First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Greg McKeown: An interview by Bob Morris

McKeown, GregGreg McKeown is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. His writing has appeared or been covered by Fast Company, Fortune, HuffPost, Politico,Inc. Magazine and Harvard Business Review. He has also been interviewed on numerous television and radio shows including NPR and NBC. McKeown is the CEO of THIS, Inc. where his clients include Adobe, Apple, Airbnb, Google, Facebook, Pixar,, Symantec, Twitter, VMware and Yahoo!.

Greg is an accomplished public speaker. He has spoken to hundreds of audiences around the world including in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, England, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. Highlights include speaking at SXSW, interviewing Al Gore at the Annual Conference of the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland and receiving a personal invitation from Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, to speak to his Annual Innovation Conference.

In 2012 Greg was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Originally from London, he now lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and their four children. He graduated with an MBA from Stanford University.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Greg.

* * *

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.

McKeown: It happened years ago, one day after our precious daughter was born, healthy and happy at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. What should have been one of most serene days of my life was filled with tension. Even as my beautiful new baby lay in my wife’s tired arms, I was on the phone and on email with work, and I was feeling pressure to go to a client meeting.

My colleague had written, “Friday between 1-2 would be a bad time to have a baby because I need you to come be at this meeting with X.” It was now Friday and though I was pretty certain (or at least I hoped) the email had been written jest, I still felt pressure to attend.

Instinctively, I knew what to do. It was clearly a time to be there for my wife and newborn child. So when asked whether I planned to attend the meeting, I said with all the conviction I could muster…


To my shame, while my wife lay in the hospital with our hours-old baby, I went to the meeting. Afterward, my colleague said, “The client will respect you for making the decision to be here.” But the look on the clients’ faces did not evince respect. Instead, they mirrored how I felt. What was I doing there?! I had said “yes” simply to please, and in doing so disrespected my family, my integrity, and even the client relationship.

As it turned out, exactly nothing came of the client meeting. But even if it had, surely I would have made a fool’s bargain. In trying to keep everyone happy I had pleased no one and sacrificed what mattered most. On reflection I discovered this important lesson: If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

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

McKeown: My undergraduate was in journalism which is one of the only majors that teaches you how to ask the right questions. Almost all formal education teaches you how to find the right answer. That’s good as far as it goes. But to ask the right question is a higher and more valuable skill.

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

McKeown: I love the film Gandhi. He is an Essentialist and the film captures this. With singleness of purpose—to achieve independence for the Indian people—he eliminated everything else from his life.

He called the process, “Reducing himself to zero.” He dressed in his own homespun cloth (khadi) and inspired his followers to do the same. He spent three years not reading any newspapers because he found that their contents added only nonessential confusion to his life. He spent 35 years experimenting with simplifying his diet. He spent a day each week without speaking. It would be an understatement to see he eschewed consumerism: when he died he owned less than ten items. He intentionally never held a political position of any kind and yet became, officially within India, the Father of the Nation.

And his contribution extended well beyond India. As General George C. Marshall, the American Secretary of State said on the occasion of Gandhi’s passing, “Mahatma Gandhi had become the spokesman for the conscience of mankind, a man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires.” And Albert Einstein added, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” It is impossible to argue with the statement that Gandhi lived a life that really mattered or that his ability to focus on what was essential and eschew the nonessential was critical to his success.

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

McKeown: Can I cheat and point to an essay rather than a book? It was written by Tennessee Williams and was first published in The New York Times and tells the story of his experience following the release of his widely acclaimed play The Glass Menagerie. The piece is called, and contains his thesis in the title, “The Catastrophe of Success.” He describes how his life changed after the success of the play and how he became distracted from the essentials that led to his success in the first place.

For more than 15 years I have been obsessed with a single question: “Why do otherwise capable people and teams not breakthrough to the next level?” The answer, as Williams beautifully captures, is success. It’s a counterintuitive answer: one that is hidden in plain sight. Success can become a catalyst for failure if it leads to what Jim Collins called “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” The key is to become successful at success. The antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less, but better.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Greg cordially invites you to check out the resources at his website and LinkedIn.

Sunday, March 22, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

William Seidman: A second interview by Bob Morris


Dr. William (Bill) Seidman has worked as a manager or consultant with many large and small organizations including Hewlett-Packard, Jack in the Box, Intel, Tektronix, CVS Pharmacies, and Sears. As a recognized expert on leadership in high-performing organizations, he contributes an in-depth understanding of the processes required to discover and use expert wisdom to create extraordinary organizational performance. He is co-founder and chief executive officer of Cerebyte, Inc., co-author with Rick Grbavac of Strategy to Action in Ten Days and then The Star Factor: Discover What Your Top Performers Do Differently–and Inspire a New Level of Greatness in All, published by AMACOM in 2013. The Star Factor presents Affirmative Leadership, a methodology for discovering what your top performers do differently – and inspiring a new level of greatness in all.

Seidman earned his doctorate at Stanford University where he did a study of how management training effected the development of managers’ attitudes, cognitive patterns and behaviors. As part of this study, he developed a technique for analyzing management down to the single word and action level. This technique is the basis for understanding what makes a star performer so extraordinary and understanding the newest neuroscience for elevating everyone else’s performance to the level of the stars.

He lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with his wife. He enjoys traveling, golf and spending time with his three kids.

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

* * *

Morris: When and why did you and Rick decide to write The Star Factor and do so in collaboration?

Seidman: It was the convergence of two factors. First, after years of development, the Affirmative Leadership process had reached a maturity where it was producing the same excellent results in terms of participant response and impact on business outcomes every time, regardless of the organization or industry.

We felt that the underlying methodology was now strong enough to share with others. Second, at about the same time, three books were published – DRiVE by Pink, Your Brain at Work by Rock and The Power of Positive Deviance by Pascale, Sternin and Sternin — that legitimized different aspects of the methodology. Although these came after we had proven the methodology, they independently supported the role of positive deviants (our stars), the importance of purpose and mastery and the connection of all of these to the neuroscience of learning.

By connecting all of these through a applied methodology, an organization could get performance that was literally beyond what they previously thought possible. Our compelling purpose became to share something we believed would improve people’s lives, organizations and ultimately society.

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

Seidman: The single most “head-snapping” revelation that came from writing the book was the importance and value of self-directed learning. We realized that one of the most important characteristics of the stars was that they were fanatical learners. We also realized that the way we were doing the Launch Workshops and the Guided Practicum – particularly the emphasis on people adapting the learning tasks to generate enhanced value — were a significant learning and leadership breakthrough.

It was transformational for us to see people’s reactions to true self-directed learning. There was a real joy at the re-awaking of their natural, human desire to learn. Put together, we realized that the complexity of today’s world requires leaders to be great learners. You simply can’t be a great leader without being a great [begin italics] learner [end italics], which was a new idea to us and, as far as we could see, a new idea in the literature on leadership.

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

Seidman: About 75% of the book is how we originally envisioned it. The two big changes were the emergence of self-directed learning as a core theme. We also had planned to do a lot more on the implications of Affirmative Leadership programs for executive decision-making. One of the effects of Affirmative Leadership programs is to illuminate disconnects and other types of conflicts in organizations. This can be incredibly valuable for executive teams if they accept the information and use it for better decision-making. But it can be destructive if the executives reject, ignore or overtly suppress the information. We wanted to talk a lot more about how executives can use the issues that bubble-up from Affirmative Leadership programs to be better leaders themselves. But this added 10,000 more words than we were allowed by the publisher. Maybe that will be our next book.

Morris: As I indicate in my review of the book for various Amazon websites, there are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye. For those who have not as yet read the book, please suggest what you view as the most important point or key take-away in each of several passages.

First, The Affirmative Leadership Methodology (Pages 6-9)

Seidman: This is the only methodology for cultural development and change leadership that we know of that consistently and systematically works. As one executive put it: “you mean you can generate levels of performance in six weeks that I couldn’t achieve in five years?”

Yes, because of the synergy between all of the different elements and the underlying science tells us precisely how to drive these changes. This gives organizations capabilities that are quite revolutionary. The most important impacts are in some ways the least tangible, though. When an organization uses Affirmative Leadership for multiple roles, the culture visibly changes. It is just a better, more confident, more productive place at which to work. You can feel the difference and it feels great.

Morris: Your Stars (18-21)

Seidman: They are just great people. Not only are they consistently the top performers on a variety of metrics and perspectives, but they are just plain great people. We hesitated to use the term “stars” because that term is so often associated with egotistical, self-centered people. Our stars are invariably humble, gracious and considerate, in part because their deep commitment to achieving a significant purpose makes them very aware of how little they know and are able to accomplish. The beauty of the methodology is that it causes what is truly the best in people to surface and this then drives creating better places to work.

Morris: Unconscious Competence, and, Engaging Stars (24-28)

Seidman: We often see organizations trying to create best practices through observation and interviews focused on what people are doing. These approaches consistently miss what is most important, and unconscious about the stars, which is how they think. Everything that makes them a star derives from an unconscious sense of deep purpose so you have to start with understanding that sense of purpose – and nourishing  — to learn what makes them extraordinary. Fortunately, if you ask them about their purpose in the way we do in the Wisdom Discovery, they just love talking about it. They become so engaged that we have to be very assertive to drive them to solidify their purpose into a written statement.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Here’s a link to my first interview of Bill

Here is a link to my review of The Star Factor.

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

YouTube video link

Cerebyte link

NeuroLeadership Institute link

Thursday, February 27, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen: An interview by Bob Morris

Jim Collins

Jim Collins is a student and teacher of enduring great companies — how they grow, how they attain superior performance, and how good companies can become great companies.  Having invested nearly a quarter of a century of research into the topic, Jim has authored or co-authored six books that have sold more than ten million copies worldwide.  They include Built to Last, Good to Great, and How the Mighty Fall. His most recent book is Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, co-authored with Morten Hansen.  Based on nine years of research, it answers the question: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?  Great by Choice distinguishes itself from Jim’s prior books by its focus not just on performance, but also on the type of unstable environments faced by leaders today. Driven by a relentless curiosity, Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. In 1995, he founded a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, where he now conducts research and consults with executives from the corporate and social sectors.  He holds degrees in business administration and mathematical sciences from Stanford University, and honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Colorado and the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.

Morten T. Hansen

Morten T. Hansen is a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley (School of Information) and at INSEAD, France. Formerly a professor at the Harvard Business School, he holds a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where he was a Fulbright scholar and received the Jaedicke award for outstanding academic performance. His award-winning research has been published in leading academic journals, and he is the winner of the Administrative Science Quarterly award for having made exceptional contributions to the field of organization studies. Hansen has published several best-selling articles in the Harvard Business Review and is the author of the management book, Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. A native of Norway and a former silver medalist in the Norwegian junior track and field championship, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two daughters, and enjoys running, hiking and traveling.

Here is an excerpt. To read the complete interview, please click here.

*     *     *

Morris: When and why did you two decide to write Great by Choice and how was the division of labor determined?

Hansen: Around 2001, during the time of the boom and bust and 9/11, the world turned unstable and uncertain. People, including our students, kept asking us, how do you manage in unstable times? How do you prevail?  How do you become great in a world out of control? Finally, this topic grabbed us so completely that we both decided that we had to pursue it.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while you and your associates conducted the research over a period of nine years, 2002-2011?

Hansen: During this period, we experienced a recession (2001-02), a huge boom (2003-07), the great recession (2008-10) and the great uncertainty (2010-probably forever). These shifting circumstances just reinforced to us that we don’t live in stable times. In fact, we came to the conclusion that the past 50 years have been an abnormal period of stability and that what we will be experiencing going forward is a permanent state of instability, uncertainty, disruption, and even chaos.

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

Collins: We started the project with the idea that it would just be an article.  But the question and findings proved so fascinating, that we decided to shift gears into a full-blown multi-year research effort that could be a book.

Morris: To what extent does it differ significantly from those earlier works?

Collins: First, there are some important similarities across the four studies.  They all use the historical matched-pair research method.  They all proceed with a “let the data speak” approach, following the evidence rather than our own preconceptions.  They all have powerful conceptual frameworks.  They all use vivid stories as a pedagogical method for teaching the concepts.

There are three main differences between this study and the others.  First, is the question itself: why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others don’t?  Unlike any of the prior books, we deliberately selected on the severity and instability of the environment, not just on performance.  Second, this study deliberately examined small, vulnerable enterprises that rose to greatness, giving us insight into entrepreneurial leadership that we did not have in the prior works.  And finally—although we did not plan this—it has some of the most directly useful ideas that apply not just to building companies, but also to navigating a life in an uncertain and chaotic world.

*      *       *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Jim and Morten cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dan Roam: Second Interview, by Bob Morris

Dan Roam

“I believe that any problem can be solved with a picture. And that anybody can draw it.”

Dan Roam is the author of two international bestsellers, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures and Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, both published by Portfolio Trade, a Penguin imprint.  The former was selected as Business Week and Fast Company’s best innovation book of the year, and was Amazon’s #5 selling business book of 2008. The Back of the Napkin has been published in 25 languages and is a bestseller in Japan, South Korea, and China. Portfolio also published his latest book, Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work (November, 2011)

Roam has helped leaders at Microsoft, eBay, Google, Wal-Mart, Boeing, Lucas Fims, Gap, Kraft, Stanford University, The MIT Sloan School of Management, the US Navy, and the United States Senate solve complex problems through visual thinking. Dan and his whiteboard have appeared on CBS, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Fox News, and NPR. His visual explanation of American health care was selected by BusinessWeek as “The World’s Best Presentation of 2009″. This inspired the White House Office of Communications to invite him in for a discussion on visual problem solving.

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

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing Blah Blah Blah, a few general questions. First, for those who have not as yet read one or both of the “napkin” books, please explain why using relatively simple drawings can have great impact when we attempt to answer a question, solve a problem, persuade others to agree, or to express the essence of an important concept.

Roam: When we see an idea clearly illustrated right in front of us, much more of our mind lights up than if we were just talking about it. With simple and clear pictures, we see more, understand more, and share more than words alone ever could. As humans, we are essentially walking, talking “vision” machines. Three-quarters of all the sensory neurons in our brain are dedicated to processing vision, and in the first four months after we’re born almost all brain development in takes place in those areas that process vision and movement.

From the time we are infants, we know how important sight is to understanding the world around us and guiding us safely through it. What is a shame is how quickly we forget that once we enter school. We spend years perfecting the tools of spoken but we don’t spend two days learning to understand how we SEE. The essential point is this: if we really want someone to understand what we’re talking about, we should actually talk less – and draw more.

Morris: The hieroglyphics on cave walls pre-date the earliest attempts at a verbal language. So the insights you share in the two Napkin books have been common knowledge for at least several million years?

Roam: The oldest drawings ever found are located deep in the Chauvet Cave in south-central France. These paintings of horses, bison, and bulls date back 32,000 years. In the entire sweep of recorded human history, these beautiful images represent the beginning of the “whoosh.” We don’t know anything about the early humans that created these images, but we do know they could draw extremely well. These are the earliest markings ever made by humanity, and they are sketched more wonderfully than most of us could do today.

Morris: Relatively simple drawings can be a great resource for brain storming sessions because almost anyone can draw without possessing highly-developed drawing skills. However, what Tom Kelley characterizes as “ideation” [begin italics] does [end italics] require them. Don’t people have to have something worth communicating, first?

Roam: We all have ideas we believe are worth communicating, and we have them all the time – which is precisely why so many of us talk so much. Those ideas may not be fully developed, we may be uncertain of them, and they may be complex or controversial, but we typically have no shortage of them. And that is why drawing them out – even in the most crude circles-boxes-and-arrows manner – is such a great idea. Drawing out our thoughts forces us to clarify them, look at them from multiple perspectives, and think them through in a vibrant way.

Morris: Since the publication of the two Napkin books, presumably you have received a blizzard of feedback from those who read one or both of them. Of all that you have learned from what your readers have shared, what do you consider to be most valuable? Why?

Roam: I have received thousands of comments from readers over the past three years. The most frequent involve a reader sharing a moment of pictorial  discovery, either in a meeting that was saved when someone went up to the whiteboard and drew the idea that clarified everything, or when they completed a difficult sale by drawing out the solution for all to see. Without a doubt, I have learned the most from readers who had never drawn and, thanks to my books, decided to give it a try. The sense of discovery and enthusiasm that permeates these notes illuminates visual possibilities that I had never considered myself. I always knew pictures made things clearer to me; it is electrifying to see how common that is even among people who never considered themselves “visual.”

Morris: From which sources did you learn the most about what the mind is and does, in general, and what the verbal and visual minds do, in particular?

Roam: I have read, studied, participated in, and discussed with experts three different approaches to understanding the mind. First, I took an academic approach to understanding the mind: in university I studied biology and I was fascinated with the evolutionary development of the human brain, and more recently I consulted with vision scientists and neurobiologists at leading universities. Second, I took an applied approach: I studied meditation for four weeks in a Thai monastery (including spending one week in silent isolation), I participated in cognitive behavioral therapy sessions to see how my mind reacted to various situations and I participated in extensive psychodynamic therapy sessions to try to see why. Third, I took an intuitive approach: I simply monitored myself in hundreds of business meetings and noted when I and other people seemed to be understanding each other and when we did not – and then noted what we were talking about and how we approached it.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of “vivid thinking”

“Vivid Thinking” is a mnemonic. Vi-V-id stands for Visual-Verbal-Interdependent thinking. It is a simple idea that says we haven’t really thought through an idea until we have both talked about it and looked at it, and that we can’t really explain an idea until we can both write about it and draw it. Vivid thinking does not accept that an either/or verbal-vs-visual approach ever fully illuminates an idea; on the contrary Vivid Thinking demands that we must exercise both our verbal and visual minds in concert if we really wish to understand an idea. Talk + look; write +draw = Vivid.

Morris: By what process can vivid thinking be strengthened?

Roam: Like anything we do, Vivid Thinking becomes strengthened through practice. For all its successes, our educational system has in fact allowed us to become lazy thinkers. By relying almost entirely on our verbal mind, we have taught ourselves to shut our visual mind down and to denigrate its importance. My goal in “Blah-Blah-Blah” is to introduce a set of simple tools and rules that reawaken our visual mind and kick it back into gear.

*     *     *

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

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

I also urge you to check out these videos:

Saturday, October 29, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A video of Teresa Amabile’s TEDx program in Atlanta

Teresa Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School and co-author of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Originally educated as a chemist, Teresa received her doctorate in psychology from Stanford University. She studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance. Teresa’s research encompasses creativity, productivity, innovation, and inner work life – the confluence of emotions, perceptions, and motivation that people experience as they react to events at work.

Teresa gave an 18-minute TEDx talk on Sept. 13. The video of the talk is now up on the TEDx Atlanta site. During this talk, she shares a passionate message about improving everyday work life – and lifting performance – in organizations everywhere. If you have any feedback for her, she’d love to hear it. To contact here, please click here.

To watch the video, please click here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kevin Maney: Second Interview, by Bob Morris

Kevin Maney

In his own words….

I’ve had a long career as a journalist and author. Lately, I’ve added a new hat: I’ve joined VSA Partners as its Editorial Director. The plan is to marry business to big-think journalism in a way that hopefully helps both prosper. The first example of that is the book commissioned by IBM and co-authored by me, Steve Hamm and Jeff O’Brien — Making the World Work Better.

My latest book, co-authored with Vivek Ranadivé, is The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future…Just Enough (September, 2011).

Last year, I had another book out: Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t. The hardcover was published in the fall of 2009 by Broadway Books; the paperback, in August 2010.

I contribute occasionally to Fortune, The Atlantic, Fast Company and other magazines. I had been a contributing editor at the ill-fated Condé Nast Portfolio, joining the magazine prior to its launch in 2007 and hanging on until its demise in April 2009.

Before all this, I worked at USA Today for 22 years, much of it as the newspaper’s technology columnist. The job gave me the privilege of interviewing most of the biggest names in the industry. Here and there, I end up on television and radio. I’ve appeared on PBS, NPR, CNBC, and other media outlets, and I’ve frequently been a keynote speaker and on-stage interviewer at events and conferences.

On the music side, in 2008 I worked with a group of terrific Bay Area musicians and recorded a CD of songs of wry commentary about business and technology. It’s called “Privacy,” by Kevin Maney & His Briefs. You can actually buy it on iTunes. I’ve also played in a DC-area band, Not Dead Yet, which at the moment is dormant, if not actually dead. My shining moment was getting my song “Found It On Google” played on Mitch Albom’s radio show.

I graduated from Rutgers University, grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., and now live outside Washington, DC, while spending a lot of time in New York.

[Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Kevin. To read the complete interview, please click here.]

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing The Two-Second Advantage, a few general questions. First, of all the people with whom you have been closely associated, which has had the greatest influence on your personal development? How so?

Maney: Over the very long run, I guess it’s been my brothers. I’m the oldest of three, and the next one is Dave, and then Scott. (I also have a stepbrother, Mark.) Dave, Scott and I have always been close, but it’s more than that. I think our opinions of each other carry great weight, and that’s pushed each of us to be better people, be more ambitious, be wittier, raise better kids, and whole lot of other things like that. And it’s a supportive competitiveness. We’ve always boosted each other, and at times even done business together. Right now, I’m working at a firm, VSA Partners, that Scott introduced me to, and playing a role in Dave’s start-up, Economaney. Fortunately for me, I’m the least smart and savvy of the three of us, so I think I get to learn more from them than they do from me.

Morris: On your professional development?

Maney: There are two people. When I was 25, Hal Ritter just became editor of USA Today’s Money section, and he hired me. I think I was his first hire. I’d say we had a respectful but sometimes contentious relationship. He could be a hard guy to work for — demanding and harsh. But he was also maybe the smartest editor I ever worked for. He knew his audience and drove us to write for it with clear, lean prose. He taught me to have standards and never settle for less, and to have the discipline to always think of the reader. I worked for Hal for the first decade of my career. Whatever kind of writer I am today, it’s because of those 10 years. Hal is now an editor at the Associated Press. We nominally keep in touch.

The other important person is Jim Collins. While Hal taught me to pay attention to the details, Jim played a significant role in helping me think big and broadly. The two of us met well before Jim got famous for his books Built to Last and Good to Great. I was working on a story for USA Today, and talked to a publicist at Stanford, where Jim was a professor at the time, about it. The publicist told me that I should talk to Jim — that Jim was working on a book about a similar topic. That book ended up being Built to Last, but it was then a half-finished manuscript. Jim and I talked and hit it off. He sent me the manuscript, and I thought it was one of the most important business documents I’d ever read. When Built to Last was finally published, I jumped on it and wrote a cover story for USA Today, which in turn was the spark that sent the book up the bestseller list.

Anyway, Jim and I became friends, and I can’t tell you the number of big, analyze-the-universe conversations he and I have had. I love the way he makes me think. His ideas about corporations had a huge impact on the way I analyzed Thomas Watson in The Maverick and His Machine. I wouldn’t be the same kind of author if not for Jim’s friendship.

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.

Maney: I knew I wanted to be a writer from as far back as I can remember. That was my talent. Lord knows it wasn’t math. If there was an epiphany, it came when I went to Rutgers and got involved in the journalism program. I reluctantly signed up for a journalism major, thinking I needed a fall-back way to make money should my career as a novelist fail to take off. As I started to try on journalism, including doing internships and working at the campus paper, I found I actually liked it. So I started to want to be a journalist.

And then there was another epiphany when I discovered the great old New York Times columnist Russell Baker. I realized there could be a way to be a newspaper journalist and write funny yarns in a column. Then I wanted to be Russell Baker. I kind of half achieved it — writing a column for USA Today that often involved funny yarns about technology.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have since achieved thus far?

Maney: Well, with all due respect to Rutgers, I’m not sure the value of my time there was in what I learned academically. It was more about the fact that Rutgers introduced me to journalism and diverted my path into newspapers.

Morris: You are a serious musician. To what extent has your significant involvement with music proven to be highly valuable in ways and to any extent you had not anticipated? Please explain.

Maney: I’m not sure how much the word serious applies! I write songs like “Wouldn’t Want to Be Bill Gates” and “Little Tattoo and All Over Tan.” But I certainly have pursued music in general and songwriting in particular.

What’s it done for me? I think it’s become part of my personal brand — in a field where having a personal brand is an asset. It’s helped me stand out a bit in the minds of a lot of people in the tech industry. I’m that tech writer who gets on stage and plays funny tech songs. I wouldn’t want that to be all I’m known for, but it’s a bit of a differentiator.

Morris: In your opinion, what will be the single greatest challenge that business leaders (especially CEOs) will face during the 3-5 years?

Maney: This gets a bit into what I’m doing with my brother Dave. He and I and other people we’re working with believe that the disruptions and difficulties in the economy the past few years aren’t just a bump in the road — they’re part of a massive change in very big forces, brought on by the Internet, globalization, and the flood of data. It’s changing the very nature of what a company is, the nature of what a job is, the value that proximity has or doesn’t have. Economaney is kind of a new age think tank for tossing these ideas around and trying to make sense of them. All in all, the next three to five years are going to be among the most challenging in history to be a CEO in America — or for that matter, President of the country.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

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


Wednesday, September 21, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teresa Amabile: Profile of a cutting edge thought leader

Teresa Amabile

Long before almost anyone else, Teresa Amabile began to think about and write about creativity and innovation in business. Perhaps only her associates at Stanford, Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers, staked an earlier claim as pioneers in what has since become one of the most dynamic fields of research.

Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School. Originally educated as a chemist, Teresa received her doctorate in psychology from Stanford University. She studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance. Teresa’s research encompasses creativity, productivity, innovation, and inner work life – the confluence of emotions, perceptions, and motivation that people experience as they react to events at work.

Teresa’s most recent discoveries appear in her book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. The book, based on research into nearly 12,000 daily diary entries from over 200 professionals inside organizations, illuminates how everyday events at work can impact employee engagement and creative productivity. Published in August 2011 by Harvard Business Review Press, the book is co-authored with Teresa’s husband and collaborator,Steven Kramer, a renowned expert on behavioral psychology.

Her other books include Creativity in Context and Growing Up Creative. Teresa has published over 100 scholarly articles and chapters, in outlets including top journals in psychology (such as Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and American Psychologist) and in management (Administrative Science Quarterly and Academy of Management Journal). She is also the author of The Work Preference Inventory and KEYS to Creativity and Innovation. Teresa has used insights from her research in working with various groups in business, government, and education, including Procter & Gamble, Novartis International AG, Motorola, IDEO, and the Creative Education Foundation. She has presented her theories, research results, and practical implications in dozens of forums, including the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Young Presidents’ Organization annual university, and the Front End of Innovation annual conference.

As an educator, Teresa strives to teach leaders and aspiring leaders ways in which they can simultaneously achieve their most passionate career aspirations, further the success of their organizations and employees, and serve the higher aims of the societies in which they work. At Harvard Business School, Teresa has taught MBA and executive courses on managing for creativity, leadership, and ethics. Previously, at Brandeis University, she taught social psychology, organizational psychology, the psychology of creativity, and statistics. She served as the host-instructor of the 26-part series, Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, originally broadcast on PBS.

For more about Teresa or The Progress Principle, please click here.

You can also watch a video (about four minutes in length) offering a portion of a rare interview during which Teresa Amabile discusses her latest book, The Progress Principle.  To watch the video, please click here.



Monday, August 29, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Leaders Acknowledge What Can’t Be Done

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

It’s never easy to decide to stop pursuing a strategy. Americans got a reminder of that in President Obama’s speech recently on Afghanistan; it was dispiriting to hear him describe the extended timetable required to remove even just the incremental troops who went in as the surge. But at least Obama did manage to make a decision to scale back. Many leaders faced with a strategy that isn’t working don’t get that far.

Even when things clearly aren’t going right, strong psychological tendencies keep the average leader from admitting it and correcting course. A pathbreaking study by Barry Staw in the 1970s helped to clarify why. In it, MBAs were asked to choose the best R&D investment strategy for a case company; then, they were shown how that strategy played out (disappointingly). In the next round they were asked what to do next: Should they switch R&D projects in midstream, or pour more money into the original strategy? Staw found that the answer differed substantially based on who made the choice in the second round. When the same person responsible for the disappointing first strategy was given the power to decide the next move, it was much more likely that they would choose to stay the course. They were predisposed to escalate the commitment because to do otherwise would be to admit a mistake. (Interestingly, Staw’s paper makes direct reference to the war in Vietnam as a situation where logic might fall prey to face-saving.)

None of us likes to admit to bad decisions, but imagine how much harder that is for someone who has been chosen to lead a large organization precisely because he or she is thought to have the power to see the future more clearly and chart a wise course. The faith of others not only creates pressure, it also infects the leader with the impression that he or she really is powerful enough to make things work out. For proof of how far this self-confidence can go, look to Ellen Langer’s research on the “illusion of control.”

She showed that people have such an inflated sense of the control they personally exercise over their circumstances that they are willing to bet more on gambles when it is their own hand that rolls the dice or pulls a card from a deck. Among leaders, whose beliefs in their powers to intervene effectively have had plenty of reinforcement, that tendency is surely amplified.

And here’s one last piece of research I can’t resist citing in a discussion of why leaders are so likely to double-down on bad bets. Leslie Perlow  did a fascinating study of engineers doing software development and observed them frequently using their time in ways that could only make it more difficult to meet their aggressive deadline. Her perceptive interpretation of this behavior was that, while an action that prevents problems goes mostly unnoticed, pulling a flailing project from the fire garners plenty of attention and rewards. Since leaders — like doctors — earn reputations for being great by resolving crises, they may have the same incentive to create the need for heroics.

With all these psychological tendencies acting on a leader’s judgment, it’s a wonder anyone ever manages to pull the plug on an effort that is consuming resources but going nowhere. Only the best leaders can hold fast to the truth that their job is to set strategy and ensure effective execution of it — and that at least half of that job is deciding what not to do. They know they must be disciplined in thinking about what products not to pursue and bring to market, what geographies not to enter, what activities not to focus on at the moment.

Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, is someone who gets this. Visiting Stanford one day, he told my class that when he entered the company as COO he reduced most executives’ job scope, because he believes that people don’t do very well processing complex agendas and that success mostly comes from effort focused on the most critical and achievable objectives. Scale this up and you have the notion of comparative advantage, which suggests that companies, regions, and even nations should prune their activities and focus on areas of relative strength.

*     *     *

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. His latest book is Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.



Friday, July 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Henry Chesbrough: A second interview by Bob Morris

Henry Chesbrough

Chesbrough is Adjunct Professor, Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Executive Director of its Center for Open Innovation. His landmark book Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology (2003) articulated a new paradigm for industrial research and development. His more recent book, Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape (2006), carries the open approach a step further, arguing that business models themselves need to become more open.  Innovating business models requires open technology strategies, but also new approaches to managing intellectual property as well.  His most recent book, Open Services Innovation: Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era (2011) explores innovation in a services context.  He earned a BA degree in economics from Yale University, an MBA degree from Stanford University, and a PhD degree in business administration from UC Berkeley.

*     *      *

Morris: Before discussing your latest book, Open Services Innovation, a few general questions. A great deal has happened in the global business world since our last conversation three years ago. In your opinion, which change during that recent period is the most significant and why do you think so?

Chesbrough: In the past three years, there has developed a short-term crisis in both the EU and the US, as each region wrestles with serious issues that are somewhat different.  But these issues have had a dampening effect on innovation in both regions, as companies manage through a turbulent and uncertain environment.  There is an unfortunate tendency to treat innovation as a luxury good, something to welcome in good times, but cut back on in tough times.

Meanwhile, there is a longer term and to my mind even more important trend, which is the rise of the “emerged markets”.  China, India and Brazil of course, but also Turkey, Latin American, South Africa, places that many innovation scholars gave little attention to in the past.  There is no question that in this rebalanced world innovation is going to become a global phenomenon to manage and to study.

Morris: As I survey the ever-increasing number of new technologies that appear, I am reminded of Goethe’s poem Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) written in 1797. Do you share my concern that at least a few of the new disruptive technologies have taken on a life of their own?

Chesbrough: The statistic that blew me away the most was one I read on Henry Blodget’s Business Insider website.  It showed that people are spending fully half of their online time on the Net on Facebook, and the other half on everything else there is on the Web.  I don’t know if that’s true, but if so it is truly mind-blowing.  I know that it is not true of me or my wife, and that it is true of both of my daughters.  I don’t know what a world built around Facebook will look like in the future.  It makes me feel like I am on my way to becoming obsolete.

Morris: Howard Gardner’s extensive research on multiple intelligences suggests this next question: Can an “open” mindset be developed? If so, how?

Chesbrough: Yes I believe it can be developed.  While this is not an area that I have studied rigorously, I know from my own life experience that at the root of whatever open mindset I have is a basic humility that recognizes my own limitations and numerous areas of ignorance.  Being open for me means not being paralyzed by those shortcomings, but using my realization of them as a spur to learn and to grow. When I must function as an expert, ironically that often blocks my own growth.  When I get to ask questions, wonder why something is happening or how it works, I can feel myself being stretched ever so slightly in new directions.  Happily, being a teacher and having children both force me into stretching myself with some frequency!

Morris: In The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin has much of value to say about integrative thinking. As he explains, it is “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in one’s head at the same time and then “without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,” be able to “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” Integrative thinking requires a “discipline of consideration and synthesis [that] is the hallmark of exceptional businesses and those who lead them.” This seems to describe the open mindset you have endorsed for years. Am I correct?

Chesbrough: Yes, you are.  I define open innovation to be a process whereby companies utilize external knowledge more extensively in their own innovation processes, and allow others to utilize the unused ideas they have outside.  Open innovation thinking is an “and”, not an “or”.  It is NOT an argument that calls for outsourcing all of one’s R&D.  Rather, it is a call to integrate internal and external in the integrative manner that Martin articulates.

Morris: What seem to be the most common – and troublesome – misconceptions about open innovation and open business models?

Chesbrough: Many conflate open innovation with open source software, or open source development methodologies.  While both concepts share an appreciation for open, participatory engagement of many people in the innovation process, open innovation explicitly incorporates the business model as a core part of the innovation process.  Many adherents in open source explicitly eschew business models as irrelevant or even evil.  Yet many observers of open source software itself would acknowledge that many businesses have built “open source business models” that helped them achieve greater impact and scale than they otherwise would have done.  To me, this is both a good thing (it is good that these open source tools and products have expanded greatly) and a statement of how the world works.  It also raises the possibility that adherents of open source sometimes overlook, that some business models could pervert the good intentions of open source and harness all that community contribution for nefarious purposes.  This was a concern when Microsoft tried to fork Java some years back by offering a version that only ran on Windows.  Oracle seems to be testing the waters lately with Java as they file suits against Google and others who utilize open source.

Morris: What, in fact, is true?

Chesbrough: Some of the most successful open source projects these days are led by large companies, who are investing significant time and effort into the open source projects because it directly or indirectly benefits their own business models (not because they have become altruistic).  Contributors and volunteers need to pay attention to who is driving the agenda for these projects, so that they remain aware of how their hard work is being used in the world.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Open Services Innovation. When and why did you decide to write it?

Chesbrough: Well, I focused my previous books on innovating new products and new technologies.  But I often got questions about “what do I do if I am a service firm”?  I realized that we know a lot about how to innovate new products, new processes, and new technologies, but know far less about how to innovate in services.  Yet this is the majority of economic activity for most OECD countries.  So there was a gap to fill.  And there is good academic work going on in services innovation research, but little of that has been translated to a general audience.  That is part of what I tried to do in Open Services Innovation.

What gives this topic special importance is the rise of China and other emerging economies, those that are now innovating as well as manufacturing the innovations of others.  There is a risk of a commodity trap, where firms that focus exclusively on developing better products and technologies run the real risk of failing to differentiate their offerings sufficiently, and instead become commoditized by innovative entrants from the emerging parts of the world.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Henry Chesbrough invites you to check out the wealth of resources at these websites

Twitter:  @OpenInno


Tuesday, July 12, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dan Roam, Part 1: An interview by Bob Morris

“I believe that any problem can be solved with a picture. And that anybody can draw it.”

Dan Roam is the author of two international bestsellers, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures and Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, both published by Portfolio Trade, a Penguin imprint.  The former was selected as BusinessWeek and Fast Company’s best innovation book of the year, and Amazon’s #5 selling business book. The Back of the Napkin has been published in 25 languages and is a bestseller in Japan, South Korea, and China. His latest book is Blah-Blah-Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work, also published by Portfolio/Penguin Group (November, 2011).

Roam has helped leaders at Microsoft, eBay, Google, Wal-Mart, Boeing, Lucas Film, Gap, Kraft, Stanford University, The MIT Sloan School of Management, the US Navy, and the United States Senate solve complex problems through visual thinking. Dan and his whiteboard have been featured on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Fox News, and NPR. His visual explanation of American health care was selected by Business Week as “The World’s Best Presentation of 2009″. This inspired the White House Office of Communications to invite him in for a discussion on visual problem solving.

Roam is the founder of Digital Roam Inc, a management consulting company that helps business executives solve complex problems through visual thinking. Through lectures, workshops, books, and hands-on projects with many of the world’s most influential organizations, He as helped teams learn to solve complex problems by relearning how to see after discovering the power of pictures as a business problem-solving tool in the 1990’s when he founded the first marketing communications company in what was then the Soviet Union. With no Russian language skills, he quickly realized that his business pictures transcended the language barrier. Since that eye-opening experience, Dan has been fine-tuning the visual thinking tools he introduces in his books.

Roam received two degrees at the University of California, Santa Cruz: fine art and biology. This combination of art and science kicked off Dan’s cross-disciplinary approach to problem solving. Dan is a licensed pilot, a skill that demands constant practice in understanding complex visual information displays. He has applied his business-oriented visual thinking skills while working in Switzerland, Russia, Thailand, France, Holland, and the US. He lives in San Francisco.

Note: Here is an excerpt from my first interview of Dan Roam. To read the complete interview, please click here. There will be a second interview in conjunction with the publication of his new book, Blah-Blah-Blah, in November.

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing any of your specific books, a few general questions. First, to what extent (if any) have you had any formal training in the creative arts such as painting, drawing, and sculpting?

Roam: I have drawn all my life. My earliest memories are of drawing pictures on my parents’ kitchen table. In school I attended the same basic art classes as everyone else. But while I showed talent and loved drawing, I didn’t like the way art was taught. It was too wishy-washy; too much about “being creative” and “expressing myself” at the expense of actually learning anything.

By the time I entered the University of California at Santa Cruz, I had no interest in pursuing art. I signed up for the Pre-Med track and studied biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental studies. But in my junior year at the university, two events occurred which were to have a profound impact on my perception of “creativity.”

The first was that I unexpectedly fell in love with organic chemistry; it turned out to be completely visual. Remember those plastic “ball and stick” models of molecules? I spent hours building shapes with them, and excelled at chemistry. The second was that I discovered that “art” could be taught as a rigorous discipline with rules and tools. Those rules had nothing to do with applying paint; they were about how people THINK — and that was exactly what I was looking for. Before long, I realized that painting was every bit as intellectually challenging as science and that the same fundamental ways of thinking applied to both.

In the end, I extended my undergraduate career by another year so that I could complete degrees in both biology and painting. I never went on to medical school, instead finding my call helping businesspeople see for themselves the connections between planning, science, finance, communications, and “art”.

Morris: I have a large family and Pictionary is one of our favorite games to play. One son is a highly-renowned professional illustrator. (He created the illustration for the homepage of my website.) Whenever we play, his team never wins because his drawings are elaborate and consume so much time. I thought about that as I read your two books. Chip and Dan Heath assert that the “stickiest” ideas are always the simplest. Why is it also true that, when communicating ideas, the simplest drawings (i.e. those involving circles, squares, arrows, and stick figures) are most effective?

Roam: Without a doubt, the simplest, fastest drawings are the most effective for communicating an idea. I understand well your son’s Pictionary challenge; I suffered the same fate as I always tried to make my drawings “better”, inevitably destroying their essential character along the way. Now I realize that I’ve actually spent the last thirty years learning how to “draw badly really well.”

Morris: With all due respect to your response to the previous question, I think one of the greatest benefits of your approach to communication is that it requires people to have a solid, crystal clear understanding of what they want to communicate and how they plan to organize their ideas before they begin to draw. Is that a fair assessment?

Roam: I believe that we do not truly know something until we can clearly explain it to someone else – and the younger the person we can explain it to, the better we know it. I’m not alone in this belief, of course. Einstein himself said, “All physical theories, their mathematical expressions notwithstanding, ought to lend themselves to so simple a description that even a child could understand them.” Since an effective picture of an idea must by definition account for the essentials, being able to draw a simple picture of your idea is just about the best test I can think of to prove that you really do understand it yourself. It’s far harder to fake a simple picture than it is a wordy essay. The picture you create is your mind standing there for all to see, unprotected by verbiage. If you can’t draw it, you don’t get it.

Morris: The creative and performing arts are often referred to as “international languages.” Having lived and worked in so many different countries, have you found that to be true?

Roam: The creative and performing arts clearly transcend language and cultural barriers, which is what makes painting and music in particular so enchanting regardless of origin. But the cognitive power of what we call “art” goes far deeper than that. When I first moved to Moscow in 1990, it was still the days of the Soviet Union. Here I suddenly found myself in a strange land, surrounded by people whose language I didn’t understand – and I was supposed to be running an advertising agency! That was crazy: in those days it was still illegal to earn a profit. In that environment, nobody – not my colleagues, employees, or clients – had a clue what “business planning” was. It was drawings that saved the day. I found that if I could map out an idea graphically (what is “profit,” for example, and why it might be a good thing), then we could begin to understand each other.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

You cordially invited to visit these websites:

I also urge you to check out these videos:

Sunday, July 10, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 415 other followers

%d bloggers like this: