Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Gratitude & Its Impact on Creativity

Source:  SDW Tech Integration Now

In the past, I have blogged about interesting research on gratitude in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. I thought I would share new research on the topic.  Nashita Pillay and her colleagues published a new study earlier this year (January 2020) in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.  The paper was titled, "Thanks for your ideas: Gratitude and team creativity."  The scholars examined the impact that expressing gratitude has on a team's ability to accomplish a creative task.  The researchers conducted two experimental studies.  In one study, they asked 1/2 of the participants to write about something for which they were grateful.  The other half were in the control condition.  Here is the instruction for the "gratitude" condition:

There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. For the next 5 min, think back and write in detail about why you are grateful or thankful for your team members. These team members include the people you just worked with and past team members. Please elaborate on why you feel grateful or thankful and provide contextual information where necessary.

Then, the research subjects worked in groups to accomplish a team creativity task (How might we creatively improve university education?).   The scholars asked the participants to generate ideas that were both practical and original.   What did they find?   Gratitude enhances the intellectual exchange of ideas within teams, and as a result, team creativity rises.  In a second study, they confirmed that gratitude has a more beneficial effect than positive emotions in general.  Why does gratitude have this positive impact on team creativity.  The scholars offer this explanation:

In grateful teams, initial ideas shared by team members would be more likely to trigger a response gesture by which the team works collectively to improve on the ideas.  The more effort teams with higher gratitude put into thinking and systematically integrating others’ ideas, the more likely that these ideas will become intriguing or novel—and would otherwise have been harder to generate (Stasser & Titus, 1987). Team members who feel grateful should be motivated to think deeply and thoroughly about how to reciprocate the benefits they have received from others and, in turn, engage in more information elaboration during team discussion, thereby supporting and building on others’ ideas.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Boeing 737 MAX: Company Culture and Product Failure


Source: Picpedia

My latest case study, Boeing 737 MAX: Company Culture and Product Failure, has been published this week by the University of Michigan's William Davidson Institute.  The case (and teaching note for faculty) are available directly from the institute, and they will be available soon from the Harvard Business Publishing website as well.  Here's a short description of the case study: 

In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the sea soon after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. Investigators identified a problem with the new Boeing 737 MAX jet’s stall-prevention system (known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS). However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed airlines to continue flying the jet, while Boeing worked on some changes to the MCAS software. Less than five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after takeoff. Once again, a faulty sensor triggered a misfire of the MCAS software. The system pushed the nose of the plane down repeatedly. The pilots could not determine how to stop the sharp descent, and the plane plunged into the ground at more than 500 miles per hour. Four days later, facing immense pressure from government officials around the world, Boeing grounded its entire fleet of 737 MAX jets.

The Boeing board of directors faced a multi-part dilemma. Was the current CEO still the right person to lead the company, or to what degree, if any, was he responsible for the position Boeing found itself in? Had something gone awry with the company’s culture after decades of engineering excellence? How did it come to happen that pilots suddenly experienced fatal difficulties flying the latest model of one of the world’s most-used passenger jets? And, how could Boeing ensure such a situation would not happen again?

Monday, November 02, 2020

Are You Spending Your Time Correctly?

Source:  Northwestern University
I'm looking forward to reading Harry Kraemer's new book, Your 168: Finding Purpose and Satisfaction in a Values-Based Life. Kraemer is the retired CEO of Baxter Healthcare and currently executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago. Kraemer also serves on the faculty at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.   Kraemer describes a challenging exercise we can and should undertake to examine how we are spending our time each week.   Here's an excerpt from the Kellogg Insight description of the self-reflection activity:

Make a grid with six rows for each of the major aspects of your life, which Kramer defines for everyone as career, family, health, spirituality, fun, and volunteering. Then decide how much of your time you would ideally like to be devoting to each of these activities. Next, figure out how much you actually are devoting. Finally, calculate the difference.

“Only attempt this exercise if you’re in a really good mood,” cautions Kraemer, the former CEO of Baxter International who is now a clinical professor of leadership at Kellogg. The reason: very few people match what they want to be doing with what they actually are doing.

“Every one of us has 168 hours” in a week, Kraemer says. “Do you know where you’re spending your time? And are you spending it where you believe it matters most?”

The exercise indeed may be eye-opening and perhaps will challenge us in ways for which we are not fully prepared.  However, I think we could all benefit from this opportunity for self-reflection. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

“If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing."

Source: Fibre2Fashion.com 

Suzanne Kapner has written a great article about The Gap in the Wall Street Journal this week. She describes in great detail the formidable challenge facing new CEO Sonia Syngal.  The long-running troubles at The Gap are summarized most eloquently by Ivan Wicksteed, former chief marketing officer at Old Navy (one of the retail chains operated by The Gap Inc.).  The article quotes him directly: 

The brand “hasn’t articulated what they stand for,” said Ivan Wicksteed, a former chief marketing officer at Old Navy who left in 2015 and now works for a health-care-technology company. “If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing.

Kapner describes the roller coaster ride at The Gap over the past decade, as the firm's struggles have mounted:

Over the past decade, the Gap brand has careened from one look to another. One year, according to former executives, it wooed younger, budget-minded consumers by competing with fast-fashion chains. The next, it went after higher-income shoppers by selling $600 leather jackets.

The company operates major retail chains:  Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Athleta.  Interestingly, the Gap stores themselves are the weak link at the company.  In large part, that's because the Gap brand has the most muddled competitive positioning.  Old Navy has a solid low cost positioning.  Banana Republic competed with a differentiated, premium price strategy targeting a very different set of customers than Old Navy.   The Gap, however, remained stuck in the middle.  It didn't have the low costs of many major rivals, including its own Old Navy brand, nor the cache to command higher prices.  

Moreover, the Gap wavered over the years between a "selling the basics" strategy more akin to Uniqlo and a "fast fashion" strategy pioneered and mastered by firms such as Zara.   The two strategies require completely different business models:  different supply chains, different management control systems, different store operating models, different types of people in key positions.  Zara's entire business model is tailored toward fast fashion.  In other words, its vertical integration strategy is not well-suited to delivering low prices on basics.  It is, however, very well-positioned to offer trendy fashion in a way that minimizes the downside of "fashion misses" and curtails the need for hefty markdowns.  

In sum, Syngal will have to decide who she wants The Gap to be, and then build an entire business model tailored to deliver that value proposition. It will mean making tough tradeoffs and targeting a particular set of customers, rather than trying to be all things to all people.  

Monday, October 26, 2020

Preparing for a Great Meeting: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

Source:  Wikimedia

The Observer Effect has published a fascinating interview with Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify.    Ek has a clear and concise take on how to tackle important issues, define his role in the decision-making process, and design effective group meetings.  Here's an excerpt on how he thinks about defining his own role in the decision process in advance of discussions with his team members:

I typically tackle one topic a day which takes a lot of my time. That's my big thing for the day. Before we go into a live team discussion on that particular topic, I invest time to prepare beforehand – reading and talking to members of the team who are either part of the decision-making process or who have insights and context. I sometimes even get external perspectives.

I also think about what my role is at that meeting. Sometimes I'm the approver. Other times, I'm supposed to come with a thoughtful perspective on whether an initiative makes sense or not.   I’ve found that creating this clarity of role for myself is critical. It’s something I challenge my direct reports to think about as they engage with their own teams. I remind them that all meetings are not the same. Even when we are meeting to discuss really, really complicated topics I always ask myself: “What am I going to do in this meeting? What does my involvement really need to be?”

The truth is: it's entirely contextual. I find it crucial to be upfront about everyone’s role in different meetings, I think this is super, super important. Often that's my number one thing: to make sure I know what role I'm playing.

Then, Daniel Ek explains the critical attributes of a highly effective team meeting.   Here's another excerpt from the interview:

A great meeting has three key elements: the desired outcome of the meeting is clear ahead of time; the various options are clear, ideally ahead of time; and the roles of the participants are clear at the time.

I often find that meetings lack one of those elements. Sometimes they lack all those, which is when you have to say, “This is a horrible meeting, let's end it and regroup so it can be more effective for everyone.”

To clarify outcomes, options, and roles ahead of time, we sometimes rely upon a preread. Prereads are a great way to share context so that attendees can quickly get into the meat of the issue and not waste time getting everyone up to speed.

I've always believed that the best leaders think carefully, in advance, about how to structure the decision-making process.  Moreover, they are thoughtful about their own role in that process. Ek does a nice job of articulating the value of this approach from the perspective of a leader running a large, fast-growing organization.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Don't Tell Them Your Opinion First!

Annie Duke, author of the new book , How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, participated recently in an interview with Katy Milkman, professor at Wharton. Professor Milkman asked the author which lesson from the book was her favorite. Here's Annie Duke's response... simple, but very important advice for leaders making tough decisions, yet often not followed: 

I think my favorite concept in the book is really simple, but really powerful. If you want somebody’s opinion, don’t tell them your opinion first. It sounds so simple and almost dumb when you hear it, except that nobody does it. When I read an opinion piece and send it [to someone else], I’ll say, “I think they’re cherry-picking the data, and I think the author is biased, and I cannot even believe that someone was willing to say this out loud. What do you think?”

We do that, not just about opinion pieces or TV shows, but also about feedback when it comes to a sales strategy, or whether we should make a particular investment, or who we should hire. We’re asking for people’s feedback, but we’re always offering the very feedback we’re trying to get from them first.