Top Posts for 2014
Wow! What a difference a year makes! Twelve months ago, there was no war in Ukraine, oil was over $100 a barrel, the US economy was heading into its first quarter of negative growth since the financial crisis and Bill Cosby seemed like someone you’d leave your kids with.
Now, the US economy is growing at about 4%, oil has dropped by 40% and the ruble is crashing. The US has renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba, there’s been a historic deal with China on climate change and unemployment has dropped nearly a full point.
And it was also another great year for Digital Tonto. As this blog goes into its sixth year, I want to thank everyone for your continued support. Some of you I’ve gotten to know personally, while others simply come here to read an article now and then. Whichever is the case, I greatly appreciate it. Here’s my top posts for 2014. Have a wonderful year!
I was very happy to see that this was the most read post of the past year, because it’s one of my favorite things by one of my favorite people.
When Richard Feynman stepped up to the podium just a few days after Christmas in 1959, no one could have expected that he would, in under an hour, create the entirely new science of nanotechnology. Even today, the field is on the cutting edge of human endeavor.
In the process, he also gave us a window into how his incredible mind worked. Schopenhauer said that a genius is one who hits a target that no one else can see. What made Feynman so special is that he wanted to help us see it too.
Strategy has long been seen as a chess game, with master practitioners cooly moving their pieces into ever stronger positions on the board. Yet today, strategy is no longer a game of chess because the board is not set out in orderly lines anymore.
Strategy, therefore, is no longer a punctuated series of moves, but a continuous process of widening and deepening connections. Today, the goal of strategy is not to climb to the top of the heap, but to edge toward the center of the circle. We need to seek to be not the dominant player, but the indispensable partner.
The future isn’t what we thought it would be. We don’t walk around in silver suits, travel to colonies on Mars or drive in flying cars. Instead, we dress casual, take selfies and communicate in 140 characters.
Yet in many ways, we’re much better off than we ever thought we would be. Despite the neverending flurry of nasty headlines, the world is a much richer, safer place than we could have imagined a generation ago.
What’s probably the biggest change though is that we have to adapt and collaborate much more actively and effectively than in the past—not only with humans, but machines as well. We can no longer extrapolate from current trends, but must experience events and revise actions in real time.
When’s the last time you saw someone walk out of an Oscar winning movie and say, “Boy that was some great content!” Or sing along with content on their way to work? Does anybody really consider Steven Spielberg and Bono “content producers?” Of course not!
The truth is that content is crap. It’s what we call commodities that we want to distribute and leverage. Those who make important emotional connections are not implementing a strategy, they are answering a calling. That’s what makes their work so powerful.
Everybody has a story to tell. But please don’t call it content.
Marketers used to treat their craft as if it was a land war. The ones that built the biggest armies and had the most powerful guns would vanquish their rivals and emerge victorious. Today, marketing is more like guerilla warfare. To win, you have to own the villages.
In other words, in the digital age, great brands are movements. In this post, I lay out a clear framework, based on social network theory, that will help you transform your brand into one.
In 1997, McKinsey declared a “War for Talent” and advised their clients to focus on recruiting and retaining the “best and the brightest.” They suggested that firms should create a compelling “employee value propositions,” invest in A players, develop B players and move quickly to get rid of C players.
Now our fates are not determined by the resources we own, but those we can access and that’s especially true of talent. We can no longer focus solely on employees, but must learn to recruit an entire ecosystem of partners, contract workers and collaborators on open platforms.
Today, the “best and the brightest” must make way for the highly motivated and the deeply connected.
Managers often talk about the importance of staying true to their company culture. However, excessive reverence for heritage can squelch innovation. So it’s important that a culture evolves and grows. We need to honor a culture’s values, but still retain the ability to adapt and change.
In reality, we often confuse the trappings of culture, such as ping pong tables, casual workdays and pet friendly policies, with its essence. The truth is that culture is how an organization honors and values its mission.
Culture without a purpose has no value. It’s just a bunch of stuff that people have gotten used to.
Business models, even the most successful ones, are designed for inertia. They are great for leveraging past insights, but are resistant to change. Success does not, in fact, always breed more success, sometimes it breeds failure. History has a way of blinding us to the possibilities of the future.
Eventually, every business model fails. That’s why we need to continually reevaluate how we create, deliver and capture value. This post will help you spot the warning signs.
We used to consider leaders to be commanders. They made plans, gave orders and demanded obedience. A strong leader was a hard taskmaster, demanding ever greater levels of efficiency and performance.
Yet today the role of leadership has changed. It is no longer enough to merely plan and direct action, today we must inspire and empower belief. Effective leaders have to do more than give orders, but need to become effective managers of connections.
Established organizations tend to be conservative and tradition embraces stability. The tried and true, extrapolated into the future, often looks like a sure thing, while deviating from historical norms can look downright foolish.
Yet today, the risks of inaction often exceed the risks of action. Technology cycles have begun to outpace planning cycles, which means that if you wait for all the evidence to come in, the opportunity has already past and danger has arrived on your doorstep. We need to learn to manage not for stability, but disruption.
We used to think of talent as being a distinct set of skills that enabled someone to perform a particular set of tasks. Managing talent was mostly a process of matching the right people with the right job.
Yet today, the nature of jobs changes at blinding speed and everyone needs to adapt. So we need to move from a skills culture to a learning culture. Instead of looking to hire those who meet formal job specifications, we need to start developing people who can transcend them.
Computers used to be pretty simple devices. They were designed to perform rote operations with amazing efficiency, but were a complete mess once it came to analyzing patterns and solving problems. Today, however, computers have developed the ability to learn and adapt to changing conditions.
Unfortunately, our organizations haven’t kept pace. The computing elements—also known as people—are organized by strict job descriptions and performance is measured in those terms. That worked fine when markets were stable, but in our age of disruption, it often spells disaster. Clearly, we need to change the software in our organizations.
While the corporation was the dominant form of organization in the last century, the platform is emerging as the preeminent form in this one. Consider how hard Ford lobbied for the US government to bail out its rivals, GM and Chrysler. Why? Because their demise would threaten the supplier networks that Ford also depended on.
At the beginning of this year, I forecasted that 2014 would see the emergence of a specific type of platform: the open ecosystem and pointed to trends in talent, development and product platforms that allow firms and consumers to collaborate and pool resources.
This is a major break from the past when we had resources flow in one direction—from suppliers to consumers. Now, we have multilateral interactions that lower costs while at the same time increasing quality and innovation. It’s hard to pin down a long-term trend to any one year, but I like the way this forecast turned out.
I’ll be taking a week off from publishing Digital Tonto for the holidays, but will be back on January 4th with my forecast for 2015: “The Year The Cloud Bursts.”
Until then, Happy Holidays!