Provoke Your People

If you want to achieve dramatic change in mindset and behavior, the fastest way is through provocation. By provocation, I mean deliberately evoking a visceral emotional response in others. There is nothing wrong with provocation if you do it right. It’s just that, as a leader, you ought to be provocative, but never a provocateur—the two are not the same.

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You Are Not Carlos Ghosn

Some have argued the reason for Carlos Ghosn’s legal trouble is for having pushed change too hard—that he crossed some kind of Japanese nationalistic redline in wanting to merge Nissan and Renault, giving the French company control over the Japanese entity. Had Ghosn been more conservative in his actions, they reason, he would not be in the predicament in which he finds himself. This narrative, however, is disingenuous.

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Three Success Factors for Robust Strategy

All strategic plans are perfect on paper in a theoretical static world. However, no strategic plan ever survives confrontation with the ever-changing realities of business and your perception of them. A robust strategy is one that can adapt rapidly to change in the environment as well as to change in your understanding of that environment. Below are three behaviors and practices for robust strategy common to my most successful clients.

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Cultivating Boldness

The scarcest resource in a business today is not talent, money, or technical ability, but rather independent thought and the courage to act on it.

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AI-Induced Atrophy

For some, artificial intelligence and automation in business herald a new era of increased productivity. For others, these are a harbinger of job obsolescence and layoffs.

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The Fallacy of the Buy-In Imperative

Staff involvement in decision-making is useful means of ensuring buy-in and achieving success, as long as staff involvement does not entail abdication of your role as a leader. Not all staff involvement is good, and buy-in is not always imperative for success. Some decision are best taken unilaterally, and some changes are best imposed despite objections. Continue reading

Diets, Weight Loss and the Athlete’s Mindset: Lessons for Sustained Business Improvement

For people who want to lose weight rapidly, there are many diets with names–names like Atkins, Beverly Hills, Slow Carb, Suzanne Somers and Paleo. Despite all the fretting people do over diets, it matters little which one you choose. You will lose weight if you adhere to any of these diets without cheating. All of them work and at the same time, none of them do.

Losing weight is not the problem. Rather it is sustaining the weight loss. Ninety percent of people who lose weight on diets like these regain it later. To compound the problem, much of the weight that is lost initially includes muscle loss and not just fat. So, when you regain the weight, you are at risk of being in a condition worse than when you started.

This reminds me of the many business “diets” I see in the corporate world that promise fast results by following straightforward rules and methods. They have names too–like “lean” and “balanced.” Some have their own qualifying systems with belt colors like in karate. They seem to go in and out of fashion at the same rate as food diets.

Like food diets, these “business” diets all work and at the same time none of them do. A company that adheres to a diet without cheating will experience improvement. However, the improvement is often unsustained, and enthusiasm wanes. Then there is loss of business “muscle,” as people, resources and focus are shifted and performance declines. Have you ever experienced corporate muscle loss through a business diet that was never regained later?

I have been thinking a lot about dieting recently. Some months ago I weighed 210 pounds (95 kilos) and my percent body fat was just north of thirty. I was not just overweight but borderline obese, and on top of that borderline hyper-tensile and at-risk for heart disease. Not so now. I have since lost 40 pounds (18 kilos), my percent body fat is below seventeen, and my other measurements are all well within the healthy range.

While I am happy about these results so far, I am not quite ready to celebrate. You see, there is still the specter of weight regain. I want to make sure I am in the ten percent who sustain, not the ninety percent who regain. This has made me examine what makes the ten-percenters different from the ninety-percenters.

The difference appears to be a shift in mindset. The ten-percenters begin to think and behave like athletes. Weight loss ceases to be an end in itself, but rather a means that enhances performance and pleasure in a sport or multiple sports. Many people who embark on a journey of weight loss find that they begin to enjoy the sports in which they chose to engage initially solely for the purpose of weight loss. Ten-percenters often begin to compete in events, like marathons and other races. Some ten-percenters become champions, like Natascha Badmann who started running, swimming and cycling with a goal to lose weight, but is now a six-time winner of the Hawaii Ironman triathlon.

But what does shifting to an athlete’s mindset mean in business?

A client company of mine had a “fitness” problem in the area of strategy development and management. I put it on a diet with a name. It doesn’t matter which one. There were improvements and some muscle loss–some things took more time than they used to–but ultimately muscle was regained and performance levels improved overall. I then suggested it was time to go to the next level of performance.

“You mean we’re not done? There’s more to do?” huffed one of the company’s deputies.  This is the reaction of a ninety-percenter. You can always improve performance. Athletes know this.

The company’s leader fortunately had developed an athlete’s mindset around strategy capability and enthusiastically took on my suggestions. He liked what the company had achieved so far and wanted to go to the next level. He is a ten-percenter. The company’s performance is now at an even higher level. I don’t think it is coincidence that the leader is also an avid runner and regularly competes in marathons.

And what about me? Well, I’m a ten-percenter too. There will be a half-marathon later this year where I live. I plan to enter. I look forward to my workouts every day, and love being able to go further, endure longer, and go faster. As long as I stay focused on that, I believe my weight will take care of itself.

Kickstarter and Pebble Watch Success: Could this Work in Japan?

Some months back I spent around one hundred dollars for a watch that I had never seen, that did not yet exist, to be made and delivered by a bunch of people I had never heard of. Sound crazy? Well, I wasn’t alone. Over 69,000 people decided to do the same thing. That is the story of the Pebble smartwatch for which over $10 million dollars was raised through Kickstarter crowd funding, a record amount. (I read that the original funding target had been $100,000!)

I received my Pebble last week, and I have to say I think it is a beautiful product, and very cool with its connectivity with my iPhone. I also feel good to be one of the many people that helped bring this product to market. Pebble and Kickstarter have changed the rules about bringing cool consumer products to market.


Japanese electronics have lost much of their cool over last two decades. Japanese giants like Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic have fallen from grace. However, I don’t think the Japanese have lost their sense of cool or extraordinary ability to innovate. Maybe Kickstarter-type crowdfunding and people like the upstarts at Pebble are precisely what Japan needs to revive its moribund electronics industry. The Japanese already have a cultural penchant for pulling together in large numbers to achieve something great. The Kickstarter model seems like it might be a natural fit for Japan.

The only questions may be whether Japan Inc. will tolerate such brash and unchoreographed business practices, and will the government permit such unusual financing methods. Who can say? All I know is I would be happy to kick in ¥10,000 to help bring a cool Japanese smartwatch to market, particularly if I could get one of the first models. Wouldn’t you?