Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: What Matters Now by Gary Hamel

Interview of Eric Schmidt by Gary Hamel at the...
Interview of Eric Schmidt by Gary Hamel at the MLab dinner tonight. Google's Marissa Mayer and Hal Varian also joined the open dialog about Google's culture and management style, from chaos to arrogance. The video just went up on YouTube. It's quite entertaining. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cover of "The Future of Management"
Cover of The Future of Management
My list of must-read business writers continues to expand.  Gary Hamel, however, author of What Matters Now, with the very long subtitle of How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, has been on the list for quite some time.  Continuing his thesis on the need for a new approach to management introduced in his prior book The Future of Management, Hamel calls for a complete rethinking of how enterprises are run.

Fundamental to his recommendation is that the practice of management is ossified in a command and control system that is now generations old and needs to be replaced with something that reflects an educated workforce, globalized demand and supply, the Internet and networks in general, and the incorporation of technology into everything.
Further, he also calls for a new era of ethics in business, lamenting the failure of banks and investment banks to monitor themselves, and being in the center of the causes of the Great Recession.  His indictment of business behavior really leads to my only criticism of the book.  The first 35 pages are devoted to recounting the recent problems.  Since I lived through all that, and watched it, I didn’t need detailed reminders of the questions about Complexity, Leverage, Illiquidity, Deceit, Hubris (all paragraph headers) etc., that were part of the near-collapse of the U.S. economy from far too much debt at every level.

He moves to a background review. In summary he believes that enterprises are largely managed with techniques from the turn of the last century, designed when most factory workers were poorly educated, with multiple layers of supervisors, managers, senior managers, etc., etc. with some kind of a standard ratio of one to ten or so, that creates giant management overheads.  Those overheads, perhaps once necessary in a mass production era with a less educated workforce and little information technology,  in his view, now slow decisions, impede innovation, and restrict senior executives from a real understanding of what is happening at the customer/product level.
That’s what he wants to dramatically change.  The balance of the book is devoted to approaches and examples of companies on the edge of radically different structures (e.g. W.L. Gore, Morning Star) that are making self-directed teams, smaller business units, and innovation from the bottom, work to create faster, more nimble, more responsive – and profitable businesses.

He proposes that leaders think of five areas where an overhaul is needed: Values, Innovation, Adaptability, Passion and Ideology.  His argument is that today’s global competition, and pace of change driven by technology combined with a new generation of workers who want something more than just a paycheck, means that to succeed, companies must (a) welcome ideas and innovation coming from every part and level of the enterprise, (b) scrap traditional control systems that really don’t work anyway (e.g. presumably there were plenty of traditional control systems in place that failed to prevent the sub-prime mortgage crisis) while stifling the business, (c) engage employees in such a way that they commit to higher effectiveness, and infuse the organization with values that lead to the right moral and ethical decisions without energy-sapping control systems.

It is a good challenge for managers to contemplate.  I’ll admit to struggling to see how some of my prior employers could evolve into a Morning Star, with self-directed workers and virtually no managers.  But it remains thought-provoking.
He concludes with a list of twenty-five “moonshot” ideas, that is, bold big ideas for leaders to consider.  While most readers will have seen some of these, they probably have not seen all of them, and certainly not all in one place.  I continue to rate Hamel as a must-read for business executives and exec –wannabes.  This is no exception.  Recommended.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Tragedy at Sandy Hook

I’m sad.
I had some other ideas I wanted to write about today, but they no longer seem relevant to anything.  As a father and grandfather, I cannot imagine what those families are going through.

It is incomprehensible.
My Twitter feed is replete with comments on gun control.  While I’m a gun owner, I would support a ban on automatics.  But I think there is something deeper and more difficult going on.  Guns have always been plentiful in the U.S.  In the neighborhood I grew up in, every family I knew well owned guns.  Most of the fathers were WWII vets.  They would go small game hunting, duck hunting, and occasionally deer hunting. 

There were no incidents of mass slaughter.  No one took one of their father’s guns and murdered fellow students.
What’s changed?  Why does this happen now, but didn’t happen in the fifties and sixties?  One answer would be everything.  Single parents were rare in my working-class neighborhood, but common now.  Class started with The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegiance, and a Bible reading.  Corporal punishment was administered.  We learned not to tell our parents we had been spanked at school, because we would get a worse spanking at home for embarrassing the family.

Would going back to any of that matter?  I don’t know.
I have my personal pet hypothesis.  But I have no data.  I think the incredibly violent video games have made a difference.

I would like to know if the two boys in Columbine, the Virginia Tech Student, the White Supremacist in Wisconsin, the kid in Montgomery County PA who, thankfully, was turned in before he could attack, the guy at the mall in Portland, the man in Lancaster PA, played violent video games a lot.
Now I understand that millions play these games and don’t go berserk.  Just like hundreds of millions drink, but only a percentage become alcoholics.  But we restrict access to alcohol for that, and some other reasons.

I’d just like to know.

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Congresswoman Schwartz Response to JOBS Act Inquiry

Official House photo of Allyson Schwartz
Official House photo of Allyson Schwartz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I wrote my Congresswoman, the Honorable Allyson Schwartz, asking her to encourage the SEC to issue the guidelines on crowdsourcing capital, as directed by Congress in the Jumpstart Our Business Act ("Jobs" Act.  Here is her response:

As I work to address the needs and concerns of American families and businesses across the 13th Congressional District, it is important that I hear your views. I want you to know that I always take your views into consideration as I work to make the right decisions to revitalize our economy, invest in our future and meet our obligations. I appreciate you taking the time to contact my office and I want to share my views regarding our economy.

We have a lot of work to do to strengthen our economy. To succeed, we must restore consumer and investor confidence and ensure American businesses can compete in a global economy. Economic competitiveness can be achieved through a skilled workforce; balanced tax policy; and investments in innovation, education and infrastructure. As a senior member of the House Budget Committee and Vice-Chair of the moderate, pro-business New Democrat Coalition, I am actively working to identify and enact reforms that will reduce our nation's deficit while spurring economic growth.

Our region has remarkable assets, including a skilled workforce, dozens of leading colleges and universities, and diverse industries ranging from manufacturing to biotechnology to financial services. We also face significant challenges, with far too many Pennsylvanians out of work and too many businesses worrying about the economic uncertainty facing our nation. To reach our full potential and promote private sector economic growth both nationally and in our area, we must incentivize businesses to grow here in the United States. That is why I am a cosponsor of the Bring Jobs Home Act (H.R. 5542), which provides tax incentives for companies to relocate businesses in the U.S. and eliminates tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

I am proud that Pennsylvania companies are on the front lines of innovation, and I have taken a lead role in enacting laws such as the "Research and Development Tax Credit" that enable businesses to grow and thrive. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, research, medical innovation and the life sciences industries are vital to our economic growth. By increasing access to capital and encouraging investment and hiring, we are ensuring that the ideas, technology and products of tomorrow are made in America today.

The American economy has come a long way from 2008 when we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. In the last 27 consecutive months, the private sector has added more than 4.25 million jobs, and more jobs were created in 2011 than in any year since 2005. While we are seeing signs of growth, too many Americans are still out of work and too many families are struggling.

 To strengthen the American economy, we must promote emerging industries to enable American companies to remain on the frontlines of innovation, ensure every American has access to affordable educational opportunities to build a successful workforce, and invest in transportation and infrastructure that will rebuild our local economies and reinvigorate our communities. Please be assured that I will continue to fight for opportunities for American businesses to thrive and the private sector to flourish.

Again, thank you for contacting me and please do not hesitate to reach out to me in the future for more information or if I can help in any way. I will continue to work on your behalf to ensure the federal government is fiscally responsible, accountable, and responsive to my constituents.

 

Sincerely,


Allyson Y. Schwartz
Member of Congress
 
 
I also wrote to Senators Casey and Toomey, but have not received a response.
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