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What matters today, in Business and Management?

Two weeks ago, we published a blog about the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, and The Management Pocketblog had one of our best weeks ever in terms of readers.

Time Magazine 2012 100 Most Influential People in the WorldCuriously, in the same week (our blogs are usually written one to two weeks ahead), Time Magazine published their 2012 special edition: ‘The 100 Most Influential People in the World’.  Warren Buffett is there (on page 71) with an appreciation written by… President Obama!

The quality of many of their nominations is attested by the quality of the people who have written about them – often far better known, than their subjects.  So I thought it an informative exercise to trawl the articles in the section headed ‘Moguls’ for indications of what passes for influential, these days.

Please note, that I don’t endorse the individuals, nor attest to their doing what is claimed of them.  I merely note that what is claimed of them as an important achievement tells us something of what is valued in business and management today.

1: See the way the world is going

The Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg is praised for her understanding of the impact of social media on society.  Like it or loathe it, that has to be correct: how can you pretend to any credibility in a senior role without at least engaging with the discussions and understanding the beast?

2: A Commitment to the Arts

Both Chen Lihua, philanthropist and owner of Fu Wah International Group, and Walmart heir, Alice Walton, are praised as collectors and patrons of the arts.  We aren’t all that fortunate that we can give away fortunes to pursue these passions but, while we live in societies with freely or cheaply available national and local galleries and museums, we have no excuse for not broadening our perspectives with a deeper appreciation of the beauty and insights of other cultures and our own.

3: Do it with Grace

Daniel Ek founded Spotify. If that name means nothing but you do enjoy music, then you need to take a look.  He is praised for ‘doing what he loves, doing it well and giving away all the credit.’  Wow!  That would make an epitaph I’d be proud of.  Having studied many people that the world considers wise, these are all components of a commonly-recurring philosophy.

4: Contribution

The new CEO of IBM is, for the first time, a woman: Virginia Rommety.  She is praised as an advocate of corporate responsibility – particularly in the fields of education, job creation and small local businesses.  What do you do or advocate for within your organisation that gives it a more robust place in its community?

5: Faith in yourself

Sara Blakely is a billionaire who founded an underwear business with $5,000.  No one had the confidence to invest in her business, but she trusted her gut: or should I say ‘she trusted her judgement about America’s attitudes to their guts’?

6: Discipline and Calm

The cult of personality and the tyrant-leader are powerful clichés, but I doubt either can deliver powerful results – at least, not sustainably.  New Apple CEO Tim Cook is praised for his calmness, his thoughtfulness, his ethical behaviour and his personal discipline.  Score 1 point for wisdom

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The Oracle of Omaha

I have been reading a remarkable and unusual book about a remarkable and unusual business, and learning some remarkable – and sometimes unusual – things.

Warren Buffett speaking to a group of students from the Kansas University School of Business - Work of Mark Hirschey

The business is one of the most impressive in the world – often described as the best business to work for – and it is run by Warren Buffett, a man for whom ego plays no part at all in his business life or management style.  Yet this is also a man who sits atop a company with over 250,000 employees, assets of nearly $400 billion, and an annual net income of over $10 billion.  That company is Berkshire Hathaway.


The Remarkable Book

The remarkable and unusual book I have been reading is called “The Warren Buffett CEO” by Robert P Miles and it is remarkable as a tribute to a great manager, because it is primarily not about Buffett.  It is about the great CEOs he hires.

The extent to which it is about Buffett is that it demonstrates how his careful selection of CEO – based almost entirely on character, rather than credentials, resumes or recommendations – and then his ability to leave them alone to run their businesses makes him “”the best boss in the world”.  Of course, he doesn’t abandon them: he is available any time for a phone conversation and many of them take the opportunity, because they learn from him whenever they do.

Many, Many Remarkable Managers

The book is actually about the stories, personalities and management styles of a selection of Buffett’s CEOs: his “All Stars”.  There is much to learn from these men and women (mostly middle aged men, it must be observed).  Each chapter focuses on one or two of them and each ends with a short selection of their business tenets.

I’d like to share some of my favourites.

Warren Buffett CEO Management Tenets

‘Go out of your way to help your managers.
Stan Lipsey

‘Success in any field can be achieved by staying disciplined.’
Al Ueltschi

‘Mandatory retirement is not a policy I endorse.  As long as someone is healthy and interested in working, he or she should stay on the job.  The intelligence and experience of older people can be a tremendous asset.’
Chuck Higgins – in 2001

‘Try to get along with everyone.  Having a positive attitude affects the people around you.’
Susan Jacques

‘Honesty and integrity should govern all your business decisions.’
Harold Melton

‘View your staff as if they were family.’
Irvin Blumkin

‘If you’re on the fence about a particular deal, then you probably should decline and move on to the next opportunity.’
Ajit Jain

And finally, I think more big businesses should think like this: it’s a paragraph in a letter Buffett wrote to the CEOs of the Berkshire Hathaway businesses.

‘We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money.  We cannot afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.’

or, as Othello says:

‘Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.’

These are only a tiny sampling from a magnificent book.
Do find yourself a copy.

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A Bigger Bite

What is management without vision and inspiration?

The sad news about Steve Jobs’ untimely death has spurred more blogs than anyone has the time to read, so a shorter than usual pocketblog and a simple observation.

A bigger bite out of Apple

Making the complex seem easy and the sophisticated, a doddle to use: this is more than talent, or skill: it’s art.

Last week, for the first time in my life, I heard a major news story first, not on the radio, not on the TV, not in the press, nor even from a colleague, friend, or acquaintance.  I heard it on Twitter.

… on an iPad.

The world is a better place for everyone who is bringing us new technology and more effective communication.  Yes there are compromises and a price to pay, but who would trade it?  Very few.

Steve Jobs brought us the Mac, Pixar, the iPod, iTunes and more.  But here’s the big one for me: without him, we may still think of a mouse only as a small mammal.  Without Steve Jobs, what would the move to touch screen mean?

This image is the landing page of the Apple website, as I write this blog.  (c) Apple 2011

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R.I.P. Corporate Clone: Arise Insightful Executive

This is the third in my Triptych of blogs about the work of Peter Drucker.  The first two were about Drucker, himself, and about Management by Objectives.  This one is about another concept he started to develop in his 1954 book,The Practice of Management.

The Man who Invented Management

Management by Objectives

The Knowledge Worker

Drucker first coined this term in his 1959 book, Landmarks of Tomorrow, saying that:

‘management’s new role is to
make knowledge more productive’

In his earlier book, however, he had started to see the manager’s role as understanding, interpreting and making decisions about the information they can access.

But it was two later works that crystallised his thinking and made him the clear progenitor of how we now interpret the term.

The Effective Executive (1966)

In The Effective Executive, Drucker argues that knowledge workers are executive in that they use knowledge to effect (or execute) changes.  He identifies five habits of an effective executive and, in passing, I note that he used the chapter title ‘First things First’ 23 years before Stephen Covey did, when he used it as one of his seven habits.  Executives must:

  1. know how their time is being spent.
  2. on results rather than the work.
  3. build on strengths first, and then give attention to weaknesses.
  4. focus on the key areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
  5. make effective decisions.

The Age of Discontinuity (1969)

Peter F DruckerThe Age of Discontinuity’ is the book where Drucker really develops the concept of the knowledge worker, as a breed of thoughtful, intelligent executive, every bit as much a professional as a lawyer, engineer or teacher.  They are paid to acquire and apply knowledge, make informed judgements and take responsibility for leadership.

Dull, conforming corporate clones would thenceforth be no longer needed.  Instead, knowledge will be the source of economic power – all of which came 20 years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee made his first formal proposal for what is now the World-wide Web.

Subsequent Thinking

From the early 1990s, management thinkers and futurists seized upon the concept of the knowledge worker and have spun theories, models and predictions out of it.  Indeed, this coincided with the arrival of Generation X in the workplace.  Drucker too, continued writing about the phenomenon, notably in his 1992 book, ‘Managing for the Future’;

‘The world is becoming not labour intensive,
not materials intensive, not energy intensive,
but knowledge intensive.’

We may feel energy and materials intensive in a world that seems to be running out of each, but despite being far from running out of knowledge (take a look at the fantastic web info-graphic below) there is absolutely no doubt that the world is becoming more and more knowledge intensive.

State of the Internet 2011
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Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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Coping in Tough Times

Personal success is about more than taking advantage of opportunities.  One of the most powerful personal attributes is resilience – the ability to take the knocks that fate lands on you, and then get back on your feet and keep going.

Mistakes; I’ve made a few

Photo credit Nicobobinus

Of course, it is okay to make mistakes and, if you aren’t making any then you are either playing it too safe to really succeed, or you are supernaturally lucky.  The first key to coping in tough times is to be able to evaluate risks and  to take a few, knowing that one or two failures are not a sign of inevitable doom.

If, on the other hand, a pattern of failures seems to dominate your career, then maybe it is time to evaluate your decision making process.  Probably, either your criteria are wrong, or you are not fully evaluating all of the evidence before you take your risks.

The Grass is always Greener

Few people worry about how well they are doing until they suspect that their peers are doing better.  When things are easy, it is no problem to set ourselves goals and evaluate progress against them, but as things start going bad, we often feel tempted to glance over the fence to see how the folk next door are doing.  Unless you can deliberately learn from their experience, this is a destructive strategy.  If they are doing better than you, you’ll resent it: if worse, you’ll be tempted to complacency.

Continue to set yourself goals and monitor your progress against your own standards.

The Universe doesn’t hate you

In fact, it’s pretty indiscriminate.  So do not feel that adversity is your fault, or that you are fated to have bad luck.  Instead, believe in your ability to control aspects of your future, and focus on those aspects.  Let the things you cannot control happen.

There’s no point in staying angry

Oliver Burkeman in Saturday’s Guardian reported on research which shows that forgiveness really does help us, by making us less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, clinical depression and other health problems.  So don’t get angry, don’t stay angry and let go of past injustices and misfortunes.

Personal Success is a Set of Skills

There are a pocketful of Pocketbooks to help you achieve success, starting with The Personal Success Pocketbook, in which you will learn that Abraham Lincoln suffered twelve major failures before being elected President – that’s resilience.  Of course, we could argue that perhaps he’d have lived a longer life if he’d taken heed!

More Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Impact & Presence Pocketbook

The Networking Pocketbook

The Career Transition Pocketbook

The Positive Mental Attitude Pocketbook

The Self Managed Development Pocketbook

The Energy and Wellbeing Pocketbook

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