First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Stefan Lindegaard on why C-level executives often do not support innovation initiatives

Stefan Lindegaard is a Copenhagen-based speaker, network facilitator, and adviser on open innovation and intrapreneurship. He is the author of the book, The Open Innovation Revolution: Essentials, Roadblocks, and Leadership Skills, published by John Wiley & Sons (2010).

Here are some reasons why I believe CEOs and other C-level officers often don’t support innovation, even though the business climate of our time demands that innovation, including the open variety, be a core capability.

1. The demand for short-term gains nearly always wins the day.

2. They missed out on innovation education.

3. Top executives are risk adverse.

4. Top executives are control freaks.

5. Leaders may lack the X-vision: the ability to work across as well as within different business functions and with many different types of innovation to turn ideas into profitable products, services, or business methods.

6. They lack the understanding of why a networking culture is important for open innovation.

7. Top executives are too far away from the action.

* * *

I presume to add another reason: Top executives fear an “open” business model because of the possibility (albeit remote) that collaborative relationships with those “outside” the company will compromise the company’s standards, violate the security of its privileged (if not proprietary) information, and threaten its competitive advantage(s).

Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frederich Nietzsche on what it takes to become a good novelist

Frederich Nietzsche

There is no doubt that Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) is among the most influential of philosophers during the modern era, especially in terms of his contributions to existentialism and post-existentialism. However, he also has much of value to say about the creative process and, in Human, All too Human (1878), offers excellent advice on how to become a good novelist. You will understand why I share this passage after you read it:

“The recipe for becoming a good novelist…is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says ‘I do not have enough talent.’ One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should wrote down anecdotes every day until one has learnt how to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one’s eyes and ears open for the effect produced one those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer….one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost for instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue this many-sided exercise for some ten years; what is then created in the workshop…will be fit to go into the world.”

Note: The bold italics used for emphasis are mine.

Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Magazine Articles Ever (from CoolTools)

For book lovers, here is a list of a different kind:  The Best Magazine Articles Ever.  Andrew Sullivan linked to it on his blog.

Here is the article, up to the list of the top seven.  The article lists many others, by decade.  Admittedly it is, as all lists, subjective.  Kevin Kelly posted it on his CoolTools blog.  I have not read all of these seven, and they are definitely going into my “to read” stack.

The Best Magazine Articles Ever

The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever.  Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Submitter comments are in italics.

This is a work in progress. It is an on-going list of suggestions collectively made by readers of this post. At this point the list has not been vetted or selected by me. In fact, other than the original five items I suggested, all of the articles mentioned here have been recommended by someone other than me. (Although I used to edit Wired magazine none of the articles from Wired were suggested by me or anyone who worked at Wired. I also did not suggest my own pieces.)

This list is incomplete though it is getting quite long. You may notice that your favorite author or piece is missing. This is easy to fix. Simply recommend your favorite magazine articles to me via email: articles@kk.org. Or if your favorite article is already listed, use the same form to recommend it in order to elevate it to the “top”. At some point in a few weeks I’ll close the nominations.

— KK

The Top Seven Articles Based on the number of times an article is recommended

****** David Foster Wallace, “Federer As Religious Experience.” The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.

***** David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.

***** Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet.” Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.

****** Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Esquire, April 1966.

**** Ron Rosenbaum, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.

**** Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds.” Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.

**** Edward Jay Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.


Andrew Sullivan recommended this article, As We May Think by Vannevar Bush from the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic, and included this quote:

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

And I would include the original articles (both led to books) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.  And, of course, I would remind our readers that we link to the Malcom Gladwell and Atul Gawande archives, which you can find always on the right side of our blog.

And I would also recommend the David Halberstam article from the July, 1969 Harper’s, The Very Expensive Education of McGeorge Bundy.

 


 


Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Umair Hague on “a deeper kind of joblessness”

Umair Hague

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Umair Hague 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.

In lieu of a catchy opening line, a hammer-blow of a chart [click here]. The median duration of unemployment is, today, more than double what’s it been at any point in the last half-century, at 6 months and counting. It’s what you might call the dwindling of the American Dream [click here].

Reviving the ghost of the great John Maynard Keynes, economists from Paul Krugman, to Brad DeLong, to Martin Wolf, to Bruce Bartlett, are chalking up a jobless recovery to a lack of aggregate demand [click here]. I’d like to advance a suggestion: it’s not just the quantity of demand that’s problematic — it’s also the quality of demand.

So let’s talk about jobs — how they’re created, and, conversely, how they vanish. Here’s a company that caught my eye this week. Knights Apparel, top supplier of clothing to universities, is pioneering a factory called Alta Gracia where workers earn a living wage — 3.5x the minimum wage, to be precise. In an industry premised on rock-bottom pricing, that’s an awesomely courageous move that rocks the status quo.

So will it succeed? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s the bigger point. Knights is far from the first proponent of higher wages. One of its pioneers? None other than card-carrying communist…Henry Ford. Most know him for making cars, but in fact, he innovated something much bigger than a mere product: the institution of the “job” as we know it today. Not only did this radical innovator institute perhaps one of the first minimum wages, he did it while cutting working hours. Working 40 hours a week for at least a minimum wage? It’s a fixture of American society today.

Surprised? Yet, Ford explicitly said that if he paid his workers above the norm, and gave them more leisure time, not only would he gain greater commitment and dedication, in a industry marked by quick turnover — but, more importantly, he’d also spark more, better demand for novel relatively expensive durable goods, like cars, amongst a still relatively poor middle class.

So one might raise their eyebrows, then, and reasonably wonder whether it’s American preferences that are killing the American dream. If America has changed so much that what Henry Ford thought was eminently practical is now seen as hopelessly naive — well, then perhaps it’s not just bankers, bonuses, and bailouts that are really behind the Great Crash.

*     *     *

Low quality demand, then, means that we buy cheap, but the price is invisibly steep: it ignites a global race to the bottom, what a complexity economist might call a dynamic equilibrium of negative consumption externalities, consumption that results not just in joblessness but a loss in the quality of jobs. The quality of a job is sparked by higher quality demand; or, valuing more than just the dollar price of a thing, but also its human and social impact.

When we have low-quality demand, we have low-quality jobs. When we value McDonalds, the result is McJobs.

A living wage is a small, halting — and perhaps even thoroughly misguided — step in a great reset of those self-destructive preferences. Yet a step it nonetheless is.

*     *     *
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.

Umair Haque is Director of the Havas Media Lab. He also founded Bubblegeneration, an agenda-setting advisory boutique that shaped strategies across media and consumer industries.

Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bob Morris on The Breakthrough Company: A Book Review

The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers
Keith R. McFarland
Crown Business (2009)

The best of recently published business books began when their authors or co-authors were intrigued by a question and conducted rigorous and extensive research to locate the answer to it. Jim Collins offers an excellent case in point. He and Jerry Porras wondered why certain companies were able to sustain their success over a period of 20+ years. What they learned is provided in Built to Last. Later, the managing director of the McKinsey office in San Francisco, Bill Meehan, congratulated Collins on the research and writing in the book, then added, “Unfortunately, it’s useless.” Why? Because great companies were always great. “Can a good company become a great company and, if so, how? Or is the disease of `just being good’ incurable?” Collins provides his answers in Good to Great.

Small world. Years later during a casual conversation with Collins, Keith McFarland wondered aloud what could be learned about great companies closer to the time of their entrepreneurial breakthrough. “What a great research question!” Collins replied. Actually, McFarland then formulated three questions that would guide and inform research for The Breakthrough Company: “Why do most companies start small and stay that way?” “What is special about the handful of companies that successfully ‘break through’ the entrepreneurial stage of development?” and “What can a leader do to ensure that his or her company maximizes its chances for a breakthrough?”

For the next five years, McFarland and his associates rigorously analyzed more than 7,000 of America’s fastest growing private and public companies. They spoke with more than 1,500 key executives. They reviewed and cataloged more than 5,600 articles. Moreover, they conducted intensive 90-day studies with 52 firms ranging in size from $9-million to $-billion in annual sales.

As I re-read this book, I realized that rather than a single “journey,” this process of transformation (i.e. from small to mid-size firm to entrepreneurial enterprise) consists of six separate but related transitions, each of which proceeds at its own pace. That is certainly true of the nine exemplary companies on which McFarland focuses in this book: ADTRAN, Chicos FAS, Express Personnel, Fastenal, Intuit, Paychex, Polaris, SAS Institute, and The Staubach Company.” McFarland devotes a separate chapter to each of these transitions, citing real people and real situations in one or more of the nine companies to illustrate the given point.

I especially appreciate McFarland’s brilliant use of various reader-friendly devices such as “The Key Ideas” section in most chapters, accompanied by “Squirts from the Grapefruit” (i.e. surprising revelations), “Breakthrough in Practice Tips,” and boxed key ideas. This is the first business book I have read in which Charlie Chan is cited as a source. In one of his films, the star detective observes that surprising findings are “like squirt from grapefruit juice.” McFarland acknowledges general “squirts” as well as a few that are relevant to each transition. For example, in Chapter 5 (“Building Company Character”): “Some breakthrough companies had formal values statements and some didn’t. The creation of a formal statement of values did not seem to be in any way related to the development of strong company character.” McFarland also includes seven mini-case studies of companies in which their real-world situations also illustrate his key points.

I wholly agree with him that “breakthrough” is a journey, not a destination. “That there are no permanent breakthrough companies – only companies that engage in practices leading to long-term success. And just as it’s possible for an everyday company to achieve breakthrough performance, it’s equally possible for a breakthrough company to, without realizing it, fall back into life as an everyday firm.” No company can afford to “crown” any of its individuals rather than the entire enterprise, rest on its laurels, play it safe, and allow its character to become a set of platitudes “that no one believes in.” Instead, a company must continually find new and better ways to meet customer needs, to reduce costs, and to increase the speed of effective execution. If those involved in any breakthrough company believe, as Marshall Goldsmith so aptly describes it, that “what got them here will get them there” and relent in their commitment to the fundamentals of breakthrough that Keith McFarland explains so brilliantly in this book, that company’s performance is certain to become mediocre and its survival problematic, at best.

I also appreciate the provision of seven mini-case studies that offer additional real-world examples of McFarland’s most important points. They appear in this order: The Olson Company (Page 26), Shamrock Foods (Pages 109-110), Western Wats (Pages 138-139), Simms Fishing (Pages 148-149), Eagle Global Logistics (Page 158), o2ideas  (Pages 1869-170), and House of Blues (Page 218). After explaining how to build breakthrough capabilities in the final chapter, McFarland offers a number of suggestions about how to avoid breakdown after breakthrough. It remains to be seen which (if any) of the nine exemplar companies avoid breakdown but of this we can be certain: the potential for a breakdown is inherent in each breakthrough. Keith McFarland agrees with Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adam Hartung suggests, “Stop focusing on your core business”

Adam Hartung

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Adam Hartung that appeared in Forbes magazine (July 27, 2010). To read the complete article, please click here.

*     *     *

It has become the fast track to oblivion.

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone” was a 1960s antiwar hit for Peter, Paul and Mary. The “flowers” meant soldiers dying in Vietnam. These days we might be tempted to sing, “Where Have All the Mighty Corporations Gone?”

Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Washington Mutual, AIG, General Motors, Chrysler, Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, General Growth Properties, Linens ‘n Things, Sharper Image, FAO Schwarz, United Air Lines, Northwest, Delta, US Airways. These were all leading companies, often dominating their industries, that either failed, declared bankruptcy or were saved from failure by the government.

Were they all run by dopes? Circuit City and Fannie Mae were named two of the best companies in corporate America in Jim Collins’s bestselling book Good to Great. By Mr. Collins’ measure, Circuit City had the best performance of any company on his entire vaunted “great” list. Collins, who is known to have received more than $100,000 for a single speech, said all American management should emulate Circuit City and Fannie Mae. Surely leaders aren’t emulating those examples now.

What happened to bring down all these great names, and for that matter to bring on the Great Recession? It would seem a great deflection to blame it all on government. Most of the last decade saw Republican pro-business policies dominate the landscape, and contraction in government oversight across almost all industries. The pro-business policies promoted by an M.B.A. president were supposed to help businesses grow. No, the collapse of growth has to be related in some way to management, to decisions that business leaders systematically make that–well–haven’t worked out too well.

A central tenet of business wisdom is that you must “focus on your core.” That can range from core customers and markets to core capabilities, functionality, assets and technology. The message is to know what is at the heart of your business success historically, then make sure you do more of it better, faster and cheaper than anyone else. If you focus, focus, focus on being excellent at what you do, as Tom Peters told us in the 1980s, everything will work out fine in the end.

Only we’ve increasingly seen, year after painful year, that it’s not true. The leaders of the above listed great companies weren’t stupid, or lazy or so arrogant as to ignore important business concerns. They knew their core strengths, and they doubled down on improving them time and again. In the end, the strategy simply didn’t work.

Perhaps it’s time we realized that competing in 2010 is nothing like competing in 1975. Capacity shortages of just about everything, including capital, are nonexistent. In fact there’s overcapacity–just look at manufacturing utilization numbers and interest rates. America today is fatter (more overfed), better housed (more and bigger homes) and better transported (there are more cars registered in America than licensed drivers) than ever. More, better, faster, cheaper was a mantra for industrial era management. Today if you focus on efficiency and optimizing your business model, you’ll get declining marginal returns, really, really fast.

That’s because today the basis of competition can change within months. The value of customer databases and product purchase histories are worth more ($53 billion at Amazon) than brick and mortar retail stores ($47.5 billion at Home Depot and $7.8 billion at real estate rich Sears). Moving fast is worth a lot more than hard assets or an optimized business model.

*     *     *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Adam Hartung lives in Chicago and is a partner in Vector Growth Partners, a growth strategy consulting firm in suburban Washington, D.C. He is the author of Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition. Learn more at AdamHartung.com.

Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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