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Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
While the class that I teach is still in session back at Portland State University in Oregon, I've made a brief trip this week to Burlington, Vermont. I have the pleasure of speaking and moderating panels at a Customer Days conference being held by MyWebGrocer, at which retailers and suppliers are coming together to talk about common problems and forge solutions.
Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued sponsor of MorningNewsBeat. We have a lot of history together, and a shared understanding of how to compete in a climate that is challenging and constantly shifting.
While we've had some wonderful speakers and panelists, perhaps the most provocative speaker was the keynoter, Saj-Nicole Joni, who is the co-author of "Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence," among other works. Saj-Nicole was just extraordinary and, I must confess, the kind of person who makes me realize how little I have achieved in my life. Among other things, she trained to be a classical ballet dancer, is a pianist and a foodie, has a black belt in Aikido, and when she joined the math faculty at MIT when she was 24 years old, she was not only the first woman to be on that faculty, but she was working in a building where there was not one single women's restroom. In other words, a trailblazer ... and these days she is CEO of Cambridge International Group. (She also is often described as a "CEO Whisperer.)
One of the things she talked about was the need for leaders in our society to take hold of and embrace the often dissonant forces that exist in our society and that, though they might seem to be trouble-makers, these are actually the people who drive business forward rather than in reverse, and cause truly innovative changes to take place.
Saj-Nicole told this great anecdote about a law form called Skadden Arps where, unbeknownst to senior partners, the first year lawyers banded together and created a private social network that they use to help each other in the same way that they did in law school. It was, she said, a perfect example of connectional intelligence - that the whole was, in fact, greater than the sum of the parts.
Now, at a certain point the managing partner at this law firm was running the numbers, and he found that billable hours for the first year lawyers were down, and he went to the partners to find out why. But rather than complain about the new lawyers, the partners said that they were producing the best work of any group of first year lawyers ever hired. What they discovered was that by disrupting the conventional system and using a social network to connect to each other, they were able to be far better lawyers... and far more efficient. So what was the law firm to do? Shut down the network, and reduce their efficiency - which might improve margins but also would make it a less effective firm?
Of course not. There's only one real solution, which is to figure out how to compensate while maintaining the improved levels of effectiveness and efficiency. (Of course, when I say there's only one real solution, that's not true. Some firms probably would have shut down the network, choosing to return to the past rather than embrace the future. Saj-Nicole didn't put it this way, but I will. That's called ignorance.)
There is, of course, a corollary in the retail business. What happens when a bricks-and-mortar store - in which people are compensated based on sales and where traditional profitability measurements include things like front end impulse sales - starts to see sales shift to online, which can have a negative impact on some folks' compensation as well as reduce impulse sales because there is less traffic. This isn't hypothetical - I've talked to numerous companies over the years where this has been a real concern, and even a reason to question whether e-commerce is a place to be. The smart ones, of course, figure out how change the culture and the financial benchmarks to embrace the change ... because they understand that purchases from them - no matter where made - are purchases not made someplace else.
Saj-Nicole made the point that yes, we live in a world where there is more conflict, more tension, greater chaos, and higher noise levels ... but we actually have to embrace that, because it is out of such a climate that true innovations emerge. Business leaders know that they must embrace this climate, figure out how to harness these dissonant energies, and then find the opportunities within them.
I think that she's saying that this is the difference between institutions that are sustainable and those that are not. And while some would make this all about technology, she said that technology is just the tool - that it really is all about human beings and what they are capable of achieving, as long as they are not afraid of the unknown.
And besides, you can't put the horse back in the barn. It just isn't possible.
Not that some people don't want to try. There always have been people for whom the future is a scary place.
Saj-Nicole told a wonderful story about Benjamin Franklin, who in the early days of our nation's development was actually our first Postmaster General. What I didn't know was that during his tenure, Ben Franklin set up a system of relays that allowed people to send a message to New York and get a response in 24 hours. And while this was amazingly disruptive for the time, there were, inevitably perhaps, those who wondered if that kind of progress was a good thing, if it was really necessary.
I suspect Ben Franklin, if he were alive today, would be a blogger. He'd love it ... and I suspect that he'd also love"Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence," co-authored by Saj-Nicole Joni, one of the best speakers I've heard in a long time.
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning, coming to you from the MyWebGrocer Customer Days event in Burlington, Vermont ... and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: