The myths of innovation

November 24, 2011

One of the sparkiest writers and presenters on innovation is Scott Berkun. If you haven’t heard his lecture on why much of what we think we know about innovation is wrong, pop over to YouTube now! Here’s the link:

It’s enough to make Stephen Fry blush!

July 26, 2011

I was, dear reader, going to write a post on the relationship between brand management and human resources. However, having just been on the receiving end of a tranche of incomprehensible business-speak I thought I would have a rant about communication: more precisely, communication that does not communicate. Firstly, have you noticed how everything has to be ‘uber’ these days? So, to begin, I was asked to contemplate how I could achieve an ‘uber-solution to a multi-channel marketing strategy’. So far so good, say what you mean… But secondly, had I not noticed that ‘consumers where differentially attracted to the convenience of 24/7 self-transaction.’ Well, I had actually. Not only that, I was ahead of this Johnnies game and had realised (perhaps rather smugly) that I needed to ‘extend my pipeline in order to tap into regional discontinuities’.  All of this is of course total tosh. There is never a time or a place for this sort of thing, and it’s not clever, it’s just a misguided attempt to re-image rather tired third generation resources. Ahh, I feel better for that.

Now, to change the subject only slightly, I am not for a moment suggesting that Mr Fry is the sort of person to suffer from any of form of craniofacial erythema, indeed I cannot think of anyone less likely to succumb to such an encumbrance; nor, I should add, can it be said that he is anything other than a precision engineer, a veritable 21st Century Dr Johnson, of the intricacies and vicissitudes of our Mother Tongue, but there are times when plain speaking is required – not least when it comes to business communication. As, I think, I may have demonstrated. And, to pick another obscure example completely at random, perhaps that’s why we find ourselves in such a mess with regard to the banks. Frankly they don’t even understand each other, hiding behind their Chinese Walls and their Hedges, trying to leverage a despondent Bear Market with a quick Swap or a nifty Spread, on the way to Leveraging a Buy Side solution, or maybe a touch of Arbitrage with a Credit Derivative. Give me Liquidity every time I hear you say, and you’d be right. I’d certainly be very interested in taking out an Option on a double. No, don’t get me on the subject of bankers. Enough said I think.

PS: And I know about the apostrophe in wits’ end!

Photo credit: NowandZen/

Leadership: the bland leading the bland

July 8, 2011

There’s the usual angst in the air about: (a) the importance of effective leadership, (b) but that it seems impossible to find enough good leaders, and (c) that we don’t really know what it is anyway. Oh, and that the whole subject is at the mercy of fads and pseudo-science; and organisations believing that leadership is all about stability when it’s actually about change and risk.

Try reading this for some interesting thoughts:

How big is big?

April 15, 2011

A timely reminder from Richard Donkin on why it’s important to exercise caution when trying to measure things, especially in a management context:

How to spot a management (or marketing) fad

March 1, 2011

Ansoff matrix, Balanced scorecard, Bass diffusion, Blue ocean, Boston box, Burke Litwin, Business process re-engineering, Chaos model, Clarkson principles, Covey’s seven habits, Deming cycle, Downsizing, Greiner’s growth model, Excellence, Fifth discipline, Force-field analysis, Good to great, Hammerstein-Equord, Just in time, Kaizen, Learning organisation, Management by objectives, Outsourcing, Path-goal theory, Profit pools, Scenario planning, Seven forces, Situational leadership, Six sigma, Total quality, Value-based management, Value streams, Theories X, Y and Z…

When I slow down I go faster

Let’s get this straight not all models are bad. In fact many are based on reasonable ideas and sensible insights. However most are doomed to short and imperfect lives, and to have caused a fair degree of upset and damage along the way. These are the fads. Fads are simple and often disarming ideas that appear to offer more for less, take little time to understand (or master); and which seem to reduce everything to a few easily understood concepts. And being simple beasts they are convenient for managers or consultants to pick up and spread around. However whilst they are often pretty simple ideas, sometimes so simple as to be, well, blindingly obvious, an air of mystery can be restored by talking in acronyms (BCG, BPR, JIT, TQM etc); along with catchy and occasionally Confucian expressions like: ‘when I slow down I go faster’

There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals

Ah, the sound of a single hand clapping… So far then one of the signs of a fad is gross over-simplification. Which is of course at odds with reality, because life, business, management and leadership are complex. Thus anything that claims to reduce this to a straight-forward dichotomy (Type A or Type B), or the sign of a fad par excellence, a 2×2 matrix, just isn’t going to do it. The other thing about fads is that they always over promise, and often claim to generalise to any sort of business or organisation. One size, it would appear, fits all.

And another thought that should be at the fore for any self-respecting fad spotter are that they usually follow business problems. For example JIT, TQM and Kaizen sprang up as a means of trying to compete with the Japanese. Afterall, if you can’t beat them, just-in-time copy their fads… But there’s a bit of a problem here because the solution to a global problem may not work at the micro level. And, more importantly, what appear to be big issues often only serve to create a growing market for advisors! And they of course have a vested interest in promoting the ‘solution’.

Don’t work harder, work smarter

That’s right. It’s quick and painless and you’ll produce more. And I have lots of stories, anecdotes and quotes from successful managers, leaders and assorted gurus that attest to the fantastic efficacy of my new way of doing things. And I do, but what I probably don’t have is any hard evidence. Fads don’t tend to be based on anything empirical. And to make up for the lack of science they are boosted with zingy language, buzzwords, inspirational tales and gripping against-the-odds-but-it-was-alright-in-the-end tales. In consequence beware the old content-style thing! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

To end, my favourite, and possibly the first 2×2 ‘management’ matrix of them all…

This was devised in 1933 by General Hammerstein-Equord, Chief of the German Army High Command. To quote:

“I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent – their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy – they make up 90 per cent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent – he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”

Enough said, I think. But it does remind me of that competence-commitment leadership model. Now, which one was that? Just shows you can’t keep a good idea down for long.

Note: All the headings in this post (Don’t work harder etc) are from Leadership and The One Minute Manager by Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P. & Zigarmi, D., published by HarperCollins Business (1994).

The military quote can be found in The Silences of Hammerstein by Martin Chambers, published by Seagull Books (2009).


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 89 other followers