Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How companies kill innovation

My new book post on Safari is up:

Why So Few Innovation Efforts Pay Off and What You Can Do About It

By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.
Companies spend a lot of money on innovation. According to an annual study by PwC Strategy&, the top 1000 corporate R&D spenders invested $647 billion in their quest for innovation in 2014. That’s more than the individual GDPs of all but the 30 most prosperous countries in the world.
Given this level of spending, I assumed that these companies—the so-called Global Innovation
1000—were getting a pretty hefty return on their investment. But I was wrong about that: Year after year, Strategy& reports that there is “no statistically significant relationship between sustained financial performance and R&D spending” among these enterprises.

That didn’t make a lot of sense to me, until I realized that the lack of correlation probably wasn’t between innovation spending and corporate success as much as it was between innovation spending and innovation success. Unless your R&D spending actually generates some kind of commercially viable innovation, it’s not going to translate into financial performance, is it?

To see why companies might not be getting much of a bang for the big bucks that they spend pursuing innovation, it’s well worth taking a look at Creative People Must Be Stopped: 6 Ways We Kill Innovation (Without Even Trying) (Jossey-Bass, 2012), by David A. Owens. In the book, Owens, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management and consultant, points out that corporations often provide surprisingly unfertile fields for innovation because of six different and increasingly challenging kinds of constraints: individual, group, organizational, industry, societal, and technological. (As if the six constraints aren’t enough, there are multiple pitfalls within each category.)

Any one of the six constraints can kill innovation efforts dead, so you should get to know all of them (and you can take this survey to find out which ones you or your company might be particularly vulnerable to). But the first two—individual and group—are particularly relevant for frontline and middle managers who are trying improve the innovation results of their teams...read the rest here

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Jeff Bezos way

Leadership Lessons from Jeff Bezos and Amazon
Posted May 12, 2015 by & filed under Amazon, Business, Content - Highlights and Reviews, culture, leadership, management, strategy.
By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.
I’ve been waiting for Amazon—with its annual sales of almost $90 billion in 2014—to crash and burn for a long time. There was no way that a public company could continue to operate almost entirely without profit year after year—Amazon lost $241 million in 2014. I was positive that a reckoning was just around the corner. Now, 20 years down the road, and before Jeff Bezos dispatches a fleet of delivery drones to bombard me with the company’s ubiquitous shipping cartons, I hereby publicly and unconditionally surrender. Never again will I mutter—even under my breath—about the company’s prospects.

No matter what you think of Amazon, it is clear that it is a juggernaut of a company—and that its leaders play a big role in its ability to generate topline growth. That’s why it’s worth reading The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company by John Rossman. Rossman, who was formerly Amazon’s director of enterprise services and now serves as managing director of professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal, says that the principles he describes in the book were embedded in the corporate culture by founder Bezos and remain the “core tenets on which company leaders are rigorously rated during their annual performance reviews and self-evaluations.” Here are a few that are especially notable—not so much for their commonsensical nature, but for the diligence with which the company pursues them:
Obsess Over the Customer: Not surprisingly from a company that rewrote the book on retailing (driving myriad competitors in segments such as books and music out of business altogether), Amazon’s first leadership tenet dictates an intense focus on the customer. Rossman writes that Bezos has always maintained that the “best customer service is no customer service.” This koan-like statement means that Amazon seeks to always give its customers exactly what they want the first time around, which eliminates a whole bunch of problems—and costs—from the get go. That’s why the company instituted policies like the then-innovative free shipping on orders over $100 program, “Look Inside the Book” previews, and Amazon Prime, which has become a major revenue generator in its own right...read the rest here

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Goleman's contributions to the literature of leadership

Why You Should Read Daniel Goleman

Posted by & filed under Business, Content - Highlights and Reviews, emotional intelligence, leadership, management, managing people, managing yourself.

By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

It’s hard to imagine anyone who has influenced the discipline of leadership to a greater degree over the past 20 years than psychologist, consultant, and author Daniel Goleman. Goleman is best known for popularizing the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) with his book of the same name, which was published in 1995. Since then he’s been exploring a set of learnable capabilities relating to “how well we manage ourselves and our relationships” that can be developed to enhance personal and organizational performance.

There is no better place to get an introduction or refresher course in Goleman’s oeuvre than What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters (More Than Sound, 2013). It is a collection of seven of his most important and relevant articles, originally published in Harvard Business Review and elsewhere, each with a new postscript by the author. The result is a useful combination of the theoretical and practical, all packaged into one quick read that offers aspiring leaders a great return on their time.

The collection is bookended by Goleman’s most important concepts. It starts with the HBR article in which Goleman introduced EI to business leaders. In it, he explained that while above-average intelligence and relevant technical skills were “entry-level requirements for executive positions,” research showed that the four components of EI were what makes or breaks a leader.

Self-awareness, which “shows itself as candor and an ability to assess oneself realistically,” is the first component. Goleman says that self-aware leaders are able to “speak accurately and openly…about their emotions and the impact they have on their work.” For instance, self-aware leaders realize how deadlines affect them and are able to communicate that information to their teams to ensure positive results.

Self-management—the ability to control your own moods, feelings, and emotions by acknowledging and channeling them productively—is the second component of EI. Unsurprisingly, thoughtful reflection and a passion for success turn out to be more productive for leaders than temper tantrums and sulking.

Empathy, that is, “thoughtfully considering employees’ feelings—along with other factors—in the process of making intelligent decisions,” is the third component. Goleman identifies this quality as most critical in today’s highly diverse and global business environment. And you don’t have to look much further than the headlines, which are filled with news of lawsuits between employers and employees, to see that it isn’t as common a trait as it should be.

Social skill, “friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the direction you desire,” is the fourth and final trait of EI. Leaders who cultivate this skill are good schmoozers, and while that may sound like a less-than-critical capability, Goleman finds that it is what enables us to put EI to work, making social skill “the culmination of other dimensions of emotional intelligence.”...read the rest here

Monday, May 4, 2015

Favorite books from the brand builder behind The North Face

Hap Klopp’s Required Reading

In 1968, a newly minted Stanford School of Business MBA named Kenneth (Hap) Klopp bought a two-year-old outdoors store in the San Francisco Bay area named The North Face. Over the next two decades, he vertically integrated the business — expanding into the manufacturing and wholesaling of high-quality outdoor apparel and gear — and laid the foundation for a brand that generated US$2.3 billion in revenues in 2014.

Klopp sold The North Face in 1989 and embarked on a new career as a consultant, teacher, and writer. Today, he serves on the boards of several high-tech companies, including data visualization firm Obscura Digital and nanotechnology materials firms Cocona and Mission Athletecare. He is also a professor of marketing at Hult International University and the author of two decidedly irreverent business books, The Adventure of Leadership: An Unorthodox Business Guide by the Man who Conquered “The North Face (with Brian Tarcy, Longmeadow Press, 1991) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Management (with Brian Tarcy, Alpha Books, 1998).

I asked Klopp how he chooses business books, and he explained that he looks for books that relate to three themes: changing social values and trends; the disruptive effects of technology; and the preservation of entrepreneurial energy in mature companies — the last a challenge that he labels “turning the arrow back.” He recommended the following four books.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Why King Charles lost his head

Saumitra Jha: How Financial Innovation Helped Start the English Civil War (and Why That’s Important Today)

A Stanford scholar explains why financial mechanisms could be useful to align diverse interests.

Four chess lessons for leaders

It’s easy to see the top of the corporate ladder but successfully making the climb is an increasingly challenging undertaking. After years of rightsizing and delayering, steps leading to the top of ladder are fewer and farther apart than ever. And when you get a chance to stand on them, you better make the most of it—there are plenty of people climbing the ladder behind you.

How can you do that? Mark Miller, who since 1977 has climbed the corporate ladder from hourly team member to vice president of leadership development at Chick-fil-A, the $5 billion fast serve restaurant chain, says you have to raise your game.

“Most of us began our leadership journey utilizing an approach with striking similarities to the game of checkers, a fun, highly reactionary game often played at a frantic pace. Any strategies we employed in this style of leadership were limited, if not rudimentary,” he explains. “The opportunities in our world for leaders to play checkers and be successful are dwindling. The development game today for most leaders can better be compared to chess—a game in which strategy matters; a game in which individual pieces have unique abilities that drive unique contributions; a game in which heightened focus and a deeper level of thinking are required to win.”

In his new book, a fast-reading and accessible business novel titled Chess, Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game (Berrett-Koehler, 2015), Miller describes chess-level leadership strategies—four moves that you can use to make the most of opportunities to climb the career ladder when they present themselves...read the rest here

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The new world of weed

My new book post on s+b is up:

Welcome to the Marijuana Economy

As a child of the 1960s, I can’t resist reviewing Big Weed: An Entrepreneur’s High-Stakes Adventures in the Budding Legal Marijuana Business. But I won’t stoop to snickering references to nickel bags and Cheech and Chong bits that are as passé (and culturally obsolete) as my youth. Instead, I’ll let Hageseth pick up the slack for me.

“I was baked off my ass,” recalls the self-styled “ganjaprenuer” of the time he worked his company’s booth at the 2012 High Times Medical Cannabis Cup in Denver. “Seriously, I’ve never been so high in my entire life. At one point I thought I was hallucinating.”

That’s not something that I ever imagined I’d hear a CEO say (let alone commit to print). But from Hageseth, the founder of Colorado-based Green Man Cannabis, it’s more like smart marketing than a stoner’s sketchy memories. Hageseth is on a brand-building mission that he compares to those of Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks — two brands that got their start as alternative/counterculture businesses and have since become mainstream icons: “I wanted to win the minds, then the hearts, and finally the wallets of marijuana product and lifestyle consumers and become the most recognized brand of legal marijuana in the world.”

A couple of decades ago, such a business plan would have been written off as, um, a pipe dream. But according to Hageseth, business is booming at Green Man. The company grossed US$300,000 in 2009, the year he started it as a grower of medical marijuana. The business grew nicely, but really took off when the recreational use of marijuana became legal in Colorado in January 2014. Last year, the company grossed $4 million, mainly from two retail outlets in Denver — one of which is across the street from a Whole Foods Market. And after the Green Man Cannabis Ranch & Amphitheater, the first-ever “weedery” (think winery for weed), slated to open in the fall of 2015, has been up and running for a year, Hageseth says annual revenue will jump to $97 million.

Big Weed is an entertaining story of entrepreneurship with all the usual — and some markedly unusual — challenges. Hageseth’s company has the same talent woes as other startups: Green Man almost crashes on takeoff because he hires a master grower via Craigslist (where else?) who can’t quite comprehend the differences between growing marijuana illegally in a basement and growing it legally at scale in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse. Hageseth also has less-familiar problems: No bank wants to do business with a legal marijuana grower for fear of falling afoul of federal banking regulations. Technically, Green Man’s revenue is illegal drug money in the eyes of the feds. “Imagine having to pay huge bills in cash — amounts in the tens of thousands,” Hageseth writes...read the rest here

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Leaders don't always sport a title

How To Find the Hidden Leaders on Your Team

By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

Everybody recognizes the importance of leadership in the C-suite, but we don’t always give it the
attention it deserves in the trenches—where execution is the name of the game. Nevertheless, there are lots of so-called “hidden leaders” on the front lines, and supervisors and middle managers who know how to find and nurture them can enhance performance in their teams and provide a great boon to their companies.

Who are these hidden leaders? “They are the people who are putting your organization’s strategy into practice, carrying out your quarterly plans, and bringing the value of your organization to life for customers every day,” says Scott Edinger, the founder of Edinger Consulting Group. “They are the employees who make the engine run.”

In Hidden Leader: Discover and Develop Greatness within Your Company (AMACOM, 2015), Edinger, along with co-author Laurie Sain, explains that these often unrecognized and, thus, underutilized employees can set the standards for performance excellence and bring energy to their teams; they serve as trustworthy sounding boards for supervisors and peers alike and are the go-to guys and gals for critical assignments. Edinger generously agreed to answer a few questions to help you harness the power of the hidden leaders on your teams...read the rest here

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How to simplify complex decisions

My new article for Stanford Business:

Conquering Complexity With Simple Rules

A Stanford professor offers a better way to make decisions.

What do burglars, Stanford’s football team, and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen have in common?
They all use simple rules to help them navigate complex challenges, according to a new book by Stanford professor Kathleen Eisenhardt.

Many burglars follow just one rule that significantly lowers their risk of getting caught — they pass on houses where there are cars in the driveway, says the book, which Eisenhardt co-authored with Donald Sull, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Business. Cardinal football players follow three simple dietary rules: Eat breakfast; stay hydrated; and eat as much as you want of anything that can be picked, plucked, or killed. And Yellen adopted a “mind the gap” rule which uses targets for unemployment and inflation to inform the Fed’s interest rate decisions.

Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World is counterintuitive in a time when algorithms and terabytes of data are often cited as prerequisites of decision-making. “How can people manage the complexity of the modern world?” the authors write. “Our answer, grounded in research and real-world results, is that simple rules tame complexity better than complex solutions.” ...read the rest here

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Frontline career development

The Three Conversations that Will Help Your Employees Grow


By Theodore Kinni

Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

There are plenty of plausible excuses for managers who don’t want to be bothered helping employees
enhance their careers. There’s no time. People should “own” their own careers. If I give an inch, they’ll want a mile. Career development is only for so-called high potentials.

The only problem with these excuses, according to employee development experts Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni: “Study after study confirms that best-in-class managers—the ones who consistently develop the most capable, flexible, and engaged teams able to drive exceptional business results—all share one quality: they make career development a priority.” In other words, if you are being called upon to meet ever-expanding expectations or to continuously improve quality or to deliver the next big thing (and who isn’t), you better be thinking about how to help your people help you achieve those goals.

The best way to build career development into your managerial repertoire, write Kaye and Giulioni in their book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want (Berrett-Koehler, 2012), is by becoming an expert at holding career conversations. These are conversations that “facilitate insights and awareness, explore possibilities and opportunities, and inspire responses that drive employee-owned action” ...read the rest here

Monday, April 13, 2015

Let them hear your body talk

My latest book post on Safari Online:

Why You Need to Work on Your Body-Language Skills

Posted April 7, 2015 by ; filed under Business, communication, influence and persuasion, management, managing yourself.

By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

I’m usually oblivious to anything more subtle than a bonk on the head, but even I couldn’t miss the body language in a recent episode of a fair-to-middlin’ TV political drama. In it, an actress playing the U.S. Secretary of State, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress after single-handedly thwarting a coup in Iran, is meeting with an actor playing the President’s chief of staff, who wants her to make a high-stakes appearance on a national TV news program. The chief of staff presses her, asking if she is ready to do the show, and the actress, shaking her head, says, “Absolutely.” He walks away happy.

Clearly, the chief of staff has not read Body Language: It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters (Capstone, 2012) by Robert Phipps. “You’ll typically see this sort of incongruence between words and body language when people are under pressure to do something they don’t really want to do,” explains the UK-based body language expert. “It’s often accompanied by a ‘shoulder shrug,’ which generally indicates one of two things: either ‘indecision’, being caught between a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No;’ or an outright contradiction of the verbal ‘Yes’.” ...read the rest here 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Brian Grazer on curiosity

My review for Financial Times:

Review: A Curious Mind, by Brian Grazer

by Theodore Kinni
I had expected Brian Grazer, with his phenomenal success as a producer of films including Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, and his odd habit of hounding notable people such as scientist Jonas Salk and writer Isaac Asimov until they agree to meet him for a “curiosity conversation”, to make a fascinating subject for a book.
Maybe that is why I found A Curious Mind curiously disappointing. A book that should have given us the inside scoop on a self-made member of Hollywood’s power elite turns out to be a rather lightweight paean to the benefits of curiosity.
Grazer, supported by business book writer Charles Fishman, attributes the lion’s share of his success to a single trait: “Life isn’t about finding the answers, it’s about asking the questions.” But he finds it hard to shoehorn his own career into this reductionist frame. For instance, he quickly notes that questions are not enough; you have to listen to the answers and be willing to act on them. And then there are the curious times that he becomes “anti-curious” because he has come to a decision. “Thanks anyway,” Grazer says, “I don’t want your critique.”
A Curious Mind is punctuated by vignettes from 63-year-old Grazer’s life and career that provide far more insight ...read the rest here 

Quelling your inner Stalin

How to Stop Diminishing and Start Amplifying Your Employees’ Best Work

Posted by & filed under Business, Content - Highlights and Reviews, leading teams, management, managing yourself.

By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

I took a free online leadership assessment created by the Wiseman Group the other day. The good news: I got a near perfect score. The bad news: the assessment measures the degree to which I would diminish people if I were leading them!

Leaders who are “diminishers” weaken employee performance by draining their momentum, sapping their energy, and otherwise feeding on them, according to Liz Wiseman, who, with Greg McKeown, is the author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Many of the behaviors that diminishers exhibit are self-aggrandizing and simply do not take into account the welfare and interests of employees. But, sometimes, diminishing behaviors can actually be well-intentioned—such as when a leader acts as a buffer between their people and the larger organization, or is overly eager to leap to the rescue whenever people are struggling. Such behaviors can diminish accidentally: For example, by rescuing employees too quickly, a leader can cut them off from learning and empowerment opportunities.

The managerial opposite of diminishers is what Wiseman calls multipliers. Leaders who are multipliers, explains the former head of HR development at Oracle, amplify the efforts of their people, enhancing overall output and allowing their employees and their companies to flourish. Multipliers, she writes, “access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around them.” They “create genius …and make everyone smarter and more capable.”

How can you become a multiplier? Wiseman and McKeown say that any leader can achieve multiplier status by practicing five disciplines ...read the rest here

Friday, March 20, 2015

A look back at Cialdini's classic book on influence

The Six Principles that Influence People to Say “Yes”

By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

Long before writers like Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Pink started picking through scientific studies for business tips, there was Robert Cialdini and his classic book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.  The first edition of the book, which was based in part on Cialdini’s own research, was published in 1984. Since then, it has racked up sales of more than 2 million copies.

“I can admit it freely now. All my life I’ve been a patsy,” the Arizona State psychology professor writes in the book’s introduction. “For as long as I can recall, I’ve been an easy mark for the pitches of peddlers, fund-raisers, and operators of one sort or another.” Influence was written as a defensive weapon for the patsy in all of us, but it quickly became a bible for sales and marketing types, too. And from there it spread to business leaders.

Good leaders don’t play their followers for patsies—if they did, they wouldn’t be leaders for long. Nevertheless, they must be able convince people to follow them and to do the things that they ask. In Influence, Cialdini offers up six basic psychological principles—reciprocity, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity—that any leader can use to obtain compliance. They work because they contain triggers that set off fixed-action patterns within us.“Click and the appropriate tape is activated; whirr and out rolls the standard sequence of behaviors,” Cialdini explains... read the rest here

Friday, March 13, 2015

Some tips for giving feedback

Making Employee Feedback Sessions Positive (Even When They Are Negative)

By Theodore Kinni

Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

To study stress, a couple of scientists offered free job application coaching to unemployed people. The scientists brought each unwitting subject into the lab for a practice interview, during which an interviewer—a ringer, of course—gave increasingly negative feedback, starting with disgusted looks and moving to outright criticism. Understandably, the interviewees’ stress levels climbed the charts.

The moral of the story isn’t to avoid scientists looking for subjects, although that may not necessarily be a bad idea. Instead, says psychologist Daniel Goleman, who made emotional intelligence a byword in the business world, “Managers and supervisors should be aware that this can be what happens to people if you focus in performance feedback solely on what they did wrong, rather than how they can improve and what they did well.”

Giving employees feedback—in formal reviews and in the course of daily events—can be one of the most uncomfortable jobs that managers face, and it is one for which they are often unprepared. I’m no paragon of constructive feedback myself, but I’ve read some really good books by some really smart people about it ...read the rest here

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Will Berkshire profit without Buffett?

My new book post on strategy+business is up:

Does Berkshire’s Culture Ensure Its Future?

Warren Buffett, who will turn 85 this August, has had an extraordinarily long run of business success—such a long run, in fact, that there has been much speculation in recent years about how Berkshire Hathaway will fare after its chief architect is gone. Of course, many companies survive, and prosper, after the loss of charismatic leaders. Apple, for example, recently posted a record quarterly profit of US$18 billion. But as it was with Steve Jobs, the concern about Buffett is understandable—the Oracle of Omaha is credited with personally parlaying an investment in a fading New England textile manufacturer in 1962 into the unlikely conglomerate that is now perched at number four on the Fortune 500 list.

Berkshire’s 2013 revenues were $182 billion, on which the company reaped a profit of $19 billion. Under Buffett’s guiding hand, the Berkshire family has grown to include 50 or so direct subsidiaries—a few of which qualify as conglomerates in and of themselves—and the company has tens of billions of dollars of cash on hand, with which he could acquire even more. “If Berkshire were a country, and its revenues its gross national product, the company would be among the top 50 world economies, rivaling Ireland, Kuwait, and New Zealand,” writes George Washington University Law School professor Lawrence A. Cunningham, the author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014).

Shelves of books have been written about Buffett and Berkshire, including Alice Schroeder’s terrific biography, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (Bantam, 2008), which this magazine named as one of the best business books in 2009. But Cunningham takes a new tack: He asks what the company’s “moat” is—that is, what protection it has from competitive challenges.

Cunningham rejects out of hand the idea that Buffett’s presence is the moat, writing “mortality means no person can be a moat, because that would not be a durable advantage.” It’s also not the company’s financial might, Cunningham adds. The float provided by Berkshire’s insurance businesses and its investments in the stock of other companies only “strengthen[s] Berkshire’s fortress.”

What, then, is Berkshire’s moat? The answer, says the author: "Berkshire’s distinctive corporate culture. Berkshire spent the last five decades acquiring a group of wholly owned subsidiaries of bewildering variety but united by a set of distinctive core values.”

Cunningham finds nine shared cultural traits among Berkshire’s subsidiaries. This conveniently allows him to use “BERKSHIRE” as an acronym, even though it requires some clunky labeling. The traits:
·         Budget conscious, as in thriftiness
·         Earnest, as in keeping promises
·         Reputation, as in personal and corporate integrity
·         Kinship, in terms of legacy and a family orientation
·         Self-starters, as in entrepreneurial behavior
·         Hands off, as in delegating decisions and responsibility
·         Investor savvy, in terms of capital investment
·         Rudimentary, as in easy-to-understand businesses
·         Eternal, as in a long-term perspective

The foundation for these traits is Buffett’s investment philosophy, but often they already exist in the businesses he acquires: He buys what he values. And when the Berkshire values aren’t present or seem threatened, he spreads and reinforces them. After Buffet discovered that a senior Berkshire executive had profited personally from an acquisition, for example, he accepted the executive’s resignation and drafted a memo to all employees that warned, “Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless.”

Although Cunningham’s inquiry into Berkshire’s values and culture is interesting (as are the histories of the companies that make up the conglomerate), Berkshire Beyond Buffett isn’t all that convincing. Will the company prosper without its founder? It certainly might—it’s a profit-generating powerhouse. But the book didn’t persuade me that Berkshire’s culture (and not Buffet or something else entirely) is the principal source of its competitive advantage.

Cunningham argues that a person can’t be a durable competitive moat, but isn’t Buffett exactly that? He built Berkshire one acquisition and investment at a time over a half-century. And how long is “durable” when it comes to competitive advantage anyway? There are some smart people who are convinced that there is no such thing these days. 

Further, while some company cultures seem to serve as moats—the culture in Disney’s parks and resorts comes to mind—isn’t it more likely that culture is really what Cunningham characterizes as a fortress strengthener, like a float that could keep a small country above water? In and of itself, would a culture built on the “BERKSHIRE” values be able to save the proverbially doomed buggy-whip company? I don’t find these questions addressed in the book. 

Despite the outstanding issues, I found Berkshire Beyond Buffett a worthy read. Cunningham’s thesis hasn’t convinced me to run out and buy a block of Berkshire’s A stock at $200,000+ per share. (Oh, to have a personal float of such magnitude!) But the book does provide insights into the values and culture that have buoyed one of the great conglomerates of all time.

Ode on a Grecian Urn

I did a Q&A with an interesting guy for Stanford Business Magazine:

What We Can Learn from Ancient Athens’ Manufacturing Industry
A former vice president at Boston Consulting Group analyzes an ancient sector and how it parallels changes in today’s economy.
Consultants often analyze industries, but Peter Acton has taken a much bigger step back in time than most. When the former vice president at the Boston Consulting Group decided to pursue a PhD in ancient history at the University of Melbourne, he chose the manufacturing sector in Athens in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. as the subject of his thesis and, now, his new book, Poiesis: Manufacturing in Classical Athens (Oxford University Press, 2014).
Poiesis portrays classical Athens as a vibrant society of makers. Moreover, Acton’s application of modern theories of competitive advantage to an ancient economy offers a promising new analytical framework for historians. Acton received his MBA from Stanford in 1980. Here are excerpts of a conversation with him about his new book.
Classical Athens is commonly associated with a flowering of the arts, philosophical thought, and democracy. How did manufacturing fit into the picture?
When you look at the high standard of living in Athens and think about all the things Athenians needed — housing, furniture, pottery, clothing, shoes, armor, ships, and public buildings — you realize it had to be a busy manufacturing city. Oddly, however, that reality wasn’t reflected in the scholarly literature, which has never paid much attention to how Athenians made a living ... read the rest here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Three tips for better meetings


By Theodore Kinni

Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

Fed up with his team’s lack of productivity, the manager calls everyone together yet again. Iron-fisted, he declares, “We’re are going to continue having these meetings, every day, until I find out why no work is getting done.”

I know it’s not a howler of a joke, but then it’s hard to squeeze a laugh out of as pervasive a bane of organizational life as meetings. Think about how much of their time managers spend in meetings (25-50 percent, per Brian Tracy). Then, tally up the labor costs—to say nothing of the impact on productivity and the opportunity costs. It’s no laughing matter.

So what’s to be done about meetings? I went looking for suggestions in Safari and found a slew of ideas. Here are three of the most intriguing: ...read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Four book recommendations from Guy Kawasaki

My new book post on s+b is up today:

Guy Kawasaki’s Required Reading
If you’re old enough to remember Apple 1.0, you surely remember that Guy Kawasaki was the company’s “chief evangelist” (one of the first of the weird job titles that don’t seem so weird anymore, with people today getting jobs as digital overlords, creators of happiness, and retail Jedi). In 1987, Kawasaki left Apple to found, lead, and invest in high-tech companies.

Now a name brand in his own right, Kawasaki is an author, speaker, consultant, and social media star. He’s got more than 6.7 million online followers and more than 480 million views on Google+. He also serves as the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. No wonder he’s always smiling.
In 1990, Kawasaki published his first book,The Macintosh Way: The Art of Guerilla Management (Scott Foresman). And since then, he’s written 11 more, including The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything (Portfolio, 2004) and, most recently, The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users(with Peg Fitzpatrick, Portfolio, 2014).
I often see Kawasaki’s books on lists of other people’s favorite books, and that led me to wonder what his all-time favorite business books might be. Here are his top four picks and his comments about them:
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit (Putnam, 1938), by Brenda Ueland. “This book, by a writer and journalist from Minnesota who passed away at age 93 in 1985, explains how to unshackle yourself from doubt and naysaying, even when the source of these hindrances is internal. Although it was written for writers, you can apply its philosophy to any skill: programming, designing, cooking, whatever. This book changed my life because I doubted my ability to write. In short, it empowered me, and I’ve never looked back.”
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Technology Products to Mainstream Customers (HarperBusiness, 1991), by Geoffrey Moore. “Moore pierced my naive belief that the best product wins. The best product doesn’t always win—if this were true, Macintosh would have 95 percent market share. Just because you can get early adopters to buy your product, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the market will. Since the book was written, the speed and flatness of the Internet has changed how information spreads, but the lesson that every product faces a chasm is timeless.”
Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born (Penguin, 1990), by Denise Sherkerjian. “Sherkerjian examined how the MacArthur Award winners achieved their genius status in this book. The bottom line is that they worked long and hard, so this book taught me the value of gutting it out and being resilient. Are there more important lessons in life than learning that hard work has value, and that geniuses are made, not born?”
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (William Morrow, 1984), by Robert B. Cialdini. “Cialdini explains how to influence and persuade people using principles of social psychology. The book should be required reading for every entrepreneur because of the lessons it can teach about reciprocation, and because too many entrepreneurs have insufficient appreciation of how interpersonal relationships work. I guarantee that you’ll be a more influential and persuasive person if you read it.” 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Four-star leadership

My latest book post on s+b is about one of the US Navy's most unlikely leaders:

Leading, the Rickover Way

On December 3, 1989, during the summit meeting that marked the end of the Cold War, Sergei Akhromeyev—a marshal of the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev’s personal military advisor—told George H. W. Bush, “We have read every one of your submarine messages for ten years and have been unable to find or kill even one of them. We quit.”

Akhromeyev was talking about the U.S Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines, which, starting with the 1954 launching of the Nautilus, undermined the U.S.S.R’s assured second-strike capabilities and tilted Cold War geopolitics in the favor of the United States. “Shrouded in secrecy, Nautilus’ successors could penetrate any and all underwater defenses the Soviets could develop,” explains retired rear admiral and defense company executive Dave Oliver in Against the Tide: Rickover’s Leadership Principles and the Rise of the Nuclear Navy (Naval Institute Press, 2014). “American submarines became so technically advanced that they were essentially invulnerable.”

The prime mover behind the construction of this fleet is four-star admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the unlikely leader of a long-shot endeavor that dates back to the dawn of the nuclear era. “In addition to trying to simultaneously invent and adapt a new technology to an otherwise unvalued naval vessel,” Oliver (who spent much of his career serving under the admiral) writes, “Rickover was personally not terribly charming, needed lots of money, had 98 percent of the Navy arrayed against him, was proposing shattering the cookie jars of many other admirals, and was seen as downright disrespectful of the submarine heroes who had just won the first global war.”

So how did Rickover pull it off? 

One thing he did was to manage up—way up. By 1947, the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe and the U.S. policy of containment were creating what George Orwell had been characterizing as “cold war,” the U.S. economy had not yet entered the long postwar boom, and the wondrous potential of nuclear power was still being lauded. Rickover danced to these tunes. He pitched the nuclear navy to the Eisenhower administration and the U.S. Congress as a low-cost, high-tech alternative to a conventional navy. He built the Nautilus from used parts—bringing in the first nuclear sub for less than US$70 million. Thus, he bypassed the military hierarchy.

Rickover also understood and respected the power of culture—in this case, the heavily entrenched culture of the U.S. Navy. To drive innovation and establish new ways of working, he tried to avoid building his subs in Navy shipyards. (He preferred to use privately owned yards, where he did not have to buck the entrenched hierarchy.) And he refused to use most of the officers already serving in diesel subs because he wanted to start with a clean slate.

Finally, Rickover was unrelenting in his drive to marry safe, consistent processes with continuous improvements. This, explains Oliver, gave him a leg up on the task of transforming a powerful and unproven technology into a dependable source of military advantage. To be sure, submarining has always been a dangerous business, and nuclear subs are no exception: the Navy lost two of them—the Thresher and the Scorpion—and their entire crews in the 1960s. But the nuclear navy has never had a reactor accident.

Oliver has a weakness for hyperbole, illustrated by statements like this one: “It’s impossible to overstate the massive resistance Rickover encountered when he promoted nuclear power.” But despite his obvious admiration for Rickover’s abilities and achievements, he does not shirk reality in Against the Tide. “Even with his exceptional management and personal work habits,” Oliver tells us, in a final lesson that leaders everywhere might heed, “Rickover would have failed if history had not been on his side.” As always, timing plays an essential role in success.