Distilling how to get an edge in business

The World Business Forum brings over 5000 business leaders together to hear from thought leaders and luminaries. Some of the big themes across many of the speakers are: people (not companies) leading innovation, digging deeper and looking outside of our own view of the world. As conductor and author Ben Zander said, it’s not about motivational speeches, but looking for transformations that can stay with you the rest of your life. Here are a few quotes and thoughts from Day 1:

Entrepreneur and NBA owner Mark Cuban talked about how there are inefficiencies in the marketplace; if you can give yourself an edge in knowledge or out hustle people, you can succeed. Real estate mogul, Barbara Corcoran said that the first thing that she looks for in hiring is passion, which can not be taught. Bill George (former CEO of Medtronic and author) said that most people only give 30% effort in what they do; only delivering what they are told to do since they are not engaged and working on things that excite themselves. George also said that the size of an organization is inversely proportionate to the propensity to take risk. 21st century leadership isn’t about titles, but rather helping people find the sweet spots where strengths and passions can connect.


Photo by PhotographybyDov.com

Malcolm Gladwell said that taking risks is at the core of leadership; need people to innovate and be creative. The problem he points out is that as humans, we are hardwired to seek the approval of our peers. It is much easier to take massive operational risks but not social risk. We see this in teenagers and it was a major component of the recent failures on Wall Street. Leaders can withstand the ridicule of peers. [BTW – Gladwell is working on a new book, he discussed it with a small group of attendees and Dan Rockwell captured some good notes]

There were similar themes at the BIF-7 conference last month. Whitney Johnson, co-founder of Clay Christensen’s investment firm and writer for Harvard Business Review called on people to disrupt themselves. She told her story of the challenges that she faced leaving a Wall Street analyst firm to go to a start-up focused on disruptive innovations. She summed lessons from her personal path to disruption:

  1. If it feels scary and lonely, you are probably on the right track
  2. Be assured that you have no idea what will come next
  3. Throw out the performance metrics you’ve always relied on
  4. Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course; targeting a new market vs existing will deliver 6x more success and 20x greater revenue
Process and creativity/innovation are opposing forces at companies. Companies need to create spaces for people to try, fail and iterate.

4 Responses to Distilling how to get an edge in business

  1. George Levy says:

    Thanks for summarizing these and distilling those “focused nuggets of wisdom.”

    I was not able to attend the Mark Cuban session at WBF and the ” If you can give yourself an edge in knowledge or out hustle people, you can succeed” bit was a grat insight to take… (Especially coming from someone like him – I’m a big fan…)

    I was also not able to go to BIF7 and even though I followed a lot of the action via Twitter, I couldn’t catch the Whitney Johnson lessons on personal disruption… The Scary and Lonely bit is comforting 🙂

  2. Hey Stu, I have to disagree with Barbara Corcoran about the nature of divined passion. I believe that passion can be taught. Think back to school when you may have had a teacher that inspired you. Others may have had a supervisor or other individual who shared their passion with them. I for one really enjoy sharing my passion for continuous improvement and Lean Six Sigma with others. Its facinating to mentor others through the learning the mind-set and seeing their own passion blossom.

    My point is passion, like leadership and other “rare traits,” is not exclusive. Rather it is something that can be shared and developed in others.

    Just a thought…. Your Friend, Trout

    • Stuart Miniman says:

      Good to hear from you. While I agree that passion can be developed, when it comes to hiring, I also look for people that have a strong internal drive and have demonstrated passion in their work.
      Since you work on CI and Six Sigma – here’s a question for you: are innovation and process opposing forces?

      • Hey, good question. If in your question you include Continuous Improvement and Six Sigma as an opposing force to innovation, I respond absolutely not. Both help to identify opportunities for improvement and prompt innovation to solve the problem. You know the cliche, “necessity is the mother of innovation.”

        However, if your question goes a little deeper and asks does standard work hinder innovation then let’s talk because I can see why people may think so. One of the goals of standard work is to reduce variation in the outputs of human labor. The idea of standardized work is that every person knows what to do and how to do it. It is required that the laborer follow the standardized work even if they personally disagree with the instructions. The implicit assumption is that the author of the standard work document knows that laborer’s job better than the laborer. But what if the laborer does not understand the purpose of the task he disagrees with? Could a defect occur?
        Sometimes Laborers interpret standard work as a request to “check their brain at the door.” That’s when innovation stops. However, any good people manager know that she needs to regularly engage laborers and utilize their talents in thinking of new and better ways to get the work done. Sure, not all ideas are good ones. But it doesn’t take an Ivy League education to innovate.

        The difference is that there is a process for changing processes. If laborers are allowed to innovate on the fly the customer could experience product variation and/or defective product. Process innovation needs to occur in a way that proves its favorable affect prior to implementation to a process serving the customer.



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