Thursday, March 24, 2011

Avoid Rarefied Air

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.”

– John le Carré (English Novelist)

Read On:
Yesterday, after reading the above quote, I circled back on an old interview I read with Abbe Raven, President and C.E.O. of A&E Television Networks. Her advice regarding leadership – avoid rarefied air. In Abbe’s own words: “There are many executives who only travel on private planes, go from office to car to home to a hotel, and you’re not experiencing the world. I take the train in every day. I look at what people are reading, watching, what devices they’re using. I go shopping. I buy the milk in the house. I watch TV. You want to make sure that you’re in touch with not only your employees, but also your customers and viewers, and what they like and don’t want. Be out there. Don’t let yourself get trapped in your office. You need to be in the world. And the world is not just other executives.”

If I can take a moment to paraphrase Abbe: Circulate, observe and stay informed in order to avoid rarefied air. Start by unplugging and taking a walk at lunchtime.


  1. "Once I get you up there...Where the air is rarified...We will glide...starry-eyed"-Frank Sinatra

    Nice observation and reference to Abbe's statement about avoiding rarified air to be a leader. I had to think of where I had heard that term before - it was in the jazz vocalist chapter of my life.

    As a leader, and especially as a marketer, you have to experience the world, and what people do, learn how they think and BE customer. Really learn what is part of their world, as they also circulate, observe and stay invormed...then we are performing a service when we help them make a purchase decision in the "blink" of an eye, in a very dense unrarified world, because we learned and observed and took part in our world as the leader Abbe speaks of. Thanks for your post, Jim.

  2. When I was in corporate life, it was called "Ivory Tower Syndrome" meaning sr execs were ensconced in their private work floors, with their personal chefs, gyms, exec washroom, and private elevators. (Yes, I lived like that once). You had no sense of what your company did, what your customers were thinking, or who even worked for it. The evolution of good business culture have eliminated many of these havens, and the openness of the social networks have exposed more. Overall, its a good thing (tho I must admit it was bitchin' to be inside. Those were the days...) Didd I say that in my outside voice?

  3. Jimmy,

    So true. I think that the Wall Street bunch fit this description to a "T", with the prospect that they haven't changed their view or position.

    One of the old management axioms was MBWA - Manage By Walking Around. It worked in the past and works today.


  4. Good advice. Hard to take sometimes, but there is something truly refreshing about getting away from the computers and going for a walk.

    Interesting piece as always!

  5. When I worked for Frito-Lay our region VP made sure all 'Ivory Tower' employees helped to work with the field reps on a regular basis to stay close to what happens on the front lines. Similar to the whole concept of the reality show w/the Exec working in the field. It provided perspective and reality checks.

  6. Thank you all for your comments. Oh yes, how I remembered my Ivory Tower Days. However, I could not wait to escape and ride with Sales so I could witness the real world. I also like doing OPM, spending other people's money since I had an Ivory Tower expense account.

  7. Terrific quote and marvelous reminder. It's something I refer to as 'retail outward' so you can truly understand the world that customers live in.

    Thanks, Jim.


  8. Excellent post Jimmy. The problem with being desk bound is that you live in a small bubble shared just by those similarily bound. Over time the world becomes a very small place and new ideas evaporate and decision making stops reflecting reality. The only way out is simply to regularly get out but some after leaving it too long find that very confronting. Best not to get oneself into that situation.