Gilman Louie: An Open Letter to the Secretary of Defense Nominee

This article was originally published on The Cipher Brief: President-elect Donald Trump recently announced he will nominate retired United States Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mattis for Secretary of Defense. Gilman Louie, founder and former CEO of In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm, has written an open letter to General Mattis to suggest how the Defense Department can improve its digital capabilities in order to maintain its military edge. Continue reading "Gilman Louie: An Open Letter to the Secretary of Defense Nominee"

Global Teams Should Have Office Visits, Not Offsites

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Global teams work better when members get to know one another. Team members give their colleagues the benefit of the doubt, pick up the phone when issues arise, and are generally more effective at collaborating. But given tight travel budgets, the disruption to work and family, and the enormous carbon footprint associated with global travel, it’s not always feasible to give team members the opportunity to meet face-to-face. You have to be strategic about when and how your team gets together. Given that, many leaders opt to have an offsite where a project team meets early in the project to establish strong relationships. While offsites are well-intentioned and useful, my research in several studies shows that the best use of precious travel funds for global teams is actually to invest in site visits. In fact, in the data of one study, conducted with Mark Mortensen, we found that offsites had
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Why the Future Belongs to Tough-Minded Optimists

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Unease is rippling through financial markets, and a sense of anxiety has overtaken society. In the United States, the presidential campaign has devolved into a frenzy of personal insults and unhinged behavior. Technology may be heading toward self-driving cars and genomics-inspired medicine, but most people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. In times like these, even for leaders committed to building a more prosperous future for their organizations, it’s easy to surrender to pessimism. To which I say, as the old joke goes, “I’d be a pessimist, but it would never work.” I’ve just finished writing a book about companies in pretty ordinary settings (banks, hospitals, even a parking garage) that have won big by doing truly extraordinary things. As I think about the outlook on the future that cuts across these organizations, the mindset that guides their leaders and energizes their members, I’m struck by the
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Startups Need Relationships Before They Ask for Money

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Many founders fall into the same trap: they focus all their energy and resources on building a product and finding customers, and when they come up for air, they realize that they need to raise outside capital. So they scramble to craft a pitch, find potential investors, and ask for money — and they usually fail. They end up with no money, and, sometimes, no company. Raising capital is often the hardest and most critical part of launching a business, and it can be very time-consuming. The average outside equity financing round, from the beginning of the roadshow to when the money is wired, takes six months. But getting to that point can take even longer, especially since investors like to fund projects from founders with whom they’re familiar. That means you may need to spend twelve months building relationships before you can successfully raise money. Relationship fundraising, as opposed to transactional fundraising,
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When an Argument Gets Too Heated, Here’s What to Say

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I recently stood in front of an executive team, allowing their unproductive to-ing and fro-ing to continue a little longer. It was a gold mine of examples I could use to teach them how not to have conflict. Within 10 minutes, they’d managed to take a routine issue and turn it into an all-out row, with yelling and swearing and more than a few hurt feelings and bruised egos. What they had failed to do was get to the root of the problem and get aligned around what they were going to do about it. This type of situation is all too common on teams. Although productive conflict is a hallmark of high-performing teams, many teams struggle to communicate dissenting opinions without triggering resistance and defensiveness. They fall into unproductive conflict by invalidating one another as they argue. Do any of the following sound familiar? After someone speaks, you make no reference to
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A Blueprint for More Inclusive Economic Growth

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A recent survey of Harvard Business School alumni found that fully 71% of respondents felt their business was harmed by rising inequality, middle-class stagnation, growing poverty, or limited economic mobility. And 66% of respondents felt that addressing these issues mattered more than promoting economic growth. Nonetheless, too many employers still act as if improving the well-being of workers and families is someone else’s job. That mindset is a mistake. Business leaders are not just employers: as frequent board members for regional economic development entities, they have a major influence on the civic agenda in the cities and metropolitan regions in which their firms are located. Along with partners in government and the nonprofit sector, they have the power to shift and broaden the purpose and practice of economic development. In a recent paper, I lay out a framework for remaking economic development, and I argue that sustainable regional growth
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Corporations Weren’t Designed to Run on Code

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HBR STAFF
Plants grow, people grow, even whole forests, jungles, and coral reefs grow — but eventually, they stop. This doesn’t mean they’re dead. They’ve simply reached a level of maturity where health is not about getting bigger, but about sustaining vitality. There may be a turnover of cells, organisms, and even entire species, but the whole system learns to maintain itself over time, without the obligation to grow. Companies deserve to work this way as well. They should be allowed to get to an appropriate size and then stay there, or even get smaller if the marketplace changes for a while. But in the current business landscape, that’s just not permitted. Corporations in particular are duty bound to grow by any means necessary. There’s no such thing as “big enough.” Like a shark that must move in order to breathe, corporations must grow in order to survive. This requirement
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Why Every Startup Should Bootstrap

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As the past few years have shown, raising money for a startup is easy. But building a profitable, sustainable business is still really hard. Public and private markets alike are starting to remember this, correcting for years of overly exuberant startup funding. As financing dries up, entrepreneurs would do well to remember the benefits of bootstrapping. Though taking money from investors might seem like the path to success, bootstrapping has several advantages. First, it helps you to stay scrappy and to realize talents you may not know you even had. Second, and counterintuitively, it can help attract the right talent. And, finally, it helps you maintain control of your company while finding the right partners to help you scale. When you bootstrap, you are forced to get good fast. As humans, we prefer to put in only as much effort as we need to, but whether we recognize it or not,
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The Best Luxury Services Are Customized, Not Standardized

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You check into your $1,000-a-night luxury suite. Your bathroom is lovely, stocked with shampoo, body wash, lotions, soaps. Your towels are plush, plentiful, neatly folded. This is great. But where’s the hair spray? You have a meeting in an hour. You need hair spray. You call the front desk. The front desk says, “We sell that in the gift shop, madame.” That’s not good enough. Why isn’t there hair spray in your bathroom? It’s not there because a) it most likely wasn’t on the mystery shopper checklist from a ratings agency — such as AAA or Forbes Travel Guide – engaged by the hotel company to help it guarantee the consistency of its service, and b) the hotel has neither developed nor leveraged customer data at a level of granularity required to know that you are 1) a woman and 2) in town on business. To do that, the hotel
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3 Productivity Tips You Can Start Using Today

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When a major product is about to launch or your team is scheduled to make an important presentation, it’s easy to ride the wave of deadline-induced adrenaline spikes and push yourself to work every waking moment. But of course that’s not sustainable, and we inevitably crash. So how can you make productivity habitual and lasting? The first step is to understand that productivity means optimizing your entire life, not just work. A well-designed personal life supports your efforts at work, and being strategic about when and how you work is what lets you have a rich personal life. So figure out ways for them to complement each other. Wharton professor Stew Friedman has developed the concept of the four-way win, a framework that asks us to consider how one activity can, ideally, influence us positively in multiple areas: our personal life, professional life, community or civic relationships, and health (mental,
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How Much Is Trump Really Disrupting Politics-as-Usual?

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HBR STAFF
Is Donald Trump an anomaly who is having a long run? Or does Trump represent a fundamental change in the U.S. political system? These questions are hard to answer, of course. But as a strategy professor, I wondered which tools from the study of management could help. The obvious toolkit is the one associated with disruption theory, which addresses whether something permanent has been fundamentally changed. We use it to understand how businesses that were at the top of their game were struggling a few years later or, worse, on death’s door. Think Blockbuster, RIM, or Nokia in the late 2000s. Rather than a market-leading firm, though, the unit of analysis here is a major political party. In the U.S., two parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, have held sway for over 150 years. We have seen some wrinkles over the years — the Progressive movement in
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Don’t Let Your Mistakes Go to Waste

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I made an omelet with parmesan cheese and shredded coconut. Mistake. Of course it wasn’t good, you say, you who know how to cook. But if I’d thought it wouldn’t be good, I wouldn’t have made it. I like eggs, I like parmesan cheese, and I like shredded coconut. It should have worked. Then again, it could have been worse. I like barbeque sauce too. Fortunately, I had done something slightly smart: I made the omelet for one. The price I paid for my mistake was small, one unsavory bite and one omelet’s worth of wasted ingredients. In business, we prefer cheap mistakes to expensive ones. We try recipes on ourselves, then in test kitch­ens, then in limited distribution, before we release (and good riddance to it) the parmesan-coconut omelet. Similarly, we nurture and guide promising young managers through jobs of increasing responsibility. It takes a village to raise a
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Why Today’s Corporate Research Centers Need to Be in Cities

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Something is happening in Midtown Atlanta. Georgia Tech’s city-centered campus has become one of the nation’s leading destinations for corporate research centers. Over the last decade, Tech Square, the eight-square-block area in Midtown designed to facilitate private and public research ventures, has attracted the corporate research centers of 12 Fortune 500 companies, including AT&T, Panasonic, and Coca-Cola, as well as hundreds of small technology startups. And just recently, NCR, one of the largest U.S. electronics companies, moved its global headquarters from the suburbs to Tech Square, bringing along 3,600 employees. Midtown Atlanta is an example of the growing trend of companies relocating major research facilities to be near urban universities that provide mixed-use amenities, lively places, and a high density of firms. For example, Pfizer recently moved one of its largest research centers to Kendall Square in Cambridge, blocks from MIT, and Google now has its machine learning research hub in Baker Square in Pittsburgh, near
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3 Reasons Your Strategy Meetings Irritate Your Team

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Used well, strategy meetings provide clarity and momentum. They align a team around key decisions and create positive energy. Used poorly, strategy meetings irritate people. They waste time and energy, or worse, strengthen entrenched points of view creating frustration and resignation. In my work with companies from large Fortune 500 firms to small startups, I’ve attended hundreds of strategy meetings. I’ve seen leaders make three common mistakes over and over again: 1. Drafting an overly ambitious agenda. Executive teams are often too optimistic about what they can accomplish in a short period of time. For example, one client allotted one hour at a 10-person meeting to gaining “a deeper understanding of the challenges we’re facing in Europe and laying out a high-level plan of attack on how to address them.” I looked at him and said, “You realize there’s no way that’s going to happen, right?” He ruefully agreed.