Saturday, November 27, 2010

Only one route?

Decisions and results

Everything we do is a decision, whether it is a conscious decison or not it is still a decision. Doing nothing or doing something else is also a decision.
Every decision we make whether it is conscious or by default, changes what is going to happen next and therefore is going to have an impact on whatever the outcome will be.
Complex? We have only just got started.
Now think about everybody else making decisions and how they interact and create emergent properties and situations. The current financial situation is one such emergent situation. No one (I hope) planned for this to be the outcome and yet it occurred - as a result of a complex matrix of decisions and actions people made.
What ever happens next will likewise emerge as a result of the complex interconnected web of decisions and actions we are all making right now.

The problem with most strategies

As you can imagine with this level of complexity it is impossible to really predict what is going to happen in three weeks time let alone three years time. Most strategies are made based on history and our current understandings of not only what is happening but how things work.
As we are finding out, how things work now is not how they used to work, just like what is happening now is not the same as what happened before. Sure we can see the similarities, but it is different.
And yet, most strategies are singular. This is what we want, this is how we will get there and this is likely what we need. One goal, one route, one strategy.

When I am working with clients I insist they do at least 5 strategies. One for the worst possible outcome and set of decisions/events. One for the best. One for average and two either side of the average, Quite good and quite poor.

It is amazing how more inclusive the strategies become. However much more importantly, people can see how day-to-day decisions and emergent and unforeseen events are tied to emergent futures. How one decision can set a business or enterprise off on a particular road. This starts to help businesses do three things that are the mantra of Special Forces around the world:
  1. Adapt,
  2. Improvise, and
  3. Overcome.
Who really knows what is around the corner? It is the most adaptable, creative and resilient organisations and people that win in ambiguous times. Having a flexible and living strategy that allows people to improvise, innovate and make good decisions is vital.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A quote

"Ambiguity, risk and uncertainty scream out for their bedfellows; innovation, experimentation and play."

David Wilkinson

Author of 'The Ambiguity Advantage: What great leaders are great at.' Palgrave Macmillian

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Strategic Planning: How far out? Are you serious???

I have been doing some work with a couple of clients around building a strategic plan. Usually what they want is a business / corporate / organizational strategy for the next 3 - 5 years. I highlighted the word a above for a very good reason, which I will explain in a second.
However firstly I want to make comment about the concept of a 3-5 year plan, which is dear to my heart as my bank has just asked for one as part of our business plan. It's fascinating that organizations are still thinking like this.

Two days ago I took a client to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. We went into the Egyptian section of the museum where the smaller exhibits are all laid out in chronological order. So as you progress around the room in one direction you find yourself going further back in time, or go the other way and you walk forward in time to more modern times. What we noticed was that from about 4000 - 3000 BC, so for over 1000 years there was little change in artifacts found. Most tended to be practical artifacts. Around about 3100 years BC saw the start of hieroglyphics and then things start to change. Much more art and religious objects start turning up. But again they stay fairly similar for hundreds and hundreds of years. Around 2700 BC saw the start of pyramid building. Again there were hundreds of years between real changes, but the changes were starting to occur quicker - a few hundred years as opposed to 7-800 years.
A nice example is the development of glass and the colour blue happen around 3500 and doesn't really start to change until 1500 when glass makers started to dip a mould into molten glass and start to turn it to produce vessels. Then developments start to move at a faster pace. Around about 1400BC they start glass blowing. As you stand in the room you can actually see technologies, thinking and development speeding up and the timelines between innovations and events getting shorter and shorter.
And so back to our strategic plans. 5 years ago everyone did 1,2,3,5 and even 10 year plans.

The question I often ask now is "Tell me what is going to happen in your market / business in one years time?" I usually have the question answered with shrugs - "No idea".
"And you want a strategy for the next three years??" Most of us have a hard enough time understanding what is going to happen in 3 weeks time in our business let alone 3 years.
When I asked my bank manager what the markets will be like and what the bank would be doing in 3 years time a look of panic crossed her face.
What I have learnt is what I wanted or thought I wanted 3 years ago looks naive now, and given what has happened globally feels way out.

The other point - going back to the red a above. Most organisations develop a strategy, singular. One. Does one strategy really give you enough vision to make really good decisions in ambiguous times? More on this next....

Monday, June 21, 2010

Emotional Resilience: with emotion

One of the areas I have been focussing on both in terms of work and research (there is another book on the way) is emotional resilience (we run The Fear Course in many UK universities). One of the most common misperception about emotional resilience is that it means people are able to do things like make decisions, deal with situations without emotion.
Cutting off from your emotions is not a useful trait, in fact it can cause many problems especially in leadership and management situations. Our perception of situations is as much the ability to be able to feel a situation as well as think about it. Our emotions and thinking operate together to give us a fuller sense of a situation and importantly for managers and leaders operate with empathy as well as ethically and morally in any situation.
Additionally an individual without emotion would have a sever problem with logic or reason. Reasoning requires a level of understanding of emotions.

More on this soon.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Whilst coaching a client in the city this week, he made a comment that made me think. He was trying to solve an ambiguous dilemma, so I did what I thought all good coaches would do. Get the client to look at the problem from a whole series of different perspectives and to unpack their current problem solving approach on a non-agenda driven basis (from me).
Anyway at the end of the session the client said he had never had such a thought provoking 'workout'.
Now I don't say this for purposes of self-aggrandizement or self promotion. The issue is that the client has a regular coach (I coach for ambiguous and high emotional impact situations). It would appear that his regular coach moves him into a solution in what sounds like an 'I know best, this is what you should be doing', mentoring style approach.
So I did some checking with other clients who have coaches and it would appear that this is a very frequent approach taken by a number of performance coaches. One client sounded a little surprised at my questioning and said "Of course my coach facilitates me to the right solution, we pay them to give us good advice".

I have seen similar approaches in workshops where participants are 'facilitated' to the 'right' answer according to the trainers.

"Facipulation (v) - Using the tools and techniques of facilitation to manipulate a pre-existing and known outcome or solution in the mind of the 'facipulator' in a way that makes it look and feel like the 'facipulated' constructed their own answer."