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When the Best Infographics Are No Infographic at All?

I’m continually amazed by the number of people who skip text and bypass words and text altogether. I came across an amazing inadvertent and automated example on the National Weather Service Chicago website regarding this Sunday’s weather forecast.








As you can see the graphical representation says Sunday will have freezing rain and it will be 43 degrees. Say what? Then it says on Sunday night it there will be rain and the low will be 33 degrees. Huh? This make no sense. For my metric friends, zero Centigrade equals 32 degrees Fahrenheit so it appears that freezing rain will occur while it is above freezing, a highly unlikely occurrence.

The actual text of the forecast is as follows:

  • Saturday Night   Partly cloudy, with a low around 28. South southeast wind around 10 mph.
  • Sunday  A chance of rain or freezing rain before noon, then rain showers. High near 44. Chance of precipitation is 80%.
  • Sunday Night    A 50 percent chance of rain. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 35.

With complete text information we can now see that the temperature will be below freezing on Saturday night and that there is a possibility of freezing rain Sunday morning.

But remember this simple example the next time you are watching a mind-numbing Powerpoint presentation on some esoteric subject.  Ask yourself, does this make complete sense? Is proper acumen and judgment being applied?

Frequently it is not. But if human judgment is not actively present and questioning the presentation of certain graphics, they can lead to misapplication of resources and priorities.

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Bestselling Author John Mackey – Conscious Capitalism 2013 Book Tour Chicago Stop

conscious capitalism jacketJohn Mackey came to Chicago Wednesday and gave a powerful , paradign-shifting soul-awakening speech about his new book Conscious Capitalism to the Economic Club of Chicago. The event was led by John A Canning Jr., Chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners. Question and answers were moderated by Mary Ann Childers. Later, I attended a second event with him at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Whole Foods Market location.

John Mackey is a wickedly smart and passionate businessman who has created a flexible organizational structure at Whole Foods Market designed to create great connection with the customer. It is very much like the business philosophy I was raised on at BlackRock. It needs to be more common place in our society.

As I’ve stated previously, proper business acumen needs to become a mainstream, highly discussed issue in our society. Sadly, the people that need to read this book the most are the ones most likely to never see it. It is time for a global renaissance in business practices around the world. For that to ever have a chance of occurring, these issues need to migrate from business to mainstream.

I did manage to get a few minutes with John Mackey as you can see in the Youtube video below. He was in a rush so I turned a six minute interview into three minutes and my one of my on the fly question mashups got a little overwhelming regarding the nature of business and media change. I would have liked to have also asked about the Board of Directors stakeholder issues at Whole Foods. Looking forward to getting that the next time I get to interact with him or Raj Sisodia someday.

The book, co-authored by Raj Sisodia whom I need to learn more about, tells the story of the founding of Whole Foods, the amazing and unlikely comeback from a devastating flood in 1981, the unique relationship it creates with stakeholders and the ability to educate business leaders and others about these principles.

By reading the book and seeing two speeches by John Mackey yesterday, I also learned surprising facts:

– Reading books played a large role in creating John Mackey’s education. He never took a business class while he attended college but has read voraciously over his lifetime.

– John gets that marketing is not a logo like I do. On page 80 he says, “At Whole Foods, we think of marketing as enhancing the quality of our relationship with our customers.” Every company should view it this way.

– Paying vendors on time is critical to success of the ecosystem. He discusses how big companies tend to be the worst offenders here. You’d think that with today’s cash excesses on balance sheets that they’d change this.

– After witnessing John Mackey make two speeches, I can state that Whole Foods appears to be a unique learning organization. There is decentralized and delegated authority at the regional and individual store level to make investments, acquire local products and interact with the local communities as the stores deem appropriate.

– Later in the book, he discusses measurement and the need for change there. I’ll leave you to discover that in detail on your own as you read Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

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My Jim Bohannon Radio Show Appearance & Discovering the Hurricane Severity Index

On Friday evening I was a guest on The Jim Bohannon Show to discuss my blog post Will Hurricane Sandy (1-175-485) Again Demonstrate Need to Enhance Saffir-Simpson Scale? It was such a pleasure to be on his show, he’s a true professional. You can find a link to the archived recording here.

During the interview he mentioned Hurricane Carla and the news coverage of the event. My friends at Mediabistro have a video which captures the historic nature of the news coverage of the event:

Interestingly, part of that story was the size of storm. On the Hurricane Carla Wikipedia page, I saw reference to something called the Hurricane Severity Index. I had never seen or heard of it before. Chris Herbert and Bill Weinzapfel, meteorologists at Impactweather developed this scale, explained in this link, which explains their scale.

It is fascinating to me that while different in implementation, the core ideas of our belief are almost identical – hurricane size is equally important as Saffir-Simpson scale intensity. It appears that ImpactWeather provides this privately to corporations who pay for their advice. It appears to be a situation where the private sector provided a solution that is superior to the government solution and the question that remains now is when will the National Hurricane Center adopt either my idea or license ImpactWeather’s solution.

I’m going to contact ImpactWeather as there are many correlations between my current work on improving business operations and their clients, perhaps there are some synergies to explore.

It’s amazing the breakthroughs that occur when different generations communicate with each other!

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Will Hurricane Sandy (1-175-485) Again Demonstrate Need to Enhance Saffir-Simpson Scale?

Hurricane Ike killed 112 (per Wikipedia) in the United States in 2008, most due to the storm surge. At the time I wrote a blog post advocating an enhancement to the Saffir-Simpson Scale to improve the risk assessment and public communication tool. With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the New Jersey coast, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this old post. As many of you know, I almost studied meteorology in college and have maintained an active, detailed and lifetime fascination with severe weather events and severe weather warning communication processes.

Before I get into recapping the idea, I would like to point out some of the unique features of this life threatening storm:

– The sheer size of Hurricane Sandy has tropical force winds extending 485 miles from the center in the latest advisory. Hurricane Katrina, though massively more intense in terms of hurricane wind speed, had tropical force storm winds only 205 miles from the center per NHC Hurricane Katrina advisory #28.

– The sharp angles of the shape of the New York and New Jersey coast landfall potentially may have unprecedented adverse impacts in regards to the severity of tidal flooding and storm surge.

– The predicted sharp left turn to the west is highly abnormal for a hurricane at this northerly latitude and may impact the water and storm surge projection models in unanticipated ways.

Now let’s review what I wrote in that 2008 Hurricane Ike blog post. In the aftermath, I advocated a change to the Saffir-Simpson scale to more clearly communicate information already communicated in a verbose way. As you may recall, I advocated a change to show Saffir-Simpson Scale number / Miles of Hurricane Force winds from the center / Miles of Tropical Force winds from the center as one aggregated metric at the top of the advisory for public to better understand the impacts. For Hurricane Ike this was 2-120-275. For Hurricane Sandy this is currently 1-175-485. Based on current trends, Hurricane Sandy may well reach category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale prior to landfall which would make it 2-175-485.

In the National Hurricane Center Hurricane Sandy advisory 29, the National Weather Service did not even use the Saffir-Simpson scale in the advisory. It is not clear why. Potentially it is their unprecedented, advance planning for migrating the storm away from National Hurricane Center forecast control?

Certainly there are many other complicating factors that affect storm surge such as water depth, slope of coast, etc. but the width of the hurricane force and tropical storm force wind fields are already included in the advisory and changing the aggregation of the data would make it easier for the public to comprehend and media to immediately communicate. As such I repeat my 2008 request to the National Hurricane Center to adapt and change the Saffir-Simpson Scale in the manner above.

There are also many financial services and business operation risk models of the late twentieth century that also need adjustment to prevent disaster. Most of the risks are not currently assessed fully. It is not about big data, it is about high levels of common sense and business acumen guiding management to think differently. These issues affect business and society potentially as much if not more as Hurricane Sandy, but without the benefits of intense media focus of natural disasters.

Hurricane Sandy

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Robyn Benincasa on Building World Class Teams with Essential Leadership Lessons : How Winning Works

Robyn Benincasa -How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on EarthWhat is true leadership? Keynote speaker Robyn Benincasa leads by example.

Robyn Benincasa dropped me a copy of her newly minted New York Times bestselling book entitled How Winning Works : 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth (Harlequin).

I’m really glad she did! As you know I read  lots and lots of business and leadership books. I read this book over a longer time horizon than usual because it forced me to stop at soul searching checkpoints and reconsider the world around me. Due to this impact, I strongly recommend Robyn’s perspective changing book to everyone!

Roybn’s leadership flexibility keynote message compliments my passion to inspire organizations to reallocate strategic business operations resources to their best uses in the 21st century to the benefit of all customers and stakeholders. Better teamwork serves as one critical piece of a much larger and increasingly uncertain business leadership puzzle. All of the puzzle pieces need to work together well to create successful organizations and Robyn provides a perspective changing critical piece. Robyn was kind enough to answer a few questions and share her wisdom:

Q: So you are a firefighter, an adventure racer, a motivational speaker, the owner of a team building retreat business called World Class Teams Leadership Adventures and a non-profit, The Project Athena Foundation,  which helps survivors of medical setbacks live an adventurous dream as part of their recovery. What led you into these multiple career paths and what inspires you to start new adventures?

Robyn Benincasa: Life has lead me in all kinds of wonderful directions! I love finding strengths and core competences in others as well as in myself. I think our opportunities lie in our unique strengths and acquired knowledge. All of the above were the result of my being deeply compelled by something, discovering I was good at it (or not!), and then adding my own twist to make it meaningful for the people that are a part of it!

Q: When did you first realize you had an entrepreneurial streak and what have these events taught you?

Robyn Benincasa: I was lead into speaking by a friend who saw the parallels between EcoChallenge Adventure Races and the teambuilding styles that would work well in the corporate world. I also had several years of Fortune 500 Pharmaceutical Sales under my belt, so I knew she was right. I just had to think of the best way to deliver the message so that the presentation was less about racing and more about how the teambuilding skills, which we’d learned in the quest for an extremely difficult and distant finish line, could be applied to our ‘real’ lives. I was scared to death in my first few presentations, but it really seemed to resonate with business leaders, and I had some early successes (like having a Starbucks Zone VP in one of my first presentations who then hired me to speak in 8 districts across the US!) that kept me fired up to continue. In 2002, I decided to start my own speaking/teambuilding company, World Class Teams, and we do 45-50 events each year. I love it! But it sure is hard to fit in my required Fire Department hours and racing life into the spaces between. I’ve learned a lot about capitalizing on one’s strengths and outsourcing one’s weaknesses to a great team in order to get to the next level. I definitely practice what I preach. 🙂

Q: What have your experiences around the world taught you about teamwork and how one can best focus on the positive coaching rather than criticism – especially in adverse situations?

Robyn Benincasa: Its imperative on a world class team that there is always an underlying sense of goodwill, loyalty, affection, and mutual respect for one another. If that is undermined, the team will break down quickly. You can deliver the same message to your teammates, but if it comes out at criticism (pointing a finger), you’ve shut down that interpersonal connection. If your message is received as coaching (extending a hand), you’ll get a far better response and a deepened bond. Delivery is a lot of the game in teambuilding!

Q: In your racing career, you had the benefit of pre-event planning and having to make many decisions quickly. Please talk about making decisions effectively and quickly. If you have any general advice on creating urgency in group decision making that will make this interview pretty darn popular me thinks…

Robyn Benincasa: We were always in a race! So the issue of making quick decisions and solving problems in a VERY timely manner was critical. I think competition is an incredible tool to light a fire under a team  ie: if we don’t get this new product to market, our competitors will.  But speed doesn’t always equal effectiveness. We very often found that if we ran/rode/paddled just a liiiiittle bit further, the answers would become more clear about which navigation decisions to make when we were confused. We discovered that going a little longer on the trail and actually finding the right answer, even if finding that answer took us the wrong way for a bit, was almost always a more effective use of our time than standing in the trail for 30 minutes scratching our heads and speculating about what was ahead. If we were stumped for answers, we’d always climb the nearest hill to get a better view or “go ’til we know” more information.  That became a bit of a team mantra when we found ourselves wasting time staring at the maps. 🙂

Q: The lessons of HOW WINNING WORKS appear to be far reaching. How can those lessons be applied to one’s personal life as well as work life in terms of teamwork?

Robyn Benincasa: We’re all in an adventure race every day of our lives in our own way, aren’t we? We’re just not covered with leaches or swimming through crocodile infested rivers, although it may seem that way at times. :). I’ll prove it to you:  if you didn’t realize I was speaking of my extreme endurance sport, wouldn’t you think I was a new hire at your company? “I work with a small team of men and women, and we’re trying to make it through a seemingly endless series of checkpoints, in pursuit of a nearly impossible goal, working against extreme time pressures, in constantly changing conditions, and with the goal of doing it all better than anyone else in the industry”. I rest my case. :). The 8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy that I talk about in How Winning Works brings out the best Teambuilder in all of us, whether that team is with our family, friends, colleagues, clients, husbands, wives, etc. If you deal with people in any capacity, you will benefit from the tips, tricks and skills you’ll find in “How Winning Works”.

Q: How and why did you first get into public speaking? How did your previous sales skills from a previous career help you to position yourself to become successful?

Robyn Benincasa: Oops. Answer this one already, above!

Q: In the section on “We Thinking” you discuss how in the early days of adventure racing teams, they used to pick individual superstars and how those teams didn’t work well. Right now in recruiting, generalists with experience in leading high performing teams are regularly passed over for specialists – often with one dimensional skill sets. What would you tell the leaders of those companies to start to chage that?

Robyn Benincasa: Specialists are fine, as long as they truly embrace the concept that they are one useful cog in a larger wheel. If they are willing to lend their strengths but ALSO recognize that they need to accept help in their areas of weakness and/or let others lead, they should be a solid member of the team. That being said, I’d rather have a true team builder on my team any day versus a specialist if they’re a diva. :). Being a successful teammate isn’t necessarily about what you know—its about what you’re willing to learn, how much you embrace the concept of team synergy, and how willing you are to leave your ego at the start line. It’s the heaviest thing in your pack.

Q: You told one story of regarding motivating a group of students. You were marveling at the attitude change when you were “asking these kids if they thought they could do it instead of forcing them to”. How could you apply that to people overall? (please see page 138)

Robyn Benincasa: Easy! We all embrace that which we help create! Psychology 101. Unfortunately many leaders believe that their role is to “tell others what to do”. But in my opinion the true measure of a leader is how many other leaders they have created. And we create leaders by allowing our teammates to lead based on their strengths; asking for their input and opinion on goals, strategy, and outcomes; inspiring their critical thought, and facilitating their success. Managers are a dime a dozen. Leaders are a rare and wonderful breed.

Q: What started the process of you writing this book and what did you learn about yourself from the process of writing it?

Robyn Benincasa: My friends made me do it! :). Seriously, one of my best pals told me it was time, and she wrote the book proposal. It was sold in a few months and then, ack!, I had to start writing. I did it all on flights to and from keynotes and in the fire station between calls at night. I even created a little team for myself of a coach who gave me homework assignments and chapters to write each day. It helped to have smaller ‘checkpoints’ to reach each week than to think about the daunting finish line hundreds of pages away. See? Adventure Racing even taught me how to write a book. One step, one checkpoint at a time.

I urge everyone to read this book and think about how it could change their everyday interactions.

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Business Author Ro Khanna Discusses His Thought Provoking Book Entrepreneurial Nation

ro khanna, entrepreneurial nation why manufacturing is still key to americasThe nice folks at McGraw-Hill sent me a freshly minted copy of Ro Khanna’s new book Entrepreneurial Nation : Why Manufacturing is Still Key to America’s Future.  As someone who would like to help the CEOs and board of directors transform the sales and marketing of America’s manufacturers to make them into international growth companies, I was excited to see this title as I hope it will bring focus to an important and related issue – where and how corporation resources and employees are allocated for utilization.

In Entrepreneurial Nation, Ro Khanna presents a highly valid yet contrarian book about the potential for USA manufacturing resurgence. Ro advocates reversing certain strategy consulting dogma of the late twentieth century to create this reality. People would be wise to listen to and act on Ro’s message.

The book is a highly unique combination of personal memoir, business and government stories. If the book were to go mainstream, I would  think that the world might discover that his core concept has applications in other areas. Ro was kind enough to answer some questions:

In Chapter 1 you state, “The best American manufacturers consider the intellectual contributions of all of their employees.” Critical and divergent thinkers are critical, but the majority of companies are not yet replacing their leadership ranks with these types of transformational leaders.  What has to change for this to occur at more companies more quickly?

Ro Khanna: We cannot compete with China in a race to the bottom or lower wages.  So, we have to outcompete them by offering more innovative products, finding efficiencies in production, or customizing products to meet consumer’s unique needs.  The best manufacturers recognize this fact, and their leadership creates the culture for employees to make meaningful contributions to a product’s design and the production process.  The result is gain in productivity and also better products.
My hope is the manufacturers that I profile can serve as a model to many of American companies.  They show that empowering employees makes business sense.  A bottom-up culture is perhaps the only way American companies can compete with low-wage labor.  We can’t compete on price. We need to compete by being more creative.

You had the privilege and honor of meeting with one of the most brilliant business people ever, Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. He argues strongly against outsourcing manufacturing ? Yet it occurs. so who exactly are people listening to for this advice that is contrary to Andy Grove’s great wisdom?

Ro Khanna: Yes, Andy Grove is one of the most brilliant and passionate people I’ve met.  I wish more policy-makers were listening to him about the importance of keeping a manufacturing base for the purpose of innovation.  Some neo-classical economists have argued that we should be indifferent about whether we have a manufacturing base or not.  That may be nice in theory, but what Grove shows is that it cannot work in practice.  Losing manufacturing would mean losing millions of good paying jobs.  It would also hamper our ability to innovate because as Grove shows design and production cannot be separated.  I am disappointed that Grove’s ideas on the importance of manufacturing have not captured more of the attention of the Beltway.  It’s partly why I wrote the book, and Grove arguably is the protagonist of the story.  Washington should listen to people like Andy Grove who have actually implemented successful manufacturing processes and created thousands of jobs here.

I found your research finding that a number of companies were starting to “recognize that machines don’t always improve productivity” to be fascinating as it validates much of my research about white collar management, business strategy and marketing operations. Please discuss how you discovered these fascinating bits of information …

Ro Khanna:  When I would ask manufacturers about why all their jobs could not be automated, they would laugh at the naivete of such a thought.  One of the senior managers at GE explained that individuals were actually more efficient and accurate at tasks such as packaging compared to robots because they were more portable.  Keith Busse of Steel Dynamics also went into considerable detail about the types of jobs in steel manufacturing that he could not see automated any time in the near future.  In general, it’s a gross oversimplification to say that automation will render human workers unnecessary.  A better question is to figure out what types of workers are needed with increasing automation, and what skills they need to develop.

You discussed a manufacturing skills gap in Chapter 7. Recruiting expert Libby Sartain is famous for saying “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” Jeffrey J. Fox asserts companies do not spend enough on training employees. Is there really a skills gap or is there a management problem combined with a lack of vision around how to hire talent that could be trained to do these jobs in a short period of time?

Ro Khanna:  Great question.  You are absolutely correct that companies should invest in training workers.  But, we need to provide them with the incentives to do so.  If we expect companies to take a financial risk and invest in training workers for specific skills —skills that these workers presumably did not acquire through public schooling, college, or vocational education –then companies should receive some tax incentive to do so. We have to make the economics of investing in worker training attractive for a company’s bottom line.  Yes, visionary corporate leaders may get the importance of doing so, and understand that you hire talent not resumes.  But, having incentives can help them justify such  long-term investment decisions to their Board and shareholders. Companies can also partner with trade unions to invest to help cultivate the best workforce.

How did the lecturing gig at Stanford come about?

Ro Khanna: I was speaking at Stanford about how historically there has been a bipartisan vision of supporting American manufacturing.  I talked about Hamilton’s Report on Manufacturing, about Coolidge’s investment in our aviation industry, about Reagan’s investments in our semiconductor industry.  Many of the students had no idea about this aspect of American economic history, and said that they often did not get that perspective in their classes.  Their economics classes were like math classes. So, I thought it would be fun to discuss with students the practical aspects of American economic policy-making, and how that may not easily fit into classical economics or Keynesianism.

What did you personally learn about manufacturing as a result of writing this book?

Ro Khanna: I was inspired about the resilience of American manufacturers I met, and how they went about just doing their work with determination.  I write in the book that, in a deeper sense, the American manufacturers I met speak to who we are as a people. Those talking heads who predict America’s decline need to travel this country and see the hundreds of innovative businesses that are thriving.  There is a reason that the skeptics were wrong when they wrote us off during the early years of the Cold War.  There is a reason they were wrong again when they predicted in the 1980s that Japan and Germany would be the dominant post Cold War economies.  These skeptics always miss the entrepreneurial culture, the hard work, and the sense of optimism that defines America.  After meeting dozens of manufacturers, I am very confident about the future of American manufacturing.  We just need to get the policies right to make their lives easier, and encourage our manufacturers to adapt to the global economy.  That’s why the work you are doing is so important.

Was there anything you learned after the book went to press  that you’d like to share?

Ro Khanna:  Almost every person who has read the book says what they find most interesting is the stories.  I spent a lot of time worrying about taking on the economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati who argues that manufacturing no longer matters.  I spent time arguing for the right policies our nation needs to support manufacturing.  But what seems to touch readers is the concrete stories of Americans who are succeeding in making things.  If the book accomplishes one thing, I hope it shines a spotlight on those Americans who are figuring out how to compete successfully, despite the difficult odds.

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Jeffrey J. Fox on the Future Transformative CEO

Recently, I had the great pleasure of hosting a podcast with Jeffrey J. Fox on Total Picture Radio. Over the years, Jeffrey’s books have been a tremendously positive influence on me.  He did the crisp and clear short book to perfection before it became fashionable and without losing meaning.  As I study the book business and art and craft of making a book myself, I’ve become further impressed by not only his achievements but also his longevity.

I’m excited about his most current book for a variety of reasons:

– Leadership – For a long, long time many have focused on doing the same activities harder, better or with tiny improvement. This book gives permission to do something in a different way.

– Inspiration – Leaders need to be inspired to take that first step to lead change consistently. The first step is often the hardest.

– Permission – Leaders need permission to know that letting go of the past to take another path is OK. All too often this serves as a roadblock.

Why else am I excited about this book? Put simply, this book’s message stimulates demand for the services and abilities I have to offer businesses align their operations and business models to grow revenue, cashflow and market share. It is an exciting time in that regard.

The Board of Directors, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of all companies need to take immediate action to start the long  journey of recreating customer focused organizations that serve a need, in a way that is better than anyone else in their industry, do it in a way that is effective and empowers people across the organization to make incremental, real-time decisions. This is the model and culture that existed at BlackRock during it’s hypergrowth phase and it the the model culture that any organization can strive to build.

There is a long journey ahead, it will be successful for those who take action while others stand still. It is time for the Transformative CEO. I look forward to traveling with those who chose to go on it.