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Archive for June, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: A Day At the Office

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

YouTube credit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCS_hkMFoOo

Ducks in a Row: Cultural Stain

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

ducks_in_a_rowFor 30 years I’ve preached the power of culture to the managers with whom I’ve worked.

I believed that good culture was the difference between great companies and the rest.

As a Silicon Valley headhunter, I made it a point to recruit for companies with good culture and from companies with bad ones, which is why 75% of my placements stayed 4 years or longer.

These days everyone is talking about the importance of culture—the media, bloggers, academics, pundits, CEOs—especially CEOs.

People like me who promote culture know that it must be like stain, not paint, to work.

Unfortunately, many CEOs use “cultural paint,” believing their employees will think its “cultural stain.”

The difference is obvious; cultural stain is absorbed into the very fiber of an organization, thus affecting everybody’s thoughts and actions, while cultural paint sits on the surface where it is paid lip-service and its effects are grounded in convenience.

Cultural stain is the direct result of walking the talk and making sure that everybody else walks it, too. It’s intentional action and it requires paying attention.

It’s not the output of an underling, although it can bubble up from employees if the circumstances are right, but “I didn’t know!” is never an acceptable reason for anything when coming from the person who ultimately is supposed to be in charge.

The ideas and desires that do percolate up may be included in the culture, but only if the top person really buys into them (think ROWE)

But if they are included only to make the employees feel good the result is cultural paint.

Like real paint, cultural paint can hide the dry rot and structural weaknesses in the company, but in the long run it won’t hold the people, because no matter how much paint is applied and no matter what the CEO tells himself and his Board, people aren’t stupid and they will vote the culture with their feet.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/

Do You See the Hole or the Whole?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

donutWhen you evaluate a task or project to you see the whole or the hole?

Most people are adept at seeing the hole, i.e., what needs to be added in order to succeed. What’s missing can include scope, skills, resources, etc.

Unlike donuts, holes don’t enhance your projects. Being sure the hole is filled is important, but it’s also difficult to fill it if you don’t also see the whole.

The whole is the overview of how that particular project fits into the larger picture. Understanding that helps you to identify and address the entire hole, so you don’t end up having to go back and fix the part of the hole you missed or, worse, move on leaving an unnoticeable hole that turns into a sinkhole down the road.

Seeing the whole means taking time to understand not just your own position/area, but the functions of those around you and how they all interact, your company’s competitors and trends in your market.

More work? Yes.

A pain in the wazoo? Yes.

The benefits to you, your team and your company? Priceless.

Stock.xchang image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/758343

mY generation: Glamorous

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

See all mY generation posts here.

glamorous

Quotable Quotes: Of Innovation and Innovators

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

dinosaurYesterday you heard the stories of five innovators, so today I thought we would look at some of the things that have been said about innovation and by innovators.

Just so we are all on the same page, let’s start with Theodore Levitt’s definition, “CREATIVITY is thinking up new things. INNOVATION is doing new things.”

Not that innovation is always welcome—never has been, never will be.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky knew that when he said, “Innovators and men of genius have almost always been regarded as fools at the beginning (and very often at the end) of their careers.”

You know the old saying, ‘if you aren’t moving forward you’re going backwards’?

Francis Bacon knew it well and warns all of us, “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.”

The how of innovation has changed radically over the years, but one thing hasn’t changed. True innovation isn’t something about which you can ask for suggestions. As Steve Jobs said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Steve Jobs

To most people innovation is everything. They can’t wait for the latest version, the newest item, the trendiest trend, the bleeding edge, but not everyone feels that way (I don’t).

I tend to the view of Coco Chanel, “Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics.”

That’s why I’m known as a digital dinosaur.

stockxchng image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/696902

Expand Your Mind: 5 Stories of Innovation

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

expand-your-mindWhat does it take to be an entrepreneur? According to Anthony Tjan, Founder/CEO of venture firm Cue Ball, you need to be an architect (big-picture planning), storyteller (research and selling), and disciplinarian (executing).

It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and endless hours, and you often forget that running really hard does not necessarily equate with running in the right direction.

It doesn’t always start with a formal business plan or even with a specific idea. Innovation strikes in different ways as you will see.

Robert Croak is CEO of Silly Bandz, the hottest new kid craze.

Croak is an opportunist who has found the greatest opportunity of his life. “I’m the luckiest guy alive right now. I don’t think you’re going to find anyone who has a reason to be happier than I am,” he says. “I have the hottest toy, the hottest fashion product on earth. All the right people like Silly Bandz. Everyone asks who my publicist is. I don’t have one. We don’t advertise. All we do is viral marketing. This is happening on its own.”

Tod Dykstra, founder of Streetline Networks, watched cars circling the block in San Francisco looking for cheap parking.

Streetline’s system lets parking authorities identify crowded streets and jack up parking-meter rates block by block. The idea is to encourage drivers to stop circling and get off the streets—either paying for a municipal garage or heading to a less crowded neighborhood. San Francisco and Los Angeles are now installing Streetline technology.

Many people believe that entrepreneurs are all risk takers with a horror of working for large companies, but that isn’t true. What is true is that they go through many of the same efforts and traumas as the more traditional ones.

Gary Martz is a senior product manager at Intel, who proves that the three skills Tjan describes are just as applicable in-house as outside.

Intel nearly killed off WiDi… “They literally laughed me out of the room.”

Anil Duggal, a physical chemist at GE’s research labs, had to go to the Feds for funding when Jack Welch was GE’s boss, but it was a different story when Jeff Immelt took over.

First, Duggal had to develop a genius for getting funded. The idea of manufacturing lighting with a method akin to newspaper printing was a tough sell. In the late ’90s, he managed to buttonhole U.S. Energy Dept. officials visiting GE to look in on other projects. The $1 million grant that resulted helped keep the project going. Then in 2001, Jeff Immelt, still new in the role of CEO, challenged GE engineers and scientists to strive for breakthrough ideas. Today, OLED and LED research get about half of GE’s R&D budget for lighting.

As you can see, a common thread that runs through these stories is that entrepreneurs see things differently from the rest of us. They see what is and needs to be, or should be, or could be.

Ben Huh saw the potential of a site called I Can Has Cheezburger, raised some money and $10K of his own savings to buy it and then used the concept to create the 53 sites that make up Cheezburger Network.

“It was a white-knuckle decision,” he said. “I knew that the first site was funny, but could we duplicate that success?”

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

Embellisment

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Are you prone to exaggeration?

A little here, a bit there, year after year and that longevity often leads to more and more outlandish claims until your house of embellished cards comes tumbling down.

embellishmentResearch has shown that the human animal is prone to embellishing anything—maybe not everything, maybe not all the time, but it’s all possible.

What is the ethical line that separates a normal human frailty from a true breech of trust?

At one end you have the obvious black—outright lies and claims of things (degrees, experiences, etc.) that never happened.

At the other end you have white—the person considered a social misfit through total honesty.

And between them the various shades of gray.

How do you extricate yourself from an embellishment in the past that has become part of your history?

How dangerous are embellishments in these days of instant fact checking and the immortal nature of everything on the web?

A fascinating article in Knowledge@Wharton discusses all this and more along with the social implications, the effect on trust and various views on the subject of embellishment.

Please read the article, then come back and share your thoughts.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanwoodswalker/4025343099/

Leadership’s Future: Raising Our Future

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

entitled

Teams aren’t allowed to win by a large margin, everyone likes everyone, no one plays favorites; wouldn’t you love to live/work in a place where that was the norm?

Last Thursday I wrote about a school where teams lost the game if they scored too much and said, “Great lesson to teach our future leaders—don’t excel, don’t try too hard, don’t strive too much, don’t field a winning team and, whatever you do, don’t follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Magic Johnson, Dr. Jonas Salk or any of those who surpassed their peers by a wide margin.”

Now, in line with teachers and administrators varied efforts to “level the playing field” for kids in school, which is an oxymoron (accent on the moron) if I ever heard one, comes the push to eliminate “best friends.”

Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

But the professionals see it differently.

If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?

There was a time when the first 18-22 years of life was focused on growing up, not just getting older.

Kids made mistakes, fell on their butts, picked themselves up and kept going; they learned about cause and effect—if they did X, Y would happen; they learned about accountability and consequences—if they did not do X, Y blew up.

All this was considered normal.

What’s happening to your kids in their first 18-22 years? Are they wrapped in cotton wool; life’s kinks smoothed out; fights fought for them, their wants satisfied immediately; protected, encouraged—entitled?

Now here’s the 64 dollar question.

Which do you want to hire? Which do you want on your team?

Image credit: http://atom.smasher.org

Wordless Wednesday: Growing Pains

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

growing-up

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jantik/11577254/

Ducks in a Row: Defining Leadership

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

ducks_in_a_row

That the things I read influence what I write as is obvious from today’s post and yesterday’s companion piece.

It started with summaries of, and links to, five major leadership research articles in The Washington Post, one of which concluded that “increasing team cohesiveness” was a far more important leadership act than the traditional one of “driving results.”

Other of the studies focused on the need for leaders throughout the organization, not just in the C suite, and the growing need for decision-making that considers more than the bottom line.

Next, a post by Wally Bock led me to Mike Myatt’s excellent post on defining leadership and the ensuing discussion, which is well worth reading.

But I have a question that I believe goes to the heart of any effort to define leadership.

Does your definition of leadership require the leader to agree with you?

Let’s look at Mike’s definition, since it is one with which most people would be comfortable.

“Leadership is the professed desire and commitment to serve others by subordinating personal interests to the needs of those being led through effectively demonstrating the experience, wisdom and discernment necessary to leverage trust & influence to cause the right things, to happen for the right reasons, at the right times.”

Would you consider the person a good leader if the right things happened at the right time, but for reasons with which you didn’t agree, i.e., their ideology was different from yours?

This distinction is most obvious in political and religious areas, but is present in business, too.

For example, if someone provided a solution to the oil slick who espoused an ideology the opposite of yours would you welcome the solution or would the differing belief/philosophy cause you to respond negatively?

Image credit: Svadilfari on flickr

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