View from the mountaintop

Meet a brilliant strategist who is skeptical of strategic planning, the stock market, and PowerPoint presentations.

Strategy and innovation have much in common, not all of it pretty. They are the questing beasts of mythology let loose in the world of business, which most of the time is concerned with process, maintenance, the status quo—what Richard Rumelt calls “doorknob polishing.” Rumelt is a professor of strategy at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. Considered “the strategist’s strategist,” he was interviewed by the global management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Continue reading “View from the mountaintop”

Lessons from the Bell Curve

Strategy and innovation, the highest functions of reason and creativity, combine careful planning with improvisation—and the ability to turn on a dime.

In my last column, I quoted the definition of strategy given by Richard Rumelt, a professor of business strategy at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. To paraphrase: the essence of strategic thinking is speculation. The key word is “speculation.” Success usually appears during periods of stability, when the systems we have designed are producing the outcomes we desire. During these prosperous times, we may forget the earlier stages when we planted the seeds of future opportunity. There was uncertainty, soul searching, and trial and error—a certain fumbling around. A mathematician friend of mine came up with the phrase “data momentum” to describe most of what happens in our lives: 90% is driven by what happened yesterday, by forces that have already been set in motion. Continue reading “Lessons from the Bell Curve”

The power of fear

Kayaking in the Bay of Fundy, I saw a giant shark fin coming at me out of the mist. My heart raced. My brain snapped into high gear. I was, in a word, afraid.

Actually, this never happened.

What really happened was that I recalled what two fishermen had told me the last time I was out paddling. Some other fishermen had told them they had seen a huge fin out there. One guy alone in his boat had been afraid enough to get the hell out of there. Continue reading “The power of fear”

Claude Shannon plays games, searches for truth, invents Information Theory

Elite mathematicians are as creative as painters and entrepreneurs. Maybe more so.

It’s a small sample, but the brilliant people I know and have known share two underappreciated traits: a sense of humor and a quirky passion for following their curiosity, no matter what. These two qualities can get you into a lot of trouble. Continue reading “Claude Shannon plays games, searches for truth, invents Information Theory”

Creating new worlds vs. the myth of problem solving

The term problem-solving assumes you are adopting someone else’s view of  the world.

Despite its popularity, the current obsession with problem solving is way off the mark. Ditto finding out what your customers want and giving it to them. This is fine for fine tuning and tweaking what already works, but it’s not what changes the world. Not even close.

As Henry Ford reportedly said, “If I’d listened to my customers, I would have invented a faster horse.” Continue reading “Creating new worlds vs. the myth of problem solving”