Successful Startups Don’t Make Money Their Primary Mission

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Some people look at Silicon Valley and see a world filled with fortune-seekers come to strike it rich. Yes, the Valley has its share of mercenaries. But you’ve never heard of the companies they founded or ran, because those start-ups couldn’t attract or retain good talent, win solid investment backing, or earn customers’ good will. What drives the most successful start-ups isn’t the money, it’s the mission. The founders who go on to create the greatest value for themselves and their investors are those with a vision of changing the world in some way. People outside Silicon Valley are often puzzled by the apparent contradiction between the idea of companies having missions and the goal of big returns for investors. As Jim Barksdale put it when he was CEO of Netscape, “saying that the purpose of a company is to make money is like saying that your purpose in life
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Communicating a Corporate Vision to Your Team

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Amit* manages a team of 40 people around the globe for a massive tech company. After months of furiously working on a new product to be the first to market, his boss told him that the company’s strategy had shifted. The product’s launch plans were then delayed, and competitors began gobbling up market share. Amit’s team felt deflated. Instead of celebrating a launch, they found themselves mired in more contract negotiations, tactical challenges, and follow-up calls. They doubted the new strategy. Amit had to restore their trust and motivation. He needed to communicate vision. Let’s clear something up. Amit’s big task was not to set the vision. In this case, the product strategy had changed at the top. His job was to translate the executives’ thinking behind the changes, so his team could understand why things had changed and how they were supposed to redirect their efforts. After all, they
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Just Hearing Your Phone Buzz Hurts Your Productivity

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By now we know that we’re (mostly) not supposed to multitask — that we can’t do two things at once very well and that it takes us a while to refocus when we switch from one task to another. This is why we put our phones screen-side down and slightly out of reach when we want to focus on something or show someone that we’re paying attention. But unless your phone is fully silenced or off, it’s probably still distracting you. The familiar buzz buzz of a new notification is not as innocuous as it seems. This may sound intuitive. But many people (including myself) might not realize just how beneficial switching from vibrate to silent can be. A new piece of research, “The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification,” reports that the reverberations of new notifications can distract us, even when we don’t look over to
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Google, Yelp, and the Future of Search

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Why aren’t things better? This is something that I often feel these days when searching for information on the internet. And it is especially something I feel when I am searching for products where quality matters. This applies to restaurants, tradespeople, and books, for example. In each of these cases, I am looking for not just anything — but something that is good or even high quality. When I search on Google what I often find is a mess of links to sellers of those products and also lots of review sites. But I can also confine my search to something narrower. I can use Yelp, Zagat, or TripAdvisor for restaurants. I can use Amazon to search for books and read reviews even if I don’t purchase there, although the chances are surely high that I will make a purchase if I find what I want. Not surprisingly then, the
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A Way to Assess and Prioritize Your Change Efforts

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Change is the status quo. Companies the world over realize that success depends on their ability to respond to new opportunities and threats as they emerge, and to keep rethinking their strategies, structures, and tactics to gain ephemeral competitive advantages. As a result, change initiatives have become more complex than ever before, cutting across divisions and functions rather than staying confined to silos. They are global too, often extending across borders to several nations with different cultures. Companies must set up and oversee change initiatives more systematically than they used to if they want to succeed. They must periodically evaluate projects against each other to ensure that they have deployed the right amounts of resources, people, and attention across competing efforts. Executives must also find ways of catalyzing the discussions that will result in reprioritizing, re-scoping, or retiring change efforts that no longer serve the organization’s objectives. Accomplishing all that
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What to Measure If You’re Mission Driven

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My favorite Peter Drucker misquotation is, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Drucker wrote a great deal about how managers should measure performance, but this particular phrase didn’t come from his pen. Instead, his measurement advice was linked to his belief in “managing by objectives,” and above all urged managers to “focus on results.” The challenge is that all too often, managers haven’t asked what results they ultimately want to achieve. Most of what an organization chooses to measure, and to do, must hinge on this question. I recently had the opportunity to learn from what, in design-speak, we might call an “edge case” of this: the question of what measures should guide the management of a church. For churches today, the common answer is that growth is the goal, and membership is the measure. Typically, membership is one of the three top-line metrics used to
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Africa’s Unique Opportunity to Promote Inclusive Growth

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Six years after the global recession began, many parts of the world are still struggling to achieve growth. For the last decade, Africa’s GDP has been growing quickly. According to the IMF, it’s likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future: W150706_BERMAN_AFRICASGROWTH The question Africans ask of their leaders now is: Will we grow fairly? Income inequality is challenging the credibility of institutions and leaders everywhere in the world and Africa is no exception. But with robust growth rates and economies unburdened by legacy structures of the last century, Africans can innovate beyond what others are doing. The African Development Bank (AfDB) is the most visible organization tasked with shepherding that inclusive innovative growth. Based in Abidjan, the economic capital of the Ivory Coast, 60% of the bank’s shares are held by the 54 countries in Africa, and a minority stake is held by 27 partner countries, including the
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How to Handle Rebellion on Your Team

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Photo by Andrew Nguyen
Have you ever been blindsided in a meeting? You adequately prepared. The objectives were clear. But then, BLAM! Someone objects to one of your assumptions about halfway through the meeting and others just add to the objections. You try to explain your reasoning, but no one comes to your defense. Others join in and you feel as if you are at the bottom of a Rugby pile-on. It seems like chaos and anarchy have taken over, and your meeting is about to end with no clear resolution. Far too often, executives try to minimize this possibility by making meetings “rubber stamp” events, where everything has been decided ahead of time and there’s no room for open discussion. But that’s a huge mistake. Repressing differences of opinion makes you less adaptable and make your meeting a boring waste of time. Instead you need to be open —
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Your Calendar Needs an Upgrade

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A little data-driven self-knowledge can be a wonderful thing. As Lenore Skenazy points out in her amusing Wall Street Journal review of Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It, even the most successful super-achievers remain oblivious to where their time really goes. “Never one to take the lazy approach,” Skenazy writes, “[Vanderkam] decided to gather hard data. So she solicited time logs from nearly 150 women making at least $100,000 a year who have at least one child under 18 living at home.” “The result? A time-diary study of 1,001 days, divided into half-hour chunks. These detailed diaries…show a whole lot of work going on but a whole lot of leisure time, too.” In fact, Skenazy reports, “…once they looked over a week’s worth of their own activities, they were surprised by the large amount of time they spent with their families. Wrote one: ‘I no longer feel
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How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

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Conferences are an overwhelming rush of presentations, conversations, and potential meet-ups, and it can be tough to know where to focus your time. How do you figure out which sessions to attend? Should you skip the keynote to meet an important contact? How many coffee dates are too many? And what should you do if you’re an introvert who hates small talk? What the Experts Say
Professional conferences are an unavoidable fact of working life. And even if you’re an introvert who dreads the multi-day extravaganza of breakout talks and cocktail-infused networking sessions, you must resist your impulse to stay home, says Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School. “Skipping conferences is problematic because you’re missing out on the benefits of networking,” she says. “Today, probably even more than ever before, networks are a key form of social capital for achieving goals in both your professional and personal lives.”
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Gestures Will Be the Interface for the Internet of Things

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The human body interacts with the physical world in subtle and sophisticated ways. Our eyes see a rainbow of color, our ears hear a range of frequencies, and our hands are great for grabbing whichever tool our creative brains can invent. But today’s technology can sometimes feel like it’s out of sync with our senses as we peer at small screens, flick and pinch fingers across smooth surfaces, and read tweets “written” by programmer-created bots. These new technologies can increasingly make us feel disembodied. As people and companies prepare to adapt to the Internet of Things (IoT), with its ever-widening focus on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, it’s a good time to ask where people will fit in. What will future “H2M”— human-to-machine — interactions look like in a world where physical objects are more networked than ever and are even having their own “conversations” around us? One answer is gestures. We
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Why Excom Meetings Are the Wrong Place to Make Decisions

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It’s an age-old complaint: executive team meetings are “a waste of time.” Probe further and you’ll hear they’re “boring,” “serial one-on-ones with the CEO,” and a place where “decisions are avoided — not made.” Executives and consultants have tried to improve ExCom (or ExComm depending on your acronym of choice) meetings through decision-oriented, inclusive agenda setting or by bringing in facilitators to keep people on topic. But the attempts don’t seem to stick. There are three reasons for this: Reason #1: No one really wants to make decisions in meetings. Ask executives what their meetings are for and a typical answer is “to make decisions.” But as all executives know, decisions rarely get made during meetings. Why? Despite what they say, most executives actually don’t want decisions made during meetings. Sure, they want to participate in decisions that affect colleagues or the business, but if the decision
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Great Leaders Can Think Like Each Member of Their Team

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Money wasn’t the only thing that enabled financier Cosimo de’ Medici  to become de facto ruler of Florence for much of the Italian Renaissance. He exemplified a special leadership skill — the ability to get diverse teams of contending bankers, merchants, and traders to collaborate effectively. How? He identified with each group’s sentiments and mindsets. With that understanding, he succeeded where others failed: He built new bridges of common purpose, resulting in a “team” that produced greater, more sustained economic, social, and cultural value for all parties — and the broader society. Central to Cosimo’s success was what I think of as “multivocal leadership.” Multivocal leadership is not about gaining technical proficiency in multiple areas – Cosimo knew banking, but not trading, merchandising, or other areas of expertise, and he didn’t have the time to gain even nominal proficiency in other areas. Instead, multivocal leaders identify directly or vicariously
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DEF CON 2014

At DEF CON 2014, Ernestine Fu learned from security expert Kevin Mitnick how to steal an identity in three minutes or less.  She authored this post, which was published by Forbes on August 15, 2014.

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