By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
As you’re no doubt aware, Twitter’s future is at stake. Having put out a ‘please buy me’ sign and had no takers, once golden-boy CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that the company will lay off 9% of its workforce and shutter (or sell off) its once-lauded video platform, Vine.
How did Twitter, one of the foundational pillars of social media, fall so far from grace?
While Facebook – once derided by Twitter users as a frothy upstart – now has over 1bn daily active users, and revenue of over $17bn (compared to Twitter’s 320m users and around $2bn in revenue)?
The Curse Behind Twitter’s Decline
Interestingly, the genesis of Twitter’s demise goes way back to its very earliest days, when it was run by the current CEO, Jack Dorsey, together with his co-Founder, Evan Williams. (The third ‘founder’, Biz Stone, wasn’t active in day-to-day management.)
From that moment on, Twitter has suffered the curse of co-CEOs: competing vision. Put simply, a company cannot survive with competing visions at the top, and Twitter’s entire history has been a succession of competing visions.
First it was Dorsey and Williams (Dorsey ‘won’, and Williams was forced out). Then it was Dorsey and Dick Costolo (William’s replacement). Again, Dorsey ‘won’, with Costolo leaving in mid-2015 and Dorsey being hired back by the board as CEO for the third time.
By now, Twitter surely deserved (and desperately needed) all of Mr. Dorsey’s attention and vision, but incredibly, the board allowed Dorsey to also remain active CEO of Square, his other start-up.
In an amazing act of hubris on Mr. Dorsey’s part, and stupefying denial on the part of the board, the company was relegated to being a ‘side gig’ for its CEO.
The Consequences to Come
The lesson? You can’t spend your energies fighting competing internal visions and hope to survive – just ask RIM and Yahoo shareholders, both of whom saw their companies crippled forever by early competing vision.
And for poor, unloved Twitter – what happens next? Watch for either a mercy sale (someone buys it for next to nothing and turns it into a ‘feature’ of some other product or service), or a quiet transition from product to ‘public service’ a la Netscape/Firefox. It sure ain’t going anywhere else.
Summer’s beginning here in the northern hemisphere. For most, it’s a time to relax and recharge.
Whether you have vacation plans, or are hoping to catch up while your team members take off, it’s a perfect time to fit in some summer reading.
Since there are so many great titles to choose from, we thought we’d share some of our favorites – both for business and for fun.
Take a look at the suggestions below, and let us know which ones make it on to your list of “must-reads”!
A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. has declared 2015 a year to ‘reset’ the company’s vision. It isn’t going to work, whether with Shrek on his side or no. Why? Two main reasons.
1. Delusion doesn’t scale.
2. Superheroes don’t scale (and I don’t mean the sort Mr. Katzenberg features in his movies).
Consider this 30-second, 2-decade recap of the history of DreamWorks:
1994: Katzenberg leaves a storied career at Disney to found DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen (hence the ‘SKG’). The industry is a-twitter (albeit before Twitter) about how transformative the new studio will be in overhauling the then-moribund studio model of picture production.
2004: DreamWorks Animation is spun off and goes head-to-head with Pixar in the battle to take over the world of successful animated movies. By many measures, it wins (Shreks 1 through 3; sundry Madagascars; endless Monsters V Aliens; a zoo full of Kung Fu pandas, etc.)
2014: After a series of massive flops, including “Turbo”, “Rise of the Guardians” and “Penguins of Madagascar”, Katzenberg initiates two sets of takeover discussions (with Hasbro and Softbank), both of which come to nothing. The company makes a loss of $263m in the final quarter of the year. Katzenberg subsequently cut 500 jobs (a fifth of the workforce) and instituted a significant management shakeup.
So, what’s going on here? How can such a formerly high-flying, iconic organization come so close to crashing and burning?
The answer comes in a couple of easily missed observations in a recent lengthy article on the subject by the Wall Street Journal (and in much more detail, if you like gossipy business books in Nicole LaPorte’s lively account of the history of DreamWorks, ‘The Men Who Would Be King’). Notice these observations by people who worked closely with Mr. Katzenberg from the WSJ article:
“I would read his blog and get exhausted,” says a former DreamWorks production coordinator… She noticed a pattern: The busier Mr. Katzenberg was, the more off-track the studio…seemed to her and fellow production managers. “The creative confidence wavered because of his absence.”
“His peripatetic itinerary reflected a desire to branch into multiple platforms and industries—from television to publishing, theme parks to YouTube, mall attractions to children’s toys.”
“Evidence Mr. Katzenberg was overtaxed showed …[H]e was there “when he could be,” says one. “He was spread in a thousand different directions. He was basically running an empire. When ambition and capacity began to hurt each other, it might have happened around that time”.
Essentially, Mr. Katzenberg has a Howard Schultz problem (and, not coincidentally, a Michael Dell one), which is that heroic leadership doesn’t scale.
The answer? Jeffrey Katzenberg can re-org all he wants, and he can somehow find an extra two days in the week to do everything he wants to do, but until he learns to de-personify his vision and drive it deep into the company, he’ll still be pushing a rock uphill.
Sound familiar? Have you started to institutionalize your vision? Or are you still trying to scale your superhero powers (and your self-delusion)?
Discover how to drive vision and leadership throughout every level of your organization. Learn more here.
A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
Last week, as Bill Gates watched the company he founded come to the end of a clumsy, inarticulate search for a new CEO, he stepped back in to the front line wagering that his personal presence can help revive its momentum – sagging at best, but hopelessly lost, more likely.
This isn’t an uncommon pattern. In 2000, Howard Schultz stepped down as CEO of Starbucks, only, pointedly, to return in 2008 with a mandate to rescue the company’s plummeting stock price and insistently bad press.
Michael Dell has been through the same process, as has Ted Waitt at Gateway and Jerry Yang with Yahoo – none of them with any lasting success.
The desire of founders to leave a legacy is both understandable and widespread. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, almost the first words out of Jobs’s mouth are that he wanted to ‘…create a company that…would outlive [him].’ We are – right now – watching in real time to see if that will happen.
So how come founders (mostly) have a lousy record when it comes to building a lasting legacy? Why is it that when Schultz, Dell, Waitt and Jobs (the first time he left Apple) departed, the vision left with them?
Well, the reason is just that – in each case, their company’s vision was personified in them. When they left, the vision went too.
Which is a little strange, when you think about it. No CEO worth their salt (or founder, for that matter) would leave the day-to-day operations of their company vulnerable to such a loss of key personnel. The CIO doesn’t get to walk off with the company’s IT infrastructure when they leave. The business’s accounting processes don’t disappear when the CFO retires. Warehouses, product and trucks don’t evaporate the same day the EVP of Logistics goes to work elsewhere.
And yet, again and again, we see exactly that happen with the organization’s vision: the core beliefs that sparked the organization into existence, and carried it to great success, walk out the door when the founder steps down.
So the question is this: If you want to leave a legacy, what are you waiting for?
The time to start is now. ‘Later’ is too late. Take a look at your calendar – what’s on it that involves you consciously, overtly, avowedly institutionalizing, de-personalizing, your vision?
If the answer is ‘nothing’, then what you’re building isn’t a legacy. What you’re building is the complete opposite: you’re building a culture of dependency. Dependency on you.
Yes, it’s great to be wanted. It’s comforting to be needed. But neither will build a legacy.
A version of this article first appeared at Inc.com.
Visionary leaders like to communicate – a lot. Whether glued to their cell phone, firing up Skype, chatting face to face or just grabbing whomever happens to be passing for a rapid-fire brainstorm, you’ll rarely find them lost for words.
But just because a leader talks a lot doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good at communicating. In fact, many leaders confuse eloquence with clarity, and as a result, often leave the people who work with them bedazzled by their verbal dexterity, but entirely confused about what to do next.
Here are the four cardinal sins of eloquent miscommunication. Which of them are you guilty of?
1. Talking to think.
Visionary leaders (those who think strategically and work with the big picture, as opposed to ‘operator’ leaders who are more focussed on tactical detail) use their verbal communications as a tool to think.
As result, having a ‘discussion’ with a visionary leader often means little more than being present while they externalize their thought processes – and while a seasoned employee or colleague who is used to such monologues learns simply to smile and nod at the appropriate moments, those less seasoned – those who assume they are involved in an actual discussion in which they expected to engage – can find the process entirely bewildering.
And it’s not just bewildering – ‘talking to think’ is also highly demotivating: Frustrated that their attempts to engage are either ignored or glossed over, bemused that their colleague has just talked herself into her own solution, puzzled by the pointlessness (from their perspective) of the exchange, the recipient is often left feeling like a stooge who has been used, rather than a colleague with valued opinions.
2. Setting up Aunt Sallys.
Visionary leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty – they rarely feel the need to grab for an answer as soon as an issue or problem comes along. As a result, they’ll often set up one or two Aunt Sallys – notions, ideas or proposals that are merely hypotheses – a starting point (in their eyes) for rich discussion.
The problem? The ‘Aunt Sally’ comes wrapped in the usual Visionary eloquence and passion, leaving their colleagues unsure whether or not this is indeed just a jumping off point, or a genuine proposal that they are intended to act upon.
3. Encouraging ‘debate’.
Unlike their ‘operator’ colleagues (who prefer action and eschew unnecessary discussion), visionary leaders enjoy nothing more than a robust debate. They like to engage in verbal conflict – as we’ve seen, it’s how they think things through.
Unfortunately, what, to a visionary leader looks like a healthy, profitable exchange of views often appears to others to be little more than a fruitless argument, with all the associated interpersonal fallout: personal attacks, bruised feelings and ruptured (or at least somewhat strained) relationships.
4. Providing the answer.
Ever listened to a friend or spouse sharing a problem then find yourself prating back at them with your brilliant solution – only to find that they didn’t want your clever answer – just a sympathetic ear? That’s the visionary leader on steroids.
Because their leadership identity is tied up in being creative and thinking strategically, visionary leaders find it well nigh impossible to talk about something without providing at least one – often multiple – ‘brilliant’ solutions. Encouraging others to think through issues for themselves, or simply being there as a supportive colleague is not their strong suit. As a result, visionaries often find themselves being bypassed by others who aren’t looking for a clever idea or an innovative solution – but who just want encouragement and fellowship.
Thankfully, the answer to these four pitfalls is straightforward. In my experience, simple awareness is the key. If you recognize in yourself any of these traits, grab a notepad or journal and for one week monitor your interactions with others. After each meaningful conversation, simply jot down the name of the person and the topic, and tick off which trap you fell into. You’ll soon find yourself recognizing these traits in advance and correcting accordingly.
Apologies for the Yoda-like speech pattern, but a brilliant Processor doth not a Visionary make.
Some Processors are truly geniuses in how they use their P skills, but the sheer brilliance they exude in doing so is not the same as being a Visionary – even though, at first glance or from a distance they might look the same.
Some companies – especially in the tech arena – are suffering from this category error. It took Jerry Yang almost 15 years to work this out (even though Yahoo [YHOO] shareholders got there long before he did). Everybody realized it in the case of Bill Gates at Microsoft [MSFT] (including I think, Bill Gates himself). I believe time will show it to be true of Larry Page at Google [GOOG].
Tech isn’t alone in making this mistake, mind you. Vikram Pandit is a P struggling mightily at Citibank [C] at a time when it desperately needs a V. Leo Apotheker fooled no-one in his short, ignominious stay at HP [HWP].
That’s not to say there aren’t times when a Processor isn’t the right person to lead a company – BP [BP] needed one a decade ago, and if it had one, it might have avoided the recent spill disaster. JetBlue [JBLU] needed one coming out of the David Neieleman Whitewater experience, and Netflix [NFLX] could do with one now. Almost all of Japanese industry benefitted from Processor leadership in the 80’s.
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve got a Visionary leader when you’ve actually got a pyrotechnically brilliant Processor – it’s a very expensive mistake to make.