How Companies Get Creativity Right (and Wrong)

Beth Comstock, the first female vice chair at General Electric, thinks companies large and small often approach innovation the wrong way. They either try to throw money at the problem before it has a clear market, misallocate resources, or don’t get buy in from senior leaders to enact real change. Comstock spent many years at GE – under both Jack Welsh’s and Jeffrey Immelt’s leadership – before leaving the company late last year. She’s the author of the book Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change.

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Use Your Everyday Privilege to Help Others

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I often forget I am straight.  I just don’t think about it much.  When asked what I did this weekend, or when setting family photos on my desk at work, I have no reason to wonder if what I say will make someone uncomfortable, or lead to a “joke” at my expense, or cause a co-worker to suddenly think I am attracted to them.  Our culture is set up for straight people like me to be ourselves with very little thought. But for some gay colleagues, a simple question about the weekend or a decision of how to decorate the workspace carries significant stress—how to act, who to trust, what to share.  A recent study found that 46% of LGBTQ employees are closeted in the workplace, for reasons ranging from fear of losing their job to being stereotyped.  Unlike me, a non-straight person

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Big Data and Machine Learning Won’t Save Us from Another Financial Crisis

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Ten years on from the financial crisis, stock markets are regularly reaching new highs and volatility levels new lows. The financial industry has enthusiastically and profitably embraced big data and computational algorithms, emboldened by the many triumphs of machine learning. However, it is imperative we question the confidence placed in the new generation of quantitative models, innovations which could, as William Dudley warned, “lead to excess and put the [financial] system at risk.”

Eighty years ago, John Maynard Keynes introduced the concept of irreducible uncertainty, distinguishing between events one can reasonably calculate probabilities for, such as the spin of a roulette wheel, and those which remain inherently unknown, such as war in ten years’ time. Today, we face the risk that investors, traders, and regulators are failing to understand the extent to which technological progress is — or more precisely is not — reducing financial uncertainty.

Two

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A 4-Step Plan to Make Your Q&A More Audience-Friendly

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The Q&A or fireside chat has become a popular format at events like conferences and employee town-halls, replacing more-formal presentations and panels. The one-on-one format can create a more conversational, interesting, and intimate experience, and has the added benefit that the CEO or luminary being interviewed theoretically doesn’t have to prepare as much.

Despite how effective interviews can be in theory, however, they are often difficult to execute in practice. As a result, audience members are often left feeling disengaged and unsatisfied while guests struggle to inform and engage in a way that resonates.

In our Essentials of Strategic Communication at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, we’ve begun including advice on how to handle this format effectively to help our students become more confident and compelling communicators. We offer four steps — easily remembered by the acronym FIRE — derived from our teaching and coaching experience.

Framing. In

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Disruptive Startups Get Funding More Easily, but Less of It

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In the start-up world, the disruptor is the cool kid on the block, the one who’ll change the world — or at least the products you’ll buy and how you buy them. She takes on the grown-ups in suits and shows us all how dumb they are. Customers love her because she makes them feel like rebels (with a cause), suppliers love her because she makes them look smart, and — most importantly — investors love her because she makes them feel they’re putting money into tomorrow’s big player.

That, at least, is what the hype around disruption would have you believe. A new product or technology sells better to all stakeholders if people can be persuaded that it will disrupt the status quo. But does the evidence bear out this belief?  Specifically, does presenting yourself as a disruptor really make it more likely that your startup will get

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How to Get Better at Reading People from Different Cultures

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Body language varies significantly across cultures. What is considered rude or foolish in a Nordic country may be welcomed as warm and friendly in an African one. What a Canadian businessperson would perceive as arrogant, an American executive may see as healthy confidence.

But what remains consistent across all known cultures are microexpressions. These brief, involuntary flashes of facial expression reveal our true feelings about another person or situation.

microexpression-collage-2

Photos courtesy of the Center For Body Language.

People might try to hide or obscure them in different ways informed by culture, but to a practiced reader the true emotions are always visible. Consider the contrast in expressiveness between Filipino and Japanese people. In the Philippines, showing emotion — both positive and negative — is a sign of openness and honesty. In Japan, the opposite is true. Visible negative emotion is seen as rude or hostile, while expressing

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Let’s Do Less Dead-End Work

From the Women at Work podcast:

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Women are expected and asked to do thankless tasks — order lunch, handle less-valued clients — more than men, and research shows that doing those tasks slows down our career advancement and makes us unhappy at work. We talk about why we wind up with so much office drudgery and how to get some of it off our plates. Guests: Lise Vesterlund and Ruchika Tulshyan.

Could you take notes? Would you mind ordering lunch? We need someone to organize the off-site event — can you do that? Whether you’ve just started your career or are the CEO of the company, if you’re a woman, people expect you to do routine, time-consuming tasks that no one else wants to do.

We

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The Best-Performing Emerging Economies Emphasize Competition

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Development economists over the ages have puzzled about why some emerging economies perform much better than others over the long term. We have been looking at the same issue in our latest research, and find one element that others haven’t tended to focus on: the often intense competitive dynamics that can be found in the best performing emerging economies—a competitive mindset that has spawned a new generation of productive and battle-hardened companies that aspire to be global champions.

That finding may seem counter-intuitive: don’t many emerging economies nurture and shield their national champions from competition? The short answer we find from our research is: No. In fact, by some measures, the best emerging-market firms are more competitive than firms in advanced economies including the United States and the United Kingdom.

For our research, we looked at 71 emerging economies and identified 18 that achieved rapid and

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Protecting Company Culture Means Having Rules for Email

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A new study out of Virginia Tech University confirms something that just about every knowledge worker already knows: Dealing with after-hours emails produces anxiety that is damaging not only to the worker, but to their family.

One particularly striking finding of this study is that it’s not just the amount of time taken up by reading and answering emails after work that’s stressing out employees (and their partners). In fact, what’s creating more anxiety is just the expectation that an employee will be available for work outside the office.

Take this example: A manager does not expect employees to return her emails during off-hours or while they’re on vacation, but she never explicitly says this. Instead, she assumes they “just know,” and therefore thinks there is no harm in sending messages during these times, because she figures they’ll just be waiting for the employee when he returns.

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How Customers Come to Think of a Product as an Extension of Themselves

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Businesses are constantly vying to capture the attention of potential customers. It’s not easy to do. People are inundated with different brands as they stroll through the streets, scan through their social media newsfeeds, and binge television. The average American is exposed to more than 4,000 ads every day.

A simple concept can help businesses cut through the noise. It’s called psychological ownership. That’s when consumers feel so invested in a product that it becomes an extension of themselves.

Companies that encourage psychological ownership can entice customers to buy more products, at higher prices, and even to willingly promote those products among their friends. But if businesses disrespect this feeling, sales can suffer.

To build psychological ownership, companies must use at least one of three factors: control, investment of self, and intimate knowledge.

Enhancing customer control

One way is to allow customers a hand in forming the

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How Companies Can Take a Stand Against Bribery

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In 2016, the International Monetary Fund estimated that corruption amounted to roughly 2% of global economic output — between $1.5 and $2 trillion globally. Consider that in India in 2016, nearly seven in 10 citizens reported paying a bribe to access basic public services such as public schools, public clinics or hospitals, access to official documents, and utilities, according to Transparency International. And despite the many laws against corruption, and increases in enforcement of those laws, bribery in particular continues to thrive and the costs to business and to society continue to escalate.

Since having laws on the books isn’t enough, anti-corruption and anti-bribery efforts need further traction from the private sector. Business needs to play a more powerful role in supporting responsible practices throughout every aspect of their operations. After all, those that find themselves embroiled in bribery scandals, for example, face a host of

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Research: Simple Prompts Can Get Women to Negotiate More Like Men, and Vice Versa

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Do we lie to get what we want out of negotiations?

That depends, according to forthcoming research I conducted with  Jason Pierce of the University of North Carolina, Greensborough. We found that the likelihood of engaging in unethical behavior during negotiation is related strongly to gender: men are more likely to act deceptively than women are.

The difference in bargaining behavior is linked to negotiators’ sense of competitiveness and empathy. In negotiations, men tend to embrace a competitive mode that motivates unethical behavior to get ahead, whereas women opt for an empathic approach, leading to less deceptive behavior.

But it turns out it is startlingly simple to “activate” the competitiveness and empathic motives.  And, when we activate these different motives, both women and men act more like the other gender in bargaining situations.

Gender and Negotiation

My interest in this research area grew partly out of

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How to Tell If You’re Delegating Too Much — and What to Do About It

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Everyone knows leaders should delegate to ensure that they are working on the right projects and deliverables.  But if you find yourself frequently miscommunicating with your team on deliverables, hearing about issues at the last minute, and misunderstanding how your team set their priorities, it may be a sign you’ve delegated too much, leaving their employees to feel abandoned and unmotivated. At that point, it’s important to take back responsibility for certain tasks to insure you’re providing your team the guidance and structure they need. Here are three steps you can take.

Take on a symbolic project. Obviously, you don’t want to overcorrect and start doing a myriad of low-level tasks in order to reconnect with your team. But taking on a symbolic project or task can be a visible way of demonstrating your re-engagement, as well as helping the company and advancing your own learning

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Do Longer Maternity Leaves Hurt Women’s Careers?

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Career or child care? It’s an unfortunate dilemma faced by every working woman with a baby on the way. Should she take a lengthy maternity leave, knowing that more time at home can improve the well-being of both mother and child? After all, research shows maternity leaves are related to lower infant mortality and reduced maternal stress. Or should she forego that long maternity leave, knowing that getting back to work quickly will improve her career opportunities?

Around the world, we are seeing a trend towards legislating longer, paid parental leaves for both mothers and fathers. Earlier this year, for example, Canada expanded its paid parental leave program from 35 weeks to 61 weeks; several Scandinavian countries have already made similar moves. These changes are motivated by a progressive concern to improve the work-life balance for working parents and encourage greater parent/child contact in those crucial first months

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The CEO’s Guide to Retirement

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“I don’t quite know what to do next,” said Simon, a media CEO. Simon had been a chief executive for 15 years, and CFO before he was 30. He had turned around private and public companies, quadrupled profits and quintupled revenue. But, with his company recently sold, Simon was considering retirement. Like many CEOs, he had had no time to plan his retirement — all his focus had been on running the company.

Each year, over one hundred CEOs retire from the S&P 1000. Even in the most well-oiled CEO succession processes, one piece is almost always missing: preparing the current CEO for the next phase in his or her career. “I was so focused on the CEO job, I didn’t spend time figuring out what I would do next,” says Scott Davis, former CEO of UPS. Bill Weldon, former CEO of Johnson & Johnson, echoes what most

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How a Cyber Attack Could Cause the Next Financial Crisis

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Ever since the forced bankruptcy of the investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered the financial crisis 10 years ago, regulators, risk managers, and central bankers around the globe have focused on shoring up banks’ ability to withstand financial shocks.

But the next crisis might not come from a financial shock at all. The more likely culprit: a cyber attack that causes disruptions to financial services capabilities, especially payments systems, around the world.

Criminals have always sought ways to infiltrate financial technology systems. Now, the financial system faces the added risk of becoming collateral damage in a wider attack on critical national infrastructure. Such an attack could shake confidence in the global financial services system, causing banks, businesses and consumers to be stymied, confused or panicked, which in turn could have a major negative impact on economic activity.

Cybercrime alone costs nations more than $1 trillion globally, far more

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How Self-Reflection Can Help Leaders Stay Motivated

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We tend to romanticize leadership. When friends are promoted to managerial positions, we slap them on the back, tell them that they finally made it, and congratulate them for their hard work. Our reactions are understandable. Occupying a leadership role often comes with more prestige, financial resources, flexibility, and future employment opportunities. We often forget, however, that there is a flipside to this coin — leadership is hard and exhausting work.

Leaders have many responsibilities (e.g., budgeting, hiring and firing, paperwork), requiring them to perform diverse tasks and to monitor progress on a multitude of goals. In addition to managing their own performance, leaders are also accountable for their followers’ performance. Employees tend to bring their worries and anxieties to work with them and expect their leaders to manage those too. For example, research suggests that when followers struggle with emotional issues, they approach their leader

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Planning Doesn’t Have to Be the Enemy of Agile

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Planning has long been one of the cornerstones of management. Early in the twentieth century Henri Fayol identified the job of managers as to plan, organize, command, coordinate, and control. The capacity and willingness of managers to plan developed throughout the century. Management by Objectives (MBO) became the height of corporate fashion in the late 1950s. The world appeared predictable. The future could be planned. It seemed sensible, therefore, for executives to identify their objectives. They could then focus on managing in such a way that these objectives were achieved.

This was the capitalist equivalent of the Communist system’s five-year plans. In fact, one management theorist of the 1960s suggested that the best managed organizations in the world were the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the Roman Catholic Church and the Communist Party. The belief was that if the future was mapped out, it would

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What to Do If There’s No Clear Career Path for You at Your Company

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We all know the old script: join a company, work hard, move up the ladder. But it’s been decades since that was a reliable path, and not just because of layoffs or outsourcing or robots.

These days, the culprit preventing many professionals from identifying a clear career path at their company is simply that one no longer exists. Given that successful companies must often pivot to adapt to changes in the marketplace, and the half-life of many skills is now estimated to be five years or less, companies often have no idea what staffing needs they’ll have in a few years’ time or who would be qualified to fill them.

As Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson predicted in their 2010 book, we’ve gone from a corporate ladder to a Corporate Lattice, in which professionals’ career progress may only sometimes be linear — and often, may

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Research: How the Financial Crisis Drastically Increased Wealth Inequality in the U.S.

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We live in unequal times. The causes and consequences of widening disparities in income and wealth have become a defining debate of our age. Researchers have made major inroads into documenting trends in either income or wealth inequality in the United States, but we still know little about how the two evolve together — an important question to understand the causes of wealth inequality.

We do know that asset prices have been a key determinant of inequality in postwar America, based on our recent research. Although income inequality has been on the rise for decades, wealth inequality hadn’t changed much until more recently. Why not?

Our research demonstrates that wealthier and less-wealthy people own different types of assets: the middle class has a higher share of its wealth in housing, whereas the rich own more stock. An important consequence of this finding is that housing booms lead to

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