The Management Prophet

“Capitalism is being attacked not because it is inefficient or misgoverned but because it is cynical. And indeed a society based on the assertion that private vices become public benefits cannot endure, no matter how impeccable its logic” .

It’s amazing this was written almost 60 years ago (1954), but it was.

“We no longer even understand the question whether change is by itself good or bad… We start out with the axiom that it is the norm. We do not see change as altering the order… We see change as being order itself – indeed, the only order we can comprehend today”.

This is how someone would describe the digital age, or today’s financial crisis. But it was written in 1959.

“Large organizations cannot be versatile. A large organization is effective through its mass rather than through its agility. Fleas can jump many times their own height, but not an elephant”.

Mark Zuckerberg could have used this to describe Facebook’s small development teams. But it was written in 1969, way before he was born.

“An employer has no business with a man’s personality. Employment is a specific contract calling for a specific performance… An employee owes no “loyalty”, he owes no “love” and no “attitudes” – he owes performance and nothing else… The task is not to change personality, but to enable a person to achieve and to perform”.

This very much describes millenials, doesn’t it? It was written almost 40 years ago (1974).

“A manager’s task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weakness irrelevant – and that applies fully as much to the manager’s boss as it applies to the manager’s subordinates”.

This is from 1992, more than a decade before John Kotter explained how to manage your boss.

“An organization is “sick” when promotion becomes more important to its people than accomplishment of their job – when it is more concerned with avoiding mistakes than with taking risks… The moment people talk of “implementing” instead of “doing”, and of “finalizing” instead of “finishing”, the organization is already running a fever”.

Adizes would probably embrace this notion. It was written in 1959, three decades before his Corporate Lifecycles was first published.

“There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer”.

Although this was written in 1954, I’m sure Instagram would agree.

The last quote may have revealed the identity of our prophet. That man, of course, is Peter Drucker.


The first and last quotes are from The Practice of Management.

The second and sixth are from Landmarks of Tomorrow: A Report on the New Post-Modern World.

The third one is from The Age of Discontinuity.

The fourth is from Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices.

The fifth quote is from Managing for the Future: The 199s and Beyond.

Thinking Digitally

William Gibson was spot on: The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. As technology develops exponentially, consumers’ behavior evolves arithmetically, and companies change linearly, the digital divide between corporations and their consumers widens. We live in a digital world; digital thinking is a key skill that any C-level executive should possess, and digital principles should permeate every facet of the business. Yet in many organizations we still find a mid-level marketing manager responsible for digital activities, sometimes developing “digital strategy” for various brands.

But it shouldn’t be about “digital strategy” for a brand – it should be about Strategy (with a capital S) for a company. It’s time we moved from digital (as a specialized discipline) to digital thinking.


Several years ago, Design Thinking was all the rage. “At its simplest level,” IDEO President Tim Brown explained in an interview, Design Thinking is “about using the processes that designers have used for many years but applying them to a broader set of challenges both in business and society.” Although the logic was impeccable, Design Thinking was unsuccessful beyond the confines and minds of IDEO. But that logic is, in my eyes, a valid one; the same logic should be applied to Digital Thinking. Digital Thinking is about using digital principles and applying them to business in general.


So what does it mean to think digitally? What are those principles that should serve as filters through which today’s managers view the world and approach their business? Here they are, somewhat logically ordered:

1/ Think network

A digital world is a connected world. Thus, at the core of a digital world is the network, and when building or transforming a business for a digital world one must follow the rules of the network (hey there, Metcalf), connecting both people and things. Successful digital-world-businesses control the access to key network interfaces.

The currency of the network, of course, is the link. In a networked world, I link therefore I am.

Questions to ask: How has the network changed your business – and how can your business leverage the network? Can you own a network interface?

Role model: IBM’s Smart Planet.

2/ Think collaboration

Dialogue, conversation, participation, collaboration, open innovation, co-creation, crowdsourcing, UGC, P2P – call it what you will. The network allows businesses and people to collaborate at scale like never before.

Questions to ask: What parts of your value chain can be transformed thanks to collaboration?

Role models: P&G’s Connect+Develop, Guardian’s Open Journalism, Kickstarter, Linux.

3/ Think sharing

Collaboration starts with sharing, and sharing seems to be growing exponentially in a digital world – see Zuckerberg’s Law. Social networks should really be called sharing networks – there is no social (or social graph for that matter) without sharing, and people’s willingness to share is a major driver behind Facebook’s ascendance. The sharing of individual and group actions, photos, interests, and physical goods and resources isn’t done just for sharing’s sake – it also serves the need for identity building and signaling [see principle #7].

Questions to ask: What shared content/actions/goods have the potential to affect your business?

Role models: Facebook, Pinterest, Airbnb, Zipcar.

4/ Think context

Meeting and engaging stakeholders at the right time and place – i.e., in the right context – is a key success factor for any business, even more so in a digital world. Location and mobile are the “where” and “how” of context, which explains their huge importance; together they serve commerce (recommendations, coupons, deals, mobile payments), content (mobile as a 1st and 2nd screen) and creativity (photo sharing). Add in “social” and you get a truly potent mix (hence SoLoMo, although I prefer ShLoMo – much more catchy, and follows the logic of the previous principle). The recent proliferation of proximity/serendipity-based social networking is a case in point.

Questions to ask: What are the key contextual markers (timing, location, motivations) the fulfillment of which will drive your business?

Role models: Instagram, Path, Foursquare.

5/Think now

If location and mobile are the where and the how of context, now is the when. A digital world is a word of live, real time, on-demand fulfillment. “Now” services are instant and seamless. Seamlessability (invented that one just now) is a key issue from the consumer’s point of view – think about areas like mobile payments and content delivery.

Questions to ask: How can you make your business/product/services more instant? How can you make it seamless?

Role models: Twitter, Tesco Homeplus subway virtual store, Amazon Web Services.

6/Think data

Predictive analytics. Machine-learning algorithms. Contextual businesses rely on data. BIG data. They analyze huge swaths of it, structured and unstructured, using massive cloud databases.

Data is today’s Intel inside. The war between Google and Facebook, Google and Apple – heck, Google and everybody else – is, to a large extent, war over data. Interface control relies on data

Consumers care about data, too. Data visualization is becoming more and more important. In the future we’ll talk about the data experience.

Questions to ask: What does your business do with all that data?

Role models: Google Translate, IBM Smart Planet,

7/Think human

The more we become digital, the more we rely on data – the bigger the need to stay human. “Human” means personal/ized. It means authentic and transparent. It means interesting, and memorable (hence curation). It means private, yet social (fine line there, which Facebook keeps moving). It means playful (hence gamification). And it means physical.

Questions to ask: How can your business convey human-ness?

Role models: Pandora, Microsoft Kinect, Siri, Zynga.

8/Think simple

Keep it simple, stupid. Make stuff that “just works”. Seamlessly.

Questions to ask: How can you simplify your product/service?

Role models: Apple, Square , Dropbox

9/Think “free”

In a digital world, free can take many forms.

Free as in “free beer” (gratis).

Free as in “free-in-exchange-for-ads/your-privacy”.

Free as in freemium.

And even free as in freedom – to share/copy/incite a revolution (libre).

Information does not always want to be free. But it certainly helps.

Questions to ask: What type of free/dom does your business stand for?

Role models: Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote

10/Don’t think – DO


You’ll notice the principles are not mutually exclusive – they overlap and interconnect in myriad ways. Industries that move along the digital/technological curve incorporate an increasing number of those principles – the car industry is an interesting example (networked, data intensive, mobile/location vehicles); whereas disrupted industries experience a “sudden principle onslaught” to which they are unable to adjust. Mind you, with technological tools and platforms changing constantly, the principles keep evolving as well; but one needs to differentiate between the principles on one hand – and the tech/tools that serve them, on the other (mobile and cloud computing, apps and APIs, 3D printing etc.).

The Disruptor’s Dilemma

First, go read this.

Think about it. What Paul Graham describes is The Disruptor’s Dilemma – that is, The Innovator’s Dilemma but from the point of view of the disruptor.

Take search, for example. The Google search engine has become a feature-bloated high-end machine. A disruptor would enter with a simpler, smaller, “low-performance” solution. That’s exactly what Graham is describing.

Hope to write more about this in the future 🙂

My Top 10 Seth

It’s been almost ten years to the day that Seth Godin has started his blog (the first post is from January 31, 2002). So it’s only fitting (as well as delusional) to try and make a Top 10 list of his best posts.

Although I’ve been privileged to sit down for an interview with Godin several years ago, I do not presume to know his work better than others. The list you’ll find below is completely subjective. And I haven’t gone back to research all of his posts – instead, I’ve used three criteria:

1. The post influenced my thinking or my work

2. I frequently find myself coming back to the post

3. I quote it or cite it to convince clients 🙂

Coincidentally, the list consists mostly of posts from the past 5 years or so, and all are from his main blog (not this or that, although both are recommended reading).

So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 Seth, with some comments. Would love to get replies with your favorite Seth posts!

1. Marketing

Yes, the first one is actually not written by Seth, but by venerable VC-investor Fred Wilson. This might seem an odd choice unless you read the post and then read the first comment – a comment by none other than Godin himself. His comment succinctly sums up, in non-academic layman’s terms, what marketing is. And sheds a light on the fact that people, even extremely smart ones, tend to confuse advertising with marketing.

2. What do you know?

Marketing 101. Every person who’s interested in or works in marketing should read this.

3. Fear, hope and love: the three marketing levers

Strong brands (should) use at least one of those levers. Apple, the strongest brand in the world, inspires all three.

4. The simple first rule of branding and marketing anything (even yourself)

Branding 101. A brand is what it does, not what it says. So if it does say anything, it’d better do it. If a brand just says it – that’s Trustiness, not trust (the difference between Caveat Emptor and Emptor fidem). Another related post is the honest broker: as an example not mentioned in the post, Google is slowly but surely breaking its promises to the user.
Of course, the brand’s promise should be a relevant one – one that is in alignment with customers’ expectations. And no, a slogan isn’t a promise – for most brands it’s become a meaningless line with zero recall.

5. Thinking about business models

Business 101. It’s really tough to have answers for those 4 questions. Those answers often require making real choices, otherwise the discussion is abstract and useless. The innovator’s dilemma often results in failure to make those choices (or to make the right choices), as the music business has learned. And no, you can’t always test those choices. You need guts.

6. Open conversations (or close them)

Customer service 101. It’s tough to choose among Seth’s musings on the subject, so this choice was somewhat random. These two are great as well: “…but what really blew me away” and Winning on the uphills.

7. Naming a business

Naming 101. Also this. Both make the point, by the way, that people tend to overestimate the importance of  a short URL (or, relatedly, owning the exactly-spelled domain). The unimaginable number of people searching for “Facebook” on Google is the ultimate proof.

8. The brand, the package, the story and the worldview

Packaging 101.

9. Timing rewards

This is about our current culture of instant gratification. But it’s also a beautiful insight about value. From the consumer’s point of view, it’s the road from “What have you done for me lately?” to “What’s in it for me, right now?”.

10. Which are you

The default is not competent. It’s mediocre. It’s average. Which encapsulates the previous nine.