How do Saul Alinsky's rules for activists apply to tech executives? Let us keep counting the ways.
Pick a fire large and substantive enough that you can weave it thematically through your entire transformation narrative. And then tell that story every chance you get.
Rule 9: The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
This rule only works once you've established credibility. The best example is Alinsky's O'Hare Airport stunt. He leaked word that mobs of activists were going to tie up the washrooms at O'Hare Airport, and Chicago quickly agreed to his terms.
In technology, this rule is demonstrated at the industry level by the artful leak. Take, for example, rumors about who AppGooBook is thinking about buying. Those leaks are mostly intentional, so ask yourself: Why are they leaking it? The media savvy understand that the messaging around these investments is meant to 1) put Goliath's large competitors on notice and, sadly 2) issue the subtlest of cease-and-desist letters to similar startups/targets. Regardless of their tenacity, the Davids will be forced into existential heartburn -- "If that Goliath is getting into our space then our days are numbered."
If you're skeptical about that last point, ask yourself this question: If most acquisitions are really talent plays, why wouldn't Mr. Moneybags buy up multiple startups in the same space? There's certainly plenty of talent. And Mr. Moneybags has plenty of money.
The artful leak at the industry level creates a reaction among competitors similar to Chicago's reaction to Alinksy's airport stunt. The threat of the entrant is enough to get everyone spinning, wasting dollars and effort on countermeasures to an illusory menace.
There's also an alternate, more populist application of this rule if you're not in a C-level seat. If you're a change agent in IT and can get past the agitating and actually deliver, repeatedly, you can leverage that credibility to force the internal obstructionists onto your next bandwagon. Why? Because corporate white blood cells are usually career climbers, and nothing is more terrifying to them than not being on a journey that's guaranteed to get to its destination.
So when there's credibility behind the message "we're doing this with or without you," the pathogen wins.
Rule 10: Develop operations that will maintain a constant pressure on your competitors.
Some folks have a hard time differentiating between Rules 8 and 10. Rule 8 is about having several models of cars and switching between them frequently. Rule 10 is about investing in an assembly line.
Picking up where we left off in Rule 1, if you're the legacy application owner who's fixing your broken windows, you simply can't stop after one proof of concept (POC). Your management and/or business stakeholders will write that one act off as a fluke. You must deliver POCs regularly.
Two questions always pop up: Where will I find the time and who will pay for it? Both are great examples of you sabotaging you.
Let me put on my Tony Robbins mask for a sec. (Don't be afraid of the horse teeth.) You can always spin another plate! Building an assembly line of and for POCs advances your agenda, so it should trump at least a dozen deliverables now on your plate.
As for who pays for it, who pays for your daily hour of checking emails? The daily hour of browsing? The hour of nothing between two meetings? The half day when a fire erupts in production?
We all have the Google 20% time, but most of us just flush it down the business-as-usual toilet.
Oh, and a quick note on the Google 20%. It's spin. It didn't start out as some premeditated commitment to innovation. It's a recognition by management that everyone needs a break from his or her day job. And if you're not encouraged to spend that time on something constructive and to the benefit of your employer, you'll spend it browsing.
This inaugural episode of Business Matters explores the subject of leadership with former Air Force Brigadier General John Michel, the Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer and President of MV International.