March 10, 2019


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we discuss flywheels and how to build these drivers of organizational momentum, questions to identify strategic thinkers, injecting artistic approaches into your work, and triggers for rethinking your organizational structure. Enjoy!


1. The Jim Collins Flywheel

Good to Great author Jim Collins says an overarching theme across all his research is that to build an enduring great organization — whether in business or social services — you need disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and take displayed action to achieve superior results.

At the core is “the flywheel,” mentioned briefly in his best-selling book and now the focus of his latest publication, a 40-page monograph, Building The Flywheel. He uses the concept to focus on the drivers of momentum to achieve success.

“In creating a good-to-great transformation, there’s no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment,” he writes.

Instead, it’s like pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, which with great effort you initially get to inch forward, and as you keep pushing with persistent effort, it turns and eventually builds unstoppable momentum.

Flywheels display inexorable logic, a virtuous circle in which one action leads inevitably to each other step, over and over again.

For example, here is Amazon’s, developed in consultation with his team:

Lowering prices on more offerings drives increased customer visits, which leads in turn to expanding the store and extending distribution, which grows revenues against fixed costs, leaving room for lower prices on more offerings.

Your flywheel need not be unique to your organization. What matters is how well you understand it and how well you execute on each component over a long series of iterations.

“For a truly great company, the Big Thing is never any specific line of business or product or idea or invention. The Big Thing is your underlying flywheel architecture,” he says.

  • For an explanation about how to build your Flywheel, see The Model: Building Your Flywheel (Water Cooler item 6 in this issue).


2. Screening Job Candidates For Strategic Thinking

Every organization needs strategic thinkers. But how do you determine if job candidates actually have that skill?

John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and recruiting specialist, offers these suggestions in Harvard Business Review:

  • Give them a real problem to solve during the interview – an unsolved one or something already puzzled through. Beware of an answer that includes too many tactical steps and not enough of a strategic focus.
  • Ask them to review a flawed strategic plan and identify potential problems. “Since you already know the problems that occurred, it should be relatively easy to evaluate a candidate’s ability to identify potential issues. If the individual can’t find a significant percentage of what you know to be the flaws and omissions, it’s unlikely they are a strategic thinker,” he notes.
  • Ask specific strategy-related questions such as:  How would you go about connecting the dots and identifying the interrelationships and interdependencies in a proposed strategic plan? When you are working on a strategic project, how do you go about identifying the relevant stakeholders across the firm?  Or, what are the steps you have taken during your career to become a more strategic thinker?
  • Look for strategic phrases mentioned in answering your regular interview questions such as “strategic goals,” “multiyear,” and “connecting the dots.” Routinely quantifying their results in dollars or revenue impacts is also positive.

Hiring people adept at strategic thinking can give a boost to your organization.


3. Find Your Artistry

Your business card lists your primary job and title — what you do for a living. But these days, just doing that competently is not enough.

“The ones that seize the promotion, win the deal, delight the client, or make history also embrace a secondary role: artist. While not generally printed on their business cards, the over-achievers among us take this job just as seriously as their issued title,” says entrepreneur Josh Linkner on his blog.

This work involves imagining the possibilities and pushing the creative boundaries of the work. You can be a sales artist, a legal artist, a manufacturing artist, a human resource artist — whatever. Just inject your imagination into the daily work rather than cranking out the traditionally expected stuff.

Steve Jobs had the designers of the first Mac sign the inside of the computer case since all artists sign their name to their works of art. “When we hold ourselves to Picasso-level standards, the art – and the work – makes history,” Linkner concludes.

It’s a refusal to accept things as they are and a willingness to defy outdated traditions.


4. Signs Of Machiavellian Personality Disorder

Here’s a test — do you agree that….

  • “It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.”
  • “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so.”
  • “It is safest to assume that all people have a vicious streak and it will come out when they are given a chance.”
  • “It is wise to flatter important people.”

People with Machiavellian traits — named after the manipulative 15th century Italian diplomat — tend to agree with those statements, according to PsyBlog. There may be a bit of Machiavelli in all of us. Make sure not too much.


5. Zingers
  • Rethinking Overcommitment:  If you take on too many commitments, sales consultant Anthony Iannarino says you are not overcommitted but uncommitted to your goals and dreams. (Source: The Sales Blog)
  • First Day Tips:  On the first day of a job with a new organization, don’t bring things to decorate your office. That could signal you care more about your office than your new colleagues says Babson College Professor Keith Rollag. Also don’t bring your lunch; consultant Liz Wessel says you want to be free to make connections with those new colleagues.  (Source: Fast Company)
  • The Bad Apple Danger:  Research on the contagiousness of employee fraud suggests even your most honest employees become more likely to commit misconduct if they work alongside a dishonest individual. Academics Stephen Dimmock and William Gerken say that tells us the costs of a problematic employee go beyond the direct effects of that employee’s actions, spilling over into the behaviors of other employees through peer effects. A few bad employees can infect a healthy corporate culture. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
  • Know When To Move On:  If a potential client says the timing is not right, stop pursuing him or her after two meetings, advises consultant Alan Weiss. Ask for a referral to somebody else who might be more willing. (Source: Alan Weiss’s Blog)
  • A Jury Of Your Peers:  At Amazon, people can appeal their potential firing — being put on a performance improvement plan — to a global jury of their peers in a video trial. But the odds aren’t in the appellants’ favour; they lose 70% of the time. (Source: The Ladders.com)


6. The Model:  Building Your Flywheel

Here are Jim Collins’s directions for creating your organizational flywheel, a key strategic-operational framework (see item 1 above), from his new book Turning The Flywheel:

  • Create a list of significant replicable successes your enterprise has achieved. Look for new initiatives and offerings that have far exceeded expectations since that will help you to understand the flywheel.
  • Compile a list of failures and disappointments, including new initiatives that fell far below expectations or failed.
  • Compare the successes to the failures and ask, “What do these successes and disappointments tell us about the possible components of our flywheel?”
  • Identify four to six key elements that seem to drive success and sketch how they might come together in a continuous, virtuous circle. Where does it start? How do the other elements interconnect and build momentum as you return to that starting point in the cycle?
  • If you have more than six components it’s too complicated. Consolidate and simplify.
  • Test the flywheel against your successes and disappointments, tweaking until it explains how your biggest successes arise from this loop of activities.
  • Test the flywheel against what he identified in Good to Great as your Hedgehog Complex. Does the flywheel fit with what you’re deeply passionate about? Does it build on what you can be the best at in the world? Does it help fuel your economic or resource engine?


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
    Triggers For New Org Structure

In our practice we sense a new urgency for public-sector and non-profit organizations to reconsider how they structure their business and governance models.

Much of this is being driven by financial constraints, changes in government funding approaches, and new policies that favour “market” scenarios over traditional program funding. Scores of agencies are revisiting their models.

Some examples we’ve noted in the past few weeks:

  • The need for scale in a competitive environment (often combined with pressures driven by new technology) has prompted some organizations to look at merging or amalgamating into a new, larger entity.
  • The need to streamline senior administration and overheads:  For budgetary reasons, some government-funded services are exploring ways to have a single CEO manage two or more of their organizations, or share other key staff. This reduces management-heavy administrations, trims costs and moves resources to the front line or developmental projects.
  • The need for new operating structures to support new business models:  Some agencies are dropping programs (no longer subsidized or funded) or moving to fee-for-service or earned-revenue models to build resilience and sustainability. Others are developing formal levies to sustain their revenue flow.
  • The need for integration to make best use of collective resources:  Many community agencies have traditionally offered similar or overlapping services. Now feeling the squeeze, they are negotiating collaborative frameworks so each can do what they do best, which reduces duplication and makes best use of public funding. We’re also seeing structural adjustments where government staff have taken over work once performed by volunteers.
  • The need to resolve conflicting priorities to become more nimble:  We’re also familiar with at least one organization that’s redesigning its structure and strategies to transcend the sometimes conflicting priorities of the private-public partnership (social enterprise, developer and municipality) that led to its creation.

While the forces for change may vary, concern about their potential impact is triggering a review of governance, policy, strategy and operational structures, often involving complex negotiations with other parties. These public sector and non-profit organizations are reinventing how they do business.


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8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support research / stakeholder consultations, strategic planning processes, change and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8. Closing Thought 

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson later.

— Vernon Law