Tag Archives: Ukraine

Leading Your Way Through Crisis

Leading Your Way Through Crisis

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

There’s a passage in Ernest Hemingway’s 1925 novel, The Sun Also Rises, in which a character is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually, then suddenly.” The quote has since become emblematic of how a crisis takes shape. First with small signs you hardly notice and then with shocking impact.

That’s certainly how it felt to me in November, 2008, when I was leading a media company in Kyiv. By that time, the financial crisis was going full throttle, although things had been relatively calm in our market. Ukraine had been growing briskly in recent years and, while we expected a slowdown, we didn’t expect a crash.

Those illusions were soon shattered. Ad sales in Ukraine would eventually fall by a catastrophic 85%, while overall GDP would be down 14%. It was, to say the least, the worst business crisis I had ever encountered. In many ways, our business never really recovered, but the lessons I learned while managing through it will last a lifetime.

Build Trust Through Candor and Transparency

Our October revenues had come through fairly strong, so we were reasonably confident in our ability to weather the crisis. That all changed in November though, when ad sales, our primary source of revenue, dropped precipitously. By mid-November it had become clear that we were going to have to take drastic measures.

One of the first things that happens in a crisis is that the rumor mill goes into high gear. As if the real news isn’t bad enough, unimaginably crazy stories start getting passed around. To make matters worse, the facts were moving so fast that I didn’t have a clear picture of what the reality actually was, so couldn’t offer much in the way of consolation.

Yet what I could do was offer clarity and transparency. I called my senior team into an emergency meeting and told them, “This is bad. Really bad. And to be honest I’m not sure where we stand right now. One thing that I can assure you all of though is this: Like everything else, eventually this crisis will end and, when it does, you are going to want to look back at how you acted and you are going to want to be proud.”

A good number of those in the room that day have since told me how much that meeting meant to them. I wasn’t able to offer much in substance, or even any condolence for that matter. What I was able to do was establish a standard of candor and transparency which made trust possible. That became an essential asset moving forward.

Create An Imperfect Plan

Creating an atmosphere of transparency and trust is essential, but you also have to move quickly to action. In our case, that meant restructuring the entire company over the next 36 hours in order to bring our costs somewhat back in line with revenues. We weren’t even close to having a plan for the long-term, this was about survival.

We still, however, wanted to limit the damage. Although we were eliminating some businesses entirely, we recognized that some of our best talent worked in those businesses. So to lay people off indiscriminately would be a mistake. We wanted to keep our top performers and place them where they could have the most impact.

Over the next day and a half, we had a seemingly never-ending and excruciating series of meetings in which we decided who would stay and who would go, where we could increase efficiency by combining functions and leveraging our scale. Our goal was to do more than just survive, but to position ourselves to be more competitive in the future.

The plan we created in that short period of time was by no means perfect. I had to make decisions based on poor information in a very compressed time frame. Certainly mistakes were made. But within 36 hours we had a plan to move forward and a committed team that, in many ways, welcomed the distraction of focusing on the task in front of them.

Look for Dead Sea Markets

In their 2005 book, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne popularized the notion of a Blue Ocean Strategy, which focuses on new markets, rather than fighting it out in a “red ocean” filled with rabid competition. As MIT Professor David Robertson has described, however, sometimes markets are neither a red or blue ocean, but more like a dead sea, which kills off existing life but provides a new ecosystem in which different organisms can thrive.

He gave the example of LEGO’s Discovery Centers, which has capitalized on the abrupt shift in the economics of mall space. A typical location is set up in an empty department store and features miniature versions of some of the same attractions that can be found at the Toy giant’s amusement parks. The strategy leverages the fact that many mall owners are in dire need to fill the space.

We found something similar during the Ukraine economic collapse of 2009. Because the country was a major outsourcing center for web developers, demand for those with technical talent actually increased. Many of our weaker competitors were unable to retain their staff, which gave us an opportunity to launch several niche digital brands even while we were cutting back in other parts of our business.

Every crisis changes economic relationships and throws pricing out of whack. In some cases that turns cheap commodities, such as Lysol and hand sanitizer amid a Coronavirus pandemic, into highly demanded products. In other cases, however, it makes both assets and market share surprisingly affordable. That can create great opportunities.

Prepare for the Next Crisis

By the fall of 2009, our company was financially stable and things were returning to some form of normalcy. We had a strong management team, a portfolio of leading products and our survival was no longer seriously in question. However, I was exhausted and decided to leave to pursue other opportunities.

The founder, who had started the company almost 15 years before, was as exhausted as me and was ready to sell the company. Given our highly political sensitive portfolio of news brands, I urged him to seek a deal with a multinational firm. However, for various reasons, he decided to go with a local group led by Petro Poroshenko and Boris Lozhkin.

In my book Cascades, I describe what happens next. Due to the hard-hitting coverage of our news journalists, the company came under pressure from the oppressive Yanukovych regime. In 2013, the new owners were forced to sell the company to an ally of the Ukrainian President. A few months later, the Euromaidan protests broke out and Yanukovych was unanimously impeached. Later, Poroshenko was elected President and named Lozhkin as his Chief of Staff.

I still keep in touch with a core group of my former colleagues. Many have started families or new businesses. Quite a few have moved to different countries. Yet we all share the bond of working through the crucible of crisis together, some pride in what we achieved and the satisfaction that, when it was called for, we gave it our honest best.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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Why Revolutions Fail

Why Revolutions Fail

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

I still remember the feeling of triumph I felt in the winter of 2005, in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. During the fall, we readied ourselves for what proved to be a falsified election. In November, when the fraudulent results were announced, we took to the streets and the demonstrations lasted until new elections were called in January.

We had won, or so we thought. Our preferred candidate was elected and it seemed like a new era had dawned. Yet soon it became clear that things were not going well. Planned reforms stalled in a morass of corruption and incompetence. In 2010, Victor Yanukovych, the same man we marched against, rose to the presidency.

The pattern repeats with almost metronomic regularity. Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted in the Arab Spring, only to be replaced by the equally authoritarian Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. George W. Bush gave way to Barack Obama, who set the stage for Donald Trump. Revolutions sow the seeds for their own demise. We need to learn to break the cycle.

The Physics Of Change And The Power Of Shared Values

In Rules for Radicals, the legendary activist Saul Alinsky observed that every revolution inspires a counterrevolution. That is the physics of change. Every action provokes a reaction because, if an idea is important, it threatens the status quo, which never yields its power gracefully. If you seek to make change in the world, you can be sure that some people aren’t going to like it and will fight against it.

For example, President Bush’s support for a “Defense of Marriage Act” inspired then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to unilaterally begin performing weddings for gay and lesbian couples at City Hall, in what was termed the Winter of Love. 4,027 couples were married before their nuptials were annulled by the California Supreme Court a month later.

The backlash was fierce. Conservative groups swung into action to defend the “sanctity of marriage” and in 2008 were successful in placing Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution that prohibited gay marriage, on the ballot. It was passed with a narrow majority of 52% of the electorate which, only further galvanized LGBTQ activists and led, eventually, to legalized gay marriage.

In our work helping organizations drive transformation, we find similar dynamics at play. Corporate revolutionaries tend to assume that once they get their budget approved or receive executive sponsorship, everything will go smoothly. The reality is that’s the point when things often get bogged down, because those who oppose change see that it has actually become possible and redouble their efforts to undermine it.

The Differentiation Trap

Many revolutionaries, corporate and otherwise, are frustrated marketers. They want to differentiate themselves in the marketplace of ideas through catchy slogans that “cut through.” It is by emphasizing difference that they seek to gin up enthusiasm among their most loyal supporters.

That was certainly true of LGBTQ activists, who marched through city streets shouting slogans like “We’re here, we’re queer and we’d like to say hello.” They led a different lifestyle and wanted to demand that their dignity be recognized. More recently, Black Lives Matter activists made calls to “defund the police,” which many found to be shocking and anarchistic.

Corporate change agents tend to fall into a similar trap. They rant on about “radical” innovation and “disruption,” ignoring the fact that few like to be radicalized or disrupted. Proponents of agile development methods often tout their manifesto, ignoring the fact many outside the agile community find the whole thing a bit weird and unsettling.

While emphasizing difference may excite people who are already on board, it is through shared values that you bring people in. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the fight for LGBTQ rights began to gain traction when activists started focusing on family values. Innovation doesn’t succeed because it’s “radical,” but when it solves a meaningful problem. The value of Agile methods isn’t a manifesto, but the fact that they can improve performance.

Learning To Love Your Haters

Once you understand that shared values are key to driving change forward, it becomes clear that those who oppose the change you seek can help break the cycle of revolution and counter-revolution and beginning to drive change forward. That’s why you need to learn to love your haters.

By listening to people who hate your idea you can identify early flaws and fix them before it’s too late. Yet even more importantly they can help you identify shared values because they are trying to persuade many of the same people you are. Often, if not always, you can use their own arguments against them.

That’s exactly what happened in the fight for LGBTQ rights. The central argument against the movement was that the gay lifestyle was a threat to family values. So it was no accident that it prevailed on the basis of living in committed relationships and raising happy families. In a similar way, Black Lives Matter activists would do much better focusing on the shared value of safe neighborhoods that in a crusade against police officers.

To be clear, listening to your opposition doesn’t mean engaging directly with them. That’s a mistake Barack Obama made far too often. He would appear on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, only to be ridiculed as soon as he was off camera. He would have been much better off watching at home and using the bombastic TV host’s remarks for his own purposes.

Achieving Schwerpunkt

In the final analysis, the reason that most would-be revolutionaries fail is that they assume that the righteousness of their cause will save them. It will not. Injustice, inequity and ineffectiveness can thrive for decades and even centuries, far longer than a human lifespan. If you think that your idea will prevail simply because you believe in it you will be sorely disappointed.

Tough, important battles can only be won with good tactics, which is why successful change agents learn how to adopt the principle of Schwerpunkt. The idea is that instead of trying to defeat your enemy with overwhelming force generally, you want to deliver overwhelming force and win a decisive victory at a particular point of attack.

Thurgood Marshall did not seek to integrate all schools, at least not at first. He started with graduate schools, where the “separate but equal” argument was most vulnerable. More recently, Stop Hate For Profit attacked Facebook not by asking users to boycott, but focused on advertisers, who themselves were vulnerable to activist action.

Yet Schwerpunkt is a dynamic, not a static concept. You have to constantly innovate your approach as your opposition adapts to whatever success you may achieve. For example, the civil rights movement had its first successes with boycotts, but eventually moved on to sit-ins, “Freedom Rides,” community actions and eventually, mass marches.

The key to success wasn’t any particular tactic, leader or slogan but strategic flexibility. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what most movements lack. All too often they get caught up in a strategy and double down, because it feels good to believe in something, even if it’s a failure. They would rather make a point than make a real difference.

Successful revolutionaries, on the other hand, understand that power will not fall simply because you oppose it, but it will crumble if you bring those who support it over to your side. That’s why lasting change is always built on the common ground of shared values.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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Innovation Lessons from Ukraine and China for the DoD

Ukraine Satellite Image from Capella Space

GUEST POST from Steve Blank

Portions of this post previously appeared in ‘War On the Rocks’

Looking at a satellite image of Ukraine online I realized it was from Capella Space – one of our Hacking for Defense student teams who now has seven satellites in orbit.

National Security is Now Dependent on Commercial Technology

They’re not the only startup in this fight. An entire wave of new startups and scaleups are providing satellite imagery and analysis, satellite communications, and unmanned aerial vehicles supporting the struggle.

For decades, satellites that took detailed pictures of Earth were only available to governments and the high-resolution images were classified. Today, commercial companies have their own satellites providing unclassified imagery. The government buys and distributes commercial images from startups to supplement their own and shares them with Ukraine as part of a broader intelligence-sharing arrangement that the head of Defense Intelligence Agency described as “revolutionary.” By the end of the decade, there will be 1000 commercial satellites for every U.S. government satellite in orbit.

At the onset of the war in Ukraine, Russia launched a cyber-attack on Viasat’s KA-SAT satellite, which supplies Internet across Europe, including to Ukraine. In response, to a (tweeted) request from Ukraine’s vice prime minister, Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite company shipped thousands of their satellite dishes and got Ukraine back on the Internet. Other startups are providing portable cell towers – “backpackable” and fixed. When these connect via satellite link, they can provide phone service and WIFI capability. Another startup is providing a resilient, mesh local area network for secure tactical communications supporting ground units.

Drone technology was initially only available to national governments and militaries but is now democratized to low price points and available as internet purchases. In Ukraine, drones from startups are being used as automated delivery vehicles for resupply, and for tactical reconnaissance to discover where threats are. When combined with commercial satellite imagery, this enables pinpoint accuracy to deliver maximum kinetic impact in stopping opposing forces.

Equipment from large military contractors and other countries is also part of the effort. However, the equipment listed above is available commercially off-the-shelf, at dramatically cheaper prices than what’s offered by the large existing defense contractors, and developed and delivered in a fraction of the time. The Ukraine conflict is demonstrating the changing character of war such that low-cost emerging commercial technology is extremely effective when deployed against a larger 20th-century industrialized force that Russia is fielding.

While we should celebrate the organizations that have created and fielded these systems, the battle for the Ukraine illustrates much larger issues in the Department of Defense.

For the first time ever our national security is inexorably intertwined with commercial technology (drones, AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, semiconductors, quantum, high-performance computing, commercial access to space, et al.) And as we’re seeing on the Ukrainian battlefield they are changing the balance of power.

The DoD’s traditional suppliers of defense tools, technologies, and weapons – the prime contractors and federal labs – are no longer the leaders in these next-generation technologies – drones, AI, machine learning, semiconductors, quantum, autonomy, biotech, cyber, quantum, high performance computing, et al. They know this and know that weapons that can be built at a fraction of the cost and upgraded via software will destroy their existing business models.

Venture capital and startups have spent 50 years institutionalizing the rapid delivery of disruptive innovation. In the U.S., private investors spent $300 billion last year to fund new ventures that can move with the speed and urgency that the DoD now requires. Meanwhile China has been engaged in a Civil/Military Fusion program since 2015 to harness these disruptive commercial technologies for its national security needs.

China – Civil/Military Fusion

Every year the Secretary of Defense has to issue a formal report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China. Six pages of this year’s report describe how China is combining its military-civilian sectors as a national effort for the PRC to develop a “world-class” military and become a world leader in science and technology. A key part of Beijing’s strategy includes developing and acquiring advanced dual-use technology. It’s worth thinking about what this means – China is not just using its traditional military contractors to build its defense ecosystem; they’re mobilizing their entire economy – commercial plus military suppliers. And we’re not.

DoD’s Civil/Military Orphan-Child – the Defense Innovation Unit

In 2015, before China started its Civil/Military effort, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, saw the need for the DoD to understand, embrace and acquire commercial technology. To do so he started the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). With offices in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston, Chicago and Washington, DC, this is the one DoD organization with the staffing and mandate to match commercial startups or scaleups to pressing national security problems. DIU bridges the divide between DOD requirements and the commercial technology needed to address them with speed and urgency. It accelerates the connection of commercial technology to the military. Just as importantly, DIU helps the Department of Defense learn how to innovate at the same speed as tech-driven companies.

Many of the startups providing Ukraine satellite imagery and analysis, satellite communications, and unmanned aerial vehicles were found by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). Given that DIU is the Department of Defense’s most successful organization in developing and acquiring advanced dual-use technology, one would expect the department to scale the Defense Innovation Unit by a factor of ten. (Two years ago, the House Armed Services Committee in its Future of Defense Task Force report recommended exactly that—a 10X increase in budget.) The threats are too imminent and stakes too high not to do so.

So what happened?

Congress cut their budget by 20%.

And their well-regarded director just resigned in frustration because the Department is not resourcing DIU nor moving fast enough or broadly enough in adopting commercial technology.

Why? The Defense Ecosystem is at a turning point. Defense innovation threatens entrenched interests. Given that the Pentagon budget is essentially fixed, creating new vendors and new national champions of the next generation of defense technologies becomes a zero-sum game.

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) had no advocates in its chain of command willing to go to bat for it, let alone scale it.

The Department of Defense has world-class people and organization for a world that no longer exists

The Pentagon’s relationship with startups and commercial companies, already an arms-length one, is hindered by a profound lack of understanding about how the commercial innovation ecosystem works and its failure of imagination about what venture and private equity funded innovation could offer. In the last few years new venture capital and private equity firms have raised money to invest in dual-use startups. New startups focused on national security have sprung up and they and their investors have been banging on the closed doors of the defense department.

If we want to keep pace with our adversaries, we need to stop acting like we can compete with one hand tied behind our back. We need a radical reinvention of our civil/military innovation relationship. This would use Department of Defense funding, private capital, dual-use startups, existing prime contractors and federal labs in a new configuration that could look like this:

Create a new defense ecosystem encompassing startups, and mid-sized companies at the bleeding edge, prime contractors as integrators of advanced technology, federally funded R&D centers refocused on areas not covered by commercial tech (nuclear and hypersonics). Make it permanent by creating an innovation doctrine/policy.

Reorganize DoD Research and Engineering to allocate its budget and resources equally between traditional sources of innovation and new commercial sources of innovation.

  • Scale new entrants to the defense industrial base in dual-use commercial tech – AI/ML, Quantum, Space, drones, autonomy, biotech, underwater vehicles, shipyards, etc. that are not the traditional vendors. Do this by picking winners. Don’t give out door prizes. Contracts should be >$100M so high-quality venture-funded companies will play.

Reorganize DoD Acquisition and Sustainment to create and buy from new 21st century arsenals – new shipyards, drone manufacturers, etc. that can make 1,000’s of extremely low cost, attritable systems – “the small, the agile and the many.”

  • Acquire at Speed. Today, the average Department of Defense major acquisition program takes anywhere from nine to 26 years to get a weapon in the hands of a warfighter. DoD needs a requirements, budgeting and acquisition process that operates at commercial speed (18 months or less) which is 10x faster than DoD procurement cycles. Instead of writing requirements, the department should rapidly assess solutions and engage warfighters in assessing and prototyping commercial solutions. We’ll know we’ve built the right ecosystem when a significant number of major defense acquisition programs are from new entrants.

  • Acquire with a commercially oriented process. Congress has already granted the Department of Defense “Other Transaction Authority” (OTA) as a way to streamline acquisitions so they do not need to use Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). DIU has created a “Commercial Solutions Opening” to mirror a commercial procurement process that leverages OTA. DoD could be applying Commercial Solutions Openings on a much faster and broader scale.

Integrate and create incentives for the Venture Capital/Private Equity ecosystem to invest at scale. The most important incentive would be for DoD to provide significant contracts for new entrants. (One new entrant which DIU introduced, Anduril, just received a follow-on contract for $1 billion. This should be one of many such contracts and not an isolated example.) More examples could include: matching dollars for national security investments (similar to the SBIR program but for investors), public/private partnership investment funds, or tax holidays and incentives – to get $10’s of billions of private investment dollars in technology areas of national interest.

Buy where we can; build where we must. Congress mandated that the Department of Defense should use commercial off-the-shelf technology wherever possible, but the department fails to do this (see industry letter to the Department of Defense).

Coordinate with Allies. Expand the National Security Innovation Base (NSIB) to an Allied Security Innovation Base. Source commercial technology from allies.

This is a politically impossible problem for the Defense Department to solve alone. Changes at this scale will require Congressional and executive office action. Hard to imagine in the polarized political environment. But not impossible.

Put Different People in Charge and reorganize around this new ecosystem. The threats, speed of change, and technologies the United States faces in this century require radically different mindsets and approaches than those it faced in the 20th century. Today’s leaders in the DoD, executive branch and Congress haven’t fully grasped the size, scale, and opportunity of the commercial innovation ecosystem or how to build innovation processes to move with the speed and urgency to match the pace China has set.

Change is hard – on the people and organizations inside the DoD who’ve spent years operating with one mindset to be asked to pivot to a new one.

But America’s adversaries have exploited the boundaries and borders between its defense and commercial and economic interests. Current approaches to innovation across the government — both in the past and under the current administration — are piecemeal, incremental, increasingly less relevant, and insufficient.

These are not problems of technology. It takes imagination, vision and the willingness to confront the status quo. So far, all are currently lacking.

Russia’s Black Sea flagship Moskva on the bottom of the ocean and the thousands of its destroyed tanks illustrate the consequences of a defense ecosystem living in the past. We need transformation not half-measures. The U.S. Department of Defense needs to change.

Historically, major defense reforms have come from inside the DoD, at other times Congress (National Security Act of 1947, Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986) and others from the President (Roosevelt’s creation of the Joint Chiefs in 1942, Eisenhower and the Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958.)

It may be that the changes needed are so broad that the DoD can’t make them and Congress needs to act. If so, it’s their time to step up.

Carpe diem. Seize the day.

The full article originally appeared on Steve Blank’s blog

Image credit: Capella Space

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