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.”)


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.)


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


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.


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.



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.


Businesses fail because they want to have their cake and eat it


I never thought I would ever write this, but business can actually learn something from Government.

It does not matter if you agree with Joe Hockey that the culture of entitlement should be replaced with a culture of opportunity. What is clear is that the Government understands (and is executing accordingly) that revenue and expenditure are functions of the prevailing CULTURE.

The government believes (rightly) that the way to fix your budget is to change the culture.

It does not matter what your views are about the processes and priorities the Government is setting, and you may even believe the budget does not need fixing. That is not important, but we should understand the implications of this approach to governance because there are important lessons for businesses to learn from this.

Organisations are just groups of people – and people always seem to want to have things both ways.

  • You can’t have a lean staff compliment and great customer service.
  • You can’t screw your supplier down and expect a great relationship with lots of support and trade marketing dollars.
  • You can’t spend no money on training and expect no mistakes.
  • You can’t not manage your risks and complain about the increased premiums.
  • You can’t complain about government red tape and ask for protection against cheap imports.
  • The community wants to experience the pride in a national carrier (Qantas) but prefer to fly the cheaper alternative.
  • You can’t ask more from your people and give less to your people.
  • You can’t want to be an innovator and avoid all risks.

From these examples the culture of entitlement seems very prevalent in the business community. Idiomatically it’s called having your cake and eating it – and every business should interrogate itself honestly about the extent to which that is part of its organisational culture.

Just like the Government is attempting to do, the task of every business is to also create the culture that is conducive to performance. Every entrepreneurial manager will and should be focussed on creating a culture of opportunity in their organisation.

The job of every real business leader is to create a culture that will serve as the vehicle to deliver on the business model.

Most leaders would express the view that they are striving to create an organisational culture of ‘opportunity’. They would say they are flexible and have equal opportunities for all; that employees are empowered and generally have the ‘opportunity’ to contribute and that all that matters is that they ‘deliver’. But are you really?

Compare your organisation against something called ROWE (results only work environment) that has been created in a few companies:

People could work from home absolutely anytime they felt like it, without needing a reason or excuse. There would be no such thing as a sick day or a vacation allotment—employees could take off as much time as they wanted, whenever they saw fit. Perhaps most provocative: All meetings would be optional. Even if your boss had invited you. Don’t think you need to be there? Don’t come.

In return for this absolute freedom, workers would need to produce. Bosses would set macro expectations (e.g., increase sales by 10 percent) and then assess the results without micromanaging (e.g., keeping tabs on who arrived at the office earliest in the morning or left latest at night). If the goal was met, there were no complaints from your boss about that Tuesday afternoon you spent at your kid’s soccer game. If the goal wasn’t met, no amount of face time around the office would substitute for the lack of results. Of course, if your job description involved opening up the store at 9 a.m., fulfilment of that goal was a must. But for knowledge workers, measuring output became entirely divorced from hours logged in the office.

How do you really compare? Is your company really about empowering people, or is mere lip service because as the leader you want to empower the people but you also want to retain control? Freedom is a scary thing.

I am not suggesting that the culture I described above is the ‘right’ culture, because every company has its own ‘right’ culture. And I not suggesting ‘work from home’ is even a relevant cultural attribute to strive for.

What I am suggesting is that:

  1. What we think our culture is, is not always what it really is.
  2. Not all leaders get the importance of culture as the primary driver of business outcomes.
  3. And those who do, don’t appreciate the extent to which the culture is undermined by conflicting messages caused by not honouring the trade-offs that are required to really build a robust culture.

The Libs are banking that the benefits of their approach will appeal to more people and that once they get the taste of it they would like it more than the alternative offered by Labor.

I am reliably informed politicians are human too, so you can bet your bottom dollar the Libs will open up the purse strings again in the budget before the next election. Just in case. (And in the process undo much of what they set out to do, but at least they get to keep their jobs and so the cycle goes – two steps forward and one back.)

Government is the ultimate monopoly, so they can take that route; but can you afford to undermine the desired outcomes in your business by failing to understand the power of culture?

More training is RARELY the solution

It is often said that training is the key to running a successful business. Let's take franchising as an example:

On the surface it seems logical: franchisor knows how to do X and the franchisee does not know how to do X and what they buy is the ‘know-how’. And know-how is transferred through training. Right?

At least you think this way if you are a training company. If you are a marketing company you will say it is marketing and if you are a technology company you will claim the key to success is a new system.

It is the old: ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail’ principle at play. So as someone who does training for a living, let me be perfectly clear about this: training is not the solution to anything.

More training 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.

Every time the going gets tough, the tough go training. What a phenomenal waste of money.

Let us consider resolving the speeding issue in society. Do you honestly believe that more driver education will fix that?

The answer is that it will help fix the problem. There are other issues to be addressed too, so let’s name a few:

  •   Authorities have to understand that motoring technology has improved and what once was a safe speeding limit is now just ridiculously slow and must be changed.
  • The quality of road surfaces and the infrastructure like lights, barriers and signage may need to be changed or adapted.
  • The incentive/punishments for driver errors (in speeding) play a role in bringing speeding down.
  • Opportunities to drive fast can be created in appropriate places that are not public roads.

I could go on but it should be clear that there is a whole eco-system of inter-connected things that must be considered if you want to address the problem of speeding.

In a past life I was a Shopping Centre Manager – and the first thing I did when I moved into a centre was to fix the Administration system. Some may consider that weird since it would surely be a higher priority to get more customers to the centre?

I did this because (a) I had to talk to many retailers and be credible, and (b) a very important metric was rental arrears (as you can imagine) and if the Administration system is dysfunctional, the monthly statement/invoice is incorrect. This gives the retailer the opportunity – indeed, the right – to query the invoice and whilst we are trawling through the rent roll, they withhold payment. And if I as a Centre Manager can not even get the rent roll right, they can rightly question how I could talk credibly about what they should be doing in their business?

However, having a solid Admin system is not the answer either. It merely illustrates the point that there are many moving parts to having an entire organisation tuned to perform well.

The same goes for the quality and viability of your franchise system.

This is even more difficult to achieve in a franchising system where relationships are influenced by competing objectives and/or constrained by legal frameworks of what can and can’t be done; not to mention the history and baggage that comes with any relationship.

Just because it is complex, does not mean that it cannot be done. The following diagram is also known as the 7-S Framework or the McKinsey Framework. It was developed in the early 80s by someone who many readers will know – Tom Peters (and Bob Waterman).

The model was used at the time to summarise their findings for the best selling book ‘In Search of Excellence’ – I have used it very effectively to think in an organised manner about all the key elements that must be in place for ANY organisation (including the not-so-excellent ones) to function.

I am happy to give away the ‘secret sauce’ of our approach to solving problems because if there is anything that I have learned in the last 30 years, it is that knowing what to do and actually doing are worlds apart.

This is not the place to get all academic on the reader, but suffice to say that the underlying research is reasonably robust and that having used it for over two decades, it goes down as a classic that cannot be improved upon. Much like the 4Ps of Marketing introduced by Kotler in the 60s, some ideas simply stand the test of time and this is one of them.

Readers can think about ANY challenge they currently face, and I guarantee that the solution (and the problem) will be a combination of one (or more) of those 7 S’s.

Just because an idea is new, does not mean it is important and just because the idea has been around for awhile, does not mean that it does not work any more.

Of course the simplicity of the framework belies the challenges of synchronising all those moving parts. And each of those elements represent an ever-changing domain.

One area I am very familiar with, is cloud-based platforms. This technology (system) can be used for something as simple as taking the Operations Manual online at low cost or to something more challenging like creating collaborative communities of practice.

Let us consider those examples briefly.

Example 1: Having a ‘living’ operations manual in the cloud has several benefits. It is relatively easy, is dynamic, track-able, and instantaneous - and at a few dollars per month per person it is more cost-effective than sending one letter/brochure a month. Yet few people are doing it, which begs the question why everyone is not doing it.

The answer is that it is because most Franchisors are smart enough to know (intuitively) that it is NOT simply about uploading a few PDFs onto some online directory or even just on Google Drive. If you do it right, you will think about who needs to use it, how they use it and how best to disaggregate the information and how it will be monitored. Then it becomes clear that all the moving parts must be in good working order to tackle a project like this.

Example 2: Having an active, collaborative franchisee community-of-practice is (in my humble opinion) the holy grail of franchisor-franchisee relationships. This is a state where the franchisees truly own the objectives, are committed to the culture and have created an environment where they freely share the wins and solve the problems collaboratively.

We can roll out the platform/technology easily, make it look pretty according to your brand but the initiative is doomed to failure. This is not a sales pitch: I am telling you NOT to do it. Unless you have all the other elements in play and properly aligned, the take-up will be at best limited and soon you have a white elephant on your hands that requires someone to allocate time and resources to ‘creating content’, when what you really need is a form of social learning that is driven from the bottom up to happen.

In order to make it work your culture must be robust, your internal communications must be honest and transparent, your people must have certain skills and your policies must be fair and so forth. Not to mention that your business model and strategy must be solid.

I could go on, but you get the idea – I am simply referencing the 7-S framework.

All of these things are doable. The benefits are amazing – from clear financial ROIs to substantial ROR (return on relationships) – but they can and should only be tackled by taking a holistic perspective of the whole franchise system.

The answer is not to roll out more training. Especially not training that has some sort of a buzzword associated with it. (Total Quality Management anyone?)

As part of the whole management mix, training has a role to play, and the right training at the right time is vital to success. But it must be part of the big picture of the total business. That is why training must be part of that big picture, driven by the founder/CEO, for delegating to an over-worked employee will turn training into a series of time-wasting events that have zero impact.


The art of punching (customers included)

Have you ever thought why this is so:

  • ·        A middle-aged, white male can make a joke about politicians
  • ·        A middle-aged, white male can’t make jokes about gay people but a gay person can
  • ·        A disabled comedian can make jokes about dwarfs, but not an able-bodied person
  • ·        A black guy can make jokes about white people, but not the other way around.

The art of punching explains these social minefields.

In comedy parlance you have the notion of ‘punching up’ or ‘punching down’. It has nothing to do with actual punches, but is a metaphor to illustrate the power balance between the joke teller (comedian) and the object/subject of the joke.

For example, a middle-aged, white guy (able-bodies) cannot easily make jokes about gay dwarfs – because that would be ‘punching down’.

‘Punching up’ is about cutting someone who is in a more powerful position down to size, but punching down is very easily (especially in our current social dynamic) perceived as a form of bullying.

It is also very subtle, and there are obviously examples where it is possible to break the rule.

A white guy talking about other races can easily be perceived as racist – but not the other way around. But a white guy could make a joke about smart Asian kids, because whilst there is a racial element to the joke, there is an implicit (albeit grudging) acknowledgement of their intellectual superiority, so you are not really punching down. You may then weave in another joke about bad Asian drivers to even out the ledger so to speak.

The dynamics of human interaction and communications are volatile and fragile. That is why joke telling is complex. Any form of communication suffers because things are often construed in ways not intended.

It would be nice if all words could just be taken for what they are – without burdening them with additional baggage (like perceived power position). But that is just not the reality.

This is also evident in a customer interaction.

Customers are allowed to be rude and demanding – because they are punching up. The staff member is not allowed to be rude and demanding, because they are punching down.

A joke about an Asian driver should be funny if it is funny – irrespective of who tells it. But it s not the case.

A customer who is wrong and rude, should be able to be pulled into line. But it is just not possible.

We can’t simply tell a joke because it is funny, and we can’t simply tell the truth because it is the truth. That is just the way the world works.

You may know WHAT you think, but do you know HOW you think?


I spent 4 years doing my MBA. (And that was the minimum – 17 full year subjects plus a thesis; none of these ‘semester’ baby subjects. Those were the days.)

But truth be told, even though I think it was a pretty tough, demanding course, I can count on the one hand the things that I have learned and have kept using to this day. But these few lessons were so powerful that I consider my time and money well-spent…

One of those life-long insights was the discovery of the idea of General Systems Theory – or commonly referred to as Systems Thinking. (The topic of my thesis in the end.)

Anyway, the nomenclature is misleading in some ways because people’s notion of a ‘system’ has bureaucratic undertones, when in fact it is closer to a philosophy.

I am not going to try and educate you about systems thinking. That will take a lifetime because it is a broad church. I only want you, dear friend, follower and colleague, to have the opportunity to become aware of it, and if you so please, to start the journey to discover more about systems thinking.

If you explore my blog posts and other writings, you will see there is a constant reference to the power of little things, the laws of unintended consequences and the misunderstanding of the nature of outcomes.

You can get a collection of writings ON SUCCESS here, if you want to read some of it in a handy eBook format. (Or simply use the search function on the blog or explore the archives by topics.)

In any event, the notion of systems thinking is firmly entrenched as mental model, and it has governed how I think for a long time. Being a self-critical AND cynical old bastard, I am prone to question the things I believe constantly, and I can honestly say that every period of introspection is followed be DEEPER commitment to the validity and power of this particular worldview.

The following image does not explain what systems thinking is at all, but it lists some 17 steps or practical applications that illustrate how a systems thinker approaches problems.



2 things you should do with criticism

There are fine lines between encouragement, challenging someone to improve and criticising them.

Aside from when you are raising children (I think there is a different dynamic) most adults seem to err on the side of caution.

People tend not criticise. They avoid confrontation. Encouragement is always positive, and criticism is required to be 'constructive' - whatever that means.

If you are serious about personal development, growth and your own success, I have the following advice for you.

1. IGNORE all unsolicited advice and criticism.

It says more about the people who constantly criticise and offer unsolicited advice than it does about the subject of critique.

2.SOLICIT advice and criticism frequently – and learn to deal with it.

Embrace criticism, disagreements and confrontation. More than that, actively seek it out. Deal with it by recognising that the 'criticism' is about the process and not about the person.

Even when someone criticises you for being arrogant (for example) - it may seem at first glance that they are being critical of the person, but they really are simply articulating how they perceive your impact on themselves or possibly other people. It isn't a criticism of who you are. Even when it sounds like it or feels like it (at first cut) - take a pause to consider.

The person doing the criticising may just not have the skill to de-personalise the observation - and you need to simply re-frame that observation in your own terms. Then consider it objectively (unemotionally) and decide what to do about it.

You cannot live you life by avoiding criticism or moderating your actions by the light of every disagreement. You need to be stronger than that. Your self-identity should be strong enough to consider every criticism, evaluate what it means in the context of your own goals and objectives, and formulating an appropriate response.

And often the response is - or should be: 'mmmmh, interesting - I understand where they are coming from, but I am going to continue down this path.'

If the observation clarifies why you may be experiencing certain obstacles, then you may moderate your behaviour to facilitate achievement of your own goals.

I will leave the final word to one of my favourite thinkers (alive) and that is NN TALEB:

Be polite, courteous, and gentle, but ignore comments, praise, and criticism from people you
wouldn't hire.

What counts is not what people say about you, it is how much energy they spend saying it.

Never take an advice from a salesman, or any advice that benefits the advice giver.


How much will your life change IF…

As a young marketer as was responsible for a beer brand. Unlike the beers you are familiar with, this was a sorghum-based beer that was drank principally by the indigenous African people. (It was sour and it was looks a bit like dirty dish water and had a relatively poor ‘head’ of foam if at all.)

It was distributed in milk-cartons rather than glass bottles for a simple reason – the beer was still fermenting after being packed (it only had a shelf life of about 3-5 days depending on weather.) Having a (cheaper) carton-based container, also allowed us to leave a tiny pinprick in the top seal that allowed the pressure from the fermenting gases to be released, which of course would have been more difficult and expensive to achieve in an air-tight glass container.

The original packaging was a CONICAL shape, where the top was wider than the bottom. We could fit 15 containers per crate. Later we switched to the familiar TETRAPAK product which is the brick-shaped (rectangular) container as is commonly used today.

This one change enable us to fit 16 containers per crate. Being able to increase crate capacity from 15Litres to 16 Litres may seem like a small change, but it had massive financial benefits. (I can’t recall the exact figures any more, but it was certainly hundreds of thousands per year.)

You could still fit the same number of crates in a truck – but you could carry more beer. It still took the same amount of labour to load the truck, but productivity had increased by 6%.

To be clear, I wasn’t the bright spark who came up with that idea; but it was a lesson I learned young: the little things count.

Virgin has just discovered something along the same lines, and apparently they will save millions with a simple re-design of the food tray in Economy class.

A recent story about a teenager who did some research about font types and sizes that could save the US Government $400m is another case in point. (The actual facts are somewhat in dispute, because measuring font size is quite difficult. But the IDEA remains valid.)

Along the same lines, I wrote recently about the enormous impact of taking a 3% settlement discount on your payment terms.

All of these examples illustrate the same principle: little things make a big difference.

It is easier to see the impact with something like packaging and it is certainly easy to quantify when something physical is redesigned.

But what if …

You redesigned your meetings to start at 10 minutes after the hour and finish (strictly) five minutes before?

You did your staff scheduling in 15 minutes increments instead of 30 minutes?

You woke up 15 minutes earlier everyday? Or searched for a quicker route to work or caught the express bus instead of the regular?

You spent 10 minutes a day less on Facebook?

What if you wrote one page a week of that novel you always meant to write?

How much will your life change IF….


What a self-made man told his son in 1900 still true today

Letters from a self-made Merchant to his son

Below are a few extracts from the letters, written by John Graham, Head of the House of Graham & Company, to his son Pierrepont, a freshman at Harvard University. (Find it on in my Amazon Library.)

Have a read – and please make your contribution at the end.


Education is about the only thing lying around loose in this world, and that it’s about the only thing a fellow can have as much of as he’s willing to haul away. Everything else is screwed down tight and the screw-driver lost.


Some men learn the value of money by not having any and starting out to pry a few dollars loose from the odd millions that are lying around; and some learn it by having fifty thousand or so left to them and starting out to spend it as if it were fifty thousand a year.


The first thing that any education ought to give a man is character, and the second thing is education.


It isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts.


When Pierrepont—still at Harvard—submits his expense account to his father, he receives some more fatherly advice.


The sooner you adjust your spending to what your earning capacity will be, the easier they will find it to live together.


The only sure way that a man can get rich quick is to have it given to him or to inherit it. You are not going to get rich that way—at least, not until after you have proved your ability to hold a pretty important position with the firm; and, of course, there is just one place from which a man can start for that position with Graham & Co. It doesn’t make any difference whether he is the son of the old man or of the cellar boss—that place is the bottom. And the bottom in the office end of this business is a seat at the mailing-desk, with eight dollars every Saturday night.


I can’t hand out any ready-made success to you. It would do you no good, and it would do the house harm.


You know how I began—I was started off with a kick, but that proved a kick up, and in the end every one since has lifted me a little bit higher. I got two dollars a week, and slept under the counter, and you can bet I knew just how many pennies there were in each of those dollars, and how hard the floor was. That is what you have got to learn.


But I always lay it down as a safe proposition that the fellow who has to break open the baby’s bank toward the last of the week for car-fare isn’t going to be any Russell Sage when it comes to trading with the old man’s money. He’d punch my bank account as full of holes as a carload of wild Texans would a fool stockman that they’d got in a corner.


Now I know you’ll say that I don’t understand how it is; that you’ve got to do as the other fellows do; and that things have changed since I was a boy. There’s nothing in it. Adam invented all the different ways in which a young man can make a fool of himself, and the college yell at the end of them is just a frill that doesn’t change essentials. The boy who does anything just because the other fellows do it is apt to scratch a poor man’s back all his life.


There are times when it’s safest to be lonesome. Use a little common-sense, caution and conscience. You can stock a store with those three commodities, when you get enough of them. But you’ve got to begin getting them young. They ain’t catching after you toughen up a bit.


You needn’t write me if you feel yourself getting them. The symptoms will show in your expense account. Good-by; life’s too short to write letters and New York’s calling me on the wire.



Dear reader, I wonder if you can indulge me by sharing YOUR words of wisdom. If you had to give your child, who is planning to follow you into business, ONE piece of advice what will it be?

I will kick it off with my own piece of advice – which, believe me, my kids are sick and tired of hearing:

“The way you do anything, is the way you do everything.”


What is yours? Please comment or shoot me an email – who knows, we might even turn into a poster or something.


Ganador: Trainers to the stars

HT: Shane Parrish (Based on the collection of American Journalist George Horace Lorimer in the early 1900s.)

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