The Paranoid Perspective
by Donald Van de Mark and Steve Willey
Andy Grove has spent his life looking over his shoulder.
The title of one of his books sums it up: Only the Paranoid Survive. Survival was Grove's motivation when he escaped from the Nazis under an assumed identity, when he crawled across the border of Communist Hungary to Austria, and when he took the helm of Intel Corp.
|Andrew S. Grove|
|Company: Intel Corp.|
|Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.|
|Revenue: $33.7 billion|
|Education: Graduates first in his class from the City College of New York with a degree in chemical engineering in 1960 .|
Completes a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in 1963.
|Accomplishments: Author of four books, several technical papers and columnist on management issues|
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Grove is a sentry, listening for threats to his being and to his company. He vigilantly looks for what he calls "strategic inflection points," those times when life or business is changing so dramatically that survival depends on anticipating, gathering data and taking action. The action may involve risk, but, he says, inaction also involves risk.
And Grove takes his own advice. In 1985, beaten by the Japanese in memory chips, the then CEO of Intel bet the company's future on the microprocessor, where he hoped the Japanese would find it difficult to follow. The strategy worked.
The lessons of strategic inflection points are aimed at the corporate culture, but they have value when we are making our own, life-directing decisions. Whether it's raising a family, choosing investments, or deciding on a college education, anticipating change, gathering data and making decisions can lead to success. Ignoring the groundswells in our lives is likely to mean disaster.
Take managing your career: Grove writes: "The sad news is, nobody owes you a career. Your career is literally your business. You own it as a sole proprietor. ... It is your responsibility to protect this personal business of yours from harm and to position it to benefit from the changes in the environment. Nobody else can do that for you."
In an interview with myprimetime.com's Donald Van de Mark, Grove talked about the importance of taking risks and action, his daring escapes as a young man, and the relentless change that shapes our lives.
Myprimetime: You have said that people must argue with the data, not argue with emotions?
Grove: Actually, that's not quite what I said. Don't argue in the face of facts; argue with the facts to support your point. Sometimes you get into an argument with people, put the facts on the table and then they draw completely different point: I don't like the facts, so I ignore the facts. What's much more desirable that you make your points supported by data, base your conclusions on facts, rather than try to ignore other people's facts.
MPT: Then, of course, we get to one of your key corporate insights, the strategic inflection points and the need for leaders to recognize them.
Grove: When your business environment changes and your business structure changes and business model changes, that wouldn't be facts for a while. You have to build up those facts by doing business experiments, starting new businesses, new introductions, new products, new markets and moving down along the hypothetical paths to gather data. And then refine your strategy, refine your approach based on the data that you require. But, after a period of time, there is no data because everything is new. The Internet is a perfect example of it. From '95 onward, there has been a tremendous amount of experimentation, both by upstarts and by incumbency with different models, different business models, different approaches, different technologies. And there was no data. Is advertising a viable business model in the Internet, even today it's not so sure.
MPT: This moment when you see a strategic inflection point and there is no data, is that what you call, The Valley of Death?
Grove: Well not the moment, that's when The Valley of Death starts, because you have to lead people into uncertainty. About the only thing that you have to lead them is your own convictions and your own credibility. You sometimes have to act more confident than you really are. That's not a normal way of operating, but when you're kind of lost, the leader has to take certain personal risks.
MPT: And fake it in a way.
Grove: Structured beyond what you feel comfortable with. Faking it is too strong. You really have to believe in the direction whereas you won't be able to lead people in that way. But, you may have to act more decisive than you really feel like.