Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Judgment in a Crisis Simulation Earns Bronze Award!

I'm thrilled to announce that my newest Harvard Business Publishing simulation (Judgment in a Crisis) will receive a Bronze Award at the Serious Play Conference to be held at Carnegie Mellon University in July.  In this simulation, students play the role of a product manager at Matterhorn Health, a medical device manufacturer. The company encounters product quality problems almost immediately after the launch of its highly anticipated new blood glucose monitor.  This simulation explores issues related to human judgment and decision making during a crisis. 

Perils of a Superstar CEO

Matt Palmquist writes this week for Strategy+Business about the fascinating new research conducted by Stanford University’s Elizabeth Blankespoor and Ed deHaan.  They examined the impact of CEO promotion.  By that, they mean the extent to which companies publicize their CEO in various ways, such as by providing quotes and access to journalists.   These scholars examined over one-half of a million press releases issued by 1,500 companies over a ten-year period.  What did they find?  Here's Palmquist's summary:

Large companies that actively promoted their chief executives in communications with journalists saw a more than threefold increase in the media coverage of their CEOs, the authors found. However, companies that went overboard in publicizing their chief executives eventually experienced a sharp decline in long-term performance, largely because their CEOs appeared so comfortable and entrenched in their role that they failed to seek novel solutions or think beyond the status quo... Those who push themselves into the limelight too aggressively may create unrealistic expectations in the minds of shareholders or become burdened by their own celebrity, unwilling to make risky or unconventional moves because of how highly they value their own reputation.

We all have heard the adage, "Don't believe your own press."  Well, now we have a study that confirms the perils of falling in love with all those splashy headlines.   Of course, the study does not provide the evidence of direct link between publicity and negative performance.  It offers a few hypotheses, as does Palmquist in his article about the research.  The comments above seem plausible.  CEOs can become entrenched and overly comfortable, fail to see new ideas, and become burdened with unrealistic expectations. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Truth vs. Faith in Decision Making

In this week's New York Times Corner Office column, Adam Bryant interviewed Tae Hea Nahm, Managing Director of Storm Ventures - a venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California.  Nahm described a fundamental tension that exists between truth and faith when it comes to decision making.  I have never quite heard leadership described in this way, and I thought it was worth sharing here.  Here's an excerpt: 

The other thing I learned as C.E.O. is that it’s very lonely. If you share all the doubts and fears with people, then people sort of freak out, whether they’re other investors or employees or executives. You have to provide a path to success. So what I found as C.E.O. is that you almost need a split personality.  On the one hand, you have to appear like Moses, so that people believe that you’re going to take them to the Promised Land. And you have to present a very simple, clear path to success. On the other hand, if you just believe all of that, you can easily run the company off a cliff. Being a C.E.O. requires a lot of faith and passion, but for making decisions, sometimes truth and faith are different.  So you also have to be a skeptic, almost like Galileo. You can have beliefs, but you have to really search for the truth, which is often tied to bad news. 

Step back and consider your leadership style for a moment.  Are you terrific at the passion element described by Nahm, but perhaps blindly devoted to the path on which you have set out?   Or, are you appropriately open to alternative views, but perhaps not effective enough in selling the vision to your employees?  Have you struck the appropriate balance? 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The (Not-So) Hidden Value of Pixar's Short Films

The Wall Street Journal reports this week on Pixar's purpose in making short films.  For instance, Lava is the short film that runs before the newest Pixar feature film, Inside Out.    The short films are a wonderful opportunity for experimentation.   As a result, they help fuel the creative process at the highly successful film studio.  Here's one excerpt from the article:  

[Making short films] is a wonderful opportunity to step out and do something you may not be able to do on a feature, really take some chances,” said Mr. Murphy, a senior animator at the studio. “I think each short really represents the tastes of the individual that directed them.” 

The article highlights one additional value from making these short films.   It enables Pixar to develop and evaluate its talent.  Providing young directors and animators an opportunity to create a short film is a relatively inexpensive way to see who might be ready to work on a feature film.  Moreover, it enables Pixar to grow and develop those high potentials.   They learn by doing in an environment in which they can take some risks.  Every firm should be looking for opportunities to experiment as a means of fostering innovation, but they should also be examining how these experiments can be a useful means of nurturing and testing younger talent. 

When Does Bragging Help... and When Does it Hurt You?


Monday, June 22, 2015

Taylor Swift Gets Paid!

Apple announced today that it would change its policy and pay performing artists for songs streamed during the trial period for its new music streaming service.  Why? Taylor Swift wrote an open letter to Apple pressuring the firm to change its tune.  The remarkable story has several lessons.  Most say it's a story about the power of social media.  I disagree.  It's a story about an influential supplier using their bargaining power to extract value from another party in the supply chain.  Another musician could have used social media and had a letter go viral, but they may not have had the leverage to create change. 

Why have others not exercised this power?  Well, some artists make most of their money off of tours.  They are ok with lots of their music being available for free, because it has introduced them to a large potential audience for their tours.  That is the Ed Sheeran story.  Fans flocked to his concerts and knew all the words to his songs because they had listened to him on YouTube.  Some artists sell lots of their hit singles, but few of their other songs.  

Few artists sell tons of albums these days.  Taylor is an exception.  In 2014, she is the only artist to release an album that sold more than 1 million copies.  Remember that Apple still generates a lot of revenue through the sale of songs on iTunes.  She had more leverage than most singers as a result. The other lesson though has to do with Apple's rapid response. They have a big challenge in taking on Spotify, a firm that has a giant head start in the streaming business.  When Apple launches iTunes, it overcame the first movers because it offered high quality, safe, legal downloads.  No viruses, high quality.  Apple does not have those advantages over Spotify.  It does have deep pockets though.  It can afford to give some value to the artists in hopes of developing relationships that may be an advantage over Spotify.  

Finally, this story shows how the actions of one powerful player can reshape industry structure.  In other words, supplier and buyer power are not simply fixed and exogenous. Key players can take actions that shift the structure in a way that lifts (or decreases profits) for all.  In some ways, Taylor was so influential here because she could claim to be speaking on behalf of other less powerful players in the industry.  She gained some economic benefit here, but most of the gains will go to fellow artists. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lessons from the CVS and Target Deal

We learned yesterday that CVS and Target have agreed to team up in the pharmacy/clinic business.   CVS will pay $1.9 billion to Target for the Minneapolis-based retailer's pharmacy business.  As a result, CVS will now operate the pharmacies and clinics in 1,600 Target stores across the United States.  

This development has important lessons and implications for other companies, particularly in the retail sector.  First, it shows how a firm should examine its various lines of business and determine where to focus its efforts.  Target came to the conclusion that it simply could not compete effectively in the pharmacy/clinic business as an independent player.   It did not have the scale and expertise to be successful.  Second, the deal shows that companies can work together and achieve synergies without having to merge with one another.   Alternative forms of cooperation can lead to economic benefits for both parties.   CVS gets access to new markets and new customers.   Target gains foot traffic in its stores, and it collects lease payments for the pharmacy/clinic locations.  Third, the store-within-a-store concept may provide a blueprint for other brick-and-mortar retailers as they continue to try to compete with online rivals such as Amazon.  By partnering with specialists, the mass merchandisers and department stores may be able to offer an enhanced in-store experience and increase foot traffic.  Finally, the deal shows that maximizing revenue is not a strategy.  Target has now made several moves that have trimmed revenue, but in all likelihood, have positioned it more effectively in the marketplace and improved profitability.  The Canadian exit and the CVS partnership were both such bold moves, and perhaps there may be more to come. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Advantages & Disadvantages Incumbents Have Relative to Startups

In this brief video, Stanford Professor Jesper Sorensen explores the advantages and disadvantages that incumbents have as they compete against startups.  It's a good recap for any entrepreneur.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Persuading People to Donate Their Time

In this video clip, Wharton Business School Professor Americus Reed describes the research that he and fellow scholars have done regarding how we can effectively persuade others to give of their time.