Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The frustration of being able to help

I am not sure how many people understand that when others see a situation where someare struggling and they can help, it can get quite frustrated. The fact that an outsider can help is not necessarily based on intelligence, but on perspective and a lack of "received wisdom." It took an outsider, Lou Gerstner, from RJR Nabisco and American Express, to turn around IBM. Yet, all too often, people will say, "you have not worked in this industry," without realizing that it may be the biggest recommendation. GM has many smart people, but they seem to make no progress at all in fixing the company.

Monday, June 26, 2006

What comes after "convergence?"

We know, or should know that technology does not stand still. The promise of "convergence" has been with us for over 15 years, and is only now beginning to be fully commercialized. This will not be complete for another fifteen. So what could come after? We read today that for the first time a man has controled a computer and simple mechanical devices with his brain. Perhaps we will get to the stage where we can not only replace parts of the body perfectly, but to the point where humans will be able to control mechanical and electronic devices with the mind. We will get to the point when we will be able to access the sum total of human knowledge simply by thinking about it. Of course that will not stop people acting like idiots!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Executives who know their business can be improved, but won't do it

It is not only the low level employee who sees effort as a nuisance, customers as an irritation, and feels threatened by ideas for improvement. Many executives feel the same way. All companies can be improved in a number of ways. Improvement has to come from inside and outside. Yet many executives are proud of their inability or resistance to change. They insist on trying to remake the world around them in the way which they want it to be. AOL has often been a good example of this, and many of the power companies are. Such companies often believe that market power or regulation can skew things their way. For a while it can, but the reverberations are severe when the marketplace gets its revenge.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Sales prevention department

In a recent New York Times blog article by David Pogue, he describes how a Kinko's employee tries to turn away business:
Unfortunately, this is quite common. We each meet it often. Ulimately, we cannot blame the employee, but the top management which allows this to happen.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Do companies like Kraft really understand?

Companies are talking more and more about "open innovation." Procter & Gamble has shown us how it can be done - being genuinely open and eager to outside innovation. So many of the company's new products were developed externally. Intel and Nokia are pushing the concept. Companies such as Jones soda, and Threadless are putting the customer in charge. Kraft recently said it would encourage ideas from consumers instead of automatically rejecting them as in the past, however good. Nevertheless, they have made the process so procedure ridden, threatening (they say that if the idea is not legally protected enough, they will take it and pay the submitter $5,000, thus declaring up front that consumers cannot trust them). It is clear that they just don't understand what putting the customer in the driver's seat means, and the attempt may well do more harm than good.

If you want to let the customer drive innovation, you must give him or her the controls. Allow the customer to innovate and be scrupulously ethical. While the lawyers will warn you to limit liability, the cost of this may be consumer trust and credibilty.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The promise of Wikipedia

I am a fan of Wikipedia. I have even made some small additions and modifications to a few articles. An enclopedia written by everyone seems a wonderful concept. However, it is actually a modest group of 1,000 or so people aho do the bulk of the work. As with so much, a tiny minority do most of the work, with a slightly larger majority who contibute in a lesser way. The majority of users do not contribute.

So in many parts of life few contribute to volunteer activities. Now this is fine as long as those who do recognize this. I see often that volunteers become bitter and frustrated as they see others do little but take. All volunteers need to recognize that the reward is in the doing. Helping others brings great rewards.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is Soccer leading business in globalization?

"Transnationals," defined as people who are living outside their home countries are increasing. If you were to take all transnationals today, the size of the group would be equivalent to the fifth largest country on the planet. In world cities like London, transnationals account for up to one-third of the population. Transnational movement has doubled since 1975, a substantial trend. In American corporations, we have seen the number of non-Americans in top management positions grow from virtually zero to at least a significant minority in a generation.

Yet, in soccer we see something far more expreme. In a business where results are all that count, we have seen in one generation, a situation where we have gone from top club teams being made up players from within 30 miles of where the club is basedm to one in which they come from all over the world. As an example, in a recent English Premiership game between Arsenal and Fulham, two London-based teams, of the 22 starting players, only 3 were English, with the remaining 19 players coming from 14 nations.

If corporations were genuinely merit-based, would we see the same? In a situation where corporations must be increasingly globally skilled and aware, will we see them promoting more and more transnationals - which means Americans in European, Asian and Latin American corporations too!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Business press is dangerous

The business press is A follower. Whether a magazine such as Business Week, Fortune, Fornes, Fast Company, or a daily paper such as the Wall Street Journal or Fincancial Times, it reports what has gone before. Unfortunately, it often does so in a tone of breathless excitement as though it had discovered the Laws of Gravition.

Not to simgle it out, but the latest issue of Business Week is a classic. Highlighting Innovation, it reads as though Innovation is new, and so are the rules of Innovation. It features some predictable faces and repeats old truths. For example, it states that innovators have an exlectic, rather tan specialized education, as though it had never heard the term "renaissance man." Leonardo Da Vinci could have taught most of the people featured a few lessons. It was Thomas Edison who invented the concept of the R&D lab (a visit to his factory and laboratory is essential to anyone who wants to learn how to innovate). Arkwright invented the Spinning Jenny, Gutenberg the movable type printing press, Henry Ford, mass production (though some would argue that Samuel Colt did before him), and many, many other innovators managed to innovate long before they read Business Week, Even the 9 rules printed in Business Week are old one, which date from many years ago. As for the polymath who is the inventor, this is not new. It is only recently, that business people became specialists. I, although I studied multiple scisnces and engineering, also learnt Latin and Greek! And though the magazine raves about the young, neither Colonel Sanders nor James Dyson were young when they created KFC and the Dyson vacuum machine. The founder of University of Phoenix and creator of the concept of for-profit higher educationm, was over 60 when he started his business.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Stock Option repricing - ethics did exist

There has been much written about companies repricing stock options so that they were apparently issued at the price on the lowest price day of a period. While this clearly did happen in many cases, there were companies which were highly honest. I remember when I joined Remedy Corporation in 2000, Larry Garlick, the founder and CEO, told me that my initial stock options would be at the price of the stock on the Monday I joined. He commented that it was a pity I had not joined a week before as I would have had them at a lower price. However, it never entered either of our minds to pick a different date and rewrite history to give me a lower price.

While I have seen management indulge in unethical behavior, I have also seen most managers not only stick to the law, but also be ethical in all their dealings. We must focus on instilling these values in people while they are young. Business School or a company is too late.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bad managers hire skills, good ones hire talent

So often I see that to fill a position, a company is looking for, essentially, someone who has done precisely the same job in a similar company. The hiring manager would rather hire someone who is less talented, but can do the job adequately from Day 1, than someone who has to learn the job, but who will eventually perform it spectacularly. Sadly, the person hired will keep on doing the job adequately as the company or industry marches towards obsolescence. Companies need people who will challenge the accepted wisdom, can not only learn, but create new skills. Unfortunately, this happens rarely.

So when you write or read a job description, look for one which focuses on talent, not skills.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The glory of "Gap year"

Today's New York Times had an article on the increased pressure on graduating high school seniors as they prepare for college. Just as pressure on American youth is increasing, so it seems to move in the opposite direction for British and Australian youth. In the 19th century, the wealthy young took "The Grand Tour," during which they traveled around Europe and met people in those countries. During the 20th century, young people who were bound for Oxford or Cambridge, with the Universities' encouragement, worked at a job or travelled around Europe or even the world during a "gap year". Now in the UK and Australia, it has become a rite of passage to, either before any University or after graduating, travel for a year and meet local people. During this year, the young people have the opportunity to gain some maturity and awareness of the world. I believe that by not doing this, Americans miss a lot. Even when Americans spend "a year abroad" it is usually in an organized group, while people from Australia or the UK will travel alone or with one friend. It has become so important that there are even websites devoted to it, such as:

As pressure on people increases in the US, so does it become more manageable in Europe. Europeans are becoming more cosmopitan faster than Americans are.