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Ducks in a Row: the Difference Between Winning and Losing

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/formatc1/2378617163

What separates success and failure for new CEOs?

Some crash and burn, like Robert Nardelli and Apple retail chief Ron Johnson when he moved to Penney.

Others flourish.

Since becoming CEO at Microsoft, Satya Nadella has made revolutionary changes in both products and culture that would/could never have happened under the old regime and the stock is up 53%.

The world said that Apple under Tim Cook would be mediocre or even fail; it was assumed that no one could follow Steve Jobs. But in the three years April since Cook took the reins Apple split 7:1 and more than doubled its stock price.

What do these pairs have in common?

Culture.

Nardelli and Johnson were both outsiders who lacked interest or understanding of the existing culture. Both tried to use brute force to radically overhaul the existing culture and both failed miserably.

Nadella and Cook were both insiders; Cook was with Apple 13 years, while Nadella had 24 at Microsoft, and so far both are succeeding brilliantly.

Does this mean CEO jobs should always go to insiders?

Absolutely not.

Does it mean that changing the culture is a bad idea?

Absolutely not.

Lou Gerstner was an outsider who radically changed the culture at IBM.

And he sums the lesson up best.

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Flickr image credit: Jeffrey

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Entrepreneurs: the Magic of Urgency

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bullgator0892/11371185513

Steve Jobs is an icon and a beacon to entrepreneurs around the globe, although not as a management role model.

Many have weighed in on what made Jobs so great, but in a recent talk Malcolm Gladwell focused on a trait that anyone, in any field and any position can cultivate and become great at.
It’s not a trait that’s inborn nor does it require any special abilities.

It’s what Jobs had in abundance; it’s what drove him.

It’s what you can have, too.

What is this magical trait?

“Urgency,” Gladwell declared, characterizes Jobs and other immortal entrepreneurs. (…)  “The difference isn’t resources,” Gladwell said. “It’s attitude.”

Cultivate urgency.

Own it.

Flickr image credit: Pati Morris

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Entrepreneurs: Modifying Your Vision

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

https://twitter.com/SamsungMobilePH/status/509404624655503360What makes a hit a hit?

When you’re ridding a comet of popularity and constantly need to release a new, better version does it make sense to take a step back and garner outside to better understand why your product is hot?

Or are you confident enough in your vision that you feel it’s unnecessary?

Would it surprise you to know that the success of the iPhone was due to the very feature Steve Jobs belittled in his competitors?

Size.

People became blackberry addicts because they could do more on the larger screen.

The iPhone’s screen was substantially larger than Nokia.

Can you even imagine surfing the Net, watching videos or streaming a movie to a phone with a screen like these?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1e/Nokia_evolucion_tama%C3%B1o.jpg/512px-Nokia_evolucion_tama%C3%B1o.jpg

In hindsight, it’s not weird that Jobs might have been wrong about consumer preference for screen sizes in the four years following his death. Rather, it’s weird that he didn’t acknowledge that the iPhone’s (relatively) big screen size was actually driving its popularity while he was alive.

The iPhone is arguably one of Jobs’ greatest hits, yet he never really understood why—because the ‘why’ clashed with his vision.

To acknowledge something you need to be aware of it.

And no matter how good you are at seeing around corners, you may need to modify your own vision to respond accurately to what your market craves.

Image credits: @Samsung Mobile PH and Jorge Barrios via Wikimedia Commons

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The Hypocrites of Tech

Monday, September 15th, 2014

4744202563_f23be1cbb0_mSince it was first announced, iPad commercials have shown kids using them and millions of parents took to them to keep their kids entertained.

One major exception was Steve Jobs, the guru of consumer technology (his kids read hardcopy books).

“They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Jobs wasn’t alone.

Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, Alex Constantinople, the chief executive of the OutCast Agency, Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium and Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group all limit or say no to technology for their kids.

“That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” –Chris Anderson

Limited or outright banned, technology is handled differently by those in tech when it comes to their kids.

Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.

In the light of new research, barring electronic screens from the bedroom has taken on new urgency and not just for kids.

The blue light from personal electronic devices has also been linked to serious physical and mental health problems.

(My sister’s doctor warned her months ago, but it took the article to make her stop.)

What the tech world sees is no different from what other people see on the news, but they pay more attention.

Not that any of this will change the ads or overall marketing of tech—it will keep targeting kids—hook them early they’re yours for life—and encouraging people of all ages to use their screens when it’s dark.

So much for the vaunted tech values of authenticity and transparency.

Actually, taking a step back, tech’s attitude seems more in tune with politicians’ attitude—more of a do as I say, not as I do approach.

Flickr image credit: Ernest McGray, Jr.

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If the Shoe Fits: Does the Description Fit Your Startup?

Friday, August 1st, 2014

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI’ve been working with entrepreneurs since the 1980s.

Sadly, the mindset has changed significantly—and not for the better.

I’m not the only one who feels that way.

German designer Hartmut Esslinger, who met Steve Jobs in 1982 and told him “Apple’s products were incredibly ugly and wasteful in production,” puts it this way.

“There is a bubble where greed meets hype and fake: Too many want to get rich instead of doing something meaningful for mankind, something for progress, to improve life.”

“Greed meets hype and fake;” what a perfect description of so many apps with billion-plus valuations.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “does it fit mine?”

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Ducks in a Row: It’s About Culture, Stupid

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/2946190118/

Lou Gerstner (IBM) says it best, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Dick Clark (Merk), Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil), Robert Iger (Disney) and Steve Jobs (Pixar) all agree, as do a host of other bosses.

There’s no getting around it—everything comes down to culture.

The millions of dollars spent developing strategy provide no value unless the strategy is implemented.

“I wouldn’t say that their strategies are useless, but if they added a separate ‘people’ process on the strategy process they would be a lot more effective.” That process is execution, which many consultants and academics have largely ignored because it is seen as merely tedious detail.

Culture embodies more than a company’s values; it embodies the company’s ability to execute.

Too many bosses treat building culture also as tedious detail—exciting to visualize and discuss, but procrastinating the hard work required to create and sustain it.

Bosses who ignore the tedious details jeopardize their careers and put their companies at risk.

Flickr image credit: Max Klingensmith

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Ducks in a Row: Once Again Old is New

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/haerold/443213004/

I find it amusing how frequently I read something that is presented as totally new when, in fact, it was done decade(s) previously.

In this case, it was the agreement not to poach each others engineers, supposedly masterminded by Steve Jobs.

Just how far Silicon Valley will go to remove such risks is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit that accuses industry executives of agreeing between 2005 and 2009 not to poach one another’s employees.

The last time I remember this happening was in the late Seventies/early Eighties by the HR organizations in a group of semiconductor firms, including National Semiconductor, AMD and Intel, among others I can’t remember.

The story was broken by a gossipy semiconductor-focused newsletter to which everyone in the Valley subscribed, shared and denied reading. (Sadly, I can’t remember the name, although it was published by an individual who lived near Santa Cruz.)

Word was that being caught reading the newsletter could get you fired.

When the information surfaced it was the EEOC that fined the companies involved.

It was a stupid corporate move then and just as stupid now, but back then the workers affected didn’t do anything; how times have changed.

Flickr image credit: Harold Heindell Tejada

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 Entrepreneurs: You and Henry Ford

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Henry_ford_1919When you think about great entrepreneurs who comes to mind?

Not Steve Jobs if you limit entrepreneurs to those who invent something brand new; he didn’t invent technology; he took what was there, infused it with brilliant design and then convinced us we couldn’t live without it.

Bill Gates? Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Larry Ellison? Mark Zukerberg?

But could you build a powerful company culture off just their quotes 100 years from now?

Actually, will entrepreneurs even remember them in the Twenty-second Century?

But a century later you can do it off of Henry Ford quotes and it would be not only sustainable, but socially responsible.

Consider this small sample

  • There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible. Ford practiced what he preached, too.
  • Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right. This may be true for all of us, but it is especially true for entrepreneurs.
  • Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Overseeing each of these stages is a perfect description of a founder’s primary responsibility.
  • Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. This isn’t to say that you should be blind to them, but keeping your focus on the goal allows you to overcome them by not losing track of what’s really important.
  • A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large. Tony Hsieh has proved this in spades, as has Jeff Bezos. The difference is that Hsieh also practices the first principle above; while Bezos has ignored it.
  • Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. The first half of the sentence has been proven over and over, but it is the second half that determines whether the effort is successful.

Parts of Ford make a great role model, while other parts should be treated as poison, which, in the long-run, merely proves Ford mortal.

(Find more Ford quotes here.)

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Entrepreneurs: the Truth about Yelling

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Entrepreneurs: the Truth about YellingAn AlwaysOn post explaining How to Get Yelled AT caught my attention and should catch yours.

Verbally it had the typical male orientation, but there is plenty for women who are just as likely to be alpha males as guys, so ignore the gender stuff.

Supposedly, those who yell in the military and sports do so because they care, which is true only when the words yelled aren’t abusive (as they so recently have been).

Outside of those two areas, with the caveat mentioned, I don’t believe there is any reason to yell, since yelling rarely accomplishes anything positive.

This is especially true when bosses are yelling at staff (or parents at kids).

Often when I call startup bosses for yelling at their people they respond by saying something to the effect that if it was good enough for Steve Jobs it’s good enough for them—forgetting that from a management prospective Jobs is a lousy role model.

Generally, yelling is the fastest way to make sure that folks tune out and disengage.

So what do you do when something happens and you are justifiably angry?

Use the process I described way back in 2006; a lot may have changed, but it still works.

Flickr image credit: AlishaV

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Entrepreneurs: Choose Your Type

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6869768383/

Do you read Agnes? A few days ago she asked her friend if she was superstitious; when her friend said not often Agnes told her she was sortofstitious. Agnes then made an over-the-top superstitious comment and her friend said she was megastitious.

The wordplay got me thinking.

In reality, most entrepreneurs are superpreneurs or they won’t make any headway.

Then there are the megapreneurs who manage to innovate, create successful companies and then do it again (think Tony Hsieh) or stay in the same place and keep innovating (think Steve Jobs, the Google Guys or Intuit’s Scott Cook).

However, there are still plenty of sortofpreneurs, who create me-too businesses (think daily deals), that stand little chance of success (although they often get funding), instead of real innovation.

They have may have the passion of a superpreneur, but in their rush to riches they want to skate—not innovate, i.e.,

  • not solve a problem that needs solving or create something that nobody even knows they want;
  • not provide real value to stakeholders; and
  • not create an entity that provides jobs and futures to its people.

It’s not that sortofpreneurs can’t become superpreneurs, but to do so they need to give up (relatively) instant gratification and be willing to both slog and pivot as necessary.

A tall order for someone who is in it for the money.

Flickr image credit: 401(K) 2013

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