Leo Apotheker interview on Charlie Rose

Leo recently gave an interview to Charlie Rose with Andrew McAfee of Harvard Business School (video here, transcript here at the bottom of the page).  I’ve live “replay” blogged the interview below.

  • Oops… Charlie both mangles Leo’s name and implies that SAP is based in Paris.
  • Leo’s description of IT as the “central nervous system” is useful.  In my mind, I think of configuring, coding, and implementing enterprise software as creating a virtual model of the enterprise.  Extending Leo’s metaphor would mean that such projects are “virtually wiring” an enterprise.
  • About 2 minutes in, Andrew McAfee gave about the best concise explanation I’ve heard of how IT can be used to differentiate competitively (and why it isn’t a commodity).
  • About 9 minutes in, there’s an interesting discussion about barriers to entry and how they have little to do with technology.  As Leo says, “sometimes there’s a spark”, but most often the technology becomes widely available and commoditized very quickly.  The differentiation is in the richness of the ecosystem and the melding of business and technological expertise.
  • About 13 minutes in, Leo spends sometime talking about business networks and their emerging role in innovation (Procter and Gamble as an example).  He also talks about the parallel role of process and human collaboration, which we tend to talk about separately.  This last point hits one of my pet projects — encouraging more tightly coupling process, project, and knowledge management.  Too often KM is divorced from the “way we work.”
  • Finally, Andrew McAfee alludes to the boundaries between “designed” and “emergent” processes/structures, but he never explores the topic in depth.  To me, the debate between design and emergence advocates isn’t that useful — too much either/or.  Exploring the boundaries and potential co-existence between these approaches is where I want to go.

P.S. — I think someone clarified SAP’s location for Charlie via his earpiece at the very end…


More on how to deliver bad news

This summary of a Harvard Business Review article — “A Better Way to Deliver Bad News” — outlines a useful process for avoiding unnecessary conflict.  I won’t recapitulate the restrictive vs. open framing approach, but I have a few comments:

  1. I have a visceral reaction to the framing jargon.  I understand it is derived from the communications theory, but if you’re going to leverage this approach I’d use “feedback” or “communication” rather than “framing”.
  2. The two biases are critical to understand why this technique is effective.  Avoiding a “narrow”, “binary”, or “frozen” approach prevents you from missing cause/effect relationships, projecting yourself onto the situation, or putting your colleague in a win/lose corner.  When coaching on open feedback, I’ve found it useful to have a personal anecdote of when a restrictive approach failed.
  3. It can appear artificial and sometimes I’ve been called on it (“You’re trying to criticize me without criticizing me”).  When that happens, I simply describe the technique I’m using and why I’m doing it.   That anecdote I mentioned earlier comes in handy too…

Hat tip: The Intelligent Leader Management Tip of the Day

Discovery: 1st “D” for Leading Project Escalations

Ignorance is not bliss – it is oblivion” — Philip Wylie

Over the last ten years we’ve seen plenty of examples of senior executives who ignore bad news — until it turns into worse news.  Enron, Arthur Andersen, Bear Stearns, Yahoo, Tyco, the FBI, the CIA, the Catholic Church…

What you don’t know — and don’t even want to know — can and will hurt you.  So the question is: How well do you know your project?

On the “positive” side, projects are filled with high-achieving and performing technicians.  Many are used to solving complex problems, so there is a natural bias towards optimism that hides problems.  Per Chip Heath at Stanford Business School:

There’s a bias for optimism in humans and in organizations. Individuals don’t ever go looking for bad news, and we don’t like telling it to others. So bad news is unlikely to get to the people who can actually do something about it.

Work-Life Balance isn’t a zero-sum game

Yesterday, I linked to the Stew Friedman “Don’t Leave Your Personal Life at Home” piece (article here, blog here).  I love his big idea: that work, home, community, and self don’t need to always be in conflict.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, work and the rest of your life don’t have to compete in a zero-sum game.  The secret?  Experiment with small changes that simultaneously improve your satisfaction and performance in all four areas of your life—work, home, community, and self.

I forgot to link to his little video (about seven minutes here) and toolset (below).

  • Articulating What Matters Most — A simple four-way chart (here) to highlight which aspects of “life” are important in one’s life, the kind of focus one has on them, and the level of satisfaction for each. 
  • Planning Small Change Experiments — Again, a simple worksheet (here) to outline two-three small experiments, the sole criterion being that one should only select experiments that impact all four aspects of life.

Now, time to take my son out to run some “errands”!

Manage your own job description

I’ve been reading The Intelligent Leader blog on washingtonpost.com.  It channels a lot of content from the Harvard Business School, but don’t hold that against it.  The editor Scott Berinato strikes a good balance between of syndicated content and fresh comment.  The Management Tip of the Day is a nice feature as well.  Today’s entry hits on a common issue for project, program, and portfolio managers:

Most managers sabotage their productivity by grappling with an endless list of demands from others. They assume — wrongly — that those demands are requirements and that they have no personal discretion or control over their jobs.

In the tech industry, this trap is an almost universal rite of passage.  When you hear someone described as “not strategic,” it is because they’ve made themselves “order takers”.  They include one set of tips, but I though it was worth modifying them below:

  • Slow down — that is, don’t immediately react.  You’ll be surprised how many demands simply disappear.
  • Set priorities — and insist that requesters do the same.
  • Stick to those priorities — and point out mutually-exclusive or competing priorities to others.

The executive I report to is excellent at handling such requests.  He clearly indicates that our organization wants to do whatever is best for the firm — but “best” means we’ll have to ask questions and insist on transparency w/r/t the request’s impacts.  Does our requester understand the impact on other priorities (sometimes the requester’s own)?  Who is the sponsor for this?  What will the executive team say when we go for approval?

Leadership and Strategy in the Bubble

I just commented on a post by Scott Berinato over at washingtonpost.com (here).  Per my comment, it was a strong, link-rich post that pulled together a lot of threads.

As promised, I did take a closer look at Umair Haque’s piece on “Saving Strategy from the Strategists” (here).  I still think he’s seeing a strategy disconnect that isn’t there, but with an additional twist.  Yes, the expanded definition of “too big to fail” made inflating the bubble a perfectly rational (if not legitimate or public-minded) approach for many players. 

The twist is that the security blanket the Feds provides infantilizes financial industry strategic thinking — especially during serious easing cycles.  As the feeding trough gets crowded and frenzied, a firm’s strategy becomes very basic:

  1. Push hard to get your snout in.
  2. Lobby hard to ensure you’re not the one institution the Feds will make an example of.
  3. Settle in for a long meal.

As I said before, what does “the long run” mean when much of the financial industry expects Uncle Sam to keep filling the trough, even if/when things went south?

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