Strategy in 3 boxes

Vijay Govindarajan has a great mental model that distills strategy and innovation into a simple 3-box model: Manage the Present, Selectively Abandon the Past, and Create the Future.  People think they spend much more time creating and building the future than they actually do.  According to Vijay we spend an overwhelming majority of our time simply managing the present state of affairs, instead of executing on a vision of the future.

This isn’t to say we don’t think about the future and how we would like it to be.  As Dan Gilbert reminds us in Stumbling on Happiness, we spend a great deal of time envisioning the future and fantasizing about what will make us happy – the car, the job, the house, the spouse, whatever.  [Gilbert also describes why we often make mistakes about what we think will make us happy but he gives solutions – go read it.  Awesome book.]  Vijay’s point is that we spend precious little time actually doing anything concrete to achieve that envisioned future – that basically the present can be so demanding of our time it consumes our attention with tasks instead of truly strategic execution.  This all makes sense but I was particularly intrigued by Vijay’s suggestion that we also need to be selectively abandoning the past.  I posted about this recently after listening to Jim Collins on “Start your stop-doing list.”

We have a bunch of QuickTalks featuring Vijay and we’re scheduling to produce more with him shortly.  Enjoy!

Change Leaders

Joshua (not his real name) is organizing students, parents and community leaders around an idea called Cool Communities, created by the Sierra Club.  The idea is simple: get businesses, the chambers of commerce, municipality governments and local communities to sign on to a commitment toward reducing wasteful consumption of resources and working toward sustainable local environments.  This initiative is modeled after a successful Canadian campaign and includes commitments of: no-idling, switching to biofuel, adopting ‘green-tags’, and focusing on local food development and consumption.  He has lobbied the local government and presented to community leaders in this effort.  Simple, clear objectives and actionable ideas right?  Here’s the killer: he’s a freshman in high school.

Like Severin Suzuki before him in 1992 speaking to the UN, he unabashedly is willing to confront leaders in our community to bring about change that will make for a better and more sustainable world.  It’s a reminder what courage and vision can accomplish regardless of age, power or perceived influence.

[add-on 1/14/2009 – GSHunter]

Reflecting on our next generation and their capacity to create and drive change, I realized how Don Tapscott has been influencing my thinking lately.  Tapscott’s latest book, Grown Up Digital, enumerates the varieties of ways in which the developing generation – he defines as roughly eight to thirty – have enhanced mental switching capabilities, which explains why your twelve year old easily turns on and interacts with texting, multi-player game environments, gaming and – oh, by the way, at the same time – can do their homework and probably have the TV on in the background as ambient noise.  If it sounds preposterous that one can competently interact with such disparate media and technology effectively consider his anecdote about Joe O’Shea who is 22 years old, and has created a successful health clinic in the 9th ward of New Orleans, gets straight A’s, is President of the student council, has created the Global Peace Exchange, manages a 10.1M budget and is on his way to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship.  And he confesses he doesn’t read books.  That’s right, Joe doesn’t work through information in the linear fashion commonly understood, and expected to be effective to digest and act on.

Tapscott argues that the inundation of media and the new digital natives who easily inhabit this space are going to redefine the coming workplace, way of interaction, and ultimately the manner in which the world functions.  He acknowledges there are a number of great unknowns in this developing paradigm but it’s certainly not all bad as older generations commonly complain.  There are roughly 8 million people joining the workplace who are clashing with the corporate norms of today, and the entering generation isn’t tolerating it.  Don points out that the prevailing reaction to social mediums like facebook, myspace, etc is to ban them from the business environment, and the new generation of workers is balking.

Check out Blue Shirt Nation, in which Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson has signed off on a collaborative social network within Best Buy allowing product innovation to gestate at the bottom of the hierarchy and faciliate the interaction of people within the organization to drive product development and customer interaction.

We’re producing a live interactive event featuring Don Tapscott on May 5th broadcast from Toronto.

Beware your first decisions of 2009!

It’s the first week of January and customary for us to make new or renewed vows.  Before you do, consider this advice: Once you decide something – anything really – it sets a precedent for yourself and you are quite likely to repeat that decision regardless of the quality of the choice.  Recently we filmed Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, and he has a short bit of advice warning us that what we decide once, we may be doomed to repeat regardless of the value of that decision.  Consider the common impulse to go to the packed restaurant, as opposed to the relatively less attended restaurant across the street, or across town.  Your impulse tells you that since many people fraternize that establishment, it must be better – and perhaps the crowd is right.  Barry Libert, James Surowiecki and others have built compelling arguments that the crowd knows far better than what you alone think is best, but Dan cautions against the inconsiderate repetitiveness of this kind of decision-making.

Surowiecki demonstrates the wisdom of crowds by showing that in the show “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”, by far (91%) the audience is more helpful an accomplice than phoning a friend or the 50/50 option to reduce choices.  Ariely agrees that the market in general can be a powerful ally in decision-making but this process must be revisited repeatedly to reconfirm whatever you decide.  So instead of effectively standing in line behind yourself – since you are following your first decision – his advice is to re-evaluate the quality of that decision each time.

Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.  – Glenda Cloud

Start your Stop Doing List

Habit is a hard thing to break and some habits are good, but like Spencer Johnson’s parable Who Moved My Cheese, it’s Hem who keeps looking in the same place for the cheese which has, of course, moved… Someone close to me has stopped after years (and years!) of smoking.  The biggest challenge I’ve learned from her is that smoking is associative with all kinds of other activities and the real challenge is to discover and create whole new activities, engagements, mental models, and eventually habits, which substitute for and supplant that behavior.  Now I recognize smoking is an addition, not merely a habit, but extend that metaphor to your daily activities and create anew behaviors which supplant the habit you want to eradicate.

Think not only in terms of ‘What not to do’ but also ‘What to do instead?’ Marvelous new journeys await – she is now an accomplished photographer by using the exploration of photography and capturing beautiful imagery to supplant a habit she is breaking. What habits do you have which keep you looking in the same places for things which have moved elsewhere?  Jim Collins has a nice message here advising us to make a list of the things you do which aren’t working and – yes – begin to stop doing them!  Collins has a six-step model to Stop Doing and the first is to identify your Hedgehog: What You Are Good At, What You Are Passionate About, and What You Can Make a Livelihood At.  For example, I’m passionate about playing guitar and piano but I understand I’m not terribly good at either and I’m unlikely to make a living at it.  Recognize your Hedgehog, and align it with your Do-List and your Stop Doing List.

The rest of the story…

This blog is almost entirely about our filming activities for the Leadership Development Channel, but since I posted in August about our aging, beloved family black lab suffering from seizures, more people have asked me about her than almost anything else I write here.  So here’s the rest of the story.

Shortly after I wrote, Joker went through a three-day ordeal of enduring six (possibly seven) grand-mal seizures, each about six to eight hours apart.  The only available and immediate pharmaceutical intervention is to increase the Phenobarbital dosage to try to contain the seizures, but of course it left her nearly comatose.  She was incontinent and unable to stand without aid and spent her few waking hours wandering in clockwise circles.  – [By the way, I always wondered why always clockwise?  Sometimes I would talk to her and try to gently steer her to the left but it never worked.  It seems to me clockwise-only is pretty limiting navigation – despite UPS’s success with right-hand only turns – and I would always find Joker stuck in a corner or behind a chair because she would dead-end herself.]  – Anyway, the days went by and my wife and I shared our quiet hopes that she would either miraculously recover, or more likely choose her own passing but it never seemed to come.  And Joker became increasingly unable to do much of anything except hyperventilate and drool and well… I’ll spare the details.

One night in late August we gathered the children to say goodbye to her and explained that we had to take Joker to the doctor and that she may not come home.  We euthanized her and it was possibly one of the most painful, heart-wrenching things my wife and I have been through.

We thought we could wait until spring but we’re getting a puppy next week and the kids don’t know.

Your right brain might save your job

When you were a kid (maybe you still are), you had to memorize multiplication tables, the boiling point of water, and maybe even the periodic table.  This kind of rote learning is giving way to outcomes-based education which favors deeper understandings of relationships and greater emphasis on results, not methodology or routinization.  Dan Pink argues it is routinization in work and labor that can be either outsourced or even automated.  Job-related activities in engineering, finance, accounting, even law can all be routinized and measured and thus easily sourced to countries and markets where these functions can be performed at a fraction of the cost in the U.S.

Last century machines replaced our brawn, now software is replacing our left brain – that side of the brain that is linear, sequential, routinized, pro forma.  Think of drafting a Will for example.  A decade ago or more it involved hours of sitting with a lawyer who builds you an estate will for perhaps thousands of dollars.  Now of course you can go to LegalZoom and get one for 15 minutes and less than $50.

If you want to insulate  your job and your company, consider what can’t be sourced, automated or routinized.  Increasingly inventiveness, design, story, empathy, meaning, and something he calls symphony are becoming far more valuable than task-oriented excellence.  Let’s take “story.”  Story is taking facts and placing them in context and providing meaning through narrative.  Dan Pink buys Big Tattoo Red wine because the marketing pitch doesn’t emphasize hyperboles and superlatives about the quality of the wine, and nor does Big Tattoo prattle on about the unique aging or fermentation process they use.  Instead, Big Tattoo publishes a story on each bottle of wine about how they are trying to sell great wine in an effort to honor their mother who died of cancer and donate proceeds from the sale of the wine to cancer-related causes.  And if you are like most people and can’t tell a great deal of difference in wines, theirs is just fine.  The difference is their story.

Go pick up a copy of A Whole New Mind – it might save your job.

Dream well. You may find yourself there.


Jim Loehr on Stress Management from G. Shawn Hunter on Vimeo.
I had a mentor once who said to me, “Dream well. You may find yourself there one day.” According to Jim Loehr, the stories we tell ourselves become our realities and to ensure you build a story of fulfillment, engagement, passion and joy, your story needs to have three distinct elements: truth, purpose and action. The truth part is really important. For example, are you telling yourself you need to check your email at 11pm or you will fall behind in your work? Or that you had no time to exercise or call your grandmother. Or that you need to hide your work from other departments because they’ll just steal it and take the credit? The story you tell yourself over and over becomes your truth so be careful what you mumble to yourself on your commute.

Next your story needs purpose. This is the part where you DO something to get to what you are trying to accomplish. And finally your story needs passion, because without it you’ll never get to the action part. Is your story compelling to yourself? Enough to make you jump into action?

A final thought on this – Dan Gilbert reminds us in Stumbling on Happiness that we are frequently a poor judge of what will actually make us happy, and often don’t even remember accurately what did make us happy in the past. He also advises it’s important to keep the happy end in mind – the dramatic change – as you are more likely take action.  Dan reminds that we respond very little to incremental change, but respond abruptly to drastic change. Toward the end of the book he offers solutions but cautions you aren’t likely to follow his advice. Ultimately you derive the greatest happiness in the present. Enjoy!

Act Sooner, Reach Higher

michael_hammer1.jpgThe first fifty times you say something people won’t hear you. The second fifty times you say it, they won’t understand. And the third fifty times they won’t believe you. If you want to affect real systemic change you need to repeat your message over and over and over. That’s just the first part. If you want the change to stick, you need to remove the ‘blockers’ – those naysayers, cynics and the coalition of the unwilling. John Kotter says the same thing – if you think you can co-opt the unwilling, you’re wrong. If you think you just need to get them “vested in the process,” you’re wrong. Get them out of the way instead. And finally it takes passion. Passion like you read about – the kind that is fun, enduring, serious, committed, connected, intense!

Michael Hammer’s group interviewed a group of highly successful companies that had undergone successful massive change initiatives and they said two things that may surprise you. That they should have been even more ambitious and they should have acted sooner. That is, knowing what they know having been through the process, they could have reached and achieved even higher goals.

Building a change initiative

john_kotter.jpgMany managers spend considerable amounts of time and energy to co-opt whole populations across teams to build consensus for a change initiative. We can spend enormous amounts of energy trying to pull all parties into the tent, working to ensure that as many people at all levels of the organization are on board. Of course there will be detractors – those who nay say, or object in either public or passive manners. So you think you just need to spend a little extra time and energy explaining the benefits, or appealing to their ego, or sense of power acquisition and you believe you simply need to get them vested in the process. You think by offering a key position on the steering committee, you’ll finally gain their buy-in.

According to John Kotter, if the person has enough conviction in their opposition to the change initiative, it’s not worth it. Get them out of the way through distraction or dis-involvement. Because ultimately these saboteurs can do more damage inside a change initiative and are highly unlikely to turn-around their thinking and support. Good luck!

Are you a Bottle Rocket?

obeng.jpgI ripped through Vince Poscente‘s The Age of Speed in probably about the time it was intended to be read – an airplane ride. He had a fun chapter on those kinetic new-age knowledge working noise-makers, or what he calls “bottle rockets.” You know them – these are people who embrace speed over substance. Bottle Rockets toss off emails as quickly as they come in, lob ideas during conversations without listening clearly or having strong understandings of the issues involved, and generally pursue speed to the point of explosive uncontrollability. Their trajectories are always errant and inevitably terminate nose first into the ground.

Shortly after this book we had the opportunity to film Eddie Obeng at London Business School, who made a similar analogy and suggested that people recognize this behavior and in fact prey on it. People recognize Bottle Rockets and constantly ping them knowing they are readily willing to shoot off in tangents. His philosophy is to turn the equation upside down. Eddie says the way to stay focused is to start with the end in mind. Clearly articulate the end goal and work neatly backward removing extraneous activities and collaborations. By starting with the end, you and your team can collaborate with intent and focus.