The Current State of Innovation: The Busy Manager

The Current State of Innovation: The Busy Manager

Up and Commer

Tommy was a company up and comer. Starting in sales he was able to work his way into analytic roles. Later managed one of the numerous product management teams. While Tommy was smart, he didn’t have the Ivy League education that his peers had. While he was a busy manager, he made it to his spot in life by outworking everyone. His specialty was that he may have been the most engaged individual in a company of over 50,000 people.

During an economic upswing, attrition hit the company hard as job-hopping became more frequent. Not being able to find the right talent match externally, the company offered Tommy. The role of the Director of Strategy of the eCommerce division appeared to be a perfect fit. It was an area that he was familiar with and paired with his high level of engagement. Leadership believed that it would make up for any gaps turning this into the ideal stretch assignment.

Tactical Thought

Joining right before the holiday sales season, crisis upon crisis overtook the division as they jumped from issue to issue. Bringing years of operational expertise, Tommy, was able to step right into the role of providing triage in resolving problems and keeping the platform online. Following the holiday crisis timeframe, the breakneck pace never ceased, and Tommy found himself working constant 60-hour weeks to keep operations going, fighting each week to hit revenue targets. He was unable to think beyond a quarter out and his main role of forecasting defaulted to previous methodologies which were a superficial planning process of adding 5-percent to the previous year’s numbers to keep their heads above water. Without having an established long-strategy plan to move the company to where it should be in the next 5-years, the clock was ticking on the company’s sustainability.

As a few years passed, the division held a reputation internally with the company as a career killer as it had cycled through two General Managers and had an inability to grow its revenue. Tommy though was looked at as the key component to the team as knew the operations of the organizations better than anyone else and was able to resolve most surface-level issues. His work hours continued to creep longer and longer which enabled him in delaying his after-work MBA, skipping training, and pulling out of conferences.

No Time to Develop

The organization had previously taken pride in being a cutting-edge organization that created thought pieces and were keynote speakers at conferences, but there was a new subtle and unspoken belief that people needed to be working instead of taking the day off at a training event. Tommy’s growth and development had stagnated, and the organization took a cue from his behaviors and began to ignore the deeper and more reflective activities.

As the world of eCommerce is fast-paced and the competition cutthroat, the analysts weren’t surprised when the entire marketplace was disrupted by an up and coming startup. Tommy believed that they would be able to leverage their companies’ size and influence to squelch the new threat, but they continued to fall behind. As the giant attempted to pivot, they realized that their organization had an inability to deviate from their norm, that they were always three steps behind their new market leader and one step away from closing their business.

Self Development

There has been an unwritten practice in the professional ranks on personal development in which it is the expectation and responsibility of said professional. Being too busy to stay up to current trends has never sufficed as an excuse for not developing thyself, though the quickest thing cut off the to-do list is anything development related because the effect is not an immediate one. Technology has provided several fixes to professional development outside of traditional training. Journal articles, industry magazines, podcasts, Twitter, YouTube, etcetera remove all excuses of an individual not staying current with industry trends and best practices. This notes that even if an organization can implement best practices, they will still just be average.


The second indicator of a future failing manager is one that hasn’t placed an emphasis on networking. As many people age and they limit their social calendars meeting new people becomes even harder. It becomes a little nudge that can keep an individual from attending a conference, not joining trade skill groups, or not even having lunch with someone new. These interactions break routine patterns of cognitive thought which helps breathe new life and insights into the brain. These insights then regenerate cognitive growth and advanced skill development.

The opposite of growth and development is stagnation and decline. If an individual is repeatedly encountering the same work experiences and addressing them in a similar manner, they are no longer growing and are declining. They possibly may even be operating in a manner that was phased out years previously but never gained the insight that their methods were outdated. This behavior is also susceptible to not being open to new ideas or being able to accurately reflect on the larger organizational picture. This is the pinnacle achievement of reaching the Peter Principle or reaching their level of incompetence in which their only real value to the organization is keeping the seat warm for the next manager.

Own Worst Enemy

The criticism comes across as harsh, but the result is based upon these leaders being products of the system. They have an inherent drive for productivity and action. Early in their careers, they worked hard, put in long hours, and solved problems. These outcomes led to their promotions with a belief that they should continue to do what made them successful. Marshal Goldsmith captured this essence in his 2007 book “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.” Some new managers receive great coaching on how their behaviors must change in their new role but most do not.


Another easy criticism is that the busy manager is deficient in being able to prioritize their work. They are working on their most important tasks which are typically in crisis mode. By jumping from crisis to crisis, a lull will eventually occur and mentally they retreat to recover. By the time they recover, a new crisis has occurred, and the cycle begins again. Linked to this is that there is never an opportunity to focus on long term health of the organization which leads to continued issues and crises. While there will always be something more to do, a leader sometimes they must take themselves physically out of a situation to understand the cycle that they are in so that they can focus their efforts on what will provide the most value for the long term.

The Status of Busy

The last understanding of the busy manager is a perception it leaves on others. Busy in America is status for being of importance. The busier you are, the more in demand that you are, therefore you are a desired commodity. Unlike the Italian version of this phenomenon where the busier you are, that is a status signal that you are less important because important people have things done for them instead of doing things themselves. Cultural norms and self-vanity help push managers into a frenetic pace. This dizzying activity where there are unable to achieve deeper thought levels of strategic and innovative thought.


Born in the mid-1970s St. Louis, Jack Dorsey took early to computers and communications. One of the early computer programmers, by the time he was in High School he had written a dispatch software. This was software that was being used by taxi companies. Eventually dropping out of college, Dorsey found himself in the Bay Area. Further refining his dispatch software and trying to combine it with instant messaging. In 2006, he was able to put together a communication platform that would be known as Twitter. Twitter was a new social media storm. Quickly giving everyone with the capability to get online, the ability for their voice to be heard.

No Margin for Error

After a few years of bringing Twitter to the forefront of modern-day communications, Dorsey opted to step out of the CEO role and focus on his new endeavor of Square, the mobile payment platform. Later in 2015, Dorsey came back to be the CEO and Executive Chairman of both Twitter and Square. While running one company is a stressful endeavor, running two companies brings about a maximum level of effort. Even with starting his day at 5:00 a.m. and concluding it at 11:00 p.m. there is still not enough time to fulfill both roles. Dorsey notes that he makes it through his days by keeping a constant routine where that steady-state helps him be more effective in his role of directing response when a crisis occurs.

Operations Posture

While Dorsey remains in an operation posture he is exposing his organizations to future catastrophes.  His model of Twitter has predictable social media strategies of keeping eyes glued to the platform. By attempting to curate the top trending content, streaming sporting events, and even creating original content. They are also showing similar strategies with the major technology companies in chasing and policing individuals that are using their platform to spread hate speech. This is a continued trend of following the pack of competitors. Furthermore, they are not being able to differentiate themselves against companies that are ten times the size of the company. By remaining in an operational mode, Dorsey has created a long term vulnerability to Twitter due to a lack of an original strategy.


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