Nina Nets It Out

Perspectives on Leadership

Innovating Across Three Horizons

I will be the first to admit that numbers matter. It matters that you set them, pursue them and achieve them. As leaders, we need to be across the numbers – from revenue targets to cost centers, investments to acquisitions, and everything in between. But not all numbers matter in the same way. I was reminded of this recently, reading startup entrepreneur, Steve Blank’s article on the challenges facing chip manufacturer, Intel. Like most large enterprises, Intel is building and optimizing its business based on its past successes. As one of the most successful technology companies of the past century, Intel has been at the forefront of tech-driven innovation. How many of us remember the “Intel inside” stickers emblazoned across our computers, servers and laptops? But there has been a shift recently. Intel’s last two CEOs delivered outstanding numbers – both in terms of profit and R&D investment. They optimized and executed at scale, with assured expertise. Yet, at the same time, Intel also missed two significant technology trends. As Blank points out, the first was the shift away from desktop computing and the second, was the opportunities presented by collaboration and licensing of technologies. While Intel has recently announced layoffs to the tune of about 11% of its workforce, it’s not yet the end of the road. It’s chip architectures still dominate data centers the world over, it has deep expertise, capability, intellectual property and leadership. But can it look to a different type of number to drive its future performance? The Three Horizons model of innovation provides leaders with a framework for managing current and future growth...

Come Drive with Me

Today I walked out of the office and into the fresh air. I stopped, looked across the parking lot, looked to the sky and began to walk. I took my time. I took long, deep breaths and felt the clear, unfiltered air filling my body. My head cleared and I scanned the horizon. What was in front of me? Opportunity as far as I can see. Sometimes I drive alone, and sometimes I travel with colleagues. I am always interested to observe the way that people change once they step outside of the office. Do they loosen their ties? Run their fingers through their hair? Do they take a moment to pause and take in the world around them? I particularly like it when there is more than two of us. Three or four is great. We get to my car and I wait and watch, Who will take the passenger seat? Who offers to sit in back? Is this a transaction or an experience? It is a small thing, but it is important. It reveals plenty. This episode reminded me of Seth Godin’s recent article on the “front row culture”. It is a style of culture that I very much strive to foster: The group files into the theater, buzzing. People hustle to get to the front row, sitting side by side, no empty seats. The event starts on time, the excitement is palpable. The other group wanders in. The front row is empty and stays that way. There are two or even three empty seats between each individual. The room is sort of dead. In both cases,...

Culture Beyond Equality

There has been much public focus and attention on the subject of equal pay – but in the seven years since the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, little has changed. Equality is a goal worth striving for – but the culture of business needs work before we can see more significant gains made.

2016 – The Year of Conscious Innovation

Often when we think of innovation, we call to mind those projects that fly below the radar within the enterprise, only to surface at some point to loud applause, fully formed and functioning. These are the make or break innovations that change companies or industries. In the 20th Century, these innovations were kept well away from the core business as they could not be easily accommodated within the functions, structures and business models of the enterprise – and would only be brought into full view of the world when the conditions were right. The pioneer of this model was aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed. Under the leadership of chief engineer, Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed Skunk Works produced many of the industry’s advanced projects including the first US fighter plane – the XP-80. But the Skunk Works had very humble beginnings – in a rented circus tent alongside one of Lockheed’s manufacturing plants. Its first project commenced four months before an official contract was in place and there was no official submittal process. Even the name of this mysterious innovation division was secret until: One day, [team engineer] Culver’s phone rang and he answered it by saying “Skonk Works, inside man Culver speaking.” Fellow employees quickly adopted the name for their mysterious division of Lockheed. “Skonk Works” became “Skunk Works.” The once informal nickname is now the registered trademark of the company: Skunk Works®. The Skunk Works model has been so successful that it is routinely followed by the most innovative of 21st Century companies. Google has Google X where self-driving cars, wearable computers and indoor mapping technologies have been hatched. Amazon...

Leveraging Female Talent to Drive Innovation

One of the most significant factors limiting the growth potential of countries around the world is the fundamental participation and engagement of women in their workforce. The second annual research study by Mercer on gender diversity in the workplace suggests that eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could boost countries’ GDP by up to 34%.  How do we get there? We need to leverage the talent of women to drive innovation in our businesses – and this goes beyond lip service. It needs to become a strategic imperative. How Investing in Female Talent Produces Dividends To capitalize on innovative thought, businesses need to invest in a diverse workforce which includes funding, supporting, and mentoring female talent. These investments pay rich dividends for companies as a recent Babson College report shows that “businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding (64 percent higher and 49 percent higher, respectively).” The Harvard Business Review report agrees that women are essential to growth and innovation: … employees who work for companies [that acquire and support female employees] are 45% more to likely report that their company improved market share in the last 12 months. And they’re 70% more likely to report that their company captured a new market in that time frame. Hiring a diverse workplace is the first step to harnessing female innovation, but businesses also need to foster women’s ideas. The Harvard Business Review further reveals that the “full innovative potential of women” remains largely untapped within corporations largely because the leadership doesn’t know how...

The Four Styles of Mentoring

People often picture a mentor as someone older or at least someone who has been in a particular business for a long time, but mentoring is not always about age or the number of years of experience a particular person has in a certain field. Instead, mentoring is about inspiring or helping another person, no matter the age or experience level of the people involved in the mentoring relationship. Kim Getty, president of Deutsch LA, an advertising agency which markets for companies such as M&M’s and 7up, talked in a recent article about how people of all ages can be mentors to others. She talked specifically about how younger people make great mentors. Getty, who also teaches journalism classes, said her students act as mentors, as they keep her up-to-date on trends in the media. She focused upon the four types of mentors which are essential for any professional. First, you need a Peer-to-peer mentor. This is someone who works in your field and who is on the same professional level as you. This person is someone you can turn to for advice when you are just frustrated or otherwise worked up about something at work. Second, people need a Reverse mentor. For Getty, this is her students. Overall, it is someone younger and newer in the industry, someone who can give the seasoned professional a fresher outlook, and at times this the person who can explain new terms or gadgets which might be essential to the success of the company or the individual. At the beginning of someone’s career, he or she will be this type of mentor,...

Five Steps to Building a Responsive Organization

Transforming a business is hard work. It requires a vision and a program. It means shifting and reallocating resources. It’s about asking hard questions and listening to the equally hard answers. Transformation is both strategic and tactical – and for many organizations, it is exhausting. The challenge of transformation, however, is not about arriving at your “transformation destination” – it’s about building resilience in your business so that change becomes part of your business DNA. Because the kicker here, is that change never ends. But hasn’t this always been the way? Hasn’t change always been part of our business and professional lives? When venture capitalist, Marc Andreesen suggested that “software is eating the world”, he brought a sharp focus to a movement that had been brewing for decades. Building on the learnings arising from the dotcom bubble, a new generation of internet companies are building “real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses” – and the reason is that the technology finally works. And accordingly, software is revolutionizing not just the way that a company does business – software increasingly IS the business. The fact is that almost every organization was designed to deal with a world that no longer exists. … most organizations still rely on a way of working designed over 100 years ago for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age. Team structures support routine and static jobs. Siloed, command and control systems enable senior leadership to drive efficiency and predictability at the expense of free information flow, rapid learning, and adaptability. Software companies by their very nature, however, live in this new world. As Tom Goodwin...

Great Tech Doesn’t Guarantee Innovation

Throughout my career I have seen some amazing technology come to life. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some of the great business leaders of the 20th and 21st Centuries, witnessed their creativity and ingenuity first hand, and watched as those innovations have transformed industries across the globe. But for every success, I have seen dozens of failures. For every brilliant idea, I have seen many fall at the first hurdle – or progress, limping towards an uncertain future. I have seen many leaders also rise and fall on the back of their idea – some have been able to taste success. Others continue to search for it. And as one idea, leader, team or organization fails and falls, another rises to take its place. The momentum and energy that sustains innovation seems to readily transfer from one project to another and one person to another. It is as if the role of innovator comes with a certain yet necessary degree of amnesia. We forget the pain and heartbreak of failure on the journey towards our own success. More often than not, our successes are built on a string of smaller failures which we learn from and improve – so this idea of failing before succeeding tends to make sense to those with an innovator’s mindset. In Silicon Valley, this approach to failure has been popularized and optimized under the term “fail fast”. But in the risk averse environment that many of us operate, even failing fast can carry a negative connotation that lasts long after the project fades. Writer, Rob Asghar suggests that “failing fast”...