The Talent Performance of a Lifetime

I have been mulling over Micrsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s interview for a couple of months. While I share the core belief that constructive organizational change starts with the individual at a grassroots level, in a world of corporate downsizing individual morale can sometimes sink or swim. According to Robert Kramer of Stanford University, when an organization clearly explains reasons for major decisions that impact workforce reduction, it reduces staff anxiety.

I favor sensemaking so that we can engage in an emergent dialogue that is devoid of speculation during the journey towards corporate renewal. Below is my key takeaway from the interview.

corporate strategy

Rather than brood over the past, I desire to be solution focused and take a page from the world of development theater in my quest to rekindle and recapture my mojo with a spirit of positivity and “find a seat on the corporate turnaround bus” to (co-)create the perfect storm. Although innovative late movers have plenty of work cut out to reclaim marketshare, there is enough evidence that they can still orchestrate a successful turnaround.

Innovative Late Mover

I need to cultivate the sensitivity to listen with my body, demonstrate perceptual courage to be empathetic, as well as personally invest over a period of time in a relationship that will demand an increasing openness. Besides physical and moral courage, creative courage involves the discovery of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built.

“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
— James Joyce


“Creativity is the encounter of the intensively conscious human being with his or her world.”
— Rollo May

Every creative encounter is an act of courage. Any encounter with the customer is a “moment of truth” (not just a soundbite).

creative encounter

The dialogue between manager and employee should focus on the “performing potential” of an individual consistent with the brand promise “Your Potential. Our Passion.” Below is a mental model of the performative conversation which can also be a soliloquy.






In the world of service innovation, the operational view of “how we do things” has a human dimension that resonates with feelings of Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity (ABC). Fostering a culture of companionate love reduces employees’ withdrawal from work and improves the employee satisfaction, commitment and accountability.




The ABC focus is the heart of a new brand of leadership called Host Leadership pioneered by Mark McKergow.

Host Leadership

Performing is essential to our humanness and is the ability to go beyond ourselves and the (stranger) act of “being who we aren’t at any given moment.” People don’t grow individually but grow as a social unit. Vgotsky’s observations led him to believe that young children thrive in a natural environment where they are supported to do what they don’t know how to do — such an environment is called the zone of proximal development (zpd) and creates the conditions for learning and emotional growth. When I am in the “becoming” state, I am creative, creating, alive and performing. The zpd supported creative process is “not creating a product” but creating the tool that gives rise to the product.

“Our culture has produced elaborate rationalizations to exclude performance from everyday life.”
Psychological Investigations: A Clincian’s Guide to Social Therapy
Lois Holzman and Rafael Mendez (eds.)

“Life is but a stage and we are true but actors upon it.”
William Shakespeare


Fred Newman insightfully observed that in development theatre, we want “Doug to reshape DuBois.” “Why should we judge Doug by how well he reshapes DuBois? Let Doug imitate DuBois to create a more developed Doug.”

Performance of a Lifetime

critical few for culture change

culture eats strategy

Conducting the Talent Orchestra’s Performance of a Lifetime (TOPL) is the “growth hacking” strategy for competing in a Mobile F#irst Cloud F#irst World. Activist managers with the courage to create may chose to focus on the human dimension and pave the path for jugaad innovation.

“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called swing. It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. Poetry, that’s what a good swing looks like.”

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Daniel James Brown

Boat Synchrony

With a dash of inspiration from “The Boys in the Boat,” the corporate turnaround strategy is being sharpened with an agility focus.

OPS view of Agility

Winning Strategy

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The Operating System of Succession Planning

The recent press coverage describing the outside versus inside perspectives regarding the choice of a CEO candidate gave me pause to mull on the succession planning process, using Microsoft as a case study.

“In fact, in Good to Great, Jim Collins makes a compelling argument in support of the case that promoting an insider is a key characteristic of great companies.”

According to Professor Joseph Bower of Harvard Business School and author of The CEO Within, the optimal candidate to succeed as a CEO is a person who is “both inside and outside the company”: the Inside Outsider. A dialogue map of an Inside Outsider perspective is shown below.





Leadership as an ongoing relational process between the conductor and the musicians (leader and the followers). Conductors engage in relational leadership processes with the musicians through mutual listening, aesthetic judgment and kinaesthetic empathy. We need to re-cultivate the fiber of moral intelligence — integrity and character — the two crucial elements of courageous leadership.

In response to growing competition and shareholder activism, Microsoft is embarking on a process to build greater collaborative advantage by revitalizing its orchestra of technical talent and an empowered team of managers. A CEO with an inside-outsider perspective is well-positioned to serve as its orchestra conductor.


When I peel the onion of Microsoft’s brand promise “Your Potential, Our Passion” (YPOP), I see the relentless pursuit of the Succession Planning (SP) process etched in the periodic creative interchange between established (current) leaders (mentor role) and aspiring (future) leaders (mentee role) at all levels of the company. Integrating Joseph Bower’s insight, “the mentor is a kind of venture capitalist, teaching potential leaders how to make new ideas work.” For brevity, let’s label this mental model as the YPOP-SP ecosystem (similar to an operating system). By concatenating YPOP and SP, we are able to see the succession planning process is embedded in the brand promise. An evangelist of YPOP-SP is also a cultural architect, who (1) creates a sense of community, (2) brings a sense of enjoyment to exploration and assertion, and (3) pay invaluable attention towards creating a sense of meaning that strives to achieve great people decisions. Increasing the stickiness of YPOP-SP both inside and outside the company allows the Microsoft brand promise to reach its tipping point.

Focusing on walking the YPOP talk, with an SP (Succession Planning) frame of reference, will increase the kinetic energy of the brand, enabling the organization to work collaboratively and compete for the future. From a CxO perspective, it will fine-tune the organizational process to identify and cultivate a credentialized cadre of inside-outside leaders (bench strength of internal candidates who have an outside perspective). This will mitigate the business risk that “there is currently no CEO succession plan in place.”

Next, we need to ensure readiness and grab the marketbuster opportunity (for every revenue-paying customer) by the forelock of her hair wherein a “5% increase in employee commitment leads to a 1.8% increase in customer commitment and a 0.5% increase in financial results.” [*] In order to shift the culture in any organization from “what we value” to “what the customer values,” the journey begins by imagining the goal to “be the employer of choice of employees that our customers would choose.” This creates an opportunity for Human Resources (HR) to focus on outside-in contexts and stakeholders and turn them into inside-out HR practices. We need to take a cue from Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, who spends 60% of his 100 hour work week on the road. Strategically this implies an opportunity for Microsoft employees to partner with each of its top revenue-paying customers (20% of the customers who represent 80% of the value) and proactively engage in value co-creation by focusing on observation on the front lines, solving business problems, pipeline building, market entry and take-off. In contrast to naively viewing technology insertion as “adhoc dogfooding,” the venturesome consumption of technology innovation uses YPOP-SP as a catalyst for change agents to trigger the desired culture change while achieving speed to market, adoption, usage and profits. [* : study by Huselich, Becker and Ulrich]

world case face to face

In a multipolar world,  in order to achieve predictable success, the CEO must also craft a one-firm identity by recognizing the global tilt and managing the tensions across the three business strategy dimensions:

  • Adaptation: Increase the firm’s local relevance
  • Aggregation: Deliver economies of scale
  • Arbitration: Exploit differences between national or regional markets by balancing supply and demand

Orchestrating the incubation and sustainment of the Succession Planning process will enhance the growth engine of both Microsoft and its revenue-paying customers.

Getting onboard the bus in the journey towards revitalizing the Microsoft ecosystem will enable the transformation of the brand promise from a noun to a “verb.”

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Corporate Renewal from the Inside Out

I listened to a webinar on Innovation as Usual delivered by the faculty at IESE.

Facilitated by an innovation architect, “Innovation as usual” is an inside-out process that engages employees at a local level to think differently and nurture a passion for creativity and value creation.

Below is a dialogue map of my key takeaways from the lecture.






The leadership lessons of the late Nelson Mandela are particularly insightful in order to achieve success during “the relentless pursuit of innovation” (quoting Lexus) in an organization.

By creating an increasing appetite for innovation, employees learn to operate as “inside outsiders” and display the following behaviors (The CEO Within):

  • Choose to “remain detached from local traditions and ideology”
  • Display a firm grasp of the essential character of the organization
  • Act as a shareowner of the company

Corporate renewal is a journey. In a multipolar world, astute managers realize that the tipping point of increasing innovation throughput hinges on managing the CAGE (*) distance between stakeholders so that they can think globally and act locally. (* CAGE is a framework developed by Prof Pankaj Ghemawat)

CAGE Innovation as Usual

big bang disruption

At the end of the day, innovation as usual is about competing for the future without excessively dwelling on the past or peering at a crystal ball.

RGP Inside Out

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An Example Model of a Retailer’s Cybersecurity

situation of Target

Mitigation v1.1

This model was adapted from press coverage of Target customers’ holiday shopping experience.

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The Tipping Point of Ubuntu Edge


The late Nelson Mandela was the embodiment of change through non-violence and ardently believed that to serve is human. Mandela served with attunement, benevolence and clarity. In Mandela’s own words:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

“Ubuntu, named after the South African philosophy of “humanness”, is about creating a common platform across many devices, so as you move from one to another you interact with each in the same way [1].”

Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical has clearly articulated that “What I’m really interested in is this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a free and open platform that is THE LEADER across both consumer and enterprise computing.”

This sentiment provided the stimulus to reflect and write this blog posting so that I can discover the path to authentic leadership in a special situation.

Pixar Pitch

Once upon a time, the mobile industry was crowded with a number of smartphone operating systems such as Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile that offered varying value propositions.

Every day, Google, Apple and Microsoft competed with each other and remained content surfing the red ocean within a (partially) closed ecosystem and an oscillating marketshare. Yet creating differential value using these mobile devices remained somewhat suboptimal.

One day a company called Canonical, navigating in the blue ocean, announced a disruptive innovation with a pioneering design called Ubuntu Edge (Ubuntu smartphone) that challenged conventional and siloed assumptions of the status quo.

To overcome resistance from partners and users, change minds and win hearts, Canonical used a combination of persuasion, negotiation and inclusivity to build alliances.

Because of that creative developers implemented game changing mobile applications, targeting both the Ubuntu and Android ecosystems, that made users discover the feeling of being alive.

Because of that the passion for learning and entrepreneurship on both Main Street and Wall Street, empowered with an Ubuntu Edge smartphone, increased by an order of magnitude at all levels and became an unstoppable force, especially at the base of the pyramid.

This set the stage for a global tilt and, in the true spirit of Mandela’s rugby strategy that changed minds, Canonical created the context, unification and cemented the emotional connection across the alliances among early adopters, skeptics and laggards.

Until finally the venturesome consumption of Ubuntu Edge innovations reached its the target goal is 200 million Ubuntu users by 2015 and created a craving to become a “must have” device for a spectrum of users and enterprises in a multipolar world.

This crossing of the chasm set the stage for Ubuntu Edge to be positioned as a candidate in the digital business strategy of a firm and steer a dialogue regarding its scope, scale, speed and sources of value creation and capture.

My Intent

My intent is to perform beyond where I am today in an increasingly digital world. When I say “perform” it is not about performance using a conventional lens. Rather it is about navigating in a turbulent environment through improvisation and an outside in mindset so that I can discover my true potential.

This navigation is a Hero’s Journey — a storytelling narrative to guide me past the hesitation and doubt and into a rich, inviting series of experiences that improves my adaptive capacity and leaves me feeling great about myself despite the hardships.

Ubuntu Touch Heros Journey Change

(click to enlarge)
Ubuntu Touch Blue Ocean Strategy

I imagine that Ubuntu Edge promises to ignite and enhance my capability to be more entrepreneurial than I am today. Using Ubuntu Edge and its ecosystem as an enabler, I search within myself and ask the following strategic five questions to prevent inertia:

  • What business should I be in?
  • How will I add value to the business?
  • Who are the target customers for the businesses?
  • What are the value propositions to the target customers?
  • What capabilities do I need to add value to the businesses and differentiate these value propositions?


“I found that the use of ubuntu was instrumental in all learning. The doll emerged as a powerful tool for transformation, providing opportunities to celebrate diversity, establish values, address bias, social behaviors and structures, identify and communicate feelings, problem solve and exercise change.”

Catherine Amanda Clark
Ubuntu: Cradle for Development of Authentic South African Selfhood
Ph.D. thesis, Fielding Graduate University, South Africa, UMI No: 3321026, 1998

Predictable Magic


  1. King, Will. “How Ubuntu translates hi-tech into humanity; Canonical is writing the future for IT with common software that will even work on devices yet to be invented.” Daily Telegraph [London, England] 4 Dec. 2013: 3. Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 30 Dec. 2013.

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Peeling the Onion of the Wicked Problems in the Healthcare Crisis

The quagmire in providing adequate and affordable healthcare for everyone is a wicked problem. Any proposed solution to a wicked problem is imperfect and has unintended consequences (positive or negative).

health care wicked problem

By becoming mindful about this complexity we can seek to improve our shared understanding and, in the process, improve our cohesion to work together and achieve cooperative consensus in diffusing the healthcare imbroglio. Can we create a Cheesecake Factory style model for delivering affordable healthcare?

how does cheesecake factory function

cheesecake factory playbook


A dash of Howard Schultz’s (CEO, Starbucks) sentiment is instructive in this context:

“Any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be on a death march.”

Health care transformation is a hard hat area under construction and a plethora of work remains to be done after the health care law becomes operational.

The logic trees sketched below show the current state and the desired future state of the healthcare transformation agenda.

Current Reality Tree


Below is the evaporating cloud (conflict) that we have to explode so that all the eligible parties — patients, providers, employers and insurers — can win together in finding a sustainable solution to the healthcare crisis.


Future Reality Tree


Busting the status quo also requires being an Artistic Turnaround Manager. This provides a groundbreaking opportunity to think differently, shape the path forward, widen the sphere of moral inclusion and reduce our “empathy deficit.”

We have a moral obligation to (1) avert post traumatic stress of healthcare institutions and (2) prevent the needle of the Z-score of any healthcare institution from moving towards the bankruptcy zone.


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(Re-)(Organizing) Best Buy for Resilience


The Z score of Best Buy is approximately 4.0. The Z score is a bankruptcy indicator of modern industrial corporations. Although Best Buy is currently in the safe zone, a Z score lower than 1.81 will cause it to be in the distress zone.

best buy z score

The skeptics have been the heralding the demise of brick and mortar stores due to trend in showrooming where customers come into physical stores to look at products they later intended to buy for less online. Rather than be discouraged by showrooming, Best Buy has already embraced the challenge of showrooming by beginning to price-match lower prices from all local competitors and major online retailers and making other structural changes to compete for the future.

In this strategic briefing, I will share a mashup of how I see this transformation unfolding. These thoughts are synergistic with Best Buy’s Renew Blue transformation agenda.

Strategy Briefing for Best Buy

Best Buy’s SWOT

To create a working frame of reference, below is a sketch of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats confronting Best Buy.

Best Buy SWOT


Best Buy has an opportunity to incrementally refine its turnaround strategy by viewing the world with an outside-in focus through the lens of a customer in its journey towards resilience as well as increase its profit velocity.

A marketbuster is a move, sastisfying one or more of the following criteria, taken by the firm that changes the game to deliver markedly superior performance.

  • A 2% change (gain or loss) in market position (typically volume share) of an incumbent as a result of its move or the moves of another player.
  • Annual growth in sales of shipments of 10% or more over at least two years from a new entry by an innovator.
  • Annual sales or shipment growth 5% greater than the growth of the underlying market by an incumbent.

Retail Therapy and Service Innovation

Artistic Retail Therapy

To serve a customer is human. Surveys indicate that more than 50% of Americans shop to boost their moods and an increasing number of shoppers believe that retail therapy can boost their moods. Getting a compelling deal makes shoppers feel best when indulging in retail therapy. Under these circumstances, isn’t a sales associate in a retail store uniquely positioned to serve as a retail therapist rather than be an iconic “one click buy button” on an e-tailer’s website?

In 1986, Paul David wrote that “innovation has become a cherished child, doted upon by all concerned with maintaining competitiveness…whereas diffusion has fallen into the woeful role of Cindrella, a drudge like creature who tends to be overlooked when the summons arrive to attend the Technology Policy Ball.”

Best Buy brick-and-mortar retail stores are uniquely positioned as the last mile to the revenue-paying customer to manage the Venturesome Consumption of Technology Innovations (VCTI).

VCTI is a multi-vendor ecosystem where Best Buy has an opportunity to serve as as an orchestra conductor. Best Buy has already forged strategic alliances with Microsoft and Samsung (others to follow). These alliances have to be carefully nurtured in order for the VCTI ecosystem to be successful. By relentlessly focusing on VCTI, Best Buy can create value by driving the widest wedge between a customer’s willingness to pay and the supplier’s willingness to supply as well as enable the customers, both the technology enthusiasts and the laggards, cross the chasm.

The conventional wisdom among pure play online retailers is that the world is flat. In the omnichannel world, which includes Browse Online, Purchase in Store (BOPS), the online and offline channels are in the early stages of blurring. In the retail store, the sales associate has an opportunity to wear the hat as a “retail therapist” — this service innovation is not a one size fits all model (it is more of an art than a science). Furthermore, inside the retail store, the world is non-flat (spiky) despite the prevalence of technology to monitor the inventory and do a price compare. The game changer in this non-flat, omnichannel world is to therapeutically assist the customer in (1) navigating the shopping experience using a combination of logic and emotion and (2) providing a laboratory for accelerated technology adoption. A greater attention on retail therapy will minimize the CAGE distance between Best Buy and the customer as sketched in the figure below.

CAGE for Best Buy

Creating Differential Value

When a Best Buy associate pitches a product, (s)he should tailor the message with motivational fit. The buyer may either have an opportunity-focused (technology enthusiast) or have a prevention-focused mindset.

If the buyer is eager, optimistic and ready to take chances, the pitch should be gain framing so that the buyer feels that the expensive product is truly valuable for consumption — i.e., an eagerness strategy.

On the other hand, if the prospect is being careful and prefers being accurate with the selection and wants to avoid making mistakes, then the pitch should be loss framing so that the buyer is confident that the product is “right” and feels that (s)he should not miss out on getting energized from the product (and stay behind the innovation curve).

face to face play to win

It is very important for the sales associate to use the appropriate motivational language to appeal to different communities. For example, in the world of “busy moms,” a FTWOH mom (full-time work outside mom) who believes in CIO (cry it out) has a very different mindset than a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) who practices AP (attachment parenting). Talking to a mom about her technology needs as opposed to the technology needs of moms in general can be really powerful. In similar vein, the needs of tech fanatics, home theatre connoisseurs, family men and small-business customers should also be addressed so that the pitch can be delivered with appropriate motivational fit.

Managing the VCTI ecosystem is a relentless campaign for Best Buy. The ultimate goal of a sales associate in a Best Buy retail store is the co-creation and realization of a moment of truth with the buyer in order to enhance the experienced value of a product because of motivational fit.

Artistic Retail Therapy enables people to connect with others for advice about purchase; in other words social shopping using the recommendations of a curator. Humanizing ecommerce, similar to an approach pioneered by Rakuten (a Japanese company), creates a more personal shopping experience in a “showroom” setting.

Re-examining the Consumption Chain

consumption chain

monopolize trigger event

The Yellow Brick Road towards Resilience

FRT best buy

empowering sales associate

organizational resilience

ADDING Value Scorecard for Best Buy

Imagine a world where the blurring of the brand becomes as invisible as a figure of speech such as “best buy” (lowercase). This would be really cool.


Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins. Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World to Power Success and Influence. Hudson Street Press, 2013.

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