Top Twenty

This list of "success factors" emerged after-the-fact from an interview with a reporter from Moscow in preparation for a seminar I'm giving in Moscow in mid-November 2012. FYI:

Just one "secret" to innovation: It's a messy world. We're always operating half informed. Hence, "try more stuff than the other guy" and sort it out as you go forward is the best way to up success odds. ("Ready. Fire. Aim."—Ross Perot)

Paradox: Superb quality is an absolute necessity, and it requires superb systems; but superb quality with the wrong product flunks. Hence one needs to be organized (quality) and disorganized (innovation) at the same time. (Axiom: Management is art, not science.)

Waste #1: "Great branding"/marketing can not overcome a lousy product—it is largely wasted. The product (innovative, attractive, of the highest quality) comes first—though excellence in product and marketing is indubitably required to achieve a smashing success.

Everywhere: "Excellence" in quality and design is not restricted to the "high end." Both characteristics can be imbedded in lower-end products and services.

Iron law: All organizations get worse as they become more and more enormous. No cultural differences.

Iron law: Over the long haul, national success is largely built upon SMEs, with growth and innovation associated largely with a large population of vibrant midsized enterprises—Germany's "Mittelstand" is exhibit #1.

Paradox: Hierarchy is dead. Long live hierarchy. New market requirements and new tools can dramatically reduce hierarchy. Still, I don't want to drive across a bridge that didn't have a "command and control" structure to sign off on safety.

But: Hierarchy is often necessary—but relentless hot war must be declared on bureaucracy "24/7."

"New marketing techniques": The newest marketing technique is the oldest marketing technique but remains "new" because it is seldom practiced with requisite intensity. Namely, get the hell out into the marketplace and listen & listen & listen to customers. Then listen some more.

Always #1: Any nation's Olympic team is as good as its athletes. (Duh.) Exactly the same is true with any (as in any!) organization: Investment in and development of great people comes first and is the greatest sustaining differentiator!

Motivator #1: Treating people with respect is always the #1 motivational "tool."

Why not business: In the army and in the theater and in sports, training is always Priority #1. Why not in business? No organization ever devoted too much effort to training!

Success "secret" #1: Work harder/much harder than the other guy/s. There's more to it than hard work but hard work is the sine qua non. (Again: Think of the Olympics.)

Speed's enabler: The #1 cause of delays is invariably lousy cross-functional communication—the product developers don't talk to the logistics people who don't talk to the sales people. Etc. Etc. Excellence in cross-functional communication must become a day-to-day top-management obsession.

New context, new leaders: Innovation (and execution) today is a collaborative process. Women are on average better leaders than men in collaborative situations. Men take to hierarchies—we invented 'em. Women tend to lead more by inclusion rather than coercion.

Customer #1: In retail and in products designed for retail, she is the primary consumer. Company leadership and the product-service portfolio should mimic, more or less, this fact. (You heard it here 1st: Men and women are different.)

New context, new skills; The Age of Brawn is largely behind us. Brains and creativity and flexibility have come to the fore. Not only are our organizations unprepared—but our schools get it more or less exactly wrong 100% of the time.

Acceleration: Technological change is accelerating as never before. It is not an exaggeration to say that "all bets are off"; adaptability and renewal are imperative on a short cycle unimaginable only 10 or so years ago. (And we ain't seen nothin' yet.)

Mix it up: Company leaders tend to be look-alikes. Only (only!) diversity on any dimension you can name induces creativity over the long haul—from the boardroom to the front line.

"Sexy": Clever strategies and exciting products are important, but superb execution invariably carries the day. Asked his #1 success "secret," peerless hotelier Conrad Hilton replied, "Don't forget to tuck the shower curtain into the bathtub." Amen!