Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tough Leadership Lessons from ex-CEO Joe Moglia

After succeeding in business, Joe Moglia is living his dream as head coach at Coastal Carolina.
Since high school, Joe Moglia wanted to be a college football head coach.  He was certainly en route to becoming one, when he was offered a job in 1983 as a defensive assistant coach for the University of Miami.  But he determined that the paltry $33,000 salary was not going to be enough to support  his ex-wife and four children, so he turned it down.
He quit football. He decided, somewhat improbably, to go to Wall Street (he was 34 years old and had no experience in finance). The man who hired him for an entry-level position at Merrill Lynch said that Moglia was "a complete lunatic. But his intensity was incredible."
Reference: Former CEO Joe Moglia proving coaching chops at Coastal Carolina (emphasis, added).

Moglia strikes me as a tenacious man, who clearly has what it takes to transition from one arena to another, then back again.  What is his stuff?  Let me draw some working lessons for his story.

He has to have (a) the elemental smarts to learn, and thus acquire the knowledge he needs to succeed in football and business.  But knowledge in itself is not sufficient to be as successful as Moglia clearly was in business. Clearly he also has (b) the smarts to size up a situation and make sound decisions about it.
Moglia quickly became the top salesman at Merrill, and eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder to just a few rungs from the very top. In 2001 he made a risky jump, becoming the CEO of what was then known as Ameritrade, the online trader that looked, at the time, like a crisp cinder falling back to earth after the fireworks of the dot-com bubble bust. What later became known as TD Ameritrade grew from a $700 million company to one worth $10 billion in just seven years under Moglia's leadership. Perhaps most impressively, Moglia -- despite much pressure from investors -- refused to deal in subprime mortgages, which caused the bubble that nearly led the world off the financial cliff. In those dark days in 2008, when competitor E-Trade lost $1.3 billion and Moglia's former employer, Merrill Lynch, lost $28 billion, TD Ameritrade actually made a profit of $800 million.
Even then, it's even more than sound judgment: He has (c) the courage to make tough decisions, while under duress and against convention.
Moglia's ultimate goal upon leaving TD Ameritrade was to land a college head coaching job. After some understandable trepidation from athletic directors, he took a job as an unpaid coach for the Nebraska, where he was hamstrung by NCAA regulations. Essentially barred from performing any on-field instruction, he still spent long hours with the coaching staff studying film and soaking up everything he could from head coach Bo Pellini and the rest of his staff. After two years with the Cornhuskers where he remained unable to attract any college head coaching offers, he got the Nighthawks head job. Initially recruited for his managerial expertise as someone who could save the cash-strapped team and league (from financial ruin, Moglia eventually demonstrated that he would make a capable coach for the team. Moglia treats his stint with the Nighthawks as one of his final opportunities to prove that he is worthy of a college head coaching job.
That meant everything came down to one job: Coastal Carolina, the 9,300-student school located in Conway, S.C., just a few miles inland from Myrtle Beach. (The school was once affiliated with the University of South Carolina, thus its unusual mascot: The Chanticleer was a clever rooster in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). The fact that there was an opening at the school was a bit of a surprise. David Bennett had been the coach at Coastal since the football program's beginning in 2003 and had a record of 63-39. But earlier in 2011 he'd become better known for his wacky "We need more dogs!" video that went viral. To the president of the university, David DeCenzo, it was just another sign of a program that had gone adrift. He'd had enough.
After a blowout (70-10) loss to South Carolina this afternoon, Moglia's Coastal Carolina is now 15-7 under this wing.  It's a remarkable record for a man who spent nearly 30 years away from football and who basically slummed it before realizing his high school dream as head coach.

Needless to say, (d) drive for results was a key thread that wove through the fabric of his personality and thus football and business as well.  There are many well-intentioned, tenacious people out there, but they do not succeed unless they can produce the goods, so to speak.  

Finally, it takes (e) considerable people leadership skills to persuade others to do what one needs them to do: Not just his previous employers and managers, but also his players and staff.  No doubt, he had the football acumen to win the head coach job with Coastal Carolina.  But it is imperative to have influencing, engaging and teaching skills to have such a successful run.

Congratulations to Joe Moglia, indeed.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Successful Business Women on Helping Women

Christy Turlington Burns has been modeling since forever, it seems, and it's great to hear that she takes care of her health and to see that she takes care of her looks, too.  Every year she feels more comfortable as a woman, and lives a fuller life, she relates.  But more than the profession she is best known for, Turlington is also a philanthropist.  In 2010, for example, she launched Every Mother Counts, which helps to prevent deaths from pregnancy and childbirth.  She relishes having new audiences to speak to, and appreciates being asked for her fresh perspectives among policy makers and advocates.  She challenges herself to do a range of things - such as making a movie, writing a book - and dislikes relegating herself, or being relegated, to a box or label.  Her advice to herself of 20 years ago?  Keep company with people you aspire to become.  

Tory Burch has literally fashioned her name into an iconic brand, and has apparently broken the threshold of $1 billion in net worth.  Best entrepreneurial advice she's received?  Buckle up, embrace it. Have tenacity, have vision.  Like Turlington, she speaks to motherhood, when she relates she's most proud of her sons.  She adds, Success is feeling good about what you’re contributing. It’s about happiness.  Moira Forbes is one of the best interviewers I know.  After offering the preface that Burch is one of the most accomplished, powerful, self-made women in the world, for example, she asks her to define power.  It's the ability to effect change and to give back.

Sara Blakely didn't expect to focus her business so much on women's butts. Spanx is an apparel company, which affords women a slim, shapely appearance. Like Burch, she tips the scale at $1 billion in net worth, and at age 42, is the youngest self-made billionaire woman in the world. In such rarefied air, really, she has joined Warren Buffet and Bill Gates on the Giving Pledge. How does she want her contribution earmarked? Solve inequality, elevate women, fulfill their potential. In yet another fortunate meeting, Nelson Mandela advised her: If you want to change the world, help the women. One person can change the world.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, November 18, 2013

Steve Blank Rethinks Entrepreneurship

The following are my notes and {thoughts}

From The Four Steps to the Epiphany, to The Startup Owner's Manual. What we learned in business school in the last 40 years is wrong vis-à-vis startups. Startups aren’t small versions of big companies. Big companies execute their business models. Startups are searching for their business models, that is, something that is repeatable and scalable {cf. Paul Graham, who advised entrepreneurs to do something that doesn't scale}. They’re searching for a lot of things. Business plans à la investors are a hallucination. A series of declarative paragraphs and spreadsheets. If you’re blessed enough to get funded, then you have to do what you said you were going to do. But the reality is no business plan survives the first iteration. Entrepreneurs come up with an idea, instead, and try it out, and fundamentally go from failure to failure. Startups don’t execute a business plan, but search for success and learn by going from failure to failure. Eric Ries calls failures pivots. Testing our hypothesis. What should entrepreneurs look for in a business book? Biographies of Steve Jobs offer little or no actionable items for entrepreneurs. You cannot live his biography. {True, you have to extract the algorithms, that is, you have to distill the essence of what he did and what he said.}  

Before you do the business plan, you have to go out and rub elbows with customers. What is the role of the VC? It depends on where you are, and what they fund (e.g., pivoting or growing).

Steve Jobs’ product instinct was unparalleled (cf. Edward Land, Walt Disney). He was the intersection of art and science. Jobs would go to an Apple store. He would answer a customer e-mail a month. He was intimately connected with what was going around him. Not talking to customers was about new markets.  (a) Startups → existing markets, with something better or faster. (b) Startups → existing markets, with segmented strategy rather than head-to-head with big players. (c) Startups → non-existent markets, with a new vision. What will change in their lives? What will happen, if I change the ecosystem? What is it I can develop that no one else can? iPod, iPhone, iPad. That’s special. The intersection of art and science.

Computing has become a utility {cf. electricity, water and gas}.  Amazon now offers web services. The laptop is the local machine. We no longer need the big mainframe or the big machine with fan belts. Amazon has transformed our ability to launch 1000s of startups.

The issue today is the volume of information, but you lack a roadmap. Advice can be had everywhere. Students get all the technical answers they want and need, but they don’t know what it all means. It’s not an experiential answer. Business schools are now teaching students differently. Business plans competition is for professors who don’t know entrepreneurship. Business model competition matters, though, because they match what you see. It's fatal to think about entrepreneurship as a job. Startup is a calling. It's a passion. Working 24/7 for peanuts. The odds of success are infinitely low. McKinsey is a great job. You get a nice office, you get an expense account, you get to wear a suit. Normal people work for McKinsey. But you have to certifiably insane to be an entrepreneur. It's very hard. Being entrepreneur is like being an artist. You cannot get it out of your system.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Abiding Creativity Inside Childhood

(image credit)

I really enjoy Grant Snider's Incidental Comics.  His `strips are at once whimsical and funny as well as curious and philosophical.  He draws ideas from research and from life, for example, as a parent with a one-year old daughter:
While researching the history of modern art, I noticed some parallels between the early-20th-century Dada art movement and the reckless enthusiasm of childhood. My daughter is not yet old enough to recreate the art of Marcel Duchamp, but in the next few years this comic may become a reality.

In this TED Talk, Catherine Courage cited an IBM study of CEOs, and their most critical factor for future success is creativity.  Like Snider, she draws on childhood to emphasize open environments, to explore and experiment, and to use stories.

(screen shot)
In particular, Courage relates a story of a GE Healthcare executive who saw how frightened a young boy was, prior to an MRI procedure.  Some children are so upset by it that they have to be medicated.  So moved by this discovery, then, he and his staff created the Adventure Series of Scanners, such as the "Cozy Camp Experience."

Catherine Courage
Forbes profiled Courage in Next Gen Movers: 10 Rising Stars At The World's Most Innovative Companies:
“Creativity,” says Catherine Courage, “is a birthright available to all, but used by few.” Courage, 38, is senior vice president of customer experience at Citrix, the company responsible for GoToMeeting and other digital connectivity products. In a TEDxKyoto presentation last year, Courage advocated looking to childhood as a way to make workplaces more inspired. Imagine if offices were more like preschool classrooms: open, specialized and colorful. In Citrix’s Santa Clara, California headquarters she brings this ideal to life with a 2,000 square foot design lab. Wheeled furniture and whiteboards allow for task specific spaces and simple tools like pipe cleaners encourage hands-on-innovation.
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cautious Optimism in the US Automotive Industry

Executives' confidence on consumer uptake of alternative powertrains is flagging
The future is solid for cars that are powered by electricity and natural gas.  But Booz & Co. found that alternative powertrains remain a tough sell for consumers, that is, financially speaking.  Government support, in the form of subsidies and infrastructure, is key for companies and consumers alike.

Original Equipment Makers (OEMs) and suppliers have shored up their operating models
Evidently OEMs' confidence is grounded on the hard work they've done in their operations: specifically, in labor agreements, environment footprint, manufacturing capacity, and dealer network.  They've put their house in order.  On the suppliers' side, confidence comes from a greater focus on what OEMs need, as opposed to the previous be-jack-of-all-trades strategy.  Moreover, they are reaping the benefits of a more disciplined management of finances and operations.

The answer is yes, definitely
I'm not so sure how Booz & Co., or automobile executives in particular, came to view the industry as a zero-sum game.  Perhaps for the foreseeable future, it is, if in fact the US market is saturated.  But all products have a shelf life, and consumers will buy more to replace what they have and sample the latest fare.  Moreover, globally there are growing populations, especially among Millennials, in such regions as the Middle East.

That said, executives see a return to industry norms in terms of growth and a dog-eat-dog competitive landscape.  If Booz & Co. is right, then they will have to do whatever it takes to eke out an advantage and grab market share away from competitors.  Marketing, pricing, innovation and consolidation are, no doubt, among their options.

It's about doing what they've been doing well, and taking these to a higher level 
I gather that efficiency is crucial for the industry.  That is, executives must keep at optimizing costs, and re-investing savings into research and development, in order to:
  • Create cars that consumers want to own and cars that tap into their aspiration - what Booz & Co. calls continued product renaissance
  • Leverage the evolving world of media and technology, such as for smart, connected cars and perhaps even driver-less capabilities à la Google
  • Look to the global market, but take a long-term view, given the varying degrees of success among countries in Europe and emerging markets
Reference: US Automotive Industry Survey and Confidence Index, by Booz & Co. and Bloomberg.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Business Lessons from Miley Cyrus' Twerking

I do not necessarily like Miley Cyrus' music, but I do love this song.  I cycled actively when I lived in Dubai, and this song gave me wings, as it came time to ride uphill.  She's certainly come a long way - a way different way - since this 2009 piece from her Hannah Montana days.

Miley Cyrus, with Robin Thicke
You may disagree with her methods, but Miley Cyrus has ridden her twerking spectacle at the VMAs [Video Music Awards] all the way to the bank.
Reference: 3 Business Lessons from Miley Cyrus and her Infamous Twerk.

Writer Adam Toren teases out those lessons:

First, it's one thing to build a brand, and establish it so well that your target audience recognizes it everywhere.  It's quite another thing to undo an established brand that isn't just in a rut, but is rotting.  Sometimes it calls for drastic measures.

It's a critical juncture for any CEO, when company survival depends on tough choices that he or she has to make.  For the longest time, I believed in evolution: Small steps, taken consistently and patiently, lead to intended changes.  But I've also come to see the value of revolution: Jump into the deep end straightaway, and hope that whatever action planning or risk calculations you undertook will work out.    

Second, branding is a human affair, Toren wisely points out.  In fact, any endeavor any of us engages in is inevitably human.  But time and time again we seem to forget that fact.  It must not only be genuine and sincere, but it must also lay it on the line personally.  Or, in Miley Cyrus' case, it is strip down and shake it on the stage.    

Not all CEOs are comfortable in either case.  It doesn't mean that their communications, demeanor or interactions are fabricated.  Rather, they may simply be shy about it.  Of course I do not advise that they follow something along the lines of Miley Cyrus at the VMAs.  But consider Richard Branson.  Not only is he fun, personified, but also on occasion he's been known to flirt with naughtiness by surrounding himself with sexily- or scantily-clad ladies.

I do advise that a CEO, perhaps with a trusted colleague or advisor, reflect on what matters the most to him or her: for example, values, held near and dear to the heart.  Think through how that CEO can relate such a personal thing to others.

Finally, Toren suggests that although scores of people from all walks of life have now watched her infamous twerking, Miley Cyrus may have targeted just her Millennial cohorts.  This is a basic business lesson: Know who your market is, and fashion a campaign that speaks to them.  

Perhaps a meta-lesson - that is, a lesson on this lesson - is this, however.  Media is diverse and wide-ranging, and an audience in such media doesn't, and cannot, really segment itself in ways that marketers fool themselves into thinking they can.  Inevitably Miley Cyrus' twerking reaches across demographics and generations, and she and her handlers simply cannot assert 100% control over this process or our reactions.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, November 8, 2013

Business Leadership for HR à la James Bond

© Ron Villejo, PhD
What can James Bond teach us about leadership?  A good amount, I'd say.  

Sixty years since Ian Fleming created the character, and 23 films in the meantime, the super suave and skilled agent is a film legend and a cultural icon.  I introduced my paradigm in some detail - Business Leadership as an HR Responsibility - but let's draw on Mr. Shaken, Not Stirred's latest to expound on this, shall we.  

Ben Whishaw as Q
Q is the Data Geek in Skyfall, who basically owns systems and analytics for the British Secret Intelligence Service - better known as MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6).  He thinks he knows more than he actually does, but he's a staffer who can be counted on to do what James Bond tells him to do.  In a similar vein, HR houses information, pushes metrics, and must do as the business directs them.

Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny
Eve Moneypenny is the Underrated Beauty in Skyfall, and with a name like hers we see why.  Like Q, she does what she is told.  But as the film progresses, we see that she has interpersonal savvy and seductive airs about her.  She is not a leader, but like HR, she is deployed to the field.  Over time HR recognized the need to work elbow-to-elbow with their colleagues in the business.

Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory
Gareth Mallory is the Proper Liaison between Parliament and MI6 in Skyfall.  He must contend with the proud M, as he tries to persuade her to retire.  To be sure, he has a high seat in government, yet we sense that his authority and influence are rather constrained.  Even at this level, HR struggles to shed its tactical role and must maneuver a fairly narrow bandwidth for decision-making.  Still, being a partner to the highers-up in the company is something to aspire to.

Dame Judi Dench as M
Like many aging CEOs, M is the Recalcitrant Leader who fiercely holds on to her post and draws lyrically on poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson to defend MI6's continued existence.  She knows what the game is all about, and is ruthless enough to entice then manipulate her agents to serve her purpose.  Many may argue that women have to be this tough, in order to advance to high leadership.  HR, too, has had to fight tooth and nail to rise in the organization, but it may be the rare HR professional who actually becomes a business leader.

So where does James Bond himself fit in this paradigm?
Daniel Craig as James Bond and The Vitruvian Man
James Bond is himself an aging agent in Skyfall.  He fails physical and psychological tests, but M forces him back into field anyway.  He fulfills his duties in ways a tactician does, and charms himself into the relational graces of women.  He may not be the partner that Parliament wants to admit to, but he serves his country rather well.  Then, he takes situational leadership away from M, in order to save her, the old family estate gamekeeper Kincade, and himself.

So in the end, James Bond may be an overarching figure for this HR paradigm.  Leonardo Da Vinci drew The Vitruvian Man as if to represent the ideal symmetry.  In effect, then, HR needs such a leader, who, like James Bond, can endure for decades and carry the mantle of that ideal forward.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Business Leadership as an HR Responsibility

The GM of an HR department lauded Dave Ulrich's HR model, and applied it, upon arriving in the company.  It was about HR partnering more closely with the business.  Specifically, there were four HR Operations Managers, and he assigned each one to a set of business units.  The main company was actually a holding group, so these business units were companies in their own right.

So what was the problem?

First, the HR Operations Managers were overburdened with the day-to-day tasks of serving their clients, that is, procedural, policy, and employee issues.  They hardly had time to engage in more strategic, business partnerships with them.  Second, they were not fully bought into this HR model.  The GM was strategic, even visionary, but neglected the people aspects of making the model happen.  Third, his expectation was that other HR functions, from Learning and Development and Performance Management, to Recruitment and Compensation and Benefits, would serve their clients' needs via those HR Operations Managers.

With nowhere near sufficient buy-in, this model created a bottleneck in serving the business units.  The HR Operations Managers didn't, or couldn't, follow through consistently with day-to-day HR contacts, never mind more major initiatives.  Those other HR functions took matters into their own hand, and liaised directly with the business units, and the business units in turn approached their favorite (i.e., most responsive) HR staff.  Unfortunately, the GM didn't help his cause in the least, when he himself turned to his favorite HR staff whom he could trust to get things done.

This was not a failure of the model per se, but a failure to adapt it for a particular company - its structure, headcount, and culture - and to manage people effectively.

This is just one case study on the challenges of HR's aspiration a partner to the business.

In this article, I will introduce a model I've developed and presented at a handful of conferences in the Middle East.  There was a buzz about this among attendees, and organizers were keen on my presenting on it when they invited me.  In a future article, I will expand on it further.

From "HR as Business Leader," by Ron Villejo, PhD
I described HR as having self-esteem issues.  Imagine entering an elevator, say, in a large office building.  It's often tight quarters inside, and people feel awkward being that close to one another and having any eye contact.  So we stand in a state of tension, making ourselves as small as possible, so as to avoid physical contact.  We bow our heads down, or at least cast our eyes down, so as to avoid looking at each other.

This, in a nutshell, is HR: awkward, small and tense, and downcast.

I conveyed the thesis of my talk, to the audience, by acting this elevator scene.  I then said that the aim for HR was this: I placed my hands on either side of my head, physically moved it from looking downcast to looking out: forward and confident.

The Evolution of HR has been a boon to the industry.  Companies know, by and large, that HR is not just a organization of tasks, policies, and documents.  It is very much a people-oriented function.  The good news in my case study is that the HR Operations Managers worked hard to build relationships with managers and staff at those business units.

The navigation between the two bottom triangles of my model is meant to be two-way.  That is, as HR understood the importance of relational, they also recognized the need to fulfill their tactical responsibilities.  In one company's case, that tactical remained so compelling that it prompted one colleague of mine to intone: Put the heart back into HR.  I added: Put the human back in Human Resources.

Needless to say, this navigation can be a challenging one.

Over the past decade or so, HR aspired to be more of a business partner.  Below is a slide from another presentation on this topic:

From "HR in the Business, for the Business, by the Business," by Ron Villejo, PhD
Being a business partner meant that HR earned a seat at the table.  In my case study, the GM of HR was very much a part of the CEO executive team.  This is a good thing, for sure.  Besides insuring buy-in, that HR leader must coach and mentor, train and develop, encourage and hold staff accountable to abide by such partnership model.  In effect, it isn't just the GM alone who has a seat at the table, but his entire staff does also.  Or at least should have.

In Becoming an HR Business Leader, I argued that while business partnership is indeed challenging, this simply was not enough for the HR organization and, even more importantly, was not enough for what the company as a whole needed in its HR organization.     

From "HR in the Business, for the Business, by the Business," by Ron Villejo, PhD
The majority of respondents expressed concern with the head of HR’s understanding of the overall business. Forty-two percent believe the head of HR is too focused on process and is not a “big picture” person, while 36 percent say he or she doesn’t understand the business well enough.
Reference: New Study Details C-Level Perceptions of Human Resources Executives in Western Europe.

This study by the Economic Intelligence Unit is telling, indeed.  Perhaps it's a matter of training and education, or interest and willing on the part of HR professionals.  Their background may be well-steeped in theory, practice and experience of their function.  Which again is well and good, and crucial.  But I wonder how much they're actually prompted, guided, and taught about business and business leadership.  This study suggests, not very much at all.

To their credit, the HR Operations Managers in my case study had really solid knowledge of their clientele's business.  Much of the rest of the staff in the HR department did not, however.  Schooling may certainly be required for them.  But it's best, I think, to tap the knowledge and resources within the company itself.  Staff across the enterprise can certainly talk about their products and services, their market and customers, the competitive landscape, trends and development, and key leaders and professionals in industry.

Again, I'll expand on these in a subsequent article, but for now, let me close with two final points: Business leadership is a responsibility for HR.  It must gain business acumen, plus exercise effective, confident leadership presence.  Not just at the table, but also throughout the enterprise.  

In addition, my triangle model suggests that these four components - tactical, relational, partner and leader - are all essential for HR organizations and leaders.  So the evolution is not akin to the kind of metamorphosis a butterfly undergoes, which prevents it from becoming a caterpillar again.  Rather, this evolution is more about expansion, extension, and growth.  Partner, in particular, is at the center of the model, because it represents the evolution and aspiration of HR.  Plus, partner is also at the basis of HR leadership.

January 18th 2014

Lead With Giants holds a Tweetchat every Monday at 7 PM (ET), and this coming Monday, January 20th 2014, I will co-host on this topic - HR as Business Leader.  Please join us!

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Human and Explosive Nature of Innovation

The challenges to innovate that entrepreneur and author Steve Blank pinpoint are, in large, measure human in nature.  For one, if any CEO still does not realize or appreciate the radical changes in the business landscape, since the start of the century, he or she must stop, step back, and look around.  It may be unwillingness, or uncertainty, or inability on his or her part.  Regardless, he or she puts the company in jeopardy going forward.    

For another, if such a CEO does realize and appreciate the new business reality, he or she may respond tactically or internally or expediently.  Blank argues that these changes are so wide-sweeping, the CEO must grasp it as a systemic phenomenon: that is, strategic, along with tactical; external, coupled with internal; measured, as balanced with expedient.

What's more, Blank points to a common tendency in companies to create a group or department to deal with innovation.  That may be well and good.  But the fundamental necessity to seep an innovative mindset across the enterprise does not magically happen by appointing a Chief Innovation Officer.  That CIO must liaise forthrightly, meaningfully with his or her colleagues in P&L, M&A and R&D.  This is a first step in demonstrating that the group or department isn't merely an appendage to the body, but a fully functioning, integral part of that body.

Steve Blank
The solution, Blank argues, is blowing up the architecture completely.  The aim is to make continuous innovation an integral of the company.  The reason why this is so difficult is that leaders are too timid.  

I'm not sure, at the moment, what Blank means by blowing up.  But I'll share the following, briefly for now.

I'm working on a corporate application of Albert Einstein's famous E = mc².  In part this equation means that the tiniest of mass can produce a great deal of Energy.  What might this mean for a company?  It's maximizing the fewest of resources, the smallest of effort, and the shortest supply of talent for the success of the company.  

But, you see, mass doesn't just result in phenomenal energy.  Colliding it via fusion or splitting it via fission can create that big output of energy, however.  We're not talking about vehicles crashing into each other or even hammering an object to pieces.  Rather, we're talking about nuclear collision and splitting at atomic levels.

E = mc², in short, is the genesis of the atomic bomb that the US dropped on Japan during World War II.  

So when Blank refers to blowing up the architecture, I wonder if he means doing something so tectonic and explosive (figuratively speaking) that a company has to rebuild itself with a new architecture.  Much easier said than done.  I imagine that Blank aims to blow things up without actually blowing things up, that is, radically changing the outdated, declining aspects of an organization without destroying the entire organization in the process.  

Quite a challenge, indeed.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, November 1, 2013

Executives and Entrepreneurs Share Best Advice

Jennifer Dulski is President and COO at  She cites research by Tom Gilovich on regret:  Namely, we are more likely to regret what we didn't do or say (omission) than what we did do or say (commission).  Dulski draws on this research to help her make decisions.

Katharine Frase is Vice President and CTO at IBM Public Sector.  Her adviser from graduate school acknowledged the importance of doing good science, but emphasized that communicating it to others - executives, colleagues, customers or family - was more important.

Nancy Tellem is President at Microsoft entertainment and digital media.  Two job offers arrived on her desk: a promotion within her legal organization, and a step-down to a business creative post.  An executive friend in entertainment suggested that she follow her heart and grab the latter.

Travis Kalanick is Co-Founder and CEO of Uber.  He has a sense for the people whom he asks for advice, and the best comes from the stories they share with him.

Karenann Terrell is Executive VP and CIO at Wal-Mart.  The chief engineer she used to work for described her as a mediocre engineer, as she related her desire to move to the top of the food chain in her profession.  Instead, he steered her to jobs that she was strong in and that made her stronger yet.  Seeing any feedback as a gift inoculated her from criticism and paved good headway in her career.

Ben Lerer is Co-Founder and CEO of Thrillist Media Group.  His father gave him all sorts of advice, but it all boiled down to have fun.

Brian Chesky is Founder and CEO of Airbnb.  Paul Graham of Y Combinator advised him to do things that don't scale.  It prompted him to focus on creating an amazing experience for one person.  Once he's achieved that, then he can figure out how to scale.

David Kenny is the Chairman and CEO of The Weather Channel.  The advice he found to be the best was to hire for where the company was going to be three or four years down the road, not necessarily for the job at hand.  So it meant over-hiring for his executive and management team, and this has always served him well.

Steve Shannon is General Manager of Content and Services at Roku.  The most consistent advice he has had was on risk-taking.  Bud Colligan of Macromedia pointed out that he had created his own luck, in light of his business success.  Shannon saw the need to play offense (i.e., take chances), not just defense.

John Collison is Founder of Stripe.  He draws on the same adviser as Chesky above, that is, Graham, and on the notion of unscalable strategy for user acquisition.  This helps maximize what a small and nimble company can do.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD