Distinguish Yourself from the Machines

Coinciding with AlphaGo’s rout over Go grandmaster Lee Sedol, there have been a flurry of articles on AI and on robots being introduced into the service industry to compensate for the rising minimum wage. See: 

Carl's Jr. CEO Wants to Open a Robot Restaurant Free of Human Workers

Domino's Debuts Pizza Delivery by Robot

Machines That Will Think and Feel

AlphaGo and the Limits of Machine Intuition

We’ll have opportunities to comment more deeply on these developments and what they mean for humanity and for business. However there is an immediate lesson for workers: You have to distinguish yourself not just from your peers, but also from machines. Don’t build your career on offering anything machines can do, because they will do it better than you and ultimately replace you. Seek out the services that people crave and cannot get from machines, and use these offerings to distinguish yourself. This may not be in what you do, but perhaps in how you do it. Offer the customers or colleagues with whom you interface moments of inspiration they will never get from machines. But to do that, you need to be inspiring!

Microsoft "Gets" Distinction

Microsoft seems to finally "get” the power of Distinction and its capacity to deliver premium product for premium returns. If they focus their brilliance and resources to this strategy they could be the Apple of tomorrow. Click HERE for more on the power of Distinction.

People, Not Business, Have Responsibilities

This quote from Milton Freedman 45 years ago is still important. It is important that individuals do not abdicate their own social and ethical responsibilities by delegating it to an abstract legal and economic entity called "business." The term responsibility connotes an idea that is unique to humans. Businesses are not humans, they are led and managed by humans. It is business's leaders who have ethical and social responsibilities and they should not hide behind a corporate identity to distance themselves from this leadership role.


What does it mean to say that “business” has responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities. A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but “business” as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense.

Cadillac Has Stopped Playing Catch-Up

Finally GM ditches the "catch-up" game and pursues a soul of its own in its new strategic thinking around Cadillac. Cadillac must now discover and articulate its unique purpose in tomorrow's world and turn it to profit.

Cadillac used to be synonymous with American style, quality and prestige. Now, with a new model and a move, G.M. is trying to recapture the swagger.

Voice Communication Comeback

As digital communication becomes the norm, voice communication attracts more attention. Voice communications are making a comeback as companies vying for a piece of the $1.6 trillion office-telephony market reinvent the phone call.


The Fifth Key to Making a Positive First Impression

It's true that you have only milliseconds to make a positive first impression. But this article's "keys" for doing so, misses the most important "key" of all: Be authentic. Be yourself. People instantly recognize fake. Can you be authentic when you are following four keys to make a good impression? You probably can, but don't rely on the 4 without the fifth. Be real.

Internal Family Systems

This is a nice perspective on internal family systems. If you don't know about this work, it's worth exploring. Contributed by Michael Forlenza.

Simplicity of Success - Ability to Connect

Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler posits that the simplicity and attractiveness of the interface a new technology uses, is a better predictor of its adoption than the quality or genius of the technology. I suggest the same applies with people. Success might be more a function of people's ability to connect easily than a function of their intelligence.

Liminal Thinking and Diversity - Why We Fall Short

Understanding the process of liminal thinking might help explain why diversity efforts often fall short of their well-intended outcomes. To really embrace the value of diverse perspectives requires going inside and challenging your own ladder of inference. This takes trust, courage, humility and vulnerability - all characteristics of great leaders.

Sweetening the ATM Experience, But Not a Real Differentiator

Many banks are still trying to differentiate the customer experience through technology platforms. The technology interface with the customer has to ever-evolve and improve, but this alone cannot differentiate one bank from another. A technology platform is a commodity quickly able to be replicated by the competition. Only the quality, authenticity and ease of human interaction (whenever it occurs, even if much less frequently than before) can differentiate a bank from its peers. See Wells Fargo's latest ATM enhancement.

Discomfort Can Lead to Productivity

Gender-diverse teams can increase revenues by up to 41% more than homogeneous teams. So isn't gender diversity a no-brainer? No, because individual employees report higher levels of job satisfaction when they were on teams that were mainly staffed with people of their own gender, says Sara Fisher Ellison, of MIT in a WSJ article December 16, 2014

Pursuing a Foreign Strategy

Bombardier is yet another wonderful company that is hemorrhaging from pursuing a strategy that is not indigenous to its corporate soul and the purpose of its existence. The WSJ reports that after making its name in the corporate jet and regional airline market, in 2008 Bombardier Inc.'s chief executive Pierre Beaudoin bet the future of the company his grandfather founded on a pair of passenger jets rivaling those from the two titans of global aerospace. Early testing of strategy against purpose helps companies Turn Purpose to Profit and save hundreds of millions or more.

Fast or Natural, But Not Both

The real challenge in the fast food industry turning itself into fresh, natural and healthy is the inherent contradiction between fast and natural. Fast is by definition synthetic. Natural by definition takes time. The challenge is the public's not the industry's: Do we REALLY want natural, or do we insist on fast? This is one of those situations where it often IS an either or; we can't have this one both ways. The industry should challenge its customers true preferences before it simply buckles under its pressure in the fruitless pursuit of following the public's fickle and ill-thought out desires.

Bureaucracy as a Sign of Mistrust

Bureaucracy develops in companies as a means of controlling a workforce that isn't trusted by leadership. The lack of trust could be due to a variety of factors including the size of the organization and the number and dispersion of its workforce. Whatever the reason, bureaucracy is excessively costly as evidenced by this WSJ article concerning Dupont. To reduce bureaucracy, leadership should seek ways to quickly and efficiently reinforce levels of trust throughout the organization. Trust-building is a powerful tool of cost-cutting and it is not as difficult as it seems.

Line Between Challenge and Mockery

Should there be a line drawn between the critical challenge of everything (a legitimate media role) and irreverent mockery of anything? Mockery is funny when we mock ourselves (e.g. classical Jewish humor). It is destructive cynicism when it targets others. Whatever the case, nothing justifies this brutality.

Can't Be All Things to All People

What happens when a company with revenues in excess of $128bn loses its soul and tries to be all things to all people?  It's value can drop to less than 0. A great scan of the Yahoo journey from innovative dominance to virtual obscurity.

View of Law Enforcement Is Symptom of Attitude Toward Authority

The escalating targeting of police officers in the US and Europe is a symptom of a society that has steadily slipped towards erosion of all authority: God, religion, educators, parents, national leaders and now, the last bastion of protection, law enforcement. Society needs to recalibrate its worldview about the very idea of authority, not just Law Enforcement.

Online Retail or Not?

It is still not clear to me whether online retail shopping is beginning to permanently transform the retail industry sounding the death knell to non-speciality stores and malls, or whether it's a passing fad. The reason it could be a passing fad is that it might ultimately not be a sustainable model for retailers: the costs to them (for example shipping and returns) don't justify the narrow margins forced by online hyper-competition. Your view will impact how you rate the long term upside of shares like Amazon.

GOP - Purpose Gives an Idea to Fight For

The centrality of a clearly articulated and authentic Purpose Statement applies to all organizations, political parties included. Purpose is much deeper than "Mission." Purpose galvanizes people behind a philosophy that aligns with their own core beliefs and values. Purpose clarifies why one would be willing to make sacrifices for an organization. Purpose gives people an idea to fight for.

What Does It Mean to be an American?

"Some 3,000 Americans gave up their citizenship last year, a tiny number that's nevertheless been soaring," writes Jonathan Tepper in the New York Times And these 3000 are no doubt high income earners. If the US was a business, analysts might be raising questions about this revenue loss which questions the value-add that foreign resident US citizens see in their citizenship. Either the price is too high or the value we offer them is too low. Bit there is a deeper question about what being American means to people today … if anything?

Becoming Oil Self-Sufficient

"North Dakota and Texas extraction of oil from shale … has boosted America's oil production by a third, to nearly 9m barrels a day (b/d). That is just 1m b/d short of Saudi Arabia's output. The contest between the shalemen and the sheikhs has tipped the world from a shortage of oil to a surplus," writes The Economist. Good job. America needs to become energy self-sufficient, and in the short term that means oil self-sufficient. I wonder if OPEC's price drops aren't intended to kill this pioneering industry? Apart from strategic independence, the lower oil price brings other economic blessings: "Cheaper oil should act like a shot of adrenalin to global growth. A $40 price cut shifts some $1.3 trillion from producers to consumers. The typical American motorist, who spent $3,000 in 2013 at the pumps, might be $800 a year better off—equivalent to a 2% pay rise."

Missing the Point about Uber

Don't they get it? It's not about the app, it's about the attitude. It's not about technology, it's about people. Uber drivers are generally more upbeat, more respectful, more helpful, more pleasant, more hygienic than cab drivers. Sorry, that's just how it is a lot of the time. Same in many industries. Ultimately, technology will create level playing fields. People's characters and attitudes will be the differentiators.

Recalibrating Our Understanding of Jobs

Further support for my thesis that under-employment, measured as the percentage of employable hours utilized, is a permanent reality in a digital-robotic world. It will ultimately need a recalibration of values as secure, full time jobs as we knew them, become a relic of the past.

Technology Driven Without Human Oversight

The Sydney, Australia Uber debacle was not a symptom of evil or even a lack of caring. It is what happens in a technology and algorithm-driven environment without human oversight and intervention. It happens every time a system cannot respond to human suffering. It could be an airline booking system, the TSA  or a bureaucratic government official.  It's just that this one was dramatic, affected many people at once and was very public.

LV's Strategy to Evade Commoditization

This is Louis Vuitton's strategy to evade commoditization of its product. Every business should have a strategy to avoid it and the shrinking margins and market share that follow. What's your strategy?

Work on the Internal Characteristics Rather than Merely the Image

I guess you can train your voice to be perceived as a leader as well as learn other tricks in a repertoire designed to build your image. However, voice is an  expression of some of the deepest aspects of our personalities and feelings. We should be working on honing  our internal characteristics rather than our images. Changed internal characteristics will manifest in changes to the external as well. Harder work but more authentic, and more sustainable.

Companies Cannot be Humble, Only Their Leaders Can

Uber CEO promises to make the company "more humble." Mr. Kalanick, companies are inanimate structures, they can be neither humble nor arrogant; only leaders can. Your company's leadership could do with character development, starting at the top. Lead By Greatness and your company will follow you.

Is McDonald's Out of Touch with its Corporate Soul?

"McDonald's Corp. offered further evidence that it is out of touch with consumers, reporting Monday its sharpest drop in U.S. monthly sales since 2000, when fears over mad-cow disease dented demand for burgers," writes the WSJ today. But is McDonald's out of touch with its consumers (hard to believe such a brilliant company could fail at something so basic), or out of touch with its own spirit, its corporate soul? A company’s soul need not fossilize, it is dynamic. But when a company loses touch with its soul, it loses the essence of what differentiates its products. McDonald's must recover its soul to discover its purpose in a fast-changing world.

Focus on Impact for Greater, Sustainable Wealth

It is a fact that founders of businesses who are focused on making a significant impact on the world, often achieve greater and more sustainable wealth. Elon Musk is one of many. He is not just dedicated to wealth. He is building businesses to help solve some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. He sees shareholders as only one stakeholder in the corporate mission. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Musk emphasized that "the reason I created Tesla was to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport. And I made that clear to investors." Knowing your higher purpose and designing your business around it, is not just good for morale. It is the cornerstone of sustainable advantage.

No Fear from Cheaper Competitors

Full service airlines should have nothing to fear if they focus on restoring the lost human dignity that modern flight entails. Luxury hotels, spas and destination venues abound even in the face of low cost lodges. However, to survive, airlines need to offer more than safety, comfort and convenience. Provide passengers with the deep intangibles for which they crave - dignity, recognition, respect - and many will pay the premium.

Protecting Our Long-Term Oil Interests

It is strategically important that we protect and subsidize US shale-oil producers. Seems to me the only rationale in OPEC's decision to keep oil supply up and prices down is to eradicate the viability of alternative fuel development. We should use the savings from cheaper oil to fund exploration, innovation and development of US energy independence.

Treating People with Dignity is Competitive Advantage | Business Insider

I do all I can to avoid taking taxis / in any American city. But I look for opportunities to use Uber. The difference is not only convenience and certainly not price. I think the real difference is attitude. Generally grumpy drivers who seem to resent your existence vs. upbeat educated drivers who treat you with dignity. Can attitude destroy an industry? You bet. Can treating people with dignity be your competitive advantage? Absolutely!

Teaching Caring - Washington Post

Leaders who inspire others are different from those who merely engage or motivate others. The difference is not one of competence but one of character. You can learn skills to motivate and engage people. But to inspire them you need to authentically care. Teaching children to care, is where it starts.

Recession Legacy: More Part-Timers? - WSJ

I don't believe this is a recession legacy. This is a new reality that jobs as we knew them have become obsolete in the accelerating high-tech era. Colleges and employers should rethink how we develop people's earning capacities outside of the realm of secure full time jobs.

More than Salesmanship - NY Times

Out-of-touch leadership and hubris causes the President to blame his beating on nothing but poor salesmanship. A President is more than a salesman, and he is judged on more than his sales technique.  He ought to acknowledge the real possibility that the electorate rejected his style, his worldview and the effectiveness of his policies not his salesmanship. We're not looking for a better sales-spiel, Mr. President. We're looking for more leadership stature, more humility, less polarization, and a stronger America.

The Power of the Individual - WSJ

The enormity of accomplishment of great individuals makes many of us feel uncomfortable with the puniness of our achievements compared to theirs. As a result, there is a tendency to underplay the roles that single individuals have played in making companies, nations and the world what they are today. History is being revised to bring giants down to pint-size so that they look more like us than the colossi they really were. Winston Churchill remains a one-man argument for the idea that history is a tale of singular individuals and shining deeds -- an important piece by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.

HR Bureaucracy Can Strangle High Performance - WSJ

OK, Italy's a country, not a company, and its labor laws are archaic. But while reading this WSJ piece, I wondered how many managers feel the same way about the labyrinth of HR regulations in their own companies? HR regulations are mostly designed  to protect corporations and their officers from costly litigation rather than for the protection of employees. However, they can cause even more costly inefficiencies as managers hide behind them to justify their own tolerance of mediocre performance or less.

Uplift and Inspire - Business Ethics & Leadership

Every interaction you have with another offers you an opportunity to uplift or inspire them thereby investing positive energy into your environment. These opportunities also enhance your own effectiveness as a communicator and as a leader. "The ultimate measure of my interactions is how I made people feel. Whether I’m trying to convince folks to agree with me or join my quest or whether I’m trying to cajole or convince them to comply with my expectations, it is the feelings I created that usually determined the effectiveness of the communication."

Technology Devolution

Two articles in the same weekend edition of the Walls Street Journal lament what civilization is losing with the march of technological progress. In Campfires Helped Inspire Community Culture Alison Gopnik writes about the lost art of narrative that used to develop around nighttime fires as families gathered to talk about their experiences and memories - recent and distant. In Book Review: "The Glass Cage" by Nicholas Carr Daniel. J Levitin writes of lost skills such as navigation due to technologies like GPS, and the effects of these losses on civilization. "All to often," the author writes, "automation frees us from that which makes us feel free." But what's to be done? We can't turn the clock back? Read my piece "Get Lost" for some actionable insights on the topic.

Reputation - The Economist

Reputation is more than a surface polish, and strategies to protect reputation should start from the inside out. Reputation is more than PR. A 2013 survey of 300 executives about the risks facing their companies by Deloitte, a consulting firm, put reputational ones at the top, reports The Economist. "Reputations built up over decades can be challenged in an instant," said Jennifer Evans of ANZ bank, a participant. Does your company have an initiative in place with high level C-Suite sponsorship to fortify its reputation?

Choosing a Leader - The Globe and Mail

Richard Branson's criteria when hiring an individual who will lead others: "When I am looking for a leader, it is incredibly important that the candidate is good with and genuinely cares about people, and who will sprinkle magic dust on a group to get them to excel and believe in what they're doing."

Making Difficult Decisions - Business Insider

Everyone handles decisions their own ways. There are no generic rules because there are no generic individuals. Still, we can learn from people who have made a lot of successful decisions, and some poor ones too.

Diversity in Tech - Fortune and HBR

I'm not sure anyone has done a reliable study on the costs to companies of cultures that are not aligned with their strategic objectives, but we know from experience, that these costs are horrendous.

Many CEOs might be fired by if their Boards knew how inefficient a culture that has not been deliberately cultivated could be. And culture is the CEO's responsibility.

In this Fortune article, Why women leave tech: It's the culture, not because 'math is hard' @KieranSnyder identifies another cost, particularly in the Tech industry.

In the HBR article Hacking Tech's Diversity Problem, @JoanCWilliams proposes some innovative approaches to deliberately interrupt bias. " ... biases will be perpetuated unless they’re intentionally interrupted, and people who think they work for meritocracies are less likely to do what it takes to interrupt them."

For more on why we don't think the Diversity issue is all about bias, see my blog,  A New Look at Diversity.

The Brain and Recruiting – Inc.

Our brains have four active dimensions of which we seldom use more than one or at most two, in business decision making. The hiring process is one where using the whole brain, all four dimensions, is especially valuable.

Email Management - The Globe and Mail

Hardly a conversation that touches on work-life balance, doesn't also deal with the overwhelming challenge of email management. There are countless methods being touted to manage an ever expanding in-box. The reality is that there's no method that works. Managing email is not only about method; it's about values. Here are five misguided beliefs that are responsible for email overload and four new practices to adopt to ease the load …

Career Risk Taking - Mashable

We know the "no risk - no reward" maxim in the field of investment. But risk-reward correlation is a universal law that applies in every aspect of life, not just in investments. Interestingly, often people who excel at taking risks with other people's money to generate reward for them, are conservative and fearful of risk with respect to their own careers. This article from Mashable argues the value and importance of career risk-taking: No Risk, No Reward: The Power of Risk Taking for Your Career.

The Lost Art of Fanaticism

I am not sure I begin to understand what draws Western youngsters to Global Gangs like ISIS. It might be that in the West we are starved of fanaticism. Clearly fanaticism is not all good....but then what is? Fanaticism has been responsible for mass murder, war and destruction. However, it has also been responsible for world-changing innovation. Passion is an overused word in business that has lost its oomph. Fanaticismmight be a better word; perhaps constructive fanaticism! Steve Jobs wasn't passionate, he was a fanatic. @PeterThiel argues in his Wired article, You Should Run Your Startup Like A Cult that "People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed." How many people in your organization are fanatical about the Purpose for which you exist? Are you?


For a fuller commentary, see our blog post: Passion is Passe.