Monthly Archives: March 2011


A chemist experiments in the lab

To succeed in business, you have to deliver the cold, hard numbers: revenue, profit, market share, and shareholder value.  But you also need to pay attention to people-oriented issues such as management and leadership.  Hence, the classic tension between “hard” and “soft,” numbers and people.  The very best executives are able to resolve it.  They experiment. Take Starbucks’ founder and CEO Howard Schultz.  Over time, he has learned the value of experimenting.  When Shultz first decided to enter the instant coffee market, he planned a big, splashy rollout like the one that launched Sorbetto, a yogurt smoothie drink.  After much promotional fanfare across the country – ads, banners, special machines — Sorbetto in a matter of months disappeared without a trace.  His team vividly remembered that disappointing reception and convinced Shultz to proceed this time in a more experimental way.  Starbucks first piloted its instant coffee product, Via, in theContinue Reading >

Most companies struggle to implement strategic and operational changes.  Only about a third are successful.  Imagine, then, how hard it must be to change a continent.  Yet that is precisely what Mo Ibrahim is trying to do in Africa.  Even if your ambitions are somewhat more limited – transforming, say, a Fortune 10 corporation – you can learn from how Ibrahim has taken up his mega-challenge. Ibrahim is a billionaire who made his fortune in telecommunications.  After he sold his company Celtel, he turned his attention to improving governance among African nations.  Plenty of critics dismissed Ibrahim’s quest as a fool’s errand.  But he persevered, creating positive incentives for change and drawing international attention to the issue of governance in Africa. Ibrahim holds a contrarian point of view about the relationship between governance and one of the biggest problems facing Africa — extreme poverty.  Mainstream policy experts view it asContinue Reading >

You can have too much of a good thing, like rich food, exercise, partying, or electronic communication.  All of these topics merit careful consideration, but this seems to be an especially good time to reflect on the last one.  The news is full of stories about how, in various forms, electronic communication is extending the boundaries of human intelligence, making it easier to do business, and promoting freedom around the globe.  But is it? One thing is certain: expectations are high.  Take the recent publicity generated by the IBM super-computer Watson. The electronic whiz handily defeated two “Jeopardy!” champions.   “What we have done is advance artificial intelligence by miles,” says John E. Kelly III, IBM Senior Vice President and director of IBM research. The victory prompted journalists and experts to reflect on human vs. machine questions both frivolous and profound.  The consensus is that computers have not yet achieved trueContinue Reading >