Real Power and Influence

One of my Intel colleagues, a Harvard MBA told me a story of HBS students eager to take John Kotter‘s leadership class, at the time called “Power & Influence.” The students thought that Kotter’s course would teach them how to become calculating and ruthless. He amusingly remembered that Kotter’s course taught them the exact opposite: managers must first learn to be humble, connect and gain the respect of their colleagues and subordinates, before attempting to lead, or they would be doomed. Kotter’s book of the same name is filled with case studies of “ruthless” people who failed and those with humility who succeeded.

Tobi has struck a vulnerable nerve with his painfully accurate comment that Canada has a cultural problem, a “go for the bronze” mentality.” He is not the first to point out Canada’s lack of clothing WRT commitment and investment in innovation and entrepreneurship. Canada frankly has never been keen on risk capital. It’s just not Canadian, eh? Tobi joins Richard Florida and other Canadians in making similar awkward observations. The greatest irony is that Tobi’s remark that we need an “Own the Podium” program for Canadian innovation, was first proposed by former UBC President Arvind Gupta in a Vancouver Sun editorial some 10 years ago. Predictably, nothing has happened since then, and nothing will likely happen now.

Managing The Accelerated Corporate Lifecycle

Anyone starting a new company should understand the concept of the “corporate life cycle”, and use it as a guide for understanding where the company is in that cycle, to understand the risks at each stage, and to recognize the need for action to change course. This graphic shows a typical corporate life cycle and different possible paths as the company matures. Management of the corporate life cycle also dovetails with the concept of a “strategic inflection point,” which I briefly discussed in my Week 5 Report, The Internet of Things. John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco Systems has pointed out that the rapid acceleration in market changes has also accelerated the corporate life cycle, emphasizing the importance of understanding it. Companies abound that were initially very successful and yet eventually closed their doors, or were acquired because the company did not anticipate market changes and the need to adapt to the new situation.

Strategic Focus versus Nimbleness

This week I want to discuss the importance of strategic focus, while still being open to possible opportunities, sometimes called corporate “nimbleness,” which may seem like a contradiction. I am a strong believer in strategic focus, however I have also personally experienced a case where an “openness” to opportunity transformed the enterprise from a pedestrian company into a Silicon Valley legend. Ascend Communications was “focused” on ISDN based video conferencing with a modest and profitable OEM agreement with AT&T. However, AT&T came to Ascend and asked if it could solve a much bigger problem…