Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Dan Rosensweig, president and chief executive of Chegg. To read the complete interview, please click here.
Bryant: Tell me about some important leadership lessons.
Rosensweig: One of the blessings I’ve had, really for my entire career, is working with founders of companies, whether it was Bill Ziff at Ziff Davis or with Jerry Yang and David Filo at Yahoo [click here http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/yahoo_inc/index.html?inline=nyt-org%5D. What I love about that culture is the energy, enthusiasm and the unbridled passion for what’s possible, as opposed to spending a whole lot of time trying to figure out the obstacles.
In Silicon Valley, if you spend a lot of time thinking about the obstacles, you’ll talk yourself out of everything, because the more you look at it, the less logical something sounds, since no one has done it yet. Founders simply ask what needs to be done and what’s the best way to do it. And that’s fun. It’s had a significant impact on the way I think, the way I lead, the way I manage, and the opportunities I seek out.
I like being surrounded by people who have very little fear and very little respect for the past — not in a negative way, but in a positive way. They appreciate everything that’s been done, but they constantly look for how to do it better. When you lead with what’s possible, and how you create value for people, it’s energizing. Being around that kind of energy and inspiration has allowed me to think bigger than I probably ever would have thought.
Bryant: You just started at Chegg this year. What was your first-day speech to the staff?
Rosensweig: I articulated why I came. What’s the opportunity we see? How do we want to define success? What’s the bigger dream? Many people work really hard every day, but they’re incrementalists. When you are in a growth company, you have to really open people’s eyes to the bigger possibilities, so they think differently. Once they understand how to define success and what their role is in success, they make better decisions and you can push decision-making down.
Stylistically, I try very hard to be descriptive about how we want to define success and not necessarily prescriptive on telling them exactly how we want to do it — because, frankly, many of them are a lot smarter than me at what they do.
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To read several of Bryant’s more recent interviews of other executives, please click here.
Saul Alinsky + The Starfish and The Spider – Wisdom for a New Generation, on both sides of the Aisle
The basics transcend all differences.
I generally shy away from anything political on this blog. But this morning, there is an article on Politico that is worth a little attention on a blog focused on business books. The article is entitled The new tea party bible, and it describes how the Tea Party Movement has used two books as “Bibles” for their purposes. The first is the most unlikely choice, the “liberal’s” guidebook for organizing, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky. Politico had earlier written specifically about the Tea Party’s use of this book in the article The Right loves to hate – and imitate – Saul Alinsky. The second is the more recent The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom.
As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be… it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.
A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don’t know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won’t act for change but won’t strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution.
The building of many mass power organizations to merge into a national popular power force cannot come without many organizers. Since organizations are created, in large part, by the organizer, we must find out what creates the organizer.
I know that I have communicated with the other party when his eyes light up and he responds, “I know exactly what you mean…” — communication occurs concretely.
And a little about The Starfish and the Spider (from the Amazon page):
The title metaphor conveys the core concept: though a starfish and a spider have similar shapes, their internal structure is dramatically different—a decapitated spider inevitably dies, while a starfish can regenerate itself from a single amputated leg. In the same way, decentralized organizations, like the Internet, the Apache Indian tribe and Alcoholics Anonymous, are made up of many smaller units capable of operating, growing and multiplying independently of each other, making it very difficult for a rival force to control or defeat them.
Here are some lessons:
Lesson # 1: Learn from anywhere and everywhere to accomplish your goals. You will find books, companions, colleagues, alliances in many unlikely places. Embrace wisdom from wherever you can find it.
Lesson #2: We really are living in a bottom-up world. The top-down leadership structure of yesterday is so yesterday. The Tea Party on the Right, and community organizers on the Left, have this in common: no one leader at the “top” is dictating much of anything anymore. Leadership comes from within, from underneath, from everywhere. Modern social networking tools have simply accelerated the pace of this remarkable development.
Lesson #3: As I have often hinted, and stated openly, the more you know, the more you know. Keep reading widely. Keep learning. And remember that you can learn from people who come from very different places than you come from. The disciplined, ongoing pursuit of learning is the only path to a more effective tomorrow.
Stay with me a few minutes on this — there is a critical business lesson coming.
Let me tell you a story that explains the true greatness of the basketball legend Michael Jordan. First, some reminders (from Wikipedia):
His biography on the National Basketball Association (NBA) website states, “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”
Jordan’s individual accolades and accomplishments include five MVP awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game appearances, three All-Star Game MVP awards, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA records for highest career regular-season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press‘s list of athletes of the century. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on April 6, 2009 and was inducted on September 11, 2009.
Now here’s the story that made him basically superhuman. There was never any doubt, as he played through college, that he was going to be a scoring machine. And, over the course of his career, though he is third on the total points scored list, he has the highest scoring average in the history of the NBA, just barely beating the average of Wilt Chamberlain.
But — and this is the basis for the key business lesson — he knew that his game lacked a critical element, and early on he set out to become an exceptional defensive player as well as a scoring machine. He did not give this a little bit of effort, but he made it his passion. And his record demonstrates the heights he reached in this personal challenge: nine All-Defensive First Team honors… the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Think about this – Michael Jordan was wildly popular, a true scoring machine, and he could have “coasted” on that set of skills for his entire career. What did he do? He did not cut back on his emphasis in scoring, but he added the defensive element, requiring massive numbers of hours and intense focus. It was remarkable!/superhuman!/something above what mere mortals can barely fathom.
So – here is the business lesson. Think about what you are best at. You love it. It feels like it comes “naturally” to you. You read about it, you “reinforce” your already hefty prowess, and you are always reading and talking about how to get even better in this particular area of your success. As you should. Be proud of this expertise, and keep growing and learning in this very area.
But what should you add?
Very few people tackle this imposing challenge. It is the difference between some success and much more success.
If you are like me, you simply hate tackling an area that you are not as good at, an area that does not come “naturally” to you. You don’t want to read about it, talk about it, think about it. If your boss sends you to training in this area, you might resent the boss, and be an unwilling, unenthusiastic participant. You have your area of expertise, your area of interest – that is enough.
And it is enough. BUT… if you could tackle an area of weakness, one that you find tough to tackle, and really work to turn that into a strength, you could attain a higher level of influence and success.
The business lesson is simple: yes, continue your pursuit of greater mastery and excellence at what you are already good at — but get good in areas where you have genuine weakness and deficiency.
Now I have a bias – reading is one way to start getting better at something. A good book will help you know what to think, what to work on…
So here is a starting place. Take a look at this chart (it’s from this earlier blog post). Chances are one of these areas is an area of strength, but another area or two is an area of weakness. Pick an area of weakness. Read a book in this area as your next to do. Tackle your weak area, focus, and turn that weakness and deficiency into a strength.
Take this challenge seriously, do the necessary work, and you will become more effective, more successful, more valuable to your company, your people, and, yourself.
Good luck. Here’s the chart.
A Strategic Business Book Reading Plan
|If you need to:||Then you might want to read:|
|Aim higher – personally||The Other 90%|
|Think/work like an athlete in training||OutliersTalent is Overrated|
|Think like an innovator||The Creative HabitThe Art of Innovation|
|Get better at time management||Getting Things DoneThe Power of Full Engagement|
|Become a better servant leader||Servant Leadership|
|Nurture and build your people||Encouraging the Heart|
|Market more effectively||Waiting For Your Cat to BarkThe Tipping Point
The Long Tail
|Get better connected||WikinomicsGroundswell|
|Network more effectively||Never Eat Alone|
|Communicate more effectively||Words that WorkMade to Stick|
|Be a (very good) generalist||Reality Check|
|Negotiate more effectively||Women Don’t AskAsk for It|
|Play well with others||The Five Dysfunctions of a Team|
|Learn to learn||The Opposable Mind|
|Learn to tell the truth||Crucial ConversationsWinning|
(this just struck me as really funny…)
(excerpted from The New Yorker – SHOUTS & MURMURS: CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S “IMPLEMENTATION” Posted by Gideon Lewis-Kraus).
Leonardo DiCaprio takes a taxi to an insidiously nondescript office building. He rides the glass-walled elevator to the eleventh floor, and as he walks past the receptionist we see only the words “MANAGEMENT CONSULTING” in a thin, sans-serif typeface on the wall behind her. He enters a spacious conference room with a view of a park and sits at a vast, elliptical table across from Ken Watanabe, a white-haired senior director.
“I need you to take on a contract for me,” Watanabe says. “But in this case, instead of coördinating a facilitative approach in the light of the client’s tactical aims, you will take a prescriptive approach in implanting strategic objectives as part of a processual intervention in executive leadership.”
Ellen Page walks a few steps behind DiCaprio onto a roof. He turns to her. “You have three minutes to make a PowerPoint presentation that will take me three hours to click through.”
This is short, and to the point. You don’t have long to make that good first impression. And that first impression is close to the whole ball game.
Or, let me put it this away. You may not “win,” (the job, the girl, the contract, the sale) in those first few seconds. But you can certainly “lose” in those first few seconds.
Here’s the latest reinforcement for this. It is from the gripping, lengthy article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker: Letting Go: What should medicine do when it can’t save your life? (If you read this blog much, you know that I am a raving fan of Atul Gawande’s work). The subject is dealing with end of life issues. It’s not an easy article to read. But, I suspect, it is an important article to read.
But this blog post is not about the article itself, but about those first few seconds. The quote comes from Sarah Creed, a nurse for a hospice service. Here’s the quote:
The initial visit is always tricky, but she has found ways to smooth things over.
“A nurse has five seconds to make a patient like you and trust you. It’s in the whole way you present yourself. I do not come in saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Instead, it’s: ‘I’m the hospice nurse, and here’s what I have to offer you to make your life better. And I know we don’t have a lot of time to waste.’ ”
Here’s the life/business lesson: in every encounter, ask yourself – “how do I set myself up to ‘win’ in those first few seconds?”
The importance of what Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Tot, and Tom Callahan offer in this book is suggested by Peter Singe in the Foreword. He identifies three reasons. “First, [the material in the book] corrects a misconception, that wisdom is not developable [when in fact it] can be cultivated: through continual reflection, through silence, and through connecting with the highest in yourself and others…Second is that wisdom is not about just a few wise people but about the capacity of human communities to orient themselves around a living sense of the future that truly matters to them…While the world’s cultures offer a rich storehouse of stories of extraordinary individuals who exercised wisdom, upon closer inspection what makes the stories compelling is what emerged collectively…But even these examples are misleading, insofar as they start with the central leadership figure. For it is the everyday emergence of collective intelligence in teams, communities, and networks that is most welcome today…Third, the authors show that rather than being a `feel good’ concept with little tangible impact, wisdom is all about results, and especially what is achieved over the longer term.” Senge thus nails the essence of what this book is all about far better than I ever could.
For me, some of the most interesting and valuable material is provided in Chapter Three as Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan focus on what’s involved when “inhabiting” a different worldview, one that enables people to “think collectively about the circumstances they face. [This book offers] a guide to reclaiming our participation in groups as positive, necessary, and hopeful without sugarcoating the external challenges we face or the external obstacles that prevent us from seeing new possibilities. Wisdom reflects a capacity for sound judgment, discernment, and the objectivity to see what is needed in the moment. Collective wisdom reflects a similar capacity to learn together and evolve toward something greater and wiser than we can do as individuals alone.” The authors identify and then briefly but insightfully discuss five social visionaries who possessed the aforementioned worldview, who contributed to the field of collective wisdom: Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955), Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Regrettably, Mary Parker Follett has not received the attention and appreciation she deserves. Peter Drucker named her the “prophet” of management. Warren Bennis has characterized her as a “swashbuckling advance scout of management thinking” whereas Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that reading any of her works is “like entering a zone of calm in a sea of chaos. Her work reminds us…there is truths about human behavior that stand the test of time. They persist despite superficial changes, like the deep and still ocean beneath the waves of management fad and fashion.”
Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan cite three of Follett’s most important insights, the second of which she called the “law of situation.” Instead of bringing in outside experts and resources to bolster one side over the other, consistent with the fact that Follett was a staunch advocate of “power with” rather than “power over” in all relationships, she proposed complete and unrestricted use of information to advance transparency of operations. “She saw the power of the scientific method, still nascent in her day, as useful in creating a shared pool of data that everyone could use.” Several decades later, Henry Chesbrough would develop this insight in much greater depth in two books, Open Innovation and then Open Business Models. Collective wisdom cannot be created and then leveraged unless and until everyone involved is both willing and able to embrace what C. Otto Scharmer describes (in Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges) as three intertwined “openings” of the mind, the heart, and the will. Only then, Senge suggests, can people learn “how to listen more deeply” and suspend their “take-for-granted mental models” as well as to “connect with one another in that listening, and, perhaps quietly and barely noticed, how to pay attention to why [they] are here.”
This is the journey of discovery to which Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan invite their reader. Throughout their lively and eloquent narrative, they affirm the value of collective wisdom, insisting (and I agree) that it is available to everyone, in any group or larger collective to which one belongs. That said, the authors add, “Our exploration of collective folly, however, reveals the other, far less comforting, implication of Terence’s bold claim, `If nothing that is human is alien to me, then I know the poet and the thief, I know the teacher and the terrorist. I know the victim and the perpetrator – they are all within me.’ The same is true of any group: We are capable of extraordinary acts of grace and kindness and creativity, and equally extraordinary acts of cruelty and violence. No group is exempt – all that is human is within us.”
It remains for each of us to locate “all that is human is within us”…and then celebrate it.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Linda Heasley, president and chief executive of The Limited. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Bryant: And what are your best interview questions?
Heasley: I always like to hear what books they read. What keeps them up at night? I like an example of a challenging situation in a business environment where they took a controversial position. As I said, it doesn’t matter to me what they decided to do, but I like to see how they handled it. I like hearing what they do when they’re not in the office. I like to hear how a direct report would describe you and your management style. I like to hear their philosophy of leadership.
Bryant: Any memorable answers, good or bad, about philosophy of leadership?
Heasley: What I don’t like to hear, and I think it’s something we’re probably all guilty of, is a focus on business results. It’s an important thing. You wouldn’t be interviewing with me if I didn’t know you had a track record. But leadership style, and how to describe it, is something we’re not as comfortable talking about as leaders. It’s interesting for me how undeveloped those responses can be.
What I do like to hear is, even when a bad situation occurs, is the willingness to take a risk and try to do something to turn it into an opportunity and lead a group to do that. I look for a little bit of thinking out of the box, but I think many executives have a hard time talking about that.
Bryant: And what’s your philosophy of leadership?
Heasley: I believe that it’s not about me. I believe it’s very much about the team. I believe that my associates can work anywhere they want, and my job is to re-recruit them every day and give them a reason to choose to work for us and for me as opposed to anybody else.
So it’s about making it fun. It’s about making it exciting. It’s about keeping them marketable. I encourage people: “Go out and find out what the market bears. You should do that and then come back and help me figure out what you need in your development that you’re not getting, because we owe you that.”
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To read several of Bryant’s more recent interviews of other executives, please click here.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by William C. Taylor for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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My friends at the Washington Post, where I’m a member of the newspaper’s On Leadership panel, posed a provocative question to the group that is perfect for the times in which we live. Here’s what the editors asked: “Tony Hayward, once credited for BP’s ‘green’ turnaround, is forced to resign in disgrace. Michael Dell, the revolutionary high-tech entrepreneur, is sanctioned for misleading investors. Wall Street titans, once lionized, are now reviled. Where have all the CEO heroes gone?”
I offered the Post a (necessarily) short answer to its big question, as did a terrific collection of other panelists. [Click here.] I want to use this post to reckon more deeply with the question, and to offer some answers that I hope will prompt you to develop your own answers as well.
So let me start by rephrasing the question. As we try to make sense of the sorry state of American business leadership today, the real issue isn’t, Where have the corporate heroes gone? The issue is, How do we know a corporate hero when we see one?
I have spent more than 20 years — first as a young editor at Harvard Business Review, then as a cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company, and now as someone who write s books and interacts with business audiences around the world — studying organizations and leaders that are setting the idea agenda for business. I’m not looking for “heroes” per se, but for role models from which the rest of us can learn. And I’m always amazed by the fact that the companies and leaders I most admire are rarely the ones that show up on the front pages of the business section or on the covers of business magazines.
Here’s why: So much of the way so many of us think about business remains rooted in the logic of power. How big has a company become under its hard-charging CEO? How much wealth have its shareholders amassed as a result of strategic calculations made in the corner office? But as my friend and publishing-industry legend Harriet Rubin likes to say, and as I’ve written before on this blog, “Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you control. Freedom is about what you unleash.”
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
William C. Taylor is co-founder of Fast Company magazine and co-author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win with Polly G. Labarre. His next book is Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, published by William Morrow (January 2011). Follow him at twitter.com/practicallyrad.
1: the introduction of something new . 2: a new idea, method, or device: novelty.
Do you know the one indispensable business need of this era? Here it is: you’d best be really good at constant innovation, and a drive for constant, perpetual improvement. If you are not, you will be left behind – in the blink of an eye.
Here are two pieces worth reading to reinforce this one undeniable reality. The first is in the New York Times, about the constant improvement in dictation software. The other is about the advent of the Chevy Volt.
#1 – even with a virtual monopoly, you still need to constantly innovate. The customers demand it, expect it, and if you don’t someone else might come along and pass you by. That is the story of Nuance, the Dragon NaturallySpeaking company. In Reliable Dictation, Down to a ‘T’ by David Pogue, there are details about the way the company continues to refine its dictation software’s smarts. After a number of specifics, the article ends with this line:
Yes, Nuance has a near-monopoly in the speech-recognition game, but it’s nice to see it making steady improvements and price cuts as if it didn’t.
#2 – don’t panic about the pricetag of the Chevy Volt. Less expensive models will arrive in the blink of an eye.
In The Volt Jolt: Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty price (really, really hefty) for the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward. The first cars cost four times the average household income of the day, whereas the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.
The article gives a quick summary of the march of price-lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen; and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag. Gross is convinced that history and our commitment to innovation promise a similar plummeting of price for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here are key excerpts:
Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty (really, really hefty) of the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward. The first cars cost three to four times the average household income of the day, where as the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.
The article gives a quick summary of the march of price lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen, and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag, and promises a similar plummeting for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here’s a key paragraph:
Now, of course, Ford’s achievement with the Model T was one for the ages. His manufacturing advances were quantum leaps. But auto manufacturers have continued to innovate, develop efficiencies, and offer drivers more for less. The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. A few years ago, I went to buy a bicycle for the first time in a decade and was shocked to see how far my money could go. Compare the bicycle you can buy today for $300 with one you would have paid $300 for five or 10 years ago. By the same token, a $25,000 car today comes loaded with features that would have been unimaginable five or 10 years ago.
The key phrase in all of this: The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. In other words, innovation is constant, and making many things (every thing) better, and then better yet, again and again — for less money is the new normal.