Quality – The Strength of the Product; This is Ground Zero for Business Success (Insight from Gladwell’s latest)
Malcolm Gladwell has a new article. That sentence alone sends me to read the article immediately. He is the most curious of writers, and such a good and thorough storyteller.
His latest, Overdrive: Who really rescued General Motors? is based on the book Overhaul by Steven Rattner, and tells the story of the overhaul of General Motors. It is filled with insight. But this section jumped out at me:
Kristin Dziczek, of the Center for Automotive Research, estimates that the “new” G.M. is roughly eighty-five per cent the product of the work that Wagoner, in concert with the U.A.W., did in his eight years at the company and fifteen per cent the product of Team Auto’s efforts. That seems about right: car companies stand or fall, ultimately, on the strength of their product, and teaching a giant company how to build a quality car again is something that can’t be done on the private-equity timetable.
This is business success in a nutshell. After all is said and done, the quality of the product makes all the difference.
A few years ago, I was driving out in Lewisville (near Dallas), and noticed a new large store. I don’t remember the name, but walked in to check it out. It was clearly some kind of Container Store knock-off. They were trying to out Container Store The Container Store. What an impossibility! The Container Store oozes quality, along with its superior and legendary customer service. This store looked similar – but a walk though the aisles told me quickly that the quality was simply not a match. This was a counterfeit, a pale imitation… And, predictably, the store is long gone.
Whatever your business is, here’s your real test: how’s your quality? If it’s not the best, the top…if you don’t ooze quality, then your work is cut out for you. Get to work on quality. Only after the quality is there can you do all that other stuff that is needed for success.
We now have over 2100 blog posts on our blog. How to keep up?
You can, of course, subscribe to our blog. WordPress sends you an e-mail automatically. When you sign up, you will find a few options. I recommend the once-a-day e-mail. Just enter your e-mail address in the box provided on the right side of this page, and then click the “sign me up” button.
And/or: I post links to most of our posts, from our entire blogging team, on Twitter. Bob Morris posts links to his blog posts on his Twitter account . So, we invite you to follow us on Twitter.
Follow me (Randy) on Twitter: http://twitter.com/randy1116. (I also “retweet” posts that are especially popular).
Follow Bob on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/robertmorris313.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Ndubuisi Ekekwe 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.
* * *
A few years back, I planned to build a networked digital library where theses from African universities could be stored. I wanted to find a way to make these contributions visible to the whole world. It was a hobby, not a job, and I took the time to personally craft it to my taste. The project took weeks, then months, and years. Finally, I gave up: no time.
Then, driving to New York for an IEEE Leadership Workshop, a few weeks ago, I stopped at a rest area in Connecticut. As I was resting, I noticed some ants in action. I observed that when one finds food, others immediately gathered to help pull the food to their storage. I decided to disturb the pattern, which unfortunately, resulted in wounding one. Quickly, they came together and evacuated it. Then they re-organized and continued on the line they had created. I saw no form of supervision, yet they were accomplishing tremendous tasks, such as moving pieces of food that were about 30 times their individual sizes.
As I watched them, the theses project flashed to my mind. Wouldn’t it be good to trust others to help you? Right there, I made the following decisions on the project:
The ants worked as a team: I will form a team, bringing professionals together.
The ants trusted one another: I must do away with the notion that only by working alone can I ensure quality.
The ants were open: I will share the idea with like-minded people. I later got a Boston area professor to lead the design. When ants discovered food, they informed others, who came along and helped.
The ants were partners and of different sizes: I will bring help and make the task our project, not mine. As much as possible, each team member will get assignment based on his capability.
The ants were diligent and focused: The team must keep working, even slowly. Deadlines will give us focus.
The ants regrouped: I will be open to try new ideas if present ones are not working.
It is about a month later now and the project is progressing well. We hope to launch it in November, from Ethiopia, the seat of the African Union.
Peter Miller has written that swarming animals, like ants, can teach us a lot about planning, military strategy, and business management. They make decisions as a group and depend on one another to survive. Samuel Haldeman had already observed that these small creatures live in unity, are hard-working, prudent and disciplined. It is no wonder the Biblical Solomon rebuked the lazy man: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! For small business owners, especially, there is a major lesson here. By engaging everyone in the organization, and trusting people, you will have more success. You must not think that only you can close the sales, install the products, and fine-tune the design all by yourself. Give others the opportunities to fail or succeed, and always ask for help. I have learnt to forward emails on the projects to others, instead of hoarding them for days. I also share project progress and challenges to all team members.
The more people know where we are, the more they come up with solutions. You never know which member of your staff has information or networks that can unlock future growth opportunities unless you share and communicate with the team. It means understanding like my ancestors that “The ant-hills are not built by elephants, but by the collective efforts of the little rejected ants.”
* * *
Ndubuisi Ekekwe holds two doctoral and four master’s degrees, including a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore and an MBA from University of Calabar, Nigeria. He founded the telphony and IT firm, Ultinet Systems in Nigeria, and later worked at the Diamond Bank in Lagos. Now he is the Founder/President of the non-profit African Institution of Technology, an organization he describes as “seeking to help diffuse emerging technologies such as microelectronics and nanotechnology into African economies.” He recently edited Nanotechnology and Microelectronics: Global Diffusion, Economics and Policy.
To check out Thomas Seeley’s HBR article, The Five Habits of Highly Effective Hives, please click here.
Note: I recently re-read several books that were published a while ago. Here is my review of When Professionals Have to Lead.
In this volume, Thomas DeLong, John Gabarro, and Robert Lees present what they characterize as “an integrated leadership model” that is designed to “stimulate thinking and facilitate changes that high-performing firm leaders want to enact.” Although their focus is on the professional service firm (PSF), all of the information and counsel in this book can also be of substantial value to other kinds of organizations. In fact, decision-makers in those (e.g. manufacturers) must also offer professional service of the highest quality, especially now when competing in what has become, as Thomas Friedman describes it, a “flat world.”
Here are two brief excerpts that suggest the thrust and flavor of the co-authors’ insights and writing style.
“The integrated leadership model is incomplete if any one of the four core behaviors is left out. The model is powerful only if leaders set direction, get commitment to the direction, execute, and by their actions set personal examples as leaders.” (Page 42)
“For many partners and other senior professionals, on-the-spot corrective feedback, coaching, and mentoring are not seen [by the high-need-for- achievement personality] as central to the task trajectory of getting a project, deal, or matter done, so these aspects of leadership are ignored. We call this self-feeding dynamic the `PSF Paradox’ [in that] because they too are high-achievement personalities, senior professionals are not disposed to give junior professionals what they need to stay motivated or develop – even though they too had the same needs early in their career.” (Pages 163-164)
With regard to the last excerpt provided, I am reminded of what recent research conducted by the Gallup Organization revealed: only 25% of employees are engaged in their jobs, 55% of them are just going through the motions, and 20% of them are working against their employers’ interests. How could it be otherwise when senior professionals are unwilling and/or unable to provide corrective feedback, coaching, and mentoring to junior professionals in the same firm?
To their great credit, after carefully identifying the “what” of effective leadership in personal service firms, DeLong, Gabarro, and Lees focus most of their attention on how to achieve and then sustain high-impact performance, especially now when leaders in PSFs face unprecedented challenges in a global marketplace and are engaged in a constant battle against disconnection. Integrated leaders are “connectors” who “create a safety net to catch those professionals who may be ready to leave the system or who are not [sufficiently] engaged in the enterprise.”
A new book that has received recent critical acclaim is former President Jimmy Carter’s White House Diary (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010).
You can read this description on Amazon.com: “Each day during his presidency, Jimmy Carter made several entries in a private diary, recording his thoughts, impressions, delights, and frustrations. He offered unvarnished assessments of cabinet members, congressmen, and foreign leaders; he narrated the progress of secret negotiations such as those that led to the Camp David Accords. When his four-year term came to an end in early 1981, the diary amounted to more than five thousand pages. But this extraordinary document has never been made public—until now…..By carefully selecting the most illuminating and relevant entries, Carter has provided us with an astonishingly intimate view of his presidency…. Thirty years after the fact, he has annotated the diary with his candid reflections on the people and events that shaped his presidency, and on the many lessons learned.”
I guess that depends upon how depressed you want to be, and the value you personally place on learning from mistakes so you don’t repeat them.
President Carter was an expert in energy and initiated programs in that field that are still developing today. He boldly worked toward peace in the Middle East, and we will not forget the images of himself with Menachem Begin and Andwar Sadat.
However, my guess is that most Americans remember his errors more. We did not return him to the White House for a second term. In fact, he almost lost his own party’s nomination in 1980 when challenged by Senator Ted Kennedy, which would be a remarkable event if attempted today.
For all he did well, he also presided over extreme inflation and massively high interest rates. He did not win fans from the sports world by removing American athletes from the opportunity to compete in the Olympics. He unsuccessfully tried to level the office with the working American by wearing blue jeans in the White House, and using a photograph instead of an oil painted portrait for his official picture. He redefined the American motto, “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” by opening our borders to Cubans who were criminals and mentally ill. He angered the Iranian people by toasting the Shah at a New Year’s Dinner, then he could not successfully obtain the release of American hostages, who were held for 444 days.
Every United States President has had accomplishments and also has made mistakes. Carter was no different. Some consider him the worst American President we have ever had. I don’t know about that. Who am I to make that judgment?
Perhaps you will consider this book insightful, or perhaps you will find it self-serving. Regardless, I just don’t know that we need or want to be reminded. It will be interesting to watch how well it sells.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it!
Steven Johnson is the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation” my selection for the December First Friday Book Synopsis. This is an important book. Recently, Johnson wrote this article on the Huffington Post: Steven Johnson’s ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’: 6 Brilliant, World-Changing Mistakes. It includes some photos, with details, so click though to take a look. Here is his introduction to his specific examples:
For the past four years, I’ve been investigating the history of great ideas: the scientific, technological, and creative breakthroughs that have come to define the modern world — and the environments that made them possible. That research led me to my new book, “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation,” but along the way, it also led me to a surprising discovery about the minds and workspaces that generated some of history’s great innovations: they were remarkably error-prone.
“In all probability,” British Economist William Stanley Jevons wrote in 1874, “the errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one.” Making mistakes turns out to be a strangely generative process: it sends you down a new path, allows an interesting new connection to form in your mind. The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again. (For a rich philosophical take on this subject, I recommend Kathryn Schulz’s book, “Being Wrong.”) And not just wrong, but messy. A shockingly large number of transformative ideas in the annals of science can be attributed to contaminated laboratory environments. Great scientists and inventors seem to have an openness to the serendipitous discoveries that happen when you accidentally knock over the tissue sample, or misinterpret the data from the last experiment. As one great inventor, Ben Franklin, put it: “Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists, and does not seem to require so much an active energy, as a passive aptitude of soul in order to encounter it. But error is endlessly diversified.”
Take a look at his specific examples — In that spirit, a short tour of some of history’s most brilliant and world-changing mistakes (click here):
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Frank Rich for The New York Times (October 23, 2010). To read the complete article and check out other resources, please click here.
* * *
PRESIDENT Obama, the Rodney Dangerfield of 2010, gets no respect for averting another Great Depression, for saving 3.3 million jobs with stimulus spending, or for salvaging GM and Chrysler from the junkyard. And none of these good deeds, no matter how substantial, will go unpunished if the projected Democratic bloodbath materializes on Election Day. Some are even going unremembered. For Obama, the ultimate indignity is the Times/CBS News poll in September showing that only 8 percent of Americans know that he gave 95 percent of American taxpayers a tax cut.
The reasons for his failure to reap credit for any economic accomplishments are a catechism by now: the dark cloud cast by undiminished unemployment, the relentless disinformation campaign of his political opponents, and the White House’s surprising ineptitude at selling its own achievements. But the most relentless drag on a chief executive who promised change we can believe in is even more ominous. It’s the country’s fatalistic sense that the stacked economic order that gave us the Great Recession remains not just in place but more entrenched and powerful than ever.
No matter how much Obama talks about his “tough” new financial regulatory reforms or offers rote condemnations of Wall Street greed, few believe there’s been real change. That’s not just because so many have lost their jobs, their savings and their homes. It’s also because so many know that the loftiest perpetrators of this national devastation got get-out-of-jail-free cards, that too-big-to-fail banks have grown bigger and that the rich are still the only Americans getting richer.
This intractable status quo is being rubbed in our faces daily during the pre-election sprint by revelations of the latest banking industry outrage, its disregard for the rule of law as it cut every corner to process an avalanche of foreclosures.
Clearly, these financial institutions have learned nothing in the few years since their contempt for fiscal and legal niceties led them to peddle these predatory mortgages (and the reckless financial “products” concocted from them) in the first place. And why should they have learned anything? They’ve often been rewarded, not punished, for bad behavior.
The latest example is Angelo Mozilo, the former chief executive of Countrywide and the godfather of subprime mortgages. On the eve of his trial 10 days ago, he settled Securities and Exchange Commission charges for $67.5 million, $20 million of which will be footed by what remains of Countrywide in its present iteration at Bank of America. Even if he paid the whole sum himself, it would still be a small fraction of the $521 million he collected in compensation as he pursued his gambling spree from 2000 until 2008.
A particularly egregious chunk of that take was the $140 million he pocketed by dumping Countrywide shares in 2006-7. It was a chapter right out of Kenneth Lay’s Enron playbook: Mozilo reassured shareholders that all was peachy even as his private e-mail was awash in panic over the “toxic” mortgages bringing Countrywide (and the country) to ruin. Lay, at least, was convicted by a jury and destined to decades in the slammer before his death.