Saturday, July 11, 2009

Success Videos: McKinsey Quarterly interviews John Chambers

I just came a cross a McKinsey Quarterly video interview with Cisco's John Chambers. I continually marvel at the intimate connection a listener can have with the greatest minds on earth, now that the Internet is in full bloom. In the days before the Internet, weeks or months might go by before you could hear anything remotely "deep" about science, business, technology, etc on any of the 3 (!) TV channels you had access to. Airtime was simply too valuable to "waste" on anything that didn't appeal to millions. Well, those days are over. The Web is alive and crackling with brilant ideas from all corners of the world, providing undreamd-of insights fromthe eladers in every field.

What's interesting about the Chambers interview is how many principles of personal success and achievement he discusses, in the context of his work running Cisco, one of the largest corporations in the country. Here are a few of the principles Chambers discusses in this remarkable interview:

Opportunity must be seized quickly.
This is as true (or more so) in personal achievement as in corporate achievement. I always think back to this principle as so beautifully expressed in A.Z.H. Carr's "How to Attract Good Luck". Opportunities are short windows, and in this time of technological hyperdrive, the time windows of these opportunities are even shorter than ever.

Build Replicable Processes Around Successful Methodologies
Whether it's the "gold standard" processes embodied in the Toyota Production System, or the highly successful individuals mentioned in the wonderful book "Rich like Them", a key element of success is finding a successful methodology and then creating replicable, specified actions to repeat that process over and over. There is a "virtuous spiral" in what Chambers is doing, because if the methodology is replicating management methodologies throughout the corporation, you get a "sorcerer's apprentice"-like result of exponentially growing outputs. Sort of like fishermen teaching fishermen how to teach fishing.

The Reality Principle
Because Chambers works hard to see the world the way it actually is, instead of how he wishes it to be, he has been able to lead the company through decades of changing technologies and changing business conditions. He tells us that he shares the leadership role with his clients, and is willing to be led by them and their needs. He also tells a key story of being willing to change his mind as he embraced Web 2.0 as a game-changing technology, thanks to his ability to listen to those around him , and act on what he learned.

Success Requires Quantity
Chambers has over 30 key priorities he is personally working on. The company is posied to make a huge amount of acquisitions. But quantity is not just a key driver of business. Great athletes need to win consistently ...large quantities of games. Great concert artists must play hundreds of concerts per year , all at peak levels of skill. Charles Murray, in his magisterial work on genius, Human Accomplishment, explains that the great geniuses were all incredibly prolific: Michelanfelo, Bach, DaVinci, Edison, all poured fourth huge quanities of brilliant to the world in abundance. In our personal achievements, we should get involved in a pursuit that allows us to produce robust quantities of whatever our aptitudes generate: ideas, products, articles,books, businesses, whatever.

Success Requires Long Time Perspective
Chambers: "The results we get today are because of what we did five years ago". He tells us he thinks in hierarchical time frames of distant future (5-10 years), medium term (2-4 years), and the "execution" time frame of 12-18 months. All great enterprises, great families, great investors, etc know how to play down the board. To have "long time perspective". Chambers is gifted in being able to exist within three time frames at once. Quite an achievement.

Remove Under performers
Lastly...This interview is short (5 segments about 5 minutes each) yet, at east twice, he makes it clear that employees who are not in sync with the vision and management practices at Cisco don't last long. Makes sense. he has over 60,000 committed employees to think about, and can't afford the negative momentum of uncommitted or cynical employees. Like Chambers, we need to put aside what does not work, in order to throw our energies into what does.

Related Posts:

How to Attract Good Luck - Part 1

How to Attract Good Luck - Part 2

How to Attract Good Luck - Part 3

The Toyota Production System Part 1

The Toyota Production System Part 2

The Toyota Production System Part

The Toyota Production System Part 4

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Success Videos: David Swenssen, Yale Endowment

In a recent post, I mentioned the latest edition of David Swensen's Pioneering Portfolio Management. Here is a remarkable video of the man himself, speaking to Yale students about the methods he uses to create his phenomenal investment results for Yale's Endowment.

Success Tools: The Optimism File

I have been experimenting with a technique which I came up with recently. I call it “The Optimism File”. This technique is slightly different from other visualization techniques such as goal-setting or affirmations. With goal-setting, you define a task or state that you would like to exist in the future. With affirmations, you flood the subconscious mind with a statement about the future state of your life, the idea being that the future state will manifest itself as you thoroughly internalize the desired outcome

With the "Optimism File” you stay closer to the here-and-now, concentrating on plausibly positive outcomes of near-term events. You are actually “re-setting your probabilities”. Here’s what you do: consider for a moment some upcoming event , perhaps a sales meeting, an interview, a workout session, an investment, or (in my case) a trade I might make. Now, in any of these types of events it is plausible to have a favorable outcome, or, perhaps, a less favorable outcome. Unfortunately, I sometimes tend to think pessimistically, so, I decided that I would create an exercise where I would write out plausible positive outcomes that actually could occur, related to upcoming events. It’s essentially a “set of optimistic training wheels” to “switch on” an optimistically biased outlook.

The meeting on Friday might end with me getting promoted
The Cubs might win this weekend
This trading system has been 70% profitable so I could make a good profit this week

You get the idea. As Sandra Anne Taylor has suggested eloquently, in her book Quantum Success: The Astounding Science of Wealth and Happiness, we do create our reality. Certainly we can set goals for future achievements (and we should) , and we absolutely should write affirmations and wish-lists. But these techniques deal with realities a bit “further down the road” than the next meeting, the next set of weightlifting reps, etc. So, if you make a written entry in your “Optimism File”, it has a tendency to re-set your inner “take” on reality-as-it-is. Or, at least, reality “right around the corner”. Perhaps within an hour, a day, or a week.

I also make notes when the entries in the file “come true”, in order to further convince myself that it is “OK” to envision good outcomes. So often, we try to “protect” ourselves with statements such as “hey, if it goes wrong, no biggie”, or “this sales prospect probably won’t buy…she never does”. So, the “Optimism File” is a ”safe” zone where you can predict that things will “go right”. At the very least, you feel better as you read the entries, and sometimes there are pleasant surprises as the “Optimism File” entries come true.

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