Growthink Blog

The Unreflecting Organization – Not Worth Having


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Every time I moderate a strategic planning retreat, I learn something.

About myself.

About the investment of life force necessary to build and sustain a successful organization in the modern business day.

About the importance of heartfelt and mutually supportive communication among and between an effective executive team.

About how there is no more efficient use of business time than to step away from the day-to-day, to reset, and to talk about the big “whys “of an enterprise.

And from this talk, to refresh, refine and define the best, most strategic, and highest ROI use of executives’ time and of an organization’s capital.

I have the great, good fortune to moderate 1 - 2 of these “big” strategic planning retreats each month. 

This past week, the group was the eight person executive leadership team of one of the larger and more prestigious hospitals here in Los Angeles.

A dynamic and highly experienced group, these eight executives have management and leadership responsibilities for over 1,500 hospital employees - providing care to over 17,000 patients, including 4,000 deliveries and 8,000 surgeries annually. 

Yes, these executives have their strategic and tactical hands full to the highest degree.

In addition to the sheer scale and breadth of their organization and of the truly life and death impacts of their decisions, they also must grapple with and adapt to the sea changes beyond their control in our brave, new healthcare world.

The Affordable Care Act.

Payor consolidation, driving down reimbursements.

An increasingly Byzantine thicket of regulatory, liability, and organizational complexity that can easily make a hospital executive feel that even their best work will and cannot “tilt the windmill” toward high quality and cost effective care.

But here’s the inspirational rub of it all…

The bigger the challenge, the more engaged does become the effective executive.

And in this hospital executive team that I had the privilege of working with this past week, well they were engaged and committed at the highest level.

How so?

Well, how about this - in spite of having a more than a century of collective experience, and having to travel from their homes an average of more than 50 miles through Los Angeles rush hour traffic, all eight members of the team arrived at the retreat 30 minutes before its scheduled 9:00 am start!

Or, how about the fact that the organization’s CEO, in spite of being on the job for 17 years and being honored as one of the nation's top hospital CEOs, seeking critical feedback from a staff member on the job less than 90 days?

How about a willingness to, in spite of leading a wildly successful and highly respected 100 year old+ organization, to in an afternoon agree to scrap the team's existing meeting structure and try something completely new?

And my favorite, how about a willingness to take on the challenge of fundamentally rethinking the performance review structures of their vast and complex organization, knowing that yes, doing so will result in far more work on their already stretched plates, but committing to it as it is in the profound interest of the organization's mission and reflective of its values to do so?

And that is all that matters.

These kinds of discussions, and of course many more of the highly confidential, and often heated and pointed type, resulted in a high emotion and results-packed retreat day.

Undertake this work like our fair and fine hospital executives did this past week and watch the magic happen.

And, of course, ignore it at your peril.

Because, as Thoreau once famously said an unexamined life is not worth living.

And an unreflecting organization will, in the end, almost always turn into one not worth having.


Freedom is Just Another Word…


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Compared to its original intent, Memorial Day has become an overly “leisure” - focused day.

Rather, it is a day where we can and should take pause and remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy our blessed, modern lives.

Along with President's Day, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving, Memorial Day is one of the Big Four quintessentially “American” holidays.

Yes, days to step aside from our normal work routines and responsibilities, to relax, to have fun, to spend time with friends and family.

But also days to "pay forward" the sacrifices of those that gave their lives, in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, “so that that nation might live.”
 
And a great way to pay it forward is to stand strong for freedom.

Freedom is a word that too often has become stripped of much of its inherently spiritual meaning by politicians and others seeking to further narrow agendas.

And, also too often, a distracted (and distraction-seeking) populace has let them get away with just that.

But freedom stands alone as the highest of all of the great “American” virtues - this country’s revolutionary gift to the cultures and economies of the world.

Now, to the degree that the success of the American experience has inspired freedom worldwide - such that economies and cultures and lives of people in places like China, India, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, parts of Africa - that until recently have been clothed in medieval darkness, poverty, and rigidity...

... well then if freedom perishes here in the years to come, it will go on living elsewhere to a degree and on a scale many, many multiples greater than on these shores.

And yes, that is inspirational in its own right.

BUT it would not make it any less discouraging and dare I say sinful for those us blessed to be born and living in the cradle of freedom to let it perish here.

Or, as badly, to not take full advantage of the opportunities for self-expression, self-actualization, contribution, and prosperity this freedom affords.

And, of course, on this Memorial Day it would also be highly dishonorable to those who gave the ultimate sacrifices to preserve and protect it.

So how can one rightfully honor this gift of freedom?

Well first from that simple, profound place of gratitude and thanks.

But build on that.

Stand up for justice.

For good, limited, effective and neighborly government.

But stridently and ever vigilantly against corrupted, self-serving, expanding, "celebrity" and far away government.

And when it comes to work, knowing that freedom’s truest modern, civic expression is in the realm of private enterprise.

The realm of business.

Of entrepreneurship.

So go for it.

Think. Plan. Act. Do. 

To the fullest of our ability and with all of our effort.

In the service of noble missions and visions that call to us.

And when done to the fullest of our ability and with all of our effort…

…well on this Memorial Day then, we are honoring the sacrifices of those so they truly did not die in vain.


Lesson I Learned this Weekend


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I had the great good fortune this past weekend to co-host Growthink's Business Blueprint Live event at the LAX Sheraton Hotel, next door to our Company’s Los Angeles offices.

At it, 53 entrepreneurs and business owners gathered for two days and nights with the Growthink team to dream, plan, and network as to how to best grow the revenues, increase the profits and better fulfill the missions of their businesses.

What is really neat is that because of its longer group and in-person format, there is time and space to really listen and, correspondingly, to share best business practices, ideas, and inspirations.

Golly - what a weekend!

The attendees that ventured from near and far and from the comforts of their homes and regular routines took a chance.

The chance that by "mixing it up a bit," that breakthroughs would follow.

And they did.

From the aerospace engineer developing new quality assurance processes that make the engines that fly our planes safer and more efficient, to the software entrepreneur helping community banks better manage their loan portfolios (and by so doing freeing up more capital to lend to entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow their companies and create jobs), to the doctor re-designing the nature of care to focus more on prevention than cure, new and powerful business ideas and tactics were hatched and committed to.

And I was reminded of an old wisdom that I forget way too often.

It goes like this: when there is something “nutritious” in my life and business that I am resisting, it is that thing that above all else I need and should be doing.

It could be getting up early and doing that workout.

Or not having that second glass of wine. 

Or taking that vacation.

Or, in business, making that call, writing that plan.

Going to that meeting, that conference.

And when you do, hold nothing back.

Don’t let any nagging doubts about whether this strategy, this decision, this job is the right one.

Just dive in.

What is brought to mind is Joseph Campbell, author of a “Hero of a Thousand Faces,” and the world’s great scholar on mythology and the foundational stories of humanity.

He famously said that what we all seek is not “so much meaning in life, as we do the experience of being alive.”

Well, this weekend what I and very many of the attendees that participated and shared with that full-on entrepreneurial commitment experienced this weekend was very much that of being fully “business alive.”

And from it and because of it, new business and conceptual breakthroughs and lovely relationships naturally flowed.

And when I reflect on these amazing outcomes, and then when I think back to the resistance I felt of not wanting to organize, not wanting to go to the event…

Well, it hits home that so important wisdom that when I really don't want to do something that I know in my heart that I should…

…well that is the exact thing that I must do. 

And then let the magic happen.


Are you a Contender or a Pretender?


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One of the great joys of my work is the unique opportunity it affords to meet and to learn from talented, committed, and effective executives - working hard and long on their entrepreneurial journeys

Men and women like Mike Kovaleski and Carrie Kessel of Mahar Tool Supply, a Michigan-based, mid-sized automotive technology distributor that is reinventing how vendor partnerships are structured and maintained in the global, high-tech, and oh-so competitive modern car business.

And as they do, they are creating both good jobs and an inspiring culture that's reflected in both the great longevity of their company (66 years young and counting!) and in the average tenure of their executive team (10+ years and increasing daily!).

Leaders like Dr. Ezat Parnia - President of Pacific Oaks - a small and fast growing Pasadena-based college that under his leadership is merging traditional offline educational values with the promise and power of online learning.

And as he does so, everyday demonstrating his fierce commitment to his students, mostly adults going back to school mid-life to earn training and degrees in early childhood education…

…who armed with their Pacific Oaks’ educations go out into the world and effect the school’s mission of seeing every child - no matter race, gender, or economic circumstance - be treated as a unique, special, and able learner.

And men like Good Samaritan Hospital’s CEO Andy Leeka, with his so articulate commitment to seeing his 1,400 employee strong, inner city Los Angeles Hospital become both a leader in care giving and…

…be a beacon of hope that says YES even budget and regulatory-strained hospitals can be places of high staff camaraderie, great patient care, and dare we say, even a little fun, too.

What do these brave and inspiring executives all have in common?

Well, first of all, in spite of them all leading very different organizations, with different reasons for being, competing in very different marketplaces, with very different sets of challenges and opportunities, they all think and act fundamentally the same.

Entrepreneurially.

Recognizing that even though they lead organizations that are on average more than 80 years old on average…

…that their fundamental business reality today is constant, unrelenting, everlasting, and fundamental change.

And that their job as leaders is to respond, pivot, profit, and win in the midst of all of it.

Second, they all "get" strategy.

Not as some academic or consultant’s exercise, but strategy as at the core of why they're organizations exist and what their mandates are to lead them.

Strategies that are big, as in where do they want their organizations to be 5, 10, 20 years hence?

And strategies that are “small,” as in what CRM, what eCommerce platform, what project management software to use?

And yes, they are all definitely contenders.

They just don't talk about reaching for the brass ring, they sacrifice every day to actually do so.

They plan their work.

And then they work their plans.

They (and everyone around them) know that it is not about them. Their glory, their rewards.

They’re in it for the mission. 

Because they are blessed to be given the opportunity, and now by golly they are going to strive and strain with every fiber of their being to make the most of it.

For contenders like them, I have only one thing to say.

Thank You.

For making all of our lives healthier, smarter, richer, and all in all just better.

Oh, and maybe a quick word of advice.

Every now and again do come up for air and give yourself a pat on the back. 

Because you've earned it and more.

P.S. Think you’re a contender?  That you have the right stuff?

Are you committed to taking your career and business to the next level?

Then join Growthink President Dave Lavinsky and me in-person next weekend at our Business Blueprint Live event.

Click here to learn more and to apply to attend.


[Report] Here’s Why the Stock Market is Broken


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Remember the bull markets of the 1980s and 1990s, when everybody was making money in the stock market?

Bad News: Those days are GONE… and they’re not coming back

Click below to discover mine and Growthink’s exclusive report on WHY today’s stock market is broken -- and what you can do about it:

http://www.growthink.com/stock-market-dead <-- Click here

It’s almost hard to imagine how strong stock market returns used to be…

Just look at the average annual returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1982 to 1989:
•    1982: 19.61%
•    1983: 20.27%
•    1984: -3.74%
•    1985: 27.66%
•    1986: 25.58%
•    1987: 2.26%
•    1988: 11.85%
•    1989: 26.96%

The good times continued in the 1990s. On January 1, 1990, the Dow Jones was at 2,810. By December 31, 1999, it had exploded to 11,497 -- an increase of 409% in just 10 years.

But today’s stock market is BROKEN.

From 2000 to TODAY, the Dow Jones has only moved from 11,078 to about 14,000 (only 27%). And INFLATION has reduced purchasing power by 37%... which means the net returns of the Dow Jones have been NEGATIVE.

Download this report and discover why the stock market is broken – and what you can do about it.


[Webinar] Opportunities in Healthcare IT


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You’re invited to attend a webinar on Tuesday, April 16th at 1pm Eastern / 10am Pacific about opportunities in the Healthcare Information Technology sector.

To register, click here.

Why Attend?

Over $200 billion MORE was spent on healthcare in 2012 than in 2011.

Let's put that number in perspective - the increase in healthcare spending last year was greater than the revenues of Microsoft, Cisco, Google, and Apple.

Combined.

And with the Affordable Care Act slowly but surely becoming the law of the land and the Baby Boomer generation retiring and hitting their “peak” healthcare spending years, there is no end in sight to the growth.

You Can Cry About It or You Can Seek Opportunities In It

While out-of-control healthcare costs and bureaucratic systems remain one of our most vexing societal challenges, private sector entrepreneurs are moving fast and smart to address various aspects of the problem.

And are building dynamic growth companies while so doing.

Healthcare Information Technology – A $30 Billion Business

Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) is one of the great and growing bright spots in the U.S. economy – it’s a $30 billion+ a year industry growing at over 14%/year.

It is comprised of big sectors:

• Practice Management Systems (PMS) - a $4 billion/year business growing at 11%/year
• Electronic Health Records (EHR) - a $1.5 billion/year business growing at 22%/year
• Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) - a $1 billion /year business growing at 15%/year
• And last but certainly not least - Transcription, Billing, and IT services, clocking in at $24 billion/year and growing at 12%/year

Within each of these sectors are dozens of under-the-radar companies experiencing strong revenue and profitability growth, developing dynamic and cost-saving technological innovations, and are being courted by financial and strategic acquirers. 

Companies like Castlight Health, Practice Fusion, Kissner Software, and Strategic Solutions Management.  

Meet An Industry Leader

I would like to invite you to an exclusive opportunity to meet, via web conference, the principals of one of the most innovative medical billing companies in the country. 

Combined, they have over 40 years of experience in successfully overcoming and profiting from some of the most vexing challenges in medical billing and information technology, and are well-versed on the regulatory and technological changes sweeping the industry.

On the web conference, they will share:

• Who the winners and losers will be when the brave new world of the Affordable Care Act meets the cloud computing and Big Data revolutions

• Why practice areas like obstetrics, surgery, and podiatry are in a unique period of change and consolidation

• How the “dream” of combining billing, practice management, and electronic health records systems into turnkey platform is in fact becoming a reality

• How the emerging world of mHealth – the use of iPads and tablets and mobile devices to deliver care - is and is not transforming modern medicine

• And much, much more

Limited Attendance

To preserve the intimacy of the presentation, we are limiting the web conference to the first 35 registrants.

So sign up right away to attend via the link below:  

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/834181266

Best regards, and look forward to connecting. 


Holding out for a Hero


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Why - once we have met our basic needs for food, warmth, and safety - do we work?

And work hard.

There are the usual, default answers.

For Status. Power.

In response to a "fight or flight" instinct, hardwired deep in us.

Because when we were young, we saw our parents do it and when we grew up, we wanted to be like them.

Phew.

What a bunch of hamster on a wheel mumbo-jumbo that makes folks at the end of their life look back and say why did I waste so much of my precious life on that?

Instead, how about this?

Let’s be heroes.

Wikipedia defines a hero as one “who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the will for self-sacrifice…for some greater good of all humanity.”

Now, that’s good.

It touches the various dimensions of our being.

Heroism in action is a strong, hard effort - a pushing to the limits of one’s physical endurance.

Heroes are intellectually wise. They are fair, sober, and big, and rarely let anger and fear get the best of them.

And when we are in the presence of a hero, we are spiritually risen up, are we not?

And you know what goes hand-in-hand with heroism?

Work.

Hard, honest work - taking great, exquisite care to do things right – is what heroism is all about.

As is teamwork.

And creative work, toward an idealistic end.

Work on the behalf of the powerless, for and with the young and the old, heroic.

Winning the right way - with grace and authentically recognizing those that aided in your journey - so very heroic.

And trying your absolute hardest and most honest best, and coming up just a bit short, even more so.

Heroic work, in all its forms, is work worth doing.

You know it when you see it.  And unfortunately, also when you don’t.

Let’s look for the heroes in our lives - those right around us and those in their so blessed multitude in this wide, wide, and inter-connected world of ours.

Let’s celebrate and strive to be like them.

Everything else is just noise.


Big Media, Big Government, Big Business, Big Problems


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Depending on how you slice it, this is either a golden or a leaden business age.

It is a golden age, as never before in human history has there been so much access to great opportunities as there are right now.

Crowdfunding, private equity and debt secondary markets like Second Market and SharesPost, peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper.com and Lending Club, and the Big Three social networking giants - Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter - have made information and intelligence on, and access to opportunities better and greater than ever before.

Yet, the overall spirit and mindset of business is anything but golden.

Huge and historically unprecedented public sector debt and social safety net obligations in the United States and Europe - layered on an overlapping and inter-connected global banking system cast a pale “macro” of systemic risk over the markets.

Compounding matters, never before has the drumbeat of news and information been louder, mostly shrilling that the financial sky could fall at a moment’s notice.

The overall effect of this both real and perceived angst is a “crowding out” of all of the good stuff that is happening out there.  

So what should the growth-seeking, yet sober executive and / or investor do?

Well, first and foremost, get one’s mind and spirit right

And the best way to accomplish that is to focus on what author Matt Ridley so eloquently describes as what has been since the dawn of Man the guidepost to our better future.

Entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship lives and grows in the “micro” - in sectors and niches within the overall economy either protected from or aided by the larger current.

And entrepreneurship is the antithesis of sclerotic, bureaucratic, and beyond human scale organizations (see Big Media, Big Government, Big Business) of such complexity and inertia that the application of individual motive force them to far more often than not is ineffective, no matter how good the intention.

Rather, entrepreneurship is undertaken via that finest form of collaboration known to history - small, impassioned teams driving toward an idealistic vision and mission.

To sell some thing or some service of a type, or in a way, or at a price that has never been done before.

And to make money doing it.

And the really good news is that there are more entrepreneurs - far, far more - hundreds of millions worldwide striving to have their brilliance and creations expressed and realized, and to make their futures their own.

And in their multitude, in their collective uniqueness, they are the hope and the light of the world.

Back them.

Even better, be one of them.

In mindset, in spirit, and in appetite for change and risk and daring.

You’ll feel a lot better. 


Getting the Important Work Done Well


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Every business needs a vision - a clear definition of what its leadership seeks the business to become.

And every business needs a strategy - a roadmap of how the business will reach its vision.

Once the vision and the strategy are clear, the next step is action planning – the day-by-day mapping of how all of this good but sometimes theoretical “stuff” will actually get done.

This involves determining which projects will be completed (and as importantly, which ones will NOT), by whom and when, and how many resources - work hours, money, and assets - will be required.

Now, this is lovely for the whiteboard but what business more often than not looks like is…

Unclear, Unshared Vision. With all the time most management teams spend talking to each other, it's surprising how often they have different pictures of what everyone is supposed to be doing and in what direction they are supposed to be heading.

It's the hard and repetitive job of leadership to repeatedly communicate the plan (i.e. the vision, the strategy, and the day-to-day roadmap) until all are on the same page.

And then rinse and repeat.

Planning Once Per Year, Out Of Routine
. So many of us, in January, think about our personal goals for the year ahead.

Similarly, many businesses work on their yearly plan during the same month of every year.

And then they forget about it.

The best businesses, in contrast, create, refine, and live their business plans in real time, every day.
Yes, this is far, far easier said than done, now more than ever because of…

The Tyranny of the Urgent. In my humble view, the greatest challenge to businesses attaining greatness is how difficult it is, because of technology, to not let those “urgent, but NOT important" activities dominate our days.

More than ever, we must fight for the time and attention to do the important work, and block out those insidious distractions everywhere and always around us.

No Process or Methodology For Strategic Planning
. A best practice is to focus on vision and strategy in one set of sessions, and then on the day-to-day action planning in another.

In discussing vision and strategy, we are in creative mode, exploring any and all options and ideas.

In contrast, figuring out the best day-to-day action plans is best suited for separate, more analytical-type meetings.

With appropriate time set aside for vision, for strategy, and for action planning, a business can experience the collective joy that comes from knowing exactly what it is striving toward and how it will get there.

Everyone at the business will feel more grounded, balanced, and centered.

Being so, all will come to work with greater purpose and passion.

And, at the end of the year, will have far more to show for their efforts.


Education from the Inside Out


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When it comes to education, this 21st century of ours is truly both the best and the worst of times.

It is the best of times as never before in human history has more information, more ways of learning, more access to best practices, been available to more people -- regardless of socio-economic condition and geography -- than it is today.

And, with 3 billion more people in the next 10 years coming online and joining the global information exchange, this remarkable and so very inspirational trend will only accelerate and grow.

Now, as anyone that has ever despaired over a never emptying e-mail inbox, over ever distracting and focus eroding text messages, over the always-growing mountain of things to read, listen, and watch, it can quite often feel like the worst of times too.

Yes, it is fair to say that the net sum of human information has grown far faster than that of human wisdom, satisfaction, and even happiness.

Now, the first and obvious point here is that this very well could be simply a distortion of relative versus absolute perception. 

For these days, NOTHING grows like information - with every three weeks the aggregate total added to it being greater than that accumulated from the beginning of recorded time through the year 2000

So, of course, the growth of everything/anything else will pale in comparison.

Now, once we recognize this, we should also see that as this mountain of information has grown, so has grown access to and consumption of the world's greatest art, literature, and music.

Which does make us, collectively, far wiser than ever.

And with the percentage of the world's population living in poverty at its lowest level in human history, our collective satisfaction, as measured by freedom from hunger, from premature death, and by access to choice as to one's work, one's mate, one's place to live, is both very good and increasing as well.

And with being wiser and more satisfied, yes we are collectively much happier, too.

This is all well and good, but far more exciting is that we have only begun to scratch the surface of how this “always-on” Internet world of ours might transform for the better our inner lives as it has our external ones.

How this might come to be came into focus for me through a conversation with the President of one of California's most admired colleges of graduate education.

In the process of helping to develop a five year strategic plan for the school, the President and I were discussing the relative merit of enrollment growth of online versus traditional on-campus enrollment.

As we were getting pretty granular into the various modeling approaches and ways to assign value to a “virtual” versus an in-person student, I stopped and noticed a certain pause and quiet in the room.

I looked up, and in the President’s eyes was a faraway look.

He paused, and then quietly said, “values-based education cannot be measured, it just is.”

He then took a sip of water, and more loudly added, “and it is only from this place do we measure our outcomes, not the other way around.”

This inside out approach is where technology can and will lead us. 

It will be a slow and bumpy, but very much an upwardly sloping road, towards all of us being truly well educated - online.


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