The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.
In the late 1970s, Kevin Allen was sitting in a boardroom about to deliver some bad news. His client, Mastercard, would surely not respond well. But Allen is masterful at understanding markets. He understands one core concept that separates good brands from great ones. If he could get Mastercard executives to embrace this counterintuitive secret, he would set the company on a decades-long streak of wins against far larger competitors.
We have this notion that innovators come up with a big idea and then sell it with passion and influence. We imagine Steve Jobs, who was known for having a “distortion field” around him. He could walk into a room and convince everyone that the iPhone was going to change the world and as a result, because everyone was moved to believing it, it did in fact change the world.
The echoes of this great marble hall always bring me back to college. I’m sitting in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station, awaiting my Amtrak train to take me home, circled by ornate pillars and homeward-bound revelries on a Friday afternoon.
What an energizing whirlwind two weeks: keynoted for the Federal Reserve (the future of banking), spoke to CFOs in San Diego (the future of finance), facilitated our Outthinker Chief Strategy Officer roundtable in New York (the future of strategy), met with ABC TV in LA (the future of television), ran a workshop for a Fortune 500 real estate firm (the future of real estate), ran an Outthinker workshop for an apparel retail leader (the future of retail), then addressed a room of board members of public tech companies in Silicon Valley (the future of everything!).
At a barbeque this weekend, a friend fretted, “How does a large company retain its entrepreneurial spirit?” Part of the leadership team of a fast-growing, $5 billion, public company – historically one of the most innovative in its sector – he painfully understands this dilemma. The agility and speed helped you grow. But your growth requires installing rigid policies and processes which kills your agility and speed. What keeps you big kills what got you there.
A parable tells of a bird that lived on a barren tree in a desert. Too fearful to find a better home, he lived a meager life. One day lightning struck the tree, which caught fire and forced the bird to flee. The bird then reached an oasis filled with water, food, and other birds as company.
Microsoft’s move this week to buy LinkedIn offers a profound lesson most analysts lack the stamina to catch. On the surface it appears to be another potentially brilliant move in the chess game CEO Satya Nadella has been playing since he took the helm of Microsoft in 2014. You can see a transformed Microsoft emerging when you consider the assets they now have in play: a purely cloud-based Office 365, the most popular VoIP solution (Skype), two of the most active online gaming communities (Minecraft and Xbox/Halo), etc. The company looks radically different from the company that used an installed operating system to muscle companies into adopting its work productivity software. Now with LinkedIn, it buys itself a chance to move itself up from last place in the five-way race that now defines tech (Amazon v. Google v. Apple v. Facebook v. Microsoft).
The term “employee engagement” was introduced into the management lexicon around 1990 when HR (or personnel, as they were called then) departments shifted focus from employee satisfaction toward employee commitment. Employee engagement is now a multi-billion-dollar business with consulting firms, training companies, and technology firms seeking new ways to get employees to find meaning in their work.
“As the rate of change escalates exponentially, the old ways of organizing and educating, which were designed for efficiency and repetition, are dying.”
– Bill Drayton, Founder, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
For centuries, leadership skill has been measured by your ability to make things happen inside “built to last” organizations. Success depended on your ability to build trust, cultivate long-term relationships, and manage stakeholders. But we are now entering a world defined by temporary, cross-functional teams, frequently formed to work on specific issues or goals, rather than more traditional fixed structures. Excelling will require a fundamentally different skill set.