Being new in a role – I ask a lot of questions. I am aIso wary of my own opinion in decision making. Decisions are made based on one’s perception of the situation, and mine is very new. Therefore, when an important decision needs to be made, I ensure that I have all the facts, seek other people’s opinion, so that the best decision can be made.

The other day I was thinking of the danger of organizations that make central leaders the collecting or decision point too often. I then happened on an article which included a note on the ‘fallacy of centrality’:

Researcher Ron Westrum, observing the diagnostic practices of pediatricians in the 1940s and 1950s, spotted what he has come to call the fallacy of centrality. The fallacy is this: under the assumption that you are in a central position, you presume that if something serious were happening, you would know about it. And since you don’t know about it, it isn’t happening. It is precisely this distortion that kept pediatricians from diagnosing child abuse until the early 1960s. Their reasoning? If parents were abusing their children, I’d know about it; since I don’t know about it, it isn’t happening.

One could argue that this is why the British lost on Crete. Sales people, leaders, managers all need to beware this false sense of confidence with regard to knowledge or the belief that they know so much that ‘it can’t be happening’. I remember a piece of advice that I was given by a CIO years ago, he said ‘Do not every become like (the competition). They think they know everything that is going on, they don’t. After all, they don’t know what we are about to do (he laughed)’.

A good reminder that things are always changing, that lots of questions need to be asked and that a central position can have blind spots. After all, look what happened to the political system that was founded on centralized management … Communism.


The June 2009 HBR has an interesting article based on the 360 degree feedback from 11,000 leaders on the shortcomings of the worst leaders. An interesting read (Via), the ten are:

Lack energy and enthusiasm. They see new initiatives as a burden, rarely volunteer, and fear being overwhelmed. One such leader was described as having the ability to “suck all the energy out of any room.”

Accept their own mediocre performance. They overstate the difficulty of reaching targets so that they look good when they achieve them. They live by the mantra “Underpromise and overdeliver.”

Lack clear vision and direction. They believe their only job is to execute. Like a hiker who sticks close to the trail, they’re fine until they come to a fork.

Have poor judgment. They make decisions that colleagues and subordinates consider to be not in the organization’s best interests.

Don’t collaborate. They avoid peers, act independently, and view other leaders as competitors. As a result, they are set adrift by the very people whose insights and support they need.

Don’t walk the talk. They set standards of behavior or expectations of performance and then violate them. They’re perceived as lacking integrity. Another article Infectious Leadership provides good insight on this critical element – we can build excitement or create a negative culture. It starts with the leader.

Resist new ideas. They reject suggestions from subordinates and peers. Good ideas aren’t implemented, and the organization gets stuck.

Don’t learn from mistakes. They may make no more mistakes than their peers, but they fail to use setbacks as opportunities for improvement, hiding their errors and brooding about them instead.

Lack interpersonal skills. They make sins of both commission (they’re abrasive and bullying) and omission (they’re aloof, unavailable, and reluctant to praise).

Fail to develop others. They focus on themselves to the exclusion of developing subordinates, causing individuals and teams to disengage.

The closing note is probably the most important:

These sound like obvious flaws that any leader would try to fix. But the ineffective leaders we studied were often unaware that they exhibited these behaviours. In fact, those who were rated most negatively rated themselves substantially more positively. Leaders should take a very hard look at themselves and ask for candid feedback on performance in these specific areas. Their jobs may depend on it.

I received a great piece of advice two years ago on 360 degree feedback. I was new into a role (4 months) and was not going to add my new teammates to my list as they were just getting to know me and would not have a track record upon which to build their opinions. My coach suggested the exact opposite. Early into a new job is a great time to get candid feedback on how people perceive you and will help you shape the new relationships. I listened to the advice and it was great. I received great insight into how people perceived me and used the feedback in future 1:1s to openly talk about where I was developing.

But the first step is what is noted above ….. you have to be willing to take a hard look at yourself and accept the feedback, not rationalize it.



It seems like new social networking technology continues to pop up. Which should you use and follow? Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging, Facebook, Microsoft Live and their social networking features? How do you keep up? HBR has a great online article on the subject, Don’t Keep up with Social Technology:

So I’m here to let you off the hook. If a geek like me — a woman whose idea of a fantastically fun evening is to try out a dozen project management sites — can’t keep up, what hope is there for folks who occasionally want to close their computers and pick up a book?

There is no hope.

You can’t keep up.

Keeping up is about following someone else’s agenda: the bloggers and tweeters who trot out invitations to the latest beta. The marketers, publicists and journalists who blanket us with coverage about the latest hot tech phenomenon. And yes, the tech consultants who charge tens or hundreds of thousands to add new musts to your already long to-do list.

The minute you stop trying to keep up, you open a far more exciting possibility: getting ahead with what matters to you, your team and your business.

The only thing that she missed in the above line – your family and friends. Interesting read. A few more interesting thoughts from HBR online (yes, I am catching up on some reading):

At the age of 94, he still spends the first two hours of his day exercising. Ninety minutes lifting weights and 30 minutes swimming or walking. Every morning. He needs to do so to achieve his goals: on his 95th birthday he plans to swim from the coast of California to Santa Catalina Island, a distance of 20 miles. Also, as he is fond of saying, "I cannot afford to die. It will ruin my image."

So he works, consistently and deliberately, toward his goals. He does the same things day in and day out. He cares about his fitness and he’s built it into his schedule.

Managing our time needs to become a ritual too. Not simply a list or a vague sense of our priorities. That’s not consistent or deliberate. It needs to be an ongoing process we follow no matter what to keep us focused on our priorities throughout the day


I want to live to 95 … but use GTD.

So what are the mechanisms that translate being a jerk into being a poor decision-maker? Jerks tend to think their own perspectives are the only ones worth considering, but good decisions require serious consideration of alternatives. Jerks think they’re never wrong, but good decisions require acknowledging and learning from mistakes. Jerks are consumed with petty resentments and grievances, but good decisions require clear-headed, objective thinking. Jerks alienate other people, but good decisions require collaboration across a social network (as a recent MIT Sloan Management Review article by Rob Cross and Bob Thomas suggests.) This falls short of a complete description of either jerkdom or decision excellence, but you get the picture.

  • Four Rules for Effective Negotiation:  I found the fourth point very interesting. In my house negotiation, the other party walked away .. and came back lower. He made a mistake.

To close or not to close: My partner John Hamel always reminds me that the uber golden rule of negotiation is to always let someone else walk away. Whether you drive too hard a bargain, cannot reconcile on key terms, or feel that the deal is just too rich for your blood, make the offer you want and let the other side walk if they don’t want it. This is not to say to be offensive or to low ball, but rather to be honest, straightforward on what you are willing to do and explain that you understand if it does not work for them and that it is the best you can do. A great example to end on is how John Hamel recently purchased his new home. He had found a unit in a townhouse complex that he liked and was ready to close on it at price x per square foot. That said, he thought he’d take a shot on a larger and more recently renovated unit by advising that owner (who he knew was interested in selling) that he was going to be accepting a price on the other unit in 24 hours, but would take their unit at an even more aggressive price per square foot if they were interested with an immediate close. Remarkable thing, he ended up with the larger unit and one of the best units in the complex.

Tonight I finalize my backyard work, lets see if I can put the above to work.



I am a huge fan of the book The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. I have read it many times and probably given away 100 copies to teammates. For my new role, I presented a 90 day framework to the people who were interviewing me and re-read the book the day before I landed in Canada to start. It is full of great practical advice and provides a framework to structure those first critical months.

As Watkins notes in the article Obama’s First 90 Days (HBR, June 2009):

Leadership is a momentum game – which is why there’s such incredible pressure on business executives in new roles to get it ‘just right’ in their first few months. The senior leader’s early actions end up having a disproportionate impact on everything that follows. Stakeholders parse every word, gesture, and decision, straining to discern intent and assess credibility. Feedback loops, both positive and negative, are established. Momentum for organizational change builds – or doesn’t.

Watkins’ review of Obama is very interesting. For all of us, my many American friends and the state of the global economy, I hope President Obama succeeds.



In February, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference where different work groups took different topics to brainstorm. Our workgroup discussed the traits that they found most desirable in a leader. There were many, as we thought about leaders we admired. The ‘most voted for’ traits were:

  • Respect for the individual: Genuine interest in the individual. They don’t look at the person as a military asset. The example provided was of Bill Clinton. The anecdote (or urban myth) was that Bill Clinton walks in a room and the person he is speaking to feels like the most important person in the room, regardless of status.
  • Inspires you to the next level: Holds you accountable for your results, while helping you set bigger – broader – higher goals. The leader also ensures that the team builds a vision and that everyone knows where we are going and that those goals are inline with the team goals.
  • Trusts you and you can trust her/him: You know that they have your back. This goes back to the ‘take smart risks, learn and be encouraged’. While at the same time is open, honest – no hidden agenda, providing the good and the negative feedback. Without feedback from someone we trust, how can we improve?
  • Passionate about what they are doing, where we are going and who they are doing it with: You know they love what they are doing, you can just tell.
  • Communicates a vision: People thrive on a vision. Give people a destination, that place we are going to and they will help build the strategy to get there. Without that, it is like driving down a highway with no end in sight.

In the next room, another team went through the topic ‘Managing in Tough Times’. It was simply two lists with words under the topics ‘Do More’ and ‘Do Less’. I felt compelled to write it down and here it is:  In tough times ….

  • DO MORE: Coaching, collaborating, remaining visible, listening, communicating, humour, transparency, empowering, exciting, optimism, risk taking, clarity, celebrating, stories, challenging, simplifying, caring, inspiring, acknowledging vulnerabilities.
  • DO LESS: controlling, avoidance, distracting with internal tasks and spreadsheets, complexity, reacting, isolating, ego, rules, cynicism, 8 hour meetings, 3 hour weekly meetings that cover the same thing, worrying about what you don’t control, bullying.

Thought provoking.

The last speaker of the event had a few insights that I found interesting, focusing primarily on the current global recession:

  • A slowdown in growth exposes mediocrity. All of the warts that were hidden during good economic times come out in full force. Don’t waste the opportunity to build a stronger business.
  • Hire great people and hire carefully. A wrong hire is a 2-3 year mistake. The first 6 months to realize that it was the wrong hire, the second 6 months to make a change. The next 6 months to find a replacement and the last 6 months to ramp them.
  • When the market is not growing, it is all about share. How are you performing against the competition?

And the last thing he shared:

  • Love is a given. Trust and respect are earned.



I recently had an interaction with a successful leader where he shared his view on the elements needed to achieve success. One of them was very interesting, it was as simple as ‘think’.

In the panic of the global meltdown it is fascinating to compare and contrast leadership styles, and how ‘think’ is applied within organizations and sales. The knee jerk reaction to a bad situation is to put in more process and control. Process and control is needed in all business, but it must be measured – balanced. Neil Rackham provides some great evidence in his work around process and sales productivity. In small and medium business, Rackham notes that there is a direct correlation between quantity sold and quantity of sales calls. These are transactional sales, low quantity and low value per deal, often requiring a single sales interaction. However, in multi-call or complex sales cycles (Upper Medium or Enterprise), it is a different story. Consider this (via):

Whenever it takes many calls to conclude a sale, and the economy tanks, sales leaders may ask their Reps to work harder. Reps then build bigger funnels and half-sell to twice as many prospects. This is a proven recipe for big effort with small rewards. An example which Rackham cited: a capital goods company in which Reps were making an average of 1.4 calls per day. The VP Sales pushed for more effort and got:

  • a 36% increase in calls/day
  • a 16% increase in orders
  • a 1.5% decline in sales (as the average deal size declined)
  • resignations from 4 of his top 10 salespeople
  • subsequently fired

Instead, in these circumstances, Rackham advocates:

  • working smarter, not harder (serve the right few)
  • creating value (rather than communicating it)
  • making calls so valuable that prospects would pay for them
  • focussing on safety (it will matter more than price)

For the sales leader who is not balanced, who prioritizes operational excellence or metrics above all else, this must seem counterintuitive. The VP pushed for sale call tracking and ‘more calls’, surely that will lead to more sales? But what is forgotten is the value of people and thinking. The value of inspiring people to do great things.

Metrics such as volume of sales calls or a scorecard are valuable tools to indicate where an organization is. I have often told my teams, putting contacts and opportunities correctly into a CRM tool is not a negotiation – it is a condition of employment – we need to know where we are. Nothing frustrates me more than having to do a manual forecast – it is a waste of the saleforce’s time and management time. But it must be remembered that metrics are not the end goal, they are a tool to reach a goal. After all – if you raise your number of sales calls but miss your number, or you have the best scorecard inside the company and miss your revenue target – you still failed.

So there needs to be a balance and one must carefully guard against a cultural shift where adherence to the process becomes more important than evolving the business. Thinking must not be replaced by blind obedience. If ‘thinking’ stops, then how will the business find new ways to outperform the competition? After all, a company cannot outperform a market by adhering to the norms – whether external norms (market conditions) or internal norms (doing it exactly like corporate dictates).

In the book ‘What would Google do?‘ there is a great quote:

‘To gain control, you have to give up control’.

There is a balance to be struck. Put in place operational excellence so you know where you are as you pursue your goals, while trusting in people, helping them take risks, watch those risks pay off, make a few mistakes and learn from those mistakes. And as that leaders stated, remember to ‘think’.




Part of changing companies is the opportunity to ‘purge’, to start your system over (with refinements), to shed a few things that have been hanging around.

Part of my ‘purge’ is to collect up notes from a few leadership conferences that I have attended over the last year. It is interesting to hear all of the different views on leadership, ranging from military obedience to radical concepts such as ‘you must let go of control, to gain control’. The following were processed, according to my estimates, over Greenland on Monday night on the way back to Canada one final time. A few that I found interesting and noteworthy:

The 5 practices of exemplary leadership ….

  1. Model the way:  Talk the talk, walk the walk.
  2. Inspire a vision:  I have seen many leaders false start on this one, promising vision and then letting it fall by the wayside as they become so numbers, process and check mark focused that they forget about the fact that people need to understand where they are going. Without a vision, it is just a daily ‘check-in’, and those leaders find out quickly how uninspiring that is. Set the vision, inspire.
  3. Challenge the process:  When I was part of the UK team, I remember my early months were every question seemed to be answered with a ‘no’ or ‘no, that is not how we do it’. To which the right response is ‘It takes 5 no’s to make a yes’. I had the same experience in Canada too (smile).
  4. Enable others to act:  Allow people to take smart risks, make mistakes, learn and be supported. You cannot outperform a market if you do it the same old way. It requires great people who know that you will be there to back you up and are trying new things.
  5. Encourage the heart:  No one follows the heartless leader, unless they have a gun to their back, and then only until the opportunity appears to change the situation.

 Another speaker on key leadership lessons from his career:

  • Be willing to ask the obvious questions:  Until you understand the business, be willing to ask all types of questions and go deep into the details.
  • Take more risks on people:  Companies don’t do this enough. Empower people to make decisions, support them and make successful.
  • Know when to trust:  Just let your people get on with it. Trust them with the jobs you gave them.

On the course, there was a discussion on attitude and the notion that as a leader you ‘make the weather’. Don’t trust people, constantly criticize, micromanage with little positive reinforcement? Expect a climate of fear. Support, encourage risks, be open with people and watch the clouds clear. One speaker explained it in a great story:

Two cities were separated by a road with a hermit living in the middle. A traveller comes from the city and asks the hermit ‘What is the next city like?’  The hermit responds ‘What was the last city like?”. The traveller responds ‘Beautiful, friendly, amazing’. The hermit smiles and says ‘Well, the next city is probably the same’.

The next traveller walks up the road, stopping to ask the hermit the same question. The hermit responds ‘What was the last city like?’. The traveller responds ‘cold, miserable really’.

The hermit responds ‘The next city is probably the same’

The final executive shared his leadership philosophies as follows:

  1. Be curious, listen and learn:  He was taught, ‘start as an owl, end as an eagle’. Look at business like a puzzle, embrace ‘figuring it out’.
  2. The customer is the north star, the competition is the baseline:  When he has things upside down, he looks to these two to reorient himself, remembering that it is the manager’s job to react and the leaders job to participate and lead.
  3. Play to win and win through/with people:  It is all about the people. He then added a few key insights:
    1. Remember that competition is outside the company, not inside.
    2. Have restless discontent, what is good enough today is not good enough tomorrow.
    3. It is your job, as a leader, to attract, coach and retain talent – to build and grow the best team.
    4. Make sure you bring everyone along, as a team, to the finish line.
  4. Enjoy the journey:  We often get wrapped up in what is next. Smile every day, enjoy the now. It will be tomorrow fast enough.
  5. The most important thing you have is your reputation:  Be your hardest critic. You build a reputation based on how you achieved the results. Achieve the results as a team, in a sustainable manner, the right way.

A few interesting thoughts from a few very successful executives.



As the UK adventure comes to a close, there are many things to reflect on. This week while having dinner with a friend, we talked about what makes a great leader and manager. Over the last 2 years I have learned many valuable business lessons that I will take with me, with these 5 being the ones that ‘stick out’ the most:

  • Better to be red faced once than pink a thousand times:  This was taught to me by a woman whom I have an immense amount of respect for, Martha Bejar. We were talking about having to deliver tough messages, whether on a business loss or a bad forecast. Her logic was quite simple, get the bad news out there – all of it – once, and then get everyone focused on solving the problem. That is much better than what I saw way too often, the drip feeding of bad news up the line because people were afraid of the ramifications. I agree 1000%, get the truth out there, take my lumps and then let’s get solving the problem. I would add ‘good news should travel fast, bad news even faster!’
  • It is easy to be a bully:  When I think about a bully I think of words like disrespectful, always has to have his own way, doesn’t listen and self centeredness – it is all about him. As a leader, the easiest thing to do is to bully your way through situations but it is not the most successful. It leaves people resentful, creates a climate of fear and eventually, it fails. Respect diversity of opinion – creating an open and honest team climate, trust people to do the right things, vary your leadership style, invest in the success of others – not yourself (servant leadership) and exemplify the behaviour that you want to see in the others around you at all times.
  • Never compromise your values:  This one is pretty simple. There is no room for ethical or moral compromise. And if you feel that your leader is making you compromise what you truly believe in, leave.
  • Walk the talk:  If you espouse a leadership virtue as one of your core tenants, then you better walk the talk. There was an article on the turn around of the company ABB and their leader that demonstrates this point well (don’t remember where I read it). The story was about how the company was downsizing and making radical cost cuts. The leadership team was heading to a meeting and the majority of the VPs were sitting in business class. The CEO walked on and as they all watched, he walked past them into economy class, without a word. Walk the talk.
  • Invest in the success of others and you will be successful:  I learned this lesson as a sales rep and have carried it through my management career. If you focus on what will make your customer, partner or teammate successful, then when they succeed – you succeed. As a leader, I always remember, it isn’t about me – it is about the people on the team. If I focus on making each and every single one of them successful, then my success is guaranteed.

I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to have worked with and learn from so many amazing people in the UK. In the end, I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity and it has changed me forever. So my last lesson is …call it the ‘bonus lesson’:

  • Always say thank-you.




A great piece of advice from Jim Collins, from the now closed Business 2.0:

I learned this golden rule from the great civic leader John Gardner, who changed my life in 30 seconds. Gardner, founder of Common Cause, secretary of health, education, and welfare in the Johnson administration, and author of such classic books as "Self-Renewal," spent the last few years of his life as a professor and mentor-at-large at Stanford University. One day early in my faculty teaching career — I think it was 1988 or 1989 — Gardner sat me down. "It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting," he said. "Why don’t you invest more time being interested?"

If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet — their lives, their history, their story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What have they learned? By practicing the art of being interested, the majority of people can become fascinating teachers; nearly everyone has an interesting story to tell.

I can’t say that I live this rule perfectly. When tired, I find that I spend more time trying to be interesting than exercising the discipline of asking genuine questions. But whenever I remember Gardner’s golden rule — whenever I come at any situation with an interested and curious mind — life becomes much more interesting for everyone at the table.

I remember this exact scenario playing our at a dinner years ago. We were with a client who was particularly cantankerous. My associate did everything he could to try and connect, by being interesting. He talked of his hobbies (no connection), it came up that they went to the same University so he talked about his experiences in University (no connection) and on and on. No connection.

So I stepped in and took a different approach. I found out that he loved Science Fiction (I do too) and instead of talking about what I like, I asked him what he liked. I acquired two great book recommendations in the process. I then found out that he is a renowned woodworker. As I know nothing about woodworking, I spent the next couple hours learning all about woodworking. Fascinating, I had no idea it was so interesting.

Be interested. Not interesting.



A colleague forwarded me a great article from the The Times Online this week.  So good, that I cut and pasted the whole thing for future reference. I have highlighted a few points that really stuck out for me.

While I do not agree with all of the points, the article makes a strong case for balance. Like in all things, text book learning does not translate into aptitude and knowing a lot of management theory does not create great managers, leaders or businesses.

Reading it, I was left with a couple thoughts:

  • Where have the billions of dollars of investment into Sarbanes Oxley gone and what was it for? The points made on compliance in the below article support Lois Frankel’s paradox of control (from the book Overcoming Your Strengths):

It was the first year that I decided to invite a large group of relatives and friends for Thanksgiving dinner. Being the independent woman that I am, I wanted to prepare and serve the meal by myself. As more people came into the kitchen to help, I became increasingly frustrated with my inability to maintain control of the situation. My mother was telling me to do one thing to the turkey, a friend was telling me to do another to the stuffing, and still someone else was telling me how to cook the vegetables. Finally, heeding my own guidance to others that the paradox of control is the more control you have the more you give away, I decided to let everyone do what they wanted. I was just positive, however, that this meal would wind up a disaster.

No one was more surprised than I was when it turned out to be one of the best Thanksgiving dinners ever to come out of my kitchen.

  • Management theory is not about a pretty box, with a bow that can be textbook implemented to ensure success. If it causes you to step back from your business and apply a percentage of the learning to make your business better – that is success. And if 0% is applicable but it made you step back, assess and think, that is a benefit too.

Good article. Enjoy.


Goodbye to glib gurus and their gobbledegook

The credit crunch is showing management theory for the hollow, jargon-filled sham it always was. But at last the tide is turning

Andrew Billen

It was John Humphrys on the Today programme who last autumn summed up the tragedy of Baby P. Exasperated by an apologist for Haringey Council, who smugly claimed that it had followed procedures, he thundered: “And the end of this perfect paper trail is a dead baby.”

Such is Humphrys’ range that a few weeks later he was interrogating Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, about Russell Brand’s naughty phone call to Andrew Sachs. Was the answer, he asked satirically, more “compliance procedures”? It surely must have been, for the corporation is currently echoing to the clang of stable doors being belatedly bolted (that and the Teletubbies theme tune, for a senior BBC staffer has been told to watch every episode to ensure that it meets “current compliance” procedures).

“What they don’t understand,” one of the BBC’s most respected producers explained to me, “is that the more compliance you put in, the more likely [controversy] is to happen because it takes away the innate sense of personal responsibility that everybody in the BBC once had.”

Of course, it is not only social services and the BBC who today wade so deep in management theory that they can barely do their jobs. Schools last year received 6,000 pages of theory and guidelines from Whitehall. The result? Primary school teachers, busy reading and filling in forms, no longer have time to read books to their charges. In hospitals, doctors long ago took the hint that the State will value them more for meeting targets than for treating patients, so they order ambulances into “holding patterns” in car parks for fear that, if patients are admitted to A&E too early, the target that all must be treated within four hours may be missed. Cynical? They are acting no more venally than the Kent policeman who arrested a child for throwing a slice of cucumber from his sandwich at another youngster. The PC, lamented the Police Federation of England and Wales in 2007, needed to meet his mop-up target.

We know, of course, that bureaucracy works first in duplicate, then in triplicate and thus unto infinity, but what is happening now is no accidental proliferation of red tape. In the past two decades, management theory, once rejected in Britain by both management and unions, has been deliberately imposed on almost every aspect of commercial and public life. Resistance, from the policeman’s beat to the chalk face, has been widespread but futile.

The Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank, who has studied the cult of management in books such as One Market Under God, savours the paradox on our behalf. Millionaire management theorists such as Tom Peters, author of The Pursuit of Wow!, may believe that they are cool “but the public has always regarded these guys as a joke. You think of that book Who Moved My Cheese? There are parodies of it all over the web. People don’t trust this stuff. They think it’s silly.”

Management theory was born, naturally, in America. Its father was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the time-and motion man who died in 1915 with, legend has it, a stopwatch in his hand. A mechanical engineer, he believed that workers should be made to do small, specialised, repetitive tasks. Their work rate could be ratcheted up by pouring extra dollars into their wage packets. In 1914, 16,000 people flocked to New York to hear him relay such insights.

The realism of Taylor was quickly countered by the “human relations” school of management theory, led by touchy-feelier theorists such as Elton Mayer, who believed that if you treated the workers like family, they might treat you like family back.

But it was James Oscar McKinsey, a Chicago accountancy professor, who turned management theory into money by founding a company of consultants who claimed not merely to heal unhealthy companies but to make healthy ones great. McKinsey died in 1937, but his “fellow visionary” Marvin Bower continued to advise McKinsey and Company until his death five years ago – by which time it was serving seven out of ten of Fortune magazine’s most admired companies. By the Fifties it was almost mandatory in the US, if you wished to run a company, to get a masters degree in business administration – an MBA. Preferably it would be bestowed by Harvard Business School, where, currently, 1,800 students are beavering away, trying not to think too hard about the economic triumphs achieved by such notable alumni as George W. Bush and Rick Wagoner, the chairman of General Motors.

“What you get from Harvard Business School,” says Radio 4’s In Business presenter Peter Day, “is a wonderful network of people who were there with you and a set of tools that you can then use and bamboozle people with for the rest of your life. It is a habit of thought – conventional responses to conventional situations. Harvard teaches very much on a case-study basis, so it is always telling people how to respond to things that happened in the past. No wonder that when something like the credit crunch comes along, huge numbers of highly skilled people in compartmentalised worlds are unable to respond to it.”

But what do they teach? Come the Sixties, all schools united in their loathing for the comfortable, profitable Fifties business culture as described by William H. Whyte in his 1956 book The Organization Man. This was a world in which white-collared workers were beholden to their employers. “They are wry about it, to be sure; they talk of the ‘treadmill’, the ‘rat race’, of the inability to control one’s direction,” Whyte wrote. “But they have no great sense of plight; between themselves and organization they believe they see an ultimate harmony…”

Harmony! This life of job stability, quality health insurance and pension plans looked like commercial death to the theorists. “Tom Peters would say that you have to turn loose market forces at every level of the firm,” says Frank, who, when not writing for The Wall Street Journal, edits a journal of dissent called The Baffler. “There is this cult of destruction that you see in American management theory – creative destruction, with the emphasis on destruction.” The cult’s credo is reduced ad absurdum in the title of one book of popular management theory ubiquitous in American airport bookstores: If it Ain’t Broke…Break it!

At its bleakest, this social Darwinian philosophy, as advocated by the McKinsey consultants who dreamt up the phrase “the war for talent”, requires managers to rank their employees each year. Some 20 per cent are “A players” who must be handsomely rewarded. The next 70 per cent, the Bs, will be less well paid. The bottom 10 per cent, the Cs, will be fired.

Hard? Certainly. Fair? Only possibly. But does it work? On the contrary. In 2004, a survey of 200 human resource professionals reported that “forced ranking” resulted in lower production, scepticism, damaged morale and reduced collaboration. As the authors of the new book Hard Facts: Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense point out, there is no reason why 10 per cent of your workforce should every year become incompetent.

“Forced ranking” is a fad that is fading – but it is hard to keep up, there are so many. is selling 11 books with a combination of the words “management” and “fad” in their title, the snappiest of which is Fad Surfing in the Boardroom. These volumes promise to separate the wheat from the chaff for the bemused manager. The trouble is, there is so much corn in the field that even the high priests become confused. For a while McDonald’s taught its managers the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a pyramid building upwards from “breathing, food and water” to an apex of “self-actualization” (as a burger house manager?). Yet by the time of his death in 1970, Maslow himself had admitted that some employees simply did not choose to “self-actualise” in the workplace and might resent being expected to do so. Peter Drucker, perhaps the most respected of all the gurus, who died in 2005, eventually concluded that, contrary to what he had once believed, the volunteering sphere offered more personal fulfilment that the workplace.

Performance reviews, in which staff are yearly taken into a room by their manager and told how they are doing, are increasingly regarded as the least effective way of communicating between boss and worker. If you learn anything new at your review, the latest thinking goes, your boss has not been managing you correctly. In the City, bonuses – long since elevated into a culture – are finally being recognised as one of the very motors of investment banks’ disastrous recklessness. Sitting next to them in the dock are “targets”, which, as the former chairman of the Audit Commission, James Strachan, was telling anyone who would listen as long ago as 2003, were a “sure-fire way” of failing to improve services in schools and hospitals (he resigned three years later).

The comical ingenuity of doctors in cheating over targets was dramatised ruthlessly by one of their former colleagues, Jed Mercurio, in his BBC drama series Bodies. One obstetrician on the show, frightened of his morbidity score rising above target, simply began refusing to treat very sick patients. “Doctors end up becoming more and more cynical about the way the NHS is governed,” he says. “It’s a very dangerous mindset for a workforce to get into.”

Yet Mercurio acknowledges the need for someone to watch over the medical professionals. Margaret Thatcher, when she threw millions of pounds in extra funding towards the police, was determined that the quid pro quo would be accountability: from that moment, Gene Hunt started to become an historical figure. Equally, there are few greater critics of management theory than David Craig, a former management consultant turned apostate who has written Plundering the Public Sector, a book castigating the Government for squandering billions on consultancies. He, too, acknowledges that efficiency needs to be measured: “KPI [key performance indicators] are absolutely fabulous if used by effective management. But if you have incompetent, ineffective management and policies that only want to give the illusion of progress, they are a disaster and demotivate everyone in the organisation.”

It was in 1995, while working with Gemini, then a struggling consultancy, that Craig helped to come up with the concept of organisational transformation. “We published a book called Transforming the Organization,” he says. “But it was a con, something we dreamt up to try to sell bigger money-making projects to companies. It took three or four years, then everyone started picking up on it. And Tony Blair bought it when McKinsey sold it to him. Suddenly all he would talk about was “transformation of the public service”.

Those, such as Day, Frank and Craig, who have watched management theory transform itself into a religion wonder whether its false gods should take responsibility for the current economic downturn. Target-related bonuses generated greed, which generated irresponsibility. Compartmentalisation – that old Taylorist panacea – left bosses with no overall view of what was going on. Older hands predicted that no good would come of it.

In The Puritan Gift, published last year, the septuagenarian Scottish brothers William and Kenneth Hopper, respectively a banker and an engineer-turned-industrial consultant, argued that for 200 years the puritan foundations of America kept its businesses emphasising craft, financial responsibility and the sublimation of private interest to the group. Young men would rise through a company to the top, gaining deep personal knowledge of the business. In the 1970s, however, a new breed of “professional managers” arrived, armed with MBAs. They were trained to manage anything – a charity or a chemical company – but they lacked “domain knowledge”. The founding fathers’ gift was squandered. Managers who knew all about management but nothing else left the incomprehensible science of sub-prime mortgages to the boffins in their labs.

The economy is now exercising its traditional revenge. At McKinsey & Company in London, bonuses have been cut by a third. Consultants once hired out to companies for £8,000 a week now write on websites of having been “benched” for months. Like the unluckier employees of the companies they advised, they now uneasily await a call from the HR department – this time their own.

If there is hope, it may lie not in the private sector, which will sooner or later seek new potions from the witch doctors, but with the state toilers who were never in it for bonuses in the first place. Last year, four English police forces decided to abandon government targets in favour of common sense. In Surrey, Mark Rowley, the acting chief constable, spoke the revolutionary words: “I want officers to apply their professional judgment and discretion to do the right thing.” As the experiment is slowly taken up by forces across the nation, older coppers remark in wistful gratitude that this is what they came into the job to do. Younger recruits accustomed, like most of their generation, to PowerPoint lectures on targets, best practice and accountability initiatives, are understandably anxious.

It would be a brave new world without such gobbledegook in it but – to use a management theorist’s phrase – an empowered one, too. Managers would be chosen not for their ability to bandy jargon with their superiors but for their empathy, pragmatism, experience and decisiveness with their staff – who would no longer, like the former social worker on the Radio 4 Today progamme this week, spend 80 per cent of their working day filling in forms. They would not be drawn from a pool of professional managers but from among the people who do the work. And, once chosen, they would be allowed to do the job or replaced. This brave new world would cease to be managed. It would begin to be led.

Management by numbers

The gurus know how to count…

Michael Porter’s Five Forces

Kenichi Ohmae’s 3 Cs – Commitment, Creativity, Competition

Peter Senge’s Five Disciplines

W. Edwards Deming’s Fourteen Points

David Kolb’s Four Factors

Rensis Likert’s System 4

Management by acronym

They also like to spell things out…

AVA = Activity Value Analysis

BPR = Business Process Re-engineering

CBA = Cost-Benefit Analysis

TQM = Total Quality Management

Management by cliché

But best of all they like a snappy phrase

Management by Walking About

(Tom Peters)

Who Moved My Cheese?

(Spencer Johnson)

Theory X and Theory Y

(Douglas McGregor)

The Managerial Grid

(Robert Blake and Jane Mouton)

In Search of Excellence

(Peters again)

If it ain’t broke… break it!

(Robert J. Kriegel)

The Pursuit of Wow!

(Is there no end to Peters’s phrase-making?)



It seems like everywhere we go and everything we read is focused on one thing – the negative state of the economy. Unfortunately, negativity sells. It goes back to what one of my favourite mentors would often said:

‘Make 1 person happy and they will tell 5 people, make one person unhappy and they will tell 250’.

We all face different times with new challenges. As leaders, one of the best leadership articles that I have read over the past months is only a couple paragraphs in March issue of HBR titled Performance Incentives for Tough Times. In the end, it is all about managers recognizing great performance:

Abundant evidence indicates that employee behaviour is a function of its consequences. People do what brings praise and avoid what doesn’t. And good performance will probably decline unless it’s acknowledged.

Leaders need to remember, people leave managers, not companies.

I also enjoyed the article Learning from Heroes:

Like Hercules, Luke Skywalker, and Jack Welch, we all struggle with five recurring challenges as we journey through work and life: We wander without knowing where we’re going. Data and circumstances confuse us. Fear blocks us from acting. Change paralyzes us. And despite our best intentions, we talk more than we listen.

An examination of business writing from the past 30 years shows that these challenges emerge again and again—and the best books offer simple yet profound lessons for overcoming them: Find a clear purpose. Be aware that past experience and a mass of information can interfere with wise decisions. Maintain a bias toward action. Be open to change. Seek feedback.

Feel the force Luke. It is quite simple …..


I had 3 conversations about interviewing over the last couple weeks with friends. What do you hire for? How do you sort reality from padding? Personally, I am a big fan of the book Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again, which focuses on how to bring out someone’s drive and the Predictive Index as both a hiring and development tool.

I had not thought about the importance of the personal angle, as put forth by The Interview Question You Should Always Ask:

What do you do in your spare time?

The premise is that if you are passionate about your trade outside the workplace, it will translate into the workplace. His example being the airline pilot who took his gliding license as a kid, built model airplanes and in his spare time volunteered to improve airline safety.

Interesting thought. Worth pondering what great salespeople or leaders do in their spare time. What does Steve Jobs do in his spare time?

I have started to ask this question, attempting to correlate personal life to business success while also watching for the red flag, the person without an answer.



In four or five conversations over the last week I have come back to the article ‘How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight’ which provides great insight into conflict resolution inside a management team or with customers and partners.

In my conversations, the focus was on how we build stronger go to market partnerships with our partners and one of the key starting points is this:

  • Focus on the facts. Arm yourselves with a wealth of data about your business and your competitors. This encourages you to debate critical issues, not argue out of ignorance.

Example: Star Electronics’* top team “measured everything”: bookings, backlogs, margins, engineering milestones, cash, scrap, work-in-process. They also tracked competitors’ moves, including product introductions, price changes, and ad campaigns.

How many times do customer or partner relationships go sideways when people do not agree on the facts? When a joint  scorecard or some common form of measuring reality (e.g. a service level agreement with key performance metrics) are not in place, the conversations do not focus on moving the business forward, they often start with data debates.

One of my first mentors always said ‘Perception is reality’, and I have always found that to be true. If I believe one thing – deeply – it is my reality and the basis upon which I make decisions. Which means that to be successful with a customer or a partner, you must start with an agreed upon ‘reality’, and that means investing in a joint scorecard. It will pay off.



From Their Darkest Hour, Laurence Rees:

Recently I interviewed one of the most famous German U-boat captains of World War II and asked him what qualities were required of a submarine commander in action. He replied: ‘The most important quality a U-boat commander needed during the war was simple – a good crew.’

So true.


When we travelled to Crete I did not pick the right books to bring. I always get in trouble for filling the suitcase with 5 or 6 books with the excuse of ‘I don’t know what I will feel like reading’. This was the case in Crete and found myself browsing through various Crete centric books and landed on the book ‘Crete, The Battle and the Resistance’ by Anthony Beevor.

I found the author long winded and a little too detail orientated, but the anecdotes and stories of the British characters who participated in the events in Crete were fascinating. For those who do not know the Battle of Crete:

The Battle of Crete was unprecedented in three respects: it was the first-ever mainly airborne invasion; it was the first time the Allies made significant use of intelligence from the deciphered German Enigma code; and it was the first time invading German troops encountered mass resistance from a civilian population. In light of the heavy casualties suffered by the parachutists, Adolf Hitler forbade further large scale airborne operations. However, the Allies were impressed by the potential of paratroopers, and started to build their own airborne divisions.

The lesson comes in the form of a quote. As the German’s invaded via air, the commanders were convinced that a seaborne invasion was imminent at another point and held back 6,000 troops to deal with it. Had those reserve troops been committed to the fight, the German paratroopers would have been quickly eliminated (the drop did not go smooth) and the airfield, which was vital to landing more troops, would have remained in Allied hands. But the commanders did not see it for a simple reason:

Colonel Stewart also pointed out after the war that ‘A striking feature of the battle was the tendency for senior officers to stay in the headquarters. In subsequent campaigns it was the accepted practice in the Division for commanders to be well forward …. In Crete where communications were always bad and often non-existent, it was more important than ever that commanders should have gone more forward.’

The lesson of ‘Lead from the front’ is never clearer than in this story.

One last note, the resistance that the Cretan people put up was monumental but not without a price. The German’s were ruthless, burning villages to the ground and mounting mass executions:

A large number of civilians were killed in the crossfire or died fighting as partisans. Many Cretans were shot by the Germans in reprisals, both during the battle and in the occupation that followed. The Germans claimed widespread mutilation of corpses by Cretan partisans but MacDonald (1995) suggests this was down to the breakdown of dead bodies in the very high temperatures as well as carrion birds. One Cretan source puts the number of Cretans killed by German action during the war at 6,593 men, 1,113 women and 869 children.[citation needed]. German records put the number of Cretans executed by firing squad as 3,474, and at least a further 1,000 civilians were killed in massacres late in 1944.[32]

Glad I read the book. Great people with a rich history.

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (36)



I came across the article ‘Can you finish this article without being interrupted? which discusses the world of multi-tasking and how it has a bigger impact on IQ than marijuana.

In the 1740s, Lord Chesterfield offered the following advice to his son: "There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time."

William James suggests that the ability to focus develops as we age:

In contrast, the youthful mind is characterized by an "extreme mobility of the attention" that "makes the child seem to belong less to himself than to every object which happens to catch his notice."

Like Chesterfield, James believed the transition from youthful distraction to mature attention was in large part the result of personal mastery and discipline – and so was illustrative of character.

"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again," he wrote, "is the very root of judgment, character and will."

Another article on the topic here. With the evolution of ‘open plan offices’ which ‘supposedly’ make us collaborate better (at the cost of some privacy to focus) and devices the permeate our daily lives (We should be so lucky to live in the Mad Men generation where you could not bring your work home), it is no wonder.

That being said, I turn my laptop and phone off when I get home. There must be some peace.



I am a big fan of John Maxwell’s leadership books and his newsletter. In this months article titled Improvising your approach to Improvement‘ he discusses how you can view improvement differently, offering 5 tips for improvement: developing habits, befriending discipline, admitting mistakes, measuring progress and continual change.

I love this paragraph on discipline:

In life, there are two kinds of pain: the pain of self-discipline and the pain of regret. The pain of self-discipline involves sacrifice, sweat, and delayed gratification. Thankfully, the reward of improvement softens the pain of self-discipline and makes it worthwhile. The pain of regret begins as a missed opportunity and ends up as squandered talent and an unfulfilled life. Once the pain of regret sets in, there’s nothing you can do other than wonder, "What if?"

The point on change is also very interesting:

Continual change is essential for improvement. One of the great paradoxes of success is that the skills and qualities that get you to the top are seldom the ones that keep you there. The quest to improve forces us to abandon assumptions, embrace innovation, and seek new relationships. If we’re complacent for too long, we’ll fall behind the learning curve. Once this happens, it’s a steep, uphill climb to get back to the top.

I can remember a customer once saying to me when we had reached a very strong position within an account: ‘Now don’t start acting like XXX, the reason why you are here is because they became complacent and arrogant’.

The climb back to the top of the hill is steep indeed and when you are on top, the toughest place to be. After all, you have to set your goals on the big blue sky ahead ….



I was in a session about coaching for high performance yesterday when the speaker made reference to the QWERTY keyboard:

The QWERTY keyboard layout was devised and created in the early 1870s by Christopher Sholes, a newspaper editor and printer who lived in Milwaukee.

With the assistance of his friends Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule he built an early writing machine for which a patent application was filed in October 1867.[3] However, Sholes’ "Type Writer" had many defects: the printing point was located beneath the paper carriage, and so was invisible to the operator. Consequently, the tendency of the typebars to clash and jam if struck in rapid succession was a particularly serious problem, in that the mishap would only be discovered when the typist raised the carriage to inspect what had been typed.[4]

Sholes struggled for the next six years to perfect his invention, making many trial-and-error rearrangements of the original machine’s alphabetical key arrangement in an effort to reduce the frequency of typebar clashes. Eventually he arrived at a four-row, upper case keyboard approaching the modern QWERTY standard. In 1873 Sholes’ backer, James Densmore, succeeded in selling manufacturing rights for the Sholes-Glidden "Type Writer" with E. Remington and Sons and within the following few months the keyboard layout was finalised by Remington’s mechanics. Their adjustments included placing the "R" key in the place previously allotted to the period mark, thus enabling salesmen to impress customers by pecking out the brand name "TYPE WRITER" from one keyboard row. Vestiges of the original alphabetical layout remained in the "home row" sequence FGHJKL.[4]

In essence, the QWERTY keyboard was created to reduce the instances of typewriters getting jammed, a need that has long since disappeared – yet the QWERTY still exists. This has lead to the QWERY becoming a great example for us to ponder daily. Many things (rules, processes) exist today even though their original purpose no longer exists. As a leader, one must probe to find the original purpose to determine validity and ensure that the old paradigm is not holding the business back.

Two other points that I found worthy of noting:

  • An oldie but a goodie: ‘When you point your finger, notice how many fingers are pointing back at you’
  • ‘The only difference between a rut and a grave is depth’



I have been a subscriber to Harvard Business Review and the Harvard Management Update for many years. Recently I was invited to join their Advisory Council and as I was reading through the invite I was trying to decide – is this actually cool that I am being invited or simply a good piece of marketing where I am offering myself up for surveys?

It does say that I get access to different authors and previews. We will see. After all, if HBR cannot be the masters of marketing – who can?



Passed on to me a week ago: If you write an email and it is bigger than 1 screen – it is too long, people won’t read it.

The real art of writing is not how much information you put into it, it is how clearly you articulate those thoughts in as few words as possible. Writing a long email is easy, writing a short email is a lot harder.

A great tongue in cheek article on ‘How Not to Communicate Clearly’ from Queens.



As I mentioned, busy last couple weeks as the quarter rounds down leaving very little time for anything but work.

However, as the quarter winds down I have been thinking about forecasting, something that I have blogged on before. As I get older, I have realized that when it comes to forecasting, I now have a few rules that I go by and thought to share:

1. Be pragmatic: Time and time again, I see managers forecasting everything in their pipeline to make the situation better than it is. Almost every time it results in the same result: death by 1,000 cuts as they slowly but surely drop their pipeline until it hits the disappointing reality. Never forecast everything. Sales is not a science, deals that were ‘done’ yesterday can disappear tomorrow. Be pragmatic.

2. Tell the truth: Good news travels fast. Bad news should travel faster. I say tell the truth. If it is bad news, get it out of the way. Take the pain and then get focused on fixing it. What someone who hides the problem faces is that the problem truly becomes theirs and theirs alone. If you acknowledge a problem in the business, then after the pain, people will often flock to help you – as a team.

‘Better red faced once than pink a 1,000 times’

3. Don’t be bullied: This is a classic junior or weak manager mistake. A senior leader tries to get you to forecast your upside or move your forecast up to meet quota. I have seen every manner of approach to make this happen:

–  ‘What, it is the beginning of the quarter/year, you can’t call off your number? No one does that!’

– ‘Oh come on, you know you have an extra XXX in there, just close the gap for the forecast’

– Insert derogatory comments about your ability to manage a business successful. Believe me, if these are coming, run.

Don’t. Ever. If you are believe in your numbers, stick by them. Chances are if someone forces you to take it up, they will just beat you all the way as you take it down and they usually are not interested in helping you.



Forwarded to me yesterday:

    It is easy to sit at the helm in fine weather.
    – Danish Proverb

    If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
    – John Quincy Adams

    Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
    – George S. Patton

    It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.
    – Babe Ruth

    If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.
    – Tom Peters

    Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
    – Margaret Mead

    The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
    – Martin Luther King, Jr.




The latest Leadership Wired newsletter has a great article on charisma and leadership, you can read it here. These quotes do a great job of catching the essence of charisma:

"How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are making them feel good about you." ~ Dan Reiland

"There is no personal charm so great as the charm of a cheerful temperament." ~Henry Van Dyke

You can subscribe to Dr. Maxwell’s newsletter here.



I was reading a fascinating piece of work this morning on British society. It is an unpublished survey of 1,000 adults (16-35) and their views on social networking, expression, relationships, work and a host of other topics. I will link to the report when it is published.

This question was fascinating for me; ‘It’s more important to fit in than to be different from people’. Note the shift over 20 years and the significant difference from generation to generation (40% between 65+ and 25-34 year olds). It is also interesting to see the 16-24 year olds rise (which could be linked to their being the civic generation).


The implications of these trends are many. What I find shocking is the decline in 35-45-55 year olds. It would appear that we are going through a form of liberation. What would be very interesting is to compare how this data correlates to North American views.

This also shows that I am much more 30 in my views than 40 (smile).



The latest issue of Wired features Maxwell Smart on the cover and 12 ways to super charge your brain. Two of the 12 caught my eye:

  • On Caffeine: They advocate caffeine but suggest that those monster extra large coffees are bad for your mental alertness. Instead, ‘keep those receptors covered with frequent small doses – like a mug of low-caf tea or half a cup of joe – rather than a onetime blast. Test subjects reported that periodic small shots made them feel clearheaded and calm, both of which enhance mental performance.’  Hydration works too.
  • Think Positive: I am a big believer that a positive mind leads to a positive outcome and that you always need to be learning. Wired:

‘Learning new things actually strengthens your brain – especially when you believe you can learn new things …. when you think you’re getting smarter, you study harder, making more nerve cell connections which in turn makes you – smarter’

‘According to studies studies carried out by Stanford University .. volunteers with a so-called growth mindset about learning (‘persist in the face of setbacks’) have more bran plasticity. In other words, their noggins are more adaptable’

‘Many people  believe they have a fixed level of intelligence, and that’s that’ Dweck says ‘The cure is to change your mindset’

The last line sums it up. ‘Certain that we’re wrong? Enjoy stupidity!’ You can read all 12 here. The SuperMemo article is also fascinating, although it looks like too much work.

As an aside, I will absolutely see this movie. If nothing else, for nostalgia reasons. I watched Get Smart as a kid and loved it.



While in the US recently I picked up the HBR OnPoint focused on teamwork (A compilation of previously published articles on team work). One article caught my eye in particular ‘How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight’ (HBR July-Aug 1997)

The tag line is particularly thought provoking: ‘The absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy’.

If I think back on the best work environments I have ever been in (or endeavoured to create), they are environments where people can be open, honest and passionate about their beliefs. Where people can have a good vigorous debate, disagree or agree and then move on without it being personal.

The article provides great insight into creating an environment where you can get to the best decisions. Boiled down, it suggests the following model to allow conflict while building a team that gets along:

Strategy 1: Focus on the issues, not personalities. Key tactics:

  • Work with more, rather than less information and debate on the basis of facts.
  • Develop multiple alternatives to enrich the level of debate.

Strategy 2: Frame decisions as collaborations aimed at achieving the best possible solution for the company. Key tactics:

  • Share commonly agreed upon goals.
  • Inject humor into the decision making process

Strategy 3: Establish a sense of fairness and equity in the process. Key tactics include:

  • Maintain a balanced power structure
  • Resolve issues without forcing consensus

I have always thought of conflict as a step to resolution and heard too many people state that conflict should be avoided at all costs. This article provides a very interesting view on how to allow that natural conflict to drive the best decisions, while maintaining a team environment where people still enjoy working together.

Great article.


I laughed when I read this one. According to the Financial Times, the ‘Bastard defence’ is no longer permissible due to stricter sexism laws. What is the ‘Bastard defence’?

‘Employers will no longer be able to defend themselves against sexual discrimination claims by arguing they are equally offensive to all staff, under new regulations to be introduced tomorrow.

Somewhere in there is a Dilbert cartoon.



Men’s Health (yes I read it) had a thought provoking article on career progression in the April 2008 issue. The theme of the article was ‘fast track your career by making the right move at the right time’:

  • 6 months on the job, self assess: They suggest a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). The focus of the SWOT being the job and environment (i.e. strength – pay, threat – downsizing). I think this is the a bit myopic in scope. In my last few roles, I looked at the 6 month mark as a key point to step out of the day to day, take a deep breath and look around. I would suggest the SWOT be more than that. I ask a host of questions to myself to get that 360 degree view of where I am. A few examples:
    • At the 6 month mark you have emerged from the initial 30, 60, 90 plan (XXXXXX) and key initiatives, changes or big bets should be progressing or breaking open. Are they?
    • How is the network internally and externally?
    • Happy with the role?
    • How is the work life balance?
    • What is the next stage of the plan? Is it necessary to simply continue on with the initial plan or change tack?
    • What am I learning? What do I not know and how can I learn it?
    • Most importantly, take stock and think what would I do differently? That first 90-180 is a learning green field.
  • 12 months on the job, keep learning: The essence of their advice, what are you learning? Your efficiency in the existing role should be going up so what are you doing to fill that extra time? Keep learning. I would suggest this is also the logical next step to introduce the next formal stage of your business plan. Take it to the next level.
  • 2 years on the job, swap roles: This is where they lose me. They argue that ‘your CV should show regular changes … or you may look like you lack ambition’. If I think over my career, this was true when I was in my 20s. As I moved into my 30s and more senior roles – tenure became a huge benefit and my company/role changes were replaced with in role promotions. I know that when I hire for a role if I see a CV with a change every 2 years my alarm goes off. In sales this is even more important, a speaker once referenced an IBM study which found that sales professionals were their most productive (i.e. made the most MONEY) at year 4. I know that this was absolutely true when I was a rep – not only was my job 100% easier, but I nailed my quota every year because I knew everyone. It was great, I kept getting promoted, made lots of money, enjoyed the company of some great clients (who became friends) and enjoyed a healthy golf handicap. The key thing? The last point … keep learning, and only you can drive that goal.

An interesting stat, in an interview of 6,000 people, 90% said that further education had increased their job satisfaction while 77% said that it had helped them secure a better job.

  • 4 years on the job, take a break or know when to quit:  They suggest either taking a break (perhaps a sabbatical or extended vacation to recharge) or quitting because you have been passed over. Again, I challenge this thought. If I am in my 20s, yes. Smart sales organizations are working to ensure that there is career progression in role. In this situation, I would suggest self reflection:
    • Do you still love what you do?
    • Are you learning? If not – what can you do to change that? You are the architect of your destiny, no one else.
    • Are you progressing in that role (promotions if available) or are you being rewarded? It isn’t always about the promotion, it is about the package.
    • Most important – are you happy? Do you love what you do? Look inside .. how is life. One of the benefits of the 4 year tenure is life balance. It is all about judging your situation based upon your point in life.

Interesting read. A few more random thoughts that I have collected on career:

  • Moderate drinkers earn 17% more than their abstemious colleagues according to Stirling University. They also increase their chance of moving up the corporate ladder by networking with their superiors. Of note, the study also showed that if you exceed the government limits that salaries drop. Moderation ….
  • Research by the Employment Review into the disciplinary actions of employers found that 59% of knuckle rappings were as a result of poor punctuality. Punctuality is not just to a meeting, it is getting that report in on time, meeting that timeline commitment. This is so true. It is amazing to see someone’s great work get lost in the noise of not meeting deadlines or being sloppy around internal process. Such a simple thing to fix, such a big potential impact.

Of course, be careful as you move up. Make sure this does not happen, I have seen it WAY to many times (put your cursor over the picture to reveal the ‘play’ button).



On a plane trip I was doing work with a documentary running in the background – UP THE YANGTZE, the story of the 3 rivers dam and the flooding which required the relocation of 2M people. The starting quote caught my attention:

By three methods we may learn wisdom:

First by reflection, which is the noblest;

second, by imitation, which is the easiest;

and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.




I came across this really cool tool. You input a picture, a title and text and out pops your poster. You can then purchase a poster for a low cost or send out. While they use it for parody purposes, I can actually see many practical and positive uses for team building. The power of the net.

A few that are floating around the net from others ….







I become a Getting Things Done advocate for a few years on the recommendation of a friend. I just re-imaged my laptop as I have been running a shedload of beta software over the last 7 months and it was time. It is also a good time as I got my hands on Vista SP1.

Part of that re-image was re-installing the GTD Outlook add-in which has been malfunctioning. While on their site I came across this video, David Allen doing a seminar at Google. A great video, I particularly like his comments on falling on and off the GTD wagon. It is easy to fall off and easy to get back on.

The malfunctioning add-in was my falling off. I updated the software and I am back on and realize now just how much I have been missing it!



I heard a phrase which made me laugh a few weeks ago:

Drip Fed Career Assassination: def’n: To subtly damage the perception of someone with people who decide on that person’s career success through well placed comments.

A sad activity .. but one that I have seen done before and the phrase captures the spirit of the activity exactly.



I am a fan of the John C. Maxwell books on leadership and have started to read his pocket books, the 101 series.

Attitude 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know

The first in the series is Attitude 101 and I enjoyed it. A few highlights and quotes I pulled out:

  • He does a lot of leadership workshops. One of his greatest concerns is that people come to the conference and do not change. They enjoy the ‘show’ but fail to implement the ideas. We overestimate the event and underestimate the process. So true. How many people have gone to a self help course – walked away enthused and then fell back into the old routine.
  • Life is like a grindstone. It can either wear you down or polish you. It all depends on what you are made of.
  • From NBA hall of famer Bill Russell: ‘the most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I made my teammates play’
  • There was a great story in the book about a teacher who conducted an experiment with her art class (pottery). At the beginning of the term she told one group they would only be marked on the quantity of their output. She told the other group that they would be graded on quality. Off the two went, with the first team making item after item while the quality group focused on ‘what does quality mean?’. In the end, she found that the highest quality art pieces were not from the quality group – quantity had the best output because they failed early, often and learned while the others pondered perfection. This is an item that he advocates often – try, try again.
  • When supporting people – value people, praise effort and reward performance. Throughout the book he focuses on failure as a key element of success. He points to the notion that failure creates resilience. William Saroyan is quoted ‘Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success’
  • In the last chapter he makes an interesting point: When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself. So true. I have a philosophy – if you make others successful, you will be successful. Simple really.

Good quick read.



The word ‘hope’ seems an odd thing when speaking in a business context. But it is hope or optimism or the ability to see the future in a certain way that allows us to reach the next level.

A few weeks ago I was reading through a Harvard Business Review in my stack of ‘too read’. In the February 2007 issue Ideas with Impact, number 7 is ‘The Leader from Hope’. The final paragraph sums it up:

Our study of effective executives has uncovered many ways in which their decisions, words, and actions make the people they lead more hopeful. Collectively, these practices are the basis of a leadership tool kit for building and sustaining hope. But the most important change comes when a leader is simply more mindful of this vital part of her or his mission. Much can be accomplished in a reflective pause to ask, "Is what I am about to do or say likely to be destructive or accretive of hope?" It is useful to notice how people express a sense that things might change for the better: They often say of some key actor, "He gives me hope" or "She gives me hope." If you are an executive trying to lead an organization through change, know that hope can be a potent force in your favor. And it’s yours to give.

One could definitely take this in a greater context, at work, at home, with friends. Hope is ours to give.



I had the good fortune to hear Lord Victor Adebowale, CEO of Turning Point and one of the first ‘People’s Peers‘ speak yesterday about leadership. It was a personal discussion where he talked about his experiences as he turned a not for profit health care entity that is heavily regulated into a ‘business’, growing it from 900 people that was about to be cut off by the government to a highly successful 2800 person team of professionals that is green across the board and delivering on their promise of ‘Turning Lives Around’.

A few discussion points stuck with me:

  • The first lesson in leadership is that it is a risky business. When you are leading, risks need to be taken and the responsibility lies with you. In his role, he was the 5th CEO in as many years.
  • Change will feel very uncomfortable. He discussed how there were people in the organization trying to change when he go there and they were not well liked because they were not part of the cultural norm, ‘doing it differently’. Many of those people and their unique projects were fostered and in the end became some of the biggest growth and innovation areas.
  • There are times where you just have to say ‘Just get on with it’. Buy in and discussion is required, but some times you just have to go!
  • Most organizations have an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ mentality (i.e. Front line staff and management). To be successful, it needs to be ‘we’.
  • Individual brand buys fellowship, whether you are a CEO or a line manager.
  • During the change, when at the lowest point, he had to keep reminding himself to remain neutral in viewpoint. Do not celebrate the positive too much, it could be false and do not get despondent about the negative, it could be short term pain. Remain neutral and realistic, keep that steady head.
  • Turning Point

On a personal level, he is an admirable man. When asked where does he take his inspiration from, he did not turn to Nelson Mandela or some great theologian, he talked about the guy who drives the bus who lives in public housing, in a rough neighborhood, who has raised 3 children who are all off to university. You could tell, he is an authentic leader and he does wake up each day ready to turn people’s lives around.



I heard a very interesting story the other day. A CEO was accompanying the CEO of Walmart to a Saturday board meeting. They arrived early and the Walmart CEO asked if he could excuse himself and make a few calls.

What the other CEO heard was the head of Walmart getting on the phone and calling individual store managers to find out how it was going in the field.

That is a great story that reinforces a few key leadership lessons for me:

  • The power of being there: Getting it straight from the field is key for leaders. The higher up you get, the more filters the information travels through. Getting out with the field provides context that is invaluable.
  • The power of contact: I can only imagine how those store managers felt after speaking with the CEO. They must have been walking on cloud nine. I still remember the email of congratulations that I received from Michael Dell more than a decade ago congratulating me on closing one of Dell’s first big server deals (He used a smiley face which made me laugh). People like to be recognized for their great work.

A good leadership lesson.



I recently had a very good conversation on leadership and a question was raised: Am I the type of leader who builds people and processes so that if I am not there it will continue to function and be successful?

Tricky question. I blogged on the topic a few years back here (‘Leadership thoughts’) and pulled out this quote:

"The best leader is the one that can be replaced. When that leader disappears for a time, the team continues on successfully. That leader created a team of leaders, who’s long term goals and team dynamics supersede any leader".  (Me: Reflecting on the fact that the truly strong leader should not look at this fact as ‘I can be replaced easily’, but as ‘I built an amazing team’.

It is a great point to ponder and something to checkmark myself on to ensure I am doing it. I love the introspection of the holidays (smile).



Over the past months it has been reinforced with me that when something is easy, it is seldom right. One could take this and apply the biblical statement of ‘But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it’ or look to the Robert Frost poem for assurance ….

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;    5


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,         10


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.         15


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.        20

In some things I have taken the easy path, while in others the harder path. A good reminder and something to ponder.


This article was forwarded to me and I had to blog it for future reference:

The German World War II general Erich von Manstein is said to have categorized his officers into four types.

The first type, he said, is lazy and stupid. His advice was to leave them alone because they don’t do any harm.

The second type is hard-working and clever. He said that they make great officers because they ensure everything runs smoothly.

The third group is composed of hardworking idiots. Von Manstein said that you must immediately get rid of these, as they force everyone around them to perform pointless tasks.

The fourth category are officers who are lazy and clever. These, he says, should be your generals.

The full articleis worth reading and applicable well beyond management. An old boss of mine often referred to it as ‘busy work’. He would ask ‘Are you doing busy work or are you selling?’.

Today, too many people feel a sense of accomplishment from having an empty inbox (I admit, it is nice) or from being ‘busy’. Too many people are ‘too busy’ to attend a training course to make them a better manager or sales rep. Too busy, too busy, too busy.

On a personal note, it is something I have pondering over the last week after I received an interesting piece of feedback – that I was hierarchical. Probing found that the person meant that while I was speaking with someone, I rudely broke off the conversation to engage in another conversation when someone higher up the line came by.

Upon reflection (other than realizing that I was a rude jerk for doing that, because I am not hierarchical in nature – far from it), I realized it was due to speed. Chances are I just flipped the switch and went down another track to deal with something not thinking about the casual conversation I was engaged in. My speed (being too busy) results in me shedding some of the finer points of etiquette to execute faster. Sad.

The best sales reps watch movies … time for me to watch a movie …. And taking that advice, I just watched 2 episodes of Supernatural (I really enjoy this show), Battlestar Galactica Razor (BEST show on TV), Transformers (yawn), Evan Almighty (Heart warming) and Live Free or Die Hard (His jumping off the bridge onto the jet was a little too much, but all in all – a very entertaining movie).


I attended a leadership offsite a few weeks ago at Tylney Hall. Like all of Britain, there are few locations which do not have generations of history and I continue to marvel. The history of Tylney Hall:

Tylney Hall is a Grade II listed mansion with beautiful gardens of significant historic interest. Stroll along the Vista lined with giant redwoods – it offers the longest, uninterrupted view of the Hampshire countryside; inhale the heady fragrance in the Rose Garden; trail your fingers in the exquisite Water Gardens; and enjoy the view of the lake from the boathouse bridge. The current house dates from 1898 and served as a hospital during the First World War, later becoming a private school.

A few pics (via low quality cell phone):



The event was well facilitated and I took away a few great leadership / management tidbits to ponder, leverage, implement:

  • The meeting stated with a great slide around ground rules: be present, be bold, be engaged and focus on what we can do.
  • The following quote struck me as very true: ‘Leaders get the culture they behave’. How many times have we seen this come to fruition? I choose a culture of big goals, customer first, competing aggressively, taking risks to innovate – drive breakthroughs and celebrating each other’s success.
    • Ghandi said it well ‘Be the change you want to see’. The question we all have to ask is – what do I need to change first?
  • Another quote struck me: ‘Leadership begins when we stop blaming others and making excuses’ (The Wise Fool’s Guide to Leadership, Peter Hawkins 2005)
    • This was centered around feedback and offered one great little rule – start all responses to feedback with a thank-you. What a great way to ensure that people feel comfortable enough with helping you get better.
    • There was also a point made around leaders. As leaders, if our leader is struggling we need to step up and stop complaining and take responsibility for his/her weaknesses and make them successful. An interesting comment that was once put to me as follows when I was complaining about my manager ‘What are you going to do to make them successful?’
    • On the topic of 360 feedback, the speaker stated that one of the biggest mistakes he sees is when people say ‘I don’t want to do the 360 yet, people don’t know me well enough yet’. On the contrary, this is the BEST time for a 360 – to capture those early perceptions and shape the opinion. Interesting viewpoint.
  • On the topic of corporate gossip, when someone is talking about someone else the speaker suggested you say ‘What did he/she say when you told him?’
    • What a great way to stop corridor conversations and ensuring that people are committed to helping each other. No one benefits if they don’t here about what they are doing wrong.
  • People often come up to me and say ‘I have a problem’ and I will spend a lot of time listening. The speaker made an interesting point ‘The closest person is not always the right person to solve the problem’. To be more effective, perhaps the conversation can be cut shorter by asking ‘What do you need from me to solve the problem?’ Sounds very One Minute Manager like …
    • The speaker went on to say that in most organizations there are too many problems going up the ranks and solutions coming down the ranks. As leaders, we need to be pushing to have those problems solved faster and more efficiently by not coming up the chain (by empowering our people to solve problems, find solutions and close out issues without constant interaction). We need vision and opportunities coming down from the top .. to challenge people to reach that next big growth spurt.
  • The ‘E’ test: Put out your dominant index finger and write an E on your forehead (do it before reading below)
    • If your E faces left it is for others to see, and you are relationship focused.
    • If the E faces right it is for yourself, you are more inwardly focused.
  • My E faced left.

    • At one point we discussed what makes a great leader. Tichy and Devanna (1986) listed transformational leaders as exhibiting the following:
      • They clearly see themselves as change agents
      • They are courageous
      • They believe in people
      • They are driven by a strong set of values
      • They are life-long learners
      • They can cope with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity
      • They are visionaries
  • As leaders, our most important task every day is motivation – to help people raise their game every day. So true.
  • WHO AM I?


    I recently did a few press profiles and they had ‘fun’ questions in them for me to answer. I thought to pass on a few .. (until the articles get published):

    • What is the best/worst advice you have ever received?
      • ‘Do the right things, money comes’
      • ‘Socks match pants, not shoes’
    • What bit of technology would you like to have with you if stranded on a desert island and why?
      • A satellite phone so I could call once I had a good tan.
    • Who helped you get where you are today?
      • My wife. She is a great partner and coach.
    • What was your first car and what do you drive now?
      • This one made me laugh. My first car ….. was a RZ350 rocket that I dropped twice, blew 2 engines and almost died on many times. My favorite ‘student’ car was one of the 2 Hyundai Ponys that I owned. That was one sweet car and the best thing? If the engine broke down I could raid my dad’s lawnmower for parts.
    • If you were shipwrecked, who would you like to have with you and why?
      • My family, we would be Swiss Family Robinson … cool.
    • If a grizzly bear and a silverback gorilla were fighting, who would win?
      • The bear. Duh, he is Canadian.
    • Your first job after university?
      • Selling corrugated cardboard. Oh yes, triple wall cardboard boxes.

    I won’t give away the rest. But it was a fun exercise.



    I have been reflecting on meetings lately and realized they are a lot like email. To write a good email it takes thought. Anyone can write a 2 page email that goes on and on with the point buried 600 words into the text. A truly great business communicator makes the point clearly and in as few words as possible. From Harvard Business Essential – Business Communication:

    ‘Keep your message short. Try to pull all pertinent information on the first screen page’

    ‘Cover only one topic per email’

    To do this requires thought, effort and planning – which most people do not put into their emails. They write long winding text that goes on and on and on, just like meetings.

    A great meeting requires planning, thought and as little time as possible. What I find is that most meetings are poorly thought out and people err on the way of time over preparation (Which means that we will just make the meeting longer so that we can get to a point with little direction and little planning).

    I have moved to start making meetings 30 minutes (instead of the default 1 hour) and am very focused on ensuring that there is thought into the meeting – or why have it?



    I will caveat this entry with the following: Even though Jack Welch is a business icon, I personally think he is a bit of an ass as I have blogged before. That out of the way, from a PowerPoint sent to me – Jack on stretch goals, there are some good sales culture nuggets in there:

    • The budget is the bane of corporate America. It never should have existed. Making a budget is an exercise in minimization. You’re always trying to get the lowest out of people, because everyone is negotiating to get a lower number.
      If I worked for you, you would come charging into the boardroom and say, “I need four!” We’d haggle all day, me making presentations, with 50 charts, saying the right number is two. In the end we’d settle on three. We’d go home and tell our families that we had a helluva day at the office. And what did we do? We weren’t dreaming, reaching. I was trying to get the lowest budget number I could sell you. It’s all backward. But if instead you ask people, “Give us all you can; give us the best shot at what you can do,” then you won’t believe the numbers you’ll get. You’ll get more than you need. There’s a trust built that people are going to give their best.
    • Stretch is setting business targets that force managers to change their way of doing things. If you want a 10-mile-per-hour increase in the speed of a train you tinker with horsepower. But if you want to double the speed, you have to break out of both conventional thinking and conventional performance expectations. To some, setting stretch goals might seem laughable. But it works at GE. Our company now rewards progress toward stretch goals, rather than punishing shortfalls. As a result, the setting of these goals, and quantum leaps toward them, have become daily events.

      Most organizations don’t have a clue about how to manage stretch goals. It’s popular today for companies to ask their people to double sales or increase speed to market three-fold. But then they don’t provide their people with the knowledge, tools and means to meet such ambitious goals … To meet stretch targets, people use the only resource that’s not constrained, which is their personal time. I think that’s immoral. People are under tremendous stress … People are working evenings, working Saturdays, working Sundays to achieve those stretch targets … We have a moral obligation to try to give people the tools to meet tough goals. I think it’s totally wrong if you don’t give employees the tools to succeed, then punish them when they fail.
      If done right, a stretch target, which is basically an extremely ambitious goal, gets your people to perform in ways they never imagined possible. Stretch targets force you to think “out of the box.” Steve Kerr – GE Chief Learning Officer

    I really like Steve Kerr’s rules of stretch goals:

    1. Do not punish failure

    2. The rest …

    • Do not set goals that stress people crazily
    • Give people whatever tools and help you can to achieve the stretch goals
    • Stretch targets should be supplemental to basic goals such as earnings or sales targets
    • Don’t give tough stretch goals to people already pushing themselves to the limit
    • Share the wealth generated by reaching stretch goals
    • Expect stretch targets to affect the entire organization

    GE is a great company and these last points are pillars to that greatness.



    I had the good fortune to sit through a meeting on leadership yesterday and found this practice very interesting: The next time that someone comes up to you and starts talking about something that a peer or manager did – respond with the following:

    What did they say when you told them that?

    Too often, we have great feedback about a situation that we could be sharing with our peer or manager – but we don’t. We share it with someone else, which is called gossip and does not help anyone. In fact, it creates an environment of distrust.

    A great approach.



    I heard an interesting philosophy recently which can be paraphrased as ‘What you do will have very little impact on the superstars, with or without you, they will be successful. Our job is to make the average great – to help them hit the next level’

    Very interesting thought. I have been thinking about it in this manner – what are the things that make sales leaders great and how can I (as a leader) make those things programmatic in the business to help the broad team raise their performance? A few thoughts come to mind:

    • Great account planning. Ensuring that each team has a great plan – without that, how can you attain your goals?
    • Programs that drive relationships. Help the team keep in touch with their customers and partners in a meaningful way. Often these programs are taken from the superstars .. who did them on their own.
    • Clarity: Make sure that everyone understands what is expected internally and that those demands are minimized. Free them to sell while ensuring that they know exactly what is required to meet corporate reporting goals (This really relates to forecasting and the like)
    • Recognition: Make sure that people say thank-you to their customers and that they are thanked for going that extra mile. It is easy to thank for the big things, it has impact when you thank for the little things.

    Interesting thought.



    I have been having conversations about corporate culture and rules a lot lately. It seems to me that as time goes by, the rules build up and people need to be encouraged to challenge the norm and help the corporate culture evolve. If this is not being done, the culture becomes repressive and the rules and processes that guide that culture begin to dominate and hurt the culture. My personal favorite set of books on this topic are Asimov’s Foundation Series:

    The premise of the series is that scientist Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept devised by Asimov and Campbell. Using the law of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone for anything smaller than a planet or an empire. Using these techniques, Seldon foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting thirty thousand years before a second great empire arises. To shorten the period of barbarism, he creates two Foundations, small secluded havens of art and science, on opposite ends of the galaxy. The focus of the trilogy is on the Foundation of the planet Terminus. The people living there are working on an all-encompassing Encyclopedia, and are unaware of Seldon’s real intentions (for if they were, the variables would become too uncontrolled). The Encyclopedia serves to preserve knowledge of the physical sciences after the collapse. The Foundation’s location is chosen so that it acts as the focal point for the next empire in another thousand years (rather than the projected thirty thousand).

    What caused that collapse? One of the biggest reasons was the layers upon layers of complexity within the society which became so heavy that the society folded into itself and collapsed.

    In my mind, there are 2 types of rules that guide society or a culture: rules that are absolute and rules that can be challenged:

    • In the category of the absolute we have the moral and ethical (think 10 commandments). Don’t cheat on your spouse, steal, lie or when you are slide 241 of someone’s 358 slide presentation – resist the urge to jump up and beat them with the laser pointer. Those need to be obeyed or we face chaos and a morale decline (which one could argue we face today).
    • The other types of rules are what I would call evolutionary. These are the rules that have come into existence for a purpose that is point in time based. One that comes to mind is segregation, which was a rule put in place by a group of people at a point in time which slowly because unacceptable and was changed. These rules can and need to be changed by people who want to make things better.

    With the second class of rules people need to be asking why did the rule come into effect? Do the conditions still apply which make the rule valid? Does it apply in this situation?

    If we do not ask those questions, then the environment can quickly become repressive as we work within the confines of rules that may or may not be relevant.

    I actively encourage my team to challenge rules, to ask those questions and to push boundaries. It is only through this type of mentality that we make mistakes (which shows that we are trying to innovate – do things differently) and break new ground. A few good examples come to mind of where this has worked:

    • Our procurement team has a very fixed buying process, buy from approved vendors. I did not like the approved vendors and their selection so I bought somewhere else and got the product I wanted at a great price. Procurement came after me:

    ‘You can’t do that’.

    My response ‘I already did’.

    ‘You can’t do that’

    My response ‘Oops, I did it again’.

    ‘Stop that’ they exclaimed.

    ‘Ooops, did it again and I think the guy next to me did it too’ was my response.

    ‘OK, you need to stop that. Let us get a quote for you from the approved vendor’.

    ‘Sure’ was my response.

    ‘Uh, our vendor is $20 more per unit (I knew that). We have approved your vendor. Would you like to be on the RFP selection committee?’

    • We were hiring a student. The first student turned out to be a flake so we never onboarded him and we quickly found ourselves with no pipeline of candidates because the last really good one had been hired to another company. I asked:

    ‘Has anyone called him and asked him if he wants to work for us or tried to incent him to come work for us?’

    The answer was ‘no, we don’t do that. Someone else hired him’.

    ‘Why not?’

    ‘We don’t do that’

    ‘Why not? Go get him’

    In the end, the student wanted to work for us – it is a cool job – he starts next week.

    • This also applies to external vendors. I love the notion of thank-you cards. Not enough people say ‘thank-you’ these days and I know that only a small fraction of people in the sales business send out thank-you cards. This is a personal choice and I have found this amazing vendor in Seattle that makes very tasteful cards. Emailed them ‘I would like to order in a few cases of cards for my team’. The response, ‘Sorry we don’t ship to the UK’. Making a long story short, we found a very interesting way to get them shipped here and get around their ‘We don’t ship to the UK’ rule.

    In the ends, all of this comes from years of selling where all I ever heard was ‘no’. I have a personal philosophy that it takes ‘5 NOs to make a YES’ and apply it both professionally and personally. After all, it is up to us to make things better.


    ‘Beneath every NO lays a passion for YES that has never been broken’  

    Stevens ‘Esthetique Du Mal’, Collected Poems



    A colleague mentioned this British saying in passing yesterday. The phrase is used to refer to efforts that are made that do not progress toward a goal.

    It was explained to me in the context of useless meetings where no decisions are made. The meetings simply acquire redundant updates or ‘weigh the pig’ each time but never do the real work that makes progress such as fattening the pig, making the pig healthier or solving big issues.

    Good saying. I hate weighing the pig, I get testy in those meetings …. and am testy quite a bit these days (smile).