Category Archives: Leadership

Can Government Create Economic Value?

Raining CoinsWe live in “interesting times”.  I’ve heard a lot of complaints from friends, acquaintances and the media lately about how moribund our government has become.  It’s true not just in the US, but around most of the world.  Just when we need leaders to drive forward a variety of human, economic and environmental innovations, our elected officials appear to be uninterested in governing.  So who’s in charge when it comes to creating the kind of value that adds to the economy?

Citizens should be able to count on government to step in for intractable problems. We understand that these issues need a big voice and strong leadership to succeed. But structurally, I don’t think that government – at the present time – has the capability, capacity, or confidence to lead on the truly important issues of our day. Continue reading

The Dark Side of Process Efficiency (Part 2)

New Orleans MintI’m an efficiency expert.  My raison d’etre is to make businesses run better, faster, cheaper.  I love the work, which is challenging and rewarding, in more ways than one.  But in recent years, I see a darker side to what I do.

Efficiency increases the divide between employees who are capable of innovation and those who merely follow instructions.  In an earlier post, I mentioned three examples of how automation is taking away jobs, faster than any of us ever imagined, and in a wider variety of professions and industries.

At the present time, the easiest tasks to automate are the ones that don’t require the ability to think on your feet, or reason out problems, or innovate.  We’ve heard before that the drive toward automation and efficiency is increasing the divide between the educated and uneducated workforce.  The thought is that there are going to be fewer jobs in the middle income strata. Continue reading

The Importance of Influencing Peers

Wrong Way SignAt one time, Stephen King decided to stop selling a relatively popular book called “Rage”.  The novel was the first book published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, and was written decades ago.   It’s the story of an angry teenager who shoots teachers and holds classmates hostage.

For a while after the book was published, King defended his story, saying that it did not cause anyone to go off the deep end.  Over time, however, the book was found in the belongings of four perpetrators of school shootings, and around 1997, King allowed the book to fall out of publication and apparently asked publishers to remove existing copies from sale.  A few years after that, many applauded his decision, although others thought he should have stood up for the rights of the artist.

This isn’t the only story of how people use their influence to create a better world. Continue reading

It’s Okay That the Corporation Has No Soul…

Man Facing the SunIt’s a well known maxim – “the corporation has no soul”.  I believe that with my whole heart.  People have souls, enterprises don’t.  Sometimes, the culture of an organization allows the collective souls of its employees to set a shining example, but those efforts are still led by feeling, thinking humans.

There are lots of reasons for business to exist, but the overwhelming and primary reason is to make money.  And… if a corporation focuses on that goal without wavering, they will do a lot of good along the way.

Most of us understand the basics of the enterprise.  Every business in the world – from Campbell to Planters – has followed one script… Continue reading

Describe Your First Job… A Great Interview Question

Lemonade StandYesterday, I saw a great post on an HR site, suggesting an out-of-the-box interview question.  Frankly, these are sometimes a dime-a-dozen, but I really like this as a good interview opener:  “Tell me about your first paying job and what you learned from it.”

My first job, at the age of 14, was on a land surveying crew. My dad owned the business and there was only one job available (my older sister was already working in the office, at the reception desk).  It was hot, sweaty, dirty and definitely not the job that a teenage girl dreams of.

What did I learn at that job?   Continue reading

When a “Casual Comment” is Anything But

Stacked WoodLet’s say you’ve recently become a manager.  No doubt, you’re happy with your achievement.  You have a lot more authority to make decisions and to influence others.  Has it occurred to you yet that there could be a downside to your authority?

Kerry Patterson, in the VitalSmarts newsletter, has written an excellent cautionary tale he calls “the captain’s fireplace”.  You can read the original story for yourself, but here’s a quick summary…  The captain of a military base notices some scrap wood in a dumpster and calls to make sure no one else wants it before he grabs some for his fireplace.

The ensign he talks to offers to find out about the scrap wood and calls the chief of supply to make sure it’s okay.  The warrant officer makes a call, and so on, until the captain’s wife eventually calls to thank them for the wood.   Outside in the supply yard, people are grumbling about how they had to cut brand new boards to fit the captain’s fireplace, when they couldn’t afford other vital supplies.

What happened? Continue reading

Are We Forgetting How to Discover?

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Have we become a society that doesn’t know how to discover anymore?  When I go online, Google serves up what I’m looking for before I really understand that I’m looking for it.  It’s creepy, and thrilling.

I just watched “Her” the other day.  (I know I’m running behind, but I have a boyfriend who only uses the cool dark confines of a movie theater to catch a nap.  As a result, I often fall prey to the beckoning Redbox kiosk that sits patiently at the end of the checkout inside my local Safeway.)  In the movie, the Siri-like voice on the cell phone anticipates needs – a richer experience than Google offers in my search results, but similar.
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Bully Me Not: A Second Take on Amazon, Hachette & The Rest of Us

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Today’s blog at The New York Times mentions that Stephen Colbert has joined the dog pile of voices condemning Amazon.  The dispute started when – during negotiations to give Hachette Book Group a bigger percentage of ebook revenue – Amazon started to intentionally limit the availability and sale of books published by Hachette.

The other day, I posted about this, remarking that the bigger problem isn’t how Amazon is addressing Hachette, but how book publishers in general take too big a slice of the profits from ebooks, much of which I believe should go to authors.

I’ll admit, I have an overdeveloped sense of fairness.  Continue reading

“Bee” The Change You Want to See

Bee with Clover

My grandfather kept bees.  By the time I was a child, they had sold the farm and moved to a 2-acre parcel where my grandmother kept a kitchen garden and my grandfather kept bees.

A few years ago, when we started hearing about colony collapse disorder, I couldn’t help but think about my grandfather’s bees.  I wondered vaguely if the problem might be coming from the industrialization of beekeeping operations.  Maybe the variety of backyard beekeeping made for happier bees.  There is a remarkable small company in Oregon – Bee Thinking – whose owners must have wondered the same thing.

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Conflicting Process Goals: Is it You or THEM?

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What’s the biggest problem affecting your business process?  I can tell you from vast experience that most people answer this question with a “they” statement.  Every time I help an organization with a business process, conflicting goals arise.

Consider the following:

  • We could have finished the code if THEY (the customer) had stopped changing the acceptance criteria.
  • The reason we’re behind on billing customers is that THEY (the sales team) don’t bother to send us the invoice details.
  • I could sell more product if THEY (the management team) could approve exceptions more quickly.
  • We could improve quality if THEY (customers, sales, managers) would stop asking us to “rush” something through the production line.

There is seldom just one goal for every process.   Let’s say we are creating a consumer product.  Our goals might include:  product features, secure shipping, timely payment, delivery speed, and/or quality.   Each of the stakeholders who work on the process – to design, source, produce, deliver and warranty a product – have different views of which goal is most important.  To manufacturing, product quality is the primary concern.  To sales, delivering the product in a timely fashion is key.

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