Friday, April 3, 2009

ER as a metaphor for life

My wife and I watched the last episode of ER last night. We’ve been watching the series together (off and on) for the 15 year reign.

As many have noted, ER overstayed its welcome — it could left on top but NBC and the stars got greedy. It even had a chance to end with its creator, the late great Michael Crichton, but the missed that by five months.

It seems like a metaphor for life, or at least the temptations of leaders to overstay their welcome.

In particular, senators seem to only leave via funeral or when they are involuntarily retired by the voters. At 84, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) could have chosen not to run for re-election after indictment, but instead fought to the end rather than let his party keep the seat.

Some CEOs are forced out after they screw up (witness all Apple CEOs between Mike Markkula and Steve Jobs). Others — like the producers of ER — stretch out their welcome by an extra few years.

A good CEO will walk out on top. However, in retrospect many such cases seem to be in anticipation of the fertilizer hitting the ventilator. In many cases, this leaves the successor to cope with the incipient collapse (Cf. Jack Welch).

Andy Grove had it right: he was CEO from 1987-1998, stepping down during the peak of the dot-com era, and giving his successor (Craig Barrett) a fair chance to make his mark. Grove was pugnacious, but he was also a man of honor and principle. (Some criticize Grove for not taming the monster of bureaucracy, but that’s something that faces all mature companies.)

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