Intellectual cowardice

People usually polarize between “what should be” and “what is“. Their position on this scale depicts very distinct types.

The “what’s possible” usually becomes a matter of opinion but -quite logically- the closer it is to “what is”, the more likely it is that the possibility may become an actuality… but: closer to whose reality…?

What I describe as intellectual cowardice is when people who know better (have the experience, have seen proof, have the intellectual capacity to recognize and embrace potentials) decide to take the comfortable position of the lowest common denominator, the “what is”, and against all they know, they don’t sway from it one inch. Their motivation is typically career related: it’s safe to be the guy who challenges potentials or the potential. Not only is this motivation not heroic, very often it is also ill-willed and cynical in that it makes it look like that the “what should be guy” doesn’t even know what’s going on; and of course nothing is farther from the truth.

This clip, depicting a hypothetical scenario of Nikola Tesla (what should be) pitching to VCs (what is), provides a great example for all this. While the clip is incredibly funny, it’s not an exaggeration and it’s a perfect snapshot of what I mean by cowardice and often even sabotage with or without arrogance as a style element. http://bit.ly/19OBSEn .

In highly bureaucratic organizations you can’t make a career by being the “what should be guy”; such guys typically get to play only when it’s already too late.

In highly entrepreneurial environments the “what should be” guys should lead. In an ideal world both the VCs and the founders are of this breed!; and the way they lead is very different from how the “what is guys” lead.

Otherwise do any of the following and watch the dynamics change:

- don’t invite “what is guys” to meetings about strategy

- make rules, like: you’re not allowed to make statements about things everybody in the group is aware of (like what is the budget (e.g. we don’t have a budget for that), what day it is (e.g. we are not there yet), basic math (e.g. that’s gonna cost us), etc.)

- put “what is guys” in problem solving or solution development positions

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Is an agent’s network really that valuable?

April 30, 2013 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, reflections · Comment 

Excerpt from the upcoming book: The funny business of executive search

Search guys’ networks maybe large but it doesn’t mean that they are valuable for clients or potential candidates. This is logical since agents benefit more from their network than their network from them; and when we look at search guys specifically, who are after people not looking for new jobs, they provide actual value only to current clients (even for those ideally NOT through their network) and to a lesser degree to shortlisted candidates: percentage wise – in proportion to their total network– this is close to zero. Even if we consider potential benefits to their network the ratio is not much better for the same reasons.

Interestingly neither the clients nor the candidates act as if they were aware of this. It happens often that clients call search guys saying: here’s a great guy do you have something for him? Or vice versa: candidates often check in with search firms when they are looking for jobs. It’s not a 100% useless to do this but realistically there is not much point in it. Unless they have special arrangements with clients to bring them top candidates without a formal search process in place, the search guys are not that motivated to make moves: they don’t want to jeopardize coming across as desperate or “creative”. There are “influential” search guys out there who can call up a client and say: hire this guy! In some cases they can do this because they put the guys they call in their position the same way, sometimes for other reasons – the number of these players are not substantial and these practices are of course highly questionable from an ethical point of view. It’s also worthwhile to note here that many search guys expect “loyalty” from the directors they placed, thinking that when they hire key people they should use them for the search – these players obviously lack business sense and/or they are pressured to do so; either way, it’s not good.

Search guys are of course selling heavily the size of their network. This is typically a sign of the clients and/or the search guys being clueless. People hiring search firms often complain: I spoke with this guy and I couldn’t even finish explaining what the situation was, he kept on interrupting by telling me who he knows who maybe relevant…

Strongly related to the size of the network is when local search guys sell the “I know everybody” proposition. The disadvantage of the search guy “knowing everybody” is that the chance that he will subconsciously screen out candidates before even starting the search is big. A search guy who is not that tied in to the social fabric in a particular location and performs a thorough research will go in without any preconceived notions and talks even to candidates that others may not even think about approaching for whatever reason.

Another thing about this proposition is that people tend to associate knowing everybody with being influential. Knowing everybody often means that they spoke once in a conference, somebody was a candidate once or they both member of the same chamber of commerce, attend the same networking events, etc.  Some search guys throw BBQs, have lunch and drinks with somebody every day, etc. None of this means influence.

Even if both the search guy and a high profile candidate are members of an exclusive club where members tend to deal mostly with “insiders”, the only advantage from all this for the client is that the candidate maybe more willing to talk about their role – and even this is losing relevance: interested candidates discuss interesting opportunities no matter where it comes from – testament to this is the well documented story of Ramsey Beirne Associates (now Kindred Partners) in the USA that rose to dominance in the Silicon Valley in the 90’s without even having an office there. Club membership and the brand name of the search firm absolutely does not mean that the candidate will be influenced by the search guy when considering the opportunity- provided that he really is of high caliber.

There are managers who just recently entered high enough positions to get on the search guys’ radar and they often make the mistake to get into discussions and even go to client interviews to please the search guys all the while knowing that they will not take the job. This normally happens when it comes to top tier search firms and the candidates typically think this maybe a good way to build “relationships”. Most candidates sooner than later realize that this is a big mistake and their reputation will become stronger when they deal openly and say NO right off the bat when they see that there is no point in continuing.

Only influential people (the ones high caliber people tend to call before making big decisions) have valuable networks and the size of the network obviously has no co-relation to its value.  By being professional agents with one single weapon (similarly to real estate agents, management consultants and similar),  search guys’ sphere of influence is highly limited and so is the value of their network.

Loudmouthing

February 16, 2013 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, reflections, style · Comment 

We learn stuff: in schools, courses, conferences, from reading and conversations. Then we repeat.

This is bad enough but it gets worse: whoever repeats stuff louder is considered to be better. If on top of this all somebody is also more aggressive, she’s often considered to be a “leader” – most careers have been built on this recipe.

Authentic knowledge is quiet. It is not acquired, it is created; and since it is more than the individual, it calls for humbleness!

Powerful people strive to break the bondage of their individuality. They don’t need anybody’s recognition! This kind of independence is the only vantage point for control: controlling impulses, control to stay in context and control to think about timing when the time pressure is big; control for listening.

No control, no power. “Me, me, me”, “I did this”, “My idea” and similar was invented by people with no inner power and the weak is almost always loud and they are always overcompensating.

To do big things we need to become quieter. Let’s leave loudmouthing for….others.

Why the wise guys don’t need an iPad

December 13, 2012 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, reflections · Comment 

There is still a lot of discussion going on about our constant access to information and if it makes us smarter or stupider. I think raising the question like this completely misses the point. Everybody knows that access to data or information has nothing to do with being smart or stupid. The confusion about this issue comes from systematically disregarding world views as the most important factor. This of course raises tons of very interesting questions like the relationship between the EXISTENCE of data and awareness for example, but there is no room to address these here in detail.

To keep things interesting and not to insult anybody’s intelligence I won’t even elaborate on the world views themselves; I only resort to listing some important aspects to consider.

BY ITSELF data NEVER becomes information, information NEVER becomes knowledge, and knowledge NEVER becomes wisdom!

In a hierarchy, the lower levels depend on the higher, not the other way around.

Yet:

Data MAY become information, information MAY become knowledge and knowledge MAY become wisdom (wisdom as purpose is often mentioned but is rarely actually considered or addressed!)

The key is the observer (the man, the player, the guy in charge)!

If the observer is wise, data and wisdom are directly connected through awareness. The significance of quantity is minimal; in other words a wise guy (forget the Sopranos!) doesn’t need an iPad!

If the observer actively knows (knowledgeable would not be an appropriate expression), data and knowledge are connected.

If the observer is well informed, data and information is connected.

If the observer has absolutely no awareness of anything, give him all the access to all the data: he’ll use his iPhone as a fashion accessory: goes well both with suits and turtlenecks.

From the lower point of view: knowledge is gained from wisdom, information from knowledge and data from information!

Without knowledge, data will never become information and without wisdom (intelligence in a supra rational sense) there is nothing: no data, no information, no knowledge!

More explicitly, without QUALITATIVE, essential leadership:

Wisdom cannot be achieved by knowledge management (itself an absurd idea).

Knowledge cannot be achieved by information management.

Information cannot be gained from data management.

Most importantly: the less wisdom is present, the more data proliferates.

To deny this automatically means that we say that there is no wisdom without data; and this is a question of world views!

This has of course far reaching practical implications in all areas of business; it’s enough to think about “knowledge management”, the once again popular big data question,  decision making, risk management, organizational development, marketing…pretty much all business functions + leadership, which is of course NOT a business function!

So: looking at the size of the mobile and enterprise software industries how many wise guys do you think there are out there?

Want change?

How to avoid getting screwed by bad advisors

March 22, 2012 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, identity based praxis, reflections, style · Comment 

Balazs, a talented engineer approached me back in 2007 with an idea he had for outsourcing funding to the crowd, as an alternative to angel investors – 2 years before Kickstarter took the crowdfunding model mainstream.

I didn’t like the idea, because I couldn’t image that I would pitch in $20 together with hundreds or thousands of others to help launch something… I always imagined(!) that when it comes to funding I am more like a VC than a … whatever.

So I did a thorough analysis proving beyond the shadow of the doubt that it’s a logical impossibility (my expression of choice at the time) that this model would EVER work. Not only did I not help Balazs launch the initiative, I persuaded him that he should not do it at all!

What happened in simple but significant terms was that I projected my own limitations onto somebody else’s life and then simply rationalized them: rationalized my limitations!

True story – unbelievable.

Now that we are at the topic of limitations I can throw in here that when Ebay already proved beyond the shadow of the doubt that auctions work for pretty much everything, I still couldn’t believe it and thought that they will surely fail. Why? Probably because I just don’t get auctions.

I have more of such stories but I stop embarrassing myself for now.

So here are a couple of considerations / reflections about advising and using input for decision making in so called “highly uncertain environments” which is another word for life:

1. Be aware: We are what we are not and there is a lot more of what we are not than of what we are (not bad, eh?)! The individual IS limitation. Everybody’s limited! People can express only their limitations. Always – unless they are aware! So when you’re considering feedback or giving feedback, be aware of whom it’s coming from or whom you’re giving it to. Know the guy. Know his patterns! This is more important than what he’s rationalizing. Same thing is true about you! Chances are you don’t know the guy or – be honest! – yourself – so forget about the concept of “your opinion” and keep an open mind.

2. If they ask you for advise about ideas, do not focus on why it won’t happen! You simply don’t know if it’ll happen or not irrespective of identified risks, constrains and perceived realities! Focus on how, in your limited opinion, it may happen! Same if you ask others for ideas: “this may sound stupid, but what do you think it would take to make it work?” So if for instance a guy who can’t draw an Audi logo wants to launch a product design company, don’t shot him off, introduce him to designers!

3. Forget (abstract) mathematical or statistical logic! Seriously! The world works on a different logic – the kind that helps for example the con artist and the victims always find each other. There is a large element of stuff in this logic which from a sterile mathematical point of view will SEEM stupid.

So don’t forget the Stupidity Quotient (SQ)! You must count with it, especially in b2c! Assume that when it comes to anything “mass”, the more stupid something appears to the personality, the more chances it has for success. Think about consumer behavor! Look at twitter! Look at the sharing craze! These are high SQ industries. Quick: did skype emerge when the amount of nonsense conversations globally reached a critical mass, or skype caused a critical mass of non-sense conversations? Did music become free (“illegally” or otherwise) after it became crap (I am aware of exceptions!), or it became crap because the publishers were cut out? The key is always in patterns!

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Why CEOs leave

July 7, 2011 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, identity based praxis · Comment 

Depending on how much press we read, we can come across  headlines that follow this pattern on a weakly basis:

XYZ has left his post after only x months due to differences of opinion on the strategy of the organization.

While we know that in most of the cases this is just a bullshit way to say that people didn’t keep promises, didn’t get along,  new interests emerged that the new guy was crossing etc., sometimes this is really the reason why the new CEO leaves….and when this happens, it raises the following question:

How did the board decide exactly by this CEO?

Truth is in most cases the board doesn’t have a solid case for selection. Considering experiences, track records and chemistry is not enough; even ideas about strategy are not enough: how can the board decide if these ideas are good? Based on what?

The board MUST have a CONCEPT based on which a strategy maybe built before they start talking to candidates.

This concept should be discussed with the candidate who -if he’s good- can credibly add to it, modify it, etc. If the board hires the candidate, he’d present a strategy that complies with the concept and the board can approve it, or -if it’s a well functioning board- credibly add to it, modify it, etc.

In lack of this the typical schema goes something like this:

“can you increase profitability by 20% in the next 3 years?” “yes!” “how?”

“I see chances of reducing operational costs by introducing the following best practices and to increase revenues by cross selling, better marketing, expanding into new markets, etc.”

The schema is basically kept on the level of cliches which means communications is meaningless, which in turn means nobody knows anything.

Sure: in some industries it’s more difficult to come up with such a concept than in others. Being a 3rd tier supplier in automotive manufacturing SEEMINGLY leaves much less room for new/improved concepts that could serve as a base for strategy than in industries that cry out for new concepts, like media for example.

The common denominator across all industries is that only a handful of players have a concept, the rest operates on cliches….like the headlines they produce.

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How to implement gender quotas – Deutsche Telekom

July 5, 2011 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation · Comment 

The debate is on about the recent change in the board of Deutsche Telekom.

Claudia Nemat (42, from Mckinsey) will lead Europe (excluding Germany) from September, Marion Schick (52, ex minister of education and culture) will be responsible for HR from January 2012.

Here’s a clip about the announcement.

René Obermann announced plans last March that by 2015, 30% of all middle and upper level management roles should be filled by women, becoming the first DAX listed company to introduce gender quotes; since then approximately 200 women moved into management positions at the concern.

Overall it seems the transition is handled as a regular project delegated to people on the lower echelons of the organization, not as a significant transformation that requires a well articulated integration approach.

Since the concept is missing for the transformation, no appropriate approach can be developed and in lack of a clearly articulated approach people are unavoidably set up for failure; the press already covered the first “victims”, quite intensively.

As more companies will follow suit and the competition for competent female leaders will increase, in order to ensure a leadership position in being able to attract the best, it is advisable to

- develop a defendable concept: why are we doing this? “…having more women in senior positions would make life “more colourful and also prettier” as Josef Ackermann, the head of Deutsche Bank said, is not exactly a concept; such statements typically signify that there is absolutely no concept behind the gender quotas besides simply the equality question which Obermann for example is trying to downplay. I’d go as far as saying that if you don’t have a defendable concept, don’t do the initiative!

- integrate this into the concept that already serves as the foundation for corporate strategy

- re-design the organization accordingly

These steps must serve as a foundation for successful implementation of any alignment initiatives, including those related to the implementation of gender quotas.

Without this, the whole initiative will lack any trace of qualitative consideration and will remain comparable to projects like: “let’s make sure that 30% of our switches come from Siemens”… that would be a disgrace for everybody involved…nothing against Siemens of course!

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Corporate sabotage

June 28, 2011 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, identity based praxis · Comment 

It’s a cliche that organizations and people resist change. This cliche is nicely embedded into change management initiatives to “manage resistance” – although way less frequently than you may think. When it happens it is done politely, in a civilized way, usually by cheerful facilitators.

I think this whole thing is comical.

Reality is much more brutal. A good analogy is if we thing about the organization as a body whose most vital functions we can’t control directly and quickly.

If we work on the execution of ideals that force the body out of inertia it will brutally pull us back. Marathon runners, long distance swimmers, perl divers experience this at critical milestones and martial artists understand how important it is to maintain form when the body already gave up: the (control over) form brings the body back.

Before we set out to execute our plans we must address the somatic reflexes: we must be aware of them and brutally repress them until they are transformed and obey us; yes: this will often result in nausea, dizziness, fainting or worse; if you are serious be prepared and follow through.

I have witnessed several corporate transformation initiatives both in mature and young organizations, where the concept and the strategy was beautiful, the management team was talented and capable but the somatic reflex of the organization sabotaged the efforts… and in the worst case scenarios leadership simply gave up.

The most typical scenario: we have become slow, we miss opportunities, the markets change way faster than we do. We MUST become nimble in our decision making process, in product launches, we must redefine how we reach our customers, we must hear and respond to their needs at light speed. We must transform the organization.

The company comes up with a new strategy, brings in a new leader or both and then starts executing as it’s usually done, following best practices, etc.; promises and commitments are made in context of the desired changes!

Then, very often quite early in the process, the Organization, including the project owners, the project sponsors, the very people who launched the initiatives, literally shows the middle finger. These are the moments when you realize that the organization does have an identity that integrates everybody after all!

Promises are broken, commitments are withdrawn, incredibly creative excuses are invented, the conditions that were so ideal at launch ALWAYS deteriorate and the person who is responsible for seeing it through is left alone, often isolated and literally suffocated. The body wants to be left alone.

In such instance the person responsible finds himself in a career defining moment (corporate transformations don’t come along that often…yet):

Maintain form or succumb to the body.

If the person simply gives up, it will be easy to rationalize the failure: it was a complex issue with many stakeholders involved, the challenge was bigger than expected, unforeseen circumstances forced management to reshuffle the budget, etc. The person will get great references (he didn’t step on toes after all) and move on.

IF the person decides to fight and the company actually completes the transformation most of the participants will be heros and the project will definitely decorate many resumes for years to come, contributing to stellar careers and everything that goes with it.

But the truth is: the person may easily die fighting (get fired, buried/demoted, etc.) even if he’s smart and does the basics right.

So if you find yourself in the driving seat of corporate transformation AND you are ready to fight the fight no matter what, don’t forget to address the somatic reflex of the organization:

- clearly articulate the patterns you want to change that currently define the organization; make everybody aware! Re-enforce their commitment. Get their permission to push them. Ask them to push you. Pick a team that is also ready to make sacrifices.

- clearly articulate what it means in practical terms to break the identified patterns; make everybody aware! Re-enforce their commitment. Get permission to push them! Ask them to push you! Have confidence that your team is also ready to make sacrifices.

- put the taboos on the board for everybody to see: doing the following (that pulls us back) is forbidden: it’s simply not an option for anybody and we will hold each other accountable.

It’ll be still a tough fight, taboos will be broken, you may still get fired, transferred, replaced, whatever: but you’ll know you have fought a good fight and fighting a good fight and loosing is much preferable in the leadership domain than fighting a bad fight and not getting hurt:  nobody wins in a bad fight in the long run.

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If the company actually completes the transformation most of the participants will be heros and the project will definitely decorate many resumes for years to come, contributing to stellar careers and everything that goes with it.

Widening perception gap at RIM

June 21, 2011 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, identity based praxis · Comment 

Most perception gaps I’ve encountered exist between the C team and the staff. It’s much rarer when a perception gap develops between the whole organization and the market, which seems to be the case with RIM.

Sure: it happens often that the organization thinks it’s perceived very positively by its customers when in fact they score very low on various surveys that actually ask the customers…but in most of these cases the perception gap is still there between the c-team and the staff, since most of the staff, especially the customer facing ones are highly aware of customer problems.

RIM’s an iconic organization in Canada with a mutual dedication and loyalty between the employees and the company which probably ranks way higher than the industry average; this is just an assumption I developed from having numerous conversations with RIM employees and employees of other companies.

I think the employees want to believe in the future, in management, and this is what blinds them. Recent reshuffling of responsibilities in marketing and consequent departures talk about a different picture at the helm… maybe the co-CEOs want to remain blind leaving no room for marketing guys who should be and want to be responsible for closing the perception gap between the company and the markets.

This way an avalanche is developing starting with marketing spreading over all the way to operations (the COO is on medical leave right now).

Operations is focused on product development and launches for now (rather unsuccessfully we must add) but without marketing, operations will be less and less aligned to the “world out there”… and make no mistake about it: appealing as it may seem, you can’t align the world to your operations…not long term anyways!

Message to the investors:

DON’T DEMAND HEADS (YET), DEMAND A CONCEPT!

Message to Jim and Mike: FIND SOMEBODY WHO HELPS YOU DEVELOP A CONCEPT!

And now a side note which should not be taken too seriously; it’s a cheap shot that I did for my own morning entertainment:

I looked at departing VP digital marketing & media (he’s going to Samsumg), Brian Wallance on linkedin ( http://linkd.in/lbhY1F ):

11 years at RIM; started at the good times although I don’t know in what role or capacity. So he probably wasn’t brought in to his role to bring perspective or thinking (the two is closely related).

he was the “social” guy who is supposed to know what people want…if he’s leaving as a result of his own decision, he may know something;

looked at his tweets, though (http://twitter.com/#!/bdwallace): pretty polite and boring stuff, nothing that resembles an opinion or a concept of any kind. Here’s an interesting one though from April 18 : “”Blah blah blah Brian, blah blah blah Brian” – what I am hearing on this conf call…”

Clicked on his “blog” link, I got twitter again…

And finally: looked at his picture: he has the same glasses as all marketing guys I have met in the past 10 years :-) . The guy knows how to pose though

Draw your conclusions.

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Authenticity

May 31, 2011 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, identity based praxis, style · 1 Comment 

“Something can be rejected competently only by the one who is at the same time able to defend it perfectly. And something can be advocated competently only by the one who is able to reject it perfectly.” – Andras Laszlo.

Truth is that you don’t need to be authentic to be successful in business; business is overwhelmingly (say 90% )  a mechanical process where authenticity has no place: you buy what works for others, you implement what’s proven (by others), you run things the way you and everybody else learned to run things: you go by the numbers. In the mechanical 90% part nobody is (allowed to be!) authentic.

Then there is that 10% where authenticity makes all the difference. It’s not only about questioning the fundamentals and the conventional:  it’s about giving answers to ultimate questions. Not finding! Giving. Creating: seemingly from nothing. Not relying only on the comfortable, lulling support of facts or evidence; having the courage to go all the way, and back: creating and representing the context for those who are busy with the 90% !

Without this effort nobody is authentic!

Without authenticity people in leadership roles are, unwittingly or otherwise, pretentious; they are forced to spend most of their time dealing with the resulting mess.

If you are in a CEO role and you want market leadership, you must dedicate more time to this 10% than to the 90%.

If you sit on a board of a company that’s  striving for great things and you are not authentic, you are a liability!

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