Wall Street Journal Archives - TAB Corporate

Goodbye Boardroom: Meeting Styles are A-Changin’

Keep the Board, Change the Room

by Jennifer Rosen

It’s probably not every businessperson’s idea of the best part of the work day: the business meeting. It can be boring and long-winded, people might be afraid to express opinions—all sorts of reasons. However, the time of the dry and monotonous business meeting are over.

Nilofer Merchant, who serves on public and private company boards and has worked for major companies such as Apple, tells Wired she conducts one-on-one meetings as walks. So what about taking notes, using a whiteboard and cell phone reception? Technology, Merchant stresses, isn’t the key factor in a successful meeting. Sure, it can help facilitate a meeting, but it’s not what drives a good meeting.

One-on-one interactions, says Merchant, allow people to explore ideas, connect with each other and developed a shared purpose, and for those, nothing beats a side-by-side walk. Merchant also says many people wait until the meeting to share information, which wastes time going over “background” during the actual meeting. She recommends sending information in advance, which facilitates a better discussion by allowing people to form ideas and ask other people their viewpoints.

See how Bob Parsons handled meetings when he ran GoDaddy.com. Parsons founded Go Daddy, the world’s biggest domain name registrar, and was the CEO for many years. The company has annual revenue of about $350 million and manages 32 million domain names for about six million customers around the world. So, you can imagine Parsons was a pretty busy guy. He told Inc.com, however, that he was almost never behind his desk. Instead, he spent most of his day meeting with his staff. He’d sit at a cafeteria-style conference table, which he bought for $90, and about a dozen chairs. The utilitarian furniture conveys the right attitude, Parsons says: functional and cheap.

Meetings are more than just tables and chairs, though. As GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons says, “You don’t spend your money on office furniture—you spend it where it’s going to impact your customers.” Parsons says he managed everything from a 57-inch monitor hanging from his office ceiling, which he accessed with a wireless mouse and keyboard. Set to Go Daddy’s home page, a program tracks the company’s current market share and how many domain names it registers daily.

The Wall Street Journal also acknowledges more business meetings are literally “stand-up jobs.” For example, Atomic Object, a software-development firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., conducts company meetings first thing in the morning with nonwork chitchat kept to a minimum and everyone standing up. The object of such a meeting, according to the WSJ, is to get rid of long-winded meetings where people pontificate, play Angry Birds on their cell phones or simply tune out.

The meetings rarely last more than five minutes, after which employees perform a quick stretch and get on with their day, Atomic Object vice president, Michael Marsiglia, tells the WSJ. Such meetings have been found to be effective. The WSJ says Allen Bluedorn, a University of Missouri business professor, conducted a study in 1998 that discovered standing meetings were about a third shorter than those than involved sitting, with the quality of decision-making about the same.

So not only can business meetings be shorter, they can be just as effective, and without all the chaff — and the fancy, expensive chairs.

How about you?  If you find yourself leaving the boardroom for board meetings, what’s the preferred venue?

Jennifer Rosen is a cross-country runner, a small business advisor, and freelance writer who lives in Boston. 

 

 

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

The Innovator’s Dilemma is an Opportunity for The Little Guy

Steve Jobs popularized The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen in his biography. As far as business books go, it’s a demanding read. It explains how the most successful businesses in an industry are constrained to the point where they can’t successfully launch disruptive technologies. Instead, smaller, more agile competitors are better poised to take the lead in that arena.

Cover of "The Innovator's Dilemma: When N...

Cover via Amazon

When I first opened the book, I expected an Alta Vista or a Lycos to be featured. These were some of the early popular search engines replaced by Google. Instead, the author begins with Sears! Sears is struggling badly now. At one time they were the gold standard for a well run business in the U.S. They had the best store concepts, the best products, and the best management. Yet, because of the constraints success in existing markets forces on successful companies, Wal-Mart was able to launch the disruptive technology that has rendered Sears almost obsolete.

This not only has happened to Sears but to countless market leaders. Steve Jobs studied this dilemma and Apple became one of the rare market leading companies able to consistently introduce disruptive technologies. The chief reason for this is that Jobs focused on great products first and profits second. The typical market leader has struggled. The Innovator’s Dilemma identifies the following key obstacles:

  • Companies depend on customers for resources; therefore these customers have a large say in the decision making within the established company.
  • Established companies need to maintain their position within their existing markets. Small markets, which provide the opportunities for disruptive technologies, don’t solve the same growth needs of large companies.
  • Emerging markets which don’t yet exist cannot be predicted. Therefore the market analyses established companies are so good at doing is not relevant.

What happens then is that established companies are trapped by their current market success and their decision making does not allow them to place a significant priority on creating new markets through disruptive technologies. This creates the opportunity for smaller emerging companies to leapfrog the established firms. Think of how Google jumped over the bigger players in the search engine market.

What are the established companies to do?

The Innovator’s Dilemma suggests they either establish a separate company which can serve as the innovation arm, or partner with companies who can innovate for them. Many companies have begun to explicitly build in “tinkering time:” company time where their staff can basically play with new ideas and hopefully come up some market-moving innovations. This approach has some question marks as well (see The Trouble With Tinkering Time from the Wall Street Journal).

The Innovator’s Dilemma is written from the large incumbent’s standpoint. It provides advice and strategies for large companies to recognize and deal with this very significant threat to their position. Now what we need is the guide for the up-and-comer. If the large incumbents are vulnerable and small, aggressive, ambitious companies are better poised to create new markers through innovative technologies, what can the little guy do to take advantage of this opportunity?

I can’t claim to have the answer. But here are a few thoughts on the key attributes of disruptive technologies from Mr. Christensen:

  • Product competition proceeds through four phases: functionality, reliability, convenience,and finally price. Be sure you have great functionality with an eye toward succeeding with the other three attributes.
  • Disruptive technologies are typically simpler, cheaper, more reliable, and convenient than established technologies.
  • Established firms waited until their product innovations were suitable for their existing market or a known market. In contrast, the emerging companies did not wait and instead created a new market for their product. These markets started small, which made them unattractive to the incumbent, but allowed the innovators to first get established and then to move up market.

If you are an innovative company feeling you have an idea or product that can knock off the incumbent, these attributes of disruptive technologies are important to be aware of. The other thing I would recommend is to bear in mind there are no rules of business which ensure the exiting behemoths will always be there. Sears was once the best company around; Wal-Mart didn’t even exist when Sears was in its heyday.