Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for businesses

The test of a good theory is how its principles/framework can be leveraged in other domains outside which it was originally intended. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes the stages of human motivation and needs. The theory is often represented by a pyramid with foundational “needs” at the base with increasingly advanced needs as you move further up the pyramid. Maslow suggested that the most basic needs be met before an individual was is able to focus on attaining higher level needs.

Another parallel is sports. Take golf as an example: I started by learning “swing fundamentals” like stance, body position, grip etc. before I progressed to more advanced techniques like shot shape, controlling distance, spin etc. If I’d tried doing it the other way round I would have been one frustrated golfer.

In the business world, this same model can help organizations prioritize activities that lead to long term, sustained growth. Without foundational elements in place, other “higher level” activities will not accrue to any value and will ultimately fail. This is common in businesses that are trying to grow but find themselves bumping up against an “invisible ceiling”, which could be measured in revenue, profit, number of people etc. Often, it’s the lack of fundamentals that stunts company growth and eventually lead to customer and talent retention problems.


Mission, Culture & Values

In the absence of clear direction / higher purpose (mission) and pillars by which to guide decision making (culture & values) organizations find it hard to steer away from uncertainty and ambiguity. Teams are unclear about how their activities accrue to the company’s goals and how to prioritize the many facets of the work they do. The most successful organizations are not only clear about their mission, culture and values but their team members demonstrate them consistently and hold each other accountable for following them. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, does a really nice job of establishing mission, culture and values – have a read through their “Culture Book” here for some further inspiration on how to lay out these important items.

Corporate Governance

The meaning behind corporate governance is often clouded by finance, but at its essence, it’s really just a fancy term for defining who does what in an organization. Clear roles and responsibilities are important to help facilitate empowerment, leadership and accountability which are essential as an organization grows and inevitable complexity creeps into getting business done. It also helps team members build clear expectations on how to progress to the next level in their careers. Harvard Business Review has a good piece on the importance of defining roles and responsibilities.

Business Goals

What is the company trying to achieve? Defining, communicating and regularly reviewing company goals helps align teams and individuals on activities that accrue to the overall mission. They should be strategic as possible so that you avoid the “moving the goal post” dilemma and teams have time to plan and execute against them. Peter Drucker’s SMART goals are widely regarded as a good framework for how to set goals.

Unique Differentiation

Being able to create unique value for customers allows a company to outmaneuver the competition and drive customer retention. This is arguably the area where a company is able to generate the most incremental value for stakeholders. Capitalizing on differentiation is done by telling the story to the market through the sales and marketing teams and should be woven into the brand positioning. Entrepreneur magazine lays out principles to think about when defining a company’s unique differentiation.

Sustained Innovation

The ability to continuously create new products, enter new markets and disrupt incumbents helps organizations create sustained, long term growth. Cultivating sustained innovation is the “self-actualization” moment for an organization. Consider Apple, who defined the era of digital music and then proceeded to reinvent the smartphone which set them on a path to become the largest company on the planet by market capitalization. Often, sustained innovation is baked into an organization’s culture to encourage more frequent occurrence. Fast Company writes about this concept and how to approach it.

Where to start?

Achieving all of this, and reaching sustained innovation is by no means easy. It starts at the top with the CEO. He or she is responsible for leading and setting forth many of the high level initiatives; mission, culture and vision and corporate governance. At the same time they need to be putting in place a leadership team that are able to plan, budget and execute those initiatives and then empower and hold them accountable for driving outcomes that accrue to the organization’s success.

Have a different view on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a business? I’m waiting to hear from you in the comments below.


– Hat tip to Ray Wang at Software Insider for his version of the business hierarchy of needs which helped me structure my thinking around the priorities.

Feedback is a gift

We sometimes shy away from receiving feedback because we don’t want to hear where we messed up or (worse) we think we already know it all. My previous boss – a great leader – used the phrase “Feedback is a gift” all the time and encouraged his team to actively give and seek out feedback. Over the holiday break I thought about why he chose to use this phrase in particular.

  1. It disarms the receiver’s fear of feedback. By presenting it at a gift the receiver is able to see the positive in getting it and begins to actively seek it out. It’s no longer scary!
  2. It helps the giver of the feedback realize the responsibility in giving the feedback. Here is something that can truly impact the individual and help them get to the next level. Giving gifts is hugely satisfying!
  3. Third, it’s catchy! He was in marketing after all!

As you head back into work and begin your new year, seek out feedback from people you work with. Use this as input into how you plan your personal development in 2015.

If you want to improve how you give or receive feedback, I recommend you pickup a copy of “One Minute Manager” and read the section on one minute praising and reprimands. It might just make your year.

Snooping on your home screen


Apps have been pinging other apps on the phone to detect whether they are installed or not for a while. In fact there are a couple of startups that provide SDKs to do it.

Doing this provides insight into the type of user the owner of the device is, which allows the publisher to provide more targeted features & experiences as well as advertising. For example, if you have a bunch of baby apps, shopping apps, or coupon apps then you are most likely a female with a new baby.

Read more:

The Weekly Plan


How would you like to finish your work week with a sense of pride, accomplishment and – most importantly – surplus energy heading into the weekend? Sounds good right? Here’s how to get started.

  1. Your week starts on Friday. Before you close your laptop for the weekend, create your plan for the week. This helps you get ahead of the rest of the world by having a plan of action for the following week. By doing this you will easily filter out distractions and interruptions and instead focus on what will make you more successful.
  2. Write down the outcomes you want to achieve by the end of the following week. I emphasize outcomes, since people often get caught up in the “activity” of doing work instead of focusing on the end goal. If your outcomes are too large to fit into one week break them up into smaller chunks making them more achievable. If it helps, you can write down the activities that need to get done to unlock the outcome – that’s healthy but sometimes unnecessary if you can juggle that detail in your head. Keep checking the size of your list. If your list starts too look unmanageable its time to start prioritizing and trimming the list. Remember, you want to feel good about achieving your outcomes – if you set unrealistic plans you won’t unlock that feeling.
  3. Next, we get into calendaring. If you’re like me you run your life in your calendar and work colleagues have the ability to view your availability. This can be great, but can also result in calendar “hi-jack” where you get inundated with meeting requests. In the next few steps I outline ways to groom your calendar during your weekly planning session on Friday. Grooming consists of: Shortening, consolidation and definition.
  4. Shortening: Try and get all your regular meetings scheduled into one day or at least in blocks across multiple days. Shorten them to 25 minutes and get super focused on agenda topics and the outcomes you want out of the meeting. The 5 minutes accounts for “travel time” for folks to get to where they need to be next.
  5. Consolidation: Try to batch together common topics, themes or elements into one meeting – I often forward invites to people and add agenda items to one core meeting instead of having lots of related meetings on the same theme. This will increase effectiveness of your meetings and at the same time shorten them and allow you to get back to your weekly plan.
  6. Definition: Never accept a meeting unless it has a well defined agenda with outcomes and the right stakeholders to make a decision or progress. If any of those things are missing then provide feedback to the team and decline until rectified.
  7. Book out work time that accrues to achieving your weekly outcomes. If you find it hard to find time, start blocking out half days or even a whole day if you can. This will allow you decent runway to accomplishing substantial work and avoid the tax of context switching or interrupts.
  8. Block 30 minutes every morning and every afternoon to do email. Don’t live in your inbox – it is a productivity killer. Remember that email is merely a means of communication and not “actual work” nor a tangible outcome.
  9. Because you have planned in advance for the week ahead, you’ll find your co-workers are at a disadvantage. For those unfortunate souls, set aside some “office hours” throughout the week where you make a point of making yourself available. This doesn’t have to be a large chunk of time, but is a good buffer for those meetings that crop up but are useful to help unblock progress for others.

What do you think of these steps? Are there any other things that you do to help make yourself productive?

Mobile OS Market Share Since 2005

mobile market share

This chart is stunning for three reasons:

  1. Nokia’s descent/plummet since 2005
  2. Android’s weed-like growth in three years
  3. Windows Phone inability to gain share in nearly a decade

Read the full report here.

Nike’s timely exit from wearables

fuel band

Nike have exited the wearables market at the perfect time. In launching the Fuel Band, they helped establish a category and set consumer expectations for fitness wearables hardware and software experiences. Oh and they learnt along the way how to plug it in most efficiently into stickiest part of the Nike ecosystem, the data.

“Just last week, Nike announced the launch of its San Francisco-based Fuel Lab. The testing space, born from its accelerator program, will join Nike’s slew of other innovation-branded R&D havens where companies will be able to design hardware products that incorporate the company’s proprietary point-based workout metric, NikeFuel.

Essentially, it will be a incubator for FuelBand successors, as long as they plug in to Nike+, for which Nike is publicly releasing an API this fall.”

Their focus on APIs through public developer programs and exclusive incubators will foster the right level of ecosystem innovation at the hardware level and have it accrue to their core competency – their sports products. Now that manufacturing and prototyping costs have reached a startup friendly level (hello 3D printing), gone is the need to have bucket loads of cash to get a product off the ground. Nike is sensibly dispersing that risk to the ecosystem and focusing on its core products. Bravo.

Tracking users location and the laws of value exchange

Fortune published a pragmatic piece on location based tracking and how users will or won’t accept this type of interaction retailer or brand.

Part of the problem with iBeacon and its brethren is the word “tracking.” No one would answer “yes” to the question, “Do you like having your every move tracked whenever you enter a store?” And yet, that’s what happens to us as we browse the web every day. Marketers, publishers, and e-commerce sites use cookies to follow us around the web and serve us ads based on our browsing histories. Cookies have always been a point of contention with privacy wonks, but Internet users are generally okay with it.

Which word the industry ends up using to describe “tracking” is completely irrelevant. What is most important and indicative of iBeacon’s (and its brethren) maturity is when marketers actually figure out the right level of value exchange by which a consumer is willing to participate in a location specific interaction.

Spam me with crap and I will uninstall you. Shower me with value and I will be yours forever*.

*Forever in the internet world is actually next week, or at least until the next time you screw up and de-value our digital relationship.

Will there be spammers? Yes. Will there be an uproar from consumers? Yes. Will consumers eventually get over it as marketers figure out how to best leverage the technology and find the appropriate value exchange? Yes.

This pattern reminds me of Facebook Connect’s early days when users rioted when they had to sign into apps like Spotify using their Facebook account due to privacy concerns. Fast forward a few years and now this behavior is the norm. People understood the value in signing in with Facebook – it saved them time and enriched their interactions with their Facebook friends.

Top 3 experiences at SxSW 2014

  1. Game of Thones – “Ascend the Wall”

    Quite simply, stunning. A great use of Oculus Rift, wind machine and rumble floor. As someone who doesn’t like heights, I was surprised I survived (emotionally). Game of Thrones fans will love the way this connects them to the show / brand / location in a new way, beyond just watching from the couch. The exhibit goes on tour soon throughout the US – I recommend checking it out.

    Actress Maisie Williams of

  2. Samsung’s Galaxy Vine Studio

    With the rising popularity of Vine, Samsung cleverly played off the availability of the Vine app on Android by creating a small studio where “Vine Artists” created fun vine videos for visitors and their friends. The results were pretty cool and the process of creating the videos was appealing too – good win for their hardware and app store.


  3. Lightwave at Pepsi

    I’m a a big fan of large, digital / physical installations. Pepsi commissioned a piece, in collaboration with Lightwave that visitors interact with via their brain waves (yup!). Their whole Art meets Data meme is spot on too – as millennial artists begin to gain cultural relevance, they will begin to create experiences that leverage technology more and more: non-interactive mediums will no longer be compelling enough for future generations.

Bezos waiting for Windows at the race of the bottom

I  like Paul Thurrott’s piece on Windows and the race to the bottom. It reflects Microsoft’s impatience to win in tablets and flip flopping between strategies that are long term (Windows 8 and addressing the high end market) and short term (price reduction). They have tried to compete with Apple and have come away licking their wounds and now are preparing for a battle at the low end. The reality is that Apple wins with it’s compelling devices and lock-in to valuable first & third party apps and services (iTunes, Spotify etc.), where it is super hard to compete without compelling market share and therefore monetization for publishers. Instead, they are now going to dip their toe into the low-end market, where Jeff Bezos and the Amazonians are waiting to wrestle them in the mud. Where margins are thin, Amazon will win – they are relentless in their pursuit of stickiness to their own services (Kindle, Amazon Instant Video, MP3, LoveFilm, Book store, Prime, etc.) where they make the most margin.

Oh and by the way, they have a pretty nice little shop front to sell their devices too.

Changing corporate culture

Much has been written about the changes afoot at Microsoft. The reorganization of the company, inclusive of the CEO change, will be the subject of business case studies and MBA courseware well into the future. With that backdrop, I found McKinsey & Company’s interview of Alan Mulally from November 2013 fascinating reading. Mulally is of course one of the supposed “final candidates”, (yesterday’s news about Mulally not withstanding), for the CEO position at Microsoft and his transformation of Ford is widely documented. With Microsoft having restructured from divisions to functional units, the first job any incoming CEO presumably is to instill a culture that reflects the new organization. This begs the question; how does Mulally view changes like this?

McKinsey: You’re widely credited with reshaping the culture at Ford. What’s different now?
Alan Mulally: At the heart of our culture is the One Ford plan, which is essentially our vision for the organization and its mission. And at the heart of the One Ford plan is the phrase “One Team.” Those are more than just words. We really expect our colleagues to model certain behaviors. People here really are committed to the enterprise and to each other. They are working for more than themselves. We are a global company, so we really have to stay focused on the work. There are so many people around the world involved in our daily operations that it has to be about more than a single person—it truly has to be about the business. Some prefer to work in a different way. Ultimately, they will either adopt the Ford culture, or they will leave.

Given the well-documented company DNA, this kind of approach might be exactly what the doctor ordered. This is why many believe that someone from outside the company is best suited for the role, even in a caretaker / temporary position, so that they can instill the culture that fits the functional structure and then stand aside to let the product visionary take over the reigns.

Disclaimer: Whilst I work at Microsoft, I have no insight into the CEO selection process. Of course, opinions stated on this blog are my own and discussed purely from an interest in macro business strategy and trends.