Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Moving Beyond the Silicon Valley State of Mind

Sensemaking Book Cover JacketMIT Sloan Management Review, September 18, 2017

by Theodore Kinni

To steal a phrase from Anton Chekhov, the great danger of the Age of the Algorithm is that
 we will know everything and understand nothing. In his new book Sensemaking, a polemic defending the need for the liberal arts in business, Christian Madsbjerg, a founder of strategic consulting company ReD Associates based in Copenhagen and New York, argues that leaders shouldn’t try to know everything. Instead, they should try to make sense of something.

Madsbjerg offers up sensemaking as the antidote to algorithmic thinking — “a Silicon Valley state of mind” that relies exclusively on data for direction. Relying on data alone is taking “a journey determined by the reductions of a GPS,” according to the author. Sensemaking is the North Star: It provides the essential context for data — the rationale for collecting it and the perspective needed to gain insight from it.

In the excerpt below, Madsbjerg tells the story of Napa Valley’s Cathy Corison, comparing her approach to wine making with the data-driven approach of Leo McCloskey, founder of Sonoma, California-based Enologix, Inc., to illustrate the difference between traveling by the North Star and the GPS. Read the excerpt here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Is Capitalism Killing America?

Insights by Stanford Business, September 18, 2017

by Theodore Kinni

On August 2, 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record-breaking 22,000 — its fourth 1,000-point advance in less than a year. That same day, I read the first sentence in Peter Georgescu's new book, Capitalists Arise! End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation (Berrett-Koehler, 2017): “For the past four decades, capitalism has been slowly committing suicide.”

How does Georgescu, the chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam (Y&R) and a 1963 graduate of Stanford Graduate School of Business, reconcile the Dow’s ascent with his gloomy assertion?

“The stock market has nothing to do with the economy per se,” he says. “It has everything to do with only one thing: how much profit companies can squeeze out of the current crop of flowers in the garden. Pardon the metaphor. But that’s what corporations do — they squeeze out profits.”

In the latter half of the 1990s, Georgescu shepherded Y&R through a global expansion and an IPO. He has served on the boards of eight public companies, including Levi Strauss, Toys “R” Us, and International Flavors & Fragrances. He also is the author of two previous books, The Constant Choice: An Everyday Journey from Evil Toward Good (Greenleaf, 2013) and The Source of Success (Jossey-Bass, 2005). An Advertising Hall of Fame inductee, the 78-year-old adman is still pitching corporate leaders. Now, however, he is trying to convince them to fundamentally rethink how — and for whom — they run their companies. Read the rest here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why Airbnb will always be a better business than Uber

Learned a lot about the nuances of platforms while editing this one by Jonathan Knee of Columbia Business School

MIT Sloan Management Review, Sept. 15, 2017

by Jonathan A. Knee

Platform Create EqualThe dramatic influence of the internet on how businesses operate and the emergence of a handful of gigantic, digitally enabled corporations have led to breathless pronouncements regarding the importance of a peculiar new class of monopolies built on digital platforms. These platforms, it is argued, fuel network effects that lead inexorably to winner-take-all marketplaces. This perspective is invariably coupled with infectious optimism and investment euphoria regarding the extraordinary scale and strength of network-effects businesses.

In theory, the key attribute of a network-effects business is its momentum-driven flywheel. Every new participant increases the value of the network to existing participants, attracts more new users, and makes the prospect of a successful competitive attack ever more remote — thereby bolstering the relative attractiveness of the business. The imagined innate indomitability of network effects stems at least in part from the breathtaking strength of notable platform businesses, like Facebook’s social network or Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

The problem is that not all platform businesses exhibit network effects. Moreover, even a cursory survey of the landscape does not support the oft-repeated assertion that such effects are “likely to strengthen a market’s winner-take-all tendency.” For every Facebook and Microsoft, there are literally hundreds of network-effects businesses operating in crowded sectors or in sectors where it is not clear that anyone will ever turn a profit. Take, for example, the once hot peer-to-peer lending space, which after more than a decade has attracted dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs and spawned a billion-dollar IPO but nevertheless has largely been a bust. The first mover in U.S. P2P lending, San Francisco-based Prosper Marketplace Inc., continues to struggle to achieve consistent profitability, and the billion-dollar IPO of San Francisco-based Lendingclub Corp. quickly ended in tears for investors.

Nor are digital platforms necessarily better businesses than the analog versions that they displace. Analog malls had the benefit of their shoppers being many miles away from competing malls, and the benefit of their retail tenants being committed to long-term leases. On the internet, platform competitors are only a click away and companies regularly and dynamically optimize their customer reach across competing platforms and directly via their own sites.

It is not that marketplace businesses built on e-commerce platforms do not have advantages or that they cannot thrive. Rather, it is that the mere existence of network effects tells entrepreneurs and investors relatively little about the attractiveness of a particular business. For example, there is almost no fundamental difference in the network effects enjoyed by Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc., the global leaders in the ride-hailing and short-term lodging marketplaces, respectively. Yet, other characteristics of those industries ensure that Airbnb will enjoy dramatically stronger results than Uber will ever achieve. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why First Impressions Are Often Wrong

strategy+business, September 5, 2017

by Theodore Kinni

The list of human foibles is long. The 2015 s+b article “Beyond Bias” lists 24 of the most common biases, including blind spots, the illusion of control, and the concept of sunk costs. Since the early 2000s, Princeton University psychology professor Alexander Todorov has been studying one of those long-standing human foibles: the first impression.

In his new book, Face Value, Todorov pulls together all he’s learned about first impressions. At first glance — and upon a careful reading — it makes for a fascinating and thorough examination of the subject. Todorov’s expansive tour includes the history of physiognomy (the dubious science of predicting character from physical appearance) and a survey of modern first-impression research, much of which Todorov has conducted in his Social Perceptions Lab at Princeton. His conclusion: We find judging others based on a single glance irresistible, but the judgments we reach are usually wrong. Read the rest here.