Thursday, October 30, 2008

Definition of courage

"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway"
John Wayne

I took the quote from metacool, one of my favorite blogs

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Notes on high performing teams

An MBA provides numerous opportunities to exercise teamwork. Having the time to reflect on all these team experiences is very gratifying and has given me a new perspective on what makes for an outstanding team.

The problem with teamwork is that we all think we know it all. Who does not consider himself an excellent team worker? So before sharing my personal views, let me lay out the basics as they were enunciated by Jane Creech in one of our New Product Development classes:

A team is a group of people who are committed to a common purpose, whose interdependence requires coordinated effort, and who hold themselves mutually accountable for results.

This is a team. In fact, the "A team"

There are four critical ingredients... (which by the way remind me of the congruence model of organizational behavior: people, tasks, formal and informal organization)
  1. Goals - Individual and collective goals | Metrics
  2. Roles - Deliverables | Accountabilities | Norms | Expectations
  3. Procedures - Meeting effectiveness | Decision Making | Communication and Confidentiality inside/outside the team
  4. Relationships - Interpersonal effectiveness skills
...and six characteristics of high performing teams
  1. Alignment - A deep sense of vision or purpose that is shared among team members
  2. Team Effectiveness - Strong internal processes that allow coordinated efforts, such as shared values, trust, open communication, flexibility, and decision making
  3. Empowerment - Feeling empowered to do what is necessary; personal and collective power
  4. Passion - High and sustained levels of energy, enthusiasm, excitement, and confidence
  5. Commitment - Deep allegiance to the purpose of the team and to each other
  6. Results - Accomplishing outstanding results based on high standards
Now, what does make a difference for me?
  • Clarity of goals and alignment rely heavily in setting expectations amongst the team members with complete transparency from day one. Open communication ensures transparency moving forward.
  • Team effectiveness. Given the time constraints and different projects my classmates and I are enrolled in, feeling that the team is getting stuff done is key. Having a well-defined facilitator role, someone able to integrate points of view, to get people to speak out and share their opinions helps boosting performance. I am personally making use of different group productivity tools (specifically online shared documents, calendars and sites / wikis), that reduce the amount of time the team devotes to "non-core" activities.
  • Accountable flexibility. All team members are held accountable for their responsibilities. When there is trust and good communication I enjoy allowing for some wiggle room to keep things fresh and open to change.
  • This is quite personal too, but achieving quality outputs along the way is for me a perfect excuse for celebration, reinforcing team spirit and the commitment to pursue the common vision.
the "listening component"

I have mentioned communication several times. I could never stress enough the importance of communication. The world is full of unknown or ill-communicated good intentions. Nevertheless communication is a two-way road and often times we forget the listening component.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Innovation communities

OK, this post is going to be "drafty-ish" but a bad post is better than no post at all, right? Today, I attended a lecture in the Open Innovation Speaker Series at UC Berkeley. Stephen Benson from Innovation Exchange explained, amongst many other interesting things, how innovation can happen around platforms and software, events and communities. He quoted Chris Townsend (Forrester) regarding these three innovation archetypes.

Innovation Exchange and Innocentive are examples of innovation communities. Companies post their innovation challenges in these online innovators' meeting places hoping for someone to "crack" their problem. Alpheus Bingham, from Innocentive, also in this speaker series two weeks ago, gave some clues on why there is a high level of user engagement regardless of the low probability of actually "cracking" the problem. He compared it to a lottery ticket: just a couple of bucks for, yes, only a remote dream, but...we all love to dream if it is that cheap.

Salesforce Ideas, and other providers of software solutions for ideas / innovation, works under the platform archetype although there is something cool about the event you can generate with it (see the myStarbucksIdea execution. Given the strategic turnaround that the company is facing, this initiative received interesting coverage in the media)

I have just bumped into a piece of news about one innovation event, the 2008 IdeaFestival in Louisville, Ky. The festival "brings together creative thinkers from different disciplines to connect ideas in science, the arts, design, business, film, technology and education."

Cross-fertilization seems to be a key ingredient in the innovation magic potion and mixing is one of the premises of this blog. Hopefully I will bring in the diversity of my readers' comments to spice up the mix.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Art and instinct

"The task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable, and yet we are drawn to a great work by involuntary chemistry, like a hound getting a scent; the dog isn't free, it can't do otherwise, it gets the scent and instinct does the rest"
Lucian Freud

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dot #2: Home made packaging

This is the "brown bag" in which I got my chocolate croissant at the Sun 'n' Buns bakery in Morro Bay last Saturday.

Someone has taken the effort to hand-write the bakery name, a sun and the sign of peace, with color markers. This is an example of a home made packaging that converted a simple chocolate croissant in a memorable experience.

Along this lines, The Glenrothes single malt Scotch Whisky also follows this path of treating each packaging as something unique.

Check out their website, it's a perfect example of neat design, careful æsthetics and brand consistency. Navigation is super easy: have you noticed in the age security-check that the cursor jumps automatically to the next field??...

Hand-written labels and individual care paid to small batches is a common denominator in other hi-scale spirit brands: Jack Daniel's or Woodford Reserve Bourbon, "handcrafted in small batches", for example.

The Glenrothes, by the way, matures in Sherry-seasoned Spanish oak casks... that dot connects with my home country!

Dot #1: The power of the moment

Last Oct 1st I attended a lecture by Mr. Tetsuya Kaida, General Manager of the Business Revolution Corporate Value Project Department of Toyota Motor Corporation, where, by the way, I met IDEO's Tom Kelley.
Amongst other many enlightening insights about Japanese culture, I learned how one infinitesimal moment can define the impact that an event has upon us. Translated to business terms, successful products are able to create a personal dialog with the customer through a consciously designed point of interaction, one intense moment that captures the essence of the product. Mr. Kaida's example was the Pocky cookies.

First you open the packaging. This process is elegant and seamless. The outer carton remains intact. Then you pull out the cookie which is covered in chocolate except for a tiny portion at its very tip. Result: you can hold in your fingers without getting all messed up. That delicate moment defines an excellent product that is likely to remain in your memory as a gratifying experience.

The power of the moment explains other successful "product moments": the fresh scent coming out of a detergent bottle or starting up a MacBook for the first time, just to name a couple.

Kick-off post

I have postponed this inaugural post for a long time. Although I still do not know very well what is this blog all about, let me apply one of my summer learnings at and one of the teachings in my recently started New Product Development course at Haas: get a prototype and iterate until you get it right.

Quoting my 7 year-old cousin and godson: "A jugar" *

* translator's note: Let's play