David Amerland

The View From The Edge

An outsider's business point of view
When I was in corporatedom I felt like an outsider. I was a journalist, with a journalist’s inborn suspicion of suits and their dictates, suddenly speaking at meetings and being heard and charged with helping create openness in organizations which were more comfortable with everything done behind closed doors.

When I left, with some regret, I focused on taking the passion for processes, accountability and professionalism (everything corporations are geared to do well) and applying it to charity organisations, small businesses and entrepreneurs who usually have drive, a social conscience and a willingness to change the world but lack the corporate discipline to apply it all properly.

Along the way I realized that corporations have as much passion, fire and drive as small businesses and entrepreneurs and that the latter can be just as misguided and casually corrupt as the former. Size and business orientation does not guarantee that you will always be able to do the right thing. I have had to deal with the fact that frequently, in any business venture, the struggle to understand what’s happening and to survive leads to decisions which are less than honourable (though not illegal) and that it takes more than sheer discipline and lip service to being a business with a social conscience to really create one.

In every organization I have been a part of, even as an adviser, I have been the voice in the wilderness, the one they brought in because it seemed like a good idea, because they were no longer sure what to do, because they had exhausted almost every other possibility or simply because they were humouring one of their own, going along with a recommendation to introduce someone new; fully expecting it to backfire.

As a result my view has always been one that’s devoid of turfs, sans office politics, informed by facts rather than long-term career expectations and intended to provide the kind of results which justify my cost. On more than on occasion I have stayed up working late into the night, feeling that the only thing I had to stay true to was the truth. And that was always proving to be elusive.

The business world works on a remarkably fluid basis which belies its outward solidity. Friends can become foes. Loyal employees can rebel overnight and former foes can suddenly become allies. In that ever-shifting environment I have found that what helps me discover what is really important. What filters out all the noise and allows the true dynamics show through is perspective. Having avoided being at the center of power, even when I was part of a corporation with a staff over a quarter of a million strong with a departmental budget that ran in millions, I could ask the questions no one else could and work to get factual answers.

When something happens and you ask ‘Why?’ the first answer you get is rarely the correct one. It takes some willpower to keep on asking it until all the hubris has been stripped away and what remains then are the lines of logic which allow informed decisions and better choices to be made.

I now work almost exclusively online. Venturing into real world contact only when giving lectures or keynote speeches and for friends who happen to run companies and live nearby. Isolation has its own benefits. It allows you to play devil’s advocate with yourself to the point that you can go almost crazy, asking questions and getting to answers until what you have left are as close to fundamentals as possible. What makes business work better, always, is not an intensification of what they do (they are already good at doing it which is why they are there) but a true change of perspective. The so-called ‘left field’ is just the kind of place the much needed fresh ideas come from.

Over the years I have developed a questionnaire which allows you to drill down to what matters most in your business world. It helps create just the kind of shift in perspective which helps you see the wood and the trees. 

1. What drives your business forward?
2. Who makes the decisions?
3. How do you make sure that everyone does what they should?
4. Where is the line drawn in your idealism?
5. What happens when what you do causes some kind of damage along the way?
6. What happens when a competitor goes after you with all guns blazing?
7. How do you keep your employees happy?
8. Where do all your new ideas come from?
9. How do you deal with the need for change in your organisation?
10. How do you deal with failure in your organisation?

Run them through your head. Answer them in clear detail and look again at how your business works. I can guarantee you will see it in a different light.


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