Gregory P. Shea

Nobody wants to fail, but when there’s failure, does it get debriefed so that learning occurs in the organization? If there’s success, do you debrief to try to improve, as well? Debriefing shouldn’t be a code word for “We only do it when we fail.” You want to secure the ways that you succeed, as well. If you did succeed, part of the development and … [ Read more ]

Ariel Silverstone

[An] effective way to detect what [customer data] has leaked, and through which possible partner, is to pre-poison the data, sowing into it information that can provide a reference point in the case of a leak.

Freek Vermeulen

Benchmarking is by definition where companies look at the best-performing companies in their industry. What companies don’t look at is the bottom-performing ones. Companies therefore are inclined to imitate the practice and strategies of the top 10 performing companies — whichever they pick in the benchmarking exercise. But of course different strategies and practices are often associated with different risks. Some strategies may, on average, … [ Read more ]

Scott Keller, Mary Meaney

To most leaders, the speed and flexibility that drive innovation lie at the opposite end of the spectrum from standardization and centralization, which promote efficiency and control risk. Not so. Rita Gunther McGrath’s research sheds light on agile organizations. Large companies that raise their income disproportionately, she found, have two main characteristics: they are innovative and experimental and can move quickly but also have consistent … [ Read more ]

Duff McDonald

Each year, scores of management books claim significant new scientific findings in the pursuit of an unchanging goal: how to perform better, both individually and in groups. But most of those so-called findings are neither scientific nor new. The majority of management writers simply offer up freshly tossed word salads in hopes of coining that year’s business buzzword.

Camilo Becdach, Shannon Hennessy, Lauren Ratner

Managers either love or hate benchmarks. Those in the former camp see benchmarks as valuable metrics for understanding the competitive landscape and for triggering important internal discussions; they believe companies should strive to meet or exceed benchmarks. Those in the latter camp argue that every company is unique and that it’s therefore unhelpful and illogical to compare one company’s decisions, structure, and head count to … [ Read more ]

Shannon Hennessy

Everyone loves to hate on benchmarks, and I can understand where that comes from. There are people who have deep scars from watching benchmarks get misused and from trying to compare one company to another in a way that they aren’t similar.

That said, I have not seen anything be as effective as benchmarks in triggering some hard questions, such as “Why does it take 50 … [ Read more ]

Steven Sinofsky

Business is a social science which leads to lots of crazy advice that arises from doing whatever seems to be working at a given moment for a visible and successful company. […] Conversely, if something isn’t going well then it won’t be long before the collective wisdom concludes that you need to go with the other end-point of the pendulum.

Duncan Watts

You’re trying to understand what makes something successful, but you’re only studying successful things. But of course, most of the things that successful people do are also done by unsuccessful people. So all successful people have breakfast, right? Maybe having breakfast is the key to being successful. Well, it turns out that’s not a very predictive feature. But you already know that if you study … [ Read more ]

Eric J. McNulty

It can be easy to reduce malfeasance to the acts of a few bad apples. This kind of thinking absolves the organization, and even the larger system, of blame — it’s a comfortable place for those invested in the status quo. I take a lesson from a healthcare system where I conducted a number of interviews earlier this year. Their quality ratings had gone from … [ Read more ]

Mehrdad Baghai, Sven Smit, and S. Patrick Viguerie

Although good execution is essential for defending market share in fiercely contested markets, and thus for capitalizing on the corporate portfolio’s full-market-growth potential, it is usually not the key differentiator between companies that are growing quickly and those that are growing slowly. These findings suggest that executives ought to complement the traditional focus on execution and market share with more attention to where a company … [ Read more ]

Jess Whittlestone

Does following Peters and Waterman’s eight principles guarantee you business success? Almost certainly not. One big problem with their research was that they only looked at successful companies. Knowing that all successful companies have something in common tells us nothing unless we also know that unsuccessful companies lack those things. We might find that all successful business founders displayed an interest in entrepreneurship from an … [ Read more ]

Jess Whittlestone

Though we’re unlikely to ever distill success into a neat formula or set of principles, there is an alternative approach, which might bring more promise. [Jerker] Denrell suggests that rather than trying to demystify success, we should spend more time studying failure, which may come down to much more consistent principles. Understanding what not to do, if based on more solid evidence, could be much … [ Read more ]

Michael E. Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed

Our frustration with most success studies is not that any particular directive is wrong. Rather, somewhat ironically, it is that all too often many researchers offer prescriptions that could never be wrong; that is, their claims cannot be proven to be false.

Michael E. Raynor

I know of no systematic attempt to demonstrate the efficacy in use of any framework described in any major success study. In the absence of hard evidence, it is far more likely that whatever benefit practitioners might have perceived or realized has been the consequence of some or all of a form of placebo effect (you expect it to help, so you perceive that it … [ Read more ]

Michael Raynor, Mumtaz Ahmed

Exceptional companies all have the same recipe (better before cheaper, revenue before cost) but use different ingredients. In addition to creating superior levels of performance, exceptional companies deliver superior levels of performance for longer than anyone has a right to expect. It seems worth exploring, then, if and how exceptional companies adapt. Is exceptional performance a function of deep moats and thick ramparts, or does … [ Read more ]

Michael Raynor, Mumtaz Ahmed

Advice on how to compete successfully is subject to an irony that borders on paradox. If the advice is right, then it will be universally adopted; if it is universally adopted, it does not improve your relative performance; if it does not improve your relative performance, it is wrong. In other words, if the advice is right, then the advice is wrong.

Oded Shenkar

To cognitive scholars, the correspondence problem is the central scientific puzzle in imitation. This challenge of converting the imitation target into a copy that will preserve the favorable outcome observed in the original is as relevant for business as it is for the sciences, and no company can hope to become strategically agile without being able to decipher it. For instance, many firms copied General … [ Read more ]

James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras

If we had to distill our six-year research project into one key concept that conveys the most information about what it takes to build a visionary company that can adapt to a changing world, we would adapt the yin/yang symbol. We selected the yin/yang symbol to represent a key aspect of highly visionary companies: they do not oppress themselves with what we call the “Tyranny … [ Read more ]

William C. Taylor

The most creative leaders I’ve met don’t aspire to learn from the “best in class” in their industry—especially when best in class isn’t all that great. Instead, they aspire to learn from innovators far outside their industry as a way to shake things up and leapfrog the competition. Ideas that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another industry, especially … [ Read more ]