First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Michael Porter and Adrian Slywotzky on how the right strategies and tactics can create demand

In her recently published book, Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy, Joan Magretta has much of value to say.  In Chapter 4: Creating Value: The Core  (Part Two), for example, she discusses Enterprise-Rent-a-Car, Zipcar, Southwest Airlines, Aravind Eye Hospital, Walmart, Progressive, and Edward Jones. Each has an especially effective strategy based on (1) a distinctive value proposition (actually, Aravind has two), and (2) on a tailored value chain.

Here are a few insights that caught my eye. Aravind is named after Sri Aurobindo, one of the 20th century’s most revered spiritual leaders and was founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy whose inspiration was McDonald’s. He wanted to produce cataract surgeries as efficiently and as consistently as McDonald’s produced hamburgers. He designed a system that did just that.

When Southwest established pricing, it was not to compete with other airlines also serving major cities in Texas; rather, to compete with the Greyhound and Trailways bus lines. That is why it has flown only 737s, eliminated most amenities, minimized turnaround time, and scheduled lots of flights for the lowest possible fares whereas American Airlines and other competitors schedule far fewer flights with much higher fare costs and usurious fees for basic services.

Enterprise is now the largest and most profitable rental car company but that was certainly not true when Jack Taylor founded it in 1957 in Saint Louis, leasing cars to residents. He had learned that 40% of all car rentals are by people who live in the same city and that most automobile insurance coverage included a car rental option for a modest additional charge. When expanding market penetration, he and his associates decided to select neighborhood locations that would be more convenient and less expensive than at airports. These locations remain within 15 miles of 90% of the U.S. population. Enterprise also cultivates strong relationships with all auto repair shops within or independent of dealerships.

Keep all this in mind as you now read what Adrian Slywotzky observes in his latest book, Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It: demand creators “spend all of their time trying to understand [begin italics] people [end italics]…They try to understand our aspirations, what we need, what we hate, what gives us emotional charge – and, most important, what we might really love…They seem to know what we want even before we do. They wind up creating what people can’t resist and competitors can’t copy. Yet they almost never succeed on the first try…These demand creators recognize the huge gaps between what people buy and what they really want – and they use those gaps as the springboard for a process of reimagination that you might call the demand way of thinking.”

Magretta and Slywotzky discuss dozens of companies from which invaluable business lessons can be learned. Here are three:

1. Forget about “being the best” in an industry or even in a market segment. Be the best provider of what your customers need.

2. Be constantly alert to their unmet needs, especially those that are imminent, and fill those needs with products and/or services that add greater value than any others can. Then continuously improve what you offer.

3. Be the easiest provider for your customers to do business with by eliminating all hassles. Every person in your organization must be not only willing but eager to “go the extra mile.” Convince them that it is a privilege to assist customers whenever there is an opportunity to do so.

4. Competitive advantage is not about beating rivals; it’s about creating unique value for customers.

5. Don’t overestimate or underestimate the importance of good execution. It’s unlikely to be a source of sustainable advantage, but without it even the most brilliant strategy will fail to produce superior performance.

Friday, December 9, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Executives Really Need to Know about Employee Engagement

In their employee engagement study, Elizabeth Craig of the Accenture Institute for High Performance and Lauren DeSimone of the International Consortium for Executive Development Research, explore this topic in depth. Based on research, they identify the key drivers of engagement, revealing how companies can create it in their organizations and, more importantly, sustain high levels of engagement over time.

The research surveyed 1,367 employees in large US companies across a range of industries. It helps companies understand what employee engagement is, and identifying the catalysts of high employee engagement. Among the most important are:

• Jobs that are varied and provide motivation.
• A compelling future.
• A safe environment.
• Dependable colleagues.
• Sane expectations.

The stakes are high: a workforce that is highly engaged is the engine driving the gains in profitability and productivity that are critical to business success in a competitive global environment.

To download a PDF of the report, please click here:


The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today
Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd
HarperBusiness (2010)

The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters
Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin
Jossey-Bass (2011)

The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration – and Get the Most from Your Employees
Mark Royal and Tom Agnew
AMACOM (2012)

Friday, December 9, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Find Your Next: A book review by Bob Morris

Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competituve Edge
Andrea Kates
McGraw-Hill (2012)

How and why “six key elements are essential to every vision’s success”

Andrea Kates and I am among those who agree with Thomas Edison that “vision without execution is hallucination.” In this book, she provides a brilliant analysis of an approach that can unlock the potential of sustainable business growth and prosperity. Over a period of 15 years during which she was involved in 250 strategy projects, Kates formulated what she calls the “Business Genome,” an approach whose core DNA consists of six separate but interdependent elements. They are product and service innovation, customer impact, process design, talent and leadership, “secret sauce” (i.e. the recipe of differentiation and competitive advantage in a new world of unprecedented transparency), and trendability. No news there. They are merely words buzzing around unless and until they are integrated smoothly and then engaged effectively “as a strategic lever to move a company today to a dynamic future.”

Kates recommends and explains a four step process: sort through the options and assess hunches, match the given genome (different with each company) that have already achieved the given objectives, “hybridize” the company by adopting (“grafting”) what works for others, and adapt and drive after breaking old habits and fostering new traditions in the business. As she explains with meticulous care, the companies that thrive in months and years to come will embrace the new realities of speed, transparency, global reach, and customer dynamics that have rendered obsolete most (if not all) traditional, conventional business models and their assumptions and premises about how to establish and then sustain a competitive advantage.

It should be noted that the title of Kates’ book refers to “your next,” not to “the next.”  Companies are like snowflakes in that they share common elements and yet no two of them are exactly the same. Hence the importance of the fact that the business genome approach can be adopted by almost any company, whatever its size and nature may be. Cultural resistance that all change initiatives is usually the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” This resistance probably cannot be avoided and is very difficult to overcome. That is why, Kates explains, it is imperative to recognize the emergence of patterns and trends, in some instances paradigm shifts, within the business universe. Understanding them is both an art (i.e. envisioning what is only beginning to take shape) and a science (i.e. applying rigorous analysis to verifiable phenomena).  In essence, Kates urges her reader to seek her or his Next New by developing a mindset that moves beyond the Current/Recent Old, a passive (perhaps stagnating) state that may have once been a Next New.

Think of the six elements as organizational capabilities, each of which must be developed and all of which must be coordinated within process of transformation by which to take full advantage of new opportunities revealed by business analytics, early-warning systems, inexplicable anomalies, and what I characterize as enlightened intuition. It would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply everything Kates recommends and/or replicate initiatives taken by exemplar companies in the case studies provided in Part 3. However, she can help everyone who reads this book can recognize the new realities, shift focus to new questions and to new answers to old questions, to recognize and then tap into “the patterns that are evolving today,” and thereby shape rather than be shaped by whatever is next.


Friday, December 9, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ten Things Only Bad Managers Say

Liz Ryan

Here is an excerpt from an article for Bloomberg Businessweek online in which Liz Ryan explains how and why bad managers reveal their thoughtlessness and insensitivity by what they say and how they say it as well as by their behavior.

To read the complete article, please click here.

*     *     *

We know the kinds of things good managers say: They say “Attaboy” or “Attagirl,” “Let me know if you run into any roadblocks, and I’ll try to get rid of them for you,” and “You’ve been killing yourself—why don’t you take off at noon on Friday?”

Bad managers don’t say these things. Helpful, encouraging, and trust-based words and phrases don’t occur to them.

Crappy bosses say completely different things. For your enjoyment, we’ve gathered together 10 of the most heinous, bad-manager warhorse sayings. Do any of them sound like something a manager in your company might say (or might have said this week

[Here are the first five. To read the complete article, please click here.]

If you don’t want this job, I’ll find someone who does.
 Great leaders understand that the transaction defining the employer-employee relationship—the fact that an employer pays you in cash while you cough up your value in sweat and brainwork—is the least important part of your professional relationship. Good managers realize that to get and keep great people, they have to move past the dollars-and-cents transaction and let people own their jobs. Good leaders give people latitude and let them know that their contributions have value. Lousy managers, on the other hand, love to remind employees that it’s all about the transaction: “You work for me.” They never fail to remind team members that someone else would take the job if you ever got sick of it or let the lousy manager down in some way.

I don’t pay you to think.
 This is what a bad manager says when an employee offers an idea he doesn’t like. Maybe the idea threatens the inept manager’s power. Maybe it would require the lousy manager to expend a few brain cells or some political capital within the organization. Either way, “I don’t pay you to think” is the mantra of people who have no business managing teams. It screams, “Do what I tell you to do, and nothing else.” Life is way too short to spend another minute working for someone who could speak these words.

I won’t have you on eBay/ESPN/Facebook/etc. while you’re on the clock.
 Decent managers have figured out that there is no clock, not for white-collar knowledge workers, anyway. Knowledge workers live, sleep, and eat their jobs. Their e-mail inboxes fill up just as fast after 5:00 p.m. as they do before. Their work is never done, and it’s never going to be done. That’s O.K. Employees get together in the office during the daytime hours to do a lot of the work together, and then they go home and try to live their lives in the small spaces of time remaining. If they need a mental break during the day, they can go on or without fear of managerial reprisal. We are not robots. We need to stop and shake off the corporate cobwebs every now and then. If a person is sitting in the corner staring up at the ceiling, you could be watching him daydream—or watching him come up with your next million-dollar product idea. (Or doing both things at once.)

I’ll take it under advisement. 
There are certain words that we never use in real life—only in business and only in ways that let us know that the speaker is shining us on, bigtime. “I’ll take it under advisement” means “Go away and die, and don’t speak to me again unless I ask you to.” It means “I am not going to do whatever you just suggested that I do, and I want you to know that I value your opinions less than I can tell you.”

Who gave you permission to do that? 
My brother worked at a huge tech company, and one day he and his team of Software Quality Assurance folks were meeting at the office before heading to the airport. They gathered at 6 a.m. in a conference room to talk about their plan once they hit the ground in the destination city. The door opened and a manager walked into the conference room. “Who called this meeting?” he asked. “Only a grade level E5 can call a meeting.” My brother left that job a few months later. People who obsess about hierarchy and permission and grade levels and the like are people you’d be better off avoiding, especially in relationships that give them power over your life and career.

*     *     *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace, a former Fortune 500 HR executive, and the author of Happy About Online Networking: the Virtual-ly Simple Way to Build Professional Relationships. Liz speaks to audiences around the world about work, life and networking, and works with employers on attracting and retaining world-class talent.

Friday, December 9, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Baffles Me: So Much Emphasis On Innovation, and Leadership – So Little Actual Innovation and Leadership

Consult any of the current works unlocking the mysteries of the leadership and management arts by revealing “7 miracles,” “12 simple secrets,” “13 fatal errors,” “14 powerful techniques,” “21 irrefutable laws,” “30 truths,” “101 biggest mistakes,” and “1001 ways.”
Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership:  Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World


Bob Morris introduced me to the phrase “The Knowing-Doing Gap.”  I think I already grasped the concept, but this named it really well.  We “know,” but we do not “do.”  The phrase is one that immediately resonates. We get it.  Yes, we “know” a lot, but we do not “do” all that we “know” – actually, we “do” so very little of what we “know.”

So, here is my current observation.  We read, we “learn” – but we do not do.

This is bothersome to me — worse than bothersome, it is costly.  I read books.  You might say that I read books for a living.  I read books, present synopses of books to companies, organizations.  I like my job.  I “learn” a lot.  But do I “do” what I learn?  Not enough – not often enough, and not comprehensively enough.  And, I suspect, the same is true for the groups to which I present my synopses.  They “learn” the key points from the books.  But do they “do” what they “learn?”  Not enough, and not comprehensively enough.

We are a nation awash in “learning.”  We go to seminars, read books…  But we implement nowhere near enough of the ideas that we “learn.”

My wife worked with a number of real estate agents.  Some good, some really good – a few, not so close to the “good” end of the scale.  But only a couple were really, really good – you know, “exceptional,” truly “above the crowd.”

Here is an observation about these agents.  Many of them went to the same seminars and workshops, even bought products from the same real estate marketing and coaching gurus.  But only a few (OK – really only one) had a knack for hearing something, and then actually doing – actually acting on what she “learned.”

Here are two areas where this problem is especially seen:  leadership, and innovation.  The quote above, from the book Heroic Leadership, has just lingered with me.  Chris Lowney described how there has been so very much written about leaderhip, and yet, as he observed, no one would claim that the United States, either in the business or the political arena, has a surplus of good leaders.  In fact, it is the opposite.  Great leadership is way too rare.  We have lots and lots of books and speeches and workshops on leadership.  But not that many great leaders.

And the same is true in the innovation area.  Consider this brief video on  Slate’s Jacob Weisberg interviewed Nathan Myhrvold:  Where Have All the Crazy Inventors Gone? — Tech visionary Nathan Myhrvold on why American innovation is lagging.  Here’s the intro to the interview:

America has always been known for its spirit of invention, but that spirit seems to be flagging.  Nathan Myhrvold, the onetime CTO of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures, handicaps the state of innovation in a sprawling interview he recently gave to Slate’s Jacob Weisberg.

In the interview, Myhrvold described how there used to be moreCrazy individual risk-taking…”

I have presented many, many synopses of books that deal with innovation.  We write about innovation, we study innovation, we talk about innovation, we applaud innovation.  And, yet, our “spirit of innovation seems to be flagging.”  How is that possible — with so much attention given to it?

I think this.  Closing this “knowng-doing gap” may be the biggest challenge we face.


A side note, maybe illustrative of this problem.  Take a life inventory.  Do you have a challenge or two that you have known about for a long time (years – decades?) that you just can’t quite meet.  You know, things like your weight, or the need to exercise, or your tendency to be to abrupt with people.  I suspect, if you are like me, you have your very own, very personal “knowing-doing” gap.

Well, I am not what you called the organized type.  I have fought (ok – at times, simply ignored) clutter, and lack of personal organization, for years – make that decades.  I said to my wife just yesterday that my goal is to be organized by the time I turn 65.  (that’s not too terribly far away).  She has bemoaned my “knowing-doing” gap in this arena for a very long time.

Well, I ran across an e-book that is giving me a new set of tools for this challenge.  I read it to learn – not to present.  I need help!  Ask me in six months, and I‘ll let you know if it has helped any.

Here’s what struck me about this book – it is all about “do this.”  Not much “this is why.” Or, “this is the philosophy behind this.”  Just, “do this.”  It is not as “good” a book as other time management books that I’ve read. (He does refer to David Allen more than once).  But he skips giving much explanation, and just says “do this.”  The book, 30 Days to a More Organized Life, is by C G P Grey (Colin Grey).  I think it might be a collection of blog posts.  It has 30 chapters.  Here are some of the chapter titles:

Day 1:  Get a Notebook and Pen.
Day 6:  Scan Everything
Day 9:  The Rule of Two

Not much explanation.  No beating around the bush.  Just “do this.”  Each chapter tells you something to “do.”  I already “knew” practically all of this, but I did not “do” much of it.  I’m “doing” some of these.  And, it might be helping.

I suspect you have a few “knowing-doing gap” challenges of your own.  Let’s all get to the “doing” part.  It might be good for us all.

Friday, December 9, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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