(this is something of a personal reflection, leading up to a big-picture business issue).
One of my occasional reads is Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Her book The Invitation hit me at the right time in the right way. I’ve read more from her, and follow her writings… I appreciate her.
In her most recent blog post, she describes how she is tackling a new challenge in this chapter of her life. Actually, renewing an earlier practice, from an earlier chapter. She wrote this:
This image has become a guiding one for moving forward in my life. I’ve stopped looking for The Ten Year Plan and started looking for and noticing the small round stones, beckoning markers that whisper, “This way. Over here.”
It reminded me of this scene from the Robert Redford/Jane Fonda 1979 movie, The Electric Horseman, directed by Sydney Pollack. (I found a pdf of a draft of the script here). Redford is stealing the thoroughbred horse Rising Star, setting him free in the wild, where “he belongs.” Fonda plays the dogged reporter, getting her story. She is slowly won over to the right-ness of his cause. As she travels on foot to the secret canyon, he catches her writing this in her journal:
Seeing this country as if for the first time. Not looking down from a jet 30 thousand feet above but from… — the low angle of a man who means to cross it on foot… leading a thoroughbred stallion to a secret destination, to a private goal.
I have taken two trips recently. The latest, to Orlando, I saw nothing. I flew too far above the terrain to see much of anything, drove to a hotel, walked into a very nice conference center, but one that looked like so many others, and flew back. I did not see Orlando.
The other trip was to Vail, Colorado. I flew into Denver, and rented a car. I drove, leisurely on purpose, and looked, and saw… Then for lunch, we walked, slowly, leisurely, beside a stream and below the mountains, and then ate outdoors with all of it surrounding us. It really was (dare I use such an old, simple word) awe-inspiring.
The closer you get, the more you look, the more you see…
So what? Well, in one sense, leadership requires the 30,000 foot view. The trends, the big changes, the massive movements of people and ideas… The big, big picture.
But, sometimes, leadership requires looking and seeing up close and in a very personal way. Think of Luis Urzúa, shift foreman (read my blog post, here), and the close up view he took of the 32 men he led some 69 days, over 2000 feet below the surface. His “big picture” was not so big at all. It was a very specific picture: “How do I lead this group of fragile and vulnerable and endangered men in the midst of this ghastly circumstance?”
I think we need both kinds of leaders. Those who look from a great vantage point, seeing the possibilities. But, others, who look up close. Who see the individual needs, the small steps that can be taken.
Both leaders are important. Both viewpoints are important. But I think we can be a little more enamored with the 30,000 foot view. And it is wrong to value one over the other. The slow pace next to the streams might help us remember that we work with real, actual, individual people, with real dreams and aspirations.
So, to circle back to the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer: I’ve stopped looking for The Ten Year Plan and started looking for and noticing the small round stones, beckoning markers that whisper, “This way. Over here.”
Here is an excerpt of an article written by Sally Helgesen for strategy+business magazine (August 2010), published by Booz & Company. To read the complete article and check out subscription information, please click here.
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From Amsterdam to Adelaide, this unorthodox thinker has divined the connections between economic prosperity and creative achievement, and their implications for the future of the city.
What sustains great organizations over time? Great talent. And what do talented people want? Most want influence, money, personal fulfillment, and the chance to make a difference. But more and more, talented people also want a great place to live.
The answer seems obvious, but the phenomenon is fairly recent. In the past, the attractions of working for the right company often trumped the desire to live in a great place. No longer: A landmark study by the Chicago-based CEOs for Cities released in 2008 found that 64 percent of highly mobile global knowledge workers said they were more likely to choose a job because of where an organization was located than because of the organization itself.
The reason is not surprising. Talented knowledge workers — people who have choices — know that companies can no longer guarantee their own survival, much less offer their employees a safe harbor in an unpredictable economic environment. To secure a prosperous future, individuals need to put themselves in settings that enhance their ability to build both the relationships and the skills they will need to support themselves over the course of a lifetime. Less dependent on companies than they were in the past, knowledge workers have increasingly come to recognize that putting place first works to their advantage.
Business leaders have been slow to recognize the key role of place in attracting talent and stirring its innovative potential. As a result, many companies continue to over-focus on building internal capacity rather than seeking to strengthen the regions to which they need to attract skilled people. Given the shift in what top people are looking for, leaders who follow the conventional strategy may end up shortchanging themselves in the talent sweepstakes and also undermining the long-term economic viability of their resource base.
But what exactly constitutes a great place in today’s environment? What precisely is it that 64 percent of knowledge workers seek? Charles Landry, an independent consultant, writer, and thinker based outside Oxford, England, has spent his life considering the complex blend of elements that most effectively draw talented people to specific cities and regions. Landry also studies the myriad ways in which place can provide the emotional and sensory stimulation required to stir creative thought and translate it into action.
As founder of the consultancy Comedia, and as an author and peripatetic speaker, Landry works with regional authorities and private-sector clients around the globe to identify and build the systems of support that knowledge-based global capitalism both demands and rewards. He sees his mission as nothing less than to help develop the physical and civic infrastructures that can powerfully support innovative practice.
Landry’s encyclopedic books, such as The Art of City-Making (Earthscan Publications, 2006), The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators (2nd ed., Earthscan Publications, 2008), and The Intercultural City: Planning for Diversity Advantage (with Phil Wood; Earthscan Publications, 2008), offer powerful insights about the role place can play in attracting, retaining, developing, and inspiring world-class people in today’s fast-changing global business environment. The highly original and often spellbinding lectures that Landry delivers in venues ranging from Bali to Abu Dhabi to Bilbao provide a crash course for business and civic leaders seeking to create a regional advantage. He shows them how to align an understanding of what spurs creative effort with relentlessly practical insights about what talented people consider when choosing where to live — the down and dirty basics of transport, livability, and connection to the global grid.
Landry’s own unique career trajectory exemplifies the practices he advocates. Starting in his 20s, he pioneered intellectual entrepreneurship, making a living by moving unexpected and highly original contributions from the margins into the mainstream. Some of the practices for which he is a passionate advocate are innovation rooted in a strong European intellectual tradition, wealth creation balanced with social cohesion, and local distinction reconciled with a global context. By pursuing his self-invented path and ignoring the conventional boundaries that separate culture and economics, Landry has developed a fresh and powerful understanding of what spurs talent to be creative.
Note: Many of the issues addressed in this article are discussed in much greater depth by Richard Florida, notably in The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life (2002), The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent (2005), and The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity (2010).
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Sally Helgesen is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and leadership development consultant. Her five books include The Web of Inclusion: A New Architecture for Building Great Organizations, cited in The Wall Street Journal as one of the best books on leadership of all time, and The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership, hailed as “the classic work” on women’s leadership styles, continually in print for sixteen years, and translated into 12 languages, and Thriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming the New World of Work.
I had the privilege of speaking to the Gazelles this week in Orlando. I presented two synopses: The Checklist Manifesto and Multipliers. The day was rich with insight, from presentations and conversations.
At this event, Verne Harnish, the founder of the Gazelles organization, the author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, and overall business thinker par excellence, just shares his latest thinking. They call his session “Visitation with Verne.” I have pages of notes and ponderings from his presentation.
He started with a simple challenge: “we need more rigor.” Good challenge!
Here are a couple of key thoughts from his visitation:
#1: You’ve got to out-read and out-learn your competitors. Like all great insights, this is so obvious; yet we don’t see it, pay attention to it, do it. After all the emphasis through the years on the learning organization; after all the insight we gain from this simple fact: good leaders keep reading important books; we still don’t put reading and learning in their needed place in our priorities. Verne reminded us that there is always someone out there trying to keep ahead of you. You’ve simply got to out-read, out-learn your competitors.
Here’s an interesting way to think about it: before you can be effective at “brainstorming,” you have to be very effective at “brain-filling.”
#2: Forget “Strategic Planning” – shift to “Strategic Thinking, Execution Planning.” Vocabulary matters. Vocabulary shapes behavior. What you call/name something shapes what it becomes. And Verne, the man behind the brilliant and exceptionally practical and usable “One-Page Strategic Plan,” (download it free from the Gazelles website, here. Click the “strategy” tab), thinks that it is time for a vocabulary shift.
In reality, there is no such thing as strategic planning. There is only “strategic thinking,” and then comes “execution planning.” This shift reminds us that “strategic planning” is in reality a two-step process. Without the right strategy, execution can not win the day. With the right strategy, a failure at execution loses the day.
There was much more from Verne. But these two strike me as especially critical to our on-going pursuit of success.
You can purchase my synopsis of The Checklist Manifesto, Multipliers, and many other titles, with audio + handout, from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
Get The Right People – Lesson #1 About A More Profitable, Impactful Future (Facebook’s Zuckerberg teaches us)
“When you decide to sell off your problems, don’t sell off your best people. This is one of those little secrets of change. If you create a place where the best people always have a seat on the bus, they’re more likely to support changes in direction.”
“At the top levels of your organization, you absolutely must have the discipline not to hire until you find the right people. The single most harmful step you can take in a journey from good to great is to put the wrong people in key positions. Second, widen your definition of ‘right people’ to focus more on the character attributes of the person and less on specialized knowledge. People can learn skills and acquire knowledge, but they cannot learn the essential character traits that make them right for your organization. Third – and this is the key – take advantage of difficult economic times to hire great people, even if you don’t have a specific job in mind.”
Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.
Over twenty years ago, a large Christian publishing firm bought a quite small, but rapidly growing Christian publishing firm. Why? The large firm wanted the President of the small firm to work for them – and thought the easiest way to make that happen was to buy the company. That President later became the leader of the entire company.
The lesson – you do what you can to get the best people. Getting the best people provides the single greatest strategic advantage. Whatever else is second is a distant second.
The latest example of putting this wisdom into practice comes from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. To state it simply, he buys companies to get people. Here are a couple of excerpts from: Mark Zuckerberg: “We Buy Companies To Get Excellent People”:
Speaking to an audience at Y Combinator’s Startup School last weekend, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “Facebook has not once bought a company for the company itself. We buy companies to get excellent people.”
Facebook’s chief is on the prowl for top talent. And scooping up that talent has recently meant absorbing the companies they run.
Here’s the video of Zuckerberg talking about this practice:
Getting the right people. Mastering talent acquisition. The history of success is a history of products and people. And it is always people that find/discover/invent the products and the systems that lead to success. Getting the right people really is critically important.
Denning asserts, “the problems of today’s workplace are not the personal fault of the individual managers. They are largely the fault of the system they are implementing, which relentlessly constrains the capacity of people to contribute, limits the firm‘s productivity, and practically guarantees that clients will be dissatisfied. The mental model of management that these companies are pursuing, with interlocking attitudes and practices, methodically prevents any individual management fix from permanently taking hold.” Ironically and sadly, this is precisely the situation to which then chairman and CEO of 3M, William L. McKnight responded…86 years ago: “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.”
As Denning already knows and understands full well, the institutional constraints that must be eliminated comprise a system (i.e. the status quo) that current senior managers worked hard to establish and are certain to defend. Most change initiatives fail or fall far short of their goals because of resistance that is essentially cultural in nature. He advocates what he characterizes as “radical management,” based on seven principles. My own opinion is that none of these principles is “radical.” On the contrary, as studies conducted by several dozen highly reputable firms and research teams have revealed beyond any doubt, all organizations that achieve and then sustain superior performance have strategies (“hammers”) and tactics (“nails”) based on these principles.
Perhaps at least some senior managers now responsible for the system to which Denning refers (i.e. one that “relentlessly constrains the capacity of people to contribute, limits the firm‘s productivity, and practically guarantees that clients will be dissatisfied”) view the seven principles as “radical.” Hopefully, they will read this book and, more to the point, recognize what they must do to institutionalize the system Denning has devised.
Readers will especially appreciate the fact that Denning devotes a separate chapter to each of the seven principles, concluding each with a set of Practices. For #1, 9 of them; then for the others, #2 (7), #3 (15), #4 (14), #5 (13), #6 (10), and for #7 (10). In Chapter 4, he also includes four Tactics for introducing radical management into “even the most intractable high-end knowledge culture.” Readers will also appreciate Denning’s skillful use of real-world examples (e.g. World Bank, Easel Corporation, Curb Records, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Ernst & Young, NUMMI, and Toyota) that illustrate one or more key points.