It seems like everyone is jumping on the Ron Johnson “failure” bandwagon the last few days. Being that he was a fellow hometown kid from Minnesota and having earned his retail chops at Target Corp I had followed Johnson’s tenure at JCPenney pretty closely over the last 17 months. When Johnson and his team launched their “Transformational Plans” for JCP back in January, 2012 I had watched the entire 93 minute presentation. I thought the presentation was articulate and very well thought through. Interestingly enough just last month I had overheard my wife commenting to a friend how she had stopped into one of the newly redesigned JCP stores and really liked it. That was the first time that I had heard her praise JCPenney in at least 10 years. Her friend had responded that she too had visited the store and really liked it. Having spent most of the last decade in retail I am always a little leery of the “sample-of-one” but two suggests a possible trend.
Everyone credits Steve Jobs for the success of Apple but where would Apple be without their “failed” former CEO John Sculley who had to oust Steve Jobs from the company he founded? Not to say that their contributions were both equal but they were both instrumental in shaping Apple for its incredible success. It is well understood that organizations need different types of leaders at different times. Sometimes organizations need a good failure to create the drive that will propel them toward success. And sometimes leaders find their passion within the boiling animosity of working relationships. All of these situations were found with the Steve Jobs vs. John Sculley saga at Apple. So how can we learn from them?
Is American Innovation dead? After reading Jon Gertner’s (@jongertner) recent book “The Idea Factory” that detailed the amazing frequency and impact of the innovation that was pouring out of Bell Labs back in the heyday you might think so. Just a few of Bell Labs “Gaming Changing” innovations include the first transistors; integrated circuits, fiber optics, lasers, satellites, cellular phones, and digital cameras (see complete list). These weren’t just incremental improvements in a narrow discipline but discontinuous innovations that created entirely new fields of science and engineering.
Earlier this year I had finished Walt Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. It was a great read with a litany of insights to be garnered out of the book. In fact, I would make this book required reading for every employee in the electronics and retail industries. I will frequently run through a mental index of many of those insights but there is one in particular that continues to stick with me and causes me to examine my understanding of best leadership practices. Throughout the book Isaacson shared examples of Steve’s leadership or people management style. Jobs would oscillating back and forth when giving his employees feedback on their work. He would bounce between “This is Shit” and the occasional “This is Amazing.”
Even the mighty Apple misses the mark on occasion. John Paczkowski (@JohnPaczkowski) of the tech blog All Things Digital cited sources close to the situation as suggesting that Ping will be gone with the next major release of iTunes in the Fall. The plug is being pulled on the “test” after less than two years for Apple’s social “music” network when it debuted on September 1st, 2010. Instead Apple has stated that it will focus on partnerships with Twitter and Facebook to better integrate into their dominant social webs.
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