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A “Practically Radical” Review

Every author waits nervously for his or her pre-release review in Publishers Weekly, the bible of booksellers everywhere. Well, the review of Practically Radical is in, and it rocks! PW calls the book “an engaging and briskly written read” with “actionable prescriptions and meaningful examples” that “will captivate and benefit” leaders who want to make change in their organizations.

We’re less than a month away from publication, and this is a nice way to start the ramp-up. Thanks, PW!

Why Nobody Wins Unless Everybody Wins

Recently, I’ve started thinking about something Bruce Springsteen used to say back in the 1980s, because it seems so relevant to what we’re going through as a country, an economy, and as businesses today. During the height of the Born in the USA craze, when Ronald Reagan dominated American politics and Bruce ruled the cultural landscape, he ended his live shows with a simple admonition that was easy to miss amidst the screams of tens of thousands of delirious fans. “Remember,” he’d tell the crowd, “nobody wins unless everybody wins.”

I wish more of us could remember that admonition today. The story of America since the 1980s has been one of huge gains flowing to a tiny segment of the population, with the vast majority barely holding its ground. Through good times and bad, boom and bust, the richest of the rich have been getting richer, while most everyone else has barely gotten by.

What I find so unsettling about the explosion of inequality in the nation is that it flies in the face of everything I’ve learned about what it takes to build a prosperous organization. The most successful companies I’ve gotten to know understand that they create the most value when people at every level share in the value they help to create. That’s why Silicon Valley upstarts are so committed to granting stock options up and down the ranks. It’s also why great old-line companies such as Southwest Airlines, Publix Supermarkets, and W.L. Gore are built around an “ownership culture” that shares the wealth with rank-and-file employees—and shares all kinds of data to help employees run the business.

We know what works inside our best companies—giving as many people as possible a piece of the action, allowing everyone to “share the wealth” they help to create. And yet, as a nation, we have been unable for decades to address the causes and consequences of the “winner-take-all” ethos that is skewing our economy and tearing at our society. That’s the unfinished business of our country—and a pressing challenge for thinkers, innovators, and leaders everywhere.

Here’s my longer take for HBR on this subject.

The Loney Life of the CEO

Like everyone else, I was surprised to read the news this morning that Jeffrey Kindler, the change-minded CEO of Pfizer, Inc. was retiring after less than five years on the job. Who knows all of the factors that contributed to the decision. But what was so striking about the “official story” is that Kindler was so open about the fact that he was so damn tired.

Indeed, reading his quotes, you could feel the fatigue rolling off the page—fatigue that’s got to be familiar to lots of CEOs running companies in lots of different industries.

Here’s my take, for BNET, on the lonely life of the CEO—and how to get killer results without killing yourself in the process. You can find the article here.

Smart Lessons from the Google “Brain Drain”

Everybody seems struck by (and worried about) the flight of talent from Google, either to other (younger) high-profile companies such as Facebook, or to the next generation of venture-funded startups.

I don’t have any specific advice for Google, but concerns about the “brain drain” create an opportunity to offer a bunch of lessons for organizations everywhere about the new battle for talent. Here’s an essay I just did for HBR. I hope it doesn’t drain your brain!

How Netflix Became a Hollywood Star

My latest for Bnet, the CBS Interactive Network, on what we call can learn from the hottest name in the movies. (And no, it’s not Harry Potter.)

To me, the secret of Netflix’s remarkable success isn’t just that it has mastered the technology of movie distribution. It’s that it helps its customers master the art of movie selection. The company does better because it makes its customers smarter–ansd that’s an idea that any company can apply. Read the article here.

Do You Feel the LUV?

The folks at BNET, the CBS Interactive Network, have asked me to write a weekly leadership blog. You can read my first post here. It’s all about my favorite company in the world, one about which I’ve written extensively in the past, and that teaches all sorts of lessons about leadership, innovation, and how to keep flying high in a turbulent industry. Enjoy!

Why I’m Still Bullish on America

Maybe it’s because it’s Veterans Day, and I am feeling unusually patriotic, or maybe it’s because President Obama is traveling in Asia, which means it’s open season for every pundit to make China and India seem ten feet tall, but I’m getting tired of the drumbeat that American innovators and entrepreneurs can’t keep pace with the emerging economic powers. (Tom Friedman, can you hear me?)

So over on my Harvard Business Review blog, I make the case that we undervalue to our peril one of America’s great exports—disruptive business models that take on established competitors and reshape the sense of what’s possible in whole industries. You can read the blog here. Right or wrong, all the ideas were Made in the USA!

“You Can’t Be a Rebel If You Don’t Have Something to Prove”

Arkadi Kuhlmann, CEO of ING Direct USA, is one of my favorite business leaders and innovators. Polly LaBarre and I wrote about him extensively in Mavericks at Work, and I’ve stayed in touch with him in the years since. He is the face of business at its best: pro-customer, anti-establishment, willing (even eager) try try new ideas and shake things up.

So it was with great delight that I read this interview with Arkadi in Sunday’s New York Times. This being election season, the Times was  fascinated by the fact that, ten years into his tenure at ING Direct, he is putting his leadership up to a secret-ballot vote by his employees. It’s not just yeah or nay on Arkadi. The bigger question, he says, is “Do you have faith in the mission? Do you have faith in the company? Do you have faith in me?”

But the rest of the interview, which I urge all of you to read in its entirety, was even more fascinating than this election idea. The Times asked Arkadi about his philosophy of leadership. “It’s never about you,” he said.” It’s always about the mission. And people will follow you if you’re prepared to get a mission done, something with a goal that is a little beyond the reach of all of us. That’s what leadership is about.”

What does he look for in people who join him on the mission? “The first thing I [ask them] is, ‘Tell me about all your setbacks. Hve you been fired, divorced, or does your dad not think you add up to much?’…You can’t be a rebel if you don’t have something to prove. You can’t be an outlier unless you want to actually turn the tables upside down. And you’ve got to mean it.”

I know Arkadi. He means it. And he’s got my vote! I urge you to read the interview.

Fast Company Turns 150!

Well, not really. But the November 2010 issue of Fast Company represents the 150th issue in the history of the magazine. Wow, do I feel old. To commemorate the milestone, the staff has compiled some of the best articles from the old days. Happy 150th, Fast Company!