According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, nearly half of the companies on Inc. magazine’s 2008 list of fastest-growing companies were founded in a recession or bear market. Fifty-seven percent of the Fortune 500 companies were founded during downturns, an above-average number of them during the Great Depression. Instability forces change.
In fact, most of the biggest brands in the world today are vulnerable. Most people simply don’t trust them. It’s tough to get 96 percent of Americans to agree on anything. But according to a 2009 Harris poll, that’s the number that agree Wall Street, major banks, and credit card companies are dishonest and can’t be trusted. Only 14 percent now trust big business, period.
My take on all this?
1. Individuals as well as organizations can be greedy.
2. Individuals as well as organizations can live beyond their means.
3. The current economic crisis is somewhere between the end of its beginning and the beginning of its end.
4. It has created both perils and opportunities.
5. Those who focus only on perils will forfeit opportunities.
6. Those who focus only on opportunities will fall victim to perils.
7. Prudence urges “pruning” all non-essentials while leveraging resources only where they will have the greatest ROI.
Here is an abbreviated version of an article written by the staff of Fast Company magazine that appeared in its June 2005 issue. It anticipates the subsequent publication of so many books (e.g. Roger Martin’s The Design of Business, Tim Brown’s Change by Design, and Thomas Lockwood’s Design Thinking) and an even greater number of articles on a subject that has yet to be fully explored.
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Look around you: The evidence of design’s power is everywhere. Customers expect, even demand, more from the design of everything they buy. Companies as varied as Adobe, Nokia, Toyota, and Virgin understand that great design is a prerequisite for turning consumers into customers. Whether it’s software or sippy cups, when something works right, looks right, and feels right, it sparks an emotional connection. People come to love it and loyalty soon follows, along with the three Rs: repurchase, reuse, and recommendations — benefits that fall directly to the bottom line. Such is the power of design.
Design is shaping the way we communicate and educate; it’s a catalyst for reinventing cities and reimagining nonprofits. Look at how companies such as Whirlpool are leveraging design as a competitive weapon — and stealing market share from formidable foes. Or how companies like Procter & Gamble and Samsung are using design thinking to recast their strategic thinking. As Ideo CEO Tim Brown puts it, “Where you innovate, how you innovate, and what you innovate are design problems. When you bring design thinking into that strategic discussion, you introduce a powerful tool to the purpose of the entire endeavor, which is to grow.”
Even a quick look at the design world shows that many of today’s designers defy easy categorization. They might have expertise in architecture, the graphic arts, or industrial design, but increasingly their work takes in many other fields: animation, anthropology, biology — just follow the alphabet. That’s why we devised five categories that encompass all of the design world and reflect this need to break through old boundaries.
Peak Performers have innovated over the long haul; they are design’s leaders and influential thinkers. Impact Players are those who, over the past year or so, have demonstrated design’s capacity to shape strategy.Game Changers are the agitators who are transforming the way we think about design. Collaborators are allies from outside the design world who work with designers to reinvent their organizations and even their cities. Next Generation billboards the rising stars who are creating design’s future.
If you are leading a team or company, mapping out a marketing strategy, innovating part of a supply chain, or streamlining a manufacturing operation — that is, if you are a decision maker facing a problem — think about this question: What are you and your organization doing to fully seize on design’s power and promise?
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Col. Bernard Banks 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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This post is part of an HBR Spotlight examining leadership lessons from the military.
Today’s leaders are continually cajoled to act as “outside-the-box” thinkers. Such pronouncements give the impression the only sound solutions are ones never previously conceived. However, what industry and the military really strive to produce are leaders possessing strong critical and creative thinking skills. Both implicitly eschew the notion that a box even exists. What can industry learn from the military about how to advance the development of such leaders? One tangible example is how to construct and execute experiential training while continuing to meet the needs of customers and stakeholders.
Today’s organizations operate in what the U.S. Army War College defines as a VUCA environment. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are constant realities in the 21st century. The military seeks to prepare for the challenges it will inevitably face by crafting realistic training scenarios and routinely integrating such activities into its ongoing operations. The goal is not to teach them what to think, but to enhance their ability to think critically and creatively about the myriad of contingencies posed by a fluid environment — in essence to teach them how to think.
In industry, 90% of time is typically devoted to executing business actions, and less than 10% is allocated for increasing organizational and individual capabilities through training. The military, on the other hand, spends as much time training as it does executing — even in the midst of high stress/high risk operations. A unit in Afghanistan or Iraq will not suspend its experiential training program while involved in combat operations, because its ability to cogently and creatively address future challenges is enhanced by an enduring commitment to improving people’s competence and adaptability through experiential exercises, as well as actual experiences. But the real lesson for industry leaders is not simply that training is important. What’s really valuable is how the military crafts its training opportunities.
The Army defines leadership as both accomplishing the mission and improving the organization. Permanently improving the organization requires the development of its human capital. The military believes you substantively improve people by improving their ability to adroitly address challenges in their environment. Therefore, we do not seek to confine people’s thinking by restricting the solutions available to them, unless the proposed action violates any of these criteria: is it immoral, unsafe, unethical, or illegal?
In order to have people wrestle with what it takes to conceive of action plans where the aforementioned criteria constitute their only boundaries, the military structures its experiential training activities with wide parameters. Events are constructed to reflect ambiguity in the operating environment (while also targeting specific organization needs). Leaders are responsible for setting the conditions in every training event and resourcing them appropriately, as well as for reminding participants throughout the exercises that there are a myriad of potentially elegant solutions to each ill-defined challenge.
Two other things are important to take away from the military practice of engaging in routine experiential training. First, feedback is crucial. The military practice of conducting intermediate and final after-action reviews (AARs) — in which all participants examine the planning, preparation, execution, and follow-up of any significant organizational initiative — fosters a learning culture. Second, coaching is required to translate feedback into behavioral changes. Research has demonstrated that feedback without coaching rarely results in behavioral changes. So, all leaders must develop their capacity to coach others. Reflection and dialog lie at the heart of development. Experiential training creates the impetus for both to occur.
If you wait for the right time to train it’ll rarely occur. Today is the opportunity to prepare for tomorrow, regardless of how much else is going on.
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Bernard (Bernie) Banks is a faculty member in the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership at West Point and a Colonel in the United States Army. He has presented on the topic of leadership at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and consulted or provided training to companies including GE, IBM, Citigroup, Best Buy, and Procter & Gamble. He is a graduate of West Point and holds graduate degrees from Harvard, Northwestern, Columbia, and the U.S. Army War College.
According to Paul Sullivan, “Clutch, simply put, is the ability to do what you do normally under immense pressure. It is also something that goes far beyond the world of sport. And while it has a mental component, it is not a mystical ability, nor somehow willing yourself to greatness…Being under great pressure is hard work. This is part of the reason why we are so impressed by people who seem immune to choking. These people come through in the clutch when others don’t…Just because someone is clutch in one area of his life does not mean he will be clutch in others…Transferring what you can do in a relaxed atmosphere to a tenser one is not easy – or else everyone would be clutch.”
That said, we now understand why Sullivan wrote this book: To share what he learned while seeking the answers two questions: First, “Why are some people so much better under pressure than other, seemingly equally talented people?” In response to the first question, Sullivan organizations his material according to six themes (Focus, Discipline, Adapting, Being present, Fear and Desire, and Double Clutch) and devotes a separate chapter to each. Then in Part II, he shifts his attention to explaining why some people choke and others don’t…why people choker in some situations…and nit in others. He also examines the implications and possible consequences of “overthinking.” Then, “Can people be clutch if they are not regularly in high-pressure situations?” Sullivan devotes Part III, “How to Be Clutch,” to answering the second question.
I especially appreciate how Sullivan anchors his observations and insights in a human context. For example, there is much of great value to learn from his discussion of the renowned attorney, David Boies, in the first chapter. “Early in his career, he started to focus on the same two questions for every trial. ‘First, what are the facts,’ he told me. ‘And then, second, what are the basic principles of the law here – not what were the detailed holdings of fifty cases, but just what are the basic principles of law that apply to this area’…Boies’s focus on having a clear understanding of the issues and laws creates a solid foundation. He builds the morality play around that. However, it is not the play that helps him excel under pressure but his focus on telling the story in court. This ability allows him to withstand the immense pressure of any high-profile trial.”
Boies and other exemplars throughout the book commit years of time and effort to becoming able to excel despite indescribably severe pressure in one or two domains of their lives…but not in all. Tiger Woods is clutch during competition in golf but has encountered well-publicized problems in other areas. Few (if any) of those who read this book will be sufficiently talented to achieve success in competition with Boies or with Woods but everyone who reads this book can – over time and with sufficient concentration – manage more effectively stress and the pressures that create it. One final point: What Paul Sullivan learned and then shares in this book will be of substantial benefit to those who wish to alleviate or isolate and block out stress as well as to those who must cope with it.