A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

2010 World Business Forum(Republished from previous blog October 2010)

Before anyone had taken the stage, I knew that hearing from leaders like Jim Collins, A.G. Lafley and Jack Welch would certainly make for a memorable experience. Candid, wise and gutsy these lauded management gurus have earned the respect of leaders around the globe. They were among the long list of business influencers scheduled to share their insights with thousands of attendees who filled Radio City Music Hall during the 2010 World Business Forum eager to grasp a few golden nuggets of knowledge and perhaps, even catch a glimpse of some emerging markets.  Here are a few highlights from these three respected global leaders.

Jim Collins on What Not to Do

I was confident Jim Collins would be a high point of the 2010 World Business Forum for me. The author of one of my all time favorite books, ‘Good to Great’ and a Peter Drucker Fan like me, he’d definitely hold my attention. And he certainly did. Collins shared many valuable management and leadership insights. One that really resonates with me being a techno-gadget junkie is the ‘Not-to-Do-List’.

Most of us have ‘To Do Lists’, but Collins suggested creating a ‘Not-to-Do List’ and on it is an allowance for time to think through current complex issues as well as plan for the future. With the intrusion of so many electronic gadgets, Collins impressed on us the need to regularly retreat from these distractions and reintroduce the practice of ‘pockets of quiet time’ to allow for hard disciplined thinking. No email, no cell phones, completely untethered, he reserves time every week to be gadget free and submerse in rigorous thinking. I suspect this explains why I received a Monday response to the Friday email I sent him. He really must practice what he preaches.

Lesson Learned:
The importance of pausing and reflecting in order to make progress.

Action:
I applied the principle from the ‘Not-to-Do List’ strategy to allow for the ‘think time’ needed to complete this article.

A.G. Lafley on Being Customer Centered and Bold

My research about A. G. Lafley revealed his relentless efforts to drive customer-centered product design as the standard practice at Proctor and Gamble and reinforce connections between that standard and ROI, fostering the sustainability of customer centered practices within the organization.  I can’t deny I’m rather OCD about customer-centered design so I was anxious to hear what Lafley had to share on the topic. His stories were humble, suggestions actionable and his insights, brilliant.

These days more and more companies understand customer-centered product and technology design is a win-win. However, companies often still fail to design with a full understanding of what’s really important to their customers. Lafley shared several practices he implemented to better understand P & G’s customers.

For example, each time Lafley visited a different country he would select a customer to accompany on a shopping trip. He’d then share the observations made during that shopping excursion with the product development team. This information gathering process has been core to fostering the development of products customers really want to purchase.

When asked what steps he’d suggest taking to introduce customer-centered design practices into our own organizations, he spoke a simple but familiar phrase: ‘Just do it’, Lafley explained. He further encouraged us to do everything we can to engage customers to get our experiment going now, and to ‘ask for forgiveness later’.

There’s not a lot of downside to engaging the customer in the design process, according to Lafley, but there are lots of upsides. Mainly, we’ll end up with a better product in the short and long term, a product that customers want to purchase.

Another suggestion from Lafley was to do something bold when we got back to the office. Like Collins, Lafley had long respected the works of Peter Drucker. One day he found the courage to boldly reach out to Drucker to request a meeting with him, to which Drucker agreed. As a result of this bold action, the two met often through the subsequent years. And I got the feeling that those times spent talking with, and learning from, Drucker are among Lafley’s finest treasures.

Lessons Learned:

Design with your customers in mind to deliver what your customers really want to purchase.
Be humble, but ready to muster up the courage to be bold as needed.

Action:

I continue to study, teach and help people understand the value of customer-centered design.
I didn’t cancel the interview I had with an author of a best-selling book despite the butterflies in my stomach.

Jack Welch – Authenticity in Leadership

I’m not sure I’d find anyone who wouldn’t appreciate hearing the wisdom of Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO who consistently delighted stockholders while growing the company’s $14 billion market value to $410 billion during his fourteen year tenure. From the moment Welch took the stage you could feel his dynamic energy and determination. He was so attentive to the interviewer as well as to members of the audience who asked him questions. And what clearly emerged during the course of the interview was Welch’s authenticity.

Probed about practices he implemented to ‘groom’ employees, Welch graciously explained his theory. In Welch’s opinion, one of the things currently holding back many organizations is their focus on nurturing ‘poor performers’ rather than celebrating the successes of the top 20% and helping to retain high achieving talent. He also emphasized the need to refocus on leadership development, which for many reasons, including economic struggles, has been dwindling in recent years.

One of the moments during the Welch interview that still sticks with me is when he received a question from the audience that wasn’t quite clear. Welch respectfully responded with a few questions to gain clarification and then looked to the Interviewer in an attempt to further refine the inquiry. When neither of their efforts led to enough of an understanding of the question to effectively respond, Welch apologized for not having a comment and moved on the next audience question. As the high-energy exchange of audience questions and Welch responses continued, his broad range of knowledge radiated through the Forum. And his previous admission to not having an answer to a question revealed not only his self-assurance but also his authenticity as a leader.

Lessons Learned:
There is no imposter to authenticity.
Acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers is a reflection of open mindedness and self-assurance.

Action:
I’m working toward finding my own voice in my writing, and so… here it is world.
Saying ‘I don’t know’ generally changes the conversation for the better.

Summary

So these are a few nuggets that landed in my sack of takeaways from the World Business Forum 2010 already influencing my own profession practices. Although these three well known leaders more than met my high expectations, what I didn’t anticipate was to be ‘wowed’ by many other remarkable presenters whose works I was less familiar.  I can hardly wait to find out what World Business Forum 2011 has in store for us!

(Republished via Brain Logic Blog Spot from October, 2010.)

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About Brain Logic, LLC

Brain Logic helps companies understand how their customers think in order to design their technology, products and processes to deliver optimal customer experiences and boost the ROI of their investments. For more information visit www.brainlogiconline.com or email jill@brainlogiconline.com
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