Category: Blog

Be More Effective By Thinking Like A Film Director

be more effective, be like a film director Have you ever sat down at a computer screen or maybe a piece of A4 paper with a determination that you will ‘get that report written’ come what may. Days or perhaps weeks later you are still in exactly the same position. You need to be more effective, but how?

Why is that, especially when you know everything there is to know on the subject, you have your conclusions all ready and your boss has made their impatience obvious. You still can’t do it though, can you?

I have been the victim of this in the past and have observed this in those around me more recently. So what can be done about it?

Some readers will swear blind that a change of scenery will help and that the answer will come to them. At the risk of being controversial, I suggest that the change of scenery itself will not do the trick.

But in the process of changing the scene or moving around, something else is likely to change, your focus.

First of all, let us rewind a bit and take a look at the generic creative problem-solving process. In order for things to work efficiently, we need a series of divergent and convergent phases. First, work out what the problem might be (produce a range of causes) then work out what the cause actually is.

Similarly, we do the same with the solution to the problem.

So how do we relate this to our report writing scenario? Well, let’s go straight to the point where we are stuck. You have the facts, the conclusions, in fact, you have everything apart from a structure.

You also have a piece of paper or a laptop screen which is a bit like a small window. You are struggling to see something larger but through a small letterbox.

To help make things easier you can do any or all of the following:

  • Use a larger piece of paper (try flipchart)
  • Swap to your desktop PC with a 19inch monitor
  • Gather your thoughts in a non-linear fashion i.e. a mindmap

All of these will allow you to see the bigger picture. You are really just tricking your brain but widening the scope will make things easier. It will help you to be more effective.

When you have got your thoughts in order then you can bash out your document.

Those in Marketing might use storyboards (still linear but the steps can be modified or re-sequenced easily). Video and TV directors may very well do the same thing (ever wondered how a film director can shoot scenes out of sequence and still create a great film).

In a nutshell, widen your scope, get all the bits in focus then create your masterpiece.

Think like a film director!

Is It Time To Get Out Of Your Current Business?

is it time to get out of your current business

We know that a number of businesses will not make it but a number will be asking themselves the following questions:

What’s next?

What’s the cure?

What can we do to stay to keep our heads above water?

For many, the initial knee-jerk reaction is not actually a reaction at all. The temptation is to hold on to the past as much as possible and pray that the storm blows over.

Are you or fellow board members saying any of the following?

“We just need to wait for the market to recover, and then it is business as usual!”

“The trouble is a blip, let’s just wait and see.”

“It is too risky to act on incomplete information. Let’s allow things develop — we can always take action later.”

This desire to hold on to the past, to endure whatever the harsh environment has to offer, is well known to social scientists.

Summarising a 2010 study, Social Psychologist Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote:

“People who saw a painting described as having been painted in 1905 found it far more pleasing to look at than people who saw the same painting described as created in 2005.

Students preferred the course requirement described as the status quo over a new version (regardless of whether the new version meant more or less coursework).

People who were told that acupuncture had been in existence for 2,000 years expressed more favorable attitudes toward it than those who were told it existed for 250 years.

Study participants were given a piece of European chocolate. It was described to them as having first been sold in its region either 73 years ago or 3 years ago. Guess which group rated the chocolate as better-tasting…”

As far as organisational change is concerned, there are three primary emotions at play. These are cynicism, fear, and acceptance. Two of these are negative and one positive. Surveys following organisational change put the negative emotions top of the list. Positive emotions are nowhere to be seen.

So it would seem that we have an inbuilt desire for things to stick around as long as possible and avoid change because of the negative emotions that it conjures up.

We all want to last, continue and get back to  “business as usual.” We want to hold on to the world just the way it is.

This is exactly where the problem lies and why so many of our transformation efforts fail. It is the desire to stick with the status quo that kills our businesses.

Whyis this? As with life in the natural world, sustainability is not a driver for survival. But change is!

Every day, things change. We breathe in and out, becoming a different person with every molecule of oxygen that enters our bloodstream (it is said that every day you are guaranteed to inhale at least one of the molecules of air that passed through Genghis Khan’s lungs!).

The seasons and weather change, crops grow.

We survive the ups and downs of the stock exchange and commodity markets. Nothing is constant. Change is unrelenting. So if hanging on is not the best strategy for our businesses, what can we do?

The secret lies in working out what our business is exactly. You might produce cardboard boxes on a production line but is your business one of production or packaging? You need to distill the essence of your business idea (maybe focus on the packaging) and throw away everything else.

If you get this right then you can reinvent your business over and over again according to changes in markets, customer buying habits, etc. Our fictitious box making company could become experts in sustainable (or recyclable) packaging solutions for the automotive sector.

Focus on knowledge and core skills as well as what product or service you actually provide.

Instead of desperately trying to stay in your current business by all means possible, it is time for you to get out of the business and get into a new one!

How Innovative And Flexible Is Your Business?

how innovatve and flexible is your business

To be innovative we must be flexible and embrace change. Innovation is a special type of change program. It has many other attributes that make it deeply fascinating and sometimes difficult or impossible to grasp, but change is what it is.

Sometimes this change is fast and sometimes slow, but change is a competence and managing change can be learned, developed and practised.

The thing that trips us up most often is that we get no practice, we have to improvise. Most of us would not stand up at a comedy club and improvise a 10 minute set. But our bosses expect us to do this and we gladly assume the role.

Of course, we can never practice the stages of change without actually changing. But in our businesses, we crave stability. We either change once in a lifetime or we keep doing so in a way that we don’t have time to bed in the changes that have been made.

Worse still, we invent an innovation program that changes rapidly. This results in bewildered staff, unhappy sponsors and management shaking their heads at the hastily drawn up Key Performance Indicators.

Even in changing business environments businesses make the assumption that volatility will be low.

For obvious reasons, the least volatile part of a business is related to finance. For example, consider the process of budgeting. The budget is usually set once a year and tinkered with occasionally. Often budgets are reused. It might not be efficient to use zero-based budgeting (budgeting from scratch) but how often are the inputs to a budget reexamined?

But what happens when there is volatility in the marketplace? Commodity prices can rise and fall quickly. Recently we have seen fuel prices affect the costs of all goods that need to be transported. Crop failures can push up food prices and regulatory changes can force huge burdens upon us all.

What would you do regarding your finances if the cost of fuel rose by 50% due to events in the Middle East? What would you need to do and how fast could you do it? Would it spell the end anyway?

Some businesses do conduct some scenario planning or create a series of ‘What if?’ statements so that they have some idea what to do. This is a little like leaving instructions for a simple board game. What happens when the board game is different from the one mentioned in the instructions?

To be truly agile (nimble, flexible, innovative or whatever adjective you favour), a business must create a system that reacts automatically to its surroundings rather as a chameleon does in nature. You might find it useful to take a look at the following two posts No More Change Programs – Meet The Super Chameleon and Innovation Constipation – Are You Suffering?

How do we create this elusive flexible or innovative business? Well if you are starting a new business you can start as you mean to go on. Although whoever is providing startup funding might take in interest in why you are doing something that does not obviously have a ROI (Return On Investment).

If you are a larger business then they are ways of making the necessary structural and cultural changes. The businesses that have been doing this for years make it look easy. It is not! However, once you have mastered this (a bit like riding a bicycle) then things get easier.

If you want to know more or would like some case study material then please get in touch.

So your homework for today is to answer the following:

How does your company cultivate change and reinvention capacity in its people and managerial processes? What currently works? What can be improved or replaced?

Weirdos And Mavericks In Whitehall?

weirdos and mavericks in whitehallMuch has been made in the press of Dominic Cummings and his desire to appoint ‘weirdos’ to all parts of the Civil Service. I have a couple of articles written a while ago about being a rebel and also appointing them. If you are interested read Harnessing The Power Of Rebels and Become A Rebel And Boost Your Career.

Dominic Cummings ‘vision will never happen for a number of reasons.

First of all Whitehall moves more slowly than an oil tanker, and to force it to do so would not just dismantle the machinery that keeps the UK running, it would put a giant bomb underneath it.

Secondly, and more importantly, creativity cannot be left to work on its own, unless of course, you live in a commune. All creative environments have very carefully crafted ‘containers’ to nurture the creativity and also extract the output of the creative processes. In an organisation this can be hard, but in Whitehall?

Finally, what is his strategy for doing this? Will he have a large sports hall full of weirdos all throwing in their ideas or will he replace many of the people in the Whitehall machinery with his alternative thinking recruits? Too many weirdos and he risks replacing one ‘establishment’ with another.

True creativity comes from a tension (think straight vs funny in comedy) and making use of that requires people with a true understanding of the problem, not just a love of sound bites.

I cannot deny that Whitehall does deserve a bit of a shakeup but there needs to be an end goal. Whitehall is a machine that does things (like run the country) it is not a playground or a think tank. The job in hand is not unlike trying to tune a racing car whilst it is being driven around a race track.

Maybe a good plan is to start small by picking a government department that is small and possibly relatively new. Try moulding that, by introducing new ways of working and create a pilot (or prototype as some innovators might say). Then play some more.

To be truly creative the Whitehall structures would need to be fluid and I’m not sure that government is ready for that just yet.

Lastly, I have one further thought. Exactly how is this to be done? Scope it, put it out to procurement and you will simply get a spec for a very large and expensive change program which will see the big consultancy boys in lunches for a long time and will be no different from what has gone before. After all, they probably ran the last change program!!

Readers will be thinking that although I promote Creativity and Innovation  I am simply rubbishing the ideas of Dominic Cummings. The civil service requires reform, it does not require complete anarchy.

I remain both hopeful and sceptical that something at least a little weird will happen.

Are You Solving The Right Problem?

solving the right problem

Out of all the people in the world, the people we tend to trust the most are probably doctors. We believe them to be experts, because if we didn’t we would probably be terrified every time we became ill.

Given this faith in doctors, how often do you suppose they actually get it right? Or more terrifyingly, how often do they get it wrong? It is not very likely that your doctor will tell you are okay when you are critically ill but what about the cases where they diagnose a common cold but your elevated temperature is related to something much more serious? Are they solving the right problem?

Studies in the US indicate a 40% misdiagnosis rate with a reasonable percentage (around 10%) resulting in avoidable death. These statistics are easily verified following autopsy.

In medicine, as with many other disciplines we need to diagnose the right condition in order to treat it. In the world of creative problem solving we must do two things. Firstly correctly identify that the problem really is causing the symptoms (business issues) that have been observed and secondly when we apply a solution, it must be tailored to the actual problem.

So what is the issue here, how does this come about? Overconfidence and over-familiarity are two good reasons. If we have experts who become complacent, or who see the same issues day in, day out they might be tempted to assume that the problem is the same problem.

Many readers will be familiar with the humorous examples regarding correlation between two completely unrelated variables appearing to show causation. For instance, per capita cheese consumption closely correlates with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets!

This is of course ridiculous but there are more examples on the website

A common example that I use is that of a company where sales are falling. The boss states that sales force is useless and need to be sorted out or replaced. He thinks the sales force are the cause of falling sales. A simple application of ‘Asking Why?’ is very revealing. Consider the following:

Q. Why are sales falling?
A. Because customers don’t like our products

Q. Why don’t they like our products?
A.  Because they are outdated, not as cool as this year’s model

Q. Why are our products outdated?
A. Because we have not developed any new ones for 5 years

Q. Why have we not done this before?
A. Because the boss has not allowed us

Q. Why has the boss behaved in this way?
A. Because they have no spare time to spend

In this simple example our initial assumption of having a poor sales force is incorrect, the underlying issue is that the boss (possibly you!) has no time either because of high workload or poor time management. We can also see that the issue has multiple layers and unless the issues at lower layers are resolved then our initial problem is unlikely to be properly resolved. So it could also be a case of not just ‘solving the right problem’ but solving the right problems’ (in the right order).

Einstein is reputed to have said, ‘If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes analysing the problem and 5 minutes coming up with a solution.’ We tend to do the opposite. We assume we know the cause and then charge ahead designing remedies for the wrong issue. We need to find the root cause of the problem before even starting to think about possible solutions.

Most people from middle management upwards are expected to solve problems as part of their jobs. In fact, their superiors often say ‘don’t bring me problems, just solutions’. These people will then take the route of least resistance to pleasing the boss.

On many occasions this might work but it is always worth asking Why? Whether we are solving standard business issues or Innovators trying to solve problems that have been puzzling the world for ages, we must avoid making assumptions in order to correctly identify the problem and hence provide the ideal solution.

If you want to know more or would like a little help with this please do get in touch.