Why ideas are important and what they do to you.

 In 1911, Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen, prominent explorers in the heroic age of Antarctic expedition were in a much publicized race to reach the South Pole. The world watched as two teams led faced some of the most difficult natural conditions including temperatures as low as -82.8°C. For various motivations, each wanted to get there first, to win for country, to be the first man to conquer the South Pole.

As we have in the world of business today, many risks were taken, sacrifices endured in a bid to make good their promise to investors who had been sold the idea that the impossible could be achieved. There is the idea that humanity can, against all odds beat the circumstances, however challenging they might be and in the South Pole expedition, each team wanted prove this by being the first to cross the finish line.

At the beginning, each team wanted to win and was ready to put in the requisite effort. There had to be sufficient planning for the expedition else neither would make it back alive. There were comparisons as to who was the better leader, who was going to make it first and, per a Harvard Business Review article, who had better prior experience. In retrospect we know how both men ended their quest. Roald Amundsen made it first. Robert Falcon Scott didn’t.

light bulb

Historians agree that Roald used a better tested strategy combining focus on a singular objective (to get to the south pole first), the right tools, well-bred dogs and well-suited hands with rations painstakingly planned ahead of the trip. It is also said that he used tools and hands more familiar with him and also with expeditions of this kind. And after he won, it was on to the next challenge.

Robert Falcon Scott by some accounts is said to have underestimated the enormity of the task, had a much wider scope for the expedition (including picking up rocks for scientific research) and didn’t research in sufficient detail what it would take to succeed. This led to needless suffering over an extended period of time, and the eventual loss of his life and those who he led. From this we see that it is useful to have a healthy respect for the challenges of the journey to the goals we have set.

Whether it’s working to create that killer app, closing a key sale or building a winning team. This healthy respect ensures more thorough preparation to fight longer and will assist in avoiding presumptuous errors that prematurely end otherwise promising endeavours.

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?

       Jesus Christ

There will be the need to redesign products – not only because the first versions of a product or service tend to need updates, but also because customer needs are ever changing. There will be unreasonable demands from the customer sometimes (some would argue most times, depending on the industry), the delivery of parts might not always be on time and the competition won’t sit on its hands while they lose market share.

These challenges, if expected and carefully prepared for would not catch the team off guard. In his book, The First Mile, Scott D Anthony analyses what innovators can reasonably expect as they try to go to market with a new product, and how to consistently succeed with a new idea. Seasoned business leaders know that the customer is no fool and always has reasons for every decision, however illogical or otherwise they may be.

It is also important to develop an ability to carefully navigate the pitfalls that end many ideas even as viable alternatives remain in the cooler. That is; if plan A doesn’t pan out, there should be a plan B and if that doesn’t work out, then a plan C should be in place.

Entrepreneur: someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.

        Sir Richard Branson

Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.

     Mark Twain

There is the conversation in many organisations by individuals genuinely interested in making things better and changing things by benchmarking with some better performing organisation, amongst other growth strategies. So meetings are held, the latest research is shared and competitor information is discussed and analysed extensively. When a new direction as a result of the aforementioned, we face the inevitable – the need to embrace risk and come to terms with the facts that our ideas might not work and the customer might reject yet another concerted attempt to improve their lives.

It helps when an innovator is prepared for a wide range of eventualities and a demonstrated ability to navigate complexity makes innovators stand out. Not just getting the great idea (a feat in itself) but the ability to dance with a quick succession of tunes, getting back on one’s feet when knocked down.

The risk always the risk of failure, the risk of loss but also the risk, yes, of being highly regarded by the leading voices of the day and the consequent increase in level of expectation (which should) drive for further achievement.

And so we are sometimes tempted to take the easier option of not speaking up, not looking objectively at the system for necessary changes all leading to a life of tagging along, following the market without thinking “is there a better way”. In the end, systems that do the hard work of following an idea through from start to finish will win. They might make mistakes, but they will win.

I shall be telling this with a sigh,

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

      Robert Frost

In the end, Amundsen would go on to disappear in a rescue mission and was never found. After conquering the South Pole, what else is there to do, other than to sit back and attempt challenges of comparatively lesser difficulty? Thing is, what many know but don’t say is that after a while, chasing the idea of achieving the impossible becomes who you are, even as it leads one to embrace the increasing possibilities of loss.

Ideas edge us on, taking us over the edge (if allowed), getting us to go beyond the limits – so that the world can go farther still. Chasing the idea is ultimately what stands a leader out from the crowd where many have decided to play it safe (and maybe justifiably so), or have tried, failed, and for the most part have refused to try again.

But then, are there not better ways to live?

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Why decisions matter

Decisions

During World War 2, there were countless stories that contributed to deciding who won the war. The trajectory of these stories were guided primarily by the decisions made some of which were made under the most inhuman conditions, with leaders having to decide between the devil and the deep blue sea. Under those circumstances, decisions had to be made on how to manage communicationssupplies and what battles to fight next – or even to fight at all. As we know today, these decisions made the difference between life and death, between those who made it home and sadly, those who didn’t.

Why decisions are important

So much of who we arewhat we do and what we become are a product of the decisions we take, and outcomes are almost guaranteed once a decision is taken. Again, this is irrespective of any supporting or contradictory circumstances. The decisions we take determine how far we go in our pursuits, however excited we were when we started. Connecting this to the world of business, decisions around hiring and letting go of talent are known to influence everything from brand perception to referrals for business.

Decision making also influences our careers

Most career counsellors would advise that one of the best ways to know what a firm is like is to ask someone who’s worked there before. This is also a reason for the popularity (in part at least) of sites as glassdoor and payscale. Still, decisions as to what markets to exploit are key in determining if a company would exist in the next ten years. Statistics on startup survival rates tend to omit this fact: they sometimes do not succeed due to an inability to make the right decisions within a given time frame. Research from McKinsey & Co. and work from the founder’s mentality by Bain & Co. show that companies able to consistently make the right decisions about the key areas of their business can expect consistent growth.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl

There are other situations in life and business where decisions are key in determining the terms under which the coming years would be lived. What to do about your customers’ pain points, how to respond when defamed, and what to wear for that special occasion. Also keep in mind that the reactions from the environment are not always easily predictable which only increases the fear of decision making.

There are fears connected to decision making, but they can be dealt with.

Taking decisions off the course of what is familiar is a source of fear and for all the talk about change and innovation (which I do support), there is the possibility of complete failure. There is never a decision without a consequence hence the need to hedge against risk, insure and the like. The importance of taking decisions correctly is so key that firms like Google invest so much in CEO pay – and with good reason too. In another light, firms like Oracle risk engaging two CEOs to possibly double their chances of making the right decisions. Taking decisions will always be better than standing still even as we see some sense in decisions being reappraised periodically as things, people and circumstances change.

Things change, so we need to decide well ahead of time.

“Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”

Sheikh Yamani

The horse and carriage gave way to the automobile and while the horses remain elegant beasts, they can’t get us to our destination faster than cars can. Holding on to old ways of doing things is a recipe for extinction. There is also the danger of letting people contribute to the decision making process. Even though advisers, mentors and peer groups have their advantages the final decision must be taken by the individual because the consequences (whether good or bad) will be borne primarily by same.

Dealing with fears on the way to getting it right.

We must be prepared to embrace the risk of the decision going south – a price in part for getting things right. The fear of making the wrong decision is welcome when it drives further verification of facts and detailed reviews of possible consequences for every proposed line of action. Needless to say every organisation stands today because someone decided to look on the other side of fear.

To conclude, the UK recently decided to leave the EU (#Brexit) and this raised concerns all over the world. This might be because we have come to believe that decisions have to be taken with us in mind, almost like we have somehow become the centre of the system, seeing as ‘we’ depend so much on ‘them’. Now, whether this ‘dependence’ is their fault or not is subject for another conversation. As a people, the UK retains the right to decide what they want as they would ultimately bear whatever benefits or losses that may come with their decision.

Maybe the rest of us are free to do likewise.

 Here’s a summary of what we looked at;

  1. You have to decide.
  2. Decisions are important.
  3. Decision making also influences our careers.
  4. Fears connected to decision making can be dealt with.
  5. Things change, so we need to decide well ahead of time.
  6. Dealing with fears on the way to getting it right.

 

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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.

Preparation_huffing_

(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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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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

Why You Should Begin Again.

Blank notepad over laptop and coffee cup on office wooden table

Because it’s easy to think our work doesn’t matter.

As each day brings opportunity, we’re always on our way to the next expression of creativity.

That is, always on the move, if we see things right.

Sometimes the slog gets tiring, even uncomfortable a times.

But then, what good work isn’t?

 One More Thing

The idea seems to be that the more content or product we put out there, the sooner we get the customer engaged.

Well, that may be true in today’s increasingly congested market place, the test remains to stand out. And some times, the effort to find that single sound, move, design, word, play or combination of the above can seem endless.

One

Sometimes, that’s all that’s required to break through, or

To get inspired once again

To believe as it were the beginning again

To contribute to humanity

To make the world a better place.

So, sometimes, it’s just one more thing.

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3 Ways to Get Promoted in your Career

P

Yes. I may know how.

Traditional.

Run through the hoops, exceed (not meet) set targets. Do your time on a grade level. Navigate the politics carefully. Get promoted in the end (hopefully). Least effort required. The traditionalist stands the highest risk of becoming irrelevant. This system remains is the leading cause of in house fraud and employee disloyalty due because, with one missing link, some offended senior, one missed target, some bad wind and no super achievement at any prior point and it’s all gone. All the ORDINARY effort. Gone. The firm owns you. So you wait a cycle (or more). Sorry.

Expert.

Traditional + No steps missed. No offended seniors/clients. Lots of bells and whistles (extras, icing on the cake, etc.), ‘A’ grade performer. More effort required than Traditional. Medium risk of becoming irrelevant. Seniors rooting for you. Get promoted. Most likely. While better than Traditional, one is still somewhat at the mercy of the firm, who is not always rational. The firm owns you 50%. Well…

Freelance.

Expert + AggressivelyUpskilledSalesman.

A constant and immense drive to improve skill level BEYOND one’s core competence. Investment in relationships and personal brand in the MARKET. Focus is on opportunities to add SIGNIFICANT value. Offend the client (ONLY when necessary!). Always selling value to the market, not just to the in – house powers that be. An unbelievable amount of effort required. Always relevant. The market is your client. The firm can proceed as it deems fit. You own you. Always headhunted. 100%. Sweet.

Decide what you want to be AND GO FOR IT.

On Speech and Speaking

Needless to say the objective of speech is to communicate, to get the message across, to inspire some kind of action (or inaction)

To make sense.

m

The aim of speech is not simply to be heard, to make a point known in the aggressive sense (save for military dictators and the like) to “let it all out’, to rant.

So communicate with the audience in mind, not necessarily sacrificing your uniqueness, but placing more importance on how the information is received.

If not this, then why communicate in the first place?”