01 December 2014

Lost and Found

"Courage is not one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." 
--C. S. Lewis
The backstory
In late May 1943, the B-24 carrying 26-year old Louis Zamperini went down over the Pacific Ocean.  For nearly seven weeks --- longer than any other such instance in recorded history --- Zamperini and his pilot managed to survive on a fragile raft. 
(C) XB-24 in flight.
They traveled 2,000 miles, only to land in a series of Japanese prison camps, where for the next two years, Zamperini underwent a whole new set of tortures. 
His is one of the most spectacular odysseys of this or any other war, and "odyssey" is the right word, for with its tempests and furies and monsters, many of them human, Zamperini's saga is something out of Greek mythology. 
So wrote David Margolick in his 2010 review of author Laura Hillenbrand's second New York Times best-selling book, "Unbroken."  (Her first was the story of the 1930s depression-era champion Thoroughbred racehorse, "Seabiscuit.")

Who was Louis Zamperini?

As we learn from the early pages of "Unbroken's" compelling drama, Louis Zamperini grew up in Torrance, California. Before joining the military, Zamperini developed into a world-class runner due in no small part to his juvenile delinquency, breaking into homes and then fleeing the police who chased after him.

Zamperini ran the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and then followed that achievement by doing the same while a student at the University of Southern California where he came close to the four-minute mile. 

(C) At 19, Louis Zamperini  (left), was the youngest member of the 1936 US Olympic Track Team.
With World War II drawing near Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was eventually stationed in Hawaii where he became a bombardier on the hard-to-fly B-24, sometimes referred to as the Green Hornet. It was that type of plane that went down while searching for a missing plane.

Lost at sea

Of the 11 men on board, only three--Zamperini; the pilot, Russell Allen Phillips; and the tail gunner, Francis McNamara-- survived. They did so by hanging on to a canvas-and-rubber raft which also remained from the wreckage.

According to author Hillenbrand, the men saved themselves by eating albatrosses that perched on the raft. Always inventive Zamperini would tie improvised hooks to his hands creating a claw used to catch fish that supplemented the fowl.

Fabric from a second raft was used to cover the men from the scorching sun. Their thirst was sometimes quenched by rainwater. 

Sharks seemed to always be nearby and at times jumped into the raft. They were attacked by using oars and when killed, the shark livers were added to the already limited menu.

After 33 days at sea, McNamara died. Rather than resort to cannibalism Zamperini and Phillips cast their crewmate overboard. How did the remaining two men pass the time?  We're told they extended their days by asking each other questions, cooking imaginary meals, and singing "White Christmas."
The Marshall Islands were spotted on the 46th day. Twenty-four hours later they were picked up by Japanese sailors. It's worth noting that while only one in 100 Americans captured in Europe died, nearly one in three perished in Japanese captivity. 

A prized possession

As an Olympian Louis Zamperini was in a special class of war prisoners.  

He was used as part of a propaganda campaign but also became a prime candidate for torture.  The unrelenting abuse included humiliation, starvation, medical experiments, slave labor, and disease.

His chief tormentor was what book reviewer Margolick called "a psychopathic sadist" named Mutsuhiro Watanabe, also known to prisoners as "the Bird."

With American bombers increasingly filling the skies American P.O.W. knew their time in the camps was short. According to some historians, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki likely saved those still held captive from the Japanese threat to kill all P.O.W.s rather than handing them over at the end.

Upon returning home

What was waiting for Louis Zamperini after the war?

Hillenbrand says it was the same thing facing other soldiers:  Alcoholism.  Flashbacks.  Nightmares.  And rage. 

However, in the fall of 1949, Louis Zamperini was converted to Jesus Christ by evangelist Billy Graham. It was at that point, not the last day as a P.O.W, that Zamperini's war and personal battles came to an end. It was from that spiritual experience Zamperini wrote to Watanabe forgiving him for all manner of indescribable torture.

A courageous author

Laura Hillenbrand wrote #1 selling books, "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken," while suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Zamperini's celebrated story had already been the subject of three books.  According to an article in The Washington Post (November 28, 2010), Hillenbrand's famous subject wondered what more there was to be said.
"Laura told me she wanted to write my biography. I told her I was already finishing my memoir."  She said, "I must do it." I said, "Laura, I've milked this thing dry. There's nothing left." She said, " I must."

Those who've read "Unbroken" are grateful Laura Hillenbrand pursued and achieved that goal.

Now a movie

Universal Pictures bought the rights to Louis Zamperini's story years ago. Yet it fell to actress and director, Angelina Jolie, to take the project and turn "Unbroken" into a major motion picture.   

It's only fitting that a film depicting the life of someone who experiences spiritual healing premiers on Christmas Day. 

A well-deserved honor

After a 40-day bout with pneumonia, Louis Zamperini, age 97, who faced some of the worst of what the world has to offer, passed quietly in his sleep.  All members of his family were present. 

He was to be Grand Marshall of the 2015 Rose Bowl Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena, California. Tournament of Roses officials has decided he is irreplaceable. The official car in which Zamperini was to ride will have an empty back seat to honor his memory. 
An inspiring life

Maybe you can find time this holiday season to read or see "Unbroken" on the big screen--a true story of survival, resilience, and most importantly, redemption. It's an adventurous journey of faith dedicated to anyone who is lost or broken, just as Louis Zamperini was, long ago and far away.     


(C)  Bredholt & Co.


01 November 2014

Measuring Your Progress

With 2014 winding down and a new year approaching, this might be a good time to glance at the past and begin preparing for 2015. 

Here are questions to help with that process:


Why does your organization exist? What is its primary purpose? Is that purpose clear to a majority of employees with whom you work? If not, why? 

Looking back
  • What are 2 or 3 of the more significant accomplishments and/or highlights in 2014?
  • What's the most important thing you needed to get done but didn't, and why?
  • What emerged as important (positive or negative) but was not planned?
  • We develop and learn the most from the right kind of experiences. What experience did you have this past year in which you took away an important lesson?
  • What component of your business or nonprofit provided the most energy, positive influence, and distinctiveness overall? And why?
Looking ahead
  • What do you gauge to be the number one priority for the coming year in your area of responsibility? What two additional priorities should be on that list?
  • What assumptions are shaping your planning, hiring, and budgeting processes?
  • What people's issues need attention? 
  • What do your direct reports need more from you--less from you?
  • Where could you use help to better carry out your responsibilities? Who will help you?
  • Do you have any immediate concerns about your organization? If so, what are they?
  • What two areas of health and strength can you build on in the coming year?
Getting personal

The prerequisite for managing others is being able to manage oneself. Life is a journey of endurance and perseverance. Therefore we must take care of ourselves in addition to looking after those we supervise.

One characteristic of a healthy leader is that they develop an ability to maintain a non-anxious presence amid a hyper-culture made up of goals, deadlines, competition, and technology. That is achieved through practice and discipline--by going through hard times and living to tell about them. 

It's enriching to be around individuals who combine confidence with humility and inner strength. They improve the quality of our lives and make us better people. I think of them as teachers as much as supervisors, highly prized by employees--and executive recruiters.

Here's a book from Harvard Business Review Press that might be beneficial to your development. It's entitled appropriately enough--"On Managing Yourself." 

This easy read is made up of eleven HBR articles including, "How Will You Measure Your Life," by best-selling author, Clayton Christensen, who teaches at Harvard Business School. Dr. Christensen reminds us there's far more to life than the profession we've chosen. 

Consider adding this book to your leadership library in anticipation of a successful 2015. 

(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 October 2014

Who's on First?

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."

-- Ernest Thayer, Casey at the Bat
By the time you read this post, the regular 162-game Major League Baseball season will have ended with divisional playoffs getting underway. The playoffs will be followed by the World Series between the American League and National League champions. 
The Kansas City Royals will play the Oakland A's in an American League wildcard slot (Update:  Royals beat the A's 9-8 in 12 innings). The Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants pair off in the National League wildcard game (Update: Giants 8-0 over the Pirates).

Play-ins, begun in 2012, add excitement for the fans and revenue for the teams from broadcast and cable rights. After all, professional sports is a business, first, and a game, second. 

Depending on how fast teams are eliminated from the playoffs, with best-of-five and best-of-seven series, plus weather and travel, a six-month baseball season can extend through a  potentially chilly October, at least for the final two teams.
College of baseball knowledge
Here's a pop quiz to test your current knowledge of the game.
What do the following Major League Baseball teams have in common? (Team payroll for 2014 season according to Associated Press) 
American League
  • East:  Boston Red Sox ($162.8 million)
  • Central:  Minnesota Twins ($85.7 million)
  • West:  Texas Rangers ($136.0 million)
 National League
  • East:  Philadelphia Phillies ($180.0 million)
  • Central:  Chicago Cubs ($89.0 million)
  • West:  Arizona Diamondbacks ($112.6 million)
In 2014 each team on both lists finished dead last in their respective divisions. Together the six teams won 418 games while losing 554.  
The combined payroll of the six cellar dwellers was $766 million. A losing season doesn't come cheap in the major leagues. 

Lessons from the game
What can organizations learn from "America's pastime?"
  1. Winning is harder than it looks. As bad as it is for those on the bottom, winning teams struggled to get over the .500 mark. Just half of 30 teams played .500 ball or better during the season. The Los Angeles Angels (AL) had the highest winning percentage in baseball at .609. The Angels won 95 games, 20 more than in 2013, with the sixth highest payroll in baseball, $155.6 million. The Baltimore Orioles (AL) and Washington Nationals (NL) finished at .590, the second highest percentage.  LA, Baltimore, and Washington lost a combined total of 195 games.   
  2. It’s possible to wear the same uniform and not be on the same team. There's still a lot of room for individual achievement in baseball, especially in a free-market and social media world. Some players show up and do their job--but never build good working relationships with other members of the team. It doesn't take long to figure out who's a team player, or not. Improving trust and cooperation makes a difference in team performance.
  3. Bad luck can be overcome--sort of. There's a chance of getting hurt playing just about any sport, including baseball. Just ask the catchers. Or second basemen. Players get sick, injured, jet-lagged, care for loved ones, and become tired and discouraged. Hitting streaks come and go. Every team faces problems during a long season. What's the difference between winning and losing teams? Often it's the right leaders creating healthy environments which allow players to rest and heal, then get back in the game. 
  4. It costs to get the right talent in place. The American League Division winners--Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels--and National League Division winners-- Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers--are among the top 15 payrolls in baseball. Even then there's no guarantee of peak performance. Just ask the Cincinnati Reds front office which spent $112.3 million on salaries for a next-to-last place finish in the NL Central. Keeping the right talent mix together for extended periods isn't easy with baseball's free agency and outsized salaries in the larger TV markets.     
  5. There's always next year. Just look at the Boston Red Sox. World Champions in 2013. Last place in the American League East in 2014. Is it possible for the Red Sox to come back and win another World Series? After an 86-year drought, Fenway Park saw World Series championships in 2004, 2007, and 2013. Which reminds us, where would any team be without their fans? That's why in baseball hope springs eternal, even with Casey at the bat.

World Series 
® is a registered trademark of Major League Baseball.


© Bredholt & Co 






01 September 2014

Qualities of Enduring Leadership

"Character is the firm foundation stone upon which one must build to win respect. Just as no worthy building can be erected on a weak foundation, so no lasting reputation worthy of respect can be built on a weak character."
— R. C. Samsel

A recent Google search on “leadership” turned up 173 million results.    


The right kind of leadership makes a substantial difference in organizations big and small. The wrong leaders, even well-intended, can often do damage in ways that are nearly impossible to repair. It may be easier to find leadership on the Internet than on the job. Being a consistently effective leader is hard work and the right leaders are always in short supply.         

Could anything be bigger than leadership?
A Google search of “group purpose” generated 757 million pages--that's 584 million more results than "leadership."
It was an author and Carnegie Foundation president, John W. Gardner, who suggested leadership is really a sub-topic of “group purpose.” If true, that should cause those responsible for the hiring process to first examine "why" an organization exists before filling executive and management positions. Then, to the extent possible, find a close match between purpose and people. 
Attractive attributes
Earlier this year we were asked to identify significant attributes of leaders from more than four decades in business. Along with the basic skills for running an organization (i.e., communication, marketing, finance, HR), here’s a list of qualities found among those who have functioned well inside a purpose greater than their own:
Depth of character and personal integrity. If businesses have character and integrity it’s because their leaders have it, first. Trust is born of good character and relationships are built on trust. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that character is "cumulative." This thought explains Emerson's idea:
"The force of character is the effect of good decisions. As we display good character, we improve our character--that is to say that the results of our good decisions reinforce our behavior and make us even better people. The force of poor character is equally cumulative. That is when we make bad decisions...the impact of those decisions makes our character decline."

Those we've come to admire withstand the tests of time through hallmarks of personal and professional endeavors. They strive for consistent, not perfect, behavior such as keeping their word and telling the truth, both building blocks of one's reputation.

Self-aware and self-controlled.  A great leader is first a leader in their own life. Those who sustain success do so out of practiced personal and professional self-discipline. Underscore the word practiced.
“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”  Aristotle said that.
It’s important to learn to manage oneself. Self-discipline sets you apart from an undisciplined crowd. Being self-aware reduces the chances of self-deception which is the greatest deception of all.
Life-long learners. Achievers are curious individuals. They pursue knowledge and have an interest in ideas other than their own. Learning, growing, and changing are requisites of leadership. Adapting is essential for personal and professional development.  

Inexperienced leaders tend to borrow their success from others. Seasoned leaders own their success through learnings gleaned from the right experiences.    
They make decisions. It’s not enough to be decisive. A leader has to know what to be decisive about. An experienced leader knows how to move past the noise to make tough decisions that are in the best interests of the business. Those gifted with wisdom know what they don't know, a display of humility. Yet even with input from others, the final call usually rests with those at the top.  

Do CEOs make mistakes? Of course. But they generally don't make the same mistakes twice.   
Able to manage as well as lead. In business, one has to lead and manage. While leadership is about inspiration and the future, managing has to do with getting things done; delegating responsibility and authority; and working with and through others.  
The better corporate leadership programs wait to see how individuals manage people, budgets, and communications before inviting them to participate in some form of executive education.
One more thing
They know when to exit. Actors are trained when to go on and when to come off the stage. Maybe leaders should enroll in the same course. Those we've observed that get it mostly right plan their departures, when possible, and have something to go to next.
Different circumstances contribute to a voluntary exit--and some exits are involuntary. While work is seldom finished, the reasons behind a leader’s exit include but are not limited to achieving what they set out to do; having a well-qualified successor in place; recognizing the onset of emotional and physical fatigue.
Timing is everything--for leadership and the group purpose it serves.

(C) Bredholt & Co.



01 August 2014

The Power of Introverts

Shane Parrish 
Guest Post

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain looks at how our lives are shaped by personality. Specifically, she explores how where we land on the introvert-extrovert spectrum influences our choices, friends, conversations, careers, success, and even love:

It governs how likely we are to exercise, commit adultery, function well without sleep, learn from our mistakes, place big bets in the stock market, delay gratification, be a good leader, and ask 'what if.'

It’s also one of the most exhaustively researched subjects. It’s not just scientists who’ve contemplated this, they are a rather recent addition. Poets and philosophers have been thinking about introverts and extroverts since the dawn of recorded time.
[T]oday we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts— which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are. Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts— in other words, one out of every two or three people you know.
Surprising? That’s because most introverts, like myself, pretend to be extroverts. I’m what you call a “closet introvert.”
It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal— the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual— the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” 
Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.
The extrovert ideal is alive and well.
Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better-looking , more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Velocity of speech counts as well as volume: we rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent—even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas.
But, like anything, it’s a mistake to embrace this ideal without thinking. Without introverts, we wouldn’t have: the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, Chopin’s nocturnes, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Peter Pan, Orwell’s 1984, The Cat in the Hat, Charlie Brown, Schindler’s List, E.T., Google, Harry Potter, or Farnam Street.

In How Heredity and Experience Make You Who You Are, the science journalist Winifred Gallagher writes: “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc^2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.”

Cain argues that it is not in spite of introversion that people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffett, Gandhi and Rosa Parks achieve what they do, but, in part, because of it.
As society moves unconsciously toward an extroverted world—one of the open offices, team everything, and organizations that value “people skills” above competence—introverts will have to adjust. But things like creativity and “innovation” will suffer.

If you’re an introvert:
you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much,” a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.  
Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers.
After taking my MBTI, one of my professors defined introversion as “where you get your energy.” If you’re extroverted you get energy from being around people, and if you’re introverted you get it from being alone. But is there more to it than that? What exactly does it mean to say someone is introverted?

In 1921, psychologist Carl Jung published a book, Psychological Types, that popularized the terms introvert and extrovert as the foundation of personality.

Discussing Jung’s work, Cain writes:
Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.
The MBTI is based on Jung’s work. But, you should know, there is no consensus on any of this. There are “almost as many definitions of introverts and extroverts as there are personality psychologists, who spend a great deal of time arguing over which meaning is most accurate.”

Still, today’s psychologists tend to agree on several important points: for example, that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo.

(Introverts) prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

Whenever I tell someone I’m introverted the first thing they inevitably say is “you can’t be an introvert. You’re not shy.
Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap (though psychologists debate to what degree).
The bus to Abilene

Here is one particularly amusing anecdote from the book: The bus to Abilene. And this applies to everything from meetings to how we make decisions.
A well-known study out of UC Berkeley by organizational behavior professor Philip Tetlock found that television pundits—that is, people who earn their livings by holding forth confidently on the basis of limited information—make worse predictions about political and economic trends than they would by random chance. And the very worst prognosticators tend to be the most famous and the most confident—the very ones who would be considered natural leaders in an HBS classroom. 
The U.S. Army has a name for a similar phenomenon: “the Bus to Abilene.” “Any army officer can tell you what that means,” Colonel (Ret.) Stephen J. Gerras, a professor of behavioral sciences at the U.S. Army War College, told Yale Alumni Magazine in 2008. “It’s about a family sitting on a porch in Texas on a hot summer day, and somebody says, ‘I’m bored. Why don’t we go to Abilene?’ When they get to Abilene, somebody says, ‘You know, I didn’t really want to go.’ And the next person says, ‘I didn’t want to go— I thought you wanted to go,’ and so on. Whenever you’re in an army group and somebody says, ‘I think we’re all getting on the bus to Abilene here,’ that is a red flag. You can stop a conversation with it. It is a very powerful artifact of our culture.” 
The “Bus to Abilene” anecdote reveals our tendency to follow those who initiate action—any action.

A lot of organizations want to encourage innovation with “positive” action. They hold up Google, Twitter, and Kickstarter as models of innovation. In a well-meaning attempt to encourage innovation they inevitably come up with a process that relies on presentation skills to sift ideas.

In his book Iconoclast, neuroeconomist Gregory Berns explores what happens when companies rely too heavily on presentation skills to sift ideas. “He describes a software company called Rite-Solutions,” Cain writes summarizing his work, “that successfully asks employees to share ideas through an online ‘idea market,’ as a way of focusing on substance rather than style.”
(In Quiet Cain describes the company) Joe Marino, president of Rite-Solutions, and Jim Lavoie, CEO of the company, created this system as a reaction to problems they’d experienced elsewhere. “In my old company,” Lavoie told Berns, “if you had a great idea, we would tell you , ‘OK, we’ll make an appointment for you to address the murder board’ ”— a group of people charged with vetting new ideas. Marino described what happened next: 
(Cain quoting: Iconoclast) Some technical guy comes in with a good idea. Of course questions are asked of that person that they don’t know. Like, “How big’s the market? What’s your marketing approach? What’s your business plan for this? What’s the product going to cost?” It’s embarrassing. Most people can’t answer those kinds of questions. The people who made it through these boards were not the people with the best ideas. They were the best presenters.
In his memoir, iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It, Steve Wozniak writes:
Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.
Of course, introverts are not necessarily more creative. The most creative or innovative people tend to ask questions and display a healthy disrespect for authority, a natural irreverence, and a stubborn streak. This suggests they may not work well as part of a team.

In explaining why introverts have a creative advantage, Cain writes:
[T]here’s a less obvious yet surprisingly powerful explanation for introverts’ creative advantage—an explanation that everyone can learn from: introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck once observed, introversion “concentrates the mind on the tasks in hand, and prevents the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.”
In the end, creativity and innovation in organizations are about accepting and even encouraging differences. I’d caution organizations not to move too far towards the extroversion end of the spectrum (open offices, everything done in teams, promoting based on social skills above competence) without giving consideration to the effects that may have on some of your most creative people. A lot of things are better done by individuals than by teams. It’s ok to have offices. It’s ok to have quiet. It doesn’t work for everyone but it works for some of your best and possibly most misunderstood employees.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is an interesting look at how letting the extrovert ideal run wild is a bad idea for creativity, decision-making, and cognitive diversity.

Used with permission.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 July 2014

Popular TED Talks

Here are some interesting TED Talks for your leadership library. 

Barry Schwartz:   The Paradox of Choice

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, a choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don't: Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.

Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology

At TEDIndia, Pranav Mistry demos several tools that help the physical world interact with the world of data — including a deep look at his SixthSense device and a new, paradigm-shifting paper "laptop." In an onstage Q&A, Mistry says he'll open-source the software behind SixthSense, to open its possibilities to all.

David Gallo: Underwater astonishments

David Gallo shows jaw-dropping footage of amazing sea creatures, including a color-shifting cuttlefish, a perfectly camouflaged octopus, and a Times Square's worth of neon light displays from fish who live in the blackest depths of the ocean.

Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness

Dan Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness," challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

TED Talks are copyrighted material and free.

(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 June 2014

Profitable Growth

"By itself, there is no virtue in business growth. A company is not necessarily better because it is bigger, any more than the elephant is better because he is bigger than the honeybee."

--Peter F. Drucker

In the fourth and final installment on principles of business growth, we turn our attention to additional findings on this elusive subject.   

Our premise from the beginning:

That a one-dimensional strategy is insufficient to achieve sustained growth and create a future for the organization. In addition, healthy and sustained growth, even with the right people and processes, is as much a mystery as a planned strategy.

In the book, The Alchemy of Growth, we are reminded of two key factors for growth:
  • That accelerating growth lies in turning ideas into reality 
  • A group cannot profit from an opportunity, no matter how attractive, if it does not have the capabilities to capture and defend it
An article published in the McKinsey Quarterly raised this question, "Is your growth strategy your worst enemy?"

The authors then asked: "Why do plans that look good on paper go so bad when they are executed?"

Not accounting for how the competition might react is a secondary reason why plans don't go well. Rivals often threaten the best-laid plans with inventive responses. Put another way every action produces a reaction, some of which may not be anticipated in the planning process. 

Good growth and bad growth

What else does management writer Peter Drucker have to say about business growth?  
  • While every business would likely claim a desire to grow only a handful have a growth policy or growth strategy. Fewer know whether they are really growing or just becoming more obese.
  • A business has to be the right size for its market, its economy, and its technology. The danger is becoming marginalized in any markets the business may be in. An enterprise is always the wrong size if it is marginal in its market.
  • A company must know its minimum growth goal or it has no growth policy. 
  • The first step in a growth strategy is not to decide where and how to grow. It is to decide what to abandon. To grow you must have a systematic policy to get rid of the outgrown, the obsolete, and the unproductive. The foundation of a growth strategy is the freeing of resources for new opportunities.
  • It is not how much growth we want?"Rather it is how much growth do we need so as not to become marginal as our market grows?"
  • The greatest mistake in a growth strategy is to try to grow in too many areas.  
Changing Mindsets

Coming out of a very deep recession, how do leaders manage the polarity between expense and growth? 

"Going after revenue productivity requires a different corporate mindset than the one for achieving cost productivity," says consultant Ram Charan. 

"Here, what you spend is less important than what you spend it on and the revenue it produces. And just as you get everyone to focus on cost-cutting, you need to get everyone focused on revenue productivity," Charan adds.

He goes on to propose a "growth budget" for getting silos to work together; to lay out a growth plan; and most importantly, how to fund that plan.  

A growth budget would be separated from the traditional budget so it could be identified and have its discipline and review. That way everyone could see the funding for growth. This design focuses on building the business while encouraging and rewarding cooperation to reach a common goal.

Charan makes the point that having a social engine (not a task force), centered around open communication and relationships built on trust, enables collaboration to occur naturally and helps foster growth.   

Do you have a growth budget to pursue the right opportunities?

More than the right organizational chart, do you have a healthy social system to get things done?

The next big thing

"Everybody is fleeing into the future just as fast as they can," says Paul Saffo, of Discern Analytics. He adds, "They don't know what they are going to need in their toolkit, so they are grabbing stuff as they go."

So Google and Facebook start a bidding war for Titan Aerospace, a drone start-up that makes high-flying robots. Google bought Titan (terms not disclosed) as Facebook acquired U. K.-based Ascenta, another drone maker. 

That Facebook deal puts in place another building block of beaming the Internet to a third of the world's population who can't get it any other way.  

In the meantime, Apple pays $3 billion to acquire popular headphone maker Beats Electronics, and its related streaming music service Beats Music, to shore up iTunes.    

With billions in reserves (Apple alone has more than $137 billion in cash--greater than Microsoft and Google combined), these technology and social media giants can afford to place multiple bets on the next big thing and wait for their investments to pay off if they ever do.

Unfortunately, most cannot participate in that kind of big-dollar acquisition spree with an uncertain or likely delayed return on investment.

How then does everyone else grow profitably (including nonprofits who also need to show a profit or have reserves)?

To answer that question let's come back to our original post in this series. As the Alchemy writers conclude, in addition to hard work and timing, most businesses and nonprofits grow and sustain that growth by extending and strengthening the core of an existing business; developing new entities (faster than existing ones are extinguished); and instituting a process for creating viable options--stretching the mind for future possibilities

Perhaps that three-dimensional approach is worth a look during your next strategic planning cycle, especially if profitable growth, however, defined, is the ultimate goal.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 May 2014

Hindrances to Growth

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself.”

--Jim Rohn, Entrepreneur, and Speaker

In the third installment on business growth, we look at barriers to success. When doing so it’s important to recognize there’s a lot beyond our reach. External factors weigh on the sustained growth of any organization. They include smart competitors, government regulation, interest rates, recessions, and consumer confidence.

However, that leaves much under our control, including attitude and behavior.

Getting ready to grow

Recent posts drew insights from the book, The Alchemy of Growth.  Here are five principles from the book to help us think about preconditions for growth that if not met impede our progress:

Laying the foundation for growth can take between 1 to 4 years of extremely hard work

In most organizations it takes 6 months to 2 years of reflection, debate, and personal development to get ready to grow—this may include needed changes in personnel

So difficult is the task that the whole leadership team must share the resolve to grow—creating that resolve is foundational for success

No growth program can begin without a strategically and operationally sound base

Growth calls for investment—people and money

What else should we know?

There are potential enemies of the enterprise which reside, in varying degrees, inside all organizational cultures:

Success. It’s not only fleeting it can be fatal. Success allows pride to overtake a business or nonprofit and may contribute to its collapse. Everyone assumes things are great when they’re not. Swelling egos must have some adverse effect on hearing since those in power don’t like listening to bad news.  

Building on success is one thing. Taking it for granted is another.  Beware of success.

Comfort. It’s a thief. Why?  It steals creativity, ideas, energy, and maybe even the future.   Being comfortable stunts careers. It keeps us from discovering solutions to our most pressing problems as we tire and give up too soon. Comfort ties us to the past and presents putting the future aside.  

It’s a thief that needs to be caught.     

Inexperience. The problem with inexperience is that it allows the same mistakes to be repeated. An offset to inexperience is surrounding ourselves with experience. This is done by hiring, collaborating, or contracting for help.  

Groups such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) give free advice. 

Time and the right experiences are what it takes to learn, grow and change. Everyone goes through a phase of inexperience--the goal is to graduate on time. 

Inertia. Doing nothing is one definition of inertia. Inaction is a dangerous place to be especially during a crisis. Standing still may be appropriate in certain circumstances but not many. 

Dysfunction. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team has been on the best-seller list for a decade.  
When it comes to teams, haven’t companies been there and done that? 

Perhaps one of the reasons Patrick Lencioni’s book continues selling is that human beings, in all settings, still find it difficult working together to get something done.  

Dysfunction means “having poor or unhealthy behaviors and attitudes within a group of people.” It's a serious problem. Trust, or the lack of it, contributes significantly to this condition. 

Need help?  Buy the book Lencioni's book.

What doth hinder us?

It’s a reality that everyone at some point will face extenuating circumstances and events. The “great recession” of recent times is an example of an overwhelming economic force that even the largest corporations such as G. E. and Citicorp were unprepared to handle.

A version of Oliver Hazard Perry's words after a naval battle, and first used in the comic strip “Pogo,” by Walt Kelly, in the 1960s, maybe the best way to sum up the biggest internal impediment to growth:  "We have met the enemy and they are us."

Up next:   Achieving sustained growth


© Bredholt & Co.