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There is a restaurant in Chestnut Hill, right on the edge of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I’ve been at Paris Bistro a few times and enjoyed my visits. I was looking forward to a nice time with a friend on my last attempt to drop in.

We walked in the door at about 4:30. Immediately upon entering we realized that they probably weren’t open yet as the staff were still in the process of setting things up. We walked over to the bar. The bartender began by telling us they didn’t open until 5. I asked if we could just sit at the bar and chat while waiting for her to get ready.

“No. We do not open until 5.”

We were a bit taken aback as we had wandered in through an unlocked front door and politely asked to just sit and wait without bothering anyone until they were ready for customers in a few minutes. My friend and I looked at each other and instantly decided to go elsewhere for dinner. Chestnut Hill is filled with nice restaurants and bars within a few minutes walk of the unwelcoming Paris Bistro.

We walked out the door, ambled a few feet down the sidewalk, and turned into the Chestnut Grill. We walked up to the bar, asked the friendly bartender if we could sit at two barstools in front of her, and received a rousing “sure, and what can I get you?” in response. It was now about 4:35.

After a nice time talking to the bartender and some friendly people while enjoying wine and nice food, we left a few hours later pleased with our decision.

A few weeks later I met a different friend at Piccolina Toscana in Wilmington Delaware. Coincidentally, we walked in the open front door about 4:30 to find that they too were in the middle of setting up for dinner. A friendly waiter left the glasses he was polishing to come over and tell us they didn’t open until 5. We asked if it would be okay if we sat at a table and talked until they were ready.

This time the response was a big smile followed by “as long as you don’t mind watching us finish setting up it’s fine with us. Take any table.”

We wandered over to a table against the wall where we could watch the entire restaurant, sat down, and continued the business conversation we’d been having. In a few minutes the waiter came over and asked if he could get us anything while we were waiting. We responded that we were fine and didn’t want to get in the way of his doing whatever he needed to do to get ready.

He laughed and said he couldn’t stand to see us sitting in such a fine restaurant with such a nice wine list and not a thing to eat or drink on the table. With that he put menus and a wine list in front of us and told us to pick something. We demurred but he insisted so we ordered a wonderful bottle of wine while telling him we’d order dinner later.

Several hours later after an excellent dinner and attentive service, we left talking about how great the experience was. Having shared the less than welcoming reception in exactly the same circumstances a few weeks earlier, we compared their attitudes about customer service as well. Both of us being consultants who write and speak extensively and have a clientele of senior executives who enjoy good restaurants, we tried to figure out the impact sharing my first person story about these two experiences would have.

Frankly, I have no idea but assume good things for Piccolina Toscana and Chestnut Grill. At the very least I’ve sent them a few new customers who have gone and thanked me for telling them about these restaurants. In all likelihood some of these new customers have gone back and probably shared their new find with their friends. Maybe a few of them found themselves hungry and decided to try out these places.

A culture of friendliness and flexibility about letting in a customer before official opening versus a culture of inflexibility unable to notice that a customer sitting in an empty chair not bothering anyone for a few minutes until opening is a friendly and welcoming gesture sure to get a good response. It makes me wonder how many people have wandered in a few minutes early and been welcomed or sent packing. How many stories like mine, good and bad, are circulating? What is the cumulative result of these stories on those deciding what restaurant to visit?

Most amazing is the power of what is, in reality, a pretty minor issue. One small good experience, one small irritating experience – both rippling around touching many…

Piccolina Toscana

Piccolina Toscana

Chestnut Grill

Chestnut Grill

 

 

 

When I read a wonderful quote from Mark Twain a few days ago, my mind flashed back to my recent missive Be Curious. The quote started off the current copy of the exceptional newsletter that Paul Sloate, CEO of Green Drake Advisors, sends out regularly. Sloate is a great financial thinker and writer with a wonderful sense of humor and slant on how what’s going on in the world affects financial issues and your investments.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

Twain has added a twist to my commentary on the poor decision making that comes from thinking you know everything. Those who aren’t caught in the ridiculous conceit that they know everything still can easily wind up with the same problem: poor decision making based on an inability to realize that what you think you know might be wrong.

I’m often struck by the way that experienced and successful executives become so confident in their infallibility that they drive their organization over the cliff. They forget that each decision they make is a unique event. Making some, or even a lot, of good decisions in the past does not mean that all your decisions going forward will be as good.

Often the opposite seems to be true. Taking off on Twain’s thought, too many good decisions in a row leads to your knowing for sure things that are no longer true. Basing decisions on things no longer true is the path to destruction.

Too many become stuck in their knowledge. They become unable to realize that it’s not that it would be nice to learn more, it’s a necessity. What you know that often worked well in the past now leads you into becoming a sad story in the history books.

Too many executives spend their resources trying to hold off the future. Instead of getting in front of the curve and using their extensive resources to lead the way they’re being dragged kicking and screaming down the trail. Being dragged kicking and screaming means letting others race past you, letting others build the future and grab the business and profits going forward.

It reminds me of Blackberry. Knowing that they had the best cell phone in the world led their executives into making horrible decisions and so giving the future to Apple and others.

Giving away the future…a recipe for disaster.

2015-05-18 12.40.34

My old Blackberry

There is less and less quiet in the world. Sensory overload is rampant. Your attention is diverted by noise and moving pictures continually .Everywhere you go someone else’s favorite music blares at you. Televisions hang on walls everywhere, sometimes with sound, sometimes with streaming words, sometimes just soundless random movement. You can’t even get gas for your car without having a television shouting at you.

No wonder people so often tell me that they can’t stay focused for long, their attention wanders continually, they’re stressed out always. They can’t think.

They can’t think.

Most of the people I work with lead organizations. Their job is thinking.

As our attention spans attenuate, our focus dissipates, our concentration evaporates…deep thought disappears.

I see this all the time. People are great at using the internet to find facts but horrible at being able to stop looking for more facts and think about the meaning of what they’ve already found.

Looking, looking, looking fits in nicely with short attention spans. Thinking not so well. Thinking requires concentrated effort rather than continual disruption. In so many ways thinking is the antithesis of the modern world.

As I became aware of this situation in my own life, I realized that I was withdrawing from modernity for long periods of time. A week of crazy international travel with not a second of peace and quiet would lead to a few days in my house in the woods surrounded only by the sound of the woods and the creatures living there. Inevitably during this time I captured the best ideas on how to solve some client problem or wrote something that turned out to garner many comments.

Will Rogers once said,”never miss a good chance to shut up.” It occurred to me that the corollary to his thought is “never miss a good chance to shut everything else up.”

Take a Clarity Break often. Go someplace and just think. Tune out the world and ponder your issues and let your mind roam free. Drain the sensory overload from your mind and start thinking afresh.

Your body relaxes. Tension dissipates. Your mind clears.

When I ask successful executives about this subject they invariably tell me what they do for their clarity breaks. Next they mention how they wish they had more time to do whatever it is they do more often. I pop my consulting hat on and before too long we’ve worked out how to get them more thinking time.

After all, thinking is an executive’s most important job.

 Me on Clarity Break

Deception Pass 5

 

 

 

So many think they know everything. They manage by ordering people around, telling them what to do, making all the decisions and expecting everyone else to carry them out.

And yet, clearly there is no one who knows everything. There is not even anyone who knows everything about their specialty. How could they? There is so much going on around the world even in your specialty that it’s impossible for anyone to know it all.

If you ignore the fact that there are things you don’t know, your decision making will suffer. How can you make the best decisions if you’re missing important facts, ideas, the thoughts of others?

Somewhere along the way their confidence in their own ability to be right killed their curiosity. Curiosity, the best management tool ever.

Curiosity leads to asking questions. Instead of giving orders, ask questions. Elicit information.

Asking questions gives people the chance to share their ideas, their knowledge, their concerns. It gives people a chance to make the case for what they think is the right way to proceed.

Asking questions leads to asking for help. Instead of telling somewhat what to do ask them if they can help, can they be the leader of the task. Asking creates engagement.

Curiosity and asking questions bring people in rather than keeping them out. It shows you value them and their ideas.

Questioning leads to listening. And listening, listening leads to learning and better decisions.

Better decisions through building a culture of curiosity, questioning, and trusting in your people.

 

 

 

We’ve all heard the stories. A famous person, senior executive, or government official says something insulting, denigrating, or just plain nasty in a fit of anger, while drunk, or while thinking there are no outsiders around. Often there’s racism, sexism, homophobia, or some other hate filled speech included.

You know what happens when it goes viral. Abject apologies, excuses about being under the influence, fervent promises to never do it again.

We all know what really happened. Their deepest beliefs were released as their inhibitions fell away.

Actions define who you really are. The veneer of propriety slips away revealing what lies beneath. Suddenly someone trying to appear a better person than they really are is unmasked for the reprobate that lives within.

What always fascinates me is how so many seemingly upstanding people have such vile beliefs hidden right under the surface. Worse is how many powerful people share this pattern. Powerful people whose hidden beliefs color what they do, how they act, and their true beliefs about other people.

Presidential elections always bring the deceit to the surface in surprising ways. How is it that politicians don’t understand that there is no such thing as a private meeting anymore? How is it that they think they can say one thing to this group and something completely different to that group…and no one will notice. How is it that they are surprised that when they are unmasked for the venal behavior they so often exhibit.

We live in a world where everything is visible…immediately. You are the message. The real you, not the public relations you. The you that people see when things are difficult, when you’re under stress, when you let your guard down.

To be successful there is only one way to be these days: open and honest. Be the you you are all the time. Address your issues openly and honestly. Lose you fear of saying or doing something that will come back to haunt you. Be a leader that people can trust always as they know who you are and trust how you will act. Ensure your public and private words and actions are the same…always.

Stop saying “people are our most important resource” when everyone sees your actions so at odds with these words.

Be All There

Be All There, or Be All Here, depending on your view of language. However you say it, notice what’s going on around you, the moment to moment changes as well as the variety of more long lasting things. Hold an open mind and take it all in and avoid the arrogance and complacency that comes from the illusion of certainty.

Mindfulness, the art of paying attention and using what you notice as fodder for change and improvement. Couple this with reframing what you see into better ideas, products, and services and you’ve become more innovative and less likely to get stuck and irrelevant.

Make a mistake? Rather than explode in rage take a step back and look, really look, at what happened…and what resulted. Perhaps you’ll find that you’ve invented your own version of glue that doesn’t stick that well and have the next Post It Notes right in front of you.

Then there’s context. So much is context dependent. Context drives perceptions, actions, and perception about actions. A hand shake is a message of welcome, friendship, respect…unless you’re a man offering your hand to a woman wearing a abaya and niqab. To gain more control over your life, figure out who controls the context and what their motives are. Then do a bit of reframing and take charge. Better yet, create the context that helps you get what you want.

You can take charge and wind up with better results as long as you pay attention and turn things into opportunities rather than defeats. When you’re mindful and so paying attention to those around you, those around you see you as more charismatic. You notice opportunities, swerve around the dangers, lead more effectively.

Last week I was thinking about this while preparing to lead a program for The United Nations – The Nippon Foundation Of Japan Fellowship Programme. The group is composed of well educated and influential people from a variety of countries, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. There I am, standing in front of them ready to lead an interactive program with the vague goal of giving them advice and ideas for improving their communication and team effectiveness.

For a group such as this with the goal of becoming better global leaders, what could be better than Be All There? Be mindful of your surroundings and the people. Build the right context, pay attention to what happens, adjust and adapt to changing conditions, and remember that certainty that you’re right often leads to blindness to opportunity and shutting off the voices you most need to hear.

As for the Fellows, when we ended the day I heard those words I most enjoy. “It’s over already?”

 

 

 

 

I collect random interesting drivers of human behavior. Sometimes they give me an idea for this missive, sometimes they fit into a talk, and sometimes they are a great idea that helps me advise senior executives more effectively. Others are ideas that I’m sure will be useful for something sooner or later. While paging through a pile of such things I came across a few that have great management import but don’t jog my mind into writing a long piece about them. So…today I have a few random behavior drivers for you to ponder.

Chameleon Effect: research shows that if you mimic someone’s behavior you’ll like them more…and they you. –If you want someone to go away, do the opposite?

Fake Close Buttons: lots of crosswalk and elevator door-close buttons are fakes. They don’t do anything to speed up the door. They do give the impatient close button pusher the sense that they are doing something…and seem to make them think the door will close sooner.  –Give people something to do even if it has no effect, and calm them down.

Placebo Effect: A drug study told patients two drugs cost $100 and $1500 respectively. Those given the more expensive drug showed greater improvement. Both were placebos. Even better, those told they took the more expensive placebo did almost as well as those given the real drug. –If people believe something strongly their mind will do amazing things with their body.

Color: red prompts people to focus on the shapes within an image while gray prompts them to focus on the composite image. –Think about this, gray causes us to focus on the forest while red causes us to focus on the trees.

Campbell’s Law: The more a given metric is used to measure performance, the less reliable it becomes as a measure of success. Why? People focus on what improves the measured metric while ignoring other things, sometimes to the point of cheating. –A problem with the current student standardized testing?

Hostile Attribution Bias: Our tendency to err on the side of assuming malevolence in the intentions of others. It ratchets up because the more we sense hostility in others the more aggressive we tend to be in return. –Stop the escalation…take a few deep breaths and count to 100 before responding to imagined slights.

I mention these six because of their management importance. All have the ability to significantly impact the performance of you and those around you for good or bad. Something for you to ponder as you wonder why minor events seem to set off major explosions in people you know or why some people always hit their numbers but are still lousy employees.

 

Chameleon

Have you noticed how so many business people are lemmings? They rush from one best selling re-hash of something everyone knows to the next. They pay ridiculous sums to listen to a short talk by the author telling them what they just read, sometimes in exactly the same words.They pay even more to bring in the latest expert on saving your business as a motivational speaker at their annual meeting.

Over the years I’ve attended some of these talks. I’ll admit that occasionally there is a fantastic performer who is a joy to watch. Notice I use performer and not speaker as usually the fantastic part is due to their platform skills and not the words they spout. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know that if you run your organization better you’ll get better results?

The previous words flowed rapidly. As I realized this it gave me pause. After all, I’m a consultant, storyteller (performer?), writer, and trusted advisor to CEOs and other senior people. Am I one of those who merely re-hashes and re-hashes and re-hashes? It’s a scary and horrifying thought.

I got thinking about this because I recently saw a quote from Sir John Templeton, founded of Templeton Mutual Funds. “If you want to have a better performance than the crowd, you must do things differently from the crowd.” Templeton was speaking about investing but it occurred to me that this is also the path to better organizational performance. Figure out how to do what no one else is doing, and do it well.

It’s so much easier to follow the crowd to the latest guru and drink the cool aid. After all, if everyone is following these ideas for success…they must be the best success ideas ever.

And yet, who are the people who find the greatest success? Not those following the crowd. I never heard anyone talk about Steve Jobs, who founded and led the most valuable company ever, as a follower of the latest trend. Same for Richard Branson, Travis Kalanick, Brian Chesky, Elon Musk, and even Penn and Teller.

Follow those who ignore the crowd and find their own path to success. By this I don’t mean ignoring the basics of running a good organization.  But the basics are out there everywhere so easy to find. It’s what you do with the basics that differentiates the great from the average. It’s how you take the basics and add your own special sauce, the sauce that differentiates you from everyone.

As for me, I am pleased to report that last week I met with a prospective new client referred to me by two existing clients. We got talking about branding. I shared a story about a company CEO for whom I developed a brand that made him the star of his industry. During my story my prospect kept saying, “I have gone through branding with a number of consultants and never am going do it again, and besides, we aren’t here to talk about branding.”

My response? “Your request led me to think that branding is in fact what you need to solve your problem but it’s fine with me if you want to continue to be out of sight, out of mind, and with lousy results. The choice is yours.” “His final words, “I can’t believe I’m going to say this but I want to do what you just said.”

The choice is always yours. Be exceptional or be part of the herd.

 

stand out

Everyone has too much to do and too little time and resources to do it all well. Actually this probably understates the problem. Everyone has too much to do and too little time and resources to do it all much less do it well.

The problem grows as you meet people with good ideas. Most of them will surely want you to help their project in some way. It’s hard to say no since they have such a good idea and it will be so nice to be part of it.

Don Tinney, Integrator of EOS Worldwide, sums this up nicely. “The more people you meet, the more good things they will invite you to do.” Just what most of us need, more good things to do.

Some people manage to glide through this morass of good things to do unscathed. The entreaties bounce right off them. They might offer a suggestion or idea but get involved and put in any time…never.

Their armor? Crystal Clear Focus. They have figured out exactly what they want to do and set the parameters so they can quickly figure out if something fits…or not. If it fits, do it. If not, forget it…quickly.

They stay laser focused. No glittery stuff dangled in front of them will distract them. As Tinney says, “having crystal clear focus makes it easy to say no to thousands of good things.”

Good things are everywhere. The desire to help is strong but your time and resources are finite. Be great and successful at something or spread yourself around and be mediocre everywhere.

 

path to success

Crystal Clear Focus…the path to success.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve traveled more than a day trip. During this time I’ve managed to keep a few days clear of outside meetings so I’ve been able to work from my home office. I live in a rural area down a long gravel driveway in a house that sits in the woods. It’s a very quiet, private place. Below is a picture out my office window.

fawns in yard 2-20140816-00792

During these few weeks and especially when I’m working at my house, I’m mostly cut off from the chaos that normally surrounds me. The difference in environment got me thinking about how it affects my attention. Thinking about attention got me thinking about focus and work and quality of results.

At some point it dawned on me…attention is a scarce resource. Each of us only has so much of it. Worse, we are normally surrounded by people trying to steal it. They demand we listen to them, look at their advertisements, absorb their messages. All without any conscious agreement on our part to give up our scarce resource for their needs at the expense of ours.

Being out in the world is being surrounded by the clutter of neverending attention grabbers…resource sinks. Our gadgets ping us continuously, advertisements reaching out everywhere, blaring televisions hanging off ceilings or mounted on walls, hoards of people surrounding us all loudly talking away. Have you noticed even when pumping gas you can’t get away from the little screen on top of the pump shouting at you to buy something?

Our valuable and finite attention is being stolen from us everywhere.

At my house it’s a different story. I can focus on writing this missive without interruption. I figure it takes me half the time as when I am somewhere others can interrupt. My head is my own since if there is sound it’s something I picked to support my activity. And often there is silence. Silence that allows my mind to wander unscripted and meditate on those things requiring deep thought, uninterrupted thought, focused thought. I am free to focus my attention where I want without it being dragged hither and yon without my agreement.

Some of you are no doubt thinking you’re in control of your attention, directing it where you wish and focusing it on things you pick. And yet, how many times an hour do you check your phone for email or texts? How often do you drop whatever you’re doing to instantly respond to something of minor importance? How often do you find your eyes wandering to that television playing just over the right shoulder of your lunch guest?

When this happens, how often do you find that you completely missed the last question or comment and have no idea how to respond? But you did see the beer commercial.

 

 

Lately everyone seems to be talking about why you need to be disruptive. There are zillions of books on how to be disruptive and conquer the world…or at least your niche in it. As with many things, the books have spawned a universe of programs, videos, and, of course, consultants that will show you how to become a disruptive organization. (as you know, part of my life is being a consultant so I’m a bit sensitive about my brethren raking in big bucks with often little for clients to show for it)

As with all new management fads, there are lots of good ideas coupled with reasons why it makes sense for you. There also are just as many reasons why it might not make sense for you.

As someone who often has a CEO reach out asking me to come in and think deep thoughts about how to help their company make a quantum leap rather than a small step, far be it for me to knock this interest in disruption. But…I do wonder about the idea that disruption is the path to glory for all of you reading this. If everyone is out there trying to be disruptive, disruption becomes merely another codeword for running your organization the same as everyone else.

How do you really break free from the pack?

First off, I’ve noticed that most companies would be better off fixing what they have before worrying about being on the cutting edge. Most companies are completely incapable of taking full advantage of some disruptive idea they come up with as their organization is running so poorly trying to use what it already has. Wrong people wrong seats, no accountability, horrible metrics, inadequate communication, silos everywhere, no idea about the core competencies or vision for the future, and, of course, a leadership team responsible for all this dysfunction.

Some or all of these and other dysfunctions abound in most companies. Before you jump off the disruptive cliff, fix what you have so you’re capable of taking advantage of an amazing idea if one pops up. If you’re not willing to be open and honest about your current situation and strong enough to take the necessary measures to fix things, rushing forward into something completely different will only accentuate your deficiencies.

But, once you address your issues and become a finely tuned organization fully engaged and prepared to climb new mountains, why just be disruptive? Be destructive. Why just run past your competition? Why not stomp all over them?

It’s hard to do. It takes a great team. It takes lots of energy, vision, and willingness to go beyond what anyone has done before. It takes a high risk tolerance. And it takes the moxie to keep going no matter how they try to stop you.

Be destructive.

Be Travis Kalanick…create the next Uber.

uber

 

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about perception. When we focus on something we exclude other things and thus create our own reality. Perception becomes reality.

Last week I heard Mark Zinder say “what we focus on limits what we see”. A different take on the same issue. He shared a wonderful story about a study where they showed a number of experienced radiologists an x-ray of a patients chest. In the x-ray were minute specs of cancer spread throughout the lungs. The radiologists found the minute cancer specs easily.

However, the radiologists all failed to notice the picture of a gorilla about the size of a matchbook that was embedded in the x-ray. When asked they responded that they are not supposed to find gorillas. They were able to find what they were looking for while being totally oblivious to something much larger and clearly out of place right in front of them.

As we focus our attention on smaller and smaller things we exclude more and more from our perception. Sometimes it’s good as when radiologists are able to detect minute cancer sites before they spread. But sometimes it’s bad. What if instead of a matchbook size gorilla what they missed was a matchbook sized blood clot in the lungs?

“What we focus on limits what we see.”

As with radiologists in the medical world, there are many business areas where extreme focus is needed to gain expertise. I hope the engineers and other people who designed and built the many airplanes I regularly fly were fully focused on the tasks in front of them. I hope the pilots flying my airplane are extremely focused on the instruments in the cockpit…but I also hope the pilots are focused on what’s going on around the airplane.

A conundrum, the need for total focus on the internal situation while also needing to be focused on what is going on externally.

Then there’s the business executives and leaders. Their need is to be aware of what’s going on throughout their organization while staying on top of what’s going on around the world. Is it possible? Can anyone be focused on the small things and the big picture at the same time?

It’s clearly difficult. Numerous stories elucidate the disasters that have come as executives have focused too tightly. Remember when Blackberry owned the mobile phone market? Focusing internally led to the leaders missing what their competitors were doing and the way the market was rapidly changing. I loved my Blackberry and would have one still except for seeing an iPhone in action.

Perception about being unassailable led to disaster.

Some have figured out how to have both, exceptional external focus combined with exceptional internal focus. In the cases I know of they did by being one member of a pair of twins. A pair of twins with great but divergent focus and exceptional ability to communicate with each other. One focused inside, the COO or as we say in EOS – the Integrator, and one focused outside or in EOS – The Visionary.

Two people tightly connected who together overcome the issue of where to focus and how to expand rather than constrict your perception and the reality it brings. Think Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger.

Buffet and Munger

 

Fear

Last missive I shared my thoughts from Wharton Global Consulting Practicum Devils Advocate and how it led to my thinking about the power of an Expert Think Tank. Expert Think Tank: A way to break free from your mental shackles.

Since sharing my thoughts on the power of being bombarded with lots of ideas, I’ve been thinking about what it is that keeps more leaders from availing themselves of outside…or inside.. advice. This led to wondering why other people, particularly those within or closely associated with the organization, don’t share their ideas.

It got me thinking about fear.

On the leader’s side: Fear of hearing what you don’t want to hear. Fear of being shown wrong. Fear that you really aren’t as smart as you think you are. Fear that others have better ideas. Fear that maybe you really shouldn’t be leading the organization or group.

On everyone else’s side: Fear of sharing ideas at variance with what the boss believes. Fear of challenging what the boss wants to do. Fear that “tell me what you think” really means “tell me what I want to hear”. Fear that speaking up will lead to being shown the exit.

Lots of good ideas trapped in the dark due to fear.

You’re probably now expecting some sage advice for overcoming fear. Sorry to disappoint you. No matter how much I think about this I keep coming back to failure of leadership. Unwillingness to listen and unwillingness to speak due to the nature of the leader. A nature closed to new ideas, closed to diverse and conflicting opinions, closed to the thought that the problem is them.

A closed mind is a terrible thing to have. Perhaps the only solution is a good bolt cutter.

12708

 

 

 

Expert Think Tank

In addition to advising senior executives, I oversee Africa and Latin America for the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum. GCP is a wonderful program where MBA and Executive MBA students work as consulting teams on international strategic marketing projects for multinational companies and other organizations needing strategic marketing help. The clients wind up with great ideas and recommendations for a modest fee and the students get the change to spend six months working on amazing projects that significantly impact their client’s future.

Around the middle of the projects we have an event called Devils Advocate. The teams deliver a 20 minute presentation on what they’ve done, what they’re thinking, and where they could use some good advice to a collection of Devils – international senior executives with no other knowledge about the projects than what they’ve just heard. The Devils critique what they’ve heard, offer advice, and generally force the teams to defend their work while thinking about wildly different ideas flying at them from all directions.

We had a number of Devils Advocate presentations over the last few weeks. As usual, the Devils offered loads of ideas and advice which led to spirited discussion. Since the Devils have minimal project knowledge, the ideas run the gamut from quite insightful and well targeted to project situation and objectives to ideas that at least at first glance seem way off base. First glance since as these ideas percolate through the team’s thinking over the following weeks they often wind up being the most useful ideas.

As I’ve thought about the recent Devils Advocate sessions I found myself thinking about how valuable such sessions would be for most of my clients. As we all know, as hard as they try to keep their thinking fresh, executives so often wind up stuck in the same old mindset. They spend most of their time talking to the same people and looking at ideas from within their own industry. Even when they bring in consultants for advice, too often they’re industry experts who live in the same box as their clients.

Think of the value of pulling together a group of experts with a wide variety of backgrounds. Experts with all kinds of different education, experience, beliefs, knowledge, and ideas. Put them together, share a bit of information about your issues, and turn them loose to think and offer ideas and suggestions. Who knows what they might come up with.

An Expert Think Tank aimed directly at your issues. An Expert Think Tank unhindered by group think or knowing too much. An Expert Think Tank free to let their minds roam freely.

Expert Think Tank: a way to break free from your mental shackles.

 

 

 

The government of the United States is broken. The whole world knows this including the Senators and Representatives who are the cause. It’s fascinating to watch a collection of supposed leaders back themselves into one corner after the other due to their egos, their belief in their own genius and correctness on everything, and their unbelievable rigidity of belief in things where the people they govern have vast diversity of views.

Sadly it’s not only themselves that are hurt by this. The United States and the entire world are negatively impacted by the spectacle and paralysis that results.

The latest incident is over funding for Homeland Security. Rather than pass a clean unencumbered bill that would certainly pass, the Republicans in charge added overturning Obama’s immigration policy to the bill. The Democrats and President Obama are united in opposing this. Result? Speaker Boehner has announced he’ll let Homeland Security go unfunded rather than separate the two issues.

All parties are so interested in showing everyone how tough and unflinching they are in the rightness of their beliefs that they’ll hold the security of the United States hostage. Even worse, they’ll let the funding lapse and thus security decrease so they get a few sound bites.

And they call themselves leaders.

Watching this horror show unfold got me thinking about similar behavior in the business world. Often we see someone so caught up in themselves that they ignore the destructive results of their actions. They are guided by their own beliefs to the exclusion of any evidence to the contrary.

Actually, they don’t get evidence to the contrary since they’ve build a moat around themselves guarded by sycophants. No contradictory information or ideas are allowed to enter. No dialogue with the unbelievers is allowed and the thought they might be stuck in a corner is never expressed.

Sometimes this leads to failure, sometimes just to poor performance, but always to results that are less than they could be. Certainly there are a few exceptions to this which are often touted as a reason for dictatorship. These exceptions are few and far between which is why we always hear about the same few people. For most of us, and probably for you, the moat leads to less rather than more.

Sometimes the results are so horrific that they affect the world much as the current government dysfunction does. Everyone suffers. Think what the big banks brought upon us all and the suffering that resulted.

And they thought of themselves as the smartest people around. How wide was their moat?

How wide is your moat?

 

 

 

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