Posts tagged Business

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)

How for-profit schools are working for the poor

Using a school-in-a-box model, for-profit schools in Sub-Saharan Africa have found a way to give primary school kids a quality education for roughly $5 a month.

Grameen Bank taught us that the so-called “unbankable” can benefit from micro-lending and large-scale organizations can even make money in that space. Bridge International Academies may very well demonstrate how technology and scale can overcome severe education gaps. Publishing, tech, and education services companies should take note.  

Pic: Rural Zambia

"I guess nobody really has it all together, huh?"

~ Corey (Liv Tyler/Empire Records).


After almost 20 years, Liv Tyler is channeling her inner Corey to help us avoid soliciting this response from our co-workers: “Well, Sinead O’Rebellion. Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.” 

Excerpted tips from her new book Modern Manners: Tools to Take You To The Top

The DOs:

“…maintain eye contact while shaking hands and greeting someone.”

“…show respect for the invisible personal space of others; keep your body at a minimum of about 18 inches (1½  feet) between you and the other person.”

“…let the person finish talking before you chime in.”

“…answer the phone with confidence and a smile, because that smile can be heard.”

“…return calls as soon as possible.”

“…use spell-check and proofread your message before sending.”

“…be aware that all feedback won’t be positive, because there are envious and unkind people who thrive on negativity.”

“…step aside before boarding a train to allow exiting passengers to depart. Rushing to get on board is not only rude but also can cause someone to fall.”

“…use earphones when listening to music.”

“…take small bites, and you’ll find it’s easier to join the conversation.”

“…keep the toast short and simple. Use the three B’s: Begin—Be Brief—Be Seated.”

The DON’Ts:

“…tilt your head to the side—unless, of course, you’re flirting. That’s a no-no in the business arena.”

“…put your hands in your pockets. People may wonder what you’re hiding.”

“…panic if you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Say something kind, like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m a little forgetful at the moment; please remind me of your name.”

“…make jokes or wisecracks about a person’s name—it’s rude.”

“…offer the ‘fingerella’ handshake to anyone, regardless of age or gender. The giver of a fingerella handshake extends the right hand with the thumb down, an fingers curled, which invites the receiver to grab the fingertips. The receiver wants to shake your hand, not kiss it!”

“…use ALL CAPS—it’s like shouting.”

“…send confrontational or insulting e-mails, and don’t respond to any sent to you.”

“…hit the Reply All button if you want only the sender to receive your reply.”

“…blot lipstick on a cloth napkin or use it as a handkerchief.”

“…talk with your mouth full of food, or chew with your mouth open.”

“…text at the table.”

“…place any personal items on the table, including your cell phone.”

Taking note in a new role

With anything new, taking time to notice, absorb, and reflect lets us be more thoughtful before we seek answers. 

If you’re new to an organization, jot down every idea or question you have about how things are done, and then stick it in a drawer. Just whatever it is (e.g., why is this done this way? who owns that?)

It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad; you don’t even need to talk it out with anyone. Just write it down and put it away.

At the end of three or four weeks, look at your notes. Maybe you will understand certain things in a new way, or maybe some things still won’t make sense. At that point you should sit down with your manager to talk about these things. It may be that your perspective is what is needed to make a change, or it may be that there are other things at play that aren’t apparent.

Entering the era of conservation


Full disclosure: am wearing purple Birkenstocks while writing.

Economies can’t expand forever, according to this Stephen King — though the dire scenario he describes might as well be the brainchild of the other Stephen King.

The great waves of global growth (e.g., trade, consumer credit, and expanded education), will subside and we will be left with economic stagnation and decline. Sounds Malthusian, right? 

King says: "The end of the golden age cannot be explained by some technological reversal. From iPad apps to shale gas, technology continues to advance. The underlying reason for the stagnation is that a half-century of remarkable one-off developments in the industrialized world will not be repeated."

Yes, given current economic assumptions, we cannot replicate the growth of the last 50 years, in U.S. and elsewhere.

The biggest and most wrought of those assumptions is that of low-cost energy being the most important driver of growth. All one has to do to get a sense of its holy standing in economics and politics is watch Obama dance around the realities of fracking in his effort to cheerlead on natural gas drilling, ignoring its real costs to all of us. 

We can create nothing but marginal growth if we continue to plumb the earth looking for lower and lower quality fuel sources. Tar sands excavation and fracking for shale gas mark a new level of desperation to drive growth. We are like alcoholics drinking the contents of our medicine cabinets.

The first step is admitting there’s a problem with our models, with our growth assumptions. And recalling this: “The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future.” — John Gardner.

We need to untether ourselves from gas to grow, adopting a new outlook re: renewables, and cast off capital market models that serve the whim of giant pools of money seeking higher and higher returns, and we need to do so in favor of new investment models and expectations around social as well as financial returns — it’s time for more Grameen banks and new models for reducing poverty.

What King’s essay appears to be saying is that global growth is over for everyone and, as such, capital resources will be reapportioned but not expanded significantly in the coming years and decades. With this in mind, we are entering an era of global conservation, and we will be saving what we would have spent, drilled, mined, and taxed.

Beyond our basic order of needs — food and shelter and such — there is the risk of inequality. If we can control for that, we can soften the landing from previous high-growth eras. So long as we continue to be creative in how we reduce poverty and inequality around the world, a slowdown won’t be apocalyptic. So, let’s plan for that and stop trying to squeeze out every last drop of growth having only short-term gains in mind.

Photo: Demonstration in Angelica, NY where the landfill is trying to fast-track a permit for accepting fracking waste from Pennsylvania.

The new mega-trend is transience: adapt assumptions, policies, and business practices


I reread the Grapes of Wrath in the Great Recession, but only now am I seeing the parallels. Our country was on the move in the Depression, and that’s quickly becoming the new reality for many of us.  

Construction workers have long been a mobile class — moving from boom town to boom town, many in RVs as their homes. And now, even academics are viewed as disposable (or readily replaceable, to be exact).  

My sister recently bemoaned her mobile life in academia, calling herself a “migrant laborer”. She quickly refined the statement, saying that her life was much more comfortable than that of a fruit picker, but that the reality is academic jobs are treated more as short-term roles.

Indeed, research from Northwestern shows that non-tenure track professors are better teachers. Of course they are, the pressure to perform is much higher. Watch for schools using this as a cudgel against those seeking tenure track jobs. 

We’re becoming a nation of freelancers. While that may sound, um, freeing to some people, negative implications abound.

If we’re all to be in business for ourselves: who insures us? Who covers for us when we are sick? What entities help us keep our transaction costs low? And, who enables our mobility.

This last point is where I’m fixated now.

Government is working on the first question via Obamacare (all politics aside). Our social networks and relationships will enable us to effectively cover our risks, for those of us lucky enough to be a part of strong professional communities. Nonprofits and professional groups will have to fill in for others, figuring out how to support those that don’t have strong networks to protect against free-rider problems such as professional under-bidding, which erodes our earning capacity (but that’s fodder for another post).

What truly has me worried (mostly because I’ve just moved twice) are the logistics of a mobile nation: 1) tax law prefers we be homeowners — even if it leaves individuals less mobile or even “under water”; 2) finance expects an enormous downpayment on a home when we may be least able to afford it (e.g., when we are moving for a new job); 3) renting has absolutely no financial benefit, and even leases can be expensive to leave, and renters are often vulnerable to horrible and abusive landlords (I’ve suffered through two psychos). 

The rules of the game need to change in response to this new economic reality. Lawmakers need to figure out how to support those of us who move with frequency for work, and stop putting the tax emphasis on stasis, and finance executives need to figure out how to support shorter-term home ownership (if that is indeed better), with lower upfront costs that don’t carry much higher down-the-road risks, particularly if it’s indeed true that home ownership is truly beneficial to communities. Finally, companies that support us in our move need to be much better at helping us get from place to place (current moving and storage solutions are often very expensive and painful to manage — ahem, PODS).

There is a real shortage of support structures and businesses to support a more mobile nation of workers. Time to get on it!

Image: from HomeOwnerNut blog

"Shutdown" news: when objectivity rings false


So-called journalistic objectivity has been a dealt a one-two punch from the press gallery.

One: “The political media’s aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides — combined with its obsession with process — led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand.” — Froomkin for Al Jazeera.

Two: As Ross Douthat of NYTimes suggests, ”the press’ efforts to remain neutral/balanced while also acting as a medium for surfacing underrepresented voices and investigating the powerful actually undermines good coverage of real issues as the two aren’t entirely compatible.”

Much of our current narrative is filled with stories that increase polarization. In response, editors cling to so-called objectivity — even where it’s not warranted.

As the industry formerly known as the newspaper business evolves, we will see more non-traditional editorial models cropping up, and that’s a good thing for democracy and individual agency


Image: The Birmingham News (today’s edition)