Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A (Self) Lesson in Calming

The best laid plans etc etc etc.

Leading up to travelling, I always intend to be well organised. I intend to have pre-determined what I need and what I want to take, to have decided the bags I need, technology priorities, music to load and books to read.

I intend to have understood functions or events I am attending and applicable dress codes and any other matter that may impact clothing needs.

I have always failed to fulfil my intentions, be it a 2-month overseas trip or two days at the Sunshine/Gold Coast.

I always find myself frantically packing a few hours before needing to be at the airport and not only stress myself, but all those around me too.

I always take too much and always leaving something out.

I sit writing this post, enjoying a leisurely cup of tea. I will shortly arrange some dinner and head quietly to the airport.

The habit of a lifetime has been broken. Investing a little time actually considering what I need for my European sojourn, having everything ready in advance and then putting a third of it away again before packing has me ready to go, well in advance.

Not only do I have less luggage than I typically take away for a long weekend, I am relaxed and looking forward to the trip.

The discipline and planning I exhibit in my business life has rarely transferred over to my private life. Preparing and then executing a “travel ready” plan is a good example to me of the value of applying business disciplines to other aspects of life.

After all, we apply personal ethics to our business practices, so it should flow both ways. Shouldn’t it?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Worth of Work v Value of Work

What is the worth, of the work we do?

Alternatively, what is the value of what we do?

Is the worth of what we do different to the value, is it calculated and assessed differently or is it the same? Does it even matter?

The market place dictates a price for our skills and services. This may be based on the tasks we perform, the goods we produce or the things we sell. Our “price” may the linked to the people we lead and how we go about this, the strategies we develop or the projects we manage.

We accept the price and perform our role.

But, how valuable is it?

What if the value of a role was assessed based upon the severity of the impact, should it not be done for a day, 3 days, a week, a month or more.

What does history tell us about the value of Bankers? What would happen in a country if banks were closed?

In 1970, Irish bankers went on strike seeking better pay and conditions. Not much happened. Pubs and other business guaranteed cheques based on their knowledge of individual customers. There is even a suggestion that GDP growth did not suffer.

The strike continued and eventually, after 6 months, the Bank staff and management decided to return to work in case it was decided they were actually no longer necessary.

Two years earlier in New York, sanitation collection workers went on strike*. After 3 days there was an estimated 30,000 tons of garbage on the street and by the time the strike was settled 6 days later, this had grown to 100,000 tons.

The City had been brought to a halt. Reports suggest garbage was waste high in the Lower East Side.

Who is worth more and who performs the most valuable work? Bankers or Sanitary staff?

In one case, life went on with a little inconvenience. In the other, life stopped.

I realise the comparison I have made are from a time long past, but they are in the same era and chances are, in 2017, a bank strike in one country would have less impact than in 1970.

The impact of teachers, medical practitioners, transport staff and others not arriving for work would be much greater than many other much higher paid roles shutting down.

The worth of a role is out of proportion with the value we place on a role.

Ask yourself, what would happen if my work was not done for a week and would it really matter? If you are brave enough.


*In New York, sanitary staff maintained services to hospitals, aged care facilities and similar entities.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Doing Your Best Is Environmental

When did it become unacceptable to “do your absolute best”?

When did it become necessary to put a number, a percentage, a factor or a time on everything?

As toddlers, our parents encourage us to do our best, however when we start being assessed at school, doing our best is passed over for actual results.

What if the results our parents think are great, do not represent us doing our best?

In our working life, chances are there are measurement parameters to be met.

Is it possible such parameters are driving results that are less than they would be if the culture was “do your absolute best”.

If you operate in a highly metricated environment, you will have almost certainly come in to contact with people who meet the target almost precisely, in each and every reporting period.

So, why this tendency to count and to measure, and then to reward accordingly?

Put simply, it is easy.

In a way, it also delegates performance responsibility to the “operatives”.

If the requirement was to “do your absolute best”, there is a responsibility for Leaders to provide a high-performance environment. This includes support, IT, people, product and processes.

This is hard, very hard, so it doesn’t happen.

However, I pose the question, how is performance being adversely affected by metricated KPI’s?

This subject has come to front of mind as a result of a question I have been asked more than a hundred times these last weeks.

I am running the Berlin Marathon in 8 days and everyone, absolutely everyone wants to know my target time.

My objective in Berlin is to run the absolute best marathon I can do, given all the circumstances leading up to, and then on the day.

Will it be hot, cold, wet or dry? Will I get a great night’s sleep or will there be a fire alarm at midnight?

My objective is to do my absolute best marathon given the environment I am presented with on the day. I have no control over the environment, and in most cases, no one else has control either.

When I outline this, I am further pushed for a “time specific” answer.

We are so programmed to access everything numerically and then make an assessment as to the result being good, bad or indifferent.

As I said, I have little or no control over the environment I will face in 8 days’ time.

In business, a Leader is able to create an environment where team members can do their absolute best.

It takes courage to implement such an environment. It is far easier to default to numerical targets.

It takes courage to trust rather than question operatives.

It takes courage to implement a culture of “doing your absolute best”.

It takes courage to argue that targets detract, rather than enhance results.

Back to my marathon on 24 September, if I was to nominate a target time of say 4 hours 30 minutes and the circumstances of the day meant I was well ahead of target, I may back off my effort and finish in 4 hours and 30 minutes.

My supporters and fellow team members would applaud my “time”, but I would know I had not run to my absolute best on the day.

I would have under-performed, but only I would know.  

All Leaders have the ability to drive a better culture, but few exercise it, defaulting instead to numbers that ultimately can restrict performance

Enjoy your weekend.

For regular readers, I will be back on Monday 18 September.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Social Media Tells Marketers Everything - Nearly

My work today has been to make progress addressing two different, but related challenges.

Preparation is underway to launch a new venture and I have been working on this. We don’t intend to be secretive when we launch meaning we will engage in some marketing and awareness activity.

And it is the marketing of the new venture that makes up my second challenge.

The funds we have available to allocate to marketing are minimal; in fact, funds are at the lower end of minimal.

This is not so much of a problem as it might have been in times past because now we can resort to the wonders of social media.

There are all the usual options, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Tinder, Blogs etc; come to think of it, perhaps not Tinder.

We can simply “put it out there” and wait for the millions to discover the sheer wonderment of our offerings. However, it was the science of coordinating these various platforms that was driving my investigative talents today, including the design of an ongoing social media maintenance plan.

My work was progressing well and I moved forward in my own comfortable paradigm aided greatly by a compelling combination of little knowledge and huge naivety.

And then……………

I discovered “Psychometrics”. Before you reel backwards with much scorn, please note again my confessed high level of naivety.

Psychometrics is a data driven sub branch of Psychology. This science is fascinating, incredibly powerful and just a little scary. 

Specifically, I discovered the extensive work of Stanford Psychologist, Michael Kosinski.

However, before I talk about his findings, I pose the following for you to consider. If you are a low to moderate user on Facebook, it is possible you have clicked the “Like” button, all up, on 68 occasions.

Michael Kosinski has proven (proven not assumed or calculated) that based on an average of 68 “Likes” by a user, it was possible to predict:

  • Skin Colour to an accuracy of 95%
  • Sexual Orientation with 88% accuracy
  • Political Affiliation (85%)

He also quotes being able to predict if the “Liker” smokes, drinks or takes drugs and even the current marital status of their parents.

In Australia/Oceania, 48.1%* of the population are on Facebook. In North America, it is 72.4%.* Worldwide, 26.3%.* are on Facebook.

The ability for a moderate to well-funded Corporate, Political Party or any entity with a position to promote, idea to push or product to sell, to communicate carefully tailored messages via Facebook advertising and posts to separate highly specialised demographics' is amazing.

To this amateur starting out, this is all just a little intimidating.

But maybe there is another way, another strategy to adopt? Now, for Tinder, do you swipe right to approve?


*Source – internetworldstats.com/facebook

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

It Is About Doing, What It Is We Do

What occurs first?

Is it a sense of tiredness that causes the inability to call our creative brain in to service or does the lack of creative energy lead to a feeling of tiredness?

I have been dealing with a wide range of matters these last 24 hours, most requiring mathematical calculations and numeric reasoning.

I often make a mental list, and sometimes a physical list of possible daily writing topics even if on most days, when I sit down to write an entirely different subject unfolds itself in print.  

Today’s list is blank.

Perhaps the lack of diversity in my conversations these last 24 hours is to blame. Ah, that’s it, I now have a reason, or is that an excuse. Either way, it means I am dissolved of responsibility so all is ok because that’s the way it works.

I am happy to call myself a writer. I am not claiming to be a particularly good writer, but given I actually write and produce content regularly, it is a writer that I am.

There is this thing called “writers block”. This is where we sit at our desk to write and cannot do so.

A friend and publishing book level writer re-arranged her “other” work so as to always have all day Tuesday for writing. On a Tuesday, a few months ago during mid-afternoon she told me she had managed to find sufficient distraction to avoid any writing today. This is not writers block because she didn’t get to the stage where the block kicks in. To be fair, she is making good progress on her next book.

I think we can all perceive what writers block is and all have a similar image.

Lets look closer at this "block" thing.

I imagine sitting in my office back in my Corporate Days and the phone rings. It’s the Chief Manager and he asks how the work the Board asked for is progressing. I advise it is not going well and he follows up with open questions seeking first to understand the issues so a solution can be agreed. This is sound management practice.

However, the response I imagine providing is “not today, I have Board Block”.

What would the response be if the brick layer building the new fence called in saying he has “mortar block” or your barista tells you she has “caffeine block”?

Do other creative content producers have “blocks”? Why do we never hear about a photographer being unable to press the shutter button? (Do digital cameras have an actual
 shutter?)

Sure, a photographer may have days when they are not all that happy with their photos, but they still took them and it is only after the field or studio work is done they discover any quality concerns. Come to think of it, most photographers are exceptionally self-critical of their work, but all photographers execute, always.

I have read of famous writers saying there is no such thing as having a “block”.

One such writer said he is born to write just as he is born breathe. Another said he has to write to feel alive while the third said writing is his love and he would never block his love.

If I am to call myself a writer, then I write.

If I am a writer, there can be no such thing as writer’s block, because if I claim there is, I am not a writer.

We are all “creators”, no matter what our skills, our role, responsibilities, expectations or requirements. So, create we should. It is about the doing.

Although, I have to say, the idea of saying to the Chief Manager “I have Board Block” does appeal to me, but it would have to be face to face so I could enjoy the look on his/her face.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Competing With The Younger Generation and the IT Dilemma

“It will be hard because I am so much older than the other graduates. They are much further advanced than I am in all things IT and I am not sure my work experience will compensate”.

These were the words of my Tuesday coffee shop interview/conversation today.

He went on to explain some the “apps” and software being used by his younger University student colleagues to take notes in lectures and tutorials, prepare and collate information for assignments and then to finalise and submit their work.

“I am so out of touch and this is most evident in group work. I have to spend so many more hours reviewing notes and research and then putting together my contribution.”

We chatted further about the origin of this comparative gulf in IT knowledge and how to rectify it. He is considering doing further post-graduate study but was not sure where to start.

My conversation partner has been studying his degree of choice while also working full time. He has attained junior management level and his career is progressing ahead of normal with a seemingly bright future. This additional degree is aimed at enhancing his career prospects in a specific area of interest.

He outlined this interest as being centred on people development, skill enhancement and coaching. This distribution model involves identifying corporate training needs, designing targeted programmes and managing their delivery.

He further talked about the growing outsourcing and specialisation of these services and where he would like to position himself, his business.

I wondered out loud if the so called “IT Gap” is an ever-present problem as the pace of development and launch of new apps and programmes is a daily occurrence. As soon as something new is released, it becomes outdated.

He assured me the primary problem has to do with being a graduate who is so much older than his contemporaries. He added that his educational upbringing was of such a different era, one where he touched-on technology whereas his younger colleagues were imbedded in it.

I empathised with my fellow conversationalist and the dilemma faced keeping up with developments in technology, particularly keeping up with the younger generation.

And his age – 2 months short of his 25th birthday.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Forever Young When it Comes to Education

I spent each day of last week in the company of two gentlemen who in their own quiet way, were setting a great example to all.

The first had spent his early working life as a jackaroo before moving to many years across several properties as a Farm Manager. Hard work indeed but he loved it. A recent bout of cancer has made continuing in that occupation impractical. There are more important things in life, even if it has taken a threat to life to bring this to the surface.

He is 71 years of age. Farm Management is not ideal for building a nest egg.

The second gentleman had perused a career working for various regional councils. He was a little less communicative about his precise roles but I gathered it was to do with regional tourism.

He is exhausted with his current work and admitted to not being comfortable with recent changes and seemingly meaningless additional processes. He suggested many of the changes are aimed at ensuring there is a defendable position in the event of a problem, rather than preventing the problem in the first place. An increasingly familiar story.

He is 66 years of age.  He lost most of his wealth in the Global Financial Crisis.

Both had travelled from interstate to attend a training course that required computer skills far outside what had naturally been acquired during their working lives.

In additional to the cost of travel and accommodation, both had made a considerable investment in course fees and each had purchased a new computer specifically for the training.

Both worked inspiringly hard each day, and then long in to the night reviewing the day’s content. Both were focused, positive and determined to learn.

They were also communicative, fun and engaged and our conversations during breaks covered very many topics.

There were several things about these two gentlemen that represent a great example to us all, irrespective of age.

They were both determined to “do life” rather than let “life do them.”

In both cases, circumstances were such that they had a need to re-train and they were excited about learning, developing and the next phase of their working life.

Finally, they owned their circumstances, complained not once, and never suggested they were owed a living.

I am sure they will succeed.

Impressive indeed.