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Borrowed Assets

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“You never actually own a Patek Philippe.  You merely take care of it for the next generation.”

I like this advertising slogan for a brand of high-end watches, but I think it’s often limited in its interpretation.  Many think that it speaks to the watch’s durability and timeless design.  I agree with this, but I think it speaks even more powerfully to the watch’s actual use from generation to generation.  The arrival of an airplane after a son or daughter’s trip of a lifetime… the checking of an irregular pulse in the middle of the night or the time it takes to heat a baby’s bottle… the games, recitals or other special events just barely made…

This generational reference (and the “passing on of things”) makes me think about ownership… and what it truly means.  I see true ownership residing in whatever value is created, not in the “things” that are used to create the value; until used effectively, there is only value creation potential in these “things”.  This is also true of property that is developed or products that are created.  They only represent potential until they are actually used for something or enjoyed in some way.  Therefore, true ownership can only be in the experience of using or enjoying the property or product, not in having physical control of it.

As leaders, then, our responsibility is to release the potential in whatever we have at our disposal.  To make the best of the assets we are able to “borrow”.  This could be people as well as “things”.  Our best work is in creating incredible, sustainable value, by using the tools, brands, know-how, systems and anything else we can think of to make it happen.

It is also our job to take care of these “borrowed” assets.  Otherwise, they won’t be assets anymore.  They will be used up.

With this frame of mind, how would things be different?

First, we would maximize the potential of everything.  There might be fewer trade-offs, such as “this is a proper means to achieve a better end (or greater good)” or “the price of technological advancement is the loss of recognized personal contribution”.

Second, assets would not depreciate or be used up as quickly.  There would be greater sustainability.  There may even be a transformation of an asset to a higher or better purpose.  Think of a person this way.

Third, we would have a greater sense of legacy.  We would focus more on the value we have created or even the experiences we have had than the things we have accumulated.  “Look what they did with their borrowed assets!”

Are there metrics or financial performance indicators for this?

I can’t think of any.

Then how would we know that this “different state” actually exists?

It could become evident through an expressed increase in market (or shareholder) value.  It could be when people start giving their borrowed assets back or when other people find compelling new uses for those borrowed assets.  This is the essence of business investment, business transformation and business ethics.  Everything else is just noise, or a humanistic spin on what is perceived to be the common good.  Actually, the “right thing to do” is to not believe we own anything.

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