First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Let’s Try Something; Let’s Try Something Different; Let’s Try Something New

In the book The Art of Innovation:  Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm by Tom Kelley, we find this simple suggestion:

Observe real people in real life situations to find out what makes them tick…

This is step # 2 in the IDEO five step methodology:

The IDEO five step methodology…
#1  Understand the market.
#2  Observe real people in real life situations to find out what makes them tick…
#3  Visualize new to the world concepts and the customers who will use them.
#4  Evaluate and refine the prototypes in a series of quick iterations.  Plan on a series of improvements.
#5  Implement the new product for commercialization.

This week, I’ve had a chance to do a “ride along” with an account manager for a client (in preparation for some training sessions).  I watched, listened, and learned.

As we talked afterwards, it was clear that a new pair of eyes (mine) could see some things that someone constantly in the midst of an endeavor misses.  Not because of a lack of desire to see – but simply because it is tough to see what is always in front of you.  Thus, the wisdom of IDEO’s approach:  they always start by going out and observing real people, at work or at leisure, with real products, in their own settings…

As I observed, I thought of some recommendations to make.  Some of these are in fact “new.”  Some are, in fact, quite old – you know, the tried and true, but so easily ignored or forgotten.

So, I am preparing a list of “try these” items for our client.  I think it could be valuable.

Now, it’s your turn – and my turn.  Conduct a “ride-along” with yourself.   Yes, it very difficult – to look at and observe your own practices, to look at what you are doing, or not doing, with a new set of eyes.  (It is easier for an “outsider” to see what you have become oblivious to).  And ask these questions, all in the quest to do your work better:

• What can I try?

• What I try that is simply different?

• What can I try that is new?

This much I do know – there is a competitor lurking right around the corner that will offer some of these different/new approaches.  You may as well be the one to come up with them yourself.


You can purchase my synopsis of The Art of Innovation, with handout + audio, at our companion web site,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , | Leave a comment

The Most Valuable Business Insights: 1-5

After having read and reviewed so many business books, I now share brief comments about what I consider to be the 25 most valuable business insights and identify the books in which they are either introduced or (one man’s opinion) best explained. Here are the first five:

1. Analytics: With rare exception, you cannot manage what you cannot measure. It is imperative to select criteria (metrics) that are relevant, inclusive, comprehensive, etc. and then apply them consistently. It is critically important to be alert to variances and, when they occur, to what caused them.

Best Source: Competing of Analytics: The New Science of Winning co-authored by Tom Davenport and Jeanne Harris.

2. Branding: Over time a brand has evolved from what is burned into the hide of cattle to a name, then to a logo, later to a positive association and now to an experience. Today, marketing creates or increases demand with the promise of what (preferably) a multi-sensory, pleasurable experience.

Best Source: Bern Schmidt’s Experiential Marketing: How to Get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act, and Relate to Your Company and Brands

3. Business Narrative (Storytelling): The powder and value of this genre has only recently been recognized. Basically, the business narrative focuses on a specific situation in which various “characters” proceed through a sequence of events (plot). Issues are raised, conflicts develop, and eventually there is a resolution (climax). Most of the best business presentations are in the form of a narrative. Why? Because they entertain as well as inform and thus are more convincing. More to the point, they anchor the material in hum an experience with which an audience can identify/

Best Source: Stephen Denning’s The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative

4. Coaching: Like ice cream, coaches come in a wide variety of flavors. The most effective are those who have highly-developed expertise in the given subject(s) as well as emotional intelligence (i.e. people skills), communicate clearly, and (like gardeners) are masters at “growing” human development.

Best Source: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, written by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter, and Verne Hornish’s Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm

5. Creativity: The general viewpoint is that innovation makes something better whereas creativity makes something new. However, in my opinion, developing a creative mindset that is always active is far more important than the occasional “something” it produces.  The mindset is “open” in that it is receptive to what is unfamiliar as well as to what emerges from an unexpected source; it challenges assumptions and premises (especially those that result from what James O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of comfort”); and it has highly-developed integrative thinking. It is worth noting that all of the greatest inventions throughout history were first envisioned before they were constructed.

Best Sources: Guy Claxton, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, and Roger Martin’s Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking

Note: You may also wish to check out Most Valuable Business Insights: 6-10.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What all great leaders have in common: “a high degree of emotional intelligence”

Daniel Goleman

In an article written for Harvard Business Review (“What Makes a Leader?” June 1996), Daniel Goleman observes:

“I have found that that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities’; that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. But my research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but still won’t make a great leader.”

What specifically are the most important EI components?

1. Self-awareness: Knowing one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
2. Self-regulation: Controlling or redirecting what would otherwise be disruptive emotions and impulses, hurtful comments and behavior, etc.
3. Motivation: A passion to do what is right and do it right, to serve others, “to make a difference,” etc.
4. Empathy: Be sensitive to and respectful of others’ feelings (especially sensitivities), be an attentive listener and a loyal friend, etc.
5. Social Skill: Cultivate networks of contacts, nourish relationships, build consensuses, etc.

I agree with Goleman about the importance of EI, not only in leaders but in all others within an organization. The companies that are ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for each year by Fortune magazine are renowned for the highly developed EI in their people at all levels and in all areas.

That is probably the single most important reason why, year after year, they are also ranked among the most profitable in their respective industries.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tackling Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

Here is an excerpt of an interview of Michael Lewis by Dave Weich (in 2006) for the Powell’s Books website. To read the complete interview and interviews of other prominent authors, please click here.

Since this interview was conducted, Lewis has published another bestseller, The Big Short.

*     *     *
In his debut, Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis described in hilarious detail how he stumbled into a job on Wall Street with Salomon Brothers, and what he found among “the king of traders.”

“Salomon Brothers really did make me alive to the way markets worked and how important they were,” Lewis explains.

The evidence is everywhere in his work, alongside a well honed talent for engaging portraiture. Lewis doesn’t so much write about business as the people who change it.

In 2000’s The New New Thing, we met Jim Clark, the visionary founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon. Six years later, the book remains among journalism’s most illuminating records of the dot-com boom.

2003’s Moneyball stands as perhaps the best (certainly the most important) baseball book since Jim Bouton’s Ball Four.

In Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, Lewis discovered an ex-ballplayer who discarded the sport’s longstanding traditions and in doing so turned a franchise with one of the league’s lowest payrolls into an annual contender.

With Moneyball still riding bestseller lists, the syndicated columnist embarked on what he imagined to be a small project, an essay about his high school baseball coach (later published as Coach). That research put him back in touch with a childhood friend and set him off, unknowingly, on the path to his next book.

The reclusive son of a drug-addled single mom suddenly becomes one of the most valued football prospects in America — how? A year before the scouts came calling, young Michael Oher had virtually no formal education, no social skills, and no athletic experience.

In The Blind Side, Michael Lewis investigates changes in the pro game that transformed an anonymous position, offensive left tackle, into the NFL’s second highest paid job. Among the beneficiaries, he uncovers Big Mike, and a remarkable story of life-altering second chances. From the outskirts of Memphis, The Blind Side offers another engaging example of market forces at work.

I want to start by asking about a story in yesterday’s New York Times. Netflix announced they’re going to give a million dollars to the first person who can improve the site’s personal recommendation engine.

They’re offering a bounty to geeks.

There was a great quote in the article by the company’s chief executive, who says, “The beauty of the Netflix prize is that you can be a mathematician in Romania or a statistician in Taiwan, and you can be the winner.” And I’m thinking to myself: The beauty of the prize is that they don’t pay a nickel to any of the people who don’t win. They don’t pay health insurance. They’re not even required to hire the winner.

A really smart thing to do because they will get more than a million dollars of labor. They’re applying a tournament logic to the labor market. If you start thinking about it, you wonder why anyone has employees. That’s very odd. I bet it works, too.

Even if no one improves their system, they’ve already received plenty of publicity.

That’s right. Does every person who improves the system win?

No. The Times said the winner will be the first person to achieve “a ten percent improvement.” How exactly that ten percent is gauged, I don’t know.

It could get messy in the execution.

It’s easy to imagine a lawsuit on behalf of the person who improves the system by five or eight or nine percent.

I hadn’t seen that story. I’ll go dig it out.

I enjoyed reading in Next about the development of TiVo and its competitor, Replay. I’ve always wondered why the fast forward button on my DVR doesn’t skip straight over the commercials.

They embedded in the technology compromises between the old way and the new way. They stiffed their customers slightly in interest of the business model.

But the technology represented such a huge leap forward that it didn’t matter.

Right. It didn’t matter. And when I wrote that, TiVo had not yet won the war.

It’s funny. It’s so hard to tell in the moment which technology is going to succeed. I remember walking with Jim Clark into his Healtheon office after they had gone public — no, actually, it was the MyCFO office, what was going to be the successor to Healtheon — and TiVo was across the hall from him. He said, “I don’t see the point in that. I can’t see why anyone would want it.”

He dismissed it, so I thought, Well, there must be nothing there. But I went back and looked at it, and I thought, God, this seems fantastic. But even someone as prescient as Jim Clark said it wasn’t going to work. And it may not work, actually, as a business model — it’s still unclear whether TiVo will survive — but the technology is relentless, it’s inevitable, everybody will have it sooner or later.

Have you followed much of what’s going on with YouTube and iTunes? What do you think will happen to video and television programming?

People will be able to slice and dice it however they want.

In television, the established forces are always slow to respond, but everyone is now preparing for a day when there are no actual ads, when the ads are all embedded in the programming. There is huge pressure on people who are creating television programs to come up with clever ways to write the programs so viewers don’t know they’re watching an ad. That’s probably the end game there.

There will always be a market for good drama and good comedy. If people want to watch it, there are ways to get them to pay. I don’t think it’s the end of television. I do think it’s the end of the network model, though.

Regarding The Blind Side, how did writing a book with an old friend at the center of the story affect your relationship to the material?

I probably don’t know exactly, but this was a person I had not seen or heard from in twenty-five years, and I didn’t think of him as a friend the last time I saw him. We had been friends when we were about eight.
It was a little odd, but it saved me a lot of trouble trying to figure out his character because I’d seen it in action as a kid.

More to the point, I’d have never written the story otherwise. I stumbled into it well before Michael Oher became a hot football prospect. I saw the humble beginnings. When I first met Michael at Sean’s house, Sean was telling me about writing letters to Division 2 coaches that he’d known in his playing days at Ole Miss; he thought he could get Michael into college as a basketball player. He didn’t have a future as a basketball player, but Sean could maybe get him an education; these coaches would take care of him.

Sean was oblivious at that point to Michael’s value. If I hadn’t seen that with my own eyes — and I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t known him — I don’t think I would have believed their motives were as pure as I think they are.

It’s funny because their motives became slightly impure once he became valuable. It would have been slightly embarrassing if Michael hadn’t gone to Ole Miss, for example. They did become conflicted, and they know it. But he was in their lives before they thought he had value; that’s not why they made him part of the family.

It was important also that I had some sense of what Sean’s heart was like. It’s all helpful. When you write characters fresh, like Jim Clark, someone I’d never laid eyes on until I walked into his office two years before I wrote The New New Thing, there’s a limit to how well you can get to know them. And you have to work much harder to get to know them. Think of your own life. Think back to people you knew when you were little kids. You develop a feel for a person’s character when you’re a kid that’s very hard to duplicate later on, especially when you’re functioning as a journalist, inspecting them. You saw them when they didn’t think they were being watched. That was a huge advantage.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Before You Can Get Buy-In, People Need to Feel the Problem

John Kotter

Here is an excerpt from an article written by John Kotter 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.

*     *     *

Picture this: you’re in the middle of presenting your proposal and a person at the far end of the table raises her hand. “I’m not even sure the ‘problem’ you’re describing exists, or is a big deal at all!” How do you deal with that?

From reading your responses to my previous posts, I find that many people aren’t able to even reach the point where they can debate the merits of their proposal. Many get bogged down in the quagmire of trying to effectively communicate the nature and extent of the problem. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t much matter what your proposal is. People aren’t going to consider anything until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed.

In scenarios like this, I’ve found that it’s effective to highlight the problem and the people affected by it in a way that makes the problem feel real.

What’s less effective — and far more common — is to make a dry business case that, even if correct, is usually less persuasive and less memorable than it needs to be.

On this topic, one story I’ve always liked (from my book The Heart of Change) I affectionately call “Gloves on the Boardroom Table.” A large organization had an inefficient purchasing process, and one mid-level executive believed that money was constantly being wasted with each of the organization’s factories handling their own purchases. He thought there could be tremendous savings from consolidating the procurement effort. He put together a “business case” for change but it went nowhere. His boss said that senior executives didn’t feel it was truly a big problem, especially with so many other daily challenges taking up their time. So the manager had an idea: he collected the 424 different kinds of work gloves the factories collectively purchased and tagged each one with its different price and supplier. He carted the gloves in and dumped them on the boardroom table before a senior executive team meeting. He first showed the pile to his boss, who was taken aback by this powerful visual display of the waste inherent in having dozens of different factories negotiate different deals for the items they needed! The boss showed the CEO, who scrapped the meeting agenda to talk about procurement because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, and so real. It galvanized the executives to action. Ultimately, they overhauled their procurement process and saved a great deal of money.

I’ve called the process used here See, Feel, and Change, as opposed to Analyze, Think, and Change.

The latter is all head, no heart, and often fails to motivate people to recognize the importance of a given problem. It’s too easily forgotten or ignored if it doesn’t feel real.

So what is my everyday advice if you can’t always collect, catalogue, and cart around 424 pairs of gloves? One way is to highlight the real, personal consequences of the problem you want people to see, and to highlight the real people who suffer because of it. My newer book, Buy-In, features a story of someone presenting a plan to provide new computers for a local library. When dissenters don’t listen because they don’t think there is a problem with the current computers, the presenter has two options. He could use PowerPoint slides to compare the library’s computers to current computer models sold in stores, showing the difference in processing power, memory capacity, and modem speed. Or he could relate the true story of a local fourth-grader from a poor family who relies on the library’s computers for homework — computers that are too slow and outdated to allow her to finish her assignments, leaving her underprepared for school. 

Which case would you find more compelling? Which case makes the problem feel real?

*     *     *

John Kotter is an emeritus professor at Harvard Business School and bestselling author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency,  and founder of Kotter International.

His latest book, with coauthor Lorne Whitehead, is called Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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