Look Back on 2012 and Look Forward to 2013

by Laura Stack

Life is divided into three terms—that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future.” — William Wordsworth, British poet.

If you’re anything like me, you recently looked up and wondered (or said aloud to a friend), “Hey, what the heck happened to 2012?”

As we all know from experience, time really does fly when you’re having fun. When it also flies at work, that’s a good thing, because you know work fascinates you nearly as much as play. Wonderful news, right? Be careful here: just because you’ve kept busy and enjoy what you do doesn’t mean you’ve actually accomplished anything lately. To get ahead, we have to leverage our past experiences to gain an advantage in the future.

So as you close out 2012, take a little time to study what you’ve learned. Ask yourself two fundamental questions when planning for the New Year:
1. How have I changed emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, financially, and socially in 2012 (how can I usher out the old)?
2. What do I want to do more or less of in 2013 (how can I ring in the new)?

Ushering Out the Old

On the work front, look back and consider all the projects you and your team have completed, as well as the status of those in progress. How effective and productive were you? Questions you might ask include:

• Have I left anything undone I needed to complete this year?
• What project(s) do I feel happiest about completing?
• What was my greatest triumph?
• What was my smartest decision this year?
• How about my dumbest?
• What good habits did I pick up in 2012?
• What bad habits did I break?
• Did I pick up any new bad habits?
• What surprised me most?
• What was my biggest lesson learned?
• What was my biggest risk, and how did it turn out?
• Who impacted me most this year?
• What action would cap off 2012 perfectly?
• How could I sum up 2012 in 10 words or less?

Think carefully about each question. Take your time and write down your answers as you go.

Ringing in the New

The future represents the original “undiscovered country,” and one should be well prepared before blazing new trails. So after you’ve weighed the lessons of 2012, consider what you’ve learned and use that knowledge as you move forward. Not only will this help you avoid the stumbles of previous forays, it’ll prove useful in defining new strategies and goals. So pose another set of questions to yourself, facing forward this time:

• What accomplishment would make me happiest next year?
• What do I look forward to the most?
• What things (or people) should I avoid?
• What should I improve about myself?
• What can I do to enhance my professional value?
• How can I better my financial position?
• What external changes are likely to affect me?
• Does my current professional path take me where I really want to go? If not, how can I start changing that?
• Should I make more of an effort to indulge myself in any particular areas…or did I overdo it last year?
• What do I most want to learn this year?
• What do I expect to be my biggest risk?
• What’s my one-word theme for 2013?

Bottom Line

Viewed objectively, these questions have no right or wrong answers; the only answers that matter are those that feel right to you. My list of answers may not resemble yours. The point of this exercise is to learn from the recent past, so you have the proper ammunition and attitude as you charge forward into the future. Happy New Year!

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2013 Leadership Ethical Challenges?

by Frank Bucaro

  During this year, I have spoken for a number of companies/organizations, both here
    and  overseas. No matter what the industry, there were four ethical challenges that
    consistently were mentioned that needed to be further addressed with greater
    intensity and commitment by leadership. Here they are for your consideration as you
    plan your meetings, conventions and training initiatives.
1.    The lack of transparency.
 For example, how transparent are the government structures, decision marking processes, policies and procedures in your organization? Knowledge is power. If you want buy in, if you want people to believe and develop a sense of trust, transparency is key in business today.
2.    The lack of trust.
What’s your word worth as leader? Is your word your bond? Why should they trust you? That’s what is called “charism election.” We have a lot of those people in our lives, i.e. your barber, your dentist, your hairdresser, your doctor, your lawyer, and  how did you hear about these people? “Well, someone told us to go to this barber, dentist, hairdresser, etc.”  then there was a development of trust that  kept you going back to them. That’s “charism election.” You willfully trust because they have proven to be trustworthy over the course of the relationship. Trust is the lynchpin of leadership.
3.    The lack of accountability
How well does your organization do in its accountability for anticipating and responding to ethical challenges? Everyone’s accountable, not just responsible.  Here’s the differentiation between being responsible and being accountable. Being responsible is just, I’m responsible so I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Being accountable  means, I’m accountable to everybody else that I interact with and that adds a whole lot more weight to leadership than just being a responsible leader. Accountability is very crucial.
4.    The lack of stewardship
Here’s the definition of stewardship to consider: stewardship is what we do after
we say we believe.. It’s how your people live out your mission statement, your
values statement, you need to understand in living out that stewardship that
people listen with their eyes, they do not listen with their ears. People will
believe, people will trust, people will be accountable when they see the leader  live the values they’ve been preaching, espousing, writing, incorporating in the mission statement, etc. They listen with their eyes.
So as the economy continues to recover, as we look forward to the New Year, the age of responsibility is now upon us now more than ever and it’s up to all of us to answer these ethical challenges of leadership.
I know what I will be continuing to speak/train on as a focus, on in 2013. What will you?

Savage Truth: Cliff Hanger

by Terry Savage

It’s down to the wire, and they don’t seem to be taking it seriously in Washington.  At least not seriously enough to come up with some middle ground that will change the trend of huge deficits and increasing government spending.

Of course we all know the real solution:  Economic Growth.   A growing economy would reduce the need for government spending on unemployment benefits and to help the needy.  And it would automatically increase tax receipts, because more people would be working and paying taxes into the government.

Instead, what they’re debating is a huge philosophical and political difference over the role of government in America.

On the one side, you have those who firmly believe that the economy would grow if only government would get out of the way.  And on the other side, you have those who equally firmly believe that the only way the economy can grow is if government intervenes to help.

It’s no wonder that there can be no agreement, no compromise, no solution.

So here’s a closer look at what would really happen if, like Thelma and Louise, they lock hands and jump over the edge.

  • The Debt Ceiling    This is one of the two most critical issues we face immediately.  We will bump up against the official $16.394 Trillion debt ceiling by the end of this week!  If the government can’t borrow, it can’t pay its bills or salaries or refinance the Treasury bills, notes and bonds as they come due.   But Treasury Secretary Geithner has announced they can “borrow from other trust funds” to keep government going into mid-February.  Of course, if a corporate executive did this kind of financing, he would go to jail!
  • Unemployment Benefits  Lack of a deal will have a serious and immediate impact on the 2.1 million people currently receiving extended jobless benefits.   (States pay the first six months, and the government has continued those benefits for at least 99 weeks of unemployment.)  If no deal is reached, checks will stop on December 29th.  And an additional 1 million unemployed will lose their benefit checks over the subsequent three months.
  • Your Paycheck  If you’re working, you will immediately see less money in your paycheck in the New Year, for two reasons.  First, the so-called “Bush Tax Cuts” on which your tax rate and withholding are based, will go back to pre-2003 levels.  That higher tax will start to come out of your paycheck immediately.   Perhaps even more devastating to your paycheck amount, the “payroll tax holiday” (the Obama cut in Social Security taxes or FICA) will end, resulting in an additional 2 percent taken out of your gross pay.   Bottom line:  You will have less money to spend.  The government will spend it for you.
  • Your Tax Refund  The refund you expect may turn into a bill for more taxes.  That’s because the “Alternative Minimum Tax>> which makes sure that “rich” people don’t get too many deductions, will have to be calculated for your 2012 income.   An estimated 28 million more taxpayers will face this new, higher tax bill.
  • Your Doctor   Starting in January,  Medicare reimbursements to physicians will be cut by 27 percent, or $11 billion, unless an agreement is reached to extend the current payment levels.  Many physicians may decide not to accept new Medicare patients.
  • State Poverty Programs  The federal government annually sends hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local governments .  That spending would be cut immediately  if no deal is reached –  impacting programs ranging from school lunches to nursing home subsidies.
  • Government Jobs  Without a deal , expect notices of job cuts and pay cuts – ranging from civilian to military,  giving the media graphic ways to illustrate the plight of government workers and the impact on national defense.

These are just the most immediate and visible ways the “fiscal cliff” will impact you, your family, and our country.  They are planning a dangerous game of “Chicken” in Washington, D. C.    There’s some sense that both sides will be willing to actually go over the cliff – head off for vacation, and then let a new Congress deal with the mess in January.  That would leave everything from payroll tax schedules to business expansion plans in limbo, likely causing a dramatic and immediate slowdown in the economy.  A recession.

The real question is whether going over the cliff would actually be better than any deal the two sides might agree upon.  We’ve spent an “extra” trillion dollars every year, above what the government has collected in taxes, to get the economy going.  And we have a very lame recovery.

Will more government spending fix that problem?   Will an agreement to tax the wealthy raise enough money to solve our deficit problem – or will it destroy incentives and slow the economy?

If we don’t learn from history, we will certainly be forced to learn our answers the hard way – by living through this reality check.  And that’s The Savage Truth.

Why Are Japan’s Electronics Giants Failing?

by Daniel Burrus

We recently learned that Sharp Electronics is projecting a $5.6 billion full-year loss. They warned that the company had material troubles and didn’t even know if it could survive.

Panasonic, another classic name that we’ve all bought products from in the past, has a forecast of a $9.6 billion annual loss. This includes losses from products including solar panels, batteries and primarily their mobile handset business.

The third and most classic name of all is probably Sony. They are amazing in that they own the content, the devices (including phones, televisions, PlayStation, and their desktop and laptop computer models), and the content creation component (owning both music and film studios). Yet they are posting a loss of $194 million…for the quarter (not for the year). In all categories, their sales have continued to fall.

In contrast to these three companies, we have companies like Apple and Samsung. Although Apple’s stock has been down in recent months, Apple (as well as Samsung) has been doing well this year.

What’s happening? In essence, Sharp, Panasonic, and Sony have not been using the certainties hard trends offer and instead have been reacting and following instead of anticipating and leading. These three large companies have always been known as innovative, but they’re no longer on the leading edge. They’ve failed the vision test and have fallen to the bleeding edge of innovation.

The terms “leading edge” and “bleeding edge” used to have a different connotation than what I’m giving them today. In the past, the “bleeding edge” meant you were on the cutting edge of innovation. Unfortunately, on the cutting edge, the knife is sharp. You end up bleeding because you make mistakes launching new products, as some work and some don’t.

One of the strategies I’ve always shared with companies is that I don’t want you on the bleeding edge of the blade. I want you on the leading edge of the blade, because there are sharper parts and duller parts of that cutting edge. One way to be on the leading edge, rather than the bleeding edge, is to look at other industries and the innovations taking place there. Then, use those innovations in your industry, where they haven’t been done before.

This way, the innovation has been tried. The bugs have been worked out. The bleeding has taken place by other industries.  And now, by bringing that innovation into your industry, you can be the innovator without doing all the bleeding because other companies have already done that. That’s how you can lead and not bleed.

This is a sound strategy. But when it comes to tech giants like the Japanese electronics firms, they have all failed to use the three change accelerators I described in my book Flash Foresight – processing power, bandwidth and storage and the exponential and predictable trajectory of each one to envision and create the must have products and services consumers will pay dearly to have.  Instead, they have only implemented incremental innovations that make them look like they are following the leaders. As a result, many of their products have a “me too!” look and feel.

Let’s use Sony as an example. One of the problems they’re having is with gaming. Why? Because gaming is increasingly moving to the phone and the tablet, which means that people don’t necessarily need to buy the gaming device in order to have a great gaming experience. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will see an end to those higher-end gaming systems. However it does mean that as phones and tablets get more powerful and tap into the computing process up in the cloud, game unit sales will increasingly have to fight an uphill battle. So while Sony needs to keep creating innovative gaming systems for their high-end customers, they also need to make sure they are porting the software over to work well with innovative peripherals they can sell to smart phone and tablet gamers to create better gaming experiences for this rapidly growing set of users. This is only one small example of how Sony can use hard trends to create innovative new products.

The point is that whether you’re making phones, tablets, e-readers, gaming systems, movies, or anything else, you have to look at where technology is going using hard trends and the power of certainty if you want to anticipate rather than react.   Another simple example is that smart phones are becoming smarter every year, and at an exponential rate. Also, we can store almost unlimited amounts of movies, videos, and games in the cloud. And as the devices become less expensive, the functionality gets even greater. Using these simple hard trends, you can then start to see how to create innovative products that take advantage of the predictable changes they represent.

My message to the Japanese electronics companies is to shift from reacting to change to anticipating it by using the certainty of hard trends to drive game-changing innovations that will position you as a leader rather than a follower.

Weeding Out the Inefficiencies in Your Workplace Garden

by Laura Stack

“There can be economy only where there is efficiency.” — Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister.

All leaders wear multiple hats, with their roles as Coach, Overseer, Mentor, and Good Example fairly obvious to anyone willing to look. But another function often goes unnoticed: that of Caretaker. Leaders don’t just juggle projects and push people to work harder; they also protect their team from any factor that might jam the gears of productivity.

While no analogy can survive over-analysis, you can consider any organizational unit (whether team, department, or division) a kind of garden, where a good leader works to weed out the inefficiencies in the system. This holds true whether those inefficiencies take the form of unproductive employees, bureaucratic red tape, or poorly designed processes.

Both your superiors and subordinates depend on you to rapidly recognize such issues and to deal with them quickly. So keep these tips in mind as you work toward converting your managerial challenges into profitable opportunities.

1. Think lean. The “lean” philosophy has become a watchword in modern management circles. It seems logical enough: trimming away the fat inevitably increases efficiency and the bottom line. But we still haven’t entirely shaken off outmoded workplace philosophies that allow inefficiency to creep in unchallenged. Recognize this obstacle, then adopt a lean state of mind and apply it to every step of your workflow process. Develop a team-wide culture of efficiency and ruthlessly root out bloat.

2. Take advantage of technology. A scientific breakthrough may make what seemed impossible before suddenly easy, immediately rendering an existing process less efficient. Case in point: in the 1750s, no one could travel overland from Boston to New York (about 225 miles) in less than eight hours. Some said it was impossible to ever do better, since no form of transportation could travel faster than a horse’s sustainable top speed of about 30 mph. Then we invented planes, trains, and automobiles. Today we routinely make the trip in a few hours.

3. Evaluate changes carefully. You can improve almost anything, so you’ll no doubt upgrade every workflow process at some point. But take care here. If you think you’ve found something more efficient, don’t yank up the old method and discard it out of hand. Test the new option first to see if it pans out.

4. Make the tough decisions. True leadership means making decisions that benefit the group as a whole, not the individuals comprising it. Unfortunately, this may sometimes mean more work for everyone…or it may mean lay-offs. Your caretaking tasks require you to make such big decisions sometimes, and to do so as efficiently as possible. Take every factor you can into account but don’t dawdle if it comes down to letting someone go. Better yet, invest the time and resources overhauling a process that will improve overall productivity.

Stoop to Conquer

Just because you’re growing a good crop of profits doesn’t mean your garden patch lacks weeds. When you’re working fertile soil, any plant can thrive. And remember: weeds grow fast and relentlessly; if you let them, they’ll eventually strangle the growing crop. So even if you’ve done well so far, take a good, close look at your workplace. If you see any wasteful processes or strategies—any at all—pull on your gloves, kneel down, and start weeding.