“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
The Lombardi remarks help to explain why Bob Vanourek and Greg Vanourek urge all leaders as well as those who aspire to become one to “chase perfection” at a time when “we live in a world that is overmanaged and underled.”
By the way, this is precisely what J. Keith Murnighan has in mind, in Do Nothing!: How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader, when observing, “Things are simpler when other people are in charge and you don’t have to make big decisions. Taking over as a leader means that you must depart from the comfort of the status quo, and the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty that accompany your excitement really are noxious. To avoid these feelings, people naturally fall back on what’s familiar and certain – that is, what they know how to do. Unfortunately, this can be truly counterproductive.”
Readers will appreciate the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that the Vanoureks provide, much of it based their wide and deep experience with C-level leadership worldwide as well as their interviews of leaders at 61 quite different organizations based in 11 countries. These organizations include Cisco, eBay, Google, KIPP, Xerox, and Zappos. Readers will also appreciate the provision of “Practical Applications,” an end-of-chapter section that suggests options for implementation relevant material, Chapters 1-10.
Here are some of the several dozen passages that caught my eye:
o Chapter Road Map (Pages 13-16)
o Benefits of Triple Crown Leadership (36-37)
o Chapter  Supplment: Interviewing for Heart (59-60)
o Getting Beyond [One's] Natural Leadership Style (90-92)
o Personal Breakdowns and Organizational Breakdowns (151-152 & 152-154)
o Turnaround Adaptations (176-184)
o TripleCrown Social Impact (218-226)
No brief commentary such as this can do full justice to the nature and extent of invaluable material that the Vanoureks provide in this volume. They strike me as being world-class pragmatists who have an insatiable curiosity to understand — insofar as great leadership is concerned — what works, what doesn’t, and why. They are eager, indeed obsessed to share what they have learned with as many principled, results-driven executives as they can. They immediately establish a direct and personal rapport with their reader. In fact, most of those who read this book will feel — as I did — that the book was written specifically for them.
Presumably Bob and Greg Vanourek agree with me that it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply everything learned. Although the core values remain the same for all organizations (i.e. Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring), it remains for each reader to select material that is most appropriate to the needs, interests, resources, and values of the given organization.
Long ago, Oscar Wilde offered excellent personal advice: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” The same is true of organizations and especially true of companies such as Cisco, eBay, Google, KIPP, Xerox, Zappos…and yours.
Michael Marquardt is Professor of Human Resource Development and International Affairs at George Washington University. Mike also serves as President of the World Institute for Action Learning. He has held a number of senior management, training and marketing positions and has trained managers in over 100 countries since beginning his international experience in Spain in 1969. Consulting assignments have included Marriott, Microsoft, Motorola, Nortel, Alcoa, Boeing, Caterpillar, United Nations Development Program, Xerox, and Nokia as well as the governments of Indonesia, Laos, Ethiopia, Zambia, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Jamaica, Honduras, and Swaziland.
Mike is the author of 24 books and more than 100 professional articles in the fields of leadership, learning, globalization and organizational change including Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, Leading with Questions, Building the Learning Organization (selected as Book of the Year by the Academy of HRD), Action Learning in Action, Global Leaders for the 21st Century, and Global Teams. More than one million copies of his publications have been sold in nearly a dozen languages worldwide. His latest book, Breakthrough Problem Solving with Action Learning: Concepts and Cases, was co-authored with Roland K. Yeo and published by Stanford University Press (2012). He has received honorary doctoral degrees from universities in Europe, Asia and North America for his work and writings in the field of action learning and leadership development
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Breakthrough Problem Solving with Action Learning, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Marquardt: My mother certainly had a great influence on my love of learning, my joy in asking questions, and my commitment to making the world a better place for others. No one in any part of our family had ever gone to college, and yet my mother pushed us all to get a college education – 3 of her children got doctoral degrees and 3 obtained Masters Degrees. Whenever we came back from college to our family farm, she would ask about everything we learned. We used to feel sorry for the person sitting next to her on an airplane as she would spend the entire flight asking about everything that person knew. And she wanted us to get into professions that helped others – 2 of my sisters are nurses, another sister was a social worker. One of my brothers ended up being a doctor and the other one is a fellow professor.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Marquardt: I would say Len Nadler and Reg Revans. Len Nadler, my professor at George Washington University, is considered the Father of Human Resource Development (HRD) and inspired me to do global HRD work. Reg Revans, considered the Father of Action Learning, inspired me to make action learning the passion of my life.
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.
Marquardt: After 20 years of global work with a number of government agencies and global companies, I became a professor at George Washington University in 1994. The first course I was asked to teach was “Action Learning” as the position I was filling had taught this course before she retired. I did not even know what action learning was, and yet I needed to prepare and deliver this course to 25 senior executive who were part of GWU’s Doctoral Executive Leadership Program. With some trepidation, I prepared the course as well as I could – using the existing syllabus and a Revans textbook. I created 5 teams of 5 students, and asked each team to identify a problem in one of their organizations which they were to solve during the semester. Fortunately, the course turned out well for the students, but I quickly became convinced that action learning was the greatest problem-solving and leadership development tool out there, better than anything I had seen in my previous 20 years of using scores of different tools for training leaders or developing organizations. I have become a devoted advocate and practitioner of action learning ever since.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Marquardt: I believe all of my formal education has enabled me to understand and appreciate action learning, as action learning is built on a wide array of disciplines that are integrated and generate its power. Thus, my undergraduate degree and studies in philosophy and economics, my master’s degree in education and group dynamics, and my doctorate in HRD that included psychology, management science and adult learning have all been valuable in re-creating action learning.
Morris: Briefly, what are the core principles of action learning?
Marquardt: Simply described, action learning is a dynamic process that involves a small group of people solving real problems, while at the same time focusing on what they are learning and how their learning can better solve the problem, develop leadership skills, build the team and change the organization.
Action learning program derives its power and benefits from six interactive and interdependent components. The strength and success of action learning is built upon how well these elements are employed and reinforced.
1. A problem (project, challenge, opportunity, issue or task)
Action learning centers around a problem (be it a project, a challenge, an issue, or task), the resolution of which is of high importance to an individual, team and/or organization. The problem should be significant, be within the responsibility of the team, and provide opportunity for learning. Why is the selection of the problem so important? Because it is one of the fundamental beliefs of action learning that we learn best when undertaking some action, which we then reflect upon and learn from. The main reason for having a problem or project is that it gives the group something to focus on that is real and important, that is relevant and means something to them. It creates a “hook” on which to test stored-up knowledge.
2. An action learning group or team
The core entity in action learning is the action learning group (also called a set or team). The group is composed of 4-8 individuals who examine an organizational problem that has no easily identifiable solution. Ideally, the make-up of the group is diverse so as to maximize various perspectives and to obtain fresh viewpoints.
3. A process that emphasizes insightful questioning and reflective listening
By focusing on the right questions rather than the right answers, action learning focuses on what one does not know as well as on what one does know. Action learning tackles problems through a process of first asking questions to clarify the exact nature of the problem, reflecting and identifying possible solutions, and only then taking action.
4. A requirement of taking action
For action learning advocates, there is no real learning unless action is taken, for one is never sure the idea or plan will be effective until it has been implemented. Therefore members of the action learning group must have the power to take action themselves or be assured that their recommendations will be implemented, (barring any significant change in the environment or the group’s obvious lack of essential information).
5. A commitment to learning
Solving an organizational problem provides immediate, short-term benefits to the company. The greater, longer-term, multiplier benefit, however, is the learning gained by each group members and how the group’s learnings can be applied on a systems-wide basis throughout the organization. The learning that occurs in action learning has greater value strategically for the organization than the immediate tactical advantage of early problem correction. Action learning places equal emphasis on the learning/development of individuals the team and organizations as it does on solving problems and developing successful action strategies.
6. Action learning coach
Coaching is necessary for the group to focus on the important (i.e., the learnings) as well as the urgent (i.e., resolving the problem). The action learning coach helps the team members reflect on both what they are learning and how they are solving problems. Through selective interventions and insightful questions, the coach enables group members to improve their performance and develop their leadership skills. The learning coach also helps the team focus on what they are achieving, what they are finding difficult, what processes they are employing, and the implications of these processes.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
To check out his faculty page at GWU’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, please click here.
To learn more about the World Institute for Action Learning, please click here.
For Mike’s Amazon page, please click here.
To watch a video, please click here.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dave Logan for CBS MoneyWatch, the CBS Interactive Business Network. To read the complete article, 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) Innovation is great fun to study, filled with inspiring stories — 3M’s invention of Post-it note glue, Xerox’s development of the graphic user interface or the many stories about Steve Jobs’ last few years at Apple. Equally interesting is the fact that most approaches to innovation backfire, resulting in the entrepreneurial spirit being broken by people who are trying to make it flourish.
Innovation cannot be managed — a lesson China, and most big companies — need to learn. It can, however, be led, and here are [two of] four ways to do just that:
1. Focus on the immediate need, not the long-term problem. Airbnb connects people looking for places to stay to those with floor space, rooms and entire apartments or houses to rent. The company had its first major success in Denver during the Democratic National Conference, when then-Senator Obama received his party’s nomination. More people wanted to be in Denver than Denver had hotel rooms. The stories of Obama supporters opening their homes to other supporters, and Airbnb’s role in making the connections, made international news. After that initial success, web traffic and listings dropped to near zero. Soon after, the company needed cash — immediately. They focused on what they knew — how to get stories in the international press, and also Obama supporters. Airbnb deviated from its core business and introduced Obama O’s cereal, which carried the subtitle “hope in every bowl.” They also introduced Cap’n McCains (“a maverick in every bite”), although Obama O’s was a bigger hit. After printing up boxes and securing cereal, they sent sample boxes to reporters, and the story went global. Orders surged — getting the company the cash it needed. Notice that Airbnb focused on the immediate problem — getting cash — not the long-term problem of not enough business for its core operations.
2. Highlight scarcity. Many people think — erroneously — that innovation results from blue-sky thinking, or people having a lot of free time. The truth is that necessity is the mother of invention, and also of innovation. Said differently, scarcity drives innovation, according to numerous studies. The problem is that many companies wait too long before admitting there’s a problem, not giving innovation enough time to offer solutions. Airbnb illustrates this point — the founders focused on the lack of cash (the scarce resource), and did so in time to do something about it (barely). When caught in time, people will often respond to scarce resources by combining their creativity. Scarce viewers force advertisers to find new ways to reach people, just as wars increase technological innovation, especially on the side facing a disadvantage. The scarcities inherent in sending people the moon famously drove NASA and its contractors to create many technological breakthroughs.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
“Making innovation work quickly is the subject of my personal blog, where you can also download a segment from a course on innovation, based on content from my course in the USC Executive MBA program.”
Dave Logan is a USC faculty member, management consultant, and the best-selling author of four books including Tribal Leadership and The Three Laws of Performance. He is also Senior Partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm, which he co-founded in 1997.
How to grow, compete, and succeed in a services era
In his previous articles and books (notably Open Innovation and Open Business Models), Henry Chesbrough has a great deal of value to say about results-driven, multi-dimensional collaboration/co-creation within and beyond any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Given the current economy and, especially, ever-increasing commoditization, his latest book is especially valuable because he thoroughly explains in it how to deliver better products and services for any business’ customers “that will allow it to grow and compete in a services era, ultimately escaping the commodity trap and that treacherous treadmill.”
Chesbrough makes the case for open services innovation in Chapter 1. I was especially interested in what he has to say about “The Commodity Trap,” one that reveals three business realities. Here’s the challenge: How to avoid or escape from that trap? That’s the focus of Part 1 (Chapters 1-5) in which he provides and discusses a framework to spur innovation and growth. This framework is based on four concepts and practices:
1. Think of your business as a service business
2. Innovators must co-create with customers
3. Open innovation accelerates and deepens service innovation
4. Business models are transformed by services innovation
Chesbrough observes, “By transforming products into platforms that incorporate internal and external innovations and surrounding these platforms with a variety of value-added services, companies can obtain some breathing space from relentless price and cost pressures.”
In Part 2, (Chapters 6-9) he describes a full range of applications and examples of Open Services Innovation (OSI) in a variety of industries, geographies, and contexts. More specifically, in larger companies (e.g. Xerox and GE), smaller companies (e.g. MTV Networks and NetBase), service businesses (e.g. Amazon), and in emerging economies (e.g. Asian Paints, SSIPEX, and ShaanGu). Then in the final chapter, Chesbrough explores “the larger context in which the shift toward services innovation is taking place.” More specifically, he discusses that shift in historic context, addresses especially important issues in service innovation, and then shares what are obviously heart–felt as well as highly-rational convictions about “the way forward” into an uncertain future that is certain to consist of both major perils and major opportunities. “It is high time to get started on the journey” and, I presume to add, this book would be an invaluable travel guide.
Cheryl offers: October’s HBR article “Why Succession Shouldn’t Be a Horse Race” describes how Xerox’s former CEO Anne Mulcahy successfully identified, developed and eventually passed the CEO baton to Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company while also marking the first ever woman-to-woman succession. What was most interesting was how Anne deliberately worked to avoid Jack Welch’s famous departure when two of the three top candidates left with him once they learned Jeff Immelt had gotten the job. She said “I don’t believe in having people face off against each other for the CEO job in a classic horse race.” Kudos to her on two fronts: first for recognizing that losing valuable talent in this day and age is not good business and secondly for seeing collaboration is better for the business than competition when putting the best person in the job. GE lost 3 very talented employees when Jack left. Anne managed to retain her 3 top contenders after Ursula was named CEO, although one has since retired. This article reinforced a message I read in Women and Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah Rhode. In chapter 9 written by Marie C. Wilson, she notes “We need to fuel each other’s ambition, to give women the encouragement they need, and the courage embedded in that word. With our help, they can and will step forward and say, “I’m here. I can do this, and I want to lead.” This was written in 2007, just about the time Anne and Ursula were starting to write business history. Those who support the laws of natural attraction would say, “Of course!”
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Vijay Govindarajan 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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My colleague Chris Trimble and I have polled hundreds of managers, asking them to define innovation. Usually, managers equate innovation with creativity. But innovation is not creativity. Creativity is about coming up with the big idea. Innovation is about executing the idea — converting the idea into a successful business.
We like to think of an organization’s capacity for innovation as creativity multiplied by execution. We use “multiplication” rather than “sum” because, if either creativity or execution has a score of zero, then the capacity for innovation is zero.
Chris and I have devoted the last ten years studying one question: What are the best practices for executing an innovation initiative? Our book, The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge, is the result of that effort.
Here’s why we worked on execution, as opposed to creativity: We surveyed thousands of executives in Fortune 500 companies to rate their companies’ innovation skills on a scale of one to 10, one being poor and 10 world class. Survey participants overwhelmingly believe that their companies are better at generating ideas (average score of six) than they are at commercializing them (average score of one).
So which is more effective — moving your (already good) creativity score from six to eight or lifting your (very poor) execution score from one to three?
Here’s the math using our shorthand, creativity times execution:
Capacity to innovate = 6 x 1 = 6
Capacity to innovate, increasing creativity score = 8 x 1 = 8
Capacity to innovate, increasing execution score = 6 x 3 = 18
It’s no contest. Companies tend to focus far more attention on improving the front end of the innovation process, the creativity. But the real leverage is in the back end.
Ideas will only get you so far. Consider companies that struggled even after a competitor entered the market and made the great idea transparent to all. Did Xerox stumble because nobody there noticed that Canon had introduced personal copiers? Did Kodak fall behind because they were blind to the rise of digital photography? Did Sears suffer a decline because they had no awareness of Wal-Mart’s new every-day-low-price discount retailing format? In every case, the ideas were there. It was the follow-through that was lacking. In fact, we have found that innovation initiatives face their stiffest resistance after they show hints of success, begin to consume significant resources, and clash with the existing organization at multiple levels — that is, long after the idea generation stage.
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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.
Vijay Govindarajan is the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. His most recent book is the aforementioned The Other Side of Innovation, co-authored with Chris Trimble and published by Harvard Business Press (2010), as was Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution (2005).
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:
Here is an excerpt from article written by Roberto Verganti for the Harvard Business blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
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One Size Does Not Fit All in Innovation (and Never Will)
I’m worried that the discussion about innovation is losing its vitality and that a handful of beliefs are becoming dangerous dogmas. Two that worry me the most are:
Innovation and design should be user-centered — i.e., users are the first and foremost source of insights. Innovation processes should, therefore, start from observation of mainstream or extreme users.
The crowd outperforms the elite — i.e., thanks to the web, firms may now leverage the power of communities of scientists, creatives, and users to develop innovations. Many ideas from large communities are better than a good idea from an outstanding innovation team.
In a recent blog, I questioned the universal effectiveness of user-centered processes. My point was that user-centered innovation is ineffective to deal with environmental sustainability. I was surprised to notice that instead of focusing on the specific subject at hand (sustainability), many of the people who participated in the discussion defended user-centricity as an incontrovertible principle.
I fear the same narrow-mindedness is dominating the debate about the value of crowdsourcing vs. elite thinkers. If you try to argue that in some situations an elite thinker is better than the crowd, you’ll be quickly derided.
Is the discussion and the practice of innovation at risk of becoming static and mono-tone? Is the community in search of a Holy Grail of innovation — i.e., the one perfect model that works in any situation and forever? Given that innovation is about differentiation and evolution, this would be dangerous for corporations.
The reality is:
One size does not fit all in innovation. Different innovation problems require different approaches. There is no method that is always good. In a 2008 article in the Harvard Business Review, Gary Pisano and I demonstrated that crowdsourcing is not always the best approach to collaboration. What is the best approach depends on several factors, including the distribution of talent among scientists and the cost of testing a proposed solution.
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Roberto Verganti is the author of Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean and has pioneered research on the intersection of strategy, design and technology management. A professor of the management of innovation at Politecnico di Milano, Verganti also is a member of the board of the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management. He has served as an executive advisor, coach, and educator at a variety of firms, including Ferrari, Ducati, Whirlpool, Xerox, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Barilla, Nestlè, STMicroelectronics, and Intuit.