With each reconfiguration of the economic landscape, there’s “good news” and “bad news
In the first chapter, Richard Florida explains that peaks and valleys are part of the lifecycle of any society as “obsolete and dysfunctional systems and practices” collapse, replaced by “the seeds of innovation and invention, of creativity and entrepreneurship.” The First Great Reset occurred in the 1870s, the Second in the 1930s, and a Third is now developing. “The promise of the current Reset is the opportunity for a life made better not by ownership of real estate, appliances, cars, and all manner of material goods, but of greater flexibility and lower levels of debt, of more time with family and friends, greater promise of personal development, and access to more and better experiences. All organisms and all systems experience the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.”
Literally, a reset means “to set again or renew” (Webster), “to set again or differently” (Oxford English Dictionary). As Florida makes crystal clear, however, a Reset is not an invitation to reload with the same “ammunition” (i.e. values, mindset, perspectives, strategies, and tactics) because, more often than not, that “ammunition” of the status quo helps to explain the emergence of a Great Reset in response to its inadequacies and thus is among its causes. This is precisely what Florida has in mind when observing that economic systems “do not exist in the abstract; they are embedded within the geographic fabric of the society – the way land is used, the locations of homes and businesses, the infrastructure that ties people, places, and commerce together. These factors combine to shape production, consumption, and innovation, and as they change, so do the basic engines of the economy. A reconfiguration of this economic landscape is the real distinguishing characteristic of a Great Reset.”
Note: Eric Drexler has a great deal to say about these and other issues in Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1987) as does Joel Mokyr in The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress (1992) and then in The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy (2004). Presumably Florida shares my high regard for these three books.
Florida provides a wealth of information and analysis of the First and Great Resets, especially in terms of their impact on the economic landscape, first in the 1870s and then in the 1930s. For example, what was then characterized as “the war of currents” (i.e. competition between Edison and Westinghouse) revealed which system (alternate or direct current) was more efficient and would benefit the public most. “In that effort we can see a crystal-clear example of innovation progressing toward infrastructure that could become the foundation of a Great Reset.” It did. Consider also led to great systems innovations in locations such as Edison’s lab in New Jersey and clusters of innovation in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. There were also major advances in transportation infrastructure. Florida also notes other large-scale systems innovation in mass public education as well as in manufacturing that could fully harness the productive power of industrial capitalism.
With regard to the Second Great Reset, its impact was wider and deeper than its predecessor. “For starters, [it] saw massive improvements in economic efficiency. Advances in machinery and the introduction of the modern assembly lines generated huge economies of scale. Power generation improved, and companies got better at capturing and using what before had been wasted energy…Research and development expanded significantly during the Second Reset. Although many see it as an easy target during budget cutbacks, spending on research and development actually doubled over the course of the 1930s…The Second Reset bought about enormous upgrading and expansion of America’s educational infrastructure. More and more Americans attended public school and more completed high school, with the percentage of high school graduates increasing from around 20 percent to more than 50 percent between 1920 and 1950.” By the time the U.S. entered World War Two, the essential components of the Second Great Reset were in place.
The scope and depth of Florida’s discussion of the current Reset are best revealed during a careful reading of his lively narrative. Suffice to say in this commentary that he makes a compelling case for recognizing, understanding, and then taking full advantage of the opportunities created by “new ways of living and working” that will drive “post-crash prosperity.” Paradoxically, in this book ass well as in each of his previous books, Florida seems to be both a passionate idealist and world-class pragmatist. Consider the first two of six guiding principles that he proposes, based on his examination of past Resets, that can help the human race to move toward a more sustainable and prosperous future:
1. An abiding faith in a simple, undeniable first principle that “every single human being is [or can be] creative…The real key to economic growth lies in harnessing the full creative talents of every one of us.”
2. “There’s an urgent need to create new good jobs – lots of them…We need to support the growth of higher-paying knowledge, professional and creative jobs, and make sure that greater numbers of workers are prepared for them.”
Having rigorously examined two Great Resets, Florida remains convinced that those who share his concerns as well as his convictions can, together, address urgent needs and thereby “see this Reset through and build a new prosperity.” No more Band-Aid solutions. No more preoccupation with a problem’s symptoms rather than with its root causes. “Let’s stop confusing nostalgia with resolve. It’s time to turn our efforts, as individuals, as governments, as a society, to putting pieces into place for a vibrant, prosperous future.” Amen.
About Those “Unfriendly Skies” – Hire It Done, And Then Pretend You Are Good At It Yourself (or, How To Fail At Customer Service)
This is a mild rant.
A while back, I flew a very, very well-known airline. It was a typical flight – very crowded, not many people looking happy with the process. Including the flight attendants, or the counter agents. They all looked like, and acted like, they would rather be somewhere else – anywhere else.
As I boarded the plane, I commented to the flight attendant as I boarded: ”you look tired.” She said, “you have no idea…” She was probably grateful that I gave her permission to voice her fatigue. But, if you want to know the truth, I was pretty tired myself. And a welcoming face, with a glad to see you voice tone, would have been nice. Not from this crew!
As the doors closed, we were shown a video. On it were smiling faces, with perky voices, all saying “thank you” for choosing this particular airline.
The contrast between the (assumedly paid) faces and voices on the video screen, and the real, live voices and faces on the airplane, were stark, dramatic… No one was thanking me in person for choosing this airline. Just the hired voices were doing the thanking.
So, if you can’t actually provide genuine, smiling and welcoming customer service, just hire it done, with a facade of customer service.
Contrast that with the tone of real, live flight attendants I have seen on Southwest Airlines. At times, I feel like they are borderline too perky, too happy, too cheerful… Bur after this contrast, I will gladly accept the perkiness of Southwest Airlines whenever I have a choice. In fact, when I have a choice, I will go out of my way to choose Southwest Airlines. I will gladly trade an assigned seat for a face and voice genuinely glad to have me on board.
Get customer service wrong, and it leaves an “I’d rather be somewhere else myself” impression on this customer.
“We cannot build a new country with the old thinking.…” – The Big Daddy of all Change Stories, the Collapse of the Soviet Union
We cannot build a new country with the old thinking.…
(from the Institute of Contemporary Development, a liberal think tank chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev, in a document that looked like a platform for the 2012 Russian presidential election)
So, let me make one thing clear. You come at us with whatever weapons that you have in your arsenal, but there is no weapon as powerful as that of an idea whose time has come.
(Fictional President Jackson Evans Addresses Congress on VP Nominee, Senator Laine Hanson — from the movie, The Contender)
This is about the change story that is the big daddy of all change stories. You want to talk about change? – Now this is change!
We all know the need for change. Any company, any organization, intent on doing things the way they’ve always done them is in a newly dangerous precarious position. The 21st century will not wait for these slow adapters. It is, truly, change or die.
But, change or die might not be enough of a phrase – it might be, change, die, and be reborn. Maybe it is destruct to a different (hopefully better) future.
The list of companies and organizations that failed to change fast enough is substantial, and continues to grow. Yahoo is in trouble. MySpace is basically history. Blockbuster Video is bankrupt, joining other relics of the past such as Montgomery Ward (which created the first mail order catalogue), and Circuit City, now no longer great (Circuit City was one of the “Good to Great” exemplars of Jim Collins, which is partly why he wrote How the Mighty Fall).
But these stories pale in significance to the biggest of the big disappearing. The Soviet Union disappeared in the blink of an eye. And though you can point to a lot of “catalysts,” (Americans, especially conservatives, want to give the credit to “Tear Down This Wall” Ronald Reagan), the real hero was Mikhail Gorbachev, and the people who were simply ready to say, and demand!, that the time had come.
In a remarkable essay in Foreign Policy, Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong (And why it matters today in a new age of revolution) by Leon Aron, we learn a great deal about why this happened. The article is absolutely worth reading in its entirety. Here are some key excerpts:
Every revolution is a surprise. Still, the latest Russian Revolution must be counted among the greatest of surprises. In the years leading up to 1991, virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it one-party dictatorship, the state-owned economy, and the Kremlin’s control over its domestic and Eastern European empires. Neither, with one exception, did Soviet dissidents nor, judging by their memoirs, future revolutionaries themselves. When Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party in March 1985, none of his contemporaries anticipated a revolutionary crisis. Although there were disagreements over the size and depth of the Soviet system’s problems, no one thought them to be life-threatening, at least not anytime soon…
Certainly, there were plenty of structural reasons — economic, political, social — why the Soviet Union should have collapsed as it did, yet they fail to explain fully how it happened when it happened. How, that is, between 1985 and 1989, in the absence of sharply worsening economic, political, demographic, and other structural conditions, did the state and its economic system suddenly begin to be seen as shameful, illegitimate, and intolerable by enough men and women to become doomed? (emphasis added).
The core of Gorbachev’s enterprise was undeniably idealistic: He wanted to build a more moral Soviet Union.
For though economic betterment was their banner, there is little doubt that Gorbachev and his supporters first set out to right moral, rather than economic, wrongs.Most of what they said publicly in the early days of perestroika now seems no more than an expression of their anguish over the spiritual decline and corrosive effects of the Stalinist past. It was the beginning of a desperate search for answers to the big questions with which every great revolution starts: What is a good, dignified life? What constitutes a just social and economic order? What is a decent and legitimate state? What should such a state’s relationship with civil society be?
One needs only to spend a few days in Moscow talking to the intelligentsia or, better yet, to take a quick look at the blogs on LiveJournal (Zhivoy Zhurnal), Russia’s most popular Internet platform, or at the sites of the top independent and opposition groups to see that the motto of the 1980s — “We cannot live like this any longer!” — is becoming an article of faith again. The moral imperative of freedom is reasserting itself, and not just among the limited circles of pro-democracy activists and intellectuals. This February, the Institute of Contemporary Development, a liberal think tank chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev, published what looked like a platform for the 2012 Russian presidential election:
In the past Russia needed liberty to live [better]; it must now have it in order to survive.… The challenge of our times is an overhaul of the system of values, the forging of new consciousness. We cannot build a new country with the old thinking.… The best investment [the state can make in man] is Liberty and the Rule of Law. And respect for man’s Dignity.
It was the same intellectual and moral quest for self-respect and pride that, beginning with a merciless moral scrutiny of the country’s past and present, within a few short years hollowed out the mighty Soviet state, deprived it of legitimacy, and turned it into a burned-out shell that crumbled in August 1991. The tale of this intellectual and moral journey is an absolutely central story of the 20th century’s last great revolution.
Here are some lessons for all business leaders and thinkers:
Lesson #1 – when it is time to change, really time, the change will come, whether you want it to, whether you are ready for it, or not.
Lesson #2 – it takes a leader to say, and act on, what the people themselves are thinking to help make it happen. Both of these are critical – the leader has to really, really listen to the heartbeat of the people he/she leads. And, the leader has to act on what he hears.
Lesson #3 – it takes a leader to base his/her leadership on the values he holds dear, and for those values, and the values of the vast majority of the people, to be the same, at the same time. Gorbachev was a moral man. The people were ready to act from this new moral core. The time had come.
Lesson #4 – And, it takes the right idea. Words like perestroika, glasnost, democratization… these are not empty words, or words that are simply reserved for and consigned to philosophy classes. They are the very foundation for change. “There is no weapon as powerful as that of an idea whose time has come.” Here is the key paragraph from the article:
“A new moral atmosphere is taking shape in the country,” Gorbachev told the Central Committee at the January 1987 meeting where he declared glasnost — openness — and democratization to be the foundation of his perestroika, or restructuring, of Soviet society. “A reappraisal of values and their creative rethinking is under way.” Later, recalling his feeling that “we couldn’t go on like that any longer, and we had to change life radically, break away from the past malpractices,” he called it his “moral position.”
This article provides a great overview of the most monumental of societal changes. I suspect that it gives us all a lot to ponder, whether we are hoping for change in our little corner of the world, or dream of the bigger changes we all need to pursue, embrace, and then help make happen.
Here is an article written by Robert Hosking for Talent Management magazine. To check out all the resources and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.
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Many talent managers can boast of high-performers or A-players, but team collaboration and business success cannot occur if conflicting work styles are left to fester.
The typical office environment is a melting pot of work styles, but the ingredients may not always blend easily. Differing approaches to work can lead to friction, miscommunication and even conflict among colleagues or between a manager and employee.
According to a recent survey by OfficeTeam, the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and Insights Learning and Development, 70 percent of support staff find it challenging to team up with someone who has a different work style – and it appears most managers aren’t helping the situation. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they must adapt to their boss’ work style to a great extent, while 72 percent said their supervisor either adjusts only somewhat or not at all to their style.
The results are outlined in a research guide titled “Your Work Style in Color: A Colorful Approach to Working Relationships.”
Here are some guidelines for overcoming conflicting work styles and enhancing team collaboration.
1. Know Your Own Behaviors. Oftentimes, managers’ habits can frustrate employees, so being aware of how everyday behavior may affect others can help them make changes for the better.
For starters, managers can poll colleagues they respect to see their work style from another’s perspective. Questions include: What steps do I take that make it easy for people to work for me? In which areas could I improve? This exercise can provide valuable insight, even if what’s said makes them cringe.
2. Make Communication a Priority. It’s important for managers to let their employees know about their work style and preferences, and not just assume they’ll figure it out. A good starting place is to explain communication preferences, letting team members know how they’d prefer to receive information from them — be it via email, in person or over the phone — and how often. The reverse is also true because communication is a two-way street.
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The bottom line is that no one has the “best” approach to work, not even managers. Every person brings different assets to the table, and taking advantage of their complementary strengths is necessary for business success.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Robert Hosking is executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled office and administrative support professionals. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Note: The review below is of the first edition that Jeff Thull has since revised and updated in this second edition. In fact, the phrase “revised and updated” really should be “extensively revised and updated” because there is so much new material in this book (check out Chapters 8 and 9 in Part III) and the scope and depth of his brilliant Diagnostic Business Development (DBD) process is increased as he explains how it enables those who use it to get beyond selling to managing decisions in collaboration with the buyer; get beyond problem solving to facilitating beneficial change; get beyond meeting customers’ immediate needs to managing their near-, mid-, and long-term expectations; get beyond single transactions to managing multi-dimensional relationships; and finally, to get beyond rote talking points and “value messages” to rich, rigorous, and interactive conversations.
The second edition reflects the positive and significant influence of two books Thull published after the first edition, The Prime Solution and Exceptional Selling. He refines several of their core concepts in the second edition that also reflects substantial feedback that enlightens and strengthens the DBD process. In these and other ways, the second edition is more, much more than a sequel. As I read Thull’s Introduction, I was reminded of Ken Robinson’s explanation of the reasons for the second edition of Out of Our Minds: “…the first reason is that so much has happened since since , both in [begin italics] the [end italics] world and in [begin italics] my [end italics] world…The second reason for this new edition is that I now have more to say about many of the core ideas in the book and what we should do to put them into practice…The third reason is, not only has the world moved on in the last ten years, I have too. Literally.” The same is true of Jeff Thull as well as of those such as I who found so much of value in the first edition and so much more in the second.
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Complex sales are those which involve a lengthy process of cultivation and solicitation, a “circle of influence” within which the purchase or pass decision is made, a product or service whose functions/features/benefits/ etc. require technical verification, and a substantial purchase price. In this volume, Thull focuses on the process by which to “compete and win when the stakes are high.” To understand how to master the complex sale, one must first understand how and why the role of the salesperson changed throughout the last half of the 20th century. Thull respectfully but clinically explains the inadequacies today of sales strategies, processes, and skills which were effective from the early-1950s until about the early-mid 90s.
How well I recall the advice I received from various sales managers when I earned my way through college by selling automobiles and smaller trucks in the Chicago area during summer vacations. Never take “no” for an answer, for example. “Selling begins when the prospect says `no.’” Another chestnut was flattery: “You look great behind the wheel! This car was built for you!” Times change, of course. One paradigm inevitably gives way to another. I agree with Thull that, today, “It’s not about selling — it’s about managing [a prospect's] quality decisions.” Actually, I view that approach as the purest form of selling: to serve as trusted advisor, concierge, consigliere, consultant, etc. when collaborating with a pre-qualified prospect to make the most appropriate purchase decision.
Thull carefully organizes his material within ten chapters that range from the first, “The World in Which We Sell” (almost worth the price of the book all by itself) to the last, “A Complex Sales Future,” in which Thull agrees with Jack Welch that we must either control our destiny or someone else will. Given what I now do to earn a living, Chapter 6 (“Designing the Complex Solution”) was of special interest to me. In it, Thull suggests that “Prime professionals approach [Thull's] solution design phase of the complex sale as an exploratory process. The aim is to equip the customer to make the best, most effective choice among the solutions competing in the marketplace.” By taking precisely the same approach, the IBM sales force was able to recapture most of the customers it had lost while improving its chances when cultivating and then soliciting prospective new customers.
As Thull explains, the process built during the Diagnosis, a precise agreement on what a customer is experiencing in the absence of the needed solution and it’s financial impact, with a collaborative discussion that determines precisely what a customer’s desired outcomes are. “The easiest way to begin to define the parameters is to ask customers how they expect their situation to look after the problem is solved.” For me, Thull then makes an especially important point when alerting his reader to the “trap” of unpaid consulting which begins “when we cross the line between defining parameters of a solution and creation of the design of the solution itself.” Please consult the book for Thull’s complete explanation of each phase of The Prime Process.
In today’s increasingly more competitive marketplace, Thull observes, “There is no Magic! — Spectacular success is always preceded by unspectacular preparation” as well as by a better system, sharper skills, and “above all” discipline. The Prime Process is not for every organization, nor does Thull make such a claim. Carefully consider what it involves and, especially, what it requires.
I presume to add a final observation of my own, that there is both “good news” and “bad news.” First the bad news: Very few organizations have as yet mastered the complex sale process. Now the good news: Very few organizations have as yet mastered the complex sale process.
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 John W. Rowe, chairman and C.E.O. of the Exelon Corporation, the electric utility company based in Chicago. He says decisive actions are vital. “If you’re just standing still,” he says, “whatever you’re doing is going to get shot apart.”
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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A Sitting Duck Can’t Catch a Moving Turkey
Bryant: Talk about some important leadership insights you’ve gained through the years.
Lowe: We can talk about how people follow directions. Heading a large company, I could probably decree a dress code in great precision. And while it would cause riot and insurrection, most employees would in fact obey. But on the other hand, you tell your employees you want to make the company greener while keeping your focus keenly on the bottom line — that’s all too amorphous. They think you only mean one or only mean the other. It turns out that you can give orders far more easily if they’re very detailed and precise. But telling people that this direction is really important takes a whole lot of work to get people to follow it and implement it. And so I’ve learned the importance of conveying a clear direction and the need to reinforce it, day in and day out, in what you do, whom you promote, whom you give bonuses to, what’s rewarded.
Communication is one of the most difficult things. In my first C.E.O. job, a young woman who worked for me walked in one day and said, “Do you know that the gossip in the office is that the way for a woman to get ahead is to wear frilly spring dresses?”
And I just looked at her and asked, “Where did this come from?”
She said: “Well, you said, ‘pretty dress’ to four women who happened to be dressed that way. And so now it’s considered policy.”
I said: “Well, it’s the furthest thing in the world from policy. I was just trying to be pleasant in the elevator.”
People hang on a leader’s every word on what seems like trivia and can resist like badgers your words when you’re really trying to say something you think is important.
Bryant: Why is that?
Lowe: It’s human nature to be more comfortable with very clear instructions than with general ones. Hard things are hard. I mean, there is no simple detailed instruction when you’re dealing with things that are complex and fuzzy, or when you’re dealing with two or three important trade-offs.
Bryant: What were some leadership lessons for you growing up?
Lowe: I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin with Depression-era farming parents. And there’s just no doubt that the work ethic that they instilled is just a huge part of it. My father believed you should work most of the time and my mother couldn’t quite see why he inserted “most.” There’s just a huge influence of growing up with two people who believed so much in work, duty, responsibility.
I also had bosses on my way up who taught me key lessons: One is how important action is — to always be looking for something to do that moves the ball. Don’t sit still. My aphorism for it is, better a moving turkey than a sitting duck. If you’re just standing still, whatever you’re doing is going to get shot apart. I also learned that you have to act on the best information you have, and to not wait for the nonexistent perfect level of information.
Bryant: What about some lessons on how you deal with people?
Lowe: The first thing I try to do is use simple things, like the company vision statement. In an almost papal way, I will say: “Look, everything we do is complicated. But these things are basic.” And I’ll say to a group, “I can tell you what every word in this document means.” It’s important to explain to employees that these principles really do impact how we function in our business. And by papal I mean not so much the red shoes, but you recite the creed. And you try to convince people that you believe the creed. Because you can’t actually influence 17,000 to 18,000 people on a personal basis, day to day. So that’s one thing I try to do.
I can look at people and say, “Here’s how each one of these lines affects something we do in our business.” And I’ll point out that most of what’s in the creed would be the same for most other utilities. The real difference is we believe them more deeply. At least I do.
Bryant: How else do you make the creed stick, rather than just becoming a poster on the wall?
Lowe: We try to follow through. And we really do promote people based on what’s in here. So trying to convince people that the creed has meaning is part of what I do that affects a lot of people. I try to manage in an impactful way through at least two or three layers. I don’t just meet with my top eight people and work things out. I try to also work with their subordinates as much as I can. You know, Mark Twain’s comments about what a riverboat pilot does are pretty much what I try to do with my senior team. I think you do a lot of looking, a lot of asking.
There are probably only four or five real decisions I make in a year. There are an awful lot of things I just quietly ratify. I find it very hard to get officers to let you in before the food is cooked. Their natural tendency is to want to bring it to you all packaged. By then all you can do is say yes or no. And you usually say yes. I like to get in while I can still shape the menu a bit. And I try to get them to bring up problems at our executive committee before they’ve got the solution. And I try to be the one who suggests that a problem is coming before they’ve thought about it.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here