The New How

Summary Written by Chris Taylor

The Big Idea

Being a Co-creator

"Being a co-creator is a new way of characterizing yourself, one that lets you focus on the value you can create, independent of the formal role you have."- The New How, page 46

Without explicitly saying so, Merchant obliterates conventional business hierarchy as it applies to business strategy. Top down direction (arguably) makes sense in a static world, where business needs are changing slowly, and strategy decisions are fairly straight forward. This is not our world. Companies succeed now when people closest to the situation make the decisions, under the influence of a uniform strategy that has been bought into on all levels of the organization.

As members of a larger organization, we need to make a fundamental shift in thinking about the role we play. Leaders need to stop dictating, and staff need to stop expecting (and then blindly following) a pre-made set of instructions. We ALL need to become co-creators. As co-creators we collectively design strategy, and then apply our unique strengths to following that strategy, independently solving the inevitable obstacles that will arise along the way. As co-creators we win, faster and more thoroughly than our competitors.

Insight #1

Advocate or Moderator? (Understand Your Role.)

"If you are interested in passionately advocating and building your set of proposed solutions, make sure someone else is facilitating and driving the process for everyone."- The New How, page 144

Being a co-creator means considering our respective roles in a new light. We need to think about our actions, and plan how we can best use the resources at our disposal (including our past experiences and unique strengths) to accomplish a certain task. We need to be mature about our decisions as well. One point that rang particularly true from The New How was to consciously recognize our role in team discussions and decisions. When you find yourself in a meeting where the objective is to identify a potential solution to a problem, think about the role you wish to play. If you’re championing an idea, then share it. With passion. Argue the merits of your idea and make sure that it’s heard effectively. Understand that every discussion forum like this needs a moderator – someone to hear the ideas, weigh them, and determine the best course of action. The Hierarchical leader does not need to be the moderator and, in fact, shouldn’t be if they’re push a particular option out to the group.

If you’re the leader of a team, have the confidence to delegate the moderator role to someone else. Doing so will ensure the best ideas come out on top, not just the one that you have a personal bias towards.

If you’re a member of the team (and not the leader), look for opportunities to moderate. Support a “meritocracy” – an environment in which the best idea gets the attention it deserves, rather than simply supporting a concept based on who suggested it. Ideas trump people when it comes to successful business strategy.

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Insight #2

Speak Up

"The Second Elephant is one that looks different from every perspective: an important but multifaceted issue that many people see, but each in a limited way."- The New How, page 119

One of the major downfalls of “Top down strategy” – where executives create the plan and then push it out to the rest of the staff – is disagreement due to personal viewpoint and experience. Merchant uses the idea of blindfolding a group of people, having them touch various parts of an elephant and then reporting what they feel. The report from someone touching the tusk is going to appear to be wildly out to lunch compared to the person who’s touching the tail. It’s all an elephant, but depending on where you’re standing can dramatically impact your experience and perception.

When something doesn’t make sense to you, based on your experience, you need to speak up. Too many people remain quiet, shy to raise a question or objection for risk of appearing “dumb” or “uninformed”. Understand that no one knows exactly what it’s like to be in your role other than you. Teams benefit as a whole when all voices are heard and considered. Everyone wants to succeed and the best (and fastest) way to do that is to consider all viewpoints. Speak up.

The New How is one of the most comprehensive books we’ve tackled in the recent past. A literal reference guide to navigating the fast paced, individual-powered business landscape of the 21st century. Nilofer Merchant stands apart as a pioneer in the field of collaborative strategy and is a voice business leaders should choose to ignore at their own risk. Chock full of personal examples from Merchant’s employee and consulting experience with firms like Adobe, Apple Nokia and HP, The New How is a book I believe will continue to build credibility and support in the decades to come.

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Nilofer Merchant

Nilofer Merchant, CEO, Rubicon Consulting, is a sought after global high-tech industry thought leader and trusted strategic advisor for companies such as Adobe, Symantec and VMWare. As Rubicon’s CEO, she has built a distinguished team of fellow strategists, who collaborate with a wide range of Silicon Valley executives at client firms such as Autodesk, Hewlett-Packard, Pinnacle, Openwave, SAP, Symantec and others.Rubicon’s proprietary methodology continuously delivers significant material results to clients, driving revenue growth, market share-price and profits. This approach resulted in an additional $28 million in profit over 6 months for one industry leader.Merchant founded Rubicon in 1999 after gaining fifteen years of operational experience in key leadership positions at notable technology firms such as Apple, Autodesk, and GoLive (later acquired by Adobe). The experience she gained in pricing, product management, the channel, sales, marketing and revenue generation prepared her for the interdisciplinary deep listening and precision questioning that are at the heart of Rubicon’s work today.Through her many successes (and some losses), Nilofer has honed her multidisciplinary approach for assessing a business situation clearly, applying critical wisdom, and defining a strategic direction. Her ability to put business history in context enables her to discern the right future moves. Her writing and ideation abilities have led to syndication with major business publishing entities. At conferences, the energetic, approachable and pragmatic keynote speaking style helps people connect to her vision whether their role is that of a board member, grad student, an engineer, marketer, or a business leader.Nilofer holds an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University, a B.S. in Economics from University of San Francisco, and is an Interaction Associates-certified Instructor of Facilitative Leadership.Nilofer contributes to her local church’s strategy and stewardship plans, and has held the Chair of Community Fundraising position as a Board Member of the Cupertino YMCA. Early on, she was a Governor-appointee to the California Community College Board of Trustees — a position she held for an unusually long 3-year term. Nilofer and her husband enjoy the challenge of integrating the complexities of their respective high tech careers and personal interests with the demands of parenting.

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