Snakes on the Plane

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


Way back in the nineties, I read an article about Ross Perot, who built the E.D.S. (Electronic Data Systems), and then sold it to General Motors. (Later, Perot ran for President of the US as an Independent, after that, GM sold off EDS, which then went on to great prosperity.)

Here’s what Perot said in this article:

“At GM, if someone sees a snake in the hallway, they report it to their boss, who then reports it up the line. Then, a cross functional committee is formed to study the snake problem. They do analyses, formulate conclusions and recommendations and file their report. This usually takes several months. Eventually, decisions are reached, directives are formulated, and then sent back down the line to be carried out.

At E.D.S., if someone sees a snake in the hallway, they kill it.”

I also read a couple of weeks ago that since Google went public, they have become extremely slow and bureaucratic, leaving it open for Facebook to steal away many of their most independent thinkers. (We will see.)

As EllisDon grows and spreads out, the challenges of keeping control, providing consistent service to national clients and adding management depth are very important, but are also adding bureaucracy and increasing overheads. There must always be rules; where is the ideal balance?

But this bias must forever remain: If you see a snake, kill it. If something clearly needs doing, do it. I’d far rather spend my time cleaning up the spillings of overactive self starters than die the slow death of disengaged, bureaucratic stagnation.