My favorites from “The HP Way”

Books continue to be my biggest source of wisdom – they are the true time machines. You can travel back in time as the author takes you on a journey to the distant past and helps you form a mental picture of the unique circumstances that led to them taking a certain decision. Unless one truly understands the context, one can’t really distill the knowledge from those stories and convert it into timeless wisdom.

I especially like reading books a couple years after their release – gives the story enough credibility (or otherwise) because there is enough experiential data to validate the thoughts and ideas proposed in the book. Sometimes, it also brings out ‘timelessness’ of ideas – and helps you understand things that continue to withstand the tests of time, while in some cases, you find why the idea that was very hot once, has now fallen out of favor. Sometimes, I re-read books after a few years just to understand ideas that have a deep foundation and have clearly provided firm guidance, especially in turbulence, while there are some that faded into oblivion.

Some of my favorite timeless ideas from The HP Way include:

  • Given equally good players and good teamwork, the team with the strongest will to win will prevail (Pg 12)
  • Personal communication was often necessary to back up written instructions. that was the genesis of what became “management by walking around” at the Hewlett-Packard Company (Pg 27)
  • I spent a full afternoon with him and I have remembered ever since some advise he gave me. He said that more businesses die from indigestion than starvation. (Pg 52)
  • I knew by then that Easthan realized we were going to be in direct competition with his company, and I anticipated that our meeting with him would be uncomfortable. He assured us, however, that compettion was a good thing and it was better to have two companies introducing a new product, especially if it incorporated new technology, because that made it all the more credible to the customer. (Pg 52)
  • Our success depends in large part on giving the responsibility to the level where it can be exercised effectively, usually on the lowest possible level of the organization, the level nearest to the customer. (Pg 72)
  • I noted that the banks simply foreclosed on firms that mortgaged their assets and these firms were left with nothing. Those firms that did not borrow money had a difficult time, but they ended up with their assets intact and survived during the depression years that followed. From this experience, I decided our company should not incur any long-term debt. For this reason Bill and I determined we should operate the company on a pay-as-you-go basis, financing our growth primarily out of earnings rather by borrowing money. (Pg 84)
  • No company has unlimited resources, so it is essential that the resources available be applied to the projects most likely to be successful. At HP we often used to select projects on the basis of a six-to-one engineering return. That is, the profit we expected to derive over the lifetime of a product should be at least six times greater than the cost of developing the product. Almost without exception, the products that beat the six-to-one ration by the widest margin were the most innovative. (Pgs 97-98)
  • Lab managers face a real challenge in dealing with the enthusiastic inventor who presents a very creative and innovative idea – and idea that after careful and objective analysis by others is turned down. How do managers provide encouragement and help the inventor retain enthusiasm in the face of such disappointment ? Many HP managers over the years have expressed admiration for the way Bill Hewlett handled these situations. One manager has called it Bill’s “hat-wearing process”. Upon first being approached by a creative inventor with unbridled enthusiasm for a new idea, Bill immediately put on a hat called “enthusiasm”. He would listen, express excitement where appropriate and appreciation in general, while asking a few rather gentle and not too pointed questions. A few days later, he would get back to the inventor wearing a hat called “inquisition”. This was the time for very pointed questions, a thorough probing of the idea, lots of give-and-take. Without  a final decision, the session was adjourned. Shortly thereafter, Bill would put on his “decision” hat and meet once again with the inventor. With appropriate logic and sensitivity, judgment was rendered and a decision made about the idea. This process provided the inventor with a sense of satisfaction, even when the decision went against the project – a vitally important outcome for engendering continued enthusiasm and creativity. (Pgs 100-101)
  • Several years later, at a gathering of HP engineers, I presented Chuck with a medal for “extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty”. So how does a company distinguish between insubordination and entrepreunership ? To this young engineer’s mind the difference lay in the intent. (Pg 108)
  • Every person in the organization must be continually looking for new and better ways to do his or her work. (Pg 126)
  • Another requirement is that a high degree of enthusiasm should be encouraged at all levels; in particular the people in high management positions must not only be enhuisiastic themselves, they must be able to engender enthusiasm among their associates. There can be no place for hanfhearted interest or halfhearted effort. (Pg 126)

I feel these are great lessons that apply at any workplace even today. Since I have never worked at HP, I don’t know (and don’t wish to comment either) how well they are followed at HP, or if they are effective. Just that these ideas resonate well with me 🙂

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