CEO Column for the Electric Consumer Magazine
August, 1998 

Good Ideas vs. Good Ideals

"That's a really good idea, John. You are a good idea person!"

I have had that line said to me for as long as I can remember. I used to consider it about as good a compliment as I could receive because I believe that ideas are important, and good ideas do matter. And as I have grown in my knowledge of the business world nothing has changed my mind about the importance of ideas, but I have learned that what really matters, whether in business or personal life, is when "ideas" become alive and turn into "ideals."

For example, I think it's a good idea to eat healthy foods and stay in shape, but those twenty-five extra pounds I tend to carry would indicate that this idea has never graduated to the ideal stage. I think it's important to teach kids to take care of the car and check the fluid levels, but two fried engines and two blown transmissions provide some evidence that the ideal is lacking. I think the best idea is the nurturing of one's faith in God, but dust on the Bible and mistreatments of anyone in my life would suggest that this idea is still one letter short of where it needs to be.

The first City Slickers movie (1991) did a great job of spelling this out. When Curly (Jack Palance) told Mitch (Billy Crystal) that the meaning of life was all about ONE THING, Mitch acted like he was about to receive the eleventh commandment that would clarify all his questions. When Curly told him that the ONE THING was finding out what his ONE THING is, well, you can imagine the letdown.

At the risk of over-simplifying things, I've come to the conclusion that we all only have one thing. Just because we don't know what it is doesn't mean that that one thing doesn't drive everything we do or try to do. That fact is that we often don't even have to know what the one thing is in order to reach reasonable levels of success; it happens everyday, all around us. But if we really want to make a difference, we need to focus on that ideal that we hold most important.

In a business, that focus is often the difference between failing and succeeding. And in an industry that is changing as much as the electric industry is right now, it becomes even more important to promote our main idea into our corporate ideal in such a way that everyone in the organization gives the same answer to anyone asking what our ideal is. It takes a lot of good ideas to make a company work, but if everyone has trouble understanding the difference between a supporting idea and the ideal being supported, then the result is confusion.

Now I'd like to spend a few lines telling you how we've embraced this idea at your REMC. I'd like to, but I also think it's a good idea to always tell the truth. Frankly, we've got some work to do here. We spend so much time trying to do so many good things for our customers that we often make our days longer and our nights shorter than they need to be.

Is our one thing selling electricity or delivering it? Is it protecting the members or providing for the customers? Is it dancing to the regulator's tune or marching to a different drummer? Is it going along with the crowd or standing tall for principles and the long-term good of our cooperative? ALL of those things are important in our business, but one is more important than the others are. And as soon as we figure it out for ourselves, my guess is you'll know it. And if we don't get it figured out, I have an idea that the people that replace us will be all too happy to make sure you know that, too.

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Up John Coldren: Not One Blankety Blank Point February Birthdays Respond to Bill? Better Late Than Never Cover up / Giving up Ideas Vs. Ideals Hope Springs Eternal Electric or Divine

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