stepwise

Jan 22

Build a creative environment with routines

How we think about what we do is changing. 

Habits are the new willpower, and behavior design is upending how we think about enabling actions. 

The conventional wisdom is that repeating the same approaches to your job day after day can be the death of creativity. However, the right routines, applied appropriately, can provide a framework for creativity and enable an environment for pursuing new ideas. 

This Poynter piece offers guidance for news organizations, but lessons abound for non-media companies.

For example: start meetings on time and end on time, and ask others to be on time. Every day.

Also, these things:

Read more ideas here

Jan 10

Overcoming unconscious bias

I’m sure you’ve seen this great talk about the power of introverts.

Each one of us favors certain types of people based on our upbringing, experience, and values (e.g., whether we are introverted or extroverted, etc.).

And now, a growing number of U.S. companies are offering training programs aimed at overcoming these hidden biases, according to WSJ. 

We all bring our different viewpoints and personalities to work. The question for companies is if they can make us work for them, given all of our quirks and individualized communication styles.

Cultivating “diversity of thought” at a company can boost innovation and creative problem-solving, says a recent Deloitte study.

Varying the types of thinkers in a company helps guard against “groupthink,” and enables greater creativity and innovation. Also, diversity protects against one leader’s will, one plan, and one path. 

But what’s news here is that companies now see enabling diversity of perspectives and styles as everyone’s job, not just executives. 

To be truly innovative and flexibly adopt to changing world, we should all try learning from and interacting with people outside our circle, says the Strength in Weak Ties guy Mark Granovetter (a favorite of sociologists of network theorists).

Get to know new groups and types by seeking out:

Jan 08

[video]

Jan 07

A good tool for breaking it down

I was asked recently by a CFO to help develop a RACI matrix to help his team implement a new strategy.

Simple tools can serve a higher purpose, beyond the program and project management level.

The financial crisis underscored how important it was for CEOs of financial institutions to conduct a quick check of the firm’s risk exposure — via a Value at Risk figure or simple dashboard. We’ve also learned how risk can come in many forms, across all stages of a project or strategy, and from within all layers of the organization. 

A RACI matrix can act as a dashboard-view of any big endeavor. First, it helps strategists and managers break down a big idea into a many-staged plan, and assign multiple layers of ownership. Second, it helps monitor progress. 

You can download a template here to help you and your team:

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/raci-chart-TC103987164.aspx

Just be sure to follow the rules of thumb:

Jan 03

#Climate change 2013: what message types spread on social media

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Our company thought it would be interesting to track which social media messages re: climate change were most effective last year. After parsing lots of data, some themes emerged — some interesting, some obvious. 

For starters, we looked at quantity and quality: messages that had the broadest reach, and those messages by individuals who are climate change influentials (read: people who move the conversation forward or contribute new and different perspectives). Here’s what we learned:

 Photo: Montana, last month.

Jan 02

Double your personal productivity in 2014

Inc. (and every other tech publication) features five technologies that can help you organize more productively and save hours of time in 2014. 

I take a “one-in-one-out” approach to my closet, my device, and my day. If I’m adding an app, I remove one that hasn’t helped me. If I subscribe to a new magazine/organization/social network, I also unsubscribe from one that no longer serves a useful purpose. The key is to create space and time to make better decisions, but you really have to force yourself to do this or you’ll be leaving yourself with less. 

Dec 11

NSA used cookies (“a sometimes food”) to bolster surveillance

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The National Security Agency used “cookies”, the same tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, to discover location data for targets for government hacking, WaPo reported last night.

Whereas I would generally commend the smart use of available technologies, this move further erodes what little trust there is online and it will speed the inevitable demise of cookies. (It’s no surprise, even Cookie Monster anticipated the move away from cookies.

Consumers are asking for and companies (should be) giving them more privacy and control over how personal information is collected. Cookies were never an elegant advertising tool, and more companies are adopting the approach of asking individuals to provide select personal information in exchange for access to something they find valuable. Someone should brief the NSA on this. 

Image cred: PBS

Dec 10

G.M. names first female CEO

Mary Barra, the automaker’s head of product development, was named as its next chief executive officer. She would be the first female C.E.O. of a major automaker (!). 

The evidence is overwhelming: in business, having women in senior positions is linked to better results.

- Catalyst, a research organization, found that the companies with the most women board directors earned a 26% higher return on invested capital than the companies with the least women. 

- McKinsey & Company, the consulting behemoth, found that the international companies with more women on their corporate boards far outperformed the average company in return on equity and other measures. Also, operating profit was 56 percent higher.

Thanks to Nick Kristof (NYT) for these facts/figures

Dec 05

On spam and spying

If you happen to get an invite for JobAndTalent, don’t click! It very quickly pings all your contacts across all platforms/email accounts without permission. I thought I was helping out a fellow entrepreneur by clicking, but no.

The realization that I spammed every single person I know, including clients and advisors to our company and my mother, coincided with news today that the NSA collects 5 billion records a day on cellphones worldwide, incidental to its investigations of foreign nationals.   

It has me thinking that we see too many organizations acting cavalierly with our data. As many of us don’t share their “free data” ideals, more of us will quickly vacate those platforms they we don’t view as trustworthy (our cellphones may be another matter, of course).

Beyond being transparent about the value customers get from sharing their data (and being explicit about what they are sharing, which JobAndTalent does not), organizations should consider ways they can empower individuals by allowing them to aggregate, store, find, securely share, and get value from data about them and their lives. 

We should demand more. Beyond calling bad actors to task, we should raise the bar for what we get for what we give.  

Dec 04

Tech mega-trends will reshape companies

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The evolution of technology has brought us “Big Data,” with its emphasis on analytics and data visualization, and changing how companies think about technology.

Remember the VP of electricity? Yeah, me either. The point is that technology results in many macro- and micro-level changes, from the “end of average" to new conceptions of how the firm manages roles at the corporate center. It’s easy to foresee a future where there is an executive whose sole purpose is managing and analyzing the company’s information flows, and where teams and divisions are oriented around activities instead of functions.  

Pic: Cornell University computing icon Richard Lesser at CPC in Rand Hall (Copyright: Cornell University)

Dec 02

Amazon’s drone delivery brings new meaning to ‘Black Friday’

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Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos said the online retailer is developing pilotless flying vehicles that can deliver packages within a half hour of an order.

Same-day delivery services aren’t intended to be profit-making, but rather habit-forming and brand-strengthening, but this news strikes me as a pure brand play/ploy — like D.C.-based iStrategy Labs’ push-button pizza-ordering system (which they readily admit to). After all, drone burrito delivery has already been shot down (so to speak) by the FAA.

Pic: my friend Dan Merwin, who designs drone tech for photography, took this one with his unmanned camera (Copyright: Dan Merwin)

Nov 20

The driving factors of sustainable mobility: BMW’s charge into the U.S. EV market

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BMW’s thinking about the future of mobility holds lessons for other companies (across industries) and all of us as consumers.  

Wha-wha Washington, D.C.?!?
When the German automaker introduced the BMW i3 — the company’s pure electric vehicle (EV) — to the U.S. market this month, the company’s leaders didn’t go to New York or Silicon Valley and rub elbows with capitalists and venture capitalists. Instead, they convened a group in a downtown D.C. art gallery space that included a White House official, a Senator (not from Michigan), a grid expert from a large American energy company, and a professor of urban planning. 

A quick scan of the room made clear that BMW is focused on selling an idea ecosystem as well as a car. Yes, there were cars on display, but the company also highlighted the tech companies it’s working with to enable mobility (e.g., an app that enables car sharing) and those it’s worked with on the i3’s development (e.g., a joint venture with SGL Group to make carbon fiber in Moses Lake, Washington).

Making an electric vehicle is a big bet for any car company. There isn’t a high degree of global demand for electric vehicles and the question of power supply is a significant one that relies on lots of players.

What’s clear is that car companies that are serious about electric vehicles need to build the ecosystem around electric vehicles, on top of building the cars themselves, and it’s interesting to see BMW taking the lead domestically, particularly when government involvement — both local and federal — is key. 

Government as a Partner and Player
Car manufacturing is inextricably linked to politics, trade, regulations, subsidies and taxes, and mobility is a function of state and local government.

To build the ecosystem around electric vehicles, every level of government is needed, from agencies to zoning boards. 

The federal government’s role is to look over the hill at future needs and support ubiquity and mass adoption of new technologies to serve those needs, enabling market viability and removing information asymmetry for consumers. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy helped develop an affordable lithium ion battery used in electric vehicles, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for those stickers that tell you how much energy your car will consume down the road.

State and local governments, on the other hand, are critical partners in electric mobility because they regulate HOV policies, allocate space for parking, bus, and bike lanes, as well as bike share stations. 

Government at all levels cares about attracting foreign direct investment by international businesses that creates jobs for American workers. Foreign companies also bring with them the benefit of tech and knowledge spillover: technology developed in the plant and management techniques used there spread naturally across domestic industries. 

Watch for Mega-trends Before They Hit
When companies think in terms of decades instead of quarters, they change the way they invest resources — seeking out an array of opportunities — in adjacent or new markets. Transportation is a long game.

Here’s the thing that most car companies know about electric vehicles: the internal rate of return is not immediately compelling. BMW’s executives noted that development of the BMW i3 took four years, and while the company has already absorbed the investment — the i3 will be profitable from day one, which was last week in Europe and spring of 2014 in U.S. — there’s uncertainty around when the global population will reach critical mass with the electric vehicle segment.

What sets companies up for success is thinking up products that align with current and future trends. Apple created  technologies that are embedded into our lives by first making our music more accessible to us, and then giving us tools that help us manage our lives more efficiently. That’s how you achieve super-long growth streaks.

Currently the sharing economy is taking hold with early-adopter types in urban centers. While it’s not yet hitting the bottom line of most legacy brands, it may do so soon. BMW i is starting to play in this space, imagining ways its cars can facilitate car-sharing. Its executives note that they see this as a way to serve a new segment of consumers (e.g., former non-drivers). 

Driving Factors of Sustainable Mobility
Mega-trends are those that hit broadly, and they affect the multiple facets of our lives. One that BMW is banking on is mass urbanization, which will affect most of the world’s population in the coming decades. The question for all companies becomes, how does that trend let you play from strength? How do you build your company’s strategy around it? 

For car makers, what’s key is that there is an inherent antagonism between city culture and cars. New forms of infrastructure are needed to support burgeoning populations, and new types of transportation solutions will crop up. Cars may not be as big a part of an evolving urban landscape, but their relevance isn’t diminished when one considers that developed economies have aging populations. 

In terms of the urban landscape, gas stations are a terrible use of urban space. So, car companies are smart to ask: how does it become more convenient to charge than pump gas? Similarly, looking for parking uses up too much energy (both in terms of gas and personal productivity), and car companies must offer solutions or risk being left behind, particularly if drivers are older and less mobile. 

BMW assumes time, space, and energy are all constrained under the mass urbanization scenario. With this in mind, the company rethinks everything from its supply chain, to its users, to reducing the total cost of ownership (the cost of using and disposing of a good):

Share the Risk/Share the Wealth
Beyond government, companies that are investing in inherently risky propositions like electric vehicles should look across industry lines for potential partners.

Since electric car makers must ensure that supply is there to meet demand, energy companies and utilities are obvious picks. But there are also opportunities for adjacent industries. For example, anyone who owns parking lot space can generate revenues by providing charging stations (e.g., sports teams with under-utilized complexes). Platforms like eBay can enable personal charging station rentals. These new ways of thinking can turn a depreciating asset into one that generates revenues. Thus, a recharging industry rises.

So, while the barriers to entry for electric vehicles remain high, companies that start us down the road of thinking differently about mobility are doing us all a favor — even their competitors. This is no “I drink your milkshake" scenario; what BMW builds and cultivates in the U.S. will benefit domestic auto makers and all of us, really.

Photo cred: auto evolution (more here

Nov 19

Re: more thoughtful communications

(from The Actor’s Institute training)

Nov 18

What can we learn from cord-cutters?

Many more of us are cutting the cable cord, ditching paid subscriptions for television services.

While behavioral change is not in itself a mega-trend, it signals new habits are being created around emerging technologies. Considering how your company can align with new habits is key to business growth. One example we’ve heard recently was from a European car maker who told us that the prevalence of smartphones makes mass adoption of electric vehicles more feasible since people can find charging stations more easily.  

Nov 14

Two great organizations get featured in Wired

Two friends’ orgs made the pages of Wired this month. It’s well deserved coverage of two great endeavors. Congrats, Skillz Street and WellDone!

1) Skillz Street is a girls-targeted intervention that combines an activities-based HIV prevention and life skills curriculum with fair play soccer and peer-led community outreach activities. 

image2) WellDone builds technology tools that empower resource-constrained communities with the data they need to provide critical infrastructure that lasts.

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