What Stan Lee Knew About Managing Creative People

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Stan Lee hated to see an idle artist. The renowned comic book writer and publisher, who died this week at 95, thought idle talent was bored talent, and bored talent was easy to lose to the competition. It also personally bothered him that the people in his employ might be scrambling to earn enough money.  So Stan made sure to provide continuous employment, sometimes to the detriment of the company.

In one famous anecdote, Stan doled out more assignments than the company needed—and didn’t bother to tell boss Martin Goodman about the extraneous inventory. He stuffed the extra comic books into a closet, intending to use them when the time was right.  When Goodman saw the closet, he ordered Lee to fire everyone in the bullpen. Lee followed his boss’s orders. But he still felt it was a mistake—he needed to assign the extra stories, he

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What Stan Lee Knew About Managing Creative People

Kim Kulish/Contributor/Getty Images

Stan Lee hated to see an idle artist. The renowned comic book writer and publisher, who died this week at 95, thought idle talent was bored talent, and bored talent was easy to lose to the competition. It also personally bothered him that the people in his employ might be scrambling to earn enough money.  So Stan made sure to provide continuous employment, sometimes to the detriment of the company.

In one famous anecdote, Stan doled out more assignments than the company needed—and didn’t bother to tell boss Martin Goodman about the extraneous inventory. He stuffed the extra comic books into a closet, intending to use them when the time was right.  When Goodman saw the closet, he ordered Lee to fire everyone in the bullpen. Lee followed his boss’s orders. But he still felt it was a mistake—he needed to assign the extra stories, he

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Why It’s Easier to Make Decisions for Someone Else

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Why is it easier to see the best solution to other people’s dilemmas than our own? Whether it’s about someone deciding to pursue a new job, or ask for a raise, or someone simply mulling over which ice cream flavor to choose, we seem to see the best solution with a clarity and decisiveness that is often absent when we face our own quandaries.

People have a different mindset when choosing for others: an adventurous mindset that stands in contrast to the more cautious mindset that rears when people make their own choices. In my research with Yi Liu and Yongfang Liu of East China Normal University in China and Jiangli Jiao of Xinjiang Normal University in China, we looked at how people make decisions for themselves and for others. We were interested in the process and quantity of information a decision maker uses when choosing for

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Containing the Latest Ebola Outbreak

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Last month, a rebel attack in Beni, the epicenter of the ongoing Ebola outbreak near the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), once again halted the efforts of response teams working to contain the virus. With over 10 major episodes of violence since the outbreak was declared in August, insecurity and community mistrust has made it difficult to gauge the true extent of Ebola’s spread. Though the outbreak could still be limited, cases appear to be increasing — especially in Beni, where cases have doubled in recent weeks — with 80% of new infections arising among people with no link to “known transmission chains” (where everyone who is infected is known and you can track who has been exposed with some accuracy). This means that we might only be seeing the tip of an iceberg of hidden transmissions and the outbreak could spiral out

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How We Help Employees Pay Down Student Loans and Save for Retirement at the Same Time

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A small percentage of U.S. companies — including PwC, Fidelity, and Aetna — have stepped up to help their employees cope with the education loans weighing them down by offering them cash to help them reduce their debts. While I applaud them, one downside of their approach is simply giving their workers cash raises their income taxes, diminishing the impact of their efforts.

To address this dilemma, Abbott, where I lead Human Resources, took a different approach. We introduced a program last August to contribute 5% of pay to a tax-deferred 401(k) plan for full- and part-time workers who direct at least 2% of their pay toward paying down their student loans. The Internal Revenue Service reviewed — and ruled favorably on — the 401(k) plan structure we came up with to make this possible.

In addition to the tax issue, our program — called Freedom 2 Save — helps tackle another

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5 Ways Smart People Sabotage Their Success

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Mark was always one of the smartest kids in his class. He’s done well in his career, but when he checks Facebook, he sees people he outperformed at school who have now achieved more. Likewise, there are colleagues at his firm who have leapfrogged him. Sometimes he wonders, “What am I doing wrong?”

Sound familiar? You might relate to Mark yourself, or have an employee or loved one who struggles with similar feelings. Raw intelligence is undoubtedly a huge asset, but it isn’t everything. And sometimes, when intellectually gifted people don’t achieve as much as they’d like to, it’s because they’re subtly undermining themselves. If you’re in this situation, the good news is that when you understand these foibles you can turn them around. Here are five I’ve seen smart people particularly struggle with:

1. Smart people sometimes devalue other skills, like relationship building, and over-concentrate

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How to Tie Executive Compensation to Sustainability

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The challenge of running a sustainable enterprise has taken center stage among shareholders. Last year, for example, Russell 3000 companies received 144 shareholder proposals requesting action on social and environmental issues. Meanwhile, in a survey of 89 institutional investors by Callan, 43% of respondents said they incorporate sustainability factors into their investment decisions — up 21 percentage points from 2013.

The dilemma for directors, however, is determining what aspects of sustainability, or ESG performance, should have priority — and should be linked to pay incentives. The UN, for example, has outlined 17 broad Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Progress is measured with 169 targets. The goals include eliminating poverty, offering affordable and clean energy, achieving gender equality, protecting ecosystems, increasing responsible consumption and production, and much more. Meanwhile, a number of business organizations have created their own sustainability measures, including the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, Sustainalytics,

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Motivating Your Most Creative Employees

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In any team or organization, some individuals are consistently more likely to come up with ideas that are both novel and useful. These ideas are the seeds of innovation: the intellectual foundation for any new products and services that enable some organizations to gain a competitive advantage over others. However, organizations are often unable to put in place the right processes, leadership, and culture to turn creative ideas into actual innovations, which causes even their most creative employees to underperform. This mismanagement of innovation is further exacerbated by the fact that managing creatives tend to require special attention and consideration. Indeed, decades of psychological research suggests that creative people are quite different from others when it comes to personality, values, and abilities. In light of that, here are eight evidence-based recommendations to get the most out of your creative employees and to stop them

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3 Business Models That Could Bring Million-Dollar Cures to Everyone

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When the FDA issued its first approval for a gene therapy for an inherited disease nearly a year ago—a cure for a type of blindness—it was heralded as breakthrough, a moment decades in the making. With dozens of other genetically engineered therapies moving through clinical trials, the long-promised era of personalized, gene-based medicine seemed to be at hand.

But there was a catch: the one-time treatment, Luxturna from Spark Therapeutics, costs $850,000.

In a recent Goldman Sachs research report about the promise of gene therapies, analysts asked a question that gets to the heart of a growing dilemma for the healthcare sector: “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” As this first wave of genetic treatments hits the market, industry leaders face a stark choice. These therapies could save or change lives, but they come  at unprecedented cost. Indeed, Novartis recently said that its life-saving gene therapy

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How to Launch a Working Parents’ Support Group in Your Organization

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It finally happened: You got the buy-in to launch a (much-needed!) working parents’ network in your organization. You’ve sent out the blast announcement and secured a small budget. The kickoff cocktail party drew a crowd of parents eager for advice — and curious about this new resource. You’ve done everything needed to get this thing up and running. But as the energy and excitement from that first event fades, you’re left wondering: Now what?

And you’re not alone…because if you’re spearheading the effort to build a working parents’ group, two things are dead-certain:

1) The work you’re doing is important, necessary, and welcomed; and

2) There’s no template for it. No playbook, no best practices, no roadmap to success.

As a full-time consultant on working-parent issues, I’ve seen this dynamic play out time and time again. At their start, corporate working-parent affinity groups are greeted with

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The New Pressures Facing CMOs and How to Overcome Them

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A new study out by Spencer Stuart shows an insane number of chief marketing officers who’ve been fired during 2018. But frankly, it’s not a surprise. I served as CMO for Deloitte Consulting and then Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and when I have coached executive teams through transformations, I’ve seen many teams at an impasse with their CMO.

There are lessons we can learn by exploring why so many CMOs get fired—and they can be useful to any executive working to navigate the radically interdependent world of business today.

Although the role of a CMO has been evolving and expanding, people on executive teams still seem to think the CMO must have expertise in every element of her role. In most cases that is a prescription for failure. Success comes, rather, by embracing a role as the facilitator of growth for the business and the four most

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If You Want to Get Better at Something, Ask Yourself These Two Questions

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It was the last race of the ski season. My son Daniel, 10 years old, was at the starting gate in his speed suit, helmet and goggles, waiting for the signal.

“3… 2… 1…” The gate keeper called out and he was gone in a flash, pushing off his ski poles to gain momentum. One by one, each gate smacked to the ground when he brushed by. As he neared the end, he crouched into an aerodynamic tuck to shave a few milliseconds from his time. He crossed the finish line —48.37 seconds after the start — breathing hard. We cheered and gave him hugs.

But he wasn’t smiling.

48.37 seconds put him solidly in the middle of the pack.

I had coaching ideas. Ways I could help him get faster. While I am an executive and leadership coach, I coach skiing on the

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Building a Culture of Transparency in Health Care

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In health care today, the conversation around transparency centers on the consumer. The consumer is empowered to ask for treatment options and costs, potential treatment risks, realistic outcomes, and much more. Health care providers must respond with as much information as possible to ensure appropriate care is delivered, quality and safety are top of mind, and patients and their care team can make thoughtful care decisions.

I believe it is impossible to have complete transparency with patients without first developing a strong culture of internal transparency — among all team members, at all levels, on all issues — throughout the health care organization itself.

When team members are open and honest with each other, without fear, it leads to mutual trust, collaboration, and sharing of best practices across disciplines. Patients are the ultimate beneficiaries.

If Your Innovation Effort Isn’t Working, Look at Who’s on the Team

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An all-star team is making headway with a new initiative that could alter the future of the organization. Spirits are optimistic and the team is successfully maneuvering through new, yet very promising, territory. Then, the results begin taking longer than anticipated to prove, and after too much time spent outside of their comfort zones, the team of high-achieving employees can’t seem to execute within the uncertain environment.

The team’s outlook shifts and it becomes clear that the group will not be able to weather the storm of uncertainty needed to realize this new organizational opportunity.

How could such a capable team fail?

At the heart of many organizations is a deeper problem that blocks transformation: product/function organizational structure. This structure works in well-understood environments, where maximizing delivery of a product or service is the goal, but transformative projects require the organization to return to a more malleable

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How the U.S., the EU, and Japan Are Trying to Rein in China’s State Capitalism

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On November 12, the United States, European Union, and Japan will submit a package of proposals to the World Trade Organization’s Council on Trade in Goods that would significantly help curb China’s practices of heavily subsidizing its state-owned enterprises. They are also discussing ways to prevent China from forcing Western companies to transfer technology to Chinese firms. Hopefully, the Trump administration’s threat to escalate the tariffs war with China will persuade China to accept such reforms.

Subsidies. China announced it planned to provide $350 billion in subsidies to 10 key industries of the future such as robotics, electric vehicles and EV batteries, advance computers, and mobile devices under its ‘Made in China 2025’ policy. (Unlike economy-wide supports such as an R&D tax credit, WTO rules prohibit subsidies to specific companies because of the competitive advantage they confer.)  But under WTO rules, no country can obtain any remedy such as duties

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What to Do If Your Career Is Stalled and You Don’t Know Why

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A CEO whom we’ll call Melissa was exasperated. Having delivered seven years of breakthrough performance and nearing retirement, she was eager to select and prepare her successor. Members of her executive team were strong in their current roles but none was quite right for the top job.

As we considered a broader group of potential candidates, the CHRO chimed in with an idea: “What about Tom? He is very strategic and his teams would take the hill for him. He might be worth looking at as an option.” Then the CHRO paused for a moment and added, “Of course there is this issue of his executive presence. Tom often hogs the spotlight in meetings unaware of how that alienates his peers. And…well…I don’t know how to put this, but he has noticeable body odor that’s a real turnoff.” Melissa agreed: “Tom is a brilliant business

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Is Your Company Ready to Protect Its Reputation from Deep Fakes?

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After a public outcry over privacy and their inability — or unwillingness — to address misleading content, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms finally appear to be making a real effort to take on fake news. But manipulative posts from perpetrators in Russia or elsewhere may soon be the least of our problems. What looms ahead won’t just impact our elections. It will impact our ability to trust just about anything we see and hear.

The misinformation that people are worried about today, such as made-up news stories or conspiracy theories, is only the first symptoms of what could become a full-blown epidemic. What’s coming are “deep fakes” — realistic forgeries of people appearing to say or do things that never actually happened. This frightening future is a side effect of advances in artificial intelligence that have enabled researchers to manipulate audio and video — even live

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Under-Management Is the Flip Side of Micromanagement — and It’s a Problem Too

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Micromanagement gets most of the attention, but under-management may be just as big a problem.

This is the term I’ve given to a constellation of behaviors that I’ve seen occurring together often during my 24 years in management: weak performance management, a tendency to avoid conflicts with employees, and generally lackluster accountability. As the name suggests, there’s just not quite enough management being done—and results often suffer as a result. But under-management can often fly under the radar because the managers who have these tendencies aren’t necessarily incompetent; on the contrary, they often know their business well, are good collaborators, and are well-liked.

One HR executive I spoke with about the problem estimated that some 10% to 25% of her company’s managers were under-managing. And I well remember one of my own company’s Human Resource VP’s exclaiming in frustration, “The trouble with our managers is that too

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Using Analytics to Align Sales and Marketing Teams

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Many companies struggle to deliver a consistent and easy buying experience for their customers.

Consider the following scenario: A manager wants to purchase some computer software for her business. She asks an analyst on her team to do an online search for information. The analyst recommends a particular software company’s solution. The manager peruses that company’s website and requests more information by entering data about her needs through a webform. The software company emails relevant materials which the manager reviews before reaching out to an inside salesperson with questions.

But then things begin to break down. The inside salesperson hasn’t seen the webform data, so the manager must repeat much of the information she had already entered. Furthermore, some of the advice the inside salesperson shares contradicts what the manager recalls reading on the website. The manager decides to meet with a field salesperson to get clarity and

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How European Health Care Providers Are Engaging Doctors with New Technologies

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Physician discontent over deteriorating working conditions and growing risks to patient care has risen to alarming levels in European hospitals. To understand physicians’ evolving reality, Bain’s biennial Europe Front Line of Health Care Survey tracks European practitioners’ attitudes, priorities and decision-making power. The findings are based on input from 1,156 physicians across nine specialties and 154 hospital procurement administrators in Germany, France, the UK, and Italy.  Our research shows that a majority of doctors wouldn’t recommend their hospital to family or friends as a place to work or receive care. Citing staffing shortages, budget cuts, aging equipment and inadequate facilities, physicians warn they are unprepared to cope with looming healthcare challenges. Provider organizations have attempted structural changes over the past few years to fix specific problems, but, on the whole, their efforts have fallen short.

When an entire system needs renewal, it’s hard to know where to

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