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    How Cities Outlast Companies

    Last week on the Fast Company site, a piece titled 'How Short-Lived, Slow-Moving Companies Can Become More Like Fast, Creative Cities' , a review of some of the research of physicist Geoffrey West on the growth and development of cities, caught my attention. It was a familiar read since I had previously blogged about West and his research in December 2010 in a post called 'Physics, Cities, and Corporations'.

    By way of review, West describes a theory, based on extensive research of world cities and over 23,000 companies, that cities tend to follow a pattern found in other complex ecosystems; most often, they grow in stability, success, and creativity as they increase in size and grow more diverse. With rare exceptions, cities tend not to disappear. In contrast companies tend to look more like mammals, getting slower as they increase in size and bureaucracy, and then growing old and fading away entirely.

    Why did I want to essentially re-post on the same topic once more? Well, the original piece ran a few days before Christmas 2010, and somehow I get the feeling that physics and demographics were not really all that compelling for most readers who might have had visions of sugarplums and all that going on. And second, last month a talk given by Professor West about his theories and presented at the TedGlobal2011 event was posted on the Ted site. A copy of the 17-minute talk is embedded below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through to see the video).

    While West's theories are highly provocative, they don't really start to offer organizations, particularly large ones (or ones that aspire to grow large), ideas on how to prevent that inevitable slide into the kind of growth stagnation and slow decline of vibrancy, creativity, and energy that seem to ensnare so many large and mature organizations. Why does it have to be that with increased size, organizations seem to be destined to slower rates of growth, and eventual disruption at the hands of smaller, faster, more agile competitors? While cities, on the other hand, seem to thrive with growth, and when you dig into West's data, see increases in efficiency in many measures - energy use, infrastructure requirements, creativity, etc.

    Obviously this topic is interesting to me, since I've posted on it twice, (and watched the TED video a couple of times), so hopefully this will resonate with some of you that might be inside organizations that seemed to have lost a step as they have grown larger. 

    What are some of the ways that you can help instill some of that energy and agility that most of your smaller competitors are using against you? What, if anything can you take from the growth of urban areas and city ecosystems that might apply? 


    Career advice for kids? Learn how to build robots

    By now you probably have caught the story of the latest step in what some might see as the inevitable 'Terminator'-like march towards the complete and total domination of the human race by our robot overlords - Foxconn Planning To Hire 1 Million Robots.I'll be back - with your iPad

    You know Foxconn right? According to Wikipedia, they are the largest maker of electronic components in the world. Foxconn is probably where that little iPhone or iPad that you are so attached to was assembled. Apple, like so many tech hardware organizations has long realized that design, development, and writing software were the keys to success and competitive advantage, but the actual manufacturing and assembly of its gadgets was better positioned elsewhere, with a company like Foxconn that has clear labor cost (and likely other) advantages over domestic manufacturing.

    It is an old story, chase less expensive manufacturing labor and capacity offshore, while keeping the essential elements of the organization stateside. As long as the good ideas keep coming, and the manufacturing operation can keep up with demand, maintain quality standards, and hold the line on costs, well, you have the Apple story essentially.

    But as we see from the Foxconn/Robots story, even a seemingly inexhaustible supply of lower-cost labor might not provide the competitive edge forever, and whether it is labor cost pressure, difficulty in meeting the insatiable demand for Apple toys, or internally driven profit motives, even a company like Foxconn is looking to aggressively manage labor costs via automation.

    We have all heard, and have advised students and others for ages - if your job can be replaced by a computer, or a robot, or an offshore worker willing to do the same job at half the cost, then you probably ought to have a backup plan in the works. Now it seems like we might have to start giving that same advice to the proverbial 'half the cost offshore worker'. When the robots start replacing the low-cost labor at Foxconn, well it is probably time to think about a new career in robot design. Or landscaping.

    So kid, what do you want to be when you grow up? (Hint: say 'Robot Designer').

    Until of course the robots figure out how to design and build themselves...

    Aside: I like in the TechCrunch piece about the Foxconn story, they refer to the acquisition of the robots using the term 'hire'.  Makes me think about the questions the recruiter would ask the robot during the interview.

    'So tell me your biggest weakness?'  

    'Well, people say I am a workaholic, and I don't know how to unwind. I say that is silly. I had 30 minutes off for maintenance and a software upgrade last year.'


    Colors and Getting Change Management Right

    Feels like ages, since I had a good sports-themed take on the blog. With the NBA in a combined offseason/lockout, and the current Major League Baseball season for some reason seeming incredibly uninteresting to me at the moment, I have been hunting high and low for a good sports related topic on which to pontificate. After all, next year's edition of 'The 8 Man Rotation' e-book is not going to write itself.

    And then over with weekend I found this gem from one of may favorite sites, the Uni Watch blog, 'Rooting for Laundry'; a piece about some of the recent transactions and changes from the world of sports. One of those changes was the report of uniform redesign of the iconic New Zealand National Men's Rugby Team jersey. The team, one of the most successful and legendary sides in international rugby is known as the 'All Blacks', named after their well-known and traditional black jerseys and uniforms. The All Blacks are generally one of the top teams in international play year in and year out, and if they could be compared to an American football side, some combination of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots might come close to approximating thier history and their success over the years.Tim Sackett's Monday AM staff meeting

    So back to the Uni Watch piece - the All Blacks have just introduced a new set of team jerseys, and in addition to the expected information about new-age performance fabrics, and lighter and more moisture absorbing materials, the article also includes this quote from New Zealand team captain Richie McCaw:

    “It’s pretty awesome to be involved in creating a new All Blacks jersey,” says McCaw. “People all over the world recognise the jersey, and of course Kiwis feel extremely strongly about it, so to make a change to it is a big deal. This new jersey is revolutionary – but it’s still very much an All Blacks jersey. It’s still something I’m very proud to wear.”

    From a piece on the official New Zealand Men's Rubgy site, Allblacks.com, we learn that the new jersey was 'designed and tested in conjunction with several senior All Blacks including captain Richie McCaw'.

    I know what you might be thinking - big deal, so a sports team changed its jersey, happens all the time, and usually it is for the sole reason to drive increased memorabilia sales. Perhaps. But in the details of this All Blacks jersey redesign we can take several lessons that I think can be more broadly applied to many other organizational change initiatives.

    1. Memory and Tradition

    Key in the jersey redesign efforts is a firm grasp and appreciation of the legacy and the history of the team. It can be pretty easy to advocate 'blowing everything up' and starting over in organizational change efforts, but also forgetting the values, people, and culture of what came before can be a mistake. The fans and players of the All Blacks are all well versed in the history and tradition of the side, so launching a major redesign effort from a completely blank page might have resulted in failure. Think of McCaw's comment about still being proud to wear the new jersey. At least part of that pride has to stem from the new jersey's honoring the long and revered tradition of the side.

    2. Involvement

    Team Captain McCaw and several other of the senior team members were pretty heavily involved in the design and testing process for the new jersey. For initiatives like this to have the best chance for success, the front-line individuals that stand to be most impacted by the change should be included in the process as early and often as is feasibly. While the new design might look good on the website, and may be more lucrative to sell in the team shop, if the players on the pitch are not able to continue to perform at their highest level while wearing the new jersey, then the change initiative would be a failure. Too often we like to proscribe change, and assume we know what the 'real' implementers need, but unless they are involved more intimately and fully in the process, we are mostly guessing.

    3. Performance

    While keeping cognizant of history and tradition, and securing organizational buy-in by involving the most impacted team members in the process are both important and valuable, the redesigned jersey itself has to meet the intended performance goals set out by the designers as well. Simply 'involving' staff in a change process does no good if the results are unsatisfactory. Some highlights from the piece on Allblacks.com:

    (manufacturer) Adidas believes it’s the best rugby jersey in the world. It’s the lightest, ‘fastest’ and closest-fitting rugby jersey ever made

    It’s 50 per cent lighter than the last jersey - but just as strong

    Because it’s so light and aerodynamic it has less weight and drag, allowing players to go fractionally faster. At the elite level of the game, the slightest advantage can make a difference to the result

    Now we won't know for sure until the team competes in these new jerseys if the expected performance improvements will pan out, but initial results from training and testing seem to bear out these expectations.

    What can we learn about change management from a sports team jersey redesign?

    Apparently quite a bit when it is done well.

    P.S. -Hi to my friends at Sonar6, that I hope will keep me honest in the comments!


    PageRank for People

    Last night on the HR Happy Hour Show we had an interesting discussion with Megan Berry from Klout, Jennifer McClure, and Dawn Hrdlica-Burke about online or digital influence, and its potential effect and use in the recruiting and hiring process. We also talked about some of the implications that relying on these kinds of new algorithms might have in the future. It was a fascinating conversation, and I encourage you to check out the replay of the show here, (or drop it into your fancy iPad, just search the iTunes store for 'HR Happy Hour').

    My favorite line of the night was from Megan, when she described one of Klout's goals is to have the Klout score be perceived as the 'PageRank for people', a comparison to the famous search breakthrough invented at Stanford by the founders of Google, which sorted and presented web search results not simply by the amount and location of keywords in web page content, but rather by an evaluation of the number and quality of other sites that linked to the site in question. More simply put, if lots of other sites on the web, that were judged to be of good quality linked back to a particular site, then that destination site was assessed at a higher relative quality, and thus its 'PageRank' would improve.  

    It is a concept as simple and as fundamental to any evaluation we'd make of the quality, reliability, and trustworthiness of any person, business, or service - if enough (or even just one if it is the 'right' person), people that we respect and value their judgment indicate that Candidate 'X' would make a good hire for a specific role, or that Jimbo's Plumbing Service can be trusted not to rip you off, then we are far more likely to heed that advice than we would from simply doing a cursory analysis of online 'presence' or marketing material.

    So when Megan from Klout told us on the show last night that Klout's new '+K' feature, where users can log in to Klout.com to 'award' other users a '+K' to indicate their explicit agreement to the Klout assessment of topical influence, did not directly factor into the person's actual score due to concerns about potential gaming of this process, I was a little surprised. Because to me, at least once Klout can sort out the correct way to control to remove the element of potential gaming the system, then the +K component would stand to be a fundamental aspect that would support the 'PageRank for People' idea. 

    It's really not that not different from Angie's List, or Amazon book reviews, or the consumer product ratings that pop up on pretty much every electronics retailer website.  For some reason we don't seem to worry too much about Jimbo the plumber 'gaming' the system, but when we get to discussing Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and such, the conversation about 'influence' starts to get a little funky.

    Again, I am not sure Klout has the answer to all this yet, or if some one else will figure out a better way to come up with that just right blend of algorithm, evaluation, and personal touch that will result in a measurement or score that will become more universally accepted, but I am fairly confident someone will.

    And I am also fairly confident that soon after some other disruptive technology will emerge that will make us reconsider 'influence' once again.

    Anyway, I am done talking/writing about this for a while, unless my Klout score keeps tanking!

    Have a great weekend!


    Can you give a brother a +K?

    Tonight on the HR Happy Hour Show (8PM ET/ 5PM PT, rest of the country you are on your own), we'll be talking about Klout, and other measures of online or digital influence in the context of sourcing, recruiting, and career management. Can tools like Klout accurately measure a concept to ambiguous as 'influence?'  Does the Klout score and others of its like, have any role at all in the recruiting process?  How about some +K action?

    You can listen live at 8PM ET tonight on the show page here, or on the call in line at 646-378-1086.

    Before you jump to the high and mighty ground and declare that Klout, and other lists of digital influence, whether created using proprietary algorithms or hand-curated by actual people, have no place in professional recruiting processes, you might want to ask yourself if you've ever researched a candidate on LinkedIn, and made some kind of subtle evaluation of said candidate simply on the number of connections they have.

    Recently, none other than my friend Kris Dunn, on the HR Capitalist blog offered this observation, in the context of candidate evaluation for a sales position:

    My client in that search forwarded me a profile of a Salesforce candidate from LinkedIn.  "Have you talked to this guy?".  I looked at the candidate, which remember, was for a hunting sales pro.  43 contacts in LinkedIn.

    43 Contacts.  For a hunting sales pro.  I could hear "I need some leads if I'm going to close business" in the background.  Your cost of customer acquisition just tripled by hiring that guy."

    For better or worse, the (lack of) LinkedIn contacts factored into an instant perception being formed about the guy. He could be carrying around a tattered, 25 year old Fil-o-fax (Gen Y'ers, Google it), stuffed with all the names and contact information of the key decision makers and influencers in his industry, but chances are the paltry 43 connections on LinkedIn were not going to let anyone find out.

    And here's one more, from the marketing space taken from a post by Mark Schaefer on the Business Grow site:

    Let me relate a few of my experiences this week …

    • A very talented friend told me he was rejected for a job at a major ad agency because his Klout score was too low.
    • A B2B marketing agency Managing Director told me he chose between two qualified candidates based on their Klout score.
    • A friend in D.C is creating a Klout 50 Club exclusive to people with high Klout scores. Why? He wants to find good hires for social media marketing.
    • A woman told me her boyfriend was accepted to a prestigious conference based on his Klout score alone.

    These experiences occurred in the span of 72 hours

    Sure, I know what you are thinking - those jobs are all in digital marketing and PR, and therefore using Klout as a screening tool might make some sense, but out here in the real world, where 99.3% of people don't even know what Klout is, it really does not matter. Possibly.

    But on the show tonight, while talking about Klout, the discussion is really a bit more expansive than that, and I hope we can avoid getting caught up in the nuances of algorithms, and talk about online and digital influence at a more fundamental level. I think it will make for an interesting show.

    Our guests will be Megan Berry from Klout, and Jennifer McClure, aka CincyRecruiter, and the feisty Dawn Hrdlica-Burke, aka DawnHrRocks will be along for the ride as well. 

    I hope you can join us tonight at 8PM, and if you listen and enjoy the show can you share the love with a little +K action on Klout my way? My score has been tanking lately.