Sunday, 16 July 2017


If you cannot imagine achieving a difficult far goal, imagine the goal anyway, and achieve an easy, close one.

Keep doing so until you can imagine achieving the difficult goal.

The 4 Components of Strategic Thinking & Management

Where living a successful life is concerned, there are two pieces of advice that are often given: "Chase your dreams" and "Keep your eye on the ball". Unfortunately, most of the time, they aren't offered together.

In the discipline of Strategic Thinking & Management, it is important to have both the Outcome and the Plan to function well together. To have both the Big Picture and the Small Picture in view at all times.

As the modern world careers uncontrollably into the future and become more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) better ways of handling it is needed.

Taken from the theatre of war, the terms Strategy and Tactics are often used in sports and business. However, it has applications in all aspects of human life, whether it be personal, professional or organisational.

The challenge that many individuals and organisations face whether it be in losing weight or selling more, is that while they have a very clear vision of what they want to achieve, they might not be able to change the plan according to emergent changes. This is being Tactically Blind.

Others face an opposite challenge. While they know exactly what to do on a daily basis, fighting fires, reacting to challenges and winning one battle at a time, but they lack an overarching goal that governs these actions. This is being Strategically Blind.

Ironically, while they might have both Outcome and Plan documented, they are missing two intangible components, forcing them to focus on only one or the other. These two components link and drive those documents. They are Awareness and Will.

Awareness is the constant sensitivity to how well the long term outcome guides the short term plan and how much it is allowed to change according to the situation without losing sight of the end.

Will is the passion, energy and trust that pushes the plan through short-term downturns in the belief that an upswing is coming in the future.

All four are connected in a mutual feedback loop that informs, modifies and nurtures each other. A strong Plan takes into account downturns and stockpiles resources to keep the Will strong (think keeping salaries and benefits running even during dry years).

The strength of Will allows us to keep an eye on the goal which allows us to stay Aware of and adapt to constant changes. In very rare cases, Will and Awareness force a redefinition of the Outcome.

When Fujifilm found that increasing digital camera sales began to wipe out their film production business, they decided to redefine their Outcome from a successful film company to a successful cosmetics company. They looked at the chemical processes they had mastered and adapted them to making skin cream under the Astalift brand. They trusted that the change would work.

Their Awareness and Will caused a change in their Outcome and Plan which continues to feed back into the loop. They are now aware that the future isn't set and look forward to innovate further.

On the other hand, Nokia might have had an amazing Outcome and Plan, but the lack of Awareness slowly diminished their Will to proceed and by the time they realised they had to change, it was too late.

The oft-repeated quote says: Fail to plan and you plan to fail. That's nice but the plan is only one part of it. I propose we add in the other three.

See your dreams, take the ball, mark the other players and chase it all the way.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Speak Up or Forever Be Damned

The modern workplace requires both technical and social skills. A worker can find it challenging to advance in their career or even to fulfill the most basic of requirements of their job if they only possess one without the other.

Technical skills can be defined as the ability to fathom and interact with systems, whether they be natural or man-made.

Thus, farming, engineering, computer programming, finance and medicine can be categorised as technical skills, because they are used to interact with complex systems like biology, physics, machines, markets and physiology.

With many of these skills, there is a clear science behind them and many of their outcomes are predictable to a fault.

However, when it comes to social skills, what works for one human being with a particular set of values, who grew up in a particular culture, undergoing particular situations might not work for another. This is because these systems vary from person to person and live inside their heads, away from scientific rigor.

Thus, many people believe that social skills, the ability to communicate with another human being, to build a relationship, to convey exact information, to persuade for trust or to provide instruction, is difficult.

Recently, a licensed electrician who had just graduated and was in his first month on the job asked me for advice. The factory he worked at had a lax attitude towards safety. His immediate superior insisted on cost-cutting to the extent of not using proper protective equipment during repairs.

He worried that he or someone else would die of electrocution one day. He received a job offer at another factory. They had slightly better safety considerations. Should he stay here or should he go?

I asked him if he had voiced his concerns to his superior. He said that he worried that his superior wouldn't listen. Yet, when pressed for evidence that his superior would actually react that way, he finally admitted that it was his own assumption.

He also worried that his elder colleagues would think that he was showing off, or trying to step over their heads. I pressed him for evidence. Again, assumption. These assumptions, including worrying that he would sound rude to his superior had nothing to do with his technical skill. He just didn't know how to say it. And it was impeding the quality of his work.

I asked him to imagine, what would happen if he moved to the new factory, and his present supervisor moved too and supervised him there. Would he move again?

He looked stunned.

If he did not improve his ability to communicate, he would be doomed to land in the same situations again and again and again. He would wonder why everywhere we went, things were the same. The answer, of course, is that while his workplace changed, he remained the same.

I proceeded to take every situation he had an excuse for, and gave him sample phrases and interactions that would promote favourable responses from his supervisor and colleagues. He was surprised by the simplicity of it. I countered that it was actually quite complex, but nothing that a can-do attitude, willingness to learn and opportunities to practice can't help with.

They call communication a soft skill. That's ridiculous. It's a hard skill. When you master communication, you can interact with and master the most complex system in the universe: the human being.

Learn. Now.