A couple of weeks ago, a group of friends and I took our annual kiteboarding pilgrammage to Cape Hatteras. We go to Hatteras for a lot of reasons: great surf, largely undisturbed natural coastline, consistent wind. But I go for one primary reason: to find the glass.
The Pimlico sound is graced with a a number of low lying (6″ to 12″ high) marsh islands which dot the shoreline. The tidal ecosystem also laces these marshes with a network of canals and cut throughs. “Why should we care?”, you might ask. These coastal features comprise a dream setup for kiteboarders where it can be extremely windy (25 – 40 knots), yet on the downwind side of these marsh islands, the water is literally like a mirror. Kiteboarding in these “slicks” as we call them is a totally unique experience. Skip to about 4:30 in this video to get a good perspective on what I’m talking about, with good footage of one of my favorite slicks, Planet of the Apes.
I am a “butter hound” and I seek these “butter stashes” out with vigor. I’ve been known to go back and forth in Planet of the Apes, one of the more famous slicks, for over an hour, logging over 21 miles in one 300 meter stretch of pristine glass, just ripping back and forth, back and forth. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. It’s hypnotic and mesmerizing. No distractions. No noise. No sound. No chatter from chop on the water’s surface. Just me, a high surface tension canal, and the power of the kite. I can concentrate on just blasting speed runs, edging as hard as possible with my butt and shoulders often dragging the water and working on holding down as much power as possible in the total absence of speed bumps. When you find the glass, you attain surgical focus.
If you have an important critical project which demands your utmost attention, I suggest you take great lengths to find the glass, just as we do when we trek out for a Planet of the Apes downwinder. Find a secret place with no chop, no chatter, no distractions. Take everything you need to complete your task (but nothing more):
Find an environment where you can just put your head down without distraction and “get it done”. If you get in the zone, I promise that you will lose track of time. Conversely, if you happen to randomly find yourself in such an environment, think through what big ideas you can work on to capitalize on the opportunity.
Once you realize the power of true glass, you will also realize the value in seeking it out. Find The Glass!!
Let’s face it, the nature of employer / employee relationships has changed permanently. While you still need to work your butt off every day to deliver for your company and grow your career, the concept of “job security” as we once knew it has basically ceased to exist. A lot of things can happen, for a lot of reasons. It’s nothing personal, it’s just your turn.
I’m currently searching for my next opportunity. It’s only the third time in my 27 year career. Along the way, I’ve learned that I will probably be in some mode of a job search (active, dormant, contemplating) for the rest of my career. For that reason, I always keep my radar up, and I think you should, too.
I would offer the following four self-truths:
For these reasons I think you should actively cultivate your relationships with the Executive Search community. While it’s true that statistically, most jobs are found via active networking, I have found that trusted, high-quality recruiters can be very helpful in this process. Please do not forget that they are paid by the hiring companies and not by the candidates, but by paying it forward with them when you don’t need them, it’s much easier to reach out to them when you do need them. The following is the process I use to pay it forward with the Executive Recruiter community AND the friends in my network:
If you were a recruiter, wouldn’t you love it if people did this for you and wouldn’t you be more likely to help them in the future when they were looking for a job?
If you were a job seeker, wouldn’t you love it if everyone in your network was working like this for you and forwarding your profile along to recruiters who had active search projects?
Pay It Forward. What goes around, comes around.
by Jeffrey J Davis, August 23, 2013
Photo Credit: Taylor Dawn Fortune, http://goo.gl/oxnLNP
Recently, a friend shared a post with me from Business Insider, entitled How To Use Math To Crush Your Friends At Monopoly Like You’ve Never Done Before. This BI presentation deck by Walter Hickey, which analyzes the mechanisms behind the popular board game Monopoly, was especially interesting for me, as I had done a similar, though much more rudimentary, analysis of the game many years ago as my 6th grade Science Fair project. Once a geek, always a geek, right?
I encourage you to take 5 minutes to review this deck so that the rest of this post will make sense in context. I think you will find it a pretty interesting and quick dissection of the game, and it does a nice job of summarizing in an easy to digest fashion the work of other Monopoly analysyts such as DurangoBill and Tim Darling. Both of these gentleman studied this game mathematically and scientifically, using statistics, Markov Chains and Stochastic Process State Diagrams. I was a pretty smart kid, but I was only 12. So I did it old school, via forcing my classmates to play Monopoly with me non-stop every day in Science period for about 4 months, and manually tallying our landing spots in a spiral bound notebook. But regardless of our different analytical approaches, I was pleased to learn that the primary conclusions reached by the full-on analysis were consistent with my sixth grader’s analysis from almost 40 years ago:
While I nailed several of the game’s key WHAT truisms , I fundamentally missed some/most of the basic mechanisms around WHY these rules worked. In hindsight, the roles of Jail, Chance and Community Chest seem pretty obvious, as does the fact that 2 dice are most likely to role a 7 (or a 6 or an 8), but I missed the contributions of those factors altogether.
But now as an older, more educated and and slightly wiser businessman, I can offer the following learnings from the analysis of this business simulation game:
I realize that it may seem a bit simplistic to compare business to a board game,but keep in mind that they are both just games, it’s just that one just uses real money.
by Jeffrey J Davis
(Photo Credit Mike Fleming CC BY 2.0)
This post is highly time critical, as the sports metaphor around which this whole topic is based is likely to have wound down by the time you read this post. The NCAA Basketball Tournament is my favorite sporting event by far, and last night we saw a virtually unknown #15 seeded team take out a longstanding basketball powerhouse program that was seeded #2 in their bracket. As momentum began to shift in the game, people around the country (including myself) started to really get behind the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles as they romped over NCAA legacy stalwarts Georgetown. These guys came from nowhere, the FGCU program is so young and so new that they weren’t even eligible for the tournament until last year.
How does something like this even happen? How do conventional wisdom and any logical statistical basis get utterly ignored by a team like the Eagles? I think there are a number of factors which help these Cinderella Teams beat the odds:
So how does all of this relate to business? Today, many companies, even very successful ones, are facing a dearth of talent at the top. It’s a real succession crisis. There are no Cinderella teams, everyone who is in leadership worked their way up through long and predictable career progressions. As a result, the demographics at each level of the management pyramid are relatively consistent in terms of age, gender and nationality. A lack of diversity encourages group-think and impedes innovation. People who came from the same place and walked down the same road for the same length of time tend to think similarly.
I would posit that it’s highly beneficial for your company culture to have a few Cinderellas bubbling up through your hierarchy. These are the women and men who ultimately hit your executive suite in their late thirties or early forties as opposed to their fifties or sixties. Their performance and responsibility exceeds their experience, by a wide margin. Not every young person has the right makeup for such a career acceleration, but certain players can really rise to the occasion if they are given the chance. How do you make this happen?
Even though the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles are unlikely to make it to the Championship Game, they will develop more over the next week or so than they probably have at any point in their basketball careers to date. You have a similar opportunity to give some selected 15 and 16 seeds in your entry level ranks the same kind of accelerated development ride. Find your in-house Cinderella Teams and Root for them!!
Recently I’ve been inspired by some pretty engaging discussions going on on Google+ about the concept of “the connected enterprise” by some big thinkers like Gideon Rosenblatt, Gregory Esau, Braden Kelly and John Kellden . An underlying theme of many of these discussions is that technology will enable organizations to evolve in new and exciting ways, specifically unleashing their innovation capability, due to the ability to have everyone in the organization continuously connected. I believe in the concept, but I have to tell you that I have struggled somewhat with the practical and tactical aspects of implementation of such an enterprise wide connection. A video that I saw last Friday from innovation author Steven Johnson “turned on a lightbulb” for me on several levels. I encourage you to spend 4 minutes watching it, prior to reading the rest of this post.
The key breakthrough concept for me in this video is that most innovations arise out of the collision between two slow hunches. Although I bill myself as an “Innovative Leader”, I’ve always been of the belief that there is very little truly original thought in this world, and that most innovation comes from the creative combination of existing ideas. Johnson’s “slow hunch” analogy made this concept gel and click for me somehow. It made me really start thinking that the breakthrough for organizational innovation is in developing a way to uncover and intelligently link all of the “slow hunches” buried in the minds of our associates. I think the degree of difficulty of this problem scales exponentially as your organizational size grows, but then again, so does the opportunity.
We have a lot of proven methods for matchmaking in today’s society; eHarmony.com, AirBnB, Speed Dating, Incubator Demo Days: They all aim to match unmet needs with underutilized potential. Heck, my Google Ads sponsored results and my Facebook targeted ads are working 24/7 to help me satisfy needs I don’t even realize that I have yet!! We have the technology to do this, we just need to apply it.
In an organization, many people (not only sales people) have ideas about unmet customer needs. Many other people (not only R&D people) may have ideas about different ways to leverage and apply existing or developing technologies. Can it really be so hard to intelligently matchmake here?
I could see it working in at least a couple of different ways. In one such system , Slow Hunches could be explicitly entered into some sort of a common shared database:
Probably these “What If?” and “I think . . .” hunches should be kept short and sweet and almost tweet length. We have to make it easy to log brain burps and we have to give people the confidence to know that it’s okay to only have half of an idea. A central database of needs and potential solutions should be pretty simple to query and bounce off itself using key word and concept searches to highlight potential Slow Hunch Collisions. The corresponding hunch authors could then be connected to flesh out their hunch collision more fully and see if it warranted an ad hoc team to research the potential.
This is just one concept of a method to lure ideas out of hiding and match them together. I’m sure there are more sophisticated tools which could identify and match interests, beliefs and unsolved problems based on search histories or other internet activity. The key point is that leadership of the enterprise needs to realize that there is a gold mine of untapped innovation opportunity buried right beneath the noses of their org charts and that they need to establish frameworks to uncover the Slow Hunches in their organizations and to help them to collide. That’s where innovation happens, at the collision of the Slow Hunches.
What ideas would you have for tools to facilitate the Slow Hunch Collisions?
Several days ago on a trans-Pacific flight I read two interesting articles in the same newspaper. One was an analysis of the most recent jobs and unemployment report from the US, in which most analysts were puzzled by the lack of real job creation and economic growth. The other article was about yet another IPO filing for a hot up and coming Social Media technology company, this one in the social gaming space. The company, Zynga, is growing rapidly, is profitable, and generates almost $1B of annual revenue from the sale of “Virtual Goods” in games embedded in Facebook. I am an avid user of Facebook, but I must admit I’ve never played Farmville or any of the other Zynga games, I have no idea what virtual goods I would buy, how much they would cost, nor what redeeming benefit they would have for my life. So I am probably unqualified to comment. But I just worry that too much of the focus and excitement in the US technology and innovation media is on companies which will not create much lasting economic value. But let’s face it, a virtual cow in Farmville is even less meaningful than a tulip bulb, and I struggle to come to grips with how a company making virtual goods can support a $20B valuation with any intellectual honesty.
I am a manufacturing guy by background. I have run factories and now I run a real business, making real products that solve real problems for real people. Of course I am in it to make money for my company and hopefully money for myself. But by operating non-virtual assets, I am also able to see the much broader economic benefit that my business provides. In addition to the personal salaries earned by over one thousand employees at my six manufacturing operations in US and Europe, there are the employees’ incomes, the company incomes, and the reinvestments of my suppliers, my suppliers’ suppliers, my logistics partners, etc. Manufacturing of “Non-Virtual Products” creates lasting value in our economies. Additionally, where there is value creation, there is inevitably taxation, which helps to solve the major budget crises which the US is facing right now.
On the other hand, a technology based social media or smart phone app start-up has a much smaller trickle down impact on the economy. As Thomas Friedman recently noted, the number of employees is typically much smaller and the resulting supply chain impact is minimal. Sure, the local Starbuck’s, web hosting company, Pizza takeout joint and foosball table distributor get some lift from a new tech startup, but the overall stimulus to the economy is much smaller. And while it may be much harder to quantify, I do not dispute that many successful tech companies offer products or services which create value for their users via increased productivity, group buying, etc. But I really struggle to find much meaningful tangible, lasting economic value creation in a producer of virtual goods. Many, many hot tech startups have been invested, exited and subsequently evaporated in the prior Web 2.0 and current Social Media technology inflatable balloons. For many of these companies, the net aggregate cash flows once the music stopped and the dust settled flowed from users and customers into the pockets of founders and VC’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people getting rich from their work, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to do it for almost 30 years. But it feels a little bit like a Ponzi scheme and I do not think it’s a sufficiently robust way to drive true lasting economic recovery.
The US remains one of the most innovative countries in the world. We have great research and key technologies which can create real value for society in such industries as alternative energy, green chemistry, advanced materials, high efficiency transportation, smart grid power distribution, pharmaceuticals, water purification, etc. Each of these industries could be a real starting point for sustained economic vitality and renewed competitiveness for the US. Regional hubs and corridors for key technologies could fuel synergy and innovation. Real technologies could evolve into real production plants which employed real employees and supported real supplier ecosystems. Rest assured, we would still need founders, management teams and VC’s who would earn well-deserved wealth, but in a non-Ponziconomy, they wouldn’t be the only ones.
Last week, I attended some meetings up at the Homestead Resort, in the Allegheny mountains of Virginia. (It’s a great venue, by the way, with a real historic Jeffersonian flair and a beautiful backdrop). I drove up from my office in Greensboro, NC, taking a lovely scenic drive over rural Virginia highways. As usual, I let Google Android Navigation guide me on the journey, which appeared to be a relatively straightforward shot, primarily on Virginia Highway 220 for most of the way.
As I neared my destination, Google Navigation decided that it was better for me to leave familiar Highway 220 and take this route over the mountain instead. “No problem” I thought, Google Nav had never done me wrong. The road quickly degraded into a roughly paved, un-marked road, marked only as Route 606. Ominous signs indicated “No Vehicles over 25ft, Buses and Trucks strongly discouraged” and “Not recommended for GPS Navigation”. The last one threw me somewhat; was the route somehow underground or underwater? Anyway, I forged on and figured I would just turn back if it somehow became impassible. (I drive a BMW M3, not the Magic Schoolbus, so I figured I could probably make it).
Despite a narrow 1.5 lane road with no marking, no guard rails and switchbacks galore, I ended up being so happy that I took the road less traveled. The views were staggering, green lush mountain forest as far as the eye could see, and I had the road to myself, only passing one other car on the whole route. I was able to drive much “more aggressively” than normally recommended in Virgina, the land of illegal radar detectors. The adrenalin from the switchbacks and the fragrance of a moist spring forest really inspired me.
Routine and convention dull our psyche and our innovative capability. Your mind has a tendency to just check out if you are executing a routine task or driving a familiar itinerary that you can do in your sleep. The next time you have a chance, don’t drive to work via the same route you always take. Take a detour, roll down the windows and really take in your surroundings. Notice all the things you never noticed before. Tomorrow when you get up, don’t go to your normal daily staple of websites / blogs, StumbleUpon randomly or wander around on Tumblr to see something new and inspiring. Walk to lunch, instead of driving, and take it all in.
Innovation is all about recycling and synergizing other inputs and ideas from your environment. The more chances you have to charge your RAM with fresh inputs and stimuli, the better chance you will have to come up with something creative.
Take the road less traveled. I guarantee you, you will be more motivated and innovative once you get to your destination.
All of us have had the unpleasant experience of coming across roadkill. Although I’ve never seen empirical evidence, I’m pretty sure that most of these victims never intended to end up the way we found them. Most of these unfortunate endings happened because of a desire to move beyond their previously inhabited core space into a new and adjacent space, and a lack of understanding of the potential risks inherent in this shift. They had a desire to move, evolve and grow, but did not consider the consequences fully enough.
Potential mistakes they made which might have led up to such tragic endings:
Don’t get me wrong, there is often a strong imperative to get to the other side of the road for any number of reasons. Just because there is risk, does not mean that the transition might not be required or desirable. But a strong analysis of risks, potential scenarios and a well-timed plan, executed decisively, will help ensure that your business does not die an untimely death.
Don’t let your business become roadkill!!
Came across these two Shanzai Convenience stores on opposing sides of a busy Nanhui intersection yesterday. I wonder which one dupes more customers? Both of these Japanese chains have huge presences in China; Lawson’s has over 300 stores in Shanghai alone, and Family Mart has nearly 400 outlets in Shanghai. With such a huge investment, I wonder how much they appreciate their brand equity getting hijacked and dilluted by these knock-off branches?
by Jeffrey J Davis
Although this pyramid is simple, the concepts presented as raw data progresses to information to knowledge and ultimately wisdom kind of clicked with me. In a data rich, yet information starved environment, having decision support teams with these types of skills and design sensibilities allows us to be better business leaders.
Do your business systems feed you data, or information which enables knowledge, and sound decision-making? Can organization and design of information visualization help you get to the crux of the issue quicker?
From the always lovely Information Is Beautiful Blog