The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success
What Does it Take to Get Ahead Now—And Stay There?
High performance has always required shrewd strategy and superb execution. These factors remain critical, especially given today’s unprecedented business climate. But Rich Karlgaard—Forbes publisher, entrepreneur, investor, and board director—takes a surprising turn and argues that there is now a third element that’s required for competitive advantage. It fosters innovation, it accelerates strategy and execution, and it cannot be copied or bought. It is found in a perhaps surprising place—your company’s values.
Karlgaard examined a variety of enduring companies and found that they have one thing in common; all have leveraged their deepest values alongside strategy and execution, allowing them to fuel growth as well as weather hard times. Karlgaard shares these stories and identifies the five key variables that make up every organization’s “soft edge”:
- Trust: Northwestern Mutual has built a $25 million dollar revenue juggernaut on trust, the foundation of lasting success. Learn how to create an environment that engenders trust and propels high performance.
- Smarts: In most technical fields your formal education quickly becomes out of date. How do you keep up? Learn how the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University women’s basketball team, and others stay on top by relentlessly pursuing an advantage through smarts.
- Teamwork: Since collaboration and innovation are a must in the global economy, effective teamwork is vital. Learn how global giant FedEx stays focused and how nimble Nest Labs relies on lean teams with cognitive diversity.
- Taste: Clever product design and integration are proxies for intelligence because they make customers feel smart. But taste goes further into deep emotional engagement. Specialized Bicycles calls it “the elusive spot between data truth and human truth.” How can you consistently make products or services that trigger these emotional touch points?
- Story: Companies that achieve lasting success have an enduring and emotionally appealing story. What’s your company’s story? How do you tell it your way? Gain the ability to create a powerful narrative in a world where outsiders often exercise the louder voice.
the largest insurance market in the world, the United States. In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart’s character, banker George Bailey, never got rich. But many of those Northwestern Mutual financial reps have become middle-class millionaires by showing up, sticking to it, and mainly trusting. TRUST IS THE FOUNDATION OF GREATNESS Trust has many definitions, but I like to think of it as confidence in a person, group, or system when there’s risk and uncertainty. When we trust, we
let’s trust our people. We created a strategy which radically changed the way we innovate in order to become much more agile and much, much faster. A lot of that was putting aside our pride as managers and letting people loose. We had to trust that they would be able to find a faster and better way alone than when headquarters tried to help them.” That was the key idea—small teams empowered to make their own decisions. “It’s not important whether it’s exactly eight or ten or twelve people,”
societies; the history of narrative begins with the history of mankind; there does not exist, and never has existed, a people without narratives.”2 Some of the earliest evidence of storytelling comes from the Lascaux Caves in southern France. Created between 15,000 and 13,000 BC, more than two thousand figures, mostly animals, were painted by Upper Paleolithic hunters. Using iconographic methods of analysis, anthropologists who’ve reviewed these paintings believe that one particular composition
thing goes with Amazon, which now is offering daily delivery in certain markets. The execution needed to make this happen is the sum of a lot of numbers. Are the airplanes on time? How fast is each plane unloaded? How fast are the conveyor belts moving? Speed is also crucial to new product development. In Chapter Five, I describe how giant software firm SAP blew up and then reconfigured its team approach to cut product development time by 60 percent. Cost: Not all companies compete on having the
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