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Posts tagged ‘Strategy’

Provocative Leadership: Beyond “Best Practices” to “Next Practices”

Here is an excerpt from a longer article:

Have you thrown out your strategic plan yet? If you made one several months ago, I’m willing to guess that you have. The landscape of reality has already changed … . So now what? Here’s a story-poem, “Brief Thoughts on Maps,” to consider:

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a lot about maps
according to which life is on its way somewhere or other,
told us this story from the war
due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
immediately, snowed for two days and the unit
did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched
his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now. 1

When faced with an unfamiliar situation, the soldiers discovered that “any map” can be useful. Why? A map leads to confidence and action. You take steps forward, re-check the map, learn, make adjustments, and take more steps. As you re-check the map, you look around, surveying the environment. You re-orient to the reality that is. You learn, assess, and consider options. You make decisions about what to try next. You embrace error and uncertainty; yet you still chose to take the next step.

Provocative leadership is not about authority. Provocative leadership is about …

Click here to read more about Provocative Leadership

What are your ideas about “best practices” vs. “next practices?”

Imagining New Maps

1Holub, M. (1977) ‘Brief Thoughts on Maps’, Times Literary Supplement, 4 February 4, p. 118.

Have you used any “bullets” lately?

Those of you who have attended one of Friesen Group’s training sessions on public speaking and presentation know that we recommend the minimalist approach to PowerPoint slides. So you may have already guessed that I’m not talking about those kind of bullets – you remember, the bulleted list.

Instead, I’m writing about an idea from Great by Choice. Collins and Hansen tell the story of the Captain of a warship that has a limited amount of gunpowder. One option is to use all of the gunpowder to fire one big cannonball to disable or destroy the other ship. Problem: if it misses, there are no resources left. The wise Captain will instead fire a few bullets first – “ping” – “ping” – “ping” – to discover the best trajectory. Once discovered, the remaining gunpowder can be used to fire the big cannonball – at the precise trajectory needed to accomplish the desired outcome.

A “bullet” in an organization is a calculated, creative test. It is a “low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction” experiment. Successful organizations are disciplined and innovative. They try multiple ideas. They iterate, trying again, making adjustments, measuring carefully. If they fire a bullet that misses, they aren’t critically crippled. When they fire a bullet that hits its mark, they can commit additional resources to exploit the opportunity.

Need ideas for creating and firing “bullets?” IDEO and the Stanford have published processes for doing disciplined, creative research that leads to results: Methods

What “bullets” are you firing, measuring, and validating?

Commit to disruption

Great by Choice

“I love the straightforward title,” said a friend about Great by Choice. And, like Collins’ previous work, the book is as straightforward as the title. Collins and Hansen seek to answer their question, “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”

Their research uses their standard research method: compare matched pairs of companies using market data and original documents. These companies were chosen for achieving spectacular results, while navigating uncertainty and chaos in their industry, and for being vulnerable early in the time window as young, small, entrepreneurial companies.

The value I found in this book is that it adds detail to Collins’ idea that great results are driven by disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action. Through stories drawn from their research and stories of explorers and adventurers who demonstrate the traits, Collins and Hansen make the case for what discipline looks like:

  • 20 Mile March – the discipline to have understandable and rigorous performance mechanisms.
  • Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs – the discipline to blend creative methods with the ability to amplify its value.
  • Leading above the Death Line – prepare when things go well, manage risk, ask the tough questions.
  • SMaC – Specific, Methodical, and Consistent – make operating practices visible and replicable.
  • Return on Luck – Luck happened, both good and bad; the question is what return did you get on it? But the most important kind is “Who Luck” – the luck of finding the right “mentor, partner, teammate, leader, friend.”

Each chapter ends with a summary and a list of questions. Even if you find yourself arguing with Collins and Hansen’s methods or opinions, the questions are worth asking about your business and your self.

Who is your best luck?

Uncertainty as Opportunity
A vision is not a destination

Finding a way forward

During military maneuvers in Switzerland, the young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps sent a reconnaissance unit into the icy wilderness. It began to snow immediately, snowed for two days, and the unit did not return. The lieutenant suffered, fearing that he had dispatched his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back. Where had they been? How have they made their way? Yes, they said, we considered ourselves lost and waited for the end. And then one of us found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down. We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm, and then with the map we discovered our bearings. And here we are. The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map and had a good look at it. He discovered to his astonishment that it was not a map of the Alps, but a map of the Pyrenees.

Karl Weick tells this story in Making Sense of the Organization (p.345-346). His conclusion is that organizations find their way not because they have the perfect strategy or an accurate map, but because they “begin to act, they generate tangible outcomes in some context, and this helps them discover what is occurring, what needs to be explained, and what should be done next.”

How is your organization chosing to act now – even in the midst of uncertainty? Who is finding and offering a temporary map to begin the journey forward?

Sustaining change

Potential energy

Many of my friends have been asking me if I’ve made a New Year’s resolution. And, as a logical, linear thinker, I’ve been pondering how best to respond! The turning of the calendar seems like a logical time to think about where we’ve been and where we want to go as individuals and organizations. Not only is it a “new year,” it is half-way between the season where we have the least and most amount of daylight.

Evaluating and taking stock can imply either that all was well or that things had gotten wildly off track. As is often the case, the reality lies somewhere in-between. In recent posts, I’ve listed some questions for reflection. As I watched the sunset last night, I considered another idea. What if each thing we do not only delivers value in the present, but creates potential for the future? How would we embrace and leverage the potential energy? How would we use that energy to generate momentum needed for adapting to change and creating new ideas?

In the physical world, gravity acts to increase potential energy. To further the analogy, what are the relationships and market forces that can multiple our potential?

The other kind of potential energy in the physical world is elastic potential energy. The further something is stretched, the greater the potential energy. Again, how will we stretch this year to increase our potential?

We as individuals and organizations are standing at the top of the proverbial 2011 hill. How will you use and build potential?

Failure is an option?

Failure has been a word of the moment for the past few years: “too big to fail“, Jim Collin’s How the Mighty Fall, and – I can’t count the British Petroleum headlines on the subject. Today, Seth Godin’s blog talks about the “hierarchy of failure worth following“:

. . . frequency = good all the way to please-don’t!

FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.

FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.

FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.

FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.

FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.

I’m reflecting on how this fits into my understanding of organizational and personal failure. Finally, a quote from Michael Jordan:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

Getting outside of the box

How often have you heard the request, “We need to think outside of the box.”? At the start of the new year, we traditionally pause to reflect and set new goals. But how many of the goals from last year do we even remember?

As I considered this dilemma, I was challenged to get “outside the box” and do a thought experiment by Ron Ashkenas, a blogger at HBR. He suggested firing myself and reapplying for my job. Here are his questions that I asked myself along with a couple of my own:

What are your qualifications?
What would you say in an interview about the changes you would make and the improvements you would engineer?
What unique “stamp” would you put on this new job?
How do you feel about the business strategy and the quality of the leadership team?
What would you change?
What are your strengths? What will you do this year to grow and increase your strengths?

While this is not at the level of the thought experiment that allowed Einstein to come up with e=MC2, the experiment allows me to challenge myself and survey the organizational landscape around me in a different way.

Rushing ahead for more of the same

I’ve been thinking about change and transformation. It seems to me that most things that are “new” are often just the same things we’ve always had, perhaps with an incremental change here or there. A new computer has a slightly faster chip or a screen that’s an inch larger on the diagonal. Even the questions we asked are often worded in such a way as to create the context or framework for the answer.

The current buzz word flying through the air is innovation. For me the challenge with innovation is not to design a process that creates an opportunity for brainstorming or mind mapping that leads to the slightly different. And I will concede that any process or method has built-in biases for outcomes.  The challenge is to create an environment or an experience that pushes us to go beyond our assumptions and self-imposed boundaries.

Perhaps the key is to live the questions, to hold the opposing demands together: experimenting with reproducibility, spontaneity with stability, and surprising serendipity with effective efficiency. This is easier said than done. The beginning is to move to the level of systems thinking where we not only seek to understand and be understood, but to integrate the pieces into a whole.

Creating an environment that fosters space for innovation will require strategic planning and storytelling, mission statements and poetry, and schematic drawings and publicly visible art. My hope is to discover a road less traveled rather than rushing along the interstate of life, rushing ahead for more of the same.

Sailing with Dragons

I’ve been thinking about the tsunami of information that seems overwhelming and at the same time, necessary. The number of words written on WordPress can exceed 43 million per day, which doesn’t count traditional print media or any of the other popular social networking and blogging sites. There are organization strategies known as knowledge management systems that attempt to make sense of the tide of information. There are individual strategies for organizing e-mail and schedules.

And yet, we need to implement effective strategies to contain and manage the knowledge necessary for the linear processes in our work and life. And additionally, we need to have flexible strategies designed to help us, and the organizations we are a part of, make sense of the knowledge and information. When we have effective management processes and time to tell the stories that make sense of what is happening, our organizations will begin to thrive.

Having an effective process map and the narrative stories to give direction are not the only helpful things for organizations. It can also be helpful to go sailing with dragons. A few weeks ago I wrote about our maps and talked about the dragons that live beyond the edge of the known world. A willingness to live the full adventure, to accept the contradictions and paradoxes encountered, to not have all the answers, . . . these are keys to innovation and discovery.

The College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the study of Cartography, succeeding generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. 
    Jorge Luis Borges in Of Exactitude in Science

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