Is There An iPod Equivalent In Yahoo’s Future?

Marissa Mayer knows how to throw a party. The controversial CEO of Yahoo! once threw a flannel-themed Christmas party at her Palo Alto home (she also has a penthouse apartment in the Four Seasons) that featured not only shipped-in snow but also a backyard ice-skating rink almost large enough for NHL games. At some point during the party, as recorded in Nicholas Carlson’s book Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!, a pajama-clad Mayer climbed aboard a mini Zamboni she had rented for the occasion, and set out to smooth out the ice that had become cut up by her ice-skating guests. “It was a comical, cheerful scene, and another host might have laughed and waved at her guests as she rode the funny-looking Zamboni in her pj’s,” Carlson writes. “Not Mayer. She was very serious. Sitting on top of the big machine, she concentrated on the ice beneath her. She wanted to smooth over every inch. She was going to get the job done herself and be excellent about it.”

As Carlson describes in his book, the Christmas scene reflects the personality of Mayer: hands-on, serious and driven to excellence — which in the minds of many Yahoo employees and former employees translates, writes Carlson, into “micromanaging, bottlenecking and dictatorial.”

In many ways, the cover of this book is misleading. Despite the photograph of Mayer and her name in bigger type than the rest of the title, this is, surprisingly, more a book about Yahoo than about Mayer. After a brief prologue, readers don’t run into Mayer again until more than 130 pages later, when, in part II of his book he describes Mayer’s early life and career at Google. Part III of the book returns to the behind-the-scenes battles between activist shareholders and Yahoo executives that dominate much of the early part of the book. Marissa Mayer finally enters the Yahoo! building for the first time nearly 250 pages in, giving Carlson less than 100 pages to cover Mayer’s two years (so far) at the helm of Yahoo!

In those 100 pages, Carlson narrates in engaging detail the ups and downs of Mayer’s first two years at Yahoo! For example, Mayer sent shock waves in the progressive hi-tech industry when she abolished Yahoo’s work-at-home policy. At the same time, Mayer replaced employees’ Blackberries with more up-to-date smart phones, and, in a bid to introduce transparency, started staff meetings in which she and her executives answered questions from employees. Mayer bet heavily on mobile apps and on digital magazines, hiring Katie Couric and others to create momentum that never materialized. On a more positive note, she acquired Tumblr for $1.1 billion, a record for a social media company at the time and an acquisition that in some ways has helped keep Yahoo! relevant.

Self-Inflicted Problems

A number of Mayer’s problems seem self-inflicted, including, according to Carlson, her inability to hire effective executives and her unfeeling interactions with her subordinates. The dictatorial, micromanaging style, as many employees see it, can demoralize a workforce whose morale, according to Carlson, is already badly hit by another Mayer initiative, the quarterly performance reviews (QPRs) that have echoes of Jack Welch’s infamous rank-and-yank employee policies at GE. Inevitably pitting employee against employee, the QPRs discourage collaboration and encourage cut-throat competition: it’s better that your colleague looks bad and gets the bad reviews; otherwise it will be you.

Mayer had an enormous advantage as she began her new position as CEO: a guaranteed two years in which the company’s financial health was assured by Yahoo’s prescient stake in the groundbreaking Chinese company, Alibaba, whose anticipated IPO in the fall of 2014 netted Yahoo a cool $8.3 billion windfall. (Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba, now worth $39.5 billion, was spun off into a separate company in January 2015, after the book was published.)

The question remains whether Mayer can make Yahoo! into the dominant Internet player it once was. Marissa Mayer, Carlson writes, points to the five years that Steve Jobs took to revitalize Apple, with the creation of the iPod. Is there an iPod equivalent in Yahoo’s future? For Carlson, the verdict is still out. The outcome depends in large part on the patience of the activist shareholders who pushed out several CEOs prior to Mayer.

The Self-Made Billionaire Effect

WHY BILLIONAIRES SUCCEED

It’s possible to become a millionaire, thanks to a high-paying job in the right industry. To become self-made billionaires, however, takes something more, write John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen in their fascinating new book The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value. The authors label those who can succeed within the constraints of organizations or established systems, as performers. Billionaires, in contrast, are producers. “They envision something new,” the authors explain, “bring together the people and the resources to create it and sell it to customers who didn’t know they needed it.”

Researching the factors that differentiate self-made billionaires from everyone else, Sviokla and Cohen found that self-made billionaires were entrepreneurs who shared certain “habits of minds” that took form in what the authors term “dualities.” A duality is a set of two characteristics that complement each other.

Based on an in-depth analysis, augmented by personal interviews, of the history and personalities of the self-made billionaires on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, the authors identified five dualities common to all billionaires.

The Five Dualities

The first is empathetic imagination. Billionaires have the imagination to develop billion-dollar ideas. Those ideas, however, emerge from what the authors call “extreme empathy” for their customers’ needs and wants. For example, few people were buying mutual funds when 24-year-old Joe Mansueto began buying them in the early 1980s. Drowning in paper, after ordering the quarterly prospectuses from each fund he wanted to follow, Mansueto realized that investors would welcome a service offering a report that provided information for all comparable funds. Within two years, Morningstar was born.

While the first duality concerned ideas, the second duality, patient urgency, frames the billionaire’s perspective. Billionaires, according to the authors’ research, are uniquely comfortable with both urgency and patience. They can work fast and super slow simultaneously, depending on the needs of the situation. As the authors explain, “They urgently prepare to seize an opportunity but patiently wait for that opportunity to fully emerge.” Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky, who had failed with an earlier ahead-of-its-time website, painfully realized the value of timing. He also knew that the social media layer of Facebook, Twitter and others had made the time ripe for a deal-of-the-day site such as Groupon, and forged ahead with the idea that would make him a billionaire.

The third duality, inventive execution, underpins how billionaires act. Execution is important, but that doesn’t mean that execution cannot involve creativity and imagination. Micky Arison, former CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, turned the three-ship company of his father into the world’s largest cruise company, owning 10 established cruising brands. Through initiatives such as air-sea packaged charters, Arison reinvented cruising from a leisure activity for the elite to a mainstream vacation.

Billionaires are not huge risk takers, the authors write. But, at the same time, they are less afraid of what they might lose now if there is an opportunity to create enormous value in the future. Having been fired from two real-estate investment jobs, Stephen Ross knew trying to start his own real-estate development firm had little chance of success. But the enormous risk of starting his own company was smaller than the risk of trying and failing again to work within the constraints of another firm. It’s this duality of the relative view of risk — balancing opportunity vs. potential loss — that separates billionaires from mortals, according to the authors.

The final duality that exemplifies the mindset and approach of billionaires concerns leadership, or more particularly, co-leadership. Billionaires seek partnerships, the authors write, with people who have the skills or experience that they are missing, usually combining their producer skills with a “virtuoso performer.”

While the bulk of the book explores the dualities, the authors also detail, in this revealing, in-depth exploration into why billionaires succeed, the steps that companies can take to try to encourage and enable potential producers to succeed within their organizations — instead of leaving to start their own enterprise.

The Art of Social Media

HOW TO LEVERAGE SOCIAL MEDIA

Perhaps in a few years, as the leadership of companies is taken over by a generation that grew up with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the myriad of other current and future social media channels, there may be less need for books such as Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users. Kawasaki, the former chief evangelist for Apple and author of the highly popular book on entrepreneurship, The Art of the Start, joins forces with co-author Peg Fitzpatrick, a social media strategist, to produce a short yet surprisingly exhaustive primer on the vast variety of tools and processes that individuals and companies can use to leverage their social media efforts.

Feeding the Content Monster

“The biggest daily challenge of social media is finding enough content to share,” Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick write. “We call this ‘feeding the Content Monster.’”

There are two ways to feed the content monster, according to the authors: content creation and content curation. Content creation is the traditional approach: writing copy, taking pictures and/or creating videos, and posting them. The problem is that such creation takes time, making it difficult to add more than two pieces of content per week to the page. Not enough, write the authors. The better approach, therefore, is content curation, which consists of finding high quality content from other people’s social media, then summarizing and sharing it on your page. The authors offer a list of 14 of their favorite curation and aggregation services that make it easy to find good content to curate. They do warn against too much straight sharing, which, they note, will “dull your personal voice and perspective.”

Moving from general to the specific, subsequent chapters range from how to perfect your posts, how to get more followers and how to respond to comments, to how to socialize events, how to run Google+ Hangouts on Air and how to rock a twitter chat.

One of the great strengths of this book is the succinctness of the advice offered. A chapter on “how to perfect your posts” exemplifies the authors’ cut-to-the-chase approach. One section, entitled “be visual,” argues that every single post should have a picture, graphic or video. You can be visual, the authors explain, by including a link to the original story or creating your own graphics, using a company called Canva. Taking a screenshot or “save as” picture from the source and adding it manually to your post is another option but could be legally tricky. The authors refer their readers to a University of Minnesota checklist to see if they are not breaking fair-use laws.

Opt for the E-Book Version

The Art of Social Media is available both as an e-book and in print. However, the University of Minnesota tip exemplifies the problem with the print book. There is no explanation of where to find the University of Minnesota checklist; instead, the words “the University of Minnesota provides a checklist” are underlined in the text, which signifies that it is a hyperlink in the e-book text. The book is crammed with such hyperlinks that will leave print readers frustrated, as these links substitute for examples.

The Art of Social Media is both comprehensive and succinct in its explanations of the myriad possibilities of social media. However, it is recommended to skip the print version and read the e-book.

Book Review: The Best Place to Work

TheBestPlaceToWork

by Ron Friedman

The world described in The Best Place to Work, by psychologist and consultant Ron Friedman, is the polar opposite of the world of Frederick Taylor, in which efficiency and productivity was based on economizing the movement of the worker; in today’s world, efficiency and productivity depend on maximizing the thinking of the worker. In the time of Taylor, employees and workers were nothing more than living machines; today, the key to a successful business is meeting the human needs of your people.

And this is why psychology has become a key component to creating the most efficient and productive workplace, Friedman writes. Building on the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, covering areas such as motivation, creativity, innovation and management, Friedman lays out the sometimes surprising insights and solutions for motivating employees to achieve their best, enhancing creativity and collaboration, and attracting and retaining the best performers.

Friedman’s “menu of proven ingredients” is extensive and detailed — and although some discussions might be more or less relevant based on the specific organization, it is probable that every organization will find at least some takeaways from each chapter. Beyond the specific workplace and work-experience solutions contained in its chapters, The Best Place to Work provides three overarching lessons:

Psychological needs are at the heart of employee engagement. Employees need to experience autonomy, a sense of competence and “relatedness” — a connection with other employees — on a daily basis.

Organizations are more successful when they address the limits of the mind and body. Humans are not machines. There are a number of limitations, for example, the number of hours we can work at our highest productive level or the decline of problem-solving skills when we’re under stress. The best organizations recognize these limitations and, through innovative measures, give employees an opportunity to overcome them.

Integrating work and family life improves the quality of both. The idea that work and personal time are separate is a myth, according to Friedman. Instead of artificially separating the two, the best organizations find ways to “blend the two worlds.” “The future of great workplaces,” writes Friedman, “lies in helping employees fuse their personal and professional lives in ways that position them to deliver their best work.” The Best Place to Work should become one of the definitive books on creating the motivating and empowering workplace and work experience that are at the heart of any business success. Building on solid and extensive research, Friedman’s overarching themes and specific solutions and insights establish the context for all future efforts to motivate and engage employees and develop inspiring and persuasive leadership skills.

How to Use Big Data to Win Customers, Beat Competitors, and Boost Profits

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF BIG DATA

When used car dealer Les Kelley launched the Kelley Blue Book, his target customers were used car dealers (and insurance companies and banks that made car loans). Dealers could consult the book and, based on the information it contained, have an idea of what price tag to put on their merchandise. Today, the target customers for the Kelley Blue Book, now free online, are used car buyers who consult it to have an idea of what they should pay for the used car they are buying.

The customer flip for Kelley’s Blue Book exemplifies the switch in power in the purchasing process from seller to buyer. Buyers are no longer dependent on sellers to give them the information they need to make a purchasing decision. So in this new purchasing paradigm, are sellers completely powerless?

The answer is no, and the reason, in large part, is what is commonly known as “big data.” As explained in The Big Data-Driven Business by LinkedIn marketing executives Russell Glass and Sean Callahan, in today’s world, buyers don’t have to go to sellers in order to find the information they need to make the right decisions. Instead, they can use a variety of digital search channels to gather any information they need and then approach the sellers.

However, write Glass and Callahan, the same digital capability that allows buyers to take the initiative allows sellers to follow what the buyers are doing. They track the websites and pages within those sites that buyers or potential buyers are visiting. They also track purchasing trends, which merchandise is popular at a given time, which items lead to the purchase of other items and a whole host of other customer-related data — so much data, in fact, that we now refer to all of this information as “big data.”

Such extensive tracking takes some sophisticated software, of course. This software, write Glass and Callahan, is what is known as the “marketing stack.”

The marketing stack includes marketing automation software, business intelligence databases, CRM systems, content management systems (which allow marketers to take over updating digital marketing content with minimal IT involvement), blogging and data management platforms, analytics tools, social media management platforms, search engine platforms, and other systems and software that, in essence, enable marketers to manage the accumulation and analysis of big data.

Principles for the Data-Driven Company

It may seem, from the litany of technological systems just cited, that establishing a big data-driven company is complex and expensive. It can indeed be complex. The chief marketing officer and the chief information officer must work closely together if a company is going to have any success at using big data. Some companies have started hiring “chief marketing technologists” solely responsible for the technology side of marketing. The bottom line is that all marketing professionals today must be at least knowledgeable about the technological components of the marketing function.

Using big data does not have to be expensive, however. In one of the most insightful chapters, Glass and Callahan offer 11 principles for successfully making a business more data-driven. Among the principles are, determine what you want to know about your customers and prospects; start small; don’t bet everything on technology (figure out first what you need, not what technology you want to use); and hire the right people — forget the art schools, and think about Star Trek conventions instead.

Glass, who heads B2B marketing at LinkedIn, and Callahan, LinkedIn’s senior manager for content marketing, present a guide for marketers in companies of all sizes.