In March of 2008, the United States’ national public radio system (NPR) seemed to have a fatal and too common choice: to bet on the past rather than the future. It’s the kind of decision that has initiated the fall of many once-great companies: Toys “R” Us, Polaroid, Borders, Macy’s, RadioShack, and BlackBerry, to name a few.
We are dealing with unprecedented change invoked by the COVID-19 pandemic. What we need more than ever is a sense of hope. So, we’ve taken The Outthinker Process – a strategic process that helps business leaders step outside of conventional thinking to redesign their business models and strategies – and reformed it specifically for what we’re going through right now.
In March, as the reality of COVID-19 started taking hold, when my team received our fifth request in one day to postpone a keynote speech and my calendar was suddenly, unexpectedly, free for months, we sat down to discuss what to do. We figured that (a) other business thought-leaders are similarly, suddenly free and (b) many are wondering what would happen to the business they own or work.
Earlier this month, I spoke at the Human Resources Directors Conference in the United Kingdom. At the conference, I shared some material excerpted from my forthcoming book, Seeing Around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen, about how easy it is for executives to get trapped into an old way of thinking—and the new type of leadership model that is required in today’s highly transient advantage contexts.
In this insightful article, Kara Swisher notes that one big reason that Instagram’s co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, decided to leave was that the popular site was pulling users away from the “big blue” platform that is the core Facebook product. Clanging sounds of early warnings of early-stage fading of advantage!
I started my career in the 90s, as an external management consultant who worked on the business process reengineering aspects of large systems integrations. Our clients would spend millions of dollars reengineering the organization, but they often did not implement the changes. My personal experience reflected what research indicated: 80% of change projects fail.
You stepped into the future…but has it felt more like you stepped off a cliff? Some of the most spectacular strategic failures have been due to poor execution. Unfortunately, the momentum of vision is often short-lived as the reality of the complexity of execution begins to set in. Since 1955, only 57 companies have maintained a position in the Fortune 500 while nearly 2,000 companies have come and gone during that same time period.
If someone handed you a sledgehammer and told you to start smashing your company’s products, would you do it? That’s exactly what Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin did to prove a point to his employees. That was the first in a long line of radical decisions that have transformed the company from a fledgling refrigerator maker to the world’s number one appliance manufacturer – and kept it there.
In a dimly lit wine cellar, we turn to our meal. I am at a corporate dinner filled with executives from fascinating backgrounds. But there is one particular conversation, being led by a fascinating gentleman, that is entirely reframing for me what it means to be a leader.
My wife is from New Orleans, so when we recently got a chance to see the original, we had to stop.
We were driving through France with our kids, on a four-day tour from my family reunion in Germany to our AirBNB in Barcelona, when we realized we’d pass through the “original New Orleans”: Orleans. This is the first town that Joan of Arc helped free from an English siege during the Hundred Years’ War, when England was taking over large swaths of France.