Friday, February 15, 2019

Kaplan Institute Welcomes Upshow CEO Adam Hirsen



Kaplan Institute Welcomes IIT Trustee and KI Board Member Doug Monieson


Managing and Activating Innovation


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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

New INC Magazine Blog Post by Kaplan Institute Exec Director Howard Tullman


Put Down Your Ping Pong Paddle and Get Down to Business
The pool party's over, too. As we head toward the next recession--and we are--play at work is going to have to give way to work at work.


Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology


We've reached the official end of the ping pong and pool period. Couldn't come soon enough for me. Something just feels different these days and maybe that's the need to hunker down a bit and take the task of "taking care of business" a lot more seriously.  Let's dial back leisure in the office, lower the volume on the whining and worrying about hurt feelings, and double down on sweat and toil. We've always called it "work" for a reason and, while it can certainly be plenty stimulating and rewarding, work is not intended to be all fun, all the time. Never was. There's still no substitute for hard, purposeful work and no more likely path to eventual success. Talent and creativity are great, and should certainly be encouraged, but effort and execution are what really matter.

If those happy and halcyon days ever made sense, they're already on their way to the dustbin, soon to be long gone, and utterly un-mourned by the people trying to build real businesses. These aren't the frothy, kombucha-and-beer times of yore anymore. Global competition is rising, a recession is almost certainly on the horizon (it's only a question of "when"), and when the market and the investors start seriously keeping score,  all the touchy-feely awards for "the very best place in the whole wide world to work" ain't gonna matter much if your team isn't monetizing your business and putting some real numbers on the bottom line.

The thought of a bunch of clowns playing pong (analog or throwback digital) in the middle of the day while other team members are busting their butts trying to get a new software release out the door no longer computes. Camaraderie is critical in any new business, but it's important to make sure that it comes from the shared pride of completing what needs to get done, not solely from Thursday night shots, smelly cigars and card games. That also includes the pinball machines, foosball games, and the old pool table, which is just as passé today as the phony masse shot that Matthew McConaughey makes in the latest Lincoln Navigator ad. Time to pull the plug, people.

Real company cultures are built on respect, recognition and well-earned rewards, not free food, laundry services and recreational resources. Your customers don't really care about the perks, the toys, or the cereal selections in your break room or any of the other lovely snack options. When their system's not working, they want the best software engineer on the case, not the guy who racked up the highest score playing pinball.

And, even more importantly, your best and most important employees don't really care about all this crap, either. They're the ones who are head-down and have no time to fool around. These rabbits are worth a dozen happy and sensitive little turtles and pong players. Businesses rapidly become the behaviors that they tolerate, and it only takes a few slackers and snowflakes to suck the life, energy and momentum out of any startup. Part of the job is to make sure that doesn't happen.

When people are struggling to answer too many incoming customer calls or polishing a PowerPoint for an important funding pitch, or cold-calling piles of prospects, it seems somewhere between petty and perilous to show up at a critical meeting with blue cue chalk dust on your fingers. You don't really want to be the office's social director and party person. The goal is to be the "go-to" guy - not the mope you'd probably have a drink with, but never count on for much of anything else.

Late night and "after hours" bonding activities might still be okay, but what authentic entrepreneur has ever had regular office hours to begin with? In the real world, you work 'til you're about to fall over and then you go home so you can pick yourself up in the morning and do it all over again. And you desperately hope that your family recognizes you when you finally do get home.

If you want to build a serious business, that's the behavior you want to model. That's what people inside and outside the business pick up on. Passion and commitment. You want to build a team that finds its satisfaction in achievements and accomplishments and not one that's fixated on freebies and fresh fruit. If you have to bribe your people with goodies or otherwise convince them to work hard and do their best, you've got the wrong people and you're sending the wrong message.

It's all about revenues and results, and not refreshments and recreation.

PUBLISHED ON: FEB 12, 2019


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Trust Me...


Bret Stephens The Progressive Assault on Israel


The Progressive Assault on Israel
A movement that can detect a racist dog-whistle from miles away is strangely deaf when it comes to some of the barking on its own side of the fence.

Opinion Columnist

·         Feb. 8, 2019

It happened again last month in Detroit. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators seized the stage of the National L.G.B.T.Q. Task Force’s marquee conference, “Creating Change” and demanded a boycott of Israel. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they chanted — the tediously malign, thinly veiled call to end Israel as a Jewish state.

They were met with sustained applause by the audience at what is the largest annual conference of L.G.B.T.Q. activists in the United States. Conference organizers did nothing to stop the disruption or disavow the demonstrators.

For Tyler Gregory, neither the behavior of the protesters nor the passivity of the organizers came as a surprise. Gregory is executive director of A Wider Bridge, a North American L.G.B.T.Q. organization that works to support Israel and its gay community. In 2016, his group hosted a reception at the Task Force’s conference in Chicago. The event was mobbed by some 200 aggressive demonstrators, and Gregory and his audience had to barricade themselves in their room while those outside were harassed.

“Whether you believe in the concept of intersectionality is beside the point,” Gregory told me recently, referring to the idea that the oppression of one group is the oppression of all others. “If this is your value system, you are not following it. As Jews we were denied our safe space. We were denied our place in a movement that fights bigotry.”

Scenes of the kind that played out at the L.G.B.T.Q. conferences — not to mention college campuses across the United States — are familiar to anyone involved in the politics of the American Jewish community. They have burst into wider consciousness in recent months, thanks to revelations that Jewish organizers of the 2017 Women’s March were deliberately sidelined, excluded and attacked by some of its founders, at least one of whom, activist Tamika Mallory, is an unapologetic admirer of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam’s unapologetically anti-Semitic leader.

They have also burst into Congress, largely as a result of the election of Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Both women support boycotts of Israel. Both have also written tweets with distinctly anti-Semitic undertones. Far from being reproached or condemned by their party, as Iowa’s Steve King was by Republicans, they have become Democratic rock stars. (Omar, to her credit, recanted her tweet; Tlaib did not.)

Progressives — including presidential hopefuls Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren — also united behind Vermont’s Bernie Sanders in a failed bid to block a Senate bill, passed on Tuesday, that includes an anti-B.D.S. measure prohibiting federal contracts with businesses that boycott Israel, ostensibly on free-speech grounds. One wonders how these same Democrats feel about, say, championing First Amendment protections for bakers who refuse to make cakes for gay couples.

All of this is profoundly unsettling to a Jewish community that has generally seen the Democratic Party as its political home. That’s not because American Jews are unfamiliar with the radical left’s militant hostility toward the Jewish state. That’s been true for decades. Nor is it because American Jews are suddenly tilting right: Some 76 percent voted for Democrats in the midterms.

What’s unsettling is that the far-left’s hostility is now being mainstreamed by the not-so-far left. Anti-Zionism — that is, rejection not just of this or that Israeli policy, but also of the idea of a Jewish state itself — is becoming a respectable position among people who would never support the elimination of any other country in any other circumstance. And it is churning up a new wave of nakedly anti-Jewish bigotry in its wake, as when three women holding rainbow flags embossed with a Star of David at the 2017 Chicago Dyke March were ejected on grounds that the star was “a trigger.”

How did this happen?

The progressive answer is straightforward: Israel and its supporters, they say, did this to themselves. More than a half-century of occupation of Palestinian territories is a massive injustice that fair-minded people can no longer ignore, especially given America’s financial support for Israel. Continued settlement expansion in the West Bank proves Israel has no interest in making peace on equitable terms. And endless occupation makes Israel’s vaunted democracy less about Jewish self-determination than it is about ethnic subjugation.
There’s more to the indictment, but that’s the nub of it. It would be damning if it were true, or even half-true. It’s not.

A few facts ought at least to stir the thinking of those who subscribe to the progressive narrative. Israel's enemies were committed to its destruction long before it occupied a single inch of Gaza or the West Bank. In proportion to its size, Israel has voluntarily relinquished more territory taken in war than any state in the world. Israeli prime ministers offered a Palestinian state in 2000 and 2008; they were refused both times. The government of Ariel Sharon removed every Israeli settlement and soldier from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The result of Israel’s withdrawal allowed Hamas to seize power two years later and spark three wars, causing ordinary Israelis to think twice about the wisdom of duplicating the experience in the West Bank. Nearly 1,300 Israeli civilians have been killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks in this century: That’s the proportional equivalent of about 16 Sept. 11’s in the United States.
Also: If the Jewish state is really so villainous, why doesn’t it behave more like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad or Russia’s Vladimir Putin — both of whom, curiously, continue to have prominent sympathizers and apologists on the anti-Israel left?

None of this is to embrace the “Likud narrative” of the conflict, or support the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, or reject the idea of Palestinian statehood, or suggest that Israel is above criticism and reproach. For the record, I support a two-state solution, just as I supported Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip when I was the editor of The Jerusalem Post.

What it is to say is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is far more complicated than the black-and-white picture drawn by Israel’s progressive critics. But the deeper flaw in progressive thinking on Israel — the flaw that has resulted in this efflorescence of bigotry — isn’t that it rests on a faulty factual foundation. It’s that its core intellectual assumptions are wrong and rotten.

The first assumption is that Israel’s choices toward the Palestinians aren’t agonizingly hard (as they are for some of the reasons mentioned above), but actually are quite easy — just a matter of stopping settlement construction, reaching a reasonable settlement with the Palestinians, making peace, and living relatively happily ever after. But this is a caricature, and it’s one that quickly descends to calumny: That is, the idea that Israel’s failure to make the “right” choice is proof of its boundless greed for Palestinian land and wicked indifference to their plight.

Next is the belief that anti-Zionism is a legitimate political position, and not another form of prejudice.

It is one thing to argue, in the moot court of historical what-ifs, that Israel should not have come into being, at least not where it is now. It is also fair to say that there is much to dislike about Israel’s current leadership, just as there’s much not to like about America’s. But nobody claims the election of Donald Trump makes America an illegitimate state.
Israel is now the home of nearly nine million citizens, with an identity that is as distinctively and proudly Israeli as the Dutch are Dutch or the Danes Danish. Anti-Zionism proposes nothing less than the elimination of that identity and the political dispossession of those who cherish it, with no real thought of what would likely happen to the dispossessed. Do progressives expect the rights of Jews to be protected should Hamas someday assume the leadership of a reconstituted “Palestine”?

Then there’s the astounding view that anti-Zionism bears only a tangential relationship to anti-Semitism. Hatred of Jews is a shape-shifting phenomenon that historically has melded with the prejudices of the time in order to gain greater political currency. Jews have been hated for reasons of religion, race, lack of national attachments, and now an excess of national attachment. The arguments for hating Jews vary; the target of the hatred tragically remains the same.

Of course, it’s theoretically possible to distinguish anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism, just as it’s theoretically possible to distinguish segregationism from racism. But the striking feature of anti-Zionist rhetoric is how broadly it overlaps with traditionally anti-Semitic tropes.
To say, as progressives sometimes do, that Jews are “colonizers” in Israel is anti-Semitic because it advances the lie that there is no ancestral or historic Jewish tie to the land. To claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, when manifestly it is not, is anti-Semitic because it’s an attempt to Nazify the Jewish state. To insist that the only state in the world that has forfeited the moral right to exist just happens to be the Jewish state is anti-Semitic, too: Are Israel’s purported crimes really worse than those of, say, Zimbabwe or China, whose rights to exist are never called into question?

But the most toxic assumption is that Jews, whether in Israel or the U.S., can never really be thought of as victims or even as a minority because they are white, wealthy, powerful and “privileged.” This relies on a simplistic concept of power that collapses on a moment’s inspection.

Jews in Germany were economically and even politically powerful in the 1920s. And then they were in Buchenwald. Israel appears powerful vis-√†-vis the Palestinians, but considerably less so in the context of a broader Middle East saturated with genocidal anti-Semitism. American Jews are comparatively wealthy. But wealth without political power, as Hannah Arendt understood, is a recipe for hatred. The Jews of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh are almost surely “privileged” according to various socio-economic measures. But privilege didn’t save the congregants of the Tree of Life synagogue last year.

Nor can the racial politics of the United States or any other country be projected onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as some have desperately sought to do. Nearly half of all Jewish Israelis have Middle Eastern roots; some, in fact, are black. Martin Luther King Jr. preached nonviolent resistance; Yasir Arafat practiced terrorism. The civil rights movement was about getting America to live up its founding ideals; anti-Zionism is about destroying Israel’s founding ideals.

As for the oft-cited apartheid analogy, black South Africans did not have a place in the old regime’s Parliament, as Israeli Arabs have in the Knesset; nor were they admitted to white universities, as Israeli Arabs are to Israeli universities. Israel can do more to advance the rights of its Arab citizens (just as the United States, France, Britain and other countries can for their own minorities). And Israel can also do more to ease the lives of Palestinians who are not citizens. But the comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa is unfair to the former and an insult to the victims of the latter.

None of this should be hard for most progressives to understand. Indeed, progressives have no trouble spotting anti-Semitism when it emanates from the political right — the effigies of George Soros, the attacks on “globalists” with names like Blankfein and Yellen, the social media memes borrowed from neo-Nazis. Yet it seems that a movement that can detect a racist dog-whistle from miles away is strangely deaf when it comes to some of the barking on its own side of the fence. And even when it does hear it, it doesn’t have the sense to banish it.

This is dangerous, and not just to Israeli and American Jews. In Britain, the Labour Party is now led by a militant anti-Zionist whose deep-seated anti-Semitism occasionally slips out. And yet Jeremy Corbyn remains in firm control of his party, is reshaping it in his image and may yet become Britain’s next prime minister.

The prospect of Corbynism coming to America may still seem remote. But that can’t be counted on in an era of sharp and rapid polarization. When New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted recently about the “honor” of her “lovely and wide-reaching conversation” with Corbyn, it was a sign either of indifference or purposeful alliance that ought to profoundly alarm every sensible Democrat worried about the ideological direction and moral health of the party. Now is the time for party leaders to make sure that doesn’t happen by insisting that anti-Zionism has no more a place in the Democratic fold than any form of prejudice.

American democracy is already in jeopardy for having one party that has surrendered to the politics of ethnic bigotry disguised as social concern. To have two such parties would be fatal.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

New INC Magazine Blog Post by Kaplan Institute Exec Director Howard Tullman


Follow These Three Rules to Make Sure You Retain the Right Customers
Because if you end up the wrong ones, they'll kill your business.


Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology



Ideas for new businesses are a dime a dozen; they change about as often as the weather and just as radically. If you thought fashion was fickle, it's got nothing on A.I., blockchain, or cannabis. They're the ABCs of awesomeness, but only for a moment. In today's startup world, you're impossibly hot one day and a glacier the next. Nothing's "the future" for long; the present has never felt more temporary. The trick is to catch the gravy train and hop aboard before it leaves the station. The market doesn't care that much where things are headed-- up or down doesn't really matter. For the money men, there's a train every day, leaving either way and a whole world of places to go.

Funding for new ventures isn't much different. It comes and goes. Sometimes it's fast and easy and appears abundant and sometimes it's flat-out impossible to raise another nickel just when you need it the most. A few bucks to keep the doors open and the story alive is harder to come by than a fortune when things are fat and happy. The money is always there, but the pockets and the velocity of movement change, and you quickly learn that money doesn't really care who makes it.  The trick with any early-stage investment is to take the cash when it's offered, take as much as you possibly can, and don't be a pig on valuation.  A part of somethin' is always better than a whole lot of nothin'.

If and when you make it and until you're up for sale, the interim valuations and all that fancy paper money don't mean squat. That's just a bunch of people living in a filtered bubble, talking to themselves, trying to make themselves feel better and smarter than the rest. But if you blow the chance to build a war chest before the war begins, your business could be over before you really get going. There's only one fatal error a startup can make:   running out of money.  Everything else (albeit over time) can pretty much be fixed with a check.

Teams and new technologies are going to be built as you evolve and hopefully, they both get better over time. There's always a risk that some competitor's new tech will jump over yours and technology teams - especially on the coasts - aren't exactly known for their longevity. But the one thing that no startup can ever succeed without - the absolute sine qua non for survival - is customers. And not just any assortment of purchasers. If you don't have a critical mass of the correct customers, you don't have a viable company or much of a chance to succeed.

Too many startups make the mistake of taking all comers. They think that any customer is better than none.  They don't understand that it's important, right from the start, to focus on attracting, connecting with, and above all retaining the right customers. You need to get it right at the beginning - before you think about scaling and growing the business - because you're trying to build a replicable model that makes sense and profits in the long term. Every business with a brain is focused on the lifetime value of customers and not on the quick hits and the inflated customer acquisition numbers that mean nothing when they melt away after the incentives, discounts, bundles and other props disappear. Businesses succeed because they give their customers long-term value and benefits, not short-term price breaks.

But they also need to have a business model that can successfully serve a growing number of customers in a consistent and satisfactory manner. If only the CEO or a genius can sell your product or service; if it's so bespoke and personal that you'll go bankrupt trying to build a base of happy clients; or if the costs of delivery consistently exceed the price anyone's willing to pay, you're never gonna make it up in volume. And, as often as not, the customers you think you have aren't going to stick around either. Remember that, ultimately, good business isn't about what you're selling; it's about what the customers are buying.

Churn is beyond costly, it's killed more companies than just about anything else you can imagine. You waste enormous amounts of time and money on people who don't matter; your own employees get confused, depressed, and start to take it personally; and you find that you're trying to hold on to hopeless causes or convince customers of something they didn't buy into in the first place. It's simply too hard and not worth the effort or the price you end up paying.

The key to corralling the right customers from Day One, to making that sure you get off to a strong start on an aggressive retention program, is a 3-step process: (1) understanding the customer attachment characteristics of your particular industry; (2) appreciating your own customers' specific kinds of connection to your product or service; and (3) making sure that your own actions continually strengthen and reinforce your relationship with each individual customer. If you don't understand and focus on the unique nature of the customer engagement that you're trying to build, you can waste a tremendous amount of time and money paying attention to the wrong behavior drivers and levers. This is a complicated area, but here are a few headlines to get you thinking about how these buckets make sense for your own business.

1.       Industry-Specific Customer Attachment Characteristics
When we look at different industries, there are typically a few aspects of the customers' behavior that can significantly influence the degree of attachment each customer has: (a) how often are the purchases made; (b) how frequent are the other interactions with the customer; (c) how important is the purchase - financially and emotionally -to the customer; (d) how much differentiation is there in competing market offerings; and (e) how easy is it for customers to switch to another vendor.  Each of these attributes impacts your approach and strategy. 

2.       Customers' Connections to Your Offering
When you look more closely and try to get inside each customer's head and their connection to your product or service, there are also distinct categories to consider. The best and most loyal customers have an emotional connection. They're convinced believers who know they made the right choice and they're the most likely to stick around. The next group is basically too lazy and comfortable to look elsewhere-- unless you give them some reason to move. You don't want to take them for granted, but in most cases, they're not a big risk. Cable subscribers are an interesting subset of this group. Cable TV today is what we would call a "grudge buy." You're not that happy and you feel that you're being ripped off, but for now it's too much trouble to switch.  But switching costs are constantly shrinking, which is why the fat and happy days of cable are coming to an end.  Once the dam bursts, the flood of cable-cutters will be unstoppable. Another, even bigger challenge are the "smart" customers who bought your product or service because it made sense at the time, but who are always scanning the horizon to make sure their choice still makes the most sense for them from a price and performance standpoint. These are the most critical folks to hang on to. And they require the most attention and service. Finally, there's a cohort of customers on the bubble because of changes in their lifestyle or circumstances, which you can't control or avoid. You can, however, anticipate their behavior and head them off before they leave.

3.       Steps to Lock In and Increase Retention
As you might imagine, the way you address the concerns regarding each customer cohort is going to differ dramatically-- and that's probably a lengthy subject for another post. But in the simplest terms, you need to double down on what's driving the desired behavior. So, for emotional customers, it's all about highlighting how special their choices have been and how they're part of an elite and highly-selective group. For inertial customers who are content to be left alone as long as things are working, it's all about friction-free delivery, ease of use, and automation to speed up the pace of any necessary interactions. For your smartest and most analytical customers, you've got to keep raising the bar, improving your products and services, and communicating constantly, but painlessly with them so you're always "top of mind" when they're ready to buy or reassess. And finally, for the customers who are aging, starting families, moving to the suburbs, etc., if you're smart, you make it your business to know who they are and where they're headed. Your job is to get there before they do with new offerings that meet their changed demands and desires.

If you do this all right, you end up in a wonderful place where you get to sell through your customers rather than to them. Because they become an army of enthusiastic and authentic endorsers as well as increasingly valuable and loyal for a lifetime.

PUBLISHED ON: FEB 5, 2019


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