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When reflecting on the past year, so many emotions come into play that it is impossible to adequately put them into words.  What I will say is that the words of the late Steve Jobs were incredible markers for me as we progressed during the year.

We started 2014 with an intense focus on strengthening the bottom-line – improving margins and profitability — and we ended the year exceeding both of those goals with strong momentum going into 2015.

Probably even more importantly, we got back to what made this firm so successful:  We put our clients first as well as the work we do and results we deliver for them.

We also refocused on a core set of priorities and investments — people and technologies that matter, and are truly aligned with our strategy to “disrupt the status quo” – clarifying our Software as a Service as a Service (SaaS Squared), positioning and introducing new offerings in Analytics, Corporate and Strategy (Crisis, Change, Reputation), CCX and Media and Engagement (PESO).

As Steve Jobs once said:  “I’m as proud of the many things we haven’t done as the things we have done.  Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

We made improvements in Infrastructure and expanded our footprint with new offices.  And of course we continued to do what we do best – partner with world-class organizations and brands – to transform the way they connect with customers, engage employees, beat the competition in the marketplace and forge new pathways to the future.

TheBestIsYetToCome

None of this could have been accomplished without YOU.  I’m most proud and humbled by all of you – the dedicated professionals comprising our firm.  There is not a challenge, a roadblock, a problem or an issue that you can’t overcome.  There’s not an opportunity or a change that isn’t embraced by you.

Once again, Steve Jobs’ words resonate:  “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long.  Just figure out what’s next.”

An important symbol of that mentality was the formal restatement of the firm’s Values.  The very essence of what make us, well, us.  These Values were forged at the beginning – when I first embarked on what has become an incredible personal and professional journey — battle-tested and honed over the years.  And these Values truly reflect the set of principles and beliefs guiding our behavior.

When I talk about Values, I’m also speaking about career development and growth.  We will continue to support and expand W2O University and I’m asking all of our leaders to recommit to content and facilitation of specific programs and courses to build our individual and collective competency and confidence.  Our Center for Social Commerce at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University is a premier example of what a modern academic-business partnership is all about – we are training the next generation of marketing and communications professionals.

From a Thought Leadership standpoint, our efforts at JP Morgan, SXSW, Page, CES and IPR, to name just a few, are increasingly strategic and precise in terms of ROI and reach.  Adding to this was our first-ever European-focused Social Intelligence Summit hosted by our London office and attracting both a significant on-site and Webex presence extending our Brand throughout a region still less familiar with us and what we can do for them.

One of the more impactful aspects of 2014 was the realization to continue our growth and globalization aspirations, the opportunity to partner, acquire or join up with another organization must be considered.  To that end, we held numerous discussions with a variety of larger global players who could provide capital, footprint and resources if we were to choose such an option.  However, my priority in doing something like that rests with having the confidence that such a partner is compatible with our culture and respectful of our people.

At this point, my belief is that we can continue to do what is necessary ourselves – given our strong leadership, incredible staff, improving financial position and operational infrastructure, and, most importantly, our unique culture of entrepreneurialism, innovation and collaboration.  If, at some point, we identify the right partner or partners, and it feels right, we will explore the validity of such a move.

To quote Jobs again:  “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me . . . going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful . . . that’s what matters to me.”

From where I sit, I could not be more proud and excited about where we are.  And after 13 years, it’s safe to say our journey is just beginning.  There are three things that I ask you to think about often during the coming year:  1) Be interested, not interesting; 2) Think Big, but act in small, focused and effective ways; and 3) be creative by being curious.

Thank you all very much for all you do . . . from my family to yours, have a healthy, prosperous new year!

And to paraphrase Steve Jobs once more:  “In 2015, let’s put a ding in the universe.”

Sincerely,

Jim

The business world is abuzz lately with “collaboration.”

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer stirred controversy and discussion last week, both inside the company and out, when she issued her edict that will effectively end all employees’ work-from-home. Yahoo needs to rebuild the culture it lost over the years by creating a more collaborative environment, which can only happen, she insisted, if everyone is in the office every day.

Her industry peers at companies like Google and Apple appear to agree. Google, for instance, recently introduced its Frank Gehry-designed “Bayview” expansion of Googleplex, a key feature of which is that no individual employee will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk from any other staffer.

The idea, according to a spokesman, is that such proximity encourages and builds collaborative behaviors and spontaneity that, in turn, lead to greater innovation and creativity.

Before his death, Steve Jobs similarly talked about the importance and value of collaboration and spontaneous encounters between employees. In the context of introducing the design for Apple’s new headquarters, he said that some of the best ideas to come out of Apple were the result of spontaneous encounters and conversations in hallways and break rooms.

The Value of Collaboration

A collaborative culture is one where engaged employees work together toward a common purpose. People bring their unique skills and backgrounds together as a team or unit and contribute collectively toward a greater outcome, to fulfill the organization’s vision.

Conversely, where the notion of collaboration is foreign, employees compete with one another, resulting in dysfunction and redundancies. In a collaborative culture, the organization realizes multiple benefits, including:

  • Greater clarity about what is needed for the organization to succeed
  • Inclusive decision-making
  • Fresh thinking and innovative solutions
  • Efficient, concerted actions in the service of shared, measurable goals
  • Effective time management
  • Greater trust, and broader engagement

So assuming Marissa Mayer and her peers are right, is physical proximity a requirement of effective collaboration? Ironically, the same day as her announcement, the Census Bureau released a study that shows a steady rise in the number of people engaged in at-home work today in America. Some 13.4 million people – about 9.4% of the workforce – worked at least one day per week at home in 2010, an increase over 1997 data that showed 7% of the workforce did.

Case in point, employees at a client company of ours are now occupying a gleaming new, glass-encased headquarters building, trying to adapt to a new concept of “workplace.” The building was designed for 110% occupancy. No one has a permanently assigned desk, office or landline phone number.

Rather, people – including the CEO and his senior management team – work in large, open areas at long tables among their function or department peers, using laptops and mobile phones wherever they may sit on a given day. Rooms of varying sizes are available for meetings or conference calls.

The design is a physical manifestation of the evolution of the modern workplace, acknowledging that people do work from home on occasion. Others travel. The building design team’s analysis said it could safely anticipate that all employees would never show up on any given day. Why accommodate them all every day?

But in such cases – which we know have become the norm – is collaboration possible without every employees walking distance from one another, as some insist? Enter modern technology, which is largely responsible for allowing people such freedom in choosing where they work.

Achieving a collaborative way of life within an organization where everyone is under the same roof is one thing. It’s an altogether different matter when people are scattered around the globe or across the country in multiple locations – never mind the work-at-home employees.

Using Technology to Sustain Collaboration

Web and video conferencing enables real-time face-to-face web conferences, bringing the additional advantage of seeing people’s faces while we talk with them, enabling everyone to catch the subtleties of facial inflections, like smiles and frowns, that add meaning to one’s words. It also enables the group simultaneously to examine documents under discussion.

Similarly, webinars facilitate online collaboration for larger groups and company-wide meetings such as leadership town halls and All Hands meetings. Webinar leaders – be it the CEO, a division head or an internal expert – can present new initiatives, new products, new ideas or approaches.

Some webinar solutions offer recording and archiving functions that enable employees who want a second viewing or who may have missed the initial meeting the opportunity to view the recording at their leisure.

If used regularly and consistently by all team members, internal social media can also stimulate and sustain collaboration, regardless of employees’ proximity to one another.

So while we can appreciate Marissa Mayer’s desire to bring all Yahoo employees back to headquarters, improved collaboration can’t be seen as the real reason. Rather, the real motive is more likely her need to bring some order to a chaotic situation.

Collaboration occurs not because people have been forced into a single common location, but because a conscious decision was enacted to make it happen and then the right things done to sustain it.

As the March 5 New York Times article noted several paragraphs deep, Yahoo had become a company “where employees were aimless and morale was low.” Ms. Mayer’s immediate fix is physical proximity. That’s her call. Time will tell whether it was the right approach. Any improvement in collaboration would be a bonus, but not a rationale for her action.

I’ve always respected Steve Jobs, although it was hard to admit when I was at Dell. During our holiday break, I read his book and a lot of dots connected for me related to what I knew about him over the years.   The book also made me regret my opportunity to meet him back in 2008.  I helped plan the first meeting of Michael and Steve in Austin for an education conference, but at the last minute, something important came up and I delegated to a colleague.  Rather than spend an afternoon in his world as one of the “planners”, I solved some other problem I can’t even remember…oh well, cie la vie.….

Anyway, here is what I learned.

#1 – Leapfrog opportunities depend on gut instinct – you can’t ask your peers or customers what is next and expect to truly leapfrog.  As Steve said, they don’t know.  My view is that it’s not quite that simple.  The clues are there….we have to be smart enough to find them…hence why our analytics are so critical to our firm and our clients.  If we utilize our analytics skills and our gut feel, we’ll out innovate our peers forever.

#2 – First impressions matter – Steve believed we fall in love when we initially see the packaging or when we first touch a device.  It made me wonder how we can improve our first impression for all we have contact with.  What is it like to reach one of us for the first time?  What is it like when you start working here?  What is it like when we present our first results? Or when you walk in our doors?

#3 – Brands globalize more than people – popular brands or ideas can permeate cultures worldwide, yet people still want to conduct business in local fashion.  Jobs knew this and focused on building a great brand, knowing that local sales would take care of itself later on. This is the exact trend we are seeing in social media, by the way.

#4 – Passion leads to great work – Jobs loved to spend his time with designers and engineers.  He felt it was a waste of time to hang out with execs.  He wanted to figure out what was next.  Nothing was more important than building the best products or services and experience.  Every spare minute he had was focused on innovation.  How do we organize our day?

#5 – Vision can change behavior of a company via its ideas – if Jobs said he was going to improve customer experience, it may not have worked.  Instead, he started the Genius Bar and simply uplifted the level of customer service competence.  He created a vision for higher competence that people had to meet via a public display of what excellence meant. It reminded me of Michael Dell.  He would mention things in press conferences that served as a warning shot to the company of how we would need to change.  Once public, no choice.

#6 – Control the end to end experience – don’t depend on third parties to do your level of quality.  Only partner when they do something you can never do and then treat them like family.

#7 – Details matter – every detail, actually.  Its why Jobs made sure the inside of a computer looked perfect, even though you could not open up the system.  His Dad taught him that you don’t cheap out when no one is looking.  You always do your best job.  An important reminder to ourselves when we are exhausted and have one more thing to do. High quality always matters. We’re craftspeople.

#8 – A players respond to A players – his troops were inspired when surrounded by equally smart people.  When not, equally uninspired.

#9 – The status quo is enough incentive to be different – who wants to be the same? This type of thinking creates an eternal fire in the belly.  The worst insult is to become a commodity  and be compared to our competitors.  There is always a better way to do something…it’s our job to figure it out and make it happen.

#10 – Talk through ideas and avoid powerpoint when possible – conversations and debates lead to breakthroughs.  Emails and slides lead to status quo.  This is why I am often not on email consistently. I get so much more out of conversations with all of you.  It’s the best way to learn and improve.  Have conversations and educate, don’t lecture.

#11 –A great team knows how to leverage each other – for example, Jony Ives is the real hidden star of Jobs reign.  He built what we love.  Ives and his team were the soul of the company.  Those who create ideas……they propel the firms they are part of…..

#12 – A powerful brand allows customers to dream of what is possible – when a person’s aspirations can be applied to a brand, you have a winner.  The same goes with our relationships.  When we become the accelerator of what is possible, we create continual value.

My final observation relates to Steve Jobs as a person.  I actually felt sorry for him.  Being abrasive and a jerk to all he met provided zero value.  He got kicked out of Apple the first time.  His relationships often failed.  He was probably never happy.  Yet, he had every reason to be thrilled with life.  None of us should ever make that mistake.

It was a great read.  Will be adding these learning’s to my next book.

All the best, Bob

If he had been British, he would have most likely been known as Sir Steve Jobs or Lord Jobs. Steve Jobs, however, was as American as Apple. This week, millions of loyal fans paid their respects to the charismatic icon and former Apple CEO. Some of the most appropriate tributes compare Jobs to the most impactful American revolutionary thinkers and businessmen that helped shaped the US of A. Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie are just a few characters of another time that Steve Jobs now shares a stage with. Jobs was a truly transformational leader who single handedly made modern times more modern and little bit easier for all. Here are three important lessons that we can take from the actions of a legend.

1.    Design for humans without compromising aesthetics.
Time and time again, Apple changed the category it entered by combining style and ease of use. Apple didn’t make the first computer, mp3 player, smartphone, or tablet. Arguably they don’t even make the best versions of these products if you judge them based on superlatives. There will always be something faster, with more features, made with more exotic materials or at better price points. Apple made “dense” products that packed more design, usability and simplicity into every inch than any competitor. This formula created products with a gravitational force that pulls people in, makes them forget how technically brilliant the products are, and helps them focus on how life just got a little better. The form and function ballet is a difficult thing to execute, but Steve Jobs has been a consistent performer.

2.    If you want to sell more, don’t make more products, create markets.
The iPod changed music, but without iTunes, Apple would not have been as successful. iPods were fashionable little stores in your pocket. They made buying digital music easier than stealing it, which was a huge accomplishment at the time. The opening of the App Store followed the introduction of the iPhone. Again, Apple created another intuitive marketplace with no competitors in sight. The Mac App Store is the marketplace for their computers and the iCloud will be the storage marketplace for all devices. Each one of these markets are as important as their storefronts, which we all know better as Apple products. Apple not only creates markets, they bring them closer to you.

3.    Never forget the importance of good storytelling.
This lesson doesn’t come from Apple. It comes from Pixar, the little computer graphics company that Steve Jobs bought from Lucasfilm for about $10 million dollars in 1986. While at Pixar, Jobs helped shift the direction of the company from one that creates animation that attempt to mimic life to one that uses moving images to tell stories. In the 90’s Pixar teamed up with Disney, who’s been known to tell a good story or two. Since it’s first blockbuster, Toy Story, in 1995, Pixar has made 12 feature films. In 2006, Pixar was sold to Disney for $7.4 billion dollars. Now that’s a story worth telling.

I’m sure there are more lessons we can extract from the life of Steve Jobs. I can think of at least six as I type away on my Macbook Air, but I just checked the time on my iPhone and I have to get going to work now. Thanks for the lessons Mr. Jobs, but more importantly thank you for making life just a tad more enjoyable. The world will miss you.