Human Potential & Leadership

How to Get the Most Out of a Day Off

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The idea of “vacation” often conjures up thoughts of trips to faraway lands. While it’s true that big trips can be fun and even refreshing, they can also take a lot of time, energy, and money. A lot of people feel exhausted just thinking about planning a vacation—not just navigating personal commitments and school breaks, but deciding how to delegate major projects or put work on hold, just so they can have a stress-free holiday. Because of this, some might put off their time away, figuring they’ll get to it when their schedule isn’t so demanding, only to discover at the end of the year that they haven’t used up their paid time off.

In my experience as a time management coach and as a business owner, I’ve found that vacations don’t have to be big to be significant to your health and happiness. In fact, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of taking “micro-vacations” on a frequent basis, usually every other week. These small bits of time off can increase my sense of happiness and the feeling of having “room to breathe.”

From my point of view, micro-vacations are times off that require you to use a day or less of vacation time. Because of their shorter duration, they typically require less effort to plan. And micro-vacations usually don’t require you to coordinate others taking care of your work while you’re gone. Because of these benefits, micro-vacations can happen more frequently throughout the year, which allows you to recharge before you’re feeling burnt out.

If you’re feeling like you need a break from the day-to-day but can’t find the time for an extended vacation, here are four ways to add micro-vacations to your life.

Weekend trips. Instead of limiting vacations to week-long adventures, consider a two- to three-day trip to someplace local. I’m blessed to live in Michigan, and one of my favorite weekend trips is to drive to Lake Michigan for some time in a little rented cottage on the shore or to drive up north to a state park. Especially if you live in an urban area, traveling even a few hours can make you feel like you’re in a different world.

To make the trip as refreshing as possible, consider taking time off on Friday so you can wrap up packing, get to your destination, and do a few things before calling it a night. That still leaves you with two days to explore the area. If you get home by dinnertime on Sunday, you can unpack and get the house in order before your workweek starts again.

There may be a few more e-mails than normal to process on Monday, but other than that, your micro-vacation shouldn’t create any big work pileups.

Margin for personal to-do items. Sometimes getting the smallest things done can make you feel fantastic. Consider taking an afternoon—or even a full day—to take an unrushed approach to all of the nonwork tasks that you really want to do but struggle to find time to do. For example, think of those appointments like getting your hair cut, nails done, oil changed, or doctor visits. You know that you should get these taken care of but finding the time is difficult with your normal schedule.

Or perhaps you want to take the time to do items that you never seem to get to, like picking out patio furniture, unpacking the remaining boxes in the guest room, or setting up your retirement account. You technically could get these kinds of items done on a weeknight or over the weekend. But if you’re consistently finding that you’re not and you have the vacation time, use it to lift some of the weight from the nagging undone items list.

Shorter days for socialization. As individuals get older and particularly after they get married, there tends to be a reduction in how much time they spend with friends. One way to find time for friends without feeling like you’re sacrificing your family time is to take an hour or two off in a day to meet a friend for lunch or to get together with friends before heading home. If you’re allowed to split up your vacation time in these small increments, a single vacation day could easily give you four opportunities to connect with friends who you otherwise might not see at all.

If you struggle to have an uninterrupted conversation with your spouse because your kids are always around, a similar strategy can be helpful. Find days when one or both of you can take a little time off to be together. An extra hour or two will barely make a difference at work but could make a massive impact on the quality of your relationship.

Remote days for decompression. Many offices offer remote working options for some or all of the week. If that’s offered and working remotely is conducive to your work style and your tasks, take advantage of that option.

Working remotely is not technically a micro-vacation, but it can often feel like one. (Please still do your work—I don’t want to get in trouble here!) If you have a commute of an hour or more each way, not having to commute can add back in two or more hours to your life that can be used for those personal tasks or social times mentioned above.

Also, for individuals who work in offices that are loud, lack windows, or where drive-by meetings are common, working remotely can feel like a welcome respite. Plus, you’re likely to get more done. A picturesque location can also give you a new sense of calm as you approach stressful projects. I find that if I’m working in a beautiful setting, like by a lake, it almost feels as good as a vacation. My surroundings have a massive impact on how I feel.

Instead of seeing “vacation” as a large event once or twice a year, consider integrating in micro-vacations into your life on a regular basis. By giving yourself permission to take time for yourself, you can increase your sense of ease with your time.

Why Traditional M&A Is Becoming Less Important

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From 1870 to 1911, John D. Rockefeller built what was arguably the single most impressive business organization in history: Standard Oil. Mr. Rockefeller’s business strategy was to vertically integrate every aspect of the oil business (exploration, development, logistics, marketing) to assure an ongoing competitive advantage. His vehicles were not just mergers and acquisitions, though there were plenty of both along the way. Rather, they were interlocking series of trusts, partnerships and alliances designed for flexibility and control.

No one’s expecting or advocating a return to Standard Oil’s monopolistic behavior. But some elements of what Rockefeller created may be coming back into vogue.

Consider today’s trends in M&A. Companies are seeking to be quicker on their feet and more innovative. They understand that they often need new capabilities to realize these objectives. So more and more deal activity focuses on acquiring those capabilities. Traditional scale deals now account for only about half of all M&A, according to our most recent proprietary research.

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The wrinkle here is that capabilities reside partly in people, and an old saw of M&A is that you can’t buy people—they will walk out the door. (Our own consulting industry is the poster child for this phenomenon.) So we can expect that, in addition to formal mergers and acquisitions, the M&A of the future will consist of a potpourri of joint ventures, minority investments, alliances and incubator-type investments—anything that helps keep the relevant people on board and productive—which sounds very similar to Rockefeller’s strategy.

Of course, we can already hear the objections coming from the grizzled veterans of traditional M&A. One will certainly be, “Been there, done that, doesn’t work.” Another is, “How will a company like that ever be managed?”

But things have changed pretty dramatically during the past 20 years. First off, overall deal success rates have continued to improve. Executives have gotten much better at buying and integrating businesses. The old conventional wisdom that most deals destroy value has never been less true.

Bain research also shows that the success rate of unconventional deals has improved, far more than is usually believed. Joint venture deals, for example, actually show returns similar to those of the best acquisitions. Likewise, the airlines have demonstrated that well-constructed alliances can be a powerful way to build market position and capitalize on scale.

The new face of deal making will take a variety of forms. Google (along with its parent, Alphabet) is known for importing talent through acquisition—and Google is a very prolific acquirer. Best-in-class players, such as Intel (through technology partnerships) and Tyson (through new-product incubators), have developed the tools to incorporate many different flavors of deal making. Discovery, the South African insurer, has formed strategic alliances with leading insurers around the world to license its Vitality platform—a quick, low-cost way to gain access to new markets. Discovery also gets access to all the data from these users, allowing it to improve Vitality.

Or consider online companies Alibaba and Tencent in China. Both participate in e-commerce through a variety of mechanisms, including partnerships (Tencent and, acquisitions (Alibaba and, and partial equity ownerships (Tencent and grocery store Yonghui). Tencent has expanded its partnership with step by step, beginning with an equity investment, moving into data sharing for better customer insight, and then making joint investments totaling more than $6 billion in e-tailer Vipshop and mall operator Wanda Commercial.

Similar to Rockefeller, the deal makers of the future will seek whatever arrangements allow their companies to build capabilities, rather than total-control buyouts. These new organizations are likely to operate quite differently from traditional corporations. The most successful will develop clear joint goals and an entrepreneurially enabled management style that focuses more on outcomes than on control.

Managers will also have to embrace the concept that not all ideas will be market winners—but until you try, you won’t know. Failure doesn’t necessarily indicate bad management, and the folks in HR must learn to separate business results from their assessment of the managers involved. Amazon, for one, knows this well: Everyone is impressed with the company’s big successes, but equally important is how quickly the company acts to shut down poor performers such as the Fire Phone and Amazon Destinations. Today’s low cost of capital creates a powerful financial incentive to put money to work by investing in a portfolio of ideas and capabilities. Companies will need to double down on what works and quickly cull the losers.

Looking out still further into the future, we may see companies that differ even more from today’s corporations. Consider Elon Musk’s enterprises: Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, and the Boring Company are companies with different missions but cut from the same cultural cloth and with organizational overlaps. (Tesla and SolarCity have recently merged; SpaceX uses technology from both.) In some respects this represents a return to the concepts of the Japanese keiretsu or the Korean chaebol.

A 1911 Supreme Court decree famously broke up Rockefeller’s Standard Oil into 34 different companies. Though hotly contested at the time, the breakup turned out to be a boon for shareholders, creating a fierce set of rivals that amassed immense wealth. Likewise, our research shows that active divestitures and separation activity should be a regular part of the M&A toolkit. The best performers may enter into plenty of capability-driven business combinations, but they also prune the portfolio religiously.

So, in many respects, we can expect M&A in the future to look very similar to M&A in the past—the distant past. Similar to Rockefeller, deal makers will pursue a strategy of alliances, joint ventures, and partnerships that can come together temporarily or permanently to create value.

How to Convince Customers to Share Data After GDPR

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In recent years, marketers have lived through the Era of Big Data, and the Era of Personalization, and now we are living through the “Era of Consent.” With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) going into effect on May 25th, businesses will be required to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens. For marketers, this means updating your privacy policies, but more importantly, it means finding innovative new ways to connect with customers and gather consent to use their data in order to continue your “marketing relationship” with them.

Marketers across the European Union (EU) have been preparing for this new regulation for months. Yet the regulation impacts all companies globally, including those in the United States, that collect and manage data on citizens in the EU. Many global marketers are still struggling to understand what steps they need to take to prepare for this regulation and how it will impact their marketing strategy moving forward.

Regardless of whether you are collecting and managing data on EU citizens now or plan to in the future, here are some tips for surviving this new Era of Consent.

Personalization and Customization: The Answer to Retaining Customers

The question that is top of mind for many marketers is whether or not the GDPR impacts existing customers who have already given consent to their data. The answer? It does. According to the regulation, consent is defined as “a statement or a clear affirmative action” from a customer. This could mean having your customers check a box on your website or respond to an email. Even if they have given consent in the past, it likely won’t be recognized under the GDPR, so you’ll have to get consent again.

So how can you convince your customers to willingly share their information? By being as transparent as possible about how their data is being used and maintained. This means delivering personalized content and tailored products or service recommendations to your customers to ensure that they are reaping the benefits of this new regulation. Offer them the chance to update their marketing preferences, and focus on the benefits they will gain by sharing such information. If they see relevant offerings being delivered to them, they’re more likely to stay engaged with the brand.

Personalization is by no means a new concept, but GDPR is forcing both B2C and B2B marketers to truly embrace individualized communication that is tailored to customers’ unique interests if they wish to retain customer data. Brands are adopting different methods of personalization to encourage consumers to “opt-in.” One method is to deliver content that is tailored to the individual’s preferences and to a specific part of the customer journey. For example, consumers can opt-in to receive an e-book that addresses some of their unique industry challenges. Developing fun, personalized, engaging videos and interactive marketing tools like chatbots can provide a great way to show your brand’s value and get consumers to engage and opt-in during the engagement. Consumers have a fear of missing out, so make sure your consumers understand exactly what they will be missing out on. Ultimately, it boils down to knowing your audience and being attentive and flexible to their needs. Change the way you create and offer content to your customers, with the main goal being that they will want to consume more. While it may seem like a complicated task in the B2B world, consider progressive “opt-in” options to entice your customers to share more information as they move through the funnel.

Addressing the Third-Party Data Dilemma

Third-party data is likely to be the biggest headache for global marketers. Under the GDPR, it’s not just your company that is liable for compliance: it’s your entire vendor ecosystem that is processing this customer data. Many marketing professionals rely on third-party vendors (such as customer relationship management systems (CRMs) and email service providers) to interact with customers. As the controller, it’s your responsibility to speak with any third-party partners that are processing your customer data and ensure they are taking the proper steps to remain compliant. This includes having the tools in place that will allow them to both retrieve and delete user data — a major component of the GDPR.

The New Realities of Omnichannel Marketing

One of the biggest pain points in the era of consent is the potential loss of data. Customers have the right to opt-in or out of communications and the type of data they are sharing. This will greatly impact lead generation. For example, marketers often use IP addresses to understand customer behavioral patterns. Under the GDPR, this data will be lost unless the customer consents to sharing this information. For marketers, this means losing crucial information on behavior, location, and preferences. Executing a personalized omnichannel strategy will become extremely difficult, which is why it’s essential to educate your customers on how their data is being used to ultimately benefit them in the long-run.

Preparing for a Sprint — Not a Marathon — With Automation

Complying with the GDPR is no small task, and one that humans alone can’t execute. IT departments are investing in compliance and security solutions to remain compliant, but marketers should also consider new investments. If a customer requests to be unsubscribed from marketing communications, businesses have a small window to ensure they are removed from the system. Investing in smart, AI-based solutions to automate these types of updates is critical to ensure that they are made in a timely fashion.

There is no doubt that the GDPR is changing the way global marketers interact with their EU customers. However, many are choosing to embrace this change and use it to create a much more personalized marketing approach that will eventually lead to more qualified and targeted leads. With the right process, people and technology in place, the era of consent and the GDPR can lead to smarter, and stronger connections between organizations and consumers.

How Do Consumers Choose in a World of Automated Ordering?

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The term “frictionless commerce” is widely used to describe how digital technologies are blending product purchases seamlessly into consumers’ daily lives. In the ultimate manifestation of frictionless commerce, purchases will be automatically initiated on behalf of consumers (with their advance consent) using real-time, integrated data from known preferences, past behaviors, sensors, and other sources. Envision, for example, a “smart fridge” automatically ordering food items it senses are running low. That is not common yet, but ever since consumers were offered the option to shop online from home, rather than having to go to a store, technology has been rapidly removing friction from commerce.

As frictionless commerce accelerates, so will a momentous shift in the node of commerce. In the era of department stores and supermarkets, consumers selected brands from store aisles and shelves. Over the past several decades, the in-store experience has been increasingly displaced by online shopping, via home computer and mobile phone. As consumers become connected to everything, all the time, the node of commerce will be consumers themselves, rather than any distinguishable “channel.”

The Danger of Disintermediation

Frictionless commerce will test the emotional bonds that make consumers loyal to established brands. Already, consumers are being disintermediated from traditional brand choices via search engine and online retailer algorithms that determine which products are presented to consumers, and in what sequence. That puts all brands in danger. Most consumers are at best passively loyal. When algorithms replace consumer emotions as the prime force shaping purchase decisions, consumers could easily forego their customary brand choices in exchange for the speed and convenience of whatever is offered by the self-interested, digitally empowered parties now taking control of consumer choice.

To remain successful, established brands must give consumers a reason to interrupt the increasingly automated purchasing process and actively choose a brand, rather than passively accepting substitutes. We call this “building brand friction in a frictionless world.”

Are brands adapting to this new reality? Our 2017 survey of 170 top Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) and Retail CEOs, COOs, and CFOs revealed a conscious shift away from traditional mass production and mass marketing practices toward more personalized approaches.

This certainly makes sense. As consumers become the node of commerce, companies will be challenged as never before to accurately perceive and seamlessly deliver what each consumer wants with unprecedented precision. Yet when viewed in the context of rapidly advancing frictionless commerce, the envisioned shift toward personalization appears modest. Do leaders grasp just how much adaptation will be required to build brand friction in a frictionless world?

To begin, even the most capable and sophisticated marketing organizations will need to fundamentally change their mission and shape. Traditionally, marketing’s most important task was to broadcast the company’s brands to consumers. In contrast, as consumers become the true node of commerce, marketing must first and foremost become a listening post. Analytics — which in many companies is still isolated from the core business — will be foundational to this listening mission, and so must be made central to the marketing function, rather than serving as marketing’s internal supplier.

The most vital leap for marketing will be evolving into an exponentially more effective translator of consumers’ needs, preferences, and desires. Most companies have no shortage of consumer data. What many still lack is the insight required to use that data to decisively win market share. The best marketing organizations will effectively fill that void through an advanced synthesis of brain and heart.

If this envisioned evolution proves accurate, marketing’s most important audience will be the rest of the company, as marketing becomes less an external advocate for the company and brand, and more an internal advocate for the consumer, guiding the formulation of myriad nuanced offers.

Even greater adaptation will be required of the larger organization. Leaders of major CPG and retail enterprises readily acknowledge the difficulty of initiating fast action across silos. P&L and brand groupings that optimized efficiency in the age of mass production and mass marketing often make it impossible for companies to nimbly react to consumer desires.

Influence vs. Affluence

We see peer influence as a growing force in determining where consumers spend money and what attracts them to brands. Affluence, the traditional source of consumer power, is being supplanted by consumer communities, shaped by shared interests and self-selected demographics. Persuasive individuals can now change the fate of brands with relative ease — underscoring the need to focus on how consumers think and what they value.

In sum, the changing world in which CPG and retail companies compete offers clear imperatives to evolve from today’s omnichannel obsession to more consumer-centric models. It is time to rethink everything you do from the consumer’s perspective. Stop resting on comfortable assumptions about the strength of your brands, your customer loyalty scores, or current success. Right now, complacency is your worst enemy.

Here are a few ways to start adapting to the realities of frictionless commerce:

  • Use data to understand customers on their terms. Be prepared to offer consumers meaningful value in exchange for their proprietary data. Demonstrably use their data to enhance their lives.
  • Redefine your target market. Traditional demographics are no longer sufficient. They will be increasingly replaced by “personagraphics” — the use of psychographics, anthropology, and sociology to identity individual needs and desires across crisply defined consumer cohorts, around which future consumer decision models will be built.
  • Rely on listening and translating more than on broadcasting. Challenge the complacency that stems from having an abundance of consumer data. Build markedly more sophisticated ability to identify and anticipate the new keys to brand loyalty in a frictionless world.
  • Shift focus from channel strategies to consumer centricity. Digital connectivity appears destined to make channels all but indistinguishable. Strategically redirect resources away from understanding channels toward deeper understanding of consumers.
  • Tap influence. As the mass marketing age fades, create brand friction via increased use of membership models and event-driven marketing. Build a sense of community within target cohorts by facilitating a network effect for influencers.

For the past century or more, technology has greatly empowered brands by connecting them with consumers on a mass scale. Now technology threatens to have the opposite effect, as the automation and algorithms of frictionless commerce distintermediate brands from the consumers they seek to serve. This crucial trend compels established CPG and retail brands to let go of much that is familiar and comforting. It is time to boldly experiment with new approaches, expressly aimed at building brand friction in a frictionless world.

The Different Words We Use to Describe Male and Female Leaders

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We like to think of ourselves as unbiased and objective in our employment decisions, but with two equal candidates, who are you going to promote? Someone who is described in their performance evaluations as analytical or someone who is described as compassionate? On the other end of the employment spectrum, if you’re downsizing and have to fire someone and the two people in jeopardy are very similar, who are you going to fire? Someone perceived as arrogant or someone perceived as inept? Leadership attributions in performance evaluations are powerful.

A unique and fascinating data set allowed us to explore the language used to describe individuals in subjective performance evaluations and provides evidence that, as we suspected, language in performance evaluations is applied differently to describe men and women. We analyzed a large-scale military dataset (over 4,000 participants and 81,000 evaluations) to examine objective and subjective performance measures that included a list of 89 positive and negative leadership attributes that were used to assess leader performance in a military leadership setting.

The military provides an interesting and significant setting to evaluate gender bias as it is a long-standing and traditionally male profession that has, over several decades, worked to eliminate formal gender segregation and discrimination. For performance evaluations specifically, the military has long been predicated on meritocratic ideals of fairness and justice providing equal opportunity regardless of demographics. The top-down enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies, hierarchical organization by military rank and not social status characteristics, and recent total gender integration in all occupations are hallmarks of meritocratic organizations where we might expect less gender bias in performance evaluations.

In our analysis we found no gender differences in objective measures (e.g., grades, fitness scores, class standing), which is consistent with prior research. However, the subjective evaluations provided a wealth of interesting findings.

For starters, in terms of sheer numbers of attributes, we found no gender difference in the number of positive attributes assigned, but women were assigned significantly more negative attributes.

We also looked at which specific attributes were more often assigned to men and to women. This gives us a better idea of how gendered language is employed in leader evaluations. The most commonly used positive term to describe men was analytical, while for women it was compassionate. At the other extreme, the most commonly used negative term to describe men was arrogant. For women, it was inept. We found statistically significant gender differences in how often these terms (and others) were used (relative to the other positive or negative terms available for selection) when describing men and women — even though men’s and women’s performances were the same by more objective measures.


So what? Both “analytical” and “compassionate” reflect positively on the individual being evaluated. However, could one characterization be more valuable from an organizational standpoint? The term analytical is task-oriented, speaking to an individual’s ability to reason, to interpret, to strategize, and lending support to the objectives or mission of the business. Compassion is relationship-oriented, contributing to a positive work environment and culture, but perhaps of less value to accomplishing the work at hand. When considering who to hire, who to promote, or who to compensate, which person— with which attribute—takes the prize?

Likewise, who is retained and who is fired? An arrogant employee may have a character flaw–and a negative impact on his work environment—but may still be able to accomplish the task or job. An inept person, in contrast, is clearly not qualified and presumably on her way out.

Our research on leadership attributes found significant differences in the assignment of 28 leadership attributes when applied to men and women. While men were more often assigned attributes such as analytical, competent, athletic and dependable, women were more often assigned compassionate, enthusiastic, energetic and organized. Consistent with our results, societal attitudes suggest that women leaders are described as more compassionate (the most assigned attribute overall) and organized than men leaders. In contrast, women were more often evaluated as inept, frivolous, gossip, excitable, scattered, temperamental, panicky, and indecisive, while men were more often evaluated as arrogant and irresponsible.

These are not just words — they can have real-life implications for employees and organizations. Language in performance evaluations can tell us what is valued and what is not in an organization. Employees also know what is valued and make choices and decisions about how well they fit in an organization and their potential to advance.

Our research is in line with other studies that have found differences in formal feedback for men and women. Some studies have shown that women are more likely to receive vague feedback that is not connected to objectives or business outcomes, which is a disadvantage when women are competing for job opportunities, promotions, and rewards, and in terms of women’s professional growth and identity. And women leaders often get conflicting feedback — told on the one hand that they’re too bossy or aggressive, but on the other that they should be more confident and assertive. A huge body of work has found that when women are collaborative and communal, they are not perceived as competent—but when they emphasize their competence, they’re seen as cold and unlikable, in a classic “double bind.”

One of the things that’s ironic about our findings is that many of the leadership traits that people say they most appreciate, want in a leader, or make a successful leader are the positive traits — such as compassion — that women leaders receive in their performance evaluations. So why isn’t this translating into more women in these roles? It’s one thing to describe an ideal leader, it’s another to describe a real person’s performance without being influenced by stereotypes about their gender, or stereotypes about what a leader should be.

Because of widely held societal beliefs about gender roles and leadership, when most people are asked to picture a leader, what they picture is a male leader.  Even when women and men behave in leaderly ways among peers — speaking up with new ideas, for example — it’s men who are seen as leaders by the group, not women. And as our study shows, even in this era of talent management and diversity and inclusion initiatives, our formal feedback mechanisms are still suffering from the same biases, sending subtle messages to women that they aren’t “real leaders”— men are.

How An Agent Figures Out Her Pitch to Publishers

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From…some things never change…

It’s 1996.

Tina Bennett is a junior literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, an Aston-Martin level New York literary agency. She’s finished her after-work beer with her colleague Eric Simonoff and heads home energized.

She now has a step-by-step mission.

Per Simonoff’s generous counsel, here is what she’ll need to do to best represent Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point book project.

  1. Target a short list of editors from the brand name publishing companies with the best reputations for publishing high-end Big Idea nonfiction. The publishers of books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster); Futureshock (Random House); Megatrends (Warner); Influence (William Morrow/HarperCollins); The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday) etc.  She’ll use the agency’s Editor/Publisher directory to come up with the names and houses. She’s already run her list by Simonoff and he thinks it’s a good start.
  1. Hone a verbal pitch, one that she would use to describe the project to those editors over the phone…the pitch that will induce them to ask to be included in the submission.
  1. Get some face time with the heads of her agency, Mort Janklow and Lynn Nesbit, to run the pitch by them and then ask their advice about her plan.

The next day is a Friday, a good time to pop her head into J&N’s Park Avenue office doorways with a “do you have a minute” expression on her face. Bennett knows that any of that week’s submissions have already been messengered to their respective editorial prospects. For all intents and purposes, the work week has ended.

Fridays are paperwork and “blue sky” thinking days at literary agencies, the come down from the Monday through Thursday call logging for new projects and follow-up check ins for the previous week’s. Friday is the day to exhale and regroup. Take off the tie and wear the jeans.

This was the era of hard copy, when submissions were literally printed on paper and stuffed into agency boxes with pitch letters atop. Every agency had its own distinctive box. And Janklow & Nesbit’s were the perfect shade of Strathmore Ivory, elegant with an emanating air of detached excellence…as if one was privileged to have been chosen to cast one’s eye upon the brilliance that lay within. Whether you were capable of understanding and appreciating said brilliance of little matter. Someone would and they’d make it a bestseller. With or without you, the die had been cast.

At publishing houses, the boxes would arrive Friday afternoons. Just before the return of lunching editors soon to pull together their weekend reading. To have a foot’s worth of fresh manuscript chum from second tier chop shop agencies awaiting your push through the glass door after yet another sup at Cafe Un Deux Trois was one thing.

A J&N box with you name elegantly scribed upon it was something else entirely.

It meant you were a player.

Many editors would let those high end boxes sit on the receptionist’s desk all afternoon in the hopes that their publisher would walk by and see that they were getting in the good stuff. Better for the boss to discover your gravitas with their own eyes than to have to clumsily and loudly drop references to how “I’ve got a first novel in from Janklow” to no one in particular as you walked by the publisher’s private and ocupado facilities.

My first publisher was one of those with zero patience for small talk so the bathroom strategy was unfortunately one’s only option. She was not one for the schmooze. But without fail, she’d step into my elevator car at a quarter to five on a Tuesday with me holding a baseball mitt, wearing shorts and sunglasses. With no reading tote anywhere near my person.

“What do you know?” she’d ask.

I never really knew how to answer that question. Was it her way of saying, “what’s up?” “How you doing?” “Good day?” Or was she literally asking me what I knew?

I’d blurt out “Not much.” To which she’d shrug and lament, “we all have our problems.”

Seriously. Those are the sum total of words we exchanged for three years.

Ugh. Still get panicky thinking about it.

Let’s get back to Tina Bennett the night before she’s going to ask her bosses about her list of editors to send The Tipping Point proposal.

After readying a four-cup coffee drip to keep her sharp after the Hefeweizen with Simonoff, Bennett picks up the phone and calls Malcolm Gladwell to nail down the pitch.

Is there anything he left out of his New Yorker piece…what he thinks might make for a bigger treatment of the tipping point idea?

Before Gladwell can respond, she gives him the reason why his answer is so important.

What she is going to have to do is shoot down the Pavlovian “magazine article does not a book make” editor argument right from the start.

So why exactly is “the tipping point” a bigger idea than just a way to look at the controversial broken windows criminology theory and of how people get the flu?

Like what are its first principles?

What is the single simple thing about the tipping point that would appeal to the largest possible audience?

On the other end of the phone, Gladwell is practically having an out of body experience.

I mean he’s had this idea marinating in a sardine can in the back pantry of his mind for over ten years. By 1996, he’s seeing the tipping point pattern in everything. From what made the new Japanese restaurant down the block from his apartment successful to how Paul Revere was able to spread “The British Are Coming” message to start the American Revolution.

Gladwell charts his vision.

The first principle of the tipping point is that it is explains why and how ideas and products and movements and behaviors spread. Anyone interested in figuring out how things become incredibly popular, adopted almost magically/unconsciously by millions and millions of people will want to read a book length version of the tipping point.

He’s animated now, realizing that what he just said may actually be true. It took Bennett to get him to voice it, now that he has, he’s on a roll.

The tipping point explains not just the practicalities of engineering mass consent about an idea–all that Noam Chomsky stuff. But how to actually transform the adoption of an idea into a behavioral response. To know how to tip something is to know how to get someone to not just “think” something, but to actually “do” something.

Knowing about the tipping point, studying it, and putting the principles behind it into action can transform lives.

It’s lightning in a bottle.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone baffled by how people like Jim Jones or David Koresh or Adolph Hitler for that matter were capable of getting legions of people to follow their every dictum will get something life changing out of a book length treatment of the tipping point.

Bennett interrupts to say that going down that very dark hole into the techniques of fascist brainwashing isn’t something many people would want to read about in their spare leisure time.

Gladwell agrees. Let’s go to the opposite pole then. To the positive.

The key thing to get someone excited about the big idea of this book, especially an editor at a publishing house, is probably in how the tipping point relates to commerce.

Like how do you create a marketing program for a product capable of mass adoption? From zero to millions sold?

This will be a global goal of the book…to tell readers how they can use the timeless principles of the tipping point to create positive change. From unknown to wildly popular. Be it a pair of brown suede shoes or even a mind-numbingly repetitive television show on basic cable.

So Gladwell tells Bennett that he will write more about good stuff than bad stuff. He’ll write about how products go from invisible to being de rigueur. How infections are contained. How crime is reduced. How educational television works.

So theoretically, someone who buys the book will feel like they’ll be able to practically put in place the things necessary to create an irresistible product or movement.

Bennett, now taking copious notes, asks, “So, how do you?”

Gladwell then tells her that he’s been thinking about that. He thinks you need three things in order to get something to tip. You need the right kind of information that is appealing enough or “sticky” to inspire others to share. You need the right kind of people to spread the information. And you need the right timing or context for the message and messengers to operate in.

Bennett needs to wrap it up. Okay. Now there’s a general three-part structure to the book. The message, the messengers, and the environment in which they incubate are what give rise to tipping points. Beginning, middle and end. We’ll frame the book with a killer prologue and epilogue and we’ve got a global structure that any book editor will embrace.  This goes far beyond the magazine piece. Is that it?

Pretty much, Gladwell confirms.

Great, I’ll boil this down and talk to Mort and Lynn tomorrow says Bennett. Anything else?

Oh, yeah, says Gladwell, there’s this…

Automation Will Make Lifelong Learning a Necessary Part of Work

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President Emmanuel Macron together with many Silicon Valley CEOs will kick off the VivaTech conference in Paris this week with the aim of showcasing the “good” side of technology. Our research highlights some of those benefits, especially the productivity growth and performance gains that automation and artificial intelligence can bring to the economy — and to society more broadly, if these technologies are used to tackle major issues such as fighting disease and tackling climate change. But we also note some critical challenges that need to be overcome. Foremost among them: a massive shift in the skills that we will need in the workplace in the future.

To see just how big those shifts could be, our latest research analyzed skill requirements for individual work activities in more than 800 occupations to examine the number of hours that the workforce spends on 25 core skills today. We then estimated the extent to which these skill requirements could change by 2030, as automation and artificial technologies are deployed in the workplace, and backed up our findings with a detailed survey of more than 3,000 business leaders in seven countries, who largely confirmed our quantitative findings. We grouped the 25 skills into five categories: physical and manual (which is the largest category today), basic cognitive, higher cognitive, social and emotional, and technological skills (today’s smallest category).

The findings highlight the major challenge confronting our workforces, our economies, and the well-being of our societies. Among other priorities, they show the urgency of putting in place large-scale retraining initiatives for a majority of workers who will be affected by automation — initiatives that are sorely lacking today.

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Shifts in skills are not new: we have seen such a shift from physical to cognitive tasks, and more recently to digital skills. But the coming shift in workforce skills could be massive in scale. To give a sense of magnitude: more than one in three workers may need to adapt their skills’ mix by 2030, which is more than double the number who could be displaced by automation under some of our adoption scenarios — and lifelong learning of new skills will be essential for all. With the advent of AI, basic cognitive skills, such as reading and basic numeracy, will not suffice for many jobs, while demand for advanced technological skills, such as coding and programming, will rise, by 55% in 2030, according to our analysis.

The need for social and emotional skills including initiative taking and leadership will also rise sharply, by 24%, and among higher cognitive skills, creativity and complex information and problem solving will also become significantly more important. These are often seen as “soft” skills that schools and education systems in general are not set up to impart. Yet in a more automated future, when machines are capable of taking on many more rote tasks, these skills will become increasingly important — precisely because machines are still far from able to provide expertise and coaching, or manage complex relationships.

While many people fear that automation will reduce the number of jobs for humans, we note that the diffusion of AI will take time. The need for basic cognitive skills as well as physical and manual skills will not disappear. In fact, physical and manual skills will remain the largest skill category in many countries by hours worked, but with different importance across countries. In France and the United Kingdom, for example, manual skills will be overtaken by demand for social and emotional skills, while in Germany, higher cognitive skills will become preeminent. These country differences are the result of different industry mixes in each country, which in turn affect the automation potential of economies and the future skills mix. While we based our estimates on the automation potential of sectors and countries today, this could change depending on the pace and enthusiasm with which AI is adopted in companies, sectors, and countries. Already, it is clear that China is moving rapidly to become a leading AI player, and Asia as a whole is ahead of Europe in the volume of AI investment.

We see retraining (or “reskilling” as some like to call it), as the imperative of the coming decade. It is a challenge not just for companies, which are on the front lines, but also for educational institutions, industry and labor groups, philanthropists, and of course, policy makers, who will need to find new ways to incentivize investments in human capital.

For companies, these shifts are part of the larger automation challenge that will require a thorough rethink of how work is organized within firms — including what the strategic workforce needs are likely to be, and how to set about achieving them. In our research, we find some examples of companies that are focusing on retraining, either in-house — for example, Germany’s SAP — or by working with outside educational institutions, as AT&T is doing. Overall, our survey suggests that European firms are more likely to fill future staffing needs in the new automation era by focusing on retraining, while US firms are more open to new hiring. The starting point for all of this will be a mindset change, with companies seeking to measure future success by their ability to provide continuous learning options to employees.

The skill shift is not only a challenge, it is an opportunity. If companies and societies are able to equip workers with the new skills that are needed, the upside will be considerable, in terms of higher productivity growth, rising wages, and increased prosperity. M. Macron’s point about technology being a force for good will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, a failure to address these shifting skill demands could exacerbate income polarization and stoke political and social tensions. The stakes are high, but we can already see the outlines of what needs to be don — and we have a little time to work on solutions.

Is Your Marketing in the Right Place but at the Wrong Time? - SPONSOR CONTENT FROM GOOGLE

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Time is running out on personalized marketing as a means of continually raising the return on investment of campaigns. The use of advanced data analytics to identify the right customers, while still valuable, is reaching a plateau. Proliferation of digital channels and options for customers raises the importance of another, still underappreciated, variable: message timing.

By communicating at the most opportune times based on insights into consumer behavior, companies can generate more business with fewer or more efficient ads, or expand their audience to find unexpected wins.

Timing comes into play through signals, sequence and speed. And the technology now exists for marketers to test with high confidence when to communicate and in what order — and to do so in near real time. How exactly are they doing that, and thereby realizing further gains in ROI? Bain & Company recently surveyed nearly 1,700 marketers globally, in partnership with Google, and found three areas of importance.

Signals. By understanding consumer intent, marketers can identify the right moments in the customer journey where ads will be most relevant.

In the market for cold medicines, for example, a leading global brand mapped its customers’ past search and purchase behavior, determining that people who take their cold medication in the first two days of symptoms are more likely to get relief and become greater brand advocates. Knowing this, the company worked with Google and WebMD to reach consumers whose search terms suggested they had common cold symptoms in that narrow period. As a result, the brand substantially increased conversion of searches to sales of its cold medication, building greater brand loyalty at the same time.

Sequence. Once a company spots the crucial signals, it should deliver a sequence of messages tailored to each customer.

A global sporting goods manufacturer used to mix brand-oriented, aspirational messages and price-focused promotional messages during the same time frame, in part because its e-commerce and brand teams did not coordinate with each other. Yet leading with a promotional message, while it might generate a short-term sales boost, sacrifices building long-term brand value. By contrast, leading with brand messages early in a campaign can have a halo effect on the subsequent promotional messages.

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This company now runs campaigns jointly between the two teams, sending and testing messages in a carefully calibrated sequence. As the senior director of digital media told us, “We can sequence our ads to start with a brand message for our most inspirational product, then start promoting a different product with an offer attached if the customer doesn’t bite. This saves money [on promotions] and ensures our positioning remains premium with those for whom our brand really resonates.”

Speed. Timing also affects how quickly a company is able to react to a customer’s behavior. Faster reaction times go a long way toward more effective marketing.

When companies get more proficient in timing their marketing activities, they often realize another benefit: freed-up time for brand building, creative development and data mining. The digital director of the Dutch cosmetics retailer Rituals noted that improving its customer prospecting gives the firm more time to “develop creative and ad messaging that is most true to our brand.”

What Marketing Leaders Do Differently
Advanced marketers have already begun to master signals, sequence and speed. For these firms, our research identified improved understanding and selection of customers as being their single-greatest investment area over the next three years.  But while all marketers share this goal, the leaders (defined as the top 20 percent of companies based on a composite score of revenue and market share growth), have a sharper focus.

Leaders own their digital destiny by taking control of their consumer data and by integrating their marketing and advertising technologies. For example, leaders in North America are 1.6 times more likely than laggards to prioritize integrating their platforms. European marketers rely more on outside agencies, but a majority still value integration, and 85 percent of Australian marketers are looking to integrate.

The leaders have built a test-for-results culture, refreshing metrics and dashboards at least weekly and using data to directly inform decisions. Leaders also make decisions faster, in part by having the in-house team responsible for customer acquisition and retention take more accountability for budgets, technology and analytics. There are regional differences, of course — slower data refreshes in Europe, more budget constraints in Australia — but the trends for leaders apply globally.

Companies that take more control of their marketing and advertising data and technology will be able to respond quickly to customer insights and send a tailored message at precisely the right moment. That raises the odds of seizing attention for the immediate purchase and building brand equity
in the longer run.

Laura Beaudin is a partner and Francine Gierak is a principal with Bain & Company’s Customer Strategy & Marketing practice. Beaudin leads Bain’s Marketing Excellence practice.

Read the full report to learn more about how leading marketers manage signals, sequence and speed.

How to Help the Employees You Gain in a Merger Succeed

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The term “acqui-hire” is a nifty neologism that enjoys the virtue of being well-defined in M&A circles while suffering the vice of being misunderstood. Ostensibly, young companies are “acqui-hired” more for their best people than for any real interest in their products, services, or ongoing operations. Talent acquisition is acqui-hiring’s main purpose, say innovation pundits — everything else matters less.

This is true in much the same way television can be defined as “radio, but with pictures” — technically accurate, to be sure, but missing the larger value and impact of the experience.

Consider founder Marc Lore: Walmart paid $3.3 billion in 2016 for Lore’s company in its increasingly desperate efforts to more effectively compete against Amazon. It was arguably the most expensive talent acquisition in e-commerce history, and many observers agree that it’s been paying off: “Walmart’s acqui-hire of Marc Lore and was brilliant,” asserts one long-time retail expert, “and Wall Street clearly agrees, too — Walmart’s stock reached an all-time high [last] November… Lore brought an ethos of fast experimentation and a digital strategy 100% on point.”

Insight Center

While the size and circumstances of’s deal are atypical, one clear takeaway stands out: These types of acquisitions aren’t about procuring talent; they’re about producing impact. Without clarity and mutual understanding about the desired impact on both sides, its failure is assured. Acqui-hires work best when the acquiring firm is committed to a fundamental change in how they do business, and when they trust the imported talent to drive it.

That requires humility and courage from both sides, which explains high failure rates of these types of mergers. Leadership teams and newly acquired talent alike typically and unfortunately overestimate their possession of those qualities.

Having been on both sides of several successful — and failed — acqui-hire transactions, certain critical success criteria and warning signs stand out:

Don’t acquire talent to solve a problem or manage a pain point. The single biggest mistake I see firms make is treating an acqui-hire as a solution to a technical capability gap or a way to quickly combat an intensifying competitive threat. Management knows it needs to “do something,” but no obvious acquisition candidates exist and creating an internal team or hiring external talent would take too long. An acqui-hire style merger  — even at a premium — can seem like a quick way to get a talented team on board and heal the acquiring company’s pain.

The issue, of course, is that these deals are rooted in tactical urgency rather than strategic awareness. The business case is almost too clear; the acqui-hired team is not so much building new capabilities as it is applying its talents to fix a broken process or fill in a product/service features gap.

Consider the case of a large Midwestern financial services firm that was struggling to compete online. They acquired a young, talented UX design firm to solve its painfully clunky and customer-hostile digital service offerings. The firm knew it had to build its internal design capabilities and believed its newly merged team represented an agile shortcut superior to hiring digital design agencies or recruiting people to build a department. The first year went great as all the low-hanging UX design fruit was plucked. Half of the 20-30-something-year-olds on the acquired team left during the second year because they realized they didn’t want to work for a bank. A couple of the more talented and effective UX designers left a few months later when the firm put the group under the IT department.

While the financial services firm successfully solved its problem in just over two years, it ended up worse off in several respects. The departures left it with mediocre UX capabilities and a reputation as a dull, alienating employer of young talent.

Acqui-hires desire and expect some measure of autonomy. Newly acquired startups and their leadership teams largely think of themselves as entrepreneurs, not employees. After all, if they had wanted to be employees, they would have gotten a job at a more traditional company rather than joining a startup. Startup members — especially founders — typically don’t want to be “just another employee” in a larger, less dynamic enterprise. They like their relative autonomy and inevitably come to resent the hierarchies and HR policies that straitjacket it.

Acqui-hirers and acqui-hirees need to craft a written “autonomy charter” delineating the length, fit, and flexibility of the enterprise leash. I saw one eight-figure acquisition collapse within six months when the founders were told a second time that, yes, it would take at least 90 days to hire a candidate they wanted. A written charter is necessary because “just trust me” promises rarely work in larger legacy firms (although one acqui-hired founder told me that his sponsor promised to protect his team from the more stultifying aspects of corporate policy. That proved essential. In fact, he said, his team’s successes led to loosening some of the more restrictive enterprise practices.). The charter should cover rules of engagement with supporting teams like IT, HR, and legal to lay out parameters for hiring, contracts, and other details.

Of course, freedom and autonomy aren’t just negotiable lures for aspiring acquirers; they represent vital enterprise values, as well. If acquired talent gets freedom and flexibility that their legacy colleagues do not, it will breed resentment. For example, I had to advise a European industrial controls company against a nine-figure acqui-hire because the brilliant co-founders of the company being acquired cared more about a side project they were working on than any opportunity to work at the industrial controls company. This would likely have resulted in confusion on newly merged teams as to what the priorities were and the newly acquired talent (and perhaps key legacy leaders) would have abandoned ship.

Smart companies and smart leaders think strategically about how their acquisitions promote greater agility and empowerment throughout the enterprise. Successful acquired talent need to have EQs high enough to assure that they won’t flaunt or gloat about the greater autonomy they enjoy.

Clarify and communicate the most important change(s). The moment an acqui-hire shifts from being a possibility to being a probability, the two sides need to ask themselves and each other a straightforward question: What is the most important way they’ll each have to change to make this succeed?

Must the acquired talent be prepared to collaborate across the enterprise? Must they respectfully embrace corporate practices and protocols? Go to lots of — or too many — meetings? Does the legacy team need to offer more flexible funding, faster regulatory review, and/or easier access to top management?

Organizations expecting new talent to fully comply with existing policies and procedures are fooling themselves; they’re simply hiring people. No wonder their new teams often feel betrayed. And acqui-hires who believe that everything except the source of their paychecks and future equity will remain the same are similarly delusional. People need to understand the new cultural, organizational, and operational values they are being asked to embrace. The more these asks are seen or interpreted as “compromises” rather than “opportunities,” the less likely the chances for success.

As Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley recalls about Google’s unhappy acquisition of his first startup, Dodgeball, over a decade ago: “We thought it was a product acquisition, and they knew it was an ‘acqui-hire,'” he noted. “Those two things were out of sync.”

Determine access to talent. Acqui-hiring affirms the importance of talent. Incumbent organizations recognize and acknowledge their need for talented teams with entrepreneurial flair. The challenge arises when acquired talent successfully impact the enterprise. Existing employees want a taste of the freedom, autonomy, and success the new teams show is possible. How will the firm manage frustration borne of ambition? How easy should it be for talent to transfer to — or work with — the newly acquired team? Similarly, if the acqui-hires truly embody the kind of capabilities and spirit the firm desires, should they become part of the recruiting and hiring process?

These questions hold even for the world’s largest firms. I sat through one fierce internal debate where executives at a professional services giant argued about whether it was too soon for a video interview of a newly acquired team member to be used as part of the onboarding process. The leadership seemed torn between having legacy employees articulate the firm’s culture and values versus a “face of the future” voice. The decision? They punted and said “next time.” Regardless, talent-dependent organizations need to determine what role their acqui-hires should play in shaping their human capital investment philosophies.

The last point is less a guideline than an introspective impression. Acuqi-hirers and acqui-hirees — if they’re brave — will ask themselves, “Will this team become more important to us over time?” That is, for the foreseeable future, will the skills and capabilities these talents bring to bear be a source of ongoing growth? Or, after two or three years, will it level off into a steady-state contribution — valuable, to be sure, but just another high performance team?

The answer is, of course, unknowable. But the asking raises another question: is the new talent, as individuals, the sort of people who should be leading the enterprise in the long run? Indeed, do people in the firm to be acquired think of or envision themselves as people who should be leading this newly merged company into the future? Is that what they really want?

Given the plethora of startups worldwide, the opportunity for game-changing acqui-hires has expanded enormously. Doing this successfully is harder than either acquiring or hiring — but, when done well, it can produce wins all around.

The 3 Types of Diversity That Shape Our Identities

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Diversity means different things to different people. In a study of 180 Spanish corporate managers, we explored perceptions of diversity and found that depending on who is answering, diversity usually means one of three things: demographic diversity (our gender, race, sexual orientation, and so on), experiential diversity (our affinities, hobbies, and abilities), and cognitive diversity (how we approach problems and think about things). All three types shape identity — or rather, identities.

Demographic diversity is tied to our identities of origin — characteristics that classify us at birth and that we will carry around for the rest of our lives. Experiential diversity is based on life experiences that shape our emotional universe. Affinity bonds us to people with whom we share some of our likes and dislikes, building emotional communities. Experiential diversity influences we might call identities of growth. Cognitive diversity makes us look for other minds to complement our thinking: what we might call identities of aspiration.

It is important to remember that categories only serve the purpose of classification; in the real world, differences between these categories are blurred. Diversity is dynamic. But we believe this diversity framework, though somewhat artificial (as all frameworks are) can be useful to companies who are trying to refresh their approach to managing diversity. What kind of diversity does your company focus on? Could you benefit from broadening your perspective? Let’s take a closer look at each in turn.

Managing identities of origin. Since the 1980s, most global companies have developed diversity and inclusion policies led by human resources. The most frequent include: assessment tools (climate surveys, statistics monitoring, minority targets), human resources programs (flexible policies, mentoring or coaching), communication campaigns, and training programs.

Consider Sodexho. In 2002 the company hired a chief diversity officer, Anand Rohini, to make diversity a priority. Some of the diversity priorities at Sodexho focused on gender, ethnicity, disabilities, and age. Its diversity strategy included a series of systems and processes covering human resources policies (such as flexibility measures, training, selection processes and career services); diversity scorecards; and quantitative targets, mainly regarding numbers of women and minorities, not only in the organization in general but also in leadership positions. By 2005 Sodexho was widely recognized as a diversity champion. For more than a decade it has been consistently ranked among the best of the DiversityInc top 50 list, and Anand Rohini has been widely recognized as a global diversity champion.

For Sodexho and other companies taking a similar approach, the result is an enhanced company image and reputation. Talented individuals in general, but from minorities in particular, select companies in which they expect to feel appreciated.

Managing identities of growth. Identities of growth often provide us with a feeling of security. Our likes and dislikes change over time, and so our affinity groups change. Identities of growth dictate who we spend time with.

Many companies have developed friendship-based communities among employees, typically organizing activities such as weekends away, departmental Christmas parties, and so on, in a bid to create emotional ties between workers and the company. But because emotional communities are held together as much by the likes as by the dislikes of members, they can be unpredictable and difficult to manage in the long term. As a result, these emotional communities can sometimes work to the benefit of organizations, but they can just as often end up having the opposite effect, particularly when people share a dislike for certain policies, a particular boss, or for what they consider to be an unfair situation.

Our research suggests that the best policy for dealing with communities of growth is through minimum intervention. Emotional communities will emerge in organizations, whether management likes it or not, and will have a life of their own. For that reason it is best to take a neutral position. Creating affinity groups is positive for the company. But these groups should always be voluntary and develop at their own pace, without management interference.

Managing identities of aspiration. Our cognitive differences find their place in a community of aspiration. In those communities, we are valued for our unique way of understanding and interpreting the world. A community of aspiration is a space where our ideas are valued for their contribution to a common project, regardless of our different traits or individual likes or dislikes.

Innovative organizations are shifting from managing units to managing challenges or projects, asking employees to voluntarily join projects, creating structures where employees can move out of their comfort zones to join temporary communities of aspiration that strengthen cross-organizational ties and help the company achieve its strategic goals.

Corporate experience shows that the most effective strategy for companies to manage communities of aspiration is to create the contexts and the projects for them to emerge.

Valve Corporation, a video game developer, has defined a unique corporate structure with no bosses or managers at all. Each member of the company is invited to define their contribution to the company according to their choices and preferences. A highly talented developer specialized in graphics animation might choose to work on a game by assuming a “group contributor role,” becoming part of the group developing that game. After finishing this “group contribution,” the same person might choose to work in a more individualistic fashion on the next task. This “free to choose” approach is mirrored in the firm’s office design. Valve offices incorporate wheeled desks to foster mobility and allow the fast configuration and reconfiguration of groups as well as individual work.

Understanding multiple types of diversity is particularly relevant in our tribal times. Individuals now construct identities consciously. We want to play with a multiplicity of identities and use them in as many different roles as their different affiliations allow.

We live in complex times, when complex solutions are need it and where a one solution for all approach no longer works. Each form of diversity is different and requires its own management strategy to effectively integrate people. Diversity is a journey and, like any journey, requires careful navigation.

The order

Seth Godin's Blog -

It's tempting to decide to make a profit first, then invest in training, people, facilities, promotion, customer service and most of all, doing important work.

In general, though, it goes the other way.


Is Your Emotional Intelligence Authentic, or Self-Serving?

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It’s possible to fake emotional intelligence. Similar to knockoffs of luxury watches or handbags, there are emotions and actions that look like the real thing but really aren’t. With the best of intentions, I’ve seen smart leaders charge into sensitive interactions armed with what they believed was a combination of deep empathy, attuned listening, and self-awareness but was, in fact, a way to serve their own emotional needs. It’s important to learn to spot these forgeries, especially if you’re the forger.

Plenty of research has documented manipulative misuses of emotional intelligence — the intentionally subtle regulating of one’s emotions to engineer responses from others that might not be in their best interest. Given that most people aren’t sociopaths, in my experience, the more common misuses of emotional intelligence are subconscious. To safeguard against inadvertently falling prey to them, we need deeper levels of self-examination. Here are three of the more common counterfeits I’ve seen snare well-intended leaders.

A need to be the hero disguised as empathy. Empathy is one of the key components of emotional intelligence. The capacity to understand and share others’ feelings creates authentic connection and deepens trust. But a leader’s genuine desire to demonstrate care can transcend healthy boundaries in unintended ways. I saw this play out when debriefing with the Chief Operating Officer of a $20 billion global company. I’d helped him prepare for a potentially volatile conversation with his direct report, who was behind on the implementation plan of a major initiative. The project costs had ballooned, and the direct report was emotionally frayed. Some of the issues were legitimately outside her control, but some were the result of her mistakes. The goal of the conversation was to agree on how she would get the project back on track. When I asked him how the conversation went, he responded with exuberant relief, “Better than I could have expected.” He went on to explain: “I was sure to start with empathy the way you coached me, and when I felt it was time, we moved into problem solving.” When I asked about the resolutions they’d agreed to, he told me, “We’ve agreed to push out the completion date by a year, I’ve given her the extra $40k she needs for the consultants, and at her request, I’ve agreed to step in as co-leader of the initiative.”

You and Your Team Series Emotional Intelligence

Over the next two hours, we unpacked the conversation to reveal how his need to feel indispensable completely overshadowed what she actually needed: accountability, coaching, and guidance. He felt the conversation had gone well because he felt needed by her. She thought it went great because she was no longer on the hook alone. At first, he defended his intention of being a caring and compassionate leader. But eventually he was able to see that when his expression of care turned to rescuing her from a difficult situation, it stopped being compassionate, and became selfish. When a leader indulges a codependent need to feel central to another person’s success, it takes away the other person’s power, making them weaker instead of stronger.

When expressing empathy for those you lead, pay attention to any need you might have to be the hero. Compassionate understanding for the challenges of others is emotionally intelligent. Rescuing them from the consequences of those challenges may be more cruel than kind.

A need to be right masquerading as active listening. A fundamental social skill of emotional intelligence is being an effective listener. Being attuned to the spoken and unspoken concerns of others demonstrates an openness to their views, a willingness to engage ideas different from ours, and honors the courage of others to express divergent perspectives. Most leaders I’ve worked with claim to want pushback, believe they listen to dissenting ideas, and are willing to have their minds changed when stronger beliefs and facts are presented. But many would also admit, if they were being honest, that letting go of being right is painful, and relinquishing their views to those of others feels like a loss of control and influence.

But unaware of the tension between a genuine desire to take in others’ views and a need to be right, leaders can feign listening while actually trying to lure others to their side without realizing they’re doing it. I watched this happen in a leadership team meeting as the heads of marketing and sales tried to resolve a common stalemate. Trying to sound conciliatory and open-minded, each would attempt to “summarize” the other’s views with statements like, “So what I hear you saying is the only way you’ll agree to those quotas is if….” and “I’m really trying to understand your view on this, given that last month you seemed to be more aligned with….” and “I sense that you’re really frustrated right now, and I’d love to find a solution that can work for both of us, if we could just agree that…” Both believed they were genuinely interested in finding a mutually acceptable compromise. But nobody in the room saw it that way and neither of them believed it about the other. If you have strong views or a critical agenda, own it. It doesn’t mean you don’t care what others think. Working to suppress your strong views to appear as if you’re engaging others never works, even if you mean well. People are more likely to believe you’re open to hearing their ideas if they feel you’ve been straightforward about where you stand on yours.

A need for approval dressed up as self-awareness. Keenly self-aware leaders detect how others experience them, actively solicit critical feedback from others, and accurately acknowledge their strengths and shortfalls. But when fueled by an unquenched desire for approval, self-awareness can warp into self-involvement. One executive, who prided himself on his astute self-awareness, regularly asked his team for feedback, believing he really wanted it (and on some level, he probably did). But what they saw was a neurotic plea for affirmation. In a diagnostic interview, one direct-report said to me, “Every time he asks how I’m doing, we all know the best thing to do is just say ‘Great,’ so we can get on with our day.” I’ve seen leaders begin lengthy speeches with declarations like, “I know sometimes I get impatient. When I do, I want you to call me on it,” and then obsessively ask, “Am I being too impatient?” even when impatience may actually be warranted. Every leader is insecure about something. Genuinely self-aware leaders face that insecurity head on, and don’t put the burden of soothing it on others.

Our ability to express emotional intelligence is sometimes impaired by unacknowledged, unhealthy, emotional needs. If you want to genuinely employ effective emotional intelligence skills, pay attention to the unaddressed scars and voids lurking beneath the surface of your inner emotional landscape. Tend to those honestly and carefully, and you’ll better be able to maintain credibility and strong relationships with others.

How Nokia Embraced the Emotional Side of Strategy

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How do emotions shape strategy making? We investigated this topic when we studied how Nokia executives dealt with the company’s severe strategic challenges between 2007 and 2013. As part of this research, we conducted 120 interviews, including nine with board members and 19 with top managers.

Recall that Nokia dominated the mobile and smartphone markets in 2007-2008 when Apple launched the iPhone and Google the Android operating system. The new rivals revolutionized customer expectations, causing Nokia’s Symbian operating system to become outdated. However, Nokia held on to Symbian until 2011, when it eventually switched to Windows operating system, which also underperformed. Ultimately, Nokia initiated a radical strategic renewal in 2013 by divesting its mobile phone business and focusing on manufacturing network equipment and software, patent licensing, and opportunities in wearable technology and the internet of things. This bold strategic leap was, we found, in part facilitated by Nokia’s newly appointed board who actively attended to top managers’ emotions in 2012-2013. The emotional practices used by Nokia’s board should also be helpful for other organizations under stress.

Practice #1: Increase trust by defining new conversational norms.

Several top managers and board members confided to us that, in the past, low trust between top managers and board had undermined the quality of strategic discussions after the iPhone and Android launches. In particular, top managers and even some board members were unable or afraid to voice their concerns about the severity of the threats and to develop a stronger response. As one of the top managers reflected on the period from 2007 to 2011: “A lot of the board members felt that they weren’t always encouraged to speak freely [at that time].”

The new chairman appointed in 2012 sought to improve strategic discussions by “breeding a new culture in the company — in the board, and between the board and the management team.” He was explicit that he did it “because things clearly weren’t working. […] If the board is a place where the management comes with knees trembling [i.e. feeling fear], a solution in their mind, that they need to sell to the board, that would be a complete disaster.” The board defined concrete “Golden Rules” for board discussions that included showing respect to other members and assuming that they speak with good intentions — and made sure that these rules were followed. For example, a board member told us how, after he had made hostile comment to a top manager, the chairman made him apologize to the top manager in the next meeting.

These actions increased trust and led to a more open dialogue about the company’s strategy. A top manager told us: “With [the new chairman] we are not afraid, we don’t have to think about what we say too much. It’s pretty easy to discuss things with him and throw in ideas and think out loud. With [the old chairman], this wouldn’t even have crossed my mind.” Hence, they were able to consider the strategic challenge from various perspectives, which helped in generating more options.

Practice #2: Reduce emotional attachment to the prevailing strategy by generating many new options – not just one alternative.

In the past, Nokia’s top managers did not succeed in revising their strategy partly because they were emotionally attached to the prevailing Symbian-based strategy. As a top manager noted: “No one on an emotional level wanted to think about it right away, even though [top managers] knew analytically [that the prevailing strategy should be challenged]. The consequences were emotionally burdening.” This inability to discuss the limitations of the prevailing strategy was partly fueled by the absence of readily available alternative options. As another top manager reflected: “Even if you personally thought that ‘Damn it, this won’t work,’ you couldn’t shout that to anyone. Not until there’s an option. You need to have a [viable] option before you can change course.”

In 2012, the new board was explicit in that the creation of new options can change top managers’ emotions toward the prevailing strategy: “We did a huge amount of work to analyze those options, which helped to reduce emotional attachment to the current strategy […] If you have several options it reduces fear.”

The continuous pressure from the board to generate and analyze multiple options disciplined top managers’ evaluation process — despite their own initial emotional impulses — and made them develop a deeper understanding of the situation: “The workload was so huge that if the board wasn’t constantly asking for more scenario analysis, there was a risk that the management would just say, ‘We’re so f***ing tired. Isn’t it obvious that these two are the main alternatives? Why are we dragging these other three out?’ That’s where the [new] board played an important role… to say, ‘No, we want to look at all of them. We want to see them all the time. Let’s go back to the drawing board.’ Because that generates more information that helps formulate a [more thoughtful] decision.”

Practice #3: Nudge top managers to pay attention to data that conflicts with their gut feelings.

In the past, especially when Nokia was contemplating Windows or Android as the replacement for Symbian in 2011, some top managers had been blinded by wishful thinking. A top manager said: “There was the bias to wanting to be a market leader. […] We believed that with Windows you can influence the game; instead of playing with the same Legos [Android] as everyone else.” And a strategy director elaborated: “All outsiders thought that the Windows Phone would not succeed. […] The rational [side of thinking] led to, ‘Well I don’t believe in the Windows thing so this is doomed to failure’, whereas if you yourself believe that the Windows thing might have a chance […] then this [seems like a] better solution.”

To avoid similar wishful thinking, the new board required detailed attention to data about the progress of the prevailing strategy in 2012-2013. Key sales numbers were followed regularly and specific actions were defined for different projections of sales revenues, such that emotional reactions to the incoming data would be less likely to bias the interpretation of the data. A board member explained how this helped them “to evaluate not only what will happen but also the delta compared to our expectations, and then we were able to backtrack from there and see, what was the reasoning behind our expectations, which in turn enabled us to calibrate our reasoning.”

In addition, several options were thoroughly analyzed regardless of their initial seeming attractiveness. In particular, the option of switching from Windows to the Android operating system in 2012-2013 — which many initially thought as the right move and would have allowed maintaining the company’s identity as a smartphone maker — was ultimately rejected based on data analysis: “Through this analysis, little by little, the truth kind of stared you in the face.”

Likewise, top managers’ initial dislike of the option of buying full stake of the Nokia-Siemens Networks — which was a joint venture between Nokia and Siemens that had been performing badly for several years due to difficulties in post-merger integration and industry conditions — was transformed: “When [the CFO] presented that alternative for the first time [laughs], people weren’t really enthusiastic about it, right away. But after a few discussions, it looked reasonable, specifically in terms of the financial metrics.” Ultimately, Nokia acquired Nokia-Siemens Networks in 2013, and started expanding the networks business, also acquiring Alcatel-Lucent in 2015.

In sum, these three emotion regulation practices helped Nokia senior executives to make one of the most difficult decisions in its history — to renew itself radically by divesting its main business. While this move surprised outside observers, Nokia’s top managers strongly felt that this was the right choice: “It was of course the entire path […] All that time, we had gone through [the options] with a fine-toothed comb […] Since we had left no stone unturned, there was no longer anywhere to hide; you couldn’t say, ‘No, we still have to take time out and think about this or that.’” They transformed their long-standing emotional commitment to their once world-dominant mobile phone business into a voluntary and thought-through radical departure from their former identity and pride.

Managing people’s emotions is often referred to as the “soft stuff,” while questions of strategy are the “hard stuff.” But our deep dive into Nokia’s experience shows that these two aren’t as separate as many assume. In fact, paying more attention to the soft stuff may help boards and top management teams increase their ability to think strategically in times of major disruption and stress.

Making Time for Networking as a Working Parent

Harvard Business Review -

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Networks matter for career success. They help you find people who can assist you with projects, refer you to new employers, and make connections to new and bigger opportunities. In a famous study by Ronald Burt, people who made efforts to improve their networks were 42%–74% more likely to be promoted than those who didn’t.

Here’s the challenge: networks often seem to grow during after-hours activities, like after-work drinks, weekend off-sites, or far-away conferences. And that poses a problem for most working parents. How do you meet new people if traveling to conferences is out of the question? How do you strengthen connections with colleagues after work if you also need to hurry home for soccer practice? For many working parents, those problems don’t get solved and their network growth ceases (and maybe even shrinks).

But being a working parent doesn’t mean the end of a thriving network, it just means you have to get a bit more creative and deliberate. I should know. As the father of two pre-school-aged children and the husband to an emergency room physician, relying on organic network growth from after-hours events just wasn’t feasible. I had to get intentional. I examined a variety of methods based on network research in my latest book. Here’s a few evidence-based techniques I’ve found that work for me, that may also help you:

Press pause on making new contacts. When your kids are small, finding time to make new contacts can be a challenge, but there’s a wealth of opportunity and new information that can come from old friends and former colleagues — in social networking jargon, your “weak” or “dormant” ties. And because you’re already connected, reestablishing the relationship and catching up should be faster than making new connections. Weak ties are often more valuable than new contacts anyway, the research suggests. Don’t overdo it, but find one dormant tie per week to reach back out to. Use their social media profiles for updates on their life you can use as a reason to connect, or take the 30 seconds to pass along a quick note when an article, video, or anything else brings that person up in your mind.

Explore the fringes of your network. After you’ve reconnected with lots of dormant ties, start exploring who is on the edges of your network by asking for introductions from those weak ties. Like old contacts, it’s a more time-efficient way to connect, since there’s an intermediary you both share. My favorite method was to ask multiple people “Who do you know in ___?” with the blank being the industry, company, geography, or whatever I wanted to get connected to. When the same name kept appearing on different people’s list, that was a strong signal it was time to connect.

Get virtual. When you do want to get to know someone, or reconnect with someone you do know, think beyond the coffee or lunch date. With video technology advancing fast, a high-fidelity face-to-face conversation can happen without either of you leaving the office, or your home.

Practice introductions. One of the most powerful things you can do to strengthen your network involves not meeting new people at all, but instead connecting two contacts in your network to each other. You strengthen the network around you, provide value for both contacts, and become known as an overall generous person. And you can do it any time of day via email (but make sure both parties know your introduction is coming).

Use business travel wisely. There may be times when traveling for work is unavoidable, but you can make the most of your time away. If you’re traveling to a conference, do some research ahead of time to find out who else is coming and schedule quick chats throughout the event — rather than hoping to meet some interesting people just milling around the coffee station. If you’re traveling for something else, see if you can arrive a few hours early or stay a little longer and use that extra time to reconnect with other contacts. My personal rule is that the number of overnights matter, but the number of hours in the day do not, so I try to arrive the earliest I can and leave as late as possible to sneak in a few more meetings.

Talk to your parent friends about more than just kid stuff. Research on social networks suggests that your most valuable connections come from people with whom you share multiple contexts (called your multiplex ties). So examining non-kid interests, hobbies, and even work can lead to a stronger bond and more reasons to stay connected. Likewise, doing family events with your colleagues can be a valuable way to invest time in multiple areas of your life. One of my favorite moments from a recent family vacation in Washington, DC was the time we spent walking the national zoo with a work colleague and his family. We became closer friends and more valuable colleagues.

If a lot of these steps seem like a regular part of networking, that’s because they are…we just tend to forget about them. There’s far more to growing a thriving network than attending networking events, working the room, and hoping you meet new people. Much of the work of networking involves taking care of the network you already have and slowly expanding it through current contacts. It’s tempting to think that can only happen at after-work events or at big gatherings, but the truth is much of it can be done from your office at work during hours you’re already working.

You don’t have to find more time to do networking, you just have to fit networking into the time you have.

Big crew/little crew

Seth Godin's Blog -

Software projects work better with small teams.

On the other hand, it makes sense to have multiple teams of workers if you're paving a patch of highly trafficked highway.

Three reasons:



Ramp up time

As we learned from the Mythical Man Month more than fifty years ago, software projects rely on coordination of work. As you add programmers, the work doesn't go faster, it gets slower. Ramp up time is expensive. And if the project involves learning as you go, then big teams waste far more time at the beginning while you're figuring things out.

On the other hand, it doesn't make any sense at all to have a single crew working on a paving project. If you need to close the road for two weeks as they work from one end to the other, you've cost the users of the road a fortune. Ramp up time for trained professionals is trivial, and there's no learning and not much coordination. Better to have five crews working on different sections and open the road after just one or two days.

Often, we default to a small crew because we don't believe we can afford a bigger one. But if the work is worth doing, it might be worth doing more quickly. It's easier than ever to find ways to scale project labor now.

And sometimes, we mistakenly choose to use a big crew, thinking that nine women, working very carefully in coordination, can have a baby in one month. Wishful thinking that ends up in disappointment.

If you want to see a project in trouble, look for how crew size was decided.


The Artist’s Journey, #15

Steven Pressfield Online -

Here in our fifteenth week of this serialization of The Artist’s Journey, we’re finally getting into my favorite part—the airy-fairy part. I can make no scientific claim to anything put forward in “Book Six  The Artist and the Unconscious.” It’s all personal and idiosyncratic, just stuff that I believe is true (though I can’t prove it) from my own experience. From this point to the end of the book, that’s what’s coming. To catch up on any prior posts, click these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11Part 12. Part 13. Part 14.


The artist learns how to help others and how to be helped. She learns how to steal and how to give away.

She studies the marketplace and comes to understand it (as much as it can be understood.)

She acquires perspective on herself and her work and the place of her work within the field of her contemporaries and of those who have gone before.

She studies the work of the masters who have preceded her. She learns to appreciate them and to respect the gifts they have bequeathed to her.

She acquires humility and she gains self-belief.

She learns to self-motivate.

To self-validate.

To self-reinforce.

And to self-evaluate.

She has become a professional.

Now when someone asks her what she does, she answers without hesitation, “I’m an artist.”



It’s easy for Bob Dylan or Neil Young to say, “I’m never going back to work in the bean fields.”

What about you and me?

Can we say it and mean it?



Now we come to the mystical level. The right brain. The Dionysian.

What are the stages of the artist’s journey on this plane?


B  O  O  K     S  I  X T H E   A R T I S T   A N D   T H E   U N C O N S C I O U S



We hear (and we know, ourselves) of the terror that writers experience when confronting the blank page.

Rather than face this, they will delay, dilate, demur, procrastinate, rationalize, cop out, self-justify, self-exonerate, not to mention become drunks and drug addicts, cheat on their spouses, lose themselves on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and in general destroy not only their bodies and minds but their souls as well.


What’s so scary about an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of uncoated bond?



What’s scary is that, in order to write (or paint or compose or shoot film), we have two choices:

  1. We can work from our ego-minds, in which case we will burst blood vessels and suffer cerebral hernias, straining only to produce tedious, mediocre, derivative crap.
  2. We can shift our platform of effort from our conscious mind to our unconscious.

Can you guess which one we’re most terrified of?



The Unconscious (to use the term as Freud originally defined it) is unconscious only to us.

We are unconscious of its contents.

But the Unconscious mind is not unconscious to itself or of itself.

The Unconscious is wide awake.

It knows exactly what it’s doing.

(And it’s pretty pissed off at being called “the Unconscious.”



Instead let’s call it the Superconscious. That’s what it is.

The superconscious is that part of our psyche that knows where we put our keys when our conscious mind is certain we’ve lost them.

It’s that part of our brain that divines, in .0001 second, that that very attractive, bewitching, charismatic new person we just met is big-time trouble.

It’s that part of our mind that wakes us at precisely the minute we set our mental alarm clocks to.

It’s that part of our consciousness, if we’re a wildebeest, that guides us infallibly from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara, or, if we’re a Monarch butterfly (with a brain the size of the head of a pin), three thousand miles from eastern North America to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico, even though not a single butterfly in the migration has made the trip before.

The superconscious is that part of our psyche that dreams, that intuits. According to Jung, it’s that part that lies adjacent to and is linked with the “Divine Ground.”

The superconscious is the part of our mind that speaks in our true voice, knows our true subject, and makes decisions from our true point of view.

The superconscious is the part of our psyche that enabled Einstein to conceive the Special Theory of Relativity and Steph Curry to hit nineteen three-pointers in a row with an opponent’s hand in his face on every shot.

Tolstoy didn’t write War and Peace. His superconscious did.

Picasso didn’t paint Guernica. His superconscious did.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone didn’t create South Park, their superconsciouses did.

I’ve got a superconscious, and so do you.

Our problem, you and I, is that we don’t know how to access it or, if we do, we’re too terrified to take the chance.

The artist’s journey is about linking the conscious mind to the superconscious. It’s about learning to shuttle back and forth between the two.



How AI Is Making Prediction Cheaper

Harvard Business Review -

Avi Goldfarb, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, explains the economics of machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence that makes predictions. He says as prediction gets cheaper and better, machines are going to be doing more of it. That means businesses — and individual workers — need to figure out how to take advantage of the technology to stay competitive. Goldfarb is the coauthor of the book Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence.

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Technology Is Changing What a Premium Automotive Brand Looks Like

Harvard Business Review -

JEWEL SAMAD/Staff/Getty Images

Many mature industries are experiencing significant technological disruption. The automotive industry is being disrupted by electric vehicles and self-driving cars, just as home appliances is being disrupted by the Internet of Things and smart appliances, home entertainment by on-demand content providers, and apparel by online personal stylists such as Stitch Fix and Trunk Club.

Leaders in every industry are no doubt keeping a vigilant eye on such developments, yet one very important aspect of this disruption has been largely overlooked: technology fundamentally changes what makes your brand premium.

The traditional drivers of brand premium are being joined (and to varying degrees supplanted) by newer, tech-enabled variables: software, interactive products, digital interactions, immersive experiences, and predictive services, to name a few.


Here’s how technology is changing the game in the automotive industry:

Product: hardware vs. software. While hardware currently accounts for 90% of the perceived value of a car, Morgan Stanley predicts that percentage will eventually drop to just 40%, with the remaining 60% being dominated by the car’s software and content.

Product: mechanical vs. interactive. Premium car brand buyers were traditionally satisfied with a high-performing, safe, and luxurious driving experience. However, in the digital age, drivers increasingly expect their car to also be a smart device on wheels that keeps them constantly connected, makes them safer and better-informed drivers, while also entertaining them. Our conversations with automotive industry leaders suggest there will be significant growth over the next several years in premium brand cars equipped with large-screen infotainment systems, large LCD dashboards, and augmented reality head up displays.

Insight Center

Marketing and sales: offline vs. online. Brand marketing and the car buying experience have always been integral to being a premium automotive brand, and the majority of those crucial interactions have already moved online. In its study of “The Shifting Automotive Shopping Landscape,” TNS Global reports that premium car owners experience an average of 8.9 touch points during the purchase process, of which 5.5 occur online. And while only 2% of today’s car buyers purchased their car online, 77% say they anticipate purchasing cars online in the future.

Marketing and sales: emotional vs. experiential. Automakers have long known that the more premium a car brand is, the more emotion factors into brand perception, which is why premium brand marketing makes consumers anticipate serene gratification. However, experientially engaging car buyers may soon be as essential. A recent consumer survey revealed that 82% of current car owners and potential car buyers want to explore and configure their vehicle via immersive technologies like virtual and artificial reality. Premium brands need to do more than keep pace with industrywide efforts to provide such experiences — they need to lead them, or face surrendering a key element of their brand’s cachet.

Services: offline vs. online. Our review of historical data and major automakers’ announced plans indicates that connectivity devices in cars will increase from 22% in 2017 to 69% by 2020, laying the foundation for automakers to significantly lessen the need for car owners to bring their vehicle to a facility for maintenance. The rapid growth of electronic vehicles (EV) will further accelerate the shift to online services, since the EV structure greatly simplifies after-sales maintenance. The majority of service touch points may soon move online. Again, customers will expect premium brands to be ahead of the curve in providing after-sale car service convenience.

Services: real-time vs. predictive maintenance. Increased connectivity will also make predictive maintenance the main service mode, as automakers will continuously capture and rapidly analyze massive data on driving behavior, road conditions, and other variables to anticipate and finely hone vehicle service. A World Economic Forum white paper predicts remote diagnostics, enabled by telematics, will add $60 billion of profits to OEMs, suppliers, and telematics service providers through 2025. An IoT Analytics study spanning 13 industries, including automotive, found that predictive maintenance solutions being achieved today deliver 20%-25% efficiency gains, and forecast the revenue opportunity in predictive maintenance will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 39% over the next five years.

Brand equity: heritage vs. digital. A cumulative effect of the shifts described above may be a diminished value of brand heritage, relative to a rising premium on consumer-pleasing digital innovation. This final and most strategic shift could create a historic opening for new automakers — including EV makers in developing countries such as China, and self-driving/EV start-ups by internet companies. Proprietary research A.T. Kearney conducted for a client found that 45% of car owners would switch from their current brand to a vehicle offered by a tech company new to the automotive industry. Data-savvy automotive start-ups that use customer-centric thinking to guide their innovative prowess could significantly undermine even the most esteemed premium brands.

In sum, a reshuffle of premium brands is near. Established premium brands who choose to go on relying exclusively or even primarily on their traditional strengths could soon lose much of their ability to attract consumers and to grow or hold market share, while new brands may be able to gain premium standing much more quickly than was ever before possible. For example, Tesla required only about a decade to establish itself as a premium brand.

How can established premium automakers best react?

Realistically assess the staying power of the qualities that made your brand premium in the past, in light of the new variables now reshaping brand premium in the automotive industry. Will what you offer today still be perceived as premium in five or 10 years? For example, superior driving experience is currently a hallmark of most premium automotive brands. However, as autonomous driving advances, the experience of being in a car will be much like being in a mobile lounge, where the occupants will expect to do almost everything they can do in the office or at home. To maintain premium brand status, OEMs need to make great leaps in providing seamless digital integration in automobiles.

Premium automotive brands also need to transform marketing and sales from today’s push system to a pull system that engages customers via digital interactions that are transparent, time efficient, and pleasingly experiential.

Further, it will be impossible for OEMs to innovate at the requisite pace entirely through their company’s own proprietary R&D. Rather, they will need to build and support innovation ecosystems with newly essential forms of expertise not to be found within the automotive industry, including specialists for battery cells, 2D/3D sensors, AI/algorithms, HD maps, app development, cloud computing, and communication infrastructure. One example of this trend in motion is the Open Automotive Alliance composed of a range of prestigious automotive brands and technology partners.

Automotive OEMs that are unwilling or unable to be a leader in leveraging new technologies to deliver brand premium could choose to become a more mainstream brand. The goal will then be to cost-effectively produce automobiles that can compete on the basis of affordable value. Companies that choose such a course should concentrate their investments in excellence in mass manufacturing, rather than in being among the first to embed new technologies that dazzle high-end buyers.

The choice is truly that stark. Given how radically technology is changing the definition of premium across automotive product, marketing and sales, services, and brand equity, the status quo is not viable. OEMs must dramatically diversify their investments in being a premium brand, or see their claims to premium status inevitably slip away.

The Mindset Your Company Needs to Grow Organically

Harvard Business Review -

Topic Images/Getty Images

M&A is central to many companies’ growth strategies. But you can’t grow by acquisition alone. Companies with more organic growth generate higher shareholder returns than those relying on acquisitions alone. But organic growth remains elusive. It’s been easier to go from big to bigger through M&A than new to big through entrepreneurship.

That failure is not due to a lack of trying. Companies dedicate vast amounts of time, money, and effort to organic growth. The problem is that many companies have the wrong “operating system” for organic growth.

For most companies, both M&A and organic growth are managed like rocket launches. An enormous amount of planning goes into anticipating every possible scenario and removing every possible risk. Once launched, the opportunity is micro-managed to ensure that everything goes according to plan.

This might have worked in the past when markets moved incrementally. But in a global business environment that is changing exponentially, the market moves too quickly. Too much is simply unpredictable. The solution is to shift the mindset from “rocket launch” to “laboratory”. You need to be constantly experimenting, adapting, and learning — rather than analyzing, planning, and optimizing.

Insight Center

In our work with dozens of large companies on growth and transformation strategies, we’ve found a set of principles and practices that create an operating system for growth. The system draws on the most successful model of value creation in the last century — the ecosystem of Silicon Valley, adapted for application by large organizations. The key elements are (1) startups with fully dedicated cofounders, (2) a growth board of investors, and (3) an agile team focused on capturing learnings, building capabilities, and clearing roadblocks.

There are three key shifts that established companies need to make in order to adopt this operating system and embark on the journey of organic growth:

Quest Like a Founder (Not a Manager)

The first step is to find a founder’s quest. This means finding a problem that is worth solving, that inspires you, and for which you can create an unfair advantage. What makes this a quest is that there is likely no product currently on the market or no existing demand from consumers. As a result, market research will show a small Total Addressable Market (TAM). But successful founders instead focus on the Total Addressable Problem (TAP). Instead of looking at how much market share they can get for products that already exist, they look at how much market they can create by solving problems that already exist.

As an example, a consumer packaged goods company was concerned that millennials weren’t buying as much of one product as their parents did. They were losing share — not to other brands selling the same component, but to other people and providers delivering an integrated solution, such as on-demand apps or mom-and-pop shops. The company’s initial focus was figuring out “how do we regain share with millennials?” But that’s a TAM view of the world. Shifting to a TAP view of the world, they realized that there may be business opportunities in the B2B space, by partnering with those on-demand apps and mom-and-pop shops.

Managers focus on maximizing one’s share of the market for existing products. Founders focus on finding new markets to solve existing but underserved problems.

Test Like an Entrepreneur (Not an Engineer)

The second step is to test like an entrepreneur. Once you have found a large total addressable problem, you can’t just launch a product and hope for the best. You also can’t think like an engineer and try to remove every possible risk or uncertainty. You have to experiment to validate the problem, the solution, and the business model to bring it to market.

As you are testing, it’s vital to watch out for what we call “innovation theater” — convincing yourself and others that you are on the right track as a justification for decisions made in the past. You need to be relentless in your testing to find the actual commercial truth, so that you can inform the decisions that need to be made in the present and the future.

For example, a financial services institution was interested in building new solutions within their lending business. Like other lenders after the financial crisis, the institution had become conservative with its lending practices. But through a series of rapid, low-cost experiments, they were able to identify a lucrative niche in personal lending and an innovative product that had high value for consumers and excellent risk-adjusted returns for the institution.

The entire process from post-it note to launching the product in the market took under 12 months, less than one-third of the time the division’s previous new product launch required. Critical to this rapid time to market was a culture of “radical candor” on the team to stay focused on what the market was saying, rather than what they wanted to believe, or what validated their prior assumptions.

Invest Like a VC (Not a Banker)

Most companies invest in new growth opportunities like bankers. They want to be sure they get their return on investment. They will take the certainty of an incremental return over the possibility of an exponential return. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, have a portfolio mindset, knowing that not every investment will generate a positive return. But they look to the overall value of the portfolio and make sure that every investment generates learning to improve the return on that portfolio.

One of the ways the financial institution was able to accelerate its time to market was by launching multiple experiments simultaneously. They knew that most of them would fail, generating incremental losses. But the one that ultimately succeeded generated exponential gains, which more than compensated for the expense of the other experiments.

We recognize that this is a very different way of thinking and working for established companies. But our experience is that after an initial period of discomfort and unfamiliarity, it unleashes an enormous amount of energy, enthusiasm, and creativity.

There is another advantage as well. In our experience, the most important factor in the success of any acquisition is timing. Even the right deal will fail if you are too early or too late. This portfolio approach to organic growth enables companies to create a testing ground for potential M&A strategies. The real-world learning and ear-to-the-ground experience means you not only get the opportunity right, but you also know when the timing is right. The result is better organic growth and a better success rate for M&A.


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