July 31, 2014
May 25, 2014
One of the first metaphors for chaos theory, penned by Edward Lorenz, centres on the idea that the flap of a butterfly’s wing in one place causing a Hurricane in a distant region several weeks later.
As our world gets ever more complex, with the interaction of many borderline chaotic systems, from environment and climate change to High speed trading algorithms in stock markets , the likelihood of sudden, dramatic, unforeseen events increases. This morning, Charlie Bean, the outgoing deputy governor of the Bank of England pointed out a number of potential “flaps”. The likelihood of increasing interest rates in UK meeting housing demand and regional pricing bubbles, the uncertainty in Ukraine, and rate rises in the USA.
Yet we are still training and coaching businesses as though normal is back. Rote learning, “Guru systems” and a dangerous lack of curiosity. Normal has left the building, and we are not likely to see, for many years, the benign stability that characterised the industrial age.
We are regressing to the mean, which means volatility, and that we have to be self sufficient. We have already seen how banks and other large institutions react to crisis; a swift pulling up of the drawbridge. In a fiduciary sense, they are right to do so; their prime responsibility is to their shareholders, not the society where their clients live. That makes them very conditional partners.
So, within every business plan, there needs to be a line of “what is it that we do, that we do better than anybody else, and for which there is a sustainable need”. If times get tough, can we cut back to our core and still survive? Are we confident in those on whom we rely?How exposed are we? Are we happy with that risk?
This is not doom mongering – anything but. With such confidence, we can dance happily with uncertainty, in the knowledge there will always be opportunity, even when we hit those inevitable bumps in the road. This is just an observation. Choose your partners as carefully as you pick your friends. You can be sure that, within the next few years (at the latest), something is going to happen that will test that relationship.
May 21, 2014
It’s curious how sometimes events overlap to create insight.
Most years we go to Chelsea Flower Show. The sheer logistics of the event, let alone the effort and creativity that goes into it have long interested me. This year was no different, other than in going round it struck me that the large show gardens were becoming very similar. Lots of grasses, water, hard landscaping and whilst all were beautiful, I could not see many that were, for me, original (with the exception of the “Help for Heroes” garden). The real originality lay elsewhere in the Artisan Gardens, and some of the displays inside the Pavilion (again, a real nod to Waitrose / NFU)
It seemed to me that maybe the show gardens were taking on the some characteristics as their commercial sponsors. Signs of efficiency, benchmarking, “safe” innovation, and maybe even groupthink? The smaller players were far more adventurous, taking greater risks, maybe because they were designed by gardeners for themselves, not designed for clients. The prizes seemed to reflect the same – the Golds going to the establishment, and the “good effort chaps” awards going to the risk takers.
At which point I segway into two excellent recent reports done for the CIPD in relation to SME, and when, and how they have to “grow up” and start professionalising their HR. Lots of views, but north of 50 seems to be the mark. The point where the founder(s) have to concentrate more on the business than the people. This maybe links to the Dunbar number (good Guardian article here) which suggests an upper limit on the number of real friends we can have, and maybe the quality of average conversation.
So the question I am left pondering is this. Maybe, instead of encouraging small businesses to act like big businesses, perhaps we should be encouraging big businesses to act like networked small businesses. To develop, in the terms of Carol Dweck, Growth Mindsets (Very horticultural!) rather than the more fixed, safe mindsets that characterise larger organisations, and which seems to help trigger the move into away from adventure into potentially stultifying safety.
March 21, 2014
We understand that the brain is a pattern making organ that craves certainty – and that it has a really sophisticated way of blinding our attention to things it does not understand. In times of accelerating and complex change, its something we need to be very aware of.
Particularly those of us running businesses, or supporting businesses as advisers of any stripe – from coaches to consultants to accountants. As relative outsiders we have a unique contribution we can make. We have the privilege working with numbers of businesses, not just one, and we have the independence to be able to bring things to their attention – even the things they may find uncomfortable.
Yet, at the same time, we are prey to exactly the same issues. It is easy to find ourselves lulled into using the same old tools (GROW model, anyone? Leadership and Management Training?) and pushing the same old material in the same old way.
That turns us into the equivalent of old family retainers, not positive catalysts or people who care about there clients.
One great example for me is leadership and management. How many people do you see – including advisers – conflating the two? The reality is that the gap between them is getting huge.
Increasingly, leadership is about systemic awareness – adopting a holistic view of the business in the context of its ecosystem. It’s “why?”Making sure it is green pastures, not scrabbling round on arid plains.
Management is about the here and now, and the culture – a clear focus on the “What ?” and the “How?”
They are critically interdependent, but each independent of the other in the markets that are evolving.
It pays us to be aware of, and mind, the gap.
For those interested in more substance, try Mackey’s “conscious Capitalism” or Martin’s “The Opposable Mind” and “Design of Business”. Or of course, mail me; firstname.lastname@example.org
March 17, 2014
When we eat, we eat enough to get us to the next meal. We don’t gorge, then wait until we’re starving and prepared to eat anything.
But we tend to learn until we’re qualified, and then become busy working, until one day we find our knowledge and skills are either obsolete or a commodity, and either hang on to a diminishing job, or find ourselves in the economic wilderness ready to take almost anything on offer.
We’re are going to find ourselves working longer and longer- which is a huge opportunity, and a joy if we love what we do-but a burden if we don’t.
The economic half life of our knowledge is getting ever shorter.
We need a balanced diet of working and learning at every point in our career.
It’s our choice as to whether we have a balanced lifelong career, or a McJob.
February 21, 2014
There’s a revolution happening in plain sight, but it seems many are blind to it.
In the last century, and even the beginning of this, large businesses were able to exert power at many levels. Financial, resources, scale, organisation and we built our education and training in order to serve them.
Largely, we still educate and train from the same paradigm, cutting the edges off people to get them to fit in.
But these days, people who fit are a commodity. It’s the ones who stand out and do not conform to the norm who are making the running. The 50 people who created WhatsApp and sold it for $19bn.
The people who stand out can now access all the things that used to be the preserve of corporations. It’s called the cloud.
Today, and tomorrow your future is not a function of who you work for. It’s how you stand out, and to whom.
Everything you need is available to you. Open education, networks, contacts, information.
But you have to make the choice to stand out, to exhibit whatever your own particular genius is. Scary, but better than the unsafe alternative of being a disposable commodity.
February 8, 2014
Given we are at a time when anybody can find us with a click or two, and that the real key to success in doing something so unique, valuable and generous that they will want to, I’m constantly amazed at the continued proliferation of 20th Century marketing attitudes (“shouty marketing”) leveraged by 21st Century technology.
Shouting louder and more often doesn’t make us more appealing.
I spent a hugely enjoyable morning this week with two of the most creative, talented and generous people I know; one of whom is on stage right now on a sell out to over 4000 people, the other of whom is in huge demand for his ability to turn causes into songs. What they share is a commitment to doing the best they can possibly do, for the love of it, and assuming that their audience and reward will find them. It does.
I compare that to opening my mail, LinkedIn, and other connection platforms and finding myself besieged by shouters, from SEO specialists who will help me to shout at more people, to self proclaimed “gurus” (is it just me who gets irritated by people who proclaim themselves to be gurus? – I always thought it was a description applied by followers )who will help me design what I should say.
I would rather focus on my “craft”, to do things with people and organisations where it will help achieve something worthwhile, and I would only like to talk people whom other people I trust have said are worth talking to. It will save me much time, and premature replacement of the delete button on my computer.
I think we are in a time of unmarketing. Amidst the laughter that could have got us thrown out of the restaurant we were in, we speculated that the new marketing is that of the A Team. “if you have a problem, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A team” ;-)
Except maybe it’s not so funny really. If what you sell is a commodity, almost invisible amongst other people selling something much the same, then maybe you have little choice other than to shout and hope.
But selling a commodity is a choice, and a mindset.
All of us are unique, and with effort and commitment can make a unique impact in our world. It’s hard work, and carries risk, but in the end, what else would we do with our lives?
Go make a difference, doin something you love, with people who want you to and who will appreciate it.
Prepare to be found. Don’t sell cheap.
And please stop shouting.
February 5, 2014
We know we live in complex times – the environment the strategist love to call VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous – sort of sums it up!)
We are way beyond the days of “solutions” and very much into the world of complex adaptive systems – and equally complex adaptive responses.
It’s pretty clear that one of the prime determinants of business success is purpose. For a great blog on this, see my colleague Nick Jankel Elliot’s piece here)
Yet, despite this, we still seem to insist that there are formulas for success. The market is littered with “Guru” books, and “Guru” franchises.
There are, I suggest, three elements to great coaching; firstly the co-creation and thinking phase – the stuff of philosophy, deep domain expertise, and rebellion – a freedom to rethink, re-evaluate and where appropriate reconfirm just why the client is doing what they are doing. The second phase, integration, aligns the thinking with their current reality and sets direction whilst the third (and what most people sell as coaching) is the action phase – turning clear purpose and vision into action)
The trouble is, focusing on the last phase, without the first two is like selling a diet. It is rarely connected to the root cause of the issue, provides short term feel good factor (at considerable expense) but lasts only as long as the diet is followed.
We cannot sell concepts of superficial strategy examinations and one page plans like diet sheets and calorie counters.
21st Century Prosperity is a think of beauty and purpose. It is derived from the passion and purpose of the client with the coach as a midwife.
It is a team effort. the role of the coach is to act as “Wingman” – understanding the environment, and bringing important things to the notice of the client for them to deal with in line with their own values and priorities. It is, after all, the client who has put their assets on the line, and who experience the visceral nature of dealing with debtors, creditors and competitors.
Coaching is a team game. I cannot think of any coach (and I’m fortunate to work with some of the best there are) who can coach a client on every facet of their business from equal places of strength.
To provide the client with sustainable success needs those who have deep familiarity with the areas concerned (from finance to technology) and who preferably have had the real life experience of doing it in their own right, with their own money, and at their own real risk.
Supporting clients who want to do great things is a huge privilege, as well as a huge responsibility.In doing so our purpose and commitment has to equal theirs.
Coaching is not, in my view either a job or a career – it is, like great teaching, a vocation.
The approach to VUCA environments is an OODA approach. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – faster than your competition. Both terms come from the military, where the consequences of failure are more than an irritated bank manager.
That is our job as coaches – to help our clients go round the OODA loop faster than their competition.
Not to sell them a miracle diet.
January 17, 2014
Most of us operate in our comfort zones most of the time.
Things we know, people we know, a safe environment of reputation, qualification and relative certainty.
But with the world changing as rapidly as it is, our safe ground doesn’t seem as safe as it was, so we venture out to see what’s there. We call it innovation, but often it’s just the rough on the sides of our preferred fairways.
After a while, it gets uncomfortable. There are few rules; no one cares about our qualification or reputation, and uncertainty turns into fear. The rough turns to swamp. So we decide there’s nothing there for us and go back from where we came.
The reality is, just beyond that point of fear is the place you were meant to be next, where your reputation would be transformed, and you would be able to create qualifications, not jump through others hoops to get them.
There’s no easy way, and it’s not compulsory. It’s often easier to continue to do what we did yesterday, and complain about the unfairness of it all. But we’re not victims. It’s a choice.
January 16, 2014
The opposite to a bad day is a good day.
The alternative to a bad day is no day at all.
If you want to avoid bad days work toward doing something you love for its own sake, and which matters to those you like and respect.
You may, like me, have to wait till you are 60 to get there.
But the journey is worth it.