February 12, 2014
Recently, I was booked to give the closing keynote at an annual corporate meeting for an industry leader. Their CEO had a vision for the meeting: Create A Mindset Where Winning Is the Only Acceptable Outcome. She picked me because I'd worked at a company (Yahoo) that famously developed this outlook, then lost it over time.
I was intrigued by this assignment, and immediately thought of lessons learned from studying Paul Galvin of Motorola (video clip from one of my talks about him). Researching post-Galvin case studies led me to A.G. Lafley's days at Procter and Gamble and ultimately his book, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.
Lafley believes that strategy is "an integrated set of choices about how to win in the marketplace." In other words, strategy is not about accomplishing a certain task or reaching a certain goal. Those are tactics. Being strategic is about making the hard choices to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage in the eyes of customers.
He's got an attitude about leaders that see it any other way. He picks on companies like Saturn, a GM division, that was 'Playing for the sake of playing.' They never intended on beating the Japanese at their game. They just wanted to sell cars in 'the low end of the market,' so Saturn was created. They were not resourced to outperform Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Kia or Hyundai, and eventually, the division was shuttered.
He's even harder on leaders that Play To Survive. In his view, "a company must seek to win in a particular place and in a particular way. If it doesn't seek to win, it is wasting the time of its and the investments of its capital providers." He's right too. Around 2003, I witnessed the Yahoo culture shift from winning to "hanging in there". This was the beginning of the sideways years for the company. We watched competitors like Google leapfrog us with moonshots (Google Earth), while we played it safe by incrementally improving products (Click To Print Map).
Over and over again, Lafley stresses the choices leaders must make in their strategy. The first choice is 'What is our winning aspiration?' which leads to a cascade of choices which build on each other.
I like this cascade (based on the work of Michael Porter, one of Lafley's mentors). It starts with our aspiration or purpose, which according to Jim Collins, should be audacious. Lafley points out that "too many companies eventually die a death of modest aspirations." They made modest choices that the beginning of the strategy cascade, which then led to market-mediocrity.
Then, the second strategic choice is location - where are we going to win? This narrows the market, sometimes to a specific niche where a true winning opportunity lies. Narrowing the market is a hard choice for many, making it even more strategic. But to narrow the market is to narrow the scope of competition as well - making it easier to win.
The next difficult choice has to do with our weapons in the market, the sources of our competitive advantage. In Lafley's view, they need to relate to the perceived value the company delivers to its most important customers. Then, the next choice is about which resources need to be marshaled to deliver that competitive advantage over time. Finally, choices about management systems are made to ensure a high degree of operating excellence. This is a great exercise for any business leader or entrepreneur thinking through their strategy. Each choice is limiting, and serves to give the company a true sense of focus.
One of his stinging points is that "Too many leaders define strategy as the optimization of the status quo." In his view, this leads to sameness, which is not a strategy but "a recipe for mediocrity."
To Lafley's cascade, I added a six element: How Do We Close Value Gaps? This is based on the work of Sandra Vandermerwe in her book Customer Capitalism. Stanley Marcus Jr. told me about this book back in 1999 when he was sharing a case study about the Mercedes Smart Car launch in Europe.
The idea is that you can't lock in a customer anymore with contracts or proprietary technology. Your efforts to do so have decreasing returns over time. The key to winning over time is to get the customer to lock on to your company that solving all their problems in the activity space. For Mercedes' Smart car launch, the activity space they focused on was short haul mobility. The car was designed for trips up to about 100 kilometers at most. For such a specific activity focus, there are obviously value gaps that they need to close: Repair, Renting a bigger car, Insurance, Maintenance and so on.
Here's the idea: Each value gap is an opportunity for a competitor to enter your customer's life and steal them. If you've rented a car at Avis, for example, you likely drove a GM product such as a Malibu or an Impala. If you drive another brand, that's an example of a value gap they didn't close, which might lead you to switch later. Mercedes anticipated this in their strategy, so they provided rental car services to close that gap.
For my keynote, I used a more contemporary example from the medical care industry. For Baxter Healthcare's Renal Bag product line, they built a strategy around the activity space of maintaining kidney health. As they built a wining strategy, they realized that the customer has pre-during-post needs. Up until then, they only played in the 'during' phase, where their bags were part of treatment.
From pre-treatment advice to post-treatment therapy, Baxter had value gaps a competitor could drive a truck through - dropping off samples of a competitive core product. So the team built or partnered their way into an airtight approach to the market, which served the activity space with their product serving as a piece of the puzzle and not a commodity.
My audience was intrigued and provoked into action at the same time. Several focused on choice #2 (where do we win?) and #6 (how do we close value gaps?) as key questions to answer quickly in order to protect their winning hand.
My closing words echoed Lafley's perspective: If you are not playing to win, at best case, you are losing a little more each day. It's a matter of tough choices about the things that matter ... to the customer.
April 20, 2013
Less than a year ago, I met Nolan Bushnell at a METal breakfast, where I gave a talk on "the Future of Publishing." He told me he had a few books he was working on, and was interested in talking to me about publishing them via Net Minds.
We met the following week (see above) and cooked up a third idea: Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Retain and Nurture Creative Talent. I had just read Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson), and was aware of Nolan's history with Jobs, and how he created a creative-friendly workplace culture at Atari. I knew that many companies today need a creative genius to reinvent their products, or perhaps their industry.
Nolan talked to me about all the changes he made, and how so many of today's companies are getting it wrong. They filter out the creatives, then let the naysayers discourage the few that get in. We both realized that this was the book he needed to write, so he joined Net Minds and we started the project.
Using the Net Minds network, we put together a team around Nolan's book that included editorial, design, marketing and media relations team members. On March 26, it was the first publication by our young company, and it was covered widely: AP, NYT, AllThingsD, Mashable, Fox and Friends and In the Loop on Bloomberg TV.
We got this book to market in less than 1/2 the time it would have taken through traditional means. We've already cut deals to license the book in Russia and Taiwan, with several foreign publishers on deck. Many of you have supported us by buying a copy of the book. It's a great read, and will help managers and leaders of all types attract, hire and retain creative talent.
The book is comprised of short chapters (Pongs, read on here) that give YRMV advice on how to change your culture, environment and process to be more creative-friendly. Here's what Walter Isaacson said about the book when he read it (on an iPad): "An absolutely invaluable book by the founder of Atari and the man who launched Steve Jobs' career."
We have a special offer for companies or organizations. If you'll buy a minimum of 100 copies, we can setup a Skype or webinar with Nolan as a priceless bonus (based on mutual availability). If you are interested, email me!
For those that are eBook friendly (maybe everyone has an iPad?), we have a special way of helping you buy them in bulk for your whole company. Here's what our partner BookShout did for one of Nolan's speaking clients.
Sweet, huh? Again, if you are interested in this, drop me a note.Tweet
November 02, 2012
Why? Style + Substance. Hard to find in any professional book, but comes in spades in the highly readable think piece. These cats have words that sing like my favorite reads such as The Purple Cow or ReWork. (Sorry, no more links in my blog posts, they are shiny objects that will distract you. I'll have references links at the end...so keep reading.)
The book will help you understand how vital strategic content is to the modern marketer. If you don't deeply connect with people, you'll ship words that no one cares about (or reads). If you make a difference via your content, it will spread like all treasures do online. This sounds straightforward, but Brogan and Smith's intricate advice proves how treacherous it can be - and why you need to read this book right away.
While many "social media" books focus on the platforms, tools and (spammy) tactics it takes to build a 'following,' this book centers on what really matters...content that works. What I took away from the book, was that we need to become purposeful and masterful at connecting with people, especially with the media we create and the words we share. Figure this out, and you'll rock the next wave of social, regardless of what form it may come in.
Buy The Impact Equation (not an affiliate link)
Source of the picture, Julien's feed (you should subscribe)Tweet
October 04, 2012
We live in a world where 8 out of 10 people "have a book in them."
But along the way, I'm come to a bigger discovery: Most of us have what it takes to contribute to a book project and find real meaning along the way. Some of us have great editorial and writing skills, likely honed from college and work experiences. Some of us are great designers, be it Photoshop gurus or branding experts. And then many of you have marketing and publicity chops, that could help a book become more discoverable upon launch.
Of all things you could be working on, books are likely the most valuable. Books are the rare media products people are willing to pay for. Their long form nature lends itself to having a bigger impact on the reader than a blog, newsletter or magazine article. Finally, the nature of book projects enable you to make new friends and professional connections far beyond what you are achieving with networking services like LinkedIn.
So what are you waiting for? At Net Minds, we've created a platform that connects authors and freelance talent (just like you). In some cases, the relationship is work-for-hire. But in most cases, you are real partner, cut into the profits of the book over the long haul.
On several of our projects, editors/designers/marketers are working on their first book project - leveraging their other experiences and producing fresh work that will thrill readers. We've also secured some of the top editorial, design and marketing talents to contribute to our projects. They understand how disruptive our Group Publishing model is, and that's why they are getting involved at the ground floor.
We've just released the Fall Net Minds Select, a collection of terrific book projects looking for freelance partners. We offer up seasoned authors like Todd Duncan, Dain Dunston, Bill Jensen and Kevin Kelly. We also introduce first time authors like Jon Hinds, Michael Smith from Forbes, Nicholas Tucker and Brian Cuban.
Take a second to peruse our projects , and if one of them strikes you fancy, raise your hand and join our movement!Tweet
September 14, 2012
It's been a dozen years since I wrote the first draft of my book, Love Is the Killer App: How To Win Business and Influence Friends. Since then, the world has changed significantly, and so has my perspective.
In the digital future, it will be easy to make corrections to a book, to keep it from getting out of date or in my case -- out of practice. While the thesis of the book (promote others' success) is more true than ever, there are some corrections I'd like to make:
1. eBooks are how I gather deep knowledge. In LITKA, I argued that we should buy only hard cover books and utilize the blank pages at the beginning and the end of the book for note taking (cliffing/tagging). This was in comparison to soft cover books and pre-Kindle/iPad times. When I wrote the book, eBook readers were clunky and inventory was incomplete. These days, I read almost everything on my Kindle. I've also figured out a way to highlight and take notes in such a way so I can easily re-study a book in just a few minutes. My new reading habit has enabled me to read many more books, and when traveling, to bounce around between multiple titles instead of just choosing one (light) book.
2. Protect Your Network While You Network. More than ever, our network is our net worth, it's our platform to move forward and do good. We should protect it by making sure our networking efforts are productive. Networking people, just because they ask you to, isn't an act of BizLove. It's an act of compromising your existing relationships out of a sense of duty or guilt.
For exmaple: I get requests by entrepreneurs to 'hook them up' with my old boss Mark Cuban (Shark Tank). In a few situations, I truly believe that the introduction would be good for Mark as well as the entrepreneur, and in those situations, I make the (email) introduciton. The key here is to make sure there's a win/win for both the asker and your network node, otherwise it's just more noise (and still, no real value add). One other way to network appropriately is to collect a little information for the prospector and shop it to the target to see if an introduction is desired.
3. Hugging Is Risky At Work. When I wrote LITKA, it was still OK to be warm at work with others, and give them a hug as a greeting. Over time, the litigation environment is as of such, that I suggest we practice discretion prior to any phsycial contact with others, beyond a hearty handshake. This is especially true between members of the opposite sex.
Last, but not least, I'd like to make a disclaimer: Being a Lovecat doesn't mean you say yes to all requests of you. It doesn't mean that nothing can upset you. It doesn't mean that anything you have is available to anyone else. I'm growing weary of people who tell me, "Hey, you aren't being very Lovecat!" when I say, "no" to them or criticize an idea or an action. In my book, I defined a Lovecat as someone who "intelligently share his or her intangibles to promote growth in others." I never claimed that they were pushovers.Tweet
August 24, 2012
Here's an update on the progress of Net Minds, a publishing startup I've co-founded.
A few weeks ago, we announced the addition of Chris Brogan to our team. Not only will he advise us on publishing tools and social media, he's contributing his music too!
For editors (of all types), book designers, publicists and marketing pro's, here's an animation that explains how Net Minds works for free lance talent. Please share and if it appeals to you, sign up to receive the Net Minds Select, a collection of awesome book projects looking for partners.
How Net Minds Works (video)Tweet
June 01, 2012
We are a networking service that partners authors with publishing talents to produce great books that are effectively promoted upon release. After publishing four books through the antequaited traditional model, I realized that there had to be a better way...The Net Minds Way.
Currently, we are working with over a dozen authors on books of all types. We've built up a network of free lance editors, book designers, mareketers, and publicists to work with them. Each partner gets a piece of the book's profits as part of their comp package. We strongly believe that joint-ventures make better products ... and in my experience, sharing the upside makes all the difference.
Here's the May Net Minds list of projects, looking for partners of all types. The authors are impressive: Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, former CMO of AMD Nigel Dessau, media visionary Robert Tercek and nine others. If you know a freelancer that might be intersted, please forward this blog post to them. The deadline for responding is Thursday June 7.
May 23, 2012
I assume that most of you who read my blog or subscribe to my newsletter are those who have something to say or sell, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. We’re all trying to be seen or heard and that’s increasingly complicated in a noisy world.
Wouldn’t you agree?
The problem is that to be successful in the market today, you must possess two strategic assets: a compelling product and a meaningful platform.
Platform is key.
Most of us know it and it’s why we spend time networking, developing social media, writing emails and blogs, speaking, trying to connect with potential customers, etc.
But here’s the issue, simply being on Facebook or Twitter, simply writing a book or newsletter, simply opening the doors of your business… doesn’t matter (unless others know about you and follow).
That’s why I am excited about a new book from my good friend Michael Hyatt, one of the top bloggers in the world and Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers. It’s called Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. It’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the waters so that you can do what works in order to be seen and heard.
Special: To celebrate the launch of the book this week, Michael is giving away $375.98 worth of free Platform bonus content for those who purchase the book between May 21 and May 25. Complete details are available at http://michaelhyatt.com/platform
As I was chatting with Mike he mentioned something that really stood out to me about building a platform. He said…
“Accept Personal Responsibility - If you’re thinking of hiring a babysitter for your platform, think again. It is critical that you be 100% committed and the driving force behind its creation and growth. Think about it. Does anyone know your mission, product or service better than you do? Is anyone more passionate about it than you are? Does anyone have as much skin in the game as you do? Expertise, passion, and, frankly, the fate of your career will drive you to create something greater than anything a hired-out marketing team could imagine.”
Basically he’s saying don’t phone it in and try to pass it off to someone else. If you want to be heard, you have to speak up and be the driver.
In my years of being an author and speaker I have found that to be very true. Yes, you need to hire a great team and utilize great resources but don’t expect someone else to do all of the work that you too must be active in doing.
If it’s important, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.
I have two three copies of the book to give away - all you have to do is hit the retweet button and make a comment to this post.
February 13, 2012
It feels like yesterday: Valentine's Day, 2002, the day my first book was published.
Since then, thousands of readers have shared their stories with me. A few of them even showed up in the paper back version of the book, which was release in 2003. Many of you told me that the principles in the book validated your actions: Share Knowledge, Network Without Expectations, Be Compassionate. (Read the Fast Company excerpt from Love that ran in their Feb 2002 issue.)
To me, that's one of the two best reasons to write a book. Validate the reader, to quote Kurt Vonnegut, "let her know that someone else shares her values and that she is not alone." (note: the other reason to write a book is to give advice or share perspective that is counter to conventional wisdom.)
I have so many people to thank from my writing partner Gene Stone to the last person who emailed me with an account of how he has given the book to fifty business partners over the last year. From the genesis to today - "thanks for sharing the love!"
In the comments, please share what you learned from the book, and how you've applied it to your business or leadership life. Thanks in advance for sharing.
For iPad or iPhone users, here's a YouTube video I made about the ten year anniversary.
For the rest of you, here's the video!
January 04, 2012
Here's a six pack of 2011 releases that represent the year's best business books:
The Master Switch: The Rise And Fall Of Information Empires by Timothy Wu.
This read is gripping as a biz-book like The Social Network was interesting as a movie. Wu chronicles the rise of AT&T, it's demise, then later monopolies leading up to Google. Very provocative, and good food for our understanding of how things work in the free market now - and into the future.
This new book helps unlock the secrets to true innovation: Fast prototyping, testing and scaling and close monitoring of feedback. His examples of how little bets create big ideas range from comedian Chris Rock to Google to Pixar. This is a think-piece book, that you'll put to work immediately on your own business, product or project at work.
In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy
Most books on Google are either premature or outside-looking-in, and so far, I avoided them. In this case, Levy's work appealed to me, as he's been covering them for Wired since 2004 and has insider status with their culture. This is an entertaining, useful and enlightening read about the formation of Google's culture, assets and evolving mission.
This is, hands down, the best business book for leaders I've read since Good To Great a decade ago. Will no-doubt be my top pick for 2011. It's that valuable. Whether you are a startup or working inside a big company, Eric and his Lean Startup Practices will make you a rock star. Learn how to master the MVP, innovate in Small Batches and ask the Five Whys when things go wrong. Those who read this book will have a business advantage over those that don't. And the book is a really good read, too.
To improve your professional performance, you need to first leverage your brain. Medina offers simple, but highly effective ways to improve your creativity, memory and emotional intelligence. Some ideas you already know about ('get enough sleep') but others are novel (repeat to remember). There are a slew of brain science books you can read, but this one was written to be easily understood and acted upon.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
What do you get when you combine intensely private person who's changed our life with one of the greatest biographers of our time? The book, Steve Jobs, which is storming the best seller lists and dribbling out provocative pieces of Jobsian thinking daily via the press.
This is one of those books you really need to read to be in the know. It's likely that we'll discuss Jobs for years to come in a lot of areas: CEOs, design, innovation, management style, history, etc. This book is likely the best money you'll invest this year. Just think, $20 in Apple stock a decade ago is worth...NOTE: Read this book on your iPad if you can, it will be a special experience for you.