Cynthia A. Montgomery is the Timken Professor of Business Administration and immediate past chair of the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School, where she’s been on the faculty for 20 years. One of her recent assignments has been working with owner managers in the School’s flagship Owner/President Management program, an experience that changed her view of strategy, and the distinctive role leaders play in the process. Her latest book, The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs, grew out of that experience and was published by HarperBusiness (May, 2012).
Montgomery’s work has appeared in nearly a dozen top-tier managerial and academic outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Financial Times, American Economic Review, Rand Journal of Economics, Strategic Management Journal, Management Science, and others. She is the co-author of Corporate Strategy: Resources and the Scope of the Firm (with David J. Collis), the editor of Resource-Based and Evolutionary Theories of the Firm, and the co-editor of Strategy: Seeking and Securing Competitive Advantage (with Michael E. Porter).
Montgomery has served on the boards of two Fortune 500 companies, a number of mutual funds managed by BlackRock, Inc., and several non-profits.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Strategist, a few general questions. Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Montgomery: When I finished my early education, I did a big round of interviews for a wide variety of jobs ranging from marketing tires to writing communications pieces for a liquid metal fast breeder reactor business. They all had their merits but when all the hoopla was over, I asked myself: Do I want to spend the majority of my waking hours doing this, even for a few years? Ultimately, I decided “no” and went with my gut. I went to graduate school, got a PhD, and became a researcher and educator. It has suited me well. I’m glad I had the courage to walk away from attractive jobs that “weren’t me.”
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Montgomery: I did my graduate work at Purdue University, where they had state-of-the-art courses in empirical methods that are vital to strategy research. It was a very challenging program—not a lot of fun, especially for someone who had been a philosophy major as an undergraduate—but the run room from that investment set up the rest of my career.
Morris: What do you know now about business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time?
Montgomery: I wish I’d known more – not about the ideas side of business — but about the human side: What’s involved in building a reputation, inspiring people, and working effectively in organizations. I learned that incrementally over many years.
Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Montgomery: One of my favorite books is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s about a butler and the choices he makes about who he is and what matters to him. It’s also about how the goodness of the people/organizations we work for inevitably impacts the meaning of our own contributions. I read it years ago, but it still haunts me.
Morris: Tell me about the owner-manager program you’ve been teaching in.
Montgomery: The participants come from all over the world and from almost every industry — aerospace, refuse collection, health and beauty, financial services, education, fashion, biotech—everything. So, there’s enormous variety in the program; at the same time, what everyone has in common is that they’re leading an organization wherein they have a significant ownership stake. It gave me a great opportunity to think about the distinctive contributions leaders can make to a business –one of those, the one I’ve thought about most is the opportunity to define what a business will be and why it will matter. It’s the most fundamental question facing a business, the one from which everything else begins.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Cynthia cordially invites you to visit this website
where you can download an excerpt from her book, The Strategist: Be the Leader your Business Needs.
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Here is an article written by Margaret Heffernan for CBS MoneyWatch, the CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the website’s newsletters, please click here.
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(MoneyWatch) Everyone knows that to succeed business needs to innovate. Those who’ve thought a little more deeply about the subject also understand that anything new is inherently risky – it might work, it might not. People could love it or hate it. So innovation has to accept and embrace risktaking and risktakers.
I’ve worked with numerous companies who understand this and even go as far as recruiting people with a distinctly high tolerance for risk. They don’t want want weekend golfers, but avidely search out rock climbers, extreme athletes and adventure travelers. And sometimes they even hire them.
But then something strange happens. The risk-loving employee suddenly goes quiet and isn’t the daring character everyone had imagined. Instead these new minted employees become model citizens. What’s happened?
The usual scapegoat is culture. Everyone shakes their heads, talks about how hard that is to change – and then moves on. The harder truth is that innovation doesn’t just require risk-taking. It requires failure. But how many companies reward that?
The other day I ran into the head of a fantastic school that, every year, runs a Failure Week. The point of the exercise is to encourage the students to dare to fail. Every afternoon, students stand up and discuss – proudly – what they tried, how it failed and what they learned from the experience. The bigger the failure, the bigger the learning, the the greater the kudos. The point of the exercise is to accustom the students to the idea that failure = learning.
In his book, ADAPT, Tim Harford articulates this beautifully, telling story after story about great successes which were the eventual finale to a long series of failures. He argues that we don’t want random failure but well-conceived bold experiments designed to elicit clear learning but not guaranteed to solve a problem overnight.
You don’t have to look far to find fantastic failures. After all, that’s how Twitter started: It emerged after the initial idea – audio blogging – proved too difficult and unappealing. Or look at Change.org, the campaigning platform that galvanized public support for the parents of Trayvon Martin and public anger about pink slime in school meals. It may look an obvious success story now, but only if you ignore the first three-and-a-half years when it wasn’t.
“There was a massive amount of failure,” Ben Rattray, founder of Change.org, recalled.
You can’t celebrate success only – because when you do, it sends a signal: We want no failure here. And no failure, no learning, no real innovation. So hiring risk lovers won’t save you because most risk lovers only enjoy calculated risks, not stupid ones. In a success-driven company, they quickly see that daring isn’t valued as learning, they go quiet and often go completely.
I’m not surprised companies find this hard to understand and embrace. It’s highly counter-intuitive. Why celebrate failure? Unless you can see the learning implicit in it, it feels wasteful. But the best boss I ever worked for failed all the time. He also won numerous international prizes for his work. Yes, there was a connection between the two. And he was lucky to work in an organization that understood that.
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Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.
To read my interview of her, please click here.
To read my review of Willful Blindness, please click here.
Bill Taylor is a writer, a speaker, and entrepreneur who has shaped the global conversation about the best ways to compete, innovate, and succeed. As a cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company, he launched a magazine that won countless awards, and earned a passionate following among executives and entrepreneurs around the world. Taylor wrote a regular business column for The New York Times as well as a monthly column for London’s Guardian newspaper. He now writes a popular management blog for Harvard Business Review. His previous book, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, and was named a “Business Book of the Year” by The Economist and Financial Times. His new book, Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Company, and Challenge Yourself, was published on January 4, 2011 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. A graduate of Princeton University and the MIT Sloan School of Management, Taylor lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.
Morris: Before discussing any of your specific books, a few general questions. First, when and why did you decide to commit yourself to a career in business journalism?
Taylor: I’ve never thought of myself as a “journalist” per se. I am someone who loves the power of new ideas, loves to find people and organizations who are having an impact on the world around them, loves to bring those ideas to life by telling the stories of these innovators in ways that other people find inspiring and instructive. Short answer: I think I am in the “thought leadership” business rather than the “journalism” business.
Morris: Please explain the founding of Fast Company. What was its original mission? To what extent (if any) has that mission since changed?
Taylor: My cofounder Alan Webber and I were at the Harvard Business Review when we had the idea to start Fast Company. We didn’t have a plan for a “business” as much as we had a set of ideas about the future of work, leadership, and progress—ideas about which we were passionate and that we wanted to share with others.
I’ve always thought of Fast Company as a magazine about ambition and success–in the best sense of both those words. Not money and power, but meaning and impact. Fast Company is a magazine for leaders at every level and in any field who want to think big about their work–the kind of organization they want to build, the kind of impact they want to have, the kinds of products and services they want to launch. It’s also a magazine for people who are extremely competitive, but who don’t use money as the only measure of whether they win or lose. They worry more about the contribution they make, the legacy they leave, the impact they have.
Way back at the outset of the magazine, we convened a small gathering of Fast Company allies called the “Fast Pack.” Harriet Rubin, who was the founder of Doubleday Currency, the game-changing book imprint, said something that has stuck with me: “Freedom is a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.” Fast Company has been and will always be a magazine for leaders who worry more about what they can unleash rather than what they can control.
Morris: As I survey the current state of the magazine world, I am reminded of the first line in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Do you agree?
Taylor: With respect to the magazine world, I’d say it’s much more the worst of times than the best of times. The business model for print magazines really is broken. Fast Company continues to do great relative to the competition. In fact, we just learned that our 2010 increase in ad pages (26.5 percent) was greater than any other business magazine in the country. So that’s great!
But we started Fast Company 15 years ago, and it’s hard to capture just how different the economic environment is today. Costs are going up so fast—paper, postage, all that boring stuff that adds real dollars—and the advertising environment is just so tough on the print side.
Readers still love it—we literally have more subscribers than at any time in our history, and the energy on the Web is amazing. But magazines are no different from any other business. The “mainstream” part of the business is getting tougher much more quickly than the “up-and-coming” part of the business is getting easier.
Morris: I have read several dozen of your articles for various publications. You discuss perspectives on subjects that most other journalists either neglect or ignore. For example, you seem to be intrigued by counterintuitive thinking, presumably because you are a counterintuitive thinker. Is that a fair assessment?
Taylor: I love people and organizations that win big because they think different. That’s what gets me pumped up, that’s what gets my creative and competitive juices flowing. There’s just something exhilarating about getting to know a company that’s rewriting the rules of competition in its industry, a public official who has reimagined how to deliver a product or service to his or her constituents, a change agent inside a big organization that is trying to transform how that organization works.
That sense of not just out-hustling the competition but out-thinking the competition—that’s the fuel behind Fast Company, Mavericks at Work, and now Practically Radical. The settings and mood of the times for each of these projects may be different, but the spirit is the same.
Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original expectations. Why?
Taylor: As the cofounder of Fast Company, I’ve always been struck by the slow-going rate of change inside most organizations. In the earliest days of the magazine, after we had a business plan but before we published the premiere issue, we convened a conference around the theme, “How Do You Overthrow a Successful Company?” It wasn’t a gathering of hotshots eager to take on the corporate establishment. It was a gathering of big-picture thinkers and change agents from illustrious big companies who sensed that there were massive shifts on the horizon, but that there wasn’t a commitment among their colleagues to reckon with what was coming.
It was a great conversation, ahead of its time in many ways (this was 1995), and the outlook was grim. Roger Martin, now dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, warned that “the role of big companies is to turn great people into mediocre organizations.” Mort Meyerson, the much-admired CEO and philanthropist, then at the helm of Perot Systems, compared leading an organization in fast-changing times to “floating in lava in a wooden boat.” His plea to the group: “We need a new model to reach the future.”
What a difference 15 years don’t make. Are those misgivings any less relevant today than they were back then—or the prospects for genuine transformation any less bleak? This is the hardest work there is.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Bill Taylor cordially invites to visit these websites:
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Gail Corkindale for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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As the year draws to a close, I’m reflecting on what I have learned about leadership from my clients. It has been a year of challenges for most: relentless business demands, continuing change, and higher expectations from them as leaders. For me, 2010 was the year when I let go of theories and focused on realities, most notably the real challenges of leading in the 21st century.
I changed my game. No longer do I need to explain how globalization drives change and that leaders must adapt to a fast-changing world: the economic crisis brought this home decisively. Nor do I have to convince leaders to develop new competencies: experience taught them that self-awareness, being able to deal with ambiguity, manage continual change, devolve leadership, and coach their people and are critical to their survival.
Over the last twelve months, I have seen the best and worst in leadership. One of the most memorable moments was listening to an executive of a British bank rescued by the government, who told his audience that the economic crisis had been a breakthrough moment in his career. “What we are learning is priceless,” he said. “One day, it will form the basis of a masters in finance, and you should all grasp this opportunity to learn with open hands.” His words lifted the spirits of his audience and threw a fresh and different light on their situation
Another leader, a retailing executive in Dubai, told me how he’d coached his young and inexperienced team in 2010: “They were used to the easy wins and rapid growth of an emerging market, but they had to learn that life isn’t always like that — hard work, focus and drive gets results over the longer term.” Another executive from South Korea spoke forcefully about how he would leave his highly-paid job in an instant to join 1.6 million soldiers massed along Korea’s borders should war break out.
Most impressive and humbling of all, though, was the leader I coached from Bethlehem, who faced challenges every day that are unthinkable to leaders elsewhere in the world. Against all the odds, he ran a successful business in a failing state, on the brink of war, under stringent and punitive regulations and with little support or recognition from the head office. Yet year after year, he delivered results, brought valuable goods and services to his region and still managed to coach and inspire generations of young executives. If anyone deserves a global platform to speak about leadership, he does.
Of course, there are also less positive stories to recount. I was shocked to witness an investment banker recoiling in fury minutes after he had been told he wouldn’t be getting his bonus: no rational arguments about the good work he had done with his team, the collective failure of leadership in his bank nor the market conditions could quell his rage. And it was chilling to observe the steely determination of many leaders in the financial services industry to take us right back to the status quo ante, ignoring the lessons of the economic crisis. This was a brutal reminder that not everyone saw the past as a dark place.
While 2010 brought opportunities for some — promotions, unexpected opportunities, and new possibilities — for others, life took a downturn. One senior oil executive, who had delivered results year after year, found that his track record had evaporated from sight when his sponsors were fired. Left vulnerable and exposed, he was the next to go.
His only mistake had been a failure to network and build a wide range of supporters.
Disappointing news, too, for the tireless French executive who dedicated two long years to building a successful new business in Russia, only to be told there was “no longer a role” for him under a new regional boss. He had done everything right, from managing his team, boss and peers, networking and delivering outstanding results: politics and a change of leadership marked the end of his career.
On a more general note, it has been interesting this year to watch clients respond to the things they once disdained or viewed as peripheral to their development, such as defining their roles, developing their presence, showing courage, developing political antennae, and finding time to reflect. I notice that they listen more attentively than before and are quick to put their learning into action.
Occasionally, I do find myself referring to one writer who presciently declared that leaders needed to get used to “permanent white water,” a reference to the dangerous rapids he saw ahead for leaders. In his 1996 book, Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water, Peter Vaill said leaders had to learn to navigate these rapids — surprising, unusual events and challenges that are often outside the bounds of experience. And even though many of these challenges are one-offs, leaders cannot brush them aside as they will return in a different form to test them. In order to cope with this, leaders must have strong values and become resilient, not collapse at the first hurdle.
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In the coming weeks, I am looking for stories of leaders who have made a difference, whose values and beliefs have visibly driven a different kind of leadership. You may wish to look back at HBR.org’s conversation earlier this year on Imagining the Future of Leadership, which showed that we are at a critical stage in our thinking about leadership for the 21st century. Your views, as always, shape, inform and challenge our thinking, so please let us hear them.
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Gill Corkindale is an executive coach and writer based in London, focusing on global management and leadership. She was formerly management editor of the Financial Times.
Here is one list of top books: the finalists for the “Business Book of the Year.” The Financial Times and Goldman Sachs oversee this particular award. Read about it here. This is from the Financial Times article:
Books that investigate and explain the financial crisis dominate the shortlist for the 2010 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.
The finalists are:
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
More Money than God by Sebastian Mallaby
Fault Lines by Raghuram Rajan
Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin
All but the first two tackle, directly or indirectly, some aspect of the crisis that hit the financial world in 2007-08 and whose impact is still being absorbed by global businesses and economies.
The Business Book of the Year will be announced on October 27 in New York.
Here are prior winners:
2009 - Liaquat Ahamed for The Lords of Finance
2008 – Mohamed El-Erian for When Markets Collide
2007 - William D. Cohan for The Last Tycoons
2006 - James Kynge for China Shakes the World
2005 - Thomas Friedman for The World is Flat
Read more about each of this year’s finalists here.
Note: I have presented synopsis of two of the book listed: The World is Flat and The Big Short. It looks like I have more reading to do!
Thanks to First Friday Book Synopsis participant Leslie Garner for alerting me to this.