What Business Are You Really In?

 

He started as a book salesman in the late 1880s. To entice people to buy his books, David H. McConnell gave away free perfume samples. Those proved so popular, he abandoned the books and founded the California Perfume Company in 1886. That company eventually changed its name to Avon in honor of Shakespeare’s hometown. Last year, Avon’s revenue was $1.6 billion.

That’s just one example of successful companies that were founded with one business model, then pivoted to a different business. They thought they were in one business, but the market led them to change their business, either by choice or because their potential for increasing market share vanished.

Nokia started as a paper mill in Finland.

Nokia started as a paper mill in Finland.

Twitter is an example of a forced pivot. It started as Odeo, a network for people to find podcasts. It was a bad day for Odeo when iTunes announced it would include a built-in platform for podcasts in every one of its iPods, pretty much obliterating their business overnight. So, the company got to work, hosting hackathons to come up with a new idea. The concept for a microblogging platform was hatched, and Twitter was created in 2006. It’s now worth over $10 billion.

One of my favorite pivot stories is about the American food company Wrigley. William Wrigley Jr’s father was a soap manufacturer, so as a teenager William became a soap salesman. To encourage shop owners to stock his soap on their shelves, William offered free gifts. Baking powder was the most popular, so he dropped selling the soap to focus on that. In 1892, as an incentive, he began offering two packages of free chewing gum with each can of baking powder. Once again, the giveaway was more popular than the actual product he was selling, and he moved to selling chewing gum. Wrigley sold to Mars in 2008 for $23 billion.

Did you know Nokia started as a paper mill in Finland in 1865? It moved to creating rubber goods and telecommunications devices, and a mobile phone in 1992. That year the company sold off all its other divisions to focus on mobile devices. Sadly, it failed to make a successful transition to the smartphone industry, and sold its devices and services division to Microsoft in 2013.

We associate the name Nintendo with Super Mario Bros, Game Boy and Wii. The company was founded in 1889 in Japan by Fusajiro Yamauchi to sell playing cards. Unsuccessful expansion attempts by his great-grandson in the 1960s included getting in the taxi business and “love hotels.” Then one of their engineers began developing electronic toys, which led to video game development, and its large market share of the mobile gaming space. While profits had been in decline, Nintendo seems to be on the upswing based on the potential of the value of its intellectual property.

In addition to knowing how to maximize profits for your company, knowing what business you are actually in allows you to expand and grow in the right direction.

When you aren’t clear what business you are in, efforts to innovate and expand can go astray. As Ty Montague writes in inc.com, “The lion’s share of innovation mistakes still come from companies funneling their efforts into extending the life of some existing platform, instead of spending time getting clear on what business they are really in and then constantly looking for opportunities to apply that definition to new technologies and new markets. Companies that do this will grow robust businesses that can be hard to describe in conventional terms.”

An example he gives is Tesla, which he says isn’t in the car business, but rather in the electric mobility business, so in addition to building cars, it builds infrastructure to support the mobility of electric vehicles.

Every business goes through a metamorphosis of product lines in response to marketplace pressure and technology, and a smart CEO needs to continue to monitor that so he can remain in business by moving forward.

Take a step back and think about your own business. What business are you really in?

 

3 Reasons You Want More Women on Your Board

It’s a man’s world. At least in the board rooms of Fortune 500 companies, where women continue a pattern of holding less than 17 percent of corporate board seats. Compare that to other countries, some of which are so concerned about the lack of females on boards that they have set quotas. These countries have set quotas of 40 percent and have come a long way toward meeting them.

The top five countries in terms of percentage of female representation are:

Norway: 35.5

Finland: 29.9

France: 29.7

Sweden: 28.8

Belgium: 23.4

Germany hasn’t fared much better than the U.S., with just 18.5 percent of female board members. However, it recently introduced a quota of 30 percent by 2016.

While mandating quotas for U.S. companies may not be the answer, it’s time for companies to take a good look at their numbers and what having more women on the board could mean for them.

Here are three reasons you should consider adding more women to your board.

  1. Having women on your board is good for your bottom line

A study done by Catalyst, a non-profit organization for women in business, found that Fortune 500 companies in the top quarter of number of female board members outperformed those in the lowest quarter with a 16 percent higher return on sales and 26 percent increase on invested capital.

These numbers increased to 84 percent higher return on sales and 60 percent increase on invested capital for companies with sustained high representation of women on their boards.

A study on decision-making was conducted by Chris Bart, professor of strategic management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, and Gregory McQueen, a McMaster graduate and senior executive associate dean at A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona, and published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics.

For their study they surveyed 600 board directors on how they made decisions. The results showed that while men prefer to make decisions following rules and tradition, women are more likely to consider the rights of others and to take a collaborative approach to decision-making, which translated into better performance for their companies.

  1. Having women on board can decrease your company’s chances of going bankrupt

A study done by Leeds University Business School found that having just one woman on your board could cut your risk of bankruptcy by 20 percent. Having two or three members lowered your chances even more.

The study involved 17,000 companies in the UK that went insolvent in 2008. The results were published in an article in The Times with the title “Higher Heels, Lower Risk: Why Women on the Board Help a Company Through Recession.” Unfortunately, this one didn’t seem to be available online as I was intrigued to read more.

  1. Having women on your board can result in less fraud, corruption and scandal

This from a recent article on thinkprogress.org, “Appointing Women to Company Boards Helps Avoid Scandals, Fraud and Corruption.”

MSCI, Inc., a provider of investment decision support tools, looked at the presence of women on the boards of thousands of companies and their corresponding propensity for scandals and tensions with shareholders. The results showed “a clear pattern between having higher than mandated percentages of women on boards and fewer governance-related controversies.”

The research is clear. Having a diverse board can benefit your company in many ways.

Yet, U.S. companies have been slow to respond. In fact, the article points out that male board members named John, Robert, James or William outnumber all women on boards.

Want to improve the performance of your company? Get a woman on board.

A Hackathon: Not Just for the Software Industry

This is a two-part series on hackathons. In the last column of my recent series on Innovation, I mentioned hosting a hackathon as a way to create an environment of innovation. In this series, I’ll cover what a hackathon is and how to host one at your company.

So what is a hackathon and why do you want to host one? Basically, a hackathon is an event that pulls together people from different departments into small teams for a limited time, generally with a specific purpose in mind.

Although hackathons originated in the software world, their purpose can be anything you’d like, and as large or small as you’d like. Maybe you’re looking for a new slogan or angle for a marketing campaign.

Shutterstock, a website for stock photos and music tracks, hosts a company-wide 24-hour hackathon ever year “to imagine, design and implement an idea they think can provide value to the company.” It awards prizes to employees for best ideas in categories like Biggest Customer Impact and Game Changer. According to the website, “the real prize is the passion and excitement that hackathons themselves evoke.”

Winners also get the opportunity to work on their hacks, perhaps developing it into a product for the company.

In a larger version of the event, AT&T is hosting its first hackathon at CTIA’s Super Mobility Week in Las Vegas next week. The theme of the two-day event is Code for Car and the Home. The purpose of the hackathon is to match developers with technical experts and give them access to a roster of sponsors.

As an incentive, the company is giving away $100,000 in cash and prizes. For example, Volvo is giving away $5,000 for the best app focused on car safety and Samsung is also giving away $5,000 for the best use of Samsung gear. Finalists are invited to stay an extra night and have the opportunity to show their app to industry professionals.

Many companies open up their hackathons to the public to encourage outside opinions and ideas. Having outside participants can also be beneficial for recruiting future employees.

Paypal is hosting a global competition in a series of “BattleHacks” this year held in 14 cities across the world. The challenge is to create code that solves a local problem and become the “Ultimate Hacker for Good.” The World Finals will be in November in San Jose, CA and finalists will compete for $100,000 grand prize and an awesome looking axe trophy.

In addition to creating excitement and possibly new products, campaigns or solutions to problems for your company, hackathons give people from different departments the chance to interact in ways their day-to-day jobs don’t provide.

One of the biggest benefits is that it allows employees the time to focus solely on one thing, harnessing the collection brainpower of several of your employees at once.

In my next column, I’ll cover the basics of how to host a hackathon to benefit your company and generate excitement among your employees. Oh, and no need to award large cash prizes either. Many hackathons are fueled solely with pizza and caffeine.

Creating an Environment of Innovation

This is the third in a three-part series on Innovation. The first part discussed the need for innovation, with examples of companies like 3M that have achieved success by continually innovating. The second part was on encouraging innovation in the workplace by hiring Idea Generators.

I’ve written about the need for innovation in the workplace and provided some tips on how to hire Idea Generators. In this post, I’ll discuss how to create an environment in your business that encourages innovation and creative thinking.

In some businesses, employees are blatantly or subtly encouraged to keep their thinking squarely inside the box. The most creative they are allowed to be is when it comes time to order lunch.

If you want innovation in your workplace, and trust me, you do, you need to actively encourage it by following these suggestions.

Plan your space to allow for easy collaboration

As Margaret Heffernan, a former CEO of five businesses said, “For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”

If you’ve read anything about the history of Pixar, you know that Steve Jobs influenced the design of the building to encourage interaction and unplanned collaborations among departments. He went so far as to suggest that the large campus only have one set of bathrooms in the atrium so employees would be forced to go there several times a day. (That idea was quickly vetoed.)

“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” Jobs said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

Give employees time during the week to explore their passion projects

In my first post on Innovation, I wrote about 3M and how it’s grown into a multi-billion dollar company through developing innovative products. The company has done this by implementing their 15 percent time rule, one it has had since 1948. 3M allows its people the time to investigate their ideas. That time has resulted in products such as Scotch tape and the Post-it note.

They also reward the best of these. Twice a year, six to eight ideas are awarded Genesis Grants, and the employees receive from $30,000 to $75,000 in seed money for 12 months of research.

Host a Hackathon

Started in the software industry, a hackathon is an event that pulls together people from different departments. It may last from one day to a week, generally with a specific purpose in mind.

Hootsuite hosts Hoot-Hackathons, two-day casual events for employees to meet new people and pitch ideas. “These events foster a culture of innovation and gets people enthusiastic about new ideas. Plus, it doesn’t cost a lot,” wrote Ryan Holmes in the article “Innovate or Die: 3 Ways to Stay Ahead of the Curve.”

Don’t punish failure and mistakes

Failure and mistakes are the steppingstones to mistakes. The Japanese engineer Soichiro Honda said, “Success is 99% failure.” I’m not sure I’d agree with that high of a percentage, but you get the idea. If some ideas don’t pan out, you’ve learned something. Remember what Albert Einstein said, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it.”

Have your employees on board with the concept

Even those employees who may not be your most creative can take pride in working for a company that encourages and embraces it. And besides, you never know where that next great idea will come from. Let your employees know that you are looking for creative thinking.

The American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers – poets, actors, journalists – they, as communities, embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture. They vote in ways that promote it. They don’t fight science and they don’t fight technology.”

Management Consultant Peter Drucker said, “Business has only two basic function – marketing and innovation.”

Companies tend to spend a lot of time and attention on marketing. How is your company handling the function of innovation?

How to Encourage Innovation in the Workplace

This is the second in a three-part series on Innovation. The first in the series, “Innovation Distinguishes Between a Leader and a Follower,” provided some examples of companies like 3M that have stayed successful for decades by continuing to innovate. These next two parts focus on the steps to encouraging innovation.

In my last post, I wrote about the need for businesses to continually innovate. As Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

But innovation isn’t something you can just mandate, like telling your employees they need to schedule their lunch hours at certain times. And it’s not just adding a line item to your budget under the column “Innovation.”

Ironically, results from innovation and creative thinking are often not related to the amount of money spent. As Steve Jobs also said, “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R & D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R & D. It’s not about money.”

So what did he say it is about? “It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

After reading my last post, I hope you get the need for innovation. So let’s talk about how to hire people that will help you innovate.

Hiring the Idea Generators

Any manager knows there are differences between the people who excel at coming up with ideas and those that excel at execution of those ideas. A successful company will have a combination of both at all levels. And never has it been more important to find those idea people.

As Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist, said, “Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steel-making.”

Consider Walt and Roy Disney, co-founders of Walt Disney Productions. Walt was the big idea guy, while Roy’s expertise was in finance. “Walt had this idea [for Walt Disney World]. My job all along was to help Walt do the things he wanted to do. He did the dreaming. I did the building,” he once told reporters.

But it’s a lot easier to review a resume and determine if someone can handle the financial area of your company. How can you scout for people good at generating ideas?

There’s no particular college degree that would indicate a person’s creativity. Some of our generation’s best innovators famously didn’t finish college — I bet you can name three right away. (Think Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.)

And the people who did come up with great ideas aren’t always recognized for them. Ironically, the person who invented the fire hydrant remains unknown because the patent was lost in a fire at the patent office in D.C. in 1836.

Here are a few tips to find and hire these Idea Generators:

Ask your current employees

The people you have on staff, particularly the more creative ones, probably already know some people they admire as idea generators and would like as co-workers. Let your staff know of your efforts, recruit among their recommendations and offer a referral bonus

Tailor your interview questions to identify them

Ask questions that will reveal a candidate’s creative past. Ask for ideas they have come up with and implemented at previous workplaces or any organizations with which they have been involved. You may find someone who volunteers at an organization who came up with a killer fundraising idea.

Add innovative features to the interview process

A friend’s son recently underwent an hour-long interview exclusively devoted to brainteasers. In a previous post, “Tips on Hiring from the Corner Office,” I wrote about a company that leaves a candidate with a calculator, pencil and a sandwich and returns in two hours. That’s for analysts positions at a $2 billion hedge fund, but you get the idea. Just as you are judging your candidate, they are judging the innovation of your company starting with the way in which you hire people.

Present an environment that encourages creativity

Idea generators want to know they will be in an environment that will foster their creativity, not stifle it. For tips on how to create such an environment, read the third part of this series.