Express Executive Education (E3)

Posted on September 4, 2015

I recently competed a research binge, the purpose of which was to better understand the life cycle of companies.  I started by converging all my past experiences with startups together (written out long form) and then posited some hypothesis about my experiences and the experiences of those I’d talked to first hand.  Then I started asking questions and researching each topic.  This study included small but important definition questions, such as “What is the definition of a ‘small’ company versus a ‘medium’ company”, and large questions, such as “What is strategy and how do you implement it operationally?”  For each question I started with various business text books used by Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, Stanford Business,  Northwestern’s Kellogg, etc, then looked at popular business books over the last 100 years, and then used courses available on sites like Coursera and Lynda to see what was being taught, and then rounded it out with lectures from prominent speakers of each topic on YouTube.

The study was intense and fruitful.  I always feel a sense of completeness when I successfully identify key themes that are repeated again and again in various sources in different contexts.  Rather than squander this knowledge, I am sharing it here, structured in a way that allows each topic to inform and build upon the previous key concepts.  I believe that understanding these concepts well and internalizing them can give anyone, particularly with an operational mindset, a jumpstart into understanding the broader business, role of executives, and how we all fit into the organizations picture.   Since I love to name things, I’ll call this the Cuddletech Express Executive Education, or E3.  To be clear, there is lots more to learn, but these are the foundational topics on which all others can be built, and a failure to appreciate these topics will lead to scattershot implementations.

The Business Model

Understanding a business end-to-end has always been a difficult task.  The 2010 book Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur changed all that.  The business model canvas presented in the book provides an incredibly elegant tool for thinking about your complex business in a straight forward way.   Not only will it help you understand your business as a whole, it can be applied to individual teams within an organization (I’m doing it with mine), and even with you personally (see the book Business Model You)!

If you’ve never seen the business model canvas before you may be tempted to brush it aside or trivialize it, but I promise that understanding it and how it helps you look at the world around you will absolutely revolutionize your thinking.

The following video will give you a concise introduction to the canvas and help you become immediately productive with the book.

Business Model Canvas Explained

“A Startup is Not a Small Version of a Big Company”

Steve Blank, author of the infamous The Four Steps to the Epiphany, is the father of most of the practices we consider essential for startup success. Eric Ries who created the famous The Lean Startup, learned everything from Steve and then built on top of it. Minimum viable product (MVP), Pivots, Customer Exploration, etc, all came out of Steve’s work.  Steve’s first book was slapped together as a text for the classes he was teaching and he’s created a highly honed version in his latest book The Startup Owner’s Manual.

What I’ve found fascinating is that while Steve’s books are great, most of what I’m excited about is found in his talks.  The following talk explains in depth the various types of startups and companies, their nuances, and modes of operation.  All this ties back to the business model canvas.

The most powerful idea to watch for here is the 3 different phases of a company: Search, Build, and Execute.  These phases related directly the the business model.  Understanding these phases well will allow you to recognize and understand the behavior of most companies almost instantly!

Steve Blank on Customer Development: The Second Decade

The Theory of Disruptive Innovation

Now that you understand a business fundamentally based on its business model and you can recognize the types of businesses and have the tools from Steve Blank to create and evolve your model, you need to next understand disruption.  Why is it that new companies can come out of nowhere and unseat big players?

Start by watching this short summary video to become familiar with the subject.

Watch & Digest “The Innovator’s Dilemma” in 4 minutes – Video Book Summary

Dr. Clayton Christensen is the author of The Innovators Dilemma.  He provides us a theory for understanding innovation in the market and a variety of tools for understanding our customers and how we can innovate ourselves.  

Dr. Clayton Christensen: Disruptive Innovation Explained:

Additionally, Dr. Christensen has uncovered a fascinating way of viewing product fit by using the notion of “hiring a product to solve a problem”. Here is a short clip in which he explains:

How Strategy Really Works

Strategy is an essential aspect of any business and the sacred province of top executives, under which all employees succeed or suffer.  Most books on the subject tend to suggest that strategy is a black-art that can’t be understood completely.  Most of the text-books are absolute crap and popular business books on the subject are a waste of paper.

The best, most straight-forward, and fully compatible with the above topics approach to strategy I’ve found is presented by Lafley and Martin book Playing to Win.  This is a book I frankly don’t recommend, it tells you more about how Proter and Gamble do business than about strategy itself.  Thankfully you can learn what you need to in the first 30 minutes of the following presentation.

The important takeaways you’ll get here are that strategy should be simple and focus on 5 key related decisions, the most essential of which are “Where to Play?” and “How to Win?”  If you have come to understand the business model canvas well, you’ll immediately see how these decisions relate directly to your business model.

Roger Martin’s How Strategy Really Works

Translating Strategy into Action 

Objectives & Key Results (OKR’s) have become an increasingly popular tool.  They provide a simple, straightforward means of conveying expectations in a way that anyone can understand.  Google uses OKR’s extensively and in the following presentation you’ll get a great understanding of what they are, how Google uses them, and you’ll get ideas on how you can create them for yourself and your organization.  When used together with the above knowledge, they can be very powerful.

(Please note that OKR’s can absolutely be abused; I pass no judgement.  They are important to understand, how you use them is up to you.)

Startup Lab workshop: How Google sets goals: OKRs

 

Conclusion

If you watch all of the content above it’ll take you 5.5 Hours.  That’s a big commitment, but I feel confident that they will take your understanding of business, particularly tech business, to the next level.  Buying the books or listening to the audiobooks will help you as well, but I feel generally the lectures I provide will give you a deeper understanding than you’ll get even from the books.  You need to understand all these topics, but there are only 2 books you absolutely should buy: The Startup Owner’s Manual and  Business Model Generation.  If you really get the hang of Business Models, then follow it up with Value Proposition Design.

With all this knowledge assembled together and fully understood, you will be in a better position to lead your organization, understand what is happening around you and to you, and you’ll have light years more business knowledge than those around you.  You will understand the shape and rhythm of business, and once you understand that foundation, everything else can be easily learned and built upon it based on your specific environment.