Thursday, December 17, 2009

Success: Bill Gates v. the Dalai Lama

The more we study the science of success, the more we realize how critical it is to define it. Only then will we know whether we've reached it... or whether it's the kind we even want.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book Outliers, asserts, unconventionally, that success is not about how hard we work or how much we overcome - sure, those are important - but rather about where we come from, specifically, (1) the year we were born and (2) the status and history of our family. The answers to those two questions will predict stratospheric success more than anything else.

But while Malcolm's explanation of success is unconvential, his definition of it is not. He frames success as does conventional wisdom - along the lines of money, power, fame. Bill Gates is clearly a success. So are the Beattles. Both examples in Malcolm's book.

But what about the Dalai Lama? That is to say, are there not other measures of success, alternatives to money, power, fame? What about happiness? or fulfillment? or inner peace?

Well, those things are simply harder to define. How exactly do we define happiness? How do we use it as a benchmark to determine the degree to which someone has it? With money, it's easy - How much does someone make or have in the bank? But with happiness, it's nebulous at best.

This is a measurement problem. There's no way to measure happiness like there is to measure money. Where there's a measurement problem, there's a credibility problem. And where there's a credibility problem, people don't buy in.

Malcolm could have written a book about success defined as happiness, fulfillment, and inner peace - in fact, we would have loved to have read it - but he might have had a problem with readership buy-in, and ultimately, book sales. In a world - or at least, a country (America) - that defines success as how much money we accumulate, power we amass, and fame we attract, low book sales would have been a problem.

This entry is not meant as a critique of Malcolm's book (we really liked it) or his values (we suspect he's a good person). We simply use his book as a reference point and catalyst for thought and conversation.

We'd love to hear from you. Do you buy-in to this alternative definition of success? Or do you think it's just a rationalization of reality? Put another way: Are you drawn to the type of success achieved by Bill Gates or the Dalai Lama? Comment here or write us at

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book Review: “Dreams from My Father” (Barack Obama)

(Originally posted by The Popped Kernel on

“Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar.” When the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) made this claim in October 2009, we were suspect. But after reading Barack Obama’s first book, we were not.

“Dreams from My Father” is a powerful book. That it comes from an American president, even more so.

This does not mean we don’t have criticisms of the book. We do. But first, what we liked.

The first part of the book – “Origins” – should be required reading. Period. Beautifully written and insightfully observed, it’s a universally human story about identity – Obama’s own and others’.

An incredibly rich passage of “Origins” – and reflective of the book’s seasoned soul – comes near the beginning. Obama is describing his maternal grandfather, a white WWII veteran from Kansas who decided to move the family out west to Hawaii:

“He would always be like that, my grandfather, always searching for that new start, always running away from the familiar. By the time the family arrived in Hawaii, his character would have been fully formed, I think – the generosity and eagerness to please, the awkward mix of sophistication and provincialism, the rawness of emotion that could make him at once tactless and easily bruised. His was an American character, one typical of men of his generation, men who embraced the notion of freedom and individualism and the open road without always knowing its price, and whose enthusiasms could as easily lead to the cowardice of McCarthyism as to the heroics of World War II. Men who were both dangerous and promising precisely because of their fundamental innocence; men prone, in the end, to disappointment.”

The passage has a human frailty and honesty about it, a certain poetry. That it comes from a politician is both surprising and refreshing. Obama credits his grandfather’s spirit, as described in the passage, for the family’s move to Hawaii, a move leading his mom to his dad and ultimately leading to Obama’s torn existence and storied journey to the White House.

The next (and last) two parts of the book – “Chicago” and “Kenya” – are not as impressive. Obama’s writing becomes tired – what once was profound now feels flowery. (Perhaps it’s all profound but that too much depth fatigues.) The story also strikes us as less engaging – what once was timeless insight is now more descriptive of events. At this point in the book, it’s who Obama is that keeps our attention, not the book itself. If you’re not an Obama fan, or don’t care to be, you don’t have to read these sections. But if you’re interested in knowing how Obama developed his political chops (“Chicago”) and how he uncovered pieces of his identity in Africa (“Kenya”), then do.

Acute observers of Obama have noticed a man torn between lofty ideals and grounded realism, between the glory of greatness and the humility of service. This book is a subtle reflection of that – perhaps an internal tug-of-war between his instinct for full transparency and his ambitions for political office. You get the sense he wants to share an unfiltered version of his story, but also that he’s holding back in some respects – not in the beginning so much as once he reaches “Chicago.” There’s a level of personal depth that he simply loses as he takes us beyond his college years. He begins more to report than to reflect. Perhaps that’s what dries out the book – this shift from insightful reflection with universal implication to deflective reporting with mildly interesting vignettes.

Are we being too harsh on the last two parts of the book? Maybe, but only because the first part is so darn good. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that President Obama is one heck of a writer, arguably the most powerful – in political and literary terms – since Julius Caesar.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What Prevents Prevention?

In our last entry, we protagonized the power of prevention, not just in healthcare, but also in strengthening national security. In this one, we identify three reasons why preventionist policies typically fail to gain enough traction to take hold (and ultimately work).

1. It’s invisible. Support is difficult to develop for something that is invisible. Prevention, by definition, addresses a problem that, whether yet developed or not, we certainly cannot see (and one we’ll never see if prevention is effective). Look no further than the climate change debate in America to quickly grasp this concept. We can’t see or hear or feel climate change in any real, personal way, so we debate its very existence, instead of ways to prevent it. Heck, look no further than your own reaction to the following preventionist statement: In 2011, we will need to invest just as much into Indonesia than into Iraq. If that sounds outlandish to you, then you’re part of what prevention is up against.

2. It’s inefficient. Because prevention is invisible, we have to focus everywhere all the time to prevent disaster from striking. For the body, we must focus on all of its parts (i.e., the organs and bones and muscles and other internal tissues), not just the pain points. For national security, we must focus on all the regions of the globe, not just the Middle East. Focusing everywhere, all the time, is simply inefficient. Our resources are better directed towards something “real,” particularly in a world of competing and consequential priorities. At least that’s what is required to get people to agree to spend time and money on it.

3. It’s incomplete. For such inefficiency, prevention is still not a panacea. It will likely always remain just a piece of the solution, not the whole. The capacity for, and willingness to use, force will remain an effective deterrent. It must underwrite any effective prevention campaign. In healthcare, prevention can’t exclusively eradicate cancer once somebody has it. In national security, prevention can’t exclusively fight extremism once it’s developed. In both cases, we have to bring in the heavy artillery to help combat the problem. It’s easy to just believe “this is the way it is” and use that belief as reason not to pursue prevention more holistically than we already do.

Now What
How do we overcome the barriers to effective preventionism? Is it as simple as persuading a critical mass of people to agree to the merits of it? And if so, then how do we do it?

We’d like to hear from you. Do you agree with the notion of prevention as effective policy? If not, why not? If so, why isn’t there more of it? And what can we do to see more of it in official policy? Comment below or email us at

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Healthcare and Afghanistan: 2 Problems, 1 Solution

Healthcare and Afghanistan. We’re on the eve of history for both issues. In fact, they very well could ultimately define the Obama administration. And as different as they are, the approach to bettering both might be more similar than you think. Prevention.

In healthcare, prevention leads to longer, healthier living, at a fraction of the price. This is well documented. But less agreed upon – or even much discussed – is that the same can be applied to national security. That is, the more sustained goodwill we pour into a country, among its people, the more we prevent a costly disaster, in lives and resources, at their hands in the future.

Can you imagine if the US had continued its assistance to Afghanistan in the late '80s after the Soviets withdrew? That is, continued attention, financial and otherwise, not on guns, but on roads and schools and good governance? The Taliban would not have been able to flourish in that environment. Al-Qaeda would not have found safe haven there. 9/11 would not have happened.

And in cases where the US has actually pursued preventionist policies, the outcome has been positive. We see it in parts of eastern and southern Africa as well as Indoneisa.

As we’ve written in this blog before, channeling Bill Clinton: “We can be made more secure by eliminating inequality…. 10-20 countries in eastern and southern Africa… many of them Muslim… love the US.” This, at a time when the US has lost significant credibility internationally. In these countries, nobody has been thinking about Al Qaeda. Why? Because “we have cared whether their kids live or die.” Clinton is referring to America's generous African policies under Bush (that is, America's pledged financial support in the fight against AIDS and other diseases).

Across the ocean into Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, ill-will towards America had reached alarming proportions in 2005. America’s approval rating was 38%. But after the tsunami, American assistance and goodwill blanketed the country, driving the approval rating up to 60%. In the same period, Osama bin Laden’s approval rating went from 58% to 28%.

With such drastic shifts in poll numbers, you can bet that bin Laden’s recruiting efforts amongst the world’s largest Muslim population suffered a major blow. We can only imagine how bin Laden might have gone from salivating over Indonesia as fertile ground for his network to perhaps averting it altogether. Can you imagine if the same thing happened in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia or Sudan?

If prevention has proven effective and less costly (in the long term) than the alternatives, then why don’t we do it? We’ll offer some perspective on that in part II of this entry (in the coming days). But for now, let’s turn our attention to what Obama says tonight about Afghanistan. Might prevention play a role in his plan?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis" (Bill George)

(Originally posted by The Popped Kernel on

In "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis," Bill George not only leaves his readers eagerly anticipating their defining moment, but also provides them with an effective blueprint to seize it. That’s the value of the book – it’s proven and practical guidance for a leader amidst crisis. In effect, you’ve got to know what you’re passionate about, pursue it, and have integrity along the way. Only then will you have a chance as a leader to attain legendary success.

Bill cites many companies and leaders to support each of his lessons. With a focus on breadth of examples over depth, Bill’s convincing power is rounded out by his authority in the field. You’ll do well to heed the advice of a man who’s been CEO of the world’s largest medical technology company (Medtronic) and is now a Harvard Business School professor and internationally renowned expert on leadership.

The book is a quick read. It’s simple in language and structured in thought, if not a bit didactic in tone. It seems written for the executive on the go, who wants concepts now and will figure out the details later. It’s a non-intimidating, easy read that begs re-reading over time.

In the end, if you’re looking for Shakespeare, don’t read this book (though that likely wasn’t ever Bill’s intention). But if you’re looking for timeless leadership advice in practical form, from someone who’s been there, then get yourself a copy.

Bill’s 7 Lessons – more detail for each you can find in Jessica Lipnack’s book review – are:
1. Face reality, Starting with yourself
2. Don’t be Atlas; Get the world off your shoulders
3. Dig deep for the root cause
4. Get ready for the long haul
5. Never waste a good crisis
6. You’re in the spotlight: Follow True North
7. Go on the offense, Focus on winning now

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Web 2.0: Conference of Insights and Inspiration

Delightful and inspiring, the 2009 Web 2.0 Conference in New York City was rife with success stories, entrepreneurial spirit, and wicked-cool concepts (Did you know that your email contacts are each worth $948, according to an IBM research team?).

In addition to our previous Conference entries about entrepreneurship and design, we learned about…

… the importance of collaboration,
“Do what you do best, link to the rest.” – Tim O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Radar. As applicable as it is in the context of social media, it’s really applicable to just about anything. Focus on your core competency, partner for the rest. Good leaders do it when they delegate. Obama did it on the road to the White House. It requires a clear recognition of what you’re good at and what you’re not… and the confidence to admit it to yourself and others.

… the difference between an audience and a community,
“The difference between ‘audience’ and ‘community’ is which way you turn the chairs.” – Chris Brogan, Mayor of Twitterville and author of Trust Agents. We love this visual. It reminds us to interact with, not just talk at, our users. Without this understanding, it’s difficult to develop a following.

… what Wal-mart and the mafia have in common,
“What do Wal-mart and the mafia have in common? They conquered distribution!” – Chris Brogan (again). Whether we’re talking about web content or merchandise or, in the mob’s case, drugs, it’s the same. If you want to amass influence, you’re better off running a system, not inputs to it. Run Google or Digg, not Reuters or the AP.

… why the internet is like junk food,
Dana Boyd, PhD, researcher at Microsoft, had some fascinating (if not too many) insights to share as one of the Keynoters (she spoke faster than most people’s brains function to fit a PhD dissertation's worth of content into about 15 minutes). She analogized internet consumption to food intake. Her research shows that people consume content based on stimulation, not necessarily what is best for them. We click on stories and sites about gossip or sex or violence, just as we crave sugars and fats in food. They’re stimulating, if not addicting. If not careful, she warns we’ll develop the psychological equivalent to obesity. There can be such a thing as too much internet stimulus, which in turn is bad for society. Obesity is a drag on collective healthcare costs; internet over-stimulus a drag on collective intelligence. While she didn’t provide solutions, we were left interested in finding some and at the very least thought-provoked... "psychological equivalent of obesity"... brilliant.

… and entrepreneurship some more.
How would Kevin Rose (Founder of Digg) and Jay Adelson (CEO of Digg) start a company today? By being “scrappy!”

They advise doing what you want to do with the resources you have (or are easily available) and go from there (Kevin himself started by renting server space for $99/month). They had more to say on the topic:
  • Do your own PR. Throw your own parties. Contact press directly.
  • Hack the press. If you can’t reach a top writer at a top media property, target a junior writer there.
  • Meet influencers. Don’t be afraid to meet people of consequence for your business.
  • Prototype on your dime. Everything is so cheap today that you don’t need funding in the beginning. Prove your concept on your own – you can do it with thousands, not hundreds of thousands – then go get funding to take it to the next level.
  • Partner when time's right. Partner when you can’t do it all anymore.
  • Release fast and often. Speed is the name of the game. As reinforced by Rashmi Sinha, CEO and Founder of Slideshare, it’s the main advantage small players have over big ones.
  • Iterate often. Continually improve your product or service. The more it incorporates user feedback, the better.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said (as Chris Brogan referenced at the conference): “Go where there’s no road and leave a trail.” Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson did it with Digg, countless and untold others are doing it right now. Are you one of them? (If so, let us know. Comment below or email us at

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Driving Change through Design

Gentry Underwood, of design stalwart IDEO, spoke to a group of us at the Web 2.0 Conference in New York City about Social Interaction Design, “SxD” as he visually presents it. That’s the official (eye-glazing) description anyway. It’s really about building something that moves people to act.

Of the nine principles that Gentry presented (listed in full at bottom), we found three principles particularly compelling. He was entertaining in presenting them, and we were left thought-provoked and inspired by their implications.

Design for delight
When we’re forced to do something, we do it either begrudgingly or not at all. So, what if what we had to do (or should do) was made fun? That’s the idea behind The Fun Theory. From the global environment to personal health, The Fun Theory is proving that fun, innovative design can make us do those things that make our world and ourselves a better place.

Take the Stockholm subway system. In many stations, the escalator and stairs are right next to each other. Many people take the escalator. The motivator is stronger: easy. But in one station, designers turned the stairs into a piano: Walk one step, play a note (Think classic movie Big). The new motivator – fun – was strong enough to increase the number of people taking the stairs (over the escalator) by 66%.

Just imagine the possibilities. If simple design moved people to take better care of their bodies, what else can it move us to do? What if we applied design to some of our most pressing problems? Terrorism and battlefield insurgencies? Dependence on foreign oil? Healthcare? What barriers might we be able to overcome?

Remember we’re a heard species
At the Sasquatch music festival in George, Washington, a guy danced, by himself, for days. People took video of it. They laughed and scoffed. He continued, unfazed. While many were debating what drug he was on, he danced. He became somewhat of a fixture. He also remained on the fringe. Until something curious happened. After days, another guy joined him – albeit, uncomfortably. In the shadow of his friends’ judging glances, he kept it light, making it clear he was participating in the joke, not becoming part of it, occasionally looking back at his friends, laughing. He left, then came back shortly after, as another joined. Still bare, at three dancers, they continued.

Ultimately, several others joined. Almost immediately, several more. The tipping point reached, screams – of approval – started… and continued. Louder and louder. People started running from where they were to join. Running. What once was uncool, they now couldn't wait to be part of. Within less than a minute, literally hundreds of concert-goers joined, arms in air, reveling in the experience… together. The original guy gets kind of lost, almost forgotten. But there’s no denying he started it all. While people stared, he just carried on, doing what he loved. With that, he started a movement.

Do you ever feel like you’re getting nowhere with your business or your career or your message? This video is a reminder that while it may feel like nobody cares (or perhaps worse, like people are laughing at you), if you believe in what you’re doing – if it just feels right – and you keep at it, then people will likely come around to follow. Seth Godin wrote an entire book on the topic; he called it Tribes.

(Separately, but related, we’re reminded of Gary Hamel’s talk at the World Business Forum: “Explore the fringe,” he strongly advised, “The future always starts there.” Organic foods, personal computers, equal rights – they were all fringe movements until a tipping point was reached and they became mainstream.)

Empower evolution
As humans, we’re creative, resourceful, and adaptive. Whether we have the right tools or not, when we’re committed to making something work, we’ll figure it out and do it... in a way nobody would have thought possible.

Case in point. Bangkok, Thailand. What at first looks like a train rolling through the slums quickly turns into a bustling market. You’ve got to see it to believe it.

This video reminds us that we shouldn't feel discouraged when we lack the tools to do something. It encourages us to figure something out with what we have.

While we’re a herd species, we shouldn’t be underestimated either. We’re capable of extraordinary things. Gentry’s stories tell us that with a little bit of thought, an understanding of what we love, and strong commitment to it, the potential for design to change the way we behave (for the better) is huge.

Gentry's nine priciples in full are:
1. Satisfy key stakeholders
2. Making something mandatory = Bad design
3. Design for delight
4. Simplify as much as you can, but no more
5. Smooth all friction on the path to participation
6. Help the indifferent decide
7. Remember we’re a herd species
8. Watch for unexpected consequences
9. Empower evolution

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Social Media Entrepreneurship: A Case Study

We recently caught up with Rashmi Sinha at the Web 2.0 Conference in New York City. Her company, Slideshare, is an interesting case study in entrepreneurship and social media. It’s also a story of passion, hard work, and adventure. One of our favorite of her quotes: “Never be afraid. Just do it. Fear is the biggest killer.”

Slideshare was launched in October 2006. 5 half-timers worked on it then. 22 full-timers (and 3 contractors) work on it now.

Stages of Growth
Stage 1. Utilitarian-driven purpose site for people to share slides with others
Stage 2. Online community comments and rates content AND visits those who upload slides
Stage 3. People uploading slides realize Slideshare's power as a distribution channel – a way to get more people to their blogs, websites, etc. The business explodes.

Attracting Users
Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch heard about it (from a well-placed Slideshare contact) and wrote about it. Traffic to Slideshare spiked significantly. If you can’t get Michael Arrington to write you up (he was one of Time Magazine's 2008 most influential people in the world), then, as Kevin Rose (Founder of Digg) said in an earlier conversation, reaching out to a junior writer at Tech Crunch can be effective. (Rashmi agrees.)

11 Lessons Learned

1. Solve one problem. Stay focused. Slideshare was growing fast, but the money-maker was a previous product. The company ultimately had to give up the previous product to focus on Slideshare (even though money-making power of Slideshare was not yet proven - that takes guts and faith).
2. Speed is critical. When you’re small, speed is your advantage against the giants. Slideshare launched in the shadow of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets. Google Powerpoint was next. People asked, “What are you going to do when Google launches Google PPT? They’re going to kick your ass.” Slideshare wasn’t concerned because they were smaller, more nimble… and they were share-based, not author-based like Google.
3. Ideas are dime a dozen. It’s really about the execution. Everyone has the same ideas. Unique ideas are rare.
4. What to build. Products we use ourselves.
5. How to launch. Slideshare put it up, gave it to friends, and collected feedback. They built enough to get concept across, but not so much that it was fleshed out completely.
6. Focus on users, not competitors. Focus. On. Users.
7. Don’t spend too much time on business develop. In year one, Rashmi was advised (and highly recommends) to not talk about business development ideas with other companies. Big companies will come to you and want you to develop something. They will have a team of people on it. You won’t. They will have time to explore ideas on how design and backend will work for their specific company. You won’t. You’ll want to focus on your company, not others' (at least at first).
8. Use metrics to make decisions. For web-based businesses, metrics are abundant. Identify the ones critical for your business, track them, and incorporate into the decision-making process.
9. Hire design engineers. Developers are important, but an intuition of or experience with design is critical, particularly as design becomes increasingly critical to business.
10. Find your community. Who do you care about? Figure it out and get close to them. For Slideshare, there are two main constituencies: People who upload and People who view. Slideshare has decided to focus on the those who view, to optimize the experience of the users. They're already giving distribution to uploaders, so they're focusing on simplicity for the user (e.g., not offering animation on slides, even though uploaders want it, because that would not keep it simple for users)
11. Outsource complexity. Outside of your competencies, outsource when you can.

Other Interesting Tid-bits from Rashmi
- Business media sites are easier to monetize than consumer media sites.
- Hire people, not from school, but from open source community.
- All angel investment came from Slideshare users - the company emailed them and they responded, some of them handsomely. Mark Cuban, internet billionaire and sometimes-controversial owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, was one of them.

At the End of the Day
Rashmi speaks passionately about Slideshare - from that time in the beginning to the things they're working on now. You can tell she is driven by a passion that gives her comfort and confidence in saying things like "Just do it" "Fear is a killer" "We weren't worried about Google." She's clear on who her core audience is: the end-user. It's this passion-driven clarity that has allowed her company to pass up many lucrative business opportunities (e.g., enterprise software) on behalf of their end-user and remain successful, if not moreso because of it. Once again it's clear: Follow your passion, and the rest will follow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bill George: Play Your Game, Not Theirs

We recently spoke with Bill George, widely known for his classic book on leadership, True North: Discover your Authentic Leadership. He's also a Harvard Business School Professor and the former, storied CEO of Medtronics, the world’s largest medical technology company (think pacemaker). You can see him at the World Economic Forum in late January as a panelist on leadership.

Bill is not your typical CEO or Business School Professor. He doesn’t shy away from ideas of vulnerability, self-reflection, or even counseling. In fact, he sees them as sources of power, not weakness.

Bill preaches about the importance of knowing who we are (awareness), being open about it (vulnerability), and sticking to it (commitment) in the choices we make in life and as a leader. It’s when we do these things that we’re strong enough to resist temptations of “short-termism” – that is, the temptation of immediate gratification over the more sustainable long view.

Take the recent economic meltdown. Bill believes it was caused, not by sub-prime mortgages, but by “sub-prime leadership.” Too many people got caught up in the short term, more concerned about keeping up with the corporate Joneses and meeting Wall Street expectations than with the long-term health of their own companies. Bill is convinced that “if you play Wall Street’s game, you will destroy your company.” Look at Citibank, AIG, and countless others.

That said, it’s difficult to not play the game. Does a leader really even have a choice? What can one leader do in the face of such powerful forces as competitive pressure, fiduciary responsibility, and Wall Street expectations?

Bill’s response is simple: “Just don’t play [the game]. Just say no.” Simply say “we are in the business of building long-term shareholder value” and go about doing it. That’s what he did at Medtronic. And the long-term health and strength of the company has benefited greatly. Not right away, but in the end, when it matters.

There’s a personal parable in all of this. In our career choices and lives in general, we’ve got to be strong enough to take the long view over the short one. We’ve got to know who we are, be honest about it, and make decisions from there, decisions that lead to sustainable personal growth, not dramatic falls.

Taken together, Bill’s philosophy is a virtuous assault on conventional wisdom, a wisdom – propagated by mainstream media and corporate culture – that tells us to “[try] to make a good impression and not show them who you really are.”

He is not naïve, however, about the difficulty of defying conventional wisdom. In fact, he says, “If you share your vulnerabilities and weaknesses, you figure you won’t get hired. And maybe you won’t. I think that’s the problem."

So how do we overcome this problem, the powerful forces against being who we are? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear. It’s a matter of personal choices and values. Bill admits that we can reach success if we play the short-term game or hide who we are. But the chances of it being sustainable are slim. It will likely lead to a fall, more precipitous and more probable than if we played it right.

Bill’s view on failure is similar to that of luminaries we’ve already spoken to – it’s more a blessing than a curse. The key is whether we learn from it or not. Bill believes, “early failures are one of the greatest learning tools you can have.” We try hard not to fail early in our lives and careers. But the earlier we fail, the earlier we learn and the more we avoid self-destructive behavior later on. Bill reminds us that “the greatest failure of all [is] the failure to take risks to be who you are.”

When we do fail, Bill implores us to not simply blame others and move on, but rather, look internally. Own it. Make the necessary changes. And then move on. Stronger.

Listen to our full interview with Bill to find out more about him, including:
- His personal epiphany
- His relationship to luck
- His view of social media
- His take on Bill Clinton and Sandy Weill

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

World Economic Forum: High Profile Thought

The World Economic Forum is the world's premier gathering of the most influential movers and shakers in business, politics, and international affairs. Each year, the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bono, Queen Rania of Jordan, Vladimir Putin, and several other high-caliber personalities descend upon Davos, Switzerland to grace the Forum's stage. The event is exclusive (attendees must be invited) and committed to discussion of and reflection on pressing global issues.

We recently watched Bill Clinton at the 2006 World Economic Forum (You can too, here). Clinton spoke for 50+ minutes, in Q & A format, with the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab (in the front row sat Senator John McCain, actor Michael Douglas, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and technology pioneer Bill Gates).

These five quotes caught our attention.

1. “If you['ve] got enough self confidence in who you are and what you believe in, you ought not to be scared to talk to anybody.”

This is helpful advice to anyone looking to succeed: Be confident and connect with people; good things will likely follow. The context of Clinton's words takes it even further... that connection with others, open dialogue is the way out of conflict. He was referring specifically to US-Iran relations when he said this. But it's just as applicable to us, as individuals, in our daily lives whether with our boss at work or partner at home. Human connection, through open dialogue, is the closest thing we have to a panacea for conflict.

2. “Insurance losses from natural disasters in the last decade are three times [larger than in] any previous decade, in common constant dollars, which is another argument for the reality of climate change.”

Climate change is bad for business. Some may say this is nothing new. And perhaps it's not. But it's just as true now as it was in 2006. And perhaps, the more we can present the climate change challenge in stark and real terms such as business loss, the sooner we reach the tipping point for lasting change.

3. “Not every failure is a defeat.”

Time and time again, the successful people we talk to and hear from frame failure positively. Bill Clinton is no exception. At the World Economic Forum, he cited his efforts to reform healthcare not as failure, but as necessary trail-blazing for the next attempt at fundamental reform to be successful. Pat Lencioni talked about failure as a necessary course-adjuster and character-builder, that thing which guided him to his rightful path. The examples go on.

4. “America always does the right thing - after exhausting all other alternatives.”

Citing the humorous Winston Churchill, Clinton propagated the view that America is a source of good in the world, even if we don't get it right the first time, all the time. Hearing this in the wake of Iraq and amidst the current reality of Afghanistan makes Churchill's words particularly resonant.

5. "There is nothing so difficult in all of human affairs than to change the established order of things."

Clinton used Machiavelli's words to call out reality in blunt terms. What interested us even more than Machiavelli's quote was Clinton's follow up as to why changing the status quo is so difficult: "... because the people who will lose are certain of their loss and those who will benefit are uncertain of their gain." Certainty. We know that financial markets place tremendous value in it. But so too do political ones.

In Conclusion
Clinton closed with a recommendation to read Max Weber's 1918 essay entitled Politics as a Vocation. In it we'd find Weber extolling the virtues of pragmatism over ideals, compromise over convictions. Perhaps, it simply reflects Bill Clinton's Machiavellian approach to politics. Perhaps, it reflects reality. Perhaps, it's both.

One thing we know for sure is that there's no higher profile a place to hash it all out than at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Popcorn: The Success Metaphor

This blog's namesake - "The Popped Kernel" - presumes that we're all kernels. Some of us have popped. Others of us have not. Why? Why are some people successful and others not (yet or at all)? That's the question driving the very existence of The Popped Kernel. One place we can find some answers is in the culinary treat itself.

Type "The Popped Kernel" into Google and the second link asks us Why do some popcorn kernels not pop? The question might as well be: Why do some people not pop? The answer is equally applicable.

Kernels don't pop if the conditions aren't right. The kernel itself must have the right stuff - it can't be too hard (if it is, it can't pop ... unless moisture is added). Kernels must be put under the right amount of heat. Too little heat, they won't pop. Too much heat, they'll burn. Once popped, it must cool down to avoid burning to the touch. Only then can it be enjoyed. If left idle for too long, the popped kernels become stale. Only do they become enjoyable again when conditions for their well-being are reintroduced - warmth, moisture, perhaps some added flavor.

We can draw a few lessons about success from our understanding of what kernels need in order to pop (and stay enjoyable):
1. Set the right conditions - environment is critical.
2. Don't be too hard - approach success with open arms not clenched fists.
3. Turn on the heat - the right amount of motivation drives success.
4. Don't stand idle - Stay active and keep focused, else risk becoming stale.

What do you think? Can you think of other parallels between popcorn and success? Do you completely disagree? We'd love to hear. Comment below. Or write us at

Monday, November 2, 2009

Commit, and Providence Moves Too

Today marks our one month anniversary. In the spirit of what The Popped Kernel is all about, we wanted to offer you a quote. It's about passion, commitment, and possibilities. Attributed to Scottish mountain climber, W.H. Murray, it comes from Bill George's latest book, "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis."

"Until one is committed there is always hesitancy,
The chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness...

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help that never otherwise would have occurred...

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!"

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ideas: The New Widget

"As much as three-quarters of the value of publicly traded companies in America comes from intangible assets, up from around 40% in the early 1980's." (The Economist, October 2005)

It's striking. Yes, the Industrial Age is long gone and Information Age well-established, so it shouldn't really come as a surprise. But it does. In stark terms, the data tells us: Ideas drive the economy.

Think about that for second.

Doesn't it just seem too easy, not at all concrete? "Ideas drive the economy." Aren't we taught to believe that the harder something is, the more valuable? Shaping a piece of metal with our bare hands, then using it to build a car, all with Grade-A elbow grease - that's hard, that's valuable. Right?

Well, no, not according to reality.

It's going to be difficult to grasp. And it will be disruptive. It already has been. It likely will continue to be. We're not dealing with tangibles like we used to. Our traditional sense of measurement is becoming more outdated and irrelevant. Even worse, we don't know, or even have, an agreed-upon alternative measure of value.

We do know however that, whether we're ready for it or not, the intangibles are driving businesses and economies forward. Those who figure out a way to measure the intangibles, channel them, and develop them, will win.

What do you think? Some might argue that it takes exponentially more people to implement an idea than it does to come up with one, thereby discrediting the notion of this post - that ideas reign supreme. Join the conversation. Comment below. Or write us at (We'll post a synthesis of the debate, once critical mass is reached.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Clinton, Obama, Afghanistan: A Thought Experiment

With Obama’s decision on Afghanistan imminent and Bill Clinton’s World Business Forum speech still resonant, we thought we’d do something of a thought experiment on leadership and decision-making.

What counsel might Clinton give President Obama on Afghanistan? Specifically, how would Clinton break down the current conundrum, and what advice on leadership and decision-making would he offer?

“Should we escalate in Afghanistan? I have three answers: Yes. No. Maybe.

September 11 has taught us that an unstable Afghanistan is a direct threat to the American people. That’s what makes this so different from Vietnam. Leaving the country will afford Al-Qaeda the same terrorist haven they enjoyed on September 10... and this time without as much resistance from a Northern Alliance.

Victory depends on commitment, and you don’t have it from the American people. Not even from your own Vice President. Americans want jobs, not increasing bloodshed abroad. Escalation without commitment will lead to another Vietnam.

The Afghan people will support that group which cares for their children. Currently, they’re supporting the Taliban, but mostly out of fear. If we helped the Afghans build a sustainable country that was safer and more prosperous for their children, the Taliban wouldn’t have a chance.

The Afghan government is corrupt. We can build schools and train laborers, but buildings and skills will be gone or devalued once we leave, unless the Afghan government is there to support them. It’s unclear whether they have the will, or even the capability, to do that.

Pakistan is unstable; it’s also a crucial partner for success in Afghanistan. If they continue to assist the Afghan Taliban as a way to counterbalance India’s influence, or if a coup replaces the current regime with a much more hostile one, then we’ll have no chance of containing the Taliban along the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistan could be our biggest wild card. Their support is and will be paramount.

Leadership and Decision-making
The considerations are many, related, and complex. Regardless of what you decide, make sure you:
- Have a vision of where you want to go
- Lay out a strategy on how to get there
- Develop specific actions to implement the strategy
And underscore these things with an understanding of not just policy but also of people.

Some of the most difficult decisions I ever made as president were not necessarily the least popular – the unpopular decisions were sometimes easy because I knew what the right answer was – no, the difficult decisions were the ones for which I couldn’t know the right answer… those 10% of presidential decisions that can’t come from policy reports or staff recommendations, but rather must come from intuition. You have to listen and feel your way to the answer. If that happens, the best you can do is level with the people and say that if you’re not right you’ll change.

A great leader is a great decision-maker. You have one hell of a decision to make.”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bill Clinton and the World

Bill Clinton gave us a treat at this year's World Business Forum: his framework of the world.

Unlike other speakers at this year’s Forum, Clinton did not use a teleprompter or projected slides. And his paper notes? Apparently just for show – he rarely looked at them. This was the stuff of Bill Clinton legend – speaking off-the-cuff about complex issues in understandable terms. Unfortunately, Clinton fell short of legend this time inside Radio City Music Hall in New York; he meandered and had difficulty staying on point. But his content – why we should care about AIDS in Africa, bombings in the Middle East, and climate change – was no less compelling.

Clinton’s worldview starts with the premise of globalization – although he prefers to use the word “interdependence.” While Clinton rejects the idea that interdependence leads to peace and security outright (See The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War I), he believes it’s possible, if we address three persistent global challenges: inequality, instability, and unsustainability.

Challenge #1: Inequality. “The world is too unequal.” One billion people live on less than $1/day; Half the world population lives on less than $2/day. While people in the developed world live a long time, a quarter of the world still dies from either AIDS, malaria, or bad water (80% of them are children aged five or younger). If global warming proceeds at its current rate, water will become even more scarce, and the developing worlds’ problems aggravated.

“We can be made more secure by eliminating inequality,” Clinton said, citing “10-20 countries in eastern and southern Africa… many of them Muslim… who love the US.” This, at a time when the US has lost significant credibility elsewhere in the world. In these countries, many of which Clinton has visited, nobody has been thinking about Al Qaeda. Why? Because “we have cared whether their kids live or die.”

The lesson is simple and powerful. Focus on the basics and see positive results. In this case, the more we care, the more secure we are.

Challenge #2: Instability. “The world is too unstable.” What seems real one day is gone the next – money, health, security.

In cases, small and large, that span the globe, wealth has diminished like at no other time and to such a degree, since the Great Depression. A local police station in England had to fold because their pension investments in Iceland vanished in the country’s bankruptcy. China, in a short period of time, went from having plenty of cash ($2 trillion in reserves) to not enough (post-crisis they “had nobody to sell to”).

In a more interdependent world, a virus in one part of the world can cause more than just isolated deaths, but also widespread panic and disruption. Swine flu has wreaked havoc in both real and perceived terms. It’s closed down school districts in the US, halted the tourism industry in Mexico, and taken the lives of many. The world is, for lack of a better term, freaking out about it. And with every new report of another well-known person contracting it (e.g., President of Costa Rica and Colombia, Tony Blair’s wife, Harry Smith of the CBS Early Show, Landon Donovan of the US National soccer team), the threat feels more real and the worry continues to worsen.

Terrorist organizations remain a major destabilizing force internationally. Post-9/11, they have managed to hit Madrid, London, Bali, and Bombay, not to mention the countless spots in the war-torn regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. At the same time, as counterintuitive as it seems, “we’re more secure because everyone’s working together.” Without collaboration in the intelligence and law-enforcement communities – that is, positive interdependence – several calamities might have occurred: Al-Qaeda in the Balkans, the millennium attack out of LAX, hi-jacked plane(s) from Indonesia to the US, Holland and Lincoln tunnel bombs in New York.

Across the various sources of global instability, the way to address it is the same. The more vigilant and cooperative we are, the more secure we become.

Challenge #3: Unsustainability. “The world is too unsustainable” because of climate change. 95% of “serious scientists” believe that if we don’t cut CO2 or methane, then temperatures will increase, oceans will rise, and 100 million people in coastal regions will become climate change refugees by 2050, having been forced to uproot by Mother Nature and settle elsewhere. In Australia, Conservatives and Liberals are debating, not about whether the problem is real, but rather how to best solve it… everyone agrees it’s a problem.

Clinton also focused on sustainability in the US. He painted a rather dire portrait of where the country is headed if income continues to decline, college costs continue to outpace income growth, and healthcare continues to cost more while covering less (and also outpacing income growth). He cited the need for a new source of jobs every eight years to remain competitive. Solving climate change, Clinton believes, is the way to do that (e.g., “green” jobs and projects). He’s not shy about the size and difficulty of the task at hand, saying that if done right, it “would be the greatest thing since we mobilized for WWII.”

In the challenge of unsustainability lies a significant opportunity for positive change. The country or company or individual willing to invest in it, could save the world’s future, if not own it.

The world in which we now live is vastly different than the one in which Clinton took office. Then, in 1992, there were only 50 websites worldwide. Today, more than 50 new websites were created during Clinton’s speech at the Forum alone. Our world is much more connected. What we do affects others more so now than ever before. The more we understand that, the more willing and able we are to address the challenges of global interdependence… and experience the peace and security associated with it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chester Elton: A Carrot a Day...

We recently sat down with Chester Elton, best-selling author of The Carrot Principle and sought-after international speaker. As one of the world’s leading experts in employee engagement, he’s just as excitable in conversation as he is on stage. Beyond his stage presence though is his story.

Chester is a faithful man. He believes in something bigger than himself and in the service of and for others. Faith, whether religious or not, has become an emerging theme in the success stories we’ve followed thus far. It makes sense when you think about it. Faith is the glue that bridges today's unknown to tomorrow's success.

He’s also family-oriented – another recurring theme. He considers himself “madly in love” with his wife and his boys “exceptional.” His parents were together for 65 years. In fact, he considers them his "first managers." In short, he comes from good family stock.

Chester keeps a detailed journal, so we know (or at least surmise) that he has healthy self-awareness... and discipline. And what does he use to write in those journals? Fountain pens – limited edition and rare. Why? They force him to think when he writes.

Of service, he says, “A life of service is a life well-spent." He even goes further to say, “Learn to serve people. When you do, it’s good for business (too).”

As for luck, he likes to quote Larry Bird, who said “The more I practice, the luckier I get” after having made a game winning shot from the floor, on his back, in a consequential playoff game. Chester does believe that hard work breeds luck.

When it comes to failure, Chester exposes his Canadian roots with a ski analogy: “If you’re not falling, you’re not skiing.” Chester's personal run-in with failure came in Hartford, CT where he worked in TV ad sales and where he “failed pretty spectacularly." Ultimately, he grew stronger as a people leader and is now a renowned expert of it and best-selling author because of it.

As his mom always told him, “It doesn’t matter how you start; it matters how you finish.”

Find out more about Chester and his success story in our audio interview...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

World Business Forum: Lessons Learned

What an experience to blog from the 2009 World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall in New York City (see official Bloggers Hub in photo at right) to bring you insights from the world's foremost thought-shapers and opinion-makers. From Bill Clinton to Pat Lencioni, from George Lucas to T. Boone Pickens, there was no shortage of unique insight or rich perspective. From their powerful speeches and personal stories emerged four main themes.

1. Fail to succeed. Failure is a must-stop on the road to success. Several of this year's speakers failed at or quit something before finding their path and reaching the heights of their success.
  • T. Boone Pickens quit his job at a petroleum company at 26 years old. He ultimately started his own, shaping not just the oil industry but the concept of "corporate raider."
  • George Lucas was "up to no good" racing cars, before pioneering filmmaking magic.
  • Bill George left a potential (and much coveted) CEO position at Honeywell to run a much smaller (and at the time, much less proven) company in Medtronics. He eventually became a storied corporate executive, Harvard Business professor, and renowned leadership expert.
  • David Rubenstein quit his job as a lawyer in his late 20's without resistance from his bosses. He also failed in the Carter administration where he was responsible for fighting inflation and "got it down to 19%." All before starting one of the world's most successful and influential (if not controversial) private equity firms.
  • Pat Lencioni felt like he failed at Bain & Company for not being a numbers guy. It's that experience which led him to pursue organizational management and become one of the world's leading experts of it.

Failing and quitting - two things we're taught at an early age to avoid - were not only good, but necessary for these industry titans to, in fact, become industry titans.

2. Be human. Aligning what we do to who we are is critical. How we work must better reflect who we are as human beings - more emotion and creativity, less reason and structure.

  • Gary Hamel believes we're in the midst of a revolution in corporate management and leadership because corporations aren't human. They're not as adaptive or creative or engaging as we are, as people. They have to be to survive.
  • Kevin Roberts thinks emotion is actually more important than reason, particularly with customers. Reason leads to conclusion, but emotion leads to action.
  • George Lucas believes art - to be true art - is about emotional connection; It's about telling a story in a meaningful way. The same can be said of business, specifically the thing at its very core: persuasion. There's no such thing as persuasion if not for telling a story in a meaningful way.
  • Pat Lencioni believes that the emotional intelligence of an organization is its true competitive advantage. So many companies focus too much on how "Smart" they are and much too little on how "Healthy" they are.

The challenge here is how: How do we become more human as professionals, as leaders? As Jim Estill put it - he's a blogging colleague from the Forum, former CEO, and current Board member of RIM (the maker of the Blackberry) - "Leadership is messy." We want to know it in rational terms but we can't because it's not. Realizing that is the first step.

3. Challenge short-termism. We all know that taking the long term view trumps the short-term one. In fact, this year's World Business Forum opened with a Hollywood-style short film containing sage advice from proven leaders about taking the long-term view. But how do we do it in today's 24/7 world? It boils down to one thing: Leadership. Specifically, three key ingredients: Courage, Faith, and Commitment.

Take the case of Bill George, whose remarks opened this year's World Business Forum. When he was CEO of Medtronics, he did not shy away from telling his investors that if they were looking for a quick buck, they could invest elsewhere.

  • Courage. He had the courage to take the long-view, sacrificing potential short-term wins for long-term payout.
  • Faith. He had the faith to believe that, in the end, long-termism would win.
  • Commitment. He had the commitment to stick with it, even, when competitors with the short-term view might have appeared to be fairing better than his own company.

Ultimately, Bill's leadership paid off. In 10 years with Medtronics, he took the company's market value from $1B to $60B. It's no wonder his book, True North, about authentic leadership, is a critically acclaimed best-seller.

4. Do One Thing. In a more interconnected world, the little things we do have an even bigger impact. Several headliners at the Forum captured the spirit of this concept.

  • Kevin Roberts started the "Do One Thing" (D.O.T.) campaign at Saatchi & Saatchi where he has challenged employees to commit to doing one thing to positively impact their environment.
  • Jeffrey Sachs called for global scale cooperation for our global scale problems, particularly in finance. Because one thing that a banker in New York City does can collapse entire economies (see Iceland), oversight needs to be broadscale and shared.
  • Bill Clinton spoke at length about "shared costs and shared benefits" in an increasingly interdependent world: "No matter how constrained we are, we all have a role to play." He drove the point home with a story about a young man in Haiti who secured excess sawdust and paper from community businesses to make cooking brickettes. In doing so, he was able to sell them at just 1 cent a piece, down from 5 cents a piece. This young man - in collaboration with others - reduced the cooking bill for many by 80%. In a country where the average income is about $1/day, that makes a huge difference.

In the fabric of this year's World Business Forum lie true success secrets... personally, professionally, and as a global community: Be human. Take the long view. Embrace failure. Do one thing.

If we can do that, we can change the world.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gary Hamel: Management Revolution

Gary Hamel, “the world’s most influential business thinker” (Wall Street Journal) and author of best-selling book The Future of Management, had something mind-blowing to share at this year’s World Business Forum: we are in the middle of a once-in-a-century management revolution. It sounds like hyperbole, but take heed. His ideas and his examples were compelling. They also challenged us.

Hamel likened our time to that of Frederick Taylor’s, about a hundred years ago, when in 1912, his idea about something called “scientific management” – the model for today’s corporation – was so advanced, so controversial that he was called into Congress to testify. He called for a “mental revolution” among “workmen… and… management” for scientific management to take hold. He gave life to concepts like efficiency and productivity and standardization.

Our modern-day Frederick Taylor, Gary Hamel, tells us that Taylor’s revolution has plateaued and we're ready for another. Hamel’s premise is rooted in employee engagement. No more than 20% of people are engaged at work, which means there’s a lot of latent productivity and untapped innovation in the workforce – in other words, there’s room to get a lot more out of employees. And corporations today – how they’re organized and what they value – will not do it. A revolution is required.

But why must corporations revolutionize to survive? And more importantly, how can they do it?


Corporations aren’t human. And they must be to survive.

Diligence, obedience, and structure will no longer be cornerstone principles of the corporation; Passion, creativity, and innovation will be. Why is Hamel so sure? “... because the upcoming generation will accept no less.” These are young people who grew up in the meritorious world of the internet, not the authoritarian world of the corporation. They derive power from and give power to others based on content, not title. They are creative and passionate. They are the drivers of the participation economy that Kevin Roberts, of Saatchi & Saatchi, spoke of earlier at the Forum. They don’t respond to marketing but movements, not to information but inspiration. They will not put up with only 20% engagement in the workplace.

To engage and retain this next generation, the corporation will have to fundamentally morph the way they manage them.


W.L. Gore is a good place to start. The company that brought us GORE-TEX is living proof of what the next-era corporation will look and feel like. No titles. No rules. No assignments.

Sound like a slacker’s paradise? It’s not. This company, started by a DuPont engineer, recognizes over $2 billion in annual sales and has not one quarterly loss in the last 30+ years. They have found a way to create entrepreneurs and collaborators in the workplace.

Here’s how they do it:

1. No titles. Nobody has titles at Gore. When Hamel was on-site, and noticed that nobody had titles on their business cards, he asked a Gore employee, “How do you know who’s leader?” The response: “Well, if you call a meeting and people show up, that’s a good sign.”

2. No rules. There are no rules at Gore. Take for example their travel and expense policy – there isn't one. Employees can travel when they want, however they want, for as long as they want, expensing whatever they want – all on the company’s dime. How can this system work? The company simply posts travel expenses online, where everyone can see. If everyone were to see that you ordered the $1,000 bottle of wine, perhaps you’d be more inclined to buy the $20 one.

At Gore, there’s just one guideline: No “waterline issues.” No employee should take a risk that would sink the company, punch a hole in the bottom of the company’s proverbial hull, nothing that would damage its reputation or get it into legal trouble or ruin the brand. In meetings, it’s not uncommon to hear Gore employees asking each other, “Is there a ‘waterline issue’ here?” (Hamel implored us to imagine what the world would be like if the financial services industry asked the same question before the economic crisis.)

3. No assignments. Nobody at Gore tells employees what to do. They choose what they work on and who they work with. All commitments are voluntary. How do they manage this apparent free-for-all? Peer ratings. An employee rates 20 peers and 20 peers rate that employee – ranked 1 through 20. The rankings are used to determine salary.

The Challenge

It works for W. L. Gore, but how does it, or will it, work elsewhere? Such is the challenge of Hamel’s insight. While he gets us thinking (even excited) about the management revolution, he doesn’t provide all the answers (nor does he have them). What he does provide is advice on how to get there:

A. Challenge dogma. Basic assumptions in modern day management – authority trickles down, change starts at the top, senior executives set strategy, takes crisis to provoke change, freedom and discipline are trade-offs – are false. Unlearn the old; discover the new. Many innovators, including Bill Gore (founder of W. L. Gore), never went to business schools.

B. Explore the fringe. The future always starts there. Tattoos, as a small but telling example, started with sailors and bikers. Now, young women have them as body art. What will become trendy or mainstream tomorrow is at the fringe right now.

C. Experiment. “We need to be revolutionary but nobody is going let you do that,” so today’s managers must be simultaneously revolutionary and evolutionary – How? Experimentation. It’s bounded in time and risk, but allows exploration and discovery. Successful managers should ask themselves, “Am I putting a portfolio of risky projects together?”

D. Recognize natural leaders. Leaders in tomorrow’s corporation will be chosen for fairing well on new types of questions: Whose responses are rated most helpful? Who contributes the most to online forums? Whose advice is sought most often? Who responds most promptly to requests? Who is generating the most external buzz?

Hamel closed with his thesis: “Isn’t it weird that corporations are less human than us, less adaptable, less engaging, less interesting, less creative? (It’s because we apply this arcane) technology of management from 100 years ago – Management 1.0. You cannot create a company for the future unless it’s made for the human being.”

Go make it happen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

T. Boone Pickens: Economics is Boring

“You know what an economist is, don’t you? An economist is someone who didn’t have the personality to be a CPA.” T. Boone Pickens, clearly known more for his folksy charm than intellectual prowess, took pleasure in poking fun at economists at the World Business Forum last week. Perhaps that explains why The Popped Kernel, in our last two posts, uncharacteristically made no effort to personalize economists Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs.

(Updated below on 11/10/09)
As posted in the comments below, we learned more from and about T. Boone than just his teasing humor.

He quit his job at 26 yrs old with no alternate plan. After complaining about his job, his wife told him to leave it. The day he did, he came home early to his wife asking, "Why are you home so early?" He said, "I quit today." His wife shot back, "Why'd you do that?"

He believes the U.S. should be awarded oil contracts in Iraq, not China (as has been done). His argument is simple: Americans lost over 4,000 lives in Iraq, not China.

He's an environmentalist, albeit not admittedly. While he did acknowledge a friendship with Al Gore rooted in the cause, his driving force is rooted more in national security - to reduce (if not eliminate) America's dependence on oil from hostile regimes. He started the Pickens Plan to influence a fundamental shift in US energy policy - source power from natural gas and renewable energy, not oil. He happens to be heavily invested in natural gas and increasingly in renewable energy.

He believes he's more powerful today than ever before, not because of his wealth but his following (driven primarily online). 1.6 million people have signed onto his Pickens Plan. As he put it, with money he could see anybody in Congress but nothing would happen; with money and 1.6 million supporters he can see anybody on the Hill and now he's a force to be reckoned with. Members of Congress now ask him if he can mobilize his "army."

You may be wondering what the heck that "T" stands for. Well, wonder no more. It stands for... wait for it ... Thomas.

And remember those Swift Boat ads? The ones that "swift boated" the Kerry presidential campaign in 2004 (and augmented the American political vernacular in the process)? T. Boone funded them.

T. Boone Pickens is a complex man. It's difficult to label him, but if anything could describe him, perhaps it's quite simply "self-interested."

What do you think? Are you a fan of T. Boone? The man? The plan? Let us know. Comment below. Or write us at

Jeffrey Sachs: Political Perspective from an Economist

Jeffrey Sachs, Economics professor at Columbia University has made a name for himself as a prognosticator and translator of the very thing that has captured America’s attention for over a year: the economy. But it wasn’t his economic perspective that surprised us last Tuesday at the World Business Forum – it was his clear and direct indictment of money in politics that did.

Sachs went so far as to describe the US as fascist. Without actually using the “F” word, he declared that until the US government stops making law (or lack thereof) at the behest and on behalf of corporations in the financial services and healthcare industries, we won’t be living in the democracy we think we do.

For a well-respected, widely accepted, and quite influential economist to go into the lion’s den and poke it in the eye, things must have gotten – and must still be – pretty bad.

Specific highlights include:
The market for mortgage-backed securities on Wall Street went from $0 to $62 trillion in less than a decade. That’s roughly the size of the entire world economy – and no part of that market was regulated.

Both the Clinton and Bush administrations, as well as the Fed, kept regulators out of that market. Insurance giants like AIG made matters worse when they started insuring these investments against default, with no capital backing. They didn’t need to because regulators weren’t telling them to. Jeffrey called it “pure irresponsibility.”

Here's what the “pure irresponsibility” looked like (in everyday terms): A company like AIG told investors, “Give me $2, and in exchange, if you’re $100 mortgage-backed security defaults or is deemed worthless, we’ll give you that $100.” AIG did this with effectively no money in their bank account (i.e., no capital backing) to actually pay the $100. When mortgage-back securities were deemed worthless because nobody knew which ones contained toxic sub-prime mortgages, investors who purchased them started defaulting on their $100 and went to AIG for their lost money. But AIG didn’t have the money. So Joe Blow taxpayer had to pay. While illegal in other contexts, this activity wasn’t illegal here because there was no regulation.

Sachs rhetorically asked the audience “Why do you think regulators were kept out (of it)?” then turned his speech into surprising territory by answering, “This is about money and power.”

Making a broader point about money in politics now, he brought healthcare into the conversation. “Why do you think we’re no longer talking about The Public Option in the Healthcare debate…. Let me tell you: it wasn’t the townhalls over the summer…. Debates in public are sadly a side show. The real issues are being decided in the back rooms where campaign contributions and vesting interests and lobbying will set parameters on healthcare and the financial system.”

“We do not have a basic change of money in politics yet.” Sachs was clearly calling for one.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paul Krugman: Recovery Will Last Long Time

Paul Krugman is a brilliant man with thought-provoking approaches to economic questions; he wouldn’t be a leading New York Times columnist (or Princeton University professor) if he wasn’t. On Wednesday at the World Business Forum, he discussed world trade. Not the sexiest topic, but for a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, not a problem either. Some of his more poignant points included comparisons to the Great Depression and predictions on economic recovery:

Great Depression vs. Now. Much has been made of today's economic crisis relative to the Great Depression. Krugman appears to agree with the emerging consensus - that the Great Depression was worse - but that didn't stop him from making comparisons ... or even calling out what was worse about today's crisis vs. Roosevelt's.

1. Run on banks in 2008. What happened during the economic crisis of 2008 was the same as the run on banks in the 1930’s. While mobs didn’t gather outside banks in 2008, they did gather online in the electronic marketplace (to pull their money out of the system) – and with much greater fervor.

2. World trade (or not). World trade has declined more precipitously in this economic crisis than it did at this stage of the Great Depression. Enough said.

Recovery to last long time. Forecasts generally assume economies recover in 5 years – there’s no reason to believe that will be the case this time around. We could be in recovery for much longer. “This looks to be a long siege” for three reasons:

1. No trade surplus. When countries suffer recession from financial crisis, they come out of it by moving into a trade surplus with other countries. The effects of this economic crisis are so widespread and profound that the whole world is in deficit – if the world is in deficit, then it’s that much more difficult for individual countries to get to a surplus.

2. No transportation technology. Steam-engine boats. Containerization of shipping. Airplanes. They all revolutionized transportation, significantly reducing time and cost. Now, there does not appear to be anything like that on the horizon.

3. Higher transportation costs. The cost to transport goods between countries – whether by land or sea or air – will increase as (a) oil prices rise and (b) green policies take effect, taxing emissions of transportation even further.

This last point, we found tremendously telling. Here is a leading Liberal economist making a practical argument against green policies. It became even clearer to us that the depth and intensity of our current economic crisis has affected much more than just world trade.