Connecting Dots, Throwing Javelins and Grassroots Movements

We all love them, don’t we? Whether it is the weather, election results or even horoscopes, the human psyche is intrigued by those who believe that they can predict the future.

Yet, in the past few of years, things that seemed to have been stable and predictable have had an uncanny knack of not being so! Brexit, the rise of Trump, global weather patterns, crazy valuations for Tech companies. Some trace this unpredictability back to the financial crisis of 2008. Others pin it to the rise of globalisation. Yet others believe that the real culprit – climate change – can be attributed as far back as the industrial revolution.

“Leaders of Hope” require a good dose of “back-to-front thinking” to inspire people to follow their vision of the future – only to become disillusioned and frustrated by the system. The pendulum swings and “Leaders of Fear” take over and simply look in the rear view mirror to say how things were great in the past and that “Back to the Future” is the answer.

With linear thinking, we tend to post-rationalise decisions and make them look logical after the event. Ever more so in large corporations and national governments. Steve Jobs put it so well when he talked about connecting the dots in his Stanford commencement speech

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

So we come to trusting the dots that will connect us to a positive future – and also trust in “gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever….” to get us there! That’s not very precise or scientific. Certainly not terribly rational and not very easy to measure either!

So, maybe all this objective setting stuff we strive for is baloney? 

In my experience, Jobs was correct. Most decisions are made from spinning around looking at various alternatives and then having an intuitive hunch that things would be better if they lined up in a direction where you have a fuzzy idea of the target zone or outcome. As time progresses, things become clearer.

I call this the “White Javelin” approach. We have a Javelin that we can throw in any direction, but we choose to throw where the light shines brightly. Once we have thrown it, we move along to pick it up and then decide where to throw it next. It is better if you keep going in one particular direction. Otherwise, you keep going over old ground and spinning around like a dog chasing its tail!

Fulfilment becomes an intuitive sense of progress towards a fuzzy outcome, which needs to feel good before each throw.  If your daily work does not give you the autonomy to decide the direction of throw or they give you a needle instead of a javelin, then I suggest you quit!

As I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve also become increasingly aware that everything is connected. Literally. So the desired outcome in one country, system or domain will have undesired consequences in another. The current North Korean-US war of words is but a simple example.

So, with all the unpredictability and variability of system outcomes, maybe we need a new set of meta-objectives or meta-goals that we can start to organise ourselves around so we can work out best where we throw our white javelins.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals were a noble attempt to do this. Yet a global, top-down approach is probably only going to help fix a minor part of the problem. As Arnold Schwarzenegger stated in his message to Donald Trump on reneging the Paris climate agreement: “Like all the great movements in human history, our (clean) future starts with a grassroots movement in our communities, our cities and our states.”

It gives hope to mere mortals that there is a clear path to a cleaner, brighter future through grassroots activism, clear personal intent and envisioning end-results that are for the betterment of our local communities.

Whereas linear-thinking approaches had a good chance of succeeding in more stable and predictable systems, we need new ways to shape a purpose, objectives and outcomes for a particular problem set – outside the boundaries of corporate self-interest. (what Ian Ure in an article on LinkedIn calls his “magic ingredient” – which inspired me to write this one). 

Asking lots of “W” questions is a good place to start. Why?, What?, Who?, When? and Where?

Too many “How?” questions asked too early on creates early “solution-thinking syndrome” which gets in the way of exploring alternative approaches and landing points.

Equally, too many “Why?” questions too early on can also be counter-productive because the answer might simply be: “Just because!”.  W can also stand for “Wait” – like  “all good things come to those who wait”.  Counterintuitive, perhaps, but powerful, nonetheless.

I believe that the world is a mysterious, magical and mystical place, well beyond the ken of any single human being. Science and reason are useful tools, but by adopting the Zen-like “beginner’s mind” with an inquisitive sense of discovery, prediction becomes less important. Each day brings magic moments with new discoveries and new areas to explore with our individual throws of our uniquely crafted white javelins.  We need to stop listening to the Merchants of Doom and become our own Leaders of Hope.

Go on! Throw it as far as you can and see where it lands! It will only be good! 

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The Best Source of Innovation

The news this week that the upwards-ever-upwards iPhone sales are finally stalling was a stark reminder that even the greatest companies struggle to keep the juices of innovation flowing year-on-year.  The Apple Watch couldn’t replace the iPhone and the iCar (if it ever arrives) is still a few years out.

Most companies that I study or consult to are in an innovation crisis.  They know they must innovate in order to remain competitive and keep growing (or simply to stand still).  Yet how often does the innovation agenda become demoted to “novel” efficiency drives and cost-cutting initiatives?

It begs the question: where is the best place to source innovation?  Many of my clients in the telecoms world look to technology suppliers.  They continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of products and services that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  Yet I already have an iPhone 6s.  Why do I want a Plus?  I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to wait for the 6.  I think I’ll hang on until I see something really new and different from Apple.

evolution of lighting, with candle, tungsten, fluorescent , LED

Innovation can come from suppliers – but you can’t really differentiate your company if that is all you rely on.  Such is the fate of many telecoms companies: they continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of product features that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  A price war starts and the cost cutting initiatives cut even deeper.  No, suppliers, are not the best answer.

What about the young folk who have just joined the organisation?  Straight out of University or School, they bring a fresh set of thinking.  They are the next generation!  Surely they hold the answer?  Give them a difficult problem and let them brainstorm their ideas to create something truly whacky.  Too risky, I say!  They will not understand the product and how it is used, yet.  They might come up with some good ideas., but   Good ideas are not the same as innovation.  The newbees are not the best source of innovation either!

So where should we go next?  To customers, of course!  Customers that use (and misuse) your existing products and services!  Customers who suffer day-to-day from trying to work the processes that you have under-designed and waste your customers time and effort.  They are loyal customers until they suddenly vanish.  And if no one contacts them to see where they have gone, then innovation dies on the vine!

Customers are an incredibly cheap this source of innovation, too.  Not just cheap, but very valuable!  By asking a few simple questions of customers every time you interact with them, you can increase your profitability, customer loyalty AND innovation in one fell swoop!

And what are those questions?  Well, you will have to read the next few Thursday Thoughts to find out my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, try and work out what you think they might be and comment below!

Oh, and thank you so much for reading this far.  I hope, at least, it has made you think a bit more about one of the most important aspects of business and human life!

 

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Thinking Outside-In: A Thinking Tool for the Festive Season

Looking at “Major Tim” the Astronaut talking from space on the TV last night, it got me thinking.  How cool it must be to get outside of the earth’s atmosphere and look back down on the earth!

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It triggered another thought.  One particular type of thinking I find very useful is called “Outside-In” thinking.  It takes a perspective of looking at an individual, a family unit or an organisation from the outside looking inwards.  Some call it out-of-the-box thinking.  It is a way of thinking that allows us to step outside of the box and get a more objective perspective on how we fit within each of the social units within we operate.

This type of thinking can also be used in a number of different ways.

Firstly, looking at your the key personal relationships that you have with others:

  • How do you, as an individual, relate to those close around you?  Take stock of what has happened in the past year.  What were the good times and what were the not-so-good times?  How can you build on the good and release the not-so-good?  Which relationships require a little kindness to improve the energy between you both?
  • How do the folk that you care about relate to one another?  How could you assist in strengthening those relationships by listening and understanding both perspectives?
  • It can also be a useful tool to work out what presents they would like to receive.  Think about the last few conversations you have had with them.  Who knows?  They might even have dropped some hints!
A small water drop fall on water surface and jump back before the second one to collide with it.
A small water drop falls on a water surface and jumps back before the second one collides with it.

Secondly, it is useful when looking backwards and planning forwards:

  • What events or activities did you lead and enjoy – and how many others shared in your leadership and enjoyment at the time?  How can you build on these activities in 2016?
  • What themes do you want to improve and carry forwards into 2016 and how can they be accelerated by asking for some outside-in help?
  • List out the challenges you face and work out who do you know who could help tackle some of those challenges in a different or disruptive way.
  • Which activities and themes do you want to wind-down or stop – so that you can create more space for those that you want to build.  Who can you offload the activities onto without losing the overall momentum of the theme?

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Finally, as a tool for improving your business relationships. It is so very powerful when you get direct outside-in feedback from customers, employees, suppliers and business partners:

  • How does the organisation that you work with appear to others?  To customers?  To suppliers?  To those who work for it?
  • What insights can you see that others are blind to?
  • How can you work those into some actions that will help you and the organisation become more effective and be a more enjoyable and rewarding place to work?

So, as we enter the period where we have cleared our desks and are stocking up for the festive season it is worth looking forward to the challenges and projects that we want to take on in 2016 and spend a bit of time thinking outside-in.  I’m sure you will find it useful.  Please do write any thoughts on how else you and others could use this type of thinking.

And good luck to Major Tim and his space travels into 2016!

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Jump Out!

Yesterday I flew from the UK to Germany to have the first meeting this year with a client that I last worked for ten years ago.  Getting up at 4.00am and struggling through the security gates which reminded me of a cattle ranch and then twisting and turning through the duty-free glitter path that is the only way to get to the plane at Stanstead Airport, I took a short 20-minute taxi ride to the client’s office that turned out to be more expensive than the flight itself!  It was a beautiful day and I had a good two hours before the meeting to walk down memory lane.  I needed to make sure I was energised and that my mind was clear.

The most surprising thing for me was that the  client faced pretty much exactly the same challenges that they faced when I was last there.  It was like seeing an old friend in the street that I had not seen for a while and saying “Wow!  You haven’t changed a bit!”  They were stuck in a rut.  And what is more, they acknowledged the fact.  It got me thinking: how difficult it is for all of us (and large organisations in particular) to adapt and change.

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Whilst chatting to a friend today, the exact same thought arose in a different way.  We were reflecting on what we had achieved in 2015 and what 2016 holds in store for us.  Like wine, we tend to describe the past year as a “good year” or a “difficult year” or even an “annus horribilis” – depending on what has happened.

I think I would call 2015 a year of transition.  What one word would describe this year for you?

Yet another friend said that their work has gone very well in the past year (to the detriment of everything else) and that he was way off on the objectives he had set himself which were to spend more time with his family.  Success is both personal and relative – not just from individual to individual – but also in terms of the emphasis we put on specific relationships and projects.  Everything has an opportunity cost associated with it.  Life is a balancing act.

For example, in the first six months of this year, I became very distracted by a project which meant that I took my eye off the ball for several other things in my life – both personal and business.  Setting a balanced set of aims and objectives at the start of the year is so important.  Reflecting on the objectives that I set myself at this time last year, I completely underestimated the passion that I had for this unplanned distraction.

Understanding the dependencies and trade-offs that need to be made is so important.  Yet we are emotional creatures and can often be overtaken by distractions and unpredictable events that come at us from stage left.  Planning for unexpected turns is also important.  As the great Peter Drucker said: “It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.”

Fish Out of Water

But perhaps the most difficult thing in all of this is to break old habits.  This is the case with my client in Germany – and is also so true of  myself as we move into 2016.  In order to change, you need to jump out of an existing pattern and create a new pattern – like the goldfish jumping from one bowl into another in the picture.

Some say that if you practice a new habit for 30 days, then it will stick.  I tried that by giving up alcohol for 6 weeks in mid-October.  Those friends who got a bit worried need concern themselves no more!  I started again last week.  Which just proves that the 30-day rule doesn’t work!

The creation of a new habit requires the displacement of other habits that you need to stop.  And it needs to happen so that the new pattern becomes unconscious behaviour.  Yet, when you jump to a new habit pattern, it can be quite lonely for  a while.

Unless you can create a substitute pattern that is more fulfilling and purposeful, the tendency is to jump back to what is familiar.  All the 12-step programmes understand that.  The first step is always to admit that you are powerless to the particular addiction or pattern.  In doing so, you become conscious of it and can change it.

Think about it.  Which patterns do you want to dissolve or move away from in 2016 to give yourself more time to do the things you really want to do?  What entrenched (perhaps unconscious) patterns do you want to jump out of?  Write them down and share them with a close friend or relative.  Get some support on the shift to a new pattern.  It is much easier like that!

That’s what I hope to do with my German client.  Given that they are conscious and want to change, we will start by describing the new fish tank.  All the good things about the new environment and the benefits of being there.  Then finding one or two fish that will make the first jump.  A bit like “Finding Nemo”.  The good news is that there are plenty of fish to choose from and I believe that, 10 years on, the temperature in the current tank is a bit too warm for comfort.

Please comment if you see any other analogies or have any relevant stories to tell!  In particular, let us know what patterns you want to jump out of and let us know how you are thinking of doing it!

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What’s Your Favourite Colour?

I’ve always been fascinated by colour and believed that men and women see colours differently.  So I was both interested – and not surprised to see what researchers have found on the subject.  It proves that men and women not only prefer different colours, they also see more hues of colour than men.  Men, on the other hand, prefer shades.  Perhaps it goes back to our ancestors, where women were more attuned to gathering different types of fruit and men were looking for subtle shadows of beasts behind a bush.  Who knows?  Makes you think, though!

By the way, my favourite colour is blue!  But I was surprised that no men liked purple!  It was my favourite colour once as a teenager.  Before I turned to red – and eventually to blue.  I wonder if others have changed their preferences through their lives?

Oh, and just for fun, why not put down your favourite colour in the comments box below – and we’ll see if the research is borne out by those who read the blog.

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The Hidden Treasure

The Creator gathered all of creation and said,

“I want to hide something from the humans until they are ready for it.

It is the realisation that they create their own reality.”

The eagle said, “Give it to me, I will take it to the moon.”

The Creator said, “No.  One day they will go there and find it.”

The salmon said, “I will hid it on the bottom of the ocean floor.”

“No.  They will go there too.”

The buffalo said, “I will bury it on the great plains.”

The Creator said, “They will cut the skin of the earth and find it even there.” ….

Then Grandmother Mole…. who has no physical eyes but sees with spiritual eyes,

said, “Put it inside them” [for that is the last place they will look.]

The Creator said, “it is done.”

An old Sioux Indian Fable from “Somebody Should Have Told Us! (Simple Truths for Living Well) by Jack Pransky

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Measurement Madness

I met up recently with an old friend. She has decided to give up work in March. The hospital she has worked in for many years as a family therapist was transferred from the private sector to the public sector last year. She is giving up because the (UK) National Health Service (or NHS) that has now taken over the hospital has made the unit a “national asset” and patients are being referred to it from across the country. She can no longer practice as she used to because the patients are disconnected from the families that should support them when they leave hospital care. Costs have also gone up because of the additional remote support that need to be given to both patients and their supporting families.  In addition, she finds the extra “meetings about meetings” and paperwork completely stifling.

It reminded of a similar problem that is embedded within the UK prison system.  It has been proven that offenders are much more likely not to reoffend once they leave prison if they get family support during their term inside. Yet most prisoners are deliberately sent to another part of the country to do their time. Families (often poorer than most) cannot afford regular visits. So the likelihood of prisoners reoffending when leaving prison goes up.

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In each of these cases, I suppose the patient or the prisoner could be seen as the “customer”.  Yet these two state-run systems have been designed without the customer’s requirements (or real needs) in mind. They have been designed at the expense of other measures (such as top-down political targets, reduction in costs etc.)

The current business fads of rationalisation, outsourcing, off-shoring, cost-cutting and factory call-centres seem to have driven traditional sane local business practices and have allowed madness to prevail.

I can’t prove it, but I believe that local, common-sense sanity has to create more flexible, cost effective public services over the prevalent national (or international) managing-by-abstract-measures madness. But that is a very difficult case to prove when big egos, big technology, big politics and big finance have each, in their own way, presented measurement madness as the new religion.

Maybe measurement is, itself, the root cause of the problem. Maybe we should be suggesting a new way to educate the cohorts of ignorant managers and measurers.
Taiichi Ohno would have thought so.  One of his great quotes fits well here:

“People who can’t understand numbers are useless.

The gemba (or real place) where numbers are not visible is also bad.

However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.”

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The Seven Questions of Innovation

Sometimes you get stuck.  You can’t think of a way out.

Well, it’s not the first time!  Mankind has a long history of innovation.

This video explains it beautifully – and gives us seven questions to ask when you get stuck:

Go on! Try it!  Ask the seven questions:

1.  What can we imagine?

2.  What can we look at differently?

3.  What can we use differently?

4.  What can we move?

5. What can we interconnect?

6. What can we alter?

7.  What can we make?

That’s all very well if you are a guy (like me) and trying to fix things to make things better.  But what about the emotional side of the equation?  Jason Headley has another (perhaps much more brilliant video) which should amuse those that find communication skills between the sexes more challenging:

 

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The Hidden Author of Every Thought

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Sometimes you read something that really moves you.  It reaches places in your mind that you’ve never been to before.  It makes you re-think assumptions about how the world works in deeply profound ways.

So it was when I read this poem from Adyashanti’s book  “Emptiness Dancing” and understood a little more about who is the hidden author of every thought!

SILENCE

The waves of  mind

demand so much of Silence.

But She does not talk back

does not give answers nor arguments.

She is the hidden author of every thought

every feeling

every moment.

 

Silence.

 

She speaks only one word.

And that word is this very existence.

No name you give Her

touches Her

captures Her.

No understanding

can embrace Her.

 

Mind throws itself at Silence

demanding to be let in.

But no mind can enter into

Her radiant darkness

Her pure and smiling

nothingness.

 

The mind hurls itself

into sacred questions.

But Silence remains

unmoved by the tantrums.

She asks only for nothing.

 

Nothing.

 

But you won’t give it to Her

because it is the last coin

in your pocket.

And you would rather

give Her your demands than

your sacred and empty hands.

 

O

 

Everything leaps out in the celebration of mystery,

but only nothing enters the sacred source,

the silent substance.

Only nothing gets touched and becomes sacred,

realizes its own divinity,

realizes what it is

without the aid of a single thought.

Silence is my secret.

Not hidden.

Not hidden.

More profound thoughts in Adyashanti’s book – Emptiness Dancing

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Holiness or Wholeness?

I got into a discussion with a friend yesterday about religion.  You know the sort.  It became a discussion about basic beliefs and ideas about what had happened in the past with facts that neither of us could prove.  I capitulated, not wanting to tread on ground that was sacred to them, yet still holding true to my own beliefs.  In past times, I might have argued the point.  But I was tired and did not see the point.

It got me thinking about this religion and holiness and that sort of stuff and reminded me of a phrase my father used to say to me: “All great religions die with their founder”.  He was a spiritual man with his own religion.  He is now dead.  So I suppose, in his own way, he was right.

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In so many things in life we seek out the differences.  And religions are often a major culprit.  If you believe in one version of history and someone else another, then you are different.  You have different religious beliefs and are not of the same system, creeds, language etc. etc.  And even within a religion, there are sub-sectors, different interpretations and different organisations supporting them.  Yet what is common between religions is far more powerful than what makes them separate.

And so it is also true in the business world.  We have finely-tuned sensors to work out if another company is a competitor or a potential “partner”.  What are the “differentiators” that make you special?  We have defined a set of rituals for ignoring or attacking other businesses.  Just as in human relationships, these reactions can be commanded on a whim.  Defined by tiny variations in perceived behaviour or circumstance.  Individual differences are to be highlighted.  Sameness is boring.

Yet there is a counter-force which is found much more commonly in nature.  This is the unifying force which finds similarities and which seeks out common ground in any given situation.  It requires a different way of thinking and a different way of feeling about a situation.  More inclusive.  More holistic.  More local.

I am not an economist.  Nor will I argue the pros and cons of globalisation in this short piece.  Yet it seems to me that with all the rational arguments for globalisation and free-trade markets we have lost the ability to balance the world with this holistic energy – because responsibility has been taken away from what makes sense at a local level.  We could blame Adam Smith and his ideas on how to increase the quantity of pins produced in pin manufacturing – so aptly celebrated on the British £20 note:

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It is as if the new religion of global banking and global economics has become the new church which must be obeyed.  Making money at the expense of making things whole, rounded, sensible and appropriate at a local level.  With differences, of course, but much less important in this context.  Much less expensive, for sure, because it does not carry the burden of national or international overheads.

And so it was that I was browsing a book, “The Nature of Order” by Christopher Alexander, one of the greatest architectural thinkers of our time.  He describes wholeness as a series fifteen ideas or factors which are represented in the diagram below:

CA Wholeness

The Elements of Wholeness by Christopher Alexander

So, I wondered, with these fifteen design ideas, what would a new bank look like?  What would a new economic system look like?  Globalisation ideas don’t fit very well with concepts such as “Boundaries”, “Local Symmetries” and “Inner Calm”.  Then again, that shouldn’t be too surprising!

If you are a wordsmith, you will notice there is a lot more in common between the words HOLINESS and WHOLENESS.  The only difference is that makes the first unique is the letter “I” and the second that has the letters “WE”.  Not that I am pushing one over the other, but it makes you think, anyway!

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