Week 239 in Detroit. This week was back-to-back work and flew by to the point that I’m still not sure I’ll make it through today without a nap. I know it’s cliché to mention how busy one is but it did define my week this week. I am trying hard not to be defined by busyness but I’m just so damn curious all the time. I want to know more, learn more, hear more and (too often) eat & drink more. Hopefully my busyness is the good kind — that of a full life — and not the arbitrary kind or the made-up kind.
Is my busyness productive and the result of energy & curiosity or noisy and interfering with productivity?
I thought it was fun to start there because this week and this week’s Saturday Cup of Joe feel a bit like a series of questions and answers.
For instance, one question that came up this week was about leadership –
when you delegate work to others or are delegated work from a leader how much do you think about the authority required to complete the thing?
One of the biggest areas of frustration in organizations is trying to do something without the resources needed to do it right.
Do you have authority or perceived authority or both?
Misalignment between a team member’s perceived level of authority and other’s perception of their authority is deadly.
This week consider how your team perceives their ability to achieve clear goals versus the actual ability. (I’m talking to myself here, obviously).
How are you thinking about building fair and equitable teams, specifically technology teams?
A couple of months ago, I included an article written by my friend & colleague, Damon Carter, about how to ensure our companies are following up on commitments to diversity & inclusion in all we do. Specifically, the tech industry can and must do a better job including women and African-Americans in career opportunities and building resilient, diverse, and equitable cultures within our companies.
As part of his 4-part series, Damon’s third installment is titled, “Ready, Set, Change: Building a Fair, Equitable and Just IT Culture.”
Here are the 3 steps that stood out to me: launch, align, persist.
1. Launch new leadership competencies
2. Align diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) efforts with management priorities
3. Transforming the culture takes time. Be patient but determined.
“Good corporate leaders aren’t intimidated by complex and ambiguous circumstances experienced in the workplace. Instead, they’re often drawn to such defining leadership moments, particularly if doing so authentically aligns with their personal values.” — Damon Carter
Is ‘go big or go home’ real advice?
When playing Zoom trivia with your friends, “go big or go home” is the only way to play if you want to win. When evaluating big tech or banking or economic development, the advice is often get smaller.
Since there’s an exception to every rule, one global exception to the get smaller rule are the FAANG companies. Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google. According to this Medium.com post, Amazon and Apple are not just getting bigger but doing so with vigor. Despite that the growth may attract or intensify existing attention from regulators and Congress, Amazon, in particular, continues to grow and influence more and more of our lives. It’s never bothered me because I feel capable and empowered to make my own choices about what devices I want or need and who I choose to do business with. I’m not one for scare tactics around big tech.
That said, I’m fascinated by this question of scale.
For instance, I came across the exact opposite advice for banks and small towns this week. Getting smaller. Focusing on a core niche or unique set of features that no one else has is what got me excited.
One reason it has me excited is the implications for businesses, entrepreneurs and creators.
Let’s start with a personal example. One such creator is Dana Miles Frost, the founder of the Forced Joy Project. As many readers of Saturday Cup of Joe know, my best friend Brad was diagnosed with rare kidney cancer less than 6 months after we moved to buildings over from him & his wife, Dana, here in Detroit. 101 days after his diagnosis, Brad moved on from this world. After we lost Brad, grief was difficult to navigate and understand. It still is.
This week, Dana launched the 12 Days of Griefmas to help anyone, but particularly widows, experience and understand grief during the holidays. It’s brilliant and helpful. What occurred to me, even as I follow the advice, quotes and offers that are included, is that Dana has a specific voice resonating with women, particularly young widows who are women. It makes sense given that was her personal experience. I am always trying to imagine Forced Joy as this global movement and, for sure, it may be that someday. But I, go big. The beauty of what Dana is doing is how specific it is and how universal it is at the same time. We all experience grief — these quotes and images can help us all. At the same time, there is added depth to Dana’s followers and readers who are themselves young widowers.
Please follow and support The Forced Joy Project. Use it to share with friends who may need a check-in.
Another example of offering a universal service with a specific depth or meaning is financial services. There are thousands of banks, thousands of financial advisors, and thousands of apps. Instead of focusing on building a giant, global bank, banks and fintech companies should be looking to create a meaningful customer base first. Racontuer.net is a new destination for me on the web, but I can assure you that I’ll be checking it out regularly now. This week Daniel Thomas wrote:
A key lesson from [the financial crisis of 2008] is that bigger is usually not better when it comes to banks, says George Magnus, the former senior economic adviser to UBS. “I’m not sure you can or should want to build a new tier-1 bank today to compete with say Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan or HSBC. These are the models we should be trying to move away from.”
Going small is not only a path to success but could be good for the global economic system as well.
This is obvious to many community banks in the US who have been operating exactly this way for years.
Where many smaller banks miss the mark, however, is being just smaller versions of giant banks. Where the opportunity lies is identifying and maximizing the niche.
“They should also look for niches where they can get a higher return using technology [to cut costs]. So do less small and medium-sized enterprise lending, which is high cost as you need to deeply assess the risk, and focus more on mortgage lending where you can automate the risk assessment process,” Magnus says.
That’s why you don’t see a bunch of articles from bankers on how fintech can revolutionize their business — they don’t see it yet. These banks do not realize that tech innovation does not have to be implemented in every area of the business. But it cannot be ignored.
Thomas writes, “Big banks have a patchy reputation when it comes to customer service and innovation, unlike their more nimble fintech rivals that are gaining market share. So any new tier-1 bank would have to have innovation and good user experience at its core, particularly as tech giants like Apple and Facebook make further inroads into the sector.”
The bottom line is that while it’s not impossible to imagine a tier-1 bank taking on the global giants, the more likely and apparently healthy alternative is niche banks meeting the needs of their specific audience.
Economic development in smaller cities:
The last example from this week was power of a main street in small(er) towns and cities. Yes, not Main Street in the socio-political sense, but an actual main street in the center of town can spark economic activity and save rural communities. According to Brookings, the key is “concentrating and investing in community assets in downtown commercial corridors, with the goal of supporting a cluster of locally owned small businesses, fostering an accessible entrepreneurial ecosystem” will improve the “quality of life and promote an inclusive sense of place that not only retains but attracts residents.”
That says it all. A sense of place is built on access, opportunity and unique characteristics of place.
Isn’t that what we’re all trying to build whether it’s a business, a team, a city?
Applying those principles in product development or economic development bring out what’s most powerful in our human experiences — people and place.
Is it true that people are leaving cities and will never return?
“It is very unlikely that the pull of the city will significantly change. Cities, economic development, wellbeing and cultural enrichment of society go hand-in-hand. People thrive when they cluster together… The greater the number of people living in a town or city, the more and the higher quality the cultural, leisure, healthcare and other services and experiences. Small-town life is small town life for a reason.”
Quote: “Dogs bark at what they cannot understand.” — Heraclitus
People are going to criticize you. They are going to resist or resent what you try to do. You’re going to face obstacles and a lot of those obstacles will be other human beings.
Heraclitus is explaining why. People don’t like change. They don’t like to be confused. It’s also a fact that doing new things means forcing change and confusion on other people. So, if you’re looking for an explanation for all the barking you’re hearing, there it is. Let it go, keep working, do your job. My other favorite line from Heraclitus is: “Character is fate.” Who you are and what you stand for will determine who you are and what you do. Surely character makes ignoring the barking a bit easier.
Continued success and continue to answer well,