Essential Tools for Failure-Proofing Your Project

Projects Are Inherently Risky Business

One of the most important responsibilities of a project manager, according to veteran senior project manager Tom Kendrick, is to identify and manage the variety of risks associated with the project. Kendrick is the author of Identifying and Managing Project Risk: Essential Tools for Failure-Proofing Your Project, which is now in its third edition. Detailed, well-organized and comprehensive, Identifying and Managing Project Risk takes you through the planning, assessment and responses required for any kind of project of any size.

For the past 20 years, Kendrick has been collecting anonymous data on project problems from hundreds of project leaders. From this database, Kendrick has identified the three types of project risks encountered by project managers, based on their root causes: scope, schedule and resources.

Scope risk occurs either in the form of changes to the scope or what the author calls defects — in other words, not being able to deliver what is expected. Schedule risk can either be 1) delays, 2) faulty estimates of the time required to accomplish the activities of the project or 3) slippage due to factors outside the project. Problems with people, external staff and/or money are the causes of resource risks.

In the first half of the book, Kendrick focuses on identifying these three types of project risks. For scope risks, for example, he suggests

  • Clearly defining project deliverables, noting the challenges.
  • Setting limits on the project based on the value of the deliverables.
  • Breaking down the project into small pieces.
  • Assigning ownership for all project work.
  • Noting any risk that might arise from the expected project duration or complexity.

In the second half of the book, he focuses on risk assessment (including qualitative and quantitative analyses) and responses to risks at both the different activity levels and at the overall project level.

For example, he sets down the following rules for managing activity risks:

  • Determine root causes.
  • Avoid, mitigate or transfer risks whenever feasible.
  • Develop contingency plans for the remaining risks.
  • Document risk plans, and keep the data visible.
  • Monitor all risks in your risk register.
  • “Thirty grams of prevention is worth half a kilogram of cure (approximately).”

Documenting risk plans is accomplished through a detailed listing of all risks that includes information such as a description of the risk, the owner of the risk, activities impacted by the risk, quantitative and qualitative risk-analysis results, proposed risk response actions, risk triggers, residual risk exposure and contingency plans.

Lessons from the Panama Canal

An entertaining and illuminating feature of the book is the story of the building of the Panama Canal, which Kendrick uses as the thread tying all the steps together. Thus, each chapter ends with an evocative story or stories from the Panama Canal project that illustrate the lessons of the chapter.

The building of the Panama Canal is one of the great engineering achievements, although perhaps underrated today. Kendrick shows how the leaders of the project, notably John Stevens and General George Washington Goethals, were able to complete the Panama Canal by following the same processes as described in his methodology. After Roosevelt’s first project manager resigned, declaring that building the canal was a mistake, Stevens arrived and immediately set about pinning down the scope of the project. Stevens “determined exactly how the canal should be built, to the smallest detail,” Kendrick writes. “The United States would build an 80-kilometer lock-and-dam canal … with a budget of U.S. $375 million, to open in 1915. With the scope defined, the path forward became clear.”

At 400 pages, Identifying and Managing Project Risk is not a quick read. But as Kendrick shows, anyone in a hurry should not be managing projects to begin with. Undoubtedly, they will follow in the footsteps of de Lesseps and avoid the rigorous risk planning required to successfully bring any project to fruition.

The New One Minute Manager

BEST-SELLER DEFIES ITS AGE

Thirty-five years after the publication of the original book, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson have published an updated edition of their phenomenal bestseller, The One Minute Manager. Much has changed in the past three-and-a-half decades, notably the near-unanimous agreement that top-down command-and-control management is counterproductive and that work is no longer just a paycheck for employees but must, instead, be a source of fulfillment and purpose. Yet, despite the overstated promise of a “new” third secret, readers will finish this updated edition, called The New One Minute Manager, with a renewed appreciation of the foresight and modernity of the original book. For despite radical changes of attitudes and priorities in the workplace, the core ideas of The One Minute Manager still hold true.

As in the original edition, the new edition tells the story of a young man who seeks out a great manager of whom he has heard. This great manager introduces him to his core managing philosophy that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results.”

The young man then goes on to talk with three lower-level managers on the great manager’s team who explain the three secrets of one-minute management. The first manager describes the first secret, which is the setting of one-minute goals — three to five succinctly formulated goals (readable in one minute) tied to the key areas of responsibility. The second manager describes one-minute praises, the second secret of one-minute management. The concept of one-minute praises is encapsulated in the highlighted phrase, unchanged from the first edition, “Help people reach their full potential. Catch them doing something right.” One-minute praises must be immediate and specific, followed by an encouragement to do more of the same.

The new edition diverges slightly from the original edition with the third secret of one-minute management. In the original edition, the third secret was a one-minute reprimand. The manager would tell employees who made a mistake exactly what mistake they made and how disappointed he was with them for making the mistake. At the same time, the one-minute manager would explain that he had a problem with the specific mistake, not with them, and that he still valued them.

In the new edition, the one-minute reprimand has become the one-minute redirect. The third secret still concerns responding to a mistake and follows a similar path: The manager confirms with the employee the facts of the mistake, expresses how he or she feels about the mistake and then pauses to give time for the employee to think about the mistake. In the original edition, the purpose of the pause was to create “a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel.” In the new edition, the pause’s purpose is “to allow people time to feel concerned about what they’ve done.” Both the reprimand and redirect end with the same expression of concern about the specific mistake and not the person, and the manager reaffirming his or her trust in that person.

The true value in this new edition is found in the stylistic changes that help the book shake its age. The characters are no longer Mr. Trenell and Ms. Brown, but Paul and Teresa. The secretary, Ms. Metcalfe is now the assistant Courtney, and she does not bring in a list of names to her boss at his intercom’d request; he prints out the list himself from his computer.

While these changes may seem cosmetic, they are important in conveying the relevance of Blanchard’s and Johnson’s classic propositions to today’s workplace. For example, the one-minute manager’s aggressiveness toward the visitor in the original would be shocking today; the new one-minute manager is firm but not impolite. In the original conversation, the one-minute manager tells the visitor, “You have asked me not once but twice to make a simple decision for you. Frankly, young man, I find that annoying. Do not ask me to repeat myself. Either pick a name and get started, or take your search for effective management elsewhere.” This entire quote is deleted from the conversation in the new edition, and for good reason.

The original ideas in The One Minute Manager stand up to time, a tribute to their value. The New One Minute Manager offers these ideas without the distraction of dated terms and social conventions, thus ensuring that they will resonate with a new generation of fans.

The Start-Up Plan for Starting Now

STOP TALKING AND START DOING

“If you want to sell a product, just make it. If you want to sell a service, just deliver it. If you want to create a company, just create one.” The opening words to the first chapter of Fail Fast or Win Big encapsulate author Bernhard Schroeder’s “just do it” philosophy. Entrepreneurs should stop planning and instead get into the market as quickly as possible. Schroeder, the Director of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center at San Diego State University, is especially dismissive of business plans, “an anachronistic waste of time,” he writes. “However long you think it will take you to write a solid business plan, you have to double or triple that time and effort to include the myriad details and the research data you need to provide.”

While acknowledging some of the value of a business plan in terms of making entrepreneurs think about their markets or budgeting and cash flow, Schroeder argues that much of the research and scenarios developed in business plans become obsolete by the time the plan is finished. Markets move, and the only way to know what works is to be in the marketplace — not squirreled away creating projections. Once in the marketplace, you not only see what works, but you also make the corrections necessary to succeed.

To help entrepreneurs go “as fast as you need to go,” Schroeder offers in Fail Fast or Win Big a new “LeanModel Framework” composed of four elements:

  1. Lean Resources. “Lean resources” is a mentality of launching the company with the fewest resources possible. “Less is more,” Schroeder writes. “Look to get your company started in the leanest way possible by leveraging everything you can.” Today’s technology helps. It’s now possible to build a prototype for very little using 3-D printers; crowdfunding (to which Schroeder dedicates a full chapter) is a truly revolutionary way to get funding for any venture.
  2. Business Model. While rejecting the major writing project of a business plan, Schroeder urges entrepreneurs to “take the time to understand your marketplace, current trends and your target customer segment, then craft a business model that not only makes common sense but it makes money.”
  3. Rapid Prototyping. The core of Schroeder’s philosophy is to stop talking or planning and start doing, and doing means creating a product or service to sell in the marketplace. This product can be minimally viable — it is in essence a test product for sale. There are Internet tools, online platforms and new technologies that make rapid prototyping more feasible than ever before. There are even “rent by the hour” manufacturing and engineering facilities available. It all starts with a mentality, however, that is not only focused on speed but also focused on success, not failure. “Most people fear failure, and therefore they move too slowly when they should be creating a rapid prototype of their product or service,” Schroeder writes.
  4. Customer Truth. Speed to market is only a first step. The goal is to get to the market fast so that you can start to receive customer feedback as quickly as possible and make the necessary changes sooner rather than later.

Schroeder, who for several years led Amazon’s marketing efforts and has helped numerous small companies succeed in the marketplace, offers an inspirational guide designed for a world in which nothing is too fast — and failure is a positive sign of action.

2 Billion Under 20

When does a movement become a book become a movement?

This is exactly what is happening with 2 Billion Under 20 through two young entrepreneurs, Stacey Ferreira and Jared Kleinert.

Stacey Ferriera is currently the 22 year old co-founder of 2 Billion Under 20, and CEO of AdMoar, an online marketplace that matches brands with YouTubers for product placement opportunities on their channels. Jared Kleinert is currently the 19 year old co-founder of 2 Billion Under 20, Founder of Kleinert Ventures, a marketing consulting firm whose clients include #1 NYT Bestselling authors, Olympians, start-ups, and Fortune 500s.

2billionunder20

Ferreira and Kleinert founded 2 Billion Under 20 a year ago and since then have collected the stories of 75 young people from across the globe as they share their stories of starting up, failing, succeeding and overcoming. The collection of stories will be published as a book to be released on July 28th, entitled of course, 2 Billion Under 20.

Among those included are ambitious young people like Paige McKenzie, who started her own YouTube channel at sixteen that now has more than 55 million views; Sam Mikulak, who’s represented Team USA in the Olympics and is a seven-time NCAA champion in Men’s Gymnastics; Jack Andraka, who developed an early detection test for pancreatic cancer at fifteen; Tallia Storm, a Scottish singer who was discovered by and opened a concert for Elton John, on her way to signing a record deal with Virgin Records; Dau Jok, who escaped civil war in South Sudan to become captain of the University of Pennsylvania’s Division 1 basketball team and founder of a nonprofit to help youth in his native country, and many other accomplished and inspiring Millennials from all walks of life.

The authors and co-founders of 2 Billion Under 20 are now booking a book tour across the globe, with 35 cities booked and a goal of 300. Through this tour, plus their speaking engagements with TEDx, World Future Society, John Maxwell Foundation and many more, they hope to inspire Millennials to better understand themselves and their unique potential, and show how they can all act on their passions and make a difference at any age.

Their motto of “Join the Movement and Change the World” should be an inspiration to not only their own generation, but for previous and future generations as well.

Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead

WHAT’S WORKED AT GOOGLE

Laszlo Bock, head of People Operations at Google, once interviewed a job candidate who was clearly wearing a new and quite expensive pinstripe suit purchased just for the interview. Bock told the candidate that he had good news and bad news. The good news was that he was hired; the bad news is that he would never wear that beautiful suit again.

Googlers, as the 50,000 employees of Google are called, do not wear suits. However, casual clothes is just one (rather minor) facet of a progressive working environment that has allowed Google to win numerous Great Place to Work awards, not only in the United States but in countries around the world. In his book Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Work, Bock details how the company recruits, motivates and manages the highly talented people who join the company.

A High-Freedom Approach

For Bock, a “high-freedom approach” to managing people is key, as compared to the low-freedom command-and-control approach of traditional companies. For example, in addition to mission (Google’s succinct mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”), the cornerstones of Google’s culture are transparency and voice, he writes.

While many companies insist they champion full transparency of the company’s operations and giving their employees a voice, Google translates the words into unequivocal, on-the-ground action. For example, one would expect that Google would carefully guard its code base — the collection of source code that contains, Bock writes, “the secrets of how Google’s algorithms and products work.” In most software companies, new engineers can see some of the code base for just their product. “At Google, a newly hired software engineer gets access to almost all of our code on the first day,” he writes. The issue is trust, he explains. If you trust your employees, there is no reason not to be transparent and not to let them guide decisions.

As Bock writes in one of the two “work rules” that summarize the chapter on culture, “Give people slightly more trust, freedom and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.”

Each chapter ends with two to four of these succinct work rules that encapsulate the core lesson of the chapter. These work rules are listed at the end of the book, creating perhaps one of the most comprehensive guides to managing people ever gathered in four short pages.

Some of the work rules are progressive but not surprising. The work rules for selecting new employees, for example, are set a high bar for quality, find your own candidates, assess candidates objectively and give candidates a reason to join.

Other work rules may be more unexpected. The rules for compensation begin with “Swallow hard and pay unfairly. Have wide variations in pay that reflect the power law distribution of performance.” In other words, it is often assumed that employees at a certain level should make approximately the same amount of compensation, with some slight adjustment for performance. However, the contribution that employees make to the company will vary greatly from employee to employee. Studies show that the top 1 percent (in performance) of workers generates 10 times the output of average workers. Employees, Bock writes, should be compensated accordingly.

While there are numerous books about Silicon Valley management methods, Work Rules offers both an in-depth exploration of the workings of the iconic company’s HR efforts and policies and a take-away list of practical to-dos valuable to the HR functions of any company.

Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done

PRODUCTIVITY STRATEGIES DESIGNED FOR HUMANSIt seems that every day is the same for most of us: too much to do, too little time to do it. In this hyper-busy, 24/7 world, author Josh Davis’ contention that we can regain control of our lives by being highly productive for two hours a day seems almost silly. Yet in his book, Two Awesome Hours, Davis makes a compelling case that we can get most of the important work done in a total of two hours — or a similarly overall short amount of time (two hours, he explains, is not a magic number but representative of the small amount of highly productive period for which we should aim).Not a MicroprocessorThe secret is to change the mindset of most productivity efforts, which is built on the concept of trying to be efficient for the entire day. The fact — as proven by science — is that machines and computers can be efficient for eight or 10 hours a day, but humans cannot. The brain is not a biological version of a computer microprocessor. You can’t just turn it on and off. It needs to rest. It becomes distracted — and that’s okay.

In short, Davis writes, we need to stop trying to emulate the productivity of machines and instead work with our continually expanding knowledge of how the brain works.

Five Strategies

Based on the science of the brain, Davis has developed five productivity strategies that are designed for humans and not machines.

Strategy 1. Recognize Your Decision Points. It may seem that the moments between tasks are unimportant and, in fact, unproductive. After all, you are not working. As a result, most people rush through what Davis calls “decision points,” those moments in the day when you are deciding what to do next. In their quest to be “productive,” however, people don’t give enough thought to what they should be doing next. They grab the first task they see and end up spending an enormous amount of time on a task that is of secondary importance. “There’s a time and place for the less important work, but leveraging your decision points will help you keep attuned to your larger priorities,” Davis writes.

Strategy 2. Manage Your Mental Energy. Not all hours are the same. This is a major difference with machines, which will work the same no matter when they are operating or for how long. A brain will become tired, and different tasks have more or less impact on brain fatigue. Davis urges his readers to learn when their mental energy is at its peak; this is the time to focus on the most difficult of tasks. And they should be careful not to drain their energy just before that energy is most needed.

Strategy 3. Stop Fighting Distractions. As with decision points, distractions are often seen as the enemy of productivity. In truth, they can be opportunities for regeneration and refocusing. That doesn’t mean reading the sports pages or cyberloafing on social media sites at will, Davis explains. However, daydreaming for a few minutes while looking out the window can send you back to the task refreshed and newly focused.

Strategy 4. Leverage Your Mind-Body Connection. There is a tendency, Davis writes, to separate the mental from the physical. In truth, mind and body are connected, and this offers opportunities to help (or hurt) your mental capacity by how you treat your body. How, when and what you eat or drink, for example, can make a big difference in your mental capacity. Use the mind-body connection to your advantage, Davis urges.

Strategy 5. Make Your Workspace Work For You. The right physical environment will also play a major role in your productivity. “You often can’t change the place where you work, but there are lots of little things you can do to ensure that your workspace is helping, not hindering your productivity,” he writes.

These five deceptively simple strategies, Davis writes, “are effective not only because they are simple and easy to start implementing but also because they work with, not against, your biology.”

In this quick and engaging read, Davis makes a compelling case that the secret for creating the conditions “for at least two hours of incredible productivity every day” is to forget efficiency and draw on the lessons from the latest research in psychology and neuroscience — two disciplines that have nothing to do with machines.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins

EVERYONE CAN BE A GOOD STORYTELLER

Anyone who has read Steven Levitt’s phenomenal bestseller Freakonomics remembers the advice that his father gave him when Levitt, an economist with suspect mathematical skills, wondered about his professional future as an economist. The advice: Find a niche. The advice itself is not the memorable part, of course; it is the story that accompanied it. Levitt recalls that his father explained how he, too, was not the genius of his class and decided that his best bet was to find an under-filled niche that the stars of medical school would ignore. Thus, Levitt explains, his father developed an expertise in intestinal gas and eventually became known as the King of Farts.

Freakonomics is filled with evocative, funny and illuminating stories, which explains, according to Annette Simmons, author of Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, why it was so successful. Facts are important, she writes, but they often fail to connect with those who hear them. To truly be informative and persuasive, you need good stories — especially personal stories.

Another major advantage of stories is that they effectively convey experiences. “Experience changes minds, alters decisions and creates cohesive action,” Simmons writes. The best way for investors to understand the impact of poor working conditions in the company’s developing world factories, for example, is to walk through a sweatshop. In most cases, however, using the tool of personal experience to influence others is not feasible. A good story, if told with enough feeling and detail, can act as a vicarious experience, plunging the listener into the situation.

Six Stories to Tell

Many people believe that they are not good storytellers, when in fact, Simmons points out, every one of us tells stories all the time. We may not realize, however, that when describing a funny moment of forgetfulness or venting about a frustrating customer-service experience, we are telling a story. Of course, not all stories are appropriate for influencing people. Venting makes us feel good but is hardly a teaching moment.

Simmons identifies the six types of stories that, she writes, “lead to influence, imagination, and innovation”:

Who-I-Am Stories. People won’t trust you if you don’t get personal. “Reveal who you are as a person,” Simmons writes.

Why-I-Am-Here Stories. Use stories to explain your agenda and to be authentic. Explain what’s in it for you.

Teaching Stories. Telling a story that creates a shared experience will be more motivating than just giving someone advice.

Vision Stories. Describe, through a detailed story, your vision of the future.

Value-in-Action Stories. Use stories to show a value in action. Hypothetical situations will sound contrived. A true story will make a compelling case for that value.

I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking Stories. Use a story to show your listener that you are already aware of their unspoken objections or suspicions — and that you have an answer.

Finding the Right Stories

One of the challenges to becoming a good storyteller is finding the right stories. Simmons offers four buckets of story sources from which storytellers can draw: a time you shined, a time you blew it (embarrassing stories build trust); a story about a mentor (which shows humility and gratitude); a story from a book, movie or current event (that exemplifies the core message).

Simmons devotes a chapter to each of the six types of stories. In each chapter, she assigns the reader a general situation. In the chapter about teaching stories, for example, she asks the reader to imagine a pet peeve concerning a job poorly done. The assignment is to tell a non-judgmental story to teach the person to do a better job.

In the final section of this practical how-to book, Simmons helps the reader hone the craft of storytelling. She covers areas such as how to add sensory details that make the story experiential, the importance of brevity and the power of multiple points of view.

In an information-age world that seems enamored with the mass processing of “Big Data,” Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins offers the refreshing perspective that the most traditional of all types of communication — the oral history — is also the most effective tool for influencing and leading people.

Five Timeless Lessons From Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs

THE STRATEGIC RULES OF THREE GIANTS

Bill Gates, Andy Grove and Steve Jobs have been the subjects of many books, and Gates and Grove have even written their own bestselling books. Strategy Rules, a new book coauthored by Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie and MIT Sloan School of Management professor Michael Cusumano, offers a new take on these three giants of entrepreneurship and technology by bringing them together into one how-to guide on strategy. According to Yoffie and Cusumano, the three men, although vastly different in personalities, followed the same five rules for strategy and execution:

  1. Look Forward, Reason Back. The first rule was to look forward into the future and then reason back to the actions required today. A vision of what the world could be was only the beginning for these three men, however. Perhaps even more important was the ability of all three to determine — in detail — what needed to happen immediately to turn vision into reality.
  2. Make Big Bets, Without Betting the Company. Gates, Grove and Jobs were bold leaders, but they were not reckless, write Yoffie and Cusumano. They knew how to time or diversify their big bets so that even huge strategic bets were not irreversible.
  3. Build Platforms AND Ecosystems. Another important rule, the authors write, was to build platforms and ecosystems, as opposed to pursuing a product strategy. Build Platforms AND Ecosystems. Most industries think in terms of products. Technology companies, however, succeed when they build industry platforms, not stand-alone products. Bill Gates would not be among the world’s richest men and Microsoft would not be the dominant company it became if Gates had sold his product — the DOS operating system — to the client that had requested it: IBM. Instead, in exchange for a much lower payment from IBM, Gates kept the right to license the system to other companies. The rest is history.
  4. Exploit Leverage AND Power. All three men, according to the authors, could play Judo and Sumo. Judo requires using the opponent’s strength. Gates, Grove and Jobs could each find a way to turn the strengths of their opponents into weaknesses. One notable example was Jobs’ successful negotiation with the music companies for a license to their music. Paying little attention to the tiny company (only 2 percent market share in its own industry!), the music companies negotiated an agreement highly favorable to Apple and which would be the foundation of the iTunes revolution. At the same time, the three did not hesitate to freely use their power, once they had it, to dominate their competitors, just as a Sumo wrestler uses his pure strength to dominate his opponent.
  5. Shape the Company Around Your Personal Anchor. Personally, the three men had vastly different strengths and interests. Gates was the software coding genius, Grove a precise engineer and Jobs a wizard at design. The companies they built reflected these strengths.

At their peaks, Microsoft, Apple and Intel were collectively worth $1.5 trillion. More than just business behemoths, however, these three companies and their founders changed the world, and our lives, in dramatic ways. Whether an entrepreneur dreaming of creating the next life-changing company or the manager of a multi-billion global company, any business leader should explore and adapt the lessons offered by the business practices of these three extraordinary business leaders.

The Revolution Transforming Decision Making, Consumer Behavior and Almost Everything Else

dataism

In a January 2015 New York Times Review of Books essay, critic and magazine editor Leon Wieseltier warned against a post-humanist — after the human — culture in which technological devices and data replace human beings and thought. “Quantification is the most overwhelming influence upon the contemporary American understanding of, well, everything,” he writes. “It is enabled by the idolatry of data, which has itself been enabled by the almost unimaginable data- generating capabilities of the new technology.”

In short, “Where wisdom once was, quantification will now be.” One might assume that Wieseltier does not have a copy of Data-ism, a new book from New York Times technology journalist Steve Lohr, on his bedside table. At first glance, Data-ism seems to be the embodiment of Wieseltier’s fear that quantification has replaced wisdom. The “ism” title seems to promise an introduction (manifesto?) to the philosophy of quantification. The subtitle is not timid: “The revolution transforming decision making, consumer behavior and almost everything else.” And within its pages, Lohr does a masterful job of describing all of the possibilities of “big data.”

Data-ism is perhaps one of the most balanced, levelheaded examinations of the potential of big data. Lohr never hesitates to give voice to the critics or skeptics of a data-driven world, nor fails to point out the limitations of artificial intelligence. It is this balance and restraint, however, that makes Lohr and his book the most persuasive champions of the massive and generally positive changes that “the virtuous cycle of more and more varied data and smarter and smarter algorithms, written by human programmers” will make in our lives. In short, quantification will not replace wisdom, as Wieseltier fears; but, Lohr shows, it will augment our wisdom — working with our amazing human brains — to help us make better decisions, free our time and energy to focus on the tasks where we can make the most difference, and, ultimately, make the world a much better place.

 

The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs

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SIX SKILLS FOR ENTREPRENEURIAL SUCCESS

Consultant and entrepreneur Amy Wilkinson’s book, The Creator’s Code, is a step-by-step guide on how to become a successful entrepreneur based on 200 interviews with those who have achieved the heights of entrepreneurship — from well-known pioneers such as Howard Schultz of Starbucks to less well-known names, such as Sarah Blakely, whose idea for footless pantyhose became the billion-dollar company Spanx, and partners Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, who launched the wildly successful Gilt Groupe online fashion platform.

Carefully parsing the transcriptions of her interviews, author Amy Wilkinson was able to synthesize the responses into just six essential skills required for entrepreneurial success.

Some of the essential skills in The Creator’s Code are not surprising to any reader who has researched or experienced entrepreneurship. The first of her skills, for example, is to “find the gap.” Most entrepreneurs achieve their success by unearthing an unmet need or finding a gap that needs filling with a new product or business model.

Wilkinson, however, is not satisfied with a pithy prescription followed by examples. She explains to her readers how they can find the next billion-dollar gap by identifying three archetypes of entrepreneurs: sunbirds, who transplant ideas from other areas, architects, who build from the ground up, and integrators, who combine different concepts. Shultz is a “sunbird” (named after the hummingbird-like bird who moves pollen from flower to flower). Shultz made his millions by having the foresight to realize that transplanting Italian coffee shops, with their baristas and long menu of fancy coffees, would fill a need that no one before him had fathomed.

Spanx’s Blakely is an architect, building up her company from just an idea. Maybank and Wilson, of the Gilt Groupe, are integrators, who combined e-commerce and fashion to build a unique company based on online flash fashion sales.

Another of her more familiar skills, to “fail wisely,” is also presented with fresh, practical how-to information. More than just being resilient, Wilkinson argues that successful entrepreneurs know how to manage failure. For example, in addition to placing small bets (rather than risking it all), Wilkinson found that many entrepreneurs set failure ratios — proactively deciding how much failure they were willing to accept before giving up. The key to failure ratios is thinking in terms of a portfolio of risks. For example, Stella & Dot founder Jessica Herrin has a 1-to-3 ratio, accepting to fail at one out of three initiatives she attempts.

The four other essential skills at the heart of The Creator’s Code are less familiar. “Drive for daylight” is Wilkinson’s phrase for keeping focused on the road ahead. “Fly the OODA Loop” is the skill to be more agile than competitors. The phrase comes from the world of aviation dogfights, when American pilots were taught that the key to winning air battles was to Observe (get information), Orient (prioritize the information and ignore the irrelevant), Decide (on a course of action) and Act. “Network minds” is the ability to bring together “the brainpower of diverse individuals.” Wilkinson’s innovative ideas for networking minds include designing shared spaces, fostering flash teams, holding prize competitions and building work-related games. Her code closes with the somewhat surprising “gift small goods” — a call for generosity that strengthens relationships and increases productivity.

In The Creator’s Code, Wilkinson offers a solid framework for building up entrepreneurial skills, supported by fascinating, detailed stories of the creativity and hard work required to turn an insight or an idea into a thriving enterprise.