Blog: Roger Gullickson

Roger Gullickson is our guest blogger this week.  Roger is the President and CEO of MVP Collaborative since 1996.  He moved to Michigan in 1989 to head FTD's Marketing Group after an international career with Tenneco and Case Corporation.

Check back here each weekday to read Roger's thoughts on Michigan's need for renewal and how it can achieve it. 

Want to join the conversation? Please send your comments to:

Post No. 5


So how can the "states of renewal" we create in our lives and business lead to Michigan becoming a "State of Renewal?"

Change on a grand scale begins with one individual, one enterprise, one conversation at a time, hence the focus on culture. Look closely at what actions we take to enhance ourselves and our organizations everyday, no "Michigan" excuses. And why not ask State and Local governments do the same? What gets measured gets done, get a cultural health check up. On a small scale the city of Vail, Colorado proved that a government can successfully undertake transformation according to research done by Denison.

Creativity, design, seeing the unseen is essential to purposefully change our lives, or our businesses or the State. Let's enroll the enormous number of talented creative people we have so close in envisioning the future. We have focused on it individually and as a company, why not invoke creative process in every facet of our State and its government? Why not undertake a creative problem solving road show focused on renewal to every major market in the State?

It is so frustrating to see the constant blame game. We can choose not to participate and tackle what we can control, our own lives and enterprises. Create active, authentic collaboration in every conversation and creativity and cultural growth will blossom. The more the State engages in collaboration with citizens and business people the more likely success will follow.

Leadership means generating sparks, starting some "controlled burns". Rather than blame, ask what do we need to "set afire" so that renewal can happen? What old timber can be torched in our lives and enterprises to unleash the energy within? And on a State scale can we look towards creative solutions that haven't been seen? In our challenged situation what role can the State Government really play?

David L Littmann said about Michigan in the Wall Street Journal on April 7-8 that "a deep fog has settled over a once bright business climate." He asserts that Lansing must lead and "adopt a welcoming attitude toward profit…."

I believe that if we can focus on these four elements on both micro and macro scales we can create "states of renewal" leading to Michigan becoming a "State of Renewal."

Post No. 4


Leaders must create the spark of change if we are to create "states of renewal."

There has been some very interesting work done on the relationship between eco-systems and business systems. Natural systems have, after all, existed a lot longer than business systems!

Natural systems follow an infinite loop represented by cycles of crisis, renewal, growth and maturity. For example, a forest fire, generated by a spark, initiates a crisis where there is both destruction and the genesis of renewal. In the intense heat of a forest fire a pine cone is liberated to begin its cycle of growth.  Gradually the forest grows to maturity where, without a crisis, trees can grow too much choking out new growth and become increasingly unstable making the forest vulnerable for another crisis.

As I have watched and been in business around the world and for the last several years in Michigan it is clear this cycle happens in companies. Consider your own experience, or the experience of each of the Big 3. I know we have seen this cycle at least three times in a decade in our enterprise.

Too often we wait as victims for a crisis to force change. No matter what our title, we are all leaders, and as leaders at any level we need to "be the spark." Don't wait for a crisis, let's learn from park rangers and create "controlled burns" to force renewal before a conflagration! Sometimes it requires "creative destruction" to make space for new strategies and ideas before the old ones choke out the possibilities.

So, how can we individually create a "state of renewal?" In Resonant Leadership, the authors describe three essential traits leaders need to embrace as mindfulness, hope and compassion. When we are mindful we pay attention to everything in our "eco-system," not just the bottom line. The clearer we are about where we go the more we engender hope within our team. And a leader who aligns with compassion shows their respect for everyone and their journey.

All these qualities nicely relate to culture, creativity and collaboration as well on the path toward "states of renewal."

Post No. 3


Life for leaders used to be so easy. Be the smartest, tell everyone else what to do and then make sure it happened. Hierarchies ruled everywhere and served Michigan and our enterprises well for most of the last century. How much of that do we hold?

Today truly sustainable organizations require active collaboration to grow. Great collaboration helps generate ideas and puts them through the crucible of interaction from an engaged team. Through collaboration the outcome remains at the center of the conversation, not ego or any one point of view.

To be effective, collaboration must not be a word but a process imbedded in the culture of the organization. From a sustainability standpoint, effective collaboration can both prevent a blind attachment to an idea from derailing a company and it can dramatically impact the continual generative process of creativity.

In an HBR article (Reprint R0507H entitled "Collaboration Rules" (June 2005) the authors look at the open-source software Linux and compare it with a more corporate collaborative organization, Toyota. They see the essential qualities of collaboration being "Obsession, Interaction and a Light Touch" reflected as common work discipline, widespread granular communications, and leaders as connectors.

They continue to describe the groundwork for high-performance collaboration as requiring pervasive collaborative technology, keeping work visible, building communities of trust, thinking modularly, and encouraging teaming.

Collaboration clearly requires intentionality and is deeply linked with the cultural conversation. When collaboration is actively employed to reduce transaction costs and make business flow more smoothly completely new possibilities emerge. "'Detroit people are far more talented than people at Toyota,' remarks Toyota president Fujio Cho, with excessive modesty. 'But we take averagely talented people and make them work as spectacular teams.'"

How can we enter a "state of renewal?" Engage everyone in collaborative conversations aimed at designing and creating sustainable high performance enterprises. This means being more vulnerable than we are comfortable with, trusting our teams to deliver when equipped with new skills and processes. It's a different way of being and working.

Post No. 2


Creativity is the next essential element to defining a "state of renewal" and sustainability. So often I see businesses taking the default position when faced with challenges; revert to what we know well, cut costs, shrink, work "harder" and actually en up playing smaller. Creativity is critical to breaking that pattern.

In "The World is Flat" Thomas Friedman says that "on such a flat earth, the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination—the ability to be the first on your block…."

Daniel Pink articulated the need for "whole brain thinking" as the antidote to the flattening of the world and increased global competition. In "A Whole New Mind" he suggests the possibility of an MFA becoming the new MBA. He advocates activating our right brains to balance our systemic training of the left brain. Importantly he recognizes the critical role great creative institutions can play and calls out specifically Cranbrook Academy of Art!

The central character in Russell Conwell's lecture "Acres of Diamonds", wandered round the world seeking diamonds when he could have found them in his own backyard. For Southeastern Michigan our "acres" are filled with Cranbrook, the College for Creative Studies, Lawrence Technological University, two major state universities in addition to many other institutions within two hours of metro Detroit.

When our organization undertook to plan for sustainability we knew that choosing the same path would like yield similar results, a sort of "Groundhog Day." So we undertook a profoundly creative process first asking people to describe their ideal company/job in ten years.

This initial step was followed by processes to help create a new business model infused with ways to generate continual innovation leading to long term sustainability. The path used both sides of the brain. Without deep engagement of the right brain we might well have continued to arrive at variants of the same old solutions.

The critical nature of right brain development is particularly poignant as our schools cut many fine arts program to balance budgets and as the State contemplates radically reducing fine arts funding.

We are blessed by resources many parts of this country can only dream about! How can we create a "state of renewal?" Actively engage the amazing creative resources in our backyard in that journey! Refuse to accept the familiar, take risks, ask new questions and invest in creativity while supporting right brain education in our schools.

Post No. 1

Can Michigan become the State of Renewal?

Why do we feel so stuck, so victimized? I hear all too often about how great things were here in the "good old days." (I wasn't here.) The fact is that in every part of life, business, and even ecosystems we continue to cycle through an endless series of challenges. Jack Stack said in his recent book A Stake in the Outcome that "business is all about problems." The real issue is how we can continually create states of renewal to deal with what comes our way.

I believe that renewal leading to sustainability of an organization depends upon four essential elements: culture, creativity, collaboration and leadership. (I would argue that this applies with some modifications to individuals and also aggregates to economies.)

Let's take a look.

Culture is oft misunderstood as the "soft" side of business. In working with Denison Consulting of Ann Arbor over the last decade it is clearly NOT soft but rather the tangible, measurable bedrock of an organization. Without a strong, high performance culture sustainability is difficult at best.

What Denison has discovered in over 20 years of research is that organization culture can be dissected and measured. Today a simple online instrument measures twelve key aspects of culture with only 60 questions. The result is a look at the culture of an organization as a whole and how it ties to bottom-line performance measures. High performance cultures return on equity is more than triple low performance cultures (21% versus 6%)!

What keeps so many of us stuck with low performance cultures? It is hard work to change, and it takes years of consistent focus. Actions by leaders must be consistent and focused since we are watched for what we DO far more than for what we SAY. And a misstep or inconsistency reinforces the naysayer. This "soft" side of business is not for the fainthearted. It may seem easier to revert to command and control. Over time the high-performance cultures liberate leaders from having to know it all.

So what does this have to do with creating "states of renewal?" I believe that each of us has a responsibility to drive culture, both from a human standpoint and from a hard nosed responsibility to stakeholders. We need to place culture it at the top of or priority list every day.



Since moving to Detroit from Boston over 20 years ago, and having worked with small and large companies and venture capitalists in Boston and Detroit and the West Coast, I was surprised to find that Detroit and the Midwest seem to have an underlying culture and values that are far less entrepreneurial that New England, which we might think of as stodgy and old school, and far less entrepreneurial than the West Coast.  Risk propensity is probably the primary cultural trait that differentiates a entrepreneurial culture. The Midwest is much more risk adverse than the coasts. In Michigan, failing at a business venture is highly feared and those that have failed are not respected for their efforts. In an entrepreneurial culture, risk taking and commitment to a new venture are lauded and encouraged. Most successful entrepreneurs are serial.

The Michigan, and to a large extent, our US economy is at a crossroads, brought on by global competition, the Internet, shifts of manufacturing off shore and technology changes. Companies that aren't prepared to make significant changes, which means taking risks, are at a very high risk of reduced success or failure.  Management and board cultures will have to change in order deal better with risk / reward decisions, encourage creativity and be willing to make changes much more quickly than in the past.

I often advise my clients to change the way they think about their "territory", whether geographical or product and services. The Internet has made it possible for companies anywhere in the world to compete against companies in SE Michigan. Its critical for most companies to figure how to market through the Internet to the world to replace lost market or shift their product and service offerings. That often requires a major organizational culture shift. Local sales people calling on regular clients will decrease, being complimented or supplanted by people that are Web fluent and possibly multi-lingual selling to people that they'll never meet in person.

I have a client in Pontiac that's created a very successful virtual manufacturing business. With just a few people in a small office, they're designing, manufacturing and distributing a line of construction equipment, through temporary alliances with an array of prototype shops, manufacturing facilities and the Internet. It's a culture that's dramatically different than other companies in the construction equipment business. In a sense, their culture, unique processes and adaptability are their product. They've created some very nice, and needed products, but as markets change, their very low overhead and culture can adapt and capitalize.

Garrett Myers / Gateway Group

Photograph © Dave Krieger

Roger Gullickson - Most Recent Posts:
Signup for Email Alerts