Trade-off in Leadership Interview with Kevin Maney – Part II

January 23, 2010

kevin maney
Part I (click here)

Gary Cohen: Have there been some examples that you have seen that are able to defy the fidelity belly for an extended time using the Trade-off in leadership model?

Kevin Maney: Nobody’s convinced me of one so far. Though, as with any model, there are always examples that don’t fit. I’m sure some exist.

Some of your examples in the book seem to be in a retrospective view of how things turned out for certain organizations based on their choice of fidelity or convenience. Did you have a clear sense if those organizations understood these trade-offs before being interviewed by you?

Certainly some did. Tiffany understood what it was doing when it pulled back away from moving toward convenience in order to reclaim an exclusive, high-fidelity position. I’m not sure Tesla, for instance, understood that it was creating the first high-fidelity electric car.

Kevin, in interviewing leaders for my book Just Ask Leadership I found that many if not most of those I interviewed never released until after the interview that they were spending most of their time asking questions. I am wondering if the same phenomenon happened in doing research for your book. Of the leaders you interviewed for the book how many of them actually carried this idea of trade-offs in leadership their business as clearly as you have illustrated it for the reader?

Some of the people who were the early inspirations for the book had long held a version of this model in their heads – though with some variations and different language. Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts and Digital Chocolate, articulated this idea to me years ago. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, had always run his company with a version of the trade-off in his head. I tried to find the common ways these CEOs thought about the trade-off, and pull them together into a single simple construct.

For those who found themselves in the fidelity belly, what was their reaction to your questions once they understood your mental model?

Jeff Bezos argued with me that the Kindle was not, in 2008, in the fidelity belly. It’s slowly climbing out, but at $300 a pop, I still think the cost makes it too inconvenient for most readers, while the quality of the experience for most readers still doesn’t equal a paper book.

What are your top questions you would ask of a leader to understand the trade-offs in leadership  for their business?

The first question is, how do you define the market you’re playing in? Then I’d ask who customers would perceive as the high-fidelity player, and who they’d perceive as being the high-convenience player. If you’re not either of those, then where do you fall in relative terms? If you’re dead in the middle, you have a problem.

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