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.

Becoming YOUR Best, Not Someone Else’s

Is your company a mediocre company or an exceptional company? Today, the difference between mediocre and great is the difference between success and failure. So what exactly does it take to be exceptional?

No surprisingly, Steve Shallenberger says that business success starts with ourselves – with becoming our best. But he also says that becoming your best is not about comparing yourself to another person. It’s about becoming your best.

In Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders, Shallenberger reveals simple and entertaining ways to harness the power of these 12 principles. You discover how to make communication easier and clearer, live in greater peace and balance, more persuasively lead others with an inspiring vision, and how to embrace change—not fear it.

Shallenberger divides his principles into three thematic sections—Transformational Leadership, Transformational Teams & Relationships, and Transformational Living:

Transformational Leadership
• Be True to Character
• Lead with a Vision
• Manage with a Plan
• Prioritize Your Time

Transformational Teams & Relationships
• Live the Golden Rule in Business and Life
• Build and Maintain Trust
• Be an Effective Communicator
• Innovate Through Imagination

Transformational Living
• Be Accountable
• Apply the Power of Knowledge
• Live in Peace and Balance
• Never Give Up!

If you would like to learn more about these 12 principles, then you’re invited to join our Soundview Live webinar: How the BEST Leaders Ignite Energy and Fuel High Performance. This webinar will be packed with advice, tools, and examples for turning your thoughts into action, motivating yourself and your people, inspiring teams to solve problems creatively, and building the life you’ve always dreamed of.

You can also post questions directly to Steve during the webinar. We hope your will join us on March 10th and begin the journey to becoming your best.

Motivating the Rest to Be Like the Best

What would it mean to you and your organization if everyone became as good as your star performers? Everyone would be aligned in working toward something important, a compelling collective purpose. Everyone would believe their teammates had the commitment and skills to achieve it. Organizations filled with this kind of energy are great places for their people and for the bottom line.

William Seidman and Richard Grbavac believe that this is possible and they point to Affirmative Leadership as the answer. Affirmative Leadership is a scientific, proven methodology for creating leadership programs that are based on each company’s own unique strengths and needs.

In The Star Factor, Seidman and Grbavac describe four phases to implement affirmative leadership in any company:

Phase 1: Discover – find out what your stars do that makes them successful.
Phase 2: Prepare – use what you learn from your stars to develop a training plan for everyone else.
Phase 3: Launch – start using this training program to instill the same passion that your stars possess in all employees.
Phase 4: Guided Practice – use the training for long-term internalization of these successful practices.

To learn more about affirmative leadership and how to make all of your employees stars, join us on February 26th, for our Soundview Live webinar with William Seidman and Richard Grbavac, Discover What Your Top Performers Do Differently. Perhaps you can invite your stars to the meeting to bring them in on the concept from the start.

What Goes Wrong In Groupthink?

Two heads are better than one, according to the old saying. So why are groups with lots of “heads” known for making bad decisions? Why does “groupthink” immediately connote ineffectiveness and mistakes?

These questions are answered in a fascinating new book called Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, written by Cass R. Sunstein, a former White House official, and Reid Hastie, an academic specialized in the psychology of decision making. Building on their combined experiences and research, Sunstein and Hastie dissect what goes wrong in group decision-making, then offer clear-cut solutions to overcome these problems.

Group decision-making involves discussions among members of a group, each with their own skills, experience, ideas and information. Unfortunately, as the authors explain, there are two types of influences on group members — informational signals and social pressures — which skew the deliberations. Informational signals cause people to keep information to themselves when it contradicts information from others, especially leaders. Social pressures cause people to keep information to themselves to avoid punishment, for example, the disapproval of leaders who are contradicted.

These influences lead to four problems, the authors write: Instead of correcting the errors of their members, groups actually amplify those errors (e.g., the leader’s mistaken conclusion is validated by the group); cascade effects take over when the group follows whomever spoke first or loudest; groups become more polarized, that is, more extreme in their sentiments, as the internal discussions reinforce their predisposed thoughts; and groups focus on shared information (what most people know) instead of unshared information — the information known only by a few individuals.

Having laid out the core problems, the authors offer solutions. They begin with a list of methods aimed at counteracting the four core problems, such as

Leaders have to keep quiet and convince group members that they sincerely want to hear all ideas.

Group success (not individual success) should be rewarded. Group members must understand that if the group is right, everyone benefits; this will encourage them to ensure that they find the right answer rather than pushing their own ideas.

Group members should be assigned specific roles (for example, one person is the medical expert, another the legal expert), thus ensuring that everyone contributes.

Either individuals or assigned teams (known as red teams) should be tasked with acting as devil’s advocates.

Groups also fail, the authors write, because they don’t distinguish between the “sloppy” early rounds of deliberations, in which all ideas must be allowed on the table, and the final rounds of deliberations, in which groups must be tight and analytical as they seek the precise solution. Successful groups will deliberately separate the two processes.

In another approach, the authors demonstrate that the wisdom of crowds (making decisions based on the average or majority of large crowds of people) will often lead to the right answer if a majority of crowd members know their material. Decision-makers often prefer to rely on one single expert, but “chasing the expert” significantly reduces the probability of getting the decision right.

Wiser is a quick, engaging and thoughtful read that compellingly argues that, with a few simple steps and open-minded leadership, group deliberations can, indeed, lead to wiser decisions.