business ironies

Fake it til you make it?

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Are people basically divided into two broad camps – the ‘fake it til you make it’ (the marketers & promoters) and the ‘keeping it real’ camp’?

‘Fake it til you make it’ is about projecting confidence, whether real or illusionary. It’s downside is arguably in making our social groups less cohesive and less real. ‘Fake it til you make it’ can be spectacularly successful – politicians, singers/rappers and A-list movie actors being examples of this. Ironically though, politicians campaign to solve real problems, rappers rap about their gritty own life struggle to success, whilst successful actors choose to star in movies that often have themes of real strength from overcoming adversity of some kind.

Some pioneering cultures have a phrase about ‘keeping it real’. Others talk about ‘keeping your feet firmly on the ground’ (unless you work for the weather service, the airlines, the navy, NASA or Virgin Galactic).The ‘keeping it real’ camp includes support groups, social workers, therapists, counsellors, teachers, coaches, trainers and assessors of all kinds. This camp arguably advocates that ‘struggling to succeed is simply walking the journey’ is what life is about and that being honest about this struggle helps us to build important bridges with fellow human beings. In the world of entertainment, reality shows are in theory about ‘keeping it real’, although programme directors inevitably choose hyping the truth over the reality, if if means improving the viewer ratings in a competitive industry.

What about in the field of design – which camp do designers fall into? Steve jobs said ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ In product design, great and successful designers don’t tolerate fake. They are obsessed with building amazing, perfection and excellence. In contrast, fine artists can excell at illusion in their art, folling the viewer’s eye into almost believing the two dimensional is actually the three dimensional. Or that the World shown within their art reveals a far more beautiful perspective on the World outside. Musical artists and actors generally want to create real. It’s the marketing staff of their companies that want auto-tune, edit and airbrush.

Whichever of the two camps a person falls into, perhaps real performance is still the key goal and ambition the driving force. Oscar Wilde famously said ‘all of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.’ Life arguably isn’t about ‘suffer in silence’, ‘know your place’ and ‘mustn’t grumble’. It is about ‘be the best that you can be’, ‘dare to dream’, ‘give yourself a break’, ‘learn from your mistakes’, ‘recognise the perfect parent does not exist’,  ‘respect yourself’ and ‘strength through adversity.’

Lastly, somewhere along the line, as we switched from selling the products of our labour to selling the services of ourselves, the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra started to dominate, in business, in our romantic lives (as singles) and increasingly, everywhere else. How do we jolt ourselves out of that mantra?

Emulate with extreme prejudice

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A’s hire other A’s. B’s hire C’s, because if they hire A’s, their B level performance will be laid bare. Morale: Hire an A to lead your organisation and radiate A’ness (not anus) outwards to everyone else.

Extreme ability is rare. Extreme talent is rare. Yet common sense is anything but common. Non leaders have talent and ability. Yet they choose not to stand out. Would they rather live in a World that could be so much more beautiful with their help?

Some leaders fail. To turn followers into team members. And team members into leaders of new teams. And so it goes.

Business Ironies 3

It sometimes takes an analytical person using right brain activity (creative problem solving) to solve a left brain problem.

Try to avoid the business planning process taking 13 months of effort, for a 12 month forecast period.

One of today’s senior job applicants jumping through the hoops of the interview process could well be tomorrow’s interviewer (and agency relationship manager), on the other side of the table.  If you’re the job agency appointed, you’d be wise to remember this in all your dealings.

Sometimes you have to do external benchmarking to raise internal standards of efficiency and quality.

Recruitment needs to be age blind. Older people don’t just have old fashioned experience, they also have long run perspective -they’ve seen the boom and bust times and most of the pitfalls in action. Organisations often hire fresh young blood with the latest technical skills, not realising their older employees can adapt what they know, to reach the same end point. Ironically the decision makers are often older staff themselves. See also blog post ‘Careers of Project Work Ahead’ on how long Generation Y workers expect to stay with their employer.

The more costly the costing system to build, the more cost savings (to a point) it creates elsewhere in the organisation .

Accountants gravitate to reporting on material items. Operations managers gravitate to seeking (immaterial) points of leverage. Accountants are supposed to be supporting the business.

Business Ironies 2

You need micro-level creative chaos, for macro-level coherency.

Design testing needs to be brutal, so the final output can be kind to the customer.

Find a job you love, so you never feel like it’s work.

Product design/development problems come from multi-functional teams, in spite of themselves. Not because of their input, but because of the stuff that quietly slips through the cracks between their functions.

You can’t just ask today’s customers to control development of tomorrow’s designs, even if they’ll love them. Input is valuable, but leave design control to the designers/developers.

If designers/developers are given control of the innovation budget, you’ll get the best designs for a bankrupt organisation. If accountants are given control over the innovation budget, you’ll get the worst designs for a profitable, but shrinking organisation.

More design or production haste is typically more waste of materials. More design or production haste is typically less waste of time.

2D and 3D Worlds

In a 3D World, it’s interesting just how many jobs involve 2 modes or 2 statuses only.
How would the World operate if many of us were forced to act, by considering a hybrid state, or a time dimension as well?

Computer programmers code for a binary World, and for Windows or Mac. The obvious hybrid state is open source.

Product designers recognise right or left-handed people, male or female, real or virtual, real or imitation, outdoor or indoor, interior or exterior, toxic or non toxic. Time is an exciting third dimension to encourage flexibility into the design.

Management consultants love framing problems using 2D matrixes. Their business problems typically consider; merge or acquire, debt or equity, make or buy, outsource or insource, labour-intensive or automated, cost or quality. Most matrixes would likely yield different insights by adding a time, or hybrid dimension to them.

Graphic designers love their 2D reference grids & think black & white or colour, pixels or vectors, rush job or non rush job . Their creativity is enhanced by adding any additional dimension.

Snowboard instructors teach rookies who are goofies or naturals, on-piste or off-piste, on snow that is real or artificially-created.

Accountants journal in a double entry World. They also consider; cost and price, cash or credit. Rate of change is an exciting third dimension to consider in their reporting.

Court environments have prosecution and defence, innocent or guilty. expert witness or non expert witness, custodial sentence or non custodial. Would we have greater justice by considering a hybrid state or time dimension as well? To be fair, mitigating circumstances and suspended sentences respectively, are examples of this already.

Economists divide into macro and micro. Would we have more useful economics by considering an irrational behaviour dynamic, or adding the time dimension as well?

The Military recognises friend and foe, military or civilian. Hybrids include those people who can be won over as future supporters –change the tactics to consider the hybrid status of some people encountered in the field.

Bankers match borrowers and lenders. They also consider costs and prices. Time and/or changing risk is an exciting third state to encourage flexibility into the design.

Traders match buy and sell, act or delay. Time or changing risk is an exciting third state to encourage flexibility into the design.

Food for thought?

Measuring the value of ICT

For organisations that run an annual budget round, the senior managers tasked with reviewing the budget submissions eventually have to consider the ICT budget. Mobility, Big Data, Data storage and security. Data processing capability. Network spending. Help Desk support. Software licenses. System upgrades, projects and integration. Too high or too low. Is it even being spent on the right things?

Typically, the senior management mindset is that ICT spending should relate to modernisation, projects, innovation and embracing new technology systems to help the organisation remain effective and competitive.

The inclination is to underspend on ICT people (the implicit assumption; shouldn’t ICT be the one department where most of the spending is on the technology itself?) and to spend as little as possible to maintain existing systems (the implicit assumption; shouldn’t ICT be mostly about improvement?).

Of course, without skilled and motivated ICT staff, the ICT function won’t be fit for purpose and of course to be effective in their jobs, those ICT staff need to spend at least some of their time skilling up, experimenting with the capabilities of new technology, as well as monitoring the never-ending array of new technologies coming onstream.

Perhaps something can be learned from companies such as Google. They continue to invest heavily in a range of exciting new technologies (and technology company acquisitions), without necessarily knowing the long term value of those investments. Google know that investing too little will turn them into a ‘mature’ company, living off past products and services, while their best staff leave to join more visionary competitors. ICT spending doesn’t support their core competence. It creates and keeps redefining core competence.

For many organisations, when senior management consider non ICT department budget submissions, relatively little budget attention is devoted to challenging why last years staff and non staff budgets should continue. Then if the overall budget is added up and found to be too high, improvement projects become the first thing to be cut.

Perhaps, the ICT Budget questions for senior management should therefore be what staff and non staff spending elsewhere in the organisation can we taper down, as we upscale our ICT investment? And how can we get better value from our people resources by moving them to high value-adding activities?

Business ironies 1

Some ironies observed from 20 years in the Business World.

By the time fresh thinking is finally embraced, it’s stale thinking. The World has moved on…

Work from home for highest business productivity?

Clear, rational thinking can emerge from the wildest dreams.

The most finance resources go into keeping score (especially measuring growth). The least seem to go into identifying leverage to improve performance (e.g. measuring rate changes).

Those who make the best impact, get credit when they least expect it. And from unexpected sources.

Not all units of a currency are alike in their impact. Identify the spending that gives the greatest leverage.

Pride and ego are handicaps to progress and erode positional power.

If you’re telling managers what they want to hear, you probably have the wrong audience (proud, complacent leaders?).

The best team is probably the team of neurons in your head.

The better our information systems become, the lazier we get?

The more concerning the present situation, the more people work on change. Whether or not it it brings progress. The less concerning the present, the more people work on progress, which brings change along for the ride.

Real progress comes at the rate we learn from mistakes. Not the rate at which we avoid them.

Free thinkers make the best team members – mutual respect glues their team together.

Business opportunities remain infinite. Even if resources seem finite.

Opportunities & threats used to be easier to see. Now the pace of change and the online nature of change obscures them both.