Of farms, innovation and all that…

The other day, a few of us got together and the discussions moved on to how we would need to consistently work on ourselves to stay relevant in today’s fast moving world. A collegue Kartic pulled out a slender book “How Stella saved the farm“, and recommended we read it – this is a mini story of how we make the transition from cash cows to the “next big thing” he said.

The book lay on my table until yesterday – when I tentatively started to read it. It proved to be a quick and awesome read – and seemed to be just the topic to offer on the blog post.

First up, you should know that its two authors (Chris and Vijay) are experts at innovation – so expect that to be the theme of the story. Delightfully though, the book is shorn of jargon – and is plotted around an animal-run-farm (yes you got that right!) which is trying to find its next growth business. Its certainly fun and has been written to engage – its hard to not be regaled when stallions, bulls, turkeys and sheep are the central characters in a book – and with a little poetic license it may even turn out to be a good bedtime story for your kids!

Now the story reads well and it has a few questions at the end – if you want to go into “back to school” mode, all you need to do is sharpen your pencils and there are enough queries to have you working for 3 hours or more. There were certain takeaways though that I thought were important – and sharing those in this post:

1. Existing businesses and the “next big thing” both need attention – albeit on different aspects. That said, they also need to coexist and even share some parts (maybe some teams/ infrastructure etc.). And the extent of sharing isn’t static – it keeps changing. So you need to keep your ears close to the ground – The leader makes 5 org structures in the book to reflect changing needs.

2. Next big things(NBT!) need some dedicated teams and they should be measured on different metrics. The book offers a wonderful insight of how viewing NBT progress as a series of disciplined experiments is a better approach than using traditional metrics. This is so cool an idea, I think I need to dedicate one whole post to this sometime. You also need to have the right experts and may need to bring them in from outside – enthusiasm is good, expertise is a must!

3. It has some wonderful leadership stories. How the young CEO’s open dialogue with a very disgruntled (but high performing) elder convinces him to stay on for instance. Or a clarion call to the teams on the ground to stay together and work as one – when things are at their worst – is inspiring. Or the CEO’s ability to create new roles, change operating structures, connect across levels and generally be very agile in her thinking – is worth emulating. Finally, the ability to be humble and own up her mistakes (she forgets to close the gates and a few hens escape!) . Good stuff.

A good yarn – the last time I enjoyed an animal story was a decade or more back when I chanced upon “Animal farm”. That book moved me – this one doesn’t go that far, but its certainly inspiring – and a in a few ways enchanting.

Are there things I would have liked added to the book? A couple – one, the motivations of the animals seem to be very similar to the humans it models – and that is a bit of a downer – but then this is but a fable. Also, there is very little focus on the joy of working (except w.r.t maisie the cow) – its my belief that its this joy is what keeps the folks “in search of he next big thing” going – even more than market conditions?

Thanks kartic for the wonderful share – and will now pass the book along – and keep the learning going.

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