Weekly Download 14.16

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Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

How to assess how business-centric you really are: IT is rapidly becoming front-stage in solving business issues. This rubric is a good way to examine one’s focus.

The App I Used to Break Into My Neighbor’s Home: With an attention-grabbing headline, this article explores the nefarious use of 3D printing and kiosk technology. But aren’t physical keys on the way out?  I think that a lot more damage can be done with either password hacking or a crowbar.

It’s easy to put labels on people to describe who they are or why they act the way they do. Taking this type of shortcut often has its pitfalls; putting labels on how to manage Millennials is one example. 4 Things You Thought Were True About Managing Millennials (HBR) challenges conventional wisdom about this demographic.

Secrets of Generation Flux (Fast Company): This article summarizes many themes I have been writing about. It also cites one of my favorite authorities on this new world of work (Aaron Levie, CEO and cofounder of Box). While it is fairly long and dates to November of 2012, the information is relevant and insightful. Key quote:

“This is the great challenge of 21st-century leadership. We have grown up with certain assumptions about what works in an enterprise, what the metrics for success are, how we organize and deploy resources. The bulk of those assumptions are wrong now. The world in which we were raised and trained no longer exists. The clarity of words we use to discuss business, standbys like marketplace and competitive advantage, are being redefined and rendered almost meaningless.”

Are We as a Society Falling Apart?: Dr. Ichak Adizes has long been a favorite read. He hits the issue of the decline of mutual trust and respect head on.


A Sticky Situation

stuckAt Strategic Leverage Partners, we had a very brief and specific definition of “stuck.” Moving from problem mode to solution requires that we realize something is holding us back. The second step is figuring out how to get unstuck. The most obvious way is to find the answer to our question. But what if we are asking the wrong question?

Perhaps we’re framing the question with a historical bias. Perhaps for the situation, the solution set is not known. Therefore, we have to figure out what is different, what we don’t know or what hasn’t been considered.

  • Are will willing to pause (versus just push harder)?
  • Are we willing to look to the outside (versus look harder inside)?
  • Are we willing to seek and consider diverse opinions (versus go to our trusted sources or ideas)?
  • Are we willing to consider that we ourselves are part of the problem (versus looking at others)?

Today, more than ever, we need to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, one where historical norms aren’t nearly as relevant. Consider what steps you’re willing to take to get unstuck. There are many options, as long as you are open to a new approach


Weekly Download 14.15

Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

download-158006_640Microsoft’s CEO message to employees on July 10 was called Bold Ambition & Our Core. Change is a-comin’. Satya Nadella addresses:

  • A “mobile-first and cloud-first” world.
  • Abandoning “devices and services” which Steven Ballmer rolled out last fall (September, 27 2013 Shareholder Letter), to be replaced by “productivity and platform.”
  • Transitioning from automated business processes to intelligent business processes.
  • Digital work and life experiences.

He comments on culture change:

“Nothing is off the table in how we think about shifting our culture to deliver on this core strategy. Organizations will change. Mergers and acquisitions will occur. Job responsibilities will evolve. New partnerships will be formed. Tired traditions will be questioned. Our priorities will be adjusted. New skills will be built. New ideas will be heard. New hires will be made. Processes will be simplified. And if you want to thrive at Microsoft and make a world impact, you and your team must add numerous more changes to this list that you will be enthusiastic about driving.”

I really like the closing:

“A few months ago on a call with investors I quoted Nietzsche and said that we must have “courage in the face of reality.” Even more important, we must have courage in the face of opportunity. We have clarity in purpose to empower every individual and organization to do more and achieve more. We have the right capabilities to reinvent productivity and platforms for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. Now, we must build the right culture to take advantage of our huge opportunity. And culture change starts with one individual at a time. Rainer Maria Rilke’s words say it best: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” We must each have the courage to transform as individuals. We must ask ourselves, what idea can I bring to life? What insight can I illuminate? What individual life could I change? What customer can I delight? What new skill could I learn? What team could I help build? What orthodoxy should I question? With the courage to transform individually, we will collectively transform this company and seize the great opportunity ahead.”


Pathways to Success

Recently there have been major write-ups on tech companies that have pursued very different strategies to achieve their desired financial results. The contrast between blue chip IBM and Software as a Service (SaaS) pioneer Salesforce.com is remarkable. Box.com, one of the newer cloud storage and file sharing services, is charting yet another course.

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why IBM is in Decline. IBM, under the realm of CEO Samuel J. Palmisano from 2002 – 2011, doubled earnings under a plan called Roadmap 2010 and is on schedule for a repeat with Roadmap 2015. This extreme focus on profitability and wooing investors has left a trail of wreckage for new CEO Ginni Rometty, who, inexplicably, seems committed to follow the same path. Catastrophe may be looming for one of America’s greatest brands. The singular and narrow focus on quarter over quarter, year after year earnings may not be sustainable in the long term. There are many cycles in the economy and in business that may not fit this smooth curve approach. Also, while meeting short-term profit goals, IBM is paying the price in terms of low employee morale, suffering customer service, lack of innovation and lagging technology.

Understanding SaaS: Why the Pundits Have It Wrong. At the other end of the spectrum, there are many SaaS companies or cloud providers that lose more money annually than they earn in revenue.  One example is Saleforce.com, one of the early pioneers (founded in 1999) of cloud-based CRM systems.  They incurred a net loss over the past couple of years due to their focus on growth rather than margins. It’s a vicious cycle: to fuel growth, they spend a lot to acquire customers, which negatively impacts margins. See Salesforce Q1’15 Earnings: Revenue Growth Strategy Continues To Trim Margins to learn more.

Tech companies like Box.com spend more on marketing than they generate in revenue. Box.com has the dubious distinction of having a financial profile that it is out of line even compared to other SaaS companies. THE BOX IPO ANALYSIS: This Company Is Burning Twice As Much Cash As Any Comparable Company is enlightening. Customers and employees alike will pay a significant price if one of these companies implodes. 

What is the right balance?  How do mature companies continue to fuel innovation and growth while also serving their shareholders?  How do you allocated monies in your budget for innovation and growth while also delivering bottom line results?  Is there a balance of investments in people and customers to achieve long-term sustainable success?

A moderate approach that may serve both maverick and mature companies equally well is based on the patient use of capital and a balanced portfolio. Companies that plan seeds now for growth that will be ready for harvesting in three, five or ten years will experience some ups and downs, but the overall trend will be positive.

In the end, only time will show which path is sustainable.


Change and Self-Delusion

Over the weekend I witnessed a number of “older” gentlemen sporting white socks and white tennis shoes. I said to my wife, while pointing to one of the fashion offenders, “Please never let me do that.”

Later in the weekend, my 18 year-old daughter said, “Boy, Dad, those tennis shoes sure are old.” Mind you, I had my lawn mowing shoes on…so I think just maybe I’m out of the danger zone, as awareness is the first step.

036 lawn mowing shoes

Photo by Mark Baker

However, I recently read a couple of articles where actual decisions on change were researched. We look back at the past and realize we’ve changed significantly, but looking forward we don’t think we’ll change as much. In the moment, we tend to make more conservative choices based on a bias toward future stability. Even though they may be the most risky given the actual changing environment.

Is it because it is easier to think of our past, but hard to imagine the future? Do we not perceive the world changing around us? Do we just get lazy and don’t care anymore? Do we see the world as changing more slowly than it actually is?  Have our inherent values changed and we’re comfortable in what we’ve achieved, and thus are less motivated to change for the better?

I’ll keep wearing my white tennis shoes for mowing the lawn, but continue to observe, and accept advice and scrutiny from others on my fashion choices.

See On the End of History Illusion.


Intellectual Curiosity

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Photo by Mark Baker

Intellectual curiosity may be roughly defined as a willingness to explore something based on interest, a desire to learn something new and the pursuit of answers to “why” questions. It encompasses mental stimulation and the journey of the discovery process, as well as the satisfaction that comes with knowing more than you did before.

Recently I was engaged in a business conversation about this topic. It was precipitated by a colleague’s comment, “We don’t hire people who are intellectually curious like we used to be.” To which another colleague challenged, “Aw, come on – you really believe that?”

The initiator of the conversation meant that “back in the day,” young professionals studied technical subject matter relevant to their field. Becoming an expert, having deep understanding and being able to answer questions off the top of their head would help propel their career (and it apparently did). Another colleague challenged this notion, responding, “That’s what I thought, too, and I was totally wrong. I should have become expert in selling, because being able to generate business is what would have propelled my career.” The response was, “Well, I don’t think the young people we are hiring today are intellectually curious.” 

This discussion revealed a nuance I hadn’t thought about before—that curiosity and our approach to learning and investigation may differ along generational lines. In today’s world, expertise is at our fingertips, and we have Gen X and Gen Y members newer to the labor market who have not known any other way. Vast digital libraries of information may be pulled up with just a few clicks, or via a quick tap to call on SIRI to do the search. “Just Google it” gets said many times at our dinner table, particularly when teenagers are present. So, why would you want to become a technical expert when all of this is available? Isn’t it more productive to learn how to ask the right questions, and apply brainpower to problem solving and innovation?

This brings me back around to curiosity. Recitation of facts or memorization of data was a form of curiosity that was valued in the past. Today, I believe a greater worth of a curious mind may be measured in the ability to formulate questions, navigate through the labyrinth of information that is available and embrace different perspectives generated by the answers uncovered.

More good stuff on the topic of curiosity:


Weekly Download 14.14

download-158006_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

What will they think of next? The Airdog is a Video drone that flies itself

Even in the most utopian workplace environments, conflicts arise. These 5 Questions You’ll Need to Settle Workplace Disagreements is a handy tool for finding a resolution.

  •  Question 1: “Are we arguing about intent or impact?”
  • Question 2: “What are our goals here?”
  • Question 3: “Are our priorities aligned?”people demand bikes and coffee
  • Question 4: “How are we defining success?”
  • Question 5: “What would you do in my place?”

To a bike geek like myself, there is no greater hero or villain than Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong in Purgatory: The After Life recaps his rise and fall and shows how life has changed for the super athlete now that he is no longer atop the podium.