Category Archives: platform strategy

Scaling Teamwork

When i was a lad, I thought that teams were somewhat generic. A person would either be good or not so good at being a team player.

As I have gained experience, I have come to realize that this is not an adequate explanation why some teams work and some do not. There are other factors at play. And one of them is the fit between the skills people bring to the team and the challenges the team is designed to meet.

In other words, you can assemble a great team that will fail because it is not great at what the team is supposed to do. And what a team is supposed to do evolves over time. Fred Wilson brings this out very nicely in the start up world. The team that is great at the initial phase of a company is not the team that will be great after the company scales.

That is easily understood in an institutional context. But it also applies to teamwork organized around problem solving. The team that starts figuring out the solutions to a problem may not be the best team to test ideas or implement the solutions that work.  If this is so, folks engaged in problem solving may need to think more carefully about  scaling teamwork.

Financing the Knowledge Based Society

We claim to be headed towards something called the “knowledge based society”. The term is a bit vague, but it suggests that value added will be achieved by upgrades in thinking rather than working harder or longer. We will add value by being smarter.

That sounds great, but where will the smarts come from? From Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT: etc? The folks at these great universities are no doubt smart. But I do not think that making them even smarter will produce the knowledge based society that we are looking for.

Why not?` Well, those folks have been smart for a long, long time. But their being smart has not necessarily made society overall any smarter. Case in point: the election of Donald Trump.

My point here is that if we are indeed headed towards a knowledge based society, society as a whole has to get smarter. And society as a whole does not get smarter because we get more Harvard PhD’s. Something more is needed.

So what is needed? I think we need to open the doors to the masses to get smarter. The average guy or gal in the street. These folks have the neural capacity for it. But they do not necessarily have the incentive to use it. My hope is that we can find ways to develop those incentives.

This is why I like crowd funding. Kickstarter, et al, offer opportunities for the rest of us to participate in innovations. Do we want to buy a piece of an idea? We can if we do. And with a broader potential funding base, folks who want to do new stuff have an incentive to try, even if they do not have a Harvard PhD or work for Google or Apple or Microsoft or any of the other big corporate entities.

Crowdfunding is the the solution to the broader question that I raised. It alone will not make society smarter. But it is an example of the direction that we need to take. We need more platforms that open the doors for folks to DIY their way to getting smarter.

Here is a thought – as the crowd gets smarter, it makes better choices. As better choices are made, we get accelerated value added. In other words, the process is likely to be highly transformative.

So how can we build platforms that make the crowd get smarter? Good question. We are still working on that one. One thing is clear. The answer is not more social media a la Facebook and Twitter. Those platforms are taking us the other direction.

Why? the problem may be that these platforms are not “exchange platforms”. We know from various sources that humans learn through exchanges that add value. We broadcast in social media largely one way — form me to whoever. Value adding exchanges are minimal.

So how to build platforms that empower value added exchanges?  We are not there yet. But we are getting closer. For example, we know that the unit of value exchanged is likely to be small. So if this sort of  platform is to work, it will most likely be based on micro payments. With blockchain, we may soon be able to make those micro payment systems function better.

The Pace of Interactions

A long time ago, I worked in a law firm. BTW, that was before the fax machine was introduced into the office as a standard piece of equipment. When I look back on how we worked back then, one thing  was very, very different. That was the pace of interactions.

The pace back then was much slower. Interactions with persons and entities outside the firm was largely by mail (now called snail mail) and meetings. Inside the firm, we wrote memos and had meetings.

There was a luxury to this. One could take one’s time in making decisions. Indeed, slowing down the pace of decision making was at least part of the value added we gave to our clients.

Now consider whatJeff Immelt says about GE in an interview he gave to McKinsey

My notion is we’re in a permanently complex world. And this historical organization chart with lots of processes is a thing of the past. We’ve basically unplugged anything that was annual. The notion is that, in the digital age, sitting down once a year to do anything is weird, it’s just bizarre. So whether it’s doing business reviews or strategic planning, it’s in a much more continuous way. We still give a lot of feedback. We still do a lot of analysis of how you’re performing. But we make it much more contemporary and much more 360-degree. So somebody can get interactions with their boss on a monthly basis or a quarterly basis. And the data you get is being collected by your peers, the people who work for you, in a much more accurate and fluid way.

The key words are “more accurate and more fluid”. In other words, things have sped up and the stress is on improving the efficiency of communication in this more complex and changing environment.

These are important factors to consider if you wish to develop strategic competence.

Life as Emotional Journey

It is a truism by now that humans are essentially emotional creatures.  Our emotions either make sense of our experiences or not. Our intellect is a tool that helps emotions connect with given story lines. For this reason, we might think of life as an emotional journey.

Indeed, learning as well is an emotional journey. Here is an interesting thought along those lines

Emotional design is an upcoming trend in eLearning design. It says that through the use of right instruction strategies and creative design, eLearning courses can develop a connection with the learners. Completion rate is one of the biggest problems in eLearning and the right emotional design seem to the offer solution for the same. When the learner is emotionally connected with the courses, he/ she better comprehends the concepts and the chances of completion increase.

Building loyalty to a learning process is the starting point. And learners need markers for each stage of their experiences. If they fall out of that system, they stop learning. The path is closed.

Want to Make Change? Go for Density!

The phrase “change agent” was hot a while back. It conjured up a person who could inspire others to alter less than optimal behavior patterns. Jack Welch and Steve Jobs come to mind as prototypes.

But we have not been very successful in reproducing what the masters of the game were able to do. Why not? What is missing? It may be that change agents as ego driven anti-social leaders do not connect with groups as needed. A person like Jobs might have been successful despite himself.

So what is needed? Consider this (from Giga)

the research of Damon Centola at MIT (sows) that behavioral change is more likely to propagate in dense social networks.

In other words, change agents need to focus on increasing the density of the social networks that they seek to change.

How do you do that? There are several characteristics of highly dense social networks worth considering (1) the number of connections per person and (2) the overlapping nature of connections.

This is worth thinking about because we tend to think of networking in terms of scalability. Networks that scale seem to be more successful than those that do not. But adding scale does not necessarily increase density.

Something worth thinking about. As you think, consider the impact on global team building

One basic difference between global teams that work and those that don’t lies in the level of social distance—the degree of emotional connection among team members. When people on a team all work in the same place, the level of social distance is usually low. Even if they come from different backgrounds, people can interact formally and informally, align, and build trust. They arrive at a common understanding of what certain behaviors mean, and they feel close and congenial, which fosters good teamwork. Coworkers who are geographically separated, however, can’t easily connect and align, so they experience high levels of social distance and struggle to develop effective interactions. Mitigating social distance therefore becomes the primary management challenge for the global team leader.

Curating TED Talks

There are so many TED talks around, it is hard to keep track of them. So I liked this list. But needing a list brings out a fundamental weakness of the TED ecology.

What is that? Well, TED talks should START conversations. And no doubt they do. But we do not have a tool to easily FOLLOW the conversations that get started. And so TED talks tend to be “on off” or “ad hoc” injections of ideas, etc. We need a TED thread tool.

Thinking about Pyramid Search

Part of strategic thinking is about identifying capacities – your own and others. That sounds easy, but there is a trick here. What is a capacity? Well, it is nothing until you have an agenda. Throwing a ball accurately is not a capacity until you put in the agenda of a sport like basketball or baseball or football. So to be able to identify capacities, we have to be sensitive to the agendas that are just under the surface.

And now things get interesting. We know from psychologists that humans tend to create narrow agendas. We are not very good as a species on taking in multiple options. Instead, we like to zero in on …  the thing in front of us. For that reason, our capacities also tend to be narrowly defined. We move from generalists to specialists.  From country doctor to neurosurgeon.

So far so good. Neurosurgeons are great when you need brain surgery. But neurosurgeons are not so great at talking about stuff that is outside of their knowledge and skill sets. So you might think of the capacity of the human race to solve problems as incredibly fragmented. We have incredible expertise all around us, but in relatively narrow areas. That is our weak link.

How to get around this? Well we will need to learn how to connect folks between specialties. One way to do that is via pyramid search. It is an interesting concept that HBR describes. You might think of it as a tactic to identify relevant expertise. Or you might think of it as a strategic tool to build more efficient platforms. Or you might think of it as a key component of a business model.

Understanding Blended Learning

Quite a few folks out there are talking about something called “blended learning”. That is learning done in part in class and in part over the web. You blend the two together. Got it?

Well, that sounds like a no brainer. After all, schools have used blended learning for as long as they have been around. They blended homework (mostly reading) with class work (mostly talking). So at the simplest level, the web simply augments the out of class learning that is already required.

That is only part of the story. The more basic question is what types of learning should we use online and out of class experiences for? In the old days, books were used to pour information into the student’s head. You can get that via the web too — and cheaper and better. But that is not all you can get from a web experience. You can get better practical use of information too.  You can use it to test how well you can apply the info that you took in. The thing that is left for in class? That is — in my mind — where students learn by teaching other students.

Very cool. But why apply this just to schools? You also can use the web to access information that you need to learn to succeed in life and you can use the web to practice applying it. That is what I want to do here, in strategy school. Stay tuned!

Thinking about Demo Days

As a young lad, I was led by the hand around the New York World’s Fair for a glimpse of what the future had to offer. I was most interested in the rides. But there were also some demonstrations of things to come. Errr … in 30 or 40 years.

These days, demonstrations are done for stuff that is just about here. Consider the news from MIT’s demo day. The idea has shifted from showing stuff that might be done someday, to stuff that could be done now.

You can see how we are speeding up the process of innovation. At least as important, you can see that we benefit from seeing what our capacities are. What we could bring into being if we choose to. In other words, there has been a democritization of idea generation that would have been unthinkable back in 1964 when I was searching for the little boy’s room at the world’s fair with my mommy.

Three Cheers for Arthur T. Demoulas!

Market Basket is a family owned regional supermarket chain in New England in the US. A few months ago, one faction of the ownership group (the Demoulas family) kicked out the CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. They claimed that they had legitimate concerns over the management of the company. But they did not expect that the employees of the company would go on strike to demand the return of Arthur T. These are not unionized employees. So they risked all by going on strike. And this triggered a consumer boycott, and eventually a deal where Arthur T. was brought back.

Lesson learned — employees are the most valuable asset of any company. Arthur T. embodies this idea.