A TEDx video featuring Simon Sinek, author of the book: Start with Why, came to my attention as we were scanning for engaging pre-session material for a client project. From TED.com:
Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …
In essence, he observed that while most will tell you first WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and then WHY, great leaders reverse the order. He asserts this works because our brains evolved that way. While I’m not all the way on board with that part of his theory, Simon is a great storyteller â€“ upbeat, interesting and thought-provoking. Really, really thought-provoking.
After taking the video in, Ann and I set out to re-draft the story of our company, starting with Why, and were surprised at the result. We hope you enjoy the video, and then invite you to part two, where we share our latest draft message and ask you for candid feedback!
At a recent strategy update retreat with one of our clients, we introduced scenario planning as a front-end to their strategy process. The improvement was dramatic! One of the partners even queried us if we had been actively using scenario planning at the time we’d done their original strategy session. (We assured him that we hadn’t, that it was a new offering, and we had NOT been holding out on him!) He thought it added tremendous value and insight, and maintained that it should be part of their strategy process from here on out.
Much credit for the tremendous improvement between the two sessions goes to our associate, Nicole-Anne Boyer, founder of Adaptive Edge LLC. Since 2009, Ann, Charles and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Nicole. From the start of our association, our strategic planning offering has been turbo-charged with the addition of robust scenario planning, strategic foresight and futures thinking. While I had thought I knew something of scenario planning before, I have been learning at a furious pace to come up-to-speed on the state of the art in scenario planning.
Scenario planning has been around for a very long time, but took significant strides forward, notably in the planning department at Royal Dutch Shell, and at the Global Business Network. It is now used widely in planning processes in business.
â€śAccording to Bain & Companyâ€™s annual survey of management tools, fewer than 40% of companies used scenario planning in 1999. But by 2006 its usage had risen to 70%.â€ť
â€“ The Economist, September 1st, 2008
I have been learning that there are as many forms and methods of scenario planning as there are practitioners, but there has been a clear evolution in the purpose and motive for scenario planning.
- Inform Planning: Use the output of a scenario planning exercise to inform a conventional â€śout-think the futureâ€ť strategy session.
- Adapt to Future: Scenario planning becomes part of 1) a way of thought for leadership, and 2) an early warning system to help a company to adapt to future changes. One of the funders of modern scenario planning framed it so:
â€śThe test of a good scenario is not whether it portrays the future accurately but whether it enables an organization to learn and adapt.”
â€“ Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View
- Shape the Future: The scenario planning process might be taken beyond the walls of the organization and involve the wider system we are trying to influence. The scenario planning process is then a catalyst in a broader, generative effort to shape our desired future. Put another way:
â€śThe best way to predict the future is to invent it.â€ť
â€“ Alan Kay, Scientist and Apple Fellow
In our work at Ralston Consulting Inc., we have always focused on helping our clients develop the orientation and capacity for generative change to create their desired future. Our collaboration with Nicole has given our mission a tremendous boost!
In Profiting from Uncertainty: Strategies for Succeeding No Matter What the Future Brings, authors Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther make a point about the discrepancy between the forces shaping a sectorâ€™s future, and where management tends to focus. Their claim is that about half the forces shaping the future value of a business – developments in the industry, and in the larger global environment – Â are not monitored by management, and thus, â€śleft to fateâ€ť.
Instead, management is compiling backward-looking internal and industry trend data to forecast future conditions. This is backed up by informal surveys by Gary Hamel & C. K. Prahalad, suggesting that senior management devote less than 3 % of their time and energy to building a collective vision of the future. (Competing for the Future, Harvard Business Press, April 1, 1996, p 4)
We need a working understanding of our external environment and the many possible futures that may emerge, as making plans based on a single notion of the future can increase risk even as, paradoxically, it reduces our sense of conflict about an unknown future. The world is simply too uncertain and complex for such single-point predictions; and they give a false, sometimes dangerous, confidence that we are in control more than we really are.Â At the other extreme, we cannot become paralyzed by what we perceive as too much uncertainty, as we become obsessed with avoiding risk.Â We must plot a course between prediction and paralysis, thinking about the future in terms of multiple possibilities in order to better create our desired future.
Action Plan: Make a practice of ‘learning from the future’. To kick off your 2011 strategic planning cycle, take your leadership team through a facilitated scenario-planning process. In the course of co-exploring 3-4 possible futures, defining a ‘desired future’ and gleaning strategic insights, your team will develop a much deeper capacity to mine profit in areas of high uncertainty – an area your competitor is likelyÂ spending 3% of their focus on!
We had drafted our pithy review of the book: DRIVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, when Ann discovered this very effective animation based on Dan Pink’s talk at the 250-year-old (but surprisingly hip!) Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).
This 11-minute video is highly-watchable for both content that challenges conventional wisdom about motivating knowledge workers, and an innovative combination of a graphic artist and time-lapse filming. Enjoy!
Interested in sustainability? Then call the MIT Sloan Management Review, fall 2009 issue, a page turner – it includes a special report on sustainability and competitive advantage. Even better, an expanded special report is available, online, for free, thanks to sponsorship from SAS.
This report draws from in-depth interviews with more than 50 sustainability thought leaders and corporate CEOs around the world, including General Electric, Unilever, Nike, Royal Dutch Shell, Interface and BP. Shaped by the findings from those interviews, 1500 corporate executives and managers were surveyed about their perspectives on the intersection of sustainability and business strategy. Choose summary PDF or full E-Zine report (with PDF available within report – choose “Download” from the toolbar.)
Pundits interviewed in the print issue include Amory Lovins, Henry Mintzberg, Peter Schwartz, and Interface CEO, Ray Anderson. Online, you can also hear from John R. Ehrenfeld, Peter Senge and others…
Â© 2009 Gary Ralston
People talk about a ‘living document‘ – a document constantly updated to reflect the current understanding of strategy, goal and plan. But plans do not live in documents (and certainly not in PowerPoint decks!) – they live in the minds of the leaders, managers and workers, asÂ stories.
You can intentionally help this process along by writing narratives using short forms, such asÂ mantras, parables and urban legends, or longer forms such asÂ manifestos, position papers, movies, audio presentations and graphic novels.
Here’s the test: your plan is only alive if it has replicated itself in some way in the thoughts and actions of the people executing the plan.
Finally, you need to re-think your plan more frequently than ever before, as the pace of change increases, globally. If you used to do 5-year plans, consider 3-year plans. If you reviewed annually, consider quarterly tune-ups. For some fast-growing companies in unstable markets, a month might not be too often to revisit…
On December 30, 2008, the Long Term Future made a cameo appearance on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) after a prolonged absence…
ROUND ROCK, Texas — Computer giant Dell Inc. said this summer that it has become “carbon neutral,” the latest step in its quest to be “the greenest technology company on the planet.” [full article]
The Dell article is remarkable not for its content, but that, as a story about a longer timeframe, it even made it to the front page. The bigger headline is that the recession of 2008 drove the discussion about the ramifications of the long-term future of the planet and its inhabitants off the table. Many in business and governmentÂ dropped the environmental agenda in an instant. In its place, a worldwide, short-term focus on the immediate crises. Clean-energy firms watched their stocks fall and funding dry up. Two days later, in the WSJ 2008 markets and finance roundup, the environment’s chief competitor, oil, is mentioned 15 or so times; the environment, two times:
April 17, 2008: Changing course on global warming, President Bush calls for halting the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025 but provides few specifics.
November 26, 2008: Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reach record highs and show no signs of leveling off, a U.N. agency says.
So here’s a question: How many trillions of dollars will it take to restore the economy, short-term, while glossing over issues of food, air, water, population, climate and peace, long-term? What happened to our leaders? What happened to their stated aspirations? What happened to the future?
Reaction vs. Aspiration:
In this turbulent last quarter of 2008, we have seen the leaders we observe and interact with sharply divided into two camps:
- Reactive: What are we going to do about the crisis at-hand? Get rid of the problem.
- Aspirational: What are our long-term goals? How do we pursue them? Create the future.
This is not to say that those focused on their long-term goals do not also address the short-term crises. It is simply that the driving force is long-term, and their short-term actions are aligned with the longer goal. We are pleased to report that most of our clients are doing well, and pursue their aspirations while quite sensibly dealing with the current reality.
But we are most concerned that the reactive orientation seems to be ruling much of leadership in big business, government and the general public. At conferences, in boardrooms, and across dinner tables, the discussion has collapsed from years and decades to days, months and quarters. The 3-year plan (does anyone recall the 5- or 10-year plan?) has been replaced by the emergency / bailout plan. Even many whose hope for change is invested in President-elect Obama are shaken by the enormity of the circumstances his administration faces as they take office.
When the reactive orientation rules the day, the way OUT of the crisis is not necessarily the way FORWARD to our desired future.
Head in the Clouds; Feet on the Ground:
Leaders practiced in organizing around their aspirations in less-than-ideal circumstances have developed certain disciplines around envisioning a goal, assessing the situation and taking innovative action. Following are a few tips in each of these categories.
Focusing on the future goal:
- Start with the End in Mind: When it comes to discussing situation (present) and goal (future),Â choice of sequence really matters to one’s ability to focus on true aspirations. This is doubly so when up to one’s hind-end in alligators. Talk about the present before the future, and we might as well launch the discussion saying, “Given the dire circumstances, what can we get away with, here??”. Start by talking about the future, and the tone is quite different: “What matters, here? Independent of circumstance, what do we truly want?”.
- Avoid Mixing: In a crisis, bringing up future goals can start a tennis match. The first speaker serves with: “We want to release a fully-electric car.” The second returns with: “But oil is $40 / barrel today, and the price fluctuates! That’ll never happen.”
Instead, split the discussion into two short rounds. For the first couple of minutes, focus on the goal. If someone (or the devil’s advocate in our brain!) tries to counter the goal with details of the current situation, assure them (or ourselves!) that it will be up for discussion momentarily.
- Be Concrete, and use Dates and Measures of Success: It won’t work be vague about goals that matter to us. What if we are moved to “do something about US residential carbon emissions”? That’s vague, and even smacks of problem-solving. Consider instead:Â “By 2050, all homes in the US are heated and cooled with renewable energy, and require 60% less energy, overall, than in 2009.”William O’Brien, former CEO of Hanover Insurance once said, “At the end of the day, you ask yourself, ‘How did our vision influence our actions?’ If the answer is ‘It didn’t,’ the vision is just words.” [pp331-332, The Necessary Revolution]
- Choose Where to Focus: In good times, it’s easy to pursue what we want. In our minds, the outcome can seem virtually guaranteed. But when times are tough, and we remove the guarantee, we often learn where our focus has been – and that we now have a choice.If our senior motive was not reaching the goal, but instead achieving the Return on Investment if the goal is reached, but we now lack a guaranteed ROI, we are apt to abandon the goal. If, on the other hand, we find we are focused on realizing the goal for its own sake, we have a different relationship with the goal, and are more likely to follow through.Please don’t read a value judgment about pursuing ROI. The essential question is: which motive is dominant in driving our involvement with the goal? If our dominant focus and motivation is to realize the goal, rather than reap its benefits, the goal is more likely to be realized. It’s a key choice.
Focusing on the current situation:
Since we led with the goal, we now can take a different tack with our situation assessment:
- Keep it Relevant: Given a clear goal, one has a new, more efficient way of organizing the discussion about reality – facts relevant to achieving the goal, and facts that are irrelevant to the achievement of the goal (and now don’t need to be discussed past the test of relevance).
- Keep it Real: Separate fact from opinions and assumptions, and be vigilant for deeply-held assumptions and beliefs masquerading as fact. Identifying what we don’t know is every bit as useful as confirming what we do know. Brain expert, John J. Medina points out that the brain isn’t interested in reality. It is more interested in survival, and as a consequence, [unattended] memory is not reliable. The brain will change the perception of reality to stay in survival mode. The key to reliable memory is to consistently reexpose oneself to the information. [HBR May, 2008, reprint R0805B]. So stay grounded in the facts of reality.
- Don’t Navigate by Emotion: There is nothing wrong with emotions. They simply don’t happen to be a reliable indicator of the situation, or of progress toward long-term goals. As heretical as it might sound, you might well benefit from ignoring yourself in this department, and refocus on the goal and the situation.
Taking action in complex times:
- A Time for Learners: When presented with smooth trends, the human mind is good at guessing what will happen next. In times of great and rapid change such as these, it is not nearly so good at prediction. Experience and formulas and best practices fail us. Students of Complexity suggest a different strategy for effecting change where past performance has proven unreliable for predicting future outcomes: Probe, Sense, Respond. It is virtually the same process used to find one’s way across a dark bedroom without stubbing a toe.
- When At A Loss: When we don’t know what to do next – and it happens to all of us – what DO we do? Focus on the goal. Locate current reality. Study the difference between the two. Then invent a set of actions to move from reality to the goal. The result of any action can be evaluated and learned from, and our action plan adjusted.But when disruptive forces hit a company, all processes are up for re-evaluation. Why are we still executing this process? Is the goal still valid? Is the current situation different from the circumstances under which the process was created and refined? Given a clear goal and accurate current reality, we can determine what to keep of the process, and what to change.
Two points of light:
While we realize that times are truly challenging everywhere, we are inspired by the human capacity to transcend circumstance and envision a desired future. At its simplest, to organize around aspirations is to focus on not just one, but two pictures at once: current reality and the goal. Reconnect with what matters. Treat the current situation not as an adversary, but as a starting point on the journey. Continually test the actions in relation to the goal. By doing so, we improve the odds that the way out of the present crisis is also the way forward.
Â© 2008 Gary Ralston and the respective copyright holders.
Our apologies to any readers out there with tender ears, but we’ll let the author speak for himself in this excerpt from his article in the Harvard Business Review:
There’s a simple practice that can make an organization better, but while many managers talk about it, few write it down. They enforce “no asshole” rules. I apologize for the crudeness of the term – you might prefer to call them tyrants, bullies, boors, cruel bastards, or destructive narcissists, and so do I, at times. Some behavioral scientists refer to them in terms of psychological abuse, which they define as “the sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact.” But all that cold precision masks the fear and loathing these jerks leave in their wake. Somehow, when I see a mean-spirited person damaging others, no other term seems quite right.
- Robert I. Sutton
More Trouble Than They’re Worth
Breakthrough Articles for 2004 – HBR reprint R0402A
At some point in time, we all have worked with a person who is a mean-spirited jerk – who throws their weight or position around, and who uses fear to motivate, to manipulate, or to get his or her way. In short, we’ve all had the displeasure of working with an ‘asshole’.
The No Asshole Rule, Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving in One That Isn’t, by Robert Sutton, is a fast and fun read (or listen) about keeping assholes out of your workplace, recognizing our own individual tendencies toward asshole-ism and about how some people leverage their assholed-ness for power and results (yes, some people actually do get what they want by being real jerks).
Sutton has two simple criteria for determining if someone is an asshole. First, if the person on the receiving end “feels depressed, humiliated or de-energized or belittled” and secondly if the “alleged asshole aims the venom at people who are less powerful rather than people who are more powerful.”
In Suttonâ€™s language there are also temporary assholes. These are people who are simply having a bed day, in contrast to certified assholes – people who are persistently nasty and destructive jerks. Sutton also has the obligatory asshole self-test in his book so that you can understand if you, yourself, are of the certified or temporary variety.
The book is sprinkled with examples of how awful people can be, and â€śrevengeâ€ť stories that show the lengths ‘victims’ will go to in response. It also highlights success stories, such as Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, and successful counter-examples, such as Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc. (See “Evil Genius” in Wired magazine for more…)
I think the most important question to discuss, particularly if you are and executive or business owner, is to what degree you are actually willing to condone assholes in your work place.
Sutton refers to a number of studies that describe the damage done to organizations by jerks. They undermine the productivity of a team or organization, cause good people to leave the workplace and in some instances, can put others at physical risk when allowed to continue.
Gary and I are frequently called in to help deal with employees who hold their organizations hostage through their nasty attitude and behavior. At times, these people are in what they perceive to be ‘key’ positions, by their productivity or specialized knowledge. These people are expert at pushing to the very limit of tolerance, using anything up to and including temper tantrums to get their way. What’s an organization to do??
Especially in this climate of reduced resources and economic challenges, business leaders must make the most of every employee to leverage the organization toward success. If you, like Sutton or Kelly, are interested in creating a great place to work where good talent is hired, invested in and grown for its incredible competitive advantage, then the ‘no asshole’ rule is a good one to adopt and keep at zero-tolerance.
Â© 2008 Ann Ralston and the respective copyright holders.