Category Archives: Business Value


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Space affects moods.  A beautiful space can make people happy; a small cramped office can make them feel depressed.  But more important, space also affects behaviors and communication.  Open space offices allow an easier flow of communication among team members and can convey a strong feeling of belonging, but they also can make it harder to focus.  Separate offices allow for more privacy and concentration but can easily create silos that separate people and teams.  Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, you need to be ready to manage space not only from a budgetary standpoint but also from the perspective of what it is your creative teams actually need in order to be creative and to deliver the level of innovation your company needs.  To achieve this, some companies will have to literally give away space–that is, to sacrifice space for its positive impact on the environment, the company culture and ultimately the creative output.

Office space is an expensive commodity, especially in the world’s most competitive markets, and historically offices have been designed and furnished to maximize administrative efficiency and minimize facility costs (private offices only for senior executives, “cube farms” for lower-ranking personnel).  But today companies are looking at efficiency differently, and consequently they are looking at space differently.  They are looking for ways to maximize the creative output of their employees, and from that viewpoint the most efficient use of space is one that supports creative interactions.  For example, Pixar’s California headquarters–where bathrooms, mailboxes, and meeting rooms are clustered at the center of the building–are designed to ensure that employees from different divisions of the company are certain to run into each other throughout the day.  This facilitates informal and random conversations among diverse team members and allows creative ideas and collaborations to be born.  I once had a client who wanted to close off an open space in their New York City offices; I struggled hard to convince them otherwise.  The company needed more private meeting rooms.  Moving out of their existing facility was not an option, nor was renting another floor, so the president of the company wanted to build elegant glass walls to enclose what in his opinion was wasted space.

My observation was quite different.  The open space, which offered an inviting round table nestled by a large staircase, was the only place in the office where different members of the product development team would spontaneously sit to discuss their projects.  Account managers would stop there after coming back from client meetings to share the latest developments about those clients and their projects.  In other words, it was the perfect spot for informal communication and feedback loops.  In the end, the precious open space was saved in spite of financial pressures.

How can your workspace benefit by creating places for accidental encounters or informal meetings?


How to Build the Perfect Team and Scale It

Last Sunday I saw an outstanding article published in the New York Times magazine called, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” written by the Pulitzer Prize winScreen Shot 2016-03-06 at 9.04.42 PMning reporter Charles Duhigg.  It tells the story of data giant Google’s multi-year “Project Aristotle” which tried to discern why some teams succeeded while others failed.

Google researchers had a really difficult time finding patterns for which teams failed and which succeeded.  People who performed well as individuals or people who were friends outside of work didn’t necessarily make the best teams. Conversely, the best teams did not necessarily have the best individual performers.  What researchers did notice was that teams either consistently succeeded or failed.  This led them to study the social norms, or culture, that prevailed in the group, which they found to be the deciding factor on the group’s performance.  The best teams had two consistent qualities:

  1.     Everyone in the group ended up with roughly the same amount of voice time at the end of the meeting.
  2.     People in the group had a high “average social sensitivity”, meaning that they were cued in to how the others were feeling.

These two “cultural” elements create a psychologically safe place and appeals to us on a deep instinctual level and to our survival-oriented reptilian brain.  When we “feel” safe, we’re more relaxed and have a sense that we can put ideas out there even if they’re not perfect.  There is unconscious recognition that each team member has a role to play and that their role matters.

Google’s findings clearly demonstrate three tenets of Intuitive Intelligence:  think holistically, think paradoxically and notice the unusual.

That the external qualifications and performance of individuals do not necessarily add up to the best performing teams is a great example of thinking holistically (the whole is more than the sum of the parts) and thinking paradoxically (the “best” parts do not necessarily make the best whole).  Noticing the unusual is exemplified in the high “average social sensitivity” of the better performing teams because they have an inherent awareness to the subtle facial and bodily cues of their team members.

Now for the real question.  How do you scale it?

Ironically through an approach that combines reason and instinct, or the rational and the nonlinear aspects of life.  Google had so much data showing that teams perform better when things got real and there was more space to be human, it gave people permission to let everything be a little more messy and fun.  The good news is that having a common language about “employee performance optimization” gives people a way to talk about this messiness that otherwise might feel very awkward.

Does Your Business Truly Focus on Value Creation?

Excerpted from Francis Cholle’s The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-BassScreen Shot 2015-08-09 at 9.19.35 PM

Whereas the traditional business model was solely about profit, the new business model is about sustainable value creation.  In the old economic paradigm, we typically used hierarchical power structures and fear to achieve dominance.  In the new economic paradigm, successful businesses leverage collaboration and cooperation into a competition for significance, such as offering value to all the people who are involved, directly or indirectly, with your business activities.  When you deliver substantial value to all of your communities, profitability follows naturally.  The following questions will help you understand the focus of your business model.

  • Is your business strategy profit-centric or based on sustainable value creation?
  • Do you believe that sustainable value is beneficial to all of your stakeholders?
  • Are you looking at short-term or long-term sustainable value creation to measure the impact of your decisions?
  • Are you spending enough time anticipating where technology is going and how it will affect your business?
  • Are you capable of designing totally new product line tailored to untapped consumer groups, including developed market nonusers and emerging market new consumers?

After you’ve answered these questions, you should understand whether your business model is focused narrowly on dollars and cents profit, or if it is focused broadly on value creation.

Using Your Whole Brain Leads to Holistic Experiences–and Better Business

brainEmbracing and utilizing all three parts of our brain can lead us to a much richer life. All of this new information will also tremendously enrich our creative life. So what does this have to do with business? As I said in The Intuitive Compass, “There is one simple truth about business that seems to be forgotten: business is both facilitated by people and meant to serve people, and people are holistic.


It Is Not the Business of Business to Solve Society’s Problems, but Business Itself is Now Viewed as the Problem

In today’s environment where voters demand politicians rein in finance and corporations some businesses are trying to reinforce the consensus that they can be viewed as an engine of progress and a source of optimism. However corporate behaviors will not radically change without investors and customers asking for more long-term thinking and higher ethical standards.

Capitalism thrives by looking past the bottom line

Jack Ma, Alibaba’s Founder and Serial Disrupter

Jack Ma, Founder, AlibabaBefore proving to the world his ability to be a serial disrupter, Jack Ma first started as an English teacher. In his own words: “innovations in many industries have been triggered by outsiders”.  Why? Simply because in most organizations, intellectual inertia prevents teams from being truly innovative. Addressing the issue, Mr Ma went even further, thinking holistically, and creating China’s own Amazon, Paypal, Groupon, DropBox, twitter, spotify & Hulu.

The Unlikely Ascent of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s Founder

Harnessing the Power of Ritual for Business Innovation

How often do you engage in rituals? Probably more often than you think. From daily routines like the first cup of coffee in the morning or the story you read your child at bedtime to the most culturally significant celebrations, including weddings and bar mitzvahs, rituals are almost certainly a part of your personal life. But are they a part of your professional life? If not, you are missing out on an extremely powerful management tool, especially if what you are seeking from your team is creative innovation and out of the box thinking in the context of a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Research done by neuroscientists shows that 80% of our brain’s grey matter is dedicated to non-conscious thought and that imaginative play is one of the most direct means of activating our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Read More

Learning About the New Business Paradigm from Generation Y

In March of 2010 I took a Virgin Air flight from Los Angeles to New York and mid-flight (thanks to Virgin’s on-board Internet access) I sent an email to my friend Max to get some feedback on a couple of projects I was working on. Max emailed me right back and said I really should get in touch with Jeff Rosenthal, whom he helpfully copied on the return email. Jeff is one of the co-founders of Summit Series, a community of millennial entrepreneurs that is redefining the relationship between business, politics, and philanthropy in a way that illustrates the dynamics of a new business paradigm. By the time I landed in New York Jeff and I had traded several emails sharing what we each do and are passionate about and he had put me in touch with the woman who would soon become the literary agent for my upcoming book, The Intuitive Compass (Jossey Bass, Oct 2011) . This experience made me curious to learn more about Summit Series, their goals, beliefs, and achievements, and what lessons they can offer to today’s business leaders. Read More

Listening for Clues to The New Economy

In 2003, when the Indian auto giant Tata Motors decided to design a new low cost car, the Nano, for lower income consumers they made a key decision: rather than starting from a traditional four wheel car and stripping it down, they would start with an auto-rickshaw (a small, three wheeled vehicle) and build it up. Also, rather than making design assumptions based on decades of auto development for the middle and upper classes, their design team researched the features their new lower income target audience – many of whom had never owned a car before – would value. One of the interesting things they discovered in their research was that their new target audience didn’t care about having a radio; they preferred having extra storage space. At this point in the evolution of car engineering and design, a radio is seen as the most basic of equipment. It’s not terribly expensive, but in the context of trying to make the lowest cost vehicle possible, it could be eliminated and simultaneously transformed into something more valuable to the target consumer: space. Read More