Would we bet on it?

Gordon Bell, a prominent investor who funds start-ups, is very blunt with executives of firms in his portfolio. For instance, when someone makes predictions for company performance, Bell will zero in on one number and ask the CEO, “Wanna bet? A side bet, you and me, for $1,000.” If the CEO gulps, Bell knows he or she has doubts. At least once, when an underperforming … [ Read more ]

What gorillas are moving through your field of vision that you fail to see?

It is amazing how malleable memory and perception can be – much more than we think. For example, in one research study subjects were standing at an airport ticket counter. The ticket agent pretended to drop something, ducked behind the counter and a different person finished the transaction. Many of the subjects didn’t even recognize the change had been made. We tune out big chunks … [ Read more ]

How does your organization deal with mistakes?

There’s the story about a top salesman in the aircraft industry who messed up. He lost a $5,000,000 contract. At his desk the next morning he starts going through his papers – tidying them up, clearing his desk. He gets a phone call from his manager,

“Have you got 5 minutes? ”

“Sure” he mumbles and slowly makes his way up the stairs to his boss’ … [ Read more ]

Failing to see the road to the future

Examples of those who fail to see the road to the future are often cited with hilarity. Take Harry Warner of Warner Brothers Studios, who commented in 1927 on the advent of soundtracks for moving pictures: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?“

Or take the senior management at Procter & Gamble when the disposable diaper was first suggested. According to diaper business folklore, P&G … [ Read more ]

A $10 Million Education

When Tom Watson Jr. was chief executive of IBM in the early 1960s, he summoned an executive to his office after the man lost $10 million in a venture. Watson asked the man, “Do you know why I called you here?” Knowing of Watson’s legendary temper, the man replied: “I assume you’re going to fire me.”

“Fire you?” Watson asked. “I spent $10 million educating you. … [ Read more ]

Be Careful What You Say When You’re the Leader

John DeLorean told me that shortly after he had become general manager of Chevrolet he attended a sales conference in Dallas, and when he arrived at his hotel suite he discovered that someone from the company had delivered a huge basket of fruit to his room. Remarking to an associate on the basket’s size and variety he commented, humorously, he thought, “What? No bananas?”

From … [ Read more ]

Elephantine Decision Making

A circus keeps a baby elephant from running away by chaining it to a stake. When the animal pulls at the chain the cuff chafes its leg, and the baby elephant concludes that to avoid pain it best stay put.

But when the elephant grows up, the circus still chains it to the same small stake. The mature elephant could now pull the stake out … [ Read more ]

The crow, rabbit and fox

A crow was sitting on a tree, doing nothing all day. A small rabbit saw the crow, and asked him, “Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?”

The crow answered: ” Sure, why not.”

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow, and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Management Lesson: To … [ Read more ]

3 Monkeys: How Organizational Culture is Formed

When I hear about culture issues from executives I always relate a favorite anecdote about how organizational culture is formed. There are three monkeys standing in line in a cage, and above the third monkey there is a bunch of bananas. The third monkey naturally reaches for the sweet treats, and as he takes one, the other two monkeys are drenched with water. So they … [ Read more ]

Emphasizing the Positive

In 1982, University of Wisconsin researchers who were conducting a study of the adult-learning process videotaped two bowling teams during several games. The members of each team then studied their efforts on video to improve their skills. But the two videos had been edited differently. One team received a video showing only its mistakes; the other team’s video, by contrast, showed only the good performances. … [ Read more ]

W.L. Gore’s vision of “Freedom”

At W.L. Gore, with its vision of “Freedom,” the decision-rights of associates (as all members of the organization are called) are determined by the “water-line” principle. Employees envision their enterprise as a ship on which they all sail together. If someone occasionally bores an accidental hole above the ship’s waterline, it’s not calamitous; after all, innovative organizations must make allowances for some mistakes. A hole … [ Read more ]

People Live Up or Down to a Leader’s Expectations

“Tell me about the people at the organization you just left,” said the senior manager who was screening candidates to fill a key leadership role. “They were uneducated and lazy,” the candidate responded. “You always had to keep an eye on them because they were constantly trying to goof off or rip off the company. They were lousy communicators, resisted change, and only cared about … [ Read more ]

The Moth

A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home so that he could watch the moth come out of the cocoon. On that day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force the body through that little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if … [ Read more ]

Shaping Focus, Context and Culture Through Vision, Values, and Purpose

Joel and Denise each led fund raising campaigns for their respective service club and community agency. Under another member’s leadership, Joel’s club had raised a record amount in their last effort. Joel wasn’t sure they could come close to that level again. But organization was one of his real strengths. Believing in “planning your work and working your plan,” Joel set targets and efficiently established … [ Read more ]

Conflict between discovery and colonization

A classic example of the conflict [between the skills, mindsets and structures needed for discovery and colonization] is the story of Lotus 1-2-3 in the 1980s.