Here is an excerpt from article co-authored by Geoff Colvin that appeared in Fortune magazine. To read the complete article, check out other resources, obtain subscription, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
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We’re not living in ordinary economic times. Every company needs to determine if its strategy requires an overhaul or just thoughtful tweaks. Here’s how to start.
FORTUNE — Remember when Motorola (MMI) ruled the mobile phone business worldwide? And then Nokia (NOK) did? And then BlackBerry (RIMM) did? And now none of them do? As Fortune headlined a recent BlackBerry article, “What the Hell Happened?”
We all ask the same question about Kodak, monarch of the global photo industry for a century, now bankrupt, while Instagram, a photo-sharing service with a dozen employees, is sold to Facebook (FB) for $1 billion. And while we’re at it, what happened to Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)? To Yahoo (YHOO)?
We’re not living in ordinary economic times. The convulsions of the past five years have left many business people asking the most fundamental questions about their companies: Will our strategy work in this environment? What must we change, and what must we not change? Do we need a new business model?
Reconsidering strategy can turn into a miasma that consumes endless time and yields nothing. Yet the process is manageable. One way to think through your strategy in today’s uncertain environment is to answer three basic questions.
[Here is the first.]
1. What is our core?
A finding that’s consistent across cycles is that the best performing companies keep investing in their core no matter how bad things get. Look at what Dupont (DD) did during the Great Depression. Even as profits plunged, the company resolved to keep funding chemical research — its core — no matter what. Among the results: nylon, neoprene, and other products that brought Dupont billions of dollars over the following decades.
In good times, companies often wander into businesses for which they command no special capability. Then, when a downturn hits, those non-core businesses blow up and have to be axed. Pioneer bailed out of the grindingly competitive flat-screen TV business in the recent recession. Home Depot (HD) shut down its Expo chain of home design centers. Google (GOOG) closed non-core businesses that sold advertising on radio stations and in newspapers.
Excellent companies are certain of their core. Early on in the recession, Brad Smith, CEO of software firm Intuit (INTU), said, “We’re not going to cut innovation. This company for 25 years has been fueled by new product innovation. We’re protecting the innovation pipeline so we come out of this strong.” He would cut elsewhere if necessary, but in the realm of personal and small business finance software, he’s up against mammoth competitors, including Microsoft (MSFT). He cannot afford to fall even a fraction of a generation behind.
Are you sure of your company’s core? If not, you’ve got to do some corporate soul-searching.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Geoff Colvin is senior editor at large at Fortune magazine. A longtime Fortune editor and columnist, he is one of America’s sharpest and most respected commentators on leadership, globalization, wealth creation, and management. As former anchor of Wall Street Week with Fortune on PBS, he spoke each week to the largest audience of any business television program in America. His national bestseller, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, won the Harold Longman Award as the best business book of 2009. His email address: email@example.com.
So, as I have watched a few of the events from the Olympics, and I’ve been thinking about the 10,000 hour rule. And I am ready to state the obvious: putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing.
First, a refresher. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, described the 10,000 hour rule. To summarize, it takes 10,000 hours to get really world-class good at anything. (Gladwell got the idea/concept from Anders Ericsson).
And then, in the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, we learn that just any old 10,000 hours is not good enough. You need to put in “deliberate practice” — lots and lots of deliberate practice – in order to get better and better. In other words, you practice with the intent to get better. This kind of practice is exhausting, and almost always needs a very knowledgeable coach, with terrific motivational skills. (A coach who “can correct with creating resentment.” John Wooden).
Now, back to the point of this post: I am ready to state the obvious: putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing. Here’s what I mean.
As we watch the Olympics, we see pretty clearly that some athletes have developed a work ethic superior to others. But there are plenty of athletes who put in pretty much the same kind of time, had the same high level work ethic, as the “winners” who beat them when the starter pistol went off.
So, putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing. In sports, you need the 10,000 hours, plus the right coach, plus a little luck, plus maybe the right genetic makeup, plus…
Plus, plus, plus…
The more we learn, the more we learn how critical the next “plus” might be.
Now, let me back up. If we were not so fixated on winning the gold, we might come closer to admitting that the 10,000 hour rule does in fact guarantee success. Even making an Olympic Team; or, even being good enough to compete in an Olympics Trials Qualifying Event to try to make the team, takes massive skill. So, why is that not “success?” It certainly should be.
And we do know that in many cases, coming in second is every bit a “win.” Did you see the depth of emotion on the faces of Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston after they won the Silver Medal in Synchronized Diving? They may not have won the Gold, but, it was the first diving medal at all for the USA since 2000, and the first ever medal for the USA in this particular event. Yes, the Chinese duo were better. Noticeably better. But these two young women were the second best in the world, and their 10,000 hours paid off.
Maybe we could say this: maybe 10,000 guarantees nothing. But a failure to put in 10,000 hours does guarantee something – you won’t make it to the top without putting in those 10,000 hours.
Now – the other challenge. One reality about this kind of world-class accomplishment is that these athletes show up, every day, with a coach watching and “coaching” every moment. Wouldn’t all of us get better at our jobs if we had that kind of individual coaching, motivating, “pushing us to the limit” daily encounter? I think so.
Work ethic, plus coaching, plus deliberate practice, plus constant feedback, plus measurable goals, plus… The road to true success really is a challenging road.
Discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
The list of posts on this blog referring to the 10,000 hour rule, the need for deliberate practice, the books Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, is long. We have chronicled the ascendancy of, the centrality of — call it what you will – “work ethic,” “it take s10,000 hours to master anything…” thinking.
The quote that indicts me personally, in a way that I cannot escape, is the one from Gawande: “We can’t even keep from snacking between meals.”
With the exception of our military, we are a flabby lot, and I’m not just talking about girth. We are merely disgusting in that department. I’m talking about our self-discipline, our individual will, our self-respect, our voluntary order.
Note the operative words: self, individual and voluntary.
We don’t need bureaucrats and politicians to dictate how to behave; how to spend (or save); what and how to eat. We need to be the people we were meant to be: strong, resilient, disciplined, entrepreneurial, focused, wise, playful, humorous, humble, thoughtful and, please, self-deprecating. We have all the tools and opportunities a planet can confer.
We are a flabby lot. And it shows – not in a good way. We’ve read all about 10,000 hours, but how many of us actually put in the work?
As always, we are back to the “knowing-doing gap.” We know, we just don’t do…
Take inventory. Be honest with yourself. Are you flabby, undisciplined, unfocused? If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you (as do I). Let’s get to it.
“One Job of the Coach is to Correct,” says Randy – “I Don’t Agree,” says Cheryl… Time for Some Dialogue
a : a large usually closed four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage having doors in the sides and an elevated seat in front for the driver
a : a private tutor
b : one who instructs or trains <an acting coach>; especially : one who instructs players in the fundamentals of a competitive sport and directs team strategy <a football coach>
So, the other day at Take Your Brain to Lunch, I am in mid-presentation, and I say something like this: “the purpose of a coach is to tell me what I am doing wrong.” I referred to athletic coaches, people hired by the likes of Martina Navritilova and other “individual” stars. I am convinced that such an athlete cannot watch himself/herself, and thus needs a coach to watch, find the flaws, and correct. I used to play tennis (back in the days when rackets were made of wood, tennis balls were white, and the tiebreaker had not yet been adopted), and I know that’s what my coaches did for me. They saw my flaws, pointed them out, and drilled correction into me.
And I got better. (I would have gotten much, much better if I had practiced they way my coach told me to. But that’s another story).
Anyway, Cheryl Jensen, my blogging team member and the leader of Take Your Brain to Lunch, who is a personal coach, tells me I’m wrong. She says that a coach should not look for areas to correct, but instead should… well, let her tell you.
By the way, I disagree with Cheryl. Thus, this dialogue…
Cheryl, your turn.
As much as I try to avoid ever correcting people in public for fear of embarrassing them or damaging a relationship, I did indeed disagree publicly with Randy last week. When we traded time at the microphone, I offered a very different perspective. Randy is correct in that I am a professionally trained coach by The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and the International Coach Federation (ICF), the governing body of professional coaching. Our official definition of coaching is “Coaching is a partnership with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Another cornerstone idea from our CTI training is “People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.” This means coaching is not about fixing what’s broken. It is about helping the client look and find what’s already within and then directing that talent, energy, and focus towards their goals. There are 3 main reasons I coach: to facilitate learning, create movement towards client goals so they can improve their performance and enjoyment from life which of course includes work. So the whole idea of looking for what’s broken and then offering advice is totally counter culture from professional coaching to me. Rather than offer answers, we offer questions for the client to explore their areas of interest. Rather than offer advice, we ask questions to create options the client wants to implement. Rather than assign responsibility, we offer opportunities that will facilitate additional learning and new insights.
I’m a little fuzzy on “the point” of this article in Slate.com. But I know this, she is right about the popularity of Outliers, and the overall subject.
Here’s the article: Give It a Rest, Genius — What the new success books don’t tell you about superachievement by Ann Hulbert. Of the books discussed in the article, I have presented synopses of two: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
She describes the (relatively) new-found fixation on the 10,000 hour rule. She is right to say that Colvin’s Talent is Overrated is more specific, more “demanding” than Outliers. Here are a couple of paragraphs from her article:
In their calculus of success, these books endorse perspiration over inspiration as the key to extraordinary performance. The prevailing term is “deliberate practice,” introduced by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist cited in every one of these books for research that has led to the “10,000-hour rule.” That’s how much intensely focused training it takes to reach the expert level, in any field. Coyle’s more New Age coinage is “deep practice.”
Higher expectations can indeed work wonders for anyone, but truly relentless drive is a rarity. Amid all the recycled material in Bounce, Syed offers a sobering firsthand reminder from the sports front: The necessary fanatical commitment to mastery is most commonly inspired by competition, which has a way of winnowing ruthlessly. But in an era when plenty of American workers feel we’re running in place and just barely keeping up, the mixed message of this genre is one we’re understandably more eager to hear: Maybe we don’t have to become magnitudes more frenetic than we already are—just a whole lot more focused—and we, too, stand a chance of zooming ahead.
I remember this thought from Lewis’ Moneyball. By the time a baseball player is a young adult, it is simply too late to teach him not to swing at a ball. Here’s the quote:
What most scouts thought of as a learned skill of secondary importance (the ability to take a lot of pitches) the A’s management had come, through hard experience, to view virtually as a genetic trait, and the one most likely to lead to baseball success.
The A’s acknowledged that it probably could be taught – if you could begin at about age 5…
So, what does all of this say to us as adults in the actual pursuit of current and future success. I think two things:
1. You may not ever be world class, but you can get better with deliberate practice. For example, do you speak, and is speaking a key part of your path to success? Then watch yourself on video, hire a speech coach, scrutinize every part of your speaking, from content, to delivery, to gestures, to eye contact. Extrapolate this principle into any work you actually do. Watch yourself do it. Hire a coach to catch your flaws (you’ll probably not be able to see them – and, I hate to tell you – you do have some!). You have to work hard at developing the talent needed to excel.
2. Every job requires this kind of attention to get better. You know that line “this call might be monitored.” I wonder if anybody who monitors such calls is doing so to help the people on the calls get better, or are they just trying to catch them doing something wrong?
Help yourself, and others, get better – day in and day out — by focusing on getting better. That may be the take-away message of these books!
You can purchase my synopses of both Outliers and Talent is Overrated, with audio + handouts, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
Colvin: In a nonstop infotech revolution, Xerox’s long-term strategy is a really interesting issue. So let me ask you Peter Drucker’s famous question: What business are you in?
Burns: We’re in the business of enabling our clients to focus on their real business while we take care of their document-intensive business processes behind the scenes. I’ll use Fortune as an example. You’re not in the business of printing a magazine. What we see about Fortune is the printed magazine.
Colvin: That’s right — we don’t own any printing presses.
Burns: But without someone who could supply you with that solution, Fortune would be less than it could be. What we do is manage document-intensive business processes for our clients around the world so that they can focus on what they really do.
We do that by applying technology. We do it in a global way, so that if you have locations around the world and you want to communicate with your people in a fairly consistent way, I can do that for you. It will look the same, feel the same, be delivered in the same time and the same format. All the information you want present will be there; anything you want redacted will be gone. You shouldn’t have to worry about that.
Colvin: That leads to the deal you recently closed: your acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services. Wall Street initially didn’t like it. What did you find so compelling?
Burns: It was all about extending our capabilities, expanding our reach. Xerox is a technology company that’s global and has an amazing brand. ACS is a business-process outsourcing company that knows business processes and how to manage them to be significantly more efficient. Business processes are all around documents, containers of information.
Colvin: So a document doesn’t have to be a piece of paper.
Burns: Very often it’s not. At the end phase, many documents end up on paper. But in the beginning they are digital files, photographic images, phone calls, voice data. All of that is key to having a business process work.
Xerox is really good at managing documents, and we’re definitely good at managing through a process. So what’s close to our core that we’re really great at, that we can extend by utilizing the things we have that are differentiators — technology, brand, global reach?
Business process was what we settled on. In ACS we saw a great company that was already diversified. It needed a brand. It needed technology to make this work more efficient, more automated. And it needed global reach. And we have all three.
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Here is a link to the complete interview:
The co-authors offer a great deal of valuable information and counsel and much of the credit must be given to Scott Anthony who is a long-time and close associate of Clayton Christensen’s and co-author with him of Seeing What’s Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change. The author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution (with Michael E. Raynor), Christensen wrote the Foreword to this volume in which Anthony and his co-authors (Mark Johnson, Joseph Sinfield, and Elizabeth Altman) explain why and how taking “the right steps and putting in place the right structures can allow managers and entrepreneurs to improve significantly their odds of creating profitable growth businesses. This view contrasts with a prevailing stream of thinking that innovation is random and requires creative genius.”
This last sentence caught my eye because I had just read a book by Geoff Colvin, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. In Chapter Nine, Colvin suggests that two views characterize what most of us know “that just ain’t so” about innovation and creativity. “One is that creative ideas come to us in the way a famous one came to Archimedes, in a eureka moment when everything suddenly becomes clear…The other thing we all think we know about creativity is that it can be inhibited by too much knowledge. We often say that someone is `too close to the problem’ to see the solution. The broader principle is that if you know too much about a situation, a business, a field of study, then you can’t have the flash of insight that is available only to someone unburdened by a lifetime of immersion in the domain.” Colvin’s repudiation of both views is best revealed within the narrative, in context. His point is, that great innovators (e.g. those who devise disruptive technologies) aren’t burdened by knowledge, they’re nourished by it. For them (with very rare exception), innovation doesn’t strike, it grows. Therefore, innovation requires a culture within which to thrive.
After providing a “Disruptive Innovation Model” with a brief explanation (Figure 1-2 on Pages 17-18), the authors carefully organize their material as follows: Part One: Identify Opportunities (e.g. nonconsumers, overshot customers, and jobs to be done); Part Two: Formulate and Shape Ideas (e.g. development of disruptive ideas and assessment of a strategy’s fit with a pattern); Part Three: Build the Business (i.e. mastering emergent strategies as well as assembling and managing project teams); and Part Four: Build Capabilities (e.g. “organize to innovate” and formulate innovation metrics). Then in the final chapter, “Conclusion,” the authors review several key points and then briefly discuss ten “key innovation traps” (six that are project-related, such as “Pursuing unattainable perfection,” and four that are company-related, such as “Too many lingering projects”) and then review a series of lessons to be learned from innovation initiatives at Procter & Gamble. The authors conclude the chapter with their “Final Words of Wisdom,” eight guiding axioms suggested by the extensive research and intensive field work that led to their writing of this book. I especially like #8, “Devil’s advocates are abundant, problem solvers are scarce.”
I presume to add one other perspective. Think of an innovative organization as a “nursery” where trees thrive and flowers blossom because they are planted in nutrient rich soil and receive constant nurturing. Seedlings are not pulled up “to see how well they’re doing.” And when necessary, there is pruning to protect growth. Extending the metaphor, the information and counsel the authors of this book provide can help each reader to develop a “green thumb.” Producing a harvest is up to you.