Friday, 26 November 2010

Taunting the tiger

In 2006 Zinedine Zidane was sent off in the 110th minute of a world cup final against Italy for head butting Marco Materazzi.  Zidane was a role model for Algerians in France and helped soften the anti-Algerian feeling widespread in France at the time.  It was Zizzie's last international match, as he had announced his retirement from the game.  France lost 5-3 and a brilliant footballing career ended in shame.

How did this happen?

Allegedly Zidane responded with anger to an allegation by Materazzi that his sister earned her living in a horizontal position.

Gamesmanship is common in sports.  Female tennis players develop a loud grunting style at Wimbledon to put opponents off their stroke.  Muhammad Ali was famous for loud and extravagant pre-fight predictions of when and how he would obliterate his opponents, calculated to intimidate them.

Zidane was targeted by someone who understood his weak spots and how to exploit them.

Daniel Goleman writes about Emotional Intelligence and illuminates my example with a quadrant:  Self, Other:  Awareness, Management.

The first challenge is to be aware of our emotional states and what contributes to them (or triggers them).  The second task if to manage our emotional states, so that we can be effective and achieve our goals in a particular situation without getting derailed by a strong emotion.

The next level involves awareness of other people's emotional states, which isn't easy.  We learn to read faces, posture, skin tone, breathing and other physical signs of emotions, as well as what people do and do not say.  Once we've identified them we can begin to manage other people's emotional states.  Our voice tone, facial expression, gestures, position in relation to others and the content of what we say can all have an influence on other people's emotional states.

In my example, Zidane was playing in a match that had big significance for him.  He'd done well up to this point and the Italians could not beat him physically, but chose to attack mentally.  Zidane was caught off guard and his anger boiled over before he realised it.   Instead of walking away, retaliating with a comment or approaching the referee, he attacked his opponent, earning him a red card.  Materazzi had a strong grasp of emotional intelligence and used it for his own benefit, but at the cost of Zidane's reputation.  A quietly delivered snide comment was like throwing a lighted match into a barrel of petrol:  it exploded.

I've coached customer service personnel who struggle to deal with irate customers by phone. It may be wearing to handle such calls many times a day, but skills in Goleman's quadrant can make the process easier and more pleasant for both parties to the call.  This becomes tougher where management set big targets and the context is debt collection.

Managers come to me with a particular weak spot that often relates to managing the performance of staff with a problem.  Crying women may put a male manager off disciplining someone for poor performance.  A drink problem may distract a manager from dealing with punctuality or sloppy record keeping.  Compassion can threaten the health and safety of colleagues in certain contexts.  In these examples awareness and management of their own emotional states is the key to progress.

Gamesmanship can be defeated, but it needs preparation and practice.  The world cup final is not the place to begin to develop emotional intelligence.

4 legs good, 2 legs bad

George Orwell created a dystopian vision of the future in his 1945 novel 'Animal Farm'.  Pigs are praised and humans are banished.

I think of the novel every time I hear people discussing the work of Michael Kirton on cognitive style.  Innovators are praised and adaptors are shunned by many who are new to the KAI inventory.  Kirton wrote that each has a different approach to problem solving, neither good nor bad, just different.

Who would you rather be: Steve Jobs or Bill Gates?

In the 20th century Microsoft was the dominant player with Bill Gates making enough money to put him near the top of the Rich List and many scorned Apple as the maker of kindergarten machines that didn't run many computer games.

Both of these men creatively swiped ideas from the work of Rank Xerox at Palo Alto.  However they trod different paths.  Bill Gates steadily adapted the Windows format and added features by buying the work of successful small companies.  He told small business people who trained and serviced Microsoft products "I plan to get rich by making you rich".   From his lawyer father he learnt the power of the small print in contracts.  Entrepreneurs who dealt with him sometimes made the mistake of not checking the paperwork thoroughly before signing and discovered that in tough times Microsoft contracts might mean 'heads we win, tails you lose'.

Steve Jobs used brilliant people like Steve Wozniak to design new products from the bottom up.  His incomplete education and detour through a calligraphy course led him to focus strongly on aesthetics.  Apple had a tiny share of the market and lots of problems.  They launched products that disappeared without trace.  Apple Stores seemed targeted at the top end of the market and struggled to cater to any market successfully.

If I asked them to take the KAI inventory I bet Gates would feature at the adaptor end of the scale and Jobs at the innovator end.  They've both solved lots of problems, but in very different ways.

Now in the 21st century, Jobs is the successful developer of NeXT and Pixar Animation, before returning to Apple to launch the iPod, iPhone and iPad.  When I ask the same question today, the choice isn't so clear cut.  Both men are seriously rich and successful.

In the personal computing world there is an element of '4 legs good, 2 legs bad' and Apple fanatics may refer to Bill Gates as the Prince of Darkness.  With the advent of dual platforms and interchangeability of software, the hostility is less marked.

Michael Kirton has added another dimension to managing diversity.  Above all he has highlighted the difference in what people need to thrive in problem solving:  the amount of structure and consensus in agreeing that structure.

More posts on Steve Jobs here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Warm & fluffy tree huggers?

Every year I am challenged by a few students who believe that development, sustainability and responsibility are irrelevant.  They dismiss attempts to address these issues as liberal pap.

Let's look at another angle on this:  money.

When I first started as a consultant, I bumped into an employee of a multi national manufacturer of domestic products.  Conversation turned to environmental issues.  The board had dismissed public clamour for phosphate free detergents as a passing fad.  They bitterly regretted the decision when they lost a big chunk of market share in a growing and long term market.

I have done a lot of work with companies on recruitment and selection and some organisations find the focus on equality tedious.  I remind them of the pragmatic approach of the chairman of Littlewoods, who walked round some inner city stores and was annoyed to see few black customers, when the streets outside told a different tale.  He asked a golf club buddy to supply him with a few good looking black shop assistants and his senior staff worked out an employee development system to ensure that there was equality of opportunity in promotion.  Profits rose steadily.  Warm and fluffy?  No.  The Big Cheese of Littlewoods was focussed solely on the bottom line.

The former boss of Iceland, Malcolm Walker, mounted a principled campaign against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and sent out copies of a research paper to anyone who requested it.  He was forced to resign.  The government tried to force through liberalisation of GMOs in agriculture.  The major supermarkets, led by Tesco, quietly told them to wake up.  Customers rejected GMO products resoundingly and GMO contaminated products would affect sales and profits, damaging the UK farming industry.  The government retreated.  Tree huggers?  No.  Terry Leahy and his peers were scanning the environment and detecting strong trends on which to base business strategy.  'Listen to the market' is their maxim, or 'listen to your voters' as they told the politicians.

Does a principled stand ever succeed?  Yes.  Slowly the UK is waking up to the consequences of rising energy prices, peak oil and rising living standards.  The government and local authorities are slowly shifting planning regulations so that buildings meet energy efficiency standards.  Channel 4 tv's series 'Grand Designs' has introduced viewers to specialists in triple glazing and highly insulated, draught free pre-fabricated houses, such as Huf Haus.  A popular entrant to the UK market is Baufritz, which not only produces aesthetically pleasing and well insulated houses, but also ensures their buildings minimise potential carcinogens.  Why?  The wife of the founder died of cancer and he pledged to do what he could to prevent environmental agents causing or exacerbating illness in others.

Oh and the MD is a woman.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Dodo company and other animals

Analogies and metaphors give us clear pictures  separated from reality and the complexities of detail.   They enable us to step into an alternative world, play with it and then make the links to the current situation.

This is particularly helpful when  the real situation is highly politicised, rife with conflict or discussion is seen as threatening.  Metaphors help us distinguish the wood from the trees as we back up and see the big picture.

Stephen Berry's book 'Strategies of the Serengeti' describes a range of types of organisation using the metaphor of wild animals.

I use this as part of my toolkit with young managers who hold onto an illusion of 'the ideal company' and think their organisation could and should change rapidly to some textbook ideal.  Once we work with an animal metaphor, it can be easier to accept reality and work out how to deal with it in concrete terms.

Sometimes hybrid animals emerge from the test and the idea of equal strengths in 2 areas.

The wild animal metaphor has enabled managers to broach delicate subjects with colleagues and make progress in key areas to improve organisational health.

One of my clients was dismayed to realise that the organisation resembled a lame wildebeest, which ran the risk of being picked off by a cheetah, lion or hyena.  Presented with this startling picture, colleagues were more willing to discuss an overhaul of strategic direction and marketing.

Take the test at his site to discover which animal your organisation most closely resembles.

Milton Erickson's early career

Milton Erickson was a qualified doctor and psychologist.   NLP made him famous as a hypnotherapist, but only drew on experience of him as an 70+ year old teacher in a wheelchair (disabled by post polio syndrome).

He worked for a time in a secure mental hospital.  He tackled difficult cases and made dramatic breakthroughs using unorthodox approaches.  Erickson believed in utilising symptoms rather than suppressing them.

One patient was seen as a problem because he stood around staring into space with his elbow sticking out.  Erickson studied the setting and put the man into a blue overall and encouraged him to rest his elbow on a broom.  The patient shifted from 'problem' to 'janitor' and was seen as a normal fixture in corridors.

Another patient believed he was Jesus Christ.  Erickson avoided debating this idea. He approached the man and said "I understand you are a carpenter.  I'd appreciate your help in repairing the staff tennis court nets, as the doctors need more exercise."  The patient shifted into the role of handyman in the hospital.

In my experience, many managers try to suppress symptoms rather than utilise them.  "How can I offload this person (with the wrong psychological profile)" is more common than "How can I best utilise his/her strengths?"

Not all sales people need to be action oriented, aggressive pathfinders.  That's fine in a new market.  However a mature, saturated market, would benefit from the detail oriented, methodical worker, who could identify the range of small opportunities to increase sales.

Variety in a team increases scope for the range of projects tackled, as long as we manage the differences.


Ipomoea is the largest genus in the flowering plant family Convolvulaceae with over 500 species.  Most of them are known as morning glory.  They are colourful, climb up supports and seek out light.  Their roots are easy to dig or pull out and they tend to die off at the end of the summer after setting seed.  The trumpet like flowers open to the sun and close at other times.

Their cousins of the genus Calystegia look similar, but don't behave so well.  Bindweed is the most familiar in this group.  It climbs over anything and binds to the point of strangling other plants.  The roots are invasive and resemble underground spaghetti (made of strong flex).  The only way to eradicate bindweed is to dig out every last bit of root, or it will return and, once again, make an attempt at world domination.

I think of these 2 cousins when people ask me how far it's possible to change personality.

I've seen introverts, who try to fade into the wallpaper, grow in confidence and develop skills in small talk and public speaking.  I've never seen introverts shift from enjoying 1:1 friendships and conversations to relishing hanging out with a group and sharing light exchanges with a bunch of people at the same time.

I don't think elephants turn into tigers, or giraffes into wildebeestes.  We can shift along the spectrum and expand our range, but not shift into another personality type altogether.

Plants may become more well behaved and less aggressive in style.  The morning glory doesn't turn into a short, non climbing plant, with bushy spikes and fruit.  Bindweed will always have its characteristic flowers, even if becomes more domestic and less delinquent.

Richard Feynman's dad

Melville Feynman was a little known businessman.  He made a major contribution to physics, the development of the atomic bomb, science teaching and popularising physics.


When all the other dads were teaching their kids "That's the Lesser Spotted Winzelschmurter", Melville encouraged his son to observe what this curious creature did, how it survived and thrived.

He also trained his son to translate facts into domestic terms, by answering the question "What does that mean in real terms?".  Melville would take the details given of the height of an object and tell Richard "That means this was as high as 3 copies of our house stacked on top of each other."  His Nobel prize winning son found himself making this translation as a natural reflex.

I'm a fan of Melville because he discouraged the practice of labelling and switching off brain.  Above all he was a great user of the 'So what?' question.  

What a pity Melville was just a closet scientist and didn't turn his attention to personality, temperament and cognitive style.  He might have encouraged us to think about the results of personality inventories.  If he had, we might not keep tripping over the jargon of inventories.  We'd also have a clearer idea of how the results show up in our lives.

Above all, we'd focus more on how to cope with individual differences and work to our strengths.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Revolution from within

When I was writing about tree planting in Kenya, I was looking for the 10 Commandment of Intrapreneurship by Gifford Pinchot and found a different man profiled on Wikipedia.

He was the first chief of the United States forest service.  'Pinchot is known for reforming the management and development of forests in the United States and for advocating the conservation of the nation's reserves by planned use and renewal. He called it "the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man." Pinchot coined the term conservation ethic as applied to natural resources.'

Wrong Pinchot.  I was curious to know more about the present day Gifford Pinchot, who has contributed to so much to our ideas of innovating and creating change from within organisations.  It seems that the 2 men are part of a long line of Pinchots:  

'The Pinchot Perspective has been rather consistent for several generations. The rational greatest good for the greatest number in the long run cohabits strangely with a less rational but equally powerful reverence for nature, equality and adventure.
I long for a resilient, ecologically restorative and more egalitarian civilization. A resilient civilization is one that has great capacity to adapt to shocks, shortages, attacks and subsystem failures.'

He has also written about social justice and sutainability:

'Many people of color do not identify with the term sustainability because they don’t see any necessary connection between a systems ability to sustain itself  and overcoming racism. This is not surprising.  History suggests that racism and inequality can be sustained for a very long time......'

Pinchot's commandments are a thought provoking list for all of us stepping out on the road to introduce change and innovation:

  1. Come to work each day willing to be fired
  2. Circumvent any orders aimed at stopping your dream
  3. Do any job needed to make your project work, regardless of your job description
  4. Find people to help you
  5. Follow your intuition about the people you choose, and work only with the best
  6. Work underground as long as you can – publicity triggers corporate immune mechanism
  7. Never bet on a race unless you are running it.
  8. Remember it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
  9. Be true to your goals, but be realistic about the ways to achieve them.
  10. Honor your sponsors.
The Kenyan tree planting women certainly started with 6 and worked through most of the list.

Networks for Green change

I enjoy showing examples of environmental progress and practical sustainability.  Some of my students complain that it seems like an afterthought on their course and is largely irrelevant in their organisation or the current economic climate.

What do we do when our world may be negatively affected by the actions of those on other continents?

What happens when the climate and dwindling resources on other continents lead to a mass migration to ours?

How can groups of people foster their own resources?

Consider rural poor people in Kenya who use wood for fuel and building material.  Professor Wangari Maathai pioneered work in communities to renew trees.  Not only did she encourage tree planting, but recognised that young trees die unless they are protected and tended by people with a vested interest.

Green change happened by people working quietly underneath the radar.  Once those in power recognised what was happening, the women were targetted and ridiculed for their efforts.  They rallied and prevailed whilst President Moi was overthrown.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Who is creative?

Many people think of artists, writers, product designers and marketing professionals.

I believe that creativity and innovation show up in all walks of life, but may look different in each domain.

Here's a BBC radio 4 documentary, which explores creativity and innovation in tax avoidance. Who are the creative people in this area?  Bankers, accountants, multinational companies.

The tax gatherer's dilemma?  'It's like a fat policeman chasing a Ferrari'.

Friday, 15 October 2010

How do you solve a problem like slums?

What do we do?  

Increase benefits, provide courses, send in health and social workers to protect children.... adapt the architecture, install security lights, increase local policing........ introduce drug programmes, send in the police to stop prostitution and drug dealing on the street.....  start parenting programmes........

Does it work?  How many children from the slums end up in good jobs, with self respect and a fine reputation?  I can think of one lawyer who made it, but not many others.

One man in another country came up with an idea that seems counter intuitive:  give a child a musical instrument and teach them classical music.   It sounds bonkers.  This is the result:

José Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema and the Simon Bolivar youth orchestra of Venezuela is now world famous for the energy and commitment of its players, some of whom have moved on to major orchestras overseas.

The movement is spreading to the UK.  There's a project in Scotland and a recent success in Everton:

Politicians have increased the emphasis on distinguishing between beneficial activities, (such as science & engineering subjects for degree study), making an assumption that other activities have no value.

I'm not so sure.

When I say SOLVE, I don't mean that slums disappear. In the case of Venezuela, large numbers of young people and their families now have opportunities, meaning and purpose. There are still gangs, drug problems, criminality and prostitution, but el sistema has made an impact that is visible to the world.

You can't build a house without a solid foundation

One of my favourite concepts is by Krackhardt & Hanson.  They worked on the organisation behind the chart and discovered that trust and influence may have greater power than position in the hierarchy.  They diagram advice, trust and communication networks within organisations. (Here's the crib notes version):

This idea seems fundamental for today's managers. How can you solve problems and initiate change and innovation if you haven't built a solid foundation of people support?

We recently had a change of Vice Chancellor at the OU.  We, the great unwashed mass of part time tutors (Associate Lecturers), were not optimistic that Mr Bean, formerly of Microsoft, would have much interest in supporting and expanding our role.  The great fear was that we would become a technology only university.

Martin Bean knows a thing or two about building communication, trust and influence.  He has travelled around and met all his heads of schools and regions (and given them a nudge to make better contact with all their staff).  He has written articles in the OU magazine praising the work of ALs and reassuring us that we're here to stay.   He's also started podcasts/video broadcasts to staff on a regular basis.

He is upfront about the future and limits of what he can do in the current climate. The former government prioritised first degrees and reduced support for postgraduate education.

He seems to be listening to staff concerns and has taken steps to involve part time tutors in contributing to current development.

Here's Martin Bean's comment on the latest government proposals for Higher Education.

Have all ALs dropped their misgivings?  No. However there is greater confidence that the VC is listening and acting on feedback as well as having a clear vision for the future.  He walks the talk and doesn't just schmooze with politicians.

I've noticed that Business School ALs are more willing to contribute again to discussions and that confidence is building.  I've had direct experience of contacting Martin Bean and resolving an issue for some of my students last year.

You don't climb Everest in one leap and neither do you build trust and influence straight away.  It takes regular and consistent effort.

I bang on about this concept as it is the single thing that has made the biggest difference to my clients' careers over the years.
In my coaching practice, I've helped turn around career prospects of clients from near redundancy to secure footing (shifting from threat to ally of senior management) by changing their focus towards building trust and influence.  With some functions such as IT, when senior bosses are technophobes and would dearly love to outsource the whole department, internal marketing is vital for survival.

What is creativity?

Every year I gather 20+ MBA students together and many of them think they're NOT creative.  Somehow they have the idea that it's all about flower arranging, strutting around in a tutu and composing symphonies.

Wikipedia defines it thus:

'Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby something new is created which has some kind of value.' 

We then find out who they are.  Some are parents who face new challenges daily and find ways to overcome them without reading a baby manual.  Some are motorcyclists or mountaineers and have worked their way out of tricky problems miles from any other human being, improvising with whatever materials they have to hand.

All of them work in organisations that have internal politics, competition, external threats and various levels of chaotic management.  They've all navigated their way through the rapids and waterfalls to arrive on the course.  

I conclude that they are all creative, but most of them don't recognise it...