Final Day of the Semester!

Semester three was the hardest semester from a workload standpoint, so I am glad to report that I just finished the last day of it!  With three projects involving outside partners, and one project which results in a product or service prototype, this semester has certainly kept me busy!  I have also enjoyed it the most out of my career at Presidio so far.  The classes were interesting, and the integration of learning between classes is phenomenal.  After building foundational knowledge in year one, year two starts connecting the dots, and that's really exciting.  Now, time to do some skiing!

Profit with Values

A great introduction talk about merging investing with sustainable values, and the value of diversity in decision making.

Social Media Tools to Aid Mid-cycle Strategic Planning

Mintzberg’s article, the Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning in Harvard Business Review set off a lightbulb for me.  By clearly defining strategic thinking apart from strategic planning, Mintzberg explained the curiosity of companies that hold strategy meetings despite continued lack of success.(Mintzberg, 1994)  When this subtle difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning is not successfully imprinted on strategy meeting attendees, causing epic brain shutdown in the annual stretch between strategy meetings.

To be fair, it is difficult to change course in large companies.  Once a strategy is decided upon, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, plops the old train cart on the new train tracks, and once again chugs along with blinders on.  Bringing decision makers to the table again mid-year is just too much trouble.  But it needs to be done, because strategic thinking never stops.  Or at least it shouldn’t.  There needs to be ways to differentiate between strategic thinking that can be tabled for the next big meeting, and the ones that must be acted upon ASAP.  In addition, since Strategic Thinking = Systems Thinking, all functions of the company needs to engage in it.  But how do we engage so many people in a meaningful conversation outside of the planning cycle?  I believe social media can provide some answers.  Google Moderator can be a useful way to capture thoughts and garner support.  Can you think of other tools that can help with mid-cycle strategic thought capture and strategy planning?

Hoskisson, R. E., Hitt, M. A., & Ireland, R. D. (2008). Competing for Advantage. Cengage Learning.
Mintzberg, H. (1994). The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning. Harvard Business Review, 72(1), 107-114. doi:Article

Ethical Challenge: Sustainable for the Company, Unsustainable for the Planet

Business Sustainability practitioners frequently face ethical challenges.  Planned Obsolescence is a marketing technique with such an ethical challenge.  A product with Planned Obsolescence is retired earlier than the product’s real useful life so that the supplier can sell more products sooner.  The technique also masks the true cost of the product by inducing users to buy the replacement sooner.  Inkjet cartridges set to “expire,” new textbooks versions that change very little, and annual release of new cars are examples.
People wrested with planned obsolescence as an ethical issue in the 30s during the rise of manufacturing. Now, planned obsolescence is a common strategy.  Established industries build product lines based on planned obsolescence.  In addition, today’s disposable culture stemmed from planned obsolescence thinking.  Disposable plates, cups, toothbrushes, cameras and phones crowd our landfill.  These entire industries now depend on obsolescence to fuel their next quarterly report.  Planned Obsolescence is also responsible for the death of the repair industry.  Why fix if you can buy the newer, sexier one? 
The implications are vast.  Entire industries stand to fight the wave of the good life where products are made to last instead of disposed fast and early.   How do we market the virtues of a product that lasts in a disposable culture?

CSRHub - Ranking Sustainability of Companies

How does one dig through all the greenwashing to find companies that are putting real efforts into their CSR (corporate social responsibility) and generating real results?  Try CSRHub. For free or a nominal subscription, one can get access to over 5000 public companies and their CSR results, compared side by side.  Find out where you should be putting your money for a sustainable future.

Netflix's lessons on management

Michael Hart, the Director of Engineering at Netflix was the guest lecturer at our Strategic Management class yesterday.  He lent some interesting insights into the management mantra at Netflix, one of the most successful companies in recent times.  Netflix stock is in over $170 from $40 just over a year ago, and employee count has almost doubled in the last year alone.  What's the secret to their success?  Hart believes it is Netflix' "talent density."  Netflix spends a lot of money and time hiring only the best.  Its VP of HR, known as Chief Talent Officer, personally interviews every potential employee at Netflix.  The company's values are also posted publicly as embedded below.  By sharing the slides publicly, Netflix demonstrates they are willing to stand by their values, and gives potential employees a glimpse into its culture.  

Platform Strategy - Why it is Sustainable

How can a company keep the innovation engine forever humming?  Platform Strategy is a foundation upon which many incremental innovations can flow.  The term Platform is common in the technology sector but finds examples beyond as well.  Traditional examples include the 0.18 micron CMOS as a technological platform for semiconductor innovations. The internet is a game-changing platform, within which Facebook emerged as a social platform, upon which applications have flourished.  Non technology platforms exist as well.  The Harry Potter stories are built upon the platform of a magical world.  Seven stories were written using the same platform.  The platform is merely an innovation that can support other innovations.  Companies can benefit by carefully examining their innovation streams to identify platforms.  Once established, platforms can provide a foundation for many future innovations.

Marketing Quickfire Challenge - Awesome Brainstorming Format

Yesterday's Marketing residency featured a quickfire marketing memo.  It's amazing how much a focused team can get done in a short time!  Teams of five or six were given a client name this past month and asked to prepare a memo individually that contains an analysis of the client's market space and a list of questions for the client.  During quickfire challenge day, the team came together for 1.5h to create a client meeting agenda and structure the questions.  Then each team had one-hour to spend with the client.    One hour is not very much time to understand enough of the business to make marketing suggestions, so the hour went by very quickly.

After a short break, the team had 2.5h to discuss and generate a memo of marketing recommendations for the client.  At 4pm the bell rang and the memo was sent to the client.

The day was extremely efficient and went by very quickly.  Since everyone spent individual time getting up to speed with the client, the joint discussion was very efficient.  All in all, the quickfire format was an awesome way to brainstorm and create results in a day.

Multiple CEOs - The Sustainable Leadership Structure

Many challenges raised in the HBS article “Seven Surprises for New CEOs” can be solved by a joint leadership structure.  Perhaps we need to re-think the idea of a single CEO at the top.  The idea made sense when companies were smaller, and one person can handle the complexity of the job.  When companies with populations larger than countries still report to a single CEO, it’s time to re-consider the structure.    Three observations lead me to believe that a joint leadership structure, where multiple CEO-like heavyweight leaders work as a team, is a better and more sustainable leadership structure.   The three observations are:

1.       Political structures often involve joint leadership.  Consider UK’s Prime Minister and Queen pairing.  One handles internal political affairs while the other handles outward facing matters.  The US government by design has executive, legislative and judiciary branches all working together as a governing unit. 
2.       Large academic institutions have joint leadership by Dean and President.  Both report to the board and wield power in different domains, but are both viewed as equal leaders for the institution.
3.       Companies where the founder took another leadership position such as CTO and hired in someone else to act as CEO are often successful.   Microsoft, Google, SunPower are examples of such companies.  Company founders without the formal CEO title still wields power equal to the CEO position.  Thus such companies can be considered to have a joint leadership structure.

When the leadership becomes a joint effort, amazing effects happen.  Bandwidth issues raised in the article such as “You can’t run the company” and “You are still only human” melt away.  Multiple people can rise to the challenge of tackling both the outside facing and internal elements of the CEO job.  Ego issues such as “You are not the boss” stays in check in a team setting where members wield equal power.  Ivory tower issues such as “It Is Hard to Know What Is Really Going On” while still present, can be dampened by the availability of multiple points of view.   

We may have come to a turning point in business where the structure itself is under review.  The migration to joint leadership may be near.  Since the economic meltdown, boards are building closer ties to their companies, creating pseudo joint leadership structures.   What do you think is the future of business leadership structure?

Future Billionnaires

While most of the Presidio student body is shooting for the balanced good life rather than making billions, the idea of starting a company that benefits the world and makes billions would still be quite welcome.  This article at Forbes talks about how professors at other business schools are spotting the stars amongst their students.  Note to self: if I have a business idea, run it by some professors and see if they'll invest first.   They see enough student ideas to really validate whether the idea has legs.

Business Intangibles - culture, loyalty, innovation and reputation

ChipConley, the founder and ex-CEO of JoieDeVivre hotels hosted the Enlightened Business Summit this week.  One key theme amongst the talks is the importance of business intangibles such as Culture, Loyalty from customers and employees, Ability to innovate, and Reputation.  These intangibles are key indicators of sustainable business success, but ironically not measured in today's balance sheet.    To improve we must measure, thus establishing metrics for all important intangibles is an imperative of a sustainable leader.  A good place to start is loyalty from customers and employees, an example metric for this include retention rates.  Ability to innovate is also well mapped by innovating organizations such as IDEO and Apple.  Reputation is possible to gauge by marketing experts.  And organizational change experts can help measure the positivity of company culture.  Digging into the messy areas of intangibles is important for sustained success, and the organization will benefit simply from taking that journey.

Monday morning decompression

I'm exhausted.  After four frenzied days of lectures, presentations, club meetings, inspiring speakers and intense socializing, I'm ready for some R&R.  The upside of Presidio is their residency format, allowing me time outside of the classroom to pursue interesting projects.  The downside is yesterday, the last day of four intense days. I'm currently taking Monday morning off to decompress, and I'm watching TED talk by Chip Conley: measuring what makes life worthwhile.  Bhutan's BNH, which he describes in the video, is a concept we learned during our first year at Presidio.  It's motivating to watch him expertly present the concept to an influential audience.

A Learning Company is a Sustainable Company, Tips for Fostering Informal Learning

Learning keeps a company ahead of its competition, which is essential for survival.  Fostering learning in the workplace can be tricky, especially since the most important learning are often informal and difficult to establish and track.  Nonetheless, it is possible to take formal steps to foster informal learning.  I would like to share my examples of informal learning from Cypress Semiconductor, where I worked for 3 years.

Fostering Informal Learning by Fostering Relationships
Cypress has excellent formal and informal learning opportunities.  To start, it an excellent new-hire training program for new grads, where the new grad goes through a 6-month rotation with various departments that he/she will be interfacing with as a Product Marketing Engineer (PME).  This program is extremely successful at building a web of relationship and skills that the new hire can leverage in the new job.  Cypress also matches new hires with mentors, a program I find very successful at informal learning.  Since Cypress hires engineers to do the PME job, which is essentially a marketing job, everyone is learning on the job.  So the PME culture emphasizes sharing of on-the-job lessons.  The job also rotates often.  Each PME is in assigned a few product lines and a geographic region.  This assignment changes roughly every six months.  I'm not sure whether this was by design or as a reaction to higher organizational changes, but it facilitated a lot of cross-functional learning.  I believe informal learning is built upon a web of relationships.  Cypress enabled and fostered these relationships extremely well.  One year at Cypress exposed me to more people inside and outside of Cypress than two years at my most recent company. As a result, I have a massive list of talent that I can call upon to exercise informal learning.  

Teaching as a Learning Opportunity
A side effect of the assignment rotation meant not only do I continuously consult my predecessors about my new responsibilities, I also have to train the person taking over my job.  The opportunity to teach is itself a learning opportunity.  The teaching experience helps me articulate what I know, understand how I learn, and streamline my learning ability.  In teaching I also learn about the student, further fostering informal learning enlarging the relationship web.

Continuous Learning
The brain is a muscle that needs exercising.  New information and learning both related and unrelated to the job is beneficial to keep this muscle active.  While grad school keeps my brain very busy with learning, the work place is significantly less stimulating.  Thus it becomes easy to fall into a routine and stop thinking or learning.  Cypress University, an internal learning organization, partners with outside educators to offer classes to employees.  On campus classes range from leadership, organizational management, marketing, to language classes such as Japanese and Spanish.  Employees can take any class upon approval by their manager and Cypress covers the cost.  This opportunity allows employees to continuously exercise their brain and stay creative.  Although unrelated to my job, I took Japanese classes to break the routine and keep my interest.  The exercise translated to higher interest in my job, not to mention relationships built with fellow employees in the Cypress-only classroom.

Companies stand to gain an edge of competitors by fostering informal learning.  What have your organizations done to foster informal learning?