Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Leadership

Leadership

CEOs that treat their employees, suppliers, and communities well, and who inspire their employees by example, deliver better results.

"Farsighted, tolerant, humane and practical CEOs returned 758% over 10 years, versus 128% for the S&P 500."

I'm hopeful that we are in the middle of a permanent shift in our perception of leadership, from cigar-chomping drill instructors to caring community builders. In today's frictionless world, where job security is an oxymoron, and talent can work wherever (in terms of both company and geography) it chooses, persuasion and influence trump command-and-control.

Of course, being a nice guy isn't enough. Leaders will still need the ability to understand the forces at work in their environment and take advantage of the resulting opportunities.

"Leaders and those who aspire to lead benefit from having a sense of history," says HBS professor Nitin Nohria. "Not because history repeats itself. History's real value is that it allows you to imagine what's possible.

I can't predict what the next 25 years of business will look like, but I do know that demography, technology, government regulations, geopolitics, labor conditions, and social mores will powerfully influence the opportunities available. And already, we can see some clues to the future. We clearly know that government is playing a bigger role than it used to. We have certainly gone through a major shift in geopolitics. We don't know how this new struggle will pan out, but history teaches us that geopolitics will have a more profound consequence than we might immediately recognize.

In terms of technology, breakthrough innovations in IT and pharmaceutical development may have run their course. We think of these as growth industries, but they might well be maturing. In demographics, what will happen as retiring baby boomers start withdrawing their money from the market? And then there are the dramatic changes in Asia. Just as Japan created lean manufacturing, is there a new management innovation that's coming from India or China, but hasn't yet been given a name?

In each of these dimensions, there are very important changes afoot. They will coalesce and create opportunities for entrepreneurial leaders to launch new businesses, for managers to maximize the value of existing businesses, and for leaders of change to rescue businesses that have fallen into decline. The one thing that we know for certain is that context is vitally important; it will shape the opportunities in these new times."

A New Hope

A New Hope

Many people that I talk with despair. They think that the world is going to hell. They think that things are getting worse all the time. The think that America's best days are behind it.

What a load of crap.

Yes, the world is imperfect, and we as a people even more so. Katrina has made everyone aware that our government, from the President on down to the local level, has made plenty of bad decisions. But that's no reason to moan and assume the fetal position.

To quote Churchill, "We will never surrender."

And you know what, there are plenty of things to be hopeful about, especially today's youth.

Given our media obsession with teen sex, recreational drug use, and Columbine, we don't always hear the good news: the kids are all right. In fact, they're better than their parents.

"They are also the most diverse generation ever: 35 percent are non-white, and the most tolerant, believing everyone should be part of the community.Historian Neil Howe, along with co-author William Strauss, has made a career studying different generations. Howe says all the research on echo boomers always reflects the same thing: They are much different than their self-absorbed, egocentric baby boomer parents.

"Nothing could be more anti-boom than being a good team player, right? Fitting in. Worrying less about leadership than follower-ship," says Howe. "If you go into a public school today, teamwork is stressed everywhere. Team teaching, team grading, collaborative sports, community service, service learning, student juries. I mean, the list goes on and on."

Howe thinks they are more like their grandparents, the great World War II generation -- more interested in building things up than tearing them down.

"When you ask kids, 'What do you most hope to achieve there?' Where they used to say, 'I wanna be No. 1. I wanna be the best,' increasingly they're saying, 'I wanna be an effective member of the team. I wanna do everything that's required of me,'" says Howe.

And you can already see some results. Violent crime among teenagers is down 60 to 70 percent. The use of tobacco and alcohol are at all-time lows. So is teen pregnancy. Five out of 10 echo boomers say they trust the government, and virtually all of them trust mom and dad."

Forget Brat Camp; we could all learn a thing or two from today's youth.

Of course, the kids aren't perfect. They're naive. They're impatient. They don't know what they want to do with their lives. And you know what? I think that we should be glad that even after everything they've been through, kids are still kids.

Applying Entrepreneurialism to Katrina

Applying Entrepreneurialism to Katrina
Entrepreneurship is going to become the dominant way of life in today's "Flat" world, and that's a good thing.

Entrepreneurs focus on getting things done, regardless of how difficult the environment or how scarce the resources.

Entrepreneurship is about bottom-up, it's about local action, it's about how small is better than big.

Startups are entrepreneurship. Blogs are entrepreneurship. And the outpouring of private rescue efforts for the survivors of Katrina are entrepreneurship.

Fred Wilson said it well:

"The one thing we don't need is the government trying to manadate what needs to get built and hiring some company that was formerly run by the Vice President to do it. I think we can take care of ourselves a lot better than the government can. If anything, the past week has shown that to be true now more than ever.

Technologists/geeks/hackers whatever you want to call us are human beings and are impacted like everyone else by this terrible disaster. Our reaction is to fix stuff and make it better. And we will do that. I am sure of it."

Monday, September 05, 2005

What Katrina Means To Me

What Katrina Means To Me
Donate to the Red Cross.

When something as terrible as Katrina occurs, it raises a lot of questions. They've been on my mind, as I try to make sense of all the different threads. Here's what I've been able to come up with so far.

1. Nobody wants to be a disaster victim. Yes, it's dangerous to live in a city that's below sea level and needs pumps running 24 hours per day. But it's also dangerous to live in an earthquake zone. In general, I'm going to make the assumption that if someone is still stuck in NOLA, it's because they couldn't get out, and I suggest that other folks do the same.

2. There is no conspiracy. As Coyote Blog often points out, never attribute to malice that which can be explained by simple incompetence. Politicians don't know squat about dealing with emergencies. First of all, most of them are lawyers. If you were stranded in the middle of a flooded city, would your first phone call be to a lawyer?

Second, the Darwinian pressures on politicians are ruthless and simple: Do what it takes to get re-elected. In our gerrymandered world, that means making sure you win your primary by energizing your party's base with hot-button issues and sound bites. Sadly, governing is secondary.

This doesn't excuse the federal and state governments' poor response to the disaster. Clearly, both were inadequate and borderline criminal in terms of their negligence. But not intentional or malicious.

3. During disasters, top-down command-and-control is even less effective than usual. The bureaucrats in charge have been turning away help because they don't feel like they can control the process. Yet in a chaotic and shifting situation, such control is A) unnecessary, B) unhelpful, and C) illusory. Again, quoting Coyote Blog, "Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse - after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be in government trying to override those efforts."

Just by reading my blogroll, I seem to have learned more about the situation than many of the federal officials in charge of the situation. If you were to establish some broad guidelines and then let the people in the field make decisions (which is what the U.S. military does), you could respond more quickly and flexibly, like the 18-year-old who commandeered a bus and drove to New Orleans and rescued 100 survivors.

4. Authenticity and caring action are far more effective than waffling and doubletalk. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has won a lot of fans for his honest, emotional, authentic interviews. The same can be said for the top-ranking military officer on the scene, General Russel Honore (known in the Army as the Ragin' Cajun, himself a native of Louisiana). General Honore ordered the troops to shoulder their weapons and focus on humanitarian relief. Instead of upbraiding residents for the actions of a few, he simply said, "By-and-large, these are families that are just waiting to get out of here. They are frustrated; I would be, too. I get frustrated at the cash register counter when the paper runs out." And he helped a young mother carry her twin babies to safety.

It's okay to make honest mistakes. At least you're trying and learning. Franklin Roosevelt made a lot of mistakes when he tried to pull the country through the Great Depression. But what he signaled to the American people was that he cared, and that he was willing to try anything to help them. It's a lesson our current administration should take to heart.

Simply Unsellable Vehicles

Simply Unsellable Vehicles
While I'm not fond of paying almost $3 per gallon for gasoline, I'm happy that high gas prices seem to be putting a dent in the insane SUV market.

The average resale price of large SUVs has dropped over 7% this past year, and with gas prices likely headed further up, the era of these gas-guzzling dinosaurs may finally be over.