Wednesday, 31 March 2010

It’s an arty farty world

I was very kindly invited to speak to a group of Art and Culture fundraiser about the Global recession which surprised me, as I was struggling to understand how a Philistine like me could add any value to works of great beauty and joy.

I was very surprised when they asked me to provide some link between Art and Culture and business. Now, being Irish, the spoken word to me is a thing of great beauty, but I did struggle on how I would align this to monuments, to human creativity, culture and unbelievable works of art. As I stood before the audience trying to anchor my presentation in anything that would be meaningful, it did occur to me that art and culture represent to me passion, energy, diversity, edginess, creativity, innovation, risk, trust, inspiration, engagement and culture.

I was then struck by the thought: this is what we expect of our business leaders, and perhaps we have already got the knowledge. One of the most universal craving of our time is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership. The crisis of leadership today is the mediocrity or irresponsibility of so many of those in power, and their total lack of self awareness, thirst for change, with the innovation and creativity to achieve real and lasting change. The fundamental crisis underlying mediocrity is intellectual.... Without a powerful understanding of arts and culture, we lack many of the fundamentals of what is needed in great leadership. I believe that the arts can teach us a greater appreciation of who we are, and of how we can shape the world around us. To those who educated and enlightened me, I thank them for listening, and I can only hope their enlightenment can be my education.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Coming of Change (but not as we know it).

While reading Dan Brown’s book The Lost Symbol and the reference to “ORDO AB CHAO”, I was relating this back to my belief that, when things emerge from the chaos, they do so because innovation exists.

To reference Gary Hamel’s quote “Somewhere out there is a bullet with your Company’s name on it. Somewhere out there is a competitor, unborn and unknown, that will render your strategy obsolete. You can’t dodge the bullet. You are going to have to shoot first. You are going to have to out-innovate the innovators”. Today, as we view the business’s environmental challenges, we can realistically say that the World of Business is at a Tipping Point and, unless business leaders adopt the appropriate strategies that will change their perilous course, the forecast is grim. As we look into the future, there is a black hole that will undoubtedly suck a large number of businesses into oblivion and challenge those who remain to deal with change like we have never encountered it before.

We have heard about the need for change, we have listened to educators and futurists telling us about the need to embrace change and to learn how to deal with ambiguity and the speed of change. All of this has been built on the premise that we were anchored in the present and that we can incrementally manage the transition, and educate ourselves to adapt and reshape. However, I believe many of these scenarios are flawed, and that those who apply innovation and change to their current systems, applications, models and people are building upon the old world thinking and are doomed to failure. My belief is that the chaos theory needs to be applied to our business models and practices to achieve an organisational paradigm that will represent the next step in the collective evolution to the next practice business. I contend that chaos intrapreneurs are the new wave’s crafters of next generation business models. Organisations should adapt and embrace ambiguity and chaos because that's where the room is for innovation.

Let me leave you with the example of Google. What is amazing about a company like Google for example is that it continues to innovate using what is described as a "spaghetti method of product development (toss against wall, see if sticks)”, requiring all engineers to spend at least 20% of their time on new ideas.

Monday, 22 March 2010


In recent conversations with a strategic director for outsourcing at a large IT company , he was sharing war stories on the relationship crises that were occurring with key suppliers. He was quite open in his analysis that the problem was on his side, and that his business did not have the core competencies to manage partners well. As someone who managed a global partnership with them, I could well understand that in their world, partnerships are suppliers, and suppliers are vendors, but both are basically to do as their told. I could not help but remember the saying “When the economy goes well, things go well for lawyers. When the economy goes bad, things go even better for lawyers".

I remember reading about a study of supplier/ automaker relationships in the U. S., Japan, and Korea which examined the extent to which automakers manage their "arms-length" and "partner" suppliers differently. The findings indicated that U.S. automakers have historically managed all of their suppliers in an arms-length fashion, Korean automakers have managed all suppliers as partners, and Japanese automakers have segmented their suppliers and have somewhat different relationships depending on the nature of the component. Only Japanese automakers (Toyota and Nissan) have strategically segmented suppliers in such a way as to realise the benefits of both the arms-length and partner models of supplier management. I would argue that firms should think strategically about supplier management, and perhaps should not have a "one size fits all" strategy for supplier management.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Horse Boy

I am reading Rupert Isaacson's book The Horse Boy while skiing in Val d' Isere and I am struck by the infinite human capacity to overcome challenges and make changes to our circumstances in an extraordinary way.

The Horse Boy is an unbelievable journey for two people who desire to offer a better life to their son who suffers from autism. It portrays the actual link between humans and animals and outlines that the world of autism can sit closer to understanding animals than those of us who are not gifted in this way. I was, in my own way, comparing this to my initial tremendous fear of skiing after my late introduction to the sport resulted in a fairly serious injury and a pathological fear of a set of skis in the most ordinary slopes.

Fighting and overcoming fear is a great achievement. Dreaming of, believing in, being relentless in the pursuit of a goal such as that achieved by Rupert and his wife Kristin for their son Rowan is an inspiration to us all who live ordinary lives and have so much to be thankful for. Rather than looking for something new and different, it should drive us to be thankful everyday for what we have got and allow ourselves to appreciate fully the beauty of the people and the world that surround us!

Thank you for giving an Irishman not born on the slopes to fully comprehend the magnificent world which we live in, and the fun, joy and new found capability of taking a great sport to the edge.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Raise the Umbrella and learn how to keep others dry

I was reading through one of my fellow bloggers sites and reviewed some of the pictures of the decades and could not help but be depressed by the insanity of the world we live in and our ability to inflict pain and suffering on each other. All of us have a responsibility to lift our game both individually and collectively to make this a reality. Now, I am not asking that we all become charismatic in engaging self righteous individuals. I do think we can all take the world a little more seriously and do our bit to increase the human interaction to a much more charitable and forgiving place. I remember reading a quote from Mother Teresa and forgive me if I am not exact on the words, but she did say that she would never join an anti-war rally, but a rally for peace, she would be there every time. I do feel we can shape people thinking by focusing on the positive. My point is not to turn you into a jokemaster, but rather to help you find ways to look at life from a different perspective. So, with that in mind, here are ways to inject some levity into your workplace.

Lampoon hypocrisy. Challenge those who talk not live the talk.
Take the high and mighty down a peg. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Make it safe for people to make light of your shortcomings.
Put up an Umbrella and dance. As a leader, learn how to raise an umbrella so all the crap falls away and you take responsibility for what happens under that umbrella. Keep it light, keep it fun, keep the trust alive.
Point out absurdity. Be the one who people look to, that focuses on truth. Be the one who dreams the dream but people look to be inspired by, not scared of. Look to be the one people follow naturally and instinctively because of the truth and trust you give.

The point is not about working and being committed. It’s about the manner in which you do it, the mindset you bring to it, the engagement you create in other people, and the sense of purpose and humour you bring to it.

As with all things humorous, tread carefully. Avoid jokes that lampoon gender and ethnicity; if you suspect a joke may be taken the wrong way, act on that assumption and don't use it. The point of humour in the workplace is not telling jokes; it is to lighten the mood.

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