January 04, 2013

On My Desk

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Adner, Ron. The Wide Lens. A new strategy for innovation. Portfolio / Penguin. 2012. 

Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity. Random House. 2012. 

Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator's Dilemma. The revolutionary book that will change the way you do business. HarperCollins. 1997.

Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator's Solution. Creating and sustaining successful growth. Harvard Business School Press. 2003.

Lencioni, Patrick. The Advantage. Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. Jossey-Bass. 2012.

Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature. Why violence has declined. Viking. 2011.

Reynolds, Gretchen. The Fist 20 Minutes. Surprising science reveals how we can exercise better, train smarter, live longer. Hudson Street Press. 2012.

 

December 27, 2012

Case: Inhalable Insulin

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Choose Your Early Adopter Carefully 

The Idea

Folks don't really like to inject themselves with insulin to control their diabetes. That was the theory. Let's design another type of delivery device that doesn't require injection. That was the idea. The first ones, like many early examples, were heavy and not very easy to use, either by doctors (who had to train their patients) or patients (who didn't like the large size of the inhalers). There was one good side to this. Pfizer received FDA approval to market their insulin delivery system, with one requirement. Any patient who signed up to use inhalable insulin had to first have a lung function test (Adner, 111). General practitioners have lung function testers in their offices to test for asthma and for smokers. Pfizer thought this was solvable.

The Reality 

Pfizer made a crucial decision, an obvious one really, but, ultimately, the wrong one. They'd roll the new device out not through GPs offices but through endocrinologist's offices, as they knew a lot more about diabetes. They were the obvious early adopters for this new technology as the buy rate would be large. The theory was that endocrinologists would quickly see the advantages of the new system, endorse its use, and prescribe it to their patients. There are two important aspects of an endocrinologist office: its hard to get an appointment, and more important, a normal endocrinologist office doesn't have a lung function tester. Anyone they were suggesting should go the inhaler route would have to have a lung function test initially, and periodically thereafter. That test'd have to be done elsewhere. The combination of very busy endocrinologists and test done elsewhere was enough to destroy this early adopter marketplace. Where billions of revenues had be forecast, millions of revenues occured, a huge bust.

Industry write-downs were more that $1 billion (Adner, 106). Pfizer pulled the plug early. Other followers quit, as well.

Could these losses have been avoided? Adner thinks so. They should have critically examined the total market place earlier and more completely. If they'd realized that endocriologist buy-in was crucial to success, they'd probably never have gone into the business in the first place. Assuming the crucial step of referring patients initially and periodically to a lung function tester was OK was the big mistake.

A question remains: If Pfizer had toughed out the launch with general practitioners (who had the lung function testers already), not endocrinologists, would their launch have been successful? We don't know. What we do know is that Pfizer and its competitors missed a crucial strategic question early in the process. That resulted in a $1 billion bust. Not pretty.

Reference

Adner, Ron. The Wide Lens. A new strategy for innovation. Portfolio/Penguin. 2012 

December 26, 2012

Case: Analog Cameras Migrate to Digital

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It Took a Financial Solution, Not a Technical One 

We all know what an analog camera is although we probably don't think of it that way. Until maybe twenty or so years ago, all cameras were analog. They shot some sort of film that was developed for making prints. Movies were made the same way. A company would shoot a film, have the film developed and cut and splice it into a final movie. Then copies of the movie would be made for distribution to movie theaters around the world. Every step of the way was fairly expensive, including the distribution of that final movie to the theaters. A change in the way movies were made took place in the late eighties when a methodology was created to scan an analog movie into a digital file that could them be distributed to theaters not on film but digitally, over some sort of broadband connection (Adner, 66). But, now, there was a problem. The theaters, which normally run on a shoe-string budget, were supposed to updrade to digitial projectors. They'd receive the digital signal from broadband and digitally project it. The new projectors were expensive, so expensive in fact that the theater owners were holding off on upgrading. They just couldn't afford the new projectors. Things might have settled right there with no movement in movie technology if the studios (or another middle-man) which made the movies hadn't dreamed up a solution: they'd by the digital projectors and lease/rent them to the theaters. The theaters could suddenly pay for the movies; the studios could make money. Everyone won (Adner, 73).

Let's look at what happened. Film was converted to digital. That took an innovation. The digital file was distributed to the theater. That took an innovation. The theater projected the film. That took an innovation. The theater paid for the projector out of cash-flow, not savings (or, more likely, a loan). That took an innovation. Only after this whole series of innovations did anyone start to make money. An industry changed, yes, but it wasn't just one innovation that did. It took a whole series of innovations to make things work. Today, films are shot not on film, but directly to digital files where that may be manipulated - edited - in all sorts of ways. The final cut is sent to the theaters much as we have discribed. But the main innovation was financial. The studios probably wouldn't have sold anything unless the local theater chains were willing to buy. The financial step of buying projectors for each individual screening room made things happen.

Reference

Adner, Ron. The Wide Lens. A new strategy for innovation. Portfolio/Penguin. 2012 

Case: Nokia's Migration from 2G to 3G

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The Technology Was Ready. The Market Wasn't 

Motorola started is all in the eighties with their Dyna TAC, the first portable phone with thirty minutes of talk time after ten hours of charging, and, wait for it, a $3,995 price tag (Adner, 39). While Motorola didn't really get rich on the Dyna TAC, its success pointed to possibilites that other electronics and communications companies were willing to try to address. Telecom operators, the infrastructure providers (think towers and transmitters), and the handset makers were all in it together buidling the market that Motorola had essentially created. Motorola was the first generation or 1G. All the telecom operators, the infrastructure providers and handset makers that followed Motorola (like, for instance, Nokia) built the second generation, or 2G. The key point is that they all grew together. Towers, infrastructure, messaging, and handsets all appeared at the same time. Soon there was a problem. Everyone had a phone. They were happy. But, how could all the handset and infrastructure folks continue to grow? The market seemed saturated.

Nokia came up with an idea. Create the first handset for the next generation of communication, 3G. The first company into the market stood to win big. Huge. They were excited. They plunged into the new handset market basically all alone. Yes, the spectrum had been sold. Yes, the infrastructure folks were at work (Adner, 42). Nokia decided that was enough. They'd build a new phone capable of handling all the features of the new infrastructure. And they did. Only there was one problem. The 3G network had all sorts of possibilites that seemed just great, but all the supporting infrastructure wasn't there yet. Nokia assumed there'd be hundreds of millions of potential users of a new 3G phone, all wanting to buy now. They were wrong. The market didn't really get together until 2007 or so, long after Nokia launched its new phone. Growth didn't fit the projections. Nokia wasn't ever the same, healthy company again. The whole 3G launch was too early with too much into a market that just wasn't there.

All the things we take for granted in 3G networks (and now 4G and its variations) didn't really reach critical mass until 2008. By plunging in too quickly, Nokia ignored the fact that all the online structure it needed to make its new phone successful didn't really exist yet. That failure - or too positive attitude, if you will - cost it its leadership in the handset market. It hasn't been the same since.

Reference

Adner, Ron. The Wide Lens. A ew strategy for innovation. Portfolio/Penguin. 2012 

Case: Michelin Run Flat Tire

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Michelin Radials Were Easy-to-Market. Michelin Run Flat Tires Weren't 

The Dilemma

Michelin had a home-run in the fifties and sixties with the creation of the radial tire (Adner, 20). It supplanted the bias ply tire with a safer, longer lasting solution that installed using existing equipment on existing wheels. It was useful to manufacturers (which bought in large quantity) and tire shops (which, individually, bought in smaller quantities, but collectively, bought more than seventy five percent of new tires). Michelin had created the perfect solution. Fast-forward to the nineties. Michelin wanted another winner. What to do?

Along the way, other tire firms had created and sold the SST, a self-supporting tire, that could run flat for a ways. It was heavy which reduced fuel milage, harsh riding, and could only support an auto with a flat tire for fifty miles. Harsh ride and lower milage weren't good enough for Michelin. They wanted a better tire than the SST.

The Solution

At an off-site strategy session the Michelin team decided to make a longer lasting run-flat tire. Called the PAX, the new tire was a new tire technology incorporating four components, the wheel, an inner support ring, a tire pressure monitor, and the tire. The tire required a custom-designed wheel (which made more sense for the auto manufacturer to install during the initial car build), a custom-designed support ring (that installed on the custom wheel with custom equipment by specially trained employees), a tire pressure monitor (monitors were new on tires and mis-understood by consumers at launch) and the tire (which installed not by pressure but by actually clamping it in place as opposed to the used-forever pressure mounted tire). Everything was, essentially, custom-designed. As well, everything had to be installed by trained technicians. All this worked pretty well for Michelin, at least initially. Manufacturers agreed to install the tires on select, higher-priced models and a competitor, Goodyear, agreed to license the process and manufacture a competitive tire as well.

The Result

Two things went wrong: since the tire was initially destined for only a few models, volume wasn't enough to make the tire profitable for, well, too long. Additionally, local repair shops (the big volume users, you will remember) couldn't ramp up fast enough. When a tire failed, the local shop's only real solution was to install the older radial tire, not the SST. Since the Michelin run-flat tire required a special wheel upon which you couldn't mount one of the older radials, the chagrined car owne had to spring for a new wheel in addition to his or her new tire. And you couldn't mount just one new tire; you had to mount two new tires and wheels. Costs added up quickly. Customers weren't happy, as you already are suspecting.

What to Remember

The radial tire was relatively simple to implement. New tire molds at the factory and some training at repair shops was about it. The run-flat tire required new everything. The factory couldn't keep up. Installers couldn't keep up with training enough tire repair people, or stocking enough of all the various parts. When a tire failed, as of course they ultimately did, the system wasn't in place to keep cars inexpensively on the road.

With a new product, look not only at the product itself, but the entire system. Micheln sure wishes it had, as, ultimately, they had to cancel their wonderful new tire and take a big write-down. Not pretty.

Reference

Adner, Ron. The Wide Lens. A new strategy for innovation. Portfolio/Penguin. 2012 

December 20, 2012

Is Your Organization Smart - or Healthy?

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Smart organizations have (Lencioni, 6) good strategy, good marketing, good finance and good technology.

Healthy organizations have (Lencioni, 6) minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity and low turnorver.

Is your organization smart - or healthy?

Or is it smart and healthy?

There's a difference. 

Reference

Lencioni, Patrick. The Advantage. Why organizational health trumps everyting else in business. Jossey-Bass. 2012.

Falling Price of Lignite? Sell More

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Let's say you own a lignite mine. Now, we all know that lignite, also called brown coal, is highly polluting. But let's also say that regulation or supplies of alternate sources of energy cause the price of lignite to fall. What do you do? Assuming that your costs are lower than the price you are able to quote (and lignite is pretty easy to mine), you'll produce more lignite until your mine is empty.

Rising supplies of althernate energy. Lowering price of polluting energy. Rising supply of polluting energy. More pollution, not less. The green paradox (Sinn, 188). Ouch.

Not a pretty picture. Sinn makes the case that regulation and carbon markets are the solution, but he's not optimistic. We still face the paradox.

Reference

Sinn, Hans-Werner. The Green Paradon. A supply-side approach to global warming. The MIT Press. 2012.

Multi-tasking? Frazzled?

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Relax and become more productive. So, how do we relax, given our busy schedules?

Devi has a couple suggestions (Devi, 242):

  • Laugh with close friends. Got no friends? Find some.
  • Share both companionship and romance with a life partner.
  • Have sex - lots.
  • Forgive. Forget.
  • Eat when you're hungry. Sleep when its time. Don't postpone either.
  • Again - get enough sleep.
  • Stop with the drugs to get to sleep.
  • Cut back on multi-tasking. Do one thing. Then another.
  • Schedule downtime in the midst of it all.
  • Drop TV.
  • Communicate face-to-face.
  • Hug more.
  • Dogs calm you down. Lots.
  • Start the day out calmly.

It's worth a try.

Reference

Devi, Gayatri, M. D. A Calm Brain. Unlocking your natural relaxation system. Dutton. 2012.

Football Parity - With an Auction

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Writing in The Economists Voice, Yeon-Koo Che and Terrence Hendershott (Edlin, 251) make an interesting case. Football lovers know that if a game goes into overtime, the team that wins the first possession (in a coin toss) is most likely to win. Che and Hendershott say that's not fair. They suggest that, instead, the rules should require not a coin toss but an auction. The teams would "bid" on where they want to place the ball in that first possession. My first read of all this seemed to indicate that cash traded hands. Not so cool in the heavily regulated NFL. What you're auctioning, actually, is field position. I want to go first. Therefore, I'll place my team farther from the goal-line. The teams bid back and forth. The one that accepts the longest position from the goal-line wins. Then they try to score. It's not parity. It's not the luck of the toss. It's an auction. Not a bad method. The analysis of where to place the ball becomes a very lucrative job. I wonder what they'll pay that person, especially at, say, the Super Bowl.

Analytics matter in your business, as well. How are you hiring experts? How do you keep them around? And, specifically, what questions do you ask your expert? Seems simple, doesn't it? Maybe. Maybe not.

Reference

Edlin, Aaron S. and Joseph E. Stiglitz, Editors. The Economists Voice 2.0. The financial crisis, health care reform, and more. Columbia University Press. 2012.

10,000 Hours

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Steve Belichick was a football scout.  He was the guy who scouted college football action a week before his own team played an opponent. He was one of the best in that he didn't just show up. He analyzed and really tried to figure things out so his team would perform better the next week. And, in an occupation that seems pretty subjective, he figured out how to be objective and precise. As you probably know, when you work for a college football program, your job security depends upon how long the coach manages to keep his job. If he leaves, you leave. Steve Belichick had a family and he didn't like the odds, so, when he had the chance, he found a program that was stable and secure for the long haul - Navy. While he occasionally was offered promotions to coach or more responsibility elsewhere, he stayed at Navy. After all, family came first, and stability was crucial.

Analyzing film grew in importance over the years. Steve'd look at film over and over, trying to see what the opponent was doing, and, more important, trying to figure out what opponents were likely to do against his team. Steve was good at what he did. His son, Bill, even at a very young age, was good too. He was talking Xs and Os while most kids were, well, out playing.

Malcomb Gladwell in his book Outliers makes the case that the truly special artist becomes special by practicing at least ten thousand hours at his or her art before the age of twenty. While Halberstam doesn't tell us the hours, it looks like Bill Belichick put in his ten thousand hours all right. My bet is that he put in twenty or thirty thousand hours into figuring just what made a football team tick. By the end of all that Bill had a skill that ultimately exceeded his father's and, when the football community started to take notice, became very, very valuable to professional football coaches and teams.

Michael Lewis in his book Moneyball makes another case, namely that, in baseball at least, if you watch carefully, there are specific things that batters do to get on base. If you can act on those observations, you can pick better players. Lewis tells the story of Billy Bean who ended up managing the Oakland Athletics professional baseball team. He hired statisticians to help him figure out just which players were perfect for his organization, yes, but also players he could afford to hire given his limited player budget, as, obviously, Oakland isn't New York City or maybe even Boston. Bean's analysis focused on baseball players. It wasn't, however, dissimilar to what the Belichick's were doing in football. They were watching and recording what really happened in a football or baseball game and tried to figure out what that meant for their management style. Belichick mimiced Bean in focusing on which players to select to build a team that could outperform its competitors.

Since football is a physical sport, conditioning is important. So is knowledge. Bill Belichick, even while he was still in school at Andover and Wesleyan, was trying to use his knowledge to help his teams win. He'd realize things and try to subtly tell the coach things that he might not have realized himself. Later, in stops at professional football teams in Detroit, Denver and New York, he became an expert a reading film so he could prepare his teams to succeed. Defense was his first love; when he figured that the same things applied to offense, as well, he was capable of not only subordiante positions as linebacker coach or line coach. Ultimately, he coached at Cleveland. Unfortunately, his time at Cleveland occured during a time of turmoil (the owner announced to the loyal fan base that he was moving the team - in the middle of the season, not a good time) that might have ruined his career. In following stops at New England and New York with the Giants, still as a analyst or section coach and working with Bill Parcells, one of the more creative coaches in the business, Bill Belichick grew into an expert on how to lead a football team. Finally he got his chance at New England with the Patriots.

This is all nice. What's it mean? Players in pro football are so expensive that you have to manage to a budget. Employee selection, and then training, are crucial. Do it wrong and you have a team that won't work together, or, worse, a team composed of a few highly-paid stars who aren't enough to win for you. Belichick became an expert at choosing talent and then perfecting them into a team that could win. Then he did something else. He had a plan for every game. That film that he spent so many hours analyzing as a kid still drove his selections of players and plays. Every week they played a different team with different strengths and weaknesses. Belichick took advantage of his skills winning, early in his time at New England, three Superbowls. That was a big deal.

The National Football League tries to create a level playing field. All the teams in small markets or large are supposed to be able to win big any year. Parity is the goal. That Belichick, in a time of parity, was able to win big was a huge accomplishment.

We all know that. Business-wise, as in your business or mine, employee selection and training are a big deal. So is having a plan. Belichick proved it, over and over. Not a bad model.

Reference 

Halberstam, David. The Education of a Coach. Hyperion and Wheeler Publishing. 2005.

November 20, 2012

Mythical China

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Doctoroff lists ten myths that any observer of China would be wise to watch out for (Doctoroff, 232):

  1. Populist anger means the party's power is weakening.
  2. American-style individualism is taking root.
  3. Contemporary Chinese have no beliefs.
  4. The Internet will revolutionize China.
  5. The China market is, like Europe, many countries.
  6. The Chinese consumer is inscrutable.
  7. The Chinese growth model is in critical danger.
  8. China Inc. will eat America's lunch.
  9. China will become the twenty-first-century superpower.
  10. China is militarily aggressive.  

Our job? Take a look at the list and keep score. Doctoroff's is a well-reasoned case by an on-the-ground expert. It'll be interesting to see how things come out.

Reference

Doctoroff, Tom. What Chinese Want. Curture, communism, and China's modern consumer. Palgrave Macmillan. 2012.

Enough at Thanksgiving

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We've spent some time in the past talking about how Bogel set up the Vanguard funds to be fair to him as fund manager (Bogel), and fair to his customers who bought shares in his funds (Mixner). 

Davis takes it a step further with a more religious take on having enough (Davis, 229):

You can continue to push ahead, trying to achieve the elusive twins of security and satisfaction. Or you can move toward enough. You can take your more than enough and give part of it away, helping someone with less than enough more toward enough. You can strive or you can depend. You can achieve or you can receive. You can hoard or you can share. You can hang onto what you have, settle for the best you can do, and bless no one in the process. Or you can release what you have, bless countless others, and receive more than you could ever imagine.

Quite a challenge.  

Reference

Bogle, John C. Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2009.

Davis, Will Jr. Enough. Finding more by living with less. Revell. 2012. 

Mixner, Jack. The Virtuous Leader.  http://mixnerstrategy.com/blog/2009/01/the_virtuous_leader.html

(Supposedly) Leaderless Groups

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Kellerman starts right in with an analysis of past (some of them very past) leaders. Greek gods, then Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. King John of England (who signed away kingly control with the Magna Charta), Machiavelli (who focused on "what was real, rather than ideal"(Kellerman, 8)), Hobbs ("the best leader was authoritarian" (Kellerman, 9), with a first perception of the social contract, namely that "followers grant absolute power to an absolute leader who (Kellerman, 10)" gives them protection in all sorts of ways.) Locke was next (Kellerman, 11):

Locke's logic concerning the right to hold private property; his conception of social contract theory,...; and his insistence that this consent be applied to the leader as well to the led.

Now we've got a word we may use, namely, consent. Followers consent to be led. Leaders consent to provide something to those they lead. It's a two way street. The fifties might have been about the CEO who could get away with telling you what to do, or else. The sixties sort of messed things up for dictatorial CEOs. Smart ones get agreement before they try to lead. The new word, team, grows. Kellerman posits (Kellerman, 190) that we might want to re-examine measuring leaders by financial performance, selecting them by their education, that leadership is teachable, that it can be learned quickly and easily, that leadership could (should?) be taught differently according to your specialty (doctors get something different from managers who get something different from CEOs), and on and on.

Kellerman raises lots of questions. She is careful not to give answers. That's the point. Situations - times - require different definitions. Just know that there are good odds that the dictatorial style might not work so well in today's business environment, and that you might want to consider your leadership style especially in a changing environment. Lastly, Ovans makes good points. In talking about the Occupy movement, she admits that even in that supposedly leaderless environment leaders eventually figured what to do next in their own private meetings (Ovans, 147). Leading hasn't really gone out of style after all.

Reference

Kellerman, Barbara. The End of Leadership. Harper Business. 2012.

Ovans, Andrea. When No One's In Charge. What leaderless movements mean for management. Harvard Business Review. May 2012. 146-147.

November 19, 2012

Eli Broad on Success

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Early in his career, Eli Broad built houses in Detroit. His competition had their way of doing business. Broad decided to do things a bit differently.

Everyone else put basements in their homes. They'd always had basements to store the coal used to keep things warm in the winter. Broad installed gas furnaces and forgot about the basements, a huge cost savings. Customers didn't miss the basements one bit, especially since the homes were cheaper than anyone else's.

Everyone else said that to control your destiny in the housing market you had to control a lot of land. Broad worked out the numbers and figured that the best way to do things was to take control of your land just before you started construction. That cut down on your carrying costs significantly.

Everyone else said that it was foolish to tackle the European housing market as Europe hadn't recovered significantly enough from WW II to make things profitable. Broad proved them wrong, and, after his lone American competitor couldn't make a go of it, became the largest American homebuilder in Europe.

Everyone said that, in order to expand into California and Arizona, Broad needed to build traditional houses on their own lots. Broad built row houses - condos, essentially, if I've got it right - in Huntington Beach. He added community swimming pools and community centers. He sold his first 756 units, all right. He sold them in five weeks.

Broad goes on to tell us about the accounting business, the insurance business, the art business, and a couple others, besides. The best story is about his start in the housing business.

Reference

Broad, Eli with Swati Pandey. The Art of Being Unreasonable. Lessons in unconventional thinking. Wiley. 2012.

Social Media Isn't About Community

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Spenner and Freeman report that consumers aren't looking at your social media to become a member of a community, nor are they there to learn about new products (Spenner, 111). Consumers are looking at your social media to find discounts (61%), to purchase (55%) and for reviews, rankings, and general information (53%).  Make things easier to do those things and you're likely to see positive impacts from you media work.

Reference

Spenner, Patrick and Karen Freeman. Keep It Simple. They don't want a relationship. Just help them make good choices. Harvard Business Review. May 2012. 109.

October 17, 2012

Sun Tzu

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Sun Tzu on competitive strategy (Huynh, 15):

Warfare is the Way of deception.

Therefore, if able, appear unable;

if active, appear not active;

if near, appear far;

if far, appear near.

If they have advantage, entice them;

if they are confused, take them;

if they are substantial, prepare for them;

if they are strong, avoid them;

if they are angry, disturb them;

if they are humble, make them haughty;

if they are relaxed, toil them;

if they are united, separate them.

This Huynh version of the classic takes great pains to annotate every line of Sun Tzu's classic on military strategy to align it with everyday life. It's not too bad for businesses, either.

Reference

Huynh, Thomas. The Art of War-Spirituality for Conflict. Skyight Paths. 2008.

Radical Change

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Jason Jennings on why a business must grow, not stagnate (Jennings, 12):

  • If a business isn't growing, the people who want to make more money and have more responsibility won't get what they want when they want it, and they'll find a reason to leave and pursue better opportunities elsewhere. 
  • Unless a business is constantly undergoing radical change, it will never be able to stay ahead of its customers' constantly changing wants and needs, and its growth will first falter and then completely stop.

Saying "we're fine just the way we are," won't cut it in today's environment. Think you're growing? Prove it. If you're not, admit it. And do something about it.

Reference

Jennings, Jason. The Reinventors. How extraordinary companies pursue radical continuous change. Portfolio / Penguin. 2012.

October 15, 2012

Schumpeter to Drucker

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Schumpeter to Drucker (Beatty, 187): 

On New Year's Day 1950, Peter [Drucker] drove his father Adolph Drucker to visit Joseph Schumpeter, then in his last year of teaching at Harvard and in rapidly failing health (he died eight days later). He and Adolph reminisced about their young days in Vienna in the vanished world of "prewar," the incessant talk of which had driven young Peter Drucker out on his long journey toward a wholly significant life. The conversation took a more serious turn when Schumpeter, answering a question from Adolph, said: "You know, Adolph, I have now reached the age when I know that it is not enough to be remembered for books and theories. One does not make a difference unless it is a difference in people's lives." Drucker says he has "never forgotten that conversation." It gave him the measure of his achievement. 

Reference

Beatty, Jack. The World According to Peter Drucker. The Free Press. 1998.

October 01, 2012

Colin Powell's Thirteen Rules

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Colin Powell's Thirteen Rules (Powell, 4-27):

  1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done.
  5. Be careful what you choose: you may get it.
  6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Reference

Powell, Colin with Tony Koltz. It Worked For Me. In life and leadership. Harper. 2012.

Global Businesses Are Local, Too

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The forces of globalization have not yet come close to rendering place irrelevant. Nation-states remain the organizing structure for the world's population. Modern communications may enable individuals to build and join virtual communities that cross borders, but we are much more likely to use those resources to connect with our neighbor next door than a person on the other side of the world (Quelch, 212). 

Reference

Quelch, John A. and Katherine E. Jocz. All Business is Local. Why place matters more than ever in a global, virtual world. Portfolio / Penguin. 2012.

September 30, 2012

The Banker's Sometimes Wrong

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A client visited a banker, asking for a line of credit. The banker turned them down saying the company had too many ups and downs to justify a loan. In fact, speaking privately, the banker suggested that the business be closed and its assets sold as it was a useless company. The client never heard that part of the story because, well, it didn't seem like the banker had it right. It took a while to realize that over the thirty years of our work together, the company had grown from about five employees to sixty. Those sixty employees aren't employees, they're, basically, families, and part of the company family. Kids have gotten married. They've had kids of their own. First generation Americans have sent their kids to college, an unheard of dream for them. Everyone cares about each other. That's what a good business is, cash flow problems or not. Finally, the client heard the full story, a couple years after the fact. We didn't say anything. We just nodded, both of us realizing that, indeed, the banker had it wrong.

An excellent book on doing what's important: Chouinard's company, Patagonia, is well known. It's had just about every problem any small business faces, while managing to remember that, indeed, surfing does come first. So do families. Let's not forget that.

Reference

Chouinard, Yvon. Let My People Go Surfing. The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. The Penguin Press. 2005.

September 25, 2012

Colin Powell on Purpose

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Colin Powell on Vision (Powell, 23-24): 

Followers need to know where their leaders are taking them and for what purpose. Mission, goals, strategy, and vision are conventional terms to indicate what organizations set out to accomplish. These are excellent and useful words, but I have come to prefer another and I believe better term - purpose. Think how often you see it - "sense of purpose" ... "What's the purpose?" ... "It serves a purpose."

Purpose is the destination of a vision. It energizes that vision, gives it force and drive. It should be positive and powerful, and serve the better angels of an organization.

Reference

Powell, Colin with Tony Koltz. It Worked For Me. In life and leadership. Harper. 2012.

September 24, 2012

Grant at Shiloh

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Shiloh was a hugely expensive, in men and material, Northern victory. Over its two or three days, military strategy evolved, essentially, on the battlefield. Johnson led - inspired, really - the southern forces from the front, not from the rear. Sadly, he paid for his leadership with his life in battle. Beauregard took over and applied strategies learned from studying Napoleon's successes. His best strategy said concentrate forces where there is the largest noise on the battlefield, a hugely expensive strategy given that the Northern defenses, such as they were, focused on a true killing field (the Devil's Den) that the south found nearly impossible to overrun even when their entire force focused on that one crucial point. Grant and the rest of his generals didn't believe that Southern forces would close on them so quickly and were caught unawares, with Grant staying ten miles away, believing that there would be no battle for quite some time. The South pushed into battle hoping to end the war in one huge decisive fight. It didn't work out that way, for either side. They both realized that even hard fighting wasn't going to be enough. The war, the Civil War, would take much longer, and be far bloodier, than the leadership on either side had ever envisioned. The back and forth at Devil's Den, especially after the South won it late on the second day, seemed to say that the South would win and that the North would retreat.

Grant, finally arriving at the battle, saw it differently. Examining the field, he saw that, with his strengths of field and naval artillery and with newly arrived troops, he would eventually succeed even when his best generals were counciling retreat. Grant planned for an aggressive charge that ultimately won the Shiloh battlefield for the North, but only after huge losses on both sides. His willingness to stay in the battle and to push to defeat Southern forces delivered the Northern victory. Lincoln was looking for a general who would fight and keep fighting. He found that general in Grant. Sadly, the fight would take longer and be bloodier, than anyone had predicted.

Reference

Groom, Winston. Shiloh 1862. National Geographic. 2012.

September 17, 2012

Don't Mess With Ben Franklin

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Ben Franklin made a decision to publish highly revelatory correspondence between the royal governor of Massachusetts and a correspondent in England. Franklin thought that releasing the letters might spread oil on the waters and calm relations between the Colonies and Britain. The short story is that it didn't work. In fact, the new information, when published everywhere in the colonies, inflamed the relations to a point that there was almost no turning back. Franklin's royalist antagonists called him to a the Cockpit, a room in Whitehall Palace with a long history, including royal cock-fighting at its best. That day tens of Britain's leaders turned out to hear a lawyer pounce on Franklin for releasing the letters and attempt to destroy his utility for the colonies in London. Franklin had no reply; he left ashamed by his treatment, eventually to return home to lead the effort for independence.

So, what use is this story to us today? Inflaming politics remains a sport today. Recipients of spin, of discourse, would be wise to remember the Franklin story so they may consider their attitude toward the opposition, especially when such inflammatory comments are meant only to heighten divisions, not resolve them. Ultimately, the British humiliation of Franklin worked against its goal of retaining the colonies. Going in, Franklin still supported alliances between Britain and the American colonies. Going out, they had created an enemy who could - and did - take action that would help destroy the British position. It didn't have to work out that way for the British government.

Reference

Skemp, Sheila L. The Making of a Patriot. Benjamin Franklin at the Cockpit. Oxford University Press. 2013.

Life Cycle of an Entrepreneurship

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Wasserman takes every stage in an entrepreneurship and points out what can go wrong, and what to do about it. There's a problem. Wasserman has done fine research, yes. It's applicability is tough, as entrepreneurs are unlikely to read his book, or, in fact, listen to his advice. Advisors to entrepreneurs are, then, the target of the book. They've got work to do, first, to get through the book, and second, to figure out a way to get an entrepreneur to listen to what they have to say.

An example: Wasserman talks about the pitfalls of having a partner in a start-up. We know how that works. Sometimes two people continue to work well together, sometimes they don't. The tough part is knowing what to do, or, when to split up, or when to stay together. Basically, Wasserman points out that there are so many ways an entrepreneurship can fail that it is amazing that any of them suceed at all. In that, Wasserman has it right. It is amazing.

Who is best suited to this book? I suspect early stage founders that come out of the university environment might take the time to read Wasserman. Otherwise, the whole concept of training on control of an entrepreneurial enterprise is left up to a class in entrepreneurship or perhaps to the consulting community. There are so many variables. Controlling them all will be very interesting to say the least.

Reference

Wasserman, Noam. The Founder's Dilemmas. Anticpating and avoiding the pitfalls that can sink a startup. Princeton University Press. 2012. 

Bell Labs' Innovation While a Monopoly

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The list of  innovations at Bell Labs goes on and on. Much of their work focused on making the Bell System work better. Because AT&T at that time was a regulated monopoly, much of their innovation focused on a long term window of forty or more years. That meant that many of their innovations weren't immediately implemented in the System. The was the seed of its downfall. MCI wanted to apply some of the Bell patents (they were essentially gifts to their competitors as part of the monopoly agreement) carrying a single part (and the most profitable part) of potentially hugely profitable telephone traffic - long distance calls. AT&T resisted the competition. Thus was seeded AT&T's ultimate downfall. The profitability of the Bell system allowed the Labs to fund people who just thought for a living, people who did pure research on things that they thought might eventually improve the system. In a way, it all worked. MCI pointed out the flaw in it all and made, essentially, Bell Labs the last of the truely independent and self-funded innovation laboratories.

Interestingly, Bell did some of the early work on just what an innovation was. An invention was useless, and certainly not an innovation, until it had a use to the System, certainly, and perhaps more generally, to mankind overall. They had lots of inventions. Not many of them were innovations. The ones that were, well, they changed the world. For its time Bell Labs was the center of universe of innovation. Today they're basically a bystander. Monopoly made it possible. Competition changed it forever.

There was a second reason for the changes at Bell Labs: the speed of innovation slowed, competitors were able to catch up, and, in some cases, take Bell's pure science and apply it more qucikly that Bell could. It happened in integrated circuits, and then in cell phone technology. Bell figured out the basic science, but it took scientists working in other labs to quickly apply what they discovered. Bell was left behind, even in their own core technologies.

Reference

Gertner, Jon. The Idea Factory. Bell Labs and the great age of American innovation. The Penguin Press. 2012.

LBJ at His Worst

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After all his successes on civil rights early in his presidency, Lyndon Johnson lost his way on Viet Nam (Updegrove, 223):

Johnson's optimistic public pronouncements on the war were also brought into question. While they might be more accepted as standard media spin today, there was heightened sensitivity to them at the time, given the war's increasingly controversial nature and the belief among a growing number of people that Johnson had been decetive on the war since the Gulf of tonkin incident. Many felt that Johnson had led them astray on fiscal matters relating to the war, too. A 1968 Fortune magazine editorial implicating the Johnson administration pointed out that "the public was deceived on the true costs of the Vietnam War for more than a year follwoing the 1965 decision to mount a mjor U.S. military effort." Over time the inside-the-Beltway perceptions of Johnson as being less than honest gained ground. A joke began making the rounds: "How do you know when Lyndon Johnson is telling the truth? When he pulls his ear lobe, scratches his chin, he's telling the truth. When he begins to move his lips, you know he's lying."

Reference

Updegrove, Mark K. Indomitable Will. LBJ in the Presidency. Crown Publishers. 2012.

Eisenhower on Little Rock

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Ike on Little Rock (Smith, 729-730):

The plan of the Supreme Court to accomplish integration gradually and sensibly seems to me to provide the only possible answer if we are to consider on the one hand the customs and fears of a great section of our population, and on the other the binding efect the Supreme Court decisions must have on all of us if our form of government is to survive and prosper...

There must be respect for the Constitution - which means the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution - or we shall have chaos. We cannot possibly imagine a successful form of government in which every individual citizen would have the right to interpret the Constitution according to his own convictions, beliefs, and prejudices. Chaos would develop. This I believe with all my heart - and shall always act accordingly.

Reference

Smith, Jean Edward. Eisenhower. In War and Peace. Random House. 2012.

September 11, 2012

A Contemplative View of the Liberal Education

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...what is at stake in college (Delbanco, 3), and why should it matter how much or little goes on there? At its core, college should be a place where young people find help for navigating the territory between adolescence and adulthood. It should provide guidance, but not coercion, for students trying to cross that treacherous terrain on their way toward self-knowledge. It should help them develop certain qualities of mind and heart requisite for reflective citizenship. Here is my own attempt at reducing these qualities to a list, in no particular order of priority, since they are inseparable from one another:

  1. A skeptical discontent with the present, informed by a sense of the past.
  2. The ability to make connections among seemingly disparate phenomena.
  3. Appreciation of the natural world, enhanced by knowledge of science and the arts.
  4. A willingness to imagine experience from perspectives other that one's own.
  5. A sense of ethical responsibility.

As the father of a college student, I care about what goes on at the university. I suspect we all should, as, if we accept Delbaco's premise, the university forms the foundation of a strong democracy.

Reference

Delbanco, Andrew. College. What it was, is, and should be. Princeton University Press. 2012.

September 10, 2012

Good Games. Bad Games

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Want to learn something? Turn it into a game. Want to really learn something? Turn it into an on-line game.

Want to become addicted to a game? Spend way too much time on-line playing your favorite game.

Two scenarios, one good, the other not so good. McGonigal makes the case that games are inherently good if you do things right. They boost brain chemistry is all the right ways. They can be productive. They can have significant results.

Lindstrom takes the other side (Lindstrom, 71). People get addicted to games. They stop communicating. They lie about what they are doing. Their health declines.

The game business is big business. Looks to me that learning something or accomplishing something using a game as a back-bone isn't a bad idea. Do it right and you engage others in what you are doing. The results are shared results. All good for good brain chemistry. McGonigal  works hard to make the case that there are lots of possibilites for growth in the game business that are good for everyone. Lindstrom makes the case that some games are really no more that sales gimmicks to get kids to like MacDonalds or some such thing. Basically, they're both right. Games can be good. They can also be bad. The trick is to be adult about these things to make sure you're in control, not the game. If, however, you find that you are no longer in control, get help. Limitiing your kid's game time might make sense, as well.

Personally, there seem to be possibilites for strategy games that help a management team understand how to put their strategy together and then implement it. That seems useful.

References

Lindstrom, Martin. Brandwashed. Tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy. Crown Business. 2011.

McGonigal, Jane. Reality is Broken. Why games make us better and how they can change the world. The Penguin Press. 2011.

Branding - Updated

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Martin Lindstrom has been around branding a long time. His first book Buy-ology sold big, and made Lindstrom famous in the branding world.  He tells quite a story that, in places, is just plain scary. His final example, however, is useful to all of us. He tells how to sell the Green story. If you accept that global warming is real, you'll like his story (Lindstrom, 253).

Lindstrom set a family up in a gated community (in Laguna Beach of all places) to see if, by mentioning, demonstrating, and wearing brand products he could get the neighbors to listen - and buy. It worked perfectly. By monitoring what was going on amongst all the target families, mentioned merchandise flew off the shelves. You could do that with your product too. Lindstrom finally focused on green. His subject family showed up with GreenSmart bags. Soon, the neighbors had to have GreenSmart bags as well. After sixty days, the neighbor's green activities were up thirty-one percent. Huge. Think what you could do with, say, your employees, or your neighbors. You could have a pretty big impact, maybe make some money, and, certainly, feel better about what you are doing. It ends up that peer pressure is the only way to get folks to go green. A little pressure might be a good thing. Might help business, as well.

Here's another book on green you might find useful: Uliano, Sophie and Julia Roberts. Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life. HarperCollins. 2008.

Reference

Lindstrom, Martin. Brandwashed. Tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy. Crown Business. 2011.

Gilt Groupe - Launch to Year 4

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Two Harvard grads work for a while after graduation. They both do some investment banking. One manages the launch of eBay Auto in Canada. They both love shopping at sample sales where fashion designers unload surplus inventory in, well, not-so-nice conditions. They return to Harvard for their MBAs. Ultimately, after returning to retail for while, they decide to team up to build a web-based business pitching sample sales on-line. Four years later (after thriving in the Great Recession) their company, Gilt Groupe, is worth a billion dollars. The book tells the story, and quite a story it is. They did a really good job. That's nice.

When you read the book, however, especially later on in the text, you understand what it is like to be a CEO. The co-authors compiled their checklists on how to manage. Here's the original CEO Alexis Maybank's list (Maybank, 199):

  1. Be decisive
  2. Lead by example: Be calm and consistent.
  3. Squash office politics.
  4. Set very clear priorities.
  5. Circulate information; make team members feel like owners, not employees.

Alexandra Wilkis was one of the other founders. She ran merchandizing and marketing (Maybank, 203):

  1. Be willing to learn from your employees.
  2. Practice effective communication.
  3. Give junior employees a taste of the top.
  4. Go out of your way to be a mentor and to champion people who deserve it.
  5. Don't always keep things professional.

Finally, Alexis and Alexandra enticed Susan Lyne, CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia, to join Gilt. This was before Gilt was two years old. Think about it. That's evidence of amazing growth. Here's Susan's point of view on managing (Maybank, 214):

  1. Don't ever talk to someone when your're angry.
  2. Remember that failure is not total.
  3. Leave a little on the table.
  4. Suss ot what makes people excited.
  5. Find time to listen to your inner voice.

So, we have three nice lists. Consider your management style. Where to you fit? Any changes necessary?

Reference

Maybank, Alexis and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. By Invitation Only. How we built Gilt and changed the way millions shop. Portfolio / Penguin. 2012.

August 15, 2012

Use a Prize to Create an Industry

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Diamandis makes a key point about the future: things aren't as bad as we are led to think. The trend, in fact, taken over a long time period, is down right optimistic. He championed the Ansari X Prize that enticed twenty-six teams to propose to build reusable space craft. There is now a private spacecraft industry based on a total private investment of nearly a billion dollars (Diamandis, 350).

McKinsey, in reporting on prizes in general, suggests that, in order to entice participation, that objectives for winning be very succinct. Prizes have to be significant. They must motivate competitors and other stakeholders. The objective of the prize must be actionable and results-focused. Finally, the objective must be time-bound. Forcing the issue is in order, especially if the public is to cheer the process on (McKinsey, 42-43).

Not much different from the objectives we set in strategic planning. Big prizes are fashionable right now. Witness the Netflix for a better algorithm for movie selection, the X Prize itself, and Milken's prizes to improve K-12 education. They're fashionable because they are working.

References

Diamandis, Peter H. and Steven Kotler. Abundance. The future is better than you think. Free Press. 2012.

Mckinsey. And the winner is... Capturing the promise of philanthropic prizes. McKinsey. 2009. http://www.mckinseyonsociety.com/downloads/reports/Social-Innovation/And_the_winner_is.pdf

August 13, 2012

Steven Jobs' Simple Stick

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Steven Jobs had a technique his team called the Simple Stick (Segall, 1). Too many people at your meeting with Jobs? He'd kick some folks out. The team blamed it on the simple stick. Show up at a product demo with a mock-up with too many buttons and Jobs would likely send you back to the drawing boards. Too many features? Same thing. OK. We get the point. We're not Jobs. What do we do at our own companies?

The Simple Stick hasn't gone anywhere. You can use it, too. More than about ten decision-makers at your meeting? Kick some folks out. Too many buttons? Ask for a re-design. Color wrong? Don't settle. Ads not quite right? Start over if necessary. Jobs did it time after time. So can you.

Reference

Segall, Ken. Insanely Simple. The obsession that drives Apple's success. Portfolio/Penguin. 2012.

Reject Accepted Norms

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Isadore Sharp wanted to run a particular type of hotel (Martin, 30-34) that combined the intimacy of a small motel and the services and service at a large hotel. The small motel couldn't pay its way if it was burdened with too many services. The large hotel wasn't intimate enough as its size made for a "colder" experience. The industry accepted those facts. Before the Four Seasons hotels, a hotel was small and intimate, or large and full of high level services. His third hotel, the Inn at the Park in London was restrained by its location to about 220 rooms, not enough to provide all the high level servies Sharp wanted to provide but too large to provide the intimacy of a small hotel. The industry said he had to make a choice; no one else had a large, intimate hotel because it just didn't pay. Sharp made new rules. Reasoning that better services would attact a better clientele who would be willing to pay more, Sharp plunged ahead. The rest is history. The market shifted to include the new, higher quality hotel. Competitors realized that a new niche had been created and created competing propeties. The Four Seasons was first in the niche. Taking the risk of charging more for better services, the Four Seasons hotels came to dominate the high end market. Indeed, the best hotel in the world, the Four Seasons George V Hotel in Paris, came as a result of Sharp's willingness to challenge the way things had always been done. Visitors will pay more if the experience reflects true quality.

Now, strategically, what did Sharp do? He paused. He knew a small hotel wouldn't pay its way. He knew a large hotel wouldn't meet his demands for an intimate, friendly envirnment. Rather than make a quick decision, he stalled long enough to figure out a solution. The London location provided the opportunity to test his new strategy, that of combining a small hotel with high-level services. The pause for more analysis - and a location to test his theories - was the strategic element that changed the whole hotel industry.

 

Reference

Martin, Roger. The Opposable Mind. How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Harvard Business School Press. 2007.

Not Rapid Prototyping: Rapid Patenting

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It used to be that you'd create something new, and, then, if it worked, you'd patent it. Things have changed. Now, even before things are created, they're patented. You have to protect things - or quit if they're not protectable - because of the "vicious patent war" with players like Apple, Samsung, and Google, and all the patent trolls we've heard so much about. A new type of patent attorney has emerged. Clients pay for a patent, yes, but they also pay for advice during the whole process. One attorney charges a $15,000 flat fee, not the $40,000 these things might have cost in the past. He looks for a volume business, it seems, but the lower fee has fed client streams nicely. An interesting business model. Clients are eating it up.

Reference

Vance, Ashlee. Hiring a Mercenary for The New Patent War. Bloomberg Businessweek. 13-26 August 2012. 40. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-08-09/startups-new-creed-patent-first-prototype-later

Recovery: Construction is the Problem

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Greenspan talks about why construction is bogging down the economy (Leonard, 66):

In the U.S., why hasn't the recovery been stronger?

You have to ask what's causing the problem. It turns out that almost all of the stagnation occurs as a consequence of declining investment in long-term assest like homes and factories.

You mean that they're not being replaced?

The demand for buildings has gone down by almost half. We are essentially operating two different economies in the United States. One produces short-term assets like food, equipment, and software and typically accounts for about nine-tenths of the GDP. And that's been doing tolerably well. Not great. By itself, that level of activity, if we could measure it, is operating at the equivalent of approximately a 6 percent rate of unemployment. The other tenth of the GDP is comprised of assets with a life expectancy of more that 20 years, mainly buildings. That segment of the economy has been cut almost in half. That's a reduction of 4 percentage points in overall economic output and a comparable rise in the unemployment rate.

Reference

Leonard, devin and Peter Coy. Alan Greenspan, Economist. Bloomberg BusinessWeek. 13-26 August 2012. 65. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-08-09/alan-greenspan-on-his-fed-legacy-and-the-economy#p3

July 28, 2012

The Government IS Here to Help You

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Amazingly, the government is here to help you. The SBA, through SCORE, has published two very useful free programs, one a business plan model and the other a financial project model. Lastly, there is a whole series of outlines for a class focusing on starting a small business. They're free. They're very useful. And, yes, I believe you have to do the work yourself.

SCORE Free Software

SCORE Financial Projection Model. SBA. http://www.score.org/sites/default/files/Session%204%20-%20Financial%20Projections-Anns%20Nursery_0.xls

Business Plan Template - Startup Business. SBA. http://www.score.org/resources/business-plan-startup-pdf

SCORE Business Planning Program. SBA. http://www.score.org/node/787247

Constitutionally So

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Over the years, I have sat on enough boards of directors to know that many of them are dysfunctional because they haven't taken the time to create a good set of Bylaws, or, more to the point, they have Bylaws but don't follow them. American government is lucky because James Madison cared about governance. He studied the constitutions of many of the states, both European and the individual American states that preceeded the federal government in an effort to understand what worked - and didn't work - constitutionally.

Here's a list of his observations (Broadwater, 41). Yes, we know all this, but, remember, most of us have some sort of bylaws - we just don't follow them.

  • Constitutions are written documents, not collections of statutes and traditions based on English practice.
  • They were written by Conventions specifically elected for the purpose.
  • They were ratified by the people, either in a second convention or a popular vote.
  • Power was separated among the courts, the executive, a bicameral legislature.
  • The judiciary didn't have review of statute privilages until the 1780s; such review eventually formed the basis of enforcing constitutional law.
  • Americans assumed there was a Bill of Rights to protect civil liberties.

We knew all that. So, when was the last time you looked at your Bylaws in your company or on the non-profits you serve? Might be a good time to re-visit them.

References

Broadwater, Jeff. James Madison. A son of Virginia & a founder of the nation. The University of North Carolina Press. 2012.

July 26, 2012

Steve Jobs

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By now, having spent the last year missing Steve Jobs, having read all the books and articles about him, I've finally decided to give things a rest. Isaacson's book will probably define the genre of biography of high tech chieftain. It's got it all. The Legacy page lists all the products Jobs was proud of (Isaacson, 564):

  • The Apple II
  • The Macintosh
  • Toy Story
  • Apple stores
  • The iPod
  • The iTunes Store
  • The iPhone
  • The App Store
  • The iPad
  • iCloud
  • "and Apple itself, which Jobs considered his greatest creation, a place where imagination was nurtured, applied, and executed in ways so creative that it became the most valuable company on earth."

Quite a list.

References

Austen, Ben. Am I Steve Jobs? To some, the Steve Jobs story reveals the value of sticking to one's vision. To others, it's a study in cruelty and alienation. Wired. August 2012. 074. http://www.wired.com/business/2012/07/ff_stevejobs/all/

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster. 2011.

Lean Startups

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If you are an entrepreneur, you've got an idea, and you're not sure of what the next steps are, Ries has a book for you. His premise is simple: rather than building your new product (and spending tons of money to do it) test your idea online to see if anyone will actually buy what you have in mind. This raises a dilemma: you test your idea before anything exists. People figure that out sometimes, and that may raise eyebrows. Greenwald makes it clear that Ries needs to give more thought about what he's doing. Ries says so many people have adopted his ideas (among them the Harvard Business School) that he must be doing something right. You get to decide. Basically, Ries is on to something. I've heard the ideas before (Bill Gross at IdeaLabs was doing similar things in the early nineties, with a company that actually had products to sell), but, again, you get to decide. Have a look at the book. It's an easy read, with a useful bibliography that takes you back to the classic books on entrepreneurship.

References

Greenwald, Ted. The Upstart. In the buzz-word-fueled arena of Silicon valley, author Eric Reis has the stage-and the crowd is going wild. Wired. June 2012. http://www.wired.com/business/2012/05/ff_gururies/

Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup. How today's entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses. Crown Business. 2011.

July 02, 2012

Accelerated Careers of Boys Not Yet Men

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People make choices, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Their choices may effect others. Sometimes things go wrong.

Dohrmann tells the story of Demetrius Walker and his basketball coach Joe Keller. Keller wants to make a killing coaching youth AAU basketball. The way to do it is to find a highly gifted kid to ride all the way into the pros. Walker wants to play ball - and not get hurt along the way.

Sponsorships drive strategy in youth basketball. If a shoe company is able to somehow capture a future star in their sponsorship program, the payoffs can be huge. Think Michael Jordan and Nike shoes. The finders - the coaches who find kids and keep them on their teams as they grow up - stand to make tens of thousands of dollars from sponsors. For Keller, Walker was a bigger payday, as he was able to take the shoe franchise down into youth basketball and create a camp systems that proved hugely profitable. Walker? Well, he didn't really get a thanks, especially from Keller. This isn't done yet. Walker ended up at New Mexico State and, hopefully, may make the pros yet.

Rob Miech tells the story of Bryce Harper, a baseball phenom who decided to finish high school early, enrolled in one of the few junior colleges that participated in a wooden bat league (all to entice the pros), and, hopefully, will fulfill his career ambitions by being drafted by major league baseball in a year when the rules are changing in a way that makes a lucrative signing bonus a now-or-never proposition.

It seems that Harper's pulled it off. He debuted just weeks ago in the show, playing for the Washington Nationals. All his teenage angst paid off as he got the big signing bonus he expected, was able to keep his health, and, finally, made it to the big team to start his homering career in style.  

Neither of these stories is pretty, especially Walker's. The NCAA and the AAU are examining the dominace of sponsorship in youth basketball, although, honestly, it seems like there's too much money on the table for real change to occur. Baseball is a little different. Harper was just trying to get the same deal that kids from the Dominican Republic get already, but in a larger way. It'll be interesting to see if Major League Baseball makes any longterm changes in their recruiting practices based upon his story. Again, it doesn't really look like change is likely to occur. There's top much money in play. That money will continue to entice kids to swing for the fences, as it were, all in the hope a landing a very elusive contract in the pros.

References

Dohrmann, George. Play Their Hearts Out. A coach, his star recruit, and the youth basketball machine. Ballantine Books. 2010.

Miech, Rob. The Last Natural. Bryce Harper's big gamble in sin city and the greatest amateur season ever. Thomas Dunne Books. St. Martin's Press. 2012.

June 20, 2012

Models Aren't Science

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Emanuel Derman is a professor at Columbia University, director of the university's program in financial engineering, and a principal at Prisma Capital Partneers. He was formerly a quant and managing director at Goldman Sachs, and is the author of many widely used financial models (Derman, back flap)

A fine Derman quote, after debunking any reliance on financial modeling for accurately predicting returns (Derman, 198):

The Modelers' Hippocratic Oath

I will remember that I didn't make the world, and it doesn't satisfy my equations.

Though I will use the models I or others create to boldly estimate value, I will always look over my shoulder and never forget that the model is not the world.

I will not be overly impressed by mathematics. I will never sacrifice reality for elegance without explaining to its end users why I have done so.

I will not give the people who use my models false comfort about their accuracy.

I will make the assumptions and oversights explicit to all who use them.

I understand that my work may have enormous effects on society and the economy, many beyond my apprehension.

This manifesto, this oath, falls at the end of a fine repudiation of the effectiveness of any financial modeling, as a model is just a model, not a theory. There is a difference.

Reference

Derman, Emanuel. Models. Behaving. Badly. Why confusing illusion with reality can lead to disaster, on Wall Street and in life. Free Press. 2011. 

Love Stories

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The Blasket Islands off the coast of Ireland are a sad land, or a happy land, according to your point of view. Taken externally, they're hard, indeed brutal, places to live, with weather that never retreats, poverty hovering, and change occuring not at all. Taken internally, by a native, they're a whole 'nother place. The hundred and fifty folks look you right in the eye and smile, and laugh, and cry, all at the same time. Not so much different from the normal Irish experience if you stand back. Kanigel takes it all in and, without a whole lot of effort, shows you the love and tenderness between the lines. An amazing book.

Paris in the fifties - well, that's  a different place, as well. Not terrible like the Blaskets, but intense, certainly. In  a somewhat more personal story, Seaver talks about bringing the best of the Parisian writing community to the press. His find, the Irishman Becket, is bright, a find good enough to hang a whole career upon. But Seaver is about the relationships, and, again, the tenderness if you will, of Paris a bit past its peak with the wish, the ability, and resoursefulness to beat back the occupation and create a new intensity that was as different from the forties as the twenties.

Both Seaver and Kanigel are successful because they tell a personal story about people and events that are important to all who care.

References

Kanigel, Robert. On an Irish Island. Alfred A. Knopf. 2012.

Seaver, Richard. The Tender Hour of Twilight. Paris in the '50s, New York in the 60's: a memoir of publishing's golden age. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York. 2012.

June 19, 2012

Many Applicants. One Hire. Which to Choose.

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The army stresses new recruits out in training camp to see who gives up, yes. They are also looking for the folks who work together best (Anders, page 15). 

Teach for America used to think it was folks with charisma. Now they know that the best folks are the ones who keep trying, who don't give up (Anders, page 37).

Google used to think that the smartest folks made the best coders. They still do. They also know that the way to figure that out isn't necessarily with a grade print-out. They have contests, on-line, for solving coding problems. The best solutions come from the best future employees (Anders, 1).

Much of this we've heard before. Anders puts it all in one place.

Reference

Anders, George. The Rare Find. Spotting exceptional talent before everyone else. Portfolio / Penguin. 2011.

Plan. Then Implement

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Plan. Then implement. They both make sense. How to make sure you implement?  

We've been saying all along that making a plan that you don't implement doesn't make much sense. How to make sure you implement? Make it a habit. What's that mean?

Let's say you notice that your company isn't performing the way you'd like it to. You decide to make a plan to get more profits, say, or decrease your manufacturing time, or decrease the amount of inventory you have on hand.

Your profit-increasing plan includes steps to make more sales calls. If yours is a normal company, things get in the way of more sales calls. Your best customer demands all your attention. Your best salesperson takes a job at your competitor. Your computer data-base won't support more sales calls. They all could happen.

First step: Remember the plan. Re-surface the plan weekly (at least) to remember you agreed to make more sales calls.

Second step: Remember what you get for the plan. More profits, remember?

Now the third step (and its the hardest): remember to implement. Change your habits, basically. Make sure you make the calls you agreed to make, even if your best customer needs attention. Get someone else to help out. Lose a sales person? Move quickly to replace her - or reassign others to help fill in the slack until you are able to make the replacement. Hardware and software get in the way lots of times. Make their upgrades part of the plan. Make sure that you upgrade while you're making your calls, or at least sequentially, first the upgrade, then the calls.

Part of this is making a commitment to implement the plan. Another part is changing your habits. Normally, you'd immediately respond to current customer needs. Holding off a bit while you finish your calls is OK, especially if you have a plan to make sure it happens. Getting HR involved quickly when you lose staff will help make that replacement. Don't wait. Call in HR quickly. Better yet, have a plan in place for making rapid replacements. Utimately, start planning how to retain your best folks, no matter what.

In the end your plan to make more sales calls becomes a company value if you do things right. Sales calls come first. Everything supports your plan to make sure you implement and to make sure you receive the results you expect and deserve.

There is a bit of science here. Yes, we can use metaphors on some of this. Duhigg (Duhigg, page 59) talks about practicing moves in football so much that in crucial situations you always make the right play. In this instance, the metaphor is backed up by science. If you practice making the calls those actions become embedded. The payoff, ultimately, is that your team realizes not only that the calls are necessary, but that they make the calls - and respond to that squeeky-wheel customer.

References

Duhigg, Charles. How Companies Learn Your Secrets. New York Times. 16 February 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=all

Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. Why we do what we do in life and business. Random House. 2012. 

March 05, 2012

Bangalore Started in 1893, not 1993

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Wilson on Banglore:

In 1893, J.R.N. Tata, the founder of Indian multinational company Tata, and the maharaja of Mysore met by chance on a ship sailing from Japan to Chicago. They agreed that science would be the path to successful modernization of India. During the following years, Tata donated money and the maharaja donated 370 acres of land in order to build a “science city” near a town then called Bengalaru, which had recently been struck by a devastating plague. The result was the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which soon became one of the world’s great centers of science and technology education (and remains so today). In the ensuing decades, graduates established other science-related enterprises nearby. After World War II, the government of India located its nuclear science program in the area, and an Indian space program followed.

By the 1980s, new businesses began emerging there, including Infosys (today the second-largest exporter of IT services in India). Bangalore, as the growing city was now called, became a center of commercial activity. 

Clearly, this was not an over-night success.

Reference

Wilson, Ernest J. How to Make a Region Innovative. Strategy + Business. 28 Feb 2012. http://www.strategy-business.com/article/12103?gko=ee74a

Flow - and Project Management

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Like Facebook? You'll probably like www.asana.com, a new web-based productivity software that really works - "especially if you want to be productive." You assign a Project, then the Tasks related to it. Then your team interacts on what they're doing, what they need, and what's getting accomplished. The stream of updates is sort of like Facebook and the addiction may be as compulsive as Facebook. Asana makes a facebooking-like process productive for your company, no matter how you use it. Why's it like Facebook? One of the creators is a Facebooks alum, from way back in the dorm room at Harvard.

Reference

Vance, Ashlee and Douglas Mac Millan. Dustin and Justin's Quest for Flow. Bloomberg Businessweek. 7-13 November 2011. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/asana-dustin-and-justins-quest-for-flow-11022011.html about http://www.asana.com/ .

Economic Development: Community Requirements

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Three things communities do for successful economic development:

  1. Human Mixing: Historically, the best innovations came from trading centers - think diversity and interchange.
  2. Education: "...encourage rampant experimentation in the education sector, whether it's taking the Khan Academy mainstream or expanding vocational training."
  3. Institutions Encourage Risk-taking: Lehrer makes the point that our most innovative sector isn't technology. It's youth sports. Who else gets all the carrying around and cheering so necessary for growth. 

Reference

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February 21, 2012

On My Desk

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