Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Enough Innovation, Go Evolve

[This piece was co-written with an esteemed colleague and verifiable thought leader Jose Corella@josecorella. Frankly, he wrote all of it. I just talked a lot and made some edits.]

Picture waves, currents, and boats.  Some waves/currents are big and some boats are big; commensurately, some waves/currents are small and some boats are also small.  The big boats navigate the small waves & minor currents relatively easy – and stay the course – while the smaller boats may feel the water as choppy and are forced to make changes in direction more often.  When the water isn’t too choppy, and the undercurrents are minimal or known, the larger boats can usually get from Point A to Point B more efficiently, while the smaller boats may have to expend more energy as they travel with the changing currents.

Conversely, as major undercurrents begin to change the larger boats have a more difficult time tracking those changes until those changes are physically impacting their ability to sail smoothly; whereas the smaller boats, which by design are closer to the undercurrents, can feel or “sense” the major changes in direction sooner and can make adjustments sooner.  Therefore, travel from Point A to Point B in the most efficient manner is highly dependent on the size of the vessel and the environment in which it operates.

Now the big question: Is the big ship considered innovative when it starts to use a new tool that allows it to track the changes in the undercurrents sooner?  Consider this before answering:

  • The water in which the large ship sails didn’t change, it is still water.

  • The ship itself didn’t physically change; it is simply using a different, perhaps new, tool.

The not-too-subtle reframing of the question then becomes: Did the ship truly innovate with the use of the new tool or simply adjust/evolve to the macro-change in the currents?  Industry says, more often than not, the metaphorical ship (corporation) innovated.  Our argument is that companies – big and small – spend an enormous of energy, capital, and training on innovation when in fact they should be shifting their thinking and resources to evolution. Why evolution?

  1. More achievable. Dreams / big ideas without action are simply that, dreams.

  2. More efficient. Executed ideas build onto themselves and generate more ideas.

Innovation thought leaders frequently counter with arguments proposing that evolutionary ideas may prohibit truly breakthrough or “innovative” ideas. However, we postulate that steady, incremental, iterative ideation yields far more results – and enables additional “innovation” – at a far greater rate than the proverbial home run.  James Dyson famously made 5,127 prototypes1 before arriving at the final design of the world-renowned bagless vacuum cleaner.  Mark Zuckerberg, arguably, evolved from CourseMatch to Facemash to Facebook 1, learning something from each successive evolution.  Dyson and Zuckerberg each captured the critical insight first (crappy bagged vacuums suck, or don’t, and desire for social connectedness, respectively) and then worked the evolutions…hard.

The bottom line is that we feel that the term innovation is being overused; whether it is during strategy sessions or within goal documents, the fact is that innovation, real innovation is very, very hard.  Organizations should instead be shifting the thinking away from lofty innovation goals and spend more energy toward delivering incremental, achievable – a.k.a. evolutionary – changes in their business models.  To be clear we’re not advocating that organizations should stop pursuing BHAGs; we’re saying that huge, game-changing ideas should be pursued but not at the expense of quickly adopting market-driven evolutions.

While our proposal may seem like semantics – given that sometimes the “best” innovation is often described in terms of being linear and iterative – changing the dialogue from “go innovate” to “go evolve”, while subtle, can represent a very powerful mindshift.

1. “Think like Zuck” by E.Walter

Other thought nuggets:

  • By the time the Titanic realized what was going on, it was too late.

  • Would the tools that small boat fisherman were using for eons helped the Titanic?

  • Was the Titanic doomed from the outset due to size and “not invented here” hubris? What could the leadership have done differently? Besides listen more.

  • Large companies typically resort to spending more money (on the engine) to break through the turbulence; is that a good strategy?  What is?

  • Can you credit an org/brand with innovation if they eliminate or reduce unnecessary clutter? Or that just simplification?


Northern Kentucky University Amidst Presidential Change

Former NKU President James Votruba and President Geoffrey Mearns leave the field after Votruba threw and Mearns caught the first pitch during NKU Night at Great American Ball Park. – (Timothy D. Sofranko)

Note: Northern Kentucky University (NKU) has recently been through a transition of monumental importance. Long time innovator and dreamer, former President James Votruba, retired as the university’s president. Current President Geoffrey Mearns has joined an incredible faculty and staff at my Alma Mater and sent a note asking recipients to answer the 5 questions below. As an advocate for the university, it’s alumni, and the community which it serves I felt compelled to answer the questions to the best of my ability, but I also felt compelled to share my answers with those who may feel compelled to read. Below is my full response to his note.

President Mearns,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my input! While we’ve yet to meet personally I do look forward to the time when we’ll be able to connect. As an undergraduate and graduate degree holder from NKU, former student-athlete, SAAC representative, and Future Leadership Internship Program participant, and more I have a deep admiration for the university and all that it offers to students and this community. While I’d love to have the chance to sit down and talk a bit about my background and where my passions are rooted, I’ll start by answering the questions you’ve posed:

1. What are the distinctive attributes of NKU?

I believe there are three specific attributes of NKU that set it apart from the other universities in this region:
A) We are young! We are still developing our own sense of self and have the opportunity to create a community that is distinctive. Be brave and bold about charting a course that is different from that of other large universities in this region. B) We have incredible access to a top tier business community in the Greater Cincinnati region which harbors several Fortune 500 Companies, several top ranked start-up incubators and start-up/business investment firms. C) Geography! We are ~5 miles from the river and three historic communities in Covington, Newport and Cincinnati. We are within a 10 minute drive to horse farms and wineries AND metropolitan niceties. We are just a stones throw from one of the most important Interstate systems in the country. We are part of the Golden Triangle in our own State and part of an incredibly powerful local, state and federal lobbying hub. We are only miles from what used to be a world class airport. We are surrounded by governmental, academic, and business powerhouses that drive local, state, national and global economic progress. PARTNER!
2. What do you value or respect about our university?

We have traditionally kept a promise to offer a unique experience to a swath of the populace that values community, engagement, and connectedness. Remember that your constituency includes more than students, faculty and staff. NKU is a member of a very vibrant community that is both much smaller and much larger than you could fathom all at the same time.

3. What are the most important issues that our university must address?

A) College is growing more expensive than many perceive it to be worth and the trend is not slowing. This local community is very responsive to elasticity in the market and you’ll fall short of your need to engage local students and constituents if you do not make the right strategic decisions about tuition. B) In a global economy, we need to consider strategic partnerships that help us contribute to more than our own state’s economic growth. Specifically, we NEED to recognize that we have a seat at the table when it comes to Greater Cincinnati. We have more of an impact on that region than we give ourselves credit for and the regions’ success impacts us more than we’ve traditionally been willing to admit.

4. How would you characterize the university’s relationship with the external community?

We NEED the community and the community NEEDS us. I’ve talked a lot about community in the above posts, so I’ll leave it to this. We need to get laser focus on delivering an experience each and every day that encourages people who have been touched by those experiences to share a positive story with those they touch. I’ve recently been through some training where the Disney Institute came to talk about their commitment to service and I believe there is a lot that the family at NKU could learn from them.

5. What advice do you have for me as the new president of NKU?

Be real, transparent and authentic, be reachable, be socially aware, be connected and be joyful. If you can do all of those things you will change the way people think about this university. One very important steps that I think you could take is to be active on Social Media. Note I’ve recently sent a bit of encouragement through #Twitter to the @NKUDevelopment team. I highlighted the steps that the University of Cincinnati’s Interim President Santa J. Ono (@PrezOno) has taken, recently. This should serve as inspiration!

I am very excited about the opportunity you have to shape the future for Northern Kentucky University.

Best of luck!

Hyper Island Reflection

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the last two days of an intensive three day “master class” from Hyper Island. I won’t belabor you with details of the class or how it works, but I do think one of the featured attendees on the website says it very well. The world of digital at a pleasant 10,000mph. With great biscuits.— Sarah Jenkins, Managing Partner, GREY.  Also, here is a video (a bit too long) about another experience there – Hyper Island Master Class

Here is what I was thinking at the beginning of day two:

I’m having a hard time understanding what kinds of campaigns we should be running, socially, based on what we want our outcomes to be. We had a brainstorm yesterday about Digital and Social Engagement as it should work in the future and the group I was in kept talking about apps, both Facebook and Mobile. While I believe there may be some opportunity in this area once [certain technologies are available], I’m not convinced that we should be focusing on programs or campaigns at all.

Instead, I’d prefer to focus on developing bite sized content that drives light level interaction among our consumers (the people we want to buy our stuff). For me it means I should start to focus on conversations even more. Recognizing that there are more than words and copy that make up this tidbits. We have to think about these social platforms as BRANDING PLATFORMS not just communications platforms. Our whole process for developing ideas has to change. We have to have does (account teams) and thinkers (strategists) in the same room far more often or we’ll keep getting served program level campaign ideas meant to meat short term goals and objectives that are often in discord with higher level strategies.

Colin Powell’s Lessons on Leadership

Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, is no stranger to leadership and at the recent American Wind Energy Association Fall Symposium in Phoenix he said that his idea of what it is to be a leader evolved as he moved through various positions in public service. Among his key points:

  • Leaders exist to give followers what they need to get their job done. It is the followers who go into battle and accomplish the tasks assigned.
  • The most important part of leadership is instilling trust in those you command.If you have their trust, they will follow you anywhere. “Every human endeavor has leaders and followers, and your job as a leader is to inspire,” he said.
  • Leadership begins with goals. When the followers know what the goals are, everyone understands the importance of their own role for the common purpose.
  • People want to know that you are serving a greater purpose than just your own.“Increasingly, our people want to see leaders who are respected, leaders who are selfless,” Powell said.
  • Express appreciation. Make sure that those under your command understand that you appreciate what they are doing, Powell  said. While serving as secretary of state, Powell said, he let people know he appreciated their work through personal visits and thank-you cards.
  • Solve problems. A leader also needs to recognize when someone is not performing well. It is a leader’s job to identify the source of the problem, and fix it. “Leadership is problem-solving, and you are expected as leaders to know what’s going on throughout your organization,” he said.

Of these points, I am drawn most to the first. Leaders are most often judged publicly by what they accomplish, but Powell suggests, and I believe he is right on point, that effective leaders must first ensure that their followers are able to do their jobs.

How often are you as a follower, waiting for a leader to give you the tools you need?

How often as a leader are you first looking to provide for those who follow you?


P&G Program Will Offer Social-Media-Era ‘Green Stamps’

Recycling has always been a priority of mine, particularly in my home, as I find it extremely easy. Simply get two garbage cans in your home: One for trash and one for recyclable goods, which includes about everything you typically throw in the trash. I’ve found in doing this that I have cut down on the actual “waste” coming out of my house by more than 60%.

Recycling is only one step we can take to cut down on the impact we have on this planet of ours, and as I learn more about ways I can help preserve the beautiful landscapes that I’ve become accustomed to I’ll make sure to pass it on.

In the meantime, I wanted to pass along an extremely interesting article from which explains a new program that Cincinnati based, Procter & Gamble will implement to help spread the word about ways consumers can learn and practice sustainable living.

BATAVIA, Ohio ( — Procter & Gamble Co. is backing a first-of-its-kind effort to reward consumers for learning and blogging about environmental sustainability as it also underwrites a Cincinnati program to give people points redeemable for goods based on how much they recycle.

P&G’s multi-brand Future Friendly program will sponsor incentives for people to sign up with RecycleBank, a sort of electronic “Green Stamps” that gives people points redeemable for local merchants or merchandise when they recycle through curbside collection programs. Other marketers, such as Verizon in Philadelphia and Safeway in San Francisco, have similarly sponsored RecycleBank rewards, but P&G is the first to add a nationwide educational and social-media component to its sponsorship.

So, besides earning points for putting out more recycling in the 200 municipalities where RecycleBank operates, people nationwide can also get points for reading or watching videos, flash animation or other online content about ways to lessen their environmental impact. They’ll earn additional points by blogging or otherwise using social media to get others to view the P&G-backed content.

“Future Friendly is an education initiative around saving water, saving energy and reducing waste, and recycle bank is also an educational initiative, so we see a lot of overlap,” said P&G spokesman Glenn Williams.

The Cincinnati program is a pilot that could be expanded to more cities nationally depending on the results in P&G’s hometown, he said. P&G is also looking into possible sponsorship of another RecycleBank pilot program that provides points to consumers for reducing home energy consumption.

“The idea is to drive awareness of Future Friendly and P&G’s sustainably innovative products,” he said, “and ultimately we hope to drive purchase intent as well.”

The target for RecycleBank, like Future Friendly, isn’t the 15% of “dark green” consumers already committed to sustainable behavior or the 15% of consumers who don’t care about sustainability, but that 70% in the middle who’d like to do more for environmental sustainability but don’t really know how.

“We’re trying to advance this world-without-waste agenda but with mainstream consumers,” said Samantha Skey, chief revenue officer of RecycleBank. “They’re a group that has tremendous opportunity to drive positive impact, but many are fairly alienated by the traditional sustainability movement. They don’t feel included or that if they don’t do everything right there’s nothing in it for them.”

For the “Learn and Earn” social-media campaign, RecycleBank hopes to tap both into environmentally focused bloggers and what Ms. Skey termed “deal-seeking moms,” a large and active group that isn’t usually focused on environmental issues but will be more likely drawn in by the chance to earn and help others earn points toward merchandise and discounts.

RecycleBank is less labor-intensive than many deal programs. It requires people to sign up at, but there are no logs to keep or receipts or coupons to turn in. For the recycling rewards, for example, participants’ recycling bins have radio frequency ID chips that are read by readers affixed to scales on collection trucks, which weigh what consumers put at the curb and automatically credit their RecycleBank accounts.

An average household can earn rewards worth around $200 annually by participating in the recycling rewards program, not counting the additional amount for participating in “Learn and Earn,” Ms. Skey said.

“Our model is very much about easy green actions, and not being judgmental about consumption, but rather asking people to take steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle,” Ms. Skey said.

Future Friendly and the RecycleBank sponsorship dovetail with P&G’s broader sustainability drive with expanded goals announced last week by Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald. Those goals include eventually powering plants with 100% renewable energy, using 100% renewable or recycled materials for all products and packaging and having zero consumer or manufacturing waste go to landfills. Shorter term, that includes reducing packaging by 20% per consumer use by 2020.


Why runners usually make great employees

VIA: The BrandBuilder Blog – Below is a blog post that I believe to be extraordinarily powerful and very interesting. In my experience, while it is certainly biased, I have found the below information to be inexplicably true! Anima Sana in Anime Corpore Sana – Sound Mind in a Sound Body!

Why runners usually make great employees.

February 21, 2009 by Olivier Blanchard

My good friend and super personal trainer Holly DiGiovine sent out an email over the weekend that struck a chord with me. Here’s some of what she had to share:

When you have a goal that is as huge as the marathon-it will “keep you honest.” It’s not like a smaller goal that you can announce and then put off or fake your way through. Once you sign up, commit months to training, and take your first step on race day-you better have done your homework.

The beauty of this is that it goes against 99% of the natural tendencies of our culture that favors gratification without effort or devotion. But is that kind of achievement ever as satisfying? Linda Hill once told me she loved the quote, “There is no glory in training, but there is no glory without training.” In no way is this more true than in running.

And business.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that many of the folks I train with (and race against) are for the most part as devoted to their jobs (if not more) as they are to running or cycling or triathlon.

Unlike participation in say, golf or softball or basketball – no offense to club/league sports – the type of determination, discipline and emotional focus that comes with training day in, day out for extremely challenging endurance events (often by yourself) tends to bleed over into people’s 9-5′s.

Whether you’re training for a marathon, a century or the Ironman triathlon, one thing you quickly find out is that there’s no room for bullshit out there on the pavement. You either do the work or you’re screwed. Politics won’t get you to the finish line. It doesn’t matter who you know or how well you can work the system. When you’re out there, every weakness bubbles up to the surface and stares you in the eye. Lack of preparation, lack of motivation, lack of dedication will all come back to bite you in the ass. there’s nowhere to hide. They will all find you and jump up on your back to stop you dead in your tracks. The choice becomes this: Do you let them stop you, or do you accept them and keep going?

You learn a lot about yourself, training for that type of event.

You learn a lot about how to break thresholds and get past your own little ego, training for events like these. When you’re tired and sore and hungry but you still have four miles to go, guess what? You still have four miles to go. How you get through these last four miles is entirely up to you. Nobody cares whether you walk those last four miles or run, or hail a cab. Nobody made you set 26.2 miles as a goal. Or 100 miles. Or 144+.

Once you’ve broken past your lack of will and learned to keep going, you are transformed. A similar thing happens to Marines during training. At some point, who you used to be before you went beyond what you thought your limitations were, before you kissed excuses goodbye, before you left all of the bullshit that stood in your mind’s way ceases to exist. You become someone else.

That someone else, the marathoner, the long distance cyclist, the triathlete, the Ironman, he or she walks into your place of work with you every morning.

We all work with two types of people: Partisans of the least amount of effort, and dedicated professionals.

The latter aren’t all marathoners or triathletes, but I have yet to meet an Ironman or marathoner who didn’t take his or her intensity and dedication to their job.

Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking a case of beer and watching sports on TV all weekend, but who you are outside of your work does have parallels with who you are when you are at work.

Something to think about.

Update: Wow. You guys have turned this post into The BrandBuilder blog’s most popular post ever. Over 2,000 views in less than 24 hours already. Thank you all: Fellow runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes… It’s amazing to have so many of you respond to this post with so much enthusiasm. You’ve really made my day. Next time you’re in the Greenville, SC be sure to look me up. Lots of great running, cycling and racing out here.

Train hard!

Leadership skills required in new economy

The continued evolution of the global economy and workplaces requires that leaders in today’s businesses need to have certain skills and management styles. Flexibility in the face of looming changes in health care law, financial reform and continued technological advancements in all sectors seems to stand out as vital, but Alan Murray suggests in the Wall Street Journal that there are twelve key skills that will undoubtedly serve managers and aspiring leaders well.

    • Stay flexible.
    • Devour data.
    • Be (somewhat) humble.
    • Communicate.
    • Plan for contingencies.
    • Be proactive.
    • Insist on candor.
    • Stay involved.
    • Keep your organization flat.
    • Cross-train your talent.
    • Assess your team.
    • Use your judgment.

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