Fixes that Fail; The Van and Mildred Pierce

Long line at the Belmont post office yesterday. I asked the woman at the counter why this was the case, and she explained to me that as a result of a new efficiency program, everything takes much longer. She illustrated by showing me how it now took her a sequence of 12 steps to process my media mail package, whereas under the old (and presumably less efficient) system the exact same package would take 3 steps. As a famous comedian used to say, “what’s up with that?”

Last week I had a frustrating experience with a store that bought many copies of my book. This was a good thing in theory—but a bad one when it took months for them to process an invoice they initially told me they would pay for with a store credit card that day. As the bureaucracy ensued, and the store finally sent me to the corporate headquarters, I asked the store manager what happened. And he told me: “Well, as it turns out we do have store credit cards. We just aren’t allowed to use them.” And what’s up with that?

Over the weekend I read Roddy Doyle’s fantastic novel The Van. I rank it with James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce as one of the finest pieces of literature to capture the rich texture of starting up a business. Both books brilliantly depict the way that a small venture often starts as a vehicle to escape, how committed individuals use their companies to get beyond where they are by making money and essentially creating a new place. And both books show how these very same enterprises eventually recreate and often amplify the very challenges the founders sought to escape or overcome. Above all, both books are delightful stories about the excitement and fallibility of small business, and how it can serve as a theater for the best and worst of what people are capable of.

Posted by tom at August 29, 2006 02:30 PM
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Hear a recent lecture by Tom on the Startup Garden


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Just Managing – articles that Tom wrote for The Industry Standard and some Business Articles written for Inc., Fortune Small Business, Harvard Management Update, and other places.



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