CEOs, Step into the Front Lines or Risk Losing Touch

Leading change is both a top-down process and a bottom-up process. The goal is to educate and energize colleagues at every level, especially those on the front lines, about the power of your plans, and to be educated and energized by the pragmatic wisdom of their experiences. Change programs work when they shape the behaviors and unleash the enthusiasm of the people closest to the work — the technologists who write code, the front-line employees who interact with customers, and customers themselves, who have the deciding vote on whether a company is doing something worthwhile. Put simply, it’s hard to reach people’s hearts and minds if the CEO’s head is in the clouds.

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HBR: Your Competitors Aren’t Always Who You Think They Are

When it comes to strategy, one way to meet radically new expectations in your industry is to draw from the impressive and surprising strategies that are being used in other industries. Why can’t interacting with an insurance company be as responsive and transparent as interacting with Uber? Why can’t checking into a hospital be as seamless as checking into a hotel? These are the sorts of questions that more and more customers are asking, and the questions that a winning business strategy must answer. You won’t find those answers if you limit your strategic vision to what other companies in your field are doing. Remember, your competitors aren’t always who you think they are.

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HBR: Unleash Your Organization’s Overlooked Talent

Leaders everywhere are desperate for new insights, new products, new sources of energy and creativity. One way to find those things is to embrace new ideas about who gets to contribute and how, whether they are inside or outside the organization. The author points to two examples: the art exhibition “Guarding the Art” and John Fluevog’s “Open Source Footwear” program. As he writes, “One of the most energizing ways to make your organization more productive and successful is to invite more people to contribute more of themselves to its success.”

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HBR: Persuading Your Team to Embrace Change

How do leaders persuade people to do things they would rather not do? The author outlines two very different persuasive techniques based on social science: the “foot-in-the-door” technique and the “door-in-the-face” technique. Each of these techniques can work in the right situation, although neither of them translates perfectly from the ivory-tower world of social-science research into the messy realities of organizational life. But both techniques can help leaders reflect the hard work of making big change, and what is required to get beyond what management theorists like to call “active inertia” — the tendency for people and organizations to seek comfort in the old ways of doing things, even (or especially) when the world around them is changing dramatically.

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Fast Company: Four lessons on innovation from the most creative team in baseball

Opening Day of the baseball season offers the chance to reflect on the arrival of spring, the childhood pleasures of skipping school for the ballpark—and, for people like me, who think about creativity and innovation, how hard it can be to change an institution that is in desperate need of reimagination and renewal. Most everyone agrees, as a recent Sports Illustrated analysis made clear, that Major League Baseball games take too long and move too slowly, that the so-called unwritten rules of on-field behavior wind up ruling out fun and spontaneity, and that the rise of analytics has replaced human drama with algorithmic tyranny. No wonder MLB now ranks behind the NFL and the NBA in terms of popularity and star power.

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HBR: To Find Creative Solutions, Look Outside Your Industry

The chaos and crises of the last two years have created all kinds of questions for leaders and organizations. One of the biggest questions is: Do we have new ideas about where to look for new ideas? When it comes to innovation and problem-solving, there will always be a place for old-fashioned, time-consuming R&D — research & development. Today, though, there is also a place for a different kind of R&D — rip off and duplicate. The fastest way for organizations to make sense of challenges they are seeing for the first time is to survey unrelated fields for ideas that have been working for a long time. Why gamble on untested strategies and insights if you can quickly apply strategies and insights that are already proven elsewhere? That’s how leaders can help their colleagues keep learning as fast as the world is changing.

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Fast Company: This Brazilian billionaire should be your role model for corporate activism

Super-rich entrepreneurs love to explore brash endeavors outside the mainstream of their business—say, the high-profile space race between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, or Larry Ellison’s obsession with the America’s Cup. But it remains genuinely rare, and worthy of attention, when a billionaire entrepreneur takes a hard look at the society around their business and commits to brash endeavors to challenge inequality, racism, and the crisis fueled by COVID-19.

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HBR: How Leaders Can Balance the Needs to Perform and to Transform

These are trying times for optimists. Covid deaths remain tragically high. Job growth remains stubbornly low. So There has never been a tougher time to be a leader, whether that’s running a big company or being in charge of a small team, Bill Taylor writes in this piece. He offers three sets of questions to help leaders focus on what’s important right now. The first set involves managing time: how to handle the chaos of the present while also creating space to focus on the future. The second set involves the personal stress of leadership: how to solve problems that your organization has never encountered before, without burning out or giving up? The third set involves rank-and-file morale: how to encourage people to stay upbeat and energetic when it is so easy to feel anxious and beaten down. If you can devise answers to these three sets of questions, you have a chance to pass the leadership test of our time.

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Fast Company: How one humble Main Street retailer beat COVID-19—and Amazon

A crisis, the old bromide goes, is a terrible thing to waste. One way not to waste the brutal crisis we’ve experienced over the past year is to learn from organizations that have thrived while their peers have struggled. What did they see that others didn’t see? What did they promise that other couldn’t promise? What did they do that other wouldn’t do?

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