It’s more awkward than funny, but funny perhaps as in weird, how much the voice-of-doom function seems to be rising to the top these days. Hard times are coming, and we can all pretty much see that.
Interesting that our company’s voice-of-doom person has been quiet of late. I think she knows that the so-called VOD function isn’t as valuable right now because it’s a lot more obvious.
It reminds me, however, of how grateful I’ve been, through the years, to have been graced by a “voice of doom” function in the management of my company (Palo Alto Software) as it grew. And this, given the pessimism that’s suddenly in vogue, doesn’t seem a bad time to point it out.
For more than 13 years now, as we’ve grown fivefold in sales and employees, and more than that in cash flow (hooray), our financial management has been in the hands of a smart lady named Vie Radek. Her business card says her title is “controller.” She and my wife and I have joked more than once, though, that her title should really be “VOD,” as in “voice of doom.”
She’s the one who found the fatal flaws in that contract we were dying to sign. She’s the one who pointed out that the big new sale to the major channel was going to cost us a major shock in required co-promotion expenses, administrative fees and so on. She often dampened the enthusiasm as we grew with her refusal to let enthusiasm obscure reality.
As we look at hard times, with a sound company having a strong balance sheet and almost no debt, I’m particularly grateful for the VOD vision. As you start yours, grow yours or mind yours especially carefully in these tough times, remember how important some healthy pessimism is.
The crying-wolf function was bad in the fairy tale for reasons we all know. In a well-run business, however, crying wolf is quite the opposite: You really want somebody to cry wolf when in doubt, because even if that person is only right once in a while, that reminder–the enthusiasm dampener–can save the company.
If you don’t have a VOD person in your company, get one. If you do, remind that person every so often that crying wolf is good. Good news can survive somebody getting off the bandwagon and giving it a hard look. And when the bad news comes, you’ll be glad for that view having been there before.