First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Sam Ford: An interview by Bob Morris

Ford, SamSam Ford is Director of Audience Engagement for Peppercomm. His 2013 New York University Press book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, was co-authored by Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green. The book was named one of the best business books of 2013 by Booz & Co.’s Strategy+Business and was voted one of the “Top 10 Best Marketing Books You Read This Summer” in a reader poll at Advertising Age. In 2011, he co-edited the University Press of Mississippi book The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington. Sam is a columnist with Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Inc. He is a research affiliate with the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing, an instructor with the Western Kentucky University Popular Culture Studies Program, and co-chair of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Ethics Committee. Sam was named a 2014 Social Media MVP by PR News and was Bulldog Reporter’s 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year. In the past two years, he has written pieces for The Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, PRWeek,, and other publications and presented at events like South by Southwest, Social Media Week NYC, Planning-ness, and the Front End of Innovation.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing Spreadable Media, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Ford: It’s tough to narrow down who has had the most significant impact on my personal growth, since it really was a village. My wife’s constant feedback as a partner these past 14 years to help me figure out what it is I want to do in my life, my dad’s consistent work ethic and drive, my mother’s deep attention to detail have all been key. But one person who helped set me on the path I’m on early on is my grandmother, Beulah Hillard. One of our favorite pastimes was sitting on the front porch swing and sharing songs—trading around a mix of gospel, old country/bluegrass tunes, and anything else we could think of.

Her passion for “her story,” the soap opera As the World Turns, helped shape my interest in the intersection between immersive story worlds and the social relationships that build around them. She and my mother talked about the lives of the residents of Oakdale, Illinois, almost every day by phone, interspersed with conversations about friends and family in our little town of McHenry.

And my grandmother was also a society columnist in the local weekly newspaper, covering specifically what was happening in our little town of 400. She wrote about the babies that were born, the old man down the lane who had passed away, the church potluck next Sunday, the visitors from all the way in Michigan who had come to town last week. Her phone would ring regularly with people in the community who had something for her to share in the paper, or she was calling them because of something she’d heard that was going on. And she always had her police scanner on, to keep up with anything going on with the law enforcement, the fire department, the EMS, the school bus system, etc. When I was 12, she had some health complications and asked me to take over the column. There I was, writing alongside the blue-rinse set in The Ohio County Times-News as a pre-teen. But it invigorated my love of writing, of being part of the community, of telling human stories…and it had a really significant impact on the direction I’ve headed since.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Ford: Again, there have been many. It’s been an honor working with Henry Jenkins, who was the most generous grad school mentor I could hope for and who has been a true partner and friend on various projects along the way. Steve Cody and others at Peppercomm provided me the opportunity to translate my work to the world of professional communication and marketing, in a way that has been greatly instructive. And Grant McCracken, the cultural anthropologist, has been a key figure throughout the past decade for me—inspiring me and challenging me to think in new ways as only he can do. But, before all that, I have to give great credit to Dr. Karen Schneider and Dr. Ted Hovet at WKU. I entered college planning to be a professional journalist. I ended up with a journalism degree but knew fairly early into my college career that my interests were in studying culture. My first semester at WKU, I had Dr. Schneider for an introductory English class—and the questions she asked of us, the intense discussions she directed, and the way in which she used studying literature to get at the heart of important questions about life inspired me. Karen and Ted Hovet were both key figures in WKU’s English Department and in launching their Film Studies program. They became great mentors for both me as well as for my wife, and remain good friends. And they were key coaches in driving me to go to graduate school and in making sure I was more than prepared when I arrived there.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Ford: There’s been much more serendipity than there has been epiphany for me. For me, it has been having the great opportunity meet many interesting people along the way, learn from them, and make sure that I’m listening when new career turns might pop up. At one point, I knew I was going to attend graduate school, but I didn’t know where. I thought American Studies would provide me the best way to study culture, storytelling, and active audiences in the way I wanted to. An academic named Henry Louis Gates came to WKU. I had a question I was trying to ask him, and I never could get through. Finally, I was up to him in line after his public talk, and they told him that he needed to stop and go to dinner. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you come with us to dinner?” And my dinner with him that night inspired me to definitely attend graduate school and to consider going to Boston (as Skip is a professor at Harvard) for grad school. Then, my wife and I took a visit up to Boston. I remember passing MIT’s campus several times, and my wife would try to bring my attention to it. “That’s a science and engineering school….” I told her.

A few months later, while doing my honors thesis at WKU on the world of professional wrestling, I came across an essay that Henry Jenkins was working on but that hadn’t been published yet. In fact, it was coming out as part of an edited collection called Steel Chair to the Head that was set to be released right as my thesis was due. I didn’t know who Henry was, but I reached out to him to see if I could get an advanced copy of my essay. In the process, he told me about the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT he was running with Dr. William Uricchio. I ended up getting to know Henry a bit and found that the focus of that program completely matched what I was interested in studying. In the end, I applied to that science school—and it was the only one of 6 or 7 programs I applied to that accepted me.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Ford: My formal education has been extremely important to me. I’m a first-generation college student and product of the public school system. My life was shaped by a series of important teachers I had along the way who passed along to me less specific knowledge and more the critical thinking skills and passion for learning that drove me to seek the next level. My time at WKU fundamentally reshaped what it was I wanted to do in my career. MIT did that once again and provided me with the skill set, the peer group, the connections, and the validity I needed to move forward—and move into areas I would have never expected and into a job title and job description I wouldn’t have even understood a short time before.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Ford: You should always be able to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re consulting, working with, or seeking to reach. Don’t underestimate their intelligence, but don’t overestimate their knowledge. Find the meeting place between what they want and need to know and what you feel it is important to tell them. And don’t just reactively respond to what they are asking you to do; trust that you are providing them with strategic guidance, not just responding to their queries. That’s been the difference in being able to be a consultative partner to the companies and colleagues I’ve worked with, rather than a vendor, executing requests.

Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Ford: There are many great lessons learned from films. One that I wrote about for Fast Company a few years back was a thrilled named Buried, starring Ryan Reynolds. In it, a U.S. civilian contractor working in Iraq has been captured and wakes up buried under the ground. He’s being held for ransom. And he has a cell phone with him in this small space he’s buried alive in, in the ground. What is remarkable about the film is that the whole movie—which is quite suspenseful—takes place with the camera inside this tight box he’s buried in underground. We don’t see flashbacks. We are stuck in there with him. And we go through what is, in effect, a series of extreme “audience experience” failures as he tries to navigate communicating with a range of entities to be rescued. I found the film a great illustration to the extreme of being able to empathize with an audience member and see/feel the pain from their perspective.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Ford: Perhaps no “genre” of book is more insightful about the art of consciously building one’s character and of understanding and communicating with one’s audience than the “pro wrestling memoir” genre, of which I have read many books. Anyone looking to understand how to connect with audiences, how to tell stories that connect, and so forth might do well to read Mick Foley’s Foley Is Good…and the Real World is Faker than Wrestling, as well as Foley’s other books, as well as Ole Anderson and Scott Teal’s Inside Out, among others.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Ford: I love this quote. Truly inspiring change within an organization, a community, or a client you’re working with is getting an idea so ingrained within that people start taking ownership of it and living it themselves…and requiring the old academic (Ford 2014) when doing that won’t make cultural shifts truly happen within an organization. The more you demand to “own” a concept or initiative, the less you allow others to really make it their own—and to take it in their own directions. To allude to the conversation that is to come about the book, content can’t become spreadable if you don’t provide ways in which people can make it their own. I’d counter with a paraphrase of fellow Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, who once said that many of the most insightful ideas are ones that, when you read them, you realize you’ve known all along.

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Ford: I can’t remember who said it, but I heard recently on the radio that someone said our time is one in which those who know the most are more uncertain than ever about their opinion, and those who are willing to state things definitively are those who know dangerously little. And it reminds me of something I once heard wrestler Shawn Michaels say to fellow wrestler Chris Masters—to extend on the pro wrestling example used above: “You don’t even know enough to know what you don’t know.”

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Ford: One of our favorite initiatives at Peppercomm is to put our teams, our clients, and other leaders through stand-up comedy training—in part because it helps them not just learn to read their audience but also to understand their own unique charisma, and how their presentation of self is so deeply determined by understanding and being true to who they are.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Ford: This is a problem we run into constantly, particularly in the business world—where (to draw on work that Dr. Amanda Lotz has done in the past) industry lore and accepted logic often takes on a life of its own and where companies forget that they ever created it in the first place. One of my favorite examples are market segmentations, which create constructed profiles which people ultimately forget were fabrications of their marketing department in the first place and which, like Frankenstein’s Creature, starts terrorizing its creator.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Ford: A really shrewd soap opera writer once said of a television executive, “She was a very hard worker. I sure wish she didn’t work so hard.” We have to be careful to be sure that all that creative energy is going toward something that will ultimately benefit the publics a company is looking to serve. I find Carol Sanford’s “pentad” useful here—that any business decision must serve the customer, the co-creator, the earth, the community, and the shareholder…in that order. If organizations made all their decisions along those lines, I’d have to imagine their decisions would look quite a bit different.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Sam cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Spreadable Media link

Peppercomm link

Twitter link

HBR blog link

Fast Company link

Inc. link

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Popular McKinsey Quarterly Articles: Second Quarter (2014)

q_cover_2014_no2According to readers, these were the most popular articles during the Second Quarter of 2014. Here’s a direct link to reading any/all of them. 1. Change leader, change thyself: Anyone who pulls the organization in new directions must look inward as well as outward. [More to follow each, 1-10] 2. The seven traits of effective digital enterprises: To stay competitive, companies must stop experimenting with digital and commit to transforming themselves into full digital businesses. Here are seven traits that successful digital enterprises share. 3. Strategic principles for competing in the digital age: Digitization is rewriting the rules of competition, with incumbent companies most at risk of being left behind. Read about six critical decisions CEOs must make to address the strategic challenge posed by the digital revolution. 4. Lead at your best: Five simple exercises can help you recognize, and start to shift, the mind-sets that limit your potential as a leader. 5. Digitizing the consumer decision journey: In a world where physical and virtual environments are rapidly converging, companies need to meet customer needs anytime, anywhere. Here’s how. 6. High-performing boards: What’s on their agenda? Directors report that they have a greater impact as they move beyond the basics. 7. Can strategic planning pay off?: In this classic McKinsey Quarterly article, Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., proposes four guidelines to help strategic planners make the crucial leap from plans to decisions. 8. Grow fast or die slow: Software and online-services companies can quickly become billion-dollar giants, but the recipe for sustained growth remains elusive. 9. Disruptive entrepreneurs: An interview with Eric Ries: Companies are all too aware of the disruptive power of technology. In this video interview, the author of The Lean Startup argues that the competitive reaction of many organizations remains fatally flawed. 10. Global flows in a digital age: The movement of goods and services, finance, and people has reached previously unimagined levels, and a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute says they could double or even triple in the next decade. A related slideshow tracks the expanding network of global flows. * * * To check out other resources, learn more about McKinsey & Company, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here. To learn more about the McKinsey Quarterly, please click here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Alliance: A book review by Bob Morris

AllianceThe Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age
Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

How to cope with the “fundamental disconnect of modern employment”

What is the “fundamental disconnect” to which Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh refer? They assert that the current employer-employee relationship is based on a dishonest conversation. How so? “Today, few companies offer guaranteed employment with a straight face; such assurances are perceived by employees as naive, disingenuous, or both…Many employees have responded by hedging their bets, jumping ship whenever as new opportunity presents itself, regardless of how much they profess their loyalty during the recruiting process or annual reviews. Both parties act in ways that blatantly contradict their official positions.”

I agree with their observations, viewed as generalizations with wide application. More often than not, employers and employees really do view each other as adversaries rather than as collaborators. I also agree with them that there is another type of relationship that would be of much greater benefit to both employers and employees. “Our goal is to provide a framework for moving from a transactional to a relational approach. Think of employment as an alliance: a mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms, between independent players. This employment alliance provides the framework managers and employees need for the trust and investment to build powerful businesses and careers.”

They urge supervisors to promise their direct reports, “Help make our company more valuable, and we’ll make you more valuable.”

They urge direct reports to respond, “Help me grow and flourish, and I’ll help the company grow and flourish.”

So, what we have in this book is a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective process or system by which to establish and then strengthen an employment relationship that is a mutually-beneficial partnership, an alliance. So viewed, it is still possible to think in terms of a team (how people work together) and of a family (how people treat each other). Allies serve their own best interests by doing all they can to help each other produce more and better work and it is also in their best interests to treat each other with compassion, appreciation, and respect.

It is no coincidence that many (most?) of the companies on the Fortune‘s annual lists of those that are most highly admired and the best to work for or also on Fortune‘s annual lists of those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their industry. I suspect that these same companies also have the lowest attrition rate of valued employees and the highest number of applicants per the position that does become available.

Here specifically are several of the business issues that Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh can help their reader to address:

o Building alliances with employees without guaranteeing lifetime employment
o Adjusting the alliance approach to different types and levels of employees
o Building alliances with entrepreneurial employees whose ultimate values and goals differ
o Determining the nature and extent of employee networking and personal branding while “on the job”
o Managing an effective corporate alumni network with limited resources

Recent data generated by major research studies conducted by Gallup and Towers Watson (and other prominent firms) indicate that, on average, less than 30% of employees in a U.S. workplace are actively and productively engaged; the others are either passively engaged (mailing it in) or actively undermining efforts to achieve the company’s goals. The employment relationship that Hoffman, Casnocha, and Yeh endorse offers, in my opinion, the best approach to increasing substantially the number of actively and productively engaged employees. It is in their best interests, their self-interests, to do everything possible to add value to the organization that employs them if they are convinced that their employer is doing everything possible to increase, perhaps even accelerate their personal growth and professional development.

Before concluding their book, Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh observe: “Improving the microcosm of workplace relationships can have a major impact on society — job by job, team by team, company by company. The alliance may seem like a small thing next to macroeconomic proposals like overhauling the education system or reforming our regulatory regime, but it’s a small thing we can all adopt today that will generate big cumulative returns in the years to come.”

These remarks remind me of the fact that, in 2004, led by Jørgen Vig Knudstorp and his leadership team, LEGO was transformed – “brick by brick” – into one of the world’s most innovative as well as most profitable and fastest growing toy companies, in ways and to an extent once thought impossible. It seems to me that, leaders of other organizations that need to be transformed would be well-advised to consider a strategy of achieving that “alliance by alliance.” Just a thought….

Thursday, July 17, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Skarzynski and David Crosswhite: An interview by Bob Morris, Part Two

SkarzynskiPeter Skarzynski is a founder and Managing Partner of ITC Business Group, LLC. He advises large, global organizations on strategy, innovation and organizational change and is recognized as a leading expert in enabling organizational renewal and growth through innovation. His experience cuts across industries and includes technology, consumer products & retail, healthcare, energy, financial services and transportation companies. His primary focus has been to help client organizations renew their core business through competence leverage and break-through business concept innovation. He has led and delivered client work in Asia, The Americas and Europe. Before co-founding ITC, Peter was CEO, Chairman and a founding Director of Strategos, a firm initially chaired and founded by Professor Gary Hamel. He also served as a Vice President in the strategy practice of Gemini Consulting and held several senior-level consulting roles in its predecessor, the MAC Group.

A frequent corporate and conference speaker, Peter has written thought pieces for The Wall Street Journal, CEO Magazine, and The Drucker Foundation. His 2008 book, Innovation to the Core: A Blueprint for Transforming the Way Your Company Innovates, was the first to describe how large organizations can build and sustain a company-wide innovation capability. Peter holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing and a BA (with Honors) in Policy Studies and Economics from the University of Chicago.

CrosswhiteDavid Crosswhite is an experienced management consultant with more than 20 years of work in the field of growth-focused strategy, innovation, and innovation capability development within large organizations. He is a currently a Managing Partner of ITC Business Group, LLC and a former Managing Director of Strategos. His work focuses on assisting clients with their growth strategy and strategy development processes and systems. His work in this area spans multiple industries, including consumer products, durable goods, healthcare, medical devices, financial services, and heavy manufacturing. David’s experience cuts across B2C and B2B sectors. His work with the Whirlpool Corporation is well-known and documented in Strategic Innovation: Embedding Innovation as a Core Competence in Your Organization, authored by Nancy Tennant, EVP of Leadership and Competence Development for Whirlpool. His work is also heavily documented in Innovation to the Core, and in multiple Harvard Business Review cases and other business journals. .

Prior to Strategos, David was a Principal at the MAC Group and Gemini Consulting in their strategy practice. At MAC/Gemini, David focused on marketing and process design for growth issues in the telecommunications industry. David worked domestically and internationally across many of the major telecommunications providers to develop their go-to-market, service, and product development strategies and processes.

David earned his MBA at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University.

Peter and David’s most recent collaboration is The Innovator’s Field Guide: Market Tested Methods and Frameworks to Help You Meet Your Innovation Challenges, published by Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2014)

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of them. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Briefly, please explain to what extent the methods and frameworks in The Innovator’s Field Guide have been “market-tested.”

It’s fairly road-tested. First, the principles reflect leading practices across organizations of all stripes. Not just the ones mentioned in The Guide but others we researched but, could not put in to the book because of space constraints.

Crosswhite: The frameworks reflect our expression of ways to action the the concepts and principles articulated. And, as we say in the book, these or other frameworks are scaffolding for individuals and teams. They help you ensure that you are asking the right questions. But its all about the right questions and the new learning they facilitate.

Morris: You introduce and discuss nine Principles of Innovation (i.e. “why you are doing what you’re doing”). For those who have not as yet read your book, please suggest what is the key point to be made about each. First, articulate a clear definition of innovation

Crosswhite: What outcomes do you want from your efforts? What constitutes innovation for your organization? What qualifies as “what you want” when you – your organization – says it wants innovation?

Skarzynski: Yes. What is the job you want innovation to do for you and your organization.

Morris: Aim your efforts at the business concept, and focus not just on the “what” but also “who” and “why”

Skarzynski: Innovation efforts fall short when you lock on a single focus. Technology companies think too much about technology, for example. Product companies think about what’s the next product or product iteration they want to introduce.

Crosswhite: To Peter’s point, in the work of innovation consider all aspects of the business concept and model. Not just the “what” of product; not just thinking of ‘new’ products. But, new targets (who) and new benefits or reason to believe (Why). Take the time to consider all dimensions of the business concept and business model. In doing so, you’ll open up the aperture of innovation for your organization a great deal more.

Morris: Understand that innovation means new learning

Crosswhite: If innovation is about “new and different” that means you need to build new, foundational learning. You have to ask new questions about product market and industry context. We share techniques about how to ask new questions in new ways, systematically, in the guide. But our view is, no new learning, no new innovation. Or not much, at least. .

Skarzynski: Christensen speaks to new learning through the “jobs to be done” framework. Think of the job the customer is hiring the product or service to do. Ask yourself, is there a better way to perform that job. This type of thinking is fundamental to disruption. It is a mirror to “Design thinking,” which has become mainstream in the last five years.

Earn the right to ideate through insight-driven innovation

Skarzynski: Before you go to ideate, have an insight based POV. Make that your foundation to ideate

Crosswhite: Yes, it goes to the “new learning point.” No new learning, no new ideas. Give yourself a chance to break frame first. Gain some new bases for the conversation. Then go have the conversation. Putting people in a room to develop new ideas without new learning in hand is very likely to yield the same old ideas and conversations. Why wouldn’t it?

Morris: Make the work of innovation not merely the generating of new ideas but an end-to-end process through to successful commercialization

Crosswhite: As a starting premise, we think of innovation as a new idea, realized in market. If you start there, then the work of innovation is not just ideation. It’s the end to end work of developing the new idea, getting it to a point of action, and then implementing. Or testing, iterating, and implementing if that’s what’s called for. That’s an end-to-end process, not just an ideation process.

Skarzynski: Which is worth highlighting as a key principle since so many organizations, and even consultancies either implicitly or explicitly think of innovation as just getting some new ideas, some new post-it notes, created. And then the rest is “just execution”. We believe that’s a mistake, and there’s a better way to frame the work of innovation to get you more meaningful results.

Morris: Build innovation capability through a learn-by-doing approach

Skarzynski: In practical terms this is the best way for an organization to get innovation and capability that stick. Pick meaningful innovation issues and topics, frame them, and apply the right techniques and approaches to work the issue. It gets you results sooner, and capability that is deeper and more sustainable. It beats a classroom training format any day of the week in terms of results achieved for the organization.

Crosswhite: Nothing to add. Agree in full.

Be systematic and systemic in your approach

Crosswhite: Be systematic: Adopt specific, tangible, tried and true techniques that attack the issue in a deliberate and organized fashion. The Guide, of course, puts forth techniques to apply to common challenges. But most important is that you have a point-of-view about the actionable approach you want to take to the challenge. Be systemic: Look for all the appropriate levers to apply to your organization to achieve sustainable innovation capability. Not just process and tools only – although these are important levers. But skill-building, leadership engagement, metrics, incentives, communications, and multiple others. Use as many levers as you can avail yourself of to create the most sustainable and robust innovation capability.

Skarzynski: And a key to the systemic point is that of making sure the combinations of specific organizing actions – Dave refers to them as levers –you choose align and work well with one another. In other words, they’re specifically selected to work with the grain of your organization and synch up with one another – as opposed to inadvertently “fight” one another. This sounds obvious but too many organizations think of selecting organizing levers for innovation as an exercise of simply picking from a set of menu items those that you deem most attractive to pick. And it’s really a more in depth design exercise than that. We speak about this a great deal in Chapter 8 – which speaks to “Organizing for Innovation”.

Morris: Embrace and employ Open Innovation (OI).

Skarzynski: Briefly, the notion is the pool of know how and talent in a given domain is massively larger than that which is present within your particular organization. In a hyper-competitive world, tapping in to external talent (IP, especially) is value-creating. We share a brief example from Mondelēz. Henry Chesbrough pioneered this management practice, of course, and he leads a center focusing on open innovation at Berkeley. And of course P&G among others leaned hard in to it.

Crosswhite: In addition…and again, borrowing from Henry, organizations successful in OI first must become “open” internally before being open externally. Open internally means success at working across organizational silos and, critically important, being as comfortable working across networks as working within traditional hierarchies. Success in OI takes time and requires smart, fit-for-purposes changes to internal processes.

Morris: Of the nine, which seems to be the most difficult to follow? Why?

Crosswhite: They are all hard. And for any given organization, one may be more difficult but, they are all hard.

Skarzynski: For sure they are all difficult. But they are not impossibly so. And the best way to build your skill is to get going. Pick a challenge or area of focus…and aim your efforts at that challenge.

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To read the complete Part 2 of my interview, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

In addition to the hyperlinks, Peter and David cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Innovator’s Field Guide link

Our Growth practice link

Sunday, July 13, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organizational health: The ultimate competitive advantage

ita_orhe11Here is a brief excerpt from another outstanding article from The McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company, in which co-authors Scott Keller and Colin Price explain why organizations must build the capacity to learn and keep changing over time to sustain high performance, To read the complete article, check out other resources, register to receive free email alerts, and obtain information about this extraordinary firm, please click here.

Source: Organization Practice

* * *

If you’re like most senior executives, you want your organization to be exemplary. But if you’re honest with yourself, you also know that it’s not and that, in fact, you’re not even sure what exemplary means or how you’ll ever get there. Most management writing won’t help: despite the multitude of volumes written on organizational excellence, nothing we’re aware of combines a view on the “steady state” of high, sustainable organizational performance with a dynamic perspective on how companies can transform themselves to achieve it.

We’ve tried to fill that gap with our book, Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage (Wiley, June 2011), from which this article is adapted. Our central message is that focusing on organizational health—the ability of your organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster than your competitors can—is just as important as focusing on the traditional drivers of business performance. Organizational health is about adapting to the present and shaping the future faster and better than the competition. Healthy organizations don’t merely learn to adjust themselves to their current context or to challenges that lie just ahead; they create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time. This, we believe, is where ultimate competitive advantage lies.

Getting and staying healthy involves tending to the people-oriented aspects of leading an organization, so it may sound “fluffy” to hard-nosed executives raised on managing by the numbers. But make no mistake: cultivating health is hard work. And it shouldn’t be confused with other people-related management concepts, such as employee satisfaction or employee engagement.

Nor should you study what other companies do and then apply their approach. While you can always learn helpful things from others, we have found that the recipe for excellence in a particular organization is specific to its history, external environment, and aspirations, as well as the passions and capabilities of its people. Creating and sustaining your own recipe—one uniquely suited to these factors—delivers results in a way that your competitors simply can’t copy.

* * *

This spring, the authors sat down with London Business School professor Gary Hamel to discuss a number of topics related to their new book. To watch this brief video to learn more, please click here.

* * *

Why health?

The case for health starts with an understanding of how it relates to performance. Performance is what an enterprise delivers to stakeholders in financial and operational terms. It is evaluated through such measures as net operating profit, return on capital employed, total returns to shareholders, net operating costs, and stock turns. Health is the ability of an organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster than the competition to sustain exceptional performance over time. It comprises core organizational skills and capabilities, such as leadership, coordination, or external orientation, that traditional metrics don’t capture. [Note: We have identified nine elements that contribute to organizational health: accountability, capabilities, coordination and control, culture and climate, direction, external orientation, innovation and learning, leadership, and motivation. For more on health, see two articles by Aaron De Smet, Mark Loch, and Bill Schaninger: “The link between profits and organizational performance” (August 2007) and “Anatomy of a healthy corporatio” (May 2007), on]

More than a decade of research and even more of experience have led us to believe strongly that health propels performance—and that, in fact, at least 50 percent of any organization’s long-term success is driven by its health. [Note: In addition to the evidence presented in this article, we reviewed the existing literature, including more than 900 books and articles from academic journals. We also talked to more than 30 CEOs and to a group of leading scholars.]

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Scott Keller is a director in McKinsey’s Southern California office, and Colin Price is a director in the London office. This article is adapted from Scott Keller and Colin Price’s aforementioned Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage (Wiley, June 2011).

Thursday, July 10, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joseph McCormack, author of BRIEF: An Interview by Bob Morris

Joe-McCormack00306-241x300Joe McCormack is on a mission to help organizations master the art of the short story. In an age of shrinking attention spans, non-stop interruptions, and a flood of information, the messages business leaders send out are getting lost in a sea of words.

An experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur and author, Joe is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and corporate storytelling. His new book, BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (John Wiley & Sons, February 2014), tackles the timeliness of the “less is more” mandate.

A passionate leader, he founded The BRIEF Lab in 2013 after years of developing and delivering a unique curriculum on strategic narratives for U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He actively counsels military leaders and senior executives on key messaging and strategy initiatives. His clients include W.W.Grainger, Harley-Davidson, USG Corporation, BMO Harris Bank, SAP, MasterCard, Heinz, Hoffman-La Roche and Jones Lang LaSalle.

He founded and serves as Managing Director and President of The Sheffield Company, an award-winning boutique agency.

Previously, he served as SVP, Corporate Marketing at Ketchum, a top-five marketing agency in Chicago. He received a BA in English Literature from Loyola University of Chicago and is fluent in Spanish. He, his wife Montserrat, and their children live in suburban Chicago.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing BRIEF, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

McCormack: My dad. He was a very successful business owner. He raised a large family and had a strong desire to give me the best education he could. He was constantly teaching me. Being a former soldier, he was very disciplined. My affinity for doing work with the military and my comfort with senior executives come from my dad. He was a very intimidating guy, but an amazing person inside.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

McCormack: Discovering my talent for helping organizations with their narrative message and helping them clarify their story. That came with my experience as media trainer for the chief spokesperson for the first Iraq War.

I was working at a big agency when I was called to do that. I knew they had other options within the military and the State Department, but they discarded those and used my approach to message development and my understanding of narrative instead.

It was a defining moment. It gave me a huge sense of confidence that this was something I had a talent for and a gift for doing. If the chief spokesperson of the Iraq War was using me for professional development, it’s like, “I can play at that level.” That pushed me to start what I knew was going to be a specialized agency — not just a general marketing agency, but an agency specializing in helping companies develop clear and concise messages.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

McCormack: One of my turning points was in college working as a journalist. I loved being a journalist. I wrote a weekly column when I was at Loyola, and was always thinking about what topic people would be interested in it and writing in short form.

Writing a column gave me the freedom to explain different stories and topics that I felt the student body would be interested in. I knew that narrative and writing stories that people would actually want to read was something that I wanted to do.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

McCormack: I studied English literature. It was the most impractical thing I could have done. What do you do with an English degree? You teach. You go to law school, where you starve. You don’t go into sales. You don’t go into marketing. That was not a clear road. But it turns out that, from a formative standpoint, it became very important later on.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

McCormack: I wish I knew that people in business don’t always have the answer and a lot of times they’re just figuring it out. You think that the senior people have all the answers and when you start rising up the ranks you realize that many of them — though very prepared and very talented — don’t have a lot of the answers or any answers. They’re just making it up. There’s a lot more ambiguity and confusion than you think. Had I known that, I would have realized earlier that I had a voice just like they did.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

McCormack: Titanic. When you’re running a business, you’re ultimately trying to prevent a colossal mishap from happening under your leadership. The poor guy that was navigating the Titanic in the dark got a lot of warnings and discarded them because he worked on the biggest ship that couldn’t sink. Nothing could take it down.

Look what happened to Andersen Consulting. Almost instantaneously it went away. Look at what happened to Enron. No matter how big a company you’re managing, something really bad can happen that could take the whole thing down. You have to be vigilant that something doesn’t happen on your watch.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

McCormack: I’m not a big fan of business books. A lot of business books practice a very narrow formula of creating a thesis and finding the evidence to prove their thesis. A lot of those books are for self-promotion because the author wants to become famous or wants to get on a speaker’s tour.

That said, the one book that I really enjoyed the most was Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. He says that marketing is a series of asking people for their permission and them saying “yes” to you. It’s very differential and respectful. You say, “Can I do this?” And they say, “Yes.” Then it escalates to the next “yes.” Marketing is about asking people for their permission.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Joe cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

The Brief Lab link

Sheffield Company link

Sunday, July 6, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The best fireworks display I have ever seen

Actually, there are three:

o In person, fireworks launched from a barge offshore Martha’s Vineyard

o Also in person, following Arthur Fiedler’s last performance with the Boston Pops in a park along the Charles River on July 4, 1976

o A fireworks display filmed in China

To see the display in China, please click here.

I wish you a safe as well as joyous holiday weekend.

Friday, July 4, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , | Leave a comment

Nancy Andreasen on “Secrets of the Creative Brain”


Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Nancy Andreasen for The Atlantic magazine. A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity, she shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness.

To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Illustration credit. Kyle Bean

* * *

As a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who studies creativity, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted and high-profile subjects over the years, but Kurt Vonnegut—dear, funny, eccentric, lovable, tormented Kurt Vonnegut—will always be one of my favorites. Kurt was a faculty member at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1960s, and participated in the first big study I did as a member of the university’s psychiatry department. I was examining the anecdotal link between creativity and mental illness, and Kurt was an excellent case study.

He was intermittently depressed, but that was only the beginning. His mother had suffered from depression and committed suicide on Mother’s Day, when Kurt was 21 and home on military leave during World War II. His son, Mark, was originally diagnosed with schizophrenia but may actually have bipolar disorder. (Mark, who is a practicing physician, recounts his experiences in two books, The Eden Express and Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So, in which he reveals that many family members struggled with psychiatric problems. “My mother, my cousins, and my sisters weren’t doing so great,” he writes. “We had eating disorders, co-dependency, outstanding warrants, drug and alcohol problems, dating and employment problems, and other ‘issues.’ ”)

While mental illness clearly runs in the Vonnegut family, so, I found, does creativity. Kurt’s father was a gifted architect, and his older brother Bernard was a talented physical chemist and inventor who possessed 28 patents. Mark is a writer, and both of Kurt’s daughters are visual artists. Kurt’s work, of course, needs no introduction.

For many of my subjects from that first study—all writers associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—mental illness and creativity went hand in hand. This link is not surprising. The archetype of the mad genius dates back to at least classical times, when Aristotle noted, “Those who have been eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia.” This pattern is a recurring theme in Shakespeare’s plays, such as when Theseus, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, observes, “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact.” John Dryden made a similar point in a heroic couplet: “Great wits are sure to madness near allied, / And thin partitions do their bounds divide.”

Compared with many of history’s creative luminaries, Vonnegut, who died of natural causes, got off relatively easy. Among those who ended up losing their battles with mental illness through suicide are Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, John Berryman, Hart Crane, Mark Rothko, Diane Arbus, Anne Sexton, and Arshile Gorky.

My interest in this pattern is rooted in my dual identities as a scientist and a literary scholar. In an early parallel with Sylvia Plath, a writer I admired, I studied literature at Radcliffe and then went to Oxford on a Fulbright scholarship; she studied literature at Smith and attended Cambridge on a Fulbright. Then our paths diverged, and she joined the tragic list above. My curiosity about our different outcomes has shaped my career. I earned a doctorate in literature in 1963 and joined the faculty of the University of Iowa to teach Renaissance literature. At the time, I was the first woman the university’s English department had ever hired into a tenure-track position, and so I was careful to publish under the gender-neutral name of N. J. C. Andreasen.

Not long after this, a book I’d written about the poet John Donne was accepted for publication by Princeton University Press. Instead of feeling elated, I felt almost ashamed and self-indulgent. Who would this book help? What if I channeled the effort and energy I’d invested in it into a career that might save people’s lives? Within a month, I made the decision to become a research scientist, perhaps a medical doctor. I entered the University of Iowa’s medical school, in a class that included only five other women, and began working with patients suffering from schizophrenia and mood disorders. I was drawn to psychiatry because at its core is the most interesting and complex organ in the human body: the brain.

I have spent much of my career focusing on the neuroscience of mental illness, but in recent decades I’ve also focused on what we might call the science of genius, trying to discern what combination of elements tends to produce particularly creative brains. What, in short, is the essence of creativity? Over the course of my life, I’ve kept coming back to two more-specific questions: What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? My latest study, for which I’ve been scanning the brains of some of today’s most illustrious scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers, has come closer to answering this second question than any other research to date.

* * *

Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

NCAportraitNancy C. Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., is Andrew H. Woods Chair of Psychiatry and Director of its Neuroimaging Research Center and the Mental Health Clinical Research Center at The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Her most recent book is The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius, published by Plume. To check out my review of it, please click here. To learn more about her and her work, please click here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sylvia Ann Hewlett on “How to Deepen Your Gravitas”

HewlettThose who have read one or more of Sylvia Ann Hewlett‘s previously published books (notably When the Bough Breaks, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps, Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets, and Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor) already know that she is among the most intelligent, sensitive, intuitive, and practical business thinkers within subject areas that range from talent evaluation to organizational transformation. The focus in her latest book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, published by HarperBusiness/HarperCollins, is of special interest to me because, for more than 30 years, I have worked with corporate clients to help accelerate the development of talent needed at all levels and in all areas of their operations.

According to Hewlett, Executive Presence (EP) has three pillars:

o How you act (gravitas)
o How you speak (communication)
o How you look (appearance)

With regard to gravitas, it is the result of developing several qualities, “that weightiness or heft that marks you as worth following into the fire. Gravitas is the very essence of EP. Without it, you simply won’t be perceived as a leader, no matter what your title or level of authority, no matter how well you dress or speak. Gravitas, according to 62 percent of the leaders we [at the Center for Talent Innovation in NYC that she founded] surveyed, is what signals to the world that you’re made of the right stuff and can be trusted with serious responsibility.”

How to deepen one’s gravitas? Hewlett offers eight suggestions:

1. Surround yourself with people who are better than you.
2. Be generous with credit.
3. Stick to what you know (best).
4. Show humility.
5. Smile more.
6. Empower others’ presence to enrich your own.
7. Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
8. Drive change rather than be changed.

My own experience suggests that highly-developed emotional intelligence is among the defining characteristics of EP. Hewlett also discusses this in the book. (Pages 27-31)

In her latest book, Hewlett discusses all this is munch greater detail (Pages 5-6, 11-13, 27-31, and 39-44). I highly recommend it. In fact, I highly recommend everything she has published thus far. To learn more about her and her brilliant work, please click here.

To check out my review of Executive Presence, please click here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rich Horwath on “Elevation”: An interview by Bob Morris

Horwath, RichRich Horwath is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author on strategy. As the CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, Rich leads executive teams through the strategy process and has helped more than 50,000 managers around the world develop their strategic thinking skills. A former Chief Strategy Officer and professor of strategy, he brings both real-world experience and practical expertise to help leaders build their team’s strategic capabilities.

He and his work have appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, NBC and FOX TV. He is recognized in a textbook, Strategy in the 21st Century, as one of the key contributors in the history of strategic management for his thought leadership in the field of strategic thinking. A highly sought-after keynote speaker, Rich has spoken to leaders at world-class companies including Google, Intel and FedEx and has been ranked the #1 speaker on strategy & innovation at national conferences.

Rich is the author of six books, including, Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking, which a leader at Intel proclaimed: “If you only read one book on strategy, this has to be that book!” His book, Deep Dive: The Proven Method for Building Strategy, has been described by the Director of Worldwide Operations for McDonalds as “…the most valuable book ever written on strategic thinking.” And Strategy for You: Building a Bridge to the Life You Want, helps people apply the principles of business strategy to their overall life.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Elevate, a few general questions. First, who and what have had the greatest influence on your thoughts about strategy? Please explain.

Horwath: The concept of strategy originated in the military arena beginning thousands of years ago with the writings of Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu. Key military strategists such as Carl von Clausewitz, Napoleon, BH Liddell Hart, and others set the tone of strategy’s intent to achieve goals and defeat others. From a business perspective, Michael Porter’s work in the late ’70s through the ’90s established a foundation for thinking about competition in a methodical manner. Studying the successes and failures of organizations and their leaders has also played a prominent role in better understanding the nature of strategy and its composition of both art and science.

Morris: The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s more recent books suggests that “what you here won’t get you there.” My own opinion is that what got you here won’t even allow you to remain here, wherever that may be.

What are your own thoughts about all this?

Horwath: I believe that new growth comes from new thinking. Most people and organizations never come close to realizing their true potential because they allow themselves to be anchored in the past. Whether it was past success or past failure, very few people open their minds up to future possibilities.

Morris: Decades ago, I concluded that strategies are “hammers” that drive tactics, “nails.” However, I also realized that if all one has is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

In Elevate, you make brilliant use of metaphors including the helicopter. In your opinion, why do so many people seem to have problems with using metaphors effectively when communicating with others?

Horwath: Busy. We’re all too busy to stop and think. Activity has become the addictive analgesic of choice, numbing us to the gaps, disappointments and shortcomings of our careers, our work and our personal lives.

Morris: What to do if a strategy doesn’t seem to be working? Where to begin? Who should be involved?

Horwath: You’ll never really know if a strategy is working unless you build milestones into your objectives. Too many managers have yearly goals and at the end of the year, they either achieved them or failed. This is moronic. Every goal should have a corresponding objective with periodic milestones to indicate progress or a lack thereof. If you have failed to hit three or more consecutive milestones, it’s time to revisit the strategy. The people that should be involved are the ones who develop, communicate and execute the strategy, especially those who are customer-facing.

Morris: Percentages vary but all recent research studies seem to agree that, on average, fewer than half of an organization’s managers know what its strategy is. Do you agree? Whatever the percentage, what do you make of that?

Horwath: I’d say it’s closer to 100% than 50%. First off, the majority of managers can’t define what a strategy is. Then you add in the complication of different business units, functional areas and levels, and it’s easy to see how complex it can be to have everyone understanding and executing a consistent strategy.

Morris: Who should be involved in an organization’s strategy? Why? Who should not be involved? Why not?

Horwath: Strategy needs to move from an annual event to an ongoing dialogue about the key business issues. If we look at strategy as dialogue, then everyone should be involved to some extent. If you have people in your organization that you don’t believe can contribute any ideas on ways to create new value, then why are they working for you? New value can be internal or external, but leaders need to create regular forums for strategy conversations at all levels.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Rich cordially invites you to check out resources by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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