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Forbes - John Kotter's Change Leadership

Kotter International
October 7, 2014

Earlier today JP Nicols (a friend and colleague) posted a tweet that caught my eye – it was a post honoring Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, on the 3rd anniversary of his passing and directed me to a brief video of Jobs. I took a few minutes to check out the video. You should too.

The video shows an internal company meeting at Apple in 1997. Steve Jobs had recently returned to the company after Apple’s acquisition of NeXT. Wearing shorts and his infamous black turtleneck, he appears casually on stage and starts talking about his vision for the company, about connecting with people in a way that most companies don’t (except the best companies in the world) and he talks about the reboot at Apple.


Specifically, he highlights a number of key principles that have (in hindsight) propelled Apple forward:

  • Getting back to basics – great products, great marketing and great distribution
  • An acknowledgement that Apple has in some cases drifted from doing the basics really well
  • A realization that Apple (in 1997) was trying to do too much – with too little focus.

The realization that they were doing too much led Apple to eliminate 70 percent of the product roadmap. 70 percent! By any standards that is a huge number. The contention was that a simpler product line would be a better product line.

In launching the actual commercial and the principles behind the “Think different” approach to marketing, Jobs talks about the need for the company to “think differently” about the products, and the impact that they will have in a very busy, very noisy world. If you listen carefully, you’ll see how he is emphasizing the need to think differently even before he unveils the “Think different” messaging.

One last highlight – instead of differentiating Apple from the competition on the basis of technical performance or hardware attributes, Jobs encourages the company to talk about the impact they will have on the world.

Ultimately we all know how this story unfolds… if stock price in an indicator of success, the results have been pretty impressive … Check out the trajectory of Apple’s stock since 1997.

Steve Jobs is almost universally regarded as a leader. His focus and vision were key elements of his character as a leader. So the challenge to us all is this:

  1. Are we clear about our vision - not in a lofty, nice-sounding-themes-and-words kind of way, but in an “our company will have this impact on the world” way?
  2. And are we focused - enough? Or do we need to cut X percent of the busy effort that we (and our teams) are doing and FOCUS on what is important?


Kotter International
October 3, 2014

Whether you’re a die-hard iPhone fan or a lifelong Android user, there’s no denying that Apple made waves earlier this month when the company announced not only a new iPhone lineup and its first foray into wearable technology with the iWatch, but also a strong push into payments technology with the launch of Apple Pay. As far as innovation goes, Apple has long been a shining example of corporate innovation – the launch of the iPod in 2001 revolutionized the music industry; 2007’s iPhone debut similarly turned the mobile phone market on its head; and the introduction of the iPad in 2010 created a whole new product category that continues to cannibalize the PC market.

And yet just last year, investors felt Apple had lost its innovative edge and wondered whether it could get it back again. Though revenue was still growing in mid-2011, doubt about the company’s ability to innovate dropped stock value to its lowest level since 2011.

Despite Apple’s success in proving its innovative chops once again, innovation remains a cryptic term for executives across all industries, who consistently wrestle with the question:  “What is innovation, and how can we encourage it within our company?”

Kathy Gersh’s Professor Pop-Tart School of Innovation tells a cautionary tale, warning companies not to be so fixated on ensuring they’re “innovating” but rather suggesting a more practical approach that keeps the focus on advancing overall goals to grow the business.  Critics argued that Kellogg’s peanut-butter Pop-Tart was merely a product line expansion, not true innovation. But the development not only met consumer demand, but also carved out new shelf space and increased revenue, showing that, whether others consider it innovation or not, the true mark of success comes from wins that advance overall business goals. In other words, adapting to stay ahead of the competition and remain relevant to customers’ needs is innovation and is ultimately essential to surviving and thriving in today’s fast-paced marketplace.

When it comes to innovation, it’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. As noted with Apple, when groundbreaking innovation drives company valuation, the growing business value hinges on the organization’s ability to deliver big innovations consistently. So how can companies stay focused on turning great ideas into market-leading products and services? Giving existing employees dedicated time, forums and physical space to make connections with people from across the organization is a good first step. Encouragement inspires confidence, and people throughout the organization will dedicate their time, energy and creativity if they believe in what they are doing and that their ideas will come to fruition. Though not all ideas will produce tangible results for the company, creating a test-fast, fail-fast mentality will allow for more innovations across silos.

Knowing the answers to four key questions can tell you all you need to know about your team’s culture and your company’s potential innovation killers: “What are some examples of big wins for the team?” “What are some examples of big failures for the team?” “How did the team celebrate the win?” “What happened to the people involved in the failure?”  Ken Perlman warns that rules can get in the way of goals. If someone messes up and costs the company money, should they automatically be fired? If your immediate answer is “yes” it may be time to take a closer look at your organization’s culture for innovation and think about ways to create a more open, less stifled atmosphere for creativity and risk-taking.

Ultimately, good leader or bad, you can’t force innovation. The key, rather, is to shape your corporate environment so that innovation is possible and, by doing so, build innovation into your company DNA. While some companies are wildly successful with their innovation attempts, we also know that at least 70% of change efforts fail. But what are these unsuccessful CEOs and their people doing wrong with their strategic investment in innovation? To help you breed a culture that contains innovation at its core, your company must invite people to bring forth their new ideas, take ownership of them and then implement them. If efforts fail, valuing the lessons taken from failure as much as your successes is important, especially when it comes to applying those lessons toward each new attempt. Finally, resist the desire to project manage your way to innovation. It cannot be generated by focusing solely on budgets, resources and timelines. By boxing innovation in, the investment of time and resources will be wasted.

To conclude, let’s think backwards. Here are five things you will not hear at the most innovative organizations. Be on alert for them. These are clear indicators that your company is losing its innovation “mojo.” The first is, “Can we do that?” Permission seekers are the mark of unclear company vision. “We can’t do that,” should also raise red flags. If your people see others try, fail and then get punished, you can guarantee that people will remain in the safe spot. “We have to go through the proper channels” is a statement that signals how employees are not well-networked and failing to cross silo walls. Though one person may come up with the idea, nobody creates a great innovation solely on their own. “That’s good enough” and “that’s not my job” at the final two dangerous phrases signaling that people are not focused on the future of the company. Stay on alert for these dangerous phrases — a great brand name will not protect you from losing your edge.


Kotter International
September 29, 2014

By Cameron Welter

There’s a storm brewing in the NFL. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are facing charges of abuse, Aaron Hernandez is on trial for murder and various drug-related suspensions are either being overturned or upheld. A few days ago, Ray Lewis (yes – the same Ray Lewis who was once indicted on murder charges) made the controversial statement that “some things can be covered up and some things can’t.” At first, I was quite upset that a former star and representative of the league would have the audacity to say such a thing, but after thinking it through, I realized this was entirely unsurprising – we raised these athletic professionals this way.

Before we start thinking critically about any of these situations, and discussing as a society what is happening in our beloved football league, let’s be very clear about one thing – we, the fans, are partly to blame. The NFL is one giant non-profit organization, supported by legions of fans and society at large. We build and sustain its pipeline for talent at our own expense, from Pop Warner all the way through college. On top of this, teams receive billions of dollars in direct and indirect taxpayer support to build stadiums and host championship parades.

There is no doubt that the players need to be held accountable for their actions and so, too, must any coaches or league officials that may have been involved in a cover-up.  Before we grab our pitchforks, however, I think it is important that we pause and take a look in the mirror and recognize just how significant our role is in these situations.  After all, we were responsible for creating these star athletes, and they developed these behavioral problems on our watch.

A photo of the Logo of the National Football L...

What I see here is a lack of leadership at all levels. Although there are exceptions to every rule, violent and destructive behaviors do not automatically emerge upon being drafted into the NFL. Prior to being drafted, these athletes passed through our communities as children and young adults, where early positive leadership, both on and off the field, might have prevented the destructive actions we are witnessing today.

In order to produce athletes that role model the behavior we want our own children to display, here are the steps we should take, as leaders, to support the youth in our communities:

1. Responsibility countsset expectations for behavior that is acceptable on and off the field. Coaching and mentoring does not end when the whistle blows. Anyone who interacts with young children as part of a team has an extraordinary influence over them that is not always apparent. We’ve seen CEOs and politicians lose their jobs over mishandling their personal lives, and we’re witnessing the same pattern play out in the NFL right now. It is never too early to institute within youth teams that low grades and bad behavior have serious consequences.

2. Hold accountable coaches, administrators and others in leadership positions. The NFL isn’t the only place where we see players behaving in a way that is less than ideal; Florida State star Jameis Winston has had multiple run ins with the law in his two years at the school, ranging from sexual assault accusations to shoplifting. Yet this athlete only had to miss one game due to suspension. Where was the leadership when an athletic standout was allowed to do as he pleased with minimal repercussions? Those in leadership positions must be held accountable for maintaining justice in the system, even if it means benching the star athlete.

3. It is easier to reward and reinforce good behavior early than it is to change a bad habit later. Anyone who has developed a bad habit in life knows how hard it can be to “unlearn” that behavior. We frequently forget to celebrate small successes and, instead, treat positive actions as expectations. If you see someone you are coaching or mentoring modeling a behavior you wish for them to continue, then tell them, and make sure others are listening so that they are inspired to mimic that good behavior, as well.

The conversations around what needs to change in the NFL are not going to end anytime soon, because they serve as a microcosm for issues in society as a whole. Though we may gawk as the NFL has much of its dirty laundry aired, we as a culture have also swept many things under the carpet, choosing to turn a blind eye. In order to institute the changes we want to see made in the NFL, each of us needs to step up as a leader in our communities, ensuring that future generations of sports stars have better role models growing up, so that they can become better role models themselves.