which is I absolutely am. And it’s basically the premise of this whole damn show. It’s kind of what you just said. Love is a great way to put it, but the other, another way I’ve put it to people is, and I, I tend to come at this all from kind of a very, almost a Buddhist orientation, good business. To me, it’s roots. Like the seed of good business is, is generosity. It’s serving, right? Like nobody buys a car, you know, when you buy a great product that was built on a foundation of generosity of wanting to help, you know? And, and so that’s kind of another way for me of looking at exactly what you’re talking about.
Bo Burlingham 01:08:36 That’s very good.
Andrew Skotzko 01:08:38 I hope so. I hope it works
Bo Burlingham 01:08:40 Now. I’m getting ready for your fast questions.
Andrew Skotzko 01:08:43 Yeah. So, so we’ll close out now with some rapid fire questions. They’re short questions. Your answers can be as long as you want and feel free to go in any direction you want with these. Okay. So first one is what, what would you say is the thing, you know, best? What
Bo Burlingham 01:08:58 Is the thing I know best? What would
Andrew Skotzko 01:08:59 You say is the thing, you know, best?
Bo Burlingham 01:09:01 Okay. Let’s get the next one. What do I know now? You’ve got me thinking about that. Um, well, I really don’t know how to answer that question. I’m really lost in answering that question on one level. I, I think I don’t know anything really well. Um, uh, uh, you know, that, you know, for me, what, what keeps me going is learning new things right now. Um, I, I do have this sort of unquenchable, unquenchable curiosity, uh, right now I’m reading about history and I’m listening. I should say, I go and I take long walks every day. I walk for two hours a day and I live and I listened to books. Uh, and, uh, um, right now listening to a great book, uh, called the battle cry of freedom, which is about, um, you know, the lead up to the civil war. And it’s a really excellent book. And, um, but I’ve, but I’ve actually listened to many excellent books. And, uh, um, I’m so glad for the invention of audio books actually.
Andrew Skotzko 01:10:22 Have you listened to the, uh, the lessons of history? I think it’s by will and Ariel Durant.
Bo Burlingham 01:10:27 No, but I think that that’s probably a classic, uh, since, since the two of them are, uh, famous,
Andrew Skotzko 01:10:36 Very famous historians, but this one’s actually a short book, uh, uh, compared to some of their other ones. It’s, it’s actually, I think it’s only like 200 pages maybe. Um, but it’s sort of a consolidation of a lot of the big lessons they’ve learned through their work. You might, you might enjoy that.
Bo Burlingham 01:10:50 Yes, it might indeed.
Andrew Skotzko 01:10:53 Um, awesome. Well, let me ask you this, what’s a, uh, what’s a quote or a saying that’s important to you or you return to often. And what about it speaks to you?
Bo Burlingham 01:11:02 These are hard questions and
Andrew Skotzko 01:11:05 Kind of make you think,
Bo Burlingham 01:11:07 Well, the one that I have often, I, I’m not sure I have it exactly right, but it was from Oliver, Wendell Holmes Jr. Who said that one must, or, you know, obviously back then, it was all about it’s expressed in terms of man, but a man must play some role, not necessarily a big role, but some role in the great events of his time or run the risk of being judged, not to have lived at all. And I have, um, I’ve really sort of let that guide me. Um, and you know, sometimes I think what, what you and I are talking about right now are, is one of the great events of the times we’re living in. Because I think that there’s a way of creating things, doing things that really can have greater value to more people than ever before. We have to figure it out what it is, and we’ve got to try and find it. But, um, I, I would like to think that that’s going to be something that will live on after us
Andrew Skotzko 01:12:24 A hundred percent. I, I, I love what you’re saying there, you know, somebody asked me why, like, what’s this all about? And in this transformation that you’re alluding to, I, as soon as you said that quote, uh, what just popped immediately into my head was, yeah, we’re talking about the transformation of business and capitalism and, and for, you know, somebody asked me like, what is it about that that is meaningful and was like, you know, we’re talking about reclaiming the lost soul of capitalism here. I think that’s a big deal.
Bo Burlingham 01:12:51 Yeah. Yeah. It’s
Andrew Skotzko 01:12:52 True. And I want to be a part of that.
Bo Burlingham 01:12:55 Yeah. Yeah. It’s true. I mean, if you, if you go back and look at Adam Smith, um, when he was really sort of defining capitalism for all of us, um, there, there was, it was in his mind, you know, the values part of it was just, it was inherent in it. I mean, it, it had to be there. Um, of course he was, he was in a time the enlightenment, when there was this sort of transition out of the religious, I should say the Christian, uh, religious world to whatever we’ve got now.
Andrew Skotzko 01:13:34 Yeah. There’s a lot there. It’s, it’s really interesting. And that’s something actually a project I want to do is to go back and revisit his original works and to see how that stacks up with all the narratives we have now, it’s become very, uh, for a lot of people to come very popular, to sort of bash on capitalism. A lot of things like that. And I think it’s my initial hunch without having done, really thought it through deeply yet, is that it’s, it’s sort of like, you’re, you’re blaming the tool for what the user of the tool did. Undoubtedly, there are people using it badly. Yeah,
Bo Burlingham 01:14:04 That’s true. I mean, I sweat. I like to what I, what I would say when, uh, people would challenge me. I said, look, if somebody wants to explore this employees pollute the environment, uh, take advantage of this customers feel, um, that’s, that’s, that’s that person’s choice business. Doesn’t make him do that. Nothing business that makes him do that. In fact, you look at something like open-book management. If you have a company that has a hundred people in it and in one company and they’re two competitors, and one of those companies, you’ve got 90 people who sort of are doing what they’re told to do. And 10 people who sort of know what’s going on and are figuring out what needs to be done. And the other company, you’ve got a hundred people who are doing that, and it’s thinking about what needs to be done. Who’s going to be more successful. It’s like, I mean, I feel like the closed book, people, the traditional people are, are losing money. They’re throwing money away.
Andrew Skotzko 01:15:12 It’s wasting, wasting all that talent. Yeah, exactly.
Bo Burlingham 01:15:15 Exactly. And, and, and those minds that, um, you know, are worrying all the time.
Andrew Skotzko 01:15:22 Yeah. A hundred percent. So just in wrapping up though, but let me ask you this. So it’s one of my beliefs that it’s the questions we ask ourselves that shape a lot of how our lives go and how we think about things. Is there a question that, uh, you know, you could, if you were going to sign the listener homework, like what’s a question you would have the listeners start asking themselves on a regular basis that you think would be helpful to them in some way,
Bo Burlingham 01:15:44 What we’ve been talking about, what’s the value of this, whatever it is that you’re doing, who are you delivering value to and why? The most important question is what we talked about before. Cool. Am I, what do I want and why there’s one question that I feel we have to talk about here, because it was the question that, uh, was asked a few on Twitter, which was, um, have the open book companies done during the pandemic. And it’s a very good question. And in fact, the answer is that the open book companies have done exceedingly well. Um, they’ve done much better than anybody else. Um, I’m not saying that it’s magic. I mean, if you’re in the restaurant industry, you’re going to get slammed no matter what it has. Uh, one of the things that I do every year is that I’m on a panel where, uh, we evaluate people are nominated about how they practice the Great Game Of Business and they practice open book management.
Bo Burlingham 01:17:00 And then we, uh, I am the other judges, uh, go through their applications and decide who are the all-stars quote unquote. Um, this year we had something like, uh, well, this would have been, well, actually it would have been last year was something like, I don’t know, 50 or 60 applications for this all-star panel. Only one of the companies that had it was applying had laid anyone off, just one. And that company, you know, sometimes it has to happen. Sometimes you have to do it. I mean, rail, I had to do it and so forth. They have basically, their record has been outstanding. You know, again, I, I come back to what I said before about the two companies competing with each other. What happens actually in hard times when you get into hard times like this, what happens is, is that people are willing to make sacrifices. They’ll come to you. You don’t have to carry that burden around by yourself. You explained the situation. If they know the situation nine times out of 10, they’ll say, well, you know, okay. So some of us have to take a pay cut for awhile, you know, and so forth. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko 01:18:25 Yeah. You don’t have to do that all yourself.
Bo Burlingham 01:18:27 Right, right.
Andrew Skotzko 01:18:29 Sorry. Thank you for bringing that up. I can’t believe I forgot that one. Well, just in closing out, but what would you like to leave the listener with
Bo Burlingham 01:18:34 Andrew? The, these open-ended questions? They just really stymie me.
Andrew Skotzko 01:18:41 Well, I’ll tell you what you hit. You’re knocking them out of the park so far. So I feel like I should keep going.
Bo Burlingham 01:18:45 Oh, okay. Well, I will say this. I hate writing. I hate it. Absolutely. I love doing the research and interviewing people and finding out what’s going on. And I love when it’s all done and it’s out in the world and I’m getting feedback from it. It’s that part in between, when you sit down with a blank page or a blank screen in front of you, uh, to the part at the end, when you finally write the ending, that is pure agony for me. And I don’t think, I don’t know if I don’t. I mean, there are people who tell me that they love writing, but, uh, um, more power to them.
Andrew Skotzko 01:19:34 That’s terrific.
Bo Burlingham 01:19:35 Yeah. Well that doesn’t answer your question, but it’s something
Andrew Skotzko 01:19:41 Perfect. All right. But we’ll, if people want to follow up with you, uh, whether it’s, you know, online, where would you direct people to, uh, to follow up or follow with your work?
Bo Burlingham 01:19:48 I’m very easy to reach. Uh, I have a website Bo burlingham.com. And if you write to me at that website, [email protected], uh, it’ll reach me. And, uh, um, I am well, I’m involved with both the Great Game Of Business and the community is a Great Game Of Business and the Small Giants community. So, um, but the best way to reach me is just send me an email.
Andrew Skotzko 01:20:23 Perfect. We’ll put all that in the show notes. We’ll boat. Thank you so much for your work. Thanks for being here and good luck with this next book. This is exciting. I know you’re in that middle part, which is tough, but it’s good luck. We’re counting on you.
Bo Burlingham 01:20:36 Thank you, Andrew. We’ll see you.