How to Discover More About People: Play!

Long ago, Plato said: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

unhappy tennis player
An unhappy player that expressed his disappointment physically

It is particularly true I find when it comes to the emotional reactions of people who lose, or even simply by observing how much people can get involved in the game.

It is to a point where it is surprising that recruiters haven’t thought to include group games as part of their selection process (some do, but they are rare). It would also allow to observe whether people are team players, or rather seek to demonstrate their own performance. Games and playing are used extensively in teambuilding and leadership development programs though, and that often allows to know people much better!

Want to know people better, quickly? Set up a team game!


How to Look Beyond Aggressiveness and Hate

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear” – said Gandhi. When we express hate (or even just mundane aggressiveness) we in fact somehow express our underlying fear, our intrinsic insecurity.

hate as a distillate created by fearIt is amazing to consider when someone screams at you, how fragile and fearful that person must be. I find it is an excellent way to overcome the natural rush of adrenaline and the emotional reaction to the situation (which typically hovers around our primitive fight or flight reaction) . Plus it provides some empathy that might come useful in that situation (Of course if it becomes too obvious that you pity the person that is aggressive that might not resolve the problem at this instant so remain just calm and composed!)

Fear creates ravages throughout the world and in our daily environment. Nip the fear out, find out precisely what is feared and you’ll overcome aggressiveness.


How Psychology Explains Why Most Projects Fail Miserably

The statistics of project failure are abysmal (two-third of projects fail – either outright, or by not providing the expected benefits). In addition, what is remarkable is that when they fail, they generally fail miserably – it is not just some statistical distribution due to the world uncertainties.

Psychology might offer an explanation for that interesting phenomenon, which I have actually observed in action in real projects. The prospect theory, mentioned and explained by Daniel Kahneman in the bestseller “Thinking, Fast and Slow“, shows that we tend to have some biases when deciding in an uncertain context.

A summary of prospect theory showing those situations where we tend to be excessively risk-adverse or risk-seeking
A summary of prospect theory showing those situations where we tend to be excessively risk-adverse or risk-seeking

What occupies us in this instance is the upper right corner: when there is a high risk of significant losses, we tend to take more risk than would be reasonable in the hope of being able to recoup our losses.

So, project managers, facing situations where the prospective outcome of their project is degrading fast, with a high probability of significant loss, would tend to take the risk of an (improbable) recovery rather than cut their losses. And in reality, it is a phenomenon I observe again and again in real project life.

As Daniel Kahneman observes, “This is where people who face very bad options take desperate gambles, accepting a high probability of making things worse in exchange for a small hope of avoiding a large loss. Risk taking of this kind often turns manageable failures into disasters.”

Make sure you can keep managing the situation. Learn to cut your losses instead of hoping for an uncertain recovery!


How to Organize Working Space for Collaboration

Working space spatial organization is important when it comes to fostering collaboration. Many visionary entrepreneurs know this. And they came up with many different solutions.

world's largest desk
World’s Largest Single Desk

Steve Jobs at Apple is famously quoted for his bathroom concept at Pixar (one single instance so as to make sure people mix). Employees at Valve can move their desks as they want/ need to create temporary clusters around projects. Recently, a creative agency in New York came up with a design for a single desk for their employees (it is worth watching the presentation video to fully understand the design!) – (beyond the publicity, one wonders whether is will really enhance collaboration)

More commonly, start-up companies often start cramped in a single room, and collaboration is as a requirement as simple rules of community living!. In the field I am consulting in, large projects, an integrated project team interacting in a single open-space is a must.

There is no single solution, but managers still often forget how the physical space can influence productivity and creativity. Review your office lay-out and make sure that it fits what you expect to happen within your organization!


Why You Should Respect Yourself and What You Are

Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.” – Clint Eastwood.

Clint-EastwoodI like the thought that only by respecting yourself and what you are, you can release the power that is within you. And that only by respecting yourself you can have self-discipline.

It is so true that people that lack self-discipline generally, inwardly, lack a deep sense of self-respect. And that, as a coach, a nice way to improve the situation (i.e. the symptoms of poor self-discipline) is to work on the self-respect first.

Even if the world around you – especially if the world around you – resists, it probably means you are creating great stuff. Self-discipline and self-respect are the fuel for this creation. Don’t let ever anyone influence your self-respect. Don’t let your self-respect be taken hostage by anyone!


Why You Should Not Care So Much About Your Competition

There is an idea that comes back again and again in all leadership and management books: don’t care so much about your competitors. Instead, concentrate your focus, energy and creativity in creating an awesome product. Be pro-active instead of being re-active.

How often do you think about your competition?
How often do you think about your competition?

This comes as a realization that organizations and individuals often spend too much time spying out what the competition is doing. Whether they would create some product that could push them out of the market. Fear is created. Actions become reactions instead of initiatives.

Many of the most successful ventures never cared about competition or imitation. They went their own way.

Some other successful ventures start life by imitating the competition (often because they were created by some former employees) and then, only, progressively, create their own way.

The thing is: you can never be the same as your competition. There are always areas where you’ll be weaker, and areas where you’ll be stronger. Don’t try to level up your competitor by working on your weak areas. Work on your strengths instead. And by doing so, create something truly unique. And the best is, this works for organizations as well as for individuals!


What Should Be the Time Span of your Business Plan?

Avoid predictions that are impossible. That means, among other things, not trying to peer too far into the future. A narrow question in a time frame of six months to a year, fine” – that’s the general recommendation about forecasting by Dan Gardner in ‘Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway‘.

What you should absolutely not do when developing a business plan!
What you should absolutely not do when developing a business plan!

I am increasingly astounded by the boldness of those producers of business plans that extrapolate into the future… in 5 years or 10 years. That has been made much easier with Excel of course (just copy the formulas into the next years…) but how can that be used to support decision-making? How can we even entertain the idea that the future will evolve linearly and let the nice exponential formulas in our spreadsheet forecast huger and huger growth? Can you just remember how the world was different 10, or even 5 years ago?

For my company, I have decided not to have a business plan. Of course, I don’t need to seek external funding. When/if I’ll do then I’ll cook something knowing it is pure BS to please bankers or investors. In the meantime I just try to have an idea of what the next year will look like, and that’s enough to steer my venture… and end up widely off course already!

Stop spending time doing long term business plans, except maybe as a sensitivity. Concentrate on executing, now and in the next 6 months. You’ll get there much more easily!

If you are interested on some good elements on the limits of business plans, look up this interesting blog by Tim Berry. Although the founder of a business plan software company, his views on the matter are very refreshing.


Why Risk Management is Really about Long-Term Survival

Age old wisdom: In investing and in life in general, avoiding fatal situations that kill us generally means that we can’t strive for the best possible returns. In other words, trying to follow the best strategies giving the highest returns can be seductive but generally also entails fatal risks – great on the short term but unsustainable on the long term!

Jared Diamond just published a new book, ‘The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies’, in which he describes in details those cultural traits of traditional societies that we should maybe consider re-introducing in our modern world.

age-old farmer wisdom
Do you follow the age-old wisdom of having numerous small plots of value-creation?

In the field of risk management, he reminds us of age-old practices of hunter-gatherers and farmers, that evolved through time for their resilience. For example, traditional farmers generally farm a large number of different small plots (7 to 15 depending on the cultures) in different areas. This is clearly sub-optimal in terms of work, effort and yield. Yet it is the strategy that survived generations because it is the only strategy that ensures survival: diversity in location of the land plots means that even the worst years, some plots of land will give some returns and the farmer’s family will not starve. The current strategy of large fields and unique crops can only work in a developed system involving money  where food can be bought in the case of a poor crop.

We are attracted by the stars that produce temporarily incredible returns on investment, that have incredible short-term success. We only forget that it always comes with substantial risks including bankruptcy or starving.

Success on the long term is about survival, and if possible comfortable survival; not great spikes of success followed by abysmal failures. Remember this the next time you’ll feel some hint of envy looking at some other young overnight success. It is defined by luck and in most instances, it is just the premise of a fatal evolution the other way.

Success is just about survival.


Why Reserves are Key to Face Uncertainty

It is a well known fact in military command that Reserves are the key to success in the uncertain world of battle. As exposed by General Vincent Desportes in his book “Decider dans l’Incertitude” (in French), an excellent book about decision-making in uncertain conditions, reserves are the main tool to manage uncertainty.

empty fuel gauge
How often do you run without reserves? Is that wise?

The higher the uncertainty, the more courage the commanding officer must have in increasing the size of its reserves. According to Churchill, engagement of the reserve resources is indeed the utmost responsibility of the one in command (and it often makes the decision in battle).

Jim Collins and Morten Hansen, in the book “Great by Choice“, come to the same conclusion: those organizations that thrive on the long term have a far more conservative view on balance sheet and establishment of financial reserves. They don’t necessarily seek the just-in-time; they don’t over-borrow; they don’t extend themselves too thin, even if they find an opportunity to do so. They make sure they are resilient to uncertainty.

Individually and in our organizations, reserves are important. Even if it means some loss of efficiency, they can make the decision when it comes to the realization of specific, unpredictable situations. Not to mention that reserves gives peace of mind when facing the usual ups and downs. Having some reserves is an important approach I also use in my small start-up even in growth mode.

What about you? Do you have enough reserves to face uncertainty? What about your organization? What will you do about it?


How a Paradigm Shift is Happening in Management

Forbes maintains an interesting column by Steve Denning about the paradigm shift in management.

paradigm-shiftSteve Denning believes that there is a deep change happening right now, from a shareholder-driven organization towards a customer-centered organization (read: ‘Don’t Diss The Paradigm Shift In Management: It’s Happening!’). According to him, this will require change from a bureaucratic organization towards new management models that are more flexible, agile, and customer-focused. As readers of this blog you’ll know I even believe the change is much more fundamental as it is related to customer collaboration, nevertheless Steve Denning’s view is quite useful for organizations nowadays.

As with all paradigm shifts it will be tough and take time – read his excellent column comparing that change to the Copernican revolution – ‘Why The Paradigm Shift In Management Is So Difficult‘. This is entirely applicable to the Fourth Revolution changes.

A paradigm shift is certainly happening, that will take time to be realized by all those that are still in the Industrial Age mindset. Be a Fourth Revolution precursor and see how the new approach of business has the power to change the world!


Complicated is not the same as Complex – and Why this is Important

Complicated is a very different concept from Complex. Yet most of us do not distinguish them. Even more, we try to manage Complex systems with Complicated solutions. And this turns out to be a very huge problem.

A watch: a complicated system - predictable and reliable
A watch: a complicated system – predictable and reliable

A watch is complicated. It is composed of a large number of pieces; yet they are carefully engineered to fit and move together. The system is very reliable (it’s a watch!). Most engineered systems are complicated, yet reliable. The more the components fit seamlessly together, the better the reliability.



A complex system: a representation of the situation in Afghanistan
A complex system: a representation of the situation in Afghanistan

On the contrary, a complex system involves a lot of different components or contributors; they are all interconnected and inter-dependent; but they all follow a different interest, and they make the system unpredictable. The now classical slide describing the situation in Afghanistan to General McCrystal is a classical example of the depiction of a complex system.

Complex systems are unpredictable. They are what happens in real life outside what can be carefully engineered. They are what creates the unforeseen, the adventure.

Because we mix all the time those two concepts we misunderstand a lot of what is happening around us. The way to tackle and repair complicated systems is completely different from how we can influence complex systems. The way these systems fail belongs to different realms. And when a complicated system encounters unpredictable complexity, it is where our engineering capabilities are overwhelmed. It is where our certainties become shaky. It is when catastrophes like Fukushima happen.


How to Take Decisions in a Complex Environment

How can you take the (right) (best) decision in a complex environment? Rely on your team. Decide on the ‘who’ and not on the ‘what’.

That’s all. That’s so much.

complex world
How can you take the right decisions in a real, complex world?

Jim Collins reminds us in his foreword to the book “Fortune: the Greatest Business Decisions of All Times“: “The greatest decisions were not “what” but “who?”, they were people decisions.”

Fundamentally, the world is uncertain. Decisions are about the future and your place in the future when that future is uncertain. So what is the key thing you can do to prepare for that uncertainty? You can have the right people with you“.

The next time, instead of spending too much time developing spreadsheet projections over the next decades (which mean absolutely nothing), focus your energy on getting the right people in. Not just people like you, but a diverse and complementary team. Then through conflict and discussions, you’ll make your way through this complex world.

Where is your team right now? When do you start building it to thrive in this complex world?