Topic: Innovation


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How to Avoid Vanity Metrics: Getting Under the Hood of Business

VanityMetrics

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Most organizations have analysts reviewing financial and operational information on a regular basis – the objective being to gain some kind of meaning from information, and to capture that meaning with a metric or metrics.  Analysts are generally providing descriptive information (telling us how we’ve done) or predictive information (telling us how we suspect we will do).

But many commonly used metrics don’t provide any actionable insight.  In other words, they’re just for show.  These are called vanity metrics.  Other times metrics don’t properly measure the underlying data, potentially resulting in what only appears to be a valid metric on the surface.  This is called an Isomorphism.

A metric is only as valuable as its ability to decipher underlying data.  When metrics are properly developed and implemented, they become meaningful because they capture the drivers that lead to the behaviors and decisions desired.

A great resource for understanding metrics is the book Lean Analytics.  Although geared to start-ups, the logic used is widely applicable to organizations large and small.  You will find much of this logic in the following paragraphs.  Read More »

Giving Information Meaning: The Rise of Business Analytics

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Business Analytics is the scientific process of transforming data into insight for making better decisions.  Data doesn’t always cooperate with this process, as it is often massive and messy.  But no matter what condition data is in, we use business analytics to make decisions with it.

In order to make these decisions, we have to understand the ultimate value that various combinations of this data can present.  So, we measure it.  That is, we measure what data carries: information.  Measurement is what informs uncertain decisions, and almost all decisions are made under uncertainty.  Read More »

The Story of Les Schwab and His Pride in Performance

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Business often comes down to a core set of principles.  And the story of Les Schwab is no exception.  Keeping things in their simplest form (Reductionism) is what allows us to arrive at a core set of principles, but this is often difficult to do. Reductionism is a key aspect of understanding anything.  If we apply this concept to business, it always comes down to people.  It really comes down to decisions, but decisions are made by people.  And what I love about the Les Schwab story is that he so clearly understood the importance of this.  He loved people.  And if you’re in business, it really helps to love people – no matter how weird, how exotic, how aloof, or how awkward.  Read More »

An Accelerated Master’s Degree: Innovation in One Book

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Topics: Innovation
Innovation

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There have been plenty of books recently published on the concept of Deliberate Practice, which essentially says that it takes 10,000 hours of a certain kind of practice (called ‘deliberate’) to gain expertise in something.   It makes sense that the majority of what we want to learn in any discipline is going to be experiential (or gained through practice).  But in order to better understand our experiences, we want to have some kind of framework of what to expect.  We want to develop a theory structure.

Books are what give us this theory structure, and certainly the quality of the theory structure we begin with impacts the amount of deliberate practice we need to become an ‘expert.’  So it’s important to choose the right books, as they will provide the base infrastructure upon which we will layer our experiences.  We’re looking for books that concisely capture the overriding concepts of a particular discipline.

And in any discipline, at least one fairly well defined, there doesn’t need to be that many books to accomplish this.  I would generally say that 3 books or fewer, for each discipline, will give you a proper theory structure.

With that in mind, let’s look at Innovation…  Read More »

There’s No Best Age to Start a Business: The Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart

Walton

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After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940, Sam Walton took a job with J.C. Penney.  He was 22 years old.  He spent five years with J.C. Penney learning the retail industry.  In 1945, Walton became an entrepreneur and bought a Ben Franklin variety store in Arkansas for $25,000.  He was 27 years old.  Walton spent five years growing his Ben Franklin store.  But in 1950, after Walton’s landlord refused to renew the five year lease he had on the Ben Franklin store location, Walton had no choice but to sell the franchise.  He sold it for a fair price, and then had to start all over again.  Walton was now 32, and it was at this age when he opened his first Walton’s Five and Dime (again in Arkansas).  But it wasn’t until he was 44 years old that he opened the first Wal-Mart.  It was a very gradual progression.  So, does age really matter when starting a business?  I doubt it.  There is no best age to start a business, no perfect time – none of that.  And Sam Walton is the perfect example of this.  Read More »

How to Build an Empire: The Story of Harvey Firestone and His Tires

Firestone Tire

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In 1926, Harvey Firestone sat down to write Men and Rubber: The Story of Business.  It outlines his philosophy on how to succeed in business, and to this day it’s still the best and most comprehensive story on how to build a business from nothing.

Firestone’s philosophy is quite simple.  It says that honesty is the fundamental principle of any business.  It says that a business must exist for a reason, and the single reason for the existence of any business must be that it supplies a human need or want.  “To make money” is not a good enough reason to be in business.  If fact, if all you want is money, Firestone advises you to get out of business as quickly as you can, and go work for someone else.  You are destined to fail otherwise.

Firestone was clear that a business must exist to supply a human need or want, and this philosophy can be further explained through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The primary need for all humans is physiological, followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.  Humans seek to satisfy needs in this order.  Firestone was supplying tires, or facilitating transportation.  Transportation, depending on its intended use, could fall under physiological needs (driving to the grocery store for food), safety needs (driving to the office for work), or love/belonging needs (driving to family).  Either way, Firestone was clearly satisfying human needs with his tires.

This logic applies today as well.  For example, Mark Zuckerberg’s reason for starting Facebook (“to meet girls”), while it hurts my heart, does provide for the love/belonging needs that all humans naturally have.

That’s the end of my Zuckerberg digression – now back to Firestone…   Read More »

What People Want: Introducing the Hierarchy of Human Emotions

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Back in 1943, a guy named Abraham Maslow proposed an idea: there was a hierarchy of human needs, and he had a pretty good idea of what it was.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was designed to explain motivation and behavior, and numerous people have since claimed this hierarchy is very accurate.  Andy Grove, former head of Intel, says exactly that in his book High Output Management.   Grove experienced this hierarchy first hand at Intel, and as a result it shaped many of the Human Resources decisions that were made.

Maslow ranked human needs as follows:

  1. Physiological: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
  2. Safety: security of body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, property
  3. Love/Belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy
  4. Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
  5. Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts

It’s very likely that human needs (per Maslow) are heavily involved in the decisions we all make. In a logical world, decisions would be made purely according to needs.  But we don’t live in a logical world, and wants often take precedence over needs.  And since wants reflect emotions, there must be some hierarchy of emotions that can better explain how emotions affect human behavior.

So just as Abraham Maslow created a Hierarchy of Needs, there is also a Hierarchy of Human Emotions.  Certain emotions drive our behaviors, decisions, and actions more than others.  Understanding the hierarchy of these emotions, and how people express them, has an interesting side effect: it often explains how to figure out what people want.  Read More »

Why Cute Ideas Die: The Execution Factory

Execution Factory

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There’s this myth that all you need in business is a good idea and you’re going to be rich.  I’ve never seen it work out that way.  Derek Sivers (formerly of CD Baby) made this a lot easier to understand when he explained his version of the difference between ideas and execution in this blog post.  He basically says the value isn’t in the idea itself, but in the execution of the idea.  And in my experience, he’s right.  Read More »