Friday, September 5, 2008

Leveraging resources

I'm a sucker for spy stuff. I loved "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold," anything James Bond and my all-time fave, "The Bourne Identity." There are many spy lessons that can be translated to business, namely gathering good information and understanding what it is telling you, adapting to changing conditions and making effective use of your resources.

Another fun spy-related diversion is the USA network show "Burn Notice," which chronicles the misadventures of U.S. spy Michael Westen (starring Jeffrey Donovan), who unexpectedly gets a "burn notice" (pink slip for the rest of us) and is now stuck in Miami with no money, no identity and trying to figure out who "burned" him and why. Think "Miami Vice" meets "MacGyver." One of the show's charms is the narration by Westen on tips and tricks used by spooks to accomplish their mission. Not that we'd ever really need to know how to rig a cell phone into a surveillance device, but it's still loads of fun.

In one recent episode, Westen and his chums faced a dilemma: they needed to repossess a speedboat from some Jamaican crime lords who were armed to the teeth. Clearly outmanned and outgunned, they needed to outsmart the bad guys.

Which brings me to today's Piñata Manager™ lesson of the day: To achieve your objective, you often need to leverage resources outside of your normal area of influence (your budget, staff, etc.). In the case above, what turned the tables on the bad guys with a simple phone call to 9-1-1. Westen's partner made a phony call to police saying he spotted people loading what looked like bags of drugs on to a boat nearby. When the police showed up to investigate, our hero calmly walked up the dock to the bad guys, presented some paperwork, and announced he was repossessing their boat. When the bad guys objected and reached for their concealed weapons, Westen calmly suggested they call over the cops to sort the whole thing out. After all, the cops were just one dock over. Of course, the bad guys wanted nothing to do with cops, and our hero calmly stepped on the boat and sped off without firing a shot.

In this case, Westen used his smarts to leverage resources that were otherwise unavailable to him. Mind you, I'm not advocating making false police reports. But you get the idea. Getting the job done means building alliances and connections far beyond your normal operating parameters and bringing them to bear to fill a gap or to amplify your resources. The military calls this "force multipliers."

To succeed in business, learn from our friends in covert operations and you, too, can say, "mission accomplished."