David Stark

Walk A Mile In Their Journey

March 13, 2016

I recently had a chance to get a business contract with a non-profit that has teamed up with USAID and the American Refugee Committee to build sustainable businesses in the Eastern Congo area of Bukavu. I was there to do a situational analysis of the project. I knew in advance that they had hired an organization called IDEO, who has popularized the idea of customer journey, all over the world. Before I tell the rest of the story, let me give you one definition of customer journey I like: customer journey is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just a snapshot on time, but through the entire arc of being a customer. It actually had its start in the product design world where one way of saying it simply is this – if you are going to design a chair, design it with an understanding of how the person who is going to sit […]

Core Values are Critical in an Interconnected World

Core Values are Critical in an Interconnected World

February 27, 2016

I was recently working with a church in Minneapolis with their strategies to reach out to their communities. I showed up early to the meeting and talked with the host of the meeting who is an engineer who now was responsible for bringing in major clients for the organization. He was telling me the story where he was about to bring over a million dollars to his organization, which I congratulated him for. His expression dropped and said there is a big problem – “even though our CEO promises great things, I know for a fact we cannot possibly deliver on this promise”. He said he cannot, with integrity, bring these accounts to the table, so he is going to confront the CEO, and probably need to leave the organization. Which brings us to the important business question for today: What does our organization stand for, and what is it against? A great book that is used by many business […]

Winning is Different in a Connected World

February 20, 2016

A question on the mind of all business leaders on an ongoing basis is how will we win? In turns out that winning is changing a lot in this interconnecting world. The most recent Harvard Business Review article entitled: “The biology of Corporate Survival – natural selection ecosystems hold surprising lessons for business” details that companies are losing much faster than they were forty years ago. One in three public traded companies will be de-listed in the next five years, which is six times as fast as it was forty short years ago. From a large study of many organizations, they have concluded that companies are identical to the way complex adaptive organizations in nature in how they act in an ecosystem. Secondly, system thinking matters and those companies that fail to adapt to the complexity of the changing environment cease to exist quickly. The reality of thinking of business through the lenses of living systems, specifically the human body, […]

How Do We Grow?

February 6, 2016

One of the numbers that many people watch closely about the short term future of business is the annual growth rate in the U.S. This year, at least unadjusted, we saw a slowdown in 4th quarter, and slow start at the beginning of the year. These kind of statistics always bring up the question on many business people’s minds – how are we going to grow this year? Typical answers include more sales, better products, cutting edge services, expanding marketing channels, etc. These are still critical to growth, but a very different set of ideas for growth is emerging because we are in an interconnected world. Let me explain. My first business leadership position was managing a greenhouse nursery, therefore growth of plants was as important as growth in revenues and profits in this place. When you grow things in greenhouses, what becomes important are the external conditions necessary for each type of plant to grow, which they will do […]

Purpose drives business

Purpose drives business

January 23, 2016

When the Business Journal indicates that the top five companies of the year have something in common, it is important to take notice. This past year, the top five Minnesota companies had this in common – they have defined why they exist. Defining a purpose for a business is not just happy talk anymore – it is critical for many reasons. First, it is how we are wired as humans. In his bestselling book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek uses the latest in brain research that inspiration, purpose, and meaning actually trigger a multitude of chemicals in our brains that motivate us to want to work. If you are not tapping into that part of your employees as leaders, or you are working for a company that has not defined its purpose, you are missing out on a lot of energy that can be brought to work. But most companies have not taken the time to do this, or are […]

Leaders ask Great Questions

January 13, 2016

In my leadership consulting practice over the past couple of decades I have found that helping leaders ask the right question gives them more powerful insight, direction, and clarity than providing what I think is the  appropriate solution for their issues. Why is this so? Asking a great question, many times, focuses leaders on the right information, right analysis, or the needed decision-making framework to move their organization forward, or bring clarity to a lot of what seem to be random or disconnected issues they face at any one moment in time. When I wrote my book, Christ-Based Leadership, I found that the organizing structure of some of the best business thinkers of our day centered on great, revealing questions. Here are a few examples: What is the truth of your ambition? Jim Collins asks this in Good To Great to separate level 4 leaders from level 5 leaders in organizations that want to be great, and not just good. […]

Strategy in a Connected World

January 2, 2016

There was a day, a long time ago (and still in a few industries) where strategic planning was run by a standard process, would have accurate forecasts for 5+ years, followed by simply executing the plan. Many forces began to change the landscape of the market, not the least of which is the interconnectedness of all parts of our business lives. The speed of change has completely changed the way organizations operate. No longer can the person at the top set the vision and goals, and cascade the actions plans down the hierarchy. In fact hierarchy has given way to flatter organizations, where input is coming from many parts of the organization constantly feeding a group of people who are not only strategizing for today, but experimenting with what will satisfy future customers as well. One of our favorite thinkers in strategy, Rita Gunther McGraith, now trains executives to constantly create and update what she calls an opportunity portfolio. This […]

We Plan Better Together

December 23, 2015

If I had a nickel for every time people groaned when I used the words “Strategic Planning” with company leaders, I would be a rich man. To begin with, I want to separate the word “Strategy” from the word “Planning”. Strategy was defined well by Roger Martin in his article “The big lie of Strategic Planning” that appeared in the Harvard Business review earlier in 2014. He says: “Good Strategy makes leaders uncomfortable and apprehensive because it is about strategic decision making where they are placing bets and making hard choices. The objective of strategy is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success. Planning, on the other hand, is also necessary, and requires hours of careful research to identify which initiatives are affordable with our existing resources. It involves cost control and maximization of investment as well as development of core competencies and strategic capabilities.” We will focus on planning in this post, and tackle strategy […]

Marketing is a Social Animal

Marketing is a Social Animal

December 18, 2015

I recently conducted a focus group for a non-profit organization and I had divided the various groups by age. This particular group was made up of people between 28- 38 years old, which is the top end of the millennial generation. I asked many questions about various impressions of this particular organization, and gained a lot of insight about how this organization could better meet the needs of the community. I then asked about marketing ideas that they would suggest for the organization, and an explosion of energy like a geyser erupted all over the group. It is like I had mentioned the bad word that no one wanted to hear. They talked about “being marketed to” everyday, all week, and they do not want to be marketed to in their off time. They spoke of the cheesy give away or free refreshments that nonprofits use to bring people to their locations. “Allergic to marketing” is not an understatement for […]

We’re Better Together with Big Data

We’re Better Together with Big Data

December 11, 2015

How they do that, you may ask. Now when I get on Facebook, I have ads from my favorite sporting goods store talking about promotions or sales going on. All of us know that databases are here to say, and they have become very smart about who we are and what we might buy, how we might vote, when our birthday is, and much more. Welcome to the world of “Big Data”. At its core, it involves a lot of information about people and things, and mathematical equations that can make all kinds of correlations, predictions, and observations about buying patterns. The unique thing about using data for patterns is not the practice itself. The new thing is the ability for software, sensors, and data to see things no person would see at all, with more data than any single group of people could possibly digest. It has been one of the advantages of big companies, but is finally becoming […]

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