Double Feature: Effective Leadership Teams | ImageKind Purchased by CafePress

Just to mix things up a bit, this post is a two-for-the-price-of-one Double Feature: One part management development thought du jour, one part online business news punditry (with copious Wikipedia links throughout).

Part One:  Just the other day, I heard an interview with Professor Michael A. Roberto of Bryant University, formerly of Harvard Business School, who is the author of numerous writings, including the highly-acclaimed 2005 book, Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer.  One of the things leaders are paid to do is to facilitate good decision making, as well as to facilitate an effective execution on those decisions. In his book, Professor Roberto gives the reader a holistic view of the role of debate, dissent and consensus in the decision and execution process. Roberto breaks out and explains some of the levers (in plainspeak: the main influencing factors and controlling mechanisms) to cultivate and manage debate and consensus in different situations.

Central idea: Effective decision making involves not just asking “What decision should I make?”  but also asking “How should I go about making the decision?”    In the parlance of a previous Meme Menagerie metaphor-gone-wild, it’s deciding on what vehicle to ride and what rules/exceptions to navigate by, rather than agonizing over a map trying to choose a fixed destination.

A highlight of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer  is Roberto’s analysis of President John F. Kennedy’s leadership team and decision making process when it came to dealing with Cuba. (Nareg, surely this will satisfy your desire for narrative continuity in this blog, from the triad of posts two weeks ago.) Roberto constructs a neat little “Before-After” analysis that shows how, from the American perspective, the Bay of Pigs Invasion was a total fiasco, versus the more artfully handled Cuban Missle Crisis, a mere 18 months later. After the Bay of Pigs Invasion, John F. Kennedy said, “How could I have been so stupid, to let them go ahead?”   According to Roberto, Kennedy proceeded to look for an answer to that question, and not just on the level of CONTENT, but also — and more importantly — on the level of PROCESS.

Yes, many mistakes were made (the passive voice is used) in terms of specific decision CONTENT, when it came to el Bahía de Cochinos in April 1961. But Kennedy’s true wisdom came out in the overhauling his war cabinet and crisis decision making PROCESS. According to Roberto, Kennedy deliberately changed the following four aspects of his deliberation process, in time for October 1962:
1) Who participates in the deliberations?
2) What norms and ground rules will control the deliberations?
3) What structures will participants use to deliver and exchange information?
4) How and when will the leader introduce their ideas?

Roberto boils this down to four convenient C’s: 
1) Composition 
2) Context 
3) Communication 
4) Control
…thus proving that even professors at the Harvard Business School are able to leave the ivory tower once in a while and write fun, insightful, wide-ranging, jargon-free, accessible fare for the Hudson News masses.

Part Deux:  You read it here on this blog first, well over a year ago. The upstart ImageKind is not really a competitor to the typical online art and poster players like AllPosters, but rather, to the make-your-own-stuff sites like Flickr and CafePress. ImageKind has a savvy, well-considered strategy and their execution is, for all intents and purposes, flawless. Their only Achilles’ heel is a somewhat difficult to remember name.

All of these conditions are now satisfied by their acquisition, last Tuesday, by CafePress, in a deal valued between $15-20 million dollars. They did it in just two years, and with considerably less traffic, visitors or customers than, an earlier upstart art-prints-and-poster-company that I co-founded many years ago and ultimately sold for, well, less than $15 million.  But it ain’t about how many millions. (“yes it is, Dan”) It’s about the process, the people, the leadership and the backers, and ultimately, the value and experience created. We at Barewalls were punkasses in the punkass dot com heydey, and hey, we fared much better than most. But today we live in a post-punkass times. So it’s moments like these that makes this aging Internet entrepreneur kvell with pride in the success of one’s own (image)kind.

So, are the two parts of this Double Feature post related?  Did ImageKind possess the kind of leadership team and process worthy of a Cuban Missle Crisis? Did their internal management team and board of directors have the right stuff to create value for the company’s investors, customers, staff and business partners?  Well, I haven’t yet met any of the ImageKind folks, although since writing that post last year about them I became Facebook-friends with their primary backer, Kelly Smith of Curious Office, who I suppose I’ve come to sort-of-know through Facebook status update osmosis. I haven’t seen him stare down any communist dictators lately, but he does take some nifty photos

Circling back to the first part of this post: Yes, it’s important to look at a mistake, ask “what went wrong” and then act in a way to correct matters. And it’s equally important to look at a success, ask “what went right” and then find a way to replicate it.

Keep on replicating, Curious Office.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on July 15, 2008, in Business, Career, Cool Companies, E-Commerce, Life. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. you know, i always wonder how much of a country’s future is in the hands of one man (the president) v/s the system.

    it’s an honest question.

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