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Expand Your Mind: More People Stories

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

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Before I get to today’s lineup I need to respond to an email question from a reader. “Joan” first assured me that she didn’t mind, but was wondering why so many of my posts played off articles in the NY Times and Business Week when there were so many sources available.

Simply, there is only so much I can read in the time I have available; I’ve read BW for decades and although I don’t like it as much now as I did in years long past, it still offers varied overviews on a large variety of subjects. As to the NYT, I like newspapers and these days it offers as much veracity and breath as I’m going to find. Enough, in fact, that I plan to keep it when it goes to paid subscriptions next year. (I also get my local paper, but it’s highly focused locally and on the region.)

As I’ve said in the past, I like stories about people, especially when they do the unexpected or the unexpected does them; today we have both.

First up, two with a horticultural bent. One tells the story of twins who have been traveling the East Coast sleeping in trees, while the other gives you a look at a book store in Humboldt County, CA, a place known for Giant Sequoias and pot, whose address was hijacked by pot growers as a return when mailing their product. (Hat tip to Gen, owner of North Coast Gardening, for sending me the link.)

You know all those articles you keep seeing about how Americans new frugality is a sea change and not a temporary reaction to past layoffs and current insecurity? Don’t bet on it as this story about Wall Street spending shows.

This next article highlights the importance of dying on your own terms. It resonates with me, because it focuses on dying at home (which I plan to do). You may not appreciate the subject, but death is something with which we all end up dealing—usually multiple times during our lives. It’s one of those things that is best thought about long before it’s necessary.

Finally, have you looked in your attic lately? I never had one, which may be one reason I can’t pass up a garage sale. An English couple clearing out their parents’ attic found an old Chinese vase; it just sold at auction for 69.5 million dollars (plus the 20% VAT). That’s enough inspiration to make you want to clean out your elderly relatives’ attics.

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

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Plane Reading

Friday, February 26th, 2010

booksI have a stack of books waiting to be read, some I buy and some are sent by publicists for me to review.

Then there is the constantly growing list of books I hear about or see a review and want to read.

But I have only so much reading time and it’s shrinking as we get closer to the launch of our new product (stay tuned).

So I created a new category called Reviews and Recommendations and included MAPping Company Success’ ‘Book Reviews’ and Leadership Turn’s ‘Reading Recommendations’. I hope you find it useful.

Today, I have some interesting recommendations for you.

The first is from Jeffrey Krames, a literary agent who tells the fascinating story of a self-published book that sells for nearly $50 with an unwieldy title that instantly became a top Amazon seller. Whether or not you want to tackle the book you’ll enjoy its story.

Two European authors—Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur—spent years putting together a stunning book on business models entitled BUSINESS MODEL GENERATION. The two authors had a great deal of help with the design and content of the book, as it was  co-authored by 470 Business Model Canvas practitioners from 45 countries… Within 48 hours the book ranked as high as #74 on Amazon, an amazing feat for most any business book and especially this one. Since then, the two versions of the book have occupied two of the top 25 slots on Amazon’s list of bestselling management books every single day.

After reading dozens of day-by-day articles and commentary on the financial meltdown, none of the myriad of books written about it really grabbed me. However, when I read a review of Henry Paulson’s newly published On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System in Business Week I was intrigued.

What got my attention (and made me ill) was the following quote.

“All were concerned with excessive risk taking in the markets and appalled by the erosion of underwriting standards,” he writes in his penetrating memoir, On the Brink. Yet they felt forced by competitive pressure to make loans they didn’t like, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary says.

“Isn’t there something you can do to order us not to take all of these risks?” was the gist of a question posed by Chuck Prince, who was still running Citigroup as the bank bumbled toward disaster.

This from some of the most powerful business “leaders” in the country.

Image credit: ginnerobot on flickr

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Expand Your Mind: Dollars and Trends

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

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Trends come and go. In its Innovation special Business Week takes a look at leading trends in the business community. Last year was all about execution, but that was then… (While you’re there be sure to check out the Special Reports.)

This year’s emphasis on strategic thinking suggests that, like an individual recovering from a personal upheaval, businesses today are taking stock: reviewing their options, rethinking their strategies, considering new opportunities and innovations.

Another trend is the questioning of CEO compensation, once strictly the province of the board of directors and a few consultants, today it’s everyman’s topic of conversation. Do you think today’s CEO compensation, not just on Wall Street, but in general, is fair and appropriate? Do the incentives work? Do they focus too much on risk taking or do they encourage excessive caution? Read this interview for some excellent insights.

Wharton accounting professors John Core and Wayne Guay have just completed a study on this topic titled, “Is There a Case for Regulating Executive Pay in the Financial Services Industry?

Speaking of fortunes, what do the elder statesmen of Wall Street, guys like George Soros, Nicholas F. Brady, John S. Reed, William H. Donaldson and John C. Bogle have in common with you and me? Surprise, surprise, they all believe that Wall Street needs to be reigned in.

They grew quite wealthy in finance, typically making their fortunes in the ’70s and ’80s when banks and securities firms were considerably more regulated. And now, parting company with the current chieftains, they want more rules.

Another rich guy is John Thain, a trend of his own. Fired from his CEO aerie he has landed on his golden feet at CIT. The man who didn’t see anything wrong with spending $1.2 million renovating his office in 2008 is now responsible for the company that provides financing for SMB, as well as being the third-largest railcar-leasing and aircraft-financing firm in the U.S. In his hands rests much of our future—at least he’s not planning to redecorate.

“This is a company that’s over 100 years old and its core business is lending to small- and medium-sized companies,” Thain said yesterday in an interview. “If we’re going to get the U.S. economy to continue to grow, if we’re going to create jobs, then we need to have this kind of a company do well.”

Our final trend comes from Forbes, famous for the way it slices and dices lists of wealthy people. Its newest look offers yet another one—billionaires under age 40.

Of the current eight, four are from China, three are from the U.S. and one is from Japan.

Image credit: pedroCarvalho on flickr

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When Realities Collide

Monday, January 11th, 2010

collisionIt is reality that bloggers, coaches, academics, and other gurus write about how to engage the workforce, build cultures, develop leaders, motivate, and increase retention; companies pay substantial amounts to coaches and consultants to develop and implement programs; management agonizes on how to increase productivity through better use of its human resources.

It is reality that many companies are moving to “just in time” workforces; using temps and contractors at all levels with no health insurance, no vacation, no benefits—hire when you need them and dump when the project is done.

Business Week offers a comprehensive overview of this trend in a cover story entitled The Disposable Worker.

The forecast for the next five to 10 years: more of the same, with paltry pay gains, worsening working conditions, and little job security. Right on up to the C-suite, more jobs will be freelance and temporary, and even seemingly permanent positions will be at greater risk.

Obviously, there are people, especially at more senior levels, who have no problem with this approach; they relish the movement, change and challenge.

But they are the minority.

Everything described in the first paragraph is geared for companies that actually hire their workforce.

Typically, it’s a different set of experts who advise companies on outsourcing and temp workforces.

I ask you:

  • What will motivate workers to contribute at the level needed in today’s competitive global enviornment when they have nothing vested in the company?
  • Why should people who may not be there tomorrow put forth the initiative that underlays all leadership today?
  • How do you engage people when they have no idea how long they’ll be around?

In short, how do you get people to care when they know without a doubt that the company doesn’t care about them?

Image credit: anoldent on flickr

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Expand Your Mind: Past and Future

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

expand-your-mind

As you can see I’ve renamed the Saturday article fest. It was Saturday Odd Bits Roundup here and Seize Your Leadership Day at Leadership Turn, now it’s Expand Your Mind, because that is what I hope these eclectic collections will do.

Old and new media spends several days around this time analyzing the past and predicting the future, so why should I be any different? But I did try and find some uncommon ones to share.

Newsweek has several slideshows worth checking out. I used their review of the decade Wednesday, but my other favorites are Worst Predictions and Tech Predictions for 2010.

Not a day goes by without mention of some part of the US auto industry, so how could I not do the same? Business Week offers up two great retrospectives covering a longer period of time, the ugliest cars of the last half century and a comprehensive look at all the brands that have gone kaput.

Of all the annual awards, the Darwin Awards tops my list of favorites—“Named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, the Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it.”—check out this year’s winners.

Finally, from the New York Times, a prediction on the returning popularity of “old-fashioned tighty whiteys” seems almost as unlikely as Microsoft dumping Steve Ballmer (Newsweek’s tech prediction #9).

Image credit: pedroCarvalho on flickr

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A Look Backwards

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

It’s the last day of the year and I have two retrospectives for you.

The first is Many Happier Returns from Business Week’s Marc Miller.

2009? No valentine—
The landscape looks like District 9,
Though corporate corpses line the lawns
Instead of otherworldly prawns.
Among the living, those once strong
Now huff and puff and wheeze along,
Unless, of course, they got a gift
When stimulus gave them a lift.
So many deemed too big to fail
And so few deemed too big to bail,
The situation gives one pause—
Who made Tim Geithner Santa Claus?
With federal spending out of sight,
Paul Krugman says it’s still too slight.
The controversy’s fierce, but wait,
There’s still the health-care-bill debate.
The public option’s blown a fuse,
The Senate bill will lose, win, lose,
They’ll never make Olympia Snowe see
Eye to eye with Ms. Pelosi,
Lieberman says no, yes, no,
While Harry Reid—oh, let it go.
A back-and-forth on cap-and-trade
Means going green’s again delayed,
And how can joy be unalloyed
With double-digit unemployed
And upward-sailing federal debt…
Did I say Merry Christmas yet?

Well, Merry Christmas anyhow,
And first of all, the deepest bow
To those whose companies survived,
And in some cases even thrived:
At Goldman Sachs, somehow Lloyd Blankfein
Kept the profits of his bank fine;
Richard Anderson impressed
With Delta’s merger with Northwest,
While Citi’s Pandit spread some cheer
By working for a buck a year,
As did the chief of Oracle—
What, Ellison? Historical!
Bob Iger helped make Disney shine
By snapping up the Marvel line
And also made his stock price spark
Announcing that new Shanghai park,
While Microsoft made big noise revvin’
Up to market Windows 7.
Signs of life were found, they say,
By analysts of M&A,
And Jeffrey Bewkes at last was able
To unwind Time Warner’s cable.
Wal-Mart bravely soldiered on
In price wars vs. Amazon,
But happiest of all, perhaps,
Was anyone who markets apps,
From recipes for turkey scraps
To farts to Chinese take-out maps.
Such downloads, though they may be pap, ‘ll
Surely warm the hearts at Apple.

Season’s greetings, too, to those
Whose bottom lines hit thudding lows,
Or who are never coming back:
An R.I.P. for Pontiac,
And even Saturn fell to earth
(I liked the Vue, for what it’s worth),
Though GM, in a bid to cope, ‘ll
Sell, keep, sell, keep, sell, keep Opel.
Massive debt at AMR,
Six Flags and Saks are under par,
And for the umpty-umth year, Boeing
Can’t get its Dreamliner going.
NBC is finding ten o’
Clock is not prime time for Leno.
(Will its programs be more trendy
Once it’s cut off from Vivendi?)
Intel’s having not much fun
In being sued by everyone,
While Rupert Murdoch feels the sting
Of Google (his solution: Bing).
The woe extends to Donald Trump,
Who’s suffering from a gambling slump,
And layoffs even ruled the day
(And this is rare) at J&J.
Some not-too-prudent marketing
Meant sales were down at Burger King,
And though their image is aglitter,
Are they in the black at Twitter?
Little changed at CIT:
It’s barely out of bankruptcy,
While profits were a constant lack
At Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Oh, one more thing that made us freak:
When Bloomberg purchased BusinessWeek.

So for next year, here’s what I’m thinking:
Let the trade gap go on shrinking,
Let each market force allow
A solidly five-digit Dow.
In fact, let every market fly—
The DAX, the Nikkei, heck, Dubai.
Let the feds still run GM,
But once it’s healthy, fire them.
More electric cars, and please,
More cost-efficient batteries.
Let the media brass divine
A way to make a buck online,
And let that buck not plunge so low
The U.S. ends up with no dough.
Let a sluggish SEC
Resolve its Madoff misery,
And let the BLS report
Statistics of a happier sort,
With millions of well-paid new jobs,
For everyone, not just Lou Dobbs.
Let the housing market soar
Right back to where it was before,
And let consumer spending rise,
But don’t let debt metastasize.
Peace on earth, good will toward men,
And see you in 2010.

Next is an artful review of the year from the serious souls at JibJab—who never crack a smile because they’re too busy laughing.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Image credit: Business Week and JibJab

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Saturday Odd Bits Roundup: Culture And Innovation

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Got some cool stuff for you today.

More from Business Week’s Innovation on why now is a great time to juice your innovation efforts and what a number of companies are doing. Whether you run a large company, are a micropreneur or working for the man, but dream of doing more you’ll find ideas and encouragement in the stories. Don’t hesitate to click around on other topics. Innovation offers up amazing stuff.

Another BW story sounds a cautionary warning on the recession’s potential effects on a generation of workers, similar to what happened in Japan a decade ago.

On a lighter note, here is an update on how Zappos is using social media (why are we not surprised) to further connect their culture and their customers. Think about how your company could benefit and back your suggestions up with this and other articles, especially if their about your competition.

Finally, Have some fun and read through the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Awards. The Ig Nobels are given by Improbable Research, “Improbable research is research that makes people laugh and then think. We collect (and sometimes conduct) improbable research. We publish a magazine called the Annals of Improbable Research, and we administer the Ig Nobel Prizes.” I love the Ig Nobels; they demonstrate the amazing creative spark found in the human race.

I hope you enjoy my picks and find both information and inspiration in them.

Image credit: MykReeve on flickr

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Seize Your Leadership Day: Obama At 6 Months

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

In spite of the importance of Obama’s success in office, there is only so much I can read on a subject before I become jaded. As a result I try to make my sources as objective as possible, which is difficult when the subject is political.

I’m also not a political junkie, so in looking for ‘how’s it going’ information I tend to skip sources with rigid ideologies, since I pretty much know what they will say.

(I must say I find it amusing and satisfying that we finally have a president that both the far right and far left don’t like.)

I did find three articles to share, two short and one longer.

The first is a compendium of opinions from a varied group of Wharton professors, one phrase I really liked was when Obama was termed “short on ideology and long on pragmatism,” an attitude I wish the entire country would adopt. I also found it amusing that he was downgraded for attacking too many major topics at once—healthcare, the economy, two wars—as if he had any choice.

The second is from economist and Harvard Professor Jeff Frankels. Be sure to click the link at the end to see the comments at another location.

Finally, a far ranging Business Week interview with President Obama that speaks especially heavily to the business community.

All have links to additional resources for those of you so inclined.

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Image credit: nono farahshila on flickr and jurvetson on flickr

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Why I Hate "Leadership Vision"

Friday, August 7th, 2009

The leadership industry dotes on the idea that visions are what make leaders, since they influence people, and that visionaries aren’t like you and me and require special handling.

It’s CEO visions—those rosy predictions, high hopes and self-deluding prophesies—that fill annual reports that sway analysts.

From Business Week: Are stock analysts swayed by an annual report’s CEO letter to stockholders? Yes, concludes a forthcoming study in Organization Science. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and other schools looked at 367 shareholder letters written by new CEOs from 1990 to 1999—giving each leader a “charismatic vision” score. To assign ratings, they scrutinized the texts for moral, ideological, and emotional characterizations of future plans and past mistakes. They also counted the number of times such words as “believe” and “commitment” appeared—along with team-oriented terms like “we” and “our.” Their finding: the more charismatic the text, defined in this way, the more likely analysts were to issue a “buy” for the company. Such language also led to off-the-mark earnings forecasts from analysts. While the decade studied coincided with the dot-com era, when analysts often said “buy,” Penn State management professor and co-author Vilmos Misangyi believes the findings also apply to the current economy, as uncertainties may prompt a strong reliance on a business leaders’ words. “If anything,” he says, “I would expect stronger effects today.”

Keep that in mind when you invest the paltry amount you have left after the most recent Wall Street vision decimated the economy.

Why is it that we accept as intelligent gospel visions of credit default swaps and derivatives from guys in $3000 suits, but would consider the same ideas as ravings if they came from a smelly guy wearing dirty clothes?

How much of so-called leadership vision is form and how much substance (or the result of a substance)?

And even when the substance is there, what is it worth when it’s left as a vision with no operational plan?

Read this post from Steve Roesler for a great example of vision sans plan.

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Seize Your Leadership Day: Long-term Resources

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

It’s a holiday weekend and I assume (hope) that you have better things to do than sit around reading a bunch of stuff on the Net.

So the links I’ve found for you are made to bookmark; they’re ongoing resources for you to explore as the mood and time moves you.

First is a cool site from Stanford Graduate School of Business with videos, such as the one on Jeff Raikes, head of the Gates Foundation, and a large selection of other topics.

Next is a favorite from Business Week’ Innovation and Design. It comes out weekly with great stories; for example, did you know that McDonald’s Chicago HQ is the greenest building on the planet?

Finally, also from BW is the new Business Exchange, an online community “to access the most
relevant content for you, filtered by like-minded business professionals.”

Have a terrific holiday and stay safe; I don’t know what I’d do without you.

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