Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Creativity Challenge: The James Bond Casino Caper

Students and entrepreneurs came together Tuesday night to save the world from a deadly asteroid strike. That, at least, was the premise of the tongue-in-cheek event run by Alistair Fee who teaches creative thinking at the Queens University Belfast.

The exclusive event admitted only 30 participants after screening their applications for humor, creativity, and level of interest. Alistair explained the application process “Is a way to bring in only people who really want to participate. When they have applied and dressed up, they come already humming.”

The Setting

Clips and stills from James Bond movies played on the large screens in the School of Design where the event was held. Guests came dressed as their favorite Bond hero or villain. In practice, this meant tuxedos and suits for the men, evening dresses for the ladies.

The mood was lighthearted and convivial. Halfway through the event the guests were asked to fill balloons and send them flying throughout the room.

Participants drank and networked before engaging in the main event. Dividing into fives, they were briefed on doom’s approach and tasked with averting or mitigating the catastrophe.

The Challenge

Forrest Glick interrupted the chatter to inform guests that a meteor had been recently spotted hurtling towards earth. Greenland was its most likely target, threatening rising sea levels, earthquakes and permanent environmental disruption.

Split into teams, the guests collaborated on white boards, brainstorming ideas and debating outcomes.

The solutions proposed ranged from nuclear strikes to miniaturized black holes to melting Greenland to soften the impact.

Throughout the evening Alistair could be seen moving from table to table, offering encouragement and advice. He insisted that guests not focus exclusively on the engineering problems but take into account politics and implementation.

The Point

“In the course of your business or life you will come across situations where you have to make a decision in a short period of time. You will have to collaborate with people you don’t know who know a great deal about something,” explained Alistair after the event.

With the world safe again, participants were eager to talk and take pictures before being unfortunately hustled out of the building by organizers.

Along with Alistair and Forrest Glick the event was organized by Belen Torres-Gill and Tina Seelig.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Entrepreneurial leaders share insights on Global Leadership and Talent Equation

Four Silicon Valley-based global executives joined the “Solving the Global Leadership and Talent Equation" Panel Discussion of the Eweek, sharing insights about the crucial elements of recruiting talents and managing across borders in a global environment.
The event, hosted by Stanford Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, took place Monday at Bechtel Conference Center of Encina Hall. The panelists were Eric Benhamou, Chairman and CEO, Benhamou Global Ventures, David Chao, Co-Founder and General Partner of DCM, Michael Zhao, CEO and President, Array Networks. Kyung Yoon, CEO of Talent Age Associates served as the moderator.
The discussion centered on four topics: global recruitment in general; essential traits of global leaders; mistakes and lessons from previous recruitment; challenges of a global career and solutions.

Global Recruitment in General
To address the challenges for global teams, said Eric Benhamou, “you have to be able to create trust, commitment and shared goals even though you may have difficulty in creating shared experiences.”
To find the right person, good interview skills are significant for both interviewers and interviewees, he continued.
His favorite interview technique is to ask interviewees to talk about specific scenarios and their reaction and solutions to them, e.g. “to describe when you were in a truly stressful situation and how you dealt with it”.
“This is very revealing,” said Eric, especially when you are recruiting people in a culture you are not familiar with and you can only rely on your instinct.
Michael Zhao talked about situations he has to face when interviewing people in China.
“In China, people believe if they don’t become a manager before the age of 30, they are a failure,” said Michael.
So every time when there is an opening of management level in the Chinese operation of his company, there will be hundreds of applicants. “But the problem is that most of them don’t realize they don’t have the skills to be a manager,” said Michael. “We have to convince them they are better being an engineer than serving as a manager.”
David Chao quoted Jack Welch that in big companies 2/3 of the people are failure, meaning 1/3 good people is an acceptable ratio. But for start-ups, it is essential to hire the best people in the very beginning, said David.
He also pointed out that the challenges of hiring the best people for start-ups in other countries. “Silicon Valley has this culture of working for start-ups,” he said, “But in other countries talents just want to work for big companies like Samsuny and Lenovo.”
He stressed that the skill he values most in an employee is the process management skill.

Essential Traits of Global Leaders
“In global environment, it is important to emphasize communication skills,” said Eric. “Communication skills refer to not just bridging language difference, but bridging cultural differences. A fast-moving company relies upon rapid and transparent flow of information.”
He thinks that a successful global leader must be able to achieve the transparent flow of information across all the international operations.
Michael also stressed the challenges for global leaders to manage across long distance and different time zones. In this sense, he said, the ability to build trust is highly valued, which means one has to always share information which is supposed to share. “The leaders of our international operations sit thousands of miles away,” he said. “If there is a problem and they don’t speak up, we don’t really know what it is going on.”
David summarized two key traits: passion for hating to lose and flexibility to adapt. He said he appreciated talents who have the ability to always figure out ways to win.
“Also, the market is dynamic. Business models have to change. The leaders need to adjust,” he said

Mistakes and Lessons
Eric cited a mistake he made when choosing the helmsman for a joint venture in China. 3Com, the network equipment company which he invests, built a joint venture in China with Huawei, China’s biggest communication equipment vendor. All the engineers are from Huawei, while the patents are from 3Com.
“This is a very hybrid company,” said Eric. “And we chose a CEO who is on surface a very polished highly global executive, who even speaks a little mandarin.”
But the engineers from Huawei, who are accustomed to the top-down style of Huawei’s founder and CEO, a former general of the Chinese Army, have problem with this CEO’s participative and gentle leadership. His inclusiveness was interpreted as weakness and indecisiveness and gradually the engineers lost respect for the CEO, said Eric. After eight months, Eric replaced this CEO.
Michael gave an example that once he hired a CTO to run his operation in China who is very gifted and a close personal friend to him. “But this just didn’t work out,” he said. “The lesson is a friend is a friend. Don’t overlook their shortcomings.”
David shared his experience when building team for Apple Japan. When he thought about the right person to run Apple in Japan, he thought surely it would be good to get someone who is very experienced in the sector. So he got someone from Toshiba on board. But later it turned out that talents were attracted to work for Apple in Japan because they wanted to run away from Toshiba style, which is very hierarchical.

Challenges of a global career and solutions
“Global leaders usually have to deal with strenuous traveling schedule and continuous hours of work to accommodate the time zones difference,” said the moderator Kyung Yoon. She asked the panelists for advice to strike a balance between career, life and community.
Eric emphasized on the importance of sleep. “When you are sleep-deprived, a lot of bad things happen,” he said.
Michael stressed on efficient planning. “Make sure everything is ready while you are there and you don’t waste time traveling,” he said.
He also said that mental health is just as important as physical health. And his secret to mental health is meditation.
David said that it is impossible to balance everything and people have to recognize that there is some sacrifice that has to be made with an international schedule. He told that with a schedule of traveling internationally for one week out of every five weeks, he wants to continue to do well and spend time with family. “What has been dropped is a lot of friends,” he said. “If I have a normal 9-5 working hours, I will have more time spending on Facebook.”

By Li Lou
Stanford University
M.A. Journalism '09