The Six Centers (simplified)

Culture, as they say, eats strategy for breakfast. I sometimes use the Venn diagram above to point out that successful leaders must work on the culture, not just within what the current culture will allow. This simple model connects with another one that I use frequently called the Six Centers. My original Six Centers blogpost had a long preface and several deep dives, but for anyone interested in a more concise version, it would go something like this: All businesses have six “centers” that compete with each other for attentional resources. These centers are features of human organizations, not bugs—they…

Gesamtkunstwerk

I. In the mid-nineteenth century, German composer Richard Wagner, inspired by the ancient Greeks, began advocating for a synthesis of all art forms—drama, music, dance, poetry, spectacle—into what he called a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. His vision came closest to realization in his 17-hour Ring Cycle and in his Bayreuth opera house, which he had custom-built to stage his epic works. The design of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is innovative and meticulous. Famously, the giant orchestra is nested underneath the stage, which allows the singing actors to project over Wagner’s dense scores without barking or straining their voices. Orfeo…

Trauma center

I think of my professional craft, and my professional interest, as “unlocking human energy.” Over the last decade or so, as the logical continuation of that interest, I’ve become increasingly focused on trauma. Trauma arrests human energy. It prevents individuals, groups, and societies from flourishing. The traumas I am thinking of include a range—from developmental traumas of neglect and abandonment, to extreme violence, to daily mundane dissatisfactions and thwarted expectations, to giant historical injustices. Trauma wants our acceptance and understanding. As an intrinsic part of the human experience, it is both the obstacle and the path. Trauma triggers the undifferentiated…

The Six Centers

All individuals and groups have finite attentional resources. These attentional limits constrain what organizations can do, including their efficiency, ambitiousness, insightfulness, and success. As I’ve said elsewhere: “In his wonderful and occasionally heady book The Ecology of Attention, Yves Citton writes that ‘we never have the means to pay enough attention’ and so we end up paying attention to what preoccupies others. Limited attention leads to groupthink: we pay attention to what others in the group pay attention to, reacting to and in the context of other people’s priorities, in an endless feedback loop. Attention, in other words, is ‘an…

Scaling a small business

It’s very easy these days to start a small business. It’s very difficult these days to scale a small business. In my earlier post “Becoming #1,” I used a crude model to talk about the competitive environment and growth trajectory for all organizations: I noted that every organization, at every level of scale, must become either the market leader or the thought leader for their niche or category. And I was almost but not-quite explicit about the zigzag path all organizations take as they grow: To sum up: An organization starts as a niche player with a narrow and precisely…

The Three Machines: Nonprofit Edition

In an earlier post, I shared a model, adapted from Brad Feld, that describes all contemporary organizations as having “three machines.” Each of these machines is in fact a funnel—moving clients along a journey, turning interested parties into brand advocates and dollars into sustainable strategic advantage. With a few nomenclature tweaks and clarifications, this model works not just for private sector organizations, but for nonprofits, too. The Programs machine Though some nonprofits sell products, most are primarily services businesses, so our Product machine needs a new name. An arts organization might label this machine “Programming,” and some other nonprofits might…

Growing up

Note: This article is the concluding post in a four-part series about growth. Following World War II, the United States enjoyed unprecedented economic success as a victor of the war and the only major nation that did not suffer homeland infrastructure losses. In the US, the post-War period included an expansion of worker rights but hit a turning point in roughly 1968 which began the dismantling of those same rights. We now refer to the dominant monetary-economic philosophy of the past 30-50 years as “neoliberalism.” Among other things, it included a commitment to private sector deregulation, financialization, elimination of worker…

Hypergrowth basics

Note: This article is part three in an ongoing series about growth. The past twelve years have seen major changes in how Silicon Valley startups talk and think about growth. Around the time of the 2007-2008 financial crash, a set of integrated technologies (mobile, wifi, cloud, open source, HTML 5) reached what Carlota Perez calls the Deployment phase of maturity, sparking a new, long boom of technological innovation and VC investment. The FANGA companies and their children—AirBnB and Uber, and dozens of SaaS startups—have been the most obvious beneficiaries and leaders of this new phase. With this change in the hardware…

Growth basics

Note: This article is part two in an ongoing series about growth.  Let’s start with some timeless principles. All businesses grow like this: Geoffrey West has modeled this curve mathematically, and per his research, it’s consistent for all SMBs, all startups, all nonprofits—all businesses. Organizations are not perpetual motion machines, of course. They are complex systems. If they don’t respond to new stimuli and find ongoing sources of fuel, they expire. Once an organization has avoided its problems for too long, the slope changes: This becomes a transition moment where new goals must be set, and internal systems must be…

Growth by any other name

“All the new thinking is about loss. In this it resembles all the old thinking.” – Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas” Anyone working in the startup ecosystem today is well aware that the word “growth” has become ubiquitous, leading to the rewriting of many former job titles and the proliferation of new ones. For those promoting or seeking these jobs, there is an exciting sense that something new and important is breaking into view. A lot of the new thinking around growth has in fact been smart and timely. If you’re working outside of tech, or outside of the private…

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