Human Potential & Leadership

The problem with direct experience

Seth Godin's Blog -

"I'll know it when I see it," or perhaps, "I'll see it when I know it..."

We're hardwired to believe and understand the things we can actually experience. That's why no one argues about Newton's laws, but most people panic or shrug when confronted with dark matter, Heisenberg or quarks.

We're often good at accepting what's in front of us, but bad at things that are very far away or very very close. We have trouble with things that are too big and too small, with numbers with lots of zeroes or too many decimal places. And most of all, we fail when trying to predict things that are too far in the future.

Almost nothing in our civilization is merely the result of direct experience. We rely on scouts and technologists and journalists to tell us what it's like over there, to give us a hint about what to expect next, and most of all, to bring the insights and experiences of the larger world to bear on our particular situation.

The peril of roll-your-own science, in which you pick and choose which outcomes of the scientific method to believe is that you're almost certainly going to endanger yourself and others. Anecdotal evidence about placebos, vaccines and the weather outside is fun to talk about, but it's not relevant to what's actually going to pay off in the long run.

78.45% of humans tend to hate statistics because we have no direct experience with the larger picture. It's easier to make things up based on direct experience instead.

The solar eclipse is going to happen whether or not you believe it will, whether or not you have direct experience with previous eclipses.

When we reserve direct experience for the places where it matters—how we feel about the people in our lives, or the music we're listening to or the painting we're seeing, we have the priceless opportunity to become a better version of ourselves.

The rest of the time, standing on a higher ladder and seeing a bit farther is precisely what we ought to seek out.


How Senior Executives Stay Passionate About Their Work

Harvard Business Review -

When we talk about “learning to love your job” or “managing yourself,” it’s often in the context of junior or midlevel roles. But these things don’t stop mattering for senior executives. What aspects of their jobs are most important to them? What do they find rewarding? How do they sustain their passion for the work they do — without burning out?

Over the past few years, I’ve had in-depth, one-on-one conversations with hundreds of top business leaders, and questions like these frequently come up. I’ve identified several common themes in our talks, which I’ll share here.

Impact on society. As I was doing research and analysis for my recent book, I found that one of the best ways organizations can create a sense of purpose for their employees is to help connect their day-to-day work with the impact it has in their community and globally. People at the top also need to see the larger difference they’re making, and in some ways, because of their vantage point, that’s easier for them than it is for folks closer to the ground. Senior executives are closely involved in crafting the “story” of the organization — the message that goes out to the world — and they spend a good portion of their time outside the company, talking with stakeholders and observing the organization’s impact firsthand.

When I spoke with John Hass, the CEO of Rosetta Stone, about what his company does, his focus wasn’t just on learning languages. It was much broader than that. Hass talked about understanding culture, resolving conflict, improving literacy rates, and empowering people to confidently communicate with others around the world. He has the perspective to see Rosetta Stone’s reach in these areas because he travels the world meeting customers and spending time with educational institutions and the students and teachers in them. Hass says: “It’s amazing to watch kids beaming with confidence and achieving success in the classroom, or seeing someone who is trying to assimilate into a new country or understand a new culture, to be able to bridge that gap. It’s these things that we do for our learners that make me proud of my company and the work we do.”

You and Your Team Series Making Work More Meaningful

Connection versus constant availability. Senior executives struggle with burnout just like everyone else, and technology has made this issue more prevalent than ever. Although they recognize how important it is to always be connected to what’s going on inside and outside the organization, connectivity doesn’t imply constant availability. Leaders like Ellyn Shook, the chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture, actually carry around “dumb phones,” which don’t have any apps and can’t send or receive email. These phones are the corporate equivalent of the “Batphone” (from the 1960s Batman television show) — only a few people have the number, and it’s used only in extreme circumstances. This allows executives to calmly disconnect while knowing that if an emergency arises, they will be made aware of it.

The importance of peripheral vision. When we’re ridiculously busy, it’s easy to focus only on what’s ahead of us, a bit like a horse with blinders. But senior executives who prosper say it’s critical to have excellent “peripheral vision” so they can pick up on things that fall beyond their expected line of sight. This makes their jobs more exciting and engaging and enhances their performance — all of which reinforces their love for the work they do. Jim Fowler and Jeff Smith talked about peripheral vision in relation to the chief information officer role (Fowler is currently CIO at General Electric, and Smith was formerly CIO at IBM). Both said that while information technology remains a priority for them, they’ve also learned to pay attention to geopolitical issues, global economics, changing workforce demographics, and talent practices. By doing so, they can more readily adapt not just to technology trends but also to organizational and societal trends. They’re much less likely to get blindsided by the changes around them.

Leadership as service. Executives ranging from David Fairhurst, the chief people officer at McDonald’s, to Jeff Wong, the chief innovation officer at EY, describe their roles as positions of service, not power. This is about believing that your job as a leader is to help employees do their best work. When analyzing 252 global organizations for my book, I found that this “coach and mentor” mentality is one of the things employees want the most — but it’s also something senior managers struggle with, because it runs counter to the traditional command-and-control management style that got many of them where they are today. Those who clear that obstacle realize that a key part of their jobs as leaders is transferring their knowledge and skills to others. And once they carve out the time for it, they find it immensely gratifying.

Fairhurst does this by imposing a lot of structure on his regular team meetings: The agendas are agreed on in advance, and he often requires one-page summaries for items to be discussed. He says: “The greater efficiency this creates means that I’m able to make the time for less formal, one-on-one sessions with members of the team, where I can get a better understanding of their career needs and ambitions, share with them some of the insights and experience I have gained over the years, and offer them coaching and guidance on how to further develop their skills and capabilities. These one-on-one sessions are some of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of my job.”

Wong looks at this sort of support as paying it forward. “I’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of great leaders’ taking a personal interest in my professional development,” he says. “They cared about how I was developing and growing in my career but also as a manager, leader, and communicator.” He tries to invest in his employees the same way, and that’s where he finds the greatest meaning in his own work: “While achieving goals and milestones is certainly an important part of any career, my personal satisfaction and measurement of ‘accomplishment’ comes from helping others achieve their full potential.”

How the U.S. Navy is Responding to Climate Change

Harvard Business Review -

Forest Reinhardt and Michael Toffel, Harvard Business School professors, talk about how a giant, global enterprise that operates and owns assets at sea level is fighting climate change—and adapting to it. They discuss what the private sector can learn from the U.S. Navy’s scientific and sober view of the world. Reinhardt and Toffel are the authors of “Managing Climate Change: Lessons from the U.S. Navy” in the July–August 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Download this podcast

3 Things Multinationals Don’t Understand About Africa’s Middle Class

Harvard Business Review -

Steven Moore for HBR

The retail scene in Africa has undergone a rapid transformation. A few years ago, many staple Western goods were hard to come by in some markets. Now, branded items — from luxury cosmetics to fast food and fast fashion — are becoming widely available at the glittering new shopping malls scattered around the region’s fast-growing cities.

Take the new Two Rivers Mall in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Completed in February 2017, it is eastern Africa’s largest shopping venue, housing grocery chains, restaurants, and luxury boutiques. But visit Two Rivers on a weekday, and the vast complex is empty. Why? Locals will tell you the mall is inconvenient to get to, and despite poverty levels in the region falling amid strong economic growth and foreign investment, the products sold there are too expensive for Nairobi residents to afford.

Nairobi’s New Two Rivers Mall Is the Largest in Eastern Africa

(Author’s Photo)

The problem points to a larger conundrum facing multinational corporations (MNCs) that had hoped to tap Africa’s one-billion-strong population and its much-vaunted “middle class“: Sales and profits in these markets have not lived up to businesses’ expectations. (Note: When we use “Africa” in this article, we’re referring to the 49 countries south of the Saharan Desert, not the five countries to the north of it, which have different cultural and economic dynamics.)

While the region is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and while consumer spending power in Africa has risen (from US$ 470 billion in 2000 to over $1.1 trillion in 2016), some MNCs are finding that their business in the region is underperforming. In a survey of 20 senior executives working in Africa whom we work with, six said they struggled to hit revenue targets last year. Others also mentioned disappointing results, in some cases prompting them to deprioritize Africa in their global strategies, while others are keeping their heads down in the hope that business conditions will change and make it easier to hit their targets.

Yet neither of these approaches addresses the real problems at play. Our research shows that MNCs are making three mistakes in Africa:

  • Companies set unrealistic targets due to misunderstanding the drivers of consumer spending power.
  • Companies underestimate the extent to which local factors determine how, where, and why consumers make purchasing decisions.
  • Companies are not considering how the consumer class (which we define as those living on US$ 3.90 and above per day, the point at which people can spend beyond mere survival) is changing across the region.

Realizing the opportunity in Africa demands that businesses rethink their strategies. Despite some markets slowing because of the commodity price downturn (for example, Nigeria), we nevertheless forecast total annual consumer spending in the region to reach US$ 2.5 trillion by 2025. Regarding the first mistake companies make, our analysis uncovers two adjustments they need to make:

Do not rely only on headline economic indicators. Companies’ estimates of the consumer opportunity in Africa tend to be based on GDP and demographic growth data. These are misleading because they do not reflect how wealth trickles down through the economy. In many of the fastest-growing African markets, average purchasing power is very low because economic growth has not created well-paying jobs, but instead has created a small elite class and a large poor population with little spending power. As a better measure of purchasing power, we created the Consumer Class Conditions Index (CCCI), which ranks markets according to how easily wealth filters through society. This tells us whether a broader swath of consumers are able to make purchases on a regular basis. The ranking is based on thousands of aggregated data points, such as a country’s rate of formal job creation, education levels, and welfare provision.

Do not overlook the informal economy. Doing so leads to misunderstanding what drives consumer spending power. For example, our analysis finds that over 50% of working adults in Africa earn their incomes from informal activities that are not reflected in official income statistics, with most earners combining multiple informal incomes. While this means spending power is likely higher than official data indicates, it complicates the task of predicting shifts in consumer demand.

Proxy indicators can help companies better understand people’s dominant sources of income — and forecast sales more accurately. For instance, in markets such as Ethiopia, where farming is the main income source for 80% of people, rainfall quality is a reliable predictor of fluctuations in consumer demand because it determines the quality of harvests, and thus the income people receive.

The second area MNCs need to rethink is what ultimately drives consumer decisions. Here we find that companies’ product, pricing, and marketing strategies are often informed by myths:

Myth #1: Africans are conspicuous consumers. African consumers are often depicted as shoppers interested in luxury brands, a narrative driven by media stories of, for example, rising champagne consumption in Nigeria and Angola. This perception leads MNCs to overestimate demand for status-enhancing products. After all, the average consumer allocates most of their spending (75%) to basics such as food and transportation. Our research also indicates that consumers are generally conservative in how they allocate their money: They value saving and education, and prize durability over flashiness when buying higher-cost items.

Take Kudzai, a hairdresser living in Harare, Zimbabwe, who told us she needed to save for months before being able to afford a microwave. When she eventually could, she made sure to avoid the cut-price models sold at the new Chinese stores popping up in the city. Instead, she opted for a more expensive Japanese brand because she could not take the risk of investing her savings in a product that might break down.

MNCs need to ensure they are connecting with these priorities and offering products and services that align with local consumers’ values and needs. Companies cannot assume economic growth will automatically create demand for flashy goods, or that poorer consumers will accept lower-quality products.

Myth #2: They are adopting Western habits. There is a common belief that as Africa develops, it will become increasingly Westernized. While consumers are acclimatizing to some products that were uncommon only a few years ago (cheese, for example), our ground research points more to continuity than to change. For instance, even middle- and upper-middle-income consumers continue to prefer shopping for staples in open-air markets rather than in malls, believing them to be fresher and to offer better value.

Similarly, traditional ties between individuals and large family networks remain a major feature of life in Africa. Take Kofi, a public relations executive in Accra, Ghana, whom we interviewed: He earns a good monthly salary but sends 20%–30% of his earnings at the end of the month to support relatives living in his home village. While these transfers mean he has less to spend on himself, they increase the spending power of his family members in his rural village. Consumers like them (who tend to lack job opportunities) consequently have more to spend than MNCs typically assume, but they are often overlooked as a target segment. This local reality of pooled and shared resources is often not reflected in standard employment and incomes data. MNCs thus need to refine their assumptions about who their customers are and what their purchasing power is.

Finally, companies need to let go of the idea that Africa will see a China-style consumer “revolution.” While the consumer opportunity is large, growth in the consumer class will be modest. We forecast that the size of this group across Africa as a whole will increase by 4.4%, on average, by 2020, growing the customer base from 250 million people to 290 million — a steady but certainly not revolutionary expansion — by the end of the decade.

Each of the countries in Africa will evolve in diverse ways. Some, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, will continue to perform poorly on our CCCI and see limited consumer class growth, because wealth is poorly distributed throughout the population. Others, such as Kenya, will keep performing well, though consumers there will continue to spend cautiously due to cultural attitudes prioritizing saving and support for extended family networks.

In short, to succeed in the continent, MNCs need to understand how these markets are changing, expand access to broader groups of consumers, and provide offerings that are tailored to specific countries.

William Attwell, Senior Analyst, and Matthew Kindinger, Analyst, contributed to this article.

Faux intimacy

Seth Godin's Blog -

True connection is a frightening prospect.

When you are seen by someone else, really seen, it hurts even more if you're ultimately rejected. When we connect, we make promises, buy into a different future, engage with another, someone who might let us down (or we might let them down).

Far easier, of course, to do something more shallow.

A friend on social media is not like a friend in real life.

And so, we sit at dinner, browsing on our phone instead of connecting with the person across from us. Because the phone promises instant gratification, an exciting dopamine hit, and plenty of faux intimacy.

Which is great as far as it goes, but no, it's not the same.


Nonfiction Points of View

Steven Pressfield Online -

In my last post, I reviewed controlling idea/theme as it applies to the Big Idea book.  Now let’s take a look at how to best present the Big Idea to the reader. The following is an edited adaptation of a previous post I wrote over at

Just as in fiction, the choices the nonfiction writer makes about Point of View in Big Idea Nonfiction are make or break decisions.

What is the best way for the writer to address the reader for his particular thesis?

 How will the choice of POV effect the conventional requirement of establishing a consistent and trustworthy Ethos throughout the work?

The way Malcolm Gladwell chose to answer these questions in The Tipping Point is a major factor in the success of the book.

And the brilliant way he introduces each point of view choice very early on in the telling sucks the reader right into his Story.

Remember my post about the need to have the three forms of argument (Ethos/Logos/Pathos) made in a Big Idea book? Well the Ethos part takes form in the writer’s choices of Point of View.

So what POVs does Gladwell actually use in The Tipping Point?

1. He uses Third Person Omniscient, the Authorial Journalist Point of View. Or simply the “reporter’s” POV.

For example, from the very beginning of the book, the introduction, here are the first two sentences:

For Hush Puppies — the classic American brushed-suede shoes with the lightweight crepe sole — the Tipping Point came somewhere between late 1994 and early 1995. The brand had been all but dead until that point.

The above represents journalism’s standard form—simple declarative statements. The point of view is that of the professional, the seasoned reporter. The subtext is that the reporter has done the work necessary to confidently state the “facts” and has the notebooks from interviews and research to back them up.

We read these sorts of sentences all of the time and we subconsciously recognize them as the voice of the professional.

2. He uses the First Person Plural, “We.”

Here is the first sentence from the third scene of The Tipping Point:

A world that follows the rules of epidemics is a very different place from the world we [emphasis mine] think we [emphasis mine] live in now.

Using the first person plural takes real courage because it cedes the usual virtual lectern that journalists step onto when they report their “objective” findings.

Just 1,059 words into his book, in the above sentence, Gladwell tells the reader that what he’s going to share with us is as difficult to comprehend for him as it will be for us. He’s telling us that he walks the same ground that we do.

We’re used to reading nonfiction as proclamations of “truth” and/or “fact” and subconsciously we place the author on a pedestal. And we’re comfortable learning from the writer in that formal manner. It’ similar to the way we’ve been taught since we had to not fidget while penned into a wee desk as children while passively absorbing lessons from our teachers.

We’re accustomed to reading books written by braniacs who have gone into the darkness and have returned with universal truths, which they then bestow upon us, the not so smart unenlightened.

Gladwell could easily have restructured that sentence to abide that standard nonfiction professorial convention. He could have put on the cloak of the genius and written:

A world that follows the rules of epidemics is a very different place from the world as it is lived in today.

But he didn’t. He broke convention and innovated the form. He chose to be one of us, one who struggles understanding why things happen seemingly so suddenly as we do.

3. He uses the First Person Omniscient, “I.”

The use of first person allows the journalist to make himself a character in the reporting. It’s New Journalism 101.

Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved (published June 1970 in Scanlon’s Monthly Vol. 1, No. 4) is a wonderful example of the writer stepping in front of the report to give you the context of what it took to gather the pieces of the story. You know the writer has a payoff in mind as you follow the narrative, but you’re not quite sure where he’s going to take you.

For example on page 13 of The Tipping Point, Gladwell writes:

I remember once as a child seeing our family’s puppy encounter snow for the first time.

Compare this to the first sentence of Thompson’s article:

I got off the plane around midnight and no one spoke as I crossed the dark runway to the terminal.

Both of these first person statements imply that the narrator is setting up a story…one that contains valuable information. The author knows something you don’t. He’s omniscient. And it is the implication that he’s got a payoff in the offing. That promise keeps you reading.

4. He uses the Second Person Singular, “You.”

Like using the first person plural, speaking directly to the reader is another risk. Especially for a journalist. It’s something we were told never to do when we learned how to write the objective “essay” form in High School. The reason being that the writer’s use of “You” can easily come off heavy handed and didactic or worse still, glib and smarmy.

But when it works…

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy 

 When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun

–The Clash

Gladwell wisely introduces his use of the second person singular in the third scene, just as he does with first person plural and first person omniscient.

He gives the reader what they expect in his first two scenes (the first 1059 words) to establish the fact that he is a seasoned journalist capable of playing it straight…but then he jumps down from the lectern, pulls out a chair, sits down next to us and starts to talk. Like he’s one of us.

This on page 10:

I [first person omniscient] made some of you [second person singular] reading this yawn simply by writing the word “yawn.”

We’re not even out of the introduction to The Tipping Point and Gladwell has us in the palm of his hand. This is not an accident. It’s an expert use of POV.

Gladwell’s point of view choices required careful planning. Just as his choices to tell an Action Adventure Story while hammering home the data and case studies necessary to support his Worldview Revelation genre/Big Idea Nonfiction do.  Make no mistake.  The structure and form of The Tipping Point was so thoroughly conceived that it seems invisible.

When we track The Tipping Point’s scene-by-scene construction in The Story Grid Spreadsheet, we’ll be able to see exactly where he used each of these four POVs.  More importantly we’ll see how using one or more serves the Story and Gladwell’s thesis.  It’s these little things that Gladwell does that make a huge difference.

What the Science Actually Says About Gender Gaps in the Workplace

Harvard Business Review -

Former Google engineer James Damore was hardly the first person to argue that biological differences between men and women determine career outcomes. Many people — even smart, science-minded ones — have asserted that biological differences can explain the gender gap in math, engineering, and science. A 2005 Gallup poll found that 21% of Americans believed men were better than women in terms of their math and science abilities (though 68% believed men and women were about the same). The fact that this argument keeps coming up means that we need to engage with it and clarify which claims are supported by evidence and which are not.

To address these claims, we need to examine three interrelated questions: Are there gender differences in outcomes achieved by men and women? If so, is there evidence that they are due to biological differences? Is there stronger evidence that they are due to bias?

To answer the first question: Yes, there are gender differences in the participation of men and women in some STEM fields among college students, and these differences do contribute to the underrepresentation of women in STEM professions. Women are also significantly underrepresented in top leadership positions.

But are these outcome differences due to biological differences? While there are (of course) biological differences between the sexes, social science has shown that men and women are more similar than different on a wide range of characteristics, from personality to ability to attitude — and that these factors have a larger effect on career outcomes than biology does.

My former colleague Janet Hyde, a developmental psychologist and an authority on gender differences, reviewed 46 meta-analyses that had been conducted on psychological gender differences from 1984 to 2004. (A meta-analysis examines the results from a large number of individual studies and averages their effects to get the closest approximation of the true effect size.) Hyde’s review spanned studies looking at differences between men and women in cognitive abilities, communication, personality traits, measures of well-being, motor skills, and moral reasoning.

She found that 78% of the studies in her sample revealed little to no difference in these measures between men and women; this supports her gender similarities hypothesis, which states that men and women are far more similar than they are different. The only large differences she found related to girls being better than boys in spelling and language, and testing higher than boys on the personality variable of agreeableness/tendermindedness; boys tested higher than girls on motor performance, certain measures of sexuality (masturbation, casual attitudes about sex), and aggression. So there are some gender differences, but most are small to nonexistent.

But can these differences truly be classified as biological? Or are they due to differences in socialization? It’s the old nature/nurture debate — a debate that can be a false one because most human behavior involves complex interactions between genetic, environmental, and epigenetic influences. For example, one study that Damore cited did find gender differences in personality across cultures, but the researchers described the differences as relatively small to moderate and concluded that “human development—long and healthy life, access to education, and economic wealth—is a primary correlate of the gap between men and women in their personality traits.”

And a review of studies on levels of prenatal exposure to testosterone found resultant differences in empathy, aggression, and toy preference between males and females, but found no significant differences in dominance/assertiveness or ability. Unless all of the differences in men’s representation in STEM and leadership are the result of their lack of empathy, high levels of aggression, or toy preferences, there is little evidence that biological differences affect work-related outcomes. In fact, based on the research on leadership, we would expect to see that a lack of empathy and high levels of aggression would hurt a person’s chances of becoming a successful leader, not help them.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of evidence to support the impact that environment has on gender differences in society. For example, a review of research on gender differences in math test scores shows that the already small effects have declined over time and tend to be greater in countries with less gender equality. In terms of behavior, a study by economists showed that in cultures where women are dominant, they tend to be more competitive than men. Meta-analytic evidence on gender differences in leadership aspirations showed that differences are decreasing over time — women are closing the gap in terms of wanting to be leaders — suggesting that the gap is more due to society than to biology.

Other data also contradicts the idea that women are biologically predisposed to lower levels of leadership. One meta-analysis of 95 studies found that female leaders tend to be rated by others as significantly more effective than male leaders, and this effect is stronger after 1996. (On the flip side, men rated themselves as significantly better leaders than women, particularly before 1982.) But this data does tell us something about the impact of gender roles (as women tend to rate themselves as less effective leaders) and societal changes (since the effects are diminishing over time).

If the evidence on biological differences is too thin to explain the large gender gaps in leadership roles and STEM careers, is the evidence on gender bias any stronger?

Several studies have shown that employers do discriminate against women and minorities. One robust vein of research uses résumés to test how people respond to different candidates with identical qualifications. For example, in one study, professors rated the identical applications of fictional male or female students. When a male name was used, faculty members rated them as significantly more competent and hirable than the female applicant, and they offered the male applicant a higher starting salary and more career mentoring. The reason for this was that women were perceived as less competent by the faculty members; faculty who had greater bias against women rated female students worse. The effect sizes here were moderate to large, unlike those shown in sex-differences studies. And numerous other studies have had similar results, not just in hiring but in promotion rates, performance evaluations, getting credit for good work, and project assignments.

This body of research also shows why advocating for a “pure meritocracy” — rather than explicitly pursuing diversity — doesn’t help companies overcome bias. In fact, companies that highlight “meritocracy” may actually cause greater bias against women: Experimental studies show that when an organization is referred to as a meritocracy, individuals in managerial positions favor male employees over equally qualified female employees and give them larger rewards. The author theorizes that calling the organization a meritocracy may create moral credentialing (when one’s track record as egalitarian makes them feel justified in making nonequalitarian decisions) or greater self-perceived objectivity, giving them license to discriminate against women.

Calling for a meritocracy and denying that workplace inequality still exists captures what scientists refer to as modern sexism. Modern sexism is characterized by “beliefs that discrimination against women is a thing of the past, antagonism towards women who are making political and economic demands, and resentment about special favors for women. Notably, individuals espousing such views do not regard these notions as sexist or unfair and…conclude that, given the even playing field upon which the two sexes now compete, the continuing under-representation of women in certain roles (e.g., management positions…) must be a result of women’s own choices or inferiority as opposed to discrimination.”

In his memo, Damore wrote, “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” and that we should assume “people have good intentions.” But the gender gap in the workforce can be explained by sexism, just as the race gap can be explained by racism. When workplace practices aim to support underrepresented groups, that does not mean they are unfairly biased against overrepresented groups. It just means that we need more than good intentions to change biased behavior.

We all want systems that are fair. But we need to consider how to make them fair for everyone.

5 Questions to Help Your Employees Find Their Inner Purpose

Harvard Business Review -

How can leaders help employees find meaning at work?

Organizations spend considerable resources on corporate values and mission statements, but even the most inspiring of these — from Volvo’s commitment to safety to Facebook’s desire to connect people — tend to fade into the background during the daily bustle of the work day.

What workers really need, to feel engaged in and satisfied by their jobs, is an inner sense of purpose. As Deloitte found in a 2016 study, people feel loyal to companies that support their own career and life ambitions — in other words, what’s meaningful to them. And, although that research focused on millennials, in the decade I’ve spent coaching seasoned executives, I’ve found that it’s a common attitude across generations. No matter one’s level, industry or career, we all need to find a personal sense of meaning in what we do.

You and Your Team Series Making Work More Meaningful

Leaders can foster this inner sense of purpose — what matters right now, in each individual’s life and career — with simple conversation. One technique is action identification theory, which posits that there are many levels of description for any action. For example, right now I’m writing this article. At a low level, I’m typing words into a keyboard. At a high level, I’m creating better leaders. When leaders walk employees up this ladder, they can help them find meaning in even the most mundane tasks.

Regular check-ins that use five areas of inquiry are another way to help employees explore and call out their inner purpose. Leaders can ask:

What are you good at doing? Which work activities require less effort? What do you take on because you believe you’re the best person to do it? What have you gotten noticed for throughout your career? The idea here is to help people identify their strengths and open possibilities from there.

What do you enjoy? In a typical workweek, what do you look forward to doing? What do you see on your calendar that energizes you? If you could design your job with no restrictions, how would you spend your time? These questions help people find or rediscover what they love about work.

What feels most useful? Which work outcomes make you most proud? Which of your tasks are most critical to the team or organization? What are the highest priorities for your life and how does your work fit in? This line of inquiry highlights the inherent value of certain work.

What creates a sense of forward momentum? What are you learning that you’ll use in the future? What do you envision for yourself next? How’s your work today getting you closer to what you want for yourself? The goal here is to show how today’s work helps them advance toward future goals.

How do you relate to others? Which working partnerships are best for you? What would an office of your favorite people look like? How does your work enhance your family and social connections? These questions encourage people to think about and foster relationships that make work more meaningful.

It’s not easy to guide others toward purpose, but these strategies can help.

What 11 CEOs Have Learned About Championing Diversity

Harvard Business Review -

The business case for diversity is clear. Diversity can boost innovation and employee engagement, and companies with greater gender and racial diversity financially outperform their peers. Yet progress within organizations has been slow – there is still a lack of women and minorities in leadership positions, and certain industries like tech and finance are lacking diversity at all levels. And many diversity programs fail. Based on evidence that diversity initiatives are more effective if they start at the top, I interviewed 11 CEOs who have made a public commitment to diversity about how they are creating more diverse workforces.

About the Interviews

I wanted to select a diverse group of CEOs from a range of companies that varied by size and industry. I chose eleven CEOs: Art Peck (Gap Inc., retail), Shira Goodman (Staples, retail), Kevin Johnson (Starbucks, food services), Marc Benioff (Salesforce, software), Susan Wojcicki (YouTube, internet media), David Cohen (Techstars, startup accelerator), Bernard J. Tyson (Kaiser Permanente, healthcare), Omar Ishrak (Medtronic, medical technology), Sallie Krawcheck (Ellevest, investing), Kathryn Maher (Wikimedia, encyclopedia), John Rogers (Ariel Investments, financial services).

The structured interviews were conducted by me over the phone, Skype, or in person, between February and June 2017. I asked three questions: Why do you care about diversity? What have you done to promote diversity? What benefits have you seen from having a more diverse company? Interviews were recorded and professionally transcribed. I read the transcripts and looked for common themes in the data.

The idea to do this study and connections with some of the CEOs came from a presentation I gave at the 2016 Billie Jean King Leadership initiative symposium.

The CEOs raised a variety of reasons for caring about diversity—the most common being that they believed greater diversity leads to greater diversity of thought, to the ability to attract and retain top talent, and to a better understanding of their customer base. Susan Wojcicki of YouTube said that diversity is necessary for preventing homogeneity, falling behind, and losing their competitive edge. And Marc Benioff of Salesforce said, “Diversity is an important part of our culture of equality. Our employees are telling us that they want to work for a company that cares about diversity, and it helps is recruit people whose values align to ours.”

Some of the programs the CEOs discussed include well-funded and executive-sponsored employee resource groups, women’s mentoring and leadership programs, cross-functional task forces, and equitable benefits. For example, Gap Inc. created a program called Women and Opportunity that aims to develop women for future leadership roles at Gap. Nearly 87% of their current female executives (versus 81% of the men) were promoted from within, and 18% of them got their start in a Gap store. YouTube offers paid parental leave to all of its employees as an effort to keep more women in tech. Staples requires its 35 senior vice presidents to sponsor high-potential female talent for leadership positions.

My interviews with the CEOs highlighted four key lessons that other leaders should keep in mind when trying to make their organizations more diverse and inclusive.

Lead by example when it comes to diversity. A CEO’s actions, whether on or off the job, signal the extent to which diversity is valued. Kevin Johnson (Starbucks) said, “In order to make great progress the CEO needs to take this on as one of those personal initiatives that they’re going to be involved with and personally drive.” Marc Benioff (Salesforce) has embodied this concept of leading by example and signaling how much he cares about equality: he publicly opposed discriminatory legislation in states like Indiana and Georgia and marched alongside his employees in the Women’s March.

Sometimes leading by example means making difficult decisions. Kathryn Maher (Wikimedia) and Kevin Johnson (Starbucks) talked about refusing to fill a leadership position until they had a diverse slate of candidates to select from. Sallie Krawcheck (Ellevest) also described deciding to hire people who could bring in new perspectives over those who had similar backgrounds to others in the organization. She felt that the benefits of “culture add” (over culture fit) needed to be considered as part of the hiring criteria.

Many of the leaders I interviewed also speak at conferences about diversity and write openly about its importance. For example, John Rogers (Ariel Investments) hosts conferences focused on encouraging board room discussions on civil rights and works to promote diversity within the professional service firms that work with institutions like the University of Chicago. Similarly, David Cohen (Techstars) started the Techstars Foundation to promote diversity in entrepreneurship by funding women-led companies and projects that promote more women in tech.

Hold yourself and others accountable on diversity initiatives. Data and deadlines are also imperative to making diversity initiatives work. “Saying there is no deadline on this, or that things will right themselves, is an ahistorical way of looking at the advances that have been made in terms of equity and representation,” Kathryn Maher (Wikimedia) said. “It has always required people to do the work. It has always required people to stand up and make it a priority.”

Indeed, research has shown that setting and following through on diversity goals is the most effective method for increasing underrepresentation of women and minorities. Susan Wojcicki (YouTube) asks managers for updates on their numbers around diversity. Through efforts focused on supporting other women, providing longer maternity leave, and funding women’s groups, she has increased the representation of female employees from 24% to nearly 30% since taking over as CEO of YouTube in 2014.

Omar Ishrak (Medtronic) heads their diversity council and signs off on all diversity goals, such as increasing the diversity of their board of directors and diversity in their management and executive ranks.  By 2020, they aspire to have a global workforce where 40% of management and higher-level roles are held by women and a U.S.-based workforce where 20% of management and higher-level roles are held by ethnically diverse talent.

Starbucks has the goal of increasing the representation of women and minorities in leadership to 50% by 2020 through expanding the leadership pipeline and holding leadership accountable to diversity and inclusion goals. Similarly, in 2015 Techstars committed to doubling the representation of women and minorities in their programs within four years. And knowing that diverse companies yield better stock returns, John Rogers (Ariel Investments) pushes all of the companies they invest in to have diverse boards.

Foster diversity throughout the organization. Many CEOs talked about the importance of having diverse teams at all levels of the company – from the frontlines to middle management to senior leadership. Shira Goodman of Staples, for example, has created programs to hire, develop, and retain more female employees, in order to have women represented equally at all levels of the organization.

According to Kaiser Permanente’s year-end 2016 numbers, more than 60% of the total workforce (of 186,497 employees) are members of racial, ethnic, and cultural minorities, and more than 73% are women. More than 50% of the management and professional positions are held by racial and cultural minorities and 75% are held by women. In 2016, 50% of the Executive Medical Directors group were women and 29% of the Health Plan Organization’s C-Suite were women. According to CEO Bernard J. Tyson, they achieved these outcomes through deliberate planning, development of current talent, and outreach within the communities that they serve.

Broaden your perspective on diversity. Many of the leaders I interviewed have been recognized for addressing racial and gender diversity at their companies, but also issues faced by LGBTQ workers, veterans, and people with disabilities.  “Equality takes many different forms—income, education, racial, gender, LGBTQ, ability. There’s so much work to be done across all of these issues as we fight for equality for all,” said Marc Benioff (Salesforce).

Wikimedia demonstrated one way to ensure that all employees feel safe being themselves at work: they created a non-discrimination policy that includes explicit protections and expanded definitions related to gender identity and expression, disability, citizenship, and ancestry.

The CEOs talked about realizing that equality is not just giving everyone the same things, but about giving people what they need. As Bernard J. Tyson (Kaiser Permanente) told me, “We’ve evolved from equality to equity. Equality says everybody gets equal. Equity says no, everybody gets what they need. Part of building an inclusive environment is not how you’re going to change the person. It’s how you’re going to change yourself and the environment in which the person is going to have to succeed.”  Kaiser Permanente has domestic partner benefits to support the needs of its LGBTQ community and has taken great strides in increasing accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

The companies reviewed here are some of the most successful in the world. And they succeed while working to create and maintain diverse workforces. What they’ve made clear is that diversity programs alone are not enough to improve diversity in most organizations. But CEOs have the power to champion diversity by leading by example, setting goals and utilizing metrics, and holding their companies accountable.

It’s Time to Tie Executive Compensation to Sustainability

Harvard Business Review -

Neasden Control Centre for HBR

Despite conflicting messages about climate change from U.S. government leaders, sustainability is getting more and more attention at American companies. Shareholders are ratcheting up their demands on environmental and social issues. Consumers are registering their concerns about how companies make their products. And talented Millennial employees are voting with their feet by leaving laggard companies behind. Meanwhile, new technologies are making it easier for sustainability investments to pay off in the middle to long term.

A similar phenomenon happened in the 1980s, when quality became a significant issue for manufacturers. Many of them responded by including quality metrics in their compensation incentives. These moves helped to focus executive attention and ensure that quality initiatives actually got carried out. Over the next decade, quality levels improved substantially. It’s time for companies to start doing the same thing for sustainability.

As any compensation consultant will tell you, comp plans can address only so many metrics. Most plans have fewer than six: one or two financial metrics, such as sales growth or earnings per share, and two or three nonfinancial metrics, in areas such as quality or innovation. Having any more than that risks diluting executive focus. So for a compensation committee to justify a new metric, it needs to have a strong business case.

Fortunately, the business case for sustainability is broad, if not always easy to measure:

  • A strong commitment to sustainability can boost a company’s reputation with customers and employees.
  • It can generate political capital with government regulators, who may then grant the company greater freedom of movement.
  • It isn’t just about limiting downside risk; the company can also create profitable new products and services to address the urgent global needs such as those associated with scarce water supplies, hunger, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Finally, some sustainability investments can pay for themselves through reduced energy consumption and waste over the long term.

These factors will likely remain even if governments in the United States and elsewhere reduce their regulatory intervention, which we believe is unlikely in the long term.

Shareholders are seeing these connections and speaking up. So far in 2017, our firm, Semler Brossy, has identified 200 shareholder proposals on the environment among the Russell 3000 companies, already exceeding 2016’s total. Average investor support for such proposals has reached a new high of 29%. Four proposals received majority support, more than in the previous six years combined.

Institutional investors are helping to drive these proposals. BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, recently said, “Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects.”

That phrase — “relevant to a company’s business” — is a key condition. Rather than aiming at all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, for example, companies will likely tailor their sustainability efforts to their commercial priorities. Coca-Cola devotes many resources to creating cleaner water supplies in developing countries. Barrick, a large mining company, works to preserve the local ecosystems where it digs. Since the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013, garment retailers such as Walmart have contributed to improving working conditions for workers. Almost all the major car companies are investing in electric vehicles.

Moreover, not every company should expect to add sustainability to its core compensation metrics, at least not right away. Only those with clearly articulated business cases and specific plans for improvement should take that step. From what we’ve seen, most companies haven’t yet done the work to get there. Without well-defined metrics tied to concrete plans, sustainability becomes a vague goal that’s easy for executives to game — often with unintended consequences.

In the absence of a sustainability metric for compensation, boards retain the right to reduce incentive awards in case of substantial damage to the company’s business or reputation. So irresponsible actions that have a negative effect on sustainability can still affect bonuses on the back end. Most companies tend to keep this option implicit. To make it more effective, we recommend explicit “do no harm” language about reducing payouts in case of sustainability failures, such as an oil spill caused by inadequate precautions. Such a clause can be a useful reminder that sustainability is a major corporate concern even in the absence of metrics.

We believe that in the near term only a substantial minority of companies will likely add sustainability metrics to their corporate compensation programs, although more will likely add them at the divisional level. These companies will typically have big upside opportunities from trailblazing or large downside risks for falling behind the pack. But even this large minority is still a big jump from the current situation.

In our research on the S&P 500, only 2% of the companies tied environmental metrics to executive compensation, and 2.6% had a diversity metric. The most common sustainability metric was for safety, at 5% of companies — often those with much to lose from accidents. Indeed, by far the largest sector for sustainability metrics was the energy industry, which accounted for 25% of companies that had them. Now that sustainability has become a broader pressing issue, more industries need to do the work of assessing the potential business case.

Skeptics may say that sustainability is too fuzzy to work as a compensation metric, but the research suggests otherwise: Separate studies of American, Canadian, and German firms found that creating executive incentives for sustainability was effective in boosting those firms’ efforts on environmental and social concerns.

Five years ago a global consumer products company made a bold commitment to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions from its plants by 2037. Management sought to create direct energy savings and a stronger brand that would be well-regarded by owners, employees, and consumers. It was an ambitious but concrete plan.

To drive this big commitment, the board linked senior-level compensation to the steps along that 25-year path. The incentive provided the necessary teeth to enforce the commitment, ensuring that adequate resources were put on this industry-leading initiative. After five years, the company is well ahead of schedule, leading it to expand its commitment by reducing emissions along its entire supply chain.

While the federal government may be backtracking on sustainability, American companies are increasingly recognizing its importance as a business issue. As the prominence of sustainability grows, our colleagues at Semler Brossy are fielding more calls asking about linking sustainability to executive compensation. It’s not for every company. But for those that are ready for the concrete commitment, it can pay off in long-term market leadership.

How Gatorade Invented New Products by Revisiting Old Ones

Harvard Business Review -

When it comes to innovation, businesses have a strong bias for the new. The idea of creating a fresh new product, the prospect of increasing market share with brand new offerings, or the vision of disrupting some slow-moving incumbent with a radical new technology – these have an inherently strong appeal for companies keen for growth. What’s more, legacy products seem to be at a natural disadvantage. Company leaders and product managers worry that these core products have been around for years and may not be able to deliver much more. How will they perform well enough for us to meet our targets?

Should you heed the siren call to reach outside your core business?  Should you explore new technologies that will disrupt current products?  Should you search for new “blue ocean” markets that will let you redeploy those products in exciting new ways?

My advice is to resist that urge. Too often the preoccupation with finding or creating shiny new products can cause you to take your eye off your most profitable and lowest-risk opportunity: reviving your current product by innovating around it.

Consider the example of Gatorade in 2008.

When Sarah Robb O’Hagan agreed to take over Gatorade in 2008, she thought she was assuming leadership of an iconic brand that had grown a little tired.  What she found was something worse – a product in clear decline.  Gatorade – a company that invented the sports drink category in the 1960s, and now a division of PepsiCo – was facing increasing competition, particularly by the lower-cost Powerade, a Coca-Cola product. Gatorade had seen a sales drop of 10%, while Powerade’s sales had grown 13%.

In response, Gatorade had tried to maintain growth by spinning out new flavors and expanding into new channels.  It leveraged the distribution networks of PepsiCo, and had developed a wide range of new flavors and low- and no-calorie versions of the drink.  But adding new product variants quickly hits a point of diminishing returns. For Gatorade, 2007 was the year it hit those limits.

What were the Gatorade team’s options?  New versions, new flavors, or new channels didn’t offer much hope for growth.  And truly disruptive innovations weren’t an option either, at least in the short term.  The R&D lab had come up with a new ingredient that helped athletes process oxygen more effectively. But, there were a few problems: it was hard to get, it changed the drink color to a very toxic-looking yellow and, said Sarah: “you needed to drink about a keg of it to get any performance effect.”  So reinventing the future of athletic hydration might have been theoretically possible, but it wasn’t going to happen quickly.

To find a solution, Sarah and her team reconnected with Gatorade’s core customer, the serious athlete.  What they found was that these athletes did much more than just hydrate during athletic events.  They would load up with carbohydrates before (Gold-medal winning runner Usain Bolt ate Skittles candy), and drink protein shakes after to recover.  The team saw an opportunity to expand beyond the hydration niche, and introduced the G-Series family of products.  The G-Series family included three complementary products to help athletes: energy chews and carbohydrate drinks to “Prime” before an athletic event; the core hydration drink to help the customer “Perform”; and protein shakes and bars to “Recover” after an event.  The team expanded the products around the hydration drink, but also cut back on the range of different versions of the core beverage.

Growth restarted almost immediately. Despite fewer flavors and less discounting of prices, sales of the drink rose dramatically. From a low of less than $4.5 billion in 2009, Gatorade hit $5.6 billion in sales in 2015, and owned 78% of the US market. Powerade’s growth stopped.  In 2015 it had $1.3 Billion in sales, about 19% of the US market.

What Robb O’Hagan did was to apply what we call the Third Way to innovate. Neither incremental improvement of current products, nor radical rethinking of the business, the Third Way focuses on innovating around the current product to make it more valuable.  Robb O’Hagan turned around the product not by changing the product but by complementing it with sports bars, energy chews, and protein shakes. What her team did wasn’t an expansion or revision of the current product; in fact the team reduced the range and number of variants. It also wasn’t a radical rethinking of the product. The Third Way is a different approach to innovation.

What’s different? First, it’s not a “clean sheet” approach. It focuses on innovating around an existing product for an existing customer segment in a way that makes that product more appealing and valuable. Second, it’s not just a diversification approach – it’s not a search for random products that will appeal to the same customer segment. Instead, it focuses on developing a family of diverse innovations that are all focused on delivering a single business promise; in the case of Gatorade that promise was to help the serious athlete perform better in competitions. Finally, this family of diverse innovations is not an “ecosystem” – it’s not an uncoordinated set of competing and collaborating entities in a single industry. Rather, this family of innovations is centrally managed and carefully controlled to deliver on a single business promise.

This approach isn’t easy to do or quick to implement.  But when it’s done well, it can be incredibly powerful.  Companies as diverse as Gatorade, LEGO, Novo Nordisk, and Victoria’s Secret have used this approach to successfully turn around or boost existing products.

Too often, we’re told that we need to disrupt our current business, to leave our preconceptions and old ways of thinking behind.  While we agree that every company should keep an eye out for competitors that could change the game in the core business, we believe that these types of revolutions are relatively rare, easy to see coming, and often can be responded to through a strategic partnership or acquisition.

How do you get started with the Third Way approach to innovation? Here are three simple steps:

  • First, reconnect with your core customers, and understand what gets in the way of them getting value from your product. Follow them through their acquisition, preparation, use, and disposal of your product, and watch for frustrations, challenges, or other barriers they face.
  • Then, challenge your team to innovate around your customer’s value chain, not yours. What can you do to remove the barriers that prevent your customers from getting value from your products? These represent opportunities for complementary products.
  • And finally, be humble about your ability to deliver those products. No matter how big or how capable your company is, there will almost certainly be another company who is better positioned to deliver at least some of the complementary products that you’d like to provide.

The calls to leave behind old, tired products can be strong, and forging a new path can be tremendously exciting.  But in a volatile and uncertain global business economy, it makes powerful sense to explore the growth opportunities hidden in your current products – as Gatorade and others have found, there can be untapped potential in those existing markets.

"I have fear"

Seth Godin's Blog -

There's a common mistranslation that causes us trouble.

We say, "I am afraid," as if the fear is us, forever. We don't say, "I am a fever" or "I am a sore foot." No, in those cases, we acknowledge that it's a temporary condition, something we have, at least for now, but won't have forever.

"Right now, I have fear about launching this project," is quite different from, "I'm afraid."


The Dark Side of Resilience

Harvard Business Review -

Resilience, defined as the psychological capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances and to bounce back from adverse events, is a highly sought-after personality trait in the modern workplace. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant argue in their recent book, we can think of resilience as a sort of muscle that contracts during good times and expands during bad times.

In that sense, the best way to develop resilience is through hardship, which various philosophers have pointed out through the years: Seneca noted that “difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body” and Nietzsche famously stated “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” In a similar vein, the United States Marine Corps uses the “pain is just weakness leaving the body” mantra as part of their hardcore training program.

But could too much resilience be a bad thing, just like too much muscle mass can be a bad thing — i.e., putting a strain on the heart? Large-scale scientific studies suggest that even adaptive competencies become maladaptive if taken to the extreme. As Rob Kaiser’s research on leadership versatility indicates, overused strengths become weaknesses. In line, it is easy to conceive of situations in which individuals could be too resilient for their own sake.

For example, extreme resilience could drive people to become overly persistent with unattainable goals. Although we tend to celebrate individuals who aim high or dream big, it is usually more effective to adjust one’s goals to more achievable levels, which means giving up on others. Indeed, scientific reviews show that most people waste an enormous amount of time persisting with unrealistic goals, a phenomenon called the “false hope syndrome.” Even when past behaviors clearly suggest that goals are unlikely to be attained, overconfidence and an unfounded degree of optimism can lead to people wasting energy on pointless tasks.

You and Your Team Series Resilience

Along the same line, too much resilience could make people overly tolerant of adversity. At work, this can translate into putting up with boring or demoralizing jobs — and particularly bad bosses — for longer than needed. In America, 75% of employees consider their direct line manager the worst part of their job, and 65% would take a pay cut if they could replace their boss with someone else. Yet there is no indication that people actually act on these attitudes, with job tenure remaining stable over the years despite ubiquitous access to career opportunities and the rise of passive recruitment introduced by the digital revolution. Whereas in the realm of dating, technology has made it easier for people to meet someone and begin a new relationship, in the world of work people seemed resigned to their bleak state of affairs. Perhaps if they were less resilient, they would be more likely to improve their job circumstances, as many individuals do when they decide to ditch traditional employment to work for themselves. However, people are much more willing to put up with a bad job (and boss) than a bad relationship.

In addition, too much resilience can get in the way of leadership effectiveness and, by extension, team and organizational effectiveness. In a recent study, Adrian Furnham and colleagues showed that there are dramatic differences in people’s ability to adapt to stressful jobs and workplace environments. In the face of seemingly hopeless circumstances, some people resemble a superhero cartoon character that runs through a brick wall: unemotional, fearless, and hyper-phlegmatic. To protect against psychological harm, they deploy quite aggressive coping mechanisms that artificially inflate their egos. Meanwhile, others have a set of underlying propensities that make them act a little differently when under stress and pressure. They become emotionally volatile and scared of rejection. And consequently, they move away from groups, put up walls to avoid being criticized, and openly admit faults as a way to guard against public shaming.

Even though the resilient superhero is usually perceived as better, there is a hidden dark side to it: it comes with the exact same traits that inhibit self-awareness and, in turn, the ability to maintain a realistic self-concept, which is pivotal for developing one’s career potential and leadership talent. For instance, multiple studies suggest that bold leaders are unaware of their limitations and overestimate their leadership capabilities and current performance, which leads to not being able to adjust one’s interpersonal approach to fit the context. They are, in effect, rigidly and delusionally resilient and closed off to information that could be imperative in fixing — or at least improving — behavioral weaknesses. In short, when resilience is driven by self-enhancement, success comes at a high price: denial.

Along with blinding leaders to improvement opportunities and detaching them from reality, leadership pipelines are corroded with resilient leaders who were nominated as high-potentials but have no genuine talent for leadership. To explain this phenomenon, sociobiologists David Sloan Wilson and E.O. Wilson argue that within any group of people — whether a work team or presidential candidates — the person who wins, and is therefore named the group’s leader, is generally very resilient or “gritty.”

However, there is something more important going on in human affairs than internal politics, and competition within groups is less important than between groups — such as Apple going head to head with Microsoft on technological innovations, Coca-Cola trying to outmaneuver Pepsi’s marketing campaigns, or, in evolutionary terms, how our ancestors fought for territory against rival teams 10,000 years ago. As Robert Hogan notes, to get ahead of other groups, individuals must be able to get along with each other within their own group in order to form a team. This always requires leadership, but the right leaders must be chosen. When it comes to deciding which leaders are going to rally the troops in the long-term, the most psychologically resilient individuals have a miscellany of characteristics that come much closer to political savvy and an authoritarian leadership style than those needed to influence a team to work in harmony and focus its attention on outperforming rivals. In other words, choosing resilient leaders is not enough: they must also have integrity and care more about the welfare of their teams than their own personal success.

In sum, there is no doubt that resilience is a useful and highly adaptive trait, especially in the face of traumatic events. However, when taken too far, it may focus individuals on impossible goals and make them unnecessarily tolerant of unpleasant or counterproductive circumstances. This reminds us of Voltaire’s Candide, the sarcastic masterpiece that exposes the absurd consequences of extreme optimism: “I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but somehow I am still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our more stupid melancholy propensities, for is there anything more stupid than to be eager to go on carrying a burden which one would gladly throw away, to loathe one’s very being and yet to hold it fast, to fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away?”

Finally, while it may be reassuring for teams, organizations, and countries to select leaders on the basis of their resilience — who doesn’t want to be protected by a tough and strong leader? — such leaders are not necessarily good for the group, much like bacteria or parasites are much more problematic when they are more resistant.

The Future Economy Project

Harvard Business Review -

Future Economy

We believe in climate change And we’re taking action The United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord has sparked discussion across the business world. Many companies, big and small, are examining their own commitments to sustainability in light of America’s shift. We recognize a hard truth: that when it comes to how businesses view climate change, the need to focus on financial performance and create value for shareholders often obscures the importance of environmentally responsible corporate stewardship. Short-term rewards too often take precedence over the longer-term interests and viability of a company.

Climate Change on

Managing Climate Change: Lessons from the U.S. Navy
by Forest L. Reinhardt and Michael W. Toffel U.S. Business Leaders Want to Stay in the Paris Climate Accord
by Andrew Winston The Comprehensive Business Case for Sustainability
by Tensie Whelan and Carly Fink

See More


It’s time for sustainability to be a real goal for businesses striving to ensure a competitive future. Not only is it the right thing to do for society, but it’s also a key to delivering strong financial performance — not just quarter to quarter but for decades to come. The urgent challenge now is to drive the majority of businesses to take measures that will save energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And at Harvard Business Review, we want to lead a discussion about how to make that happen. To do so, we have created the Future Economy Project. We’ve enlisted prominent thinkers and leading CEOs who understand that sustainable business practices are in a company’s long-term interests. They will help us answer questions like: How does sustainability fit into a company’s strategy? How can you make core business operations more sustainable? How do you convince major stakeholders — employees, investors, the board, and customers — that sustainability is the right path? And what type of leadership will take us there? Business leaders who responded to our call:
  • Dominic Barton Global Managing Partner,
    McKinsey & Co.
  • Marc Benioff Chairman & CEO,
  • Richard Branson Founder,
    Virgin Group
  • Marne Levine COO,
    Instagram (Facebook, Inc.)
  • Andrew Liveris Chairman & CEO,
    Dow Chemical
  • Doug McMillon CEO & President,
  • Indra Nooyi Chairperson & CEO,
  • Henry M. Paulson Jr. Chairman,
    Paulson Institute
  • Paul Polman CEO,
  • Eric Schmidt Executive Chairman,
Our advisers:
  • Rebecca Henderson Professor,
    Harvard Business School
  • Andrew Winston Founder,
    Winston Eco-Strategies
The upside of a sustainability agenda is clear. Regardless of your views on the who, what, when, and why of climate change, the pursuit of sustainable processes up and down supply chains can translate into immediate savings — and opportunities for innovation. Firms as diverse as Walmart and KKR are finding that reducing energy use and embracing renewable energy can be immediately profitable. Moreover, global challenges like water scarcity, severe weather events, and ecosystem degradation — coupled with a growing interest from consumers and investors in whether companies have a “green” agenda — signal that the environment will have an increasingly direct impact on companies’ earnings and risk profiles. The cost of doing nothing is also clear: Climate change is expensive for businesses. According to the Risky Business Project, the cost of the damage done to property and infrastructure by storms along the U.S.’s eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico will climb to $35 billion each year over the next 15 years. Over the next five to 25 years, some parts of the midwestern and southern United States could see a decline of more than 10% in corn, wheat, soy, and cotton yields. Climate change may also hinder organizations’ ability to recruit the next generation of business leaders; many Millennials simply won’t work for companies that don’t share their commitment to sustainability. If you believe that businesses can be a force for good and have a social responsibility for improving the communities where they operate, then there are few causes more important than fighting climate change. We don’t pretend to have all the answers — and neither do the pioneering business leaders who are joining this initiative. But over the coming months, we will provide case studies and practical lessons from their experiences to help other executives who believe that profits and environmental responsibility must go hand in hand. The Future Economy Project will culminate in the publication of a list of principles and actions, endorsed by our partners, aimed at outlining a path for businesses that want to pursue sustainable goals. The principles will reflect our partners’ thinking on how to operationalize sustainability throughout the enterprise. To begin, each of our partners has shared documentation of work they are doing to improve the future sustainability of their company. Some of this work is in collaboration with other organizations. Some of it is unique to their own capacities and desires. But all of it serves as a guide for how all of us might move forward. Search and explore the documents below. When you find something interesting, let us know. And look for more materials, resources, and exclusive HBR research in the coming weeks. We look forward to the discussion and hope you do, too. Adi Ignatius

Editor in Chief

<br />
<a href=”″>View/search document collection</a><br />

HBR has partnered with prominent business leaders to help us answer questions about the future of our economy and climate change. This library is the start of our effort to build collaborative resources around these questions. You can search by company name or topic.

Climate Change on

Managing Climate Change: Lessons from the U.S. Navy
by Forest L. Reinhardt and Michael W. Toffel U.S. Business Leaders Want to Stay in the Paris Climate Accord
by Andrew Winston The Comprehensive Business Case for Sustainability
by Tensie Whelan and Carly Fink

See More


Fixing the Recruiting and Retention Problems in Britain’s NHS

Harvard Business Review -

Although Britain’s National Health System (NHS) has provided effective universal coverage for almost 70 years, it is facing a major health workforce crisis that jeopardizes its future. The NHS currently offers healthcare that is free at point of delivery to UK and European Union (EU) citizens, but proof of citizenship is often not even required. Funded largely with revenue from general taxation and National Insurance contributions, only 1.2% of NHS revenue comes from direct patient charges.

Despite its success as the world’s first single-payer health system, the NHS today is struggling. (Hereafter, when we use the term “NHS,” we refer to NHS England, specifically – not the health systems in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.) The wait times for NHS procedures are at an all-time high. Patients are now expected to wait 18 weeks just for a specialist referral, regularly wait up to 15 months for a cataract removal surgery (a 30-minute procedure), and many are not seen “on-time” in the ER (“on-time” for the NHS is a 4-hour wait, and many hospitals cannot even reach this target).

One of the reasons for the current lackluster response is that the NHS is increasingly struggling to recruit and retain its health workforce. To become a doctor in the UK, students apply to medical school (at age 18) directly from the UK equivalent of high school. These students, some of the brightest in the country, then undertake a minimum of five years training at medical school. Before graduating from medical school, students apply for “junior doctor” programs with NHS hospitals – the UK equivalent of U.S. “residency.” If accepted, the newly graduated doctors undertake two years of junior foundation training, then enter specialist training schemes to train either as a “general practitioner” (also called a GP or family physician) or a hospital specialist, also known as a “consultant.”

On average, a junior doctor works 72 hours a week. However, it is not unusual for them to work over 100 hours a week. Consultants typically work 60 hours a week, but most also work overtime to help reduce the backlog of patients waiting for treatment. In fact, 59% of NHS staff work unpaid overtime every week.

Despite the years of training and long working hours, the average starting salary of a junior doctor is just £22,636 (16.7% below the national average income, and less than half of the starting salary for a subway driver). In addition, their wages are significantly garnished by the government to repay the student loans taken to pay for medical school, the interest on these loans (the UK government recently raised interest rates to 6.1% APR on all pre-existing student loan agreements), malpractice insurance, and exam fees.

Established GPs do earn more – £55,412 to £83,617, or about $72,200 to $109,000 in U.S. dollars – but this is still much less than their U.S. counterparts, who earn an average of $189,000. Moreover, as with other public sector pay, all NHS salary raises are legally capped at 1% a year , which is substantially lower than UK inflation. This “Public Pay Salary Cap,” introduced by the Conservative government as an austerity policy aimed at reducing public sector expenditure and welfare support, effectively reduces the real incomes of doctors each year.

The combination of long hours and low pay might help explain why the health workforce is leaving the NHS. In 2015, 48% of junior doctors in their second year of training chose to drop out of the NHS. This is 19.3% higher than the 2011 drop-out rate. In 2017, the NHS also experienced a record number of nurses leaving for better conditions elsewhere. Even the more-highly paid consultants say they want to leave the NHS for better prospects elsewhere. A survey of senior consultants found that 81% planned to retire early because of work pressures. Nearly 1% of doctors leave the NHS every month, and in the last year alone, unfilled jobs in the NHS rose by 10% and unfilled specialty training spots rose by 31%.

This decline in staff numbers is especially worrisome because the UK population is increasing at a rate of 0.8% on average each year (about 520,000 people) and aging, which means there will be more patients requiring care and even longer wait times.

To cope with this health workforce crisis, the NHS has been forced to do four things: first, hire a significant portion of their physicians from abroad – currently, 26% of physicians in the UK are trained in foreign countries, the highest percentage of any EU country ; second, increase the medical school enrollment cap from 6,000 to 7,500 students; third, instate a four-year mandatory NHS training for all UK medical students; and  fourth, make up a significant portion of their staff with “locums” (trained doctors who do not work for one specific hospital, but temporarily fill vacant positions).

All four of these solutions fail to address the root causes of the employment crisis. First, the foreign-trained health workforce is likely to become more scarce as Britain leaves the EU; for instance, the number of EU nationals registering as NHS nurses has dropped by 92% since the referendum to leave the EU, known as “Brexit.” Second, raising the medical school enrollment cap by 25% will not solve the employment crisis if 48% of junior doctors continue to leave after their second year. Third, emplacing four years of mandatory training is a partial solution, as it does not incentivize junior doctors to take permanent positions in the NHS. Fourth, locums are only a temporary solution – and an expensive one at that.

Locums are hired through locum agencies, which charge additional fees to the NHS. The British Medical Journal found that in 2015, NHS hospital trusts spent nearly 25 times more on locum agency fees alone than on recruiting doctors to permanent positions – on average, each trust spent £1.4 million on locum agency fees, and only £55,000 recruiting doctors. The same trusts also paid a significantly higher hourly wage to these locums (as high as £250 an hour). In addition to this economic drain, there are concerns about quality of care provided by locums, as it impacts on continuity of care.

Although there is no quick fix to these issues, we believe one way to move forward would be for the government to remove the 1% Public Pay Salary Cap and allow salary increases to match inflation (3.2% using the UK Retail Price Index). The Institute for Fiscal Services determined that allowing NHS salaries to increase with inflation would cost an additional £1.6 billion in 2020/21 – the year the pay cap will expire if not renewed. While that might sound like a lot, it is just 1.26% of the NHS’ expected budget for that year, and would benefit almost 1.6 million workers. Retaining more of these health care providers would reduce dependence on locums, which cost the NHS £936 million annually.

Additionally, the NHS could forgive all student loans without repayment if students work a set number of years in the NHS. This solution would placate the NHS health workforce crisis in the short-term by increasing the number of junior doctors who continue training. It would also have long-term benefits by addressing a root cause of junior doctor attrition. Currently, 9% of a junior doctor’s salary is garnished to repay student debts, which significantly reduces their monthly take-home. This reduced effective salary caused 21,608 junior doctors to go on strike in 2016 and demand a 13.5% salary increase. Forgiving student loans in exchange for working in the NHS would increase the take home salary for junior doctors and could help lower dropout rates.

This loan repayment system could operate similarly to how the U.S. government agrees to repay all medical student loans if doctors dedicate four years of service to the US Army, Navy, or Air Force after training. Almost 100% of U.S. students who choose this route make good on their obligation to the government to avoid taking on medical school debt.

Unfortunately, no one solution will solve the complex problems politicians have created for the NHS. Now, those same politicians must fulfill their social responsibilities by taking decisive action. Until the NHS can right its currently unsustainable system the health workforce crisis will become more severe, wait-times will rise further, patients will face decreasing quality of care, and the NHS once admired by so many will continue to deteriorate.

To Come Up with a Good Idea, Start by Imagining the Worst Idea Possible

Harvard Business Review -

There are many creative tools a designer uses to think differently, but none is more counter-intuitive than “wrong thinking,” also called reverse thinking. Wrong thinking is when you intentionally think of the worst idea possible — the exact opposite of the accepted or logical solution, ideas that can get you laughed at or even fired — and work back from those to find new ways of solving old problems.

For example, one of the most important discoveries in the sequencing of the human genome came from Fred Sanger who reversed his process to achieve a breakthrough. As explained by Siddharta Mukerjee in his book The Gene, Sanger “turned his own strategy upside down and tried to build DNA, rather than break it down.” His wrong thinking led to his second Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1980 for contributions in genetic sequencing.

The great Argentinian chef Francois Mallmann, featured on Netflix’s documentary series Chef’s Table, left the comfort of his restaurants to cook in the wild in Patagonia, with no kitchen or sous chefs, traveling with a group of young novices who have little or no experience. He calls it “gypsy chefs,” a team that roams. His wrong thinking about what a chef does and how he does it has allowed Mallmann to create incredibly unique culinary experiences that could never happen in a traditional restaurant setting.

During my “Design the Work You Love” workshop, Mickey McManus, AutoDesk research fellow and Chairman of Maya Design, shared an experiment in reverse thinking that captured my imagination. McManus essentially switched roles with his intern Lisa Rotzinger — Lisa became the boss, and Mickey an “exit-level intern.” As Mickey explained it, “Our role as a leader is to be the superhero, fly in and save the day. But the best thing you can do is serve other people. I thought, what if my role is that of the sidekick, getting obstacles out of their way and letting the superhero learn to fly.” When Lisa started at Autodesk, McManus gave her a sticky note with topics for her to research: Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning, and Generative Design. He told her that her task is to “discover things I don’t know” and left her to be her own boss for two weeks while he traveled. When he returned, her findings turned out to be much more provocative than either had expected. They applied her discoveries to an Autodesk research project called Primordial, and at McManus’s urging, it was Lisa who presented the project to 400 top executives and clients.

McManus’s reframing of leadership — the leader as the sidekick, the intern as the superhero — embodies three powerful principles that enable innovation and discovery.

1. Be the beginner. A favorite koan from the zen master Shunryu Suzuki says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Being the beginner shifts our perspective and, as the koan states, opens up our mind to possibilities. As a beginner, you listen more. You’re more inquisitive and interested in learning from everyone, including people who are younger or have less experience. We give ourselves permission to learn constantly. As Mickey found out, this humility pays off.

Lisa’s provocative insights, enabled by her newcomer’s perspective, opened up McManus’s mind to new ideas. He was inspired. McManus calls his new position the “exit-level intern,” rather than an entry-level one, someone who is there to learn like a novice even though they might have the most experience. To recognize how innovative this approach is, just imagine telling your intern or most junior employee that come Monday, you are their intern.

2. Grant agency. Listening to people, rather than telling them what you think they need to do, gives others agency to investigate, apply their ideas, draw their own conclusions. What are the obstacles standing in the way of your team? Having a bird’s eye view (or in this case, a sidekick’s view) gives you the advantage of seeing roadblocks or challenges, while putting team members in the superhero role makes them agents to solve their own problems.

Dara Dotz is removing obstacles to rapid recovery in humanitarian disasters with her NGO, Field Ready. Rather than relying on slow, expensive supply chains to import disaster relief, Field Ready empowers people in disaster-struck areas with the technology and expertise to make life-saving and life-sustaining supplies onsite. To help disaster victims realize their own recovery, Field Ready teams begin by listening. Suddenly the victim is the superhero and the designers and engineers are the sidekick, collaborating together to find the best solutions. Empowering your team with agency allows everyone to offer solutions and innovate, just as McManus did with Lisa by listening to her findings, encouraging her involvement in the work and, eventually, giving her the spotlight to do the final presentation.

3. Do away with hierarchy. The superhero-sidekick relationship Mickey set up with Lisa eliminated expected hierarchy. He had her sit next to the CEO, and enabled her to wander around and ask questions to everyone, including the CEO and the CTO. He asked her to teach him stuff, and had her give the big presentation at the end of the project. Mickey said, “Lisa nailed the presentation — 23-years-old, and she gave a presentation to 400 top executives, including our most important customers, that was riveting to watch.” When we allow those at the lowest rung of the career ladder to take on the superhero role, and step back ourselves to learn from them, the best ideas can rise to the top.

Lisa stayed for an extra semester of internship at Autodesk before going back to school. She has since graduated and is joining Autodesk full-time as a strategist. Mickey continues to be a superhero who acts as the sidekick, acknowledging what he doesn’t know and always learning along the way. Remember, the key to wrong thinking is coming up with a seemingly bad idea to challenge the status quo, pushing ourselves to imagine new and disruptive ideas, beyond our own preconceptions. When we give ourselves permission to have bad ideas, we often come up with the best ones.

Is Tesla Really a Disruptor? (And Why the Answer Matters)

Harvard Business Review -

Tesla, Elon Musk’s automotive start-up, is having a very good year. In September, the company expects to begin shipping its all-electric Model 3 to non-employee customers, who have already logged 500,000 pre-orders. After reporting earnings earlier this month, its stock jumped, rocketing the 14-year-old startup’s valuation to over $53 billion, ahead of every other U.S. car manufacturer and all but three worldwide. This despite the fact that the company lost nearly two billion dollars in the past two years alone.

There’s little argument that Tesla is a wildly innovative company.  But is its automotive business a disruptor, poised to transform the entire transportation sector?  That’s the question that has dogged the company from the beginning, inspiring heated debate among Wall Street analysts, fanatical customers, and tech-related online communities.  Musk himself is ambivalent about the term. “I’m much more inclined to say, ‘How can we make things better?’” he said recently.

The answer matters. The company is currently almost $10 billion in debt, and on Monday last week Tesla announced plans to borrow an additional $1.5 billion to escape what Musk calls the “manufacturing hell” the company is now experiencing in its transition from small batch car making to mass production. Investors and lenders are betting on the company’s long-term potential to dominate a future that may feature autonomous vehicles, sustainable energy consumption, and the ability to upgrade easily as both hardware and software evolve. If that potential isn’t realized, the money will quickly dry up.

Tesla clearly doesn’t qualify under the traditional definition of a disruptive innovation. In the model described by Clayton Christensen, a new entrant offers substitute products using technology that is cheaper but initially inferior to products offered by mature incumbents. Then the disruptor improves its performance over time, eventually catching the industry either unaware or unable to adapt.

In our continuing work on Big Bang Disruption, we have noted several alternative paths to industry transformation. These include offering a more expensive product whose superiority shifts consumer buying patterns, a “blue ocean” alternative that redefines consumer expectations to create new market space, and a long period of growing revenue but shrinking profits that lead to industry collapse and reincarnation based on a new value proposition.

Finally, there is Big Bang Disruption itself, where rapid evolution of new technologies leads to the introduction of substitute products that are both better and cheaper right from the beginning, triggering a sudden abandonment of consumers away from incumbents to the new entrants who best utilize the capabilities and changing economics of the disruptive tech.

But no matter which definition you use, it’s hard to see Tesla fitting it.

For one thing, it’s not clear what disruptive technology the company is offering. Electric cars have been around for a long time (Tesla has been selling them for almost a decade), but the technology is still neither better nor cheaper than internal combustion. According to Tesla’s own data, battery density doesn’t exhibit the kind of growth that has driven exponential improvements in digital technology. Battery performance may not reach parity with fossil fuels for another 50 years.

Ditto for autonomous vehicles, and for Tesla’s promise of fully-automated manufacturing based on improvements in artificial intelligence, robotics, and other disruptors. Tesla may find a disruptive solution using some or all of these technologies, but they haven’t yet.

In the meantime, of course, there’s no guarantee that Tesla will be the winner in any automotive technology arms race.  Most major car companies are now investing heavily in the same technologies, and in some cases may be using the same component suppliers as Tesla. Tesla famously open-sourced all its patents in 2014, reducing any advantage the company may otherwise have claimed for proprietary inventions.

For now, what the company has is a powerful brand that stands for luxury and sustainability at the same time. But it’s not hard to see any number of existing premium brands—think BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Lexus—stepping in to claim the same mantle.

Still, Tesla boosters compare the company to Apple, and on the surface the similarities are compelling. Both companies were led by visionaries, both offer high-end versions of commodity products, and both enjoy fierce loyalty from customers.

But the competitively-priced Model 3 is not the iPhone, which in 2007 radically reinvented cell phones, personal digital assistants, digital cameras, and several other disparate products in one remarkable leap. (At the time, one of the premium mobile devices was a Blackberry.) And Apple, unlike Tesla, had the capacity to make millions of the new devices right from the start, along with strong distribution, retail, and repair channels.

Tesla is also not comparable to Netflix, another frequently-cited example of a disruptive innovator. Netflix disrupted the video rental market at least twice—first with its DVD mailing service and then, in 2007, with its streaming Internet-based service, which clearly met the better and cheaper criteria for a true Big Bang Disruption. Consumers jumped en masse, destroying Blockbuster and other retail rental chains in just a few years. Tesla’s current battery technologies are not both better and cheaper than existing internal combustion. Even if they were, it would not be realistic to expect customers to replace vehicle hardware as quickly as they change their media-consumption habits.

The better analog for Tesla may be the Sony Librie and other early electronic book readers, introduced at great expense and fanfare between 1998 and 2006.  None of them succeeded. Then Amazon launched the Kindle in 2007, at last igniting transformation of the sluggish book business.

Amazon’s disruptive insight was that component technologies had finally matured, including displays, storage, lightweight batteries, and Wi-Fi networks that could be used to upload and download new content.   Amazon also leveraged its growing strength in the publishing supply chain as well as a reputation for superior customer service to create and dominate the e-book business, dispatching prior and future competitors.

As these examples suggest, successful disruption often requires a robust manufacturing, distribution, and service platform that can be repurposed to help scramble the incumbent industry supply chain in short order, as well as a steady supply of revenue from more mature products to fund continued experimentation.

For now, Tesla has none of these.  Worse, the company is subject to considerable uncertainty over substantial government subsidies, which in some markets have had a profound influence on the willingness of consumers to pay Tesla’s premium price. In Hong Kong and Denmark, for example, announcements that the subsidy would be withdrawn collapsed Tesla sales by 90% or more, leading Danish officials to extend the rebate period.

Assuming the company can overcome its “manufacturing hell,” Tesla may well deliver all the 500,000 pre-ordered Model 3s by the end of 2018. But as Apple learned from the muted success of the iWatch, early enthusiasm for a new product may not suggest a long tail of future sales. After announcing the Model 3 in 2016, Tesla signed up the first 300,000 customers in just two weeks, most in less than a week. But as with smart watches, the increasingly frictionless spread of product preferences among consumers may mean that nearly all likely customers showed up at once, at product launch.

For the cash-strapped Tesla, waning sales may cut short any hopes of securing a sustainable leadership position in a reinvented transportation industry. Elon Musk may succeed in starting a disruptive revolution, only to fade from the field just as incumbents or other new entrants waiting nearby storm the palace.

Report from the Trenches #7

Steven Pressfield Online -


I said in last week’s post that, watching myself wrestle with this rewrite, I realize I’m attacking the problem on three levels. Level One (which we talked about last week) was about genre—making sure I knew what genre I was working in, and then re-hammering the narrative so that it lined up with the conventions and obligatory scenes of that genre.

The second level of this work, what we’re gonna talk about today, is going back in the global sense to Basic Storytelling Principles.

Sylvester Stallone and Butkus from the first “Rocky”


  1. A story must be about something. It must have a theme.
  2. The hero embodies the theme.
  3. The villain embodies the counter-theme.
  4. Every supporting character embodies an aspect of the theme.
  5. In the climax, hero and villain clash over the issue of the theme.

I have 57 files in the greater folder for this project and 22 for the re-work. Some of the titles of these files are Tuff Middle, Rachel Hunts Instancer, Second Act Belongs to Villain.

If I were working with a partner, the pair of us would talk this stuff out aloud. “What does the Villain want?” But because I’m working alone, I use these files as a way of talking to myself. I just sit down and start spewing.


I have no idea where this section goes, or if we have room for it at all, but the question is, “What has Rachel been doing since Instancer dumped her? Has she hunted him, and if so how, since when, and what happened?”

LETS SAY she first suffered with no proof (only a crazy suspicion) that Instancer was supernatural. Still she thought she might be losing her mind, as any woman might after the “ghosted” end of a passionate affair. Then came the “herem.” Excommunication. Family abandoned Rachel, jobs dried up. Etc.


At this stage I’m not thinking in scenes or dialog.

My thinking is architectural.

If we were building a suspension bridge, we’d first establish the footings and the anchoring points on each shore. Then we’d calculate where the towers should go and how much stress the steel could take, etc. In other words, design.

We’ll worry about actually building the bridge later.

That’s what I’m trying to do with the story at this stage.

The tension that drives the narrative will be the clash between the hero and the villain, just like in a bridge it will be the weight of the roadway versus the strength of the supporting towers and the suspension cables.

So I’m pounding away at another talking-to-myself file, “Manning (hero) versus Instancer (villain)”, asking myself how are these two characters different, how are they alike, what does Manning want, what does Instancer want? Are they mirrors for each other? How? What does that prove? Are they dependent on each other? How? What does that prove?

I don’t know any of the answers going in. I’m free-associating.


If we think of Alien or Predator or Jaws, the heroes spend a big part of the movie trying to figure out how to stop the unstoppable, kill the unkillable. Our story demands the same.

What would Manning think along these lines?

  1. Instancer is physical, at least in this world. He can’t be shot but he can be grappled with. He’s very strong but not superhumanly strong. He can’t lift buildings.
  2. If he can be ‘conducted’ into this world, can he be conducted out?” That’s the key. We have to figure this out. Etc.


What I want to have at the end of this exercise is a schematic of the story, one that hangs together dramatically and architecturally like the Golden Gate Bridge or the screenplay for Rocky.

I want a hero whose problems, aspirations, wants and needs are as clearly defined and as emotionally involving as those of Rocky Balboa.

I want an antagonist like Apollo Creed, whose emotional surface reflects Rocky’s and works beautifully against it, yin versus yang.

I want supporting characters like Adrian and Mick and Pauly, each of whom represents an aspect of the theme.

And I want a crystal-clear, powerful theme


            A bum can be a champ if he’s just given the chance


that plays in every scene of the story and is paid off in the climax, not just for the protagonist but for the supporting characters as well. And of course for the reader.

I don’t need scenes at this point.

I don’t need dialogue.

I don’t need sequences.

Level Two is about structure.

It’s about architecture.

By the way, this process that I’m going through now after the collapse of Draft #11 is the process I SHOULD HAVE been doing from Draft #1.

I was lazy.

I was scared.

I didn’t push myself far enough.

That’s why #11 crashed.

That’s what I’m back to Square One, reverting to basics.

That’s okay.

It happens to everybody.

So to recap …

Last week we talked about the first level (for me, at least) of a Ground Up Rewrite.

That level was about genre.

It involved identifying the genre we’re working in (again, a task we SHOULD HAVE done in Draft #1 and even earlier) and defining for ourselves the conventions and obligatory scenes of that genre … then reworking our story to align with those principles.

Level Two, what we’re talking about today, is about doing the same thing, not for Genre, but for Universal Storytelling Principles.

We go back to basics.

We remind ourselves of the timeless principles (and believe me, Homer and Shakespeare had to do this shit too) that balladeers and rhapsodes and puppeteers, not to mention Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino,  have been using forever.

And we go back to those basics ourselves.

Next week, the fun part: Actually WRITING the freakin’ thing.



On being discovered

Seth Godin's Blog -

Wouldn't that be great?

Great if you could share all your wisdom on a popular podcast, or be featured on Shark Tank? Great if you had a powerful agent or bureau or publisher? Great if you could get admitted to an internship program that would lead to a well-attended gig on the main stage? Great if the CEO figured out just how committed you are and invited you to her office?

The thing about being discovered is that in addition to being fabulous, it's incredibly rare. Because few people have the time or energy to go hunting for something that might not be there.

The alternative?

To be sought out.

Instead of hoping that people will find you, the alternative is to become the sort of person these people will go looking for.

This is difficult, of course, because it means you have to create work that might not work. That you have to lean out of the boat and invest in making something that's remarkable. That you have to be generous when you feel like being selfish.

Difficult because there's no red carpet, no due dates and no manual.

But that's okay, because your work is worth it.


[Upcoming speaking gigs, many in Boston, all different: Philadelphia August 24, Boston September 14 with Zoominfo, then the Business of Software Conference on September 18th, then with Marketo in Boston on October 3rd. Moving on with Marketo to Chicago on October 4 and then with Brandemonium in Cincinnati on October 12. Finishing in NY on November 1.]

PS Adam Price has a new book out this month. He's Not Lazy is the kind of book that can dramatically transform a relationship for the better, changing lives for the long run. If you have teenagers, I hope you'll get a copy. 



Subscribe to Lonergan Partners aggregator - Human Potential & Leadership