Monthly Archives: November 2008

//November

The Missing Chapter

If you have read my book ‘Making a Difference’ you will know about my nine step approach to complex business problem solving. You will also know that I cover ‘soft' issues such as managing people, personal development, and decision making. In a meeting last week with a senior manager of the University of Antwerp Management School I was introduced to an absolutely fascinating book by Adam Kahane called ‘Solving Tough Problems’. If I am not being too egotistical, this book could be considered the missing chapter of my book.

Adam Kahane has worked on some of the toughest problems in the world; from mediating South Africa’s transition away from apartheid, to Colombia during the civil war, the collapse of Argentina, The Basque Country, Northern Ireland and much more. The techniques that Adam suggests are very radical to many, require serious reflection and careful thought as to how they can be brought effectively into the work place.

Being a Quaker, I am familiar with some of Adam’s techniques and I even use them in my daily business life. In my book, in the section on decision making, you will find parallels to Adam’s work but Adam’s experience takes us to a whole new level of conflict. He has written the book that I would like to have written – I recommend it to everyone, it is not long, it is easy to read and is cheaper than mine ;-)!

Solving Tough Problems is written by Adam Kahane and is published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

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The two really good things about a recession

The advantage of being the ‘old man of the firm’ is that you’ve seen it all before. The only disadvantage is that you can fool yourself into believing that you have seen it all before. In my experience, each recession and economic crisis are unalike and therefore as with antibiotics, you will probably need a similar but different remedy to pull you out of what appears to be the same symptoms as earlier.

Back to the subject, two good things about a recession. The first good thing about a recession is that everyone that faces economic uncertainty is, sooner or later, forced to face a familiar word with a new definition: ‘Resourcefulness’.

Everyday in business someone mentions ‘resources’ (usually complaining that they do not have enough) but in times of serious economic downturn ‘Resourcefulness’ becomes the key to survival. Only the very poor in our society see no difference between good times and bad times, they have to be 100% resourceful all of the time, simply to survive.

If the key elements of resources are: People, Cash, Buildings, Machines (tools) and Infrastructure etc. then being resourceful obviously means making the most of what you have. But my tip is to make the most of what you don’t have. And I do not mean stealing! Let me explain…

Imagine you only have one sales person for a very big area. In times of economic crisis you will probably regret not having employed that extra person when times were good. Your one sales person makes on average 5 sales visits per day – but who to call on, who in these difficult times is still spending money? Of course she should have a good idea, but she is only one person in a very large area.

The resourceful company sales director thinks on their feet and looks for a solution. One trick I have used very effectively is to look to my suppliers for help. The photo copier sales person. Take them out for lunch, pay for the meal. The big copier companies train their sales teams very well. In recession times they only retain the best and because their world is so competitive, they tend to cover their geographical area better than anyone else. Their sales people know exactly who is buying who isn’t. Which company car parks are full with new cars and which aren’t. Tell your photocopier sales person about your company get them interested, give them your target profile and very soon you’ll be repaid with some very useful information. Of course it is best if you let your sales person have this idea so that they can take the credit – a lead they find is always followed up hotter than one of yours and it is they that will have to make friends with copier sales person in the long-run.

So being resourceful in everything we do is great because we kick out what is not working, find creative solutions to previously ignored in-efficiencies and generate new hope.

If being Resourceful is one of the great things about a recession the second is that (in my experience) recessions do not last forever and the companies that have been the most resourceful all the way through, come out the strongest afterwards.

Tip for the week, prepare a lecture on resourcefulness, inspire those around you to be resourceful, identify resources that you didn’t even know you had and begin to use them well.

Have a good week,

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On line Groups – What is the point?

Last week I found myself with a couple of unexpected hours free and started to sign up to a few ‘LinkedIn’ groups. No doubt many of my contacts received a weekly update informing them of my joining Vlerick Alumni, just as I received notification that an ex-colleague called Eric has updated his profile by submitting a new photograph?!

I can see the point in groups, especially if their membership includes people who might be interesting to consult with. But what will keep them as members? Many are bound to unsubscribe simply due to the potential banality of their content. (It reminds me of the early 80’s when everyone seemed to be purchasing CB radios, the problem was the airwaves soon became filled with people who, having hooked up to an elaborate communication network, found themselves with absolutely nothing to contribute – but, however, contribute they did!) What a successful group needs is content and a raison d'être – I see that Belgium’s ‘Data News’ LinkedIn group, has no content at all – which is rather strange considering it was put together by publishers!

With the rapid rise of e-networking tools, it is for sure that there will be a backlash. I don’t know if you have come across Ecadamy or not but they offer a paying networking group called ‘BlackStar’ that costs 105EUR per month to subscribe to, now why on earth would anyone want to sign up to that?!

Groucho Marx once said: "I would never join any club that would accept me as a member. If we substitute club for LinkedIn Group then we have an interesting debate : (see what a bunch of psychologists can discuss about it, and join in the debate if you want? ;-) Link

End note: By the way I posted a question on the LinkedIn Vlerick Alumni group forum and must admit, found the response very satisfactory indeed – the only point was I didn’t realize anyone had responded until I found them by accident. I guess there must be a tag somewhere that needs activating?! Have a safe week,

Harley

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Listen to good advice – but don’t follow it…

You might find this piece of advice a bit strange, especially coming from me, perhaps some explanation is called for?

When I was younger, when people came to me for advice, I listened for a while and then told them what I thought. Sometimes my enquirers would smile and say encouraging words along the lines of “thanks that’s great advice, just what I needed to hear.” If I happened to meet my enquirer again sometime later, more often than not, it was pretty obvious that my advice had not worked.

If someone gives you advice and you find yourself saying “Wow, that’s so obvious, why hadn’t I thought of it before?” Then don’t trust the advice – it probably is too simple. Listen to it, play it over again in your head, test it, ask others what they think – but whatever you do, do not follow it blindly – your advisor can not possibly know the complexity that surrounds your issues, unless they know you better than you do?

The reasons we ask for advice are many fold. The next time you find yourself asking for advice, stop and ask yourself these two questions first: ‘Why am I asking this person for advice?’ And ‘Once I receive my answer how will it help me solve my problem?’.

Let’s consider five common reasons why we ask for advice:

1. Because we are too lazy to work it out for ourselves
2. Because we like the personal attention we receive
3. Because we think wise people can solve anything
4. Because we are too close to the issue to think and act rationally
5. Because we like to have confirmed what we already know

I often ask others for advice, mostly my wife:
“Does this jacket go with these trousers?”
“Do you find this blog too long?”
“Should I see a doctor about my back?”
“If I mentioned it to her, do you think she would understand?”
“Is it worth cutting the grass, I am sure it is going to rain?”

Ok, so my requests for advice are pretty crass but think about it, mostly we ask for advice in the hope that our advisor will tell us something that we want to hear – to reconfirm our own beliefs. So when we hear what we want to hear we like it even more when we consider our advisor to be as wise as can be.

If we truly desire advice to solve a problem, especially a business problem (which by their very nature are often complex), it is mostly because of reason number 4: Because we are too close to the issue to think and act rationally. In this case, it is most likely, that unless we brief our advisor for at least 200 hours or more, the chances are they will be guessing at a solution. That is why, if you have a serious problem, it really is best to go through at least the first four steps of my nine step methodology for solving problems, before asking someone outside for advice:

Step 1: What is the real problem?
(Understanding and defining the current situation – separating the symptoms from the root causes)
Step 2: How did I (or the business) get to where I am today?
(Looking at the past to understand how the current situation came about)
Step 3: Cash, Culture and Competence
(Assessing the resources at our disposal)
Step 4: What are my (or the business’) aspirations?
(Understanding our long term desires and/or the long term objectives of the business, to be sure any solution will be in line with them).

These four steps take some effort and talking them through with others who know us, can help - but asking for advice as what to do (Step 5 Decision Time) – is something best done on your own. However! Once you have made a decision, it always a very good idea to share it with others for their opinion, if the majority of those you speak with disagree with you, then think twice and ask yourself again – “why have I decided on this solution?” - before you act upon it (especially if our actions will impact on others).

Remember, there is a big difference for asking for advice when one is lost, than asking for advice to confirm where we are. A powerful leader has only one councellor (advisor) for each topic, but many colleagues with whom to debate. There is a difference.

If you’re looking for advice, my door is always open, have a good week ;-)

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