UnProductive 101: Paving the Cow Path

When I worked at Accenture, we were often in the business of identifying the existing business processes and then analysing how we would enable these processes with technology. Sometimes it was putting a mobile phone purchase process onto Siebel CRM, sometimes it was putting insurance sales onto SAP ERP.

A senior partner used to say to me “we are not here to just pave the cow path”.

Don’t Pave the Cow Path

Heading along the old cow path, Photo Credit: Polifemus

The cow path was the old way of doing things. Sometimes the old way was not a good way. Sometimes the old way was a terrible way.

The Green Book and the Blue Book

My father tells a story of when he was first working as a consultant back in the early 1970’s in a hospital in south west Ireland.

On his first day, he was required to sign in to enter the building. Strangely, he was asked to do this in a blue book, and also in a green book. He asked the girl behind the desk “why the two books?”.

She responded “there have always been two books.”

After a week of this double sign in, my father began to have a curiosity as to why these 2 books were both needed. He would ask managers, he would ask doctors, he would ask others who had worked there for years. Always, the same answer “there have always been two books”.

After months of work my father was coming to the end of his project at the hospital. As part of the final phase of the project, he was to meet with a retired doctor who had been around since the very beginning of the hospital.

At the end of the meeting with this eminent doctor, my father again asked his question “why the two books?”

The doctor laughed and said “Back in the war years, there was rationing of petrol. A lot of our staff were unable to easily get to and from work. The hospital bought bicycles for staff to use to get home quickly. The blue book is for signing bicycles in and out, the green book was the original attendance book. Somewhere along the way, the bicycles were no longer necessary and were sold… but we never were able to get rid of the blue book”.

I have seen so many blue book processes in companies. It is much, much harder to stop something that we are already doing than it is to start a new thing.

In each of our lives there are also many blue book processes. They may have served us well several years ago, but are just busy activity now. They are processes that do not serve.

In productivity, removing the blue book processes is more important than adding efficiency to the green book processes. Removing busy-ness. Stopping using the old cow path when we now have a six lane motorway.

Framing is Everything

Rory Sutherland tells some wonderful stories about the power of framing.  If you want to be persuasive, you must get good at framing the argument.  Good framing shifts the argument to a playing field where you can achieve your ends and the other can feel that they have gotten a good deal.

Prices are not expensive or inexpensive in abstract, only in relative terms.  If I say that “this watch costs €100” – I have allowed you to frame your perspective on expensive or cheap.  If I say “other watches in this very category sell for over €1,000; this watch costs €100” – I have started to provide my own framing for the situation.

Compared to what?

Rory talks about small shifts in framing have a powerful impact.  He gives the example from car sales that it is far better to give a rebate of €3000 on top of trade in valuation versus giving €3000 off the full purchase price.  The framing of a trade-in price of €7000 plus €3000 is much more impactful than offering €3000 reduction on the full price of €22,000.  It is the same €3000 in cash, but it is not the same €3000 from a psychological point of view.

This framing also works for selling expensive cars at plane and boat shows – context shifts way we see the price.  A €300,000 car seems expensive when seen in a showroom of €50,000 cars…  but it feels more reasonable when placed next to €1.2M boats or €6M private jets.

Here’s Rory’s talk at Zeitgeist:

No one buys a $57,000 watch to tell time

I came across this paragraph in a blog post by sales professional Grant Cardone.

“No one buys a $57,000 watch to tell time. People buy things to solve problems. The cost of the item isn’t what matters. Once the buyer is able to see the problem the product solves, their decision becomes much easier to resolve. Get to the “why” and the sale will follow.” Grant Cardone (original article at Entrepreneur magazine)

How do you get someone to buy something that they do not need?

Cheap Casio Watch, Photo Credit: yeniceri

Just as nobody really buys a $57,000 watch to solve the problem of “what time is it”, nobody does an expensive MBA just because they want to know more about business.  Nobody hires an expensive consultant just because they need to finish a simple project.  Nobody hires an expensive coach just because they need help with discipline.

Cheap watches tell the time.  Cheap MBAs teach you about business.  Cheap consultants can get projects finished.  Cheap coaches can help you with discipline.

A casio watch can be bought for €2.99.  It tells the time as well as the $57,000 watch.  Why are they different?  The casio watch has 8 functions.  The $57,000 watch tells the time, and the date.  The casio watch allows me to change the time.  The $57,000 watch requires a trained technician to move the clock forward an hour.

Why does someone pay the $56,997.01 difference (and get less functionality)?

There is something else we are buying when we buy.

“Bread and Water. Everything else is marketing.” Tony Anagor

I did an interview with Tony Anagor, one of the coaches who works with my Leadership Communications courses at IESE Business School.  Tony said “Bread and water.  Everything else is marketing.”

What did he mean?

Once I have food and shelter, I can survive.  I don’t need anything else to survive.  I want other things, but I don’t need them.

If I say “I need friends, I would die without my friends”: it is not literally true.  I want friends.  They make my life worth living.  They add to my life.  They are not needs in the way of food and shelter.  I wouldn’t value highly a lonely life, without friends.

If I say “I need an iPad.  All of my friends have an iPad.”: not true.  I really, really want an iPad.  However, the reason that I want it is the important thing for a salesman to find.  Why do I so need an iPad?

I want it because it might remove the anguish of feeling left out.  I want it because it might give me a sense of importance in having an “in-demand” item.  I want it because I like playing with new technology.  I want it because my friends are playing some online game and I am less connected because I am not involved.

The #1 Most Important Tool in Negotiation

There is a power tool in negotiation.  I would say this is the single most useful tactic that I use in my years of selling (I sell private jets among other high value products).

It is not competitive, it is not aggressive, it is not avoiding anything.

It does not require massive intellectual development, years of training or genetic gifts.

It requires no study, no poetic ability nor any magical secret ingredients.

It is …

 

Silence.

Silence.

Me: “What is your best price?”

Supplier: “Blah, blah [Product feature #2], blah… I can offer you €100”

Me: “Hmmm.” and wait…  10…  20 seconds…  (tension increasing)

Supplier: “Ok, I can give you €90…  but that is our best price”

Me:  “Hmmm.”  and wait…  10… 20 seconds… (tension increasing)

… and on…

Become Indispensable: Solve Interesting Problems

Question for you: What do you have as your description line in your LinkedIn profile?

Mine says “Moving People to Action”

 

What does your LinkedIn Description say?

I see several varieties of description.  Some people just put their job title: “VP Marketing at Corporation Inc”.  Some people an abstraction of their past experience “Experienced Manager in Telecoms Industry”.  Some people describe what they aspire to be.  I leave it at the somewhat vague “Moving People to Action”.  What is your profile description?  It is important.  The founder of LinkedIn says so.

I am reading Reid Hoffman’s book “The Startup of You” at the moment.  He speaks of treating your own career like an entrepreneurial startup.

Life on Permanent Beta

One powerful idea from the book is to keep your career on “Permanent Beta”.  Beta is an IT term for a not-yet-fully-tested version of the software.  We release beta software so we can find out how it is really used by customers and make many iterative changes before the final delivery of finished software.  Permanent beta is to assume that I am never finished, I am always a work in progress.  Permanent beta is to stop the search for a comfortable, coasting job that pays the bills with little or no effort on my part.

Plan A, B & Z

He speaks of Plan A, Plan B, Plan Z thinking.  Plan A is your current career.  Plan B is your aspirational career.  Plan Z is what you would do if Plan A and Plan B fell apart, the worst-case scenario.

An example in the case of myself 11 years ago:  Plan A was working as a manager in Accenture and working towards promotion to partner.  Plan B was starting up my own company.  Plan Z was living off my savings for a year while studying.

Moving forward to today, Plan A is teaching at IESE, speaking and writing.  Plan B is unclear and needs some work.  Plan Z would be living off my savings for a year or two.  I clearly need to do some work on Plans B & Z.  Reid says you are in danger of unexpected environmental changes if you don’t have some meat on the bones of these 3 plans.

Plan B should be based around the Meaningful Contribution venn diagram.  Jim Collins calls it the hedgehog concept.  It is a combination of what you do well, what you enjoy doing and what the market will pay you to do.  Reid calls them:

  • Your assets
  • Your aspirations and
  • the market realities.

Your assets include hard assets like money in the bank; however the really important inventory is your soft assets – skills, network, personal brand.  What are you known for?  Reid is very, very strong on taking choices that value learning over monetary reward.  The more you learn, the more valuable you can become.

Who you know is What you know

I haven’t read this chapter yet, so I am assuming…  but in a world where google, wikipedia and youtube allow us to find any knowledge in an instant, it is no longer of great value to know stuff.  Practical wisdom – which increasingly is knowing who to call, and knowing that they will answer and take action because it was you that called is the valuable stuff.

Are you Indispensable?

If your boss gives you lists of tasks to complete, you are dispensable.  You are not “you” at work, you are a processor of standardised tasks.  The recipe for being “you” can be written down, and will be outsourced to cheaper labour.

If your boss gives you interesting problems to solve, you are of value.  You are “you” at work.

If you are the one that identifies the problems, and ask others the interesting questions: then you might just be on the path to Indispensable.

Become Indispensable.

How does one become indispensable?  The first step is changing the profile description on your LinkedIn profile.  If your description is your current job title, then it is likely that you have no Plan B.  You are not actively investing in yourself to make Plan B a reality.

To become indispensable, first make your profile description your Plan B “aspirational” title.  Click here to begin that change.

Now, start to invest time, money and energy in making yourself ready to live up to that aspiration.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and dreams and aspirations are supposed to take some work.

Curiosity, Learning and Adaption.

Curiosity is the first step towards Learning.  Explore beyond. How did he do that?  Why did they do that?  What is happening here?  Curiosity is to wonder at the things I do not yet understand.

Learning is the most important daily task to adapt to the changing reality.

Rapid Adaption for yourself and for those around you: you become indispensable.

If you are not indispensable, you are dispensable.

If you are dispensable, you are commodity.  You are competing on price.   There are some mighty cheap people out there, cheap & able to follow recipes, cheap & able to follow a process manual.

How to Choose in Life Decisions

Crossroads? A fork in the path of life…

I was with a 65 year old successful entrepreneur at a direct marketing conference on Wednesday. I had given a speech and he came up and began to chat over coffee. He finished an MBA at Harvard 30 years ago. I asked him what was going on, what were the challenges in his life 10 years after the MBA?

Fork in the path. Which do you take? Photo Credit: simonsterg

This is a common question that I ask of people.  What was their biggest challenge when they were my age? This is somewhat of a selfish, self-serving question for me… but I find that those that I ask enjoy the reminiscing about their own life.

He said that he faced a challenging decision.  He had 2 job offers.  The safe, stable option; and the risky, adventurous option.

The Safe Option or the Adventure?

He had the choice to go to London with a solid job with Time Life, perfect MBA career, job security, and London was a city he had always dreamt of living in.  He could see that the rest of his MBA class would be impressed if he told them that he had this position.

On the other side, he had the option of going to South Africa to set up Ogilvy. This would be setting up a business from nothing, in a country still under apartheid, where he knew nobody and was a little disgusted by the political situation.

The London option was strong on a financial basis.  It was stable.  It was an impressive job title.  However, he found himself stuck and unable to decide.

He told me that after a few days of trying to decide, he realised he couldn’t.  In a sort of desperation, he even came to ask his mum what she thought.

His mum said “Take a paper and do a pros and contras of each option, London or South Africa. Work on the criteria, which is best for each… And then sum up the pros and contras.”

At this point I was thinking “duh. Of course.” but his mum’s answer had something else.

She said “now, when you have the answer, how do you really feel about it? If you want to go back and adjust some of the numbers then you have your answer. The other one.”

He said that he did the analysis. London won. By miles. But when he had this answer he realised he didn’t want it. He went to South Africa.

The Mind Reflects, The Heart Decides

The rational process is important in facing decisions. It makes sure I understand truly the consequences or sacrifices that are required. But, in the end the heart has to decide.

This bears repeating.  Intuitive decisions without doing the work of thinking through the criteria and the consequences are not good decisions.  You must do the thinking work.

In all my life I have only taken one decision that forced the rational answer over the heart answer. I still regret it. The rest of my life has been quite easy – because my heart has always been so clear.

Now, I find that I am not so clear anymore. A lot more decisions are not clear. I end up choosing to not take the decision. Sometimes this allows me to decide later when I am clear. However sometimes, I end up saying “No” by proxy… Because the delay is really the same consequences as a “no”.

Sun-Tzu’s 5 Factors for Victory and 5 Attributes of a Leader

I just watched Thomas Hyunh speak about his lifetime obsession with Sun-Tzu, the 2,500 year old Chinese General, at Authors@Google (video at the bottom of this post).   Sun-Tzu was only 30 years old when he led the smallest region of China to victory over the largest region.  This victory made him famous, and made his book “The Art of War” into the widely read book that it has become.

What makes Sun-Tzu’s Art of War relevant to us today?  Conflict is part of our lives.  Personal relations, company market share battles, political struggle – how can we approach these challenges in an effective manner?

Whether it is military conflict or politics within an organisation, Sun-Tzu’s guidelines are relevant.

Photo from Wikimedia

Sun-Tzu In a Nutshell

  1. Control yourself.  Thus you can influence others.
  2. Adapt to your environment.  It accentuates your strengths and ameliorates your weakness.
  3. Never sell out your principles. “The general who does not advance to seek glory or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people’s security and promotes the people’s interest is the nation’s treasure”

“Before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will win” Sun-Tzu

#1 Principle: Control Yourself

Number 1 is Control Yourself.  Sun-Tzu is very deliberate about his guidelines of separating out Ego and Emotion from decision making.   Thomas quotes him in his talk “Before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will win” – take decisions away from field of combat.  As in combat, so in life.  Life decisions taken under high emotion or driven by ego desire are dangerous.  They need reflection in the light of a meditative peaceful pose.

“Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot be brought back to life” Sun-Tzu.   Strong emotions will go away, but actions can never be undone.   Battle that is driven by revenge, by anger, by frustration is not good battle.  Personal conflict that is driven by anger, revenge is not good for either party.

The 5 attributes of a Great General (Leader)

Sun-Tzu
  • Wisdom
  • Credibility
  • Benevolence
  • Courage
  • Discipline

The 5 Factors for Victory

  • Way – Your personal connection to other people
  • Heaven – Environment outside your control
  • Ground – Environment under your control
  • General – Ability and Attitude
  • Law – Discipline and Commitment
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osQ2bLUd0UA]

Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osQ2bLUd0UA&list=TLp3MFP1RQA6E

The Real Reason Why Audiences Love Reality TV

I was watching the UK version of the TV show “The Apprentice” a few months ago.  This particular week’s challenge was to sell caravan and camping equipment at a trade show.

Early on, there was a key decision to make: Which model of caravan would the team try to sell?

Now, this was a trade show where the typical attendee was 60 years old and the teams had this information.  This was not a show directed to young people, nor was it an audience that would be represented by the word “innovative”.  This was people looking for solid, reliable caravans.

The contestants on BBC’s The Apprentice show

The team lead, lets call him Joe, asked for advice from one of his team members, who I will call Tom.  Now, Joe has already agreed with the rest of the team that they should choose a proven, well-priced model…

Joe: “So, Tom, what do you think? Should we go for the hip, modern campervan or the older, proven model?”

Tom: “I think we should go for the modern one.”  (I am surprised at this advice)

Joe: “Really?  I like it a lot more…  but… are you sure it is right for this market?”

Tom: “I think we can manage it.”

Joe: “Right, ok…  I’ll go with your advice.”

Skip forward to the end of the week…  Joe is in the boardroom defending why his team did so incredibly poorly.  It was clearly because he chose a caravan that would be impossible to sell to the actual audience of the trade show.

Tom was playing the game supremely.  He was being friendly to Joe and acting the part of a loyal team member, whilst really setting Joe up for a fall.

We see the Manipulators for what they are

In real life this happens all the time, but it is very hard to see – because the manipulators like Tom are very good at the act, and we only see how they deal with us.  We don’t see or hear what they are saying to others behind our backs.

Modern western society forces a dilemma onto its citizens: How do I maintain a good balance between good, long-term, trusting relationships and individual achievement.  The achievement often has to come by me winning and another person losing.

Machiavelli first put down the principles of individual achievement over trusted relationships back in 1500s in his book The Prince.

TV Series such as The Apprentice, Survivor and Big Brother are exquisitely designed and edited to open a clear window for the viewers into the scheming, manipulative words and actions of the competitors.  They can often go for weeks believing that Tom is a wonderful friend in the house, whilst the audience has known for weeks that Tom is playing the true friend to several others and manipulating the whole house.

It is addictive watching.

I think it is addictive, because deep down we all know the game.

Deserving Money? 4 Millionaires Earn and Spend.

Photo Credit: RainerSchuetz

The 4 Millionaires

Four millionaires are sitting on a park bench.  Its a sunny Thursday morning.  While many others are working the 9 to 5 routine, George, David, Jonathan and Paul are relaxing in the park.

As you look at George, David, Jonathan and Paul nothing much stands out.  4 standard guys in a park.  They don’t flaunt their money.

However, they took four very different routes to get the money.

Paul bought a lottery ticket on a whim about 7 months ago.  The ticket won.  He became an instant millionaire.

Jonathan had a distant relationship with his parents as a child.  He spent his adolescence in boarding schools.  His family would gather on Christmas, but the relationships were not deep.  5 months ago his parents passed away.  When the will was read, Jonathan discovered that he received a million.  Another instant millionaire.

David set up a company 7 years ago.  He has worked hard.  Over the years the company grew in employees, grew in clients and grew in value.  2 years ago a US company contacted David about working more closely together.  This year that US company made an offer to buy-out David’s company.  Another millionaire.

George joined a bank after graduation.  He suffered through the painful early years giving 120 hour weeks, but he learnt how to work the system.  He has moved steadily up through the ranks and this year finally made it into the upper echelons.  His bonus this year: about a million.

Who Deserves?

What do you think about Paul, Jonathan, David and George?  How do you judge their path to wealth?  Is lottery worse than inheritance?  Is banker worse than entrepreneur?

Who, in your opinion, has the most “Right” to their money?
Take Our Poll

Continue reading “Deserving Money? 4 Millionaires Earn and Spend.”

Conformity and Submission to Authority (“Willful Blindness”)

I am sitting in the auditorium at IESE Business School listening to Margaret Heffernan speak about her book “Willful Blindness”.  She is a wonderful speaker, sharing both clear framework of ideas and specific personal experiences.

Margaret Heffernan speaking at Growth Summit 2013

I have scribbled about 5 pages of notes on her material, but will limit this blog post to discuss two dangers of human beings when in hierarchical groups (ie companies, governments, bureaucracys, schools, etc!)

The human being is evolutionarily designed to follow orders, and to fit in.  He is more likely to give the leader the answer he guesses that the leader would like to hear, and that he believes the rest of the group would agree with.  It is something that operates at a deep, unconscious level in our brains – and good leaders must work hard to help break these habits – otherwise you will always be the last to hear what is really going on in the world.

Fitting In: Conformity

Example of the sheets used in the original Asch Conformity experiments

Solomon Asch showed a group of 8 people two sheets. One sheet showed 3 lines of differing lengths. The other sheet had one single line. The group were asked to identify which of the 3 lines was the same as the single line.

The trick was that 7 of the group were collaborators of the experimenter. They were to indicate a “wrong” line as the same length line.

The question: would the eighth person, the real person, choose the obvious correct answer… or would they conform to the “wrong” answer that all of the others had provided?

What do you think? What would you do? How would it feel after watching 7 others each indicate a “wrong” answer? Would you have the strength to stick to your convictions?

Over 75% of individuals gave a “wrong” response, conforming to the group.

“We do not like to be wrong, but we never want to be alone” Margaret Heffernan

The strength of the human desire to conform is very strong.

Submission to Authority

One of Solomon Asch’s students was Stanley Milgram.  He is famous for his experiment where he showed that 65% of people were willing to administer a fatal electric shock to another person when they were “asked” to do so by an experimenter in a white coat.  The full experiment is described here on wikipedia.

Stanley Miligram said that in situations with authority figures “we switch from wanting to be a good person, to wanting to do a good job”.  Our moral frameworks do not work when the “boss” is in the room.  We seek all possible signals of body language, coded words, question framing to seek to understand what answer the “boss” would like to hear.  If the boss gives any direction, sets the agenda – then the team will submit and conform to answering this way.

What can we do to reduce the Automatic Conformity and Submission?

As leaders of people, Margaret described 3 options to get innovation, the full creative brilliance out of people:

  1. Don’t show up to (some) meetings – let them run without you
  2. Set up parallel teams to investigate ideas – keep them separate, but not competitive
  3. Act as a tester of hypothesis: Ask “What would we expect to see if your hunch/intuition/idea was right?”

Further Resources

Exit mobile version
%%footer%%