1. Acting on Intuition
Focus groups. Data analysis. Gut-wrenching rationalizations. All of these tools — and for what? To come to the same conclusion you probably reached unconsciously within the first few seconds of thinking about the problem? Malcolm Gladwell explores the power of intuitive decision making in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little, Brown and Co., January 2005). Starting with the premise that we form our judgments in the first two seconds that we interact with something, Gladwell argues that we need to distill that two-second interaction into useful decision-making information. How? By teaching ourselves to slow down the moment, redirecting our attention to meaningful cues rather than the subconscious biases that often cloud our perceptions. Assuming this book tips like Gladwell's last one, we have a hunch it will be on the minds of all decision makers.
2. MBA Lite
Managers looking to expand their knowledge can often get mired in the noisy world of executive education, says Mark W. Wilbur, a new dean at the exec-ed program at USC's Marshall School of Business. "Right now, [exec ed] is being sold like ramen: Open box, add water," he says. Finding that there were few alternatives for managers who couldn't afford to take a couple of years off to pursue an MBA, Wilbur is launching a six- to eight-week management-development course, accessibly priced at around $3,000. It's meant not only to provide a solid business foundation but also to promote a discussion of issues such as customer service, distribution, and ethics. The real test is whether his approach can meaningfully cover business complexities so that this short-term primer will have a long-term impact.
3. Over There — and Staying
Once upon a time, the United States nurtured innovation and then exported it to the rest of the world. But American venture capitalists say that more and more technology is being developed abroad and marketed to burgeoning regions, bypassing our own shores completely. Partly it's because the United States lags in crucial areas such as mobile communications. And Asia isn't just a source of cheaper labor for U.S. companies — it's a huge end market of its own, accounting for 22% of worldwide info-tech consumption. India, especially, is beginning to develop its own entrepreneurial culture. Leading Silicon Valley VCs from firms such as Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins are rushing over to hunt for deals. The risk is that the influx of talent that used to come to America, bringing with it great energy and innovation, will start to stay home.
4. Ready to Play Hardball?
Nah, not Chris Matthews. In the business context, as outlined in George Stalk's new book (Harvard Business School Press, October 2004), Hardball is about creating discomfort for others and dealing with it yourself. Stalk, a renowned strategy guru, celebrates relentless winners and tough market fighters like Dell, Toyota, and Wal-Mart. The idea is that success today is defined by constantly attacking competitors, directly and indirectly, to maintain an edge. Increasingly, only hardball competitors will survive, so softballers take heed. Working for a company pursuing this strategy doesn't necessarily mean working for tyrants. Stalk argues that the energy and importance of a hardball company make it a great place to work. If you're up for it.
5. Beyond the Talking Toaster
Home automation products have been aimed at either the nouveau riche (think show-offs who designed their houses so they could run their living-room stereo from the patio) or the nouveau crass (think the Clapper). By chasing everyone in between, Control4 is poised to reshape and expand this business. As technology spreads through our homes, it only makes sense to have a single control that oversees media, lighting, temperature, even security — all without the daunting (and outrageously expensive) task of major home construction or retrofitting. Control4's full-house media controller costs just $1,500, and its full line of 20 gizmos will be rolling out nationwide beginning late 2004. Clap off!
6. Green Giant
Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council, is expanding the reach of this advocate for green architecture. Instead of registering and certifying just new commercial buildings based on their environmental benefits (1,453 projects registered so far), it'll now do the same for renovation of existing buildings. It's a market that Fedrizzi estimates is nearly 100 times larger than new construction. The new rating system will be out next year. After that, he wants to develop similar guidelines for houses and neighborhoods. "Our goal," he says, "is market transformation." He's getting there, one vegetative roof and underfloor HVAC system at a time.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.