Thursday, November 25, 2010

i-TFTD #299: Former CEOs Dispense Wisdom

#299-1. Leaders who execute, focus on a very few clear priorities that everyone can grasp. A leader who says "I've got ten priorities" doesn't know what he's talking about—he doesn't know himself what the most important things are.
-Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, in their book, Execution

#299-2. A CEO's job is to interpret external realities for a company.
-A. G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter and Gamble

#299-3. It's quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't at all. You can be discouraged by failure—or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that's where you will find success.
-Thomas J. Watson, Former CEO of IBM

Leaders who, by definition, are at a higher vantage point, need to share useful perspectives with their teams that helps the team perform better. It is the leader's job to crystallize the relevant key aspects of the barrage of dynamic information from the environment and spell out a simple vision for everyone to work toward.

Increasing the top line, improved profitability, higher customer satisfaction, better quality, innovation on products or services... when would an organization not want to pursue all these objectives? But if all of them are stated as important, they become platitudes. Effective leaders identify the need of the hour and articulate in a memorable manner to energize the workforce to attain ambitious goals in that direction.

In the quest for higher levels of performance, mistakes are an essential part of the process. Bill Gates and Tom Peters among others ! have emphatically pointed out the need for companies to foster a culture of trying out things that may not succeed the first time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

i-TFTD #298: Change How We Face

#298-1. If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.
-John "Jack" Welch (1935-), former chairman and CEO of General Electric

#298-2. Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.
-James Baldwin (1924–1987), African-American writer

#298-3. Events are not predictable, but consequences are, so focus on preparedness.
-Nassim Nicholas Taleb (1960-), Lebanese essayist and practitioner of mathematical financial economics, author of "The Black Swan" and "Fooled by Randomness"

There is a certain type of openness and generic flexibility that can help cope with unpredictable situations in a better manner than if one were rigid. This rigidity could be inertia or it could manifest as overconfidence on one's assessment of scenarios. One trick is self-induced change in the spirit of one of the quotes from i-TFTD in June 2008: It is necessary to change before change becomes necessary.

Monday, November 15, 2010

i-TFTD #297: Serve, Act and Learn

#297-1. The high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule.
-Albert Einstein

#297-2. How you live one day is eventually how you live your life.
-Phillip Yancey

#297-3. The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.
-Flora Whittemore

The first quote can be applied by managers in how they see their role in leading a team. In today's world, seeing yourself as the "rajah" or "rani" of your team is not only useless, it is invalid and harmful. If I adopt the view that my role is to serve the team by removing obstacles, leading from the front by example, using my experience to coach and groom my subordinates, I would find it easier to earn respect and cooperation in achieving the common goal. A somewhat old concept called "Servant Leadership" is actually gaining popularity these days.

Too many of our good intentions and thoughts to improve ourselves and the situation get bogged down in trying to achieve grand goals. Just getting started and doing what is possible today will pave the path to bigger progress.

"Open door" and "close door" can be taken literally, but can also be applied to new ideas, people, thoughts, feelings… Open is not always better than close, being conscious of the process is better than operating out of habit.

Friday, November 12, 2010

i-TFTD #296: Dead Evidence

This is an interesting snippet from a short piece at written by Rob May in July 2007 titled
What Bullet Holes in Airplanes Can Teach You About Making Better Business Decisions

During World War II, statistician Abraham Wald tried to determine where to add extra armor to airplanes. Based on the patterns of bullet holes in returning airplanes, he suggested that the parts not hit should be protected with extra armor. Why?

Wald was looking at what is sometimes called "dead evidence." He reasoned like this... if these planes are returning, we know that if they are hit in the spots they have been hit, they can still fly. The planes that did not return must have been hit in different places. So put the extra armor wherever the returning planes were not hit.

I think most people would have a natural inclination to put the armor where the returning planes had been hit. The real answer is simple, but counterintuitive. It's called "dead evidence" because it is what people ignore when they make these judgments.

(Thanks to Ramanan Jagannathan for sharing this.)

Many creative thinking techniques involve consciously inverting our view, looking at the opposite of the normal, imagining upside down and inside out. Could be applied in any situation where we want to get new ideas and insights.
-Attrition is a concern in any company, instead of only looking at exit interviews to analyze why leavers are leaving, find out why stayers are staying and strengthen those attributes in the company
-Everyone seems to be buying a brand or investing in some asset, instead of finding reasons for that, analyze the reasons why others are not buying that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

i-TFTD #295: On Problem-Solving Attitude

#295-1. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.
-H.R. McMaster, Brigadier General, US Army, Iraq War veteran (b. 1962), talking about the overuse of PowerPoint presentations

#295-2. No great programmer is sitting there saying, 'I'm going to make a bunch of money,' or 'I'm going to sell a hundred thousand copies.' Because that kind of thought gives you no guidance about the problems.
-Bill Gates

#295-3. I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.
-Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

Not only is Death by Powerpoint a malaise of the times, there seems to be a general aversion to depth and nuance. Many so-called good managers tend to quickly list short conclusions and push for action items to assign to an SPC (single point of contact). Is it only me or have you noticed the irony of rapid multiplication of SPCs?

Simon Sinek, author of Start with the Why, would probably say that making money is the What and selling copies is the How but the Why is more important. Yes, there are critics of his oversimplified arguments, his force-fitting of examples like Apple to his theory and his expansion of a simple message into a Why University but his emphasis on the importance of purpose is valid.

Almost any problem can benefit from a scientific approach, even in intangible realms like spirituality. All my favorite gurus of the beyond, The Buddha, Adi Shankara, Ramana Maharishi and Anthony Demello, endorsed questioning and thinking through for oneself. Though I have not read him much, probably because of the bias instilled long ago by the Indian press about his huge Rolls Royce collection and activities in his Pune ashram, Osho Rajneesh seems to have propagated the same.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

i-TFTD #294: On the Difficulty of Change

#294-1. The inability to change is the inability to reckon with reality.
-Stefan Rudolph

#294-2. Obstinacy is the result of the will forcing itself into the place of the intellect.
-Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher (1788-1860)

#294-3. The door of a bigoted mind opens outwards so that the only result of the pressure of facts upon it is to close it more snugly.
-Ogden Nash, author (1902-1971)

Reality is change—every moment.At multiple levels. Our mind recognizes this, and wants to adapt suitably but another part, the individual-centric ego, wants to hold on to something, anything. It manufactures vague threatening images of losing out, which obscures reality. We have to open the door inwards to let the light of facts illuminate through the fog of fear.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

i-TFTD #293: Thus Spake the Johns

#293-1. When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
-John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900)

#293-2. Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.
-John Wooden, American basketball coach (1910-2010)

#293-3. The real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money.
-John Henry Jowett, preacher (1864-1923)

Building skills to hone the areas of our natural passion is easier and helps achieves excellence faster. Observe how different individuals learn at varying speeds in a training program. Your own rapid learning is an important clue to the areas where you can develop strengths.

Money and fame are useful indicators of our realizing our potential but there are more important things that endure. One should not make these milestones the goal of the journey.