01 February 2018

Stratagem Horribilis

"Effective strategists are not people who abstract themselves from the daily detail but quite the opposite: they are the ones who immerse themselves in it, while being able to abstract the strategic messages from it."

--Henry Mintzberg

The Battle of Passchendaele

The disturbance at the infamous World War I battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres), conducted between July and November 1917, was not the wind but the rain, Northeastern France's heaviest rainfall in 30 years. It was sunny when the plans were made at corps headquarters; as a result, 275,000 British troops fell. 1

According to historians the goal of British commander, Sir Douglas Haig, was to destroy German submarine bases on the Belgium northeast coast. Going through British-held Ypres was the chosen route. 


Image result for pictures of sir douglas haig
Sir Douglas Haig
Commander in Chief, British Armies
World War I
(C) The Long, Long Trail UK

The critics argued that the planning of Passchendaele, in the fields of Flanders, was carried out in almost total ignorance of the conditions under which the battle had to be fought.  No senior officer from the Operations Branch of the General Headquarters, it was claimed, ever set foot (or eyes) on the Passchendaele battlefield during the four months that the battle was in progress. 2

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Battle of Passchendaele Map
(C) NZ History

Daily reports on the condition of the battlefield were first ignored, then ordered discontinued.  Only after the battle did the Army chief of staff learn that he had been directing men to advance through a sea of mud. 3

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Scene from the Passchendaele battlefield
(C) Library and Archives of Canada

The "great plan" was implemented despite the effect of the steady, drenching rain on the battlefield--despite the fact that the guns clogged, that soldiers carrying heavy ammunition slipped off their paths into muddy shell holes and drowned, that the guns could not be moved forward and the wounded could not be brought backward. 4

In the book, "A Short History of World War I," it says: "Still the attack went on; they slept between sheets at corps headquarters and lamented that the infantry did not show more offensive spirit." 

"A staff officer ... came up to see the battlefield after it was all quiet again.  He gazed out over the sea of mud, then said half to himself, 'My God, did we send men to advance in that?' after which he broke down weeping and his escort led him away."5   
Canadians to the Front 

A Canadian Corps of 100,000 strong was ordered to the Passchendaele front, east of Ypres, in mid-October 1917, to relieve New Zealand and Australian troops.


Image result for images canadian flag
The Flag of Canada

Sir Arthur Currie, commander of the Canadian Corps, objected to the battle, fearing a great number of soldiers would lose their lives due to the physical conditions of the terrain.  
Under orders, Currie began getting his troops ready to fight knowing deliberate preparations, especially for artillery and engineers, was the key to advancing over the damaged landscape.  

Nearly 16,000 Canadian soldiers fell in battle between mid-October and mid-November that year while capturing the targeted ridge. 6

Passchendaele Battle Summary 

105:   Number of days battle lasted

275,000:  Casualties under British command (average 2,100 per day)

220,000:  Casualties under German command

90,000:  Number of bodies never identified (42,000 not recovered)

4.25 million:  Estimated number of shells fired 

Casualties and Munitions 7

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Tyne Cot Cemetery--Memorial to the Missing
Largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world.
West Flanders, Belgium

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

--Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae


Sources:  
1. Henry Mintzberg 
2. M. D. Feld
3. Ibid
4. J. L. Stokesbury
5. Ibid
6. Canadian Museum of War 
7. The Telegraph


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01 January 2018

Saying "Goodbye" to Clichés

"And now we welcome the new year.  Full of things that have never been."

--Rainer Maria Rilke


What would you like to do in 2018?  Find a new job?  Exercise more?  Travel to far away places?   

How about saying goodbye to "clichés" ("Thrown under the bus") and their poor relative, "buzzwords?" ("pivot") 

It wouldn't be easy since we're creatures of habit.  But with practice it might be possible ("only time will tell").  And those around you would be grateful.   As one source noted, "Moving away from these dreaded terms means people would hear fewer phrases or opinions which are overused, and betray a lack of original thought." ("Buy in")

Management consultants and publishers may contribute to the problem when offering simplistic solutions to complex problems.  ("Boiling the ocean")

What's a cliché?  

According to yourdictionary.com a cliché can be categorized in one of two ways:

An overused expression.  Something that's said a lot and has become so common, it's no longer even noticed in conversation.   The website offers phrases such as "to this day" or "next thing I knew" as examples.   Or,

An idea with a different meaning from its literal meaning.  "Sweaty palms" or "twinkling eyes" have real and imagined meanings.

In our study "outdated" is a word used to describe tiresome clichés like "read between the lines." Even true sayings ("all that glitters is not gold") lose their appeal by over-using.  

Origin of the word  

The word cliché has French ancestry.  It comes from the clicking (clicher, to click) of printing presses.  It was printer's jargon for "stereotype" or a word or phrase that gets repeated often.  How often may be the problem.

We've moved past "with all due respect."  Or, "you know what I mean." Those phrases are not useful to anyone wanting to have an intelligent conversation.   

Where to begin?

Here are two lists:

One is a subjective look at ten present-day clichés which show up with great frequency in business, politics, and repeated in the media.  Sometimes this terminology spills over into everyday conversations. 

The other is a list of buzzwords found in recruiters LinkedIn profiles.       

Ten clichés to leave behind

1.  At the end of the day


2.  It is what it is

3.  Going forward

4.  Low hanging fruit

5.  Thinking outside the box

6.  Best practices

7.  Team player

8.  I don't have the bandwidth

9.  Getting everyone on the same page

10. Game changer

Buzzwords to avoid on a LinkedIn resume'  

1.  Specialized

2.  Leadership

3.  Experienced

4.  Focused

5.  Strategic

6.  Passionate

7.  Excellent

8.  Expert

9.  Generalist

10.  Successful


Being different


There may be times when it's appropriate to insert a cliché into a conversation such as, "I lost track of time."  However it's not a good habit as clichés and buzzwords tend to diminish your credibility.  

As an original your expressions of thought should be, too.  Rather than appearing interchangeable with colleagues by using the latest jargon, consider the benefits of being clear and concise when choosing your words.    

We admire those traits in others, and they'll be admired in you as well.  


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01 December 2017

The Stewardship of Time

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life."

--Socrates


The first precision timepieces, invented by Dutchman Christaan Huygens in 1657, made visible the ancient Egyptian idea of a 24-hour day.  Those with access to pendulum clocks and spiral-hairspring watches could begin keeping track of how they spent their time.   

Nearly four centuries later the remarkable Apple Series 3 watch allows its users to know what time it is, stay connected, make calls, and receive texts--without being near an iPhone.  

Amazing.   

Think on these things

If the present moment is all we have for sure, what then is the essence of time? How are you spending--how should you be spending--this irreplaceable gift?  

Consider the following ...

  • What are you doing right now that you could drop and it wouldn't make any difference?
  • Are you taking time to be alone with your thoughts?  Those are not lost moments but time well spent--necessary to maintain your equilibrium. 
  • In the coming year, what's the single most important investment of time you can make in yourself?  Your family?  Your co-workers and direct reports?  

When it comes to the measurement of time it's not just how you spend it, it's also what you save.  Remember the maxim, "In all things keep something in reserve."

Therefore in managing oneself perhaps the ultimate in personal or professional success is not wearing the latest analog or digital timepiece, but having peace of mind.  



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01 November 2017

Shaping Public Opinion

"You are not entitled to your opinion.  You are entitled to your informed opinion.  No one is entitled to be ignorant."

--Harlon Ellison


Where do you get your news?  How much do those sources influence your opinions on public policy, presidential leadership, or the country's overall direction? 

There are four major platforms that distribute news to U.S. adults.  The list below shows each platform and percentage of adults who often get their news from those sources: 

News Sources for Adults

TV--57%

Online--38%

Radio--25%

Print--20%

Source:  Pew Research Center 

According to Pew Research, "TV's staying power over print is buttressed by the fact that Americans who prefer to watch news still choose TV, while most of those who prefer to read the news have migrated online."

The digital platform continues gaining strength.  The portion of Americans who ever get news on a mobile device has gone up from 54% in 2013 to 72% in 2016, says the same Pew study.

Here's another dimension to the online consumer--they're more likely to get news from professional outlets than from friends, family--but just as likely to think each provides relevant news.  

How we decide

Nearly 140 million Americans or 60.2% of the voting eligible population cast a ballot in November's 2016 elections.

One year from now those registered will have an opportunity to vote on political leadership and address their concerns about relevant issues at the ballot box.  With that in mind let's look at how public opinion has historically been shaped and formed. 

Twenty-five years ago pollster Daniel Yankelovich wrote in FORTUNE Magazine about how people decide.  His thesis: "That views evolve from the unstable and flip-flopping to the mature and solid."   

Does that idea hold a quarter century later?

In the past the public has gone through different stages of thought when confronted with public policy changes such as health care, immigration or tax reform.  Here are stages from public opinion to public judgment which Yankelovich found in his own studies:

Stages of Public Opinion

Stage 1:   People begin to become aware of an issue.

Stage 2:   They develop a sense of urgency about it.

Stage 3:   They start to explore choices with the issues.

Stage 4:   Resistance to facing costs. 

Stage 5:   People weigh the pros and cons of alternatives.

Stage 6:   They take a stand intellectually.

Stage 7:   They make a responsible judgment morally and emotionally.

Thinking differently?

Is it still possible for a voting public to go through seven stages of decision-making?  Is "breaking news" short-circuiting processes of careful thought?  Does the media change anyone's mind today or are most minds made up, including those of self-described independents?  

How do you decide?

In a recent article in USA Today it was reported that 75% of those surveyed called "incivility" a national crisis and 59% said they have quit paying attention to national politics for that very reason.

Voter disengagement makes it more difficult for politicians to know which stage a particular issue has reached.  

Mr. Yankelovich makes this observation:  "Leaders attempting to communicate with the public without this information (knowing the stage) risk gridlock and frustration.   Why?  Because to communicate with the populace, a leader has to know where people are coming from, where they stand in their thinking now, and where they are headed."

At the same time there's a significant role for elected officials (presidents, governors, mayors) to offer clear and compelling arguments for the direction they wish to go.    

Public policies need purpose, timeliness and clarity to succeed.  Simple policy themes, speaking to a common good, are critical in order for the electorate to decide what or whom to support, as the ultimate poll is taken on election day. 

Wisdom is scarce

The Internet--Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter--provides easy access to reporting and commentary, along with targeted advertisements.  (Facebook alone delivers 517 million ad impressions per hour.)   How are voters supposed to make informed judgments based on those sources of political news and opinions? 

Discernment is certainly needed when relying on media outlets that tend to be long on clicks and short on credibility.  

A survey from American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds media's popularity at the bottom along with Washington politicians.  With 2,014 adults surveyed, only 6% expressed "a lot of confidence" in the press while the U.S. Congress is at 7% according to Gallup tracking data.

When it comes to deciding, there may be some truth to an idea, proposed by 18th century philosopher Joseph de Maistre, that "every nation gets the government it deserves."


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01 October 2017

Interrupted or Disrupted?

"Disruption is a process. not an event, and innovations can only be disruptive relative to something else."

--Clayton M. Christensen


There are different kinds of interruptions in our lives.  Some involve personal and family matters.

Others are work-related as when colleagues step into cubicles to ask a question, or just chat.  "The average American worker has 50 interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work," said W. Edward Demings, a statistician and best-selling author.    

What about the time a colleague was interrupted as they were speaking? 

Overtaken by a corporate ADD, managements have been known to interrupt their strategies, and plans to get there, after reading a book, or going to a seminar, or having a new member join the team.  

Most of the time an interruption is something we initiate and therefore control its frequency. 

Defining our terms

What about disruptions?  They're largely external to the business. 

Most are familiar with the book, The Innovator's Dilemma, published in 1997.   The main idea is that "disruptive innovation is one that transforms a complicated, expensive product into one that is easier to use or is more affordable than the one most readily available," according to its author, Dr. Christensen who is quoted above.

That type of disruption makes it possible for a wider population to have access to products (Warby Parker--eyeglasses) and services (Spotify--music) previously reserved for certain market segments based on cost. (Innosight)

Another definition which quickens the pace of destructive forces is called "big-bang disruption."  As the theory goes that kind of disruptive behavior doesn't come from competitors in the same industry or even from companies with a remotely similar business model.  (Downes and Nunes:  Big Bang Disruption)

And switching from one product to another was a matter of weeks, not months or years.  To illustrate their point the authors highlight free navigation apps, preloaded on smartphones, doing a quick number on TomTom, Garmin, and Magellan.

Navigating disruptions

In an economy as large as the U.S., with an estimated 2016 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $18.5 trillion, there's room for several disruptive theories.  Regardless of which idea you subscribe to, if any, what are ways incumbents can survive, or even thrive by becoming a disruptor?

S
ome thoughts:

1. Beware mortal threats.  External markets and customers continually send out signals as to shifting interests.  However, those caution flags, which can become red flags, are only helpful if someone pays attention, interprets the signals properly, and passes on the intelligence. 

Is anyone listening?

The caveat is that consumers didn't know they wanted a minivan, a PC, or an iPhone until the products were placed in front of them.    

Being part of an inner circle is a disadvantage when it comes to minimizing disruptions.  Those positions are generally too far removed from the changing tastes of ordinary people.  

If there's any good news it's that the pace of major disruptions, from appearance to impact, is slower than conventional wisdom suggests.  Big-bang disruption not withstanding.  (Leinwood and Mainardi). 

Nonetheless, the arrival of a disruptive force (Netflix waiving late fees against Blockbuster),  aimed in your direction (digital cameras providing instant gratification), potentially becomes a mortal threat (Facebook leveraging its platform to compete with SMS Messaging).  

2. Stay close to current users.  No business should take its customers for granted.  Customers today can be former customers tomorrow.  That's why building relationships carries greater weight than mastering a particular kind of social media.    

The taxi industry had only to explore their customers' wants and needs to limit the damage inflicted by Uber and Lyft.  Apparently no one in the surface transportation business bothered to look in the direction of convenience.    

Consider Amazon's philosophy: "Pay attention to competitors but obsess over customers."

3. Get close to potential users.  Current customers are one source of growth but have their limits.  Screened carefully, potential users are another way to grow profitably.  

What do you know about potential customers?  Their thinking?  Their practices?  Their current suppliers?  What are they dissatisfied with where they currently buy?   When is the last time anyone on the management team held a series of in-depth conversations with prospects and circulated those findings?      

4. Keep improving.   Corporations may contribute to their own disruption by holding on to the status quo.  Being good at manufacturing or services can be detrimental to the health of an enterprise as success is taken for granted. 

The current business model may need to change to take on new types of competition.  

How to improve the execution of current strategy?  That's a dedicated meeting waiting to happen.    

5. Don't panic.  What good does it do to hit the panic button when you see disruption coming?  

In September, there were numerous meteorologists in Florida helping us through Hurricane Irma. Working long hours, they offered spaghetti maps and cones, provided tips on safety, but just as important kept encouraging everyone to stay calm.  

Brian Shields, WFTV (ABC), Orlando, repeatedly said, "We're going to be okay."  Without  diminishing Hurricane Irma's potential threat, Brian was a source of emotional strength.  

When it comes to being disrupted, be realistic, but don't panic.

What else to learn?

If you're not capable of disrupting then look for holes in existing markets where competition is scarce.  "Non-disruptive creation," promoted by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, may be a third option as it's not always necessary to beat the current competition. 

Sometimes the way forward is finding new markets like The Honest Company.  After the birth of her first child, actress Jessica Alba, couldn't find high-quality, eco-friendly baby products, so she started a company, now with a $1 billion valuation, to produce them. 

Create your future and not let others do it for you.  

Hear this

It comes from Anshu Sharma, a venture capitalist.  In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Sharma offered:

"In terms of who wins in a given market, the fundamental question is and has always been, who understands the user better?"



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01 September 2017

The Duties of a Leader

"The goal of thinking hard about leadership is not to produce great or charismatic or well-known leaders.  The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head but the tone of the body."  

--Max Dupree


In 1993 I had the privilege of attending a conference sponsored by Leadership Network in Orlando, Florida.   This was an opportunity to learn from some of the better minds about sound behaviors related to leadership and management.

On the program were two men of distinction who have had a lasting impact on a large number of individuals--Dr. William Bridges and Max Dupree.   

Dr. Bridges, who passed February 17, 2013 at age 79, was known for his pioneering work which transformed the way people think about change.  The title of his first book, "Transitions," was written after the loss of his wife, Mondi.  It has sold over a million copies.  

The thesis for Dr. Bridges teaching is simple:  It's important to understand transition (internal) as a way for organizations to be successful when undertaking change (external).

"It's not the change--it's the transition"

Harvard educated, Dr. Bridges was low-key in his approach to transition--always with practical applications.  The context for that presentation in 1993 was that the topic of "change" happened to be all the rage.  Books were flying off the shelves (few e-books then) from "experts" telling all who would listen that their businesses needed to change and offering ways to make that happen.  

Along comes William Bridges to remind us that if you want to be a champion for change it's critical to allow for the emotional and psychological responses (transitions) which employees, and organizational cultures, go through at different speeds.  

An important insight.

An absence of corporate jargon

Next came Max Dupree,  author of the best-seller, "Leadership is An Art," first published in 1989.  Mr. Dupree died August 8, 2017 at the age of 92.  

Mr. Dupree was chief executive officer (CEO) of the office-furniture maker Herman Miller, Inc., Zeeland, Michigan, from 1980 to 1987.  He was also a son of the company's founder, D. J. Dupree who started the business in 1923.

The signature thought in "Leadership is An Art:"

"The first duty of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say thank you.  In between the two, the leader must become a servant and debtor.  That sums up the progress of an artful leader." 

Max Dupree's writing was informed by his work in the family business and his Christian faith.  

Suggesting corporate leadership embrace "oddballs" and form "covenantal bonds" with employees was outside the mainstream for management books nearly three decades ago.   However, his clear thinking and fresh ideas resonated with many. "Leadership is An Art" has sold over 800,00 copies in hardcover and paperback, influencing a generation of business and nonprofit leaders. 

Character-shaped principles 

Here are some principles which guided Mr. Dupree's life:

1. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.  Are the followers reaching their potential?  Are they learning?  Serving?  Do they achieve the required results?  Do they change with grace?  Manage conflict?

2. Try to think about a leader, in the words of the gospel writer Luke, as "one who serves."

3. Leadership is a concept of owing certain things to the institution.  It is a way of thinking about institutional heirs, a way of thinking about stewardship as contrasted with ownership.

4. The art of leadership requires us to think about the leader-as-steward in terms of relationships:  of assets and legacy, of momentum and effectiveness, of civility and values.

Leaders should leave behind them assets and a legacy.

5. People are the heart and spirit of all that counts.  Without people there is no need for leaders.   

6. Leaders are responsible for future leadership.  They need to identify, develop, and nurture future leaders.

7. Leaders owe a certain maturity.  Maturity as expressed in a sense of self-worth, a sense of belonging, a sense of expectancy, a sense of responsibility, a sense of accountability, and a sense of equality. 

Another way to think about what leaders owe is to ask this question:  What is it without which this institution would not be what it is?

Final thoughts from Max Dupree

No doubt humility plays a role in the progress of an artful leader.  At least that was my impression after hearing Mr. Dupree speak. 

What do his closing words below say to you?

"In a day when so much energy seems to be spent on maintenance and manuals, on bureaucracy and meaningless quantification, to be a leader is to enjoy the special privileges of complexity, of ambiguity, of diversity. 

"But to be a leader means, especially, having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who permit leaders to lead."


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01 August 2017

An Address about Justice

"The essence of justice is mercy."

--Edwin Hubbel Chapin


Here's a commencement address delivered on June 3, 2017 by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, John G. Roberts, Jr.  It's given at the Cardigan Mountain School, Canaan, New Hampshire.  Chief Justice Roberts' son, Jack, is in the graduating class.

Cardigan is a school of privilege where graduates are going to hear from the Chief Justice about the need to experience "injustice" at some point in their lives: 

"I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice."

The wisdom in his speech is useful for all ages.



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