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Batting .300

It's one thing to talk about “try a lot of things and get behind the ones that work,” but it's a lot harder when the time comes to make the cut and pull the plug on the ones that aren't working, especially when you realise that you're not talking about abstract numbers, but peoples' jobs, careers, and personal belief in something that didn't pan out. The decision to abandon AutoSolid as a stand-alone project and, instead, integrate it into AutoCAD was particularly difficult because it meant we'd be closing the Atlanta office and transferring the key development team to Sausalito. Other folks in Atlanta simply lost their jobs.

As if this wasn't tough enough on everybody concerned, right when Autodesk was incurring the expenses in moving people and closing the office in Atlanta, we had a particularly tough quarter and had to squeeze everything to meet our earnings per share expectation, including cutting back the quarterly profit-sharing bonus, which many employees had come to see as an integral part of their salary.

Lest disappointment turn into discouragement or, worse, enmity directed at those who had been doing their best for years to make AutoSolid a success, I decided the time had come once again to remind everybody that in business, as in baseball, what matters is the score at the end, not whether you hit a home run every time.

Statement for the Autodesk Monthly Meeting

by John Walker
September 8th, 1989

You know, it takes leather balls to get up here are try to out-do Richard Cuneo[Footnote] in a sports analogy. So I brought one.[Footnote]

Every now and then you run into something that's a little difficult to say and often it's easier to just keep your mouth shut. But I'm no Dodger. So, I'll just jump into the septic tank and start bailing.

People who haven't worked for as many really awful places as I have sometimes lose sight or take for granted some of the ways in which Autodesk is different, and I'm not talking about the bay views, the great spirit, or the running dogs of capitalism in the hallways. Consider that ever since this company went public in 1985, every quarter has seen us reporting rising sales and earnings, meeting or matching the expectations of the Wall Street analysts.

Most companies don't do this. They usually screw up well before 4 years have passed, especially if they're on a growth path as steep as ours has been.

If you don't realise just how difficult and rare this is, you're inclined to think something like, “Another no-hitter. I wonder how they'll do tomorrow.”

The last quarter was a squeaker—one of the toughest ones we've ever faced. We and the competition are going at each other knowing that the stakes in the contest are survival. We're moving into new markets and we're having to develop new ways to sell our products. And I think the economy is beginning to slow down.

Nonetheless, we pulled it off.

But I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about AutoSolid. I've heard some very depressing and poisonous comments recently to the effect that “we only got a small profit sharing check this month because of the Atlanta situation.” We got a small profit sharing check this time because the company had a Hell of a time making our numbers and just squeaked it out.

What about AutoSolid? One thing I find I have to keep saying over and over again is that the nature of business is trying lots of things, finding out what's working and what's not, and getting behind and prospering from the ones that work. If you're too timid to take your lumps, you'll fail by never having found your next great success. If you're too arrogant to admit you're wrong, you'll fail by pouring your efforts into things that aren't working rather than shifting them to things that may.

If you walk up to the plate and fail to get on base 70% of the time, they call you a hero. Why is it so hard to understand that batting 300 and making your best effort every time is the secret to success in business?

We tried one thing with AutoSolid, and it didn't work. Now we're going to try something else, preserving most of work we've poured into it so far, and I think we'll end up taking over the solid modeling business, in time. But while there's pain associated with trying something that didn't work, feeling shame and assigning blame are the wrong things to do, for most things that don't work aren't because somebody did something wrong—it's because you didn't have all the information, the timing was wrong, or just plain rotten luck. Certainly, our colleagues in Atlanta demonstrated competence, dedication, and hard work that is a model to us all.

When you strike out, you walk back to the dugout and resolve to succeed the next time.

Over the next several centuries of Autodesk's history, I think we'll be fortunate to bat .300. If we do, our company will continue to be one of the great success stories in the world of business.

Second, I'd like to make a brief comment about the stock market. After the crash in 1987 when I mentioned at the company meeting that I'd been feeling very nervous about the market, several people who got blindsided in the crash came up to me and said, “well, I'd really appreciate if you told me the next time you're nervous.”

I'm nervous.[Footnote]

I don't give investment advice, and I don't want to discuss the stock market or argue various opinions about it—basically, it bores me. Everybody has to make their own decisions. All I'm saying is that if you're up to your neck in the stock market, make sure it's because that's where you want to be, rather than because you haven't thought about it recently.

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