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老板应该如何回应时钟的滴答声

How bosses should respond to the sound of the clock ticking
老板应该如何回应时钟的滴答声
1039字
2019-02-15 09:32
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老板应该如何回应时钟的滴答声

TIME is one of the most disputed and confusing subjects in business. Schumpeter is writing this column after attending a conference which began with experts describing a new era of exponential technological change. It ended with a guru who had studied 70,000 years of history and who confidently discussed humanity’s fate over the 21st century (it does not look good). In the sessions in between, specialists discussed Asia’s outlook in 2030—though they struggled to cope with Asia in 2018, starting 68 minutes behind schedule, a daily lag which, if maintained across the intervening period, would mean the fourth decade of the century would begin seven months late.

TIME是商业中最具争议和最令人困惑的主题之一。熊彼特在参加一个会议后撰写本专栏,该会议开始时专家描述了指数技术变革的新时代。它以一位研究了7万年历史的大师结束,他自信地讨论了21世纪人类的命运(看起来不太好)。在两届会议期间,专家们讨论了亚洲在2030年的前景 - 尽管他们在2018年努力应对亚洲,比计划落后68分钟,每日滞后,如果在整个干预期间维持,将意味着本世纪的第四个十年开始七个月晚了。

In business well-established frameworks exist for everything from corporate finance to supply chains and human resources. Time is more slippery. Should firms act now or later? Quickly or slowly? There are no clear rules. In a state-led economy the government controls the future to some extent, setting laws and allocating resources in order to fulfil a vision, as China hopes to with its “Made in 2025” plan for advanced-technology industries. But in a market economy there is no grand plan, just the individual decisions of thousands of firms competing in a spontaneous process, which Joseph Schumpeter likened to a gale.

在商业中,从企业财务到供应链和人力资源,都存在完善的框架。时间更狡猾。公司应该现在行动还是以后行动?或快或慢吗?没有明确的规则。在国家主导的经济体制下,政府在一定程度上控制着未来,它通过制定法律和分配资源来实现一个愿景,就像中国希望其“2025年制造”的先进技术产业计划那样。但在市场经济中,没有宏大的计划,只有数千家公司自发竞争的个人决策,约瑟夫•熊彼特(Joseph Schumpeter)将其比作一场狂风。

A handful of cutting-edge firms are expressly designed to be bold bets on how societies will function at a distant future point; think of Tesla in electric vehicles or NVIDIA in advanced semiconductors. But few businesses are as focused or as novel as these. Faced with the fog of time, the majority resort to one of two popular approaches—they either lionise the “long term” or follow big, futuristic “mega-trends”. Neither are very satisfactory.

少数尖端公司被明确设计成大胆押注于社会在遥远的未来将如何运转;想想电动汽车领域的特斯拉(Tesla)或先进半导体领域的英伟达(NVIDIA)。但很少有企业像这些企业那样专注或新颖。面对时间的迷雾,大多数人采取两种流行的方法——要么推崇“长期”,要么追随未来的“大趋势”。两者都不太令人满意。

Consider the idea that firms should aim for the long term. In June Jamie Dimon, the boss of JPMorgan Chase, a bank, and Warren Buffett, a venerated investor, criticised what they view as the stockmarket’s obsession with quarterly earnings guidance. But it is far from clear whether most firms are really run to hit quarterly targets. Only 28% of companies in the S&P 500 issue guidance. And when bosses are liberated to act for the long term they often stumble about in the dark. Rather than displaying prescience, the impulse of many executives is to follow the herd, with debt levels and acquisition activity typically rising at the peak of the economic and stockmarket cycles.

考虑公司应该以长期为目标的想法。6月,摩根大通银行的老板杰米•戴蒙和备受尊敬的投资者沃伦•巴菲特批评了他们眼中的股市对季度收益指引的痴迷。但目前还远不清楚大多数公司是否真的能达到季度目标。在标准普尔500指数成份股公司中,只有28%的公司发布了业绩指引。当老板们被解放出来,能够长期行动时,他们往往会在黑暗中跌跌撞撞。许多高管的冲动不是显示出先见之明,而是随波逐流,债务水平和收购活动通常在经济和股市周期达到顶峰时上升。

Even if firms can see into the long term, they must also juggle several time cycles. Rather as banks raise overnight deposits and make long-term loans, companies mediate claims and commitments of wildly different durations. The information cycle is instant. The average firm in the S&P 500 carries 47 days of inventory. Budgets and tax filings are annual. Workers stay in their jobs for years. The expected life of the assets of a typical S&P 500 company is 14 years, and about 50% of its market value derives from its expected profits after 2027. Product cycles can last for decades: PCs boomed in the 1990s, for example, and did not face a big threat until 2007, when the iPhone was launched.

即使公司能够看到长期的发展,他们也必须同时处理好几个时间周期。就像银行同时筹集隔夜存款和发放长期贷款一样,企业也在协调各种期限的索赔和承诺。产品周期可以持续几十年:例如,个人电脑在上世纪90年代蓬勃发展,直到2007年iPhone问世才面临重大威胁。

The most common alternative to long-termism is to try to identify “mega-trends” and build a strategy around them. Some are fairly safe bets. India will consume more energy in the future. Digital payments will become ubiquitous. The usual problem is that everyone else has already spotted the same trends. Capital pours into the opportunity, pushing down returns. One example is the frenzy over commodities and emerging markets in 2004-10. Many multinationals lost their shirts on expensive acquisitions and greenfield projects in saturated markets. Today’s red-hot mega-trends are big data and artificial intelligence. While these phenomena are real, their returns will probably be in inverse proportion to their fashionability.

长期主义最常见的替代方案是试图识别“大趋势”,并围绕它们制定战略。有些是相当安全的赌注。印度未来将消耗更多的能源。数字支付将变得无处不在。通常的问题是,其他人已经发现了同样的趋势。资本涌入这个机会,压低了回报。一个例子是2004- 2010年对大宗商品和新兴市场的狂热。在市场饱和的情况下,许多跨国公司在昂贵的收购和新建项目上损失惨重。当今最热门的大趋势是大数据和人工智能。虽然这些现象是真实的,但它们的回报可能与它们的时尚度成反比。

Lionising the long term and chasing mega-trends can thus both be traps. A more pragmatic, nuanced approach makes better sense. The first step is to maintain a balance between different time horizons. It is no good brilliantly predicting consumer behaviour in 2027 if you misjudge counterparty risk today. And it is a hollow victory to beat expectations for one quarter’s results if your main patents expire the following month.

因此,看好长期前景和追逐大趋势都可能成为陷阱。更实际、更细致的方法更有意义。第一步是在不同的时间范围内保持平衡。如果你今天对交易对手风险判断失误,那么出色地预测2027年的消费者行为是没有用的。如果你的主要专利在下个月到期,那么超过一个季度业绩预期就是一个空洞的胜利。

Second, it is essential to have “optionality”, or plenty of irons in the fire. In hindsight it is tempting to assume that a successful firm’s triumph was guaranteed. But this is not the case. Amazon has had flops (its Fire phone and expansion in China) even as it got the future right with its big bets on cloud computing and the Kindle. Options are expensive to maintain since they often burn cash. So the best firms mitigate this by providing consistent performance in their “core” businesses in the here and now.

其次,必须要有“选择性”,即有很多事情要做。事后看来,人们很容易想当然地认为,一家成功企业的成功是有保证的。但事实并非如此。亚马逊(Amazon)在云计算和Kindle上押下重注,把握了正确的未来,但它也遭遇了失败(Fire手机和在中国的扩张)。期权的维护成本很高,因为它们经常烧钱。因此,最好的公司通过在此时此地的“核心”业务中提供一致的业绩来缓解这一问题。

Last, because events in the outside world are so hard to predict, it pays to look inward. Culture is a squidgy concept, but successful firms need people who are adaptable but self-confident enough not to be swung too much by fashion, as well as balance-sheets that are strong enough to absorb mistakes. Goldman Sachs has made a poor strategic choice over the past half-decade, by refusing to shrink its misfiring bond-trading division. But it still attracts and retains brainy, ambitious people and is well capitalised, which should give it a decent shot at revival under its new chief executive, David Solomon (see article).

最后,因为外部世界的事件是如此难以预测,所以向内看是值得的。文化是一个模糊的概念,但是成功的公司需要适应能力强但足够自信的人而不会被时尚所左右,也需要足够强大的资产负债表来吸收错误。高盛(Goldman Sachs)在过去5年里做出了一个糟糕的战略选择,拒绝缩减其失败的债券交易部门。但它仍然吸引并留住了聪明、有抱负的人才,而且资本充足,这应该会让它在新任首席执行官大卫•所罗门(David Solomon)的领导下有一个体面的复兴机会。

Tick tock

嘀嗒

The history of business is often told through inspirational stories about destiny being fulfilled. Occasionally these paint an accurate picture. Andrew Carnegie foresaw that America would need an integrated national market for steel by the late 19th century. Steve Jobs had a vision of how smart devices would change the world and set about inventing them. But for most companies, especially ones in mature economies, facing the future is far more prosaic. Balance, optionality and poise matter more than an overwhelming conviction about the world in two decades hence. Too much emphasis on the distant future is a waste of time.

商业的历史往往是通过关于命运实现的励志故事来讲述的。偶尔这些会描绘出一幅准确的画面。安德鲁•卡内基(Andrew Carnegie)预见到,到19世纪末,美国将需要一个统一的全国钢铁市场。史蒂夫•乔布斯(Steve Jobs)对智能设备将如何改变世界有一个愿景,并开始着手发明它们。但对于大多数企业,尤其是成熟经济体的企业来说,面对未来要平淡得多。平衡、选择和平衡比二十年后对世界的压倒性信念更重要。过分强调遥远的未来是浪费时间。

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