Every CEO Should Read This Study

The leaders with whom we spoke described today’s leadership context as one where it is increasingly challenging to foresee problems, where the problems they do identify are more multi-dimensional in nature and the solutions required to address them are more complex and where the power required to address these problems must increasingly come through influence as opposed to formal authority. Additionally, these CEOs emphasized how difficult it is to lead effectively in a context where the shelf-life of information is unstable, the interconnection of information resources is non-linear, access to information is uncontrollable and the source of true differentiation lies in figuring things out as opposed to finding things out.

This study from Duke University neatly sums up just about everything we need to know about leading in the modern-day context, and every CEO should read it. The authors touch on a number of Undercurrent’s 7 rules of a responsive organization: embrace uncertainty, redistribute authority, and process information. It’s not surprising to see these study results, but it is exciting to watch the conversation grow.

Communicating Your Company’s Purpose to Potential Clients

Still called 37signals at the time, the company opted for a blank white landing page on its inaugural site. No background. No images. No slogans. It displayed one thing only: A short, snappy manifesto in list form that rattled off ’37 nuggets of online philosophy and design wisdom.’

‘We didn’t lead with the work. We led with our ideas and our minds, and the customers who believed in what we were saying and doing came. It was unusual and it gave us permission to do a string of other things that were unusual, and that why we’re still here 15 years later.’

Basecamp offers some tips for success that are meant for startups, but are nevertheless worth considering regardless of the size of your company. A few of these are predictable — “let your employees work wherever they want, anywhere in the world” and “don’t be self-centered,” for example — but one of these in particular seems like a very curious approach.

“Tell customers what you can do for them, don’t show them,” suggests this article. The strategy Basecamp describes appears to have worked well for them, but whether that’s likely to be universally successful is hard to say. What is redeeming about this approach, however, is the underlying logic: that the most important thing to communicate to potential clients is not so much a product pitch, but the guiding purpose and values behind the company.

Google’s Bizarre Interviewing Process

For over a decade, when Google conducted job interviews, they’d ask their applicants questions that have no answers. Google is a company whose very existence depends on innovation—on inventing things that are new and didn’t exist before, and on refining existing ideas and technologies to allow consumers to do things they couldn’t do before.

Contrast this with how most companies conduct job interviews: In the skills portion of the interview, the company wants to know if you can actually do the things that they need doing.

But Google doesn’t even know what skills they need new employees to have. What they need to know is whether an employee can think his way through a problem.

As we know, Google is the major thought-leader on talent strategies in the 21st century, and it owes much of its success to the way it thinks about hiring. Companies should follow Google’s lead by hiring talent that is creative, flexible, imaginative, adaptable, autonomous, and collaborative. Learn why Google uses a bizarre interviewing process to identify that kind of talent — and how you can do it, too — in this article.

Entrepreneurs Talk the Importance of Empowering Employees

My fellow co-founder and CEO, Patrick Keeble, helped transform the company inside and out. He transitioned us from a free-for-all culture to a professional one. We hired an HR company and rewrote our employee handbook to better reflect our values and expectations from one another. But most of all, we empowered our employees to be in control of how we communicate and relate to our customers, and to also more greatly impact where we would take our software next.

In this piece, entrepreneurs share their greatest startup challenges and lessons learned, which are relevant not only for startups but also for established businesses. In fact, their experiences could be especially useful to big companies that are perhaps unable to see the immediate effects of their choices on the fate of their business, unlike very small companies.

The major takeaway of the article, repeated by many of these entrepreneurs, has to do with empowering your staff to take ownership of projects, creating an enjoyable work environment that makes them want to stay, and relinquishing control to specialized talent. Just another lesson in why the traditional corporate hierarchy needs dismantling.

Improve Every Aspect of Your Business by 1 Percent

Most people love to talk about success (and life in general) as an event. We talk about losing 50 pounds or building a successful business or winning the Tour de France as if they are events. But the truth is that most of the significant things in life aren’t stand-alone events, but rather the sum of all the moments when we chose to do things 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. Aggregating these marginal gains makes a difference.

Here’s a great mindset to guide us all in pursuing goals: rather than focusing on major successful events, stay focused on the daily habits and behaviors that will help get you there. Make minor improvements to absolutely every aspect of your business, and see how that changes the larger picture.

The Effect of the Network Effect on Delivery Startups

‘The reason it is such a good idea now is the exact same reason it was so horrible before: the network effect,’ said Nabeel Hyatt, a venture partner at Spark Capital, which has invested in Postmates, a courier service that delivers from any store or restaurant. Not even half of American households had an Internet connection in 1999; today 98 percent have access to a connection. And it certainly helps that customers and couriers all have smartphones. This means a higher density of users and potential users, who can instantly reach couriers whenever they are in need, eventually leading to scale.

Even though delivery services have failed miserably in the past, a new crop of delivery startups out of Silicon Valley are hopeful, assured that they are responding to new circumstances that change the game. And the tide has certainly turned — the prevalence of smartphones and GPS technologies provide a platform on which these companies may be able to build a robust business.

The question is still one of scale, as it was in the 90s, but the network effect may be able to provide solutions that weren’t available then.

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Uber’s Smart Move to Share Its API

Uber is releasing the API in two distinct ways. The first, which is open to all developers, will allow apps to send a destination address across to the Uber app – similar to the existing integration with Google Maps – as well as access Uber pick up times, fare estimates and the user’s trip history.

The second also includes the ability to actually request rides from inside other apps. To control demand and, presumably, the overall quality of the user experience in other apps, Uber says it’s releasing this ‘in a more controlled fashion,’ beginning with a select set of partners.

Uber has realized its potential not only as a product, but also as a platform. When other companies are able to use the Uber API and even integrate Uber services into their own app functions, the result will be a win-win-win — customers will appreciate the ease of the user experience, and both companies will benefit.

The idea of releasing the API, rather than guarding it as company property, probably seemed terrifying to some team members. But the potential growth that could result from it may be astounding. Competitors are likely to be left way behind, if customers won’t even have to open a separate Uber app to order a car. All kinds of companies would do well to think about their own potential as platforms, rather than straightforward products or services.

Tips for An Agile Business

The challenge for entrepreneurs whose business is growing is to find a way to stay agile while continuing to scale. However, the simple act of adding more people means communication tends to get more difficult. Companies have to work extremely hard to maintain their transparent atmosphere, keep everyone in sync, and make sure teams are moving in the same direction.

Here are 3 excellent tips for maintaining open communication as your start-up grows, from the founder/CEO of Porch:

- Transparency: Embrace the open office environment

- Accountability: Make everyone’s goals visible to everyone else

- Prioritization: Company-wide meetings

‘Burnerpreneurs’ Are A Great Example of Opportunistic Innovation

‘Even though you need no money out there, which is great, you need to do all of this shopping beforehand—all of your camping gear, food, shade, duct tape, body lights so you don’t get hit by a car,’ says Karla MacGregor, proprietor of a personal shopping service called The Burner’s Market. ‘People using my website’—mostly Burners flying in from distant locales—’spend $700, easily.’ MacGregor is part of a crop of ‘Burnerpreneurs’ who have turned their love for Burning Man into businesses that cater to like-minded customers. The Morris Burner Hotel, a new ‘member-based hotel for the Burner community’ in Reno, is another example.

Here’s a great example of how a company can create a platform on which others continue to build. Burning Man provides the festival infrastructure, and “Burnerpreneurs” take advantage of the environment to launch their own ventures, some of which make a good deal of money for themselves.

Burning Man itself is disinterested in making a profit off these spin-off businesses, just as it is disinterested in selling $10 bottles of water to festival goers. But that’s exactly what continues to make Burning Man appealing to its audience; if it tried to slap a logo on everything, it would conflict with the culture and values of its target market — and not to mention, it would take half the fun out of it.