Practically Radical

"The most powerful and instructive change manual you'll ever read."

- Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of
A Whole New Mind and Drive
Wall Street Journal Bestseller!
#1 Bestseller! Inc./800CEORead
 
January 27th, 2012

“Are You Learning as Fast as the World Is Changing?”

Tom Kelly, general manager of IDEO, the world-renowned design firm, likes to quote French novelist Marcel Proust, who famously said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” What goes for novelists goes for leaders searching to craft a novel strategy for their company, a new product for their customers, or a better way to organize their employees. In a world that never stops changing, great leaders never stop learning.

Today, the challenge for leaders at every level is no longer just to out-hustle, out-muscle, and out-maneuver the competition. It is to out-think the competition in ways big and small, to develop a unique point of view about the future and help your organization get there before anyone else does. Which is why a defining challenge of leadership is whether you can answer a question that is as simple as it is powerful: Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?

Over at HBR, I've posted an essay on the three "habits of minds" that help good leaders become better learners. You can read it here.

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
January 3rd, 2012

I’d Like to Thank the Academy…

I am pleased to report that the end of 2011 brought with it a slew of wonderful accolades and shout-outs for Practically Radical. Among the nice notices, Practically Radical was included on the following lists:  Best Business Books of 2011 (American Express Open Forum). Best Books of 2011 for Entrepreneurs (Inc. Magazine). Best Leadership Books of 2011 (Leadership Now). Great Education Reads of 2011 (Huffington Post).  Bestselling Business Books of 2011 (800CEORead).

Thanks to one and all for the plaudits. I am looking forward to a great 2012, with local-language editions of the book appearing around the world, an updated paperback edition slated for early Fall, and lots more speaking to all sorts of fascinating audiences.

Happy New Year! Now let's get back to the rewarding work of making positive change...

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
December 19th, 2011

Average Is Over. What’s Your Extra?

I approach a book by New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman with a mixture of wariness and anticipation. Wariness, because Friedman’s books tend to go on for many pages longer than they need to, and many of those pages contain his trademark blend of Davos Man self-congratulation and cheesy metaphors. But I still have a sense of anticipation, because in every one of Freidman’s books, there are a handful of insights that are so clear, so sharp, so flat-out right that they frame how you look at the world going forward.

That Used to Be Us, Friedman’s new book (written with Johns Hopkins professor Michael Mandelbaum), has at least one such observation—a principle so clearly true, and so crisply expressed, that it should become a mantra of sorts for leaders everywhere who want to build something great and do something important. Chapter Seven of the book is called “Average Is Over,” and it’s a rallying cry that captures what it takes to stand out from the crowd in a world that keeps getting more crowded.

“In a hyper-connected world where so many talented on-Americans and smart machines that can do above-average work are now easily available to virtually every employer, what was ‘average’ work ten years ago is below average today, and will be further below average ten years from now,” Friedman and Mandelbaum write. “As a result, everyone needs to raise his or her game just to stay in place, let alone get ahead…” In an environment where “average is over,” they go on, everybody has to find their “extra”—their unique talent, skill, contribution, or commitment that separates them from the pack and lets them do something special.

Friedman and Mandelbaum are policy wonks, so they explore the notion that “average is over” mainly as it applies to countries and societies, and how we educate kids, train workers, and make public investments. But their insight applies just as powerfully to companies and their leaders. The business world is overflowing with products and services and designs and marketing campaigns that are adequate. The real challenge—and the huge opportunity—is to turn something adequate into something amazing. It’s just not good enough to be pretty good at everything. The most successful companies, products, and brands have figured out how to become the most of something. That is, to find and embrace their “extra.”

Over at HBR, in my latest post, I explore why pretty good isn't nearly good enough, and how you can offer an "extra" in just about any field. You can read the post here.

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
December 6th, 2011

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

As we come to the end of a bitter, divisive, downright ugly year in business and society, it’s hard to pick the one big story that defines the climate of the times. This summer’s rancorous debt-ceiling talks come to mind, as do the collapse of the feckless Italian government and the rise of Occupy Wall Street and its satellite movements around the country and the world.

But if I had to pick one small story that provides a huge “teachable moment” for business leaders going forward, I’d choose Bank of America’s late-September decision to charge customers a $5 monthly fee to use their debit cards—an idea that was withdrawn one month after it was announced, amidst waves of protest that threatened to engulf the bank. Why did (presumably) smart executives make such a bone-headed move, and what can the rest of us learn from this high-profile blunder.

To me, the lesson is as simple as it is profound: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That is, just because you can, by virtue of your size or market power, extract more money from customers or partners, doesn’t mean you should, especially if doing so serves no purpose other than filling your coffers. There is more to leadership, particularly in these troubled and uncertain times, than tweaking the “value proposition”—the narrow calculus of costs vs. benefits, doing things for customers vs. taking things away from them. Real leadership is about embracing the “values proposition”—doing the right thing at all times, and figuring out how to build a great business around that unwavering promise.

Over at HBR, read my latest post on "companies and the customers who hate them"—and how to learn from Bank of America's teachable moment.

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
November 29th, 2011

Don’t Let What You Know Limit What You Imagine

One of the most perplexing features of these troubled times is that so many capable people in so many fields look so lost and ineffective. Whether it’s the stubborn inefficiencies of the health-care system, the ever-rising costs of the higher-education system, even the slow-motion collapse of the US postal system, leaders with unrivaled expertise and decades of experience can’t seem to develop creative solutions to dire problems.

Why are so many smart executives so ineffective? In my latest post for HBR, I discuss the "paradox of expertise," the virtues of vuja dé , and all sorts of ways to find new answers to old problems. You can read the HBR piece here.

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
October 25th, 2011

The Values Proposition: Do Small Things with Great Love

The world confronts vast uncertainty, from unrest in the social climate to accelerating shifts in the climate itself. The economy faces huge challenges, from public-debt crises in Europe to the overhang of mortgage debt in the United States. The business community faces an ongoing series of stops and starts, from the loss of an icon like Steve Jobs to the rise of new-economy giants like Amazon and Facebook.

There is a temptation, amidst the turmoil, for pundits to conclude that the only sensible response is to make bold bets—new business models that challenge the logic of an industry, products that aim to be “category killers” and obsolete the competition. But I’ve come to believe that a better way to respond to uncertainty is with small gestures that send big signals about what you care about and stand for. In a world defined by crisis, acts of generosity and reassurance take on outsized importance.

That's why, on my HBR blog, I devote my new post to the virtues of the "values proposition"—and the power, in the words of Mother Teresa, of "doing small things with great love." You can read the full post here.

 

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
October 5th, 2011

Slickest Plane Ever?

Just learned about an airline called Kulula.com, sort of the Southwest of South Africa, but with an even more effervescent personality. Check out this plane. What a fun exterior!

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
October 5th, 2011

How to Lead After a Legend

It’s tough as a new CEO to fix a troubled company suffering under a legacy of misleadership, as Meg Whitman is about to learn at Hewlett-Packard. But it’s even tougher to follow in the footsteps of an icon—a leader who didn’t just win big with the company, but changed the game in the industry.

Just ask James Parker, who took over at Southwest Airlines after the larger-than-life Herb Kelleher, and stepped down after three underwhelming years. Or ask Jeffrey Immelt, who has spent a decade as CEO of General Electric, but still can’t escape the shadow of Jack Welch, Fortune’s “Manager of the Century” for the 20th century.

So it’s fair to say that Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’s successor at Apple, is stepping into the toughest job imaginable—taking over for everyone’s choice as “Manager of the Century” for the 21st century. How should Cook lead in the footsteps of such a legend? Over the weekend, The Washington Post asked me to write about that question. You can find my answer, in the form of an essay, here.

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
September 25th, 2011

How HP Lost the “HP Way”

Really, Hewlett-Packard? This is what’s become of the company of Bill and Dave—not just the founders of HP, but the founding fathers of Silicon Valley? Three CEOs in six years. Two of those CEOs who embarrassed themselves with pathetically inept campaigns for elective office. The other CEO who managed to get tossed out of his job by virtue of his (still largely unexplained) fascination with a B-level (and that’s grading generously) actress. Not to mention boardroom soap operas, front-page ethics scandals, and more changes of direction than a surfer in a hurricane.

It’s hard to argue with the assessment of Thomas Perkins, the legendary venture capitalist and a former HP director (who has hardly covered himself in glory during this mess), who told the New York Times back in August: “I didn’t know there was such a thing s corporate suicide, but now we know that there is. It’s just astonishing.”

Here's my take for HBR on the "astonishing" decline of Hewlett-Packard, which has been reposted on Bloomberg BusinessWeek as well. Great debates on both sites! How would you fix HP?

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
September 1st, 2011

Why Steve Jobs Matters to You

All sorts of commentators are asking all sorts of questions about the resignation of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, Inc. What does it mean for the company’s future? What does it means for the stock price? What does it mean for the computer industry, the music industry, and the media industry?

All fine questions, to which I would add one more: What does it mean for you? Or, to put it another way, when you see the outpouring of affection, respect, and admiration for this one leader, an outpouring of emotion that I can’t recall for the departure of any other businessperson or technologist, isn’t it natural to think about your own eventual departure, the legacy you’ll leave behind, the ways in which your career will be remembered?

Few of us have the chance to achieve 1/100th of what Steve Jobs has achieved. But all of us can look at his body of work, and the reaction to that body of work, and use it as an opportunity to ask more of ourselves as leaders and innovators with a chance to make a small positive difference for our industry, our customers, and our colleagues.

Here's my latest post for Harvard Business Review.

 

 

 

Line Break
Line Break
Line Break
Line Break