As George Anders explains in the Introduction to his brilliant book, The Rare Find, he spent two and a half years conducting research to determine the answer to this question: “How and where to find great talent?” He focused on expert talent spotters in three broad sets: the public performance worlds (e.g. sports, arts, and entertainment), high stakes aspects of business (especially finance and the information economy), and “heroic professionals” of public service (e.g. teaching, government, and medicine). “It’s easy to see how they operated, but it took a while to understand why. What he learned is shared in this book. For example, with people as with organizations, “the gap between good and great turns out to be huge,” perhaps as much as a 500% difference. The financial implications are vast and substantial.
Of special interest to me is what Anders learned about what he characterizes as “the jagged résumé” (i.e. people whose background to date appears to teeter on the edge between success and failure), “talent that whispers” (i.e. the proverbial “diamonds in the rough”), and “talent that shouts” (i.e. spectacular but brash candidates “that can make or destroy a program”). As I reflect back over NBA and NFL drafts during the past 12-15 years, I can easily recall dozens of examples of players who exemplify one of these three.
Anders spent a great deal of time examining how talent is evaluated in several less publicized organizations. He spoke with hundreds of people who are constantly alert for the talent needed now or soon. However different these expert talent evaluators may be in most respects, there are three basic principles on which all agree:
1. Widen your view of talent: Compromise on experience but never on character, seek out “talent that whispers,” on the fringes of talent ask “What can go right?” and take tiny chances so that you can take more of them.
2. Find inspirations that are hidden in plain sight: Draw out the “hidden truths” of each job, be willing to use your own career as a template, rely on auditions to see how and why people achieve as they do, and master the art of aggressive listening.
3. Simplify your search for talent: Be alert to other invisible virtues, insist on the right talent (i.e. don’t lose track of what is needed), challenge your best candidates to push themselves even harder, and “become a citadel of achievement” (i.e. embrace extraordinary effort as a way of life).
By nature, greatness creates a legacy that endures long after specific achievements have occurred. As George Anders makes crystal clear throughout his lively as well as informative narrative, “People with great reputations for attracting and developing talent regard the search for brilliance as their calling. They see themselves as discoverers, protectors, and builders of an entire discipline.” Yes, they possess skills and capacities (especially enlightened intuition) that enable them to spot exceptional talent – albeit under-developed talent — before everyone else does. The “rare find” is their objective as well as evidence of their own exceptional talent but they do not ignore or underestimate the significance of the word “rare.”
I highly recommend The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, published by Portfolio/Penguin Group (2011)
George Anders is a New York Times-bestselling author and a journalist with three decades of experience writing for national publications. He started his career at The Wall Street Journal, where he became a top feature writer specializing in in-depth profiles. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for national reporting. He also has served as West Coast bureau chief for Fast Company magazine and as a founding member of the Bloomberg View board of editors. His work has appeared in leading publications worldwide, including The New York Times, BusinessWeek, The Guardian and the Harvard Business Review. In January 2012, he joined Forbes as a contributing writer
Here is a brief excerpt from an article co-authored by Adrian Gostick and Chester Felton in which they share their thoughts about one of management’s greatest challenges: Instilling a sense of personal accountability within those who comprise a workforce. To read the complete article and check other resources, please click here.
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When we are asked to name one thing that can safeguard a team’s long-term performance, the answer is: become more accountable. To grow a great culture, you need to cultivate a place where people have to do more than show up and fog a mirror; they have to fulfill promises—not only collectively but individually.
A lack of accountability is one of the most corrosive elements of poor work cultures. It shows up in many ways: people failing to take responsibility, missed deadlines, errors in judgment, misunderstandings, over-promising, personal failures, petty disagreements, unfair expectations, and a marshmallow mound of “should have’s.”
But accountability is widely misunderstood as being all about the punitive. To be “held accountable” generally implies that a punishment is coming. How often do employees get the message that the boss wants to see them and feel a tightening in their stomachs—Yeah, just give me a minute while I go throw up.
An employee in the hospitality industry made the point to us so simply that we will never forget it: “When I make a mistake,” she said, “I’m recognized one hundred percent of the time; when I do something great, I’m not recognized ninety-nine percent of the time.” What would happen to her workplace if that 1 percent positive accountability could be turned into 2, 5, 10, or 20 percent?
Heavy-handed leadership such as this is not true accountability; it’s criticizing them. Accountability at its highest level is about assigning responsibility with realistic goals, evaluating progress and making positive course corrections at milestones, removing obstacles, and then closing the loop by celebrating successes or honestly and openly evaluating misses.
Some managers back off on individual accountability because they are somehow afraid of the confrontational side of the issue. But the truth is, a lack of accountability actually frustrates employees just as much as it does you. Employees really do want to do a good job, and holding them accountable is an important way we help them do just that. When accountability is instituted in positive ways, it helps people feel the satisfaction of achieving a goal and performing up to (or even surpassing) expectations. But it also allows them to clearly understand when they’re falling short and where they need to improve. Accountability helps people grow.
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Internationally recognized workplace experts Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are partners in the consulting firm The Culture Works. Adrian is the author of several best-selling books on corporate culture, including the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers The Carrot Principle and All In. His research has been called a “must read for modern-day managers” by Larry King of CNN, “fascinating,” by Fortune magazine and “admirable and startling” by the Wall Street Journal. As a leadership expert, he has appeared on numerous television programs including NBC’s Today Show and has been quoted in dozens of business publications and magazines.
Chet has been called the “apostle of appreciation” by the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper, and “creative and refreshing” by the New York Times. The co-author of All In, The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution, his books have sold more than a million copies worldwide. Chester has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fast Company magazine, and New York Times, and he appears in a weekly segment on CBS News Radio.
Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Sam Ford for Fast Company magazine. The author of Spreadable Media, discusses why content strategies that focus on keeping conversations artificially contained are outmoded. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Image: Flickr user Doug Wheller
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A few years back, a client came to my agency with a desire to show its “thought leadership” online. A key executive there was a credible source on healthy living, and the company wanted to find ways for him to share his expertise online.
We considered the question from the audience’s eyes, thinking about the company’s content in relation to other online communities and destinations online focused on the same subject, and considering as a goal seeing audiences sharing and engaging with our client’s material in those various destinations.
The company would hear none of this way of thinking. Why, they asked, would they want to pay any mind to discussions about healthy living elsewhere? Wouldn’t dispersed engagement be harder to measure and dilute focus on their expert? No, we needed to launch a corporate blog.
The disconnect between my agency and our client stemmed from contrasting mindsets. The company operated via stickiness, while we were focused on spreadability–a distinction my co-authors and I examine in our new book, Spreadable Media. With stickiness, success is determined by how many individuals come to a centralized location via a uniform experience and how long they spend there. Sound familiar? It should. It’s an attempt to recreate the “impressions” model of traditional media industries.
Meanwhile, spreadability focuses on how content moves through communities and exists at multiple points of contact, with an emphasis on a diversity of audience experiences. Publishers focused on spreadability seek to motivate sharing and encourage audiences to actively engage with content on their own terms.
No matter what we said, the company couldn’t be convinced. Their resulting blog didn’t connect to discussions about healthy living elsewhere–because their system of measurement placed no value on such connections. As a result, the blog today sits like so many other online ghost towns, without an update in more than three years.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Sam Ford is director of digital strategy for Peppercomm and co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (Postmillennial Pop) with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green. He is also a Futures of Entertainment Fellow, a research affiliate of the program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and an instructor with Western Kentucky University’s Popular Culture Studies program. Sam was named 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter and serves on the Membership Ethics Advisory Panel for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. He is also co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington. Follow him on Twitter @Sam_Ford.
Here is an abbreviated version of an article written by Baratunde Thurston and featured in Fast Company magazine. As he explains, the publishing industry thinks it’s the end of days, but the world of words is a growth market. This is the latest in a series of articles that address issues of great importance to readers and those who create content for them. To check out these and other articles and obtain subscription information, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
Illustration by Kyle Bean
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I loved that the original Kindle let me annotate a book. Being able to add and search for my own thoughts amid the previously locked words of others without physically damaging the original opened up a world of possibilities. What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman, The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.
Recently, at the Boston Book Festival, I was lucky enough to take part in an amazing conversation about the future of reading and writing. We can mourn the passing of sustained attention, the hermetically sealed author, and, indeed, the publishing industry’s business model. But the networked world of words replacing it could be even better.
First, let’s consider what we’re losing in the transition. Tufts University child development professor Maryanne Wolf laments the loss of what she calls “deep reading.” Long-form reading has become subject to the same multitasking options as TV, radio, movies, and the web. Read a book on an iPad and the distractions are embedded in the physical form itself. Paperbacks do not have pop-up birthday reminders, a global music library, or kamikaze bird games built in. As a result, English professors report that today’s students are unable or unwilling to read lengthy 19th-century novels. Perhaps someone should adapt Pride and Prejudice into an Instagram feed.
Writing too is losing its mystique, as authors are expected to be the chief marketing officers and customer support VPs for their “brands.” One man angrily tweeted me that because I did not tweet him back, he was not going to finish my book. His loss; I already had his money.
But to focus on the negative would be to miss what’s thrilling about all this change. Harvard Library director Robert Darnton, dressed in sweater, slacks, and a tweed blazer, looked and sounded every bit his job title when he reminded our panel that there were more books published in 2011 than ever, due to the democratization of publishing enabled by technology. Add blogs, texts, and status updates, and it’s clear that words are a growth market (though I grant you that revenue per word is declining).
A look at several of the most interesting apps available today reveals strong hints about where those words are headed. Findings is a web app that allows clipping, linking, sharing, and thus deep remixing of segments of text previously trapped within bound volumes. The e-book platform Readmill makes the Kindle look like a stone tablet in the way it lets readers compare content–and have a conversation–about several books at once. The iPhone apps Circa and Tapestry are among the first text experiences on a smartphone that feel built for mobile first.
Yet we’re doing more than digitizing words and adding tantalizing interfaces. We are networking them–and the ideas they represent. What excites me most about the future of reading is the linking, translating, co-creating, and discovering we have yet to do.
During our conversation, MIT Media Lab cofounder Nicholas Negroponte told the story of a previously nonliterate African village whose children were given tablet computers–without instructions or instructors. Regardless, the students figured out how to message each other and use apps; within weeks, they had hacked Android. If 6-year-olds previously unexposed to writing can do this now, losing a few dusty 19th-century novels feels like a small price to pay for the future those kids might create.
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Baratunde Thurston is the author of the New York Times best seller How to Be Black and the founder of Cultivated Wit, a comedy and technology company that tells stories in engaging ways.
Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Paul Alofs and featured online by Fast Company magazine. To check out all the resources, sign up for email alerts, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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Several years ago I was in the Thomson Building in Toronto. I went down the hall to the small kitchen to get myself a cup of coffee. Ken Thomson was there, making himself some instant soup. At the time, he was the ninth-richest man in the world, worth approximately $19.6 billion. Enough, certainly, to afford a nice lunch. I looked at the soup he was stirring. “It suits me just fine,” he said, smiling.
Thomson understood value. Neighbors reported seeing him leave his local grocery store with jumbo packages of tissues that were on sale. He bought off-the-rack suits and had his old shoes resoled. Yet he had no difficulty paying almost $76 million for a painting (for Peter Paul Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents, in 2002). He sought value, whether it was in business, art, or groceries.
In 1976, Thomson inherited a $500-million business empire that was built on newspapers, publishing, travel agencies, and oil. By the time he died, in 2006, his empire had grown to $25 billion.
He left both a financial legacy and an art legacy, but his most lasting legacy might be the culture he created. Geoffrey Beattie, who worked closely with him, said that Ken wasn’t a business genius. His success came from being a principled investor and from surrounding himself with good people and staying loyal to them. In return he earned their loyalty.
For the long-term viability of any enterprise, Thomson understood that you needed a viable corporate culture. It, too, had to be long-term. So he cultivated good people and kept them. Thomson worked with honest and competent business managers and gave them his long-term commitment and support. From these modest principles, an empire grew.
According to Alofs, “Thomson created a culture that extended out from him and has lived after him.” Alofs then reviews “the eight rules for creating the right conditions for a culture that reflects your creed.” To read the complete article, please click here.
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Excerpted from Passion Capital: The World’s Most Valuable Asset © 2012 by Paul Alofs. Published by Signal, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Internationally recognized workplace experts Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are partners in the consulting firm The Culture Works.
Adrian Gostick is the author of several best-selling books on corporate culture, including the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers The Carrot Principle and All In. His research has been called a “must read for modern-day managers” by Larry King of CNN, “fascinating,” by Fortune magazine and “admirable and startling” by the Wall Street Journal. As a leadership expert, he has appeared on numerous television programs including NBC’s Today Show and has been quoted in dozens of business publications and magazines.
Chester Elton has been called the “apostle of appreciation,” by the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper, and “creative and refreshing” by the New York Times. The co-author of All In, The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution, his books have sold more than a million copies worldwide. Chester has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fast Company magazine, and New York Times, and he appears in a weekly segment on CBS News Radio.
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of Adrian and Chester.
To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing All In, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal and professional growth? How so?
Gostick: We’ve talked about this often. Our parents were our first bosses—they gave us our moral compass, goals, and our first recognition. My dad worked 25 years for Rolls Royce in England. He taught me the value of working someplace where you can make a difference—not chasing money but doing work that you found purposeful.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Elton: About 15 years ago now I was working as a consultant with some large organizations in the Northeast. We were working at the time on employee recognition ideas and we were doing some really innovative things. I realized no one had ever written the definitive work on recognition. There were these 101 ways books. Most managers had one on their shelf, but no one ever read them. Just then my firm hired Adrian as its head of communication. We collaborated on our first book in the Carrot line and it really took off. Finally Simon & Schuster contacted us to do a big research book on the subject and that became The Carrot Principle. That book has now been translated in 25 languages and is sold around the world.
Gostick: Over the years since that release our work has taken us to the characteristics of the world’s best teams and now on to culture—something that we are hearing more and more from our clients. They want to know how to build not only a great corporate culture, but effective cultures in each of their smaller teams.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Gostick: I was able to study 50 years of leadership theory and practicum in my master’s program at Seton Hall, and it has provided the backbone of the knowledge we use every day. My undergraduate work was in journalism, and my early work as a newspaper reporter taught me how to research, write, and rewrite.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does All In in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?
Elton: We originally handed in the manuscript for All In to Simon & Schuster in the late summer of 2011. Four months later it went to press. Those four months were some of the hardest in our lives as our editor threw out half the book and demanded entire new chapters. While we had explained our findings well, we think, she pushed us to make the takeaways relevant for real business leaders. We spent so much time on explaining what a great culture looks like, we had neglected to tell readers “how” to do it. So many business books fall into that trap, and we are so grateful to Emily Loose, our editor, for pushing us to answer that paramount question: “I do what?”
Morris: Recent research studies by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson indicate that in a U.S. workforce, on average, fewer than 30% of the employees are actively and positively engaged; as for the others, they are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged. How specifically can business leaders increase the percentage of actively and positively engaged employees within their organizations?
Gostick: First, managers should understand there are some simple things they can do tomorrow that will make a big difference in their culture, but so few managers do them. For instance, the great leaders in our study treated their people like partners in the organization. That meant they created for their people a sense of connection by teaching them how their jobs impact the larger organization. And they showed them growth opportunities, how they can grow and develop with the company.
Next, these leaders also created a culture of rooting for each other with much greater levels of recognition and rewards. And finally, managers learned to create a share everything culture, where they honest and openly discussed issues.
Elton: Simple things really, but powerful. It comes down to opportunity, recognition and communication. Three things you can do right way to see results.
Morris: Given your response to the previous question, to what extent will those initiatives also help to retain valued employees who might otherwise leave?
Elton: The number one and number two reasons key performers leave an organization: one—I don’t feel in on things, and two—I don’t feel appreciated. It’s not money, it’s not job growth, people most often leave for things that are absolutely in our control as managers.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you began your first full-time job? Please explain.
Gostick: When I first became a manager, I didn’t realize that there were people who did a good job but who were toxic to the culture. I waited much too long to get rid of those people.
Morris: Here’s a hypothetical question. If there were a monument honoring business leaders comparable with the one honoring U.S. Presidents on Mount Rushmore, sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, which four would you select? Please explain each choice.
Elton: I’ll give you one. One of our favorite leaders is someone most people have never heard of: Scott O’Neal. He’s president of Madison Square Garden Sports, and he’s the best leader we have ever met. One thing Scott does with every new hire: He asks them where they want to be in five years, and then he commits to help them get there if they promise to give 100 percent to him every day. And people do it, and in turn he’s helped business leaders all over the sports world achieve their dreams. He lives up to his promise.
Gostick: Here’s another one: Doria Camaraza. We feature her in chapter three of All In. Doria is the general manager of American Express’ 3,000-person call center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She is simply amazing. She seems to know every one of her employees, and spends her days making people included and recognized and wonderful. Her call center has employee turnover that is one fifth the national average and has the best efficiency and productivity numbers in the call center industry. My favorite thing she does is called Tribute, where she gathers all her employees together once a month and the leaders come out dancing to Lady Gaga or Aerosmith and then she recognizes a dozen people for living the core values of American Express. It’s really powerful and there are a lot of tears.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Adrian and Chester cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:
Here is a brief excerpt from an especially thought-provoking and informative article written by Ginny Whitelaw and featured online by Fast Company magazine. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.
Anything we’re trying to make happen as a leader involves other people, and the fact is, most people don’t have to follow us. They don’t have to believe in our great ideas, buy our great products, or do what we want them to do. Even when we have authority–as parents of teenagers will tell you–our power doesn’t go very far without others believing that what we want them to do is in their best interests. The pull of connecting to others and their interests is far more powerful than the push of control, especially when we find the intersection between their interests and our goals. How do we know what’s truly in someone else’s interests?
“Become the other person and go from there.” It’s the best piece of coaching advice I ever received, coming from Tanouye Roshi, and it applies equally to influence, negotiation, conflict, sales, teaching, and communication of all kinds. To become the other person is to listen so deeply that our own mind chatter stops; to listen with every pore on our body until we can sense how the other’s mind works. To become the other person is to feel into her emotional state, see through her eyes, think like she thinks, and see how she views us, our proposition, and the situation at hand. To write it out or read it in serial fashion makes it sound like a lengthy, time-consuming process, but in fact, deep empathy conveys its insights in a flash, and our ability to empathize deepens with practice, as we learn to quiet our own inner state.
[Whitelaw then explains specifically how and why “becoming the other person” is essential to effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.]
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Dr. Ginny Whitelaw is the co-founder of Focus Leadership, LLC, focusing on the development of the whole leader. A biophysicist by training, she combines a rich scientific background with senior leadership experience, and 30 years of training in Zen and martial arts. For many years she has been an executive coach, faculty member and program director with Oliver Wyman’s Delta Executive Learning Center. She has also served as adjunct faculty to Columbia University’s senior executive program. A seasoned program manager in telecommunications and aerospace, she has more than 20 years of experience leading multifunctional teams and complex change efforts.
Dr. Whitelaw spent 10 of those years at NASA, where she became the Deputy Manager for integration of the International Space Station Program. She led a large-scale change effort to re-align the management of the Space Station program. Her work using cross-functional teams became a model for other NASA programs, and she was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal for her efforts. She also has small and non-profit organization leadership experience, having founded and run 4 companies, including two major training centers for Zen and Aikido. A Rinzai Zen priest, she holds a 5th degree black belt in Aikido, and teaches Zen meditation alongside her work as a management educator and executive coach.
Dr. Whitelaw is the author of BodyLearning and (with Betsy Wetzig) Move to Greatness: The 4 Essential Energies of the Whole and Balanced Leader. Together with Mark Kiefaber, she has developed the FEBI® (Focus Energy Balance Indicator), a powerful assessment identifying one’s preferences for four energy patterns linking mind and body. She holds a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Chicago, as well as a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Philosophy from Michigan State University.
Her latest book is The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly.
Here is an excerpt from John A. Byrne’s cover article by FORTUNE magazine. Great ideas are hard to come by. Putting them to work is even harder. Byrne invites you to meet the founders who turned concepts into companies and changed the face of business.
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When Jeff Bezos came up with the idea for what would become Amazon.com, he went on a stroll in Central Park with his boss at the time to share his epiphany.
Bezos, in 1992, was a senior vice president for the New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw. He described his dream to create a company that would sell books on the Internet. His boss listened intently before offering a bit of advice: “That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job.”
Big ideas of the ground-shifting variety are rare — and hard to pull off. But that’s the difference between the dreamer and the doer. It took Bezos all of 48 hours to decide to quit his job and get started. Some 18 years later, he’s still at the helm of Amazon.com, which has redefined the way people buy almost everything, employs 56,200 people, and is valued at more than $80 billion.
Having spent years studying Bezos and others like him as an author, senior writer, and editor at both Business Week and Fast Company, I can tell you that Bezos is one of those rare birds who have made a meaningful mark on our economy and our world. He would certainly be on anyone’s list of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of my generation. Who else should make that cut? After spending the better part of the past year pondering that question for a new book, World Changers: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Business as We Knew It (Portfolio Penguin), I was asked by FORTUNE who deserves to be on that list — and what we can learn from each of them.
Many are obvious — from the late Steve Jobs, who helped make Apple the hottest and most valuable company on the planet, to Mark Zuckerberg, who will take Facebook public in what is anticipated to be the biggest IPO of all time (at a value of more than $80 billion). But there will be a few surprises too, such as N.R. Narayana Murthy, the visionary founder of Infosys who has built one of the largest companies in India, helping to transform that economy and put it on the world stage.
Another surprise: Not a single woman makes the list of the top 12 — at a time when women have gathered more influence and power in business than ever before. Oprah Winfrey has leveraged her celebrity into a formidable media empire, and the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick proved that you could market products by being socially and environmentally responsible. They clearly warrant honorable mention but have not, in my view, transformed the face of business or society in as profound a way as those singled out here.
Admittedly this list of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs is subjective. I based it largely on social and economic impact; the world-changing vision of a founder who has inspired employees and other entrepreneurs alike; a record of innovation; and the actual performance of their companies over time. These founders created and then nurtured healthy, sustainable organizations that now have a combined market value of more than $1.7 trillion. They directly employ more than 3 million people, ranging from a high of 2.1 million at Wal-Mart to just over 3,000 at Facebook.
Yet those numbers only touch the surface. Each of their companies sits at the nucleus of a thriving ecosystem that has cultivated and nurtured dozens if not hundreds of other enterprises. Small companies have thrived as suppliers, for example, to Whole Foods, which, among other things, buys produce from more than 2,000 local farms. So the power of each of these organizations extends far beyond its own walls.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
John A. Byrne is Chairman & Editor-in-Chief at C-Change Media Inc. John A. Byrne is the chairman and CEO of C-Change Media Inc. Until recently, Byrne was editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com and executive editor of BusinessWeek. He holds the distinction of authoring a record 58 cover stories in BusinessWeek magazine and is also the author or co-author of eight business books, including two New York Times‘ bestsellers. Byrne had also been editor-in-chief of Fast Company magazine. He founded C-Change Media, a digital media company, to take advantage of the sea change that is roiling the traditional media business. C stands for content, curation and community, the three common attributes of each C-Change web venture.
I recently saw the film based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, and starring Brad Pitt as the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. It is not necessary to be a baseball fan and/or knowledgeable about analytics to appreciate both the book and the film, although that helps somewhat, as is also true of another of Lewis’ books, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and the film based on it.
Here is an excerpt from an article by Keith H. Hammonds that was published in FAST COMPANY magazine (December 19, 2007). To read the complete article, please click here.
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“I was up at 4:30 this morning, on the Net. I love going to Stetson University’s site, or James Madison’s, to see what their ball teams did last night. That’s the fun part of this game — that’s the foundation. To me, that’s why we’re in this game — because we love it at the grass roots, where it’s still at its most pure.”
William Lamar Beane — Billy Beane — the 41-year-old general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball club, perches his sandaled feet on the desk before him. He is a former ballplayer — not a great one, but fair enough to have made it to the big leagues and stayed awhile — and he still looks like a ballplayer. Both of his shoulders are shot, but he is tall and fit, with a sweep of brown hair over jock-rugged features.
Today is a great day to be a baseball guy. It’s February in Phoenix, and the first morning of full-team workouts is taking place. Outside, the Arizona sun pokes past wispy clouds. It feels like spring. It smells like spring — like freshly mowed grass. Warning-track gravel crunches underneath the spikes of coltish pitchers loping through their warm-ups in emerald jerseys. Sluggers grin when kids yell their names.
Spring training is an annual ritual celebrating the reemergence of hope — and, hell, these days, there’s nothing wrong with hope. But something else is going on here at the Papago Park Baseball Facility. For the Oakland A’s, the start of the baseball season honors the careful admixture of mathematics and economics, of regression models and market analyses. Which is to say that for the Oakland A’s, there is an air of certainty along with the scent of hope. Fans dotting the bleachers are witnessing the fine-tooling of a team that almost certainly will win a lot more games than it will lose this season. The statistics bear this out.
Just as surely, this season, Billy Beane will be called a genius again. He will be compared, as before, to Branch Rickey, legendary mastermind of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Some will predict his inevitable election into the Hall of Fame. Beane, it will be said, has changed baseball forever.
More accurately, Beane has discovered a way to succeed in a sport already changed. He has perfected a formula for competing and winning both on the field and in the books. Over the past decade, professional baseball has devolved into an increasingly dysfunctional, sharply divided game of big-time haves and small-time have-nots. A few big-market teams like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers lever fat television contracts to acquire top talent at top salaries. Clubs in smaller cities, relegated to miserly budgets, scrap for what’s left and hope — there’s that word again — for the best. The big-market teams win and make money; the rest live hand-to-mouth.
Except for the Athletics. Bound to playing for a city of just 410,000 and to playing in the aging Network Associates Coliseum, the A’s averaged just 26,787 fans per game in 2002. That put the A’s at a dismal 18th in a league of 30 clubs. Oakland’s player payroll this season will total $49 million, roughly one-third of what the Yankees spend on big-name talent.
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Sidebar: The Beane-Ball Handbook
Over the past five years, general manager Billy Beane has made the Oakland Athletics one of pro baseball’s most consistent winners — and he has done so on one of the sport’s most meager budgets. Here’s how Beane turns a double play, making one into more.
The real highlights don’t happen on the field. “It used to be, general managers just evaluated players on their ability. Today, the economics drive every decision. You have to evaluate talent not just on playing ability, but also on economic feasibility — and not just a player’s current feasibility, but also his future trend. Every single decision, down to drafting a kid out of high school, has economic ramifications.”
It may be a team sport — but there’s only one boss. “We have a pretty tight inner circle. First and foremost, it’s my responsibility what happens here. I give my directors a lot of autonomy, because they’re good at what they do. But that’s a small group, and ultimately, in critical decisions, I want to be involved. We don’t have a lot of bureaucracy here. We don’t get together for huge organizational meetings. We don’t have a lot of patience for four-hour meetings and a hundred opinions. That’s my worst nightmare.”
Hit ’em where the big guys ain’t. “We can do some things that the Yankees can’t. We can trade for a guy like Corey Lidle and make him our fifth starter, even though he was a middle reliever who hadn’t done much. I kid with [Yankees general manager] Brian Cashman all the time: He can’t do that, because New York demands higher-profile players. When Jason Giambi left us [in 2002, for the Yankees], we could sign Scott Hatteberg, a backup catcher, and put him at first and get away with it. We’re allowed to take what are perceived as risks.”
Sweat the details — but remember that it’s a long season. “This is an intense job, because you’re being judged every day. It’s not like being a CEO, where you just have to give a conference call once a quarter. Every day, we play a game, and it’s in the paper. All the data is on the Internet. Everything is public. And I’m guilty of it too. This sport is an emotional business, and I have to be careful not to make sound-bite decisions.”
Even an MVP can’t do it all. “Getting to the play-offs isn’t random: Over 162 games, if you have the right team, the odds work out. But once you get to the postseason, everything becomes random. In a 5-game series, you can flip a coin five times, and you might come up tails five times. In our market and many others, we can’t build a team that’s specifically geared for 162 games and also for a 5-game play-off. That I don’t think we’ll ever overcome.”
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Keith H. Hammonds (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a FAST COMPANY senior editor and a die-hard Yankees fan.