First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Bernhard Schroeder: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

SchroederBernhard Schroeder is the Director, Lavin Entrepreneurship Center Programs and oversees all of the undergraduate and graduate experiential entrepreneurship programs on the San Diego State University campus. He also has responsibility for the Center’s marketing and outreach on both the SDSU campus and in the San Diego community. He is a part-time Clinical Faculty, Entrepreneurship teaching several entrepreneurship course including Creativity and Innovation.

Prior to moving to San Diego, Bernhard was a Senior Partner in the worlds’ largest integrated marketing communications agency, CKS Partners, which in 1998 had offices in over 30 countries, more than 10,000 employees and over $1 billion in revenue. Bernhard joined CKS in 1991 and working with the other four partners, grew the firm to almost $40 million in revenue by 1995 and led CKS to a successful IPO that same year.

He has experience working with Fortune 100 firms like Apple, Nike, General Motors, American Express, Mercedes Benz, Kellogg’s and others as well as start-up companies. He was involved in the initial branding and marketing launches for startup companies Yahoo! and Amazon. Today, he mentors more than 20 founders of startup companies in San Diego with yearly revenue ranging from $400,000 to more than ten million.

His book, Fail Fast or Win Big: The Start-Up Plan for Starting Now, was published by AMACOM (February 2015).

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Bern.

* * *

strong>Morris: When and why did you decide to write Fail Fast or Win Big?

Schroeder: I never intended to write a book. I attended a networking event to celebrate startup “food” companies in San Diego. Sat down next to guy who I did not know and we chatted about each other’s careers and what we were both doing now. Next day he called me and asked if I would do a private TED Salon talk on Entrepreneurship in Education. I did that talk about 90 days later. Someone in the audience called me about two weeks later and asked I would talk at a full TEDx around the theme of Change. So I spoke at that TEDx with a talk I created around why I felt Failing Fast was good. Next day I got an email from a book publisher in New York who asked if they could see the presentation I created for the TEDx talk. Long story short, I sent them the presentation and over the next two weeks hammered out an outline for what the publisher felt was a book. Once the outline was completed, they sent me a contract to write fail Fast or Win Big. Crazy, huh?

Why did I write it? I teach entrepreneurship on the campus, mentor founders in the community, have met hundreds of entrepreneurs. My goal in writing the book was to pay it forward…to demystify and simplify exactly how someone could go about creating a company in an easy to read and understandable book. Just simply tell someone, this is how you do it. With a solid idea, good business model, big marketplace and lots of passion and sweat. Because I really believe no one was born to do what they do…they just decide to do. So, I hope I help someone I will never meet to create a great company.

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

Schroeder: Not really. So, I got up every day at 3:30 AM for about 70 days straight (mostly) and wrote for about three hours and then showered and went to the campus. I wrote the book in no particular order. I write every morning on the chapter I felt good about. So I bounced all over the place. Once the draft was finished, I sent it to the publisher who promptly shredded it. It took me about three weeks just to get my head around their comments and edits. Then I sat down and edited it over the next 30 days, one chapter at a time. The forward was the last thing I wrote. What was interesting to me is how easily this book “fell out” of me. It was not job either; I looked forward to writing every day. Sometimes at night, I would go to bed and anticipate waking up at 3:30am. After about two weeks, I woke up at that time without the alarm. My only concern the whole time was to not write “war stories” and make it about me. Rather, to provide insights and knowledge, and some tools that might help someone become an entrepreneur. Or to help an existing entrepreneur go further.

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

Schroeder: It’s way better than I imagined. Working with a professional publisher and editor took me to another level in terms of how well the book turned out. They provided very fair and tough critiques that made the whole book better. They constantly reminded me of my target audience and the clarity of my messages. I have marketed a lot of things in my career but never really myself. I formed a quick trust level with the publisher and we hit it off immediately. To this day, we have never met face-to-face but I trust him.

Morris:
You ask your reader to embrace “a new way of thinking about creating and launching a company.” How so “new”?

Schroeder: There has never been a time like this…it’s the perfect storm for an entrepreneur. You have the availability of low cost, innovative tools and resources where you can rapidly prototype your product or service. You have marketplaces being disrupted everywhere. You have new sources of funding or early sales with crowdfunding. And you have the largest generation ever forming (Millennials) right now. So, if you have an idea, you have to move fast because everyone else and everything is moving faster. Marketplace windows are slamming open and shut rapidly. You wanted to create a new type of transportation company? Too late, Uber came out six months ago and is flying in terms of growth. Have an idea for a new alternate hand-craft goods marketplace? Too late, Etsy is steaming ahead. Want to get in the “new” healthy juice business? Suja was created three years ago…they will do $40 million this year on their way to $100 million. Did you see the new juice craze coming? So, amazing opportunities but you have to move fast. Or maybe faster.

Morris: To what extent can this “new way of thinking” also assist the launch of a new project? Please explain.

Schroeder: You can just prototype something faster and test the business model quickly. Based on early marketplace feedback, you know you are either onto something or you have to pivot or abandon the idea. I know of one group here in San Diego that had one successful exit last year. They see what’s going on in an area of focus they have developed an expertise. So they convinced investors to give them $2 million dollars to start FIVE small companies at the same time in one location. They are looking for one hit in the next year and then they will focus on that one. That is certainly a new way of thinking. Can you say “entrepreneur factory?”

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a “solid” business model?

Schroeder: One that makes money, better if it can make money quickly. I look for 3-4 things when I examine a business model. One, is the product or service truly unique or does it deliver a unique value to the customer, that the customer actually needs, not wants. Two, does the business model have a focus on a target segment of the population that over time is large (either large today or growing)? If successful, does the product or service have crossover appeal to other large segments? Three, is there a solid distribution or delivery strategy to get the product or service to the targeted customers in the most efficient way possible. Fourth, based on cost and projected revenue, does the product or service have good (60% or better) gross margins? And finally, not really part of the model but most critical, is the team (read founders a this point) capable of creating this company? I reviewed some amazing ideas that never got off the ground and some pedestrian ideas that have become amazing little companies. Why? The founders worked their ass off in every way possible.

Morris: What are “lean resources”?

Schroeder: Those resources which cost very little time and or money. Crowdfunding, 3-D printer prototypes, food carts, computer science majors going to school at a university you can pay with “coke and pizza” to write mobile applications, farmers markets to test your food prototypes, etc. Online ecommerce websites for less than $30 month, iPads with Square payments is the new cash register, leverage Uber drivers to deliver something, the list just goes on. The mantra is pay little or next to nothing to test your idea. Then continue to leverage everything to support the fledgling company and keep it lean on purpose.

Morris: What is accomplished by “rapidly prototyping a minimally viable product”?

Schroeder: Getting customer feedback quickly. Early in my marketing career, I grew wary about market research reports on everything about the customer. I just did not believe the “data” could tell me what customers were thinking. Only what they eventually did. So, on every account for the rest of my life, I always made it a point to go into the marketplace and meet with customers. With rapid prototyping, you get early marketplace feedback and make your necessary adjustments quickly.

Morris: How best to obtain customer feedback that is sufficient in quantity and of direct relevance to the given objectives?

Schroeder: I think it’s a mix of three things. I like to look at market analyst data that looks down the road about 5-7 years. They are not always right but they get close and they talk about trends at a high level. Second, I like to review local/national marketplace and tend data of the actual customers that are being targeted. Want to really quantify the target market is real and what they look like. Last, want to meet with at least 50 real target customers in perhaps three levels of refinement; first 15 to get a gut fee about this customer segment and present them idea of what we are doing, second 15 to present any refinements to and third 15 to get an idea of how many would buy and why. You just cannot substitute quantitative data with feedback from real customers.

Morris: Here is a comment that caught my eye: “Customers are not always right, but they are never wrong.” Please explain.

Schroeder: This is a great quote. One that I really believe in. Customers are obviously critical to each and every product or service. But here’s the rub…customers will tell you want they want, not what they need. I want a Porsche but I need reliable transportation. Steve Jobs (who our agency worked with at NEXT, Pixar and back at Apple) once stated in general “if I asked customers to design an iPod, they would not design what we designed.” BMW designs its cars five years out. They have to figure out what their customers/prospects will need or expect in a BMW. However, if you are wrong and don’t give customers what they need, they will not buy the product or service and that is where my quote comes from. And in that essence, since they vote with their wallet, they are never wrong.

* * *

To read all of Part 2, please click here.

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

His website link

Lavin Entrepreneurship Center link

Fail Fast or Win Big Amazon link

TEDx Encinitas video link

StartUp Circle video link

LinkedIn link

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bernhard Schroeder: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

SchroederBernhard Schroeder is the Director of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center Programs and oversees all of the undergraduate and graduate experiential entrepreneurship programs on the San Diego State University campus. He also has responsibility for the Center’s marketing and outreach on both the SDSU campus and in the San Diego community. He is a part-time Clinical Faculty, Entrepreneurship teaching several entrepreneurship course including Creativity and Innovation.

Prior to moving to San Diego, Bernhard was a Senior Partner in the worlds’ largest integrated marketing communications agency, CKS Partners, which in 1998 had offices in over 30 countries, more than 10,000 employees and over $1 billion in revenue. Bernhard joined CKS in 1991 and working with the other four partners, grew the firm to almost $40 million in revenue by 1995 and led CKS to a successful IPO that same year.

He has experience working with Fortune 100 firms like Apple, Nike, General Motors, American Express, Mercedes Benz, Kellogg’s and others as well as start-up companies. He was involved in the initial branding and marketing launches for startup companies Yahoo! and Amazon. Today, he mentors more than 20 founders of startup companies in San Diego with yearly revenue ranging from $400,000 to more than ten million.

His book, Fail Fast or Win Big: The Start-Up Plan for Starting Now, was published by AMACOM (February 2015).

Here is an excerpt from part 1 of my interview of Bern.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Fail Fast or Win Big, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Schroeder: Two people had a huge impact on my personal growth. The first was my father who instilled in me the notion of working to get what you want. He worked two jobs for 14 years to put five kids through private school. Never saw him much in those years but we had an amazing relationship after he retired. So, I started working and making money at the age of 11 and I thought that was completely normal.

The other person who I never thought would have an impact on my life but did was my aunt. Looking back, my aunt was just a good average person who was fun to be around but no one that really stood out in my family. That all changed one day. I was 19 at the time, full of piss and vinegar trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was definitely struggling trying to determine how one laid out their life, like it was a play or something. I was told by my father that my aunt was dying. Just like that. Stomach pains for a few weeks, then the diagnosis. Terminal cancer. Three weeks to live. Having never experienced death in the family, I could not get my head around the concept of death. My aunt was only 38, looking amazingly healthy and was going to die. She had told my father she wanted to meet with me. My fear and apprehension was, “What do you say to someone who is dying?”

I met her in a hospice room at the hospital. When I walked into the room, she was sitting on the bed with a serious mound of paper all around her. I asked her, “What are you doing?” She replied, “I am organizing my life so as not to be a bother when I am dead.” For the next three hours, we talked about life. My life. Her life. And she started to tell me about all the things she had never done or had regretted. She sacrificed for the family and lost the love of her life (my aunt had never married). I can almost picture her sitting on the bed and talking to me as she said,” Bern, no matter what you do with your life, don’t ever have regrets. Don’t ever settle for something you don’t agree with. And live life as if you were going to die tomorrow.” That day when I left, I don’t think I realized what had just happened. But her words would come to define the way I lived my life. My personal life and entire career was defined by this statement,” I will not spend one day being in a place where I don’t feel I belong.” And that is exactly the way I have lived my life.

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

Schroeder: Three mentors have had the most impact in my professional development. The first mentor was in my very first marketing job. I did not realize it at the time because if you have never been mentored before, you really don’t know it is happening (being mentored). The key element is trust. We usually don’t build a quick trusting relationship with our boss. But looking back, he leaned in…he nurtured me, pushed me, scolded me and praised me. In the two years I worked for him, I received five years of experience and advice. He actually created a solid platform for my entire career.

The second person was a few years later and he was a crusty kind of curmudgeon guy we brought in from Xerox. Within about two weeks of meeting him (I reported to him), he pulled me into his office and flatly stated that I was terrible at two things: I did not know how to listen, and I really did not know how to sell. Now, you have to realize in just three years at this marketing agency, I had risen from entry level employee to vice president. So, I thought to myself “this guy is full of shit.” But over the next 3-4 months, he actually proved to me that I really did not listen and I was really not accomplished at the art of selling or as he liked to put it, the art of getting people to buy from you.

He did two things that changed my professional life. The first thing he did was to send me to a “Spin Selling” seminar in San Francisco which I did not want to attend. The three-day sales seminar changed my outlook on my personal and professional life. I learned the skillset of listening. I learned the difference between what people wanted and what they needed. I learned personality types and how to read a room. It was amazing. The second thing he did was simple. He honed my ability to trust my instincts. This is a really hard skill “or feeling” to develop. You can’t really see it. Can’t really take a class or seminar in instinct. Over the next two years, after every client or prospect meeting, he would ask me to deconstruct the meeting. What was “really” going on in the meeting, who were the decision makers, what did they really want and so on. Then, based on my deconstruction and thoughts, he would give me feedback on where I was spot on and where I was completely off and why. Again, you don’t really see or understand it when you are going through personal development in a deep way but looking back, it was huge.

The third person taught me about the power of teams. Up until I met my third mentor, I thought that all my accomplishments to date were based on me. That is, my success was singly determined by me and what I could accomplish. I had been on pretty fast track since coming out of school late (undergraduate at 27 years of age) and I was motivated to move aggressively in building my career. Took on risky promotions and difficult clients and was successful. When I met this person who would become my third mentor, I did not really see him as even being a potential mentor. First, I felt I was his peer. We were both about the same age, both had accomplished a lot and were now partners in building what would become a billion dollar company. But early in my relationship with him, he pulled me aside and in a very nonchalant conversation told me two things: I was not a strategic thinker and I absolutely did not know how to build teams of people that would go “to war” for me. I thought about that. Over the next two years, he taught me how to be real with people. How to nurture and care for the talented stars working for me. I learned the art of management where everybody wins. The other thing he taught me about strategy was perspective. To use a military analogy, I was always the lieutenant or captain building and rapidly executing marketing campaigns. But I was not the general, sitting on the hill or further away, who was looking way beyond the battle…looking at the how the entire war would be waged. I learned an immense amount of strategic perspective from him that lifted me to a new level of branding and marketing strategy. One that allowed me to clearly create brand and marketing strategies for my future clients (like Amazon and Yahoo!) with a very strategic plan, strong on tactics but amazing on marketplace strategy.

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.

Schroeder: It’s hard to identify a turning point or epiphany in one’s life unless it’s something cathartic. Something that shakes or even defines your core. I would have to say, looking back, it was my aunt’s death. Her calmly talking to me as she was dying about never having regrets really formed the basis of how I would view life. I did it my way or the highway. I had people tell me, “ I don’t really like you…but you are one of the sharpest marketing people I have ever met and I respect you.” And seriously, all I wanted was to be respected. I did not really care if people liked me. Never have. The other part of what has become my mantra is I firmly believe no one was born to do anything…so what will you do? I have crafted my career around constantly challenging myself and enjoying life. I am not working on the cure for aids or cancer, so trust me, I have a perspective on what’s important in life. Sell another car or book, great. But don’t get hung up on that. I have wanted to make impacts and bring people along for the ride. I still stay in touch with people I hired and mentored in the mid 90’s. I mentor more than 20 founders of companies in San Diego. I reach thousands of students on the SDSU campus with messages of entrepreneurship, passion and doing what you want to do. It’s the most fun I have ever had.

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

Schroeder: This is a tough question, especially since I work on a university campus. I look back and view my formal education as a necessary part of life to learn some core basics and learn how to become a good speaker and writer. I look at what impacted my life and formal education has played a very small role. My accomplishments have come from doing what I wanted to do that pushed me, really pushing the edge of marketing, mentorships and work/play experiences.

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

Schroeder: Okay, going to date myself here. I remember seeing A Wonderful Life several times and realized two things: I don’t want to be the hated banker guy and I do want to feel like I was important or loved enough to be missed. I also wanted to care about people. Second movie was Dead Poets Society. I wanted to live carpe diem…to seize every day. I did not want to have a meaningless professional career. I did not want a job. I did not want to settle or conform. I did not want to do what other people wanted me to do. I did not want to live through other people expectations. The third movie was Wall Street. I both wanted and did not want to be Charlie Sheen. I wanted success to come from hard work but not from cheating. I never wanted to compromise my integrity or ethics. Maybe walk up to that line but not cross it. The second thing, I knew I was going to be involved in growing or running a big company someday. I did not want to be Gordon Gecko. I did not want to be that guy that ruined people’s lives for money. Maybe that’s why still today, I carry a slight disdain for some venture capitalists. I encourage all the founders I mentor to bootstrap and eat top ramen so as to preserve their equity for as long as possible so that they can maintain control of their companies should they ever have to take on investors.

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

Schroeder: Tough question. What do I say to sound pithy here? As I look back to the books I read in my formative years, I think of Papillion, The Outsiders, Catch-22, The Godfather and a few others. I think the one book that impacted me with its realism and symbolism was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. If you have read this book or seen the movie, you are not supposed to like Randle Patrick McMurphy. But the more I read the book, I saw Randle as one of the few sane people in the book. My takeaway from the book relating to business was life is crazy, don’t try and completely predict it. Whatever your situation, make the best of it and change it if you can. And don’t ever conform in your beliefs or who you are…no one really cares anyway especially in business. And if you can befriend people on your journey, do so. They could be the part of your professional life that matters most. I don’t really remember, in a fond way, all the billions of dollars of products or services I helped sell in my career. I do remember the people, good or slightly crazy.

* * *

To read all of Part 1, please click here.

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

His website link

Lavin Entrepreneurship Center link

Fail Fast or Win Big Amazon link

TEDx Encinitas video link

StartUp Circle video link

LinkedIn link

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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, Salesforce.com, 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…

“Yes.”

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

Get What’s Yours Rise to the Top Demonstrates Our Insecurity

GetWhat'sYoursCoverWhat does it say about Americans when a book about Social Security zooms to the top of the best-seller lists?

I say we are just insecure.  Or uninformed.  Or panicky.  Or lots of things.

As a elixir, book readers are buying Get What’s Yours:  The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security (Simon & Schuster, 2015) by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman.

Here is where the book stands on Amazon.com as I write this today:

The book is # 3 on the Wall Street Journal hardcover business best-seller list and # 4 on the non-fiction list.  I cannot find updates for the Bloomberg Business Week.  The book’s website claims that it is a New York Times best-seller, but I cannot verify that this morning as I write.  But, since the book has only been out since February 17, 2015, its rise to the top is meteoric.  It certainly did not hurt sales when Jane Pauley said this is “an indispensable and surprisingly entertaining guide for anyone who is retiring or thinking of retiring with all of the Social Security benefits they’ve earned.” With a flurry of endorsements from financial experts, many readers must have flocked to the physical and on-line outlets to see what it says.  Or, it likely did not hurt when the summary on Amazon.com proclaimed, “Many personal finance books briefly address Social Security, but none offers the thorough, authoritative, yet conversational analysis found here. You’ve paid all your working life for these benefits. Now, get what’s yours.
And, who wouldn’t be interested in a book with a summary from such as this:  “It tells you precisely which months you should collect retiree, spousal, survivor, divorcee, parent, and child benefits to achieve the highest lifetime benefits.  Maximize My Social Security incorporates all Social Security provisions and options for singles and married couples.
Who are these authors?  The book’s website provides these details:

Laurence Kotlikoff

Laurence J. Kotlikoff is William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and a professor of economics at Boston University.  He is also president of Economic Security Planning, Inc., a company specializing in financial planning software.  His company websites are ESPlanner.com and MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com.  He is author or co-author of sixteen books, including Spend ‘Til the End and The Coming Generational Storm (both with Scott Burns).  His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Bloomberg, Forbes, The Economist, Huffington Post, and other major publications.  He has served as a consultant to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, governments around the world, and major U.S. corporations including Merrill Lynch, Fidelity Investments, and AON.  In addition, he has provided expert testimony on numerous occasions to committees of Congress.  He lives in Boston.

Philip Moeller writes about retirement for Money magazine, the PBS website Making Sen$e, and other media outlets.  He is also a research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, and the founder of Insure.com, a site for insurance information that has provided original insurance content to the Web’s leading business portals, including Microsoft, Yahoo, America Online, and MarketWatch.  Formerly a contributing editor at U. S. News & World Report, he has spent forty years as an award-winning financial journalist, Internet entrepreneur, and corporate communications executive for a Fortune 500 financial services firm.  He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Paul Soloman

Paul Solman is the longtime business and economics correspondent for The PBS NewsHour.  His many awards for work in business journalism include Emmys, Peabodys, and a Loeb award.  He is also a Brady-Johnson Distinguished Practitioner at Yale University, where he teaches in the Grand Strategy course, as well as teaching at New Haven’s Gateway Community College. He has been a member of the Harvard Business School faculty and a visiting professor at his alma mater, Brandeis.  Solman has written for numerous publications, from Forbes to Mother Jones, co-authored (with Thomas Friedman) Life and Death on the Corporate Battlefield, and wrote the introduction to Morrie: In His Own Words, created entirely from interviews with his former Brandeis sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz (of “Tuesdays with Morrie” fame).  He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

We won’t have this book at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, as we don’t include individual-based finance books in our monthly coverage.

But that doesn’t mean that plenty of our attendees will find this important to read.  While they won’t identify themselves, I am sure we get some people who are insecure, uninformed, and panicky about their retirement years.  Maybe they. and many others will find this book a great relief to that anxiety.

Saturday, March 21, 2015 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women on the home front: Debate over work-life balance continues

Jones_FRONT-1Here is an excerpt from an article written by Bernie D. Jones for From the Square, the official blog of NYU Press, an academic book publisher based one block south of Union Square, NYC. “With a focus on sharing the ideas and opinions of our authors, From the Square also features news, updates, and all things digital from the NYU Press community. We encourage you to join the conversation with us and our authors by commenting on our posts!”

To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about NYU Press, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

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It has been fifty years since Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystiquein 1963—and twenty years since the Family Medical Leave Actwas signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. Thus, the month of February saw several notable events in the world of work-family balance: those two anniversaries, plus the announcement by Marissa Mayer, a mother and the CEO of Yahoo, Inc., of a new ban against employees working from home. This policy change only reinforced the significance of the two anniversaries.

The Feminine Mystique has been credited with spearheading the modern feminist movement that pushed more women to seek highly paid jobs and professional careers, where before they had been forced by traditional conventions to remain at home. Articulating “the problem that had no name,” Friedan explained that highly educated wives were consumed by the drudgery of housework while their skills remained unused.

Yet, the question remained, once women went into the workplace, either because of personal preference or because of economic necessity, how would they manage their responsibilities at home? The answer came twenty years later in the form of unpaid family medical leave that would become available to working parents, men and women who gained up to twelve months unpaid leave for the birth of a child.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Bernie D. Jones is Associate Professor of Law at the Suffolk University Law School and editor of Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance (NYU Press, 2013).

Monday, March 25, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listen up, biz leaders: It’s time to rethink everything

Here is an excerpt from article co-authored by Geoff Colvin that appeared in Fortune magazine. To read the complete article, check out other resources, obtain subscription, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

* * *

We’re not living in ordinary economic times. Every company needs to determine if its strategy requires an overhaul or just thoughtful tweaks. Here’s how to start.

FORTUNE — Remember when Motorola (MMI) ruled the mobile phone business worldwide? And then Nokia (NOK) did? And then BlackBerry (RIMM) did? And now none of them do? As Fortune headlined a recent BlackBerry article, “What the Hell Happened?”

We all ask the same question about Kodak, monarch of the global photo industry for a century, now bankrupt, while Instagram, a photo-sharing service with a dozen employees, is sold to Facebook (FB) for $1 billion. And while we’re at it, what happened to Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)? To Yahoo (YHOO)?

We’re not living in ordinary economic times. The convulsions of the past five years have left many business people asking the most fundamental questions about their companies: Will our strategy work in this environment? What must we change, and what must we not change? Do we need a new business model?

Reconsidering strategy can turn into a miasma that consumes endless time and yields nothing. Yet the process is manageable. One way to think through your strategy in today’s uncertain environment is to answer three basic questions.

[Here is the first.]

1. What is our core?

A finding that’s consistent across cycles is that the best performing companies keep investing in their core no matter how bad things get. Look at what Dupont (DD) did during the Great Depression. Even as profits plunged, the company resolved to keep funding chemical research — its core — no matter what. Among the results: nylon, neoprene, and other products that brought Dupont billions of dollars over the following decades.

In good times, companies often wander into businesses for which they command no special capability. Then, when a downturn hits, those non-core businesses blow up and have to be axed. Pioneer bailed out of the grindingly competitive flat-screen TV business in the recent recession. Home Depot (HD) shut down its Expo chain of home design centers. Google (GOOG) closed non-core businesses that sold advertising on radio stations and in newspapers.

Excellent companies are certain of their core. Early on in the recession, Brad Smith, CEO of software firm Intuit (INTU), said, “We’re not going to cut innovation. This company for 25 years has been fueled by new product innovation. We’re protecting the innovation pipeline so we come out of this strong.” He would cut elsewhere if necessary, but in the realm of personal and small business finance software, he’s up against mammoth competitors, including Microsoft (MSFT). He cannot afford to fall even a fraction of a generation behind.

Are you sure of your company’s core? If not, you’ve got to do some corporate soul-searching.

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Geoff Colvin is senior editor at large at Fortune magazine. A longtime Fortune editor and columnist, he is one of America’s sharpest and most respected commentators on leadership, globalization, wealth creation, and management. As former anchor of Wall Street Week with Fortune on PBS, he spoke each week to the largest audience of any business television program in America. His national bestseller, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, won the Harold Longman Award as the best business book of 2009. His email address: gcolvin@fortune.com.

Saturday, December 1, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Marissa Mayer Is The New CEO Of Yahoo – It Has To Do With Brilliant Decision Making

I just read this article on Slate.com about Melissa Mayer, the new CEO at YahooMarissa Mayer Is in Over Her Head:  That’s just how Yahoo’s new CEO likes it by the always insightful Farhad Manjoo.  She described how she decided to work at the then very new company, Google, which had very-few-employees. Here’s the key paragraph:

“I had to think really hard about how to choose between job offers,” she said. Mayer approached the choice analytically. Over spring break, she studied the most successful choices in her life to figure out what they had in common. “I looked across very diverse decisions—everything from deciding where to go to school, what to major in, how to spend your summers—and I realized that there were two things that were true about all of them,” she said. “One was, in each case, I’d chosen the scenario where I got to work with the smartest people I could find. … And the other thing was I always did something that I was a little not ready to do. In each of those cases, I felt a little overwhelmed by the option. I’d gotten myself in a little over my head.”
After weighing her options, Mayer chose Google.

So…  work with the smartest people you can find.  And tackle a challenge that is just a little bit too much.  I think the idea is that if it pushes you just the right amount — tough enough to be very, very difficult, but!, still doable — then you learn more, you might succeed spectacularly, and you are then more ready for the next, bigger challenge.

Mr. Manjoo is not sure that this decision, heading Yahoo, will be successful (there may not be that circle of “the smartest people she can find”), but he is convinced that it will be fun to watch:  “And even while I have severe doubts that Mayer will be able to turn Yahoo around, I’m excited to see what she can do with the place. Yahoo has long been headed for failure. Now, at least, it will be an interesting failure, not a depressing one.”

This much is clear:  a person with the ability to follow a very serious process of decision making, a process that can lead to a brilliant decision, will probably lead the pack.  Because, most of us are just not very good at making decisions.

—————

(an aside:  I have said, in one way or another on this blog, Farhad Manjoo is the writer that most consistently gives me the insight that I need).

 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

Donald N. Thompson: An interview by Bob Morris

Don Thompson is an economist and professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He has taught at Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics. He is author of nine books, including The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, which details his explorations in trying to understand the high end of the contemporary art market. Shark has been published in thirteen languages. His most recent book, Oracles: How Prediction Markets Turn Employees into Visionaries, was published by Harvard Business Review Press (June, 2012).

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

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

Thompson: A dozen brilliant people I encountered in grad school (at Berkeley) and later, in universities, businesses and government. From each I learned new things, but more important, new ways of looking at problems, and how to think outside the box.

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

Thompson: My formal education included an MBA, which got me interested in problem solving, and a PhD, which furthered that interest but is also provided an essential entry point to an academic career. So the formal education part has been invaluable for my career path.

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?

Thompson: The importance of the soft skills involved in communication, motivation and managing.

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

Thompson: Citizen Kane. The explanation is in the eyes and mind of the viewer.

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

Thompson: I’ll suggest two: Michael Mauboussin’s More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places (Columbia Business School Press 2008), and Cass Sunstein’s Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide (Oxford University Press, 2008). The Mauboussin book is about business, but more centrally, about making rational decisions. The Sunstein book is about how wrongheadedness gets worse when people get together in groups. Both are brilliant thinkers, I recommend anything with those names attached.

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

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know.”

Thompson: Right. None of us is as smart as all of us (which is also a Japanese proverb).

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Thompson: The prediction market equivalent is probably, “If you really are afraid of the answer, don’t ask the question.”

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

Thompson:  It never occurred to me that there was another option. Probably too late now.

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

Thompson: That is a great quote. I once was presented with its equivalent, by a Columbia marketing professor named Al Oxenfeldt, with whom I had co-authored a couple of articles and was proposing a new topic, which I had collected a lot of data on. Al said, “If something is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.” Quite right.

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

Thompson: That is exactly the philosophy of Jim Lavoie and Joe Marino, co-CEOs of my favorite prediction-market company, Rite-Solutions – which is the subject of the first chapter of Oracles.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

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

Don’s faculty page, please click here

Amazon’s Oracles page, please click here.

Amazon’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark page, please click here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Constantly Changing Leaders – This Makes It Almost Impossible To Build A Functional, Effective Corporate Culture

Call this just a quick, and incredibly obvious, observation…

Dan Weston, business consultant par excellence, tells me that it takes two to three years to even make a dent in the reshaping of the corporate culture challenge.  He is very good at it, has a definite plan to help organizations in this challenge, and yet there is no “one session, one retreat, one conversation” magic pill to get this done.  Reshaping a corporate culture is a multi-session, over-time, long-haul challenge.

So, imagine the turmoil in a company that faces impressive, almost overwhelming competition (Google, et. Al.), and a workforce that is whiplashed by the constant changing of leaders.  That is the challenge facing Yahoo at the moment.

Scott Thompson, Yahoo’s third CEO in about three years, has officially left the building.
(Yahoo’s CEO is out. Now what?)

Uncertainty; whiplash.  People need to know “this is what our company/organization intends to be.”  A trusted, respected leader plays a pretty big role in that “this is what our company intends to be” task.  Going through three leaders in three years makes this almost impossible.

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(A personal note:  My youngest son is getting married this weekend, so with my current schedule, I may be doing a little less blogging at the moment.  My apology.  And thanks, as  always, to Bob Morris, who keeps this blog a daily source of wisdom and insight with his many offerings).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , | Leave a comment

Where do big ideas come from?

Albert Einstein

Here is an article written by Steve Tobak for CBS MoneyWatch, the CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the website’s newsletters, please click here.

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I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching a football game where the kicker is about to attempt a field goal to win the game, my hands grip the chair, I hold my breath, and I wonder what’s going through the guy’s mind.

When Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons nailed a 37-yard field goal to win theSugar Bowl in overtime, guess what was going through his mind? Brunette girls. No kidding, that’s what inspires the guy. And it works.

We can’t all be great athletes, so some of us have to “win the big game,” so to speak, with our intuition, our ideas. Which brings us to a subject of much confusion and debate in the business world. What inspires “big idea” people? Asked another way, where do big ideas come from?

Actually, many so-called “left brain” or analytical people I’ve known over the years, including an awful lot of managers and executives, think the whole concept of some people being more intuitive or inspirational than others is pure mythology. Well, maybe it is and maybe it’s not. But scientists say that intuition can be a powerful factor in human decision-making and idea creation.

For what it’s worth, I agree.

Following your Intuition can be as simple as listening to a little voice in your head, trusting a feeling or sense of warning, or following your own internal “focus group of one,” against the “better judgment” of many.

Where does it come from? Good question. It’s probably a vestige of an evolutionary survival mechanism. An “intuitive” caveman sensing danger, for example, would hide in his cave and avoid being eaten by some blood-crazed saber-toothed tiger. Since he survived, he’d pass that instinct on. At least that’s the theory.

In any case, human intuition has probably been on the decline for some time, owing to an increasing dependence on our overdeveloped neocortex, logical reason, and technology, and not to mention a significant decline in people living in caves with bloodthirsty predators around

Don’t even get me started on our newly found addiction to gadgets, social media, and instantaneous communication. You can’t sense or intuit anything when you’re distracted. Personally, I think that’s sad, considering there’s at least anecdotal evidence that intuition plays a significant role in scientific, technological, and business innovation.

For example, against all logic, Albert Einstein was obsessed with light. That passion for light and his famous thought experiments where he pondered what he would see if he rode on a beam of light led to the special theory of relativity and E=MC2, one of the greatest discoveries in the history of physics.

In his book Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen says he came up with the big idea that made Microsoft more money than just about any business in history: Charging per-copy royalties for the IBM PC operating system instead of a flat license fee.

And what possessed entrepreneur Mark Cuban to sell Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.9 billion in stock and then immediately hedge that stock against a market crash at the very peak of the dot-com bubble? All the so-called experts rode the market down and lost trillions in investment capital.

Now, I’m no Einstein, but I have worked together with a large number of innovative entrepreneurs, engineers, and executives over the decades. In my experience, there are five relatively common factors that inspire intuitive people and ultimately lead to big ideas.

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To read the complete article and share Steve’s thoughts about the “five relatively common factors,” please click here.

Steve Tobak is a consultant and former high-tech senior executive. He’s managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a management consulting and business strategy firm. Contact Steve, follow him on Facebook, or connect on http://www.linkedin.com/in/stobak.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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