The hybrid stategy: Stock and Flow

There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a static value: money in the bank or trees in the forest. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour or three thousand toothpicks a day. Easy. Too easy.

But I actually think stock and flow is a useful metaphor for media in the 21st century. Here’s what I mean:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

Flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but I think we neglect stock at our peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: oh man. I’ve got nothing here.

I’m not saying you should ignore flow! This is no time to hole up and work in isolation, emerging after years with your work in hand. Everybody will go: huh? Who are you? And even if they don’t—even if your exquisite opus is the talk of the tumblrs for two whole days—if you don’t have flow to plug your new fans into, you’re suffering a huge (get ready for it!) opportunity cost. You’ll have to find those fans all over again next time you emerge from your cave.

(…)

And the real magic trick is to put them both together. To keep the ball bouncing with your flow—to maintain that open channel of communication—while you work on some kick-ass stock in the background. Sacrifice neither. The hybrid strategy.

More here.

 

 

Management lessons from the covid-19 death spiral

An excellent article from Ed Yong1  begins like this:

Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. enters the sixth month of the pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 189,000 confirmed deaths. The toll has been enormous because the country presented the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities to exploit. But the toll continues to be enormous—every day, the case count rises by around 40,000 and the death toll by around 800—because the country has consistently thought about the pandemic in the same unproductive ways.

The author then identifies nine errors that hamper our ability to respond to the pandemic. And one stands out to me because we discuss it often in my strategy workshops.

The most accurate model to date predicts that the U.S. will head into November with 220,000 confirmed deaths. More than 1,000 health-care workers have died. One in every 1,125 Black Americans has died, along with similarly disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. And yet, a recent poll found that 57 percent of Republican voters and 33 percent of independents think the number of deaths is acceptable. “In order for us to mobilize around a social problem, we all have to agree that it’s a problem,” Lori Peek says. “It’s shocking that we haven’t, because you really would have thought that with a pandemic it would be easy.” This is the final and perhaps most costly intuitive error …

The first lesson is, of course, a refresher: Situations that require the coordination of all parties involved can only be solved by the participation of all parties involved. And that participation is best obtained when parties see and agree on the nature of the problem, rather than by means of executive fiat.

And the second lesson is the costly intuitive error: To think that because the situation is obvious to you it will be obvious to others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/, accessed 200911 []

The real future of work. It’s not what you think

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the job projected to have the largest percentage increase in employment from 2018 to 2028 is the home health aide followed by the personal care aide, a reflection of the growing older population in America.

Despite the increasing need for these workers, home health aides and personal care aides typically earn less than $12 per hour. And they are overwhelmingly women of color, and disproportionately black women: 87 percent of paid adult care workers are women, compared with 46 percent of nondomestic workers, and about 25 percent of home care aides are black, compared with 12 percent of nondomestic workers.

The workers we need the most aren’t wearing boots and hard hats; they are wearing sneakers or scrubs. (source)

The real future of work is the people who take care of us – a low-wage service work force that is disproportionately made up of black women and other women of color. A workforce that will grow in numbers as the population ages. And they are largely unprotected by our safety net.

This helps situate the relative importance of robots replacing humans and remote/distributed work.

Also, I can’t get over the numbers.

$12 an hour is $96 a day, $480 a week, $24,000 (for 50 weeks). Roughly $2,000 gross, $1,800 net.

Can one live on $1,800 net?

If you follow the 50-30-20 philosophy, you’d have $900 to cover your Needs (Housing, Groceries, Utilities, Transportation, Bills, Insurance, etc.), $540 on Wants (Shopping, Entertainment, Restaurants, Hobbies, Etc.), and $360 for Debt Payoff and Savings.

 

 

 

It’s too early to call it “the new normal”

We’re at the end of Week 3. We made it through another week!

I say “made it through” because there is nothing usual about these times.

Almost 10 million people filed unemployment clams in the last two weeks. 24% of SMEs have shut down temporarily in response to COVID-19. Among those who haven’t temporarily shut down, 40% are likely to do so within the next two weeks. I think folks are too quick to call the current circumstances “the new normal”.

And for those of us who are still employed, we’re not really “working from home”. It’s more like we’re at home, with our spouse/partner, with our children, with our pets, all day, every day, trying to get work done.

We’re coordinating events, chores, and meals with our spouse/partner, arranging lessons and homework with the children, walking the dog, etc., all day, every day, trying to get work done.

This is not the common variety of remote work, distributed work, or WFH. This is survival in new challenging circumstances that will last for a while.

So, let’s not expect productivity to be the same as before – our productivity, that of the people we work with, and that of the people who work for us.

And let’s not judge. Depending on whether you have worked from home before this, whether you have children at home, and depending on the health of your financial situation, everyone is tackling different sets of challenges which might cause them to be nervous, anxious, and scared.

If anything, these new circumstances should make us more understanding, kinder, and more forgiving of ourselves and others.

Stay healthy. Stay home. Stay connected.

 

How can management theories guide life decisions?

On the last day of class, Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, asks his students to turn those theoretical lenses on themselves to find cogent answers to three questions:

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.

As the students discuss the answers to these questions, I open my own life to them as a case study of sorts, to illustrate how they can use the theories from our course to guide their life decisions.

More at How will you measure your life?

 

 

A list of best practices will not make you a great company

… any more than finding a recipe will make you a great cook.

Bill Bennett reflects on the writings of Alfred North Whitehead on learning. He ends up dismissing the pursuit of “best practices” as secrets to success in favor of a culture of discovery:

  • Design your organization so that it develops new capabilities;
  • Make it your job, as a leader, to help your organization be better at learning;
  • Structure your organization so that your people must engage with important, unsolved problems.
  • Establish routines that allow for failure and reward those who try to discover;
  • Build a culture that values discovering over knowing, becoming over being;
  • Lead by design.

And don’t forget the secret: There is no secret1

20 years after Disruptive Innovation

The theory of disruptive innovation was introduced in the Harvard Business Review in 1995 and it has since become part of common business parlance. Twenty years after the publication of the original article, Clayton Chistensen, Michael Raynor, and Rory McDonald present a state of the art in a recent HBR article.

The authors fear that

disruption theory is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Despite broad dissemination, the theory’s core concepts have been widely misunderstood and its basic tenets frequently misapplied. Furthermore, essential refinements in the theory over the past 20 years appear to have been overshadowed by the popularity of the initial formulation. As a result, the theory is sometimes criticized for shortcomings that have already been addressed.

And they are not pleased either with the way the expression itself is being used.

Too frequently, they use the term loosely to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever it is they wish to do. Many researchers, writers, and consultants use “disruptive innovation” to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up and previously successful incumbents stumble. But that’s much too broad a usage.

Nor how

executives with a good understanding of disruption theory tend to forget some of its subtler aspects when making strategic decisions.

They identify four points that get overlooked or misunderstood:

  1. Disruption is a process.
  2. Disrupters often build business models that are very different from those of incumbents.
  3. Some disruptive innovations succeed; some don’t.
  4. The mantra “Disrupt or be disrupted” can misguide us.

 

disruptive innovation

The latter part of the article reviews ways in which the authors’ thinking about disruptive innovation has evolved and it ends on a cautionary note:

Disruption theory does not, and never will, explain everything about innovation specifically or business success generally. Far too many other forces are in play, each of which will reward further study. Integrating them all into a comprehensive theory of business success is an ambitious goal, one we are unlikely to attain anytime soon.

See also A new version of Porter’s five-forces model.

.

 

Inevitable strategy

Roger Martin illustrates the difference between Mintzberg‘s emergent strategy and deliberate strategy:

Every company has a strategy. Whether it ‘does strategy’ explicitly or not, the choices that it makes on a daily basis result in the company operating on some part of the playing field (i.e. making a where-to-play choice) and competing there in some fashion (i.e. making a how-to-win choice). It matters not a whit whether the industry is highly uncertain, every company competing in it has a strategy.

Without making an effort to ‘do strategy,’ though, a company runs the risk of its numerous daily choices having no coherence to them, of being contradictory across divisions and levels, and of amounting to very little of meaning. It doesn’t have to be so. But it continues to be so because these leaders don’t believe there is a better way.

Are ‘big data’ making strategists redundant?

Not yet, says Andrew Hill at FT.com:

Unlike intelligent fridges that can buy their own groceries online, large data-driven companies can’t order their own strategic direction. Even if they could, they would need someone sitting in front of a dashboard to decide, on the basis of abundant data, which innovation to bless with scarce capital. That, at least, will come as a relief to CEOs, as they struggle to keep their heads above water.