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5 Biggest Leadership Lessons From 2012

5 Biggest Leadership

Flight director Keith Comeaux, right, celebrates with Martin Greco after a successful landing of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory on August 5, 2012 in Pasadena, California.

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Les McKeown for Inc. magazine. To read the complete article, please click here.

Photo: Pool/Getty Images

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It’s been quite a year for leadership lessons. Let’s check out what events should shape your leadership goals for 2013. Any one of a multitude of events in 2012 (Hurricane Sandy, The London Olympics, Benghazi and its fallout) would provide a case study in how to lead–and sometimes, sadly, how not to.

Here [is the first of] my personal top five leadership lessons from 2012:

1. Institutionalize your Vision (with a capital V).

It’s over a year since he died, but Steve Jobs was still handing out leadership lessons in 2012.

The question everyone began asking almost immediately his sad, early death was announced was: “Will Apple survive the loss of its Visionary founder?”

This year showed that, while the jury is still out as to whether it will be exactly the same company or not, Apple isn’t going to disappear any time soon–far from it.

Unlike CEOs at companies such as Starbucks, Gateway, and Dell, Steve Jobs clearly succeeded in institutionalizing his vision by driving it deep into the very warp and woof of the company and instilling it into Apple’s management DNA.

Howard Schultz, for example, hasn’t yet achieved this at Starbucks. He’s still the personification of “his” company’s vision.

Are you the personification of your company’s vision? If you left, would it leave too? Or have you hired, mentored and coached your vision into the company, so that it would stand without you?

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Les McKeown is the author of the bestseller Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track–and Keeping It There and is the CEO of Predictable Success, a leading advisor on accelerated organizational growth. His latest book is The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success.

Thursday, February 7, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ken Segall: An interview by Bob Morris

Ken Segall  worked closely with Steve Jobs as his ad agency creative director for over 12 years spanning NeXT and Apple. He led the advertising team behind the “Think different” campaign that helped revitalize the Apple brand when Steve returned from exile in 1997; he co-wrote the first commercial ever to win an Emmy; and he set Apple down the i-way by naming the iMac. Having served as global creative director at agencies for Dell, IBM and Intel, Ken is in a unique position to describe how Apple’s culture sets it far apart from its competitors. And that’s just what he’s done in his bestselling book, Insanely Simple. Illustrating his points with behind-the-scenes stories from Steve Jobs’ world, Ken shows how the love of simplicity has guided the way Apple organizes, innovates, communicates and markets — and how simplicity has helped build the most valuable company on earth. Ken currently does creative work, branding and product naming for major brands. He blogs about technology and marketing at, and he has fun with it all at his Apple satire site,

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

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

Segall: At the risk of sounding like I’m obsessed with all things Apple, the easy answer to that question is: Steve Jobs. He was a truly remarkable person in so many ways, probably even more so to those who got to see him up close. I don’t think I ever left a meeting with Steve without being amazed how intensely smart and focused he was. I’m not at all surprised he was able to accomplish what he did. So to me, Steve was a person to be admired, and he opened my eyes to the things that are possible when you put all your energy into what you believe.

We’ve all heard stories about the not-so-nice things that Steve did, and many of those stories are true. But there was also a side to Steve that never got much press. He could be charming, energizing and even fun. He was a complicated mix — but I found him to be an inspiration, and he changed the way I live and work.Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?Segall: Every few years, I stumble upon my college transcript in a dusty file, and I’m always amazed — because I haven’t the faintest memory of having taken 99% of those classes. In my case, college was really more of a training ground for learning how to succeed. It presented me with a goal (getting a degree), and let me figure out the best way to achieve it. Learning how to allocate time and money to achieve a goal is a good foundation for a young person just setting out in life.

Ironically, I took an aptitude test before I entered college (Penn State) that indicated I might be a good fit in the world of advertising. That sounded somewhat interesting to me, so that’s what I signed up for. However, just seven weeks into my first term, I abandoned ship on that major and never looked back. I graduated with a BA degree and decided to play drums instead.

That’s what I did for the next seven years, until at the ripe old age of 29, I ended up in … advertising. I really should have given that aptitude test more credence. Given my experience, I’m always surprised to meet advertising people who actually studied for that profession. All the more power to them, but I found that my worldly adventures really helped me when I did get into advertising at a more advanced age. I had a better understanding of what makes people tick, and was able to tap into this understanding when I wrote headlines and copy. I probably advanced in the business more quickly than those starting right out of school.

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

Segall: Because I started later than most, and therefore had some maturity going for me, I don’t lament any lack of knowledge when I broke into the business. In fact, I often talk about how my innocence and idealism served as a business advantage. To me, the advertising business was fresh and exciting, and I didn’t get why some of the older people seemed to be trying to find a way out. One of the things that got me excited about working in an agency was the intelligence and wit I saw all around me. Unlike a lot of my fellow musicians, my advertising colleagues actually read newspapers. They were stimulating to be around. Very quickly, I felt like “these are my people.” Of course, there were some embarrassing moments as I learned what advertising was all about. Starting at Chiat/Day in L.A., I distinctly remember the first time I saw the form upon which copywriters would submit their final work. At the top of the page, in big type, it said “COPY.” I thought that was special paper for the Xerox machine. Little did I know that a career in copy awaited me.

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

Segall: This probably isn’t the answer you’d expect, but I’ll go with The Hudsucker Proxy. First, I’m a Coen Brothers fan (I did short promotional film with them about Apple’s Final Cut Studio video editing suite some years ago). Second, in typical Coen Brothers fashion, it has some wonderfully exaggerated characters and improbable plot lines. Yet we get an interesting assortment of the things we see in business every day: plotting, scheming, backstabbing, subterfuge and greed. I say all of this tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the movie wouldn’t be fun if such things didn’t actually exist in the corporate world. So in that sense you might even consider it educational.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

You can learn more about Ken, his book, and his blog by visiting

Friday, September 28, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confronting the Pain of Innovation

Here is an article written by Michael Schrage and published in Harvard Business Review. To read the complete article, check out all the other resources, sign in or sign up for HBR email alerts, and obtain discount information, please click here.

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Working “out of your comfort zone” is the euphemism; the organizational reality is “working through pain.” Innovation hurts.

Every organization I’ve observed that’s serious about being innovative is filled with people in genuine pain — not just stress or anxiety or deadline pressure, and certainly not discomfort. Pain. This can be the physical strain of consecutive all-nighters to test every meaningful configuration of a website before it goes live, to the emotional pain of subordinating your vision of the innovation to the vicissitudes of customer taste. Ideally, innovators go through pain so their customers and clients won’t have to

The International Association for the Study of Pain Management defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience…” That fairly captures a dominant innovation sensation at world-class innovators. The innovation cultures of Google, Samsung or Steve Jobs’ Apple or Andy Grove’s Intel, for example, make painfully clear that successful innovators have high thresholds for pain. Unpleasant sensory and emotional experiences abound. Yes, there’s also fun and exhilaration. But innovation leadership is less about clichés celebrating creativity, compelling visions or getting the best out of people than successfully helping innovators beat what hurts. Overcoming resistance is not the same as pushing through pain.

That shouldn’t surprise. Confronting pain is integral to most other elite endeavors. World-class athletes and dancers explicitly train for pain even beyond the point of injury. Special Forces operators such as the Navy SEALs are expected to “Embrace the Suck.” Arguably one of the great flaws of formal business and technical education is that inculcating disciplined self-awareness around pain management is neither part of the culture nor the curriculum. But elite innovators, not unlike their athletic counterparts, understand and accept that they will likely hurt themselves and/or their colleagues on the path to innovation excellence. As Joseph Schumpeter of “creative destruction” fame notably observed, “successful innovation requires an act of will, not of intellect.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the forthcoming HBR Single Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? To check out his other blog posts, please click here.

Monday, July 23, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s the July, 2012 New York Times Hardcover Business Books Best Sellers List – Steve Jobs Still at the Top

(Scroll down to see the actual list).

After a few month’s absence, the New York Times has returned with its list of Hardcover Business Books Best Sellers.

As I always note, this is the list that feels “most accurate” to me.  The weekly lists, and the hourly updated Amazon lists, represent too narrow a time horizon, in my opinion.  This list takes a longer, month-long view.

This month, we are seeing some titles that reflect our current political season.  And a couple of others definitely reflect the ongoing financial turmoil.

And, the list demonstrates the lasting power of the Steve Jobs book.  (I presented my synopsis of this book back in the January, 2012, First Friday Book Synopsis gathering.  Here it is, in July, still atop the list).

There are a couple of new titles that will make our list of “possibles” for our First Friday Book Synopsis.  For readers unaware of our event, my colleague Karl Krayer and I have presented one synopsis each of a business book, every month, since April, 1998.  We deliver these presentations at a monthly breakfast meeting in Dallas – open to all.  There aren’t many prominent or influential titles that we have missed over these 14+ years.  You can always check on the titles for the upcoming month’s event by clicking on our home page.  (We usually upload the next month by about the 10th day of the current month).

From this month’s list, we have presented our synopses of the following titles at our First Friday Book Synopsis gatherings:  #1, Steve Jobs; # 2, Imagine; #3, Power of Habit; #5, Thinking Fast and Slow; and #14, Strengths Based Leadership.

You can see the full list, with more description, at the New York Times site by clicking here.  (And, here is the July, 2012 list of the top ten Paperbacks Business Books Best Sellers, also from the New York Times.  We have presented synopses of #1, Outliers; #2, Tipping Point; #3, Freakonomics; #4, Drive; #6, Checklist Manifesto; #8, Moneyball; and #9, The Big Short). 

You can purchase most of our synopses, with audio recordings of our presentations plus our comprehensive handouts, from our companion web site,

Here is the July, 2012 New York Times Hardcover Business Books Best Sellers List.


STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson.


IMAGINE, by Jonah Lehrer.


POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg.


UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES, by Edward Conard. (Portfolio/Penguin, $27.95.) A former managing director of Bain Capital and a major Romney contributor argues that growing income inequality shows the American economy is working. (†)


THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman.


CHARGE, by Brendon Burchard.


PRICE OF INEQUALITY, by Joseph E. Stiglitz.


SCREWED!, by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann.


HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE?, by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon.




$100 STARTUP, by Chris Guillebeau.


REAL CRASH, by Peter D. Schiff.




STRENGTHS-BASED LEADERSHIP, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. (Gallup, $24.95.)


WINNER TAKE ALL, by Dambisa Moyo.

Friday, July 6, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , | Leave a comment

Insanely Simple: A book review by Bob Morris

Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success
Ken Segall
Portfolio/Penguin (2012)

“I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

As Hannibal Lector explains to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, the Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, endorsed the idea of focusing on the essence of a subject. The French later formulated the concept of the précis. Still later, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” All this serves to create a context, a frame of reference, for Ken Segall’s brilliant analysis of what drove Steve Jobs to create an insanely great company that continues to produce insanely great products.

As Segall explains, “Simplicity doesn’t spring to life with the right combination of molecules, water, and sunlight. It needs a champion – someone who’s willing to stand up for its principles and strong enough to resist the overtures of Simplicity’s evil twin, Complexity. It needs someone who’s willing to guide a process with both head and heart.” These are among the passages, themes, and concepts that caught my eye throughout Segall’s lively and eloquent narrative:

o Standards Aren’t for Bending (Pages 15-16)
o Small Groups = Better [Collaborative] Relationships (35- 38)
o The Perils of Proliferation (52-54)
o Thinking Different vs. Thinking Crazy (74-77)
o Simplicity’s Unfair Advantage (93-95)
o Never Underestimate the Power of a Word (123-125)
o Death by Formality (132-135)
o Technology with Feeling (138-140)
o Ignoring the Naysayers: Inventing the Apple Store (180-184)

I have read all of the books written about Steve Jobs and Apple and reviewed most of them. In my opinion, with the exception of Walter Isaacson’s definitive biography, none provides a more thorough explanation of Jobs’s values, standards, and motivations than does this one. As Segall suggests, Jobs’s greatest achievement is that he “built a monument to Simplicity.” As Jobs invariably had the last word at the conclusion of conversations and meetings, it seems appropriate that he also have the last word now: “Simplicity can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Owe A Debt To The Unlucky” – Michael Lewis Gives The Best Commencement Advice Of 2012

(Note:  the links are to the text of each of these speeches.  You can also find the video of each with little trouble.  And there are plenty of “compilations” of the “best  commencement speeches of 2012″ out there, like this one).


I like commencement addresses.  I do not remember the one I heard when I graduated.  I do remember the speaker (not the message; the speaker) at my wife’s graduation.  But I’ve liked them more and more as the years have rolled on.

I suppose my favorite is Steve Jobs at Stanford, as I suspect you would suspect if you’ve read my blog for very long:  “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.  Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

But there are a lot of other good ones, and they keep coming.  This year, we’ve had Aaron Sorkin at Syracuse“…make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people.”  And David Mccullough, Jr. at Wellesley High School (at a high school – I like that):  You are not special.  You are not exceptional. 

But, having presented synopses of five different books by Michael Lewis (including The New New Thing; Moneyball; The Big Short), it is not a surprise that moving near the top of the list of my favorites is Michael Lewis at Princeton  in 2012.  It is filled with Michael Lewis quality observation and insight.  Here is a great excerpt.  I’ve bolded what I think is the key line.

I wrote a book about this, called “Moneyball.” It was ostensibly about baseball but was in fact about something else. There are poor teams and rich teams in professional baseball, and they spend radically different sums of money on their players. When I wrote my book the richest team in professional baseball, the New York Yankees, was then spending about $120 million on its 25 players. The poorest team, the Oakland A’s, was spending about $30 million. And yet the Oakland team was winning as many games as the Yankees — and more than all the other richer teams.  

This isn’t supposed to happen. In theory, the rich teams should buy the best players and win all the time. But the Oakland team had figured something out: the rich teams didn’t really understand who the best baseball players were. The players were misvalued. And the biggest single reason they were misvalued was that the experts did not pay sufficient attention to the role of luck in baseball success. Players got given credit for things they did that depended on the performance of others: pitchers got paid for winning games, hitters got paid for knocking in runners on base. Players got blamed and credited for events beyond their control. Where balls that got hit happened to land on the field, for example.

Forget baseball, forget sports. Here you had these corporate employees, paid millions of dollars a year. They were doing exactly the same job that people in their business had been doing forever.  In front of millions of people, who evaluate their every move. They had statistics attached to everything they did. And yet they were misvalued — because the wider world was blind to their luck. 

This had been going on for a century. Right under all of our noses. And no one noticed — until it paid a poor team so well to notice that they could not afford not to notice. And you have to ask: if a professional athlete paid millions of dollars can be misvalued who can’t be? If the supposedly pure meritocracy of professional sports can’t distinguish between lucky and good, who can? 

The “Moneyball” story has practical implications. If you use better data, you can find better values; there are always market inefficiencies to exploit, and so on. But it has a broader and less practical message: don’t be deceived by life’s outcomes. Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.  I make this point because, along with this speech, it’s something that you’re very likely to forget.

In an interview on PBS Newshour about the speech, Michael Lewis added these thoughts:

But I do think that there has been kind of sapped out of the culture an idea that used to be pretty robust. And it’s the idea of noblesse oblige. It’s the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected from.

And it’s an idea that it’s — you know, it’s the heart of the Princeton education. When you get there, they tell you, the motto is, in the nation’s service.

I would say that, look, that the successful in our society owe so much of their success to things outside of themselves. They owe it to the society, that they’re born into this affluent and peaceful society that was not of their making, that they should acknowledge that obligation.

And I think you see a lot of — a lot of fight-back on that subject. And you see it — you mean, you see it in the tax code. You see it in the way private equity managers manage to construe their income as capital gains, so they don’t have to pay taxes on it. You see it in CEO pay.

You see it in — you see it in the way Wall Street people pay themselves. So I think that — that even to — even to put the question into the minds of young people of what they owe is maybe a novel concept, because there are an awful lot of people who sit on top of the society who don’t feel that way.

Having said that, you know, I do think that one of the things that distinguishes our country from, say, Greece, is that we do have this notion that you give back. If you look at Greek culture and why — and why the place over there is crumbling right now, part of the problem is the elites feel they owe the place nothing. They don’t pay taxes. They don’t — they have no real organic relationship with the rest of the place, and they certainly don’t have a sense of noblesse oblige.

It’s sort of winner take all. And that’s something I think we need to really fight hard to avoid here, because when we get to that point, I do think the society starts to crumble. So this was on my mind when I wrote this talk. And I confess I’m a little surprised you’re interested, because, to me, it just seems obvious.

People go to their graduations, and promptly forget what they barely heard to begin with during the graduation speech.  And people read books, and articles, and blog posts, and promptly forget what they hear and read.

But maybe we should remember.  Maybe we should remember on purpose – you know, call to mind, and pay attention to…   “You have an obligation to the unlucky.”  An obligation! – to the unlucky.  This is something we should all remember, and pay a hefty amount of attention to, don’t you think?

Thursday, June 14, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | 1 Comment

Innovation + Communication – 2 Obvious Lessons From Apple’s Latest Big Event

Tim Cook at the June, 2012 WWDC

So, Apple had their newest big roll out yesterday.  (Watch the WWDC keynote here).  I am an Apple fan, but really only barely use my Apple devices (I have three; iMac, iPad, iPhone) to their capabilities.  But I loaded the Macrumors live blog of the event, glanced at it frequently, and followed along.  (And I kept looking for the announcement of the latest iMac, but, alas, it did not arrive.  My son assures me it is coming soon).

From the moment that Siri started it off, to the multiple announcements, the faithful seemed more than satisfied with the latest good news.  Here are two obvious lessons from yesterday’s event.  And, yes, they are obvious.  But the fact that they are obvious does not mean that other companies and organizations have figured out how to match Apple.

Lesson #1 – keep improving, keep tweaking, and keep innovating.  Make your really great products and services even greater.  Again and again.  From the devices to the software to the operating systems, what is insanely great about Apple now is better than what was insanely great about Apple a year ago, and we all know that by this time next year it will be even greater and better and cooler and “must have” all over again.  They give us great stuff now, and will keep on giving us greater stuff tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

Phil Schiller introduces the new MacBook, “the most beautiful computer we’ve ever made.”

I don’t even understand all of the ways they make it better.  But I know it revolves around the entire package, the full constellation of offerings and capabilities – design, speed, (“faster, faster, faster, faster” – this was one of the mantras from yesterday) power, look, resolution, “retina display.”  Apple just keeps making every part of Apple, everything that is Apple, and everything that works with Apple, better.

But most of us do not learn this lesson in our work.  It took me way too many years to realize that while I talked about and spoke about constant improvement, I practiced very little of it.  Here’s an example:  for the first 13+ years of the First Friday Book Synopsis, my handouts for my synopses looked exactly the same:  a plain, boring-looking, Word document, with no design appeal at all.  Not too smart of me!   I finally realized it was time (way past time) to make some changes on my handouts.  We found a great designer to raise the look of our handouts to a new level.  And I think they look terrific.  And now, I have to figure out “so what’s next?” to keep getting better.  And, all along, I have to ask “how can I do my work better?”  It really is never ending.

Tim Cook (then COO) at the side of the Master

Lesson #2 – Communicate very well to all of your intended audiences.  Call it what you want:  learn to market; learn to sell; learn to call attention to; learn to create anticipation.  Though the current crop of Apple messengers cannot match the brilliance of Steve Jobs, (who could?!), they have clearly learned some major lessons from the master.  And yesterday was a sold-out, live-blogged, extravaganza of a show.  With videos and slides and demonstrations and team-presentations and multiple awe-inspiring moments for the faithful, Apple still seems to be at the top of their game.

You can read all you want about the need for better hard skills.  And many who write about those hard skills tend to almost look down on the place of those soft skills.

That is a really big mistake!

Apple’s success revolves around these two realities; they make great products, and they sell them even better.  Yes, this was part of the brilliance of Steve Jobs.  But isn’t it interesting that no other company has come close to matching this aspect of Apple’s approach?  Apple gets this – why don’t the rest of us?

Let me put it simply and bluntly – if you do not know how to communicate what you do, what you have to offer, clearly and compellingly, with excitement and great passion, then your great product just may go undiscovered by a whole lot of folks.

Two lessons:

Lesson #1 – keep improving, keep tweaking, and keep innovating.

Lesson #2 – Communicate very well to all of your intended audiences.

How are you doing?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paul J.H. Schoemaker: A second interview by Bob Morris

Paul J.H. Schoemaker is a pioneer in the field of decision sciences, among the first to combine the practical ideas of decision theory, behavioral economics, scenario planning, and risk management into a set of strategic decision-making tools for managers. He is co-author of a landmark book on the subject, Winning Decisions: Getting It Right the First Time. He has written nine books, the latest of which is Brilliant Mistake: Findings Success on the Far Side of Failure (Wharton Digital Press 2012). In addition, he has written over 100 academic and applied papers, which have appeared in such diverse journals as the Harvard Business Review, the Journal of Mathematical Psychology, Brain and Behavioral Sciences, and The Journal of Economic Literature. Given their global applicability, his writings appear in at least 14 languages. His scholarly work ranks in the top one percent in academic citations globally as measured by the International Science Index (  He is also an entrepreneur: he is founder and executive chairman of Decision Strategies International, Inc. Finally, Paul is a dedicated educator: he is research director of the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, served for five years as a director of the Decision Education Foundation, conducted hundreds of lectures and executive seminars around the world. A native of the Netherlands, Paul lives on the East Coast with his wife; they have two children.

Here is my interview of Paul. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: When and why did you decide to Brilliant Mistakes?

Schoemaker: Two issues have always intrigued me.  First, when the founder of Honda claims that success is 99% failure, I wonder why we label the necessary steps toward success in such a negative way?  Failure and its twin sister “mistake” too often get a bad rap.  Second, when executives tell me that they learned the most in their careers from mistakes, I wonder why they don’t make a few more.  In the book, I suggest that we should make more mistakes (given how valuable they often are), but most people deeply reject that seemingly silly notion.  I was also fascinated with Thomas Watson’s counter-intuitive advice, as founder and Chairman of IBM, that if you want to succeed faster, you need to make more mistakes.  Our ambivalence about mistakes in business seemed an underdeveloped topic to me, especially the paradoxical notion that some errors will prove to be brilliant over time.

To learn maximally from mistakes, we need to commit more errors than we deem optimal as judged within the bounds of our limited rationality.  This idea may be hard to swallow.  Yet, it is the quintessential insight of this book. To my way of thinking, mistakes can be brilliant in two ways.  The first is to learn from an unexpected setback so much that it starts to dwarf the cost of the mistake.  The second way, which is more difficult to achieve, is to create strategies, organizations or cultures where people can make the types if mistakes where the learning benefits far exceeds the cost of the mistake.

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

Schoemaker: Hardly any “head-snapping revelations,” but certainly a few surprises. Successful people tend to have a different view about mistakes than most ordinary people.  Not only are they more tolerant of them (in themselves and others), but they often embrace them.  Notable examples are Steve Jobs who celebrated his mistakes during a commencement speech at Stanford, or C.K. Rowling who argued that she could not have produced the astoundingly successful Harry Potter series (books, movies, accessories) without having hit rock bottom first.

In the arts and humanities, people embrace mistakes more readily than in business, I feel.  As trumpet great Wynton Marsalis put it so well, if you are not making mistakes, you are not playing jazz – you are not trying.  I believe the same applies to life, since that requires a great deal of improvisation as well.  I don’t think that perfectionists, or people who eschew mistakes for other reasons, realize their full potential as human beings, either for themselves or others

A surprising conclusion is that people who are more risk-averse should make more deliberate mistakes, since they can be used as hedges. This was counter-intuitive to me at first.  A strong portfolio case can be made for investing in mistakes.  For a risk-averse decision maker, it may be worth putting some money in a project expected to yield a loss provided this investment offers a sufficient hedge in case other investments sour.  Even though that seemingly inferior project will not raise profit expectations, it can help reduce losses in case bad scenarios happen.  Similarly, a deliberate mistake can be viewed as a hedge against conventional wisdom, one that will have a high payoff when the majority view of the crowd happens to be wrong (but a loss otherwise in all likelihood).

Morris: Please explain the approach you take in the book to establish a case for making brilliant mistakes.

Schoemaker: In the book, I draw more on behavioral decision theory and its close cousin, behavioral economics, than portfolio theory or options thinking.  Because humans suffer from bounded rationality and furthermore don’t know what they don’t know, the only way to overcome myopic frames, overconfidence, and incremental career progress is to innovate beyond the bounds of our self-limiting world views.  I describe a long list of past business mistakes – as judged by the conventional wisdom at the time – that proved to be brilliant.  These include personal copiers, selling via pet stores, ATM machines, credit cards for students, organic food, fractional jet ownership, and tobacco-free cigarettes.  Just as these ideas were ridiculed at the time, there are many silly ideas floating around today in business that will prove to be brilliant in the future.  The challenge for managers is to recognize them, and this can only happen if leaders create sufficient space for productive mistakes to occur.  In most companies, brilliant mistake may already have been made, but the brilliant part lies dormant because there is little appetite or capacity to mine the mistake.  Since the tuition was paid, why not extract the lesson?

Morris: All of your previous books are research-driven. Is that also true of Brilliant Mistakes?

Schoemaker: I build on the strong foundation of decades of research in behavioral economics and decision psychology.  I offer a practical plan for separating destructive from constructive mistakes, for learning to make more of the brilliant kind.  I encourage leaders to embrace this quality, to milk it for all of its evolutionary and learning potential.   For those rationalists who deem the notion of a Brilliant Mistake to be an oxymoron, I would recommend that they take a portfolio view. A strong case can be made for investing in projects that are expected to yield a negative return. For a risk-averse decision maker, it may be worth putting some money in a project expected to yield a loss provided this investment offers a sufficient hedge in case other investments sour.  Even though that seemingly inferior project will not raise profit expectations, it can help reduce losses in case bad scenarios happen. Similarly, a deliberate mistake can be viewed as a hedge against conventional wisdom, one that will have a high payoff when the majority view of the crowd happens to be wrong (but a loss otherwise in all likelihood).  My book provides the formal argument for those interested.

Morris: Mistakes can either be intentional or unintentional. Please cite a few examples of mistakes (i.e. those that are deliberate and purposeful) can be beneficial.

Schoemaker: Mistakes have been the cause of great discoveries and revolutionary new insights.  It was bad judgment that led the Wright brothers to try to fly: everybody knew at the time that humans couldn’t fly and never would.  In 1895, just eight years before their fragile construct took to the air, Lord Kelvin, the esteemed British mathematician, physicist and president of the British Royal Society, had unambiguously declared that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”

It was relative ignorance that prompted Albert Einstein, a lowly patent clerk in a Swiss law office, to pose some silly questions about the nature of time, space and energy.  Albert Einstein made at least 23 mistakes in his published (and refereed) scientific publications.  Some of these were necessary to achieve his monumental insights about the deeper forces of nature.

At a more mundane level, I describe a young woman deciding to date any person asking her out and in the end marrying someone she wouldn’t have given a second look.  She was willing to test her preconceived notions about Mr. Right and companies should perhaps do likewise when hiring new talent.  Hiring in your own image is seldom the best approach.

Morris: In the Preface to Brilliant Mistakes, you observe, “For most people, the problem is not that they make too many mistakes but too few.” Are there any examples of that in your own experiences thus far?

Schoemaker: Although there has not been that much brilliance in my own life, there are several personal examples that I would consider “brilliant” mistakes at my own level.  One concerns my decision to take a two-year sabbatical with Royal Dutch/Shell’s planning group in London just after having been promoted to associate professor at the University of Chicago.  Many colleagues deemed this a mistake since my academic career was going well and leaving the world of scholarship might cast doubt on my commitment to research etc.   This risk was indeed real, and my two-year absence from publishing probably did not help my academic career.  But it also opened up new vistas about life beyond academia and led me to found Decision Strategies International, which for 20 years now has served leading companies around the world in the fields of strategy and decision making.

The second mistake concerned our family’s move from Chicago to Philadelphia without there being any single compelling reason to do so.  We were quite happy in Chicago but I left nonetheless to be closer to family, friends and colleagues I had worked with in academia and business.  It turned out to be a great move, without regrets and many new experiences that Chicago would probably not have offered.

In the book I describe a third example, where our company decided – against its better judgment – to respond to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that came in over the transom.  We had good reasons to believe it would be a waste of time to pursue such RFPs, but then decided to challenge this key assumption.  It turned out that we were wrong; some of these random RFPs proved quite valuable to us in terms of new clients and growth.

Morris: Which factors have the greatest impact on a decision’s outcome? Which of them seems to have the greatest impact? Why?

Schoemaker: Companies that want to compete on innovation are well-advised to become more error-tolerant in practice and develop better methods for capturing the lessons from mistakes.   Such companies should also emphasize that managers (especially younger ones) who are involved in project failures, are to be viewed as being on a fast learning track, rather than an exit track.  Given the significance of failures and mistakes that have led to success, there is potential value from the lessons learned if they are documented, captured and shared. Career development benefits should follow for those involved in the right kinds of failure, assuming they learn and apply the lessons to avoid mistakes in the future.  This can be tested via performance reviews as well as actual on-the-job behavior.

The deeper challenge in all this is that leaders must learn how to celebrate the egg that people invariably have on their face, award.  This president of an Ann Arbor business decided to institute a Golden Egg to make sure his organization would extract as much learning as possible from past failures.  This story is detailed in the book.  His viewpoint was that mistakes are valuable assets that belong to the organization.  To hide them and not share the lessons would amount to destroying shareholder wealth.  At first, few managers wanted to receive the Golden Egg award, but after a while it became much sought after.  Winners would proudly regale visitors in their office with the tale of their failed venture and proudly share its lessons.   The president created a true learning culture.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

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

Home Page: please click here.

Wharton’s Mack Center: please click here.

His Amazon page: please click here.

His Wikipedia page: please click here.

A video: please click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twyla Tharp and Steve Jobs – (There are Good Tough Bosses and Bad Tough Bosses…)

Everybody probably has a bad boss horror story or two.  And there are some genuine horror stories out there.

But, there are good bad tough bosses and bad tough bosses.  What is the difference?  One difference may be this:  is the boss tough because the end result is worth all the coaching, coaxing, demonstrating, demanding, until the people get it right?

I think Steve Jobs and Twyla Tharp are two great exemplars of this kind of tough boss.

Twyla Tharp:

I recently ran across this wonderful 2006 article about the Kennedy Center Honoree Twyla Tharp, To Dance Beneath the Diamond Skies by Alex Witchel.  Here are some key excerpts:

But it is probably time to say this: There was not a person in that theater, including the 19 performers, musicians and production staff, who did not admire Tharp. Those new to her are scared of her, those used to her are over her, because they know that behind the barking lies a devotion to them, to the work — always, always the work — that is religious in its fervor. Yes, she is a control freak, a perfectionist, a zealot in forming a vision and stopping at nothing to see it realized. But when it is realized, when her dances are good-better-best, flying off the stage like some biblical fire on a mountaintop, there is nothing in the world like them. Twenty-three years ago, Robert Joffrey said that Tharp’s work “didn’t look like anyone else’s.” It still doesn’t.

“There is nothing in the world like them.”  The end result may just be worth the cost it took to get there.  She simply made the best better.  And she also made the “average” much better than ever before.  In her book, The Collaborative Habit, Tharp wrote:

As a choreographer, my task is to make the best possible work with the dancers I find in the room on any given day. 

This is simply the greatest description of the day-to-day work of being the boss I have ever read.  It is the job of the boss (manager, supervisor) to make the best possible work with the people in the room, on the team, at any given time.

By the way, there is a wonderful story in the article about the time Twyla Tharp had to show Baryshnikov how it needed to be done:

Huot sat at one of the computers and played footage of Baryshnikov in rehearsal.  “What’s that?” Tharp asked shortly.  “This is the one where he can’t do what you do,” Huot said, his tone gently teasing. “It’s your favorite thing in the world, which is why I kept it for you.” On the tape, Baryshnikov held a cigarette, shirtless, as Tharp demonstrated the steps. Hers were vivid, crisp. His were blurry, indistinct. Impatiently, she showed him again. He turned away.

“That’s right, go pout,” Tharp said mockingly to the screen. The next shots were of him in performance, his steps breathtaking. “Yeah, he got it,” Tharp said.

She knew how to do the steps; she demonstrated the steps, and she pushed Baryshnikov until he “got it.”

…To be a Tharp dancer is to master complex, intricate movements and steps that can defy gravity — in 1975 Baryshnikov told The Times: “It is very difficult to learn her steps.. . .One variation alone took me three weeks to learn, working a few hours every day.”

Steve Jobs:

Regarding Jobs, the stories are endless, and somewhat legendary.  He certainly could be something of a world-class pain to work with.  But, he too could bring out the very best in people – more than they knew they had in them.  Consider these revealing excerpts from the Walter Isaacson book, Steve Jobs:

For all of his obnoxious behavior, Jobs also had the ability to instill in his team an esprit de corps. After tearing people down, he would find ways to lift them up and make them feel that being part of the Macintosh project was an amazing mission. Every six months he would take most of his team on a two-day retreat at a nearby resort.

Jobs had latched onto what he believed was a key management lesson from his Macintosh experience: You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. “It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players,” he recalled. “The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.”

“What I’m best at doing is finding a group of talented people and making things with them,” he told the magazine.

Business Week asked him why he treated employees so harshly, Jobs said it made the company better.

…and his great talent, Jobs said, was to “get A performances out of B players.” At Apple, Jobs told him, he would get to work with A players.

The literature about leadership is pretty unanimous about this key role a leader plays.  In Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers, she writes that the leader has to “multiply” the good effects of the workers, and never diminish them.  A good leader “multiplies’ the results of the workers he/she leads.  In Kouzes and Pozner’s Encouraging the Heart, they argue that for people to be their best, they must be encouraged, in their hearts, by the one who leads them.  And when they are so encouraged, they become more productive, actually better at their jobs.

Whatever Twyla Tharp and Steve Jobs had, or did, it worked.  They both developed quite a track record of bringing out the very best in the people who worked for them.  (Of course, Twyla Tharp is still at it…).

If you are a leader, this is the test, isn’t it?  Are you making your people better?  Are you pushing them to do more than they even knew they could do?  Are you making the average much better, and the best even better still?

If not, you’ve got some leadership skills to develop.

Sunday, May 6, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Transparency is the New Leadership Imperative

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dorie Clark 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.

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What kind of leaders do we need today?

Steve Jobs — mysterious, charismatic, intriguing — is often cited as one of the recent greats, and there are clearly benefits to his style. A recent study showed that leaders like him — those perceived as having an almost magical aura — are seen as visionary, with employees and customers clamoring to touch the hem of their garments. But that kind of leadership also has its limitations.

Succession is made harder by a towering and mysterious personality (good luck, Tim Cook). And, even more importantly, there’s no formula for becoming charismatic. You could try to model others — emulating Jobs’ cool reserve, exacting standards, and mercurial temper, for instance. But the nuances are subtle; you’re just as likely to come off as aloof or entitled, rather than intriguing. The harder, but more rewarding, path as a leader is to make yourself known — to your employees, your customers, and the public. Here are three reasons the new leadership imperative is all about transparency.

To know you is to love you. Well, love might be strong. But you want your employees to at least like you and understand where you’re coming from — because, as copious research has shown, money isn’t a good motivational tool. Rather, what will make them go above and beyond is their relationship and loyalty to you — and you’ll never get that if you don’t let them know you as a person. (Customers, being human, also like to form relationships with real people, not just faceless organizations.) Lunch meetings and feedback sessions are a great place to start, and if you’re managing across continents or your workforce is simply too large, don’t underestimate the power of video. Your personality and enthusiasm can come through just as clearly on YouTube. (A great example is this 2009 video featuring Best Buy Chief Marketing Officer Barry Judge, in which he explains his philosophy of marketing and how the company should interact with customers.)

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. She is the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press 2013). You can follow her on Twitter at @dorieclark.

Friday, May 4, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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