Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tom Peters Wants You to Read

By Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, May 26, 2016
Tom Peters. You know the guy. He branded himself with an “!” after his name. He and Bob Waterman wrote one of the best-selling business books of all time,In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies(Harper & Row, 1982). 
Peters is one of the handful of people who helped transform the business book genre from a staid backwater into a mass market — with 1.8 million titles in print, it’s the fifth-largest book category on Amazon. He has written 29 of those titles and sold more than 10 million copies of them. In the process, Peters helped define the term business guru and inspired more wannabes than Madonna. At age 73, he enjoys an engaged, multigenerational audience, including 135,000 Twitter followers. 
Because Peters is a voracious reader, I thought he would make an ideal subject for my monthly “Required Reading” column for strategy+business, in which business notables call out a very short list of books they think leaders should read. But a brief call to New Zealand, where Peters goes to beat the New England winters, to discuss his four favorite books somehow turned into a one-and-a-half-hour marathon.
“I have to tell you a story about a neighbor of mine in Massachusetts who would be on anybody’s top 10 list of [Warren] Buffett–like people,” Peters opened. “I was at a dinner with him 18 months ago and, out of nowhere, he said, ‘You know what the number one problem is with big company CEOs?’ I said, ‘I can think of at least 70 things, but damned if I can narrow it down.’ And out of his mouth pops, ‘They don’t read enough.’” the rest here

Tech Savvy: Two Questions for Managers of Learning Machines

by Theodore Kinni
Two questions that managers of intelligent machines should ask: It’s been a couple of years since Stephen Hawking warned that artificial intelligence could “spell the end of the human race.” The terminators aren’t here yet and unless they come very soon, the managers of AI-based technology have a couple of more immediate issues to address, according to Vasant Dhar of NYU’s Stern School of Business and Center for Data Science.
The first, which Dhar takes up in a new article on TechCrunch, is how to “design intelligent learning machines that minimize undesirable behavior.” Pointing to two high-profile juvenile delinquents, Microsoft’s Tay and Google’s Lexus, he reminds us that it’s very hard to control AI machines in complex settings. “There is no clear answer to this vexing issue,” says Dhar. But he does offer some guidance: Analyze the machine’s training errors; use an “adversary” — through means such as crowdsourcing — to try to trip up the machine; and estimate the cost of error scenarios to better manage risks.
The second question, which Dhar explores in an article for, is when and when not to allow AI machines to make decisions. “We don’t have any framework for evaluating which decisions we should be comfortable delegating to algorithms and which ones humans should retain,” he writes. “That’s surprising, given the high stakes involved.” Dhar suggests addressing this issue with a risk-oriented framework that he calls a Decision Automation Map. The map plots decisions in two independent dimensions — predictability and cost per error — and suggest whether it would be better made by human or machine the rest here

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

George Barbee’s Required Reading

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, May 25, 2016
George Barbee brings a perspective to the subject of innovation that is both expert and unusually diverse. His 45-year career includes stints with large companies, entrepreneurial ventures, consulting firms, and educational institutions.
Barbee’s innovation career began in the product realm while he was serving as an executive with Wilkinson Sword and, later, with Noxell and Gillette, now divisions of Procter & Gamble. In the 1980s, he launched into service innovation and founded three companies. One of them, the Consumer Financial Institute, became the largest independent provider of financial planning in the U.S. and was acquired by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 1986. He joined PwC as a partner, creating and leading a new strategy named the Global Client Service Partner, which generated several hundred million dollars in new revenue for the firm.
In 2000, Barbee (along with authors Jim Collins and Malcolm Gladwell and former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore) was named a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Since then, he has served as senior lecturer at the school, teaching service innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketing.
Most recently, Barbee wrote and published 63 Innovation Nuggets (for Aspiring Innovators) (Innovation Etc., 2015), which contends that innovation is both a learnable and teachable skill. In the book, he offers concise, practical strategies and tactics, as well as reading recommendations, for those who want to bolster their personal and organizational creativity.
When I asked Barbee to share a short list of books that most influenced the development of his capacity for innovation, he called out the following three books.
What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, by Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press, 2015). “Bolles self-published the first 100 copies of Parachute in 1970, and he has revised and updated it annually ever since. Surely the most popular handbook for job hunters ever written, it has sold more than 10 million copies. But I love it not because it helped me find a new job, but because it helped me better understand myself.
Parachute showed me how to chart and assess the various phases of my career. I’ve done the exercises in the book’s appendix more than 20 times over the years, and I kept my notes and used them to evaluate where I was, where I was going, and where I wanted to go in my life.
“Bolles’s manual taught me to appreciate my own strengths and weaknesses. It also helped me understand the importance of embracing diversity and identify the types of people I needed around me to maximize my ability to innovate in both personal and organizational settings. I think you should grab a copy of Parachute every time a new edition appears. Read it, do the exercises, make notes, and chart your growth. Use it to evolve and enhance your ability to innovate.”
How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Alan Lakein (P.H. Wyden, 1973). “Lakein is one of the pioneers of modern personal time management. He opened my eyes to the importance of setting priorities, keeping to-do lists, and regularly assessing my progress, as well as reassessing my goals.
“Alan Lakein’s ABC method of prioritization has wormed its way into my life in conscious and unconscious ways. His book also helped me balance my business and personal lives — and it enabled me to reach that very special nirvana that can result if you can integrate the two. By showing you how to manage your time in a disciplined way, this undeservedly out-of-print book helps you generate insights and focus on what is truly important, which really pays off when you are trying to launch and manage innovation efforts.”
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). “I worked in 40 countries in my career, but I’ve never been able to verbalize the trends and phenomena that I witnessed as insightfully as Friedman does in this book. That’s why I’ve been assigning it in the MBA class I teach at Darden since it was first published.
“There are some who feel that Friedman exaggerated the progress of globalization, but his thesis that the cultural and geographical barriers between nations are becoming lower and lower is certainly true with regard to business. And it jives with my experiences working with global companies. You should become familiar with the 10 ‘flatteners,’ seven ‘company rules,’ and three ‘convergences’ described in the book — some of the names have changed over the past decade, but they remain as relevant as ever.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Not-So-Elementary Exploration of Brand Insight

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, May 11, 2016
Martin Lindstrom is the Sherlock Holmes of brand consultants. Even as he walks you through the cases in his new book, Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends(St. Martin’s Press, 2016), you can’t help but marvel at his powers of observation and deduction.
Befitting a Holmesian adventure, the first case in Small Data begins with a mysterious call. The interpreter for a Moscow-based entrepreneur is on the line. “The businessman wanted to launch a new business in Russia with the goal of generating at least a billion dollars a year,” Lindstrom writes. “When I asked the obvious question — what was the business? — I was told it was up to me.” Most people receiving such calls would think they were about to be scammed. But for Lindstrom, a self-described  “forensic investigator of emotional DNA” with a global reputation, this was an exciting lead.
Soon after, the investigator, accompanied by two Watsons, is on his way to Russia aboard a private jet chartered by the entrepreneur. They spend a few days in Moscow and then fly 4,000 miles to Krasnoyarsk, a city in Siberia with a population of one million. And here, in the frozen steppes, Lindstrom takes the pulse of the Russian people and tries to identify the billion-dollar business opportunity harbored in their collective psyche.
He does this by mimicking anthropologists. Lindstrom notices that the locals upholster the inside of their apartment doors, that they lack mirrors, that the men stow their toothbrushes bristles-down and the women bristles up, and, most tellingly, that “every refrigerator seemed to have an extravagantly large collection of magnets.” To Lindstrom, this last clue was evidence that Russian parents doted on their young children. And he ultimately recommended that the entrepreneur launch, an online community and e-commerce site aimed at Russian mothers and their children. was a success, Lindstrom reports, until sanctions on imports forced it to close and retrench in 2015.
“The Case of the Refrigerator Magnets” is one of the seven tales in the book showcasing Lindstrom’s methods. Each is fascinating, but each also drives home a lesson that may or may not be intentional: It’s hard, perhaps impossible, for the average marketer to do what Lindstrom does.
Lindstrom strikes those of us who blunder through life as supernaturally sensitive and observant. When he comes across seemingly minute and irrelevant details (like whose clothes are hung where in a bedroom closet), his antennae begin to quiver. He also has decades of assignments under his belt, and each has contributed to a portfolio of insights that he can apply elsewhere. For instance, the sense of community Lindstrom discovered in Siberia informed his recommendations for redesigning a chain of grocery stores in the Southeastern U.S.
Happily, Lindstrom is willing to offer us a guide for building a brand. “Until recently, I never considered what I did for a living as a repeatable methodology,” he admits. “But over the past few years, nearly half a dozen companies have asked if I could distill my methods into a training program.”
Lindstrom outlines the result — the 7C Manifesto — in the final pages of the book. The Cs are collecting, clues, connecting, correlation, causation, compensation, and concept — and each represents a step in the process that Lindstrom follows. He also offers some useful advice for completing each step: In collecting, for instance, remove the internal filters that block your ability to observe clearly. When Pepsi asked Lindstrom to improve the public perception of his favorite soda, he eagerly accepted the assignment. But he also stopped drinking it. “Pepsi — its taste, its bubbles, its cans, its bottles, its advertising — was just too familiar,” he explains. “I had no distance from the brand, no frame of reference about desire, or craving, my own or other people’s. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t get inspired. I couldn’t do my job.”
Even with the helpful advice, I doubt that many of us could ever be able to do what Lindstrom does. There is some magic to his work, and some genius, and a lifetime of devotion to understanding how people’s emotions become intertwined with brands. But then, not being able to do what Sherlock Holmes can do has never stopped admiring readers from following his adventures with delight and astonishment. Why should it not be the same with Martin Lindstrom?