Innovators: Leadership

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson is a great book. Below is an excerpt about leadership.

Innovators: Leadership

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

The most successful endeavors in the digital age were those run by leaders who fostered collaboration while also providing a clear vision. Too often these are seen as conflicting traits: a leader is either very inclusive or a passionate visionary. But the best leaders could be both. Robert Noyce was a good example. He and Gordon Moore drove Intel forward based on a sharp vision of where semiconductor technology was heading, and they both were collegial and nonauthoritarian to a fault. Even Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, with all of their prickly intensity, knew how to build strong teams around them and inspire loyalty.

Brilliant individuals who could not collaborate tended to fail. Shockley Semiconductor disintegrated. Similarly, collaborative groups that lacked passionate and willful visionaries also failed. After inventing the transistor, Bell Labs went adrift. So did Apple after Jobs was ousted in 1985.

Most of the successful innovators and entrepreneurs in this book had one thing in common: they were product people. They cared about, and deeply understood, the engineering and design. They were not primarily marketers or salesmen or financial types; when such folks took over companies, it was often to the detriment of sustained innovation. “When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off,” Jobs said. Larry Page felt the same: “The best leaders are those with the deepest understanding of the engineering and product design.”

Another lesson of the digital age is as old as Aristotle: “Man is a social animal.” What else could explain CB and ham radios or their successors, such as WhatsApp and Twitter? Almost every digital tool, whether designed for it or not, was commandeered by humans for a social purpose: to create communities, facilitate communication, collaborate on projects, and enable social networking. Even the personal computer, which was originally embraced as a tool for individual creativity, inevitably led to the rise of modems, online services, and eventually Facebook, Flickr, and Foursquare.

Machines, by contrast, are not social animals. They don’t join Facebook of their own volition nor seek companionship for its own sake. When Alan Turing asserted that machines would someday behave like humans, his critics countered that they would never be able to show affection or crave intimacy. To indulge Turing, perhaps we could program a machine to feign affection and pretend to seek intimacy, just as humans sometimes do. But Turing, more than almost anyone, would probably know the difference.

According to the second part of Aristotle’s quote, the nonsocial nature of computers suggests that they are “either a beast or a god.” Actually, they are neither. Despite all of the proclamations of artificial intelligence engineers and Internet sociologists, digital tools have no personalities, intentions, or desires. They are what we make them.

Managing Polarities: A Key Skill for the Well-Intentioned Manager

Originally posted on Blanchard LeaderChat:

What Comes After Plan B?Being a great manager means balancing the needs of your people with the results you are trying to achieve. This can be a fiendishly hard balance to strike, and maintain. For example:

As managers we are expected to have the best interest of the organization as a prime objective and yet the needs of each of our direct reports are also critical. The process of balancing both is a polarity because it involves two, interdependent, correct answers to the question: “In my relationship with this person, should I be concerned about her, or should I be concerned about her ability to perform her tasks?”

As a well-intentioned manager, you need to pay attention to your people’s needs, and you need to keep an eye on the extent to which things are actually getting done. If you just take care of your direct report and neglect the tasks at hand, it won’t…

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The “No” Repertoire: Essentialism Book Review

In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, he talks about how to get more things done and it’s about how to get the right things done. Below is an excerpt about how to say “No” to nonessential things.

The “No” RepertoireEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Remember, Essentialists don’t say no just occasionally. It is a part of their regular repertoire. To consistently say no with grace, then, it helps to have a variety of responses to call upon. Below are eight responses you can put in your “no” repertoire.

  1. The awkward pause. Instead of being controlled by the threat of an awkward silence, own it. Use it as a tool. When a request comes to you (obviously this works only in person), just pause for a moment. Count to three before delivering your verdict. Or if you get a bit more bold, simply wait for the other person to fill the void.
  2. The soft “no” (or the “no but”). I recently received an e-mail inviting me to coffee. I replied: “I am consumed with writing my book right now) But I would love to get together once the book is finished. Let me know if we can get together towards the end of the summer.”

E-mail is also a good way to start practicing saying “no but” because it gives you the chance to draft and redraft your “no” to make it as graceful as possible. Plus, many people find that the distance of e-mail reduces the fear of awkwardness.

  1. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” One leader I know found her time being hijacked by other people all day. A classic Nonessentialist, she was capable and smart and unable to say no, and as a result she soon became a “go to” person. People would run up to her and say, “Could you help with X project?” Meaning to be a good citizen, she said yes. But soon she felt burdened with all of these different agendas. Things changed for her when she learned to use a new phrase: “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” It gave her the time to pause and reflect and ultimately reply that she was regretfully unavailable. It enabled her to take back control of her own decisions rather than be rushed into a “yes” when she was asked.
  2. Use e-mail bouncebacks. It is totally natural and expected to get an autoresponse when someone is traveling or out of the office. Really, this is the most socially acceptable “no” there is. People aren’t saying they don’t want to reply to your e-mail, they’re just saying they can’t get back to you for a period of time. So why limit these to vacations and holidays? When I was writing this book I set an e-mail bounceback with the subject line “In Monk Mode.” The e-mail said: “Dear Friends, I am currently working on a new book which has put enormous burdens on my time. Unfortunately, I am unable to respond in the manner I would like. For this, I apologize.-Greg.” And guess what? People seemed to adapt to my temporary absence and nonresponsiveness just fine.
  3. Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize” Saying no to a senior leader at work is almost unthinkable, even laughable, for many people. However, when saying yes is going to compromise your ability to make the highest level of contribution to your work, it is also your obligation. In this case it is not only reasonable to say no, it is essential. One effective way to do that is to remind your superiors what you would be neglecting if you said yes and force them to grapple with the trade-off.

For example, if your manager comes to you and asks you to do X, you can respond with “Yes, I’m happy to make this the priority. Which of these other projects should I deprioritize to pay attention to this new project?” Or simply say, “I would want to do a great job, and given my other commitments I wouldn’t be able to do a job I was proud of if I took this on.”

I know a leader who received this response from a subordinate. There was no way he wanted to be responsible for disrupting this productive and organized employee, so he took the nonessential work project back and gave it to someone else who was less organized!

  1. Say it with humor. I recently was asked by a friend to join him in training for a marathon. My response was simple: “Nope!” He laughed a little and said, “Ah, you practice what you preach.” Just goes to show how useful it is to have a reputation as an Essentialist!
  2. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to y” For example, “You are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you.” By this you are also saying, “I won’t be able to drive you.” You are saying what you will not do, but you are couching it in terms of what you are willing to do. This is a particularly good way to navigate a request you would like to support somewhat but cannot throw your full weight behind.

I particularly like this construct because it also expresses a respect for the other person’s ability to choose, as well as your own. It reminds both parties of the choices they have.

  1. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” It is tempting to think that our help is uniquely invaluable, but often people requesting something don’t really care if we’re the ones who help them-as long as they get the help.

Kay Krill, the CEO of Ann, Inc. (a.k.a. Ann Taylor and LOFT women’s clothing retailers), used to have a terrible time saying no to social invitations. As a result, she would end up at networking events she had no interest in attending. She would find herself going to office parties and regretting it the moment she got there.

Then one day one of her mentors came to her and told her that she had to learn to jettison the people and things of her life that just didn’t matter, and that doing so would allow her to put 100 percent of her energy into the things that had meaning for her. That advice liberated her. Now she is able to pick and choose. With practice, politely declining an invitation has become easy for her. Kay explains: “I say no very easily because I know what is important to me. I only wish that I learned how to do that earlier in my life,’?’

Saying no is its own leadership capability. It is not just a peripheral skill. As with any ability, we start with limited experience. We are novices at “no.” Then we learn a couple of basic techniques. We make mistakes. We learn from them. We develop more skills. We keep practicing. After a while we have a whole repertoire available at our disposal, and in time we have gained mastery of a type of social art form. We can handle almost any request from almost anybody with grace and dignity. Tom Friel, the former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, once said to me, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.”’

 

S+B: How Old Industries Become Young Again

The Building Supply /Lumber industry is an old industry. Which is dematuring. What are you doing to make our industry young again? Are you aware of your changing customer’s habits? What technology are you using to be more effective and cost efficient? Do you know what your competition is doing? Below is an excerpt from strategy+business: How Old Industries Become Young Again.

 

How Old Industries Become Young AgainWordle: dematurity

Five indicators reveal when your sector is about to be transformed by dematurity.

Leading in Dematurity

One of the few certainties in business today is that dematurity is coming to your industry, and soon. Responding effectively requires that you throw out old assumptions about how value is built and sustained in your markets. You need to ask questions about your industry that others believe have already been fully, inexorably, answered: What makes for efficient scale? Who is the competition? Who are the customers? What do customers want? Who owns what? Where is the risk?

If asking these questions and pursuing untraditional answers seems like an unlikely path to success, consider this fact: More than 80 percent of the self-made billionaires who are profiled in my upcoming book, The Billionaire Effect, made their billions in mature industries that they reinvigorated by tackling one or many of the factors identified above. They either introduced a product attuned to new consumer habits, changed the technologies of production, adopted ideas from another industry, adapted to new regulation, changed the distribution system, or made some combination of those moves. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, challenged the internal combustion engine’s dominance in the auto industry by developing a customer-friendly electric car. Farallon Capital Management founder Tom Steyer worked laterally: He created an investment vehicle for university endowments and changed how those customers defined profitable investing. Alibaba founder Jack Ma created one of the largest e-commerce sites in the world by taking advantage of production and distribution changes inherent in the Web to provide platform and infrastructure services to thousands of small businesses.

Although dematurity is inevitable, your business can be the one that benefits most. Half the task is recognizing the facets of impending change early enough to prepare. The five indicators in this article provide you with a starting point, a way to begin honing your judgment and identifying the real threats to your industry. The other half of the task is to respond in a way that makes you stronger: by assembling and integrating the capabilities you’ll need in this new, rejuvenated marketplace. The right capabilities will probably be a combination of what you already do well and what you must learn to do from scratch. If you can set your company up to sense and respond to dematurity ahead of time, then you’ll be one of the first to catch the big wave of small changes—before everyone else in your industry gets on board. … Read More

 

What Made a Great Leader in 1776

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

The ordinarily decisive George Washington was paralyzed by indecision. It was the summer of 1776, and the Continental Army was being routed by the British in New York. Sick from dysentery and smallpox, 20 percent of Washington’s forces were in no condition to fight.

Militia units were deserting in droves. General Washington had exhausted himself riding up and down the lines on Brooklyn Heights, attempting to rally dispirited troops. Prudence dictated retreat — to preserve the hope of fighting another day. At the same time, though, Washington viewed any defeat as damage to his reputation and a stain on his honor.

There are any number of good reasons to read Joseph J. Ellis’s splendid little book, Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence. Ellis is a wonderful storyteller. His prose is lucid and succinct. Revolutionary Summer is a riveting exposition of exploded myths and excruciating dilemmas. For one thing, Washington —…

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Good Producers and Good Managers — Creativity, Inc.

In the book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, he talks about how to communicate to people on different levels. Below is an excerpt about Katherine Sarafian on how she manages her directs.

 

Good producers–and good managers–don’t dictate from on high. They reach out, they listen, they wrangle, coax, Creativity, Inc.and cajole. And their mental models of their jobs reflect that. Katherine Sarafian another Pixar producer, credits the clinical psychologist (Dr.) Taibi Kahler with giving her a helpful way of visualizing her role. “One of Kahler’s big teachings is about meeting people where they are, Katherine says, referring to what Kahler calls the Process Communication Model, which compares being a manager to taking the elevator from floor to floor in a big building. “It makes sense to look at every personality as a condominium,” Katherine says. “People live on different floors and enjoy different views.” Those on the upper floors may sit out on their balconies; those on the ground floor may lounge on their patios. Regardless, to communicate effectively with them all, you must meet them where they live. “The most talented members of Pixar’s workforce-whether they’re directors, producers, production staff, artists, whatever — are able to take the elevator to whatever floor and meet each person based on what they need in the moment and how they like to communicate. One person may need to spew and vent for twenty minutes about why something doesn’t look right before we can move in and focus on the details. Another person may be all about, ‘I can’t make these deadlines unless you give me this particular thing that I need.’ I always think of my job as moving between floors, up and down, all day long.”

When she’s not imagining herself in an elevator, Katherine pretends she’s a shepherd guiding a flock of sheep. Like Lindsey, she spends some time assessing the situation, figuring out the best way to guide her flock. “I’m going to lose a few sheep over the hill, and I have to go collect them,” she says. “I’m going to have to run to the front at times, and I’m going to have to stay back at times. And somewhere in the middle of the flock, there is going to be a bunch of stuff going on that I can’t even see. And while I’m looking for the sheep that are lost, something else is going to happen that I’m not aiming my attention at. Also, I’m not entirely sure where we’re going. Over the hill? Back to the barn? Eventually, I know we will get there, but it can be very, very slow. You know, a car crosses the road, and the sheep are all in the way. I’m looking at my watch going, ‘Oh, my God, sheep, move already!’ But the sheep are going to move how they move, and we can try to control them as best we can, but what we really want to do is pay attention to the general direction they’re heading and try to steer a little bit.”

Notice how each of these models contains so many of the themes we’ve talked about so far: the need to keep fear in its place, the need for balance, the need to make decisions (but also to admit fallibility), and the need to feel that progress is being made. What’s important, I think, as you construct the mental model that works best for you, is to be thoughtful about the problems it is helping you to solve.

I’ve always been intrigued, for example, by the way that many people use the analogy of a train to describe their companies. Massive and powerful, the train moves inexorably down the tracks, over mountains and across vast plains, through the densest fog and darkest night. When things go wrong, we talk of getting “derailed” and of experiencing a “train wreck.” And I’ve heard people refer to Pixar’s production group as a finely tuned locomotive that they would lovethe chance to drive. What interests me is the number of people who believe that they have the ability to drive the train and who think that this is the power position-that driving the train is the way to shape their companies’ futures. The truth is, it’s not. Driving the train doesn’t set its course. The real job is laying the track.

3 Questions Executives Should Ask Front-Line Workers

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

The higher up you go in an organization, the harder it is to stay in touch with what’s really happening on the front lines.  And the bad news—if you hear it at all—is presented only in the best possible light.  How do you get the real truth about what’s happening out in the field?  How do you stay connected to all corners of your organization?  I have found that three simple questions, asked with the intent to learn, can help you stay in touch with reality and be a better leader:

Get out of your office and ask, “How can I help you?”

Doug Conant, while he was CEO of Campbell Soup Company, knew that if he was going to transform the company culture, he had to ask the simple question, “How can I help you?” He asked it continually of his employees, his suppliers, and his customers—and he demanded…

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