Monday, August 31, 2009

i-TFTD #215: Thoughts on Thinking

#215-1. Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
-John Kenneth Galbraith

#215-2. People like to imagine that because all our mechanical equipment moves so much faster, that we are thinking faster, too.
-Christopher Morley

#215-3. It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.
-Rollo May

Thinking deeply or differently does not easily come without effort. We are slaves of "default" patterns, formed at an early age. It seems to suffice for most of us in today's ultra-multitasking lifestyle.

Edward de Bono, though famous for propagating lateral thinking, has also done a lot of work in teaching better thinking of all types. K.R. Ravi has written a very readable and useful book called, "Thinking About Thinking" where he has debunked many typical remarks we make, showing the illogical thought processes behind them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

i-TFTD #214

i-TFTD #214

#214-1. The Internet connects people not computers.
-Slogan of the 1997 technology awareness and promotion campaign launched by the Estonia Ministry of Foreign Affairs

2. One of the indictments of civilizations is that happiness and intelligence are so rarely found in the same person.
-William Feather

3. If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.
-Daniel Goleman

With so much talk today of Web 2.0 and social networking, I find it interesting that many Internet gurus predicted this accurately in the mid-90's.

The intent behind the second quote is not the same as the age-old proverb, "Ignorance is bliss." A thinking mind is likely to often experience dissatisfaction with things as they are and aspire for improvement. The progress of civilization is based on this.

The third is a crisp summary of emotional intelligence from the originator of EQ. To understand and apply EQ requires a fair amount of IQ, I believe.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

i-TFTD #213: Gary Hamel on the Future of Management

i-TFTD #213: Gary Hamel on the Future of Management

An excerpt from Gary Hamel's 2007 book, The Future of Management published by Harvard Business School Press. Interesting takeaways are:

-How American companies kept giving different excuses over the years on why they cannot apply Toyota's practices

-Why American companies cannot simply copy techniques and expect the same results

-The management guru's inputs for leaders at all levels (I have highlighted some statements)

The Future of Management

Business Standard Strategist Team / Mumbai October 23, 2007

Gary Hamel is the strategy guru’s guru. The visiting professor of strategic and international management at the London Business School has been described as a “management innovator without peer” by Financial Times and ranked among the 25 most influential business thinkers of the 20th century by Journal of Business Strategy. He is the author of Leading the Revolution and coauthor of Competing for the Future, seminal works that have spent weeks on all management bestseller lists. In The Future of Management, launched last fortnight, Hamel puts forward a provocative, new theory: management as it is now practised has outlived its utility. In fact, legacy beliefs prevent organisations from overcoming new, 21st-century challenges. The way forward is management innovation: new ways of mobilising talent, allocating resources and building strategies. An exclusive excerpt:

From innovation to advantage

Management innovation tends to yield a competitive advantage when one or more of three conditions are met: the innovation is based on a novel management principle that challenges some long-standing orthodoxy; the innovation is systemic, encompassing a range of processes and methods; and/ or the innovation is part of an ongoing program of rapid-fire invention where progress compounds over time…

...Why, after decades of trying, have America’s indigenous automakers so far failed to duplicate Toyota’s hyperefficient manufacturing system? This was one question I put to a senior executive group in one of America’s big car companies a few years back. We had just finished a sumptuous dinner at an elegant hotel when, over coffee, one of the carmaker’s top finance executives mentioned that the company had just completed its 20th annual benchmarking study of Toyota.

What, I wondered aloud, had the company learned in year 20 that it hadn’t learned in years 19, 18, 17, and so on? The blunt subtext to my question hung in the air like acrid cigar smoke: Why are you still playing catch-up? After a moment of embarrassed silence, a senior staffer spoke up, and offered an explanation that went something like this:

Twenty years ago we started sending our young people to Japan to study Toyota. They’d come back and tell us how good Toyota was and we simply didn’t believe them. We figured they’d dropped a zero somewhere no one could produce cars with so few defects per vehicle, or with so few labor hours.

It was five years before we acknowledged that Toyota really was beating us in a bunch of critical areas. Over the next five years, we told ourselves that Toyota’s advantages were all cultural. It was all about wa and nemwashi the uniquely Japanese spirit of cooperation and consultation that Toyota had cultivated with its employees. We were sure that American workers would never put up with these paternalistic practices.

Then, of course, Toyota started building plants in the United States and they got the same results here they got in Japan so our cultural excuse went out the window. For the next five years, we focused on Toyota’s manufacturing processes. We studied their use of factory automation, their supplier relationships, just-in-time systems, everything.

But despite all our benchmarking, we could never seem to get the same results in our own factories. It’s only in the last five years that we’ve finally admitted to ourselves that Toyota’s success is based on a wholly different set of principles about the capabilities of its employees and the responsibilities of its leaders.

Amazingly, it took nearly 20 years for America’s carmakers to decipher Toyota’s advantage. Unlike its Western rivals, Toyota believed that first-line employees could be more than cogs in a soulless manufacturing machine... In contrast, US car companies tended to discount the contributions that could be made by first-line employees, and relied instead on staff experts for improvements in quality and efficiency.

Such was the disdain for the intelligence of frontline workers that Henry Ford once wondered querulously, “Why is it that whenever I ask for a pair of hands, a brain comes attached?”

...As this example illustrates, management dogmas are often so deeply ingrained as to be nearly invisible, and so devoutly held as to be virtually unassailable. When it comes to management innovation, the more unconventional the underlying principle, the longer it will take for competitors to respond. In some cases, the head-scratching can go on for decades…

Management innovation in action

If you have ever shopped at Whole Foods, you know it is not your grandma’s supermarket. Stuffed full of organic and natural products, a Whole Foods store is a commodious, eye popping, mouth-watering temple to guilt-free gastronomy. Whole Foods’ business model is built around a simple but powerful premise: people will pay a premium for food that’s good for them, good tasting and good for the environment…

At every turn, this inventive company has taken the road less traveled. Whole Foods’ commitment to organic produce and sustainable agriculture is unmatched by any competitor. Its stores are laid out to make shopping feel less like a chore and more like a culinary adventure. And unlike its hide-bound rivals, which compete with promotion-driven, loss-leader pricing models, Whole Foods charges a premium for its super fresh, environmentally friendly products, a fact that has led some critics to re- brand the store, “Whole Paycheck.” Nevertheless, Whole Foods has become the grocery store of choice for the hip and the health conscious the supermarket equivalent of Starbucks.

Today, Whole Foods operates 194 stores and generates nearly $ 6 billion a year in sales. It is also America’s most profitable food retailer when measured by profit per square foot…

Whole Foods’ approach to management twines democracy with discipline, trust with accountability, and community with fierce internal competition. It is the skillful juxtaposition of these counterpoised values that makes the company’s management system both uniquely effective and hard to duplicate...

At Whole Foods, the basic organizational unit is not the store, but the team. Small, empowered teams are granted a degree of autonomy nearly unprecedented in retailing. Each store consists of roughly eight teams that oversee departments ranging from seafood to produce to checkout. Every new associate is provisionally assigned to a team. After a four-week trial, the team mates vote on the applicant’s fate: a newbie needs a two-thirds majority vote to win a full-time spot on the team. This peer-based selection process is used for all new employees, including those hoping to join teams at Whole Foods’ head quarters, such as the national IT and finance squads. The underlying logic is powerful, if unconventional: Whole Foods believes that critical decisions, such as whom to hire, should be made by those who will be most directly impacted by the consequences of those decisions.

...Small teams are responsible for all key operating decisions, including pricing, ordering, staffing, and in- store promotion. Consider product selection. Team leaders, in consultation with their store managers, are free to stock whatever products they feel will appeal to local customers. This is a marked departure from standard supermarket practice, in which national buyers dictate what each store will carry, and big food manufacturers pay thousands of dollars in slotting fees to get their products on the shelf.

At Whole Foods, no executive sitting in Austin decides which products will appear on what shelves. Stores are encouraged to buy locally as long as the items meet Whole Foods’ stringent standards. As a result, every store carries a unique mix of products. Teams also control staffing levels within their departments, a prerogative that is elsewhere usually reserved for the store manager.

In essence, each team operates like a profit center and is measured on its labor productivity. While associates are highly empowered, they are also highly accountable. Every four weeks, Whole Foods calculates the profit per labor hour for every team in every store. Teams that exceed a certain threshold get a bonus in the next pay check. Each team has access to performance data for every other team within its store, and for similar teams in every other store. The fact that no team wants to end up as a laggard adds to the motivation to do well. All this explains why the hiring vote is such a big deal at Whole Foods. Vote in a slacker, and your paycheck may take a beating...

This exceptional degree of autonomy conveys a simple but invigorating message: It is you, rather than some distant manager, who controls your success. The fact that this freedom is matched by a high level of accountability ensures that associates use their discretionary decision-making power in ways that drive the business forward.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

i-TFTD #212

i-TFTD #212

A slightly different theme for today's i-TFTDs...

#212-1. Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.
-Roger Miller

2. You can do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

3. Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.

These caught my attention when watching a set of very senior people preparing to present something on stage in a corporate event. The progress from extreme inhibition to getting coached by a local choreographer to actually performing a rather amateurish dance was fascinating. The end result was that we all had fun.

The message is to let one's hair down occasionally, to stop overanalyzing and worrying, and have fun. Think of any enthusiastic person and you will find someone who people like to have around.

Friday, August 14, 2009

i-TFTD #211

i-TFTD #211

#211-1. Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated; you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps.
-William Lloyd George

2. If you hit every time... the target is too near or too big.
-Tom Hirshfield

3. A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.
-Winston Churchill

Simple reminders to think big, be boldly ambitious and to keep working on one's ego and temper. Humility and greatness go together.

Monday, August 10, 2009

i-TFTD #210

i-TFTD #210

#210-1. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered.
-Robert Fulghum

2. Your friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you.
-Elbert Hubbard

3. Your reputation is in the hands of others. That's what a reputation is. You can't control that. The only thing you can control is your character.
-Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

The first and the third could be related. Focusing on our actions is a better bet than worrying about how we are perceived. Similarly, focusing on watering our current pasture is more productive than jumping to various other greener-looking ones. I crave for another role or title or job that looks attractive but meanwhile I miss opportunities to do well in my current one. My neighbour's gadget or car seems to have cool features but regular maintenance of my earlier version might give me better comfort and utility value.

In all these dilemmas of life, a true friend is one who connects with our real self, with whom we feel no pressure to pretend about anything.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

i-TFTD #209: Deadly Sho(r)ts

i-TFTD #209: Deadly Sho(r)ts

#209-1. What I stand for is what I stand on.
-Wendell Berry, farmer, author (b. 1934)

#209-2. One should count each day a separate life.
-Lucius Annaeus Seneca, philosopher (BCE 3-65 CE)

#209-3. The best way to prepare for life is to begin to live.
-Elbert Hubbard, author, editor, printer (1856-1915)

When we use our basic values, principles and genuine talents as the base, success comes easier. That strong platform enables us to be more resilient to setbacks. Too many people today are hesitant to take a stand, confusing flexibility and open-mindedness with dilly-dallying and political expediency. If there is nothing I stand for, what can I stand on?

We could choose to start every day afresh, as enthusiastically as an interesting journey we embark upon. We should worry if successive days seem like television show reruns.

The third quote is a powerful reminder for those who are not action-oriented, who ponder excessively to take the perfect decision or those who seek advice from many, hoping to avoid all mistakes.

How much can be conveyed in just a few words!

Monday, August 3, 2009

i-TFTD #208

i-TFTD #208

#208-1. Almost every man wastes part of his life attempting to display qualities which he does not possess.
-Samuel Johnson

2. There is a vast difference in some instances between what we really need and that which we think we must have, and the realization of this truth will greatly lessen the seeming discomfort in doing without.
-William M. Peck

3. You grow up the day you have your first real laughat yourself.
-Ethel Barrymore

The first one is profound. At least as we grow older it is important for our true character to manifest itself and bring genuineness to all our interactions.

What I want and what I need might sometimes be the opposite of each other. If I paid attention to the difference, which one would I want?

Laughing at oneself is one of the milestones in maturity. Anyway if you don't do it, others will.