First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Those First Few Seconds – This Is When You Can Move Towards Winning, Or Lose Entirely

This is short, and to the point.  You don’t have long to make that good first impression.  And that first impression is close to the whole ball game.

Or, let me put it this away.  You may not “win,” (the job, the girl, the contract, the sale) in those first few seconds.  But you can certainly “lose” in those first few seconds.

Here’s the latest reinforcement for this.   It is from the gripping, lengthy article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker: Letting Go: What should medicine do when it can’t save your life? (If you read this blog much, you know that I am a raving fan of Atul Gawande’s work). The subject is dealing with end of life issues.  It’s not an easy article to read.  But, I suspect, it is an important article to read.

But this blog post is not about the article itself, but about those first few seconds.  The quote comes from Sarah Creed, a nurse for a hospice service.  Here’s the quote:

The initial visit is always tricky, but she has found ways to smooth things over.
“A nurse has five seconds to make a patient like you and trust you. It’s in the whole way you present yourself. I do not come in saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Instead, it’s: ‘I’m the hospice nurse, and here’s what I have to offer you to make your life better. And I know we don’t have a lot of time to waste.’ ”

Here’s the life/business lesson:  in every encounter, ask yourself – “how do I set myself up to ‘win’ in those first few seconds?”

Thursday, July 29, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Morris on The Power of Collective Wisdom: A Book Review

The Power of Collective Wisdom: And the Trap of Collective Folly
Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, Tom Callanan, and John Ott
Berrett-Koehler Publishers  (2009)

The importance of what Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Tot, and Tom Callahan offer in this book is suggested by Peter Singe in the Foreword. He identifies three reasons. “First, [the material in the book] corrects a misconception, that wisdom is not developable [when in fact it] can be cultivated: through continual reflection, through silence, and through connecting with the highest in yourself and others…Second is that wisdom is not about just a few wise people but about the capacity of human communities to orient themselves around a living sense of the future that truly matters to them…While the world’s cultures offer a rich storehouse of stories of extraordinary individuals who exercised wisdom, upon closer inspection what makes the stories compelling is what emerged collectively…But even these examples are misleading, insofar as they start with the central leadership figure. For it is the everyday emergence of collective intelligence in teams, communities, and networks that is most welcome today…Third, the authors show that rather than being a `feel good’ concept with little tangible impact, wisdom is all about results, and especially what is achieved over the longer term.” Senge thus nails the essence of what this book is all about far better than I ever could.

For me, some of the most interesting and valuable material is provided in Chapter Three as Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan focus on what’s involved when “inhabiting” a different worldview, one that enables people to “think collectively about the circumstances they face. [This book offers] a guide to reclaiming our participation in groups as positive, necessary, and hopeful without sugarcoating the external challenges we face or the external obstacles that prevent us from seeing new possibilities. Wisdom reflects a capacity for sound judgment, discernment, and the objectivity to see what is needed in the moment. Collective wisdom reflects a similar capacity to learn together and evolve toward something greater and wiser than we can do as individuals alone.” The authors identify and then briefly but insightfully discuss five social visionaries who possessed the aforementioned worldview, who contributed to the field of collective wisdom: Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955), Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Regrettably, Mary Parker Follett has not received the attention and appreciation she deserves. Peter Drucker named her the “prophet” of management. Warren Bennis has characterized her as a “swashbuckling advance scout of management thinking” whereas Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that reading any of her works is “like entering a zone of calm in a sea of chaos. Her work reminds us…there is truths about human behavior that stand the test of time. They persist despite superficial changes, like the deep and still ocean beneath the waves of management fad and fashion.”
Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan cite three of Follett’s most important insights, the second of which she called the “law of situation.” Instead of bringing in outside experts and resources to bolster one side over the other, consistent with the fact that Follett was a staunch advocate of “power with” rather than “power over” in all relationships, she proposed complete and unrestricted use of information to advance transparency of operations. “She saw the power of the scientific method, still nascent in her day, as useful in creating a shared pool of data that everyone could use.” Several decades later, Henry Chesbrough would develop this insight in much greater depth in two books, Open Innovation and then Open Business Models. Collective wisdom cannot be created and then leveraged unless and until everyone involved is both willing and able to embrace what C. Otto Scharmer describes (in Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges) as three intertwined “openings” of the mind, the heart, and the will. Only then, Senge suggests, can people learn “how to listen more deeply” and suspend their “take-for-granted mental models” as well as to “connect with one another in that listening, and, perhaps quietly and barely noticed, how to pay attention to why [they] are here.”

This is the journey of discovery to which Briskin, Erickson, Ott, and Callanan invite their reader. Throughout their lively and eloquent narrative, they affirm the value of collective wisdom, insisting (and I agree) that it is available to everyone, in any group or larger collective to which one belongs. That said, the authors add, “Our exploration of collective folly, however, reveals the other, far less comforting, implication of Terence’s bold claim, `If nothing that is human is alien to me, then I know the poet and the thief, I know the teacher and the terrorist. I know the victim and the perpetrator – they are all within me.’ The same is true of any group: We are capable of extraordinary acts of grace and kindness and creativity, and equally extraordinary acts of cruelty and violence. No group is exempt – all that is human is within us.”

It remains for each of us to locate “all that is human is within us”…and then celebrate it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Linda Heasley in “The Corner Office”

Linda Heasley

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Linda Heasley, president and chief executive of The Limited.  To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Bryant: And what are your best interview questions?

Heasley: I always like to hear what books they read. What keeps them up at night? I like an example of a challenging situation in a business environment where they took a controversial position. As I said, it doesn’t matter to me what they decided to do, but I like to see how they handled it. I like hearing what they do when they’re not in the office. I like to hear how a direct report would describe you and your management style. I like to hear their philosophy of leadership.

Bryant: Any memorable answers, good or bad, about philosophy of leadership?

Heasley: What I don’t like to hear, and I think it’s something we’re probably all guilty of, is a focus on business results. It’s an important thing. You wouldn’t be interviewing with me if I didn’t know you had a track record. But leadership style, and how to describe it, is something we’re not as comfortable talking about as leaders. It’s interesting for me how undeveloped those responses can be.

What I do like to hear is, even when a bad situation occurs, is the willingness to take a risk and try to do something to turn it into an opportunity and lead a group to do that. I look for a little bit of thinking out of the box, but I think many executives have a hard time talking about that.

Bryant: And what’s your philosophy of leadership?

Heasley: I believe that it’s not about me. I believe it’s very much about the team. I believe that my associates can work anywhere they want, and my job is to re-recruit them every day and give them a reason to choose to work for us and for me as opposed to anybody else.

So it’s about making it fun. It’s about making it exciting. It’s about keeping them marketable. I encourage people: “Go out and find out what the market bears. You should do that and then come back and help me figure out what you need in your development that you’re not getting, because we owe you that.”

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To read several of Bryant’s more recent interviews of other executives, please click here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

William C. Taylor asks, “Where have all the business heroes gone?”

William C. Taylor

Here is an excerpt from an article written by William C. Taylor 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 friends at the Washington Post, where I’m a member of the newspaper’s On Leadership panel, posed a provocative question to the group that is perfect for the times in which we live. Here’s what the editors asked: “Tony Hayward, once credited for BP’s ‘green’ turnaround, is forced to resign in disgrace. Michael Dell, the revolutionary high-tech entrepreneur, is sanctioned for misleading investors. Wall Street titans, once lionized, are now reviled. Where have all the CEO heroes gone?”

I offered the Post a (necessarily) short answer to its big question, as did a terrific collection of other panelists. [Click here.] I want to use this post to reckon more deeply with the question, and to offer some answers that I hope will prompt you to develop your own answers as well.
So let me start by rephrasing the question. As we try to make sense of the sorry state of American business leadership today, the real issue isn’t, Where have the corporate heroes gone? The issue is, How do we know a corporate hero when we see one?

I have spent more than 20 years — first as a young editor at Harvard Business Review, then as a cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company, and now as someone who write s books and interacts with business audiences around the world — studying organizations and leaders that are setting the idea agenda for business. I’m not looking for “heroes” per se, but for role models from which the rest of us can learn. And I’m always amazed by the fact that the companies and leaders I most admire are rarely the ones that show up on the front pages of the business section or on the covers of business magazines.

Here’s why: So much of the way so many of us think about business remains rooted in the logic of power. How big has a company become under its hard-charging CEO? How much wealth have its shareholders amassed as a result of strategic calculations made in the corner office? But as my friend and publishing-industry legend Harriet Rubin likes to say, and as I’ve written before on this blog, “Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you control. Freedom is about what you unleash.”

*     *     *

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.

William C. Taylor is co-founder of Fast Company magazine and co-author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win with Polly G. Labarre. His next book is Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, published by William Morrow (January 2011). Follow him at

Thursday, July 29, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chevy Volt and Nuance (Dragon NaturallySpeaking) – Some Thoughts on Innovation

1: the introduction of something new
. 2: a new idea, method, or device: novelty.


Do you know the one indispensable business need of this era?  Here it is:  you’d best be really good at constant innovation, and a drive for constant, perpetual improvement.  If you are not, you will be left behind – in the blink of an eye.

Here are two pieces worth reading to reinforce this one undeniable reality.  The first is in the New York Times, about the constant improvement in dictation software.  The other is about the advent of the Chevy Volt.

#1 – even with a virtual monopoly, you still need to constantly innovate. The customers demand it, expect it, and if you don’t someone else might come along and pass you by.  That is the story of Nuance, the Dragon NaturallySpeaking company.  In Reliable Dictation, Down to a ‘T’ by David Pogue, there are details about the way the company continues to refine its dictation software’s smarts.  After a number of specifics, the article ends with this line:

Yes, Nuance has a near-monopoly in the speech-recognition game, but it’s nice to see it making steady improvements and price cuts as if it didn’t.

#2 – don’t panic about the pricetag of the Chevy Volt.  Less expensive models will arrive in the blink of an eye.

In The Volt Jolt: Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty price (really, really hefty) for the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward.  The first cars cost four times the average household income of the day, whereas the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.

The price went all the way down to $260 in 1925, "the least that would ever be charged for a new American car."

The article gives a quick summary of the march of price-lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen; and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag.  Gross is convinced that history and our commitment to innovation promise a similar plummeting of price for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here are key excerpts:

Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long by Daniel Gross, we read about the hefty (really, really hefty) of the very first automobiles, and then their steady move downward.  The first cars cost three to four times the average household income of the day, where as the Chevy Volt, though really pricey, is below the current average household income.

The article gives a quick summary of the march of price lowering progress, including the first Macintosh which cost $2000, and had a floppy disk, very little memory, and a tiny, puny screen, and the success of the Model T, and its steadily decreasing price tag, and promises a similar plummeting for the electric car in the months/years to come. Here’s a key paragraph:

Now, of course, Ford’s achievement with the Model T was one for the ages. His manufacturing advances were quantum leaps. But auto manufacturers have continued to innovate, develop efficiencies, and offer drivers more for less. The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. A few years ago, I went to buy a bicycle for the first time in a decade and was shocked to see how far my money could go. Compare the bicycle you can buy today for $300 with one you would have paid $300 for five or 10 years ago. By the same token, a $25,000 car today comes loaded with features that would have been unimaginable five or 10 years ago.

The key phrase in all of this: The story of our modern age is better performance, better equipment, and better materials for less money. In other words, innovation is constant, and making many things (every thing) better, and then better yet, again and again — for less money is the new normal.

Thursday, July 29, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Morris on Design Is How It Works: A Book Review

Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons
Jay Greene
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2010)

Jay Greene observes, “effective design in the twenty-first century goes well beyond creating an object that might one day go on display at MoMA. Design isn’t merely about making products aesthetically beautiful. Design today is about creating experiences that consumers crave. The look and feel of a product is table stakes – it can forge the beginning of an emotional bond with customers. The best products and services must deliver singular experiences unobtainable anywhere else. The smartest designs address needs consumers never knew they had.” The challenge, then, is to design products and services that will create experiences that consumers crave.

Throughout his lively narrative, Green focuses on eight exemplary companies (Porsche, Nike, LEGO, OXO, REI, Clif Bar, Ace Hotels, and Virgin Atlantic) and devotes a separate chapter to each. However different these companies may be in most other respects, all of them share a number of common characteristics: There is a total commitment to the design process at all levels and in all areas of the enterprise; bold and counterintuitive but prudent and frugal experimentation is constant within an environment that cherishes each “failure” as a precious learning experience; C-level executives embrace the design process, “trusting their gut and their employees as much as they trust all the data they receive from their business.”;  there is continuous observation of current and prospective customers’ real-world behavior with a rigor of a world-class anthropologist; and designers fully participate in the earliest stage of product development, “rather than getting called in at the end to put a fancy glass on a new product just before it goes to market.”

Here is one extended excerpt, selected from more than 100 that caught my eye:

“It may sound counterintuitive, but LEGO found that design, at least within its walls, thrives with some constraints. That might send chills up the spines of some in the design world. The idea of fencing in designers, forcing them to play in a confined space, runs counter to the notion that design needs to be set free. But the component limits gave designers just enough direction to come up with some of the company’s most successful products to date.”

Previously, LEGO managers had given designers free rein to come up with ever more imaginative new directions. And they took it. “By 2004, the number of components had exploded, climbing from about 7,000 to 12,000 in just seven years. Of course, supply costs went through the roof too.” And profits plunged.

Once the LEGO Innovation Model was formulated and restraints were in place, however, design costs were reduced 55% and sales increased 42% during the next four years. Paal Smith-Meyer runs LEGO’s New Business Group and acknowledged to Greene, “If you put guiding principles in place, you empower people to make the right decision.” Greene adds, “And remember, he’s a designer.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Jay Greene that in months and years to come, human experiences will be of increasingly greater importance to purchase decisions. Design can guide companies to create the experiences that consumers crave. For that reason, I presume to suggest that the “intersection” to which he refers is – or at least should be – an integration of business and design in ways and to an extent that they become interdependent, if not interchangeable.

Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out recently published books such as Roger Martin’s The Design of Business, Tim Brown’s Change by Design, Roberto Verganti’s Design Driven Innovation, and Thomas Lockwood’s Design Thinking as well as two “classics” co-authored by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman a while ago, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm (2001) and The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization (2005).

Thursday, July 29, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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