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Notes from the Corner Office

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In my efforts to inform best principles and practices over the years I have relied on the wisdom of thoughtful people across all fields. Their words and the powerful phrases of action they inform have been sustenance for me and for the clients I serve. My interest in these words of wisdom–indeed, the interest of clients as well–stems form a burning question that better equips managers everywhere: “How do I turn wisdom into a practical reality”? It’s the right question; as Einstein liked to say: “Nothing happens until something moves.”

Today’s ROI is an attempt to distinguish between the “thinking” in “organizational development” and the practical ways to implement it. While I am also given to the use of models to facilitate this transfer, today I will borrow from the very practical words of those who do it everyday in places where the chips have multiple “0’s”–America’s corporations. Since I’d prefer that the wisdom in the recommendations below stand on their own, I will not include attributes, except to those who write to me requesting them. In the days when gold was discovered in California and Alaska there was a popular phrase that excited such “movement” as Einstein has suggested. It was: “There’s gold in them thar hills.” As you read below, move to the edge of your seat and drink of the precious “mettle” in some of the very best in corporate America. (more…)

September 4, 2013 |

What, How

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The simple measure of success may be the “achievement of a planned goal.” Though variously applied, success often means something different to different people. As children, we were encouraged, indeed congratulated, for having achieved simple things that most take for granted: lifting our head while still on our stomach, holding one’s own formula bottle, walking, using the toilet. Why does something so common and taken for granted become obvious and so special?

A tree is a beautiful thing, tall, strong, graceful in character, and flexible. When viewed through this lens, trees become part of the landscape; they a part of the environment, and it a part of the world, and it a part of the universe. But what if, when looking at a tree, we see a house, a boat, a bat, stairs, a door, wagon, or a barrel–all things that can be made from the wood of a tree.

Indeed, when stranded somewhere without the things necessary to survive, we do something quite natural to the human condition. We create them!

The resources we so easily take for granted become critical when absent. Joni Mitchell was right in her lyrical lament: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” But, what have we got and how might we use it? The question opens us up to an alternate reality that delivers a magical process. Solutions are those painfully hidden problem dissolvers that drive us to distraction, if not ruin. (more…)

August 15, 2013 |

Success Starts With Analysis

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Potential is one of those oft-quoted terms used to express the opportunity in someone or the future of some thing, such as a business venture. It is usually followed by a concern that reaching that potential requires something yet to form. Potential, it appears, has a dark side. Perhaps, it is because so few of us know how to measure it.

In simple terms, potential is the “likelihood of doing or becoming something in the future.” As it applies to business, we see new products, services, capital improvements, businesses, and personnel decisions, for their potential to be profitable. NPV, IRR, and other calculations are used to help measure the “potential” success of these things. But like most things, we have less than perfect knowledge about them, and proceed with certain “reasonable” assumptions in place.

Good business sense, a knack for judging people, education, and experience all combine to reduce the risk of poor decision-making. But, as you might imagine, the opportunity in “potential” begs for serious efforts at measuring it. One such measurement device is called Five Forces Analysis (M. Porter), and means to focus attention on a common experience to achieve very practical results-the kind that seems to have a greater “potential” for success. (more…)

August 9, 2013 |

Dead Last

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Everything bought is sold. It’s axiomatic that one follows the other. The gratification in the one may be more obvious than the other; buying things-not just spending money, such as on rent and utility bills-is near instant gratification for most. Even the depressed find their elixir in it. But what about selling those same things? Does it too deliver such elation and inner joy?

At some point those of us who buy must meet up with those of us who sell. Do we find strange the conclusion that we are all in both roles at times? Imagining the buyer in us is easy. He is impulsive, aware of oneself and his self image, loosely, how he thinks others think he thinks about himself, and driven by emotion to satisfy some urge-the taste in unusual food, the feel of new shoes, the specialness in attending a Broadway production, on Broadway.

He is also receptive to being sold, though he shuns this innermost desire. We all want to feel helped by others; it elevates our specialness. And when others reach out to inform and educate our choices-for our unique benefit-it raises our sense of belonging to another, an uppermost need in humans. (more…)

July 30, 2013 |

5 P’s

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Most everything we do issues from a thought, the idea being that “thought becomes behavior.” It’s a commonly understood psychological motivation. But however well-endowed our thinking, “t” (time) is the arbiter of achievement and the efficiency that naturally obtains from it. Whatever we hope to accomplish is too often directly related to the time we spend on it. We may have little time for most things until we decide to take the time necessary to do them. No doubt, you can relate.

In the world of small business, “planning” is that elusive something that seldom gets the time it deserves. Very few Main Street businesses have plans to work from, a blueprint of sorts that charts the path to the stated goal-something virtually all business owners have, at least in mind. There are seldom in evidence a Business Plan, a Revenue Model, a Marketing Plan, or even a description of the Use Model for the targeted customer. Interestingly, there are often loosely knit thoughts about such things, but very little ever gets to paper. “What’s not on paper turns to vapor,” as the saying goes. That which ensures we return from the grocery store with the product we sought is the same as that which ensures we don’t overspend our resource-a list!  (more…)

July 23, 2013 |

Reach Out and Touch Someone

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Is there a week that goes by without a mention of how technology is changing the world? What would life, especially work, be like without the Internet? Yet, most don’t know what the Internet is; that amorphous, mysterious “everything” that is always within reach, and which makes all other things also within easy reach. Does it really matter that we can’t describe it or that we don’t know how it works? Clearly not!

Those of us with products and services for sale-most of us-have learned well how to prepare our products for market; that elusive and often fickle group of people we call consumers. The business-to-business (B2B) world communicates among businesses in need of things from other businesses. The rest of us may get our “stuff” from businesses, often neighborhood shops, but the things we need are more likely to be found in the “economic breadbasket” of basic necessities than in a catalog. When in this role we’re called “consumers,” and suppliers to this group operate in the business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace.

Largely the result of technology that brings us into focus on a supplier’s lens, we increasingly are people communicating with other people. Technology has innocently delivered everything for sale right into your lap; that is, if you’re using a laptop, as I am now. We are no longer having conversations with impersonal companies, but with the people in those companies who are often managing your problems-even chat rooms have people at the other end to help us-and who likely are making the decisions that will inform your buying habits. In the end, we are businesses talking to people-B2P. (more…)

July 16, 2013 |

Lessons from the Past

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I’m pleased to devote this week’s space to a guest columnist who shares his insightful observations about the limited life cycle of landmark products.-FJR

By Gord Hotchkiss
The first designs for the typewriter started showing up in the 1870s. After some rather imaginative designs, including one that looked like a pincushion, the Sholes and Glidden (S&G) Type Writer (1873) was the first writer to introduce the QWERTY keyboard (which we’re still using today). The QWERTY design was introduced to overcome the physical limitations of the machine, which tended to become jammed if frequently used keys were located next to each other. The reason we still use it? Well, suffice to say, habits are a tough thing to break.

The S&G design, and all the other variations that followed for the next two decades, tried various approaches, but all had one thing in common: They were all “understroke” or “blind” writers. The keys hit the paper on the bottom of the platen so users couldn’t see what they were typing.
In the mid-1890s, John T. Underwood was trying to figure what to do with his company, a fairly significant provider of ribbons and carbon paper to then-dominant typewriter manufacturer Remington.

The company had spun off its typewriter division from the sewing machine division, which in turn had evolved from its main business of making guns. But Underwood had heard Remington had plans to start making its own consumables. He countered by declaring, “All right, then, we’ll just build our own typewriter.” Fate upped the ante by bringing together Underwood and German-American inventor Franz X. Wagner. (more…)

July 9, 2013 |
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