The Sound and the Fury

In 1950 William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for predominantly writing about the fictional area around Yoknapatawpha County, in Mississippi.  One of his most widely known works is The Sound and the Fury, which begins with “a tale being told by an idiot.”  Does that sound familiar?  It should.  The title is taken from one of the most famous monologues penned by one of the most famous playwrights in history, William Shakespeare, Act V, Scene 5, Macbeth, upon Macbeth’s learning of the death of Lady Macbeth and his realization that the cost of being the king wasn’t worth the price of not having a queen:

“…Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

By beginning his novel narrated by a youth with an intellectual and speech disability, Faulkner attempted to relay the impossibility of ideal communication in a story of the life of a family fallen from grace as told through the eyes of four different narrators (all from the same family).  Reading Faulkner for the first time is a challenge (particularly if you weren’t raised in the Deep South), and if this story were being told by someone incapable of communicating relevancy, the life of this family may have been full of noises (sound) and emotion (fury), but a first time reader would have a difficult time either identifying or understanding the plot (signifying nothing).

Does that sound familiar?  The strongest businesses are led by decision makers that have developed plans to communicate in a way that their business plan is executed by members of a highly functional team that they have made a personal investment in building.  If your key decision makers cannot clearly communicate why each member of your team is doing what they are doing, you should be willing to challenge whether your team is all following your lead.  Look at James Burke, 13-year CEO of Johnson and Johnson who was in charge during the Tylenol crisis of the early 1980s.  Don’t just look at how he and his team handled the crisis itself, look at how he implemented “Credo Challenge” meetings in the years prior to that crisis, during a period when J&J’s Credo (penned by the company’s founder) was considered sacrosanct.  Burke’s team was prepared to act with a common goal (the public would be served first), and everything fell into place after that.

Admittedly, comparing the preparation and perspective of Faulkner’s Benjy to the CEO of one of the largest, most successful companies in American history is a bit extreme.  But sometimes we make things harder than they need to be.  According to Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, “the right decision is often obvious, but the pressure of making the wrong decision can be overwhelming.  It starts with the small things.”  The difference between being a coward or a hero is how you respond when bad things happen.  Send me a message at [email protected], and let’s discuss how we can make a personal investment in building your team so you know each member of your team is prepared to do the right thing when bad things happen.