Business Insights

Did Weird “Al” write YOUR Mission Statement?

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FAST FACTS: biggest-selling comedy recording artist in history – over 12 million albums. Estimated net worth – $16 million

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Is this new music video a comedy or a tragic cautionary tale to corporate leaders, strategists and consultants?

Music parody master, Weird “Al” Yankovic, has loosed his incisive wit on corporate-buzz-speak, in a video from his just-released album, Mandatory Fun.

Mission Statement, is composed in the style of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, playing against an RSA-like whiteboard animation (which apparently took 10 months to produce!). The production quality is brilliant, and I found myself smiling and wincing in equal parts.

WARNING: This video is NOT recommended for anyone who has written a mission statement in the past decade. Showing this to your CEO or board chair may shorten your career.



But seriously, Ann and I are not fans of mission and purpose statements, even though we’ve had a hand in creating more than one in our day.

Our friend, colleague and mentor, Robert Fritz, writes:

“Which would we rather work for, a company that had a purpose statement but didn’t have a purpose, or a company that had a purpose but didn’t have a purpose statement?

Of course we would all choose the real thing over the propaganda. But even an organization that has a true purpose can rob that purpose of its power by reducing it to a slogan.” *

So please, enjoy the video, and then commit yourselves to eradicating corporate-buzz-speak wherever you can – we promise to do the same!

– Gary Ralston
© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.
http://bit.ly/RCI-MissionStatement


 A special thanks to Jerry Marselle at our client, SMBH, for turning us on to this gem!

* Fritz, Robert (2011-01-04). The Path of Least Resistance for Managers. Newfane Press. Kindle Edition.

More Weird “Al”:

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Leadership Lessons from the Craft Beer World!

‘Brewing Up a Business‘ by Sam Calagione, the owner of DogFish Head Brewery, was recommended by one of my sons, so I downloaded the audiobook. He brews his own beer as a hobby, and I thought – at best – I was getting into a book about craft beer counter-culture and start ups.

Brewing up a BusinessWhat I found was a fun, fast listen chock-full of lessons on the leadership required to build and run a successful business:

  • about dedication and belief in what you are creating,
  • of commitment to your people,
  • of how the personality of an individual can shape a culture of innovation.

The company was built on creating innovative (and sometimes bizarre) products – which with craft beer means a combination of distinctive taste and ingredients, an evocative name, and a great story. (Liquid Breadfruit Ale, anyone?).

They maintain a constant awareness (and openness to) ideas that may be the germ of a new offering – and in some cases, rescue offerings in trouble.  Sales for the then-failing DFH Beer Shampoo Bar only turned around after they discovered that professional dog groomers loved it, and so repositioned it as a pet care product!

I think the thing that most struck me was their connection to and understanding of their customers. We all talk about knowing our customer, but how does that translate to action throughout a company? Calagione sets a great example, and I could see and feel his commitment to this principle, woven through every story he tells.

If you are looking for a down-to-earth and delightfully “off-centered” point of view on leadership, you are in for a great read (or listen!)!

Cheers!

- Ann Ralston

© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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TED Talks: Michael Porter – Why business can be good at solving social problems

Why do we turn to nonprofits, NGOs and governments to solve society’s biggest problems? Michael E. Porter wrote the book on modern competitive strategy for business. Now he is thinking deeply about the intersection between society and corporate interests. While he admits he’s biased, as a business school professor, he has started four not-for-profits, himself. He wants you to hear his case for letting business try to solve massive problems like climate change and access to water.

Why? Because when business solves a problem, it makes a profit — which lets that solution grow.

Can’t view the video? Want to access the interactive transcript?  Click here.

Getting the discussion rolling…

There is much to like in this presentation, and it does a very good job of bridging the terrain that divides social and corporate ventures.

That said, as we reviewed this video, (and in the tradition of Muppet Show hecklers, Statler and Waldorf), Ann and I had a few thoughts:

Would business take on reform of global monetary and financial systems?

Does Porter’s premise that business will resource the solving of society’s biggest problems, out of a profit motive / enlightened self-interest,  scale to all of society’s biggest problems? For instance, why and how would businesses around the world resource a fundamental restructuring of the current global monetary and investment systems?

Many think these systems are fundamentally broken, and at the very least, the systems are reinforcing the wealth divide. So how would that work? Business, by virtue of being able to generate wealth would voluntarily fund a global overhaul of the broken mechanisms of wealth creation and distribution, in cooperation with the worlds’ governments? The same mechanisms that capitalize business growth and fund governments, through taxation? The same governments who rarely agree about matters relating to the global commons – atmosphere, oceans, global warming, nuclear proliferation, etc.?

(I’m picturing the world described in Neal Stephenson’s intense and dark science fiction novel, Snow Crash, in which governments had ceded most of their power to private corporations, organizations, and entrepreneurs operating as nation-states. brrr!)

Will public companies be allowed to move to a longer view of profitability?

On the bright side, Porter gives examples of businesses that are taking a longer view of profitability:

“The deeper work, the new work, the new thinking on the interface between business and social problems is actually showing that there’s a fundamental, deep synergy, particularly if you’re not thinking in the very short run. In the very short run, you can sometimes fool yourself into thinking that there’s fundamentally opposing goals, but in the long run, ultimately, we’re learning in field after field that this is simply not true.”

Glad to hear it, because the last couple of public multinational corporations we worked with had a VERY difficult time making socially-conscious, longer-term investments. The pressure to meet quarterly projections coming from Wall Street, alone, was devastating, forcing them to give up their long-term aspirations or be punished in the short-term as their stock prices fell. It is ironic that the multinational companies that could do the most good may be least able within the existing system.

What do you think?

Ann and I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts on Porter’s video. If you feel moved to contribute to our community’s discussion, we welcome your input on the commentary thread, below.

Thanks for watching!

 

- Ann and Gary Ralston

© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Shake Up Your Biases and Preconceptions with a MOOC!

MOOCs are opening more than higher education to the world – they can open the world to you

This fall I participated in my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course – see sidebar). The course, Behavioural Economics in Action 101x, is offered by the prestigious Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, for free. I’m accessing this course through EdX, a non-profit online initiative of 30 of the world’s top universities, created by founding partners Harvard and MIT. Their mission is expand access to the best of higher education for students around the world – and this in part means reducing or eliminating the barrier of cost.

If my class is any indication, EdX has proven its global reach. I was blown away – each pin on the world map below represents one of my over 2100 fellow learners!

BE_101X_-_over_2000_people-5

Now it’s great that EdX is bringing this course to the world. Absolutely. But early into the course it dawned on me that through this MOOC, EdX had brought the world to me! While I found the course content interesting, I was much more intrigued by the varied points of view from different cultures.

A bit about the course content

What was your BIGGEST class at university?MOOCs are bigger…

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course – a relatively new development in the world of online learning that is generating significant buzz, and no small amount of angst about their possible impact on the business model for higher education.

Top universities are offering top-notch interactive courses to large numbers of students at once, taught by excellent faculty, many for free, and some for-credit, at a fraction of the cost of a conventional university course.

In case you are wondering how many students per class is large… according to Wikipedia, ‘Udacity’s CS101, with an enrollment of over 300,000 students, was the largest MOOC to date.’

Behavioral economics explores, from a psychological point of view, why people sometimes make irrational decisions, and why and how their behavior does not follow the predictions of economic models. Further, these behavioral insights can be used to influence decisions in many ways, from the obvious – drive up consumer spending by offering “bargains” – to the more subtle – lose weight by doing nothing more than taking a picture of everything you consume. Such techniques or strategies, designed to subtly influence decisions toward a given outcome, are commonly referred to as “Nudges”, and there has been much interest in applying such behavioral insights to larger policy and societal issues.

Many of our class discussions (held in web-based discussion forums) focused on social issues, with the intention to explore how to influence or “nudge” behaviors that increase health and overall well-being of people and societies.

Some of our early topics…

  • disrupting the transmission of AIDS in Uganda,
  • quelling noise pollution from overuse of car horns in large cities in India, and
  • shifting a nation’s personal debt and spending / saving patterns.

And the conversations were fascinating! The richness and diversity of views and the insights from different countries, socio-economic backgrounds and fields of study opened a much wider world to me, creating a deeper and more engaging learning experience. There is nothing like discussing a subject with someone from a foreign culture and way of thinking to show up your own assumptions and biases!

If you’ve been missing out on the amazing variety of free, quality education available through MOOCs, and a world of fellow learners, here are a few tips (okay, nudges!) to get you started:

See you in the MOOC-iverse!

- Ann Ralston

© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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We Believe… (part 2)

In Part 1, after watching a TEDTalk video featuring Simon Sinek, Ann and I decided to re-write the way we tell the story of Ralston Consulting Inc. following the approach in the presentation.

Sinek observes that everyone in an organization knows What they do, some know How they do it, and yet fewer know Why they do what they do. His insight is that great companies, and great leaders reverse the order of the message: Why, then How, and then What. Sinek maintains: “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.

We decided to test it out with you. Here’s a draft of our new message:


 

We believe the world urgently needs leaders of heart, of conscience and of long vision, who today undertake enterprise that also benefits our children’s children. It is these leaders we are interested in walking with.

We do so as partners in thought and action, co-inventing sustainable and generative ways forward where convention doesn’t cut it, the past has failed the future, and the alternatives are unclear.

We offer leading-edge tools and ideas for strategic foresight and business innovation, for lean startup and sustainable growth, for creating communities of change, and for developing our next generations of leadership.

Walk with us and tell us what you envision. Let’s create a better way forward…



What do you think and feel about it? We’d love to hear from you, and we want it all. We need the straight goods if we are to make it better.

If you’re moved to share your thoughts, either post a comment here, or email us.

Thanks very much!

Ann and Gary

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We believe… (part 1)

A TEDx video featuring Simon Sinek, author of the book: Start with Why, came to my attention as we were scanning for engaging pre-session material for a client project. From TED.com:

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …

In essence, he observed that while most will tell you first WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and then WHY, great leaders reverse the order. He asserts this works because our brains evolved that way. While I’m not all the way on board with that part of his theory, Simon is a great storyteller – upbeat, interesting and thought-provoking. Really, really thought-provoking.

After taking the video in, Ann and I set out to re-draft the story of our company, starting with Why, and were surprised at the result. We hope you enjoy the video, and then invite you to part two, where we share our latest draft message and ask you for candid feedback!


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Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Marketing 1 Comment

Strategy Offering Turbo-Charged with Advanced Scenario Planning

Nicole-Anne BoyerAt a recent strategy update retreat with one of our clients, we introduced scenario planning as a front-end to their strategy process. The improvement was dramatic! One of the partners even queried us if we had been actively using scenario planning at the time we’d done their original strategy session. (We assured him that we hadn’t, that it was a new offering, and we had NOT been holding out on him!) He thought it added tremendous value and insight, and maintained that it should be part of their strategy process from here on out.

Much credit for the tremendous improvement between the two sessions goes to our associate, Nicole-Anne Boyer, founder of Adaptive Edge LLC. Since 2009, Ann, Charles and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Nicole. From the start of our association, our strategic planning offering has been turbo-charged with the addition of robust scenario planning, strategic foresight and futures thinking. While I had thought I knew something of scenario planning before, I have been learning at a furious pace to come up-to-speed on the state of the art in scenario planning.

Scenario planning has been around for a very long time, but took significant strides forward, notably in the planning department at Royal Dutch Shell, and at the Global Business Network. It is now used widely in planning processes in business.

“According to Bain & Company’s annual survey of management tools, fewer than 40% of companies used scenario planning in 1999. But by 2006 its usage had risen to 70%.”
– The Economist, September 1st, 2008

I have been learning that there are as many forms and methods of scenario planning as there are practitioners, but there has been a clear evolution in the purpose and motive for scenario planning.

  • Inform Planning: Use the output of a scenario planning exercise to inform a conventional “out-think the future” strategy session.
  • Adapt to Future: Scenario planning becomes part of 1) a way of thought for leadership, and 2) an early warning system to help a company to adapt to future changes. One of the funders of modern scenario planning framed it so:

“The test of a good scenario is not whether it portrays the future accurately but whether it enables an organization to learn and adapt.”
– Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View

  • Shape the Future: The scenario planning process might be taken beyond the walls of the organization and involve the wider system we are trying to influence. The scenario planning process is then a catalyst in a broader, generative effort to shape our desired future. Put another way:

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
– Alan Kay, Scientist and Apple Fellow

In our work at Ralston Consulting Inc., we have always focused on helping our clients develop the orientation and capacity for generative change to create their desired future. Our collaboration with Nicole has given our mission a tremendous boost!

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Scenario Planning Helps Profit From Uncertainty

In Profiting from Uncertainty: Strategies for Succeeding No Matter What the Future Brings, authors Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther make a point about the discrepancy between the forces shaping a sector’s future, and where management tends to focus. Their claim is that about half the forces shaping the future value of a business – developments in the industry, and in the larger global environment –  are not monitored by management, and thus, “left to fate”.

Instead, management is compiling backward-looking internal and industry trend data to forecast future conditions. This is backed up by informal surveys by Gary Hamel & C. K. Prahalad, suggesting that senior management devote less than 3 % of their time and energy to building a collective vision of the future. (Competing for the Future, Harvard Business Press, April 1, 1996, p 4)

We need a working understanding of our external environment and the many possible futures that may emerge, as making plans based on a single notion of the future can increase risk even as, paradoxically, it reduces our sense of conflict about an unknown future. The world is simply too uncertain and complex for such single-point predictions; and they give a false, sometimes dangerous, confidence that we are in control more than we really are. At the other extreme, we cannot become paralyzed by what we perceive as too much uncertainty, as we become obsessed with avoiding risk. We must plot a course between prediction and paralysis, thinking about the future in terms of multiple possibilities in order to better create our desired future.

Action Plan: Make a practice of ‘learning from the future’. To kick off your 2011 strategic planning cycle, take your leadership team through a facilitated scenario-planning process. In the course of co-exploring 3-4 possible futures, defining a ‘desired future’ and gleaning strategic insights, your team will develop a much deeper capacity to mine profit in areas of high uncertainty – an area your competitor is likely spending 3% of their focus on!

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Students, Soccer-Bots and the Future of Workteams

Dublin, OH Robotics Team 1014 tweaks their robot...

Credit: Dublin, OH Robotics Team 1014

It’s a hot summer Saturday in the middle of June.  Most kids are on summer vacation, but today, 200 students from around Ohio are in a school gym, competing in the CORI Connect a Million Minds 2010 Robotics Invitational, sponsored by Time Warner Cable.  It’s about robots PLAYING SOCCER and high school students created the robots!

Why are these students so engaged? Why are so many volunteers and sponsors across the nation, from education, business and communities, so deeply involved in FIRST robotics programs for students? What is the Central Ohio Robotics Initiative (CORI), and why is Ralston Consulting, in collaboration with others, so active in bringing CORI to life?

This type of event, one that captures the hearts, minds and excitement of the students, is the FUTURE. It is the future of how students learn, interlacing theory with hands-on innovation, mentorship and collaboration with competition, and technology with human character, ethics and spirit.  It is having a real-world impact increasing the likelihood that high school students will choose careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-related fields (STEM), so critical to the future of our economy.

It is also the future of how workers will collaborate, and the future of how businesses will be managed. In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled: The End of Management, author Alan Murray underscores the crises organizations face as a result of the ineffective bureaucracies contributing to today’s corporate inertia. Organizations and their managers are not agile enough to deal with today’s rate of change.  It is, in point of fact, easier and more comfortable to not change.

Mr. Murray lists attributes of the ‘new science of management’:

  • mass collaboration;
  • a marketplace mentality of resource procurement and allocation; and
  • “structures that drive innovation, creativity and a spirit more akin to an entrepreneur.”

If this is the future of management, it is here, now, in the FIRST Robotics Competitions.

FIRST Scoring Criteria

Credit: FIRST Robotics

Rewind to the start of each year’s robotics competition: It’s 9:00am on a Saturday morning in early January, and bleary-eyed students come alive as they participate in a nationwide simulcast unveiling the game for the year. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and the first insulin pump, and the mastermind behind FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), shares the closely guarded game and specifications bounding each year’s competition. (3D game animation from 2010 on the NASA site, here)

Over the next 6 weeks, the students voluntarily work after school and on weekends to design and build these robots for regional competitions.  The limited design/build window demands rapid prototyping, rapid decision-making, and levels-up students’ critical thinking skills.  Failures are part of the design process, and students master the ability to evaluate, learn adjust their designs, as they build, test, and rebuild their robots.

What drives these kids? They see it as fun – fun AND relevant. They create deep friendships with their teammates and mentors. They get to try on a career before going to college. They believe they have an advantage over their peers in the classroom, being more experienced in critical thinking skills and in the creative process as an outcome of their experience. Many of the students refocus their orientation toward school in order to master knowledge needed for their team to create a competitive robot.

The students apply their limited resources across the project, breaking down the robot into different elements, coming together to integrate work and breaking back up to small groups to accomplish additional tasks of presentations, video and web production, marketing and fundraising. Students with the most experience or knowledge mentor new/younger students, first, to get the job done, and second, to make sure that the next years team will have the talent pool adequate for future success.

In addition to their peers, student teams are matched with mentors (often college-age engineering students, and many, themselves, former FIRST team members) and advisors, who serve as facilitators, thinking partners and role models.

By design, Mr. Kamen intertwined collaboration as a fundamental value throughout the culture of FIRST.  Competition is structured with alliances of 3 teams, competing against another 3 team alliances. The alliances change every round.  Your determined competitor this round will likely be a vital ally in a future round. This fosters a spirit of Gracious Professionalism™“a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.” Gracious professionalism can be seen as experienced teams support rookie teams, or as equipment and parts are shared with ‘opponents’ to bring the level of competition up for all. The grace and professionalism exhibited by these student competitors could serve as an ethical model for many of today’s business leaders.

Newly founded, the Central Ohio Robotics Initiative (CORI) amplifies FIRST’s national structure and intent by developing a regional (and therefore, more affordable) competitive robotics event for Central Ohio. The group is a collaborative of parents, students, business owners, professors and teachers who have come together to help launch new teams, recruit advisors, and host these events for the betterment of the students and of the region.

What can business – your business – learn from these students?

  • Get over failure. It’s part of learning what works and what doesn’t.
  • Use rapid prototyping to accelerate learning and innovation.
  • Intentionally pair new people (or people new to their role) with mentors holding the needed content expertise.
  • Structure for collaboration.
  • Plan your firm’s capacity-building in the short-term in a way that positions it for long-term success. FIRST teams have a simultaneous focus on success both this year and next year, driving the teachers, mentors and experienced students to bring along the newer, less experienced / knowledgeable team members to prepare them for the following season.
  • Be conscious of the impact of culture on your initiative. In FIRST, students increase mastery in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in part because an environment has been created where geek – to be freaking smart – is cool. What would make your initiative the ‘cool’ place to be?

It’s not just the future, it’s our future. These students are the future of our country. I have great faith that these students will master the science and technology needed for their careers, but they will also be wonderful managers, leaders and innovators. Ralston Consulting is delighted to be a part of creating CORI, and welcomes all new teams, mentors and sponsors gearing up for the 2011 FIRST season!

You and your firm are invited to help shape the future! Learn more about supporting robotics for students nationally at usfirst.org and in Central Ohio at growrobotics.org.

(c) 2010 Ralston Consulting Inc.

About the Author: Ann is president of Ralston Consulting Inc. and a founding member of the Central Ohio Robotics Initiative.

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Innovative Video of DRIVE, by Dan Pink

DRIVEbyDanPinkWe had drafted our pithy review of the book: DRIVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, when Ann discovered this very effective animation based on Dan Pink’s talk at the 250-year-old (but surprisingly hip!) Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

This 11-minute video is highly-watchable for both content that challenges conventional wisdom about motivating knowledge workers, and an innovative combination of a graphic artist and time-lapse filming. Enjoy!

YouTube Preview Image

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