John Caddell's blog On innovation, leadership, and understanding customers Mon, 06 May 2013 12:32:24 +0000 en hourly 1 “The Mistake Bank” e-book is here – $3.99 Sun, 05 May 2013 16:10:11 +0000 John Caddell Available at

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A sneak peek of Chapter 1 of the Mistake Bank book Sun, 24 Mar 2013 00:44:16 +0000 John Caddell I’ve attached a pdf document that represents Chapter 1 as it will be laid out. Note that the illustrations are not yet the final scans, but this gives you a sense of what the whole book will look like. I hope you like it!

The Mistake Bank Chapter 1 – Bouncing Back


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An even-briefer definition of strategy Tue, 29 May 2012 21:35:55 +0000 John Caddell From a working paper by Eric J. Van den Steen of Harvard Business School (”A Theory of Explicitly Formulated Strategy“), via Harvard Business School Working Knowledge:

I define a strategy as the ‘smallest set of – intended or actual – choices and decisions sufficient to guide
all other choices and decisions’ (or, more concisely, the ‘smallest set of choices to guide all other

The concise definition is 10 words long. Our prior brief definition, also via HBR, was 15 words long.

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Ron Adner mini-podcast: Why smart companies make avoidable innovation mistakes Tue, 27 Mar 2012 14:16:22 +0000 John Caddell After our recent interview with Ron Adner, author of “The Wide Lens: A New Strategy for Innovation,” we got to chatting, and in that exchange we talked about the reasons smart companies can fall into the trap of a too-narrow viewpoint. I

You can learn more about The Wide Lens at its website, where chapter 1 is available to read for free.

Ron Adner after interview discussion (4:15)

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Podcast: “The Wide Lens” author Ron Adner shares stories of innovation mistakes Tue, 20 Mar 2012 12:24:49 +0000 John Caddell the wide lens coverI had the opportunity to interview Ron Adner, professor at the Tuck School of Business and author of “The Wide Lens: A New Strategy of Innovation.” The book details the challenges with innovating when you are dependent on more than you and the end-customer – including intermediaries, co-innovators, etc., who influence the success of your new venture.

Ron shares a couple of great stories, but perhaps the most significant part of the interview is the discussion that happens after each story. One of the great benefits of sharing mistake stories is dialoguing with others about what happened, why, and how we can learn from it. I have found this sort of dialogue very helpful in my own learning, and I’m happy to share this neat example with everyone.

You can learn more about The Wide Lens at its website, where chapter 1 (in which Adner evaluates the Michelin story he relates in this podcast) is available to read for free.

Ron Adner, author of The Wide Lens, on innovation ecosystem mistakes (28 minutes)

0:30 – How did The Wide Lens come about?
2:30 – The Michelin mistake story
6:45 – Discussing the Michelin story
13:15 – The inhalable insulin mistake story
19:30 – Discussion: The value blueprint, leading/following, timing, etc.
24:10 – How “The Wide Lens” helps innovators

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5-minute journaling really helps at year-end review time Tue, 20 Dec 2011 17:09:34 +0000 John Caddell This week I am working on my employee self-evaluation. Remember those? They… well, they suck. You have to try to piece together every significant achievement of the last 12 months. Last year for me, this meant paging through scads of weekly status reports to be reminded of every accomplishment so I could document it. Do you know how unpleasant it is to read 50 of your own status reports again?

But you have to do self-evaluations, and if you have to do them, you should do them well. Most bosses rely heavily on the self-eval to write your full evaluation. In other words, the self-eval makes your case for pay increases, possible promotions, etc. So it doesn’t pay (literally) to mail it in.

This year, I have been writing a short journal entry at the end of every workday – a short paragraph explaining the most notable event of the day. I then answer a few questions about the entry. One question asks me to categorize the event, which could be a mistake, an assessment, a gripe… or an accomplishment. I built this as a cloud-based app (ugly, but functional), so I could enter the data from anywhere, including my phone.

In order to prepare for my self-eval, I simply added a filter for “accomplishment” and got a fairly long list of accomplishments for the year. They easily clustered into a few most significant ones. I used this information as the basis to write my self-evaluation. There were patterns, too, in the accomplishments, that helped me do the document my strengths. The items labeled “mistakes” were useful to find development areas – an important and challenging part of a self-evaluation. Given that I had the journal entries, providing concrete examples was easy. I’m confident my self-eval will be the best representation possible of what I did all year.

In short, I won’t do an evaluation ever again without having the online journal to work with.

How are you approaching your self-evaluation this year?

[By the way, the online journaling app is available in prototype form for free if you want to try it. Email me at inquiry (at) if you'd like to try it. You'll thank me next December!]

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Best Songs of the Year 2011 Thu, 08 Dec 2011 02:47:52 +0000 John Caddell 1. White Denim, “Drug.” It could’ve been any song from their new release, “D.” But the video for this one seals it. Papier mache forever!

2. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep.” It doesn’t matter that you’ve already heard this song a million of times already (182 million views on YouTube!). It’s still one of the great songs of the year, and we’ll be singing along with it 20, 30, 40 years from now.

3. Macklemore, “Can’t Hold Us.” Go on, listen to this song without moving, without dancing. Without smiling. Go on. I defy you.

4. Aloe Blacc, “I Need a Dollar.” The normal song is great; the a capella version from the Blogotheque “Take Away Concert” is sublime… see below (skip to 3:15 of the video):

5. Vetiver, “Wonder Why.” The best guitar arpeggios this side of Peter Buck.

Honorable mention: Black Keys, “Lonely Boy.” If I’m all alone, and no one is watching, I am the guy in this video. Please believe me.

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Best Books of the Year 2011 Mon, 05 Dec 2011 13:26:55 +0000 John Caddell It has been a spectacular year for books about mistakes and learning from them. Here’s the list of must-haves:

1. Brilliant Mistakes, Paul Schoemaker. Five years after publishing a terrific HBR article on the subject, Schoemaker celebrates mistakes as, in Joyce’s words, “portals of discovery,” a way of navigating through a largely unpredictable world. And he presents a compelling case for making “deliberate mistakes”–creating projects that go against the conventional wisdom in a strategic way, in order to uncover invalid assumptions and shifts in the environment. From Schoemaker: Companies strive for error elimination, hiring advisers and relying on sophisticated management tools such as Six Sigma. It’s little wonder, then, that most decision-making books follow suit, encouraging you to focus narrowly on mistake avoidance today rather than provoking you to plan for the stream of decisions that you will face tomorrow.

2. The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. A mammoth research project that tracked the activity and temperament of dozens of workers and managers on a daily basis brought forth a simple, startling insight: workers are happier and more productive when they make continual progress toward meaningful goals, and unhappy/unmotivated when obstacles are put in their way. The application of this insight improves both managers’ effectiveness and workers’ self-regard. Why is this book on the Mistake Bank list? Because the authors urge managers and workers to face reality, even if it’s unpleasant, and handle setbacks with grace and persistence. From the book: By its very nature, meaningful work is hard; people often get the greatest satisfaction from overcoming the most difficult challenges. Failure is inevitable along the path to innovation. Though you should try to minimize obstacles and setbacks under your control, you can never create a problem-free bubble for your people. You can’t nourish inner work life if you drive yourself and your team crazy trying to avoid all problems. Rather, focus on providing people with the catalysts and nourishers they need to overcome the obstacles they will inevitably face.

3. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman. One of the fathers of behavioral economics and a Nobel Prize winner, Kahneman sums up the lessons he’s learned in his decades of studying human nature – and is not above using himself as a subject. Kahneman writes: One of [my] themes is that people who face a difficult question often answer an easier one instead, without realizing it. We were required to predict a soldier’s performance in officer training and in combat, but we did so by evaluating his behavior over one hour in an artificial situation. This was a perfect instance of a general rule that I call WYSIATI, “What you see is all there is.” We had made up a story from the little we knew but had no way to allow for what we did not know about the individual’s future, which was almost everything that would actually matter.

4. Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others, Justin Menkes. A book that illustrates what corporate senior leaders need to do to succeed. Menkes describes great executives’ understanding of their own fallibility and their willingness to take responsibility for mistakes (”owning their missteps”) as keys to flourishing in the pressure-cooker of corporate leadership. From Menkes: Leaders adjusting to a significant increase in responsibility invariably make many mistakes. Those who ultimately excel recognize and own these missteps quickly and use the experiences to grow into their positions of elevated authority and increased complexity. But for this learning curve to occur, it is absolutely crucial that they accept their role in these mistakes. If they have a low sense of agency, they cannot, and will fail.

5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck. I’m cheating here – “Mindset” was published in 2006. But I didn’t read it till this year, and without a doubt Dweck’s research and writing are among the most influential in the learning field, especially among other academics. She was referenced in more of my reading than any other scholar (Kahneman was #2).

From Dweck: Tom Wolfe, in The Right Stuff, describes the elite military pilots who eagerly embrace the fixed mindset. Having passed one rigorous test after another, they think of themselves as special, as people who were born smarter and braver than other people. But Chuck Yeager, the hero of The Right Stuff, begged to differ. “There is no such thing as a natural-born pilot. Whatever my aptitude or talents, becoming a proficient pilot was hard work, really a lifetime’s learning experience.… The best pilots fly more than the others; that’s why they’re the best.”

What were the best business books you read this year? Weigh in below in the comments section.

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Finally, a business thinkers list with female representation Thu, 17 Nov 2011 13:09:47 +0000 John Caddell Three and a half years ago, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed a “new breed of business guru” and included a ranking, compiled by the Journal, of the top 20 business thinkers.

No women were on the list. This was noted in the article and I wondered about it too, given that I had read a lot of interesting work by female business scholars. I made my own list, which I posted back in 2008. It’s notable that the 2009 Thinkers50 list had only 4.5 positions occupied by women.

Fast-forward to 2011. The “Thinkers 50″ list has just been released. Of the 50 thinkers, 10 are women, plus one collaborator). That list includes four who were on my original list of six from 2008, including Amy Edmondson, Rita McGrath, Herminia Ibarra and Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

It also includes several that I would have included on an updated list, including Teresa Amabile and Linda Hill.

Congratulations to all!

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Toyota acceleration incident report cites company’s “skepticism and defensiveness” to customers and regulators Mon, 06 Jun 2011 13:04:51 +0000 John Caddell From The Mistake Bank:

The Toyota “North American Quality Advisory Panel,” put together in the wake of the sudden-acceleration incidents in 2009-2010, has released its report, and it’s fascinating reading of how a large company’s strengths can turn into weaknesses under stress. [A copy of the full report is available at this link.]

The panel cites several factors that contributed to the crisis, including Toyota’s centralized reporting structure, which led to miscommunication and delayed responses, and an unwise policy of categorizing safety as a subcomponent of quality. But most striking to me was a lesson that can apply to many companies I’m familiar with: they didn’t take seriously complaints and feedback from customers and regulators – until it was too late to stave off a full-fledged crisis. To use John Kotter’s term, they did not “let the outside in” at Toyota, which led them to minimize and push back against unintended acceleration complaints. Here are several excerpts from the report:

Truly listening to customers requires carefully considering, processing, and internalizing their feedback, even when it may be inconsistent with the company’s instincts….

The Panel has observed that Toyota did not adequately apply the key principles of the [Toyota Production System] and the Toyota Way to its management and decision-making practices. The Toyota Way is founded on the core pillars of continuous improvement and respect for people. A fundamental principle of continuous improvement is genchi genbutsu, which means that one must “go and see” the source of the problem in order to determine its root cause. The Panel feels that Toyota applied this and other aspects of the TPS and the Toyota Way too narrowly in two respects.

First, while it is clear that Toyota applies the [Toyota Production System] process and the Toyota Way to problems or flaws found internally, Toyota does not appear to treat feedback from external sources, including customers, independent rating agencies, and regulators, the same way. For example, it doesn’t appear that Toyota applied genchi genbutsu as quickly and thoroughly as it could have in investigating and seeking out the root causes of customer complaints regarding issues such as [Unintended Acceleration].

Second, Toyota did not apply the principles of TPS and the Toyota Way adequately to identify and avoid repeating management decision-making errors with the same thoroughness and dedication with which it applies them in its manufacturing process. Although Toyota is in the car manufacturing business, it—like most modern corporations—is also a decision factory. Toyota’s reputation in North America increasingly will be based as much on the quality of its decision making as on the quality of its vehicles.

It seems to me that Toyota has a tremendous opportunity to learn from this situation, to become more open to feedback and critique, and to, as the panel recommends, bring the power of the Toyota Way and the TPS to improve its management and information-sharing processes. Will they take that opportunity?

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