The Biggest Ethical Mistakes – And How to Avoid Them

Today’s guest blog is from Mark Pastin, president of the Council of Ethical Organizations, a non-profit organization located in Alexandria, Va.

I am often asked about the biggest ethical mistakes leaders make. In 35 years as an ethics consultant, I have seen some doozies. You only hire an ethics consultant if you face an ethical issue. And once an ethical mistake occurs, it is extremely hard to set things right with the public and media already believing that companies routinely engage in unethical conduct. Most of these mistakes are entirely avoidable – if you are on the lookout for them.

Here are three of the biggest ethical mistakes made by leaders in reverse order.

The third biggest ethical mistake made by leaders is confusing legal advice with ethical advice. The job of legal counsel is to tell you the legal consequences of various courses of action – not whether you should take those actions. An action can be legal but still be unethical. Many of the investment activities that led to the 2008 recession were perfectly legal – and also perfectly unethical. It is a mistake to use legal counsel as your conscience just because you are used to disclosing confidential information to your lawyers. Once you step outside of the domain of legal advice, legal counsel is no more able to give good ethical advice than any of your other colleagues.

The second biggest mistake is fixing a problem going forward without owning the problem’s history. This never works but it is very tempting to leaders who don’t want a past problem dragging their organization down. How often have you heard a CEO say, “As soon as we learned of the problem, we fixed it.” That is simply not good enough. You need to show that the organization recognizes the harm caused by an unethical practice and is taking steps to rectify past harm, while avoiding repeating the same action. Everyone will be asking, “What about everything leading up to the present?” You have to be ready to answer this question.

The biggest ethical mistake of all is judging the information you receive by the person from whom you receive it. I know of no ethical fiasco that did not present clear warning signs. Somehow these signs were ignored – and not without reason. The information that would enable you to prevent an ethical crisis often comes from individuals who are risk averse, whine about everything, and have a chip on their shoulder. I have just described one type of whistleblower. Whistleblowers are highly protected under current law. This is especially true of whistleblowers in the defense, financial services and healthcare sectors where whistleblowers are not only protected; they can sometimes receive bounties in the tens of millions of dollars. Sharp leaders ignore the source of troubling information and evaluate the information without bias. An ethical leader is always asking, what if this information, although from a questionable source, is true? Would I gamble the future of my organization on it not being true?

These ethical mistakes can be avoided if you are on the look out for them. The most important way to avoid ethical mistakes is by paying attention to information that you would rather ignore or believe to be untrue. Ethical mistakes tend not to go away. The longer you know of an unethical action without reacting to it, the worse the consequences of eventually admitting the mistake. Leaders who avoid big ethical mistakes know that such mistakes, even if not involving illegal activities, can destroy the reputation of an organization. And they know that ignoring or covering up such a mistake simply compounds the consequences. Ethical leadership is not just about having and acting on sound values; it is about confronting the facts no matter how uncomfortable it may be to do so.

To learn more about ethics in business, enroll in Mark Pastin’s course Influence with Ethics at SoundviewPro.

The Science of Organizational Structure

The Science of Organizational Structure:
how to design entrepreneurial, customer focused,
team-oriented organization charts

A guest blog with N. Dean Meyer
(copyright 2014 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.)

Many executives don’t realize that there’s a science of organizational structure. But the truth is, once you understand some basic principles, you can read between the lines of any organization chart. You can see who’s fighting with whom, who is not achieving his/her objectives, and who has ulcers! And, of course, those principles can guide you as you design new organizational structures.

The first, and most important, principle of organizational design is so important that I call it the “Golden Rule” of organizational design: authority and accountability must match. If ever they’re separated, then the person with authority becomes an unconstrained tyrant, while the one with accountability is disempowered and can’t get the job done.

Second, consider that people can only process a finite amount of information per day. We can only know so much. We can use our precious brain-cycles to know a little bit about everything – the generalist, a jack of all trades and master of none. Alternatively, we can focus our brain-cycles on a specialty, and perform far better – higher quality, lower costs, quicker, more flexible, and more innovative.

The very reason organizations exist is to allow people to specialize. (An organization of generalists performs little better than an equal number of individuals.) Great organizational structures focus people on clearly defined specialties, and build the cross-boundary teamwork processes that make specialization possible.

Third, boundaries must be clear. If boxes on the organization chart are defined in vague terms, and, as a result, boundaries are unclear, you’re paying people to fight with one another.

Fourth, the way you define people’s specialties is critical. A high-performance organization empowers its staff as entrepreneurs, running little businesses within the business. A healthy structure embodies this philosophy by defining boxes based on lines of business (not “roles and responsibilities” or tasks and processes).

There are five types of business within organizations:
• “Service Bureaus” keep things running. This includes manufacturing, service delivery, customer support, and internal support functions.
• “Technologies” are engineers who design, build, repair, and support solutions.
• “Consultancy” is the sales and marketing function, as important to internal service providers as it is to companies.
• “Coordinators” help others come to agreement on policies, standards, plans, and responses to crises.
• “Audit” inspects and judges others. If this function is necessary, it must never be confused with any of the above customer-focused service functions.

Of course, there are many specific lines of business within each of those five categories. Those lines of business are the building blocks of an entrepreneurial organization chart.

Four questions will tell you whether an organization chart is getting in people’s way:
1. Gaps: If any necessary lines of business are missing, or are fulfilled by many groups but without anybody’s full-time attention, they probably aren’t happening reliably, or with world-class effectiveness.
2. Rainbows: Imagine color-coding an organization chart by line of business. A “rainbow” group is one fulfilling multiple lines of business. At a minimum, it will be stretched to deliver excellence in any one. Furthermore, this may expose staff to conflicts of interests. Examples include mixing up operations and innovation, or business-driven sales and product management.
3. Scattered campus: If a line of business scattered among many groups, no one leader is looking after it in its entirety. This often results in missing specialties (gaps) or overlapping domains (paying people to fight).
4. Inappropriate substructure: The way you divide jobs at each level of the chart tells people what they’re supposed to be good at. If you choose a basis for sub-structure that differs from their line of business, you’ll reduce specialization. An example is a Technologist function subdivided by customer market; each group has to replicate all needed technical specialties, moving people toward becoming generalists.

These same diagnostic questions can help you design a great organization chart that helps everybody succeed.
Learn more about the science of organizational structure with the SoundviewPro course: Structural Cybernetics.

Dean Meyer is the author of Internal Market Economics, as well as six other books on organizational design. He’s a consultant, speaker, and executive coach on how to implement the business-within-a-business paradigm. More at

Fix the Culture!

Today’s guest blogger is Brian Bedford, co-founder of MillerBedford Executive Solutions.

How many CEO’s value the culture of their organizations as the main driver of the company’s success? How many really take the time to define what the culture should be, cultivate it, nurture it, and the most difficult part, make sure all employees uphold it? We’re talking way beyond posting Core Values on conference room walls and on the website. To answer our question, we would say far fewer CEO’s are treating the culture with the respect it deserves.

Core values should be the guiding principles for all employees to follow when making decisions and deciding what actions to take. However, employees’ behaviors and actions don’t always match the stated core values. And these actions which deviate from those expected – even small ones – if left uncorrected can lead to the slippery slope of culture decline and later to a company’s demise.

Here’s a good example of what we are talking about. GM’s Core Values are stated as: “Integrity, Individual Respect and Responsibility”. Now let’s consider their actions…we’re sure many of you have followed the woes of GM’s ignition-switch recall. Under certain conditions, the faulty switch caused the car to slip from the “run” position to “accessories” which was possibly linked to 31 crashes and 13 fatalities. An engineer testified that GM made a “business decision” not to replace the $2 part. So what went wrong? On GM’s website you see that employees are trained annually on “Winning with Integrity”. The right words are in place, and employees were trained? But where was the accountability or the “teeth” in the process to ensure the words drive each employee’s actions? We would bet that no one individual set out to use a defective part that could cause so much damage, but rather, slowly, gradually actions were taken, decisions were made, behaviors chosen that eroded the core values. What became allowable or acceptable was not upholding the Core Values they stated. No one “called” people on their misgivings or gave them feedback to correct their wayward behaviors.

Compare this to the recent success of Ford. In the April issue of Fortune magazine, Ford’s CEO Alan Mullaly was given credit for “saving the company without resorting to bankruptcy or bailouts by doing what previous leaders had tried and failed to do: change Ford’s risk-averse, reality-denying, CYA-based culture.” Last year, Ford earned $7.2 billion in profit – far more that GM or Chrysler. You can bet Mullaly did more than posting the new Core Values on the walls to get that huge organization to change their ways. You can’t change a culture and keep all the same people, so we’d bet some of the key positions have new incumbents too.

Here’s another CEO who is taking culture very seriously. After hearing a major investor’s most important advice, “Don’t [mess] up the culture (only he didn’t use the word “mess”), Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, sent an email to his team. That email has now gone viral – you may have seen it…in Working Life called “Don’t [Mess] Up The Culture”.

In that email to his team he instructs that their next team meeting will be dedicated to Core Values, and prior to that meeting he wanted people to know why culture is important. Here’s one of the things he said, “By upholding our core values in everything we do. Culture is a thousand things, a thousand times. It’s living the core values when you hire; when you write an email; when you are working on a project; when you are walking in the hall. We have the power, by living the values, to build the culture. We also have the power, by breaking the values, to [mess] up the culture. Each one of us has this opportunity, this burden.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Mary Barra, GM’s new CEO, needs to fix an entrenched culture-and quickly-if she is going to succeed. Maybe she needs to start with a similar email to her team.

You can learn more about corporate culture from Brian Bedford and Julie Miller in their Soundviewpro course Installing an Accountability-Based Culture for Success.

What’s New at SoundviewPro

We’ve been fortunate over the past several weeks to enjoy guest blogs from our course instructors. We’ve heard from Phil Buckley, Morag Barrett, Les McKeown, John Baldoni and many others. I hope you’re enjoying these posts and would love to hear back from you as to what other subjects and instructors you’d like to hear about.

SoundviewPro continues to grow its catalog of courses, including an expanding line of the most popular software. Please take a minute to check out the course selection at SoundviewPro.

Among our most popular courses:
12 Habits to Create Disruptive Success with Bill Jensen
Building Brand [You] with Cyndee Woolley
How to Create a Memorable Presentation with Joel Worden
Microsoft PowerPoint 2010: Fundamentals with Donna Zarbatany
Leading Successfully through Challenges and Obstacles with Paul White
And more . . .

We are also continuing to build out the various disciplines, including Leadership, Management, Personal Development, Communication, Tech Skills and others. I encourage you to stop by our course site often to see what’s new.

Do You Really Want to Take the Plunge (Tell the Truth)?

A guest blog with John Stoker, the Founder and President of Light Storm Consulting, Inc. and DialogueWORKS, Inc.

We all have “undiscussables”—things we think and feel but usually don’t say. Whether or not we decide to share those issues, however, is a different matter. Chris Argyris, American business theorist, believed that if organizations would talk safely and openly about their issues and concerns, then immense learning would take place that would allow individuals, teams, and organizations to solve problems, improve decision making, and increase their overall effectiveness. No one will argue with that, but the operative word is “safely.”

Years ago, when I was training at an electric generating station in the Midwest, someone in class said, “We’ve got major undiscussables here!” Naturally, I pressed for an example. The participants in the class told me that the company procedure for obtaining materials and resources to fix things at the plant was a major obstacle to getting the work done and keeping the

turbines online and generating electricity. “So,” I asked, “what do you do when things break down?”

They all laughed and said, “Oh, we have the ‘Rat Hole!’”

“What’s that?”

“We’ll tell you, but if you ever tell anyone, we’ll lock you up there forever!” I promised I wouldn’t say anything.

My class members said that the Rat Hole was a secret room deep in the recesses of the plant stocked with equipment, tools, and resources that they had easy access to. There were welding rods, asbestos clean-up suits, gloves, cleaning fluid, mops, buckets–you name it, they had it all stocked away. When I pointed out to them the costs involved in maintaining a “duplicate” storeroom, their only response was, “That’s what we have to do to get the job done and keep things working.”

When I asked them if they had ever brought up this problem with their managers, they responded in the negative, “There are consequences for doing that around here!” I was told.  Obviously, the inability to bring up concerns safely had large financial ramifications for this company. Failing to speak up always comes at a cost.

Please note: I am not recommending that whatever you hold to be “undiscussables” should always be shared. (Those of us with significant others have learned this the hard way!) Nevertheless, it is wise to stop and think about what might be appropriate to share, or what is better left unsaid.

Has the person I need to speak with reacted negatively or emotionally in the past?

One of the most frequent justifications people offer for not speaking up in a business setting is the fear of negative consequences such as making your manager angry–which shows up as yelling, name calling or some form of belittlement. And there is also the fear of retaliation, such as missing out on a promotion, being fired, being given difficult assignments, or not receiving a raise. If these are your thoughts, you need to consider whether the relationship or the situation would be improved by speaking up, rather than just leaving things how they are presently.

If this person has never reacted negatively to feedback in the past, then you will have to admit to yourself that you don’t really know if they will react negatively in this situation. You might also ask yourself why you are assuming they might react negatively. Rumor? Past experience? Other people’s experiences? Objectively examine the source of your negative assumptions and the negative feelings that accompany those thoughts. If you lack evidence that negative consequences will occur, then perhaps it is worth the effort to speak up.

I’m sure that you can generate other questions that will help you to objectively assess your situations more objectively. The fact is, we all have issues that we judge to be undiscussable, some of which really are better left unspoken. Other concerns–if they negatively impact our results, our relationships, or the level of respect we are currently experiencing–may be worth talking about. Behaviors and work processes will never improve unless concerns can be identified and discussed. If an issue really matters, most people want to know about it. That, after all, is how things get better.  If you had broccoli in your teeth, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Only you can determine if taking the plunge will be worth the reward that follows.

You can learn more about real conversations at John Stoker’s course REAL Talk – Creating Real Conversations for Results.

What is Customer Service?

This is a guest blog with Steve Curtin, speaker, consultant and the author of Delight Your Customers.

There are as many definitions of “customer service” as there are customer service books and gurus. And, while there is no single correct definition, I would like to submit mine for consideration:
Customer service is a voluntary act that demonstrates a genuine desire to satisfy, if not delight, a customer.

Within this short definition, there are seven elements that I suggest we explore further:

Voluntary: Providing exceptional customer service, unlike executing mandatory job functions for which an employee is paid, is always voluntary. Employees don’t have to deliver it. And most don’t. (This explains why you almost always receive the deli sandwich you ordered but might not always receive it with a smile.)

Act: Service is a verb. As such, it requires action. Without initiative, one’s readiness and ability to initiate action, there is no exceptional customer service.

Demonstrates: Exceptional customer service reflects job essence, an employee’s highest priority at work.

Genuine: Exceptional customer service is not about masking your true feelings. It’s about actualizing them. There’s no place for duplicity or phoniness in the delivery of exceptional customer service.

Desire: Employees must want to provide exceptional customer service. Exceptional customer service doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by choice.

Delight: Employees decide for themselves whether or not to expend the discretionary effort required to elevate a customer service experience from satisfactory (ordinary) to delightful (extraordinary).

Customer: Customers are our highest priority at work and the ultimate basis for our employment.

What’s your definition of customer service? If you don’t have one at your place of business, consider posing this question to the team at your next department meeting. Put everyone at ease by reminding them that there’s no single correct definition of customer service. Whatever you come up with together will be just right for your work group.

Besides tapping into the team’s collective genius, you’ll be raising awareness about the topic of customer service, which, besides actually serving customers, may be the best use of your time at work.

To learn more about customer service, enroll in Steve curtin’s SoundviewPro course, Delivering Exceptional Customer Service.

Leadership Is a Contact Sport: Ask

A guest blog with Marshall Goldsmith, the top-ranked executive coach in the world.

“Soliciting feedback” is just what the words imply. It is when we solicit opinions from people about what we are doing wrong. As simple as it sounds, it is not always so simple. Most people have two problems dealing with negative feedback. This may not sound like many, but they are big problems. The first is we don’t want to hear it and the second is we don’t want to give it.

The reason we don’t want to hear it is because negative feedback is inconsistent with our self-image and so we reject it. Did you know that of all the classes I’ve taught 95 percent of members believe they are in the top half of their group? While this is statistically impossible, it is psychologically real. Proving to successful people that they are “wrong” works just about as well as making them change.

The reason we don’t want to give it is because our leaders and managers have power over us, our paychecks, advancement, and job security. The more successful a person is the more power they have. Combine that power with the fairly predictable “kill the messenger” response to negative feedback and you can see why people don’t want to give feedback.

There are some other difficulties with traditional face-to-face negative feedback. Most of them boil down to the fact that it focuses on failures of the past not positive actions for the future. Feedback can reinforce our feelings of failure, and our reactions to this are rarely positive. More than anything, negative feedback shuts us down. We need honest, helpful feedback, which is hard to find.

That’s enough about what’s wrong with feedback. Let’s talk about the good stuff. Feedback is very useful for telling us “where we are.” Without it, I couldn’t work with my clients. I wouldn’t know what the people around my client think about what he or she needs to change. Likewise, without feedback, we wouldn’t know if were getting better or worse. We all need feedback to see where we are, where we need to go, and to measure our progress along the way. And I have a foolproof method for securing it.

When I work with coaching clients I always get confidential feedback from their coworkers at the beginning of the process. I enlist each person to help me out. I want them to assist not sabotage the change process. I do this by saying to them, “I’m going to be working with my client for the next year. I don’t get paid if she doesn’t get better. Better is not defined by me; it is not defined by her. It is defined by you and the other coworkers involved in the process.” I then present them with four requests. I ask them to commit to:

1. Let go of the past.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative.
4. Pick something to improve themselves, so everyone is focused on more “improving” than “judging.”

As you contemplate changing your behavior yourself, without my personal assistance, you will need to do this same thing with your colleagues. Pick about a dozen people with whom you’ve had professional contact—work friends, peers, colleagues—and ask them to agree to these four commitments. When they do, which they nearly always will, you are ready to begin soliciting feedback from them about yourself.

In my experience, there are a hundred wrong ways to ask for feedback and one right way. Most of us know the wrong ways. We ask people, “What do you think of me?” “How do you feel about me?” “What do you hate about me?” or “What do you like about me?” Think about your colleagues. How many of them are your friends? How many of them really want to express to you their “true” feelings about you, to you?

A better question (and in my opinion the only question that works) is, “How can I do better?” Variations based on circumstances are okay, such as “What can I do to be a better partner at home?” or “What can I do to be a better leader of the group?” You get the idea. Pure issue-free feedback that makes change possible has to 1) solicit advice rather than criticism, b) be directed towards the future, and c) be couched in a way that suggests you are in fact going to try to do better.

Finally, when you get the answer, when someone gives you the gift of what you can do to be better, don’t respond with your opinion of their advice. It will just sound like denial, rationalization, and objection. Treat every piece of advice as a gift, a compliment, and simply say, “Thank you.” No one expects you to act on every piece of advice. Just act on advice that makes sense to you. The people around you will be thrilled!

You can learn more about improving your leadership skills at Marshall Goldsmith’s course Helping Successful Leaders Get Even Better.

Trust Matters Even To The NFL

A guest blog with John Baldoni, chair of the leadership development practice of N2growth. Originally published at

The NFL is sitting pretty.

You bet! After a series of widely publicized domestic assault cases, repeatedly botched attempts to impose discipline, and the performance of a commissioner who has been AWOL for most of the recent crisis, the fans keep flocking to the gates and even more fans are watching on Sunday (as well as Thursday and Monday).

The NFL is a business but it is a business like few others. First off, it is exempt from anti-trust code and its individual franchises play in taxpayer-supported stadiums. It is also very lucrative. The NFL itself rakes in $10 billion a year, over a billion coming from sponsorship dollars. It is a pseudo public institution that as an institution is tax-exempt. The teams pay taxes on their revenues, not the league itself.

While a few high profile sponsors – Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s and Visa – expressed concern about the way the NFL has managed the abuse cases, no company has disassociated itself with the league.

Trust in the NFL has eroded, says Barbara Kimmel, executive director of Trust Across America-Trust Across the World, “primarily because many view the players as role models. In other words, they set an example for lots of people, including young fans.  The NFL is caught up in a crisis based on a small number of bad apples.”

While fans do of course express outrage at players who transgress by beating up women and children, their discontent is merely vocal. Their feet stay firmly planted in the stands or propped up on footstools as they watch the game at home on TV. And maybe that’s okay. Say you needed a prescription medicine and the company producing that drug had broken laws (as have some major pharmaceutical companies) you would still take the drug if ordered to by your doctor.

Fans do want sponsors to do what they are not willing to do themselves: give up the NFL.  Over half of those surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos said sponsors should drop their support of the league. Not surprisingly more women (58%) than men (49%) believe that sponsors need “in some way” to stop supporting the NFL. At the same time nearly 80% said they would continue watching the games. Jason Maloni, an executive with the strategic communications firm Levick, told Reuters,” It should not be lost on anybody that America is of two minds when it comes to football in the last month. They are voting with their hearts.”

We humans are good at compartmentalizing issues. We can choose to look at issues the way we want to. For example, I can root for my team because I always have. And if one or two miscreants misbehave, well, most of the players are okay guys. And they are. Professional athletes are not exempt from breaking the law though it can seem they receive preferential treatment. [Case in point. Ray Rice who was allowed due to his celebrity to avoid jail time and consequently avoided jail time even after cold-cocking his significant other.]

This does not mean that fans have any trust in the league. As Kimmel writes in a recent blog, “trust is taken for granted. It is assumed that it just ‘exists’ when, in reality, it rarely does. Some leaders might argue, ‘Why bother? Maybe we’ll get lucky and never face a crisis.’ [Yet] it’s much less expensive to build a foundation of trust, than it is to ‘manage’ a crisis and attempt to build trust after the crisis. Building a foundation of trust also brings tangible and intangible benefits.”

Trust is the currency organizations need to survive not simply for its public image but for its own health. As Kimmel points out there are real-world advantages to trust. These include “greater personal effectiveness, increased employee responsibility, improved collaboration (and) decision-making speed, and improved morale.”

As for the NFL we have seen what happens when a lack of trust prevails. Perhaps now is the league’s opportunity to show us what good can occur when trust returns.

To learn more about leadership from John Baldoni, enroll in his course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.

How To Reinvent Yourself with An Entrepreneurial Mindset

A guest blog with Faisal Hoque, founder of Shadoka and several other companies. Originally published at Fast Company.

Like it or not the modern world forces us to constantly reinvent ourselves. And the reinvention process requires an entrepreneurial mindset.

Somewhere along the way, people became convinced that stasis is safer than movement. Consistency feels comfortable; volatility is frightening. Consciously or not, we attempt to protect ourselves against life’s volatility by cultivating routine in our lives.

But, in this ever-changing world, we are constantly forced to reinvent ourselves.

And this reinvention process by very nature requires an entrepreneurial mindset.

In many ways, entrepreneurship is about where we place the responsibility for our experience. Although it’s hubris to think that you have complete control of your experience, it’s martyrdom to think that you have none. An entrepreneur is someone deeply engaged in his or her experience of life and willing to do the daily work of transforming it.

The entrepreneur is idealist and pragmatic, sensitive to the world she wishes to see, and conscious of the world as it is. The entrepreneur’s work, then, lies in connecting the two.

Constant reinvention requires:

1. Driving long-term vision

2. Creating platforms for growth

3. Fostering synergistic ecosystems

A sense of purpose takes vision

Vision is what we’re to do with the time that we have. If you look at the central business theses of a few leading companies, we can see that they prioritize not only revenue–though surely that’s essential–but also the purpose of the work that they do. And that purpose is critical to staying a long-term course.

Time is the most scarce resource. When we realize not as an intellectual construct but as an emotional conviction that our time here is finite, we will act purposefully.

Finding the Platforms That Are Already There

If vision is an expression of the soul of a person, platform is its body. We often call these “core competencies,” which tend to grow organically. Whether an organization (or an individual) recognizes it in themselves, these competencies are platforms, or assets with business applications.

Platform generation is taking assets that have already been created and finding new ways to use them.

But they can also be tangible things–automobile companies will use the same engine in a range of cars, and, at times, provide engines for other manufacturers, bringing in more capital from a preexisting product. Similarly, if we are going to sustainably grow our organizations, we must reach limbs out into new markets.

In understanding platforms, we appreciate the wealth of possible intersections between our organizations, the world and ourselves.

Fostering Sustainable Ecosystems

James F. Moore was the first to apply the term ecosystem to a business context. He wrote that a business ecosystem was “an economic community supported by a foundation of interacting organizations and individuals.” These ecosystems, he wrote, encourage companies to coevolve their capabilities. This comes in several flavors.

Sometimes an ecosystem can sprout up around a product, like the range of cases, headphones and other paraphernalia that surround the mobile devices. As well, a company can sprout whole economic worlds, as was the case of the App Store–and in that case, the App Store itself was a new platform for Apple. Amazon also sprouted ecosystems from new business platforms: Marketplace, from which third party vendors–who in an earlier age would be considered competitors–can offer their wares on Amazon, creating an ecosystem in and of itself.

In a very similar sense, ecosystem thinking has become a cornerstone of web publishing–the broad swathe of unpaid contributors creating content for the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and other publishing platforms do so in exchange for growing their own individual readership and brand.

Why are ecosystems–and understanding them–crucial to sustainable value creation?

They are the structure that surrounds and supports our businesses. They spread stakeholdership out from the business and into society.

Taken together, constant reinvention process is a combination of inner and outer awareness. We need to know what our timescale is for what we’re doing; we need to know how the competencies we’ve built can extend in new directions; and we need to attend to how our business fits into the larger world. When we do all three, we can be confident, committed and flexible in the value that we create repeatedly.

You can learn more from Faisal Hoque about entrepreneurship at his course How to Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset.

Accuracy Is Everything

A guest blog with Jones Loflin, an internationally recognized speaker, author and trainer.

Wyatt Earp is remembered as being one of the most prominent figures in the taming of the  American West. Born in 1848 in Illinois, Earp had a frontier spirit at a young age. He tried, unsuccessfully, to run away from home several times in his youth, but was always caught and returned to his family. In 1870 he married, only to lose his wife to typhus a short time later. This tragedy fueled his desire for adventure even more and he began traveling throughout the West. He was known for being deadly accurate with his guns.

His most famous gunfight came in October 1881 at the O.K. Corral. It was there that he, along with Doc Holliday and others, challenged the wild cowboy culture that pervaded the West. Earp was the only one in the fight to sustain no injury. Again, his accuracy was his true weapon of success.

Asked numerous times about his amazing ability to win gunfights, Earp was often quoted as saying, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.” Some suggest his actual word was “final” instead of “everything.” Earp mastered the art of moving quickly, but with clear focus and direction. No doubt it saved his life countless times.

“It’s easy, and often commendable to be busy (fast), but working on the right things (accuracy) is what is most important on hitting the target.”

While the days of the Wild West are gone (except for maybe Las Vegas), Earp’s quote profoundly resonates with me about the “execution” of my day. It’s easy, and often commendable to be busy (fast), but working on the right things (accuracy) is what is most important on hitting the target. When the smoke and dust of the day’s battle wanes, accomplishment of our highest priorities is what we should see, not just an accumulation of completed tasks.

Additionally, his quote about being slow in a hurry is intriguing. It emphasizes that in the midst of moving quickly, you MUST have a clear plan of action AND outcome in mind. In Getting to It, Todd Musig and I discuss this need to stop, if only for a second, so you can more clearly identify what your most important next step should be. Just continuing to pick up one task, complete it, and then mindlessly engage in another is not the way to maintain the accuracy between what you say is important, and what you are actually doing.

Lastly, Earp’s quote reinforces comments in my recent blog about the power of routines. It’s a learned routine, or habit, that allows us to be “slow in a hurry” by moving through a systematic process almost mindlessly because it’s become a part of our physical or mental reflexive response. If we have to evaluate, over-analyze, fret, or weigh out a choice of action, our opportunity is gone. And with it our hope of improved productivity.

One quick way to slow down and make a better choice of task to undertake is a quick question like:

  • What task, if completed, would give me the greatest sense of accomplishment tonight?
  • Which of my tasks could best be accomplished with the mental and physical energy I have right now?
  • What task would most benefit the productivity of someone else?
  • What’s my “It” right now? (i.e. Important Thing)

Unless you are in law enforcement or the military you will probably not be engaged in a gun battle today. However, your ability to accurately align your daily actions with your highest priorities will make the difference in whether your goals and dreams move closer to reality…or are wounded by your willingness to just be busy.

Where do you need to slow down to be more accurate in your work today?

To learn more about productivity, enroll in Jones Loflin’s course The Five Keys to Experiencing Extreme Personal Productivity.