The December issue of Business 2.0 (not yet available online) has a section titled How to Succeed in 2007, where they asked "25 of the brightest minds in business how they do what they do and how you can cash in on their advice." These types of articles are found in many rags that need to throw out some big names to increase readership, and in my opinion are usually predominantly shallow un-actionable thought or even pure nonsense. Jack Welch is commonly-featured, and we’ve blogged about his blatherings and our friend Mark Graban has convinced many of us that Welch is a turkey. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t part of this particular list of the "25 brightest minds."
Most of the 25 "brightest minds" talk about issues relevant only to those who have forgotten the lessons of "Web 1.0" and naively believe that "Web 2.0" companies can somehow successfully warp the fundamental realities of business. But there are a few nuggets that are worth discussing.
Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt of Google:
"Simplicity is an important trend we are focused on. Technology has a way of becoming overly complex. Success will come from simplicity."
Regular readers will know that this is one of my hot buttons. One of the very first posts on Evolving Excellence dealt with Excellence Through Simplicity, and we’ve discussed at length the problems of bowing before the false god of the almighty algorithm, the benefits of a white board over SAP, and design simplicity. Technology is great… when appropriately evaluated and applied. But it is very easy to get sucked into a sexy technology and not realize that it is simply automating waste.
Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks:
"The most important characteristic of building a world-class brand is trust. Trust with your people and trust with your customers."
Whether it’s truly the most important characteristic may be debatable, but it is important. Lean transformations are hard, counterintuitive, and provide management the opportunity to reap quick rewards at the expense of sustainable success. Those quick rewards are generally due to headcount reductions driven by initial waste reduction activities. But those same people will be needed to grow and sustain the business, therefore transformation leaders focused on the long-term will recognize the value of their knowledge and use them to grow. That creates trust.
Michael Dell, chairman of Dell Computer:
"Today the world has about 1 billion people connected to the internet. We have almost 6 billion people left. As our world becomes more connected, the price of being left behind will only grow. The lessons for entrepreneurs here is that the opportunities for people in all of these countries – driven by improved access to technology – are already transforming their economies. Consider this the digital opportunity of a lifetime: connecting the next billion users and beyond."
He is talking directly about the opportunity for computer- and internet-related businesses, but there is another lesson: global competition is accelerating with increased access to knowledge. The percentage of Superfactory visitors from outside of North America is increasing rapidly. Lean knowledge is being leveraged around the globe. U.S.-based companies that thought they could simply go overseas to chase low labor costs are finding that their low labor cost competitors are also leveraging lean to reduce internal costs… a double competitive whammy. Perhaps being lean may soon be a required attribute, not a competitive advantage.
Muhammad Yunus, founder of micro-credit Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner:
"It’s not that we lend money to people in small or big amounts; it’s that we load in an appropriate amount to their needs. The size is small because the need is small. I could complicate things: I could lend a person $1 million, but if that someone can only handle $20, that would be stupid."
We blogged about Yunus several weeks ago after he won the Prize, and described how in several respects it was a victory for lean business. His comments above reinforce that. Micro-credit is in effect "lean lending." Small, the appropriate amount, defined objectives. Analogous to an "inventory reduction of funds" down to "just what is needed at just the right time." Successful, just like the same concepts in lean manufacturing. Contrast that with the desires of many to throw more and more money at overseas aid projects, leading to graft and corruption.
Pamela Thomas-Graham, group president of Liz Claiborne:
"… particularly in times of rapid change, people need to visibly see the urgency and passion of their leader if they’re going to fully engage. Being analytical and strategic is great, but to get a team motivated during the tough times, you also have to show your passion – you have to break a sweat so they understand at an emotional level what’s really at stake."
The small number of lean transformations that succeed often do so because of a crisis. They are facing a new low-cost competitor, a technology disruption, or other event. There is direct evidence of what is at stake… the potential for the company to go poof. Companies and organizations that attempt a lean transformation as a long-term strategic goal have a much harder time… the going gets tough and the commitment of leadership becomes critical. It doesn’t take too many false steps or compromises for the organization to begin believing that it is simply another fad du jour. But even when the company isn’t directly at immediate risk, a committed, knowledgeable and visible leader can successfully execute a lean transformation. How many of you walk the factory floor every day to reinforce your commitment?
Donald Trump, chairman of the Trump Organization:
"Obsess about solutions, not problems. The image of success is important, but even more important is the ability to focus on solutions instead of problems. That way you’ll never be thinking like a loser, and you probably won’t look like one either."
I debated whether to include that one, as I could write for hours on Donald Trump and real leadership vs. made-for-TV leadership, the "success" of someone who has organizations currently in bankruptcy, etc. But let’s focus on his statement. Yes, there must be a drive toward solutions. Simply complaining about problems goes no where. We all know people that like to complain for the sake of complaining. However simply focusing on solutions can be disastrous if you don’t first understand the root cause of the problem. If you solely "obsess about solutions" you end up creating a patchwork of superficial "band-aid" solutions. Drive to understand the true root cause of a problem, then focus on the solution… a real solution.
So six of the twenty-five had something somewhat meaningful to say. Some ideas to think about on a Tuesday morning.