By David Casullo, President

Recently I read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the best-selling biography of the late, iconic Apple CEO.  The book is loaded with stories, lessons, and cautionary tales for leaders. One brief episode described how Sony had every opportunity to become the market leader with a portable digital music device… only to have Apple conquer the market with the iPod and iTunes.

What happened to Sony?  Back in the 1980s, the Sony Walkman ruled the world when it came to portable music.  I remember vividly how cool it was to be sporting one of those new “brick-like” portable music players.  Compared to Apple, they had huge advantages in terms of understanding the market, and they had all sorts of ties to the music industry.  Yet they ended up losing $2.6 billion in 2009, while Apple is now the most valuable brand in the world.

Isaacson notes that the problem was with Sony’s divisions, and he cleverly adds that “division” is an ominous word. 

Large companies are made up of divisions, and sometimes the result is a “divided” company.  Sony never could get focused on the competition long enough to mount a serious threat to Apple, in part because their various divisions were all looking out for their bottom lines as opposed to creating synergy.  The CD unit didn’t want CDs to die, so they weren’t on board with a digital music strategy.  The engineers worshipped hardware and rolled their eyes when told they needed to focus on content.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs and Apple focused obsessively on making a simple, elegant product that consumers would love… and an online store to supply the content.  They ended up selling one million songs in their first six days of operation!

Just as in mathematics, your company’s divisions can reduce value to a fraction of the whole.  However, great leaders are able to multiply the energy that exists in divisions, making 2+2 somehow equal 5.   That’s exactly what Ford CEO Alan Mulally has done, turning multibillion dollar losses into gains through powerful communication and collaboration.

These transformations may seem magical, but they can be dissected and understood.  In my new book, Leading the High-Energy Culture, I describe the steps that leaders need to take to unite teams to fuel innovation and drive tremendous economic value.  It’s definitely an undertaking and a process, but,  as a leader, you have the power within you to transform your people.  Learn how to sift for the gold in your personal experiences and then fuse your key players by sharing your powerful stories. 

With the right tools and some expert assistance, you can transform your divisions from fractions into big numbers.     

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