Monday, January 10, 2022

The Three Internal Barriers to Deep-Tech Corporate Venturing

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, January 10, 2022

by Josemaria Siota and Maria Julia Prats

The flow of capital to deep-tech startups is rapidly becoming a torrent. From 2016 to 2020, annual investments in startups focused on commercializing emerging technologies such as biotechnology, robotics, and quantum computing grew in value from $15 billion to $60 billion worldwide, with the average private investment more than tripling in size. Deep-tech corporate venturing (CV) — the second-largest source of this funding — grew from $5.1 billion in 2016 to $18.3 billion in 2020.

The intent behind these deep-tech corporate investments is clear. In theory, deep-tech CV enables companies to quickly gain expertise in leading-edge technologies and pursue potentially disruptive innovations without building internal capabilities from scratch. In reality, however, such funding can come with high hurdles, such as time-to-market durations that often exceed five years, and the greater risk inherent to novel and complex technologies. The difficulties are underscored by an analysis we conducted using CV data from 46 international companies that was collected under the auspices of IESE Business School in 2018. It revealed that 68.9% of the initiatives failed to deliver their expected results.

To better understand the most significant barriers to success in deep-tech CV and the tactics that chief innovation officers (CINOs) can use to achieve more positive results, we turned to East and Southeast Asia for our new study. (In 2019, Asian companies accounted for 40% of corporate venture investments in startups, the largest percentage globally.) The study included an analysis of CV in 180 companies and interviews with 77 of their innovation executives, most of whom work in companies with CV portfolios that include a 25% or greater concentration of deep-tech startups. It revealed three internal barriers that CINOs commonly encounter with deep-tech startups and the ways in which they can be overcome. Read the rest here.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Open Up Your Strategy

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MIT Sloan Management Review, December 20, 2021

by Christian Stadler, Julia Hautz, Kurt Matzler, and Stephan Friedrich von den Eichen

Michael Austin/

Formulating and executing sound organizational strategy is difficult work. Strategy is often made by elite teams and thus can be limited by their biases about competitors, customer needs, and market forces. And it can be an uphill battle convincing stakeholders across the company to channel money, time, and energy in a new and unproven direction.

Our solution to both the strategy formulation and execution challenges is radical: Open up your strategy process. Open strategy offers leadership teams access to diverse sources of external knowledge they wouldn’t otherwise have, while also making individual leaders aware of their biases and helping them build the buy-in needed to speed up execution.

This approach is particularly valuable when companies face disruptive threats and contemplate transformational change. It’s much easier to master disruptions when you’re forging strategy in concert with others who view the world through a different lens than you do. Progress and innovation depend less on lone thinkers with exceptional IQs than they do on diverse groups of people working together and capitalizing on their individuality, as social scientist Scott E. Page has shown.1 In short, diversity of perspective matters — a lot.

Involving people from outside the C-suite — and outside your company — in strategy-making not only provides a wellspring of fresh ideas but also mobilizes and galvanizes everyone involved. Thus, execution becomes an integral part of strategy. The best part: All this can happen without a loss of control over the strategy-making process. Read the rest here

Monday, December 13, 2021

Better management through anthropology

strategy+business, December 13, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Kilito Chan

The next time you hear someone arguing that a liberal arts education is wasted on businesspeople, direct them to Gillian Tett’s Anthro-Vision. In this new book, the award-winning journalist, chair of the Financial Times’s US editorial board, and Cambridge Ph.D. in social anthropology makes a compelling, readable argument for the business value of her academic discipline. Tett finds that this value is delivered in three ways: anthropology makes the strange familiar, it makes the familiar strange, and it attunes awareness when listening for social silence.

“Making the strange familiar”—the quest to understand other people and cultures—goes back to the origins of the science of anthropology in the 19th century (although its main purpose in the early days was to justify “civilized” Western colonialists who were stealing the labor and resources of “primitive” peoples). In 1990, this quest—understanding, not plunder—led Tett to a remote village in Soviet Tajikistan, where she studied marriage rites for her Ph.D.

Making the strange familiar has also led marketers in a global economy to embrace anthropology in their quest to figure out how to sell their products to customers in far-flung markets. The resulting insights can be valuable indeed. Switzerland-based Nestlé’s sales of Kit Kat bars were lukewarm in Japan, until 2001, when marketing executives noticed that sales of the confection surged in December, January, and February on the island of Kyushu. Curious, they discovered that students associated the name Kit Kat with kitto katsu, which means “you must overcome” in the local dialect. The students were buying the bars for luck when they took their exams for high school and university. Nestlé built its Japanese marketing strategy around this insight, and by 2014, Kit Kat was the country’s best-selling confection. Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Break Out to Open Innovation

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, December 7, 2021

by Denis Bettenmann, Ferran Giones, Alexander Brem, and Philipp Gneiting

Image courtesy of Daniel Garcia/

Mercedes-Benz AG produces over 2 million passenger cars annually for a global market in the throes of transformation. Automakers are meeting new demands for electrification and connectivity, new competitors are arising, and customers have new expectations, such as the desire for sustainable mobility. All of these trends are driving the need to speed innovation in every facet of the automotive industry.

In 2016, R&D and digital business managers at Mercedes’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, realized that their efforts to collaborate with startups — a valuable source of external innovation — were being hampered by the company’s existing innovation processes. Those processes were overly focused on internal development and ready-to-implement solutions provided by the company’s established base of suppliers and weren’t well suited to uncertainty-ridden collaborations with promising technology startups. The company needed an innovation pathway capable of more effectively integrating startups earlier in the R&D process and significantly reducing the time required to identify, develop, test, and implement their most promising technologies and solutions.

In response, a new team within R&D was formed to build a better bridge between the promising ideas of external startups and the innovation needs of Mercedes’s internal business units. The team joined forces with partners from academia and industry to cofound Startup Autobahn, what we call an open corporate accelerator (CA). Unlike a conventional corporate accelerator — typically established by a single company for its own benefit — an open CA welcomes multiple sponsor companies and can attract a broader array of more mature startups. This model, also known as a consortium accelerator, improves sponsor access to external innovation and enhances the overall competitiveness of regional the rest here

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Setting the Rules of the Road

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand on this article:

MIT Sloan Management Review, November 22, 2021

by Ulrich Pidun, Martin Reeves, and Niklas Knust

Image courtesy of Cathy Gendron/

The rapid rise of a few powerful digital ecosystems disguises a harsh reality about this business model: Less than 15% of business ecosystems are sustainable in the long run. When we examined 110 failed ecosystems in a variety of industries, we found that more than a third of the failures stemmed from their governance models — that is, the explicit and/or implicit structures, rules, and practices that frame and direct the behavior and interplay of ecosystem participants.

Business ecosystems are prone to different types of governance failures. One reason why the BlackBerry OS lost its competition with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android was because Research In Motion failed to open its app ecosystem widely to developers until it was too late. Conversely, the video game industry fell into recession during the so-called Atari Shock in the 1980s in part because of overly open access to its ecosystem, which resulted in a flood of inferior games. Badly behaved platform participants, conflicts among ecosystem partners, and backlash from consumers or regulators are other indicators of governance flaws that can bring down an ecosystem.

Many orchestrators struggle to find an effective governance model because managing an ecosystem is very different from managing an integrated company or a linear supply chain. Ecosystems rely on voluntary collaboration among independent partners rather than clearly defined customer-supplier relationships and transactional contracts. The orchestrator cannot exert hierarchical control but must convince partners to join and collaborate in the ecosystem. These challenges are exacerbated by the dynamic nature of many ecosystems, which develop and evolve quickly and continually add new products, services, and members.

Ecosystem leaders who understand the components of a comprehensive governance model and glean insights from ecosystem successes and failures can make more informed and explicit governance decisions. In doing so, they can improve the odds that their ecosystems will be among the lucky few that survive and prosper over the long term. Read the rest here.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Getting real about DEI means getting personal

strategy+business, November 18, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Timsa

In her 2019 book, Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business, New York University journalism professor Pamela Newkirk reported that, despite billions of dollars spent annually by companies, over decades, to diversify their workforces, little progress had been made. Although racial and ethnic minorities made up 38.8% of the US population in 2019, they accounted for only 4.5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, 9% of US law firm partners, 16% of Fortune 500 board members, 16.6% of US newsroom journalists, and 17% of full-time university professors in the US. Similar inequities—with respect to not just race and ethnicity, but also gender, age, disability, and other factors—have been documented around the world. For instance, the International Labour Organization reports that women participate in the workforce at a rate 26% lower than that of men (and in some places, 50% lower).

The COVID-19 pandemic hit a few months after Newkirk’s book was published, and a few months after that, protests and racial unrest, set off by the murder of George Floyd and lingering outrage over the killing of Breonna Taylor, broke out in cities across the US and around the world. As heated arguments spread into the workplace, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) rose high on corporate leaders’ agendas. They made aspirational promises and set ambitious targets. But will the DEI initiatives launched over the past year produce anything more than slow, small, and easily lost gains?

Experience suggests that it’s necessary to lower the structural barriers to DEI and set quantitative targets for creating more open and equitable organizations. But it’s becoming clear that leaders must undertake personal initiatives in addition to organizational ones before large-scale, enduring change can take hold in the workplace.

This idea serves as the foundation for Melinda Briana Epler’s How To Be An Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace, a new book that guides leaders at all levels (and the rest of us, too) toward personal transformation in service of more diverse, equitable, and inclusive companies. Allyship, a concept that dates back at least 30 years, is the mechanism behind the transformation.

“Allyship is empathy and action,” Epler, who is CEO of Change Catalyst, a DEI consulting, training, and coaching firm, said in an interview with me. “It’s seeing and understanding the person in front of you, taking the time to listen to their unique experiences, and then taking action to support them in whatever way they need.” This is a prescription for good leadership no matter who is standing in front of you, but particularly for people whose gender, race, ethnicity, age, disabilities, or sexual orientation can leave them isolated in companies. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Best Business Books 2021: Taming collaborative dysfunction

strategy+business, November 8, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Illustration by Serge Bloch

In the 1920s, Mary Parker Follett put forth the heretical idea that managers should pursue power with—not power over—employees. “It is possible to develop the conception of power-with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not a coercive power,” argued Follett, whom Peter Drucker dubbed “the prophet of management.”

A century later, Follett’s vision is a reality. “Today, practically everything you do at work is a collaboration,” writes Rob Cross, the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, in Beyond Collaboration Overload, this year’s best business book on the topic of management. “When you attend your morning meeting, when you confer with a direct report, when you help the new person figure out the right expert to speak with about a project, when you page through your emails, when you pause to chat with a colleague, when you move from one webinar to the next while simultaneously addressing instant messages that seem to have urgent time frames—again and again, you’re collaborating.”

If that description seems to be taking on a manic tinge, welcome to the manager’s world. “The collaborative intensity of work has exploded over the past few decades,” writes Cross. Drawing on a series of studies conducted under the aegis of Connected Commons, a consortium of more than 100 large employers, where Cross serves as chief research scientist, he finds that 85% or more of employee time is devoted to collaborative activities. And yet companies have “no idea what impact this time has on corporate performance, individual productivity, or—perhaps most disturbing—employee well-being.”

But Cross has an idea of the impact. Organizational network analysis, performance metrics, and extended structured interviews reveal that many managers collaborate too much—becoming obstacles to organizational performance and their own well-being in the process.

Take Scott, a manager of 5,000 people working in three business units of a large company. In just one of those units, which employed 1,800 people, a staggering 118 people on an average day were going to Scott with requests. Worse, more than 65% of them—78 people—said they couldn’t hit their business goals without more of his time. “This is another obscene number,” writes Cross. “When we see that figure edge up past 25% of a leader’s immediate network, we know we’ve got trouble. Although the leader doesn’t feel it while racing from meeting to meeting, he or she is slowing things down significantly.” The results are burnout, attrition, and lower engagement scores because people can’t get their work done. Indeed, Cross learned that Scott, whom many people in the company considered the leading candidate to succeed the CEO, was about to get fired.

If you’re lucky, your level of collaboration overload is nowhere near Scott’s level. But if you are feeling hard-pressed to keep up with the collaborative demands on your time, and those demands are taking a toll on your performance and well-being, Cross offers succor: he says he can show you (or someone with whom you work or live) how to “reclaim 18 to 24% of your collaborative time”—about one day per week. Read the rest here.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Sharing Value for Ecosystem Success

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, November 1, 2021

by Ron Adner

Image courtesy of Jon Krause/

What do you call an ecosystem in which you always see your company as the central actor?

An ego-system. This is how we end up with labels such as the “Google ecosystem,” the “Facebook ecosystem,” the “insert-your-name-here ecosystem.” These labels seem impressive at the get-go, but they undermine an important truth: Ecosystem strategy is alignment strategy.

Defining ecosystems around companies blinds everyone involved to alignment hurdles and limits their ability to craft appropriate strategies. The presumption of centrality makes it harder to establish the relationships needed to achieve their goals: It’s harder for ecosystem leaders to create strategies that attract followers, and harder for ecosystem partners to know which leaders to follow and where to place their bets.

Apple offers a stark example. The most valuable company in the world has been enormously successful in extending the mobile data device ecosystem it leads — iPod to iPhone to iPad to Apple Watch, encircled by its App Store and iOS platforms. But it has been shockingly disappointing in its efforts to expand into new businesses that require the construction of new ecosystems. Apple’s failures to deliver on ambitious promises — that health care would be the company’s “greatest contribution to mankind”; that the HomePod would “reinvent home audio”; that its classroom education platform would “amplify learning and creativity in a way that only Apple can” — are concealed by the profits gushing from its core ecosystem, but they are failures nonetheless. The consequences of these failures are borne not only by Apple, but also by all the companies that joined as complementors in these efforts.

If successfully aligning the partners and other participants in new ecosystems is challenging to a company as sophisticated as Apple, a giant at the height of its power, then (1) no would-be market leader should be deluded into thinking that its success in one ecosystem will naturally translate to leadership elsewhere, and (2) no would-be complementor should assume that following established leaders into new domains is a safe bet.

How can all ecosystem players do better? They can anchor their notion of ecosystems in the value propositions that are being pursued, not in corporate identity. This shift in mindset supports the formulation and execution of more successful strategies for leadership (not always the most advantageous role to play) and followership (far more common, but too often neglected) in an ecosystem the rest here

Thursday, October 28, 2021

People Analytics: A key component to your HR Technology strategy

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Deloitte Capital H Blog, October 28, 2021

by Jamaal Justice and Albert Hong

What do you get when you combine promising new technological advances, a host of evolving solutions, and droves of eager customers who see the potential of these new solutions to move their businesses forward but are uncertain about what they should buy? The people analytics market.

The promise of generating actionable insights in every aspect of work, the workplace, and the workforce has created fast-growing demand for people analytics (PA). A myriad of vendors are seeking to meet the demand with an ever-expanding mix of solutions (e.g., tools for Human Capital Management Systems (HCM), data ingestion, data warehouse/lake, extract/transform/load (ETL), business intelligence, and advanced analytics that are evolving as quickly as their underlying technologies.

The explosive proliferation of Human Resources (HR) technology and solutions is a challenge for HR leaders at every step along the PA maturity curve for two principal reasons. First, the ideal set of PA tools and solutions for meeting all organizational needs has not yet emerged. Second, most organizations are still in the process of developing the capabilities needed to evaluate their PA needs: Deloitte’s 2020 High-Impact People Analytics study found that 82% of organizations globally are in the earlier stages of their maturity journey.

Whether HR leaders are in the early stages of building PA capabilities or trying to stay on the cutting edge of what is possible, they need a North Star — a guiding light and a path that will lead them to a strategy and HR technology architecture capable of delivering on the promise of PA across their organizations over time. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What’s Your Return on Visibility?

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MIT Sloan Management Review, October 26, 2021

by Michael Schrage

Digitalization driven by COVID-19 has accelerated and transformed management’s ability to track what and how workers are doing. This growth in networked visibility significantly increases the risk of institutional and interpersonal conflict, as well as challenges to cultural norms.

Many workers rationally fear that enhanced monitoring empowers management — and micromanagement — at their expense. When experienced as corporate surveillance, monitoring implies a lack of trust and an invasion of privacy, especially when people are working from home. That’s not sustainable; no one wants to feel spied on. Consequently, if not ironically, leaders are being pushed to make visibility far more visible.

While greater transparency around visibility can allay employee fears, it may also expose and provoke clashes in core values. If the interactions on a distributed work team, for example, are appropriately inclusive, but that negatively affects productivity, what happens next? Workers in general — and remote workers in particular — want credible narratives explaining visibility’s benefits, costs, and trade-offs. Opacity around visibility invites credible accusations of hypocrisy.

Visibility, like capital, compensation, and digital transformation, requires explicit purpose and policies. Leaders, not just HR and IT administrators, should explicitly manage visibility as an enterprise asset. Read the rest here.

Friday, October 15, 2021

A transactional approach to power

strategy+business, October 13, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Metamorworks

Transactional has become something of a dirty word in the business world. It suggests a short-term, one-off mindset and a commoditized approach to value. Nobody wants transactional relationships with employees, suppliers, or customers. But when it comes to exercising power, understanding power as a transaction may be a leader’s best bet.

That’s because power is something leaders are commonly thought to possess, either by force of personality or by dint of positional authority. The mistaken idea that you are inherently powerful can be extraordinarily seductive—and comes with a variety of leadership pitfalls. Hubris (an exaggerated sense of self-confidence) is one of them. Arrogance (the belief that you are smarter than everyone else) is another. Worst of all is omnipotence—the conviction that you are above the rules. From there, it’s only a short hop to becoming living proof of Lord Acton’s famous line, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There are lots of worthy prescriptions for avoiding the pitfalls of power, including servant, humble, and empathic leadership. But they depend on a level of self-awareness and mindfulness that can be difficult to muster on a day-to-day basis. If you struggle with the siren call of power, it might be easier to rethink your view of power than to remake yourself.

Organizational behavior professors Julie Battilana of Harvard Business School and Tiziana Casciaro of the Rotman School of Management offer leaders (and followers) such a reframing in their new book, Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It’s Everyone’s Business. They do it by tapping power dependence theory, a branch of social exchange theory that was developed starting in the 1960s by Richard Emerson, then a sociologist at the University of Cincinnati. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Digital Superpowers You Need to Thrive

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, September 28, 2021

by Gerald C. Kane, Rich Nanda, Anh Nguyen Phillips, and Jonathan Copulsky

On Jan. 8, 2020, when Chinese researchers announced that they had identified a new virus that had infected dozens of people across Asia, few business leaders realized that their companies were on the brink of an economic, medical, political, and cultural disruption of global magnitude. In short order, they were called upon to respond to potential illness among employees and customers, supply chain interruptions, dramatic fluctuations in demand, and extraordinarily high levels of uncertainty.

Yet, for all its grim — and ongoing — consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic is just one of many fundamental breaks in the business environment that have challenged leaders over the past 30 years or so. These disruptions come in two forms.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an acute disruption. As with an acute medical condition, the onset of such a disruption is sudden and severe, and its symptoms are obvious. Its treatment calls for a rapid and dramatic response, and its duration is relatively short. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the 2008 housing and financial crisis, and the 2010 volcanic eruptions in Iceland are examples of acute disruptions.

The second form of disruption is more like a chronic medical condition. Chronic disruptions build slowly. Their immediate symptoms can be subtle and easily overlooked. They require sustained treatment that must be tolerable over time. Chronic disruptions, such as China’s economic rise, climate change, and the evolutionary emergence of digital technology, tend to be persistent and long lasting.

While the two phenomena present differently, they both represent a departure from business as usual to which companies must respond. In studying corporate responses to the pandemic from March through December 2020, we found that companies with existing playbooks for responding to chronic digital disruptions were also responding more quickly and effectively to the acute pandemic disruption. The economic payoffs from digital technologies that allow for enterprise virtualization — such as remote work, e-commerce, and telehealth — increased significantly in the context of COVID-19. Moreover, in responding to the pandemic, many of these companies wound up accelerating their digital transformation efforts and their returns on those efforts.

These companies’ ability to manage the pandemic offers a dramatic illustration of what we’ve come to call the transformation myth. The myth is the idea that transformation is an event with a start and an end during which organizations migrate from one steady state to another, as opposed to a continuous process of adapting to a highly volatile, ambiguous, and uncertain environment shaped by multiple, overlapping disruptions. Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Leading under pressure

strategy+business, September 14, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Marco VDM

Pressure is a goad. Whether it arrives in the guise of a burning platform or a project deadline, a strategic goal or a performance target, a high-stakes deal or an aggressive competitor, pressure can help leaders attain new heights of performance and achievement. You know the adage: no pressure, no diamonds.

The problem with this pithy observation, attributed to 19th-century Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, is that it is both true and false. Though pressure can drive outsized results, it can also become an insurmountable obstacle to performance and achievement. It can overwhelm a leader and result in missteps that torpedo companies and careers.

The powerful effects—and vagaries—of pressure were dramatically illustrated during the Tokyo Olympics when gymnast Simone Biles unexpectedly withdrew from the women’s team finals. The extraordinarily talented and seemingly unshakable Biles, who was considered a shoo-in to repeat her 2016 gold medal win in the all-around gymnastics event, cited her mental health. Later, she said that she had been suffering from the “twisties,” a condition that leaves gymnasts disoriented midair and can lead to serious injury. The twisties are thought to be caused by performance pressure and stress, both of which were surely running higher than usual in an Olympics held during a pandemic.

When I mentioned Biles to Dane Jensen, CEO of performance consulting firm Third Factor and author of the new book The Power of Pressure, he suggested that she may have fallen prey to an imbalance in what he calls the pressure equation. Jensen finds that pressure grows more intense across three elements, as the levels of importance (how much something matters), uncertainty (how unclear the outcome is), and volume (how many other demands there are on your time) rise. Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Why you want what you want

strategy+business, August 12, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Catherine Falls Commercial

In the new book Wanting, Luke Burgis, entrepreneur-in-residence and director of programs at the Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business, takes readers down the rabbit hole of mimetic theory. Developed by French social scientist and philosopher René Girard in the 1960s and 1970s, mimetic theory seeks to explain human relations and culture in terms of desire. Girard’s theory and Burgis’s book are worthy of executive attention because they offer leaders insights into their own behavior and careers, as well as the behavior of the many stakeholders they are charged with understanding and influencing.

Our desires—above and beyond our innate human needs—are the driving force of mimetic theory. Girard’s analysis starts out, innocently enough, by suggesting that desire, which shapes every aspect of our lives, stems from observing other people and adopting them as models in an often-unconscious manner.

In short, what we want is what someone else has. The 1957 film Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? offers a satirical example that may hit uncomfortably close to home for some leaders. Tony Randall plays a lowly ad man who desires an executive’s salary and prestige. But when he hits upon a scheme to promote a client’s lipstick using Jayne Mansfield’s lips and then rockets to the top spot in his Madison Avenue agency, he wonders why he wanted to get there in the first place. He leaves to raise chickens.

Girard’s theory isn’t as humorous. He argued that mimetic desires spawn rivalries as people vie to realize their ambitions. Sometimes, when the resources desired are limited, the competition intensifies into conflict. And because most people don’t understand or admit the true nature of the resulting conflicts, they scapegoat others. Girard believed these innocents are unjustly sacrificed in a kind of relief valve for societal pressure. Witness the Holocaust and Nazi Germany’s demonization of Jews.

Girard went on to identify Judeo-Christianity as a historical aberration that subverted the scapegoat process. With the crucifixion of Jesus, the sacrifice of scapegoats was revealed as an unjust mechanism, writes Burgis, and “a veil was lifted on the recurring cycle of violence in human history.” (Unfortunately, lifting the veil has eliminated neither the scapegoating nor the violence.)

Like Girard, Burgis sees mimetic desire everywhere, and he interprets all sorts of events through its prism, including his own entrepreneurial ambitions. Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Becoming a leader of conscience

strategy+business, August 2, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by phototechno

Say what you will about economist Milton Friedman’s position on the responsibility of business, the idea that increasing profit within the rules of the game was the sole and righteous goal of executives clearly simplified leadership values and ethics. I suspect that is one less-recognized reason that so many CEOs avidly embraced Friedman’s monolithic view for so long. But now as more and more leaders are expanding the scope of their responsibilities and companies are adopting—and compensating leaders on—ESG (environmental, social, and governance) metrics, an increasing number of thorny ethical dilemmas are sure to come along with it.

G. Richard Shell, chair of Wharton School’s Legal Studies and Business Ethics department, pointed out during a recent interview for this column two generic types of ethical problems that leaders face. One type involves a personal problem in which the leader is aware of an ethical lapse—perhaps a colleague’s conflict of interest or behavior that puts the company at risk. “Class one ethical dilemmas are ones in which executives feel the burden of their own conscience,” explains Shell. “These problems have an emotional quality to them. You feel the tug of conflicting loyalties, or you feel guilty if you don’t do something.”

The second type of dilemma is organizational in nature. “Class two involves values that relate to the firm and its relationship to society,” Shell says. “They more often have to do with your responsibilities to the firm, its brand and stakeholders, and its code of conduct in terms of the firm’s social role. They are more cognitive than emotional because you have to process costs and benefits.” Coca-Cola’s response to Georgia’s voting rights bill is an example of this kind of dilemma.

Although the two kinds of ethical dilemmas have different dimensions, they can be assessed using the same framework, according to Shell. He calls the framework CLIP—consequences, loyalties, identity, and principles—and describes it in his new book, The Conscience Code: Lead with Your Values, Advance Your Career. Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Tips for leading people at a distance

strategy+business, June 23, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Urbancow

It seems less and less likely that the pandemic will be the impetus for a permanent, wholesale shift to remote work. Sure, employee sentiment polls find that most people like working from home, and anecdotal evidence suggests a few of them will refuse to return to the office if and when their leaders summon them. But the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 16.6% of employed persons teleworked or worked at home because of the coronavirus in May 2021, down from 18.3% in April. Moreover, few CEOs of major companies are wholeheartedly embracing remote work: some, like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, are rejecting it altogether, and many, including Tim Cook of Apple, are offering some form of hybrid work instead.

This suggests that the title of Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley’s new book, Remote Work Revolution, is something of an overstatement. Indeed, in the book’s introduction, Neeley reports that JPMorgan “is considering a permanently remote workforce”—which isn’t happening. But that doesn’t mean leaders shouldn’t read the book. It is, after all, more and more likely that leaders will be called upon to manage people who are working remotely some of the time. That is, if they aren’t already responsible for distributed teams, salespeople, and other employees whose work takes them on the road, or mixed teams of full-time employees and external contractors. And they will need to be prepared.

“For workers and leaders around the world,” explains Neeley, “untrained remote work isn’t a panacea. In fact, you may have experienced some or all of the many challenges that are inherent in virtual arrangements.” The challenges for leaders include keeping people connected when they aren’t in the same place, building trust and alignment without in-person contact, avoiding Zoom fatigue and other technological pitfalls, creating viable boundaries between work and private lives, and transferring highly coordinated work to distributed settings. Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Why Good Arguments Make Better Strategy

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, June 3, 2021

by Jesper B. Sørensen and Glenn R. Carroll

Image courtesy of Phil Wrigglesworth/

Strategy is hard — really hard — to do well. Many leaders will admit this privately: In an anonymous 2019 survey conducted by Strategy&, 37% of 6,000 executive respondents said that their company had a well-defined strategy, and 35% believed that their company’s strategy would lead to success.

Great leaders create ways of engaging their teams that can cut through this strategic fog. They may adopt frameworks to guide their analysis, but they expect participants in strategy discussions to contribute coherent reasoning and defensible ideas. Amazon is well known for its requirement that major initiatives be proposed in the form of a six-page memo. The virtue of the memo — versus a slide deck — is that writing in full sentences and paragraphs forces leaders to clarify how their ideas connect to each other. Similarly, Netflix has driven stunning transformations in the media landscape in part through its success at encouraging its leaders to debate ideas frankly and its willingness to empower them to take risks without waiting for an annual strategy planning process. It is no surprise that CEO Reed Hastings views working from home as “a pure negative” for the company, in part because “debating ideas is harder now.”

The emphasis on vigorous debate at Netflix and Amazon clarifies a truth that many approaches to strategy obscure: At their core, all great strategies are arguments. Sure, companies can and do get lucky; sellers of hand sanitizer, for instance, have done very well during the pandemic. But sustainable success happens only for a set of logically interconnected reasons — that is, because there is a coherent logic underlying how a company’s resources and activities consistently enable it to create and capture value. The role of leaders is to formulate, discover, and revise the logic of success, making what we call strategy arguments.

Many leaders would agree with this claim but struggle with how to translate the insight into practice. What does it mean to construct a strategy argument? How does one evaluate such an argument? Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Rethinking Industry’s Role in a National Emergency

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, May 27, 2021

by ManMohan S. Sodhi and Christopher S. Tang

Image courtesy of Michael Austin/

Photographs of doctors and nurses wearing garbage bags to protect themselves from infection are among the most indelible images of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also testify to the limitations of the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). By the end of March 2020, as the first surge of COVID-19 exceeded 20,000 new cases detected per day, it was woefully clear that the United States’ emergency stockpile of essential medical supplies could not meet the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other materials urgently needed to battle the pandemic and save lives.

Since then, there has been plenty of finger-pointing regarding the inability of the SNS to live up to its mandate. But none of that acknowledges the reality that, because of the scale and rarity of pandemic-level public health crises, no national reserve can reliably provide the materials needed from inventory alone.

In the decade before COVID-19, flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. averaged 440,000 annually, but in 2020 alone, COVID-19-associated hospitalizations reached 4.1 million. This is a huge spike in need that is nearly 10 times the flu hospitalization annual mean. Moreover, public health emergencies of COVID-19’s magnitude are highly unusual in the U.S. or anywhere else, normally occurring decades apart, which makes the demand spike massive but rare.

After all, the demand challenge for the SNS is to be able to handle the following:
  • More severe flus occurring every two to three years, with demand for medical products and equipment being, say, twice the average annual flu hospitalization mean.
  • Epidemics and minor pandemics that may occur, say, once every five to 10 years, with demand being as much as three to four times the mean, although the spike may be regional rather than nationwide.
  • Severe pandemics occurring once every 20 to 40 years, with demand as high as 10 times the annual mean occurring nationwide.
No manufacturer launching a product could handle such a distribution of demand by simply having a huge pile of just-in-case inventory, and neither can the SNS. Instead, it needs a strategically balanced approach to meeting future calls for help, keeping in mind that the outcome is counted in human lives. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Moonshot management

strategy+business, May 25, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Jeremy Horner

NASA has set its sights on Mars. In April, the space agency flew a solar-powered drone on the red planet — the first powered flight on another world. A month earlier, it successfully fired up the four engines of its most powerful rocket since the Apollo era. If the funding and political will can be sustained, this will be the rocket that lifts humans to Mars. James Edwin Webb would surely be delighted.

Webb was NASA’s second administrator, appointed by President John F. Kennedy in January 1961. He led the agency through the early manned flights of the Mercury and Gemini programs and set the course for the Apollo lunar missions. Webb resigned in October 1968, 18 months after three astronauts died in a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal for the first mission of the Apollo program. His resignation came just a few days before the program successfully resumed with Apollo 7, and less than a year before Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

Kennedy chose Webb because, as Tom Wolfe wrote in The Right Stuff, “he was known as a man who could make bureaucracies run.” Webb’s CV included private- and public-sector leadership. He had advanced from personnel director to treasurer to vice president at the Sperry Gyroscope Company, as it grew from 800 to 33,000 employees, and served as president of the Republic Supply Company, a troubled business that its parent, Kerr-McGee Oil Industries, sold at a profit thanks to his leadership. In the public sector, President Harry S. Truman appointed Webb director of the Bureau of the Budget, and then, undersecretary of state to Dean Acheson. “I do not know any man in the entire United States, in the government or out of the government, who has a greater genius for organization, a genius for understanding how to take a great mass of people and bring them together,” said Acheson of Webb.

In January 1961, when the call came to lead NASA, Webb tried to avoid it. He refused meetings with Kennedy’s science advisor and turned down a direct job offer from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. But when Webb found himself face-to-face with Kennedy, he was unable to refuse the insistent president. As if to eliminate any chance that Webb might yet escape, Kennedy promptly marched his new administrator from the Oval Office to the White House press office, where the appointment was announced to the media. The keystone of NASA’s executive team, a man whom the New York Times would call an “extraordinary manager,” was in place.

Webb and his achievements at NASA are not as well-known as they should be. The intense interest in the astronauts and their exploits, the Apollo 1 tragedy, and the passage of time have obscured his role in the first era of the space age. But there are useful lessons in it for today’s leaders. Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

How noisy is your company?

strategy+business, May 19, 2021

by Theodore Kinni

Illustration by SI photography

Companies live and die by the ability of the people who work within them to make sound judgments. Their judgments determine what strategy to follow, where to invest R&D funds, how to set prices, who to hire and promote, and a myriad of other decisions. Some of the decisions are one-offs; others are made repeatedly. There’s just one problem, assert Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass Sunstein: “Wherever there is judgment, there is noise — and more of it than we think.”

Noise is the major source of variability in judgment and, thus, a major cause of decisions that miss their mark, according to the professorial supergroup (henceforth, KSS). Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work as a behavioral economist; Sibony is an expert on decision-making who teaches at HEC Paris and Oxford’s Saïd Business School; and Sunstein is the Harvard prof whose work on nudges has been influential in public policy.

Noise is also the title of the trio’s new book, a 400-page tome that should leave executives who take the time to wade through it more than a little unsettled. Their uneasiness should stem from the likelihood that they have been underestimating the negative effects of noise on decision-making in their organizations. When KSS asked 828 senior executives in a variety of industries how much variation they expected to find in expert judgments, their median answer was 10 percent.

In reality, the variation in expert judgments can be four to five times that. When two members of KSS ran a noise audit for an insurance company, they discovered that the median difference in the pricing determined by its underwriters for identical policies was 55 percent, and the median difference in the payouts determined by its claims adjusters for identical claims was 43 percent. “One senior executive estimated that the company’s annual cost of noise in underwriting — counting both the loss of business from excessive quotes and the losses incurred on underpriced contracts — was in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” they write. Read the rest here.