One last tool for your moving ahead – Preparation.

Ever wondered why some win and others don’t – whether it’s in the field of sports,entertainment, the sciences or the academia? On the face of it, the motions appear to be the same with everyone seemingly doing the same things. Take for example soccer where both sides play for 90 minutes deploying some of the most advanced strategies, even as they field some of the most expensive players in sports history (going bytransfer fees, or weekly pay) still go on to produce very different results. Among the possible factors responsible for the differences in performance, we’ll be looking closer into the concept of preparation.


(Harry E. Walker/MCT via Getty Images)

What is preparation?

According to Merriam-Webster, preparation is the activity or process of making something ready or of becoming ready for something.” This may also include the mental, physical and psychological approach to any endeavour. But then, the question presents itself; don’t all professionals prepare? Still, whether through years of study, significant hours of practice or both, it appears that there are different levels of preparation required to achieve perfection. This sometimes leads to the development of unusual disorders even as some sportsmen are known to never stop preparing.

Preparation keeps things simple – and predictable.

With innovation hubs the not-so-new-normal and management gurus espousing the values of innovative (or out-of-the-box) thinking, it does seem strange to root forpredictability. But then I will because, well, some things absolutely have to be predictable due of their nature – the consequences of being unpredictable leading only to loss. Much of the business world – the presentations, plans and meetings are an attempt to keep things as predictable as possible and rightly so. The flight plans of a mission to space must be predictable. Contracts and payment terms for goods and services must be predictable. Not many are overjoyed at surprise additions to their schedule, last minute presentations and the like. Preparation clarifies assumptions and is effective in reducing the number of unforeseen circumstances.

Preparation improves performance.

In some fields as competitive sports, a break in concentration, a distance of one – sixth of an inch or a time of 0.014 seconds is known to make the difference between winners and also-rans. Even where there are skills inborn, preparation makes weak points less so and highlights areas for improvement. As Mark Twain said;

“it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.

Adequate preparation ensures that real scenarios are repeatedly simulated, removing all blind spots while producing higher levels of achievement. As the world gets used to a life of higher quality, consumers will come to expect more from service providers. What is regarded as cutting edge today will be considered minimum requirement for entry tomorrow. This surge in service delivery levels would further drive up demand for those great at their craft. So, this might be a good time critically assess current skill sets and refine in alignment with desired goals, keeping in mind the current industry standards and expectations for the future.

The top 1% in any field prepare, and heavily too.

There is the argument that in every field of endeavor, the highest levels of success are reserved for the top 1% – the “A list” actors in Hollywood, the top Formula One drivers, the best performing CEOs, their organisations and the best school systems. It is not a coincidence that heavy investments in preparation play major roles in their stories. This further ensures that they are able to go beyond what is expected when delivering value. Such levels of dedication also increase the ability to manage unforeseen circumstances as these are better handled by a prepared mind. Preparation ensures performance ahead of the curve, a readiness to deliver higher standards and fewer errors in judgement. Preparation is the way to go.

Here’s a recap of what we’ve looked at;

  1. What is preparation?
  2. Preparation keeps things simple – and predictable.
  3. Preparation improves performance.
  4. The top 1% in any field prepare, and heavily too.

The author can be reached on @ayoibaru or here

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How to improve your firm’s leadership ability: 3 lessons from the military.

The World Economic Forum puts the 2015 global military spending at US$13.6 trillion. That is the amount required to maintain the current level of relative peace. Men and women in uniform after much training risk their lives to defend lives and property from some of the most dangerous threats to the end that we have a safer world. There is much to be learned from such a group – designed to protect with the use of force and that at the risk of their own lives. But what does it take to go from being a fresh recruit to running highly organised military campaigns in different parts of the globe? Some would say training, others leadership, yet other would suggest a higher sense of mission.

Here’s a look at a few points we could pick from the military;

1. Focus on building your people.

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Peter Baeklund

Research by Manpower group observes that firms that show sustained improvements in performance invest in their people through competitive remuneration, training, and mentorship programs. And while there is the challenge of what to do when an employee is trained and leaves, another question presents itself; What if the employee is not trained and she stays? This question becomes even more critical where tasks managed by such an employee require judgment, empathy and the need to be objective in emotionally conflicting situations.

Trained professionals have been shown to have better results than those who were not trained. Again, the military is known not only for its investment in manpower development, but also in working with people as they are. Ever wished you had a better intern; smarter, faster and more interested in work? Well, the military expects you to work with what you have, making it clear that the evaluation of your managerial ability will be based on improvements demonstrated by the ‘misfit’ recruit. This is unlike the corporate world where the general trend is to manage up or out.

Taking investment in people further, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (popularly known as drones) are increasingly being used by the military today to avoid the casualties of war. Fewer military personnel are now at risk of losing their lives because drones now do more of the fighting.

Military company


2. Have a strong sense of mission

“Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Excerpt, Foreign Policy of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt

The military is driven by a strong need to ensure peace and stability in regions assigned. There are fewer missions stronger than protecting world peace and while this may be achieved by diplomacy, military backing is usually a strong deterrent to destabilising forces. Think about it; where peace and security are absent not much development can occur. An article by the International Risk Management Institute indicates that foreign investors critically consider regional stability and national security frameworks before investing. According to the Telegraph, tourists as potentially significant source of revenue are strongly attracted to safe and beautifully designed locations.

What’s the take home for businesses from all this? Businesses need to direct all efforts towards a central mission.  This mission should shape the organisation’s culture and translate into a workable strategy with measurable objectives. It is no longer news that many mission statements are beautifully framed at some central location in many offices – but are rarely followed on a companywide level. With a strong sense of mission, firms make better decisions, true to what they stand for and have greater impact.

 3. Invest in tools key to your business area.

Manager and secretary working in the office

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. “

Abraham Lincoln

Generally speaking, military training is regarded as one of the most difficult methods of capacity development available, added to investments in the latest technology, field weapons, mental training and the like. The best armies are known to spare little expense when acquiring military equipment. This is because the difference in the field of battle is not unconnected to the quality of weaponry, amongst other things. Firms need to make investments in the latest technologies central to success in their business area. The right tools aid increased productivity through enhanced communication for improved collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Again, the chances of innovation are higher where the right tools are in place which is why some of the most innovative companies are also known to invest in the best work tools.

Here’s a recap of what we’ve looked at;

  1. Focus on building your people.
  2. Have a strong sense of mission.
  3. Invest in tools key to your business area.

The author can be reached here

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Ten Years from Now

Business men closing deal with a handshake

Decide how you want to sound.

Confined by rote knowledge or open to creative new ideas

Listening to respond, or listening to improve

Lecturing or communicating

Confident in success, or aware of responsibility

Ahead of the pack or (still) playing catch up

Taking risks or writing new rules

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Working in teams and what it means for you.

‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

– African Proverb

Team effectiveness refers to how well a team works together in pursuit of an objective and is responsible for sustained success in an organisation. Granted, there are linchpins who think differently, bringing uncommon insights to the table, a good team is still required to cover blind spots. A great engine can’t drive itself – it needs a host of parts to get a car from points A to B. In like fashion, a building can’t construct itself – it needs a team of architects, planners, engineers and a host of safety personnel.

The importance of a team is made even clearer where complexity is high for example in critical surgical procedures, or in managing advanced fires. Teams may be loosely knit and may have members with differing skill sets, biases and maturity levels. A Stanford Graduate School of Business article indicates that diverse teams are in a better position to hit set targets, having a wider perspective that makes spotting potential trouble spots easy. Diverse teams tend to bring to the table, a wide range of work experiences, related connections and new ideas.

Here are 5 reasons why teams are important;

Team work

Teams achieve bigger results.

Research by the McKinsey Global Institute titled “Teamwork at the top” show that the best teams get great results because members focus on working together. Connecting this from biology, the avian science further informs us that birds migrating together fly farther (and expend less energy) than birds that fly solo. This is because the level of energy expended by a group of birds is lower owing to the wind support generated by each bird. Where the task is large and the stakes are high, it is usually better to work with a team, than to go it alone. This is also because the effort required to get good work done on a large scale is often more than one person can handle.

Teams give opportunities for leadership development.

Remember when you had to lead and had no idea how? Many can remember such a time whether at home, at work or at play where we had to act as a leader would. This is one way in which leadership ability is discovered – by looking within, drawing on hidden ability to overcome a challenge. Oddly enough, it is also how leaders get to the next level. That is, we sometimes know we can lead when we have no other options. Even as training and mentoring remain useful, there is no sure fire preparation for the next level of leadership customized to the individual. Leadership is necessary cast a vision for the team and in some cases, pick the right people for the team. It is key to harnessing a team’s potential for achieving results ensuring that individual performers work together as a team. That is, with effective leadership, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Teams improve relationship management skill.

Consider this: 80% of job descriptions today require an ability to deal with people. The ability to manage relationships is important because work is done by people who have different aspirations, attitudes and belief systems. And as you may have noticed, people tend to do things for their reasons – hence the need for motivation techniques that align the employees with the goals of the organisation. Whether it’s a free meal or investing in a friendly work environment, effective motivation tends to pay off in the long run. So, career advancement is often linked to one’s ability to manage relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Most often, meaningful conversations, rather than well-articulated statements make the difference when projects encounter difficulty.

Teams encourage character development.

Every once in a while, we are reminded that while we’re great at what we do, we still need the input of others. And in some cases, that this takes some getting used to. In a team, this realisation is also a way breakthroughs are reached as it addshumility to the team. Per Jim Collins of Good to Great and Built to Last, humility is a key component of the highest form (level 5) of leadership. Members get to see themselves in a new light, especially when suggestions for adoption by the team are not readily agreed with and then there is the need for compromise. Again, in the presence of equally (or more) intelligent and experienced players, the individual performer is motivated to go the extra mile on assigned tasks. Each individual, being pushed to higher levels of productivity creates a better experience for the final consumer.

Teams aid the improved of critical skills.

There are critical skills without which many ideas would remain on paper. Ideas have to be developed, communicated, negotiated, and navigated through various relationships to get to full expression. Critical skills are needed to take great ideas from inception to execution and then improvement. Ideas need to be communicated in the format understood by the recipient. This means that each team member must be able to convert her idea into formats easily understood by the team. Some team members respond more to text messages, others email, and yes, some prefer face to face meetings. Knowing what format to use could mean the difference between a prompt or delayed response to a request for input.


Here is a summary of what we’ve looked at so far;

  1. Teams achieve bigger results.
  2. Teams give opportunity for leadership development.
  3. Teams improve relationship management skills.
  4. Teams encourage character development.
  5. Teams aid the improvement of critical skills.


The author can also be reached on @ayoibaru or here

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Taking Things Personal.


Sir Martin Sorrell, founding CEO of WPP (the world’s largest PR Company) once said that his successor would likely not beat his performance for one simple reason. He (Sir Martin) over the years had come to take EVERY company decision personal. Hires, resignations, company performance and the like.

Everywhere in the world, from the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore to Muhammed Yunus of Grameen bank, there is a difference when people take things personal. Personal stories of loss, neglect, error tend to fuel the engines of innovation, pushing most to go the extra mile.

Taking things personal adds a certain level of concern, energy and depth of thought necessary to create the next best experience for the consumer. Some would even argue that those who take their work personal perform better that those who don’t.

I think it’s safe to say that the markets know when work is taken personal.