Posts tagged Business

What if we waited, listened, and learned?

Fortune’s fantastic piece on avoiding failure features my very favorite piece of advice. 

Diagnose, don’t indict.
Executives new to an organization often turn over rocks to discover what they’ve gotten themselves into—and fail to manage their shock. Saying “How have you people survived this long?” is the worst reaction.”

Far too many people at every level over-step here and it can be alienating to their new colleagues. Even self-awareness can’t stop you all the time, I’ve found. The tendency is to notice and to share. But what if we waited, listened, and learned.

I read this great piece of advice somewhere (not sure who to quote, it’s been so long): “Before you start telling people where you’re coming from and what you’re about and what you’re going to do, listen first to what’s going on there, how others feel about it, what are their views, what’s their input, what are their personal goals? Take note of all that they have to say, and then put together your version of ‘here’s where I’m coming from.’ So, ‘listen and learn first’. 

It’s a practice. 

Pic: La Sagrada Familia, Barce.


"EMC uses its ‘federation’ business model as a way to allow VMware and a newer big-data division, called Pivotal, to run separately while still collaborating to sell combined offerings to big customers. This also enables VMware and Pivotal to strike partnership deals with companies that compete with EMC’s core business."

Rare interview w/ Jony Ive, Apple’s design head


My awesome co-worker alerted our entire product team to this interview. Two parts stand out:

"Creative teams are small and very focused. One of the underlying characteristics is being inquisitive and being curious."

"I wish I could do a better job in communicating this truth here, which is when you really are focused on the product, that’s not a platitude. When that truly is your reason for coming into the studio, is just to try to make the very best product you can, when that is exclusive of everything else, it’s remarkable how insignificant or unimportant a lot of other stuff becomes. Titles or organizational structures, that’s not the lens through which we see our peers.”

Image borrowed from BusinessWeek — one of my favorite pubs.

Light strategy development starts with a good theory … and lots of testing and learning


A head of strategy for a consumer products company that everyone on earth knows once told me: 

"On a practical level, a strategy is a set of choices that guide behavior and resource allocation… Sometime the external environment is relatively stable and you can use the ‘roadmap’ view that you articulated ­where I am, where I want to go and how to get there.  Sometimes the external environment is much more dynamic." 

In those cases, a lighter, more flexible model for strategy development is needed. Start with a good working theory (like HBR suggests), and then build it up to a strategy — if it bears weight. 

Out of this, you can build a product, division, or even a completely new business. Here are the key steps I’ve followed:

  1. Propose a hypothesis that solves a business challenge
  2. Find a customer or partner
  3. Create a model and prove it out
  4. Define what success and failure look like
  5. Develop metrics
  6. Improve incentives
  7. Create/procures a platform that enables
  8. Personalize/customize
  9. Do cool stuff with your data 
  10. Decide whether to sell it
  11. Keep developing demand
  12. World domination (joke)

There are 12 of ‘em, funny. What would you add?

pic: Moma ladder sculpture

Dismantling the manager mindset


In “Dismantling the sales machine”, my former employer’s latest contribution to HBR, Dixon and co. talk lots about reworking the sales mindset to meet a more demanding marketplace.

They also describe a new model and mindset for management that we must all adopt to adapt:

  • "Managers function not as directors but as a peer-level guides, helping to identify and implement innovative approaches to the teams work.

  • Managers serve as connectors within and beyond their teams, encouraging collaborative strategy development and problem solving…

  • …They live at the whiteboard, pulling team members into deal reviews and planning sessions.

  • They encourage innovative thinking and push team members to challenge one another.  

  • Managers regularly communicate up, down, and laterally. They provide a constant flow of information. 

  • Managers are constantly in teaching mode, listening to their teams, asking questions, and offering guidance.”

Photo: Flickr (Detroit)

What is community?


For some reason, I can’t leave the topic of in-real-life social networks alone. Work communities, local business as a cultural locus point, and loose tie investor groups are just a few.

Our communities can be local, professional, commercial, or anything really, and they undergird who we are and how we do what we do. It’s the connections that count, baby!

Naturally, I was drawn to the four foundations of community, which coalesced in a landmark article published David McMillan and David Chavis in 1986. Here they are in brief (though I recommend a deeper reading):

1) Membership

2) Influence

3) Integration and fulfilment of needs

4) Shared emotional connections

And for some people, it’s caffeination too. 

Pic: Formerly the fabulous Forty Weight Coffee shop 

Good process > analysis

An honest approach, considering all viewpoints and analysis, and keeping a decision journal, lead to better decision outcomes. 

"Whenever you’re making a consequential decision either individually or as part of a group you take a moment and write down:

  1. The situation or context;
  2. The problem statement or frame;
  3. The variables that govern the situation;
  4. The complications or complexity as you see it;
  5. Alternatives that were seriously considered and why they were not chosen; (think: the work required to have an opinion).
  6. A paragraph explaining the range of outcomes
  7. A paragraph explaining what you expect to happen and, importantly, the reasoning and actual probabilities you assign to each. (The degree of confidence matters, a lot.)
  8. Time of day the decision was made and how you feel physically and mentally (if you’re tired, for example, write it down.)”

Image: A Mandelbrot set. 

Our Companies, Our Selves: What we mean when we talk about creating a learning org


"The game has changed… you’re either building a software company, or you’re losing to someone who is… you’re either building a learning organization or losing to someone who is." — Andrew Shafer (Little Idea) 

Andrew Shafer’s low-ego approach under-asserts the power of his “little idea,” as he calls it, about how companies survive and win: 

Research shows that learning organizations have advantages in productivity and quality and in attracting and retaining the best people, yet most organizations are reluctant to truly invest here. Why?

Two forces coalesce to create one big barrier to change. Shafer blames the mashup as “Pareto Inefficient-Nash Equilibrium" to explain that while it’s possible to make people better off, nobody will change their strategy unless the game changes.

But the game has changed. 


"An organization’s culture is not some nectar to attract the best butterflies, it’s doctrine and values — Stowe Boyd @stoweboyd

Values and culture are used interchangeably, but whatever we call our organization’s DNA know that it is determinant of who/what we are and will become. 

In William Schneider’s conception, there are four main culture types. These determine if the people in the org are coached or cultivated by managers, or if the organization is learning or lagging.

Most of us, eager and educated, do professionally whatever we can for the companies who employed us, at the level that we are empowered to do so.

The question for individuals, founders, and managers at established companies is: how do we begin to recognize the greater organization’s operating system ((O)OS?) and its constraints and enabling features, and use this to cultivate learning?


"The real company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go." — Patty McCord (Netflix)

If success and failure are highly correlated with the degrees of organizational learning, we need to change 1) how we communicate and 2) what we do.

Here’s why:

1) Conway’s Law describes how organizations that design systems tend to replicate the communication structures inherent in the organization. 

It follows that we have to put as much effort into designing our organization’s communications as we do designing our software.

2) There are seven dimensions of organizational learning: continuous learning, inquiry and dialogue, team learning, empowerment, embedded system, system connection, and strategic leadership.

This list implies an upending in current practices at most companies I’ve worked with.

So, what would lit look like? It might look like this: perfect democracy, absolute transparency; Accounting sharing numbers across the organization; everyone selling and managing relationships with customers; adoption of reverse business case where people ask why not — not just why.

It also might look like opening a dialogue with employees about job satisfaction, improving communications, setting goals, measuring gap-to-goal, and creating a strategic plan.

Getting started now is the most important step.

Photo cred: borrowed from singer songwriter (and good friend) Rosa Pullman of The Lovers

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:

  • People in different industries
  • People of different age groups
  • People from different countries
  • People who aren’t your customers

While I haven’t always ascribed to Christensen’s disruption theories, particularly as he’s applied them to journalism. (He ignores demand for high quality news products that new market entrants aren’t positioned to provide.) 

I do buy Christensen’s point that high-end brands are in danger if they don’t position themselves across more of the market.


Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation - Clarendon Lectures 10th June 2013 (by Saïd Business School - OxfordSBS -)

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. 

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

Tech mega-trends will reshape companies


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)

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

image 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)