First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Smart Leaders Don’t Just Learn, They Teach

Here is an article written by William C. Taylor for BNET (January 4, 2011), The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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Ever since the publication, nearly two decades ago, of Peter Senge’s monumental bestseller The Fifth Discipline, we’ve been in the age of the “learning organization.” Executives understand that for their companies to stay ahead of the competition, their people, at every level, have to learn more (and more quickly) than the competition: new skills, new takes on emerging technologies, new ways to do old things, from manufacturing to marketing to R&D.

But one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, as I’ve traveled the world to research the changing logic of innovation for my new book, Practically Radical, is that the most determined innovators aren’t just committed to learning. They are also committed to teaching. They understand that the only sustainable form of market leadership is thought leadership, and that the most powerful way to demonstrate your position as a thought leader is to teach other organizations what you know.

Sharing Knowledge Keeps You Learning

One compelling example of this phenomenon is a health-care provider in Seattle called Virginia Mason, a 90-year-old hospital system with 400 doctors and nearly 5,000 employees. Dr. Gary Kaplan, the organization’s CEO, is a legend in healthcare circles for the turnaround he’s led since taking charge in February 2000. At the time, Virginia Mason was struggling with deteriorating finances, inefficient processes, and uneven quality. Kaplan and his colleagues became committed students of the Toyota Production System, the blend of management techniques that fueled the rise of the most powerful car company in the world. The CEO led frequent pilgrimages to Japan, adopted the strategies, practices, and management language of its Japanese mentor, and devised a whole new way of running a hospital that that has delivered staggering improvements.

In other words, Virginia Mason became the ultimate learning organization. Now it aspires to become the ultimate teaching organization. Eighteen months ago, Kaplan created the Virginia Mason Institute and opened the doors of his hospital to the outside word. The Institute leads tours of its facilities and explains how they work, teaches classes in its management techniques, and otherwise shares what Virginia Mason knows with individual executives and entire healthcare systems.

Why bother? “First and foremost,” Kaplan told me, “this is about our vision to be the quality leader in our field and to help transform the field as a hole. Part of our mission as a company is to help improve our industry. But the more we educate, the faster we move as well. This will spur us on, push us to keep getting better, and people will chase our taillights. By teaching others what we’ve learned, it forces us to keep learning.”

Every Organization Can Become a Teaching Organization

Meanwhile, over the last eight years, Chief Dean Esserman has transformed the police department of Providence, Rhode Island from something of a joke-a department known for corruption and ineptitude-into a national model of law enforcement. Now he wants to turn it into something more, a “teaching police department” modeled on the great teaching hospitals of Boston and elsewhere that train doctors and promote state-of-the-art medical practices.

Esserman persuaded police chiefs in a consortium of cities to exchange ideas, swap personnel, and experiment in new techniques to battle guns, drugs, and other shared problems. “We want to become a place that embraces research, that figures out and spreads methodologies that work in the ways that medical schools do,” he told me. “Think of what it would mean to create that sort of institution and those types of values in a police department.”

So this year, by all means, stay focused as a leader on what you and your company need to learn. But don’t miss the opportunity to share what you already know. The most idea-driven organizations have a chance to become the best teaching organizations – and we never forget our best teachers.

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Bill Taylor

William C. Taylor is cofounder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His new book is Practically Radical. You can follow him on Twitter at @practicallyrad.

 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steve Jobs and the Leadership Test

Steve Jobs

Here is an article written by William C. Taylor for BNET (January 19, 2011), The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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The unexpected news that Steve Jobs will take a leave of absence from Apple has sparked a high-profile debate over what his medical condition means for the long-term healthy of the company.

To me, though, what’s interesting about the collective fascination with Jobs is what it says about how uncertain we are about the health of so many other companies-and how poor the prognosis is for what passes as “leadership” at most companies today.

Why do so many of us think that Steve Jobs is so special and irreplaceable at Apple? Because, I think, he represents a model of leadership that is so hard to find elsewhere. The true mark of a leader is the willingness to stick with a bold course of action –  an unconventional business strategy, a unique product-development roadmap, a controversial marketing campaign – even as the rest of the world wonders why you’re not marching in step with the status quo. In other words, real leaders are happy to zig while others zag. They understand that in an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.

Middle of the Road Strategy No Longer Works

It’s just not good enough anymore to be “pretty good” at everything today. You have to be the most of something: the most elegant, the most colorful, the most responsive, the most focused. For decades, organizations and their leaders were comfortable with strategies and practices that kept them in the middle of the road – that’s where the customers were, that’s what felt safe and secure. In the new world of business, with so much change, so much pressure, so many new ways to do just about everything, the middle of the road has become the road to nowhere.

As Jim Hightower, the colorful Texas populist, is fond of saying, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” To which we might add companies and their leaders struggling stand out from the crowd. No one has ever accused Steve Jobs and Apple of operating in the middle of the road, which is why the company and its CEO are such objects of fascination.

Success Requires a Bold Vision

But at least a few other companies and leaders seem to be taking their cues from Cupertino. Consider the unique business strategy and retail experience being created by Luxottica, the global eyewear company with annual sales of $6.6 billion. A report in the New York Times described its “unusual and risky” effort to reimagine the customer experience of buying eyeglasses, by creating memorable retail environments that feature a concierge, wind machines and treadmills (to allow shoppers to try on glasses in conditions that resemble real-world usage, and touch screens that operate as mirrors and cameras. (Imagine being able to try on glasses, upload photos to Facebook, and asking friends and family to email reactions while you’re still shopping.)

There was something of a raised-eyebrow tone to the Times report, and who knows if Luxottica’s plans to build 10 to 15 of these stores in Australia, the United States, China, and Britain, will turn out to be a flash of insight or a flawed vision. What’s clear though, is that in an industry ravaged by a bad economy (new glasses are a pretty postpone-able purchase), and by the cheaper-is-better pressures of the Internet, the route to long-term prosperity does not come by staying in the middle of the road.
Andrea Guerra, Luxottica’s CEO, put it about as well as anyone has: “Crises are not only about negative things,” he said. “Where the world is changing and changing fast, your thoughts have to be bold.”

Steve Jobs could not have said it better himself. It’s hard to overcome the pull of conventional wisdom – established ways of doing things, familiar ways to size up markets.

That’s why it’s hard for leaders to do something genuinely new – to embrace one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking. But that’s the job description for leadership today. After all, if you do things the way everyone else does things, why would you expect to do any better?

How are you planning to zig while everyone else zags?

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William C. Taylor is cofounder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His new book is Practically Radical. You can follow him on Twitter at @practicallyrad.

Friday, January 28, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Southwest Airlines Keeps Flying High

William C. Taylor

Here is an article written by William C. Taylor about Southwest Airlines for BNET (November 22, 2010), The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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Yesterday’s New York Times featured the kind of article about Southwest Airlines that the business press has been running for decades. On the one hand, it was a celebration of success—the company, which marks its fortieth anniversary next year, remains the only consistently profitable player in the worst business in the history of business, an industry whose leading companies have lost a combined $55 billion over the last decade.

At the same time, the article was a worried rumination about whether this “rebel” and “maverick” can maintain its growth in the face of ever-tougher economic conditions and rivals determined to fight back. At some point, the Times suggested, high-flying Southwest simply must conform to the laws of economic gravity.

I’m not interested in speculating about Southwest’s financial future. What I will argue, though, is that this company—as folksy, quirky, and old-fashioned as it may seem on the surface—represents the most compelling symbol of cutting-edge business leadership in America today, a company from which all sorts of companies, in all sorts of industries, can learn.

The “same old” doesn’t work anymore.

Here’s why Southwest matters. We are living in the age of disruption. You can’t do big things anymore if you’re content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently from how you did them before. In any field, whether it’s Apple in computing or Netflix in home entertainment, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking.

Let’s face it: Most big companies in most industries have a kind of tunnel vision. They chase the same opportunities that their rivals are chasing, they miss the same opportunities that a few upstarts manage to identify. It’s the organizations and leaders that see a different game that wind up winning big.

There’s no doubt that Southwest has been a game-changer in its field. From Day One, the purpose of the airline has been to “democratize the skies,” to give rank-and-file Americans the same “freedom to fly” as business travelers and the well-to-do. It developed an entirely different way to be in the airline business, based on the unique impact it aimed to have on that business. Its fleet is unique—just Boeing 737 aircraft. Its route system is unique—it doesn’t use the hub-and-spoke network the legacy carriers use. Its ticketing policies are unique—no first-class seats, no assigned seats whatsoever. Its marketing and advertising is unique—it has become a “passion brand” in an industry that spends much of its time at war with its own customers.

Strategy requires passion.

In other words, Southwest Airlines is more than just a company, it’s a cause, both in terms of its personality in the marketplace and the mindset of its employees in the workplace. And that, I would suggest, is the essence of strategy in tough times. The only sustainable form of business leadership is thought leadership.

Or let me put it another way. With all the problems and challenges in business today, so many leaders I know focus on that age-old question, What keeps you up at night? What are the problems and worries that nag at you? But the more powerful question, the one around which the famously intense Southwest culture is built is, What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you and your colleagues more committed than ever, more creative than ever, more determined than ever, even as the environment around you gets tougher and more uncertain that ever?

If Southwest Airlines can keep growing, making money, and adding people in an industry where every other major player has flirted with or entered bankruptcy, surely you can do the same in your field. So set aside for a moment the products and services you sell. What are the ideas that you and your company stand for? What do you see that the competition doesn’t see?

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William C. Taylor is co-founder of Fast Company magazine and co-author with Polly G. Labarre of  Mavericks at Work. His new book, Practically Radical,  will be published on January 4, 2011. You can follow him on twitter.com/practicallyrad.

Monday, December 6, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the M-Prize winners—three case studies in management innovation honored by Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation eXchange.

Here is an excerpt from an article co-authored by Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre for The McKinsey Quarterly, NOVEMBER 2010. It is part of the “Dispatches from the front lines of management innovation” series. To read the complete article and check out other outstanding resources, please click here.

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The Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) is a Web-based open-innovation project dedicated to catalyzing the creativity of thinkers and practitioners interested in reinventing management. That’s not an undertaking for any one individual or organization—it’s everybody’s problem, which is why the MIX is designed as a collaborative platform both to surface bold ideas and make progress on a set of make-or-break challenges.

Earlier this year, the MIX introduced the first-ever management-innovation contest, the M-Prize, around three such challenges: redefining the work of leadership, increasing trust, and taking the work out of work. MIXers from all over the world contributed hundreds of entries. Few of the submissions are world changing, some are half baked, and a couple are truly off the wall. But so many of them are bold and original, sometimes even audaciously imaginative, that they confirm our deeply held belief that everyone wins when everyone shares.

Judges for the M-Prize included CEOs and thought leaders such as Bill George, Terri Kelly, John Mackey, Tom Malone, and Leighton Reid. McKinsey is a knowledge partner of the MIX but was not involved with the judging. Here are three of the winning stories, which offer insights for management innovators everywhere. Readers interested in learning more about these stories or about other winning entries not described here should visit the M-Prize home page.

[Here is a brief description of the first of three M-prize-winning projects.]

Redefining leadership in public housing

Portsmouth is one of England’s largest and most densely populated urban areas—once home to Charles Dickens and Arnold Schwarzenegger and now to “17,000 blocked toilets and 100,000 dripping taps,” says John Seddon, an occupational psychologist and management thinker. Several years ago, he began working closely with Owen Buckwell, who as head of housing for the Portsmouth City Council manages those toilets and taps, as well as all of the upkeep for some 50,000 people living in government-built council homes.

In late 2006, Buckwell and Seddon began pursuing a single compelling purpose: “to carry out the right repair at the right time” for tenants. The lever of change was a new management system designed to respond quickly to demand, measure value created for tenants (rather than costs or government-mandated targets), and reflect actual work flows (rather than fitting work to rigid standards and protocols). Within just a few months, Buckwell and his team built a process in which tenants could call up for service, get a real human being on the first ring, and schedule service at exactly the time they desired (not a half-day window, a two-hour window, or even a 15-minute window). The tradesperson providing the service would show up equipped with all the correct parts required to do the job—and ask if anything else needed fixing.

Buckwell and his team accomplished this feat by shifting away from a paper-based daily printout of jobs for plumbers, glaziers, carpenters, and other craftsmen. A sophisticated visual system now matches the demands of customers (which ones want what jobs at what times) with the supply of tradespeople by highlighting when each is likely to come free from his or her current job. Large screens at headquarters provide transparency, and “the system works as a single piece flow, with each tradesman getting one job at a time” to avoid bottlenecks and delays.

The result: astonished customers, intense gratitude, hand-delivered flowers and chocolates, and a growing sense of trust between tenants and council. The story by the numbers is equally impressive: days to complete a repair dropped from 60 to 7, while the proportion of problems fixed on the first visit rose to 99 percent, from 45 percent. The proportion of calls from tenants complaining of failure shrunk to 13 percent, from 60 percent, and the tenant satisfaction rate rose dramatically to 9.93 out of 10—all while the cost per repair was slashed by more than half.

Finally, the housing council’s culture has shifted from one of “learned helplessness and cheating to meet targets” to one that encourages employees to show up with their initiative and imagination fully engaged; a new ethos that emphasizes action has taken hold. “Owen always had a sneaking suspicion that people go to work to do a good job,” says Seddon. “It turns out he was right.”

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Gary Hamel is Visiting Professor of Strategic and International Management at the London Business School and the innovation architect at the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX). His latest book is The Future if Management, written with Bill Bryson and published by Harvard Business Press. Polly LaBarre is a co-author with William Taylor of Mavericks at Work and the editorial director of the MIX.

Thursday, December 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tom Davenport explains the five ways Pixar executives make better decisions

Tom Davenport

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tom Davenport for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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I’m writing a new book with Larry Prusak and Brook Manville. If we had to name it today, we’d call it Judgment Days: How Great Organizations Make Great Decisions. It’s about how organizations — rather than individuals — build their capacity for good judgment and decision making. We’re going to try to show how individual decisions, made on particular “judgment days,” were shaped and succeeded by activities to improve organizational judgment. We hope to describe a variety of organizations — from companies to schools to hospitals to foundations — that make consistently great decisions over time. In order to surface some of the ideas and get feedback from readers, I’m going to start blogging about the book and plan to get Larry and Brook involved in that activity.

We think that organizations with good judgment have a number of typical attributes. One is that they involve a number of different people in making important decisions. Their senior executives keep in mind that they don’t have a monopoly on knowledge and judgment and therefore involve multiple people in decision processes.

Let me give you an example. Pixar (btw, I really enjoyed Toy Story 3) has a phenomenal track record for making great animated movies. (Ed Catmull, the studio’s president and co-founder, recently wrote an article for HBR called, “How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity.” Click here.) We don’t have access — at least yet — to details of the particular decisions made at Pixar, though some must have been difficult: for instance, the decision to make the movie Up about a 78-year old man who loses his wife and rides his balloon-floated house to South America.

How did Pixar make that and other good decisions? There seem to be several factors going on:

Its managers give its directors a lot of autonomy. The studio prides itself on being “director led” and gives them a high degree of autonomy. “Managers like to be in control,” but Pixar fights it, according to an interview with Catmull at an event The Economist put on in March. [Click here.]

Even though directors have autonomy, they get feedback from others. “Dailies,” or movies in progress, are shown for feedback to the entire animation crew. In The Economist interview, Catmull also describes a more extensive periodic peer review process:
“We have a structure so they get their feedback from their peers…. Every two or three months they present the film to the other filmmakers…and they will go through, and they will tear the film apart. Directors aren’t forced to respond to the feedback, but they generally do — and the films are generally better for it.”

Pixar uses a process for “postmortems” on the major aspects of movies after they’re completed. Ed Catmull described it as “like taking cod liver oil,” but the company insists on it anyway. During the postmortems, the team involved in the film is asked to come up with five things they’d do again and five things they wouldn’t do again. Postmortems not only surface the information but also help to prevent the problems from festering among team members. Catmull comments that because people are starting to game that postmortem process, Pixar is thinking of alternative approaches.

Pixar admits mistakes in other ways. Sometimes, when a movie project isn’t going well, Pixar will “restart” it. Toy Story 2, for example, wasn’t going well and had to be restarted. Catmull points to that restart as a catalyst for the articulation of several key values at the company.

Pixar has an extensive education program at Pixar University, with more than 110 different courses. That’s got to improve organizational judgment. And even there, employees are encouraged to make and admit mistakes. Randy Nelson, the director of Pixar University, says, in the book Mavericks at Work: “It’s the heart of our model…giving people opportunities to fail together and to recover from mistakes together.”

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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

Tom Davenport holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College. Over many years he’s authored or co-authored nine books for Harvard Business Press, most recently Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (2007) and Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results (2010). His byline has also appeared for publications such as Sloan Management Review, California Management Review, Financial Times, Information Week, CIO, and many others. For more from Tom, visit his website [click here].

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Makes A Good Writer? It May Start With Being A Good Reader – Consider Barbara Tuchman

What makes a good writer?  It may start with being a good reader.

And what makes a good reader?  It may start with a love of books.

And what creates a love of books?  That’s tougher to answer…  But for those who are lucky enough to love books, we have our champions.  Like Barbara Tuchman.

Barbara Tuchman

Bob posted this earlier: Summer Reading Picks from Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Eliot Spitzer, and More.  It was written by William C. Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His next book is Practically Radical.  Taylor asked Pink, Godin, Spitzer, and others about their favorites.  And then he shared a couple of his own favorite books.  This is about his second choice:

My second choice is The March of Folly by historian (and two-time Pulitzer winner) Barbara Tuchman. She looks at some of the great failures of leadership in history — the Trojan War, British reactions to the American colonies, Vietnam — and teases out lessons that illuminate more current leadership crises.

So, who is Barbara Tuchman?  Tuchman twice won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, first for The Guns of August in 1963, and again for Stilwell and the American Experience in China in 1972.  A renowned historian, she was first and foremost a lover of learning, which flowed from her love of books.

In Practicing History, she tells the story of “the single most formative experience” in her career.  It is about a moment that happened in her first trip into the stacks of a great library.

In the process of doing my own thesis – not for a Ph.D., because I never took a graduate degree, but just my undergraduate honors thesis — the single most formative experience in my career took place.  It was not a tutor or a teacher or a fellow student or a great book or the shining example of some famous visiting lecturer – like Sir Charles Webster, for instance, brilliant as he was.  It was the stacks at Widener.  They were my Archimedes bathtub, my burning bush, my dish of mold where I found my personal penicillin.  I was allowed to have as my own one of those little cubicles with a table under a window, queerly called, as I have since learned, carrels, a word I never knew when I sat in one.  Mine was deep in among the 9425 (British History, that is) and I could roam at liberty through the rich stacks, taking whatever I wanted.  The experience was marvelous, a word I use in its exact sense meaning full of marvels.  The happiest days of my intellectual life, until I began writing history again some fifteen years later, were spent in the stacks at Widener.  My daughter Lucy, class of ’61, once said to me that she could not enter the labyrinth of Widener’s stacks without feeling that she ought to carry a compass, a sandwich, and a whistle.  I too was never altogether sure I could find the way out, but I was blissful as a cow put to graze in a field of fresh clover and would not have cared if I had been locked in for the night.

This is primarily a blog about business books, authors of business books, ideas found in business books, and general observations about business and life.  But every now and then, we need to reconnect with the starting point – a pure love of books.  Barbara Tuchman was captivated — won over — by the stacks at one of the world’s great libraries.  It is a feeling I understand.

a look into one library's stacks

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Reading Picks from Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Eliot Spitzer, and More

William C. Taylor

Here is an excerpt from article written by William C. Taylor for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please visit http://blogs.hbr.org/.

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Last week, there was a wonderful essay in The New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/opinion/16davis.html] about a leadership program created by the old Bell System back in 1952. The all-powerful telephone company worried that its executives needed a broader perspective, not just on business but also on society, even life itself. “A well-trained man knows how to answer questions,” one sociologist explained. “An educated man knows what questions are worth asking.”

Working with the University of Pennsylvania, Bell launched the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives — a 10-month program in which businesspeople read and debated the Great Books, visited museums, and studied architecture. The “capstone” of the program was a series of eight three-hour seminars devoted to Ulysses. Can you imagine? Twenty-four hours devoted to the discussion of a single (and famously vexing) novel!

As I finished the Times piece, I lamented how little time any of us has to think deeper, look broader, and reflect on “what questions are worth asking.” Of course, as summer arrives, there’s the hope that we can carve out a bit of time to read one or two books that may leave a mark after we’ve returned to the grind. So, in the spirit of humanistic studies, I reached out to a diverse and intriguing collection of thinkers, writers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs and asked what non-business writing has had a big impact on them, and that they’d recommend others. They sent back a diverse and intriguing collection of fiction, science fiction, and history that is bound to stir the soul and challenge the mind.

My friend Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, told me his choice was easy, albeit not the easiest read. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, first published in 1946, explores Frankl’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor and his quest for a reason to live. Why this book? “It’s a two-fer,” Dan says. “Part of it tells a gripping tale of surviving a concentration camp. Part of it elaborates Frankl’s theory that the quest for meaning is the essence of being human and that it can be pursued in any circumstance. His single-sentence guide to behavior is a gem: ‘Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.’”

The struggle to reckon with human behavior in its many dimensions was at the heart of many of the titles recommended by my informal book club. Len Schlesinger, president of Babson College, the country’s top-rated school for entrepreneurship, told me that he “regularly revisits” Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. “Sometimes I read the script, other times I watch a video of the play. It’s still the greatest work on the struggle to define success, and the struggle between success as an employee and success as a family leader.”

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As for my choices, I’d nominate two very different books on leadership. The first, When Pride Still Mattered, is a biography of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi by Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss. It’s one of the greatest biographies I’ve ever read, and it will soon be a Broadway musical. My second choice is The March of Folly by historian (and two-time Pulitzer winner) Barbara Tuchman. She looks at some of the great failures of leadership in history — the Trojan War, British reactions to the American colonies, Vietnam — and teases out lessons that illuminate more current leadership crises.

Here’s hoping you find time this summer to read a few of these selections. At the very least, find time now to suggest your favorite work to others. What’s your pick for a must-read book? Put it in a comment and we’ll generate our own list. See you on the beach!

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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please visit http://blogs.hbr.org/.

William C. Taylor is co-founder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His next book is Practically Radical. Follow him at twitter.com/practicallyrad.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

70 Words of (Unconventional) Wisdom for 2010

Bill Taylor

Here is an excerpt from an article published by the Harvard Business blog’s Daily Alerts. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit dailyalert@email.harvardbusiness.org.

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What better way for business thinkers to celebrate the holiday season than with the gift of great ideas? As the year 2009 — as difficult, divisive, worrisome, and hopeful a year since, well, 2008 — draws to a close, my friend Seth Godin, the innovator, writer, and blogger extraordinaire, has persuaded 70 other innovators, writers, and bloggers to participate in a project he calls What Matters Now.

The idea is simple: Each of us suggests one word — literally one word — that all of us should think about in 2010, and then takes one page to explain why and how that word matters.

The result is an intriguing, inspiring, and at times downright moving collection of unconventional wisdom that is available free to everyone as of this morning. I urge you to download the PDF, process its diverse ideas, messages, and calls to action, and then share it with as many friends, associates, and colleagues as possible. Think of it as an intellectual yule log meant to brighten your spirits and light a fire for the future.

[Note: If you wish to receive the What Matters Now pdf, please contact me at interllect@mindspring.com.

What struck me about the ideas in What Matters Now is that they arrange themselves into a few distinct (but related) categories. (The collection itself does not impose these categories, this is my interpretation.) A bunch of the words involve the stuff of human emotion and motivation — what makes us tick. Seth begins the PDF with a riff on generosity. “When the economy tanks it’s natural to think of yourself first,” he writes. “You have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. Getting more appears to be the order of business. It turns out that the connected economy doesn’t respect this natural instinct. Instead, we’re rewarded for being generous. Generous with our time and money, but most important generous with our art.”

Hugh MacLeod, a blogger and cartoonist with a truly distinctive voice, offers a take on meaning: “The best way to get approval is not to need it,” he writes. “Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.”

Happy Holidays!

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Taylor is an agenda-setting writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. His new project, Practically Radical, chronicles the radical shifts transforming business and the practical steps that will determine who wins. His most recent book, Mavericks at Work, has been a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller. As co-founder of Fast Company, he launched a magazine that earned a passionate following around the world. He is an adjunct lecturer at Babson College and a former associate editor of Harvard Business Review.

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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit dailyalert@email.harvardbusiness.org.

Again, if you wish to receive the What Matters Now pdf, please contact me at interllect@mindspring.com.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q #202: What’s a “maverick” and who are the most prominent mavericks in U.S. business history?

First of all, I am greatly in debt to William C. Taylor and Polly G. Labarre for what I learned in their book, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win. They explain that Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-70) was a wealthy land speculator in southwest Texas who cared little about cattle. “When someone repaid a debt with 400 head of cattle rather than cash, Maverick’s caretakers allowed them to wander unbranded. Over time, locals who saw unbranded cattle would say, ‘Those are Maverick’s’ – and a term was born that today refers to politicians, entrepreneurs, and innovators who refuse to run with the herd.”

By nature, the most prominent mavericks throughout business history have been pioneers who, at great risk, challenged and in some ways re-defined an entire industry, achieving great success within it. Any list of them must include:

Mary Kay Ash (career opportunities for women)
Norman Brinker (restaurant chains)
Warren Buffett (investments)
Andrew Carnegie (steel)
John Deere (farm equipment)
Walt Disney (family entertainment)
Thomas Edison (commercial applications of invention and innovation)
Harvey Firestone (rubber automotive products)
Henry Ford (mass production of vehicles)
Bill Gates (computer software development)
A. P. Giannini (banking)
William Hewlett and David Packard (electronics)
Steve Jobs (consumer electronics)
Robert Johnson (minority multi-media)
Herb Kelleher (airlines)
Ray Kroc (fast food: McDonald’s)
Henry Luce (publications)
Cyrus McCormick (farm equipment)
Stanley Marcus (retail merchandising)
J.P. Morgan (finance)
David Ogilvy (advertising)
William Paley (broadcasting: CBS)
James Cash Penney (retail merchandising)
John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (oil)
Robert Sarnoff (broadcasting NBC)
Alfred P. Sloan (mass production of vehicles)
Frederick Smith (delivery services: FedEx)
Dave Thomas (fast food: Wendy’s)
Ted Turner (multi-media and broadcasting)
Cornelius Vanderbilt (railroads)
Sam Walton (retail merchandising)
Thomas Watson, Sr. and Thomas Watson, Jr. (IBM)
Kemmons Wilson (hospitality: hotels)

In Q&A #203, I suggest what they and other mavericks share in common.

Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q #185: Which questions must every change agent ask?

In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.

William C. Taylor responds to the question posed: “Which questions must every change agent ask?”

Note: I apologize for the length of this Q&A but I want you to have the full benefit of Taylor’s observations and suggestions.

1. Do you see opportunities the competition doesn’t see? IDEO’s Tom Kelley likes to quote French novelist Marcel Proust, who famously said, ‘The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.’ The most successful companies don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world of me-too thinking.

2. Do you have new ideas about where to look for new ideas? One way to look at problems as if you’re seeing them for the first time is to look at a wide array of fields for ideas that have been working for a long time. Ideas that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another industry, especially when they challenge the prevailing assumptions that have come to define so many industries.

3. Are you the most of anything? You can’t be ‘pretty good’ at everything anymore. You have to be the most of something: the most affordable, the most accessible, the most elegant, the most colorful, the most transparent. Companies used to be comfortable in the middle of the road — that’s where all the customers were. Today, the middle of the road is the road to ruin. What are you the most of?

4. If your company went out of business tomorrow, who would miss you and why? I first heard this question from advertising legend Roy Spence, who says he got it from Jim Collins of Good to Great fame. Whatever the original source, the question is as profound as it is simple — and worth taking seriously as a guide to what really matters.

5. Have you figured out how your organization’s history can help to shape its future? Psychologist Jerome Bruner has a pithy way to describe what happens when the best of the old informs the search for the new. The essence of creativity, he argues, is ‘figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you already think.’ The most creative leaders I’ve met don’t disavow the past. They rediscover and reinterpret what’s come before as a way to develop a line of sight into what comes next.

6. Can your customers live without you? If they can, they probably will. The researchers at Gallup have identified a hierarchy of connections between companies and their customers — from confidence to integrity to pride to passion. To test for passion, Gallup asks a simple question: ‘Can you imagine a world without this product?’ One of the make-or-break challenges for change is to become irreplaceable in the eyes of your customers.

7. Do you treat different customers differently?
If your goal is to become indispensable to your customers, then almost by definition you won’t appeal to all customers. In a fickle and fast-changing world, one test of how committed a company is to its most important customers is how fearless it is about ignoring customers who aren’t central to its mission. Not all customers are created equal.

8. Are you getting the best contributions from the most people? It may be lonely at the top, but change is not a game best played by loners. These days, the most powerful contributions come from the most unexpected places — the ‘hidden genius’ inside your company, the ‘collective genius’ of customers, suppliers, and other smart people who surround your company. Tapping this genius requires a new leadership mindset — enough ambition to address tough problems, enough humility to know you don’t have all the answers.

9. Are you consistent in your commitment to change? Pundits love to excoriate companies because they don’t have the guts to change. In fact, the problem with many organizations is that all they do is change. They lurch from one consulting firm to the next, from the most recent management fad to the newest. If, as a leader, you want to make deep-seated change, then your priorities and practices have to stay consistent in good times and bad.

10. Are you learning as fast as the world is changing? I first heard this question from strategy guru Gary Hamel, and it may be the most urgent question facing leaders in every field. In a world that never stops changing, great leaders can never stop learning. How do you push yourself as an individual to keep growing and evolving — so that your company can do the same?

You may wish to check out Mavericks at Work that Taylor co-authored with Polly LaBarre.

Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob

Friday, June 26, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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