In 2008, a senior McKinsey colleague shared this story with me.
Once, in a client engagement he was leading, his team had identified cost-cutting opportunities to the tune of $30 million, annually. He was excitedly waiting to make the presentation to the client CEO.
At that point, the McKinsey Director leading the engagement walked in. He told the client CEO, “I know that you and our own team are very pleased about this cost-cutting. But the truth is, we are polishing your furniture while your house is burning.”
On hearing this, the CEO’s face drained of color. The McKinsey team was packed off, and another McKinsey director was despatched to smoothen things out with the client. I admire that director for jeopardizing his career to speak the truth.
Be it companies or individuals, it is easier to focus on the small stuff instead of addressing existential questions; much like treating a pimple when the patient is having a cardiac arrest.
Case in point: Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer was once worrying about ‘work from home’ instead of answering a basic question - ‘What business was Yahoo in?’ Ultimately, Yahoo failed.
That is why, instead of being busy all the time, we need to pause and reflect. Else, all we will see is pimples.