Posted by yoonsie in The Economist, talent management, research, promotion, motivation, listening, leadership, knowledge workers, IT management, Innovation, critical CIO skills, control, career, business/IT alignment, Business practices
Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe: "Nothing happens until it gets sold."
The latest Technology Quarterly in the December 12 issue of The Economist profiles the career of Bob Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. Ambitious IT executives would do well to take a thoughtful read, because here is a larger-than-life example of someone who, though not an IT chief, embodies that magical combination of qualities that makes a CIO in demand. A brilliant technologist who invented the Ethernet at the tender age of 27, Metcalfe was enterprising (he founded 3Com Corp.) and adroit in communication. Indeed, he understood that communication was what turned great technology into money. For Metcalfe that money was his personal fortune, but the same concept applies to technology and business profitability. "Nothing happens until it gets sold," he tells The Economist. Even a technology as compelling as the Ethernet didn't make Metcalfe a zillionaire until he got the likes of Digital Equipment, Intel, Xerox, Sun, and even Microsoft behind it. (Incidentally, before settling on "Ethernet," names batted around for the networking technology included "Bulletin Board," "Parliamentary Procedure," and "Lazy Susan.")
As a venture capitalist, he again proved to be a masterful communicator-this time in the board room. One strength that served him in heated debates was the ability to listen to and understand the other side of the argument. A former boss at a startup that was dropped from Metcalfe's portfolio observes to The Economist that "he could very clearly synthesize everyone's perspective in a brief statement."
Finally, upwardly mobile IT managers might note the qualities that enabled Metcalfe to navigate deftly a succession of disparate careers. The Economist identifies these traits as the "ability to observe, synthesize and improve things." Internet pioneer Vint Cerf puts it this way: "Some call it luck. But Bob has an ability to detect and take opportunities. And he is willing to take risk."
Two Leadership Ideas from the December Issue of Harvard Business Review
It's the annual innovation issue, and if you don't normally read HBR, this is probably the one you may want to pick up.
1. "To Be a Better Leader, Give Up Authority" -A.D. Amar Carstem Hentrich, and Vlatka Hlupic
Thought leaders have long proposed that companies can improve innovation and performance targets by relinquishing leadership control and instead establishing non-hierarchical, issue-focused teams that make organizational decisions. Yet the evidence was thin until now. In this article, the authors discuss the cases of two companies that took just that approach in response to challenging situations-when giving up leadership control seems especially counterintuitive.
Taking stock of poor financial performance in 2007, CSC Germany, a division of the global IT consultancy loosened control and employed peer-group supervision at its Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Unit. By April 2009, ECM's revenue rose sharply and continue its rise.
Telecom-component provider ANADIGICS passed on authority to employees in 1998 based on their adaptability to market changes and allowed them to make faster decisions. Within two years, the authors report, quarterly gross margins were up by an impressive 50 percent.
Leadership, the authors found, "is not really about delegating tasks and monitoring results" but "imbuing the entire workforce with a sense of responsibility for the business."
2. "Create Three Distinct Career Paths for Innovators" -Gina Colarelli O'Connor, Andrew Corbett, and Ron Pierantozzi
Helping your best thinkers with their career paths isn't just about keeping them happy and keeping them from leaving. It ultimately puts in place a lasting innovation pool within your team. Research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (where Colarelli O'Connor and Corbett are associate professors) shows companies "fundamentally mismanage their innovation talent." Typically they rotate their best innovation managers in and out of leadership roles, giving these contributors broad experience but little opportunity for promotion to real leadership. Not only are the innovators denied leadership roles, but companies themselves are deprived of much needed innovators at the senior level.
The authors posit that innovation comprises three phases: discovery, or finding opportunities in the marketplace and exploring technological solutions to fill those gaps; incubation, which entails experimenting with technology and business to develop new value-creating business; and acceleration, or developing new business to maturity. Each phase offers a distinct career path for different types of innovators. The discovery path, for instance, might offer bench scientists a seat at the policy table, involving them in conversations about technologies' potential influence on the company's future. In the incubator path could allow these innovators to pursue technical project management at a more sophisticated level, managing larger projects or leading a project portfolio. The accelerator would be well served by pursuing a leadership path in a particular function or even move into general corporate management.
Most companies assume their top innovators will get promoted with the success of their projects. This doesn't happen, say the authors, and in fact sets the company up for failure.
Download: The Unemployment Rescue Kit
Finally, from Tech Republic, when an IT program manager lost his job for the first time in his 15-year career, he buckled down and set off on a systematic job search that landed him a new position within 40 days. In the process he developed a job-search system that includes tips, actions, and a "contact matrix"-all packaged in a .zip file for other IT managers. Download it here: