Turns out there is a recipe for happiness after all

It just isn’t what you may think, or think you want.

ABD AL-RAHMAN III was an emir and caliph of Córdoba in 10th-century Spain. He was an absolute ruler who lived in complete luxury. Here’s how he assessed his life:

“I have now reigned above 50 years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: They amount to 14.”

WOW! That is the only appropriate response, right? In 50 years of unequalled power and wealth and good health, he achieved two weeks of happiness.

When you really think about, you will realise that our evolutionary drivers (and maybe even our sinful nature) means we are hardwired to seek four things. The first three of these are:

  • Fame
  • Wealth
  • Sexual variety

These things make us more likely to pass on our DNA. Had our cave-man ancestors not acquired some version of these things (a fine reputation for being a great rock sharpener; multiple animal skins), they might not have found enough mating partners to create your lineage.

But, cruelly, these things help us procreate more effectively to increase the likelihood of survival, but do not necessarily produce happiness. The article I found on this topic simply suggests that Mother Nature is cruel because she does not care/ require us to be happy.

I actually think that is the fourth element of this evolutionary quartet. IF fame, wealth and sexual variety made us content and happy, it would actually be counter-productive as it would incentivise us to rest on our laurels at some point.

By causing perpetual UN-happiness instead, it ensures we continue to pursue more and more of those things that ensure our survival, and entrenches our unhappiness.

I have redacted this wisdom from an article I found online. Read the whole article here – it is probably the best 10 minutes you will spend this year – if you actually turn the advice into action.

The recipe for success I promised in the title is this: LOVE PEOPLE. USE THINGS. (And not: LOVE THINGS. USE PEOPLE.)

(This post was the introduction to our Fortnightly #thinkdifferent newsletter. You can have a look at our archives – and subscribe - HERE to get more of it if you like.)

How do you like living under THIS regime?

Pop-quiz: Can you name the Regime I describe below?

  • There is complete control over communications network where every person using it can be identified within minutes down to the exact location.
  • Every piece of communication is archived and is accessible in perpetuity, and the State has access to it at any time. (Anything you say can and will be used against you.)
  • There is no privacy.
  • There is a cadre of hundreds of thousands of people who freely volunteer their time and resources to assist the regime to monitor all communications made by citizens.
  • Anyone who is deemed to make an inappropriate comment or communication is immediately identified; their transgression publicised, and is mocked and ridiculed by all other citizens relentlessly.
  • Perceived transgressors are then marked for life and are monitored by other citizens, the press or anyone who stands to gain from any further transgression.
  • The standard of what is acceptable is very narrow, and must conform to the view of the masses in every respect. These standards are not published anywhere and are subject to change at any time at the whim of the opinion leaders. Additionally, these standards govern a wide range of issues, including matters of opinion, science, religion, politics, sport entertainment – in fact it covers every sphere of life.

Can you guess the regime?

This is how Wikipedia describes the role of STASI in the Nazi Regime:

One of its main tasks was spying on the population, mainly through a vast network of citizens turned informants, and fighting any opposition by overt and covert measures including hidden psychological destruction of dissidents.

Or were you thinking maybe Cuba or North Korea? Russia perhaps - despite the demise of the Cold War and Communism?

Sadly, it is Australia.

Actually this regime is everywhere. It exists in your pocket or wherever you keep your mobile phone. It exists pretty much everywhere you care to go and every one of us now lacks the freedom to speak our minds. It's the new internet.

I am not suggesting the impact is anything like what happened in Germany and I am not trying to suggest the situation then and situation now are the same, except for the process by which one group dominates the conversation. I am using an extreme example to illustrate that suppression of free speech is a bad thing; even if you happen to agree with the argument, the other side should always have the right to argue their case peacefully.

The left-leaning pseudo-intellectuals have taken over public discourse and they shall brook no interference. On social issues; unless you are pro-climate change, pro-gay marriage, pro-abortion, anti-racism and anti-religion; you don’t have a voice the vigilante trolls will allow.

  • Speak your mind at a conference and you will be howled down.
  • Publish a tweet and you are tolled into submission.
  • Publish a disagreeable blog and you become a hashtag.
  • Published a book and the critics are scathing.

Of course, they often hide behind the anonymity of an avatar.

The latest example of this is that of Gavin McInnes being asked to take leave of absence for publishing this article. (WARNING: Don’t read if you are easily offended.)

Naturally there are contrarian views around; human nature will see to it that there always are. What has changed now is that social media has equipped individuals with a megaphone that enables them to have a disproportionate influence on any debate.

The notion of ‘Social Proof’ has now entered the everyday lexicon so most readers will be acquainted with the idea. It is indeed a powerful motivator of human behaviour and is the force behind ‘crowd mentality’. And now we are the rule of this mindless mob.

Too often the loudest voices are least qualified to articulate an issue and their responses are characterised by a pseudo-intellectual self-righteousness that boggles the mind more than a Vodka smoothie.

And it is not only individuals who suffer:

There are literally too many to mention: Google “PR disaster on twitter” and you get almost 12 million results and “celebrity disaster on twitter” gets you 29 million plus.

Tell me what we have today is not a close sibling of that STASI regime of the NAZI era?

Soon, Christians and Conservatives will have to consider whether they ‘come out’ to society. Doing so will jeopardise their employment prospects and social standing. If you don’t believe Climate Change is what the climate lobby makes it out to be and if you dare question the science or methodology, then you do so at your own risk.

If your response is ‘serves them right’ or ‘now they will know what it feels like’ you exhibit exactly the infantile powers of reasoning that determines the level of the debate.

In the world we live in now, these are the things that are now normalised:

  • Using illicit drugs is now socially acceptable.
  • Calling someone a c*#t is OK too.
  • Mocking all forms of authority (from the PM to the local police officer) is a badge of honour.

As it happens, I share some of the views of the rabid rabble, even as I seek to distance myself from their general conduct. I have written about this before in 2012, and it has only gotten worse.

In her biography on Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

This is often misattributed to Voltaire himself as an illustration of Voltaire's beliefs, but no matter who said it, Hall's quotation is often, rightly, cited to describe the principle of freedom of speech, and I personally could not agree more.

In Australia the Liberal Government recently tried to amend the definition of Free Speech by repealing a few words of Section 18C - that something that is ‘offensive’ should not naturally be classified as hate speech. The UK edition of The Spectator summarised it smartly:

If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all.

(I found this piece when I was searching for the Voltaire quotation above, and it is along the same theme I am writing here – only written by a professional – Mark Steyn - who articulates some of the issues more eloquently. Well worth reading, and don’t miss the comments; all 1300 of them.)

I find it offensive that you may call someone a c&*t, but I respect the right you have to say so. Everyone is now gluten intolerant and pro-abortion. How the world turns on the whims.

I suppose that is what happens in the absence of an absolute moral authority when everything is relative; society begins to unravel at the edges as the moral tide ebbs and flows with the whims of the easily led masses.

C’est la vie.

Why you can’t have what you want (in life and in business)

You can’t have what you want because what you want can’t be had.

And the reason why you don’t understand what can’t be had (and what can) is because you don’t understand systems thinking.

Let’s consider this on a personal level first, and then apply to business.

  • You can’t ‘faith’ but you can ‘believe’.
  • You can’t ‘happiness’ but you can ‘appreciate the moment’
  •  You can’t ‘wisdom’ but you can ‘choose wisely’
  •  You can’t ‘winner’ but you can ‘try hard’

But let’s start at the beginning.

In the world of systems thinking, it is a matter of first principles to identify Inputs à Processes à Outputs as a matter of course in every facet of life. A common mistake non-systems thinkers make is not confuse the outcome with the process and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to change an outcome instead of focussing on the inputs/processes that will deliver the outcome.

If you bake a cake that tastes like a turd, no amount of icing sugar will change it. Fix the ingredients or the process to produce a cake the way it should taste. Right?

(I have told you in 2007 that you should understand systems thinking. In fact, if you go to ganador.com.au, you will see an example of systems thinking on the home page.)

We constantly fail to identify something as an outcome and spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fix it.

If you want (e.g.) HAPPINESS, realise that it is something that in of itself it cannot be ‘had’ directly. You have to do something else in order to achieve happiness. (Learning to appreciate the moment is one avenue to happiness. It is one of the processes that will lead to happiness.)

Systems Thinking explains how the world works and consequently that it is futile to focus on the outcomes, but rather to focus on the back-end inputs and processes that will produce those outcomes.

In business we are conditioned to ‘watch the scoreboard’. Of course it is important to have metrics, but it is about picking the right metrics too. The purpose of metrics is to guide us towards the decisions we must take and the things we must do.

Customer Satisfaction, Profit and Sales are examples of useless metrics. (Okay, maybe less useful.)

These are examples of OUTPUTS. They are the equivalent of the cake that tastes of turd. Nothing you can do about these variables.

It is beyond the scope of a simple blog post to change your philosophical perspective on business, but if you do embrace systems thinking, you will appreciate that measures of productivity are more effective measurements because it measures OUTPUTS relative INPUTS. E.g. Sales per Employee is more useful than simply measuring sales. Likewise, the Average Sale is more useful than sales for the same reason.

You can’t HAVE more SALES but you can have staff SELLING more and if you measure that, which is what will cause more sales to happen.

By focussing on the inputs (staff/skills) and the processes (selling/.service) you produce those outcomes that you really want.

Keep your eye on the ball, not on the scoreboard.

There is a Silver Bullet after all

This post is inspired by a podcast I listened to where the person had a stroke that affected his brain and the process he went through the re-train his brain. During that process he learned to meditate with a female Buddhist monk, who passed this insight on to him

Our stroke victim wanted to grow in his compassion for other people and he said he thought he had a lot of compassion. The Monk gave him some advice: She said he had empathy, but not compassion. He indicated that he thought it was very similar.

And this is the insight that followed:

No, she said: ‘Compassion is Empathy with a View.’

By that she meant that empathy had to be accompanied by ‘perspective’ or a view of the world and how it works.

The perspective or view of the world IS THE SILVER BULLET that puts the things you desire in context and makes you understand how to ‘view’ that outcome and to ‘appreciate’ it for what it is.

Having a clear view/ sense of purpose or a life plan helps explain what happens and helps direct your choices towards something in a cohesive manner.

On a personal lever your ‘view’ matters: The Christian sees God’s plan, the Hedonist sees pursuit of pleasure; and both of those views will inform how you experience everything. In the one instance pain must be endured and in another it must be avoided.

The Monk understood that empathy was something the individual experienced (internally) but that compassion was something that someone else experienced (externally). Empathy is a warm and fuzzy feeling, but compassion is something that reaches out and touches people.

If you want to be able to make sense of the world or have the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity or to be focussed on a specific outcome, the silver bullet is finding your sense of purpose.

Now for the part that most people miss.

Everybody HAS a view of life. And it DOES shape how you experience life. Only, most people don’t realise what it is nor how it works. Their view of life was formed by accident instead of by disciplined reflection.

Now for the sad part of all of this.

The DEFAULT view of life for most people is their own personal survival. And under the term ‘survival’ I include psychological survival, social survival and the like. We default to do that what is in our own best interests. Or more specifically, we default to what we THINK is the best for us.

The world is a much better place for all those people who purposefully choose to serve their Country, devote time to their Community or serve God – for instance – than for all the people who simply pursue their own personal happiness.

Not only is the world a better place, those people who choose an external focus for their lives are much better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of life, and consequently are happier.

There are many stories of people who won Lotto who, within a few years, end up exactly where they were before. (You of course believe you will be different.) The best view of these things was summed up in a Forbes article:

Achieving major life goals, including winning the lottery, or the more basic goal of getting married, doesn’t wind up making us as happy as we expect. (A) big positive event like a lottery win can impact happiness, but its effects diminish over time Why? Because while a lottery win can make a difference, it won’t affect the other conditions of your life, like who your siblings or parents are or your basic disposition.

There are many stories of people who suffered serious setbacks – for example by becoming disable – yet went on to live full and meaningful lives. Nick Vujicic is possibly the best example of what I am trying to say here.

On a corporate/ business lever your ‘view’ matters: A company with a clear sense of purpose – with a strong ‘view’ in the Buddhist’s terms - is one that can direct itself purposefully.

Let’s say you are struggling to be a successful entrepreneur. Your ‘view’ will determine what you do and how you cope and what eventually happens.

If you see business as a game, you will adopt different tactics, maybe hire a coach or even try and bend the rules.  Or of course you may simply practice harder.

The MISSION you have for your business is the director/founder’s attempt to articulate the VIEW of the business. It is the answer to the question: “What is this (business) all about?’

To have a clear sense of mission (a ‘view’) makes the present problems and opportunities so much clearer. In fact, unless you have the lens afforded by a clear and powerful vision, you won’t SEE the opportunities when they present themselves. And you will see insurmountable obstacles instead of challenges.

I have written elsewhere about systems thinking in the post ‘Why you can’t have what you want’. In that post I explain how the pursuit of outcomes is misguided, and why we should measure and focus on the Inputs and the Processes.

Your takeaway is to contemplate the inputs and the processes that will produce the outcomes you want – and to focus on that.

If it is that easy, why are you not doing it?

Don’t stand so close: the science behind serving a customer

Every day I see retailers and staff stand around retail stores. Waiting… for something to happen as they continue to shuffle merchandise around the store. And this makes me wonder about something.

I know there is something out there that is freely available. It is easy. It costs nothing to implement. It’s proven to improve performance. Yet no one is doing it. Why?

Consider this:

There are many easy to implement behaviours that can improve service and increase your ability to persuade the customer to buy.


The Triangle of Persuasion

Don’t stand opposite the customer. That is a confrontational position even though it feels natural to end there when you walk towards the customer. Walk around and stand next to the customer and turn your body 45 degrees towards the customer.

 Stay outside the customer’s personal bubble. This varies by culture, but usually about 2 feet (60cm) is acceptable to most people. Look for signals if the customer is uncomfortable.

Both parties should be able to face AND reach the merchandise or object of interest. Buyer and seller side-by-side should be able to focus their attention on the object of interest.

You should stand on the right-hand side of the customer where possible. Of course sometimes the design of the store or position of the customer makes it difficult to start there, but attempt to manoeuvre that way unobtrusively if you can.

Make sure there are no obstacles between you and the customer. This includes baskets, trolleys, equipment, prams or handbags – and especially the counter.

Ensure your customer is as comfortable as possible. Not too hot/cold. If seated, make the chair comfy. (Search Google for ‘embodied cognition’ if you don’t believe me – or read this as a primer.)

There is more. From the shape of your mouth to the colour of your shirt, there are a myriad influences that can easily be systematised to be part of how you do business – without adding any cost.

But WHAT these things are is not really the issue here.

Long-term readers may remember this blog on Inside Retailing was called Retail$mart (and so was the Ganador blog and still has that URL). That is because I have always tried to create products based on insights that are road-tested practices and scientific findings. Over the last seven years I have shared many of those here and there. I don’t believe in trade secrets and I am not using this to pitch for work – feel free to create your own training by using the tips provided above.

Over the last two years Neuroscience has entered the public sphere. (Along with it the obligatory pop-up gurus of course, but that is another story.) The popular accessibility of this knowledge raises a very important issue, and is the purpose of this post.

The real question at issue here is: if ANYONE can find these insights, and let’s face it this is not rocket science, WHY are people not using it?

It is freely available. It is easy. It costs nothing to implement. It’s proven to work.

Consider the six things I mentioned above.

How many of them are trained into and embedded in your business? If not, why not? Please share in the comments… I am really curious.

Have you heard the one about Bumblebees not supposed to be able to fly?

The myth loves on...

The myth loves on...

This myth was debunked very nicely by Dr Karl; and the story goes something like this:

According to John McMasters, who back in the 'good old days' was principal engineer on the aerodynamics staff at Boeing Commercial Aeroplanes, it seems the aerodynamicist of the myth was probably an unnamed Swiss professor famous in the 1930s and 1940s for his work in supersonic gas dynamics. The aerodynamicist was having dinner with a biologist. In the idle chit-chat, the biologist noted that bees and wasps had very flimsy wings — but heavy bodies. So how could they possibly fly?

With absolutely no hard data, but a willingness to help that overcame good dinner party etiquette, the aerodynamicist made two assumptions in his back-of-envelope calculations.

The first assumption was that the bees' wings were flat plates that were mostly smooth (like aeroplane wings). The second assumption was that as air flows over an insect's wings, it would separate easily from the wing. Both of these assumptions turned out to be totally incorrect — and the origin of our myth.

The aerodynamicist's initial rough calculations 'proved' that insects could not fly. But that was not the end of the story.

Of course, being a good scientist, his sense of curiosity got him interested in this problem. Clearly, insects can fly. He then examined insect wings under a microscope and found that they had a ragged and rough surface. In other words, one of his assumptions was way off.

But by then, overzealous journalists had spread the myth he had inadvertently created. The story had flown free, even though the bumblebee supposedly couldn't.

There is a lesson in that for all of us. In fact several lessons if we really want to be honest. For instance that much of what we ‘know’ isn’t really knowledge at all. But I want to focus on one particular epistemic principle that we will be well served remembering:

Things that we know today are always overturned in the face of advancing knowledge. As time goes by, we learn things that allow us to create better explanations. But no matter how good the explanation today, there is always a better one tomorrow.

This force of advancing knowledge has a profound implication for our everyday lives and specifically for business strategy:

Everything you believe and take as fact today is changed tomorrow in the light of new evidence.

Just like we once thought the earth was flat and that the start revolved around us, we now know better. Just as Newton’s explanations were eclipsed by Einstein’s theories, everything we know today is at best found to be only partially correct tomorrow.

So how can the Truth change? Well the answer is that it hasn't. The Universe is still the same as it ever was. When a theory is said to be ``true'' it means that it agrees with all known experimental evidence. 

SIDEBAR: This is a point where both THEISTS and ATHEISTS argue their own position. Theists claim that ABSOLUTE truth exists. This is a philosophical assertion based on the notion that ‘it is just so’ – it is something we simply intuit universally. The ATHEIST must argue necessarily that everything is relative. That is, that ‘truth’ is simply that which agrees with all current experimental evidence.
Every person (consciously or not) must take a position in one of these two exclusive camps; one where TRUTH is an absolute and one where it is relative. I find it absolutely hilarious how some people can’t argue against the notion of an absolute truth, but equally firmly adopts an atheistic worldview.

But science has taught us nothing if not that there is always a better explanation around the corner. Some take great comfort from science’s commitment to constantly disprove itself as if this of itself guarantees that we are getting closer to some grand unifying theory of everything. Of course it could just as easily be just a gigantic rabbit hole down which we chase that absolute truth denied by scientists in the first place.

Whatever way you choose, when it comes to human affairs like business strategy, marketing and management and the like, clearly there are no absolutes.

What is right today is wrong tomorrow.

Whoever is best at the strategic arbitrage opportunities and can identify the shifts and changes best and soonest stands to profit most.

But more immediately and possibly more relevant to most of us mere mortals, this shifting foundation of knowledge means that we should recognise this universal truth. The more convicted you are of your opinion, the more compelling the consultant’s exposition the more certain you can be that it, whilst it may seem right now, it is bound to be proven wrong tomorrow.

If you research and study the evolution of the ‘marketing concept’ and/or the ‘evolution of retailing’ then you will notice that ‘the right way’ is always the current way of doing it – the prevailing paradigm so to speak.

Current best practice is always superseded by something better. So a healthy dose of cynicism is a prerequisite in our modern world; for the lack of it will result in us chasing down the ephemeral promises of every fad that comes along.

The bumble bee that is not supposed to fly and the frog that gets slowly cooked in the pot of boiling water are great motivating stories – but nothing more than that. The absolute truth is a bit more elusive and it takes a lifetime to pursue and, who knows, may only be discovered once we pass away.

In the meantime, question everything.

How to build a business from $2m to $5m in five steps

That is a pretty rich title because I have not done it myself. In my defense, I have looked at the price to be paid and I have decided that I don’t want to pay that price. Or at worst I have convinced myself that I don’t want to pay the price when I am really afraid to try; but I am sticking to the former.

Then again, every great coach wasn’t necessarily the greatest player – and all that is required is that you must be a great student of the ‘game’ and it helps if you’ve coached and consulted to a fair few who have done so.

This post is triggered because I recently read an article, proffering the following platitudes that were disguised as advice:

  1. Build your brand with Social Media
  2. Focus on your goals
  3. Sales and Marketing has to happen daily
  4. Build your company foundation on process
  5. Employ performing staff

(I don’t want to link to it and give any more oxygen, because I really don’t think those platitudes are helpful at all.)

I equate that type of advice to telling fat people to lose weight or telling introverts to get out there and have more fun. Of course there is an element of truth to all those statements – as attested by over hundred affirming comments.

But if you want to know the REAL truth, here goes:

Irrespective of anything you DO about your business to take it to the next level, several other things must go right over which you have no control:

  • It must be a kind of business that is capable of generating $5m. That is there must be a market for whatever it is you are selling.
  • Hope that the government does not move the goal posts
  • Pray that a competitor with deeper pockets does not decide to muscle in
  • And so forth.

That is: you need some luck. Your timing and your environment must work for you and not against you. Luck is often the loser’s excuse, but that does not mean it doesn’t play a role in the eventual outcome of a business venture.

Assuming you have some luck, you will ALSO be making a million decisions a month to take your business in the right direction. You must be very skilled or very lucky that none of the decisions you take serve to derail your business. You could easily choose one wrong supplier, choose a wrong web-host, adopt a flawed pricing strategy or implement a promotion that drains cash and delivers no return. This does not mean you are not an entrepreneur or that someone else was smarter or better than you. They simply lucked out by not making the same mistakes. These mistakes are always easily identifiable in hindsight, rarely with foresight.

Now, if you are a bit lucky and you are reasonably competent decision maker then you are in with a chance. If you are already running a $2m business, chances are that you are doing something right; so the things you must do next are the key steps that will take you to the next level:

ONE: Formulate a clear vision of the NEW business model. Let me be very clear: your $5m business is NOT more of the same, it is different in almost every imaginable way. Understanding your new business model is a prerequisite because the decisions that follow are about implementing that vision with processes and resources that align everything towards that vision. (Note: a business model is not a business plan.)

TWO: Actively articulate the new mindset that is required to take you ahead. Almost everything that you did up until this point must be thrown out the window and you need to re-think how you do everything. What needs to be done is quite specific and quite radical. You must understand yourself, your default position and actively identify what needs to change and keep that in mind as you proceed. (I wrote about ‘defaults’ here.) You must really build a new mental model in your mind. (Everything that follows presumes this has happened.)

THREE: Assuming you have the right mindset, you must:

restructure your business so that you are made redundant

reassign responsibilities and accountabilities amongst different staff members

redesign the processes that govern all business activities in such a way that it can scale to the new level – this is what we mean by saying that you work ‘on’ the business and not ‘in’ the business 

FOUR: Do the basics well. This should be easy part, but sadly it isn’t always. Sales. Marketing. Branding. Visual Merchandising. Service. All these are basic processes in the retail environment and the nature of ‘success’ is clearly understood.

FIVE: Implement like hell. Commitment. Drive. Persistence. All these words come to mind for what comes next. It is not easy. Be prepared to fail. But get up, fix it and move on. There is a price to pay: you will be pushed out of your comfort zone and be pushed out of your bed earlier and more often than you would like, but trust me, if success comes easily then it is just luck. Real success is a harsh taskmaster that demands a steep price of its seekers.

These five steps are arbitrary because you could make it more or you could make it less. The aim is that they are not platitudes, but rather spells out concrete steps that can be taken. You may need help to get there, but with a solid game plan and a bit of coaching its amazing what can be accomplished.

Just ask the Waratahs.

Dennis

Ganador – architects of high performance business

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How to live an inspired and inspiring life

The truth is you can't be anything you want to be and you can't do anything you want to do.

History proves that sometimes circumstance or destiny will force us down a path that is not of our choosing .

And common sense will tell you that if you are fixated on one goal, you are likely to miss every opportunity that comes your way

Preparing for your future and achieving the things you would like to achieve must be balanced with a certain joie d'vie and living in the moment. That, dear friend is the ART of living: finding balance between the things you have to do and the things you want to do and the balance between common sense and adventure.

This is ultimately the balance between being alive and living.

This inspiring talk by Andrew Solomon is well worth 15 minutes of your time as you contemplate why you are here.

Long-time readers will know that I have never been a great fan of that whole 'set a goal - believe and achieve' glibness that permeates self-help books and new age literature. Daniel Pink wrote a book called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need to help young (and old) people understand the world of work. The 160-page graphic novel about a hapless office clerk, a tart-tongued sprite, and some magic chopsticks takes a whopping half-hour to read. The book’s 6 key career lessons:

1. There is no plan.

Make decisions for fundamental, not instrumental, reasons.

2. Think strengths, not weaknesses.

Do the things you do well — that give you energy rather than drain it.

3. It’s not about you.

The most successful people improve their own lives by improving others’ lives.

4. Persistence trumps talent.

There are massive returns to doggedness.

5. Make excellent mistakes.

Commit errors from which the benefits of what you’ve learned exceed the costs of what you’ve screwed up.

6. Leave an imprint.

Recognize that your life isn’t infinite and that you should use your limited time here to do something that matters.

The topic of this post may at first seem strange, but there is much to take from the underlying approach to life.

Read those six steps again and apply that to your business – and think about how your business would be different if you followed this approach to life and business instead.

Dennis

PS: This post is adapted from a previous post in my fortnightly newsletter which you can get here. (And a free eBook on Visual Merchandising emailed to all who subscribe.)

The productivity rules I break to be productive


A recent article espoused the rules Tim Ferris came up with as the perfect ‘STOP DOING’ list to improve productivity.

I can say without much equivocation that I am an extremely productive person. It is a big claim and hard to prove to the casual reader. But here is a snapshot of my email inbox.

There are exactly 5 emails – and all of them require me to take an action that I must do. When I go to bed – there may be one or two – usually none. Even my junk email folder gets emptied several times a day.

I break EVERY ‘rule’ the productivity experts come up with:

Do Not Answer Calls from Unrecognized Numbers

I don’t think I am that special. I don’t want to limit all future human interaction with only people that I know. If someone went to the trouble of finding me or my (unlisted) number I am happy to talk. It may be short but only after I have listened.

Do Not Email First Thing in the Morning or Last Thing at Night AND Do Not Check Email Constantly

I check email all the time – including first thing and last thing.  But I deal with 95% of them only once: delete, file, action or refer. It takes a few seconds per email on average and it doesn’t matter WHEN you spend the time – logically – just that you do it efficiently.

(I have a short attention span, and every few minutes I sue the break in my attention to quickly nail a few emails, then return to what I was doing. It may not work fro everyone, but in my case I am constantly engaged with one thing at a time, and I optimise my productivity that way.)


Do Not Agree to Meetings or Calls With No Clear Agenda or End Time  

This may only apply if I am the most senior person in the meeting. If my boss asks me to attend a meeting I would go and suggest you do to.

Do Not Let People Ramble

What a rude suggestion. We are not all the same. It may take a few minutes  extra to get to the point but if you rush someone or cut them off, the point they want to make will probably be not the same and besides, the most important thing in a relationship is the initial ‘likability’ which is dialled to zero if you cut someone off.

Do Not Overcommunicate With Low-Profit, High-Maintenance Customers

If they are a customer, they are a customer and are treated as such. If you don’t want them as a customer, then ‘fire’ them and then you don’t have to communicate at all.

These are just the top 5. In the interest of my own productivity I will stop there because the point is made:

Be careful who you accept advice from because just because it works for one (or even a thousand) does not mean it is right for you.

Are you a leader who makes decisions like a turkey?

People crave certainty like they crave food and water – and will go to almost any lengths to create certainty where none exists.

Harvard Business Review writes as follows:

“Of all the headwinds we face as decision-makers, the power of one overshadows all others: our need for certainty. It is typically more important for us to feel right, than to be right — a difference that didn’t matter much in the lives of our ancestors, but now matters a lot.”

And it explains it as follows:

“The lockdown of our minds serves an important purpose: Generations of our ancestors wouldn’t have survived had they constantly second-guessed their conclusions. In a harsh environment characterized by straightforward challenges that demanded quick responses, an indecisive caveman was a dead one.”

And then comes to this conclusion:

“Complex decision-making requires we defer the feeling of being right, by tolerating the tension of not knowing.”

I have warned repeatedly about embracing ‘research’ as the panacea. I have warned about fads and jumping on bandwagons such as many people with ‘Neuromarketing’ after reading one popular book.

I am not alone in thinking that people who claim to know the answer (and few are more certain than scientists) really don’t know anything:

  • NN Taleb points out that turkey will have growing confidence in his master’s desire to care well for it; until the master comes visiting with a big knife on until Christmas Eve. The point being that risk is not a linear process. (Just because spreadsheets make it easy to extend rows of numbers don’t mean they have any value.)
  • Shane Parrish wrote an interesting few observations about The Dangers of Certainty.
  • Andy Grove (ex-Intel Chairman) published his take on corporate management and strategy, putting constant paranoia on the pedestal, and that means he weaves uncertainty into the fabric of the organisational culture because ‘fear’ is nothing but uncertainty.

If you are perfectly confident in your answer, you won’t listen and you won’t hear the warning signs that you are wrong.

The HBR academics don’t address HOW we can go about fighting this basic physiological response, but this is a little mental checklist that I have learned to apply in decision making:

  • Is (what I think) true fact or disguised opinion?
  • What is the opposite of what I think and why is that not true?
  • If this is so self-evident, why isn’t everyone doing it?
  • I am simply extrapolating like a turkey?

Naturally no one will actually have mental checklist; but these types of responses in any decision situation becomes a ‘mindset’ and ‘a way of looking’ at things. Initially it may be acquired by being more conscious about the process until we become adept at distinguishing between what we know for certain and what we want to know.

I am not advocating analysis-paralysis; on the contrary, I am promoting that executives become prone to action by recognising the fuzzy comfort of perceived certainty for what it is. That is exactly why ‘movements’ like ‘lean thinking’ and ‘agile development’ came to prominence.

It is really all about fine-tuning your bullsh*t detector, and being honest enough to know that it must be aimed at our own conceptions and perceptions as much as other people’s.

You will be a better decision-maker if you do this: reject the pursuit of certainty as a noxious weed growing in your garden of innovation.

And few organisations can afford to be lead by leaders who lead as if they are completely certain about everything, because certainty is a lens through which we view a world that does not exist.

PS: This LinkedIn post elaborates a bit more chaos theory.

 

Y2K All Over: Will we ever learn?

Sometimes the wise all heads respond to the crisis of the day by referencing to the ‘last time this happened; or ‘been there done that’. That frustrates the generation because it is point of reference they don’t understand and argue that is not or cannot be ‘the same’ as before.

As usual, both generations are right.

But there is no denying that many events follow patterns and we’d be silly not to learn from those unless we are determined to let ego get in the way. An event that will be in the experience framework of the majority of managers over 30 will be that of the Y2K bug.

Just in case you don’t know or remember: traditional programming practice in early computer programming languages was to code dates with as few digits as possible, which led the practice of expressing your year as last two digits, so 1985 would be simply 85 – with a one line of code turning all date references into the proper date.

In 1999 most businesses of any substance devoted a large amount of time and resources to ensuring they survive the year 2000 calamity. (Personally I had to forfeit New Year’s Eve celebrations with my family to see Bankstown Square (as it was then) into the new millennium because we feared all the systems might shut down.

For example we worried that boom gates wouldn’t open and allow customers to enter the centre the following day because the Building Management System was somewhat archaic. I had visions of bank safes popping open and ATMs spitting money into the mall and was going to be accountable for finding and returning it all.

As you know now, nothing of any consequence happened. The airplanes did not fall from the sky.

Most anticipated crises never happen and the things we worry about most are often things that no amount of worrying would fix anyway.

There are many current calamitous claims about retail. Ironically, many of these claims are made by retailers.

The ‘INTERNET’ is the current bogeyman – the new Y2K Bug.

As we learned from the Y2K bug offer some relevant insights:

1.      Sure, we should prepare and plan.

2.      Certainly, we should change what we can.

3.      Of course we must monitor what is happening.

But the internet will change the way we do business in ways we don’t really foresee. A very short time ago it was the ‘mobile revolution’; right now it is ‘wearables’ and the ‘internet of things’.

Tomorrow – something else.

Change will happen – that we can bet on. But exactly how it will pan out, NOBODY knows. And those who claim to be the surest about it will be the most surprised by what eventually transpires.

Customer Service is just like the Biggest Loser

The Biggest Loser and your Customer Service

The world is changing – it always has and it always will:

  • Two millennia ago the Greeks ruled the world and now they are the laughing stock of the world
  • A century ago England had conquered half the world and now they are a bit player in Europe with one dominant city
  • A mere decade ago (2000) 40% of the companies that were in the Fortune 500 were no longer there in 2010.

The only way to survive is to change.

This means YOU must change.

The core sustainable competitive advantages for retailers are – and always has been - deep customer relationships and outstanding experiences (in any channel).

Therefore the single most important thing any business owner or executive can focus on is creating an effective, strong and cohesive customer service culture. Note that you ALREADY HAVE a culture – it happens anyway. The question is whether it is a culture that has any strategic value.

(I define culture very simply as “the way we do things around here.”)

CHANGE IS HARD

It is hard for two reasons:

#1: Behaviour is complex

What you are trying to change is human behaviour; which is an outcome of many, complex triggers and influences. Understanding human behaviour and effectively changing it cannot be achieved because you have 20 years’ experience in retail, but because you understand psychology, you have tools and frameworks that pragmatically guide you through structured process to drive change in disciplined approach.

In the organisational context, ALL change is about changing the culture. Even when you think you are simply introducing a new computer system, you are (indirectly) changing the culture.

#2: The change maker does not understand change

The people who are doing the changing don’t really understand what they are trying to change or how to do it effectively.

People think they know that the world is changing and how it is changing, but I asked my audience of managers and entrepreneurs of businesses in retail, hospitality and the like; NOT ONE of them knew anything about ‘the Internet of things’ or ‘the collaborative economy’. No-one had heard of Über, and one had heard about Airbnb – when these companies were actually ground-breaking three of four years ago.

(They all have a Facebook page and think that is a sign that they ‘get’ change.)

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A CHANGE

For the sake of example, let’s consider how one might go about changing your customer service culture. (This is effectively a mass behaviour change initiative.)

Firstly, what it is NOT:

If it is treated as a ‘project’ or an ‘initiative’ it will NOT work.

You change behaviour by changing the DNA of the business. This graphic seems simple, but it is deeply rooted in management theory and best practice that I won’t elaborate upon here.

The following diagram graphically illustrates the six contributing factors or elements that contribute to the shared values (or culture) of your organisation.

Space constraints prohibit detailed explanation here, but watching the presentation it was part of will provide more context and explanation.

The key take-outs to consider are:

  1. Each of these elements influences every other element reciprocally, so it is important ensure the changes made are part of a cohesive whole that achieves cultural alignment.
  2. All the elements must be addressed.
  3. Implementing a change program only works if it is envisioned from the top but created from the bottom up.
  4. You need clarity about the 3-6 core cultural values that will guide the implementation. (There is actually different types of values that play different roles, but that is a topic for another day.)
  5. Once you have clarity about he culture and machining the organisation changes to reflect that, you can NEVER change or go back or stop doing it. The message to employees is then that is just another phase and eventually will fade away – which dooms it to failure.

Get some context:

Here is a presentation by Reed Hastings (Netflix) on the importance of culture

My presentation on how to create a customer service culture was published YESTERDAY on the blog

In the slide deck you will see some examples of specific, seemingly insignificant behaviours and changes that were instituted for each of those six elements. This was a small project with a specific client and does not necessarily apply to your business.

The success and failure of a culture change initiative (any change initiative in fact) hinges on one foundational principle. We can learn what this principle is by studying organisations that specialise in achieving change in people; like AA or Weight Watchers. Without fail, they all ask people who sign up for the program to firstly admit their problem. And they have to do so publically, and personally. (Think of the weigh-in that happens on the Biggest Loser.)

Are you ready to admit that your service sucks? Or do you still hang on to the belief that you are ok; that you are on the right track or that it is not bad as that other guy down the road?

Your enemy is complacency: If you think you are on the right track, you are not. A Bain & Co survey found that whilst 80% of Executives think they are doing a good job with customer service, only 8% of customers agree.

Everybody can’t be in the 8% - the maths just don’t work.

Are you ready to step onto the scale?

Have fun

Dennis

PS: Here is some brainfood for you – and you may even learn something about me if you dig around.

How to create a customer service culture (presentation)

A week ago I delivered this presentation. It looks like a simple presentation, but observant readers will be able to spot the underpinnings which draw upon General System Theory and of course the McKinsey Framework developed by Peters and Waterman.


Bad news: Daddy is Santa

Daddy is Santa

You started out believing the lie about Santa. Eventually, logic and the slow realisation that it would be embarrassing to believe something none of your friends did won out and you pushed back enough to force an admission from our parents.

So you face up to the brutal truth.

This is a story that plays out around December of every year in an endless cycle.

Some people say – one could even say there is universal consensus – that it is healthy for the child to indulge in the fantasy. Let the kids be kids; even if we have to lie to them. We convince ourselves that it is innocent or that it is a tradition. These Christmas experiences become part of the stories that enrich our lives.

The problem though, is that we carry this indulgence into our adulthood. We continue to live in a fantasy world filled by beliefs about our abilities and beliefs about how the world works that are completely unrealistic. We think we fit into the world by being near the centre, where most if not all revolves around us.

This misguided belief is not caused by the initial belief in Santa, but it is symptomatic about what seems to be an innate human trait. It starts by us believing someone magical will fulfil our wishes and then morphs into believing we deserve good things. And worse, that we are actually pretty good.

There are exceptions to the rule, but a good start is for us not to think we are the exception. Chances are:

  • ·        You are not that attractive. (You may still be loved by someone and someone may countenance your visage – but being loved is not the same as being pretty.)
  • ·        You are not that smart. (Hello bell-curve.)
  • ·        You can’t sing. (Australian Idol thrives on that.)
  • ·        Your customer service sucks. (Research shows and customers will tell you so.)
  • ·        Your start-up idea sucks. (That is why you can’t get funding.)
  • ·        Your friends are just not that in to you. (That is why they never call.)
  • ·        Your blog posts aren’t that interesting. (Google’s got nothing against you; they don’t care enough.)

You don’t deserve to be healthy or happy. The universe owes you nothing. There is no Santa.

Is that reason to despair?

Of course not:

You are not built like Usain Bolt and you will never run as fast. But you can train harder, run faster and run further.

You don’t cook like Nigella, but you can enjoy the meal.
You don’t sing like a Nightingale but nothing needs to stop you.
Being pretty, smart or perfect in anyway is not a prerequisite to living life.

Accepting your limitations and giving life a fair old crack despite those limitations is the true hallmark of a life well lived.

Being deluded about how great you are, either means you have been watching too many movies or read too many self-help books. Or you have never lost faith that a Santa still exists and his sole purpose is to delight and surprise you.

Well, he doesn’t. Santa is your dad. Get over it. Christmas is just as much fun giving gifts and knowing who gave  you a gift – even if you have to go the shop to buy it.

Am I in your foxhole?

 

OR: Understanding South Africans

Every person is to some extent shaped by the culture they are born into. Australia is undergoing a transformation that is welcomed to a greater or lesser extent by those who happened to get here a hundred years before the current crop of immigrants.

South Africans form a large contingent of immigrants and are subjected to the same levels of scrutiny as all other immigrants, and generalisations are made (quite naturally) about them as a group.

The most common criticism I hear about South Africans are that they are ‘abrasive’. That is, they tend to rub people up the wrong way – apparently more so than others. Some even go so far as to say they are more arrogant, not merely abrasive.

As an insider, I thought I may share some cultural context that will hopefully lead to better understanding, greater acceptance and benefit all concerned. (This is usually what happens when there is understanding of where the other person ‘is coming from’, to use the common cliché.)

Annette Franz posted Circle the Wagons and Shoot Inward to make the point that collaboration and cooperation should be the goal and not infighting and politics.

The analogy of the circle of wagons that are drawn into a ‘Lager’ is a quintessential element of the (European) South Africans’ cultural history. The Lager (Laager) is also referred to as a Wagon Fort, and is described as ‘a mobile fortification made of wagons arranged into a circle or other shape and possibly joined with each other, an improvised military camp.

The lager is not unique to the South African Boers as its history possibly dates back to the Roman times, but a whole generation of Afrikaners grew up in that environment as the Boers slowly trekked North from the settlement of the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) fighting various resident warrior tribes along the way.

That experience (known as the Great Trek) was an especially important, formative influence of the fledgling community of white settlers.

If you want to understand the (largely white) South African immigrant in Australia, then you must understand their culture as it was shaped by that experience. History buffs will recognise that that the wide-spread sanctions during the Apartheid era that was intended to cripple the white political establishment had the unintended consequence of strengthening the resistance and  reinforcing this particular element of that culture by entrenching the belief that it was ‘us vs. them’.

A lager is a response to a common enemy.

The Lager will exist as long as there is an enemy – and only once they are vanquished, does that ‘trek’ continue. Sometimes a Lager may be in formation for weeks on end.

When under siege like that, it takes a lot of cooperation to make that formation work because you’re literally and figuratively only as strong as your weakest link.

The Boers were (still are) a stoic bunch and even when under siege, life went on. Inside that circle of wagons, people would get married, go to church, go to the toilet, play games, cook food and every other activity that is life.

People would argue with each other one moment and fight alongside each other a moment later.

And THAT shaped the South African culture fundamentally.

There IS an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, but that works in your favour if you are on ‘my’ side.

Living like that, meant utter transparency and honesty. Bullshitting was not even a possibility because there was literally no room to hide anything or hide about anything.

The ONLY way to maintain relations was (is) a brutal honesty that most people find uncomfortable.

Out in the real world of corporate politics that translates into a scenario where a South African is typically very ‘free’ with their opinions. They are happy to argue their case with anyone. Sitting around the management table, they will happily express dissent.

But there is an important distinction.

When you leave that meeting, whatever contrary opinion you may have held, becomes a thing of the past. When it is time to go out and face the enemy, you are united in your efforts.

A South African will rarely be heard to use the defence that ‘I don’t agree, but the boss wants me to do X’.

It is no coincidence that the 1910 motto of the Republic of South Africa initially was ‘Ex Unitate Vires’. The current Coat of Arms looks different, and the language of the motto is now written in the language of the Bushmen tribes – but it still translates similarly to: Unity is Strength. (ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke -- "Diverse People Unite").

A South African is someone you want to go to war with; because no matter what his or her opinion is at any point in time, they are willing to fight for the cause, because ‘together we stand, divided we fall’ is part of their DNA.

Interestingly, Obama said in June 2014 of the Australians, that “Aussies know how to fight and I like having them in a foxhole if we’re in trouble.”

Maybe South Africans and Australians have more in common than they know.


If you really want to understand how weird I am, you can read about Jeremiah’s Curse here.



10 Lessons you can learn from Lionel Messi’s success is the greatest footballer

Messi was born in Rosario, Santa Fe Province, to factory steel worker, and a part-time cleaner.  At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club coached by his father Jorge. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell's Old Boys in his home city Rosario. He became part of a local youth powerhouse that lost only one match in the next four years and became locally known as "The Machine of '87", from the year of their birth.

At the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Local powerhouse River Plate showed interest in Messi's progress, but were not willing to pay for treatment for his condition, which cost $900 a month. Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, was made aware of his talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida in western Catalonia, and Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial with the team.

Rexach, with no other paper at hand, offered Messi a contract written on a paper napkin. Barcelona offered to pay Messi's medical bills on the condition that he moved to Spain. Messi and his father duly moved to Barcelona, where Messi enrolled in the club's youth academy.

And the rest as they say is history.

By the age of 21, Messi had received Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations. The following year, he won his first Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He followed this up by winning the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010, and 2011 and 2012. He also won the 2010–11 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. At the age of 24, Messi became Barcelona's all-time top scorer in all official club competitions. At age 25, Messi became the youngest player to score 200 goals in La Liga's matches.

Commonly ranked as the best player in the world and rated by some in the sport as the greatest of all time, Messi is the first football player in history to win four FIFA/Ballons d'Or, all of which he won consecutively, as well as the first to win three European Golden Shoe awards. With Barcelona, Messi has won six La Ligas, two Copas del Rey, five Supercopas de España, three UEFA Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups.

Messi is the first and only player to top-score in four consecutive Champions League campaigns, and also holds the record for the most hat-tricks scored in the competition. In March 2012, Messi made Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match.

1.      There is no substitute for talent.

2.      You need a bit of luck and connections.

3.      But it doesn’t matter if you come from a modest background.

4.      If you are good you will get the opportunity to succeed, but you must still capitalise on the opportunity.

5.      In the face of the challenge (childhood illness) persistence pays off.

6.      Expert opinions are not always worth that much – there is a club out there who regrets passing over on the opportunity to sign the little maestro.

7.      It is not about the physical ability, but the mental ability.

8.      His first instinct is to seek the goal: it is uncanny how aware he is of where the goal is even if he has his back to the goal.

9.      He sees gaps and takes gaps no one sees or takes.

10.   The highest accolade is not money, but the recognition of your peers. (Not in the shallow, politicised style of the Oscars, but rather the spontaneous acknowledgement of your peers.) In the face of that adulation, his instinctive reaction is one of humility. Watch this and you will see what I mean.


MESSI'S 50 GREATEST GOALS


Pleasure and Pain: (Facebook is useful for something)

Well, there are cat pictures and GIFS that endlessly loop someone's #fail.

And there are the endless quotes. I hate those quotes. If I wanted a quote, I know where to find them.

So, what do I do? I add to the stream of quotes. But at least I add something original. It may not be in the same league as Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill's gems - but original nevertheless.

I predicted the demise of Facebook some time ago and my personal account is inactive. But I still maintain a little bit of activity on a few company pages and groups.

My most recent post there was this image.

I put some thought into my quotes. It is difficult to distill a big idea into one or two lines. It takes time to find the images that convey the essence of the idea...

So, what may appear as a few words aspiring to be quote-worthy, is actually a lot of hard work.

In the above example for instance, I communicate a kernel of truth about human behaviour. It is based on the insight that people are more strongly motivated by pain than they are by pleasure. There is a lot of research on this topic and many books written on it.

And you get all of that in one line.

If you care to think about the implications for your business. How do you sell your product or service? Is it about promising heaven or is it about pointing out the hell that ensues if they don't use it? THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE!

The image conveys the idea that pain is painful (a contorted body) and we are a little bit ashamed of our fear of it (faceless person) and yet we strangely still reach out it to it.

We don't have to really understand why people behave this way, just that they do. And then we can choose to use that knowledge wisely - or not.

If you visit and like the GANADOR Facebook Page (or click the image) you will get nuggets of wisdom every now and then once or twice fortnight at best - so we won't clutter your feed - but worth looking out for.

Framing customers

Do you have a pet vulture?

In retail sales training we introduce people to the notion of framing: depending on the ‘frame’ you apply to a situation, your view may be different.

The sales person is taught how to frame a potential purchase in such as ways as to allow the consumer to buy the product. (As opposed to a frame where you are expected to ‘sell to’ the customer.)

E.g.: Our usual frame of a VULTURE is one of a parasite that feeds off others’ efforts. The usual frame is negative.

But if you re-frame your perspective and see the vulture as an efficient and necessary RECYCLER, then the view of a vulture hovering over a carcass is not quite so revolting - and in fact is quite positive.

How do you frame the idea of a ‘customer’?

·        A means to an end?

·        A necessary interruption?

·        A sales opportunity?

·        A complaint waiting to happen

·        A potential shop-lifter.

If any of these – or similar – apply to you, then you have a serious problem being in retail. But it is not a question we ask ourselves often, so we rarely think about it:

What do we really think of when we think of a ‘customer’? (More specifically, what do you think?)

And the follow up question is whether that is a helpful perspective to have. That is, ask yourself this:

Does my perspective help me run a more successful business?

For here is the rub: Your perspective shows. Customers can intuit your attitude and they respond accordingly.

If you are confident that you have a healthy perspective, consider each and every staff member that comes into contact with a customer. What do they really think of when they think ‘customer’?

These are all tough questions to answer honestly, but it can make a huge difference if you do – AND then act on it.

 

Dennis

Ganador: We implement strategies, systems and skills to create learning organisations - that can constantly adapt and perform consistently.

PS: Some freebie to download HERE, including customer service eBooks etc.

If you don't know...

Do you admit when you don’t know?

Some people find it easier than others to admit their ignorance whilst others would rather die than admit so and simply make it up.

I suspect that most people will, if asked, say that they are happy to admit that they don’t know something. In my experience, however, the reality suggests that most people hate pleading ignorance.

It is easy to admit we don’t know something, when that ‘something’ is outrageously difficult, obscure and far removed from our day to day existence. Most people will happily admit that they know nothing about Quantum Physics or the specific atmospheric conditions on the moon.

But let’s imagine that you are a bit of sports-nut and you are sitting on the coach watching your favourite sport, say AFL, with your girlfriend. The umpire makes a certain call. You don’t know for sure whether the call is for a high tackle, a push in the back or an illegal bump. She does not know much about the sport.

How do you answer her? Honestly?

In this scenario, you are now in a position where you must plead ignorance on a topic that will consequently involve a loss of ego. After all, you are supposed to know, right?

The same scenario plays out in workplace everyday. People get asked questions about something that they can reasonably be expected to know about. If there is the slightest chance that the person asking won’t know the difference, most people will straight up lie.

Some may argue that they are only waffling.

But ‘the waffle’ is the twin brother of the white lie. A lie is a lie – irrespective of the nobility of the purpose to mask the truth.

Not admitting ignorance is just another lie – even if it dressed up as waffle that the receiver may not recognise as such.

  • What kind of manager/ leader are you when confronted with a question where ignorance will cause a loss of ego?
  • Is your ego more important than the truth?
  • Is your ego more important than the trust of the other party?

People may rationalise their decision to pretend they know because they think that it displays/ asserts confidence and that people want a leader who is ‘assured’ in their knowledge.

They fail to understand something very important.

It is not the admission of ignorance that harms your ego, it is the next sentence or the next action that matters.

It is perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know’ but I will find out.” Or to say: “I should probably know that, but I don’t. But I know who does…”.

Like ANY kind of defeat, it is not the defeat itself that shapes who you are. It is what you do next.


This post was cross-posted at LInkedIn.

Crack the whip on that retail fetish of yours

Apple has been the poster-child for every best-practice story for many consultants who don’t even know anyone who works for Apple, so I don’t want to add to that pile of verbiage.

But last week I wrote here on Inside Retailing that creating the right culture is the way to create success. But later in the week an interview with Mark Kawano, a former designer at Apple surfaced and he made a few salient comments.

Asked why Apple seemed to be able to be so successful at designing products people really wanted, he revealed that it wasn’t because they had great designers or better tools, he said:

“It's actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team.”

Asked about how Apple could constantly come up with those brilliant touches that defined the organisation, he said:

“There wasn’t a formalized library, because most of the time there wasn't that much that was formalized of anything that could be stolen,” Kawano says. “It was more having a small team and knowing what people had worked on, and the culture of being comfortable sharing.”

Which supports my contention that training is rarely the solution.

Many organisations have a fetish for training. It is the ‘go to’ strategy for every intractable problem and even our Governments fall back on training whenever they encounter a social issue. Domestic violence? Solve with more training. Speeding drivers? More driver education. And in business, if the customer service is poor, roll out some customer service training.

This does not mean that having smart people or great resources is not important. It does not mean that the right training is not important.

What it means is that, whatever your particular fetish is - communication, customer service, risk management, visual merchandising or whatever - that it is never that ONE thing.

There are no silver bullets. There is no single thing that you can change, for instance, to solve the problem of harmonising online and in-store prices.

It may be a cliché, but everything really is connected and the art of management relies on your ability to tweak many things in small ways to tune the business perfectly. And the way you know you are doing it right, is if your culture is healthy.

The starting point of making changes, therefore, is that you should consider the type of culture you have and the one you want to create – and to do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

Recently I was talking to a client about his desire to make the staff more accountable. Which of the following options do you think I suggested?

  1. Look at the KPIs and to evaluate how we report on those in the weekly or monthly meeting.
  2. Map out different reporting structures or we could change some policies.
  3. Incentivising the staff when they show accountable behaviour.
  4.  Re-write the job descriptions.
  5. Training

That’s a trick question because the answer is: none of the above.

My suggestion was that one message be repeated often and at every opportunity. Every time a person shows lack of accountability, repeat the message. When a person shows accountable behaviour, repeat the message. When a person comes up with an excuse repeat the message.

And the message is this:

If that attitude can be embedded in the culture, you won’t need more policies and more systems because everyone will know what is acceptable and what is expected. It is not easy to do (that is why CEOs are paid so much money) and the temptation is to take a short-cut and just tell people what to do. (Usually that short-cut will reflect your personal retail fetish.)

If you take the time to build a healthy culture, you will have a healthy business. And that is true for Apple and it is true for independent retailer on the main street of a country town.

 

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