If you read the news, if you pay attention to the changes in society, if you keep up with what’s happening, you know that we really do have a few very different worlds out there – maybe more pronounced than ever before.
I’m speaking especially about the world of jobs, and the search for jobs. For example, for the college graduates, especially the new college graduates, the news is a little on the grim side. That Bachelor’s Degree, which feels so valuable because of all the work that went into earning it, is simply not quite enough. Not anymore. In the article The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s by Laura Pappano (N Y Times), here are the warnings:
Browse professional job listings and it’s “bachelor’s required, master’s preferred.”
Colleges are turning out more graduates than the market can bear, and a master’s is essential for job seekers to stand out — that, or a diploma from an elite undergraduate college, says Richard K. Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
And the article begins this way:
William Klein’s story may sound familiar to his fellow graduates. After earning his bachelor’s in history from the College at Brockport, he found himself living in his parents’ Buffalo home, working the same $7.25-an-hour waiter job he had in high school.
The article is worth reading, as she delineates the specific “new” functions/purposes of a modern Master’s Degree.
But, at the other end of the spectrum, we find this: the national high school graduation rate is right at 71%. That means that for every 100 people hitting age 19 or so, 29 of them have not even graduated from high school. (And most of these never will graduate from high school, and will certainly not graduate form college).
So, to put this in perspective:
• the people who used to get the jobs that were available with a Bachelor’s Degree now need a Master’s Degree.
• thus, the people with a Bachelor’s Degree now work at jobs that used to be filled by people who only graduated (or did not even graduate) from high school.
• Thus, the people who only graduated from high school (or did not even graduate from high school) will work…where?
There are many who say “jobs, jobs, jobs; this should be the concern of our political leaders.” Yes, it should. But, the question that I worry about is this: where will people work — especially those who have dropped out of high school?
My first full-time job was stocking shelves and bagging groceries at the local Jewel Tea store near my home on the South Side of Chicago. It was during summer vacation. Almost immediately I realized that many of the rules I had to follow at home were ones I also had to follow at work. Incentives, rewards, and (yes) punishments were similar. The single-parent mother who raised me and the people at the store who supervised me were very strict but always fair. Praise and criticism were always justified. I was beginning to learn valuable lessons and would learn many more.
I mention all this by way of introducing what I think are valuable lessons to be learned from Cirque du Soleil (“Circus of the Sun”), founded by Guy Laliberté in 1984. Its first production was Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil and it has since become a multi-billion dollar organization with several companies (including Varekai, Corteo, Koozá, Ovo, Totem, Zarkana) now performing throughout the world.
These lessons, in my opinion, are relevant to all dimensions of our lives.
1. Become and then remain mentally and physically fit.
Note: Based on what I have learned, the criteria for selecting new members of the Cirque du Soleil company are comparable with those of the U.S. Navy’s SEALs.
2. Perfect each task to be completed.
3. Perfect teamwork with others.
Note: Perfection is a journey, not a destination. Company members practice constantly under strict, expert supervision. They have developed a mantra: “If you come to Cirque, you need to be willing to experience total immersion. Rather than being a mere observer, you are going to participate…to become fully engaged.”
4. Be fearless but prudent. Never reckless. Never.
5. Perform with contagious joy.
6. Greet each new day as a precious gift…because it is.
7. Waste nothing, especially time and energy…and dreams.
8. Each performance is about others (teammates and audience), not about you.
9. If an idea, routine, policy, procedure, or product is DOA, bury it.
Note: When a production begins to lose its “magic” for performers and/or audiences (e.g. Nouvelle Expérience, Delirium, and Banana Shpeel), it is retired with honor.
10. As one of the riggers, Réné, observes, “There is NO compromise on safety, and NO compromise on appearance. We must be a hundred percent safe, all the time, AND a hundred percent aesthetic. And that is what is so challenging. That’s what forces us to be creative: no compromise!…We are in a life-and-death business.”
Those who wish to learn more about this remarkable organization are urged to check out Cirque du Soleil: The Spark – Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives within Us All, written by John U. Bacon based on material created by Lyn Heward and published by Currency/Doubleday (2006).
How and why disruptive innovators maximize creative impact
As is true of others who have written business books that also offer breakthrough insights, the authors of this one set out to answer an especially important question: “Where do disruptive business models come from?” What Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen concluded is shared in this book. It’s too early to be certain, of course, but I think this book is destined to become a “business classic,” as have so many of the other books that Christensen has authored or co-authored. It is worth noting that The Innovator’s DNA emerged from an eight-year collaborative study, suggesting that its information, insights, and counsel are research-driven, anchored in the real world.
Some of the most valuable material was generated by interviews of dozens of “inventors of revolutionary products and services as well as founders and CEOs of game-changing companies build on innovative ideas.” They also include what they learned from Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Howard Schultz (whom they did not interview) whose innovative thinking has transformed entire industries. “We wanted to understand as much about these people as possible, including the moment (when and how) they came up with the creative ideas that launched new products or businesses.”
The title of this book refers to an aggregate of five primary discovery skills that enable various innovative entrepreneurs and executives to generate breakthrough ideas. “A critical insight from our research is that one’s ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely the function of the mind, but also a function of behaviors. This is good news for us all because it means that if we change our behaviors, we can change our creative impact.”
It should also be noting that an abundance of entrepreneurial research throughout the past 17-20 years reveals that, in terms of personality traits or psychometric measures, entrepreneurs do not differ significantly from typical (even traditional) business executives. My take is that almost anyone in almost any workplace can develop the five discovery skills. The extent and velocity of that development will largely depend on leadership. “The bottom line: If you want innovation [enterprise wide], you need creativity skills within the top management team of your company.”
The co-authors include a disclaimer (sort of): “First, engaging in the discovery skills doesn’t ensure financial success…Second, failure (in a financial sense) often results from not being vigilant in engaging all the discovery skills…Third, we spotlight different innovators and innovative companies to illustrate key ideas or principles, but not [repeat NOT] to set them up as perfect examples of how to be innovative.”
The five Discovery Skills are hardly head-snappers: Associating with stimuli (mind, heart, and five senses); Questioning anything and everything, especially one’s assumptions and premises; Observing with intent and intensity, noting what many others miss; Networking by connecting people as well as dots while accessing new (i.e. unfamiliar) resources; and Experimenting (e.g. test the untested, disassemble and deconstruct, prototype, add new knowledge). In the most innovative organizations or portions thereof, all five are institutionalized in terms of incentives and rewards, division of labor, allocating resources, transparency, cross-functional collaboration, recognition/celebration, and (yes) protection for prudent but bold risk-takers.
Not everyone is willing and/or able to thrive in such a culture. Disruption is by nature messy, unpredictable, confusing, upsetting, and often threatening. When Joseph Schumpeter introduced the process of “creative destruction,” his ultimate objective was, in fact, creative creation. Just as Albert Einstein urges us to make everything as simple as possible but no simpler, Schumpeter urges us to destroy everything except what is essential…and then build on that. The authors of this book urge us to strengthen the five skills through individual and team initiatives that are guided and informed by a business model that, if it is designed properly, will be continuously self-disruptive.
Why a reputation strategy is imperative and how to formulate, execute, an then manage one
It is no coincidence that on Fortune magazine’s annual lists of companies that are most highly regarded and considered the best to work for, many of the same companies appear each year. Their reputations are well-deserved and have been hard-earned one human interaction at a time. Those employed by Ritz-Carlton, The Container Store, Nordstrom’s, Apple, Google, Southwest Airlines, and Procter & Gamble are expected to personify their company’s core values in both their attitude and behavior, especially during all of their interactions with customers, to be sure, but also with each other.
The companies on which Diermeier focuses offer compelling examples of how a company’s reputation, its “most valuable asset,” can be enriched and enhanced over several decades (e.g. Calgene, Prudential Insurance,) and then, in some instances, severely tarnished (if not ruined) in a only a few days or even hours (e.g. Monsanto and Shell UK). Given the rapid and extensive emergence of social media in recent years, the need for a reputation management program is even greater now than ever before.
The program that Diermeier introduces in this book is based on his more than ten years of real-world experience with all manner of organizations as well as his analysis of the results of countless formal research studies. The core principles of the program he has formulated (and explained thoroughly in this book) serve as the foundation for the strategies he proposes. He cites dozens of mini-case studies of situations in which a reputation was at risk. He explains what worked, what didn’t, and why. For a time, probably the most highly-regarded company in the world, Enron’s moral and ethical deterioration at the C-level occurred over a period of several years and the damage to its reputation was irreparable. The prestigious reputation of other companies (e.g. Johnson & Johnson, Exxon, BP, Toyota) was damaged by specific developments and their reputation restoration depended almost entirely on how well each responded to the given crisis.
To sum up, Diermeyer provides about as much information, insights, and advice as most business leaders will need to establish or strengthen and then sustain (with continuous improvement) a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective program for reputation management for their organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Presumably he agrees with me that it would be a fool’s errand, however, to attempt to adopt all of his recommendations. It makes sense to conduct a rigorous self-audit to reveal what one’s organization’s greatest vulnerabilities are – insofar as reputation is concerned — in order to determine what must be done to prevent or respond to effectively to a crisis involving each.
As Daniel Diermeyer observes, “Reputation management is not a corporate function, but a capability. It requires the mindset integrated with the company’s strategy, guided b y its culture and values, and supported by carefully designed governance and intelligence processes. Developing this capability is as demanding as developing customer focus or the ability to execute.”
Some who read this review may agree with the importance of what is proposed but then point out, “We have so much going on already, we just can’t focus on reputation management right now.” In reply, I cite the Chinese aphorism that asserts the best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago. The next best time is now.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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Clouds of uncertainty hover over the Western world. The consequences are stalling action. Companies are sitting on piles of cash, several CEOs have told me, as they wait for a resolution to the U.S. debt crisis before deciding what and where to invest or whether to hire. Job creation is slow and unemployment high, leaving millions uncertain about their futures. Europeans wait for a resolution to financial woes from the south affecting the north, and in a safe, sane Nordic country, Norway, fear rises from a seemingly insane terrorist shooting that cost nearly a hundred lives. Safe harbors have uncertainty, too.Companies can make strategic choices once they know what conditions will apply — will laws change, will taxes be raised or lowered, will interest rates go up or down? You could be a CEO weighing factory location decisions in the U.S. or abroad, or a retail entrepreneur deciding where and when to open more stores. Waiting for decisions that provide a direction, any direction, can be paralyzing. Motivating people to try something new, or to get on with innovation, is tough when the rules of the game are up in the air. Uncertainty is one of the primary reasons that people resist change. People are relatively adaptable once they know what the situation is, like it or not.
Perfect clarity is not always possible, and leaders are not always in control of events. But that doesn’t mean all the action must stop. Here are five tips for managing under uncertainty.
[Actually, here are three. To read the complete article, please click here]
Provide certainty of process. Even if we can’t tell people what the outcome will be, we can provide clarity about when information will be provided. A calendar filled in with communication dates can reduce some of the anxiety of uncertainty. It’s good leadership to overcome reluctance to say “I don’t know,” and instead to engage people in discussion about the situation, letting them know when they’ll know. Emphasizing meaningful rituals is another tactic. To have some things that the community or family does together regularly, no matter what, increases the ability to get on with the action even if situations aren’t yet fully resolved.
Tackle maintenance and repair. Uncertain times, when some things are on hold, provide a good opportunity for fix-ups and clean-ups. Uncertainty makes it tempting to let things deteriorate (maybe we won’t keep this office going or live in this place any longer). But fixing things that can be improved represents productive action. For example, for job-seekers, embarking on a fitness regiment can add energy, lift spirits, and potentially make the person more attractive to a potential employer.
Let ideas flow. Opening the brainstorming faucet washes away some uncertainty. Since uncertainty leads to rampant gossip and speculation anyway, it can be a good time to harness imagination toward productive ends. Big companies have equally big planning departments, undoubtedly spewing out data files of alternative scenarios, but average workers and ordinary people can play, too. Brainstorming about possible futures stimulates imagination about what to do under nearly any circumstance. Will they or won’t they raise the debt ceiling? Will there be a law favoring green investments, or not — or should there be a push for one? Which newspapers are better weathering the digital revolution? How will retailing look different with or without lower unemployment? Seeds of innovation could sprout.
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