I have had the great pleasure of attending the World Business Forum several times in the last few years, but due to a very hectic travel schedule, I missed this year’s event. As always, it was packed with great speakers and about 3,000 very serious business “learners.” Of course my friend Tom Peters was there, along with Jack Welch, Jim Collins, Charlene Li, and A.G. Lafley, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble. The last time I attended the Forum I took nearly 4 legal pads worth of notes (200+ pages) and was able to spend some quality time talking to both Tom and Jim. I learned a ton and came back with some absolutely great new ideas.
This morning I was reading Tom’s blog and noticed a post on the key themes from this year’s Forum, which I thought you might find valuable. So here is an excerpt from Dispatches from the New World of Work at TomPerters.com on what these incredibly talented and experienced business thinkers see as some major trends in the business world today (with some comments from me… ).
The first day of the event seemed to have an underlying theme of talent. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, asked, “How many key seats are on your bus? How many have you filled with the right people?” Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, offered the equation, “Great people = Great companies.” He advocated for creating a culture of owners, avoiding the “don’t be gentle, it’s a rental” mindset (you’d do things in a rental car you wouldn’t dream of in one you own). Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, put it simply and definitively: “You get the best players, you win.”
(John: If there is one topic I have been jumping up and down about for the last few years it is: TALENT. It has long been my mantra that: “The quality of your company is directly proportional to the quality of the talent you can get and keep on your team,” perhaps more elegantly captured by Carlos Brito’s equation “Great people = Great companies.” Lots of organizations say they understand that “talent” is the engine that will drive the futue of their enterprise… but I see very, very few truly put this idea into action. Question: is your company a talent magnet?)
Welch went on to say that “you have to create entrepreneurial innovators within your business.” Renee Mauborgne, coauthor of Blue Ocean Strategy, went a bit more deeply into this argument. She said, “The more we benchmark, the more we become like the competition.” And that certainly isn’t going to inspire game-changing innovation. She emphasized the importance of shifting your focus from day-to-day productivity into creativity and thinking about the future. As A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble said, “Great innovators constantly disrupt themselves.”
(John: although I loved the book Blue Ocean Strategy, I am not in total agreement with Renee. I do agree that mindless “benchmarking” (read: copying) is a terrible idea. But I do believe strongly that you need to look at lots and lots of “best-in-class” examples and “benchmarking” (from every imaginable industry other than your’s) in order to fill your mind with the fodder that will allow you to generate brilliant, creative and unique ideas that can differentiate your organization in the marketplace. Benchmarking is not a paint-by-the-numbers exercise – it is an exceedingly challenging strategic thinking exercise – that must then lead into actual strategic planning – and then to disciplined execution.)
Lafley encouraged the audience to co-create products with their customers. Charlene Li, coauthor of Groundswell, gave a specific example of how Starbucks co-created a new customer experience (self-serve drip coffee) using social media, and despite the failure of the feature, strengthened customer relationships by including them in the process, start to finish. Steve Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics, also highlighted the importance of experimenting. “‘I don’t know’ is the least common phrase in business today. …Try to utter that phrase at least once a day.” But he cautioned to not forget to measure the results of your experiments, as this happens all too often.
(John: all good stuff here. I am in complete agreement with Lafley and Charlene. Another core Spence-ism: “Whoever owns the voice of the customer (VOC) – owns the marketplace.” Being close enough to your customer, and listing to them intently enough to “co-create” with them… alchemy…pure gold!)
Spending two days watching such an impressive lineup of speakers provides ample opportunity for comparison and critique. What makes for the most compelling speech? Whenever Tom is asked for advice regarding speeches, he never fails to mention the importance of storytelling. Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Influencer, spoke of this outright. Cool Friend Martin Lindstrom showed the power of brand storytelling. The slides that speech-veteran former Vice President Al Gore used were almost completely text-free and only served to enhance his case for action against the devastating effects of global warming. James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, described his journeys in storytelling and the techniques he used to make stories come to life. But it was a survivor of a plane crash in the Andes, Nando Parrado, that captured the audience’s full attention and garnered the only standing ovation when he took us on his incredible journey, providing a compelling reminder of what really matters in life.
(John: absolutely, great storytelling IS the magic behind truly engaging and inspirational speakers. However, I will add a second element necessary to be a great leader: Symbol Management. This is doing small things that send a big message. For example, picking up trash in the parking lot, answering your phone on the second ring to demonstrate how important responsiveness is, staying late and getting pizza for the marketing team that is pulling an all-nighter. A simple quote sums up the meaning of “symbol management” nicely: “What you are speaks so loudly, that I cannot hear what you say.” The story MUST match the actions.)
Tom frequently asks, “If not Excellence, what?” Several of the speakers shared this message of aspiration. Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck School of Business and Renee Mauborgne presented clear arguments for lifting your focus from the daily churn so that you can take the essential step of plotting strategy for the future. Carlos Brito used the example of a high jump when discussing leadership. He said you must set the bar high, because like athletes training for the high jump who only just make it over the bar, people will only jump as high as is required to achieve the goal. And to leave you with the words of the last speaker of the World Business Forum 2010, James Cameron said, “The biggest risk is not to be bold.”
(John: hard to argue with any of this, after all it was Tom’s “if not excellence, what?” that pretty much ignited my aspiration to run and own businesses. And although I think James Cameron’s quote is wonderful, I personally care for a slightly different version, “The biggest risk is to take no risks at all.” Hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it of value. Take good care – John)
Shelley Dolley posted this today at TomPeters.com — to read the entire post click HERE