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This One Simple Scientific Principle Explains Why You Shouldn’t Waste Too Much Time Trying To Convince People

2022 October 2

Experts have a lot of ideas about persuasion. Some suggest leveraging social proof, to show that people have adopted the idea and had a positive experience. Others emphasize the importance of building trust and using emotional rather than analytical arguments. Still others insist on creating a unified value proposition.

These are, for the most part, constructive ideas. Yet they are more a taxonomy than a toolbox. Human nature can be baffling and our behavior is rarely consistent. Sometimes we’ll dig in our heels on a relatively minor point and others we’ll give in on a major issue relatively easily, often without any constable rhyme or reason.

Yet consider this one simple science-based principle that explains a lot: The best indicator of what we think and what we do is what the people around us think and do. Once you internalize that, you can begin to understand a lot of otherwise bizarre behavior and work to spread the ideas you care about. Often it’s not opinions we need to shape, but networks.

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Schwerpunkt: The Killer Strategic Concept You’ve Never Heard Of (But Really Need To Know!)

2022 September 25
by Greg Satell

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, his first mission was not to create but destroy. He axed a number of failing products and initiatives, such as the ill-fated Newton personal digital assistant and the Macintosh clones. Under Jobs, Apple would no longer try to be all things to all people.

What came after was not a flurry of activity, but a limited number of highly targeted moves. First  came the candy-colored iMac. It was a modest success. Then came the iPod, iPhone and iPad, breakout hits which propelled Apple from a failing company to the most valuable company on earth. Each move shifted the firm’s center of gravity to a decisive point and broke through.

That, in essence, is the principle of Schwerpunkt, a German military term that roughly translates to “focal point.” Jobs understood that he didn’t have to win everywhere, just where it mattered and focused Apple’s resources on just a few meaningful products. The truth is that good strategy relies less on charts and analysis than on finding your Schwerpunkt.

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3 Reasons Why Business Thinking Is So Consistently Shoddy

2022 September 18
by Greg Satell

“The single most important message in this book is very simple,” reads the first line in John Kotter’s highly regarded The Heart of Change. “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.

Really? That’s the important message? That emotive arguments are more powerful than factual arguments? What about other reasons why people change their behavior, such as social proof, conformity, incentives or coercion? By setting up a binary and artificial choice between two communication alternatives, he eliminates important strategic and tactical options.

It’s not just Kotter either, who is a well respected professor at Harvard Business School. The truth is that a lot of management thinking is surprisingly shoddy, with arbitrary notions and cognitive biases dressed up as scholarly work. We need to be more skeptical about “research” that comes out of business schools and consultancies. Here are three things to look for:

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Change Isn’t About Persuasion. It’s About Power

2022 September 11
by Greg Satell

The greatest misconception about change is that it’s about persuasion. All too often, we think that once people understand our idea, they will embrace it. Nothing can be further from the truth. Anybody who’s ever been married or had kids knows how difficult it can be to convince even a single person of something.

Clearly, if you intend to influence an entire organization—much less an entire society—of something, you have to assume the deck is stacked against you. Still, organizations routinely pay armies of change management consultants to spend endless billable hours wordsmithing internal marketing campaigns. No wonder change so often fails.

The truth is that change isn’t about persuasion, but power. If you want change and can access the power to implement it, it will happen. If not, it won’t. That’s why effective change agents learn to leverage multiple sources of power. They mobilize people to influence institutions that can further their cause. That’s how you bring genuine transformation about.

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Why We’re Better Off Assuming People Are Competent And Hardworking

2022 September 4
by Greg Satell

Go to just about any business conference these days and you’re likely to see some pundit on stage telling a story about a company—often Blockbuster, Kodak or Xerox—that got blindsided by nascent trends. Apparently, the leaders who rose to the top of the corporate ladder were so foolish they just weren’t paying attention.

These stories are good for a laugh, but they usually aren’t true. People who lead successful companies are, for the most part, competent, hardworking and ambitious. That’s how they got their jobs in the first place. There are, of course, exceptions. People who have a talent for self-promotion can get to the top too.

Still it’s much better to assume competence. That’s how we learn. The truth is that we all get disrupted sooner or later. It doesn’t only happen to silly people. Every square-peg business eventually meets its round-hole world. Smart, competent people fail all the time and, if we want to have a chance at avoiding their fate, we need to understand how that happens.

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We Need To Get Back To Counting What Counts

2022 August 28
by Greg Satell

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted,” is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein, which I think aptly sums up the past 40 years. Since the 80s, we’ve been laser-focused on numbers and missed the underlying math. We’ve become finance-obsessed but lost track of economics.

Consider Jack Welch, who Fortune magazine named “Manager of the Century.” In the article explaining why he deserved such an honor, it lauded the CEO’s ability to increase the stock price and deliver consistent earnings growth, but nowhere did it refer to a breakthrough product or impact on society.

There’s a good reason for that. As NY Times columnist David Gelles explains in, The Man Who Broke Capitalism, Welch increased profits largely by firing workers, cutting investment and “financializing” the firm. During his 20 year reign, innovation faltered and the company produced less, not more. Clearly, we need to reevaluate what we consider valuable.

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We All Need To Learn The Change Lifecycle

2022 August 21
by Greg Satell

When a transformational initiative fails, it’s often said that it was because people don’t like change. That’s not really true. Everywhere I go in the world, no matter what type of group I’m speaking to, people are enthusiastic about some kind of change. It’s other people’s ideas for change that they aren’t so crazy about.

Senior leaders love to tell me about their inspired visions for their enterprise, but complain that they can’t get the rank-and-file to go along. Middle managers complain that they are bursting with ideas, but can’t get the bosses to go along. As failed initiatives pile up, people talk past each other and change fatigue sets in.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are natural laws that govern change and these laws can be learned and applied by anyone. The problem is that managers don’t study change the same way they study finance, or marketing, or strategy. Business schools don’t teach it as a discipline. But change has a lifecycle that we can learn to manage and exploit.
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Why The CHIPS Bill May Be A Turning Point For Innovation In America

2022 August 14
by Greg Satell

In every conceivable sense, the United States is a divided country. Congress, almost evenly split between two parties, seems permanently mired in rancor and gridlock . Our government struggles to put out a budget each year without shutting down. The notion that we can forge an actual vision for the future of the country often seems like some sort of nostalgic pipe dream.

That’s why the overwhelming support for the CHIPS Act is as puzzling as it is encouraging. After years of neglect of—and in some cases outright hostility to—government funding of science, the legislation, which passed the Senate by a margin of 64-33 and was signed by President Biden. It has the potential to be truly transformative.

Ironically, we may have China to thank for it. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has lacked an organizing principle and, to a great extent, a true sense of mission. Lacking a long-term vision, we’ve neglected investments in infrastructure, science and technology. Now, however, the tide may be turning and, if history is any guide, we’ll be all the better for it.

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Happy 13th Birthday Digital Tonto!

2022 August 7
by Greg Satell

When I started this blog back in 2009, the world was a very different place. First, and perhaps most obvious, we used to come up with brand names for our blogs instead of just using our real names. Social media was just becoming a thing and there was still debate about whether digital media was a viable advertising platform.

In the early years, I argued that Facebook actually was worth the $50 billion valuation Goldman Sachs gave it. It is now with over $400 billion, even as it faces a blackout in the EU. Today, in an era that has seen pandemic, rising authoritarianism, war and strife, those times seem almost quaint. We understood so little of what kind of trouble was brewing. Now we need to figure how to fix it all.

Still, I remain optimistic. Looking through old Digital Tonto “birthday” posts I noticed that we used to assume that we could change the world by creating more powerful technology. Now it’s more clear that our challenge is change itself, which we really suck at. This week, Digital Tonto turns 13 and, like in previous years, I’m sharing some of my favorite posts.

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Why Your Values Determine Your Ability To Compete

2022 July 31
by Greg Satell

When Lou Gerstner was chosen to lead IBM in 1993, he was an unlikely revolutionary. A McKinsey consultant and then the successful CEO of RJR Nabisco, he was considered to be a pillar of the establishment. He would, however, turn out to be as subversive as any activist, transforming the company and saving it from near-death.

Yet there was more to what he achieved than simply turning red ink to black. “The Gerstner revolution wasn’t about technology or strategy, it was about transforming our values and our culture to be in greater harmony with the market,” Irving Wladawsky-Berger, one of his chief lieutenants, told me.

Values are essential to how an enterprise honors its mission. They represent choices of what an organization will and will not do, what it rewards and what it punishes and how it defines success and failure. Perhaps most importantly, values will determine an enterprise’s relationships with other stakeholders, how it collaborates and what it can achieve.

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