Friday, December 30, 2011

Challenge for the New Year: Innovate Management, Organizational Design, not just Products, Services or Teams

I'm a great fan of Gary Hamel's work on management innovation. Through his research and writings, especially at Hack 2.0: The Management Innovation eXchange, he goes beyond much of the current thinking and modeling of how to foster innovative ideas, products, and services (

Instead, though very much relatedly, his emphasis is on innovating management and organizations themselves. In a recent video, he discusses with a VP from Dell how the web and social media are not just tools but increasingly the operating system for our lives. The key lesson for leaders is the need for them to embrace the openness and adaptability of the web and social media in organizational design, operations, and strategy. Not an easy task, particularly with the ceding of centralized command and control it requires, but more and more a necessary one to enable success. The video is under 5 minutes long and very much worth the time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Alan Webber learned from starting Fast Company: A List to Hold onto

The following list, drawn from Alan Webber's blog, is a keeper. I also tweeted the link to the blog earlier, but the more I think about his lessons and insights for nurturing ideas and building businesses around them, the more inspiring and constructive I believe they are. Here are Webber's ten lessons and insights (the list appears in slightly expanded form at

1. You have to believe in your own idea.
2. You have to be open to others' input on your idea.
3. The world does not need your idea.
4. Who you are and what you've done are often the best arguments for your idea. Your track record counts as much as the merits of your idea.
5. Do you have skin in the game? If you really believe in your own idea, how do you show your commitment?
6. What's your motivation? Love is more powerful than money.
7. It's all an iterative process of learning and doing.
8. If you plan some things you can leave other things looser.
9. Your idea is only as good as the people you attract to work on it with you.
10. Remember Gandhi: The means are the ends in the making. Be the project you want it to be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How to Invest that Gift Card in a Crucial Relationship

Building long, trusting, and mutually rewarding relationships with clients and customers has increasingly become an explicit aim of firms across sectors. Financial and investment firms are no exception. Yet the crucial relationship between financial advisor and client has rarely been addressed in accessible but still sophisticated terms that speak to both parties. Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith's Someday Rich: Planning for Sustainable Tomorrows Today (Wiley, 2011) fills that void. Written primarily for advisors, the book can actually be a valuable resource to be read together by advisors and clients who want to work together more closely and knowledgeably on the financial planning journey they share.

(Full disclosure: Tim Noonan is an old and dear personal friend; his credentials as a successful financial advisor speak for themselves, however, and the insights and Personal Asset Liability Model presented in the book by him and Matt Smith have been proven with clients over more than five decades of combined advisory experience.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Essential Ideas about Creativity in 2011 (I): Steve Jobs - Perfectionism, Process, and Tweaking

One of the persistent themes of writing about creativity and creative leadership in 2011 has been that creativity is less about generating new and original notions, product or services and more about tweaking or associating existing ones in unfamiliar ways. That theme isn't entirely new itself, of course, but it runs against a fairly common conception of creativity as primarily being about novelty or originality. More unsettling to some is that the theme undercuts a kind of romance with creativity as the enchanted purview of a select group of individuals using their special gifts to produce momentous, paradigm-shifting breakthroughs. Instead, the values identified by various commentators and researchers as essential to creative success are keen observation, associational thinking, and dogged persistence in building processes that implement innovation.

This theme rose to prominence in various ways during the past year. In this post, I comment on how perfectionism and the tweaking of processes of innovation were highlighted in writings about Steve Jobs and Apple. In a future post, I'll cite several other recent writings that similarly focus on the promise of more efficient associating, re-working and even copying of existing ideas and products -- creatively.

The news story of the year in creative industries and leadership was the death of Steve Jobs. Yet even before his passing in early October, the practices that he and Apple employed so successfully were being closely parsed by analysts. Among many conclusions, two stand out. The first is evident throughout Walter Isaacson's masterful biography of Jobs, which tracks in often minute detail the CEO's obsessive control over product development even as Apple's ranks swelled over the last decade to tens of thousands of employees, many of them highly and often singularly skilled ( But it is even more apparent in Adam Lashinsky's controversial piece on the company's inner workings from the May 23 issue of Fortune, was Jobs' obsessive attention to detail (

This perfectionism was often exercised through a nearly dictatorial management style. All major decisions, and many minor ones, were made at Apple by Jobs himself and failures of underlings were greeted by thunderous, even disdainful critique by the CEO. In an era when quick, cheap, and smart failure is championed and the inherent messiness of creativity is recognized across creative industries and beyond, such a style is striking in its incongruousness -- and often left for us to explain away as an unavoidable by-product of Jobs' genius.

For leaders of creative industries, however, it was another journalistic piece, by Malcolm Gladwell, that spoke more directly to Jobs' success as an entrepreneurial virtuouso. Running in the May 16 issue of The New Yorker, "Creation Myth" celebrated Jobs as a second- or even third-mover whose true gift was envisioning how to apply or re-work existing technologies in unprecedented ways ( In other words, if one accepts that innovation, to be successful, must begin with ideation and completed with implementation, Jobs was an implementer nonpareil. While this begs the question of whether the associational thinking or insightful flash constituting implementation is itself importantly idea-driven, the argument positions Jobs less as a techno-wizard and more as a transcendant marketer. Citing the key example of the Apple co-founder's popularization of the mouse and graphical user interface following his visit to Xerox PARC, where he first observed prototypes for both, Gladwell ultimately holds "the truth of innovation" as occurring in the rough-and-tumble of business rather than the "messy world of creativity" in the research lab.

Months later, in his review of Isaacson's biography of Jobs that doubled as a obituary, Gladwell would put a finer point on his remarks about innovation by calling Jobs, with admiration, "The Tweaker" ( "The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution." Gladwell's next sentence makes his point unmistakably: "That is not a lesser task." Almost certainly not, but for many it still seems out of sorts with the romantic, world-changing image of the creative genius re-imagining the new through the power of his will.

Such a characterization of Jobs, both before and after his death, hardly diminished the veneration of the man or celebration of all he accomplished. Yet more interesting, perhaps, is the question of how the emphasis on perfectionism, tweaking, and implementing is relevant to the rest of us and to our understanding of the creative processes and creative leadership beyond Apple. More on that to come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rishad Tobaccowala on Strategy

In case you missed his blogpost from the past weekend, @rishadt offered a characteristically pointed and instructive definition of strategy -- three words, to be exact -- that he then very usefully annotated.

(For those who don't know Rishad, he serves as the Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer at VivaKi - which draws together the digital and media assets of the Publicis Groupe - and is among the few who actually deserve the overused title of thought leader in the marketing and creative communication space.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You know Porter's Five Forces; you should also use his five tests of good strategy

Deceptively simply -- and challenging -- tests to making good strategic choices:

p.s. The essential guide to Porter's work offered as a link in the post, as well as Jim Collins' latest, Great by Choice, are both excellent and useful reads.

Friday, December 16, 2011

No more social media navel-gazing... A Resolution for 2012?

I've had the good fortune to travel widely, to more than 100 countries in all, and one of the recurrent experiences I've had in doing so is also one of the most banal: many people who travel widely spend a great deal of time while traveling, particularly in unusual locales, talking about traveling, particularly to unusual locales.... Now I grant this might reflect more on the people I associate with and the places I go, but it comes to mind when reading two recent pieces about social media. The association is that many people who use social media (Twitter, especially comes to mind first here, but also FB, Tumbler, FourSquare, and blogs) do so largely to reflect on their use of social media. I plead guilty to such navel-gazing myself, occasionally, and perhaps we're all justified with being fascinated, exhilarated, frustrated, or just plain curious about new technologies and the routines and interactions they enable. The real issue I'm raising is one of proportion and arises when the majority of tweets, comments, or posts are primarily self-referencing. Only a few insightful folks can really get away with this -- for me, the few like Jeff Jarvis or Seth Godin --and the rest of us are simply adopting a parallel of the proverbial self-conscious tracking of what one is having for breakfast or ordering at Starbucks.

The two pieces that prompted this thought are from Seth Godin and Alexandra Samuel. Godin's piece is about marketers' (mis)use of social media and the noise it creates. While not directly the problem I'm pointing to, I believe it speaks to the same push-pull of fascination and uncertainty around social media that generates endless (and mostly vacuous) reflections. For marketers, indeed, the imperative is to use social media, any social media, to increase their numbers of fans, friends, and followers regardless of content or the reasons why. The underlying rationale Godin seems to identify is, the more tweets, posts, or other words, the more followers -- while the real result, as he says, is actually just more volume, or noise.

The second piece also speaks to the allure of increasing numbers in social media, though for Alexandra Samuel it is more about personal benchmarking -- again, though, of friends, fans, or followers, in raw numbers or composites like Klout. Her response takes the form of ten commandments for social media sanity in 2012. Threading through the list is a desire to escape the measurement trap and even the resulting dehumanization she sees such benchmarking as possibly contributing to. While that more far-reaching claim deserves a longer discussion than is offered in her post, it does speak to the potential stakes of incessant social media navel-gazing. That all may be worth a resolution, or at least some offline reflections, as the new year approaches.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Call Yourself Creative? (Probably...)

The Top 10 overused buzzwords in LinkedIn profiles in 2011, in the US and beyond....

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Future of Context...and Reading

Fascinating brief piece from Wired on the changes wrought by mobile devices, particularly tablets. The bulk of the piece lays out details about how "context is now a multivariable function" dependent upon medium, location, time, social networks/position, and identity. This is a worthwhile starting point for a necessary, more expansive discussion about how context is now much more than simply the background to a story - it represents the set of interactions, filters, and mechanisms that the gives the story meaning and dimension.

Perhaps as striking here, and offered more as a preface to the remarks on context, are the opening claims about the transformation of reading currently underway. There's some hyperbole here about the extent of the changes tablets have already made. Yet it seems undeniable for their users that the power of applications like Flipboard, FLUD, and (my own favorite) Zite is in their capability not just to personalize news content but to make tablets and phones alike truly smart mobile readers -- and, presumably, in the process, to begin to profoundly alter our reading routines.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

11 Days That Shaped 2011 As Measured by Social Media -

I haven't posted here in a great long time. I thought it might make sense to come back with a look at what events and news that I (like so many) otherwise interacted with this year. A great infographic from AOL: 11 Days That Shaped 2011 As Measured by Social Media -