Compete and Keep Your Soul

values based leadership
This is a guest post by Jeff Thompson, MD. Jeff is the author ofLead True: Live Your Values, Build Your People, Inspire Your Community and he is CEO Emeritus and Executive Advisor at Gundersen Health System.

 

Compete and Keep Your Soul

The bookstores have volumes and the media is full of examples of people who believe the way to success is to crush the competition—out-strategizing people and pressing your advantage till they are crushed by the wayside. Young leaders are told to step on faces to get ahead or aim for short term goals of size and profit.

But there is another way. There is a clear path to have stunning success and still be able to sleep at night and be proud to tell your grandchildren how the world is a better place because you were in it.

Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose.  It is not complicated. It is just difficult.

 

“Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose.” -Jeff Thompson

 

Let’s take for example the last broad economic downturn.

How are the priorities in your department or company organized to deal with this problem? Who were the first to be affected? The most vulnerable? The last people who were brought in the organization (your future)? The people with the least power and the least influence? Who took the biggest beating? What won the day? The long-term good of the organization or the short-term financial performance report for the board? Shareholders may clamor for short-term wins, but there is no law that says you have to sacrifice the long-term health of the organization or its people to satisfying this immediate clamor. Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.

 

“Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.” -Jeff Thompson

How Your Business Will Profit from Innovative Collaboration

Drive Strategic Collaboration

Imagine a world where your customers want your organization to succeed. Where your employees are personally committed to your company’s success. Where your organization is not focused only on its own results, but on a collaborative effort that spans a community and beyond.

David Nour’s new book, CO-CREATE: How Your Business Will Profit from Innovative and Strategic Collaboration, takes these dreams on as he explores ways to drive strategy and innovation. His new work challenges us to think about relationships in a completely different way. I recently asked him about his work and new book.

 

“Your brand identity is beyond your control.” -David Nour

 

Co-creation. Share with our audience what it is and why it’s important.

It means collaborating with your most valuable business relationships to transform your business or revenue model. It can drive how you iterate, innovate or disrupt your market and in the process, evolve far beyond anything you could do alone.

 

“Introspection leads to right action.” -David Nour

 

You start the book by saying that, “Introspection leads to right action.” What’s the best way to do this?

Real introspection takes three critical elements:

  1. Think Time – Unfortunately, given the hectic pace most of us work these days, we don’t get enough quality think time to set the minutia of the day aside and really consider our relevant strengths and strategic relationships, as well as personal or professional growth opportunities.
  2. An Inner Circle – We need to surround ourselves with fewer, but more authentic and impactful, business relationships. Most of us could dramatically benefit from fewer partnerships and alliances and more thought partners who will tell us what we need to hear.
  3. Leading Drivers – We can’t raise the bar on our intellect, performance, execution and results… if we don’t measure leading drivers of our progress—not lagging indicators of where we’ve been, but predictive insights toward where we’re headed. You can’t win a race looking in the rear view mirror. Focus your energies on the road ahead.

 

Stay In Tune With Your Customers

How Innovation Really Works

U.S. Companies are failing at innovation!

That bold statement was at the top of a letter I received, and it got my attention. I started to read about the reasons many organizations are struggling to innovate. It led me to the research by Anne Marie Knott, PhD. She’s a Professor of Strategy at the Olin Business School of Washington University. She was previously an Assistant Professor at the Wharton School. Her research is focused on innovation ranging from entrepreneurship to large-scale R&D. Her new book is How Innovation Really Works: Using the Trillion-Dollar R&D Fix to Drive Growth .

I followed up with her to talk about innovation, R&D, and what can be done about the current problem.

 

Companies Have Become Worse at Innovation

You say that companies have become worse at innovation despite the fact that it’s more important than ever. Why is this?

While companies have become worse at innovation, I don’t actually argue that innovation is more important than ever. It has always been the chief source of companies’ as well as the economy’s growth. I think the reason if feels innovation is more important is that companies’ R&D is only 1/3 as productive as it was in the past. Therefore, they need to do three times as much to generate the growth they used to enjoy–actually more than three times because each additional R&D dollar is less productive.

 

Research: Companies’ R&D is only 1/3 as productive as it was in the past.

 

What’s RQ?  

The catchy answer is that RQTM (short for research quotient) is the company equivalent of individual IQ—it’s how smart companies are.  The precise answer is that RQ is the percentage increase in revenues a company gets from a 1% increase in R&D investment.  So companies that have high RQs derive more revenue, profits and market value per dollar of R&D than low RQ companies.

 

How was it developed?

I didn’t set out to develop RQ (though I knew I needed such a measure from my time in industry).  I actually stumbled upon it while trying to solve an academic puzzle, in much the same way that Percy Spencer stumbled on microwave cooking while working on combat radar systems for Raytheon.

Once I discovered RQ, however, I went through a similar process companies go through with their R&D.  I worked out the theory to characterize how it related to growth; I tested alternative versions; then I validated that the current version matches theoretical predictions using 47 years of data across the full spectrum of US companies conducting R&D.

 

What are its implications?

RQ has a number of implications.  First, by tracking their RQ over time, companies can determine whether their R&D capability is improving or deteriorating.  If companies could have done this 30 years ago, it’s likely R&D capability wouldn’t have deteriorated so much.  Second, because RQ is derived from economic theory, companies can use RQ to determine how much an additional dollar of R&D should increase revenues, profits and market value—this helps them set their R&D budgets.  Third, RQ provides investors a way to value R&D, so now even Warren Buffet can invest in technology firms.  More importantly, when investors know how to value R&D, they won’t pressure companies to cut R&D in pursuit of current profits

 

Why Most Companies Fail at R&D

Why do most companies fail at R&D?
“Failing” probably applies more to projects than to entire R&D systems (which is where RQ applies), but if you’re asking why companies have gotten worse at R&D, I have a few thoughts.  I’m going outside the range of my evidence with this answer, but I believe the demise began with the “financial management” trend in the 1980s.  This was the idea that any company could be managed by anyone simply by controlling “the numbers” (think T. Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn). “The numbers” meant cost reduction in the case of operations and rank ordering investments by ROI (return on investment) in the case of new investment.  R&D can’t be managed that way.  A good R&D system has many longshots.  On average Industrial Research Institute (IRI) member companies report that it takes 125 funded projects to achieve a single commercial success.  The problem is that no “number” can identify the single success up front.  Companies have to carry portfolios of projects with the hope that that the “1 in 125” is in there.  If you throw out all the projects whose ROI can’t be quantified with confidence, you throw out all the lasers, geosynchronous satellites, and other exciting things we developed at Hughes.

 

“The most widely held misconception is that R&D should be more relevant.” -Anne Marie Knott

 

Your book walks through several misconceptions about innovation. Let’s talk about just one.

The most widely held misconception (80% of consultants and 90% of investment analysts/managers) is that R&D should be more relevant. This seems completely plausible.  After all, who wants to be “irrelevant.” The problem with that logic is best captured by the Steve Jobs quote, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  He’s entirely correct, as the iPod, iPad and most especially iPhone attest.  Work done by researchers at Duke supports his intuition.  Ashish Arora, Wes Cohen and John Walsh found that while customers are the most prevalent source of external ideas, those ideas have the lowest ability to increase sales.

 

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” -Steve Jobs

 

Companies need more radical innovation. Would you share some context about this misconception?

The Ultimate Start-Up Guide

Hard Won Advice from Venture Capitalists

Many of us love to read stories of the beginnings of Apple or Facebook. We imagine what those early days were like and what it would be like to be a part of a small startup that skyrockets to success.

But, of course, statistically most startups fail. Studies show 90% fail in the first two years.

That’s sobering.

 

Why do so many startups fail?

What can the successful ones teach us?

Is there a blueprint for startup success?

 

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for startups. They have years of experience working with some of the Valley’s most successful firms. Their new book, The Ultimate Start-Up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-Won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, is packed with the wisdom of their experience working with numerous startups. I recently spoke with them about what makes a successful venture.

 

“Start-ups fail because of lack of execution.” -Charles Beeler

 

Why Start-Ups Fail

Everyone reads about how many startups fail. What are a few of the reasons?

Dog design. According to a recent study of 101 failed startups, 42% cited ‘no market need’ as the reason they failed. In other words, they created their product ‘because they could,’ not because of any perceived market need.

ultimatestartupguidenew2Running out of money.  Obvious but it happens more often than you’d think. Because of parsimony (giving away as little of the company as possible) or optimism (I’ve never missed a deadline in my life), first-time CEOs work from budgets and schedules that assume that everything will go right. It usually doesn’t—and so the founders fold shop.

‘Camel Design.’  If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, a camel product is one where the founders listened to too many people, didn’t trust their initial instincts, and built a product that is a little of everything and compelling to no one.

A single, dictatorial founder. It’s one thing to have a strong vision. It’s another to refuse to tolerate questions or input about that vision, especially when that input comes not just from employees but from the market. One way to track how much of a martinet you’re being is by tracking employee retention:  this may be your first rodeo as CEO, but most startup employees are on their third or fourth.

Underestimating the competition.  Sometimes it’s hubris; other times it’s just not enough time. Either way, most startups don’t respect—or keep an eye on—the competition the way they should.  Give the competition their due:  The analysts who cover your market—and who have probably had nice things to say about the competition—don’t want to look like they’re stupid. Same for the prospects who either own or are considering the competition. So keep your derisive comments to yourself.

 

“Data driven marketing is…one of the best investments an early-stage start-up can make.” -Moe Kermani

 

Translate Failure into Success

How can past failures translate to a positive experience?

It all starts with humility and honesty. Virtually every team has one or more scars from failed past ventures. The key is to admit it to other key team members and then use the lessons learned to avoid making the same mistake a second time. The other element is pattern recognition:  If you can use your past failures to recognize a mistake in its early stages (say, a bad hire), you can take corrective action before the mistake takes root and does damage.

 

“Less is more. If you think you have focus, focus some more.” -Jishnu Bhattacharjee

 

Why Diversity is Important

I love this. Many people think diversity is for more mature businesses, yet you argue otherwise. Why is diversity important for startups? 

Diversity of multiple types is healthy and invigorating for startups, not only to build a strong culture but to build better businesses. All the survey data shows that diverse teams make better decisions and improve profitability. So, just like startups benefit by being able to start fresh at the whiteboard to design a better product or service, we believe startups should try to build in diversity from their founding. We encourage startup founders to focus not only on gender and ethnic diversity, but also to consider hiring staff who bring both big-company and small-company backgrounds and to consider embracing the oddballs and misfits who represent “disruptive” thinkers. When tech titans like Apple, Google, and Salesforce have heads of HR and cross-functional teams chartered to lead diversity initiatives, you know diversity is a big deal, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it translates into better businesses.

 

“You never really know what the market really is until you go to market.” -Pete Sonsini

 

What is post-launch depression? How do you guard against it? 

What A Caterpillar Can Teach You About Growing Your Business

Master Near Constant Change

 

Many people think that businesses should develop a strategy and stick to it at all costs.

But Sid Mohasseb, serial entrepreneur, investor, venture capitalist, and former the Head of Strategic Innovation for KPMG’s Strategy Practice teaches an entirely different approach: It’s the ability to adjust your strategy, almost constantly, that brings success. The environment is uncertain and changing, and changing with it is vital.

Sid teaches that we must push for more and evolve from one approach to another.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his new book, The Caterpillar’s Edge: Evolve, Evolve Again, and Thrive in Business.

 

Prepare for Constant Flux

Why a caterpillar?

The caterpillar evolves many times over before it becomes a butterfly. It changes form until it turns into a completely different species. The caterpillar teaches us the wisdom of constant and incremental evolution and offers the promise of flying.  To compete, to advance and to win, in our businesses and in our personal lives, we must evolve constantly and purposefully, always.

 

“Things do not change. We change.” -Henry David Thoreau

 

How is the game changing? And how do leaders prepare for the constant flux?

Innovation is constantly approaching from every corner of the world. The speed of change fueled by unprecedented technological advancements and constantly increasing customer expectations are challenging companies to “stay relevant” – competitive advantages are temporary. The game has changed from, “How do I gain an advantage and defend it?” to “How do I change to stay relevant?”

To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and change their actions. First, by realizing their addictions (old assumptions, orthodoxies, biases, etc.). Next, by aligning with uncertainty – no plans can be permanent and no decisions are certain. Leaders must learn to live with probability and a portfolio of related plans – always ready to take the path that offers the most likelihood of success. They should also appreciate the reality of their capabilities and aim to build the future in increments; success cycles must be shorter and capabilities (people & systems) have to be created accordingly. Last, leaders must constantly look for the next advantage and aspire for more “Aha’s.” They should look for and discover the next challenge or opportunity, always; innovate, always (create new value), and evolve, always.

 

“To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and actions.” -Sid Mohasseb

 

How to Embrace Change

Why do we so often refuse to deal with change and uncertainty?caterpillar-cover

The refusal is more natural than intentional. We refuse to deal with change because of our fears of unknown (what is on the other side of change) and comfort with the status quo (comfortable routines we are used to and have served us well in the past). Most people embrace change when they i) realize the severity of the problem they face and ii) gain trust that what they can change to is a better state. We often refuse to change because we believe that the status quo does not present a major danger and/or we don’t trust the alternative paths offered by our leaders.

At business school and later at work, we are trained to look for certainty to plan to and execute against – assuming reduced risk. In our personal lives, we are comfortable living with probability and operating in uncertainly – there is a 40% chance of rain, and we decide, based on our risk tolerance, to take an umbrella or not. In our professional lives, we are expected to be certain and execute with confidence in outcomes. People, on a personal level, can innately adjust to uncertainty. However, they are reluctant operating with uncertainty at work because corporations expect and reward the illusion of certainty.

 

“The only thing that is constant is change.” -Heraclitus

 

3 Categories for Leaders to Plan in a World of Change