Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Real Time Retreat Work.

Walking and thinking is a way to go on a Retreat (maybe we should call it an Advance instead?). So is praying, as is meditating and goal setting. This work typically takes some time, space, quiet and the will to persist.

Consider this list:

- What do I want to do before I die?
- What do I want to do in the next five years?
- I have six months to live. What do I want to do in those six months?
- Have your life partner do their own personal retreat and then compare notes.

Categories to think about are: personal, professional, financial, physical, spiritual (which includes the contributions you hope to make while you're on this planet), and a wild card (at least one of the "crazy" things you want to do before you die). The names of your categories reflect what you care about in life.

As you answer the questions, look for words that wake you up, that appeal to both your head and your heart. And use the what, why, who, how questions for each category to clarify your personal vision as you go forward into the rest of 2009. Whether your personal retreat stretches over two-days or half-a-day, take nothing but yourself and a laptop or paper and a pen.

Schedule the meeting, please. Listen only to yourself. So many of us can see at least a portion of the potential in our lives and yet the story in our mind is simply getting in the way. The solution is most often right in front of us and usually involves changing the story.

Thomas Leonard suggests that the ten stepping stones of a strong personal foundation are:

• A past which you've fully completed.

• A life which is truly based on integrity.

• Needs which have been identified and fully met.

• Boundaries which are ample and automatic.

• Standards which bring out your best.

• An absence of things you tolerate.

• Always choosing to come from a positive place.

• A family that nurtures you.

• A community that develops you.

• A life fully oriented around your true values.

Monday, March 30, 2009

There’s a personal retreat with your name on it....

If you haven't engaged in a heart-to-heart conversation with yourself recently, there’s a personal retreat with your name on it. Where are you going in 2009? And why? With whom? And how?

Walt Sutton suggests taking time to consider your direction, progress, aspirations, dreams, goals, and everything you can think of about your life. Stephen Covey cautions us against climbing the ladder of success only to discover that the ladder is against the wrong building. A formal yearly assessment is an effort to look at all of the buildings, all of the ladders, and as much of the surrounding countryside as you can see. The desired outcome is to "study yourself" and it's the number one thing you can do to impact the quality of your life. It encourages the use of personal introspection as a basis for making life decisions and routinely adjusting one's life course. One of the biggest reasons we become achievers is to "control our own destiny". However, many people tend to restrict this endeavor to their business lives as opposed to their whole lives.

Some people do this work physically, some psychologically, some spiritually, some do the work linearly, some by induction - it doesn't seem to matter how. What matters is that many successful people do this work - regularly. The key here is that you think energetically, optimistically, critically, and seriously about what you want from life. Then take your thoughts - however you organize them - and compile commitments to make your dreams come true.

First, decide how you're going to spend your retreat time... what you're going to do. For example:

• Write a letter to yourself assuming you're 90-years old and recount what was really important in your life.

• Imagine a perfect day at work, at play and at home... what would these days look like, and what would you look like doing each of these things.

• Imagine yourself as your own best friend... what would you advise yourself about your life's direction now and how you could make your future choices really meaningful.

Friday, March 27, 2009

First Lesson, a poem by Phyllis McGinley.

Phyllis McGinley (1905 – 1978) was born in Ontario, Oregon. When she was three, her family moved to Colorado, and then to Ogden, Utah after her father died. She studied at USC and the University of Utah, graduating in 1927. She taught at a junior high school for a year, until her career as a writer and poet took off. Her poems were published in the New York Herald Tribune and The New Yorker, among others. She also wrote the lyrics for a musical revue, Small Wonder, in 1948.

In 1955, she was elected a member of the National Academy of Arts and Letters; in 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; in 1964 she was honored with the Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame (described as an honor to a man or woman who has enriched the heritage of humanity). She was also awarded a dozen honorary degrees, including one from that stronghold of masculine pride, Dartmouth College.

She once observed that, “Praise is warming and desirable. But it’s an earned thing. It has to be deserved, like a hug from a child.”

First Lesson by Phyllis McGinley

The first thing to remember about fathers is, they're men.

A girl has to keep it in mind.

They are dragon-seekers, bent on impossible rescues.

Scratch any father, you find

Someone chock-full of qualms and romantic terrors,

Believing change is a threat -

Like your first shoes with heel on, like your first bicycle

It took months to get.

Walk in strange woods, they warn you about the snakes there.

Climb and they fear you'll fall.

Books, angular looks, swimming in deep water -

Fathers mistrust them all.

Men are the worriers. It is difficult for them

To learn what they must learn:

How you have a journey to take and very likely,

For a while, will not return.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The power of old sayings.

Don’t try to do it all by yourself.

As the old saying goes, many hands make light work. Considering many different opinions is a powerful force in generating new opportunities. Diversity in thought leads to creativity and innovation. The world is too complex in many situations for one person to know it all any more. Fresh input can make it clear that lots of the choices we think we have to make aren’t real choices (for example, there are many different TVs on the market but very few of the features are different). When opinions differ, don’t take it personally and focus on the issue, not the person.

Really embrace change - move out to meet it.

Since change is the norm, not the exception, either you take advantage of it or you'll be taken advantage of. Whether you change yourself or change changes you, look for ways to gain advantage from the change. You’re probably safest if you act first. What are you afraid of? Learn to identify and conquer your fears. Understand this and you'll improve your readiness to embrace change.

Take the initiative.

Dig the well before you’re thirsty. Gain advantage by acting first. Don’t be afraid of mistakes because without them, you can’t learn anything. Educate your instincts and trust them until they're proven wrong. As you move to a new learning curve, expect a temporary feeling of losing forward progress, of being out of control. This too will pass. “Do the thing,” said Emerson, “and you shall have the power.”

Keep a positive outlook.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Einstein said, "Love is a better master than duty." Real lasting energy comes from a positive vision of the future, from a belief that things can be better. Some people are one gene short in this department and it doesn't serve them well. As the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, wrote before the birth of Christ, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

Persevere, persevere, then persevere some more.

When one door shuts, another door opens, if you stay open and aware. Many successful achievers started out at a disadvantage in the field they eventually excelled at. They never stopped trying though, even when there appeared to be no hope. Timing is everything so keep trying until the time is right. So much happens by chance that if you’re not constantly looking, not constantly pushing the envelope, you won’t see the opportunity when it presents itself.

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been” - George Elliott.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in the 1800s that, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”

The abiding message of all the above? Seek and ye shall find..........

Poetry day tomorrow....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More secrets of successful achievers.

Work harder and smarter.
When you cut your own wood, it warms you twice. What we refer to as luck is often the bringing together of capability and opportunity. The harder you work and the more thoroughly you prepare, the luckier you get. Work has a different meaning today in that everyone needs to function as a manager and has to learn to manage some aspect of their job. And in a dynamic world, everyone constantly needs to acquire new skills. So learning needs to be a regular part of work too rather than a separate entity. Since our organizations can’t provide as much external security as they did in the past, you have to rely on yourself to a much greater extent. Focusing on non-stop development is a way to do this.

Strive for balance.
Everybody wants work-life balance but nobody has a clue how to get it. That's because the idea is all wrong, according to Dr Steven Poelmans at Madrid's IESE Business School. "I don't like the word balance," he says, "since it means if you put more into one side (say, work or family responsibilities), there's less time for another. Instead, companies and employees need to think about harmonizing work life, prioritizing things in the various parts of life as they need to. Work-life balance is all about having a sense of meaning and purpose in life."

Everybody’s day is the same length. It feels shorter when our stress and responsibilities from work follow us into our home environment and our concerns from home follow us to the office. The stress we feel at home undermines our relationships and reduces our ability to cope; in the office, we become less engaged and less productive. What we need to do instead is to allow ourselves time to refocus between work and home. By more effectively separating our worlds, we can use our time more effectively – and enjoy it more.

"Full wealth doesn't exist in monetary value alone. Wealth includes the balance of an open heart, a desire to seek life's secrets and a connection to life that stimulates the spirit." - Peter Howe

"Life is like riding a bike. It's impossible to maintain your balance while standing still." - Linda Brakeall

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Be true to your values.

Be true to your values.

A value is an enduring belief that a particular mode of conduct is preferable to others that a person acts on by preference. Our values are at the core of who we are. They influence our judgments, our choices and our actions. They are not created by natural law but are culturally imposed. Values silently give direction to the decisions you make every moment of every day.

In a complex world, clear values simplify and make choices easier. If you’ve defined the key behaviors and capabilities you need to succeed, then you can develop a list of rational practical values that will cause these to be alive and well in your life. This forces you to pull stuff you already know out of you so you can see it and begin to use it in a more conscious way. One way to describe your values is by defining "what you won't do." This is a quick way of looking at the important areas that are sacred, without having to write all the rules of what to do ... which can be too control oriented and voluminous.

Here I’m differentiating between two kinds of values - rational, practical values, and historical, big question values (like religious beliefs). The practical values serve as a set you can use right away. Other bigger questions are constantly in doubt or unresolved so you’ll always have to keep working on them. And that’s OK. At least you have the practical stuff under control to see you through most of the day-to-day situations you’ll face.

As an example: When Ed Harness was President of Procter & Gamble, he described the values he believed to be essential to his success as "always acting with honesty, integrity, fairness, and a respect and a concern for others.”

A clear and publicly expressed value statement creates a constructive tension in your life, heightening awareness of gaps between aspirations and current practice, and providing a stimulus to narrow these gaps. In that way, it helps drive a culture of continuous improvement. A strong values framework causes you to search for solutions to problems that are consistent with your values, questioning and testing alternatives, and inventing change when necessary.

“Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.” – Dov Seidman

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.” - John W. Gardner

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ideas that last for times that change.

You can’t change the way the wind blows but you can adjust your sails. How do you find out what to do, what works? First, you need to know where you want to go. Next, you need to have a conscious philosophy about how you want to live your life - a clear set of values to serve as a compass in a changing sea. Here are some principles to guide the search.

Know what you want out of life.
Take some serious time to scan and map your current environment. Make an effort to understand the world you live in. What’s happening around you that’s impacting your life - personally, professionally, for your family, for your career, for your happiness, for your economic prosperity? What trends are most likely to influence your life and how are these trends favorable or unfavorable for you? Which are helpful forces and which are unhelpful constraints?

Next, create a vision of your ideal future.
List everything you want out of your life. Start with absolutely no constraints, assuming that everything you want is possible. Then, factor in the constraints you identified earlier. Determine which are in your control and which aren’t in your control. Take action to make things better where you’re in control. Decide whether to stay in this current (and now improving situation) or move to a new place where there are fewer constraints limiting what you want to do. Think about happiness. Is it really that important as opposed to fulfillment and satisfaction? Don’t be deluded by romantic soap opera visions of happiness - they'll only deceive and disappoint you. Here's what some great minds had to say about happiness:

“Success is not the key to happiness ... Happiness is the key to success ... If you enjoy what you're doing, you will be successful.” - Albert Schweitzer

"Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response." - Mildred Barthel

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." - Mahatma Gandhi

"The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstances." - Martha Washington

Tomorrow - differentiating between two kinds of values - rational, practical values and traditional big question (e g religious) values.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Old Woman of the Roads, a poem by Padraic Colum.

Padraic Colum, (1881–1972), the first of eight children, was an Irish poet, novelist, dramatist, biographer and collector of folklore. He was one of the leading figures of the Celtic Revival and a founder of Dublin’s famous Abbey Theatre. He was a prolific author and published a total of 61 books, not counting his plays. Three of his books for children were awarded retrospective citations for the Newbery Honor.

He was born Patrick Collumb in a workhouse in county Longford, where his father was the workhouse master. When his father lost his job in 1889, and moved to America to take part in the Colorado gold rush, Padraic and the rest of the family remained in Ireland. He studied at University College, Dublin where he met his wife Mary Maguire. In 1914, they left Ireland for America, where they lived in New York. In the 1930s, the Colums moved to France where Padraic renewed his old friendship with James Joyce. The Colums returned to America and were made US citizens in 1945.

"A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers." - John F. Kennedy

An Old Woman of the Roads by Padraic Colum

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods against the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!
To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!
I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!
I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!
Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!
And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house - a house of my own
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Learning to listen to our intuition.

“ ... it is by logic we prove, but it is by intuition that we discover." - Henri Poincare, 19th Century French Mathematician

When Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper, he'd work very intensively for days, but then he'd disappear. The prior of the church of Saint Maria Della Grazie didn't understand that Leonardo was a genius. As far as he was concerned, Leonardo was just another painter. The prior said something to the effect that, “I have a contract here. Where's this Leonardo guy? Get him back up on the scaffolding to finish this by the deadline.” Leonardo wouldn't hear of it, so the prior complained to the Duke of Milan who had originally arranged the contract.

The Duke called on Leonardo to explain himself. Leonardo said, “Men of genius sometimes work best when they work least.” He went on to explain to the Duke that he needed time to integrate his thoughts and that sometimes he did his most productive work when he wasn't up on the scaffold, but rather just walking through the streets of Milan. That's where he explored new thoughts; that's where he brought together ideas that hadn't been brought together before.

Most people intuitively understand this, yet they often ignore it. In the past 30-years I’ve asked many people all over the world, “Where were you actually physically located when you got your best ideas?” People have almost invariably responded, “I was lying in bed," "I was out for a walk," "I was driving my car," "I was taking a bath.” They almost never said, “I was in a meeting.”

Great ideas come through using the incubatory power of the mind. One of the refinements of learning how to think is finding a rhythm between intense focus and study — and then letting go completely so that incubation and imagination can take over. This means making time to listen to that very quiet voice that the intuition sometimes speaks in before engaging in another intensive period of what we call “working hard.”

If you're working hard all the time, you can often override the subtle messages of the intuition. But if you just hope to lie around all day and be intuitive, it'll never work because you won't have anything to incubate. It's a matter of finding a rhythm between intense focus and analysis and then shifting modes to be in a more receptive state. We must trust that prior experience has given us intricate inventories and combinations of clues that can signal new ways to take action. As Michael Polanyi says, “We know a lot more than we can tell.”

Business success today demands innovation. There’s a constant need to feel around the fringes and to test the edges. However, business schools teach mostly about what's worked in the past. This not only perpetuates conventional thinking but it stifles innovation as well. If Thomas Edison had gone to business school, we’d all be reading with larger candles today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Boss or leader?

Are you a boss or a leader? Use this list by Warren Bennis and Robert Townsend to query those who report to you. It makes a nice little written survey. (If you have no one reporting to you, fill it in about the person that you report to instead).

• Do you work with your boss or for your boss?

• Do you have specific goals to meet?

• Do you have enough power and resources to meet your goals?

• Does your boss protect you from useless work, irrelevant interruptions, ridiculous committee meetings and pointless paperwork?

• Do you come to work excited, full of energy, feeling free to make mistakes and fail?

• Do you feel “zap-proof,” safe from punishment for mistakes?

• Do you feel significant at work?

• Do you think you do anything important or meaningful?

• Do you feel you’re at the center of things rather than at the periphery of things?

• Are you learning anything?

• Is your environment educational, a place where people claim they learn more than they did at college?

• Do you feel you're part of a community, group or team?

• Do you feel you belong?

• Are the rewards you receive based on your performance?

• Are you proud of your organization?

Organizations today no longer require loyalty as much as they need commitment. They won’t get that unless individuals can relate to the organization they work for in a very personal way. According to Olympic gold-medal gymnasts, if you’re technically perfect in your routine, you’ll probably score about a 9.4. To get a 10, you have to have the passion to take risks and be unique, in addition to being the best you can be.

Michael Schrage, author of The Relationship Revolution, urges all who want to succeed in this new environment to stop thinking of networks and digital technologies as media for managing information and start thinking about them as media to manage relationships.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

Little is known about the life of St. Patrick. Born around 390, Maewyn Succat (the name "Patricius" was bestowed much later at Patrick's induction as a bishop of the Catholic Church) was the son of a Roman civil servant and the grandson of a Christian priest. Although Patrick wasn’t Irish, the fact that he was born somewhere in Roman Britain (both the Welsh and the Scots like to raise their hands at this point) technically makes him Celtic.

Patrick's strange odyssey began at 16 when he was abducted from his home by Ireland's fierce pagan raiders, who pillaged coastal villages across the Irish Sea. Sold into slavery, he was forced to be a herdsman in the lonely hills of county Antrim. Isolated, sparsely clothed and unable to speak the local language, Patrick turned inward and spoke to the God of his youth, whom he had previously abandoned. After six years, he escaped Ireland by ship and ended up on the coast of France. There he joined the priesthood. But because he had finally learned the pagans' language and customs, the church sent him back to Ireland to preach the Gospel.

Patrick triumphed in introducing Christianity to the warring Celtic tribes of early Ireland. He chose Armagh, formerly a site of pagan ritual, as his base of operations. Schools and other churches grew around the settlement he built there. By the eighth century, Armagh had became a major center of learning. Even today, Ireland's major Catholic and Protestant cathedrals are located there.

There are many legends surrounding Saint Patrick. This is where the snakes come in, or rather, go out. Christianity has long had a talent for creating clever parables. The tale of Patrick driving all the serpents out of Ireland (actually, there were none because of the climate) is a code for Patrick driving the pagan religion out of Ireland. The shamrock, which was Patrick's tool for explaining the mystery of the Holy Trinity was also a clever use of religious metaphor.

But according to Thomas Cahill (How the Irish Saved Civilization), Patrick's greatest feat as the Roman Empire fell and the Dark Ages enveloped the rest of Europe was to introduce the Latin alphabet and to establish Ireland's first monasteries. There, among cloistered halls, Irish monks learned to read and write, then dedicated their lives to copying by hand the secular and sacred tomes of Western literature. Thus, the Irish literary tradition can trace its roots, and its ascendancy, directly back to the work of Patrick and his monks.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place in New York in 1762. It was made up of Irish soldiers serving in the English military, who employed their bagpipes and drums in a melodic and patriotic fashion. When I was a young man growing up in Ireland, indeed until the late 1970s, all the pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day. It was one of three holy days (the others being Christmas and Good Friday) on the Catholic calendar that shuttered the public houses. The only place you could get a drink was at the annual dog show, so thousands of people “went to the dogs” on that day.

I'm going out to celebrate tonight and I hope you are too. And wear something green while you're at it ......

Monday, March 16, 2009

Change your point of view.

Looking at the news about the AIG bonus scandal this morning, I'm reminded that managers of large companies must make their peace with the idea that these institutions exist by consent of customers, investors, employees and society at large. All of them must be well served and their judgment on whether they're being well served or not is becoming more and more discriminating.

Increasingly, executive success pivots not on data and information but on interpretation - the ability to quickly make meaning out of still-emerging patterns. In a changing world, the name of the game is improvisation and innovation, not repeating standard responses. As former San Francisco 49er coach, Bill Walsh, once noted, “More than creating, innovation involves anticipating. It’s having a broad base of knowledge on your subject and the ability to see where the game is headed.”

Many senior managers appear to assume that layoffs and downsizing are inevitable in today's economy. But they're only inevitable if senior management hasn’t done its job. That job isn’t to run the business but to grow the business and to create new businesses. That’s supposedly is what the big money's for, creating a healthy top line as well as a healthy bottom line. When that doesn’t happen, people lower down in the company are forced to pay for the incompetence of those higher up. Downsizing is often a way to hide mistakes rather a necessary business strategy.

As Morris Massey reminds us, don’t let a past you can’t change write your future script. Many people still make decisions based on gut-level values formed when they were 20-years old. They should be making decisions with an eye to the future instead. That way, they won’t let their past overtake their future.

If you haven't seen them before, consider viewing Morris Massey’s videos which are available at www.enterprisemedia.com:
- What you are is where you were when....
- What you are is not what you have to be ....
- What you are is where you can see ....

Redefine, redesign and recreate your future by shifting your point of view. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” - Marcel Proust

Friday, March 13, 2009

Your Feet, a poem by Pablo Neruda.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet and diplomat who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His original name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, but he used the pen name Pablo Neruda for over 20 years before adopting it legally in 1946. Neruda is the most widely read of the Spanish American poets. From the 1940s on, his works reflected the political struggle of the left and other socialist developments in South America. He also wrote beautiful love poems - his Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924) has sold over a million copies since it first appeared. He was often referred to as the Picasso of poetry because his work was always in the vanguard of change. In his later years, Walt Whitman was a major influence and Neruda kept a framed portrait of him on his desk. He once said, "I, a poet who writes in Spanish, learned more from Walt Whitman than from Cervantes."

Your Feet by Pablo Neruda

When I cannot look at your face
I look at your feet.
Your feet of arched bone,
your hard little feet.
I know that they support you,
and that your sweet weight
rises upon them.
Your waist and your breasts,
the doubled purple
of your nipples,
the sockets of your eyes
that have just flown away,
your wide fruit mouth,
your red tresses,
my little tower.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Questioning the 'new.'

“He is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong” according to Thomas Jefferson. The problem is not so much that we learn nothing from history, but that what we learn is too often untrue. In the days when several generations lived together, the patterns of history were much more evident in daily life.

Focusing too much on today replaces the long-term with the short-term, the permanent with the transient, memory with sensation, insight with impulse. There’s no time to look back and little time to think ahead. What we do and what we think is defined by those commercial forces who stand to benefit from a society that moves faster and faster, and by those who stand to profit from our addiction to speed.

Everyday we’re told, “We must learn to live with uncertainty.” When has that ever not been a part of the human condition? Do we assume in previous times of ignorance, superstition and belief in magic that people were living in certainty? A pervasive fault of modern management theory seems to me to be a lack of any appreciation of human history. It's a paradox that, in the midst of pervasive and rapid technical and social change, human personality hasn’t altered throughout recorded history. We've all inherited preferred habits of thought that influence how we make decisions and interact with others. However, we're not always conscious of what these are.

Stephen Bertman in Hyperculture: The Human Cost of Speed reminds us that one of the defining elements of any society is that we don’t realize how the culture we’re in defines our perceptions and determines our values. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with fast per se - but there’s everything wrong with too fast. Once we commit ourselves exclusively to what’s fast, we miss out on other things that are important, such as perspective, personal and spiritual growth. If we go too fast without questioning its impact on us as human beings, we suffer something like the effects of oxygen deprivation at high altitudes. So we shouldn’t just accept that electronic speed-of-light technology is self-justifying, but rather question its impact on that part of us that requires a real human interface. There are certain valuable aspects of life that can only come with time, slowness and duration.

Every time you find something ‘new,’ try to figure out what it’s an imitation of. Don’t be fooled by speed or by the mystique of the future. Because if you look closely enough at the present and the past, there’s usually a way of understanding everything that seems so new.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The persistance of history.

I often wonder why more progress hasn't been made in adopting the ideas championed by Cemex, Ford and the many other companies I've described here. I was thinking about this general topic again this morning and here's where I ended up:.

Edward Gibbon, writing in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, claims that human nature never changes and that history is determined by mankind's predilection for faction, self-seeking and contention, augmented by environmental and cultural differences. Gibbon teaches that, despite technological advances, the tragedy for so much of the world is how societies are still ancient in a political sense. People in poor nations, he writes, exhibit "a carelessness of futurity." And even amid the "progress" of the developed world, many of our institutions remain corrupt and decadent because of money (this is in the news every day now). Economist Kenneth Boulding's summary of world history is that "Wealth creates power and power destroys wealth." I don’t look for all this to change anytime soon. As Joseph Campbell observed in the forward to The Masks of God, "I can see no reason why anyone should suppose that in the future the same motifs already heard will not be sounding still ... put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends, or by madmen to nonsense and disaster."

Specialists who see organizations through the lens of their particular profession often fail to understand the reality of political life. In politics, we're commonly faced with choices among necessary evils. Many human problems can never be finally solved because the ultimate values involved are at odds with one another. Values like economic progress and settled communities can't always be made compatible. Sometimes we must choose between them. In this sense, the search for the perfect organization or the perfect society is the pursuit of an illusion. And organizations aren't laboratories in which scientific theories can be tested by observation and experiment. Outcomes often depend on political judgment and good political judgment requires courage and luck, an artist's sense for place and time, and an instinct for what is and what isn't workable. The qualities that make a great politician are as elusive as those that make an artistic genius.

History however provides patterns which give us alternative contexts for thought and action. It's a shame that examples of learning from experience are as rare as diamonds on the beach. "If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us," commented Samuel Coleridge. "But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind us."

Rather than learning from history, most of us follow instead the siren song of the poet, Christina Rossetti:

The downhill path is easy, come with me and it please ye,
We shall escape the uphill by never turning back ....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Learnings from Cemex.

IT can lock in business-as-usual by simply using new technology in the service of old principles. However, at Cemex, automation is not the essential point; the philosophy isn't to try to control everything. As Darwin once said, it’s not the strongest species that survive nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.

The conflicting choices that are the essence of paradox make most people uncomfortable because of the perceived need to choose between seemingly bipolar opposites. It’s human nature to prefer, to seek out, and even to expect certainty. Paradoxes threaten that traditional world order. A common way to handle this is to “fix” on one polarity and to see the world as “either / or,” rather than attempting to reconcile the two polarities with “both / and” thinking.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in management's choice of order over disorder. While this option had worked well for Cemex in the past, it was clear to management that it no longer worked and would become even more dysfunctional in the future. According to CEO, Lorenzo Zambrano, "We spent so much time teaching our organization to be systematized and orderly that it could no longer respond quickly enough in a fast-changing environment."

William A. Orme Jr., a longtime American writer on Mexico, refers to the "cult of the licenciado." Literally, the word means someone who has a college degree, someone who can make things happen, usually from behind a desk. Traditionally, all information goes to the licenciado and all decisions come from him (or don't, which is where the classic bureaucratic swamp begins). What Cemex is doing - giving employees the knowledge that they need and the authority to use it, to make and keep their commitments - turns that old tradition upside down. Cemex people like to use the English word "empowerment." North of the border, this term may have lost some of its freshness, but in Mexico it still has the ring of a call to arms.

Finally, a quote from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

The masters of life know the Way,
for they listen to the voice within them.

The voice of wisdom and simplicity,
the voice that reasons beyond Cleverness
and knows beyond Knowledge.

That voice is not just the power
and property of a few,
but has been given to everyone.

Those who pay attention to it
are too often treated as exceptions to a rule,
rather than as examples of the rule in operation,
a rule that can apply to anyone who makes use of it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why Cemex works.

For all the money Cemex has spent on information technology - an estimated 1% of its annual revenue - the first thing its executives say is that none of this was really about computer monitors or digitized truck schedules. The Guadalajara ops center's machines might as well be a pile of rusted-out filing cabinets for all the importance that Cemex's philosopher-engineers attach to them when they are deep into what they call "the conversation."

The conversation is an ongoing process of top-to bottom self-examination. Conversations are where things are invented. People talk about what they do and what they can do better, that's how they find out where they need to focus their efforts. After six to eight months of conversations, Cemex realized that it had to reinterpret what it was doing. Conversations started by asking, “What is it we want?" searching for anomalies and examining the conventional wisdom - which was, 'We have to schedule deliveries one day ahead of time. Why? Because that's the way we’ve always done it.'

The foundation for what Cemex calls its Sincronización Dinámica de Operaciones is a set of business-process software and expert programs painstakingly gleaned by a team of Cemex specialists during nearly a year of meetings - 40 in all - in which the Guadalajara crew were grilled on the realities of their jobs: Thursdays and Fridays are busier because builders like to let concrete set over a weekend. The summertime's afternoon rains mean more morning deliveries. In this kind of world, you can throw linear programming out the window. The time it takes to go from point A to point B is a function of experience. What you're putting together is a world of judgments, not a world of facts. Fed with streams of day-to-day data - customer orders, production, traffic problems, roadwork in progress, even changing weather conditions - the result is what software designers call an adaptive system, one that actually gets smarter the longer it runs.

Operating over a PC-based LAN are the book-sized onboard computers and GPS relays that sit by each driver. The machines have a screen for ops center messages and customized buttons: "Leaving plant," or "Arrived at site," or "Customer not ready." The data meshes seamlessly with the rest of the system. "If a route normally takes 15-minutes, and after 15-minutes the driver isn't there, we'll get an alarm," says Suárez. The result is three integrated systems: one for taking orders, another for checking a customer's financial profile, and the last for tracking software the ops room dispatchers use. And the whole thing is accessible through Cemex's global WAN by any staffer in the world armed with the right passwords.

But the technology only works effectively if the rest of the organization - governance, structure, people and decisions are designed to fit in a complimentary way.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A poem by Paul Durcan.

Paul Durcan is a contemporary Irish poet, born in 1944. He's won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Irish American Cultural Institute Poetry Award, The Whitebread Prize and has been a London Poetry Book Society choice. He was Poet in Residence at the Frost Place, New Hampshire, in 1985, and Writer in Residence at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1990. He is a member of Aosdána (an association of people in Ireland who have achieved distinction in the arts) and has held the Ireland Chair of Poetry. He lives in Dublin.

Minister Opens New Home For Battered Husbands by Paul Durcan.

The Minister for Justice wearing a new fur coat
Yesterday opened a home for battered husbands:
Present were leading farmers and greyhound-owners
As well as respectable solicitors with their mistresses.
When the Minister cut the tape to the new home
Several battered husbands could be seen cringing
On the staircase in tear-stained cardigans
And cracked slippers; and the stairs looked
As though they had received a liberal sprinkling
Of dandruff and cigarette ash. A spokesman for the husbands said:
We are relieved to have at last got a place of our own;
Several of the men are pregnant and the security
Which the new home will provide, is for them
A welcome boon. Asked as to what kind of injury
The husbands suffered from, the spokesman said that frayed nerves
Are the major ailment and further inspection revealed
Loose nerve-ends dangling from eye-sockets and cheek-bones.
It was also stated that in order to protect the men
From the wrath of wives
A team of Limerick ban-gardai - known as the heavy gang -
Will be on twenty-four-hour duty outside the new home.

(ban-gardai is Irish for policewomen, or women policemen, or maybe it’s policepeople?)

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Creating order out of chaos.

Throughout its 100-year history, CEMEX’s business success has depended on its ability to precisely and efficiently integrate massive quantities of such raw materials as limestone, sand, clay, and gypsum to manufacture cement, the oxide powder that when combined with water produces concrete. As it grows its business across 50 countries worldwide, CEMEX is applying its expertise in extracting and integrating disparate ingredients to another raw material—its enterprise data. The mission-critical importance of data in CEMEX operations was underscored when the London-based RMC Group was bought for $5.8 billion in March 2005. On the business side, the acquisition was a tremendous opportunity that made CEMEX the worldwide leader in ready-mix concrete overnight and deepened its presence in Europe.

Cemex has been Spain's top cement supplier since 1992 and opened a US subsidiary based in New Braunfels, Texas in 1994. But it specializes in places that lack highly developed road systems, solid telephone networks and well-educated workers. Surviving in the construction business in those locations is like keeping your head above water in a raging sea. Reliable information has real scarcity value. When equipment breaks down, workers can't get to the site. Exchange-rate fluctuations jack up supply costs. Being competitive boils down to being able to show customers that you can save them from uncertainty.

What Cemex has been looking for are ways to adapt global technology to the developing world's essentially limitless range of local problems. Complexity theory is one answer - systems that take uncertainty for granted and allow solutions to evolve, rather than trying to rigidly engineer them. Ad hoc options in place of schedules. On-the-spot decision-making instead of hierarchies. Those kinds of strategies are not unknown in the mainstream corporate world. Cemex's leap is to apply them to parts of the world where complexity - if not outright chaos - is the defining characteristic. And where the rewards for creating order can be great.

To get started, Cemex took a dozen executives to the Memphis headquarters of another company facing delivery problems: FedEx. There, along with the flashy logistics, was a deeper message: the value of delivering perfect service, what came to be known at Cemex as "impeccability." They also paid a visit to the fire ambulance division of Houston's 911 operation. They were amazed at how quiet it was and wondered, “How can they be dealing with emergencies? The answer was that what was an emergency for us was routine for them." Learnings? The system got the necessary information from people quickly. It pinpointed available resources in real time. And it gave operators on the spot - not distant managers - the authority to respond instantly.

Cemex realized the paramount importance of commitments as a way to cut through chaos and uncertainty. To back up that concept, it brought in Fernando Flores from Business Design Associates, an Alameda, California-based consulting firm. The core of Flores's message: successful systems are driven by loops of people working to fulfill commitments - say, getting a truckload of ready-mix concrete to a certain building site at 1:35 p.m. "No machine can make commitments," according to Flores. "Only a free man can make commitments." And only one who has a clear picture of what's going on.

So, Cemex's mission in Guadalajara was to build a system that could make each ready-mix truck as independent as possible - in effect, an autonomous agent cruising the city, waiting for orders. Instead of stationing an order taker at each plant, Cemex decided on just one central operations room for the whole city. Most important, instead of struggling hopelessly to keep to a fixed schedule, the goal became to keep enough options open to handle any likely request. If you can predict where the orders are coming from and can maintain random distribution of trucks, you should always be able to have one close to where it's needed. If you can have a chaotic distribution of vehicles, then you’re really trying not to control chaos, but to use it to your advantage.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to reinvent a traditional business.

Word association: When you hear cement, what do you think? Heavy, traditional, old world, boring? Now, put a cement company in Mexico. Whatever's in your mind, it's probably not a picture of nimble, new management and state-of-the-art innovation.

Here's how the cement business used to work in Mexico's second-largest city, Guadalajara: A builder telephoned in an order a day or so ahead, two days in advance for big jobs. He specified a time, knowing it was basically theoretical, depending on an endless array of variables - weather, traffic, a missing receipt, the number of other orders the plant had to try to fill. Trucks got lost - up to 140 might be on the road at a time - walkie-talkies conked out, ill-financed projects shut down with their foundations half-poured. Penalties or not, on delivery day half the customers canceled or rescheduled their orders. The bottom line: tons of costly cement rumbling around town with nowhere to go, even as builders were lucky to get delivery the right day, let alone the right hour. "You tried to stay on top, but something would always get by," recalls Alejandro Contreras, a veteran dispatcher with the local subsidiary of Cementos Mexicanos - Cemex for short. "When the phone rang, it was usually someone who was upset. You had to sit there and take it - let the customer blow off steam - then try to negotiate a solution. When the phone rang, sometimes I just didn't want to answer it."

Here's how things work in the same city today: In an air-conditioned operations room on the top floor of a two-story office, Contreras and Oscar Suárez are manning their stations. The ambience is ops-room generic, with five screens - including one with a glowing map of the city - and half a dozen phone sets. It's noon and Contreras is fielding a request for a load of ready-mix in 40-minutes for a new gas station. No hay problema. A satellite-linked GPS system pinpoints three Cemex trucks on the road, one of them within range. Still talking, Contreras does a quick check on the customer's billing status. Then he taps a few keys, the instructions go out to the onboard computer in a truck near the site, and the concrete is on its way.

Over on Suárez's side, an alarm flashes onscreen in white letters: a delivery is due in 30 minutes, but the customer hasn't called to confirm. Suárez glances at the city map, then goes back to some paperwork: If the builder calls, there's a truck available. If he doesn't, the plant will automatically be notified to cut back the rest of the day's production. Any dispute? The customer's welcome to come by and listen to a Teac digital recorder play back his original phone conversations with the dispatchers. On the other hand, if a truck is more than 20 minutes late, it's a 20% discount for each cubic meter. To promote the offer, Cemex printed miniature pizza boxes labeled with a slogan that pokes a little fun at the local Domino's franchise: "Now, the concrete is faster than the pizza."

Delivering cement in Mexico is a good place to see the new management theories I've been writing about in action. Cemex, a 96-year-old Mexican cement manufacturer based in Monterrey, is using a global network and a focus on emerging markets to revamp one of the oldest of old-line industries. At the heart of the firm's success is an IT system that manages production, personnel, and delivery in 33 countries. The business has reached $7 billion in annual revenue by selling its product in places as far flung as Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Egypt, including places that make Guadalajara look like Geneva. Cemex is now the third-largest - and most profitable - cement manufacturer in the world.

Credit goes to the company's CEO, Lorenzo Zambrano. "We're early adopters of leading-edge technology," he says. And in doing so, Zambrano has confounded ideas about the lines that are supposed to separate professional managers with information at their fingertips from ordinary workers.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Managing through the current chaos.

I'm often asked how executives should manage in the current chaotic environment. What should they do differently?

Conventional economic theory is built around the assumption of diminishing returns or negative feedback (as a thermostat draws a heater back to an optimal temperature). Positive feedback, or increasing returns, on the other hand, magnify the effect of small economic shifts, and instead of there being one equilibrium point for the economy, there are many and there’s no guarantee that the economic outcomes that emerge from any of them will be the best one. Non-linear feedback systems generate behavior that’s neither stable or unstable but that’s continuously new and creative.

The essence of surviving in a positive feedback world is to be highly adaptive. If the flow is in your direction, go with it. If it isn’t, don’t resist - retreat. What counts for managers now is intuition (derived from experience, not some mysterious gift from God), judgment, risk-taking, providing support and nourishment for fledgling projects, and seeing problems from a whole-systems perspective. The problems many companies are experiencing today comes from the inability of their leaders to let go. Managers need to learn to reason by induction rather than by deduction, to argue by analogy, to think in terms of metaphor and to accept paradox.

Complex adaptive systems also have leverage points where a small perturbation can produce far-reaching results. A small vaccine injection can make a huge trillion-cell organism immune to measles. The challenge is how to find the points where a small intervention makes an enormous difference.

To do this, look for common properties and mechanisms in various complex adaptive systems. There may be some hidden order, some common interaction pattern inherent in all these systems. One system may use building blocks from another system in new ways. For example, the internal combustion engine is composed of parts used in earlier technologies that have been recombined to lead to a whole new transportation system.

What to keep, what to discard? That’s a matter of taste based on metaphors and analogies. Dr. John Holland, a MacArthur genius award winner who studies complex adaptation at the University of Michigan says, “The feeling of rightness is critical to what I do. It’s a matter of intuition, of judgment, of style. I look at big, buzzing complex systems and ask what mechanisms and properties seem central.” In the face of an unpredictable and inherently unknowable future, the emphasis is on adaptability, intuition, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Today, our management models should be general, accurate and simple. But, as Karl Weick reminds us, we can only have two of the three at any one time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

New perspectives on creativity.

Mike Leigh is a British film maker who's won the best director award and the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. What’s unusual about Mr. Leigh, apart from his success, is the process he’s used for the past 30 years to create his films. Starting without a script or even much of a story line, he works one-on-one with his actors until they’ve invented the entire lives of the characters they’ll play. He then has them improvise scenes with other characters who have been similarly created. After many rehearsals, a final plot and a script take shape. Because Mr. Leigh wants his actors to know only what their characters would know in real life, he tells them little about the story. He creates situations that bring them together, but he wants them to be surprised. Frequently, the actors only understand the entire story when they see the edited film on the screen. At the end, questions are often left unanswered. ”I don’t make films that are prescriptive or conclusive,” Leigh says. “You don’t walk out of my films with a clear feeling about what’s right and wrong. They’re ambivalent. You walk away with work to do. My films are a sort of investigation. They ask questions; they’re reflecting.”

Pina Bausch, the artistic director of the Pina Bausch Tanztheater, a ballet company in Wuppertal, Germany, shifted in the 1970s from the traditional choreographic method to a more collective process where there’s no apparent format. Dancers now generate the raw material for her ballets in response to hundreds of questions and ideas she proposes. (“Spell Los Angeles with your body” “Do something leading with your elbow”). The performers’ responses are not improvisations per se but more like studies. While some dancers work spontaneously, others take their questions home overnight and spend quite some time on preparation and rehearsal. Bausch looks for material that belongs deeply and uniquely to each individual and dancers can take the stage to share their studies whenever they choose. “She wants us to be as sincere and simple as possible.” says Dominique Mercy, one of the dancers. Bausch doesn’t suggest or prescribe any particular steps or movements; the ballet material is generated completely by the performers.

In one of her productions, a ballet about Los Angeles, an extended residence in that city provided the company with its creative content. Arriving without an agenda, “to move around with open eyes, open ears and our feelings,” the whole company - dancers, designers, property master, technical director and general manager - visited restaurants, churches, clubs, tourist attractions, sports events and city landmarks. The subsequent production of Nur Du (the German translation of the Platter’s 1955 hit, Only You,) eventually involved transforming hundreds of hours of raw material into 170 scenes lasting about three-and-a-half hours. The sprawl of the production is overwhelming and the connections between its different scenes uneasy - a structural metaphor perhaps for the multicultural metropolis itself. The focus on Los Angeles shouldn’t be taken as literal or descriptive. The intent is to address the much larger issue of human relations. “Sometimes you have to look through a window,” Ms. Bausch says, “Los Angeles provided that window, a place to investigate the problem of how to be at home everywhere.”

The meaning, as in all Ms. Bausch’s works, remains open. And Nur Du remained a work in progress, as the dancers continued to develop their parts with each new performance.

A great deal of culture is created under extreme strain, when the need for meaning, for a new way to structure the world, is acute. In this context, artists often provide signposts to the future. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that if a painter relates to objects only through vision, his work is much less original that a painter who walks up to an object, smells it, throws it in the air and manipulates it. To push the envelope of complexity further, we have to use as many ways of accessing information as possible - and not all of these are rational. Leigh and Bausch provide striking examples of a future where we’ll rely more and more on our collective instincts and intuition rather than on our individual rational intellects. The creative and the receptive are complimentary sides to the same process.