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Revolutions Don’t Begin With a Slogan, They Begin With A Cause

2022 June 26
by Greg Satell

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenski has been compared to great orators like Winston Churchill. He vowed to the English House of Commons to fight “in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.” In a speech to the US Congress he told President Biden, “​​Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”

While new to politics, Zelensky is no neophyte when it comes to delivering a line. A longtime actor and comic who was the voice of “Paddington” in the Ukrainian adaptations of the hit movie, his production company Kvartal 95 produced a series of hits. It would be easy to boil his effectiveness down to his communication skills.

That would be a mistake. Zelenski’s eloquence derives its power from the plight of his people, their passion for freedom and their unwillingness to return to an often troubled past. One reason why change so often fails is that we spend so much time focusing on wordsmithing that we neglect why the need for change arose in the first place. That is where we must start.

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4 Ways Hucksters, Gurus And Consultants Fool Us (And Usually Themselves Too)

2022 June 19
by Greg Satell

When I lived in Poland, it was common to say that “life is cruel, and full of traps.” From an American perspective, the aphorism can be a bit of a culture shock. We’re raised to believe in the power of positivity, the American dream and the can-do spirit. Negativity can be seen as something worse than a weakness, both an indulgence and a privation at the same time.

Over the years, however, I came to respect the Poles’ innate suspicion. The truth is that we are far too easily fooled and taken in by those prey on the glitches in our cognitive machinery. Sometimes the ones peddling bunk have fooled also themselves. Their claims seem to be supported by logic and evidence, but their promises never quite pan out.

We’re taken in because we want their claims to be true. We’d like to think that there is a secret we’re missing, that there’s a black magic that we’re not privy to and, if we prove our worth and obtain access to a few simple truths, we’ll capture the success that eludes us. Yet these frauds follow common patterns and there are telltale signs we can learn to spot.

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Here’s How You Build Transformative Teams

2022 June 12
by Greg Satell

One of the most common questions I get asked by senior managers is “How can we find more innovative people?” I know the type they have in mind. Someone energetic and dynamic, full of ideas and able to present them powerfully. It seems like everybody these days is looking for an early version of Steve Jobs.

Yet the truth is that today’s high value work is not done by individuals, but teams. It wasn’t always this way. The journal Nature noted that until the 1920’s most scientific papers only had a single author, but by the 1950s that co-authorship became the norm and now the average paper has four times as many authors as it did back then.

To solve the kind of complex problems that it takes to drive genuine transformation, you don’t need the best people, you need the best teams. That’s why traditional job descriptions lead us astray. They tend to focus on task-driven skills rather than collaboration skills. We need to change how we evaluate, recruit, manage and train talent. Here’s what to look for:

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We Need To Stop Cheerleading Change

2022 June 5
by Greg Satell

Today, everyone seems to want to associate themselves with change. Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric’s former CEO, loved to call his firm a 124 year-old startup. Its value fell by 30% under his tenure and would later collapse. Bill Gates pointed out that the culprit wasn’t innovation or disruption, but basic mismanagement.

It seems that, these days, Immelt’s leadership is closer to the rule than the exception. Everybody wants to be an innovator. Nobody wants to be associated with the status quo. Even political conservatives describe themselves as a “movement,” a seeming contradiction in terms. Change has become gospel, an end in itself rather than a mere means to an end.

The truth is that innovation is less about new ideas than it is about identifying meaningful problems. Too much happy talk about change can actually undermine meaningful transformation. If your focus on the fabulous yonder obscures your view into the day-to-day, you’re most likely headed for trouble. We need to start taking change more seriously.

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Summer Reading List: Books That Will Help You Understand The War In Ukraine

2022 May 29
by Greg Satell

No matter what’s going on during the year, I always look forward to summer. I love the heat and, despite spending 15 years in frigid Eastern European countries, I hate the cold. Every year I find myself counting the days before I can slap on gobs of sunscreen and while away the hours underneath the sun.

Of course, one of my favorite things to do at the beach or by the pool is to read. There’s something about summer that helps me block out whatever else is going on and focus on the book in front of me. So every year I find myself looking for good books that will make the time and effort worth it.

Today, the world is focused on a country I know well, but most people are unfamiliar with. To a surprising extent, Ukraine finds itself at a crossroads of world affairs, with conflicts between east and west, democracy and authoritarianism, populism and globalism in the balance, it’s a war we must win. This summer’s list focuses on understanding why.

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Don’t Hate Your Haters, Leverage Them To Your Advantage

2022 May 22

What can be hardest about change, especially when we feel passionately about it, is that at some point, we need to accept that others will not embrace it. Not every change is for everybody. Some will have to pursue a different journey, one to which they can devote their own passions and seek out their own truths.

Yet there’s something about human nature that makes us want to convince those who vehemently oppose our idea. That’s almost always a mistake. Often, the reason for their opposition has less to do with any rational argument than their identity and sense of self. For whatever reason, it offends their dignity.

Still, we can learn to love our haters, because they can often help us find the way forward. All too often, we end up preaching to the choir instead of venturing out of the church and mixing with the heathens. That’s how change efforts fail. On the other hand, if we can learn to use their tactics and rhetoric to our own advantage, we have a powerful weapon for change.

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Why Smart People Are So Easily Fooled

2022 May 15
by Greg Satell

When I lived in Moscow, my gym was just a five-minute walk from my flat. So rather than use a locker, I would just run over in my shorts and a jacket no matter what the weather was. The locals thought I was crazy. Elderly Russians would sometimes scream at me to go home and get dressed properly.

I had always heard that Russians were impervious to the effects of weather, but the truth is that they get cold just like the rest of us. We tend to mythologize the unknown. Our brains work in strange ways, soaking up patterns from what we see. Often, however, those experiences are unreliable, such as the Hollywood images that helped shape my views about Russians and their impenetrability.

The problem is that myths often feel more real than facts. We have a tendency to seize on information that is most accessible, not the most accurate, and then interpret new evidence based on that prior perception. We need to accept that we can’t avoid our own cognitive biases. The unavoidable truth is that we’re easiest to fool when we think we’re being clever.

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Good Management Is Not Good Strategy. Here’s What Is:

2022 May 8
by Greg Satell

One of the most annoying things I hear from leaders is that “we had a great strategy, but just couldn’t execute it.” That’s simply not possible. If you can’t execute it, it’s not a great strategy. Most likely, it was a fantasy cooked up by some combination of consultants and investment bankers which was enshrined in PowerPoint.

As Richard Rumelt points out in his new book, The Crux, planning is not strategy. Yet that’s what managers are good at, so when they set out to create a strategy they build a plan, starting with objectives and working back to resources and operational directives, rejiggering assumptions along the way to make everything fit.

Good strategy doesn’t rely on assumptions. It changes them. When you look at visionary leaders, like Ray Kroc and McDonalds, Charles Lazarus at Toys “R” Us or Thomas Watson Jr. and the IBM 360, they all focused on solving an emerging problem. The truth is that the next big thing always starts out looking like nothing at all. Good strategy creates something new.

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4 Reasons Why People Resist Change

2022 May 1

Probably the greatest misconception about change is that it fails because people don’t understand it. The truth is that change usually fails because it is actively sabotaged. The status quo has inertia on its side and never yields its power gracefully. Anytime you ask people to change what they think or how they act, you can expect resistance.

Yet not all resistance is the same. Some people are merely skeptical about change, they are looking for evidence based, rational arguments that the proposed action will achieve positive results. Often, however, resistance is irrational and no amount of evidence will be persuasive. People are actively working to subvert change efforts.

We can’t let our transformation efforts be defined by those who want it to fail. Not everyone will embrace change. Instead of wasting time and effort to convince the opposition, we should focus our efforts on empowering those who want it to succeed. However, we need to learn to recognize different kinds of resistance so that we can address genuine issues.

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We Need To Shift Our Mindsets To Compete In An Ecosystem-Driven World

2022 April 24
by Greg Satell

In 1980 Harvard professor Michael Porter published Competitive Strategy, which recommended that firms create advantage by driving efficiencies throughout the value chain and mastering competitive forces by maximizing bargaining power. These concepts drove corporate thinking for decades.

Yet as AnnaLee Saxenian explained in Regional Advantage, around the same time that Porter’s ideas were ascending among CEOs in the establishment industries on the east coast, a very different way of doing business was gaining steam in Silicon Valley. The firms there saw themselves not as isolated fiefdoms, but as part of a larger ecosystem.

Competitive advantage can no longer be reduced to the sum of efficiencies in a value chain, but is embedded in webs of connections. To compete in an ecosystem-driven world, Leaders need to do more than adapt how we deploy assets, we need to look at things differently. It is no longer enough to merely plan and direct action, we need to inspire and empower belief.

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