All posts by bowersm1

AMID THE PANDEMIC, ENTREPRENEURS CAN STILL FIND OPPORTUNITY

The crisis provides fertile ground for startups in spaces like telehealth and touch-lessRead More >> payment. Other startups will need to get creative.  Business can be divided into two categories: those that have COVID headwinds—think restaurant suppliers whose customers are struggling to survive—and those with COVID tailwinds—think telehealth technology firms that have never seen more demand.  But that doesn’t mean that startups with headwinds are doomed. Instead, entrepreneurs must harness the innovative spirit that drives them and adjust to the moment.  Overall, fewer businesses are started during recessions. And the ones that are start smaller than those formed during boom years.  The good news, however, is that recession-born businesses tend to be more productive, as measured by revenue per employee. And startups during a recession tend to be grouped into industries that rely heavily on innovation.  In the last financial crisis of 2008, society’s growing distrust of financial institutions led to startups like Venmo and Square.  Today, people should expect to see innovations in a wide range of industries. For example, healthcare innovations will likely address both drug development and telehealth delivery. There will likely be new types of automation in manufacturing to allow for social distancing between employees. And, for supply chains, she anticipates more real-time monitoring, so companies can manage customer expectations in the event of disruptions.  Investors are approaching startups and saying, ’I know you’re not planning on raising for 12 months, but I want to preempt that round.’  What they’re really saying is, ‘I have FOMO. I have fear of missing out. I want to get my money into your company because it’s going to grow so fast and I want to get it in now. I’m willing to take the additional risk because I see the future.’  

THE TWO FACES OF LEADERSHIP

The first face is heroic. It’s what leaders use to inspire and motivate, role-model behavior and express an enthralling vision. The second is more practical. It’s the face leaders assume behind the scenes as they preside over the processes that keep the organisation running smoothly. For their plans to succeed, leaders must face in both directions at once. The problem is that as leadership development ballooned into a global US$366 billion industry, it has fixated on the public face at the expense of the process-oriented one. Leadership is a hotter topic than ever, but its popular image only brings half the picture into focus. Star leaders should do the following heavy lifting in the background of their organization: scanning and sense-making, building and locking in commitment, handling contradictions, harnessing culture, and developing talent and capabilities. Scanning and sense-making allows leaders to reality-check their strategy. Building and locking in commitment to a strategy requires more than a dynamite PowerPoint presentation. First and foremost, generating consensus, or at least a good-faith acceptance, hinges on the level of openness involved in the process. Handling contradictions consists of trade-offs to help leaders cope with contrasting mandates, e.g. the need for hierarchy vs. the comparative agility of decentralized decision making, the wisdom of thinking long-term vs. the imperative to deliver quarterly shareholder returns. Harnessing culture occurs through indirection. Developing talent and capabilities encompasses more than spotting superstars in the making and giving them opportunities to shine.  Read More >>

NETWORKING IN THE NEW REALITY

Curiosity and reciprocity, plus some ingenuity, will help you build relationships in the age of Zoom.  To many people, networking feels a bit like squeezing into trousers one size too small. But networking is essential if you wish to amass the social capital indispensable to a successful career. Its importance has not diminished with the overnight explosion of remote working. If anything, networking has become more critical, as jobs and advancement opportunities are swept away by the coronavirus.  Building connections in times like these will require out-of-the-box thinking as well as the same deliberateness and perspectives that characterised effective networking before the world changed.  If you think you don’t have anything to offer, change your thinking.  In the era of Zoom and reduced face-to-face contact, what could you do to maintain and even expand your network?  Here’s how: First, set aside one to two hours of 15-minute slots every week. Then, announce on LinkedIn or other social media, or your company intranet that you’re hosting 15-minute conversations to exchange ideas and give advice. Be sure to indicate your areas of interest or expertise to invite relevant conversations. Ask interested participants to give you two sentences on why they’re reaching out to you, “so that you’re not just getting random people”.  With the right attitude and framing, networking need not be a pain.  Approach the world as if you always have something to learn. Consider reaching out as a way of learning or giving. It might even feel good.  Read More >>

AS THE CRISIS DRAGS ON, HERE’S HOW LEADERS CAN MAINTAIN MOMENTUM

Once upon a time, back in early March, many people expected that the coronavirus would place a temporary pause on normal life. People would be out of the office for a few weeks, kids would switch to remote learning for a bit, but then everything would go back to how it was. Now, three months later, it’s clear that we’re in this crisis—the public-health crisis and the ensuing economic one—for the long haul. It is important to make sure that whatever one is doing, one is acting in line within the values of one’s organization and personal psyche. This can be particularly hard in a crisis, when emotions run high, and stress takes a toll on people mentally and physically. Leaders should also be asking specific questions in the midst of a crisis because the landscape has likely shifted from where it was pre-crisis or even early on in the crisis. For one thing, risk may look very different than it did three months ago. Crucial in all of this is that leaders not overlook the human dimension of a crisis, which has been particularly acute during this pandemic. And business leaders should be seeking to help their communities these days.  Read More >>

HAS VENTURE CAPITAL STRAYED FROM ITS ROOTS?

‘Venture capital’ has become a household concept. There is a proliferation of funds, valued at almost US$300 billion globally. It has turned into an asset class of its own – generating interest from traditional sources of finance like pension funds and family offices but also the retail investor who wants a slice of the entrepreneurial action. We see the rise of the professional entrepreneur, a career path that seems as normal as banking or engineering. Venture capital, just by the size of the funds under management today, has become a ‘financial art’ of sorts. It has not only become institutionalised, one could say that it has indeed become commoditised. Consider the portfolio approach to investments, where one bets on the probability that some will pay off while others won’t. The “1 in 10” thought process also means that venture capitalists today have to be brutal about cutting off the losers and backing the winners, doubling down on those that may stand that 10x chance of winning the odds. Has the time come for us to rethink VC in today’s world? Business, if treated as a force for good, can only create a system that generates returns in an ethical, balanced way.  Read More >>

HOW DIXIE CUPS BECAME THE BREAKOUT START-UP OF THE 1918 PANDEMIC

In 1907, Boston attorney Lawrence Luellen created a cup. It wasn’t made of glass or metal—the norm at the time. Instead, it was made of paper so it could be thrown away after use. While not earth-shattering in our current context, in the early 1900s there were no disposable paper tissues or paper towels. A cup made of paper was a novel idea, one with a noble goal: Luellen hoped his paper cups could help stop the spread of disease. What makes this century-old startup story especially poignant today is that Dixie cups, as they came to be known, achieved only moderate growth for 10 years until the Spanish flu of 1918 made disposable cups a necessity and helped the Dixie cup become a household name. In 2012, Smithsonian Magazine even called the Dixie cup a “life-saving technology” that helped stop the spread of disease. With the success of Dixie cups came other disposable products, such as Kleenex in 1924 and paper towels in 1931. This also led to new and environmentally harmful materials such as polystyrene finding their way into consumer products. As the history of Dixie cups shows, a product that solves one problem can create new ones. Some people are already complaining of “Zoom fatigue,” for example. Products that become popular during the current pandemic will have their own first- and second-order effects. Some of the problematic ones will present opportunities for intrepid new startups.  Read More >>

CREATING, FAST AND SLOW

Innovation is considered to be a sport for interdisciplinary brokers and boundary spanners these days. However, contrary to trends in the business literature, creativity is not always developed through a broad network. For winners of the highest accolades, like the Nobel Prize or the Fields Medal, deep commitment to narrow questions and a thorough understanding of a particular topic are essential to push boundaries into new frontiers. There is a missing piece in our understanding of creativity by highlighting that the world is not a static environment where people simply recombine local (i.e. from the same field) or distant (i.e. from other fields) components. Creative work is more complex than the often-discussed trade-off between exploitation and exploration. There is a third type of recombination. One that involves components that are neither distant, nor local; they are new to the world. Specialists perform relatively better than generalists as the pace of change increases because their narrow focus allows them to keep track of the frontier more easily. As a result, they are better able to take advantage of the new components emerging at the frontier. In contrast, generalists straddle different fields and have therefore a more superficial understanding of the frontier in each field. They find it more difficult to adapt to rapid changes. Although there is a temptation to call most businesses “cutting edge”, an honest evaluation of how much real change has recently occurred in your firm’s knowledge domain can help evaluate if you have the right blend of generalists and specialists.  Read More >>

AMID THE PANDEMIC, ENTREPRENEURS CAN STILL FIND OPPORTUNITY

The crisis provides fertile ground for startups in spaces like tele-health and touch-less payment. Other startups will need to get creative.  Entrepreneurs must harness the innovative spirit that drives them and adjust to the moment.  Recession-born businesses tend to be more productive, as measured by revenue per employee. And startups during a recession tend to be grouped into industries that rely heavily on innovation.  There will likely be new types of automation in manufacturing to allow for social distancing between employees. And, for supply chains, more real-time monitoring, so companies can manage customer expectations in the event of disruptions.  Investors are already searching for those startups that are positioned to flourish in a post-COVID world. Companies with COVID tailwinds are having “preemptive rounds” of fundraising.  Read More >>

COVID-ERA CEOs ARE ‘KEEN, TOUGH, OR EDGY’

Not all CEOs are created equal, but everyone can come out of this crisis stronger. Keen CEOs spend sleepless nights thinking about the new opportunities the pandemic has created. They search for acquisition targets, design new products and services, and negotiate with suppliers and other partners to create new win-win arrangements. To them, the key challenges are keeping their team’s creativity up in times of remote working, reproducing as much as possible face-to-face interactions online, and retaining talent. The second category – tough CEOs – downplay the impact of the crisis on themselves. These executives consider themselves coolheaded leaders who are determined to persevere and lead their organisations to a better future. The main challenge for these leaders is to find the time, discipline and will to lead their organisations through the crisis. They consider protecting employees’ well-being and helping them stay productive their top priority. Edgy CEOs reported considerable levels of stress and anxiety, so we call them edgy. Their top concerns are the fate of the business, the health and well-being of their families, and their personal mental and physical health. They struggle with staying energized and motivated. They tend to focus on pressing issues, leaving strategy and institution building for better times. Personality seems to play a role too. The keen leaders whom we interviewed came across as optimistic, energetic and highly resilient. Most tough CEOs were self-confident, strong-willed and somewhat authoritarian. Edgy leaders often doubted themselves and their ability to navigate through the crisis. They expressed negative emotions and showed vulnerability. To lead effectively in what is likely to be a multi-year crisis, CEOs need to adjust how they think about their role and how they go about playing it. They need to motivate and enable their teams to learn and perform to ensure the renewal and sustainable development of their business. To achieve these objectives over the long run, leaders need to become more resilient. Finally, no CEO, however resilient, is immune to the novel coronavirus. Having a designated and trained successor or deputy ready to stand in for the CEO whenever necessary is more important than ever before.  Read More >>

HOW HAVE TOP MARKETERS RESPONDED TO THE PANDEMIC? WITH RAPID INNOVATION.

Leaders in industries from healthcare to casual dining are fast-tracking changes to the customer experience. Despite the different circumstances facing each company, some consistent themes emerged from these conversations: First, rather than putting their foot on the brakes, companies are going all-in with new ways of serving and staying relevant to their customers. Second, some are viewing COVID-19 as an opportunity to gain quick traction on longstanding internal challenges. And third, everyone is actively preparing for a very different future. In some areas, providers have had to find some very creative ways to deliver care. For instance, pediatric ophthalmologists, unable to see children for routine eye care, started emailing PDF eye charts to parents, along with instructions to print and hang the chart, measure the requisite distance, and have them test from home. Decision-making in large companies can be deliberate in the best of times, with leaders weighing the advantages of change against tried-and-true approaches. But the fallout from the pandemic, as difficult as it has been, offers the opportunity to set aside some of the hurdles and take chances.  Read More >>