The Innovation Imperative: Four Things to Foster Innovation in Organizations

This post is an adaptation of remarks given at the International Pet Food Forum at an event hosted by Diana Pet Food

The forces of change surround us and are unrelenting. Back in 1965, Moore predicted that computing power would exponentially increase. Almost 60 years later that still holds true. Fiber optics allow us to move data at amazing speeds and the cost of storage has plummeted from a cool $300K for 1 gig in 1980, to virtually free today. In addition to the accelerating power of the internet, we see an explosion in the speed of change. It may be driven by technology but it touches all that we do.

So we find ourselves in an environment in which disruption is the steady state. All you must do is flip through your smart phone to see the casualties. Go to a movie theater? No just stream it. Buy a video camera? No thanks – I have my phone. Buy a flashlight for an emergency? Nope, just have your phone handy. If you were a flashlight manufacturer not that long ago, would you have guessed that AT&T and Apple were going to be competitive threats?

This it is NOT business as usual.

Examples abound. We know that 88% of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 no longer exist today: Blockbuster, Kodak, Borders, Sears (Sear’s Tower – the original mail order biz), Blackberry and more. 50 years ago, if you made it onto the Fortune 500 list, you were likely to stay there for 75 years. Now the average duration is 15 years and declining. And the big players today – Google, Uber and Facebook are barely teenagers in a human lifespan, yet they dominate.

The differentiator – an imperative to INNOVATE.

A quick look at Fast Companies Most Innovative Companies of 201list tells the tale.  The most innovative companies are also disproportionately the most profitable, the fastest growing, and the most likely to bump out a longstanding company from the Fortune 500 list. Leading the pack: Apple, followed by Netflix, Square, Amazon, Patagonia, CVS and Spotify. Certainly an interesting mix – with one common denominator: innovation as a core competency.

Today the race is being won by those who can rethink the market, ride these forces of exponential change – and create something nimble, agile, and adaptable. And in today’s world – that equates to sustainability. Blockbuster went bust – but Netflix is killing it. Borders is boarded up- but Amazon, which started as a book seller, now allows anyone to set up a storefront and sell virtually anything. Amazon Web Services, which grew out of the company’s own e-commerce infrastructure needs, has become a $13 billion business.

In the Industrial Era, organizations of the late 1800’s  through the 20th century, bigger was better. Stability was key. Companies competed by sheer size – the goal was to crush their competition. Bureaucracy flourished. Org charts calcified the organization into neat little boxes and standardization, consistency and minimizing disruption were the primary focus.

And now, here we are. In an entirely new world. We are in an age where our industrial era organizations simply don’t work. Where we need new models, new skills and new ways of working. Where small and nimble is a competitive advantage. Where tried and true products are passé. Where speed matters. Where it’s imperative to innovate.

Now, innovation is a HUGE topic – and a deep one. So for this post I’d like to share with you four ways organizations are fostering innovation.

Top performing organizations in the 21st century:

  • Treat innovation as a business process
  • Foster the skill of creativity
  • Connect with their customers
  •  Collaborate

Each of these are big topics, so for the sake of brevity I’ll provide a brief description and some questions to consider for each.

Innovation as a Business Process.

There is a process to innovation, in spite of the belief by some that innovating is a “loosey goosey” thing somebody does in R&D. Just ask IDEO. Smart companies know the process and incorporate it into all the other processes we know so well: Finance, Accounting, HR, Sales…  Innovation is not isolated nor the sole function of the forgotten folks in R&D. It is embedded in the organization, provided resources and a path from innovation to production.

We can no longer afford to sort the world into the “business types” (think rational, linear, predictable) and the “creatives” (think intuitive, edgy, and free flowing). Innovative companies don’t exhort their employees to innovate; they have structures in place, resources identified, and processes to follow. Just as accounting, HR, engineering and operations are defined – so can innovation.

You might ask:

  • Where does innovation happen in your company (if at all)?
  • Are there dedicated resources for innovation?
  • Who is your company is charged to innovate?
  • What was the last innovation your company implemented?
  • What is in your innovation pipeline?

CREATIVITY AS A SKILL

It took me 5 long years to get my MBA at the Krannert School of Management. I spent 14 years in a Fortune 200 company. And at no time in no way did the notion of creating something important in business get much attention. It was not taught, even though it is a process that can be taught. It was not encouraged, measured, or rewarded.

I think that we’d all agree that the many business geniuses are terribly creative – from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs to Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos. Our problem is not embracing creativity at the top. The problem is that we’ve driven creativity out of the middle ranks by such a strong focus on left-brained business management. Management by the numbers and a sole focus on short-term financials. We’re out of balance. We need to find ways to balance the creative with the effective management – and do it quickly.

We need to think of creativity as a business skill needed throughout the organization. Skills that are used every day by everyone, not just at the top. Not just when we are in crisis. Not just the folks in the R&D department. We need to learn the process of creating and create organizational structures that foster creativity. Period.

You might ask:

  • Who is charged to be creative in your organization?
  • Are the skills of creativity seen as a core competency? Taught? Supported?
  • What happens when creative ideas emerge?
  • Are there process in place to:
    • Generate many ideas, rather than a few
    • Test those ideas in the market
    • Vet those ideas thoroughly
    • Move the best ideas into your day-to-day operations
  • Diversity fuels creativity. How are diverse people, ideas, cultures and perspectives encouraged?
  • Creativity requires space, time, and freedom to dream. Is your organization so focused on productivity that there is no time to create?

CONNECT

It seems that the more high tech we become, the more high touch we crave. One size does not fit all any longer. Consumers want personalized. They want to be understood. To be connected with on an emotional level.

In all areas of business today – connecting with those that we provide goods and services to is critical. The creativity needed in today’s business world is not random, not just “edgy” for the sake of “edginess” – but creative innovations that speak to a need. It is not creativity for the sake of creating alone – but creating based on connection with your current customers, your future customers, and perhaps customers you can’t even imagine right now.

Great questions to ask about your ability to connect include:

  • How often do you interact with the people that use your goods and services?
  • Is that time spent merely trying to sell them (or service) what you already have or is it talking and listening and observing what they need?
  • How much do you use human centered design in your organization?
  • To what extent do you focus on your WHY rather than your features and benefits?
  • People connect emotionally. To what extent do you communicate and connect emotionally as well as rationally?
  • How “whole brained” are you? Do you rely on sheer left-brain (logical/rational/linear) or also use right-brained thinking (intuitive/non-linear/emergent).

COLLABORATE

If you recall, I mentioned that competition was the order of the day in industrial era organizations. As I worked for 13 + years in a Fortune 200 company – collaboration was at best frowned upon, and most often discouraged. It was discouraged both inside and outside the organization for fear of giving up information or ideas, or perhaps enabling someone else to take advantage of us or do better than us. Go to a conference? No way – we have training inside! Invite other departments to help solve a problem? No way – it will signal that we don’t have all the answers. Collaborate with a sister division with a new customer? Unheard of – what if their numbers are better than ours.

Now in hindsight, it seems a bit ridiculous. But it was real. And it IS real. In so many of the organizations I work with, people are tightly bound into their functional “silos”. Unable to see across the company as a bigger picture. Each functional area only out for the benefit of their own. Truly the parts more important than the whole.

21st century organizations know that even if they could be self-sustaining, that doing so would take way too long and would take too many resources. They know that knowledge is growing so quickly that they can’t be an expert in it all – so they find ways to collaborate with the expertise they need.

Emerging Networks

Networks are emerging much like the way we organize ourselves – a bit messier, a lot less linear, and a whole lot more powerful. A great case study is Airbnb, who has taken collaboration to an entirely new level. Tech innovation and the power of networks has propelled Airbnb to surpass the valuation of Hilton and Hyatt COMBINED. That valuation in spite of the fact that Airbnb owns no property or real estate. Airbnb’s valuation is based on its ability to innovate, its network, and its ability to connect with people who either have space to rent or need to rent space.

Questions about Collaboration

Collaboration fuels new ideas and it requires diversity. Collaboration can share the costs and rewards of bringing new products and services to market, yet requires discarding our ego’s desire to know it all and control it all. Collaboration can provide us quick access to resources and as such, shortens the time to do something innovative. But it also requires us to leave behind some of our old thinking about competition, control and certainty.

Some questions to ponder about collaboration:

  • Are employees in your organization encouraged to interact and collaborate across functions?
  • To what extent are employees encouraged to get outside the walls of the business and forge relationships with those outside?
  • Are there strategic partners you collaborate with?
  • How much internal competition exists? Within departments? Across departments and functional units?
  • How is collaboration nurtured? Supported? Encouraged?

Responding to today’s environment requires us to think about business in a different light. Where innovation exists alongside optimization. Where business skills and thinking are a blend of left and right brained activity. Where we get comfortable with the joy of creating, the emotion of connecting, and the powerful output of networks and collaborations.

These forces of change are not abating any time soon, so we are faced with the imperative choice to innovate or to stagnate. To change or die.

I know what side I’m on!

Leadership 101: What You Do Matters. What You Don’t Do Matters Too.

AtDeskSometimes leaders think that communication is what happens when they make a presentation. Or send an email. Or hold a meeting.

In fact, leaders communicate every moment of every day. In their words. By their actions. With their inaction. Because people are watching and adjusting – sometimes to the subtlest of cues.

The minute you step into a leadership position, no matter what level, others begin to look to you for direction and guidance. And as such, what you say is important. Words matter and you can use them to further the worthwhile purpose you are leading. You can also, if not careful, use them to derail and detract and to detour effort.

As a new leader, I was taken aback by how others reactions to my words and actions changed so quickly. As a team member, a snarky comment got barely noticed. As a leader, it became fodder for gossip, fear, and speculation.

As a team member, I could forget something and my forgetfulness was taken as a mere oversight. As a leader, not doing something signaled it was not important and others would shift their energy somewhere else.

As a team member, I could be friends with whoever I wanted. As a leader, friendships became equated with favoritism and people feeling they were either “in” or “out” of favor.

When you’re a leader, others are listening to what you say, but even more so are looking to see what you do. This quote sums it up quite nicely:

People hear what you say.

People see what you do.

Seeing is believing.

Nonverbal Cues

I would see this happen time and time again when the manufacturing plant I worked in would get a new general manager. If the new manager was a shirt and tie guy, within a period of two weeks, shirts and ties began to be the dress of choice with those that reported to him. Bring in a khaki and golf shirt guy, and the ties were retired and replaced by more casual attire without a word being said.

Non-verbal cues speak loudly. There was a day I was privy to unsettling news that we were closing a division, impacting over 1000 jobs. That afternoon, rather than making the rounds to all the lines before leaving, I gathered my things from my office with a heavy heart and just left. First shift passed information about my demeanor to second and then again to the people on third shift. When I arrived early the next morning, no less than three operators asked me what was wrong and had surmised that something big was happening. All that from a change in my routine and body language.

People take cues from what you say and do but also from what you don’t say or do. I once assigned an important project to a highly capable team member. Knowing it was in good hands, I focused my time and energy on other things. I was quite surprised to find, a few weeks before the project was to be completed, that it had been abandoned. My inattention had signaled unimportance, and this high performer had aligned their actions with cues. This was not a performance issue; it was my lack of leadership.

The 3 C’s of Stellar Leadership

Stellar leaders know that others are looking to them. As such, they lead with:

  • Clarity – they know the messages they intend to send and the direction they are taking others
  • Congruence – they align their words and their actions, seamlessly
  • Consciousness – they are aware of the impact their words and actions take – and avoid sending misleading or unintended signals

Leaders who have clarity, congruence, and consciousness create alignment, focus, and energy. Those that don’t create confusion, frustration and wasted effort. Which type of leader are you?


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The Triple Bottom Line and Sustainable Organizations

I can still viscerally recall my reaction to one constant mantra of each and every course as I pursued (and finally received) my MBA from Krannert at Purdue. If there was one meta message it was this: businesses exist to “create shareholder value”. It was all about dollars dropping to the bottom line. A singular focus on profitability. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I wanted (but never did) to jump up and share a different opinion. I wanted my teachers and classmates to understand that the organizations I knew and worked with did much more – they provided jobs and economic stability to the community and offered others a better life as a result. The businesses I looked up to provided goods and services that mattered, that made a difference to their customers. The ones that I had been a part of mostly spent energy, effort, time and resources on creating a community (employees, customers and suppliers) that worked together to create something bigger than any one person or group could. The businesses that I admired assumed a vital role in the community and considered how to give back in significant ways. I wanted to shout that while financial returns were important – to consider profit the ONLY purview of an organization was too narrow, too limited, too mercenary. And as we are painfully finding, profit-only may not be the best measure in the long term about sustainability – of the company, the community, the world.

But I never did. So today, I will. And I am joined by others who are advocating that businesses need to think well beyond the holy grail of the P&L bottom line. I am encouraged that many companies, big and small, publicly traded and privately held, have recognized that there are important STAKEHOLDERS to serve in addition to STOCKHOLDERS.

One way that companies across the globe are measuring results this way is using a triple bottom line (3BL) in which they account for People (social), Profits (economic) and Planet (environmental). The concept was articulated by Andy Savitz in his book The Triple Bottom Line.  The proposition is that these three measures in total are a much better measure of sustainability than the more traditional profit only measures.

social, economic, and environmental aspects of the triple bottom line

So what is the triple bottom line? The profit bottom line is the one we all know. The people (or social) bottom line looks at the short- and long-term social impacts – to employees, suppliers, and the community, which can be quite global. The planet (or environmental) bottom line looks at impact to nature. So while what is measured may vary, metrics might include:

People (Social) Planet (Environment)
  • Average hours of training per employee
  • Safety incident rate
  • Unemployment rate
  • Median household income
  • Percentage of population with a post-secondary degree or certificate
  • Diversity of workforce
  • Child labor used by contractors or suppliers
  • Community involvement
  • Charitable contributions
  • Sales dollars per kilowatt hours
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Use of post-consumer and industrial recycled material
  • Water consumption
  • Amount of waste to landfill
  • Electricity consumption
  • Fossil fuel consumption
  • Solid waste management
  • Hazardous waste management

 

3BL has been adopted by companies across the globe, but has faced opposition and not had widespread uptake. Those opposing it argue that the measures are varied, imprecise, and at best are difficult to measure, let alone related directly to sustainability. And it is quite accurate that 3BL accounting is not yet to GAAP level yet, leaving individual companies wrestling with what to measure and how to quantify concepts that we’ve never before defined, tracked or reported.

Yes, 3BL is admittedly difficult to measure. But in reality, so is profit. A bit funny, this fixation with “hard metrics” given that anyone who has managed a P&L center in a publically traded organization knows how much the financial bottom line is gamed. Need to show more profit this quarter? Ship product the day before the quarter closes, have a blowout sale to move inventory, pull orders up, defer spending – all legit, all short-term focused, all just a few of the too many to mention tricks of the trade.

So challenging it may be – but it would appear to me to be a challenge worthy of tackling. In my mind, the mere act of wrestling with the questions of social and ecological impact will shift focus and then actions. I would advocate that imperfect measures are better than none, as what gets measured matters. And what matters more than the sustainability of your organization? The people and social systems it impacts? The planet? Worthwhile effort I say, even if initial efforts are imperfect.

What do you think?

And if you’d like to read more, here are some great sources:

Triple Bottom Line: What is it and How Does it Work from the IBR – Timothy H. Slaper, PhD and Tanya J. Hall,

The Economist  – blog posting

A Critique of 3BL from Harvard (and rebuttal)

Cannibals with Forks by John Elkington, thought leader in sustainability

Is Faster/Better/Cheaper Always Best?

Faster/better/cheaper is the tagline for a recent client project. Not too different from other projects, other initiatives, other quests. We seem, in our personal and professional lives, to want to speed things up, maximize value, and do it with fewer and fewer resources and less money. It is the reason WalMart is such a powerhouse as their aim is to help you “Save Money – Live Better”.  And faster is implied with their massive stores containing everything from groceries to hard goods and 34 check-out lines to get you in and out and back to your car posthaste.

And I’m not immune to that thinking. I challenge students in my Entrepreneurship class to find new ways to solve problems people have, to imagine ways to create a business that can do something faster or better, although I warn against competing on price alone (the cheaper). My change management practice aims to help clients implement change faster and better – and with less drama and resistance.

Yet I wonder if faster/better/cheaper should really be our north star for all things and for all situations.

In my experience:

  • A thoughtfully planned and executed business project tends to be far superior than one hastily thrown together
  • Well designed and constructed public spaces nourish and inspire me far more than quickly constructed, cost effective, cement block big boxes with a fancy façade
  • In depth, over time, non-rushed learning opportunities serve me better than forty five minute webinars
  • A home cooked meal beats any fast food – no matter how cheap or fast
  • Time with friends, face to face, is better than a Facebook post any old day
  • A lovingly hand crafted piece of art trumps mass produced “me too” pieces
  • The book is almost always better than the movie and without doubt better than the cliff notes
  • Home grown veggies and flowers are greatly superior to their production line cousins – even though they may be irregularly shaped and have a few imperfections
  • A real, heart-to-heart conversation beats a text or a tweet or a LinkedIn update

Yet at the same time, I appreciate that:

  • Planes, trains and automobiles enable me to travel faster and better
  • Agribusiness provides us with an abundant supply of safe and easy to access food
  • There are a multitude of ways I can get answers quickly – and for the most part without spending a penny
  • I have at my disposal a wealth of consumer goods – more than at any other time in history
  • I can connect, communicate and collaborate with people around the globe – all without leaving my office
  • I have access to an amazing trove of information – quickly and at nothing but the cost of a PC and an internet connection

So perhaps, at times, we need to just pause and ask:

  • What is lost when we do things faster/better/cheaper? What is gained?
  • Are there things better done slowly and carefully and then as a result, more expensively, but in the end, far worth it?
  • What do I really value? And am I willing to pay a bit more, in time or money, for a different experience?
  • What do my customers really value? Perhaps it is not always the cheapest or the fastest.
  • What is the true cost of all that we have access to? For those that produced it? For the planet? For communities across the globe?

As usual, I have far more questions than answers. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Can you be too Lean?

I am writing this post in the aftermath of a weekend getaway gone awry. The plan was simple – leave very early on Saturday morning, arrive at our favorite beach by 11, enjoy the island and friends and great seafood. And then out the next night- back in time to resume work on Monday.

Instead, I am at home… not at the beach.

The plane was there, the pilot was there, the flight attendants ready to go. Missing was the co-pilot. Much waiting with effort to secure another. During this time, my husband and I went in search of breakfast – and chose a nice, sit down option in the gate area. There we watched with both frustration, amazement and a bit of admiration at the ONE server attempting to serve the restaurant guests, assisted on occasion by the cook and busser.

We bemoaned about people not showing up to do their jobs. About how the one co-pilot failing to show inconvenienced hundreds of folks that we could see and many more as the ripple of the cancelled flight spread to others. We gave the server an outsized tip in spite of the slow service, knowing what an admirable job he was doing in spite of being short staffed, and maintaining a pleasant demeanor.

But on the long ride back home, I wondered if there was not another bigger theme at play here – of being too lean.

I’m the first to admit that I am a fan of the lean way of thinking. Of only focusing on what adds high value to the customer and dropping the rest. Of reducing waste and scrap and extra effort. Of fine tuning your process so that it hums along with just the right amount of effort, materials, and people, at just the right time.

Yet I am convinced that American businesses are too lean – too bare-bones, too stripped down, too right sized, to the extent that it undermines their health. It certainly undermines their customer satisfaction!

OK – so I can buy that co-pilots are a pretty special bunch – and that not too many are just hanging around waiting to be called in. Still, everything about my experience was negatively compounded by the lack of any extra staff or capacity in the system. The gate only had one computer and one gate attendant, which resulted in excruciating long lines to rebook. As a solution – we were given a “special” number to call and rebook. That was the option I chose – and yet there was still a wait to get an operator and it was only 58 minutes later that we were rebooked.

The amazing thing was that in spite of systems and tools that were getting in the way of doing a great job for the folks we encountered at the airport, they were pleasant, respectful and working as hard as they could – even at 4 am. This really was not a people problem; this is a systems problem.

Being too efficient robs the system of much needed slack. Of breathing room. Of some extra resources that are available “just in case”.

Large companies today have big bankrolls and tiny payrolls. Systems have been automated to squeeze out the last ounce of cost efficiency – but are dehumanized mazes in which customers are on their own. The workers I deal with, just like the ones I encountered at the airport, have on their game faces, and are doing the best they can. But just like the Lucille Ball spoof on the candy factory line, they keep falling farther and farther behind

Time labelled as non-productive (training, managing the unexpected, going above and beyond, creating something new, dreaming of the next big thing, doing preventative maintenance, and filling in for those on vacation) has been relentlessly slashed. This training takes 3 days – can you do it in 3 hours?

So, in business, being too lean may be a bad thing after all – bringing with it consequences such as:

  • extraordinarily disappointing customer service
  • the inability to respond to disruptions
  • lack of depth or bench strength
  • a poorly trained workforce
  • less innovation
  • stressed and frustrated employees

Which ultimately result in customer and employee defection and loss of long-term vitality. Yes indeed, you can be too lean. Leaders need to remember that things drawn too taut finally break.Evergreen Leadership

Business Plan vs Business Model Canvas: A Shift We Can All Learn From

Launching a Business

The Old Model:  Create a business plan of at least 25 pages.  Fill it with tidy market research. Put in detailed plans – all the way down to 3 years of proforma financials. Find an investor. Build the product or service – the more features the better. Hire marketing and sales. Then go into the market and sell, baby, sell. Cross fingers. Hope for the best.

The New Model: Sketch your preliminary ideas on a business model canvas, capturing your initial hypotheses about 9 key business elements. Put them on post it notes and be prepared to change them. Test them by getting out of the building and in front of your target market. Be curious. Listen hard. Learn fast and either validate, improve, or toss out your initial hypothesis. Update the canvas with your new insights. Repeat, over and over again, as needed to get to the point where your hypotheses hold together and your customers concur. Start with the leanest version of your product (minimal viable product). Sell some, listen, improve.  Once you finally have a model that works – then and only then – build the company around it.

Clearly there is much more involved in either approach – but I think you get the idea. Two different approaches, two different philosophies, two different outcomes.

Business Plan Approach

Business Model Canvas Approach

Internally focused: I have all the answers. Externally focused: The answers are outside of me – with the market, my customers or my key partners.
Static: I can craft a plan today that will guide me for the foreseeable future. Dynamic: My plan will take shape over time as we learn more and more.
Closed: I know enough now to plan for the foreseeable future, including financial projections and staffing needs. I’ll build it and then “they will come.” Open: I have some ideas. They may be brilliant or they may stink. I’m willing to test them early, toss out the bad ones, be open to new ones and improve the feasible ones.
Rigid: We march to the plan. Adaptable: We learn and adjust, every step of the way.

 

The motivation for creating a business plan is to think things through thoroughly so as to execute well and avoid some of the risks associated with new ventures. The paradox is that this planning, while it avoids early failure, promotes ultimate failure. It likely contributes to the 50% failure rate of new ventures. By the time you have planned, secured funding, produced, marketing and sold – much time, money and energy is invested. Most likely, the market has shifted. You’ve hedged a big bet that you are right. Sometimes you are, and sometimes not so much.

The business model canvas approach feels uncertain and risky. It’s hard to risk failing early with an idea and then sticking with it through multiple iterations. Even more so when you are emotionally invested in it – you cringe when others don’t see the possibility that you do. Yet learning what works and what doesn’t early means that you no longer invest precious resources into what doesn’t work – and sooner rather than later. You instead divert (or pivot) into what does. If you listen and observe, you begin to craft a product or service that resonates – and ultimately sells. You shape a business model that works, that is resilient and has longevity – and are much more poised for long term success.

What applies to start-up businesses has great parallels to each of us. While we want to create a foolproof, locked down plan for our lives and our careers, that approach is fraught with peril. While we may want to avoid failure, trying some things out on a small scale (some of which will fail) can be both informative and freeing. We learn from them – we discover what works and what does not. We also learn that we can survive failure, dust ourselves off and begin anew. When we are adaptable, rather than getting locked into a plan conceived many years ago, we can find fresh opportunities. And as with start-ups, perhaps the biggest long term failure is being wedded to a plan that no longer works for us.

6 Skills that are Must Haves Today

If I was making a short list of skills that are “must haves” in today’s tech-centric, interconnected, fast changing and unpredictable world, this would be it:

  1. Insatiably Curious
    An avid learner. Always exploring. Not stuck in one domain or area of expertise.  Asks good questions. Wants to know why. Observes. Reads. Watches. Listens. Travels.
  2. A Quick Study
    Can pick up new skills, ideas and ways of doing things quickly. Knows how they learn best and uses that to their advantage.
  3. Technologically Fearless
    Unfazed by technology. Uses it in multiple ways. Finds ways to maximize and optimize the technology at their fingertips. Uses multiple devices seamlessly.
  4. Connected Deeply
    Has a wide and broad network. Brings this network to you via Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends. Adroit at using the network.
  5. Creatively Synthesizes
    Sees connections. Can connect the dots. Can take an avalanche of information, extract the essence and make something meaningful of it.
  6. Highly Adaptive
    Unhappy with the status quo and willing to change quickly. Sheds old ways easily. Continually seeks better ways.

What skills would you add?

Success Pillars: Four Habits That Grew a Successful Business

Today’s post is from Crystal Hammon, a great writer and blogger and keen observer of life. In her post, Crystal shares four high-performance habits which have enabled her husband to build a successful business.
————————————————————

I’ll soon be married for 23 years. In that time, I’ve learned a few things about success just by watching my husband, who is very good at what he does for a living. Only part of his success is due to God-given talent. The rest stems from very deliberate attention and day-in, day-out practice. All day. Every day. For decades.

I suppose you could have that much experience at something and still not be good at it—but not if you gave it the kind of focus he has. Having a ringside seat to his high-performance habits has planted some ideas about what it takes to climb to the very top of your field and also how to lead a better life.

Here are four observations Ive made while watching my husband Jim grow a business:

Be single minded. Once he decided to start his own business, my husband never looked to the left, right or backward. He observed others in the same business, but he never tried to copy them or make direct comparisons. Preparation. Knowledge. Confidence. Thoroughness. Well-reasoned strategies. These weren’t just his start up tools; they are the stuff he uses daily after 15 years of running his own business. It’s a disciplined mindset that isn’t thrown by events, rumors or perceptions.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Whatever we do over and over again, we’ll master. This means we must be very choosey about what we repeat. If you constantly nag your spouse, you’ll become a nag. If you throw your clothes on the floor day after day, you’ll be a magnificent slob. If people are always taking advantage of you, you’ll be a lifelong victim. Want to become good at praying, swimming, selling, sewing, teaching, painting or writing? Do it every day. Market conditions have changed dramatically over the past 15 years, but Jim keeps practicing and refining the value-added sales rituals that have helped him grow and maintain business.

Get help. If you have a rotten golf swing and you go out and practice it every day, guess what? Your swing will remain terrible. When what you’re doing isn’t getting the result you want, you must figure out what you’re doing wrong. That often involves finding and studying with someone who knows a lot more than you do or possibly hiring people to fill in the gaps between your strengths and weaknesses. Rather than working on things he can easily hire others to do, Jim wisely preserves his time for high-value activities that generate revenue.

Avoid avoidance. When I review my early career, I can now see that being a renaissance girl was only part of the reason I was willing to leap from one occupation to another and then back again. The rest was a pattern of refusal to work through frustrating or tough spots. Every occupation has them. Jim has never been reluctant to do the dirty work of plowing through messy, complicated choices. That’s helped him push through one setback after another and on to higher planes.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had working in different fields for anything. But I will always wonder what may have happened if I had simply knuckled down earlier in life and worked my way through various obstacles rather than trading them for others. Real learning and mastery comes only after things get difficult. You can put it off, but sooner or later, you must push through these barriers if you want to achieve excellence.

These principles apply to marriage, hobbies, work, spiritual development and every other part of life I can imagine. To get the goodies, you must be single-minded, repeatedly practice your work, ask for help and be self-disciplined.

I’d love to be a scratch golfer, an accomplished seamstress and a well-read bibliophile, but since I’ve decided to dabble in all three areas, I’ll always be just that—a dabbler. In my professional life, though, I’ve put a stake in the ground and committed myself to the ups and downs of being a writer and editor for as long as there’s a viable market for my services.

Who do you know that models high-performance habits? What have you learned from them?

Crystal HammonCrystal Hammon is director at Leading Reads, a marketing firm that helps businesses develop original content to support their brands. She is also a registered yoga instructor, golf fanatic and editor of Dressed Her Days Vintage, a blog devoted to Then & Now stories about everything from fashion to culture.

Business Book For the Undecided – Or Those Pressed For Time

This summer, I found the book, The Best Business Books Ever: The Most Influential Management Books You’ll Never Have Time To Read. It provides pithy 2 page summaries of the 130 most influential business books. The summaries make CliffsNotes look like encyclopedias!

But the range of books and authors is impressive – from classics like Drucker and Adam Smith to more contemporary like Malcom Gladwell and Thomas Friedman.

I like it for three reasons:

  • It gives me a memory jolt for those books I’ve read
  • It gives me a preview for books I think I might want to read – so that I can make a good decision about to invest my time (or not)
  • It enables me to get to the essence of a book that I might never tackle

What books would you place on the “Most Influential Business Book” list?

Shift Happens

We hear about how globalization, technology, and a more connected world are accelerating the pace of change in ways never experienced before. If you can never quite get a full sense of just how much – this video will provide some perspective.

Spend 5 minutes – and prepare to come away awed!

My question to you: What are the opportunities this presents to you? To your organization? To your country? To our world?

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