Clayton Christensen’s contribution to strategic thinking

Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School has made many significant contributions to strategic thinking and management education in the last 25 years. The two most often quoted  are the principal of destructive innovation and the dilemma managers have in driving incremental productivity while maintaining an environment of innovation.  Why should you care?

1. Your market is changing rapidly-when new products are the lifeblood of your business, you need to maintain an environment friendly to a lot of risk-taking without “starving your cash cow” on the next product introduction. The dilemma Christensen demonstrates in his writing is that incremental productivity gains and increasing short term profitability is inversely related to creating this low-risk, highly innovative business capable of churning out great new products or even creating new markets. Therefore, he recommends you not try to combine both strengths into one entity-separate them or the productivity “anti-bodies” will kill off any meaningful innovation.

2. Great innovation often starts out as small, unprofitable substitutes for an established solution or product. Christensen believes that most successful businesses “turn their nose” up to these upstart ventures that start out simple and unrefined. A recent example Christensen points to is the relevancy and importance of community colleges in providing economic value and relevancy to work-readiness in an era of academic snobbery. Highly ranked universities dismiss the threat of community colleges because classes are taught by less qualified instructors and in large class sizes or even online. The escalation in the cost of education at most universities and improvements in how information is disseminated online has made universities and private colleges susceptible to disruption

3. Destructive innovation is happening all around us-but can you identify why and what markets are the most susceptible? Reading Christensen will help you see why disk storage, PC’s, higher education, or even console gaming is undergoing creative destruction.   The impact of these disruptive markets and companies performance will drive the stock price down and create more instability.


Strategy for career success in 2015

Below are a few pointers as you start in your current job or better yet, if you are starting a new one like my brother-in-law:
1. Be patient-opportunities to be promoted don’t come up every day. Your supervisor will see your enthusiasm and patience as virtues, so when the new challenge comes into focus you will be “top of mind”
2. Go to their office rather than text whenever possible. When you take the time to see people in person you can build a stronger relationship for the times you are away and need help. Whenever possible, schedule “face” time  after you begin a business relationship. Face to face contact is more important than ever. When big misunderstandings surface, get over to that person’s space or office. Try to work things out in a live face-to-face conversation or worse case video conference. Don’t rely on email or text messages to communicate when you need to persuade your team.
3. Volunteer for something difficult this year. Try to immediately take responsibility for the tougher projects. Take calculated risks in how you tackle issues-resist the temptation to ask for every last detail of instruction (dictated by your boss via text or voice) just because you can or they like you. The initiative you show in how you can “handle things yourself” will set you apart from other younger, more entitled millennials. You will be ready for leadership opportunities and everyone will know it.
4. Join your local trade association and network with your alumni sisters or brothers in your same industry. Many companies eliminated their middle managers during the economic downturn. Without internal mentors you will need to rely on relationships and experiences from those in your same industry often working at competitive firms.
5. Use your advantage of your knowledge of social media and younger connections to create or find insights or information on current trends, customer’s tastes, and hot product categories your company might not be aware of because they are supervised by “older” managers.
6. Tell the truth when good and bad things happen. Take responsibility and you will earn a reputation for trustworthiness.

Have a great 2015 and Happy New Year!

Launch, Pivot & Learn

After three start-ups and 10 years teaching strategic management, I shared the merits of a carefully-crafted business plan to my partners, investors, and students with faith and passion I was doing the right thing. But, I messed up.

I invested in one venture based solely on its stellar business plan. No one was more vested than I in the merits of a quality business plan. Over the last 20 years, I reviewed hundreds of plans, lauded some, and rejected most as too idealistic or unrealistic for my recommendation.  My pronouncement today– that the era of the business plan is over–is hard for me to verbalize. But let me say it again–I don’t recommend you spend months and thousands of dollars on crafting the perfect business plan.What do I recommend instead?

Launch, Pivot & Learn
Launch, Pivot & Learn is my new mantra for innovators, problem solvers, and serial entrepreneurs.
Why Launch?
If you remember the movie “Failure to Launch” , it was about being so comfortable in your current state, that you won’t make the sacrifices necessary to change, mature, and evolve as a person. The same is true for would be entrepreneurs trying to get everything perfectly set-up before they make the necessary commitments and sacrifices necessary to test the business model. “Launch” is about taking that leap to go to customers, suppliers, even would-be competitors with your product in-hand to learn whatever you need to do to make it viable. If you don’t launch, you won’t be in the position to learn quickly and be in the position to pivot.

Why Pivot?
No business gets it completely right the first outing. What you are able to sell is not usually what the buyer really needs. You have to ask them that question and adapt your product to their needs. No one executes their business plan perfectly. Everyone who is successful makes adjustments to their plans and pivots to where the demand is. Did you get everyone you needed to sign a NDA and provide you with a frank assessment of your product’s viability? So, being willing and able to pivot away from the original business plan is a critical success factor for start-ups.

Learn As entrepreneurs , our ability to learn from our miscalculations and track what is truly meaningful (key performance indicators) will determine the success or failure. How will we know what new products to launch? We must start the Launch, Pivot & Learn cycle all over again.


Out of work? Here is some advice how to land and stick in your next job

Are you a millennial starting work full-time for the first time? Or…did you lose your job and you’re looking for something new? Below are a few pointers as you start your search or your new job:
1. Be patient-opportunities to be promoted or make more $$ don’t come every day. Your supervisor will see your diligence and patience  as virtues.
2. Make the extra effort to go and see people in person whenever possible. Particularly when it is the first time you begin a business relationship with someone. Even with the ubiquity of smart phones and digital communication, face to face contact is more important than ever. A “connection” in person and some common ground will start things off on the right foot. Later in the relationship, when you have big misunderstandings, you should get back to them face to face. Get over to their office and work things out in person rather than text bad news. When you have really good news, have patience to wait and share it in person. The effort will pay off and your enthusiasm will shine brighter compared to your peers.
3. Try and take responsibility and calculated risks everyday-resist the temptation to wait for every last detail/instruction dictated by your boss. Don’t be needy via text or voice mail just because you can “ping” someone. You spend relationship capital each time it isn’t their priority. The initiative you show your superior you can “handle things yourself” will set you apart from competitors.
4. Join your trade association and network with alumni in your same industry or region. Many companies eliminated their middle managers during the downturn. Without internal mentors you will need to rely on relationships and experiences from those in your same industry often working at competitive firms.
5. Use your advantage in your familiarity with technology. Use your social media connections to create or find insights or information on trends, customer’s tastes, and hot product categories your company might explore as new products.
6. Tell “all” the truth when good or bad things happen. Take responsibility and you will earn a reputation for trustworthiness.

If you do all six you will be the last person let go all other things being equal.

Five principles every leader should learn from legendary UCLA coach John Wooden

Entrepreneurs like myself have learned a lot from John Wooden, the best basketball coach of all-time who lead UCLA to 10 NCAA championships. Here are a few of the gems from his book “Wooden on Leadership-2005:
1.Wooden said “Don’t get comfortable in your position of leadership (or power). Your players (or employees) and staff make you believe you have all of the answers because you enjoyed past success. People start telling you are the smartest one around. But if you begin to believe them, you become the idiot. You stop learning from your competitors because you beat them in the past. When you ignore those teams around you who are creating innovative new strategies and techniques, you are ripe for major defeat or setback. Don’t believe your own press”.
2.One of the main reasons it is so hard to stay on top is maintaining a competitive “edge”. If there is one key to gaining that edge or success, it is experience. Most entrepreneurs do not possess much experience unless they already paid their dues working for someone else. Some entrepreneurs failed or succeeded as the #2 in a similar business previously. Watch out for those guys and connect with someone with a lot of experience in your industry.
3.Once you’re #1 for a sustained period of time, it is easy to believe your on top. Look at Tiger Woods. He was on top of the world until he lost his edge. Every music artist or performer realizes how hard it is to repeat the #1 song or CD. It is hard to repeat as NCAA champions. The odds are like 1 in a 1000. At UCLA we realized we had to work even harder the second time to the point where we could achieve similar results. Why? Each subsequent success takes an even greater effort than the first because you lose the element of surprise. Your competitors have you in their sights. Avoid the temptation of believing your past entrepreneurial achievements signal future success.
4. Do your homework. As a leader you must never be satisfied or content that you know everything about your business, customers or employees. No two customers or employees are the same. Each individual under your management is unique and requires empathy, and understanding. This is particularly true about customers. No success with one large customer makes up for lack of empathy or understanding in other segments critical to your venture’s success. But be careful to not let one large customer guide how you will serve all others. Assume everyone wants to be treated as unique and valuable.
5.Wooden said “There is no one formula for getting your company/team to play well together”. It is science and art at the same time—and art is difficult to pull off, let alone be great at the science. It is so rare to be perennially successful because it takes sacrifice and dedication. Knowing Wooden won 10 NCAA championships and 88 straight games as UCLA’s head coach, he might know something about keeping a competitive edge and managing for success.

Common Denominator for Great CEO’s

What is the common denominator for great CEOs? At today’s Jacksonville business Journal ultimate CEO awards luncheon we heard from 12 CEOs. Although all of their remarks were brief, it was surprising to hear how similar they attributed the origin of their success– believing in and mentoring their people. Many of them discussed how they look for a combination of intellectual curiosity, smarts, and the ability to communicate effectively when recruiting teammates. The difference between a good CEO and a great CEO seems to be their ability to celebrate the successes of their team, while privately working on development areas with individuals, believing all the while that greatness will emerge.
Since the CEOs that spoke demonstrated humility, they did not discuss the sacrifices, hard work, and luck it takes to get ahead. Each of them commented on how a solid foundation at home was the basis for much of their success. Although we celebrate individual success, it’s often partnerships and husband-and-wife teams in small companies and in the background that create a foundation for success at the CEO level.
Kudos to all of the CEOs who were recognized today.

Lebron James returns to Cleveland

Lebron’s return to Cleveland is not about money or a championship–he already has both of those. The move is about passion and love. Even in sports it isn’t always about the money. James loves Akron, his boyhood home, and he started his NBA journey in Cleveland so his return is a homecoming on two counts. Reports are his financial in deal Cleveland leaves millions on the table when evaluating his current contract value on the free agent market. But sometimes you got to follow your heart. Kudos to Lebron.

Connecting talented young people to managers willing to mentor them

The joy in higher education is connecting talented young people with managers who are willing and even eager to mentor them. I was reminded today when I received an email from a VP of Finance at one of our nation’s largest grocery chains who complimented me on one of JU’s students currently working as a paid intern for the summer. The student’s name is Ellis and the mentor is Graham. Graham is a rare talent with financial savvy and excellent communication skills. Ellis is the raw talent employers want to see: Curious, energetic, willing to experiment, listen, and learn from others mistakes. It is an ideal match.

I asked Ellis what makes something really meaningful to learn in college? His answer was “When the information or tools I learned actually helped me to solve the problem or contribute to a solution” or “when I understand why a problem is so complex”. Graham added, “when our brightest interns like Ellis can follow the discussions, it means they are on the right track, they can become contributors”.

Here are questions I hear most often from parents of our business students: Does the knowledge or skill she is learning at JU add purpose or direction to her life? Will good intentioned people guide her in finding a “true” calling or life work? Is the business curriculum or coursework something that will help them be successful in the workplace or purely theoretical? Are the assignments and team projects just “busywork”? Does your college encourage and make internships possible? If the answers don’t make sense, you are buying an inferior product.

As Dean, I continue to teach every term. I want to stay relevant and closely connected with our students. I consistently challenge myself to find new methods of connection students with our alumni, like Ellis and Graham. These internship related activities make follow-up discussions and in-class assignments or tasks so much more interesting. Applying knowledge is a skill; it takes time and practice to develop. All of us make mistakes and get tired or hearing “no” or “do it again”. Most of us fear failure even though it is by failure that we learn the most meaningful lessons. The best schools provide a challenging but safe place to test out their analytical and persuasion skills. From our experience at JU with employers, the difference between today’s graduates they hire and the average 22 year-old is the graduate applies their knowledge to solve problems and knows what she doesn’t know.  When the important data or facts are embedded into a complex problem its a huge challenge. Employers I spoke with make the search for talent analogous to finding the woman or man with the skills and enthusiasm to solve a quantitative word problem as opposed to a straight numerical computation.

That is why our MBA graduates are so much more valuable to employers than regular candidates. It is also the reason we graduate so many successful of Jacksonville’s Presidents and C-Level talent such as Mike Shad (Automotive Dealerships), Carole Poindexter (Watsco), Kathleen Brandt (CSX), Tom Peterson (LPS), Earnie Franklin (Incepture), Bob Brigham (Mayo), and Tony Park (Fidelity), Matt Kane (Greenshade Software) to name just a few.

The Davis College’s primary goal is building thoughtful, engaged leaders prepared for tomorrow’s challenges in local businesses, government, and international commerce. The main purpose of a business education is for students to gain knowledge and construct meaning from facts or figures, not just memorize the “right” answers (to regurgitate facts or repeat someone else’s interpretation). But ultimately the “talent” must connect to employers to find those challenges and opportunities. So our focus at JU is connecting these young people with the managers and companies who will mentor and train them.

First we must mold the raw talent like Ellis into a problem solving machine. The methods and practices in building problem solving skills will change with technology, but the willingness to analyze and tackle wicked problems is something we must practice continually….and we drill “adaptability” into our graduates.

Many students start college by dreaming big but are tripped up by natural barriers. These barriers include access to useful problem sets, internship opportunities, prior knowledge and experience. Many students run out of money or loan capacity. Others are academically dismissed for poor performance because they lacked the skills or role models in their darkest hours. The “going got tough and they quit” principle applies to many college students who ultimately drop out. Then we must prove our value to employers and demonstrate and emphasize with their struggle to find the best talent.

Why is it so difficult to make one’s education meaningful and worthwhile? It is hard to accumulate what a guy like Ellis is building during this summer internship. Ellis gains the problem solving skills and resilience it takes to be seen as a contributor by someone like Graham.

We have recently invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in instructional technology so our business faculty can use the best tools and techniques and free up class time for student questions and teamwork. We call it a hybrid platform or flipping the classroom. We are investing so our students can spend more meaningful time in class doing what they value and not simply listening to lectures. But without students like Ellis, with a thirst for knowledge, even the greatest technology or online program won’t make up for a student or instructors’ sloppiness or laziness. As an instructor, I talk about not cutting corners when exploring solutions to a problem, and being curious about the data, asking why with purpose.

Hearing Ellis talk and repeating stories from hundreds like him, make it all worthwhile for me. Our faculty’s commitment to experiential learning and the opportunity to gain knowledge about an industry, it’s customers, and the market forces is all the more inspiring when we hear it from our best and brightest 20 year-olds. It is helping us mold a great group of 2015 graduates.

When a great talent like Ellis meets a business leader and engages in a meaningful dialog , something magical happens for the manager too. Students such as Ellis now see the value of their knowledge and Graham helps his organization go from good to great with the benefit of this new talent. Ellis and Graham understand their mentoring relationship for what it is–a gift. Ellis now possesses the desire to withstand any necessary struggle to solve problems and meet new challenges at work increased dramatically through this summer internship. This metamorphosis for students like Ellis is why I love what I do. We can all be mentors to someone. You have knowledge, skills, and know-how, right? Pass it on.

Six reasons to earn your degree

Many entrepreneurs claim college is a waste of money. If you can get into Harvard based on your skills in high school and work really hard, you could be the next Bill Gates  and or Mark Z. of Facebook. But for the rest of us, university study will help us as entrepreneurs in  at least five ways

1. As an undergraduate you will learn to create business plans that effectively integrate marketing, management, and finance in order to create value for customers, the owners, employees and the communities they serve.
2. You will better interpret and explain the data you collect. This analysis is necessary for decisions in our complex world. The skills you gain will allow you to better assess the trade offs among alternatives using these quantitative skills gained in college.
3. Better and more persuasively communicate complicated ideas and business strategy through effective oral and written presentations
4. Identify the social, legal, and ethical factors involved in business strategy and incorporate these factors into your recommendations and decision making.
5. Engage in civil discourse with those of differing backgrounds and cultures who disagree with you. You will become a better leader by acknowledging the strengths, weaknesses and risks associated with alternative actions.
6. You will practice contributing to the success of a team-based work as a leader, peer, and subordinate.
What future business leader doesn’t need that skill set?

Why I keep writing this blog

Recently, my blog ramblings have had two purposes: 1. Explain what real entrepreneurs think. 2. What ideas can help them build their businesses? 3. Find common ground between the success and failures of entrepreneurs 4. Learn what it takes to be successful.

I heard a great question from Jay Matson, President of Seminary Street Ventures who said “Can you really teach this entrepreneur stuff?”. It is a really good question. My qualified answer is “knowledge can help curb the really big mistakes”.

Why study Entrepreneurs?  They are an interesting lot of characters that drive a huge part of job creation worldwide. Plus I was raised by two entrepreneurial parents.  It is “in my blood”. Today, I lead business discussions, do consulting with small businesses, start-ups, and help family owned businesses that are in “transition”.