No plan survives contact with the market!

May 16, 2013

PanzerTo paraphrase General Helmuth von Moltke – famed for his thesis that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’ – it’s obvious to all business founders that no plan survives contact with the market! Especially anything to do with timing, a point well made in Margaret Heffernan’s latest Inc post:

Ten ways to get people to change

October 8, 2012

How do you get leaders, employees, customers – and even yourself – to change behaviours?  Executives can change strategy, products and processes until they’re blue in the face, but real change doesn’t take hold until people actually change what they do. Check out the HBR blog for some useful suggestions:

Boardroom lottery

September 14, 2012

What are your chances of reaching the top of the career ladder based on your gender, age, ethnic group and more? Play the OU Boardroom Lottery challenge to find out:

Boardroom Challenge 

The challenge was inspired by Hilary Devey’s Women at the Top BBC2 TV series.

Leadership: boring vs charismatic!

May 19, 2012

Is ‘boringness’ the secret of great leadership? Read:

Stop being such a cow!

October 14, 2011

Picture the scene: you’re walking down the street trying to decide where to eat. But it’s early evening and all the restaurants are empty. So you pick what you consider to be the most appealing – you think it has the tastiest menu – and go in. After a while some more people come along and see you sitting at a table. They assume that if you’re in there it must be OK, and enter and sit at another table. Very soon there are lots of people in the restaurant and all the other possible eateries are lagging well behind. This process is called the information cascade.

Information cascades are important in economic psychology as they are used to explain the behaviour of financial markets. That’s because they feed the process of speculation, including frantic buying or selling: bubbles v crashes. Now of course all this starts at a vaguely rational level (remember the restaurant example) but rapidly moves into irrational herd-like behaviour. Thus maybe it’s no accident that we talk about confident or ‘bull’ markets! Although perhaps in reality it’s more cow-like: put your head down, eat the grass and stick with the herd.

The bigger point is that information cascades affect all manner of decision-making. And the movement of the ‘herd’ (group, team, board) can be very difficult to resist, even if you, the individual, recognise it as being irrational. People en masse are easily convinced they are moving in the right direction, and frequently do not stop to ask the obvious question: why are we doing this?

At work this is made worse by the fact that many managers do not know how to probe the thinking of their colleagues. They simply base their understanding on what they assume is going on, and assumptions, as we all know, are often vague and unpredictable beasts. The real trick is to return to the beginning and pose clearly framed questions about the logic of projects and plans, and also to ask questions about the organisation. Not just, ‘why are we doing this?’ but ‘why are we doing it this way?’ So maybe the competency lists that are so beloved of HR professionals should always include the ‘ability to ask good ‘why’ questions’ behaviour…


Investigating the personality of companies

August 24, 2011

“When we think about other people, we do so in terms that can be boiled down to five discrete personality dimensions: extraversion, introversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness and agreeableness (known as the Big Five factors). A new study suggests that a similar process is at work in our perception of companies and corporations. Google and Apple have personalities too, it seems.”

Read this post from the BPS Research Digest, Investigating the personality of companies, to discover the four fundamental dimensions…

Anti-PowerPoint party formed in Switzerland!

July 14, 2011

There’s a new political movement in Switzerland that has a single aim: the outlawing of PowerPoint! Curious really, but perhaps the Swiss think that PowerPoint gets in the way of getting stuff done, and just clogs up the neural arteries with mind numbing charts, graphs and diagrams, and those slides packed with very small text. Nothing is of course further from the truth.

PowerPoint is a fine business tool that can transform any audio-visual presentation in to a thing of pure beauty. And what would people do if they didn’t have to spend endless hours looking for suitable images, getting the animations to work in the right sequence, and cutting the whole thing down to a mere 60 slides (for a 10 minute talk). No, I think our Swiss friends are barking up the wrong tree this time.

Think you know about PowerPoint, take the BBC quiz:

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a KPI!

June 17, 2011

Just a quick note to say that we all talk about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), but actually very few people know what they really are. Read this ICAEW article and be enlightened…

Do more in less time

June 10, 2011
It seems the key to getting more done, and getting it done better, may be in working in intense bursts for short periods of time… and also giving yourself plenty of breaks.
Read more:

The entrepreneurs of identity

March 19, 2011

As business psychologists we spend a great deal of time trying to identify leadership. And to help us there’s a mighty army of personality and leadership questionnaires, as well as numerous books that claim to pinpoint the ‘habits’ that distinguish successful leaders from the rest. In contrast there is little on the way in which leadership can grow from a leader’s role as part of a group.

Less I-ness, more we-ness

The group perspective on leadership, or the ‘social identity’ approach to organisational psychology, works on the premise that our sense of self isn’t fixed. It exists on a continuum that runs from self-interested personal identity (‘I-ness’) to group orientated social identity (‘we-ness’); with our position being determined by social context. What is more we tend to act on an individualistic basis when we compare ourselves to an ‘in-group’, such as one composed of our work colleagues; whereas when the comparison is with an ‘out-group’, such as a competitor, we are far more likely to act in a group-orientated manner.

Who are we?

It follows that if social rather than personal identity is better at explaining what we do in groups, then measures of the latter, such as personality questionnaires, are not going to be good predictors of behaviour.

In terms of leadership it also seems likely that a concentration on the individual isn’t the answer. If leadership is about group behaviour then it’s really about creating a shared identity that binds the group together. Thus true leadership is about helping to create, shape and sustain a sense of ‘who and what we are’.

What happened to my charisma?

Those that are masters at creating shared identity are also likely to be described as charismatic. However if charisma is dependent on the management of group identity, then if you lose your ability to shape this identity your charisma will evaporate – an effect that can be readily observed in the world of politics!

Overall then, perhaps there’s one expression that sums up social identity and leadership: great leaders are the entrepreneurs of identity. And what they do is to help us create our perception of who we are.

Note: The expression ‘entrepreneurs of identity’ is probably best attributed to Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher. If you’re interested in this area you might also like to read Alex Haslam’s book, Psychology in Organizations: The Social Identity Approach, published by Sage.

Picture credit: Ambro/


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