In the late 90’s McKinsey declared the war for talent and argued that, in a knowledge economy, having the right people is even more important than having the right strategy or technology. Recruiting and retaining the “best and the brightest” became a corporate mantra.
Yet today, the firm is more concerned with the skills gap. In data science, for example it estimates a shortfall of 140,000 to 190,000 data scientists and 1.5 million managers who have the skills needed to use the insights to drive decisions. But even that understates the problem.
With technology accelerating change in the marketplace and automation replacing highly skilled workers with robots, the decision to invest in any particular set of skills is far from obvious. Empty platitudes about “upgrading skills” and “investing in our people” will not suffice. We need to start thinking seriously about viable strategies to manage the skills gap.
Tony Hsieh, the phenomenally successful CEO of Zappos likes to say that, “your brand is your culture” and believes so strongly in preserving his that he offers new recruits $1000 to quit. Anybody who doesn’t fit in will happily take the money and run.
While few managers are as steadfast in their resolve to build and maintain a strong corporate culture, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe in its importance. It’s the third rail of corporate life. You simply don’t mess with a company’s culture.
Yet a culture can also hold you back. Blockbuster and Kodak both had strong corporate cultures and in both cases, ingrained attitudes contributed to their demise. Excessive reverence of culture makes it difficult to adapt to new realities and therein lies the dilemma. We need to honor a culture’s values even as we adopt new ideas and practices.
Technology transforms marketing in waves. New platforms like search engines, social media and the mobile web create amazing opportunities, but leave marketers scrambling to develop the talent and tactics to capitalize on them.
Before long, false gurus emerge. These “instant experts” are like umbrella salesmen in a Manhattan rainstorm. They have no special talent or skills, but thrive because they happen to be at the right place at the right time. Before long, misinformation grows into myth.
That’s been especially true of content marketing. Unlike search engines or the mobile web, content feels familiar, we’ve all watched TV and read magazines. So for brand planners who’ve spent their careers developing strategy for ad campaigns, content doesn’t seem like it should be so different. Unfortunately, it is and that’s why content marketers are failing.
Legendary strategists have long been compared to master chess players, who know the positions and capabilities of each piece on the board and are capable of thinking several moves ahead. Historically, that’s been a smart way to run businesses too.
The boundaries were marked by clear industry lines, the timelines defined by strict accounting periods and the players well known. Through clever planning and effective execution, you could create important efficiencies in crucial areas and attain dominance.
Yet strategy is no longer a game of chess because the board is no longer set out in orderly lines. Industries have become boundless and permeable. Competitive threats and transformative opportunities can come from anywhere. Strategy, therefore, is no longer a punctuated series of moves, but a process of deepening and widening connections.
Journalism has been thoroughly disrupted over the past decade. News organizations, especially newspapers, have come under heavy financial pressure, news bureaus have been closed or consolidated and journalists have had to rethink their profession.
Yet amidst the rubble a new form of the craft has emerged—data journalism. Rather than pounding a physical beat and cultivating human sources, this new breed immerses itself in statistical data and policy papers.
Two paragons of the new form, Nate Silver and Ezra Klein, have recently left traditional outlets to create their own news organizations, FiveThirtyEight and Vox, respectively. Yet, now it looks like the model might not be as scalable as it first appeared and these new ventures already seem to be struggling. Data journalism, for all its promise, has a problem.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said that, “talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” Lots of people are smart, but true genius has always had an element of mystery to it.
Nobody really knows where genius comes from. While surely there is a genetic component, most child prodigies do not attain outstanding professional success. Some creativity experts consider genius to be a method as much as it is an ability.
However, while many people define genius differently, most agree that Richard Feynman was one and there is probably no better example of his brilliance than his famous talk, There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. It not only launched a revolution in physics and engineering that is still being played out today, it shows us how a true genius really thinks.
One of the first things you learn as a manager is that your own performance doesn’t really matter anymore. You might have gotten promoted by being a hot shot, but once you are in a position of responsibility you have to get others to perform in order to succeed.
That’s an uncomfortable position to be put in. We grow up learning to pursue accomplishments. Getting good grades in school, making the all-star team in sports, getting into the “right” school and getting the a good job all depend on individual performance.
Yet management is different. It’s about empowering others rather than glorifying ourselves and, the truth is, few of us are taught or encouraged to do that. So not surprisingly, many managers never learn how to motivate employees. Instead, they continue to act as if they were higher status versions of their former selves. Here are five things to look out for.
Aspiring young executives dream of climbing the ladder in order to gain more authority. Then they can make things happen and create the change that they believe in. Senior executives, on the other hand, are often frustrated by how little power they actually have.
The problem is that while authority can compel action it does little to inspire belief. Only leadership can do that. It’s not enough to get people to do what you want, they have to also want what you want or any change is bound to be short lived.
That’s why change management efforts commonly fail. All too often, they are designed to carry out initiatives that come from the top. When you get right down to it, that’s really the just same thing as telling people to do what you want, albeit in slightly more artful way. To make change really happen, it doesn’t need to be managed, but empowered.
It’s not clear whether The New York Times Innovation Report was leaked on purpose or not, but it is an astounding document nonetheless. It is impressively honest, insightful and soul searching. Perhaps most importantly, it shows true digital literacy.
It’s not often that you see a company with such a rich heritage and history of success take a good, hard look at itself and chart a new path forward. That’s hard to do for any organization—or anyone for that matter—much less an enterprise that has so much to be proud of.
Yet for all of its courage and intelligence, it still falls short. The New York Times, like much of the publishing industry, still remains an organization at war with itself. The time honored tradition of the “Chinese wall” has created an enterprise where the publishing and business sides have separate missions, cultures and values. That needs to change.
It was such a long, cold winter that it sometimes seemed as if we would be perpetually buried under a mountain of snow. As soon as we’d shovelled ourselves out, we’d get hit with another avalanche of it.
Yet somehow, we made it through and summer is finally here. We can put away our shovels and salt, hit the beach and pick up a beer and a book. That’s a trade I’ll take any day!
But clearly, that’s not the only thing that’s changing. From technology to education, business and world affairs, things are moving so fast that it’s hard to keep up with it all, much less make sense of where things are going. So this year, I’m focusing my summer list on books that explain the future. As always, you can click on the links to pick one up.