The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded Edition: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
Michael D. Watkins
Harvard Business Review Press (2013)
How and why the first 90 days in a new leadership position can sometimes seem like 90 minutes
This is a revised and updated edition of a book I read when it was published in 2003. Although much has (and hasn’t) happened in the business world since then, Michael Watkins’ insights are (if anything) even more relevant and more valuable now than they were then because the actions taken by those in a new role, especially one with more challenging leadership responsibilities, will largely determine whether they succeed or fail. “When leaders derail,” Watkins notes, “their problems can almost always be traced to vicious cycles that developed in the first few months on the job.” Ninety percent of those whom Watkins interviewed agreed that “transitions into new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of leaders.” They could be internal promotions, reassignments and/or relocations, or a new hire. These and other transitions are thoroughly discussed in the book.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Watkins’ coverage.
o Avoiding Transition Traps (Pages 5-6)
o Understanding the Fundamental Principles (9-12)
o Getting promoted (21-24)
o Table 1-1, “Onboarding checklists” (34)
o Identifying the Best Sources of Insight (54-57)
o Table 2-1, “Structured methods for learning” (61-62)
o “Emotional Expensiveness” (63-64)
o Planning for Five [Transition-Specific] Conversations (90-93)
o Planning the Expectations Conversation (98-100)
o Adopting Basic Principles (121-122)
o Avoiding Common Alignment Traps (141-143)
o Getting Started (146-148)
o Avoiding Common Team-Building Traps (167-170)
o Building Support for Early-Win Objectives (202-220)
o Understanding the Three Pillars of Self-Management (227-237)
o Table 10-1, “Reasons for transition failures” (245)
The information, insights, and counsel he provides in this book reveal what he has learned thus far about what he characterizes as “The Vicious Cycle of Transitions” and “The Virtuous Cycle of Transitions.” The former involves sticking with what you know, falling prey to the “action imperative,” setting unrealistic expectations, attempting to do too much, coming in with “the” answer, engaging in the wrong kind of learning, and neglecting horizontal relationships. (Please check out Figure 1-2 on Page 7.)
With regard to the latter cycle, the “virtuous” one, can enable anyone involved in a transition to create momentum and establish an upward spiral of increasing effectiveness. (Please check out Figure 1-3 on Page 8.) To repeat, this updated and expanded edition develops in greater depth and wider scope the core concepts introduced in the first edition. The objective in 2003 remains the same now: “get up to speed faster and smarter.”
Michael Watkins can help each reader to do that; better yet, he can each reader, especially those with supervisory responsibilities, to help others to do that. That achievement is indeed an admirable objective. However, we are well-advised to recall Thomas Edison’s observation, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
With regard to the Edison quotation, I agree while presuming to add, “Execution without discipline is merely activity.”
Larry Keeley wrote this book with Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Walters. “As the principal author of the text, I am responsible for the basic arguments throughout, and the system of ideas here either succeeds or fails because of me.” However, as explains in the Preface, it really is the result of a team effort. Each of his colleagues made significant and unique contributions, as did Bansi Nagii. Although not one of the authors of the book, Nagii “played a role in refreshing and advancing the Ten Types of Innovation.” As I read the book, I recognized that it is an excellent example of the collaborative process by which breakthrough innovations are achieved if (HUGE “if”) sufficient discipline has been developed by everyone involved.
The material is carefully organized and effectively presented within three categories of innovation types: Configuration, Offering, and Experience. As Keeley explains, more than 2,000 of what were at that time (i.e. in 1998) considered to be innovations were discovered, examined, and evaluated. Each was “the creation of a viable new offering.” As he then adds, innovation may involve invention but requires a great deal more (e.g. a deep understanding of customer need), innovations “have to earn their keep” (i.e. return value), very little is in fact new in innovation (rather, the result of an evolving process of improvement), and it is important to “think beyond products” to new ways of doing business, for example, and news ways of engagement with customers. Keeley and his colleagues are convinced that all great innovations, throughout history, comprise some combination of ten basic types that are, as indicated, organized within the three categories. “This is our Periodic Table.” Part Two examines each of the ten in detail.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also lusted to suggest the scope of coverage in the book:
o Rethink Innovation: Eradicate Lore, Substitute Logic (Pages 2-3)
o How to Organize and Align Your Talent and Assets (26-29)
o Product Performance: How to Develop Distinguishing Features and Functionality (34-37)
o Customer Engagement: How to Foster Compelling Interactions (54-57)
o McDonald’s Invents a Convenient Food System (74-75)
o Lexus Invents a New Luxury Car Experience (76-77)
o Strength in Numbers: Innovations Using a Combination of Types Generate Better Returns (78-79)
o Mind the Gap: Uncover Your Blind Spots (100-103)
o Challenge Convention: See Where Your Competitors Are Focusing — And Then Make Different Choices (104-111)
o Pattern Recognition: See How Industries and Markets Shift — And Learn from Those Who Saw the Signs and Acted on Them (118-125)
o Declare Intent: By Being Clear Where and How You will Innovate, You Massively Increase Your Odds for Success (130-135)
o Innovation Play: Collaborative Creation, and Competency-Driven Platform (168-171)
o Innovation Play: Connected Community, and, Values-Based (178-181)
o Fostering Innovation: Installing Effective Innovation Inside Your Organization (188-195)
o Defining Characteristics of Innovation Leadership (197-199)
I agree with Keeley and his colleagues that “innovation is a team sport. In fact, an organization that depends on individual innovators alone is destined to fail. Understanding how you can wire innovation into your organization — and build a robust internal innovation capability — is an imperative for any firm doing business in today’s world.”
Those who read this book will especially appreciate the provision of “stories” (mini-profiles) of dozens of organizations, including five for each of the ten categories plus 21 others that illustrate (to varying degree) innovation initiatives whose primary focus is one of these three: on the innermost workings of an enterprise and its business system; on an enterprise’s core product or service, or a collection of products and services; or, on more customer-facing elements of an enterprise and its business system. In Part Seven, Keeley and his colleagues suggest how to put the various practices into practice and thereby “go beyond the book to create [their reader’s] own innovation revolution.”
The best business books tend to be research-driven and that is certainly true of this one. Authors of the best of the best business books make brilliant use of their research when sharing information, insights, and wisdom with their reader. I know of no other that does that better than does this one. To Larry Keeley, Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Walters, I now offer a hearty “Bravo!”
“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
Do not be deterred by the fact that this book was first published in 1996. Long before that, one of Albert Einstein’s faculty colleagues at Princeton pointed out that he always asked the same questions each year on his final examination. “That’s quite true. Every year the answers are different.” Steven Stowell and Matt Starcevich are not — nor make any claim to be — Einstein’s intellectual peers but they have formulated a model for synergistic coaching that remains relevant almost two decades after they introduced in this book. Stowell and Starcevich help their reader to formulate the questions that need to be asked regularly because, as in quantum physics, the answers will change as dynamics and interelationships change.
Healthy organizations have effective communication, cooperation, and (especially) collaboration at all levels and in all areas of operation. In fact, in today’s global marketplace, the healthiest organizations have effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration between and among everyone involved. For individuals as well as for organizations, Stowell and Starcevich correctly suggest, effective partnerships – whose raison d’etre is collaboration — involve mutual respect and trust as well as shared responsibility, integrity, openness, and synergy.
We also know that the best coaches tend to be the best teachers and the best students. That was true of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as well as of John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, and Pat Summitt. In the business world, every day, there are supervisors — although perhaps known only to their associates — who are also great coaches. They establish and then nourish mutually beneficial (win-win) relationships with others. I agree with Stowell and Starcevich that C-level executives can learn at least as much from their direct reports as those direct reports learn from them. In healthy organizations, it is common practice for leaders to become followers, and vice versa, based on knowledge and competence. That is perhaps the best example of what Stowell and Starcevich characterize as “synergistic coaching.”
Its defining characteristics are best understood in terms of the values of mutual respect and trust, exemplified in three types of synergistic coaches’ relationships: with themselves, with each of those entrusted to their care, and with the relationship shared with them. Moreover, mutually beneficial relationships must be nourished constantly. In her brilliant book, Growing Great Employees, Erika Andersen suggests – and I agree – that the most effective leaders have a “green thumb” for “growing” people in the “gardens” of free enterprise. It is worth noting that, for example, GE’s senior-level executives – including CEOs such as Reggie Jones, Jack Welch, and Jeff Immelt — have devoted at least 20% of their time to coaching GE’s high-potential middle managers.
Stowell and Starcevich recommend an eight-step process and devote a chapter to explaining each, then conclude with eight “Wrap Up Points” to keep in mind when establishing and then building a learning relationship. They also insert dozens of insights throughout their narrative that are both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Yes, this book was published 17 years ago but, as I indicated earlier, the issues it addresses and the values it affirms are – if anything – more relevant now than they were in 1996.
All organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. Therefore, one of their most important strategic objectives must be to establish and then nourish a leadership development program such as the one that Steven Stowell and Matt Starcevich envision. In my view, it will require rock-solid and (key word) generous support from those in the C-suite but it must also offer a compelling vision that energizes, hopefully inspires wide and deep buy-in with both passion and a sense of urgency. Finally, it requires a LOT of sustained, collaborative, often boring, seldom easy work. I agree with Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
“Potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” Darrell Royal
Few of us of us ever fully develop the potentialities that we possess at birth and I agree with Mark Walton that most (not all) human limits are self-imposed. This is what Henry Ford had in mind years ago when observing, “Whether you think you can or think you can‘t, you’re probably right.” So, the challenge is to develop a mindset that recognizes what is possible and a faith in what can be done with possibilities.
As Walton explains, “This book’s pages contain the real life experiences and pragmatic wisdom of uncommon men and women – people who have led the second half of their lives in an extraordinary way.” Each preferred to raise the bar rather than lower their expectations. Such people Walton “came to describe as [begin italics] reinventive, and, by extension, to label the nature of their pursuits reinventive work.”
Some of the most valuable material in the book is provided by five extraordinarily [begin italics] reinventive [end italics] people, their comments brilliantly framed by Walton, who generously share their thoughts and feelings about the rollercoaster life each seems to have lived. Sherwin B. (“Shep”) Nuland, Horace Deets, Marion Rosen, Gil Garcetti, and Rita K. Spina are kindred spirits with the seniors that Warren Bennis and Bob Thomas discuss in their book, Geeks & Geezers. “We believe that we have identified the process that allows an individual to undergo testing and to emerge, not just stronger, but better equipped with the tools he or she needs both to lead and to learn. It is a model that explains how individuals make meaning out of difficult events — we call them crucibles — and how that process of ‘meaning making’ both galvanizes individuals and gives them their distinctive voice.”
Walton recommends a process by which to “transform your brain, unleash your talents, [and] reinvent your work in midlife and beyond.” Make no mistake about how immensely complicated and frequently perilous this process is. That is why he provides a wealth of information, insights, and wisdom that, she fervently hopes, will help leaders and those aspiring to leaders to complete a transition from being limited by what James Collins
characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom” to the fulfillment of what Walton views as “boundless potential.”
Here are a few of the dozens of passages that caught my eye:
o “The years of midlife and beyond are simply a new developmental period. The key word here is ‘developmental.’” Sherwin (“Shep”) B. Nuland was a prominent surgeon and faculty member at Yale University Medical School and 64 when he wrote his first bestselling book, Pages 19-33 and 175-177
o “The Design of Reinvention,” Figure 3-1, Page 40
o “We divide life into: you learn, you work, you do leisure. No overlap, please. Well, that’s crap!” Horace Deets, Pages 66-70 and 92-94
o “Home Run in the Desert,” Pages 90-92
o Marian Rosen’s “Magic Touch,” The Rosen Institute and the Rosen Method (pain reduction and management), Pages 97-112
o “New Powers Emerge,” Pages 107-110
o “The Trilogy of Wisdom,” 127-128
o “I was forced [at age 70] to reinvent myself.” Gil Garcetti, former D.A. in Los Angeles (e.g. Simpson trial) who became a world-renowned photographer, Pages 146-156
o “The Eugeria Paradigm,” Pages 168-170 [Note: The word eugeria means "a normal and happy old age."]
o “For me, at any rate, I will just go on doing. Because I cannot imagine giving up on what’s still in my heart and in my mind.” Rita K. Spina, age 80. She earned BA, MA, and PhD degrees and retired from teaching (at age 77) to become a community activist to oppose uncontrolled growth., Pages 189-201
Walton concludes his book with several specific suggestions for his reader to consider. They are provided as “Lessons” and “Discoveries,” and best revealed within the narrative, in context. With regard to the title for this commentary, I selected it because it supports Thomas Edison’s observation, “Vision without execution is hallucination” and, more to the point, it also supports the values that Mark Walton and his senior collaborators affirm and exemplify throughout this book.
The “Supreme Secret” of success: “Anything the human mind can believe, the human mind can achieve.”
Those who have read one or more of the volumes that comprise Tom Butler-Bowdon’s 50 Classics series already know that he possesses superior reasoning and writing skills as well as a relentless curiosity when conducting research on history’s greatest thinkers and their major works. For these and other reasons, I cannot think of another person better qualified to provide the introductions to the volumes that comprise a new series, Capstone Classics.
Think and Grow Rich was based on two decades of research conducted by Napoleon Hill (concluded in 1928) after being retained by Andrew Carnegie to complete an analysis of 500 of the most successful people in the United States and elsewhere. The title of his original report, Laws of Success, consisted of 1,500 pages in a series of seven volumes, in which Hill lists and discusses 17 “principles of achievement.” It is worth noting that this volume in the Capstone Classics series also contains both the “Publisher’s Preface to Original Edition” and the “Author’s Introduction to Original Edition” (published in 1937) and a list of those interviewed by Napoleon Hill over a 20-year period.
Unlike so many others, Butler-Bowdon provides more, much more than a flimsy “briefing” to the given work. For this volume, he creates a context, a frame-of-reference, for Napoleon Hill’s insights in a 16-page introduction in which he addresses subjects, themes, and issues such as these:
o A brief but remarkably insightful review of pertinent details in Hill’s circumstances when retained by Carnegie
o His magazine ventures, notably Hill’s Golden Rule and Napoleon Hill’s Magazine
o Hill’s DRAFT of a book, The 13 Steps to Riches, based on material introduced in Laws of Success
o Original title of DRAFT was changed to Use Your Noodle to Win More Boodle and then, finally and thankfully, to Think and Grow Rich
o Hill’s “four clear elements of success” (i.e. desire, faith, plans, and persistence)
o The moral and spiritual foundation of Think and Grow Rich
o 31 reasons why people fail
o The self-defeating aspects of personality that many (most?) people do not recognize
So what is “The “Supreme Secret” of success revealed by Hill in a later work, Grow Rich with Peace of Mind, published in 1967, three years before his death? “Anything the human mind can believe, the human mind can achieve.” Although it may now be fashionable to dismiss (often with ridicule) all such aphorisms, the fact remains that every success in life does indeed require an idea, an insight, that someone then makes a reality.
Thomas Edison was right: “Vision without execution is hallucination” but execution without purpose is merely effort without value. As Butler-Bowdon suggests, “Hill was saying that there were no limits to what a person can do [unless self-imposed], and history has proved it so thousands of times with the stories of any remarkable person.”
As indicated earlier, Tom Butler-Bowdon’s purpose in this introduction is to create a context, a frame-of-reference, for Hill’s insights. He does so brilliantly in this instance and in each of the other volumes in the Capstone Classics series that have been published thus far.
“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
For whatever reasons, many decision-makers are victims of what Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton characterize as the “Knowing-Doing Gap.” That is perhaps what Edison had in mind when expressing what serves as this review’s title. Pfeffer and Sutton also have much of value to say about the “Doing-Knowing Gap” (i.e. Fire, Aim, Ready) and to the great credit of the co-authors of this book, the material they provide will enable almost anyone to avoid or escape from either trap.
Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling introduce and then rigorously examine what they characterize as “four disciplines of execution” (4DX): Focus on the “wildly important” rather than on what is urgent (advice Steve Covey offered decades ago), Act on the “lead measures” (i.e. progress of what is done) rather than “lag measures” (i.e. results of what has been done), Keep a “compelling” scoreboard (i.e. one that simply cannot be ignored), and create a “cadence” of accountability (i.e. a cycle and rhythm of frequent accounting in coordination with what I think Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”). Adopting, indeed embracing these four disciplines requires a total commitment. The challenge to change agents is substantial. As Jim Stuart observes, “To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, [especially a `wildly important goal,'] you must start doing things you have never done before.”
Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original expectations and, more often than not, the resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” However, it should be added, many of the wounds that change agents receive are self-inflicted. They over-sell and under-explain why the changes are not only important but imperative. They do little (if anything) to recruit buy-in. Change initiatives are imposed from above (i.e. the C-suite) rather than introduced at the shop floor level where momentum — and buy-in — can be increased organically rather than imperially.
McChesney, Covey, and Huling introduce 4DX in Section 1, explain how to install it with a team in Section 2, and then explain how to expand installation throughout the given enterprise in Section 3. I commend them on identifying the “what” of achieving “wildly important goals.” (Jim Collins would call them BHAGs, or Big Hairy Audacious Goals, but BHAGs tend to be somewhat more general than WIGs.) However, they devote the bulk of their time and energy to explaining HOW to achieve strategic objectives that include these:
o Assemble a project team and its leader (with full support of C-level executives) and charge them with
o Selecting the most important goals
o Formulating metrics for lead and lag measurements
o Formulating a comprehensive and cohesive “game plan,” one that includes benchmarks and deadlines
o Devising a multi-dimensional communications program
o Establishing and then sustaining transparency re goals, strategies, metrics, etc.
o Sharing weekly, monthly, and quarterly updates
Throughout their lively and eloquent narrative, McChesney, Covey, and Huling focus on real people in real-world situations, who are struggling with real questions to answer and real (sometimes daunting) problems to solve. Readers will also appreciate the provision of supplementary resources that include “4DX Frequently Asked Questions,” “Bring It Home” observations and recommendations, and a remarkably candid response to “So, Now What?”
For some C-level executives, this may well prove to be one of the most valuable business books they will ever read. But I also highly recommend it to those who aspires to reach that level and I have two specific reasons for that recommendation: It will help them to prepare themselves for expanded duties, responsibilities, and (yes) head-snapping challenges; but meanwhile, it will prepare them to add much greater value to the support they provide to the C-level executives in their organization now.
Note: I recently re-read this book and found the information and insights more valuable now than they were when I first read it seven years ago. It should also be noted that Amazon sells a paperbound edition for only $12.99. If that isn’t a great bargain, I don’t know what is.
From “acorns” of ideas to “oak trees” of business success
Ross and Holland provide mini-profiles of 100 quite different companies, some of which were later sold before they became dominant in their respective industries, others that continue to thrive under the leadership of their founders or second-generation successors. What these remarkable companies share in common (other than their great success) is that each is based on an insight with regard to how to solve a problem. Here’s an example of such an insight that resulted, not in one great company but in a product that transformed an entire industry. George de Mestral was irritated by the fact that burrs stuck to his clothes and to his dog’s fur on their walks in the Alps. He examined the burrs and saw the possibility of binding two materials reversibly in a simple fashion. He devised a hook-and-loop fastener in 1945 and later patented the device, naming it “Velcro” after the French words velours and crochet meaning “velvet hook.”
With all due respect to such insights, however, Ross and Holland repeatedly remind the reader that coming up with a “great idea” is only the first stage of what is almost always a very long and especially difficult journey. Few who embark on that journey eventually complete it. In this context, I am reminded of Thomas Edison’s observation “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Also of Darrell Royal’s suggestion that “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.”
Here are six mini-commentaries, each of which includes a brief excerpt or two from the narrative.
Baby Einstein: Dissatisfied with videos, books, and other baby products then on the market (in 1997), Julie Aigner-Clark began making a homemade video for her infant daughter Aspen. The result was the “Baby Einstein Language Nursery” and it attracted so much attention so quickly that in the first year, sales were about $100,000 and she added other videos (e.g. Baby Bach, Baby Mozart, Baby Van Gogh, and Baby Shakespeare). By the time she and her husband Bill sold the company to Disney, sales exceeded $20-million. The Disney resources (especially marketing, promotion, and distribution) drove sales to more than $165-million in 2003. There are now 70 Baby Einstein products available. “That’s always where we hoped the brand would go but didn’t have the ability to take it.” Aigner-Clark continued as a consultant to Disney insists that she is happy with the sale.
Calloway Golf: The Big Bertha driver is probably its most famous product, certainly the one that accelerated its most rapid and most profitable period of growth. Working with his chief club designer, Dick Helmstretter, Ely Calloway developed a BB-3 prototype and tested it on a driving range and as he recalls, “neither of us could do anything but hit it great. We just sort of looked at each other and said, `”Wow, we’ll never be able to make enough.’” Calloway renamed it “Big Bertha” after a large howitzer used by the German Army during World War One. Pro golfers as well as hackers soon found that they could hit drives with it longer and straighter than with any other club. Two years before his death in 1999, Calloway explained, “Up until 1991, what was wrong with drivers is that everyone hated them. The driver was the least favored club in the bag, or the most feared. They bought them but they did not like them. Big Bertha changed the attitude of the masses from one of fear about the driver to one of affection.”
Liquid Paper: Betty Nesmith Graham was a single mother who returned to the workplace to support herself and her young son. She immediately encountered difficulties with the recently introduced electric typewriter. Making only one mistake required that an entire page be retyped and she was constantly making mistakes. Then she decided to experiment with a white, water-based tempera paint. Using a thin paintbrush, she easily corrected her mistakes. She called this liquid “Mistake Out” and began to give and then sell small bottles of it to other secretaries. By 1957, she was selling about 100 bottles a month. The next year, she renamed it “Liquid Paper.” Graham retired from the company in 1975 and died in 1980 at age 56, just six months after selling her corporation to Gillette for $47.5-million. Liquid Paper is now owned by Newell Rubbermaid.
Dyson: James Dyson built 5,127 vacuum cleaner prototypes before he got one to work properly. His was hardly an “overnight sensation” and, in fact, most of the 100 business successes that Ross and Holland examine in abbreviated accounts were achieved after several years of very hard work despite repeated failure and rejection. Dyson offers an excellent case in point.
Super Soaker: In 1982, while an employee at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1982, Lonnie Johnston was working on an environmentally friendly heat pump that ran on water. He decided to attach a homemade high-pressure nozzle to the sink in the bathroom “and was startled when it fired a blast of water across the room. His first thought was, ” Gee, that would make a great water pistol.” He began to experiment with a series of prototypes (e.g. a soda bottle, plexiglass, lengths of PVC tubing, and a bicycle pump), confident that his idea had commercial possibilities. He filed a patent for “Pneumatic Water Gun” that eight years later went into production as what we now know as the Super Soaker. In 1992, David Letterman included it on one of his “Top Ten Items on the Bush Yeltsin Summit Agenda”…number ten was “Sign arms pact limiting number of Super Soaker squirt guns.” Annual sales now exceed $1-billion.
3M: The Post-it Note story is probably the best known of all the stories that Ross and Holland recount in this volume. It certainly offers still another example of the equally familiar aphorism that necessity is the mother of invention. An employee of 3M, Art Fry was a member if his church’s choir and was frustrated by the fact that the slips of paper he used to mark hymns repeatedly fell out of his hymnal. What he needed was a sticky bookmark that did not harm paper. He knew of a new adhesive being developed by Spence Silver at 3M and realized that perhaps, just perhaps it could solve his problem. It did but only after five years of additional research and development. The Post-it Note was finally launched in1980 and was an instant success. There are now more than 1,000 varieties of it on the market and together, they generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales. After a 40-year career at 3M, Fry retired. “If we discover something, we have a chance to stop and look at it. This is very important because lots of things are discovered and passed by because everybody’s too busy.”
These brief comments of mine by no means do full justice to the mini-profiles that Ross and Holland provide. However, I hope they encourage those who read this review to obtain a copy. Yes, it is highly informative but also consistently entertaining. I also highly recommend Daniel Gross’s Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time. Don’t let its publication date (1997) fool you. Once a great business story, always a great business story. There are 20 of them in this volume (including those briefly discussed and the paperbound edition only costs $13.06.
How and why our digital footprints and shadows “constitute our permanent imprint on the world”
As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation almost a century ago, “I wouldn’t give a fog for simplicity on this side of complexity but would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” That was true then and is even more relevant now in an age, at a time, when many (most?) of us frequently feel overwhelmed by the complexities in all areas of our lives. In this volume, Erik Qualman identifies, thoroughly explains, and strongly endorses five separate but related habits of digital leadership, and broadly defines “leadership” to include but by no means limited to one’s supervisory responsibilities in the business world. Probably for the first time in human history, a person’s private and public life are one and the same. This is what Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had in mind when responding to a highly confidential executive memo that had been leaked: “Nothing is confidential. This is the new reality.”
Here are the STAMP habits. Qualman devotes a separate chapter to each:
SIMPLE: “Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler.” Albert Einstein
TRUE: Be true to your passion, with values and behavior in alignment
ACT: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
MAP: Know how to get from where you are to where you want to be
PEOPLE: The greatest success is achieved in collaboration
I especially appreciate Qualman’s skillful use of various reader-friendly devices that serve four very important functions: they highlight what is most important, they consolidate key points in context, they provide valuable supplementary information, and they facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review later. These devices include “Digital Deeds Sidebars,” “Life Stamps,” and “a “Key Takeaways” section at the conclusion of each of five Sections.
In Chapter Nine of Section Three, for example, the Sidebar mini-commentaries include “Finding Your Passion,” “Wikipedia – Where Are You?” and Who Likes You Enough to Link?” Then in Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen, there are “Life Stamps” profiles of Oscar Morales (a software programmer in Columbia) and Ric Elias (a survivor of US Air Flight 1549), both exemplary digital leaders.
Throughout the narrative, Qualman takes a multi-dimensional approach to explaining how and why our digital footprints and shadows “constitute our permanent imprint on the world.” His ultimate objective is clear: He wants to help as many people as possible to ensure that their “digital stamp,” their legacy as a human being, is positive (i.e. principled) and productive (i.e. has had a beneficial impact on the lives of others). Of course, it remains for each reader to determine whether or not to become a digital leader, and if so, to what extent they committed to achieve that admirable but demanding goal.
As I finished reading this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, I was reminded of I was reminded of Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s questions, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
Principles and practices to ensure that organizations move faster as well as be more productive and more profitable
As with any other strategy, speed needs to be used selectively rather than impulsively. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) acknowledges the importance of speed but as a strategic option, not an imperative, when striving to achieve peak performance. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, companies should move as fast as appropriate…but no faster. The speed to which John Bernard refers in his book’s title enables an organization to stay ahead of its competitors’ threats as well as its customers’ expectations.
Many (most?) business leaders embrace what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes in one of his books, Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” In a word, “then”: whatever was done until now that has been successful. Marshall Goldsmith observes, “What got you here won’t get you there” to which Bernard responds, “What got you here won’t even keep you here.” At best, “then” is a fond memory and for many (most?) executives, “now” is merely a continuation of it.
Bernard offers 12 admonitions. He assigns a separate chapter to each, explaining how to formulate and then implement a plan to achieve high-impact results with sharply-focused initiatives:
1. Prepare for Yes (e.g. empower front-line people with authority)
2. Put an End to Then (i.e. simplify the flow of work)
3. Drive Growth with Yes (i.e. create a culture of contagious affirmation)
4. Gain the Speed You Need (e.g. “travel light” in terms of “baggage”)
5. Create the Context for Speed (e.g. base decisions on verifiable facts)
6. Achieve Critical Breakthroughs (with a seven phase process)
7. Close the Execution Gap (with seven-step transparency initiative)
8. Equip Everyone with the Core Skill (with seven-step problem-solving process)
9. Banish Fear, Build Trust (e.g. be sensitive to individual needs to earn trust)
10. Stop Bossing, Start Teaching (e.g. remove “no” and “yes” from your vocabulary)
11. Accelerate the Shift [from Then to Now] with five initiatives (Pages 195-196)
Bernard makes skillful use of several reader-friendly devices such as the “Speedometer” self-audit at the end of each chapter than enables the reader to identify areas in greatest need of immediate attention in her or his organization. areas relative to the subject of the given chapter. Then on Pages 215-216, the reader can calculate the NOW score based on net scores from Chapters 1-11. Bernard also explains what each total score means. I also commend Bernard for including a framework for a “Then-to-Now Breakthrough Plan” that each reader completes. There are also dozens of Figures inserted throughout the narrative that either demonstrate transition processes (e.g. Figure 1.2, “Mass Production versus Mass Customization,” Page 8) or summarize key points (e.g. Figure 8.2, “Rules for Total Transparency,” Page 142).
I agree with John Bernard’s concluding thoughts: “The journey from managing in the then to managing in the now does not differ from the hero’s journey [portrayed by Joseph Campbell in his classic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces], and it always includes predictable experiences and struggles. It’s no coincidence that the hero’s seven steps on the path to success parallel the 11 chapters of this book when viewed as 11 steps.” Most change initiatives either fail, or fall far short of original expectations. Business leaders who read and then (preferably) re-read John Bernard’s book will be well-prepared to fire up their people, thrill their customers, and crush their competitors. If that is their vision, and it is certainly an admirable one, I presume to remind them of Thomas Edison’s observation: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
How to manage strategy effectively and on a continuous basis
In fact, everyone in a given enterprise (including but not limited to C-level executives) should be actively engaged in effective management of strategy. Only then can profitable growth be achieved and (more importantly) sustained. What Stuart Cross offers in this book is a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective system within which to formulate and then execute a strategy by which to achieve those separate but related objectives. There are no head-snapping revelations, nor does he make any such claim. Rather, after carefully (and concisely) identifying the “what,” he focuses most of his attention on “how.”
Readers will appreciate Cross’s skillful use of devices throughout his narrative that facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points. For example, all in Chapter 1, Figures that illustrate “The Three Drivers of winning business strategies,” “Drivers of Turbulence,” “Innovation vs. Problem Solving,” “The reality of problem solving.” In the same chapter, there are Checklists that encapsulate three inter-connected factors that are necessary for a successful and winning strategy business strategy, situations that an organization should avoid, key roles on which to focus during the strategy development process, and “The Ten Drivers of Turbulence.” All this in the first chapter and there are dozens more throughout the remaining chapters as well as a “Key Points” section at the conclusion of all ten chapters.
It is important to keep in mind this is a “handbook” and best read and then re-read with a highlighter pen in hand to identify key passages within the text. I also highly recommend a companion notebook in which to record supplementary notes. (FYI, I favor the optic yellow Sharpie ACCENT Tank Style and used most of one’s ink supply to highlight the key passages in this book. I also favor the Mead Black Marble Wide-Ruled Composition Book that Amazon now sells at a 67% discount.) Cross immediately establishes and then maintains a direct, personal rapport with his reader and seems determined to do all he can to help his reader to “create, sustain and accelerate profitable growth” and do so in effective collaboration with associates. Of course, it remains for each reader to determine which material is most relevant to the needs, interests, resources, and ultimate objectives of the given enterprise.
One final point: All of the results-driven, high-impact executives I have known and worked closely with through several decades “had dirt under their nails” and set an example with everything they said and did…as well as with everything they didn’t say and didn’t do. Similarly, Stuart Cross sets an example for other authors of business books with how he organizes and then presents the material in this book. He obviously agrees with Thomas Edison, “Vision without execution is hallucination,” and with Michael Porter, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”