Process Improvement

Biomimicry – How Nature is Inspiring Radical Innovation

How can Biomimicry help my product or service gain a competitive edge?

Nature has already solved virtually every problem that humans are facing and in considerably better ways than anything humans have achieved.

Biomimicry is a rapidly growing design discipline that provides breakthrough strategies for solving business and technical challenges. At the center of this growing movement has been award-winning inventor and biomimetic entrepreneur Jay Harman, author of The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation.

A 2013 Fermanian Institute report determined that by 2030, bioinspiration could account for $1 .6 trillion in total GDP, including $425 billion of US GDP. Savings in reduced resource depletion and pollution could amount to an additional $0.5 trillion worldwide.

There is not a business or product today that can’t improve profits, reduce liability, or solve intractable problems through the application of biomimetics.

“The Shark’s Paintbrush reveals how nature is inspiring design to be more efficient, effective, resilient, and beautiful.

In Nature’s 3.8 billion years of design experience, the roughly 99% of designs that didn’t work got recalled by the Manufacturer. The 1% that survived can teach profound lessons about how things should be made, how they work, and how they fit.

Jay Harman’s immersion in and curiosity about the natural world have made him one of the best biomimetic designers. The Shark’s Paintbrush is a masterly field guide for all designers and entrepreneurs who aspire to help the world of the made work like, and live harmoniously with, the world of the born.”

–Amory B. Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute


  • explore or search for solutions by function, strategy, or organism



To reach Jay Harman:

Facebook: @TheSharksPaintbrush

This article ©2016, from a program guide for The Fortune® Growth Summit, October 25 and 26, 2016, Dallas, TX, held in partnership with

Join us for our next Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop in Columbus, OH.

To learn more and register your team, go to or contact Ann Ralston, or 614-761-1841 x2.

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Friday, March 17th, 2017 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Corporate Social Responsibility, Main Page, Process Improvement, Scaling Up, Social Enterprise, Start Up, Sustainability, Technology Comments Off on Biomimicry – How Nature is Inspiring Radical Innovation

What’s your Critical Number THIS Quarter?

How Home Care Assistance Tackled a Bottleneck to Business Growth

What TOP “bottleneck” or choke point keeps you from scaling up your business in a meaningful way?

Bottlenecks are often resistant to simple hacks and half-measures. Removing your biggest bottlenecks is an ALL HANDS EFFORT, and takes SINGLE-MINDED FOCUS for a FIXED PERIOD to CHANGE THE SYSTEM.

Lori Wengerd, Owner and President of Home Care Assistance Columbus, is setting out to change the way the world ages. Her firm provides premier live-in and hourly care for older adults to ‘age in-place’. Last fall, she determined that her biggest bottleneck to growth was the frequency with which her caregivers needed to reschedule their work at short notice (“call-offs”). While clients continued to receive great service, handling each call-off was costly to the organization in many ways. If not addressed, growing the business and adding caregivers would only make the situation worse.

The Critical Number is simply a business measure or KPI that tracks early and ongoing progress removing the big bottleneck. Leaders set a Company Annual Critical Number and supporting Company Quarterly Critical Number. In a given quarter, EVERYONE is focused on ONE THING to help scale up the company.

Lori attended our one-day Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop in October, 2016, where she built a One Page Strategic Plan™, and set a Critical Number for Quarter 4, 2016 – “percentage of call-offs” – measured weekly. In the balance of the quarter, Lori and her team reduced weekly percentage of call-offs by as much as 75%, seriously reducing internal drama and opening new opportunities for profitable growth!

Lori reports: “I regularly read books on business growth and am good at implementing ideas that fit my business model. However, it wasn’t until I attended the Scaling Up Course led by Jon Iveson and Gary Ralston that I finally learned how to put a plan in place that is both solidly grounded in core business values and fluid in its implementation.

In the short time since I attended, I’ve already led my team to undertake dramatic shifts in our planning process, and improve staff accountability and bottom-line performance.”

The Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop focuses on the four major decision areas every company must get right: People, Strategy, Execution, and Cash. You and your leadership team will invest a full, productive day focusing ON your business rather than IN your business.

You will receive a series of powerful, simple one-page tools, including the One-Page Strategic Plan™ and the Rockefeller Habits Checklist™, which more than 40,000 firms around the globe have used to scale their companies successfully – many to $1 billion and beyond.

Running a business is ultimately about freedom. Scaling Up shows business leaders how to get their organizations moving in sync to create something significant, while enjoying the climb to success!

Join us for our next Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop in Columbus, OH on November 8, 2017, 8am – 5pm

To learn more and register your team, go to or contact Ann Ralston, or 614-561-5273.

– Gary Ralston, © 2017 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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Sunday, February 5th, 2017 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Process Improvement, Scaling Up Comments Off on What’s your Critical Number THIS Quarter?

Students, Soccer-Bots and the Future of Workteams

Dublin, OH Robotics Team 1014 tweaks their robot...

Credit: Dublin, OH Robotics Team 1014

It’s a hot summer Saturday in the middle of June.  Most kids are on summer vacation, but today, 200 students from around Ohio are in a school gym, competing in the CORI Connect a Million Minds 2010 Robotics Invitational, sponsored by Time Warner Cable.  It’s about robots PLAYING SOCCER and high school students created the robots!

Why are these students so engaged? Why are so many volunteers and sponsors across the nation, from education, business and communities, so deeply involved in FIRST robotics programs for students? What is the Central Ohio Robotics Initiative (CORI), and why is Ralston Consulting, in collaboration with others, so active in bringing CORI to life?

This type of event, one that captures the hearts, minds and excitement of the students, is the FUTURE. It is the future of how students learn, interlacing theory with hands-on innovation, mentorship and collaboration with competition, and technology with human character, ethics and spirit.  It is having a real-world impact increasing the likelihood that high school students will choose careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-related fields (STEM), so critical to the future of our economy.

It is also the future of how workers will collaborate, and the future of how businesses will be managed. In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled: The End of Management, author Alan Murray underscores the crises organizations face as a result of the ineffective bureaucracies contributing to today’s corporate inertia. Organizations and their managers are not agile enough to deal with today’s rate of change.  It is, in point of fact, easier and more comfortable to not change.

Mr. Murray lists attributes of the ‘new science of management’:

  • mass collaboration;
  • a marketplace mentality of resource procurement and allocation; and
  • “structures that drive innovation, creativity and a spirit more akin to an entrepreneur.”

If this is the future of management, it is here, now, in the FIRST Robotics Competitions.

FIRST Scoring Criteria

Credit: FIRST Robotics

Rewind to the start of each year’s robotics competition: It’s 9:00am on a Saturday morning in early January, and bleary-eyed students come alive as they participate in a nationwide simulcast unveiling the game for the year. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and the first insulin pump, and the mastermind behind FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), shares the closely guarded game and specifications bounding each year’s competition. (3D game animation from 2010 on the NASA site, here)

Over the next 6 weeks, the students voluntarily work after school and on weekends to design and build these robots for regional competitions.  The limited design/build window demands rapid prototyping, rapid decision-making, and levels-up students’ critical thinking skills.  Failures are part of the design process, and students master the ability to evaluate, learn adjust their designs, as they build, test, and rebuild their robots.

What drives these kids? They see it as fun – fun AND relevant. They create deep friendships with their teammates and mentors. They get to try on a career before going to college. They believe they have an advantage over their peers in the classroom, being more experienced in critical thinking skills and in the creative process as an outcome of their experience. Many of the students refocus their orientation toward school in order to master knowledge needed for their team to create a competitive robot.

The students apply their limited resources across the project, breaking down the robot into different elements, coming together to integrate work and breaking back up to small groups to accomplish additional tasks of presentations, video and web production, marketing and fundraising. Students with the most experience or knowledge mentor new/younger students, first, to get the job done, and second, to make sure that the next years team will have the talent pool adequate for future success.

In addition to their peers, student teams are matched with mentors (often college-age engineering students, and many, themselves, former FIRST team members) and advisors, who serve as facilitators, thinking partners and role models.

By design, Mr. Kamen intertwined collaboration as a fundamental value throughout the culture of FIRST.  Competition is structured with alliances of 3 teams, competing against another 3 team alliances. The alliances change every round.  Your determined competitor this round will likely be a vital ally in a future round. This fosters a spirit of Gracious Professionalism™“a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.” Gracious professionalism can be seen as experienced teams support rookie teams, or as equipment and parts are shared with ‘opponents’ to bring the level of competition up for all. The grace and professionalism exhibited by these student competitors could serve as an ethical model for many of today’s business leaders.

Newly founded, the Central Ohio Robotics Initiative (CORI) amplifies FIRST’s national structure and intent by developing a regional (and therefore, more affordable) competitive robotics event for Central Ohio. The group is a collaborative of parents, students, business owners, professors and teachers who have come together to help launch new teams, recruit advisors, and host these events for the betterment of the students and of the region.

What can business – your business – learn from these students?

  • Get over failure. It’s part of learning what works and what doesn’t.
  • Use rapid prototyping to accelerate learning and innovation.
  • Intentionally pair new people (or people new to their role) with mentors holding the needed content expertise.
  • Structure for collaboration.
  • Plan your firm’s capacity-building in the short-term in a way that positions it for long-term success. FIRST teams have a simultaneous focus on success both this year and next year, driving the teachers, mentors and experienced students to bring along the newer, less experienced / knowledgeable team members to prepare them for the following season.
  • Be conscious of the impact of culture on your initiative. In FIRST, students increase mastery in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in part because an environment has been created where geek – to be freaking smart – is cool. What would make your initiative the ‘cool’ place to be?

It’s not just the future, it’s our future. These students are the future of our country. I have great faith that these students will master the science and technology needed for their careers, but they will also be wonderful managers, leaders and innovators. Ralston Consulting is delighted to be a part of creating CORI, and welcomes all new teams, mentors and sponsors gearing up for the 2011 FIRST season!

You and your firm are invited to help shape the future! Learn more about supporting robotics for students nationally at and in Central Ohio at

(c) 2010 Ralston Consulting Inc.

About the Author: Ann is president of Ralston Consulting Inc. and a founding member of the Central Ohio Robotics Initiative.

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 Article Archive, Business Insights, Corporate Social Responsibility, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on Students, Soccer-Bots and the Future of Workteams

Sustainability as Competitive Advantage

MITSloanFall2009CoverInterested 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…

© 2009 Gary Ralston

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Process Improvement, Sustainability Comments Off on Sustainability as Competitive Advantage

GeekNotes: Remote Collaboration from a Home Office

TinCanMenToday, a colleague in private practice asked a very timely question about collaborating from a home office:

My partner and I are looking at expanding our telephone coaching practice and would like to find some screen sharing and collaboration tools…. What are you using these days to coach / consult at a distance?

More and more, our globe-spanning customers need to collaborate from a residence or on the road. They do so to be more productive, to support balance between life and work, to access new markets, and to reduce the number of climate-heating airline flights they are responsible for. While collaboration tools have advanced and become more reliable, some of the basic services – voice, cellphone and Internet connections – are not. Further, today’s executives face many of these IT challenges on their own.

This summer we have conducted remote meetings with clients and colleagues who were participating from their offices and homes in Colombia, Brazil, Shanghai, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, Canada and the US. We have hosted meetings from our own home office, in hotels, airport lounges and coffee shops, and on occasion, stuck in a rental car. In almost all cases, at least one attendee was relying on residential-grade broadband, Voice over IP (VoIP) or “found” WIFI access, and a few key tools.

If you plan to RELY on remote collaboration, it will take a bit more than the typical home network, but it can be done. Here are some observations about what works for us, in our home office or on the road, when conducting remote business meetings:

Make sure your voice connection is bombproof (or have a plan B)

VoIP. Cellular Phones. Skype. Compared to the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS lines), the new tools of voice communication can be, well, moody. Yes, you can save a bundle. Yes, you have many more features. Yes, you can make phone calls from far-off places. No, you cannot count on them. So what do you do?

  • Use a high-quality telephone conference bridge. If all your other technology fails, as long as the dial-in voice bridge is up, and you circulated documents ahead of time, the meeting will continue.The gold standard is still conference service supplied by a major wireline carrier such as AT&T in the US. Volume levels are balanced between callers, voices are clear and free of echo, lag is low and reliability is high. That said, competing services are getting really good. We use the dial-in bridge built into our account, and it works well.
  • Look for an unlimited monthly plan, with optional per-minute fees for toll-free callers. Don’t over- or under-pay, and see if you can find one that complements your screen-sharing meeting application. Dedicated conference bridges, with live operators and per-minute, per-caller charges for access are very reliable, but in my opinion, overpriced – especially for their toll-free options. Now that almost all business users have mobile phones and near-unlimited long distance calling plans in their region, toll-free numbers are of most use to the traveler dialing from a hotel phone.
  • Free bridges make you pay. On the other end of the spectrum, there are now many free conference bridges (ie. that are unreliable in my experience. Meaning no disrespect, I have never had an incident-free meeting with them.

Consider TWO broadband connections at home – NOT overkill

Our home town, Columbus, Ohio, was an early market for Time Warner’s broadband over Cable. As a result, we saw how a cable system ages in a neighborhood, and it isn’t pretty. In fact, over the past 10 years, we’ve seen both Cable and DSL broadband suffer significant disruptions. In 2007, for instance, our business-class cable service was unreliable for 6 months. It was JUST fixed, when our DSL line quit for a week. So there are two reasons to have BOTH a Cable and an alternate connection in your house:

  1. When (not if) one service goes down, you can switch to the other.
  2. Video, screen-sharing and file downloads can interfere with Voice over IP (VoIP) – and remember, we need a bombproof voice connection.

Your alternatives are increasing, and in the U.S. include DSL, Fiber-Optic, and Cellular Router. Satellite connections are not the best for voice connections because of the lag.

  • Ensure VOIP has priority over other kinds of internet traffic. We use service because it sounds good, and has great long-distance plans. We make sure our network router knows that VOIP traffic has the highest priority in and out of our network.
    • Tip: Let the VoIP adapter control your bandwidth. If you use a VoIP adapter, look for instructions to hook the VoIP adapter up  BEFORE your home router, like this:
      [Cable or DSL Modem] <–> [VoIP Adapter] <– >[Router] <–> [Computers]
  • Competing for bandwidth. If you have teens or power users, you have yet another reason for a separate internet connection: Video downloads and bit torrents. Download a whole season of a show at once – a 2 to 5 Gigabyte package – and you trash your remote meeting in the process. (Remember when kids just wanted a car? Now they need their own cable modem! Sigh.)

If you are the outsider, use the tools the client uses

Since we are the “outsiders” in our clients’ worlds, we must use what they do. That means I can be contacted through (big breath):  AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Google, Skype, SMS, ICQ, Jabber, E-Mail, Facebook, Linked-In, Myspace, Cellular Phone, Telephone and Fax, and work with you using PPTP, IPSEC and Cisco VPN, Polycom, Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Acrobat Connect, GatherPlace, Xerox Docushare, eRooms, Basecamp, several flavors of Microsoft’s collaboration tools (they really should stop re-branding the stuff!)  and some more I can’t recall just at the moment.

This is a drag. Someone, hurry up and unify this stuff so we all can use whatever client we wish and not have to know (or pay for!) all these nearly-almost-but-not-quite-the-same services designed to lock us in.

The reality is that established corporations have policies about what they will and will not allow on their networks. They also choose by the reliability of the products, and these days, that means the service provider has invested intensively in a global network of servers in the hope that all participants get uninterrupted connection.

  • My top enterprise-grade screen-sharing and presentation choices: (my absolute first choice), WebEx (now owned by Cisco Systems) or GoToMeeting (from
  • I can’t recommend Adobe Acrobat Connect. Some may love it, but for me, it has frustrated and disappointed too often.

If you are the host, use what is compatible with your client’s platform – and screen size!

Being a good host means making your participants change as little about their computing environment as possible. Macs are now experiencing double-digit market growth, and are making ground in corporations. Linux is much more uncommon as a desktop, but it is out there. Many people are reviewing your presentation on their smartphones… Bottom line: If any of your customers use another platform, then choose a solution that works for them, too.

  • Know your roles. Each application may have a slightly different label, but the roles are:
    • Host – you set up the meeting;
    • Presenter – you display your screen;
    • Participant – you view a Presenter’s screen.
  • Not everyone needs to host or present. Many tools allow you to pass the role of presenter around, but NOT for all platforms. If your customers will ONLY watch YOUR screen, it is enough that the solution offers them a “Participant” – often a simple Java client in a web browser.That said, when Ann and I collaborate with clients, we often reverse roles and have them work on their own files while we observe their screen. For our practice, we insist the solutions we use include cross-platform Presenter as an option.
  • CinemaDisplay3sizesTip: Be aware of your screen size when presenting. That new 2560 x x1600 monitor looks drop-dead gorgeous on your desk, but when you go to present that report with Zoom, you run into a problem: Your participants (those with smaller monitors) might only see the top-left corner of the document, or get seasick scrolling around to see the whole of the presentation. And remember that guy on the iPhone? Screen-sharing software has a ‘fit-to-window’ function, but it might be better for you to reduce your monitor’s resolution for a more consistent experience. (Photo Credit – Apple, Inc.)
  • Tip: Watch your own presentation. At times, Ann and I will connect to our own meeting with a second computer or via our iPhone / iPad just so we can have immediate feedback about our participant’s experience, and catch a stalled session before the participants even have a chance to notice.

Mix and Match for your needs and your budget

  • “Free” just might work for you. offers free meetings up to 40 minutes in length with no monthly fee. Google Hangouts is free, if your team is in the Google ecosystem.
  • If you will need to conduct more than one meeting at the same time, you need enough paid host accounts. Ann and I each have host accounts under our corporate Zoom subscription.
  • If your clients are connecting from a country with more tightly-controlled internet, such as China, check regularly if your solution still works.
  • At this writing, 2017-08-23, I am pretty much sold on for the best rates, great features, ease of use and reliability.

Audio: How you sound is even MORE important in a remote meeting

Radio personalities and podcasters count upon the right microphone and studio environment to create a more intimate, right-there experience for the listener. Indie film producers also know that great audio can make weak video ‘look’ better. With a little care, you can increase both clarity and impact of what you say in remote meetings.

  • Record yourself. Few go to the trouble of recording how they sound on their cellphone, bluetooth headset or computer microphone. At the very least, call and leave a voicemail on your own office system (not a cellphone).
  • Get a decent phone. Some 2.4 GHz cordless phones interfere with your WIFI connection (try 5.8 GHz or DECT 6.0 models). Some phones interact poorly with VoIP and cheap conference bridges and trash your voice. Some phones just sound bad. We use Uniden cordless phones at present, and like them.
  • Get a headset with a noise-canceling microphone. Plantronics, HelloDirect, Sennheiser and Logitech all make decent noise-canceling headsets for any common device or phone.
  • Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones usually suck. If you are NOT in the main conference room or a properly-equipped “huddle room”, avoid speakerphones if at all possible. If you must, Jabra makes decent portable speakerphones for your computer. Bluetooth headsets are a work in progress. Ann has gone through many supposedly top-of-the-line Bluetooth devices, and the ONLY one that has stood the test of time is the new Apple Beats X, working with her iPhone and MacBook Pro. See also Zoom hardware recommendations.
  • Just say no to background noise. Background noise is a double-whammy – you sound bad in the meeting, and you end up SHOUTING WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Stuck in a noisy location? Use the MUTE button on your phone to give relief to the other participants until you need to speak (from the background noise, that is!). If it is comfortable enough, consider sitting in your parked car – a virtual sound booth on wheels!
  • Get your nose out of the mic! Okay, everyone knows what I’m talking about – the rumbling downdraft we hear when you exhale through your nose or mouth onto your microphone. Position your mic at the corner of your mouth, out of the ‘wind’!

Video: I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille…

I like video in my remote meetings. I think it adds an important element of presence, and a dimension of communication that minimizes misunderstanding. However, it can make things MUCH more complex.

  • Start small. If you plan to experiment with video, is free for the first 40 minutes. Skype video is very good, easy, and free, as is Google Hangouts. Apple has built FaceTime into every iPhone 4 for video chat over WiFi. Logitech provides decent external webcams. Pay a little more for their high-end models to get better optics. All recent Apple computers and iOS devices have excellent webcams built in. Most of the instant messaging services offer video, but they can be a pain to configure.
  • Set the stage. Most workspaces are designed to light your work, and not you, so out of the box, most people look ghastly, if the face can be seen at all. (Think: videos of informants on a current events expose…) A professional who chooses to use video often should really re-think their office, furniture, lighting, wardrobe and background so they can send a presentable image. A doorway or a window in the camera’s line of sight can alternatively distract and blow out the image. New video software offers the option to put in virtual backdrops, but again, this requires even more control of lighting and camera vibration. Or, you can get a pop-up backdrop, as seen here. For an EXCELLENT, accessible introduction to making your cheapo-webcam look great, visit this article at Strobist. (Photo Credit: David –
  • Use a Telepresence Robot! Double Robotics offers an amazing, mobile option that lets you operate a robot at a ‘client’ site, from your home.

Bringing it all home

So yes, it is possible to achieve great remote collaboration on a budget, but it requires a whole new suite of products, services, choices, skills and sensitivities. Start with the premise of a bombproof voice connection and reliable telephone bridge. Add redundant Internet service, then select a remote collaboration tool compatible with your colleague’s environment, and with a reputation for reliability. Tune up your audio quality, and add properly-lit video when all else is solid.

When it all comes together, we’ll be more productive, form better remote relationships, and hopefully do it with fewer carbon-spewing airline flights! See you online…

Updated extensively 2017-08-24 – GKR

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007 Article Archive, Business Advisors, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement, Technology Comments Off on GeekNotes: Remote Collaboration from a Home Office

Taking Strategic Daily Action

BinocularSaltFlatsJoe, the executive, (not his real name) confided in me: “A year since I started, and I’ve been assimilated. I’m now part of the problem I was hired to solve.”

His plight – dealing with an almost overwhelming amount of operational detail, while trying at the same time to effect strategic change – is not unique. Even when executives know they need to keep their eye on the business goals one to three years out, they struggle to connect their priorities this quarter, this month, this week, and today, to the long-term goal.

Once we have helped the organization develop a sound business strategy and goal, our role changes to one of implementation coach. Now, Joe, an experienced executive, really does know what to do. Our role as a a thought partner is to help interrupt the immediate demands on him. We instituted a brief  Shape of the Week meeting every Friday.  Conducted using Skype video and screen-sharing, the goal of the meeting is to help Joe review and sequence the key priorities to act upon in the upcoming week to best build momentum toward the three-year business goal.

Example topics of discussion:

  • Capacity for Accelerated Growth – of the people you need to bring on board in order to fuel growth, in what sequence should you hire to both produce cashflow, this quarter, and momentum, long-term? Are you hiring builders and not maintainers where your strategy calls for new growth or significant change? (see our post Oct 29, 2004 for more…)
  • Management Capacity – What changes in your managers will increase their capacity to manage, and thus, give you more capacity? How effectively do they mentor to grow productivity in their own people?
  • Critical Decisions – What decisions about the next quarter and the next year need to be made, now, so that they do not become crises when the moment of action arrives? (With Digital Decision-Making, effective decisions can be made well in advance of the point of action.)
  • Emerging Market Trends and Discontinuities – What is your future scan turning up? What is your Plan ‘B’ for trends and potential disrupts to either your industry or your business model?
  • Culling for Growth – If your strategy calls for a change in the future, what should you stop doing? Why? When? How?

My broad recommendation for leaders and executives is to create your own planning discipline – a breathing space, a thought partner, a walk in the park – for getting above the daily demands and making the upcoming week count in the journey to your strategic goal.

Friday, October 19th, 2007 Article Archive, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on Taking Strategic Daily Action

Our next Managerial Moment of Truth workshop is November 8, 2007

Tower-VerticalIn a nutshell, The Managerial Moment of Truth (MMOT) is a book and workshop for managers and leaders who face tough, candid conversations with colleagues, suppliers and employees, but don’t have the tools to increase the odds of productive, win-win outcomes.

“Bold, important, groundbreaking. This is the most important book you’ll read as a business manager and coach. You’ll learn a powerful and simple four-step method to shift your organizational culture to one of truth telling and empowerment. Your employees will thank you and your customers will thank them.”

– Patricia Seybold, author of and The Customer Revolution

We were delighted to hear that IBM China trained their HR professionals in the MMOT for application in their executive fast-track program. This truly is an essential tool for effective management.

New in this class: We have included an hour of personal coaching post-course. You can plan for upcoming “moments of truth” in the class, prebrief with one of us, conduct a Managerial Moment of Truth, then debrief the session for even deeper learning.

Ann and I will be offering the workshop at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce here in Columbus, OH. Chamber of Commerce members (any chamber) are elegible for a $40 discount. Graduates are welcome to audit the program at a reduced rate. Space is limited to 20 seats.

To find out more, check out the MMOT blog post, below, and visit our MMOT page on our website, here.

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 Article Archive, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on Our next Managerial Moment of Truth workshop is November 8, 2007

For 4 weeks each year, double-check your calendars – AND your business processes!

From the department of unintended consequences…

It's old news, now, that the US and Canada are shifting daylight savings time, for some  good reasons, such as reducing carbon emissions. However, we are also introducing uncertainty into many scheduled, measured, coordinated and logged events for 4 weeks per year for the next few years.

From Verizon Wireless's announcement…

With the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the United States government has established changes to the duration of Daylight Saving Time (DST). Beginning in 2007, DST will now remain in effect each year between the second (2nd) Sunday of March until the first (1st) Sunday of November (e.g., March 11, 2007 through November 4, 2007).

While this change primarily impacts the United States and Canada, it also impacts any users who interact with or send calendar invitations or who are dependent upon date/time calculations with companies and persons within the United States or Canada.

What struck me about this change was the enormous potential for disrupt this presents for businesses who count on knowing what time it is, here and now, related to there. The old pattern of daylight savings time is embedded in millions of electronic devices. In adjusting to the change here, we considered our routers, servers, desktop computers and cellphones (some with TWO patches), GPS units, and any other devices where we count upon accurate logging of now (electronic transactions, phone calls, instant messages, network logs, security camera time stamps, etc.). I wonder at the potential for serious unintended consequences at hospitals, in manufacturing, in air transport, etc.

Also significant in Verizon Wireless's advisory was the fact that you must patch technology in a cascade sequence – from server to desktop to synchronized mobile device – or you risk introducing even more disrupt.

Yet we don't just have ourselves to worry about. We schedule with other businesses and individuals. They all must get their patches applied, and in the right order, so that our calendar and theirs, on servers, computers and phones, agree.

Three pieces of advice – two tactical and one strategic:

  1. When creating appointments in the “uncertainty zone”, (the two weeks following the second Sunday in March, and the two weeks prior to the first Sunday in November) type the agreed-upon time into the appointment title, and recommend the same for your staff and colleagues – especially those abroad with whom you work. Create an annual recurring reminder so you can remember to do this in October, and next year, as well. That way, if some person or device in the chain slips up, and the 10 am meeting suddenly shifts to 9 or 11 am, you'll have a way to know.
  2. If you don't already, confirm your appointments by phone the day before.
  3. Ask your operations, production, security, finance and IT leaders to double-check their processes to ensure that all mission-critical time-keeping hardware, software and firmware has been tested, and if necessary, upgraded or compensated for.

In the following weeks, the unintended short-term costs of this change will become apparent – time will tell.

Friday, March 9th, 2007 Article Archive, Process Improvement, Sustainability, Technology Comments Off on For 4 weeks each year, double-check your calendars – AND your business processes!

The Managerial Moment of Truth

New course in improving organizational performance is missing link for business leaders and managers

Our capacity to have truthful, effective discussions at all levels defines our organization to our employees, suppliers and customers. The capacity for honest, direct conversation fuels our success, and when it is in short supply, can lead to erroneous decisions, diminished performance, strained relations and missed objectives.

Every day in our practice, we see business leaders and their managers tested with opportunities, large and small, for direct conversations to improve performance. Too often, they falter – it is just too difficult, and too risky, to say what they need to. From departments of huge multinational firms, to partners of the smallest startups, managers are (and need to be) asking: Is there an easier, better way to talk candidly about the stuff that is critical to our success?

MMOTCover150x219This crucial question is at the heart of a course developed first for Blue Shield of California, called: The Managerial Moment of Truth (MMOT). Created by organizational consultant and bestselling author, Robert Fritz, and proven in practice by Bruce Bodaken, CEO at Blue Shield, the course is now available to the public. Ann and I have been very fortunate – we were introduced, during program development, almost a year ago, to the principles found in the course and were the first to present the new training. Here’s an inside look at what we are finding.

For the manager, A Managerial Moment of Truth (MMOT for short) begins with two parts: Recognition and Decision.

  1. It starts the moment we realize that the result is not what we expected. The outcome can be worse than expected, or much better than expected, but there is clearly a difference that matters.
  2. It continues with the very next decision we make: Do we, as manager or leader, decide to open up a discussion to address the discrepancy, or do we turn away from a priceless opportunity to strengthen our organization?

About that “priceless” opportunity – if we can address the difference, change behaviors and learn from the situation, we increase productivity and move closer to the results we, and the organization, want. But since managers often turn away from these opportunities at step 2, we must ask the next question: Why?

Frequently, as managers we don’t bring up the issue when it first arises because we don’t want to stir up emotional conflict – will giving accurate feedback regarding performance hurt the employee’s feelings? Will it (further) demotivate the employee? Will they react badly, leading to increased conflict or retaliation? Few managers seek out conflict, so the path of least resistance is to put the discussion off.

Another common reason we don’t promptly move to discuss such situations is that we speculate. In the training, Fritz brings up an excellent point to consider:

“When you think you know the answer to something, do you ask a question?

As human beings we create theories to explain the unknown. A better approach is to really ask questions about what we don’t know. When we speculate, we think we know what we actually don’t know.”

Whatever the exact reasons, the outcome is the same: a person or group misses the information and feedback they need to improve performance – they can’t change what they don’t know about.

The Managerial Moment of Truth course presents a real alternative for leaders and managers. Helena Hörnebrant, an organizational consultant at Sigma Exallon Sweden, reported the following results from her course participants:

“Two of the top managers said ‘Finally I’ve got tools for my everyday situations. All other management methods just tell you to deal with issues immediately but not how – but the MMOT method really gives me tools to act and help in situations which I normally don’t know how to handle’.”

Our own clients really like the MMOT. As Ann observed:

“It gives them a way to think about and structure a successful conversation about difficult stuff – invaluable for successful implementation. We have seen people starting to use the MMOT very quickly and in crisis situations, picking it up, working with it. We conducted the first Managerial Moment of Truth 6-hour course over two days. Two of our participants, after the first day, leapt in and actually handled a tough MMOT with a problem employee.”

Another client took the opportunity the day after the course to dig into why their management meetings were so very unproductive. They used the techniques from the course, including analysis of design and execution issues. The three managers sent each other e-mails documenting their learning and action plans. The following meeting was significantly better. All participants were well prepared. The team stayed away from off-topic discussion and unnecessary detail. Instead of blaming, individuals took accountability for their results – both good and bad.

There is a real complement between doing a business strategy and participating in the Managerial Moment of Truth training. After an MMOT program, our managers and leaders are more likely to succeed in implementing the changes required by the business strategy. They have the tools with which to study reality, to diagnose problems, and to frame, discuss and implement lasting solutions. The MMOT course helps the business strategies succeed as never before.

Fritz and Bodaken’s excellent book, The Managerial Moment of Truth (Free Press), comes with the training materials. The book, itself, was rated by BusinessWeek as among the “Best Business Books of 2006”. It is available in hardcover and Kindle editions from and all major booksellers, as well as in eBook (pdf) at

Please contact Ann or Gary Ralston to learn more about the course, and to see if it is right for your management team.

About the Authors: Ann and Gary Ralston founded Ralston Consulting Inc. in 1997 to help business owners and leaders accelerate profitable growth in their organizations. They serve emerging and middle market companies across North America, from divisions of Fortune 500 firms to start-ups and family-owned businesses. They can be reached at, 614-761-1841, or

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on The Managerial Moment of Truth

Innovation – The Toyota Way

ElegantSolutions317x2One million ideas a year. A culture of innovation. An intrinsic belief that good enough never is. Matthew May, a longtime Toyota business partner, shows you how Toyota’s principles and practices will help you engage your creative spirit and bring elegant solutions to your work and life.

This fast-reading article is based upon the book: The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation, by Matthew E. May and Kevin Roberts.

Yet another gem from – download here.

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007 Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on Innovation – The Toyota Way

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