First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Let’s Make It Here: Recommendations from a Successful Source

It is difficult to determine the intent behind the message in Dan DiMicco‘s book, American Made:  Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness (Palgrave, 2015).

The book is a call for a return to an emphasis in manufacturing in America.  He believes that putting people to work making things instead of serving things is the way back to prosperity.

It is not that the government did not try.  In 2009, a federal stimulus program provided $787 billion, but the book cites evidence that only $60 billion actually went to programs that created jobs.

But is this a book that actually pats himself on the back?  He is certainly credible, and his track record is extremely strong.  DiMicco led Nucor, a steel company, from 2000 through 2013.  His record was impressive.  Under his leadership, Nucor tripled its revenue, provided investors more than 700% return on their investment, and increased profits more than 600%.  Beyond that, the company also held its own.  Nucor has been in the steel business for more than 42 years, and has never laid off an employee, and has always paid a dividend to shareholders.

This is DiMicco’s second book.  In 2006, he wrote Steeling America’s Future (Vox Populi).  You can still buy that book in paperback through many Internet sources.

I found this biography of DiMicco on

“Mr. Daniel R. DiMicco, also known as Dan, has been Director of Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC since 2007. Mr. DiMicco has been an Independent Director of Duke Energy Corporation or its DanDiMiccoPicturepredecessor companies since October 2007. Mr. DiMicco served as General Manager of Nucor-Yamato Steel Company. Mr. DiMicco served as the Chief Executive Officer of Nucor Corporation from September 2000 to December 31, 2012 and served as its Chairman from May 2006 to December 31, 2012. He served as the President of Nucor Corporation at Nucor Building Systems Sales Corporation from September 2000 to December 2010. He served as Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC. He served as an Executive Vice President of Nucor Corporation, from 1999 to 2000 and its Vice President from 1992 to 1999. Mr. DiMicco was the Chairman Emeritus of Nucor Corporation since December 2013. He served as the Executive Chairman at Nucor Corporation from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013. He served as the Chairman of the American Iron & Steel Institute until November 2011. He served as Vice Chairman of American Iron & Steel Institute from November 2011 to May 2013. He served as Vice Chairman at Nucor Corporation from June 2001 to May 2006. He served as a Director of Nucor Corporation from 2000 to December 31, 2013.”

This is a summary of the book that was published by

AmericanMadeCover“American manufacturing is on life support–at least, that’s what most people think. The exodus of jobs to China and other foreign markets is irreversible, and anything that is built here requires specialized skills the average worker couldn’t hope to gain. Not so, says Dan DiMicco, chairman and former CEO of Nucor, America’s largest steel company. He not only revived a major US manufacturing firm during a recession, but helped galvanize the flagging domestic steel industry when many of his competitors were in bankruptcy or headed overseas. In American Made, he takes to task the politicians, academics, and political pundits who, he contends, are exacerbating fears and avoiding simple solutions for the sake of nothing more than their own careers, and contrasts them with the postwar leaders who rebuilt Europe and Japan, put a man on the moon, and kept communism at bay. We need leaders of such resolve today, he argues, who can tackle a broken job-creation engine by restoring manufacturing to its central role in the U.S. economy–and cease creating fictitious “service businesses” where jobs evaporate after a year or two, as in a Ponzi scheme.  With his trademark bluntness, DiMicco tackles the false promise of green jobs and the hidden costs of outsourcing. Along the way, he shares the lessons he’s learned about good leadership, crisis management, and the true meaning of innovation, and maps the road back to robust economic growth, middle-class prosperity, and American competitiveness.”

Not surprisingly, DiMicco is not a supporter of American companies which could have developed their own technologies and resources, but instead, partnered with Chinese firms in order to gain revenue and profits.

The customer reviews are extremely supportive.  As always, we really don’t know where they came from, and how they got there.  But, it appears that this book provides a wake-up call for Americans who have forgotten their roots.  Indeed, in a review published in the Wall Street Journal, Charles R. Morris, a fellow at the Century Foundation, says:  “Few of Mr. DiMicco’s recommendations are original and few people will agree with everything he says.  But, the book is a cri de coeur [an impassioned outcry] from one of our best executives from one of our most successful companies.  Attention should be paid.” (March 4, 2015, p. A11).

Whether we will present this book at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas simply depends upon how it fares on the major best-selling business book lists.   At the time that I write this, the statistics are impressive:

Yet, it does not appear on lists from Business Week, the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal.   Continue to monitor our advertising to see if we eventually present it there.  Our policy is not to present synopses of books that are not legitimate business best-sellers.  We need to give this one some time.  It was only released on March 3, 2015.

In the meantime, remember “big boys like big toys,” and nothing fascinates us more than how things are made.  That, of course, depends upon whether we actually are making things, and that is what the book calls America to do.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lisa Bodell: An interview by Bob Morris

lisa bodellA globally recognized innovation leader and futurist, Lisa founded futurethink in 2003 to provide a simple approach to the otherwise complicated topic of innovation. Working with leading brands such as Starwood, Merck, and Sprint, futurethink has become the largest source of innovation research, tools, and training curricula in the world. She is also the author of the provocative culture-change book, Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution.

A respected thought-leader on innovation topics, Lisa has appeared on FOX News, and in publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, The New York Times, WIRED, Harvard Business Review, and The Futurist. In addition to Kill the Company, Lisa co-wrote Success Simplified (Insight, 2011), a collection of result-driven strategies for business and life.

Lisa currently serves as an adviser on the boards of the Institute of Direct Marketing in London; the Association of Professional Futurists; the Institute for Triple Helix Innovation; and Novartis’ Diversity and Inclusion Board in Basel, Switzerland. Among her many academic activities, Lisa has taught innovation and creativity at both American University and Fordham Universities.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Kill the Company, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Bodell: My children. They are creative beings that see potential, that try new things, that laugh when something is unexpected or didn’t work, and understand things in simple ways. Their energy and fresh eyes towards everything they do makes me focus on what’s possible vs. what’s difficult, which is something I think we all could spend more time doing.

Morris: Did you always want to own a company around innovation? What led you to where you are today?

Bodell: I’ve always been creative, independent, and entrepreneurial. When I was young, I liked to invent new games and toys. My first business was when I was 7, when I decided to – don’t laugh – paint rocks and sell them door-to-door to my neighbors for a dime; and they were kind enough to spur my ‘creative’ business dreams along. I think I even made a few dollars that summer.

As I got older, I realized I also liked to coach and teach – from coaching kids’ tennis teams, to supporting my college professors, and eventually teaching graduate level courses. I’ve always been drawn to work that involves a high level of creativity and strategy. So, after college, when I started my career in advertising, it seemed like the perfect fit. I discovered that I had a knack for ideas; not just creative ideas – but unique business ideas. I could easily take ads or product ideas and transform them into business concepts for my clients. And they loved me for it. However, I found that most agency management preferred that the ideas come from the creative department, not the account services department, where I sat. The clear signal was that ideas outside the creative department weren’t as valuable. I found this ridiculous. I believe that everyone is creative, and can – and should – be allowed to come up with innovative ways to solve problems and transform businesses. So, I left the agency world to start my own business to teach people just that – how to be more creative and innovative to solve problems better, and reach their potential.

I started offering innovation training to help people embrace creativity and change, which is a natural extension of my teaching experience. But while I taught, I noticed that people have many barriers to being more innovative and embracing change, so I started doing a lot of research around corporate culture and change to find out ‘why’? This research led me to many experiences with executives, trying to get them to embrace change – and man, was that hard. What I found was that in order to get people to start thinking differently, we first have to get rid of the barriers and day-to-day complexities that hold them back from being more effective in the first place. Only then can we have the space for thinking differently. This was the genesis of our Killer exercises that we feature in Kill the Company – killing rules, killing meetings, killing processes, etc.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Bodell: Business is about people – getting along with people, being able to communicate with people, empathize with people, persuading people. For all the focus we have in business school on subject matter expertise, I think all students should be required to take a course(s) in psychology so they don’t just understand how business works, but how people work. My business is all about people – helping them, training them, supporting them to reach their potential.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Bodell: Here, here! I love this quote as it relates to leading innovation – collaboration and inclusion are key. No single person has the best (or only) answer to a problem, and often the leader is furthest away from understanding the day-to-day workings of an organization. Involving others is critical. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know!

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Bodell: It reminds me of another quote: “When we all think alike, no one is thinking.” Daring to be different, to trust in your ideas and think differently is key to innovation. The issue today is that with so much change happening, people find it easier to stick with the status quo, not rock the boat within their company; essentially, to NOT be themselves. These are companies where complacency among employees runs rampant.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Bodell: The first step to innovating is often to STOP doing things that aren’t necessary. We are so focused on efficiency within corporations right now that we value the wrong things. If we only focus on efficiency, we only focus on managing or eliminating risk. With innovation, we need to focus on taking a risk in the first place.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘[begin italics] Should [end italics] we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘[begin italics] Which [end italics] mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Bodell: Risk-taking is central to innovation. The key is defining what a good risk is within your company so people know HOW MUCH risk they are allowed to take. There are smart risks, and there are stupid risks – the key is articulating and communicating these risks so people know the boundaries they can feel comfortable innovating within.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Bodell: People rarely get motivated by efficiency and strategy. They are motivated by vision, to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to create something lasting that makes a difference. They want to be inspired, and that’s what storytellers do. They don’t just tell you their vision, they help you see it, and become a part of it.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any Advice?

Bodell: IBM’s Global CEO Study cited “creativity” as the most important leadership quality for the future. This is one of many signals that the business world is evolving out of the “Information Age,” where left-brain technical skills, knowledge and expertise were king. In “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future,” Daniel Pink asserts that current global conditions – abundance, Asian outsourcing, and automation – are setting the stage for a brand new era: the “Conceptual Age.”

In the Conceptual Age, right-brain skills will be key. Given the velocity of change and the complexity that results from this, we need to go beyond just knowledge or expertise. The best employees of the future will excel at creative problem solving and different ways of thinking — synthesizing seemingly diverse things together for better solutions, using metaphors to explain new ideas for which no context yet might exist.

This is partly because the amount of new information about any given subject is constantly increasing. Tomorrow’s companies will need to take a creative-thinking approach to the sea of knowledge, bridging the gap between analytical, left-brain functions and creative, right-brain capabilities. Kill the Company identifies the most critical skills of the Conceptual Age — and simple ways to cultivate them before it’s too late such as strategic imagination, creative problem-solving, provocative inquiry, agility, and resilience.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Lisa cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Creativity/Innovation Resources

Trends Resources

Futurist Resources



Saturday, October 5, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jonah Berger: An interview by Bob Morris

BergerWhat leads products, ideas, and behaviors to catch on and become popular? Jonah Berger studies how word of mouth and social influence drive social epidemics and trends. He is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His research has been published in top-tier academic journals, and popular accounts of his work have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, Science, Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, Wired, Business Week, The Atlantic, and The Economist. His research has also been featured in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas. Jonah’s latest book, Contagious
: Why Things Catch On

, was published by Simon & Schuster (April 2013).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write Contagious?

Berger: I started writing Contagious almost two years ago. I’d been teaching a course on word of mouth and social influence at Wharton, and people who couldn’t take the course always asked me if there books they could read instead. While there are some fun reads out there on word of mouth, no one had really brought any actual science to bear. So I decided to collect the research I and others had been doing into a book that would share what drives word of mouth and how companies and individuals can apply those principles to help their own ideas catch on.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Berger: You might think that most word of mouth is on Facebook and Twitter, but in actuality, only 7% of word of mouth is online. Most is offline or face-to-face. In all the hype around new technologies, people tend to forget that face-to-face is the original social media.

One more revelation is that word of mouth is more than 10 times as effective as traditional advertising. It’s more trusted, more targeted, and much more efficient. No wonder most companies are moving money away from traditional advertising and towards word of mouth marketing.

Morris: Here’s one of several dozen passages that caught my eye: “The first issue with all the hype around social media is that people tend to ignore the importance of offline word of mouth, even though offline discussions are more prevalent, and potentially even more impactful, than online ones.” 
I agree while presuming to suggest that many (if not most) offline discussions occur because of an initial online connection. Do you concur?

Berger: I actually disagree. Think about all the conversations you have with family members around the breakfast table, colleagues at work, or over drinks with friends after work. These conversations all begin and end offline. Yes we spend more time online than we used to, even two hours a day by some estimates, but we still spend five to six times as much time offline.

Morris: Here’s another: “The second issue is that Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies.” Please explain.

Berger: Companies tend to think that social media is a cure-all. Just get a presence and check the book. But just getting on Twitter or having a Facebook page isn’t enough. You may be posting, but if almost no one is engaging with your content, it’s not going to help the brand. So the key is getting people to engage with or share the content. Don’t confuse activity for productivity.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Jonah cordially invites you to check out the resources here.

For help applying these ideas, check out the free Crafting Contagious Workbook.

You can also follow Jonah @j1berger.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul B. Brown: An interview by Bob Morris

Paul B. Brown is a best-selling author who has written, co-written and “ghosted” numerous best-sellers including Customers for Life (with Carl Sewell.)  which has been translated into 19 differently languages and which continues to sell thousands of copies each month, some 23 years after its initial publication. (It has been updated twice.) A long-time contributor to The New York Times,  Paul is also a contributing editor to both The Conference Board Review (where he also writes a column) and M.I.T.’s Sloan Management Review.

However, he spends most of his time writing books and has worked with internationally recognized senior executives, such as the president of AT&T and some of the nation’s largest financial services firms. In all, the books he has written–both under his own name as well as those he has ghosted–have sold more nearly 3 million copies worldwide and have made every best-seller list you can think of. A former writer and editor for Business Week, Financial World, Forbes and Inc. Paul is a graduate of Rutgers College and Rutgers University Law School and is a member of both the New Jersey and Massachusetts bar, but he asks that you don’t hold that against him.

His latest book is Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future, co-authored with Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer and published by Harvard Business Review Press (March, 2012)

Here is an excerpt from my review of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing Just Start, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Brown:  At the risk of being drummed out of the “Writers of Serious Business Books Union,” I have always loved story tellers.  So, songwriters (Lorenz Hart; Johnny Mercer), radio personalities (Jean Shepherd, Klavin and Finch) and writers like Mark Twain; Hunter S. Thompson and people who write great murder mysteries really had a profound influence on me.  I wanted to grow up and be one of them.  When you combine that with the fact that I have always been extremely curious—both professionally and personally—you can see I am very lucky. I get to do what makes me happiest

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Brown: James Walker Michaels, the long-time editor at Forbes. Michaels, and it is not a stretch to say he invented business journalism, taught me how to think like a business reporter.  He took someone who majored in theater arts and history, and didn’t know how to read a balance sheet, i.e. me, and turned him into an okay business reporter.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Brown: I have thought about this a lot, and I just don’t know.  Clearly, knowing history—especially American history—has been valuable in providing context for what I do.  And law school demands that you think logically. So, it was helpful in that sense.

But other than that, I am not sure.  The most valuable part of college for me was working four or five hours a day, every day, at the college newspaper.  It taught me a) the basics of being a reporter; b) how to write quickly and c) that I loved seeing “by Paul B. Brown” in print.

Morris: What do you know now about business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Brown: I can argue this either way.  On the one hand, I would have loved to have had a MBA before I started writing business articles and books. On the other hand, there was a huge benefit of not knowing what I didn’t know so that I could ask questions that most people would think were too basic. (They tend to trigger the best answers.)

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Brown: I can’t think of a single one….although I am partial to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying when compiling a list of fun movies.

Morris:  From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Brown: Let me answer this one generally.  I like “big idea” books (i.e. there is money to be made serving people with little money) or books that go into great depth about a narrow subject. (Tracy Kidder’s House comes to mind.)

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Brown: There are a couple of things I have always liked about this quote. I know, that everyone always uses it as an example of how to lead (i.e. you draw the best out of people and guide and suggest instead of demand and order).

But to me, the most intriguing part has always been “learn from the people.” This is something smart people struggle with. They are so used to being able to come up with the right answer on their own, that they cut off other ideas and options.

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Brown: I have never heard this one. I like it.  I have always found much too hard to be other than what I am.  It takes much too much work.

Morris: From Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Brown: I used to think this too. But I no longer do.  The problem with this quote is that the approach does not let you repeat an experience.

Here’s what I mean.  We just came back from wine country. (Our oldest lives in S.F.)  If I were to strictly endorse the Keller quote, we would have only gone to wineries we had never visited before.  Sure, we would have found some great new wines from places we didn’t know before, but we would have missed out on what some of our favorite wineries were doing today.

We split our time between wineries we love and finding new ones.  It worked out quite well. I guess what I am saying is don’t rule out revisiting old experiences to see how they—and you—have changed.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Brown: I am in total agreement. The problem, for most of us, is figuring out what needs notbe done.

Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Brown: This ties back to the Lao Tzu quote, and explains why I like the first part of the quote so much.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not  ’Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?’” Your response?

Brown: Ah. You have touched on one of my favorite subjects.  And I am a fan of Schoemaker (and have reviewed him favorably in The New York Times.)

And yes, I think this is right. One of my favorite quotes, there is some debate about whether Twain said it or not, is: “It is not the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It is the things we know that just ain’t so.”

But, I think people don’t think deeply enough about just how important it is to make mistakes. I would put it this way: If you haven’t failed today, you are never going to succeed.

It would be nice to think that our best ideas come to us fully formed.  I don’t think I have ever found that to be the case. (Although, once in a great while a perfectly formed book title will pop into my head.) You have to keep playing with just about every idea.

That’s my inarticulate description of what we call in “Just Start the Act. Learn. Build. Model.”  You come up with an idea. Try it. Judge the market reaction. Fold the market reaction into the next iteration, and try again.  The process repeats until you come with something you want, or decide either it is never going to work, or there is something else you would prefer to do more.

*     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Paul cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Amazon: Just Start

Amazon: Paul Brown Page

Poets and Quants

Harvard Business Review Blog

Forbes Blog

Tuesday, July 3, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jane Stevenson: An interview by Bob Morris

Jane Edison Stevenson is Vice Chairman, Board & CEO Services at Korn/Ferry International, where she co-leads the firm’s Global CEO Succession Practice.  She is located in Korn/Ferry’s New York and Atlanta offices. Previous to Korn/Ferry, she spent a decade as Global Managing Partner with another global leadership advisory firm and prior to that, helped to build several boutique search firms into competitive brands.

Ms Stevenson is known for her strong global relationships in Fortune 500 C-suites, and among boards of directors.  She has been recognized by BusinessWeek as one of the “100 Most Influential Search Consultants in the World,” and is frequently consulted by Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, and The Wall Street Journal to discuss trends and issues related to governance and innovation.

With her co-author Bilal Kaafarani, Ms. Stevenson wrote business bestseller Breaking Away: How Great Leaders Create Innovation that Drives Sustainable Growth, and Why Others Fail.  Breaking Away was released by McGraw Hill last spring and defines the world’s first innovation framework, linking the importance of innovation, leadership and growth.  In addition to the USA, Canada and the UK, the book was just published in Turkey, and will be coming out in China this fall.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing Breaking Away, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?

Stevenson:  Probably my father, John D. Edison.  He is the most selfless person I know, and early on, he taught me two profound lessons:  happiness is a decision, and life is a series of trade-offs – always understand what you are trading for what you are getting.  He also taught me that to keep growing you have to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” He is 75 years old now, and is still evolving and growing every year.  For example, he just published his first book a few months ago, God:  Grace and Deception.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development

Stevenson:  That is a tough question.  I have been blessed to work with many great people, who have both impacted and inspired me.

•  My first boss in the executive search profession, Gerry Reynolds not only saw my potential, he also helped me to believe in myself.

•  My friend and mentor Gerry Roche, encouraged me to develop high trust relationships that bleed from professional to personal.

•  There are a number of top women whose friendship and counsel has had a profound impact on me as we have shared our journeys.  In particular I would mention Adrienne Fontanella, Angela Ahrendts, Judith Glaser, Cynthia McCague, and Melanie Kusin, but there are numerous others as well.

•  My co-author Bilal Kaafarani has been a key partner in my current journey, challenging my thinking and providing key insights for the future.  He convinced me that we needed to write Breaking Away, to share our experience “in the trenches of innovation leadership” with others.

Partnering to develop and share the Breaking Away innovation framework has forever changed my outlook on the future.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?

Stevenson: The epiphany that comes to mind happened shortly after my son was born 14 years ago.  I can still see the room I was in and how the sun fell on the floor around me at the moment I realized I might never get over my insecurities, and that I was going to have to decide whether I would allow them to define my life, or whether I would decide to “play full out” anyway.  I decided to play full out.  That decision has empowered me to take on many new challenges, like writing a book on the importance of innovation leadership and sharing a framework that can open up new possibilities for today’s leaders.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven to be invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?

Stevenson: Your question makes me laugh because, in matter of fact, my undergraduate education was in elementary education.  Apart from my practicum teaching for six months, I never taught a day in my life, as I was immediately drafted into administration and leadership.  That said, perhaps the most valuable gift of formal education is to teach us how to learn and to stay open to new truths and insights.  In that case, my formal education has definitely served me well.

Morris: What are some of the most common misconceptions about executive search that in fact is true?

Stevenson:  The most common misconception is that we are trying to find jobs for people, when, in fact, we are hired by the corporation to ensure that they make the best leadership selection (from either inside or outside the company) for the role at hand.

Morris: When interviewing candidates for C-level positions, which tend to reveal the most valuable information, the questions they ask or the answers they offer in respond to the questions asked of them? Please explain.

Stevenson: Both.  Interviewing C-level executives is as much about learning who they are as people as it is about what they have accomplished.  The questions they ask give us important insights into the way they think about things and what their priorities are.  Their questions can give us a good sense about their motivators as well.  Both in asking questions and in hearing the questions that are asked, our job is to understand whether the fit is one that will have the strongest odds for success.  The more we can get behind a candidates questions and answers, to understand his/her value system, motivators, ambition and ability, the better job we will do of assessing whether there is a good fit.

Morris: Percentages vary somewhat but the results of dozens of major research studies suggest that during face-to-face contact, about 80-85% of the impact is determined by body language and tone of voice. What are your thoughts about that?

Stevenson:  Communication is achieved through a combination of things:  choice of words, affect, body language, tone of voice, choice of dress, and last, but not least, how they shake hands. You can learn a lot about someone based on a handshake. I’m not sure I could put a precise percentage on each factor, but I will say that I am more interested in intuiting “who” the person is than I am about the words alone.

Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge that CEOs will face during the next 3-5 years? Any advice?

Stevenson: Actually, I think there are two: the changing “rules of engagement” to capture the hearts and minds of your customers in a digitally-driven world, and the desperate need for innovation and growth.  In some ways, I think the two are intertwined. We live in an age of unprecedented access, interaction and connectivity.  The question is:  How will you use that to your company’s advantage?  How will you be the beneficiary of the digital revolution, instead of having it define you?  This is a big question for companies in all industry sectors.  One of my friends refers to it as learning to “speak social”.  The speed at which things are changing is directly influenced by new levels of access and interactivity.  This creates a natural tendency for us to speed up, moving faster and faster and faster….Not a good move.  The best thing you can do is to stop, look and listen, then assess what will drive the most productive and strategic results and play there.

The ability to step back and understand how to use these new “rules of engagement” to advantage, will require innovation, and will create opportunities for growth.  Advice?  The secret weapon will always be your people.  The CEO’s who understand the power of people, and who are committed to fully utilizing people’s diverse capabilities, will ultimately win the race.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Jane cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel Diermeier: An interview by Bob Morris

Daniel Diermeier

Daniel Diermeier is the IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice, a Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at the Kellogg School of Management, and a Professor of Political Science at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, all at Northwestern University. He is director of the Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship and co-creator of the CEO Perspective Program (Kellogg’s most senior executive education program), a joint venture between the Kellogg School of Management and the Corporate Leadership Center. Diermeier’s work focuses on reputation management, political and regulatory risk, crisis management, and integrated strategy. His work has been published in numerous academic journals in management, economics, and political science.

He is the author of the recently published book, Reputation Rules: Strategies for Building your Company’s Most Valuable Asset (McGraw-Hill, April 2011). Diermeier’s work has been featured globally in media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Business Week, the Financial Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, De Telegraaf and many others. In 2001 he was named Kellogg Professor of the Year and in 2007 was the recipient of the prestigious Faculty Pioneer Award from the Aspen Institute, named the “Oscar of Business Schools” by the Financial Times. In December 2004 he was appointed to the Management Board of the FBI.

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing Reputation Rules, a few general questions. First, other than a family member, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? Please explain.

Diermeier: When I was an undergraduate student in Germany I had received a fellowship from the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. This required attending a few seminars on philosophy, critical thinking, rhetoric and other topics. These seminars were conducted by Konrad Krieger, the director of the graduate program. His thinking, values, and approach to scholarship had a profound influence on me in every aspect of my work. He also taught me how to be a professional.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?

Diermeier: Before I came to Kellogg and Northwestern I was an assistant professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. My training had been in game-theoretical models of politics, but at Stanford I learned to apply these tools to business. David Baron, now emeritus at Stanford, had a tremendous influence on my development in this area.

Morris: Was there a turning point earlier in your life (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.

Diermeier: There were two. I had originally been a graduate student in philosophy, but realized that I was not suited to be a professional philosopher. That happened during a year at USC. The second turning point was my time at Stanford and the influence of David Baron.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished during your career thus far?

Diermeier: My background has always been inter-disciplinary. I had a very good education in logic and then game-theory, but also had studied philosophy and even a year of musicology. Recently, I have become interested in psychology and linguistics. A topic like corporate reputation is multi-faceted and helps dramatically to be able to view in from different perspectives and integrate these perspectives into a new holistic view.

Morris: In recent years, MBA programs – even those offered by the most prestigious business schools, such as Kellogg – have been severely criticized. In your opinion, what is the one area in which there is greatest need of immediate improvement?

Diermeier: Business schools have failed to understand and reflect on the role of business in society. Corporations have become the main engines of economic, social, and cultural change, and are being held accountable for the consequences of these changes by an increasingly skeptical public. Companies need to address these challenges whether they want to or not. Corporate leaders thoroughly understand this, but many business schools still act as if these issues can conveniently be ignored.

Morris: Look ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you expect to be the single greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Why? Any advice?

Diermeier: To overcome an ongoing erosion of trust at a global scale. To counter these trends companies need to develop reputational management capabilities.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Reputation Rules. When and why did you decide to write it?

Diermeier: I had the good fortune of serving for seven years as the academic director of the CEO Perspective Program, a joint venture between Kellogg and the Corporate Leadership Center. This program is designed for direct reports to CEOs of large, complex organizations. As part of the program we invited CEOs of the world’s leading companies into the classroom for a candid dialogue with our participants. I was struck by how often these CEOs mentioned “reputation,”“brand” or “trust” as one of their main concerns. “People” was the only other topic that came close. That said, at the same time we all saw one reputational crisis chasing another. And in contrast to the accounting crises a decade ago (Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen), these crises could be connected to any aspect of the business such as supply chain management, quality, safety, but also executive compensation or board governance. Together this suggested to me that (a) CEOs are right to put reputation on the top of their agenda, and (b) most companies do not know how to build and defend their reputation effectively.

Morris: What differentiates it from other books that also examine reputation management?

Diermeier: I think there are two main differences. First, reputation management is still largely viewed as part of corporate communication. That is, it is essentially about communicating in the right way. Of course, effective communication is a critical component of reputation management, but effective reputation management needs to be integrated into business practices. It is about doing things differently. Companies need to think about reputation management as a capability, like quality management and customer-focus. That requires the right mind-set as well as processes and a matching culture and values. Second, many reputation and crisis management books are based solely on the experience of practitioners. This book draws heavily on rigorous research, some my own, some from various areas of the social sciences. My sense is that we need to take this area as seriously as other areas in management and developing new insights that go beyond best practices is critical. That said, I worked hard on making the book easily accessible with many case studies, examples, and practical tools.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it?

Diermeier: I was struck how underdeveloped the reputation capabilities of many companies are. Managers love to build brands and reputations but they fail to build capabilities to defend and sustain them.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ from what you originally envisioned? Please explain.

Diermeier: There were few major changes. I had been thinking about this topic for a while and had developed a successful course on crisis and reputation management. What did happen was that processes and culture starting playing a more important role.

*    *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Daniel Diermeier cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Saturday, September 17, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Soup to Nuts? Maybe Not Even From Soup!

On Friday, August 5, at our First Friday Book Synopsis, I will present a book entitled Touchpoints:  Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (2011, San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass).  The book is part of the Warren Bennis series.

This book is co-authored by Douglas Conant, who is the retiring President and CEO of Campbell Soup, and Mette Norgaard, who is a strategic leadership consultant.

The new CEO of Campbell Soup is Denise Morrison.  She starts her new job on Monday, August 1.  You can read about her at this link from the June 27 issue of Bloomberg Business Week

As you will read in that article, the task she faces is formidable.  Not only is soup consumption down, but her own company sales have been down and no better than flat.  Nothing the company has done seems to satisfy consumers.

I don’t drink soup in the summer.  It doesn’t sound good to me. 

And, I don’t like soups that remove the sodium.  As you read in this article, Campbell tried that, and it violated the taste expectations of its consumers.

Let’s watch the developments here.  What will she do?

What do you think?  Let’s talk about it really soon!

Thursday, July 28, 2011 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Perspective on the “Best of 2010″ Lists


This is the time of the year that we see so many collective lists of the “best of 2010.”  In the last few days, we have seen such lists for films, sports accomplishments, songs, architecture, recipes, restaurants, and of course, books.

I want to tell you that I am unimpressed with most of the lists that I have seen that focus on books.  As with films, these book lists contain great confusion among quality and quantity.  That premise is particularly true when the lists come from booksellers themselves, such as a recent e-mail I received from Barnes and Noble with their “Books of the Year.”

Just like a film, a book is not necessarily good because it sells.  Popular, best-selling books are of no greater quality than are popular, high dollar-grossing films.  Because people buy a book does not make it good.  Nor do I consider it a good barometer for quality.

Consider the terrible film from the late ’70’s, the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”  That film grossed millions of dollars and played regularly in theatres on Friday and Saturday nights through the mid ’90’s.  It had no redeeming merit and critics panned its quality.  Yet, it had a cult-like following, and it played to packed audiences, mostly either inebriated or bored, for many years.

In the recent Barnes and Noble list, I saw one business book for the 2010 year.  It was The Big Short by Michael Lewis.  I saw no other business books.  I believe that was a fine book, but not as good as his previous offering, Moneyball.   Why was it on the list?  Because it sold.  The best books in that list are the best-sellers.  But, best-selling does not indicate high quality.  I can give you titles of at least a dozen other books this year that were of higher quality than that one, but that simply did not sell as well.

Please remember that we only summarize the content of best-selling books at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  The number one criterion is that the book must be on a best-selling list somewhere that we find credible.   These lists include Business Week, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and, among others.  I will admit to you that after 13 years of doing this, I have delivered synopses of some books that sold well, but that were simply not very good.  Some were not well-written, some were ill-researched, and some were best-sellers just because of the reputation of the author.

Regardless, we will continue to use best-sellers as our basis for book selection at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  But, I am telling you that popular does not equate to good.  And, there are likely some very good books that do not have the boost of marketing dollars from huge publishers that likely go overlooked.  Strange as it sounds, it may not be optimal, but these lists remain the best vehicle available for us to use for our selections.  Remember – popular may not be good.  And, good may not always be popular.

What do you think?  Let’s talk about it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Windfall Effect for Laura Bush and Her Bestseller

As you are aware, we select our books for the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas from best-seller lists sources such as Business Week, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and

On Friday, November 19, the Wall Street Journal published its best-seller list for the week ending November 14.  One category that it includes is “Hardcover Nonfiction Gains & Falls.”

It is very interesting to me that the # 1 hardcover nonfiction best-seller is the new book by former U.S. President George W. Bush, Decision Points (Crown Publishers, 2010).  At the same time, the greatest increase in hardcover nonfiction sales is the book by his wife, Laura, entitled Spoken from the Heart  (Scribner, 2010).  In the week that ended on November 14, sales of her book increased 224%.  That is a whopping 84% more than the second closest book by Oliver North about American Heroes.

What does this mean?  How do you account for the windfall effect that Laura enjoyed while her husband’s book is at # 1?

I think that this says something about the American appreciation for the great intelligence and support that she demonstrated during her eight years in the White House.  We have been very fortunate in America to have had many fine first ladies. with causes and campaigns of their own right.  Remember Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign to beautify America?  And Barbara Bush, who promoted reading to children?  No one can doubt the superior intelligence in domestic and foreign affairs exhibited by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama compared with their husbands.  Sure, there also have been some duds – consider Pat Nixon (who at least had more common sense than her husband), Jackie Kennedy (who was only classy and glamorous) and Mamie Eisenhower and Rosalynn Carter (who were simply figureheads).

But, overall, this result says to me that America respects first ladies who do more than sit on a throne.  Laura Bush was always a strong, reliable, and transparent figure.  She represented her husband and America very well.  So, while shoppers pick up the President’s book to sit on their shelves, they pick up Laura’s book to learn something. 

And, doesn’t that say as much about us as it does about them?

Let’s talk about it!

Monday, November 22, 2010 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview: Jim Collins

Collins is a student of enduring great companies — how they grow, how they attain superior performance, and how good companies can become great companies. Having invested more than a decade of research into the topic, Jim has co-authored four books — including the classic Built to Last, a fixture on the Business Week bestseller list for more than six years, and the New York Times bestseller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, most recently, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. His work has been featured in Fortune, The Economist, Fast Company, USA Today, Industry Week, Business Week, Newsweek, Inc., and Harvard Business Review.

Driven by a relentless curiosity, Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award. After seven years at Stanford, Jim returned to his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, to found his management research laboratory. He is fond of saying, “I am a self-employed professor who endowed his own chair and granted himself tenure.” Collins set up his research lab in the same building where he attended grammar school. Still a place of learning, he uses the laboratory to conduct large-scale research projects to develop fundamental insights and then translate those findings into books, articles and lectures. He continues to conduct rigorous research while maintaining an active teaching schedule with leaders in the corporate and social sectors.

Note: This interview was conducted prior to the publication of How the Mighty Fall.

Morris: Jim, if writing Built to Last today, would you use the same criteria?

Collins: Yes, pretty much. The key criteria for an enduring great company are:

PERFORMANCE: The company must display superior financial performance relative to others’.

IMPACT: The company must have made a unique and significant impact on the world that it touches.

RESILIENCY: The company must be able to go through difficult times and emerge even stronger.

LONGEVITY: The company must demonstrate these variables for a long period of time — decades, not just years.

Morris: You and Jerry Porras identify 18 common myths about the most enduring companies. Which of them seem to be as well-intrenched today as in 1994 when Built to Last was first published?

Collins: Great question. I would say the myth that the only constant is change. In a truly great company, change is a constant, but not the only constant. There are timeless principles of building great companies that never change.

Morris: One of the chapter titles is “Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works.” What is the relevance, indeed the great importance of constant innovation and experimentation to a visionary company?

Collins: Try a lot of stuff, keep what works, and get rid of what doesn’t — this is the secret to the question of how to systematically “be lucky.” Luck is a variable in life. The question is, how do you ensure that you are more lucky than the next person? The answer lies in trying a lot of stuff and also having the discipline of persistence. Luck favors the persistent.

Morris: Can such initiatives alter the original vision?

Collins: You need to think of vision as having two components. On the one hand you have a Core Ideology, principally the core values of the company. The core values of a great company never change; they are like the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, the equivalent of “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” On the other hand, you have the Envisioned Future, principally the company’s BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). The big audacious goals of a company can change over time. For example, Starbucks evolved its goal to turning the Starbucks brand into the most respected and recognized consumer brand in the world after it had experimented with its store concepts and saw that such a goal was possible.

Continue reading

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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