by Adam Hartung | Dec 19, 2015 | Books, Current Affairs, Ethics, Lifecycle
America’s middle class has been decimated. Ever since Ronald Reagan rewrote the tax code, dramatically lowering marginal rates on wealthy people and slashing capital gains taxes, America’s wealthy have been amassing even greater wealth, while the middle class has gone backward and the poor have remained poor. Losing 30% of their wealth, and for many most of their home equity, has left what were once middle class families actually closer to definitions of working poor than a 1950s-1960s middle class.
When Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carole” he brought to life for readers the striking difference between those who “have” from those who “have not” in early England. If you had money England was a great place to be. If you relied on your labors then you were struggling to make ends meet, and regularly disappointing yourself and your family.
For a great many American’s that is the situation in 2015 USA.
At the book’s outset, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge felt that his wealth was all due to his own great skill. He gave himself 100% of the credit for amassing a fortune, and he felt that it was wrong of laborers, such as his bookkeeper Mr. Cratchit, to expect to pay when seeking a day off for Christmas.
Unfortunately, this sounds far too often like the wealthy and 1%ers. They feel as if their wealth is 100% due to their great intelligence, skill, hard work or conniving. And they don’t think they owe anyone anything as they work to keep unions at bay as they campaign to derail all employee bargaining. Nor do they think they should pay taxes on their wealth as many actively seek to destroy the role of government.
Meanwhile, there are employers today who have taken a page right out of Mr. Scrooge’s book of worklife desolation. Ever since President Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers Union employee rights have been on the downhill. Employers increasingly do not allow employees to have any say in their work hours or workplace conditions – such as Marissa Mayer eliminating work from home at Yahoo, yet expecting 3 year commitments from all managers.
Just as Mr. Scrooge refused to put more coal in the office stove as Mr. Cratchit’s fingers froze, employers like WalMart rigidly control the workplace environment – right down to the temperature in every single building and office – in order to save cost regardless of employee satisfaction. Workplace comfort has little voice when implementing the CEOs latest cost-saving regimen.
Just as Mr. Scrooge objected to giving the 25th December as a paid holiday (picking his pocket once a year was his viewpoint,) many employers keep cutting sick leave and holidays – or, worse, they allow days off but expect employees to respond to texts, voice mails, emails and social media 24x7x365. “Take all the holiday you want, just respond within minutes to the company’s every need, regardless of day or time.”
Increasingly, those who “go to work” have less and less voice about their work. How many of you readers will check your work voice mail and/or email on Christmas Day? Is this not the modern equivalent of your employer, like Scrooge, treating you like a filcher if you don’t work on the 25th December? But, do you dare leave the smartphone, tablet or laptop alone on this day? Do you risk falling behind on your job, or angering your boss on the 26th if something happened and you failed to respond?
Like many with struggling economic uncertainty, Bob Cratchit had a very ill son. But Mr. Scrooge could not be bothered by such concerns. Mr. Scrooge had a business to run, and if an employee’s family was suffering then it was up to social services to take care of such things. If those social services weren’t up to standards, well it simply was not his problem. He wasn’t the government – although he did object to any and all taxes. And he had no value for the government offering decent prisons, or medical care to everyone.
Today, employers right and left have dropped employee health insurance, recommending employees go on the exchanges; even though these same employers do not offer any incremental income to cover the cost of exchange-based employee insurance. And many employers are cutting employee hours to make sure they are not able to demand health care coverage. And the majority of employers, and employer associations such as the Chamber of Commerce, want to eliminate the Affordable Care Act entirely, leaving their employees with no health care at all – as was the case for many prior to ACA passage.
Even worse, there are employers (especially in retail, fast food and other minimum wage environments) with employees earning so little pay that as employers they recommend their employees file for government based Medicaid in order to receive the bottom basics of healthcare. Employees are a necessity, but not if they are sick or if the employer has to help their families maintain good health.
But things changed for Mr. Scrooge, and we can hope they do for a lot more of America’s employers and wealthy elite.
Mr. Scrooge’s former partner, Mr. Jakob Marley, visits Mr. Scrooge in a dream and reminds him that, in fact, there was a lot more to his life, and wealth creation, than just Ebenezer’s toils. Those around him helped him become successful, and others in his life were actually very important to his happiness. He reminds Mr Scrooge that as he isolated himself in the search for ever greater wealth he gained money, but lost a lot of happiness.
Today we have some business leaders taking the cue from Mr. Marley, and speaking out to the Scrooges. In particular, we can be thankful for folks like Warren Buffet who consistently points out the great luck he had to be born with certain skills at this specific point in time. Mr. Buffett regularly credits his wealth creation with the luck to receive a good education, learning from academics such as Ben Graham, and having a great network of colleagues to help him invest.
Further, amplifying his role as a modern day Jacob Marley, Mr. Buffett recognizes the vast difference between his situation and those around him. He has pointed out that his secretary pays a higher percent of her income in taxes than himself, and he points out this is a remarkably unfair situation. Additionally, he makes it clear that for many wealth is a gift of birth – and “winning the ovarian lottery” does not make that wealthy person smarter, harder working or more valuable to society. Rather, just lucky.
What we need is for more wealthy Americans to have a vision of Christmas future – as it appeared to Mr. Scrooge. He saw how wealth inequality would worsen young Tiny Tim’s health, leaving him crippled and dying. He saw his employee Mr. Cratchet struggle and become ill. These visions scared him. Scared him so much, he offered a bounty upon his community, sharing his wealth.
Mr. Scrooge realized that great wealth, preserved just for him, was without merit. He was doomed to a future of being rich, but without friends, without a great world of colleagues and without the sharing of riches among everyone in order that all in society could be healthy and grow. Many would suffer, and die, if society overall did not take actions to share success.
These days we do have a few of these visionary 1%ers, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and recently Mark Zuckerberg, who are either currently, or in the future, planning to disseminate their vast wealth for the good of mankind.
Yet, middle class Americans have been watching their dreams evaporate. Over the last 50 years America has changed, and they have been left behind. Hard work, well…….. it just doesn’t give people what it once did. Policy changes that favored the wealthy with Ayn Rand style tax programs have made the rich ever richer, supported the legal rights of big corporations and left the middle class with a lot less money and power. Incomes that did not come close to matching inflation, and home values that too often are more anchors than balloons have beset 2015’s strivers.
It will take more than philanthropic foundations and a few standout generous donors to rebuild America’s middle class. It will take policies that provide more (more safety nets, more health care, more education, more pension protection, more job protections and more political power) for those in the middle, and give them economic advantages today offered only wealthier Americans.
Let us hope that in 2016 we see a re-awakening of the need to undertake such rebuilding by policymakers, corporate leaders and the 1%. Let us hope this Christmas for a stronger, more robust, healthier and disparate, shared economy “for each and every one.”
by Adam Hartung | Oct 10, 2012 | Books, Current Affairs, Leadership, Lock-in
There was a time, before primaries, when each party's platform was really important. Voters didn't pick a candidate, the party did. Then voters read what policies the party planned to implement should it control the executive branch, and possibly a legislative majority. It was the policies that drew the most attention – not the candidates.
Digging deeper than shortened debate-level headlines, there is a considerable difference in the recommended economic policies of the two dominant parties. The common viewpoint is that Republicans are good for business, which is good for the economy. Republican policies – and the more Adam Smith, invisible hand, limited regulation, lassaiz faire the better – are expected to create a robust, healthy, growing economy. Meanwhile, the common view of Democrat policies is that they too heavily favor regulation and higher taxes which are economy killers.
Well, for those who feel this way it may be time to review the last 80 years of economic history, as Bob Deitrick and Lew Godlfarb have done in a great, easy to read book titled "Bulls, Bears and the Ballot Box" (available at Amazon.com) Their heavily researched, and footnoted, text brings forth some serious inconsistency between the common viewpoint of America's dominant parties, and the reality of how America has performed since the start of the Great Depression.
Gary Hart recently wrote in The Huffington Post,
"Reason and facts are sacrificed to opinion and myth. Demonstrable
falsehoods are circulated and recycled as fact. Narrow minded opinion
refuses to be subjected to thought and analysis. Too many now subject
events to a prefabricated set of interpretations, usually provided by a
biased media source. The myth is more comfortable than the often
difficult search for truth."
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is attributed with saying "everyone is
entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." So even though we
may hold very strong opinions about parties and politics, it is
worthwhile to look at facts. This book's authors are to be commended for spending several years, and many thousands of student research assistant man-days, sorting out economic performance from the common viewpoint – and the broad theories upon which much policy has been based. Their compendium of economic facts is the most illuminating document on economic performance during different administrations, and policies, than anything previously published.
Chart reproduced by permission of authors
The authors looked at a range of economic metrics including inflation, unemployment, growth in corporate profits, performance of the stock market, change in household income, growth in the economy, months in recession and others. To their surprise (I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Goldfarb) they discovered that laissez faire policies had far less benefits than expected, and in fact produced almost universal negative economic outcomes for the nation!
From this book loaded with statistical fact tidbits and comparative charts, here are just a few that caused me to realize that my long-term love affair with Milton Friedman's theories and recommended policies in "Free to Choose" were grounded in a theory I long admired, but that simply have proven to be myths when applied!
- Personal disposable income has grown nearly 6 times more under Democratic presidents
- Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 7 times more under Democratic presidents
- Corporate profits have grown over 16% more per year under Democratic presidents (they actually declined under Republicans by an average of 4.53%/year)
- Average annual compound return on the stock market has been 18 times greater under Democratic presidents (If you invested $100k for 40 years of Republican administrations you had $126k at the end, if you invested $100k for 40 years of Democrat administrations you had $3.9M at the end)
- Republican presidents added 2.5 times more to the national debt than Democratic presidents
- The two times the economy steered into the ditch (Great Depression and Great Recession) were during Republican, laissez faire administrations
The "how and why" of these results is explained in the book. Not the least of which revolves around the velocity of money and how that changes as wealth moves between different economic classes.
The book is great at looking at today's economic myths, and using long forgotten facts to set the record straight. For example, in explaining President Reagan's great economic recovery of the 1980s it is often attributed to the stimulative impact of major tax cuts. But in reality the 1981 tax cuts backfired, leading to massive deficits and a weaker economy with a double dip recession as unemployment soared. So in 1982 Reagan signed (TEFRA) the largest peacetime tax increase in our nation's history. In his tenure Reagan signed 9 tax bills – 7 of which raised taxes!
The authors do not come down on the side of any specific economic policies. Rather, they make a strong case that a prosperous economy occurs when a president is adaptable to the needs of the country at that time. Adjusting to the results, rather than staunchly sticking to economic theory. And that economic policy does not stand alone, but must be integrated into the needs of society. As Dwight Eisenhower said in a New Yorker interview
"I despise people who go to the gutter on either the right or the left and hurl rocks at those in the center."
The book covers only Presidents Hoover through W. Bush. But as we near this election I asked Mr. Goldfarb his view on the incumbent Democrat's first 4 years. His response:
- "Obama at this time would rank on par with Reagan
- Corporate profits have risen under Obama more than any other president
- The stock market has soared 14.72%/year under Obama, second only to Clinton — which should be a big deal since 2/3 of people (not just the upper class) have a 401K or similar investment vehicle dependent upon corporate profits and stock market performance"
As to the challenging Republican party's platform, Mr. Goldfarb commented:
- "The platform is the inverse of what has actually worked to stimulate economic growth
- The recommended platform tax policy is bad for velocity, and will stagnate the economy
- Repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will have a negative economic impact because it will force non-wealthy individuals to spend a higher percentage of income on health care rather than expansionary products and services
- Economic disaster happens in America when wealth is concentrated at the top, and we are at an all time high for wealth concentration. There is nothing in the platform which addresses this issue."
There are a lot of reasons to select the party for which you wish to vote. There is more to America than the economy. But, if you think like the Democrats did in 1992 and "it's about the economy" then you owe it to yourself to read this book. It may challenge your conventional wisdom as it presents – like Joe Friday said – "just the facts."
by Adam Hartung | Nov 28, 2011 | Books, Defend & Extend, Disruptions, In the Rapids, In the Whirlpool, Innovation, Leadership, Lock-in, Web/Tech
Not far from each other, in the area around Seattle, are two striking contrasts in leadership. They provide significant insight to what creates success today.
Steve Ballmer leads Microsoft, America's largest software company. Unfortunately, the value of Microsoft has gone nowhere for 10 years. Steve Ballmer has steadfastly defended the Windows and Office products, telling anyone who will listen that he is confident Windows will be part of computing's future landscape. Looking backward, he reminds people that Windows has had a 20 year run, and because of that past he is certain it will continue to dominate.
Unfortunately, far too many investors see things differently. They recognize that nearly all areas of Microsoft are struggling to maintain sales. It is quite clear that the shift to mobile devices and cloud architectures are reducing the need, and desire, for PCs in homes, offices and data centers. Microsoft appears years late recognizing the market shift, and too often CEO Ballmer seems in denial it is happening – or at least that it is happening so quickly. His fixation on past success appears to blind him to how people will use technology in 2014, and investors are seriously concerned that Microsoft could topple as quickly DEC., Sun, Palm and RIM.
Comparatively, across town, Mr. Bezos leads the largest on-line retailer Amazon. That company's value has skyrocketed to a near 90 times earnings! Over the last decade, investors have captured an astounding 10x capital gain! Contrary to Mr. Ballmer, Mr. Bezos talks rarely about the past, and almost almost exclusively about the future. He regularly discusses how markets are shifting, and how Amazon is going to change the way people do things.
Mr. Bezos' fixation on the future has created incredible growth for Amazon. In its "core" book business, when publishers did not move quickly toward trends for digitization Amazon created and launched Kindle, forever altering publishing. When large retailers did not address the trend toward on-line shopping Amazon expanded its retail presence far beyond books, including more products and a small armyt of supplier/partners. When large PC manufacturers did not capitalize on the trend toward mobility with tablets for daily use Amazon launched Kindle Fire, which is projected to sell as many as 12 million units next year (AllThingsD.com).
Where Mr. Ballmer remains fixated on the past, constantly reinvesting in defending and extending what worked 20 years ago for Microsoft, Mr. Bezos is investing heavily in the future. Where Mr. Ballmer increasingly looks like a CEO in denial about market shift, Mr. Bezos has embraced the shifts and is pushing them forward.
Clearly, the latter is much better at producing revenue growth and higher valuation than the former.
As we look around, a number of companies need to heed the insight of this Seattle comparison:
- At AOL it is unclear that Mr. Armstrong has a clear view of how AOL will change markets to become a content powerhouse. AOL's various investments are incoherent, and managers struggle to see a strong future for AOL. On the other hand, Ms. Huffington does have a clear sense of the future, and the insight for an entirely different business model at AOL. The Board would be well advised to consider handing the reigns to Ms. Huffington, and pushing AOL much more rapidly toward a different, and more competitive future.
- Dell's chronic inability to identify new products and markets has left it, at best, uninteresting. It's supply chain focused strategy has been copied, leaving the company with practically no cost/price advantage. Mr. Dell remains fixated on what worked for his initial launch 30 years ago, and offers no exciting description of how Dell will remain viable as PC sales diminish. Unless new leadership takes the helm at Dell, the company's future 5 years hence looks bleak.
- HP's new CEO Meg Whitman is less than reassuring as she projects a terrible 2012 for HP, and a commitment to remaining in PCs – but with some amorphous pledge toward more internal innovation. Lacking a clear sense of what Ms. Whitman thinks the world will look like in 2017, and how HP will be impactful, it's hard for investors, managers or customers to become excited about the company. HP needs rapid acceleration toward shifting customer needs, not a relaxed, lethargic year of internal analysis while competitors continue moving demand further away from HP offerings.
- Groupon has had an explosive start. But the company is attacked on all fronts by the media. There is consistent questioning of how leadership will maintain growth as reports emerge about founders cashing out their shares, highly uneconomic deals offered by customers, lack of operating scale leverage, and increasing competition from more established management teams like Google and Amazon. After having its IPO challenged by the press, the stock has performed poorly and now sells for less than the offering price. Groupon desperately needs leadership that can explain what the markets of 2015 will look like, and how Groupon will remain successful.
What investors, customers, suppliers and employees want from leadership is clarity around what leaders see as the future markets and competition. They want to know how the company is going to be successful in 2 or 5 years. In today's rapidly shifting, global markets it is not enough to talk about historical results, and to exhibit confidence that what brought the company to this point will propel it forward successfully. And everyone recognizes that managing quarter to quarter will not create long term success.
Leaders must demonstrate a keen eye for market shifts, and invest in opportunities to participate in game changers. Leaders must recognize trends, be clear about how those trends are shaping future markets and competitors, and align investments with those trends. Leadership is not about what the company did before, but is entirely about what their organization is going to do next.
Update 30 Nov, 2011
In the latest defend & extend action at Microsoft Ballmer has decided to port Office onto the iPad (TheDaily.com). Short term likely to increase revenue. But clearly at the expense of long-term competitiveness in tablet platforms. And, it misses the fact that people are already switching to cloud-based apps which obviate the need for Office. This will extend the dying period for Office, but does not come close to being an innovative solution which will propel revenues over the next decade.
by Adam Hartung | Oct 12, 2011 | Current Affairs, Defend & Extend, eBooks, In the Rapids, In the Whirlpool, Innovation, Leadership, Lifecycle, Lock-in, Transparency, Web/Tech
Wal-Mart has had 9 consecutive quarters of declining same-store sales (Reuters.) Now that’s a serious growth stall, which should worry all investors. Unfortunately, the odds are almost non-existent that the company will reverse its situation, and like Montgomery Wards, KMart and Sears is already well on the way to retail oblivion. Faster than most people think.
After 4 decades of defending and extending its success formula, Wal-Mart is in a gladiator war against a slew of competitors. Not just Target, that is almost as low price and has better merchandise. Wal-Mart’s monolithic strategy has been an easy to identify bulls-eye, taking a lot of shots. Dollar General and Family Dollar have gone after the really low-priced shopper for general merchandise. Aldi beats Wal-Mart hands-down in groceries. Category killers like PetSmart and Best Buy offer wider merchandise selection and comparable (or lower) prices. And companies like Kohl’s and J.C. Penney offer more fashionable goods at just slightly higher prices. On all fronts, traditional retailers are chiseling away at Wal-Mart’s #1 position – and at its margins!
Yet, the company has eschewed all opportunities to shift with the market. It’s primary growth projects are designed to do more of the same, such as opening smaller stores with the same strategy in the northeast (Boston.com). Or trying to lure customers into existing stores by showing low-price deals in nearby stores on Facebook (Chicago Tribune) – sort of a Facebook as local newspaper approach to advertising. None of these extensions of the old strategy makes Wal-Mart more competitive – as shown by the last 9 quarters.
On top of this, the retail market is shifting pretty dramatically. The big trend isn’t the growth of discount retailing, which Wal-Mart rode to its great success. Now the trend is toward on-line shopping. MediaPost.com reports results from a Kanter Retail survey of shoppers the accelerating trend:
- In 2010, preparing for the holiday shopping season, 60% of shoppers planned going to Wal-Mart, 45% to Target, 40% on-line
- Today, 52% plan to go to Wal-Mart, 40% to Target and 45% on-line.
This trend has been emerging for over a decade. The “retail revolution” was reported on at the Harvard Business School website, where the case was made that traditional brick-and-mortar retail is considerably overbuilt. And that problem is worsening as the trend on-line keeps shrinking the traditional market. Several retailers are expected to fail. Entire categories of stores. As an executive from retailer REI told me recently, that chain increasingly struggles with customers using its outlets to look at merchandise, fit themselves with ideal sizes and equipment, then buying on-line where pricing is lower, options more plentiful and returns easier!
While Wal-Mart is huge, and won’t die overnight, as sure as the dinosaurs failed when the earth’s weather shifted, Wal-Mart cannot grow or increase investor returns in an intensely competitive and shifting retail environment.
The winners will be on-line retailers, who like David versus Goliath use techology to change the competition. And the clear winner at this, so far, is the one who’s identified trends and invested heavily to bring customers what they want while changing the battlefield. Increasingly it is obvious that Amazon has the leadership and organizational structure to follow trends creating growth:
- Amazon moved fairly quickly from a retailer of out-of-inventory books into best-sellers, rapidly dominating book sales bankrupting thousands of independents and retailers like B.Dalton and Borders.
- Amazon expanded into general merchandise, offering thousands of products to expand its revenues to site visitors.
- Amazon developed an on-line storefront easily usable by any retailer, allowing Amazon to expand its offerings by millions of line items without increasing inventory (and allowing many small retailers to move onto the on-line trend.)
- Amazon created an easy-to-use application for authors so they could self-publish books for print-on-demand and sell via Amazon when no other retailer would take their product.
- Amazon recognized the mobile movement early and developed a mobile interface rather than relying on its web interface for on-line customers, improving usability and expanding sales.
- Amazon built on the mobility trend when its suppliers, publishers, didn’t respond by creating Kindle – which has revolutionized book sales.
- Amazon recently launched an inexpensive, easy to use tablet (Kindle Fire) allowing customers to purchase products from Amazon while mobile. MediaPost.com called it the “Wal-Mart Slayer“
Each of these actions were directly related to identifying trends and offering new solutions. Because it did not try to remain tightly focused on its original success formula, Amazon has grown terrifically, even in the recent slow/no growth economy. Just look at sales of Kindle books:
Unlike Wal-Mart customers, Amazon’s keep growing at double digit rates. In Q3 unique visitors rose 19% versus 2010, and September had a 26% increase. Kindle Fire sales were 100,000 first day, and 250,000 first 5 days, compared to 80,000 per day unit sales for iPad2. Kindle Fire sales are expected to reach 15million over the next 24 months, expanding the Amazon reach and easily accessible customers.
While GroupOn is the big leader in daily coupon deals, and Living Social is #2, Amazon is #3 and growing at triple digit rates as it explores this new marketplace with its embedded user base. Despite only a few month’s experience, Amazon is bigger than Google Offers, and is growing at least 20% faster.
After 1980 investors used to say that General Motors might not be run well, but it would never go broke. It was considered a safe investment. In hindsight we know management burned through company resources trying to unsuccessfully defend its old business model. Wal-Mart is an identical story, only it won’t have 3 decades of slow decline. The gladiators are whacking away at it every month, while the real winner is simply changing competition in a way that is rapidly making Wal-Mart obsolete.
Given that gladiators, at best, end up bloody – and most often dead – investing in one is not a good approach to wealth creation. However, investing in those who find ways to compete indirectly, and change the battlefield (like Apple,) make enormous returns for investors. Amazon today is a really good opportunity.
by Adam Hartung | Jul 28, 2011 | Books, Current Affairs, Defend & Extend, eBooks, In the Rapids, Innovation, Leadership, Television, Web/Tech
“It’s easier to succeed in the Amazon than on the polar tundra” Bruce Henderson, famed founder of The Boston Consulting Group, once told me. “In the arctic resources are few, and there aren’t many ways to compete. You are constantly depleting resources in life-or-death struggles with competitors. Contrarily, in the Amazon there are multiple opportunities to grow, and multiple ways to compete, dramatically increasing your chances for success. You don’t have to fight a battle of survival every day, so you can really grow.”
Today, Amazon(.com) is the place to be. As the financial markets droop, fearful about the economy and America’s debt ceiling “crisis,” Amazon is achieving its highest valuation ever. While the economy, and most companies, struggle to grow, Amazon is hitting record growth:
Sales are up 50% versus last year! The result of this impressive sales growth has been a remarkable valuation increase – comparable to Apple!
- Since 2009, valuation is up 5.5x
- Over 5 years valuation is up 8x
- Over the last decade Amazon’s value has risen 15x
How did Amazon do this? Not by “sticking to its knitting” or being very careful to manage its “core.” In 2001 Amazon was still largely an on-line book seller.
The company’s impressive growth has come by moving far from its “core” into new markets and new businesses – most far removed from its expertise. Despite its “roots” and “DNA” being in U.S. books and retailing, the company has pioneered off-shore businesses and high-tech products that help customers take advantage of big trends.
Amazon’s earnings release provided insight to its fantastic growth. Almost 50% of revenues lie outside the U.S. Traditional retailers such as WalMart, Target, Kohl’s, Sears, etc. have struggled in foreign markets, and blamed poor performance on weak infrastructure and complex legal/tax issues. But where competitors have seen obstacles, Amazon created opportunity to change the way customers buy, and change the industry using its game-changing technology and capabilities. For its next move, according to Silicon Alley Insider, “Amazon is About to Invade India,” a huge retail market, in an economy growing at over 7%/year, with rising affluence and spendable income – but almost universally overlooked by most retailers due to weak infrastructure and complex distribution.
Amazon’s remarkable growth has occurred even though its “core” business of books has been declining – rather dramatically – the last decade. Book readership declines have driven most independents, and large chains such as B. Dalton and more recently Borders, out of business. But rather than use this as an excuse for weak results, Amazon invested heavily in the trends toward digitization and mobility to launch the wildly successful Kindle e-Reader. Today about half of all Amazon book sales are digital, creating growth where most competitors (hell-bent on trying to defend the old business) have dealt with stagnation and decline.
Amazon did this without a background as a technology company, an electronics company, or a consumer goods company. Additionally, Amazon invested in Kindle – and is now developing a tablet – even as these products cannibalized the historically “core” paper-based book sales. And Amazon has pursued these market shifts, even though these new products create a significant threat to Amazon’s largest traditional suppliers – book publishers.
Rather than trying to defend its old core business, Amazon has invested heavily in trends – even when these investments were in areas where Amazon had no history, capability or expertise!
Amazon has now followed the trends into a leading position delivering profitable “cloud” services. Amazon Web Services (AWS) generated $500M revenue last year, is reportedly up 50% to $750M this year, and will likely hit $1B or more before next year. In addition to simple data storage Amazon offers cloud-based Oracle database services, and even ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions from SAP. In cloud computing services Amazon now leads historically dominant IT services companies like Accenture, CSC, HP and Dell. By offering solutions that fulfill the emerging trends, rather than competing head-to-head in traditional service areas, Amazon is growing dramatically and avoiding a gladiator war. And capturing big sales and profits as the marketplace explodes.
Amazon created 5,300 U.S. jobs last quarter. Organic revenue growth was 44%. Cash flow increased 25%. All because the company continued expanding into new markets, including not only new retail markets, and digital publishing, but video downloads and television streaming – including making a deal to deliver CBS shows and archive.
Amazon’s willingness to go beyond conventional wisdom has been critical to its success. GeekWire.com gives insight into how Amazon makes these critical resource decisions in “Jeff Bezos on Innovation” (taken from comments at a shareholder meeting June 7, 2011):
- “you just have to place a bet. If you place enough of those bets, and if you place them early enough, none of them are ever betting the company”
- “By the time you are betting the company, it means you haven’t invented for too long”
- “If you invent frequently and are willing to fail, then you never get to the point where you really need to bet the whole company”
- “We are planting more seeds…everything we do will not work…I am never concerned about that”
- “my mind never lets me get in a place where I think we can’t afford to take these bets”
- “A big piece of the story we tell ourselves about who we are, is that we are willing to invent”
If you want to succeed, there are ample lessons at Amazon. Be willing to enter new markets, be willing to experiment and learn, don’t play “bet the company” by waiting too long, and be willing to invest in trends – especially when existing competitors (and suppliers) are hesitant.
by Adam Hartung | Jul 8, 2011 | Books, Current Affairs, In the Rapids, Leadership, Lifecycle, Openness, Transparency, Web/Tech, Weblogs
Evolution doesn’t happen like we think. It’s not slow and gradual (like line A, below.) Things don’t go from one level of performance slowly to the next level in a nice continuous way. Rather, evolutionary change happens brutally fast. Usually the potential for change is building for a long time, but then there is some event – some environmental shift (visually depcted as B, below) – and the old is made obsolete while the new grows aggressively. Economists call this “punctuated equilibrium.” Everyone was on an old equilibrium, then they quickly shift to something new establishing a new equilibrium.
Momentum has been building for change in publishing for several years. Books are heavy, a pain to carry and often a pain to buy. Now eReaders, tablets and web downloads have changed the environment. And in June J.K. Rowling, author of those famous Harry Potter books, opened her new web site as the location to exclusively sell Harry Potter e-books (see TheWeek.com “How Pottermore Will Revolutionized Publishing.”)
Ms. Rowling has realized that the market has shifted, the old equilibrium is gone, and she can be part of the new one. She’ll let the dinosaur-ish publisher handle physical books, especially since Amazon has already shown us that physical books are a smaller market than ebooks. Going forward she doesn’t need the publisher, or the bookstore (not even Amazon) to capture the value of her series. She’s jumping to the new equilibrium.
And that’s why I’m encouraged about AOL these days. Since acquiring The Huffington Post company, things are changing at AOL. According to Forbes writer Jeff Bercovici, in “AOL After the Honeymoon,” AOL’s big slide down in users has begun to reverse direction. Many were surprised to learn, as the FinancialPost.com recently headlined, “Huffington Post Outstrips NYT Web Traffic in May.”
The old equilibrium in news publishing is obsolete. Those trying to maintain it keep failing, as recently headlined on PaidContent.org “Citing Weak Economy, Gannett Turns to Job Cuts, Furloughs.” Nobody should own a traditional publisher, that business is not viable.
But Forbes reports that Ms. Huffington has been given real White Space at AOL. She has permission to do what she needs to do to succeed, unbridled by past AOL business practices. That has included hiring a stable of the best talent in editing, at high pay packages, during this time when everyone else is cutting jobs and pay for journalists. This sort of behavior is anethema to the historically metric-driven “AOL Way,” which was very industrial management. That sort of permission is rarely given to an acquisition, but key to making it an engine for turn-around.
And HuffPo is being given the resources to implement a new model. Where HuffPo was something like 70 journalists, AOL is now cranking out content from some 2,000 journalists and editors! More than The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Huffington, as the new leader, is less about “managing for results” looking at history, and more about identifying market needs then filling them. By giving people what they want Huffington Post is accumulating readers – which leads to display ad revenue. Which, as my last blog reported, is the fastest growing area in on-line advertising
Where the people are, you can find advertsing. As people are shift away from newspapers, toward the web, advertising dollars are following. Internet now trails only television for ad dollars – and is likely to be #1 soon:
Chart source: Business Insider
So now we can see a route for AOL to succeed. As traditional AOL subscribers disappear – which is likely to accelerate – AOL is building out an on-line publishing environment which can generate ad revenue. And that’s how AOL can survive the market shift. To use an old marketing term, AOL can “jump the curve” from its declining business to a growing one.
This is by no means a given to succeed. AOL has to move very quickly to create the new revenues. Subscribers and traditional AOL ad revenues are falling precipitously.
But, HuffPo is the engine that can take AOL from its dying business to a new one. Just like we want Harry Potter digitally, and are happy to obtain it from Ms. Rowlings directly, we want information digitally – and free – and from someone who can get it to us. HuffPo is now winning the battle for on-line readers against traditional media companies. And it is expanding, announced just this week on MediaPost.com “HuffPo Debuts in the UK.” Just as the News Corp UK tabloid, News of the World, dies (The Guardian – “James Murdoch’s News of the World Closure is the Shrewdest of Surrenders.“)
News Corp. once had a shot at jumping the curve with its big investment in MySpace. But leadership wouldn’t give MySpace permission and resources to do whatever it needed to do to grow. Instead, by applying “professional management” it limited MySpace’s future and allowed Facebook to end-run it. Too much energy was spent on maintaining old practices – which led to disaster. And that’s the risk at AOL – will it really keep giving HuffPo permission to do what it needs to do, and the resources to make it happen? Will it stick to letting Ms. Huffington build her empire, and focus on the product and its market fit rather than short-term revenues? If so, this really could be a great story for investors.
So far, it’s looking very good indeed.
by Adam Hartung | Mar 9, 2011 | Current Affairs, Defend & Extend, eBooks, Food and Drink, In the Swamp, Innovation, Leadership, Lock-in, Openness
- McDonald's relies on operational improvements to raise profits, these are short-lived and give no growth
- McDonald's growth cycles, and investors forget long-term it isn't growing much at all
- You can't depend on recurring recessions to make your business look good
- Apple has shown how to create long-term revenue growth, and greater investor wealth, by developing new markets and solutions
- Investors in McDonald's are likely to be less pleased than investors in Apple
Subway is now #1 in size, as "McDonald's Loses World's Biggest Title to Subway" according to Crain's Chicago Business. The transition wasn't hard to predict, since Subway has been much larger in the USA for several years. Now Subway has gained on McDonald's internationally. What's striking about this is that McDonald's could see it coming, and really did nothing about it. While Subway keeps focused on growth, McDonald's has focused on preserving its historical business. And that bodes poorly for long-term investor performance.
For more than a decade McDonald's size has swung back and forth as it opened stores, then closed hundreds in an "operational improvement program," before opening another round of stores – to then repeat the cycle. McDonald's has not shown any US store growth for a long time, and has relied on expanding its traditional business offshore.
Even the menu remains almost unchanged, dominated by burgers, fries and soft drinks. "New" product rollouts have largely been repeats of decades old products, like McRib, which cycle on and off the menu. And the most "strategic" decision we hear about was executives spending countless hours, along with thousands of franchisees, trying to figure out whether or not to reduce the amount of cheese on a cheeseburger (which they did, saving billions of dollars.) Even though it spent almost a decade figuring out how to launch McCafe, the whole idea gets little atttention or promotion. There just isn't much energy put into innovation, or growth at McDonald's. Or even trying to be a leader in new marketing tools like social media, where chains like Papa John's have done much better.
Most people have forgotten that McDonald's acquired and funded the growth of Chipotle's, one of the fastest growing quick food chains. But in 2006 McDonald's leadership sold Chipotle's to raise cash to fund another one of those operational improvement rounds. The business that showed the most promise, that has much more growth opportunity than the tiring McDonald's brand, was sold off in order to Defend and Extend the known, but not so great, McDonald's.
Sort of like selling your patents in order to pay for maintenance and upgrades on the worn out plant tooling.
Soon after Chipotle's sale the "Great Recession" started. And people quit dining out – or went downmarket. Thousands of restaurants closed, and chains like Bennigan's declared bankruptcy. As people started eating a bit more frequently in McDonald's investors cheered. But, this was really more akin to the old phrase "even a stopped clock is right twice a day." McDonald's was the benefactor of an unanticipated economic event. And as the economy has improved McDonald's has cheered its improved oprations and higher profits. But, where is future growth? What will create long-term growth into 2015 and 2020? (To be honest, I'm not sure where this will be for Subway, either.)
This cycle of bust and repair – which will lead to another bust when a competitor or other external event challenges McDonald's unaltered success formula – is very different from what's happened at Apple. Rather than raising money to defend its historical business (the Macintosh business) Apple actually cut back its Mac products to fund development of new businesses – the big winner being iPod and iTunes. Then Apple focused on additional new markets, transforming smart phone growth with the iPhone and altering the direction of computing with the iPad. Rather than trying to Defend its past and Extend into new markets (like McDonald's international efforts) Apple has created, and led, new markets.
Performance at Apple has been much better than McDonald's. As we can see, only during the clock-stopped period at the height of the recession did investors lose faith in Apple's growth, while defaulting to defensiveness at McDonald's.
Chart source: Yahoo Finance
Steve Toback at bNet.com gives us insight into how Apple has driven its growth in "10 Ways to Think Different – Inside Apple's Cult-like Culture." These 10 points look nothing like the McDonald culture – or hardly any company that has growth problems. A quick scan gives insight to how any company can identify, develop and grow with new solutions in new markets:
- Empower employees to make a difference.
- Value what's important, not minutiae
- Love and cherish the innovators
- Do everything important internally
- Get marketing
- Control the message
- Little things make a big difference
- Don't make people do things, make them better at doing things
- When you find something that works, keep doing it
- Think different
What's most worrisome is that the protectionist culture we see at McDonald's, and frankly most U.S. companies, is the kind that led General Motors to years of faultering results and eventual bankruptcy. Recall that GM once bought Hughes Aircraft and EDS as growth devices (around 1980,) and opened the greenfield Saturn division to learn how to compete with offshore auto makers head-on. But the first two were sold, just like McDonald's sold Chipotle, to raise funds for propping up the poorly performing auto business. Saturn was gutted of its uniqueness in cost-saving programs to "align" it with the other auto divisions, and closed in the recent bankruptcy. (Read more detail on The Fall of GM in this short eBook.)
While McDonald's isn't at risk of immediate bankruptcy, investors need to understand that it's value is unlikely to rise much. Operational improvements are not the source of growth. They are short-term tactics to support historical behaviors which trade off short-term profit improvement for long-term new market development. In McDonald's case, this latest round of performance focus matched up with an economic downturn, unexpectedly benefitting McDonald's very quickly. But long-term value comes from creating new business opportunities that meet changing needs. And for that you need to not sell your innovations — instead, invest in them to drive growth.
by Adam Hartung | Mar 7, 2011 | Books, Current Affairs, Innovation, Leadership, Openness
Why do some businesses (or products) seem to launch onto the scene with incredible success? According to a new book, “Enchantment” releasing March 8, 2011 (available on Amazon.com at about 50% off the list price), it is the ability to go beyond normal marketing, PR and other business practices in a way that enchants customers. Author Guy Kawasaki says that being likable, trustworthy and prepared allows you to overcome natural resistance to change and move people to accept, adopt – and even become supporters of your solution.
The book is tailor-made for entrepreneurs. Especially those in high-tech, who are looking for rapid adoption of new platforms. So when Guy sent me a copy and asked for my review I asked him for a 1-on-1 interview where I could focus on how the vast majority of people, who work away in large, less than enchanting, organizations, could gain value from reading his latest effort. I wanted him to answer “how am I supposed to be enchanting when dullness reigns in my environment?”
Here’s his finput from our meeting, and his reasons to buy and read Enchantment:
Guy’s first recommendation – “enchant your boss.” There’s a chapter in the book, but he focused on what to do if your boss is a real dullard. Firstly, don’t ever forget to make the boss’s priority your priority, because without that you won’t be effective. The more you can convince your boss the 2 of you are on the same wavelength, the more he’ll be likely to give you space. And space is what you want/need in order to start to identify the next perfomance curve. Then, if you have some space, you can start to demonstrate how new solutions could work. Use your aligned priorities to help you reframe your boss’s opinion about the future, and always ask for forgiveness if you’re found reaching a bit too far.
Secondly, enchant those who work for you. Give them a MAP. (M) is for Mastery of a new skill or technology. Give your employees permission and encouragement to master new areas that will help them grow – and put them in a position to teach you! (A) is for Autonomy. In other words, give them the space discussed above. (P) is for Purpose. Help people to see their work as having more value than just money. Add purpose to their results so they can feel great. With a MAP they can succeed, and you can too.
Thirdly, enchant your peers by working hard to be likable. Guy offers a chapter in which he deconstructs likability, and provides a series of tactics to make you more likable. This isn’t manipulation (although it may sound like it), but rather a guidebook of what to do to help your true self be more likable. With peers, the #1 objective is to be trustworthy! Show them that you can help expand the pie, so there is more success for everyone, rather than being the kind of person always lining up to get his piece first!
When you find yourself disappointed in your work, or employer, Guy recommends we take from his book the idea that you seek out a dream for what your work group, or employer, can be. Don’t accept that today is the best case, and instead promote the notion that tomorrow can always be better, more fun, more fulfilling. He believes that if you say you’re going to do something that seems impossible, and you undertake it with enchanting techniques, your behavior will become infectious. Behave like an enchanter and you will create other enchanters in the organization. (If this sounds a bit Pied Piper-ish I guess it does take some faith to follow Guy’s recommendations.)
I asked him how a Chief Enchantment Officer could help Microsoft (readers of this blog know I’ve long been a distractor of the strategy and CEO at Microsoft). Guy said he felt Micrsoft could become VERY enchanting if the company would:
- Focus on making Micrsooft more likable and trustworthy. Old behaviors were in the past. Going forward, if leadership applied itself Microsoft could implement the things in his book and drive up the company’s likability and trustworthiness amongst constituents – including customers, developers, suppliers and investors.
- Rethink the definition of a “product” to make offerings more enchanting. In Guy’s view, Apple would never say a product is good enough based upon its specifications or functionality. An iPad has to go beyond those things to offer something much more. Too many companies (not just, or even specifically, Microsoft he was clear to point out) launch “ugly” products – without realizing they are ugly! With a bit different direction, different thinking, about how to define a product they could be more enchanting, and more successful. (When I compare the iPhone or iPad to the xBox I start to clearly see the difference in product description to which Guy refers. Guy agreed with me that Kinect is a very enchanting product. Unfortunately it appears to me like Microsoft still doesn’t realize the value of this in its xBox efforts.)
- Train the organization on the importance of, value of, and ability to be enchanting. Most companies are clueless about the notion, as people work hard delivering solutions with too much of an “engineering mentality”. Apple has trained its organization so the people think about how to make products, services and solutions enchanting, and therefore non-enchanting things are unacceptable. Raise the bar for making sure solutions are likable, trustworthy and prepared for what the customer will want/need. Not merely functional. Build that into the behavioral lock-in and Guy believes any organization cannot miss success!
I told Guy that often I’m frequently pushed to believe that a company is “beyond the pale;” unable to do better, or to be better. Simply incapable fo ever being “enchanting.” Guy is convinced this is balderdash – if you want to change. He talked about Audi, which suffered horribly from problems with unintended acceleration a couple of decades ago. Audi changed itself, and now is doing quite well (according to Guy) while Toyota is suffering. It’s easy for an organization to slip into dis-enchanting behavior over time if it starts cost-cutting and obsessing about optimizing its past. But any company can become enchanting again. “Hey, look at how Apple slipped, then came back, and you can see how enchantment is possible for any company.”
I don’t know that Enchantment will solve all your business problems, but for $14 (and free shipping on Amazon.com) it’s full of ideas about how you can move a company to better performance. And surely make it a better, more compelling place to work!
Guy Kawasaki became famous as a Macintosh Evangelist for Apple back in the 1980s. His passion for creating technology products that help people’s lives, and work, improve, has been compelling for 2 decades. His blog is entitled “How to Change the World,” demonstrating how high Guy sets his sites. Guy also created and remains active in Alltop.com, a compendium of blog listings on important topics, where ThePhoenixPrinciple.com is part of the Innovation section.
by Adam Hartung | Mar 2, 2011 | Books, Defend & Extend, eBooks, In the Rapids, In the Swamp, Innovation, Leadership, Lock-in
What separates business winners from the losers? A lot of pundits would say you need to be efficient, cost conscious and manage margins. Others would say you need to be really good (excellent) at something – much better than anyone else. Unfortunately, that sounds good but in our fast-paced, highly competitive world today those platitudes don’t really create winners. Success has much more to do with the ability to shift. And to create shifts.
Think about Amazon.com. This company was started as an on-line retail channel for books most stores would not stock on their shelves. But Amazon used the shift to internet acceptance as a way to grow into selling all books, and eventually came to dominate book sales. Not only have most of the small book stores disappeared, but huge chains like B. Dalton and more recently Borders, were driven to bankruptcy. Amazon then built on this shift to expand into selling lots more than books, becoming a force for selling all kinds of products. And even opening itself to become a portal for other on-line retalers by routing customers to their sites, and even taking orders for products shipped from other e-tailers.
More recently, Amazon has taken advantage of the shift to digitization by launching its Kindle e-reader. And by making thousands of books available for digital downloading. By acting upon market trends, Amazon has shifted quickly, and has caused shifts in the market where it participates. And this shifting has been worth a lot to Amazon. Over the last 5 years Amazon’s stock has risen from about $30/share to about $180/share – about a 45%/year compounded rate of return!
Chart source: Yahoo Finance
In the middle to late 1990s, as Amazon was just starting to appear on radar screens, it appeared like Sears would be the kind of company that could dominate the internet. After all Sears was huge! It was a Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) member that had ample resources to invest in the emerging growth market. Sears had a history of pioneering markets. It had once dominated retail with its catalogs, then became a powerhouse in free standing retail stores, then led the movement to shopping malls as an anchor chain, and even used its history in lending to develop what became Discover card, and had once shown its ability to be a financial services company and even an insurer! Sears had shifted with historical trends, and surely the company would see that it could bring its resources to the shifting retail landscape in order to remain dominant.
Unfortunately, Sears went a different direction, prefering to focus on defending its current business model. As the chain struggled, it was dropped from the DJIA. Eventually a financier, Edward Lampert, used his takeover of bankrupt KMart (by buying up their bonds) to take over Sears! Under his leadership Sears focused hard on being efficient, controlling costs and managing margins. Extensive financial rigor was applied to Sears to improve the profitability of every line item, dropping poor performers and closing low margin stores. While this initially excited investors, Sears was unable to compete effectively against other retailers that were lower cost, or had better merchandise or service, and the value has declined from about $190/share to $80; a loss of about 60% (at its recent worst the stock fell to almost 30 – or a decline of 84% peak to trough!)
Chart Source: Yahoo Finance
Meanwhile the world’s #1 retailer, Wal-Mart, has long excelled at being the very best at supply chain management, and low-price leadership in retailing. Wal-Mart has never varied from its original business model, and in the retail world it is undoubtedly the very best at doing what it does – buy cheap, sell cheap and run a very tight supply chain from purchase to sale. This excited some investors during the “Great Recession” as customers sought out low prices when fearing about their jobs and future.
But this strategy has not been able to produce much growth, as stores have begun saturating just about everywhere but the inner top 30 cities. And it has been completely unsuccessful outside the USA. As a result, despite its behemoth size, the value of Wal-Mart has really gone nowhere the last 5 years. While there has been price gyration (from $42 low to $62 high) for long-term investors the stock has really gone nowhere – mired mostly around $50.Chart Source: Yahoo Finance
Investors in Amazon have clearly fared much better than Sears or Wal-Mart
Chart Source: Yahoo Finance
Too often business leaders spend too much time thinking about what they do. They think about costs, margins, the “business model” and execution. But success really has less to do with those things than understanding trends, and capitlizing on those trends by shifting. You don’t have to be the lowest cost, or most efficient or even the most passionate. What works a lot better is to go where the trends are favorable, and give customers solutions that align with the trends. And if you do this early, before anyone else, you’ll have a lot of time to figure out how to make money before competitors try to cut your margins!
Recognize that most “execution” is about preserving what happened in the past. Trying to do things better, faster and cheaper. But in a rapidly changing world, new competitors change the basis of competition. Amazon isn’t a better classical bookseller, or retailer. It’s a company that leveraged trends – market shifts – to take advantage of new technologies and new ways of people shopping. First for books and then other things. Later it built on trends toward digitization by augmenting the production of electronic publications, which is destined to change the world of book publishing altogether – and even has impact on the publishing of everything from periodicals to manuals. Amazon is now creating market shifts, which is changing the fortunes of others.
For investors, employees and suppliers you are better off to be with the company that shifts. It has the ability to grow with the trends. And the faster you get out of those companies which are stuck, locked-in to their old business model and practices in an effort to defend historical behaviors, the better off you’ll be. Despite the P/E multiples, or other claims of “value investing,” to succeed you’re a lot better off with the company that’s finding and building on trends than the ones managing costs.
by Adam Hartung | Feb 3, 2011 | Defend & Extend, eBooks, In the Rapids, In the Swamp, Innovation, Leadership, Lock-in, Openness
- Company size is irrelevant to job creation
- New jobs are created by starting new businesses that create new demand
- Most leaders behave defensively, trying to preserve the old business
- But success comes from acting like a start-up and creating new opportunities
- Companies need to do more future-based planning that can change the competitive landscape and generate more growth, jobs and higher rates of return
A trio of economists just published "Who Creates Jobs? Small vs. Large vs. Young" at the National Bureau of Economic Research. For years businesspeople have said that the majority of jobs were created by small companies, therefore we should provide loans and other incentives for small business. At the same time, we all know that large companies employee millions of people, and therefore they have received benefits to keep their companies going even in tough times – like the recent bailouts of GM and Chrysler. But what these researchers discovered was that size was immaterial to job creation – and this ages-old debate is really irrelevant!
Digging deeper into the data, they discovered as reported in the New York Times, "To Create Jobs, Nurture Start-Ups." Regardless of size, most businesses over time get stuck defending their original success formula. What helped them initially grow becomes locked-in by behavioral norms, structural decision-making processes and a business model cost structure that may be tweaked, but rarely changed. Best practices serve to focus management on defending that business, even as market shifts lower the industry growth rate and profits. It doesn't take long before defensive tactics dominate, and as the leaders attempt to preserve historical practices there are no new jobs created. Usually quite the opposite happens as cost cutting dominates, leading to outsourcing and lay-offs reducing the workforce.
Look no further than most members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average to witness the lack of jobs created by older companies desperately trying to defend their historical business model. But what we've failed to realize is how the same management practices dominate small business as well! Most plumbing suppliers, window installers, insurance agencies, restaurants, car dealers, nurseries, tool rental shops, hair cutters and pet sitters spend all their time just trying to keep the business going. They look no further than what they did yesterday when making business decisions. Few think about growth, preferring instead to just keep the business the same – maybe by the owner/operator's father 3 decades ago! They don't create any new jobs, and are probably struggling to maintain existing employment as computers and other business aids reduce the need for labor – while competition keeps whacking away at historical margins.
So if you want to create jobs, throwing incentives at General Electric, General Motors or General Dynamics is not likely to get you very far. And asking the leaders of those companies what it takes to get them to create jobs is a wasted conversation. They don't know, and haven't really thought about the question. Leaders of almost all big organizations are just trying to make next quarter's profit projection any way they can – and that doesn't involve new hiring. After a lifetime of cutting costs and preservation behavior, how is Jeffrey Immelt of GE supposed to know anything about creating new businesses which leads to job creation?
Nor is offering loans or grants to the millions of existing small businesses who are just trying to keep the joint running going to make any difference. Their psychology is not about offering new products or services, and banks sure don't want to take the risk of investing in new experimental behaviors. They have little, if any, interest in figuring out how to grow when most of their attention is trying to preserve the storefront in the face of new competitors on-line, or from India, China or Vietnam!
To create jobs you have to focus on growth – not defense. And that takes an entirely different way of thinking. Instead of thinking about the past you have to be obsessive about the future, and how you can do things differently! Most of the time, business leaders don't think this way until their backs are up against the wall, looking at potential failure! For example, how Mr. Gerstner turned around IBM when he moved the company away from mainframe obsession and pointed the company toward services. Or when Steve Jobs redirected Apple away from its Mac obsession and pushed the company into new markets for music/entertainment and smartphones. Unfortunately, these stories are so rare that we tend to use them for a decade (or even 2 decades)!
For years Cisco said it would obsolete its own products, and by implementing that direction Cisco has grown year after year in the tech world, where flame-outs abound (just look at what happened to Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, AOL and rapidly Yahoo!) Look at how Netflix has pushed Blockbuster aside by expanding its business from snail-mail to downloads. Or how Amazon.com has found explosive growth by changing the way we read books, now selling more Kindle products than printed. Rather than thinking about how each could do more of what they always did, fearing cannibalization of the "core business," they are aiding destruction of their historical business by implementing the newest technology and solution before some start-up beats them to the punch!
As you enter 2011 and prepare for 2012, is your planning based upon doing more of what your business has always done? A start up has no last year, so its planning is based entirely on views of the future. Are you fixated on improving your operations? A start up has no operations, so it is fixated on competitors to figure out how it can meet market needs better, and use "fringe" solutions in new ways that competitors have not yet adopted. Are you hoping that market shifts slow, or stop, so revenue, market share and profit slides abate? A start up is looking for ways to disrupt the marketplace to it can grab high growth from existing solutions while generating new demand by meeting unmet needs. Are you trying to preserve resources in order to defend your business from competitors? A start up is looking for places to experiment with new solutions and figure out how to change the competitive landscape while growing revenues and profits.
If you want to thrive you have to grow. To grow, you have to think young! Be willing to plan for the future, like Apple did when it moved into new markets for music downloads. Be willing to find competitive holes and fill them with new technology, like Netflix. Don't fear market changes – create them like Cisco does with new solutions that obsolete previous generations. And keep testing new ways to expand the market, even as you see intense competition in historical markets being attacked by new competitors. That is the only way to create value, and generate new jobs!