HR Departments have reached their use by date

This is a post that serves no purpose other than allowing me to vent.

Before you come with the pitchfork; this is not aimed at any individual. I have met some nice HR types, and I am sure there are many. But HR as a job category is an idea that must die.

I believe CEOs and boards actually recognise that people problems are relatively intractable, and as evidence I offer to you their typical solution: The HR Department.

Beyond the administration of payroll and recruitment tasks, these departments represent a tacit acknowledgement buy the Board that the people problem is in the ‘too hard basket’. This may be a contentious claim, but so as not to digress, here are my arguments for this claim:

-          When a ‘problem’ is outsourced to a group of people who have no authority and no power and no real ability to fix the problem, I would suggest there is no real expectation that the problem will be solved.

-          How many CEOs have come from HR?

-          The only reason why HR are still around is because of a complex legislative environment (a government requirement) that requires some dedicated focus to navigate.

-          No good manager will rely on HR to make an appointment in their department without them vetting the candidate, so their role is limited to merely filtering the noise for the sake of convenience.

-          HR can’t conduct performance reviews and can’t improve performance, and are restricted to writing increasingly more rules, providing templates and persuading boards of the benefits of compliance that largely serve to entrench their own positions.

-          When was the last time an HR Department played an active role in dismissing a CEO?

-          What percentage of HR solutions are ‘more training is needed’ – and who is then expected to organise said training?

-          One of the few quantifiable metrics in people management is labour turnover. In most organisations, who is held accountable for the actual percentage? Not HR – they will report on it and blame operational departments for the problem, and offer training to help address it.

-          Why are HR Departments jumping on social justice causes that exist in society when the employees they are meant to serve would come from the full spectrum of views on any particular cause? Arguably, picking sides would represent not only be unproductive in terms of the core business, it is also a breach of the trust that should be fostering in the employer-employee relationship.

-          What would happen to an organisation if the HR Department did not exist and these activities were carried out by the line managers? And, how many HR initiatives would survive if it relied on being championed by busy line managers?

-          They perpetuate questionable practices by introducing psychological instruments that have often already been proven wrong, or at best have not been proven – often at great expense to the organisation, in misguided effort to justify their existence.

-          Does any employee actually believe that what they tell a HR representative in confidence won’t reach their line manager – or another senior manager?

I am not alone in my views – here is a very articulate one to read before you comment in anger. I really like this line: “ HR is like an aberrant traffic cop now; it can often say “stop” but can’t really say “go.”

 

 

There is a Cathy in all of us

I don’t believe it would be contentious to make the following claims, as there seems to ample scientific evidence that they are true – at least to the extent that any social science can make a claim for truth.

Whilst, in the spirit of full disclosure, I would admit that I am judging anyone who engages with the world in this way; my personal judgement is not relevant to the observations that follow, so for the sake of the argument let’s just assume that how people choose to interact (more or less intellectually) is neither here nor there. If you think reading WHO magazine is a desirable form of life engagement, then that is okay.

People generally make decisions that are influenced by unconscious biases. More specifically, people make buying decisions largely based on emotional factors, only to rationalise those decisions afterwards.

Most people don’t seem to think deeply about the world – as there is very little evidence that the average person (whatever that may mean) engages philosophically with the world around them. Judging by what is popular in music and art and entertainment and even news; once would be har-pressed to make an argument to say the general population is overtly interested in intellectual pursuits.

Given the overwhelming evidence that we don’t really think – but rather respond to emotional stimuli – we (myself included) are effectively closed-minded.

But, if you want to understand what it looks like when even smart people have a closed mind, then watch the interview Cathy Newman had with Jordan Peterson.

I am not sure how many people are aware of Peterson and this now infamous interview, but even if you are not, maybe especially if you are not, and even if you are not interested in the particular topic under discussion, you can learn something about how a closed mind manifest itself in the real world.

This is how one commentator described the interview:

Peterson, backed by decades’ worth of research and experience, and now with dozens of hostile interviews under his belt, is hard to faze. Where the average guest is routinely bowled over, flattened or burnt to a crisp, Peterson stood fast, stated facts with precision and patience, and let Newman’s credibility shatter against him. You have to wonder if she’ll ever utter the phrase “so you’re saying” again without blushing.

Watch (if you haven’t) and try keep an open mind:

PS: At first glance a talk about gender/diversity/free speech may seem odd for a business blog - but the purpose here is to expose how we don't think the way we think we think.

Differentiate and DIE

Differentiate and DIE

We can learn something from the rules of the wild.

Biologists studying zebras in the wild discovered something that flipped all their assumptions.

They watch the zebras, but they look down at their notes and then look up they got confused about which zebra they were looking at because the striped camouflage is actually protection for the herd. The scientists solved this by dabbing red paint on the horns of the zebra or tag it with an ear tag.

 

Then they discovered an amazing thing. The predatory lions would kill these painted zebras in disproportionate numbers. As soon as it became identifiable the predator, the predators could organize their hunt to target the specifically tagged animal.

 

The the old idea that lions and predators take down the weak animals, but they don't; they take down the identifiable animals.

Most marketing gurus will tell you that the secret to success is to differentiate. There is no dearth of literature on ‘point-of-difference’ and how crucial it is to survival and success.

Read More

The Children are in Charge

I spoke at the WA Property Conference a few years ago. One of the topics I identified was the increasing ‘INFANTILISATION’ of Society.  From time to time, I like to check back on myself to see if I was on the right track – and yesterday I came across something that seems as if I was.

I am not a regular TUMBLR user, but a link led me there yesterday, and the ‘homepage’ struck me as particularly infantile. Check it out yourself. Here is a snip anyway, but the whole thing is pretty much GIFs and cartoons (visually) and you’d have to scroll for a long time before you found anything that could be of interest to a mature adult.

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For those interested in the TL/DR version, here is an extract from my eBook on the topic:

***

The manifestation of infantilism is not prominent in current business literature; possibly because it is not popular to do so for the bloggers and journalists. To me at least, the evidence of increasing infantilism is over-whelming. I deviate from the dictionary[i] definition which states: A state of arrested development in an adult, characterized by retention of infantile mentality, accompanied by stunted growth and sexual immaturity, and often by dwarfism. I am referring exclusively to the behavioural aspects and not the medical/ physical manifestations.

It is possibly no surprise that one of the biggest TV cult hits at the time of writing is Arrested Development. While the show was cancelled in 2006 after a few seasons, it was revived to much wider acclaim in 2013. (In 2011, IGN[ii] named Arrested Development the funniest show of all time). That to me seems indicative of it possibly being a tad early for its times and the ‘we generation, infantilism found its mark after the pendulum had swung a bit deeper into the current social era.

Web 2.0 Logos

Business names of the Web 2.0 era are almost without childish and infantile. From the funky, primary colour schemes and fat fonts to the made-up names everything is strongly reminiscent of baby talk.

Flickr, Prezi, Box, Pipl, Plinked, Pownce etc. is not too dissimilar to coochee coo that adults will turn to when talking to babies.

SMS language & emotional expressions

There is no need to explain the meaning of LOL or Gr8 to anyone. Nobody blinks an eye when today becomes 2day. Whilst it may have been necessitated by physical limitations of SMS messages, the conventions have found their way to other forms of communication where those constraints did not apply which suggests that it found fertile soil.

Some linguists might argue that this is a normal evolution of language, and others would describe[iii] this new variety of language, texting () as "textese", "slanguage", a "digital virus". According to John Sutherland of University College London, writing in this paper in 2002, it is "bleak, bald, sad shorthand. Drab shrinktalk ... Linguistically it's all pig's ear ... it masks dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness. Texting is penmanship for illiterates."

I believe there is consensus that this transformation has been more rapid, and more profound than any previous single shift in language use and this can be attributed to these seed of change falling on a soil that is particularly suited to such infantile linguistic conventions.

Gamification

Whether it is Commerce, Art, Education or Health, there does not appear to be an industry that is immune to Gamification.

Gamification[iv] typically involves applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. Gamification has been called one of the most important trends in technology by several industry experts. Gamification can potentially be applied to any industry and almost anything to create fun and engaging experiences, converting users into players. (From)

Behind all the pseudo-science talk, it is worth remembering that Gamification is essentially about playing games.

Entertainment Software Association[v] reveals some telling statistics, which reinforces that games are popular and that Gamification of everything is tied to the social and technological shifts discussed elsewhere. The average gamer is 30 years old and has been playing for 13 years. Sixty-eight percent of gamers are 18 or older. Forty-five percent of all players are women. Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (31 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (19 percent). Sixty-two percent of gamers play games with others, either in-person or online. Seventy-seven percent of these gamers play with others at least one hour per week. Thirty-two percent of gamers play social games. Gamers play on-the-go: 36 percent play games on their smartphone, and 25 percent play on their wireless device.

Infographics

Whilst data visualisation itself is not new – and can arguably be traced back to cave paintings – it is worth noting that data visualisation has always been direct; e.g. the slice of a pie-chart was proportional for the dataset or the heights of the bars in histograms had a direct quantifiable relationship with all the other bars. Infographics have proliferated steadily over the last several decades, but it is only the last decade with the advent of specific software tools (to create) and software platforms (to distribute) that Infographics, as we know it, have exploded.

Infographics have introduced an indirect, narrative element to the data story – to the extent that it is has made the picture childish. This is usually exacerbated by the colour schemes and fonts (again a very Web 2.0 design language). For example, a simple stack diagram won’t do, it must now be filled with jelly-baby figurines to highlight that the bar might be referring to people – instead of simply writing the word people on the relevant axis. (Image[vi]).

Reality TV

It is generally believed that reality TV has boomed since 2000. Some interesting statistics[vii]:

Americans spend 1/3 of their free time watching television and of that 67% are reality shows and the number of shooting days for reality TV in Los Angeles rose 53% in 2012, making up about 40% of all on-location production and it now constitutes 57% of all television shows in the US.

It is appropriate to represent some statistics as an easily digestible infographic[viii]:

Presentism

Strictly speaking presentism is a philosophy where presentism is the belief that neither the future nor the past exists. In this context, I am applying less rigorous (non-philosophical) definition to refer to a general attitude that reflects short term orientation, including the desire for instant gratification and a disregard for the long term and the distant future.

This is no more cleared by the apparently whole-hearted embrace of the infantile, presentist philosophy appropriately referred to as YOLO – You Only Live Once. The disciples of this particular religion do not embrace that philosophy as a matter of self-evident truth, but rather proffers it as an excuse to do stupid stuff. (Jack Black famously quipped that YOLO is Carpe Diem for stupid people. I take from that whilst there is a metaphysical dimension to Carpe Diem, YOLO is seen as an excuse for stupidity – and is explicitly defined as such by the urban dictionary.

[i] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/infantilism

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IGN

[iii] http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jul/05/saturdayreviewsfeatres.guardianreview

[iv] http://www.gamification.org/wiki/Gamification

[v] http://www.theesa.com/facts/gameplayer.asp

[vi] http://designreviver.com/inspiration/30-of-the-best-infographics-that-effectively-showcase-data/

[vii] http://anhoward.wordpress.com/the-effect-reality-tv-is-having-on-us-shocking-statistics/

[viii] http://screenrant.com/reality-tv-statistics-infographic-aco-149257/

Why I don't believe in myself (the day before my birthday)

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There are advantages to having a closed mind: you will never doubt.
There are advantages to being indecisive: you will never make an error.
There are advantages to not loving: your heart will never get broken.
There are disadvantages to strategic planning: you miss the opportunities you did not expect.
There are disadvantages to doing research: people can’t tell you what they don’t know.

There are pros and cons to many perspectives that are almost universally believed to be ‘good’ or true.

None more so than the universal command that we should ‘believe in ourselves’.

It is meant to be motivating, it is meant to fuel a belief that will keep you going when things are tough.

But in truth, it is completely erroneous and misleading.

Think about it for a moment: is the ‘belief’ in your head (or heart) actually connected in any real, meaningful way to the outcome that you are supposed to believe in?

Consider the example: you are stumbling through the desert. All alone, no tools, no water. It is just you in a hundreds of kilometers of sand. Things are dire. WIll you make it or not? 

The facts are: you will make it if you keep going long enough to get to water or help, or the help or water comes to you.

Conventional wisdom would hold that this would be the time when you should believe in yourself. Things are grim - have faith in yourself.

But no amount of belief in yourself will save you.

The walking will save if you do it long enough to get to the water. Not the belief.  You may ask whether the belief will keep you walking? I doubt it very much. 

What keeps you walking is fear of dying, not the self-affirmation in your abilities. You need to believe that you will be saved if you keep on  walking; not so much that your are a great and wonderful person that is capable of anything. Believe the benefits of (keeping on)  walking, not in your ability to walk.

If you are a poor manager with anger issues, belief won’t fix it. If you lack ‘coding skills’ to become a good programmer, it is more learning that will get you ‘there’, not the belief in yourself. 

You should actually believe (the reality) that you are not that good and keep learning.

You should actually believe (the reality) that you will die without water and keep walking.

Recognising the reality is real motivator, not belief in yourself.

If you want to believe - and I think we all need to - I would suggest you find something more inspirational, maybe even something transcendent to believe in.

Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club read: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

It is something like that: if you are going to base your belief in something, make it something worthwhile that could actually make a difference.

I hate to sound cruel, but the reality is that half the population is less than average on any metric that matters. No amount of belief will change that. There are two groups of people who peddle this to you:

  1. Self-help authors a profit from persuading the bottom half that they could be the top half - if only they believed (- and here is the recipe in my book).
  2. Deluded people who self-identify as high achievers and want to tell you how they did it. The problem is, they suffer from either (a) the Dunning-Kruger effect, a  cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence, or (b) self-serving bias, which  is the distortion of cognitive or perceptual process because of the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favorable manner. That is: if things go wrong, someone else is to blame, if things go well, it is because I am so good. They must find a reason for their success within themselves (my intelligence, my persistence, my actions, my attitude).

Reality is a lot more complicated. All people who succeed, believed in themselves, but all people who believe in themselves don’t succeed. Belief is present in success, but success is not contingent upon belief. Just like breathing is ‘present’ in all successful people, all breathers don’t succeed.

Believing in yourself sets the bar very low.

Better to have a firm grasp on reality, believe in the (science of) consequences that follow from actions, believe in (the spirit of) God, or believe in the purpose you have set. 

But belief in yourself? Maybe not the smartest thing you can bet on...
 

Should your business 'take the knee'?

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Well, should it? Or to put it differently, the purpose of profit may not be what you think.


Colin Kaepernick has dragged the NFL into the daily media narrative by refusing to stand for the national anthem. Tony Abbott et al have accused the NRL of dragging politics into sport by having Macklemore singing ‘Same Love’ at the Grand Final.

What role should business play in socio-political issues?

To answer that question, we have to ask what the purpose of business is. The simple response is that a business must create a profit for its shareholders. But, there is a catch:

The purpose of profit is not what you think.

Most businesses make 5%-10% profit, to distributed to its shareholders. And the other 95% of its money recycles effectively through the organisation to allow it to keep going.

That is, if the organisation spends 95% of its revenue on sustaining the organisation (with only 5%) leaving the organisation more or less permanently, in practice a business exists to feed its employees. (Even if half of that is spent as COGS, it is still an act of recycling funds in order to keep going.)

Now before you think I have gone all Marxist, just hear me out: 

Most people believe that we have come a long way since the robber barons of old filled medieval factories with indentured labourers; what with fixed salaries, executive perquisites, bonus incentives, and not to mention a panoply of ‘programs’ for the people like:

  • employee recognition
  • engagement
  • workplace improvement 
  • or whatever #hashtag there is to celebrate. 

On the negative side, you get people abusing their privileges:

  • stealing office stationery 
  • accepting kick-backs
  • taking ‘sickies’
  • or more insidiously, postponing (or timing) capex or investment decisions to boost short-term performance so that the results ‘on your watch’ look good

It seems to me that it is a commonly accepted fact that people know and act as if the company exists for them and they may feel they are not getting what they deserve. What we have on display in most organisations is the economic reality that the modern organisation exists primarily to sustain the business, and that the practical reality that people in the business act accordingly.

And that might well be the kiss of death.This may seem to be a counter-intuitive position, so please bear with me.

Whilst it is true that almost all funds are cycled into the business in order to sustain the business and its people, this should not be the objective of the organisation. 

When you start focussing on the system of business for the sake of sustaining the system, paradoxically you diminish the sustainability of the business. And since all businesses fail (eventually) it seems as if no one is immune to this distraction.

When celebration of the employee and the culture becomes the ‘purpose’, the organisation is doomed. 

I am not suggesting that employees are not important and that they should be treated poorly.
But when anything but shareholder returns becomes primary, it is a sure indication that an organisation has lost/ is losing focus. (I am not saying that employee needs are not important; quite the opposite. They ARE, but the question is how do you meet those needs sustainably.)

That 5% return that finds its way to the shareholder, whilst only a small portion of the total, is the ONLY portion of funds that are external. That 5% is the objective, ‘north star’ by which you can navigate BECAUSE it is outside the system.

When an organisation starts making decisions and taking actions that based on what is best for the system by referencing what is IN the system, it become self-referential. You cannot make good (objective) decisions by being self-referential. 

You don’t achieve your primary objective by focussing on your secondary objectives.

Your SatNav can’t navigate your Mercedes by referencing the star on the bonnet, because it is part of your Mercedes - it needs an external point of reference.

I would suggest it is useful to examine many corporate activities in the light of this perspective. I am not advocating a return to indentured labour, and I am not saying ALL non-core activities and initiatives are automatically inappropriate.

But I would say a healthy, focussed organisation must thoroughly examine itself and the activities that are not directly related to driving shareholder returns. (And I mean directly - because if you draw a long enough bow, even having an office cat can be said to link to shareholder returns.)

I am not advocating for corporations to accept no responsibility for their actions and their role in society, but rather question some, now commonly accepted, corporate practices:

  • Should it really be the responsibility of an organisation who is comprised of a diverse range of people (employees and shareholders) with a diverse range of beliefs, to dictate what its definition of (say) ‘wellness’ is? 
  • Should an organisation (via the Executive) really decide which political party to support - when half the employees (and shareholders) are likely to support the other party?
  • Should the organisation decide which charity should be supported, or is it best to return the funds to the shareholders (or pay the employees more) and let them decide who they would like to support?
  • At what stage does the organisation’s engineering of employee interactions and ‘change management’ become manipulation? And who decides where the line is? 

It seems, if considered superficially, that there is always a justification to spend money (and it is easy to do if it is other people’s money) on some social/ employee initiatives (because of that 95%) but this would be an egregious error in judgement. 

Organisations must obviously comply with the law. Organisations have a duty of care to ensure no one gets harassed or is put in harm's way, and that might well be the full extent of it if you want to err on the side of caution.

When you take your eye off the ball (shareholder returns) no matter how ‘noble’ the alternative seems, the result is inevitably a dropped ball. When that happens, there is nothing to share, and worse, no job to go to and no one gets to appreciate the poster in the canteen that proudly proclaims that ‘we put people first’ when the organisation ceases to exist.

As employees and executives, we have one job: to leave the organisation in a position that allows it to provide purpose and employment for future generations. That is, we put current and future employees first. BUT - we achieve that by not treating the company like our plaything, and by not expecting it to cater to our every whim, but instead ensure it stays true to the external objective of meeting customer needs and rewarding stakeholders.

That’s all.
 

Image courtesy: http://www.theloop.ca/

How to persuade people without changing their minds

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IT IS ALL IN THE FRAMING

You may not have heard of framing, but it shapes what you believe and how you act every day in every way.

Marketing gurus will tell you that the ‘new’ marketing is about storytelling. In fact, the old marketing is about storytelling.

Except, that it isn’t about ‘stories’ it is about ‘narrative frame’. This is how a paper from University of Southern California describes it:

A listener's psychological reaction to narrated events is influenced by how the narrator frames the events, appealing to different values, knowledge, and experiences of the listener.

If that sounds awfully academic, allow me to reframe it (simply):

People base their decisions today on their past experiences.

HOW FRAMES ARE CONSTRUCTED

People (over time) process their experiences in a way that forms the basis of what they believe to be true (knowledge) and what they believe to important (values). In this way experiences build on each other to create a mindset or worldview that has utilitarian value for the individual; he or she can use it to function properly in the real world.

New experiences are viewed through the lens of your existing worldview, and the ‘facts’ that fit best with the existing mindset are easily absorbed because they are deemed true. The trap we all fall into is that, new experiences that don’t fit with the existing mental models, are bent so that they are forced to fit.

We all do this bending of reality to fit our mental models, because we don’t have the mental capacity to objectively, systematically evaluate every experience, and to file it properly. The process is too slow for the real world, and it is psychologically uncomfortable and destabilizing.

This process is related to the idea of ‘bias’ but not necessarily the way it is often explained. A bias is not some ‘bad’ thing that you should strive to eliminate. (Here is a long list of cognitive biases.)

One such bias that people universally claim to be ‘bad’ and that should be avoided is (for example) stereotyping, which is expecting a member of a group to have certain characteristics without having actual information about that individual.

Whilst there is some benefit to gain from expecting the unexpected, and to give people the ‘benefit of the doubt’; most often people conform to stereotype. That is stereotypes have functional utility because they are usually true. By not having to wait for, or in the absence of any other facts, it is practical and expedient to assume people will conform to stereotype. It takes very limited mental processing capacity, which leaves you free to pay attention to other things. Stereotyping is a useful bias. Of course, there may be times with certain individuals where the stereotype does not apply, and it is useful to be able to recognise that. But the point is that, until proven otherwise, the bias has a purpose.

Biases are useful shortcuts (heuristics) that allow people to operate efficiently in the world.

It is very hard to change people’s biases.

This gives rise to another aphorism which has become cliched, but is essentially true. People will often claim ‘perception is reality’. Of course that is not true; reality is reality, irrespective of how it is perceived. But in practice, how people perceive reality leads to them acting in a way that is in accordance with how they perceive it, so it is a fair enough approximation to accept the statement is a useful proxy.

So, we have three considerations here:

One: People construct mental models to operate in the world

Two: Our biases influence how we stack more information on top of existing information, favouring the facts that have proven most useful and repeatable over time

Three: With our personal mental models thus constructed, we perceive the world in a certain way.

FRAMES IN ACTION

The way we perceive the world is through frames - and people have multiple frames which are contingent upon circumstances.

It is not easy to change people’s biases. It is almost impossible to change people’s mental models - their personal paradigm - but it is possible to persuade people by creating a specific narrative frame. Strangely, you are actually not changing people’s minds (that is almost impossible) but since people have multiple frames through which they look at reality, you can change the perceived reality by changing the frame.

Imagine someone is looking through a keyhole into a room. They see a man lying on the bed, and another person taking a knife to his chest and slicing him open. They might think they are witnessing a murder.

Imagine now you put a sign above the door that reads OR 3 with a red cross. They still witness the same (limited) set of behaviours, but now people are more likely to think they are witnessing a medical procedure.

People’s mental models and biases have remained UNCHANGED. There are certain behaviours that are good (life-saving operation) and there certain behaviours that are bad (murder).

It’s not a great analogy because you may tempted to think that the ‘persuasion’ worked because you simply provided more information (the sign above the door). Consider some real life examples:

For decades there was strong push to get abortion legalised. The arguments were framed as pro-abortion and anti-abortion. Looking at the issue through the lens of abortion made it very difficult for pro-abortionists to win an argument. People have certain biases and certain mental models; including that the ‘innocent shouldn’t be made to suffer’.

Over time, and I am not sure if it was by design or by chance, the debate was re-framed as being ‘pro-choice’ and ‘anti-choice’. As soon as this happened, the debate was over. Most people would subscribe to the idea that personal freedoms are important. Consequently the right to choose is important, and they accepted abortion viewed through that lense. People did not change their minds about ‘innocents not suffering’ - but they just looked at the debate as being about choice and not about suffering.

The same happens with the debate about same-sex marriage. Traditionally homosexuality was deemed a deviant behaviour and was ignored or covered up. (Those who refused to do so were said to ‘come out’.)  

As soon as the debate was reframed away from homosexuality (we are different) towards marriage equality (we deserve the same) the momentum towards allowing same sex marriage swung rapidly and decisively towards acceptance. Most people can identify with the importance and the inherent fairness of treating people ‘equally’.

Those opposed to same-sex marriage have attempted unsuccessfully to frame the debate as being about ‘political correctness’. That is because being PC is, whilst generally derided, not seen as a human right issue and therefore carries less weight - or what I like to call ‘persuasive valence’.

So much for the background. How does this apply to business?

THE IMPORTANCE OF A SINGLE WORD

One of the key ‘narratives’ that an organisation can create is through mass-media advertising.

Aldert Vrij’s (Detecting Lies and Deceit) describes the framing effect as follows:

Participants saw a film of a traffic accident and then answered questions about the event, including the question ‘About how fast were the cars going when they contacted each other?’ Other participants received the same information, except that the verb ‘contacted’ was replaced by either hit, bumped, collided, or smashed. Even though all of the participants saw the same film, the wording of the questions affected their answers. The speed estimates (in miles per hour) were 31, 34, 38, 39, and 41, respectively.

One week later, the participants were asked whether they had seen broken glass at the accident site. Although the correct answer was ‘no,’ 32% of the participants who were given the ‘smashed’ condition said that they had. Hence the wording of the question can influence their memory of the incident.

A bank may choose to frame their home-loan product as being ‘smart’ or as being ‘safe’. Or an institution may choose to frame their life-insurance products as being ‘smart’ or as being ‘responsible’. (Which would you choose as the most effective?)

THE RISK OF FRAMING FOR CHEAP

The interesting thing is how many retailers choose to frame their offer as being ‘the cheapest’ or value for money. These are valid frames, because consumers have a propensity to want to save money and they have a frame of not wanting to be ripped off.

There are multiple problems with this frame:

One: Several brands are offering the same frame, so it is crowded in front of that particular window. Competing on price is an option only if it is well-considered; but often it seems to be a lazy strategy applied inappropriately to the wrong product or market.

Two: The type of customer you acquire is the least valuable and most disloyal. It is a precarious business model that relies fully on price-conscious customer. I am not suggesting that it can’t be done (WalMart e.g.) but there are a number of other things that need to be balanced, one being that it is best suited to products or services that are commoditised, and the entire business model should cater to that type of business.

Three: The brand association is inherently negative, because.heuristic that applies to things that are cheap is that they are poor quality. You can say ‘value for money AND best quality’ as much as you like in your advertisements, it won’t change people’s minds because people have a bias to disbelieve what people say about themselves and believe the actions they take. I can tell you I am an honest guy as much as I like, but until you ascertain for yourself that I act honestly, you will tend to disbelieve it.

CONCLUSION

The best kind of persuasion is the kind that does not rely on people changing their minds. It is nearly impossible to change people’s minds, because they have constructed a mental model of the world that allows them to function properly in reality.

Instead of changing people’s minds, try and change the lense through which they look at the world.

You can do this by changing a word.


Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/maumana/3714637604/

 

It is not what you know, it is what you assume that will kill you

equality.png

THE POWER OF ASSUMPTIONS IS AWESOME

Have you seen the meme make the rounds, and maybe you have even ‘liked’ or shared it?

It promotes an egalitarian ideal: you achieve the desired state because of a core the assumption is that you take from the have and give to the have not. Everybody gets the same thing, so it is promoted as a 'fair'.

But consider that for it to be good, we must ASSUME that:

> guy no 1 doesn’t mind to lose everything and gain nothing

> guy no 2 doesn’t mind being ignored

> neither will fight to retain the status quo

> the little guy doesn’t want to go ride his bike instead

> everyone wants to watch the baseball game equally badly

> someone who has to decide the basis on which the ‘resources’ and privileges must be dished out is willing and able and will do it fairly

> the ‘benefit’ is clear (box)

> the actual privilege is the ability to watch the game

Now, lets assume these assumptions, unrealistic as they are, actually can hold. In the real world, resources are limited – and there are actually more people lining up to watch the match than there are tall guys to sacrifice their boxes.

And, most importantly, no one mentioned that the tall guy is going bald. The injustice!

Paradigms of Truth

The biggest challenge we face when trying to discern a way forward is to distinguish between signal and noise: what is true and what is distraction. Simply scroll through your newsfeed on any social media and even through the list of articles posted on your favourite news site.

  • Retail is doomed.
  • Why retail will survive.
  • Malls are dead.
  • Long live the Mall.
  • Amazon will kill your business.
  • How to survive the coming of Amazon.
  • The economy will tank.
  • Prepare for the coming boom.

If that tells us nothing else, it should tell us this:

Things are not true because many people believe it.

It is not true because you agree with it.

Things are not true because they are written down or ‘researched’.

They are not true because we want it, because it is on the news or because a smart person says so.

Things are not true because they are complicated, nor because they are simple.

Your truth is not true because it is your truth.

Things are true because they are true.

You may think that makes truth impossible to know, but on the contrary, it is easy to know.

Truth is done, not said.

We act according to that we believe to be true. Forget what people say, write, ‘like or ‘share’.

If we want to know what true is for you (i.e. what you believe) - just look at how you act.  

If we act like Amazon is going to kill our business, then that is what we believe to be true.

If we actively seek an opportunity in every diversity, then we believe the future is bright.

If we pay our staff well, we believe in the importance of people.

If we greet our customers with a smile, we believe customer service is important.

If we complain to the landlord, we believe our problem is someone else’s fault.

If we watch our staff like hawks, we believe it is true that they are nothing but human resources.

If we open the store late, we don’t believe in discipline and consistency.

If we discount our offer as a default first step in a sale, we don’t believe your product has value.

If we say we value inclusiveness, but…

If we say we are not racist, but…

If we say we are compassionate, but…

It really doesn’t matter what we say, only what we do.

Psychologists suggest that 70% to 80% of what we do every day is habitual. Check your habits if you want to find the beliefs that are so ingrained you don’t even notice. That way lies an understanding of the truth. And once you know what you really believe to be true (and not what you have been telling yourself) then you are able to reset yourself and your business on the path that will lead to success.

The fact is, strategies and solutions (for the most part) are pretty self-evident. And if not, one can buy the expertise to solve it. The challenge we face is that we actually believe is incongruent with what we say – that is why we fail in the ‘execution’.

You can call yourself a Hawks fan, but unless you are prepared to sit and watch in the rain, you are a mere spectator.

Image: www.heraldsun.com.au

The virtue of having a closed mind

I have come to realise that I rarely change my mind. At first, I was horrified at the thought.

By that I don’t mean I never reconsider things, or never decide to do something different. I am talking about changing our mind about the things we actually believe (consciously and subconsciously) deeply.

We may change our preferences: You may decide to order pizza and then change your mind to get the Burrito instead. That is not a belief, it is preference.

We may change by learning: You may think that coffee is good for you and then you learn it is not, and you will think differently because you have learned something.

Neither of those are examples of 'changing your mind' about what you believe.

Beliefs don’t have to (only) be about transcendental ideas like God or karma. If you believe Tom Cruise is a great actor, despite the occasional shocker of a movie, then you too are highly unlikely to be persuaded otherwise.

I wonder why we so rarely change our minds, and it seems to me that our mind creates these heuristics (and biases even) for very good reason:

  • We get to navigate the world effectively despite the onslaught of information
  • We minimise decisions about things already considered and filed away, so as to allow us to consider new information and new dangers instead of the familiar (and safe) stuff
  • We know the people who want to change our minds do so for their gain, not ours, so our resistance is a natural, evolutionary response to protect our turf

We may instinctively distrust ideas and concepts that (and the people who) constantly change their minds because it signifies an inherent unreliability that is best avoided.

If you search the net about ‘changing minds’, you will find a good many quotes that suggest that changing your mind is a good thing and is a sign of a healthy perspective. Being open-minded is promoted a good thing.

The consensus seems to be with George:

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. [George Bernard Shaw].

On the other hand there are a few contrarians:

Things don't change because people change their minds. They change because they retire or die. [Douglas Crockford].

I am with Doug.

It seems to me that we want to think of ourselves as open-minded and believe that we are capable of changing our minds. You may have spotted the irony there: we believe we are open-minded, and we are unlikely to change our minds about that. I just tried and probably failed.

But we delude ourselves, because changing our mind invites into it the chaos of the world, and most of us are not very good at coping with chaos. So we don’t change our minds about the things we believe, and the people selling us all those persuasion tricks are peddling snake oil.

That’s what I believe, and I am not going to change my mind about that.

Are you just a bit Avant Garde?

Avant-garde is originally a French term, meaning in English vanguard or advance guard (the part of an army that goes forward ahead of the rest).

The advance guard of a military operation is the cannon fodder. If you have seen the opening scene of Private Ryan on Omaha Beach, you know what avant garde means - literally.

Figuratively, the term has been appropriated for any kind of front-running, ground-breaking initiative. Tate, describes the term as follows in terms of the art scene:”It first appeared with reference to art in France in the first half of the nineteenth century, and is usually credited to the influential thinker Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the forerunners of socialism. He believed in the social power of the arts and saw artists, alongside scientists and industrialists, as the leaders of a new society.”

But avant-garde is a bit more brutal and lot more fatal than dreaming up a painting or a frock that will shock people.

In the workplace, you have the avant-garde too. These are the misfits and the rebels, the troublemakers and the dreamers. They are the ones who get excited about a dream or a project and run onto the beach. They are the ones that shot down by enemy fire.

Is that you?

Sometimes, if the idea is really good, they may survive. If the reinforcements arrive and the enemy gets overrun, the beach is made safe. Then the shif can dock and the Majors and the Generals can step on to the beach and survey the scene.

Sometimes, however, you don’t survive. Well, that is the end of that, and that is that. As they say.Cannon fodder.

But sometimes you survive. But the battle is not won. The medica carry you out, or you are lucky enough to escape. Until next time.

Is that you?

Until you get obsessed with another idea, another dream another beach to conquer. But over time, people start avoiding you, blaming you. It is almost as if they sense that you are doomed to die on a beach sooner or later and the further away they are, the better.

Avant-garde sounds compelling. The Generals will talk it up. They may even give you a posthumous medal. Because they need you. They just don’t want you. Because avant-garde is a little bit reckless and a little bit hard to manage when there is no war to fight. Then, you are just trouble.

The avant-garde don’t make good Generals. Medals don’t put food on the table. But if you really are one of us, then you can’t be any other way.

The bitter, bitter irony of it is that, whilst you believe there are beaches there are worth dying on, when people google what it means to be Avant Garde, what they get is this image.

Maybe beaches worth fighting for merely illusions. Or at best, fashionable in the moment, and nothing more.

Is Elon Musk the Emperor with no clothes?

Like everyone else, I harboured a general admiration for Elon Musk of Tesla fame. A successful, focussed, visionary person who has achieved great success, right.

 I didn’t quite feel the same towards Jeff Bezos - Amazon’s lack of profitability concerns me.

 Then I read this article. (Read in full - well worth it.) Here is a sample:

The key for Amazon making it all these years was to keep people focused on everything but their financials. This is not an exception. Faceberg will never have earnings to justify its share price. In fact, it will never have user rates to justify its ad revenue. It’s not unreasonable to think that everything about the business is fraudulent. That should trigger large scale audits and investigations into its business practices, but Facebook is on the side of angels in the cultural revolution, so its all good.

Probably the best example of our carny-barker economy is Tesla. To his credit, Musk has built a real factory that builds real cars. No one is going to say the Tesla is a work of art or even a practical car, but it is a car and the technology is impressive. The trouble is the company does not exist to make cars. It operates as a tax sink, where government subsidies flow into it and some portion of those subsidies turn into payments to the principles in the form of stock repurchases, debt service and compensation.

This only works if people think the venture will either one day turn a profit or the technology that it creates will result in something good down the road. To that end, Musk is regularly out doing his Lyle Lanley act, making all the beautiful people feel righteous by backing his ventures. He’s also telling Wall Street that he will soon be making and selling enough cars to turn a healthy profit, even without massive tax subsidies. The trouble is, that’s probably never happening, at least not with current management.

And then there was another article I read soon after - this time with the more usual glowing perspective.

Tesla has safety issues.

Elon Musk’s response to the issue is hailed as exemplary.

Then I thought about it, and I think Elon’s approach sucks.

At it’s core; here is his plan:

“Going forward, I've asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I'm meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.”

So in essence:

1. Knowing about the individual injury is very important to me as the CEO.

2. I will invest a significant portion of my team in a meeting discussion this.

So far, so good.

3. I am going to meet injured people personally. After you have been injured.

4. I am going to take your incident (sample of 1) and make sure that such an incident don’t happen again.

5. Then I am going to invest even more time by showing you I will get my hands dirty on the do the same job.

Items 3-5 are really problematic for me.

I appreciate that it (a) plays well for the layperson and casual observer, as well as (b) being likely to make the individual feel good and (c) may even mitigate the potential future claims. I get that.

But, here is the thing.

I think a CEO should be more proactive than this. It is great at managing feelings, but I am not sure it will fix the problem proactively.

There is no indication that by fixing everything on a case by case basis will actually ever address the systemic issues.

His approach does not scale.

If a workplace injury has the (pleasant, albeit unintended) consequence of getting the CEOs attention in addition to the time off and the compensation; I wonder if workers will really take the safety issue as seriously as they should?

If you get kissed by a pretty nurse every time you hit your thumb with a hammer, I reckon a few blokes may well be prepared to be a little bit more careless than they otherwise would be.

Safety is fixed on two levels:

  • Processes and systems  (that produce safe work)
  • A culture of taking responsibility, being diligent and looking out for yourself and your mates.

I am not sure that the path Elon is adopting is the quickest way to get any of that fixed.

This article is not so much about Elon. After all, how much can you know about a person from two articles. The more salient take out for readers are this:

There is always another perspective.

Read and learn constantly - things always change.

An open mind is not one that is easily persuaded; but one that is open to consider the facts, and to change a view based on new facts.

Don’t believe everything you read.

Be prepared to go against the popular narrative.

Changing your view is often as a result of the cognitive dissonance, which is not a pleasant experience. But if the Emperor has no clothes on, the Emperor is naked; and that will be a fact and should be called as such.

(Image from https://www.businessinsider.com.au/

Put the cookies on the top shelf, because ...

There are so many misguided  gurus with a platform on social media. But for so many, if you paid a penny for their thoughts, you’d get change.

So much of life, these ‘gurus’ will tell you, is about just being happy. And ther more people hear it, the more they believe it. And then they start saying things like that to their kids. How often have you heard parents say that they ‘just want their kids to be happy.’

The fundamental structure of how humans think is termed a mental model. There is a specific mental model called Hormesis.

Hormesis refers to the idea that nothing is inherently bad or good. In small enough doses, something “toxic” is actually beneficial. Examples include exercise, vegetables, alcohol, radiation, etc. The idea was popularised, or at least well articulated by NN Taleb in his book - Antifragile.

The term is usually applied to these physical or chemical elements as mentioned, but in reality it can be extend to other aspect of our life. Psychologists differentiate between stress and eustress, which is a ‘positive’ stress. Athletes and performers need that nervous energy to perform at their optimal level.

We all need a certain amount of tension to function. The pursuit of happiness is destroying this mental model by labelling everything that is tough as bad.

It is totally dysfunctional, and unrealistic and in fact unhealthy to pursue happiness above all else.

Without the YIN of pain, suffering, stress and tension, you can’t have the YANG of victory, satisfaction and sense of achievement.

Taking the easy way out is not the smart thing to do. Wishing for a business environment without competition and change is not a smart thing to do. Not only will it not happen, it is not healthy. Competition and change and lack of cash are not all inherently bad for you. As someone once said wisely, necessity is the mother of invention.

It may not seem like much fun to compete with, say, Amazon, but without those pressures your business will atrophy and die anyway.

You can’t spend your life in bed drinking cookies and milk, you need to lift, run and strain 

Put the cookies on the top shelf.

Because on the bottom shelf it will get your teeth rotten and your belly fat.

You can't win the war without biscuit bombers

 Img: SMH

Img: SMH

Having just experienced another Anzac Day in Australia, I heard the term ‘Biscuit Bomber’ for the first time. Anzac Day is a bit special for us as a family, albeit that we have not actual connection to the day. But being a commissioned officer in the SANDF (South Africa) and being married to a General’s daughter, ‘war’ is more than an idea or tangential memory; it is a lived experience.

I always wish I could achieve with words what the sounds of the Last Post does with emotions.

On the Sunday service following Anzac Day, I heard the term Biscuit Bombers and for some obscure reason this immediately made me think of what I saw the previous afternoon when our local park footy team played Aussie Rules. But before I get ahead of myself, back to the war.

During the war, rations were scarce because all supplies were unloaded at Port Moresby from a small wharf that was ill-equipped to handle the volume of cargo and was subject to frequent air attack. Using native carriers was impractical, because in the eight days it would take to complete the walk the carrier would eat much of the cargo.

Building roads would have been impossible given the time constraints and the terrain,

Planes could land at local airstrips or drop supplies by parachute, and that became the preferred method.

The famous Douglas DC-3 transport aircraft  and the crews manning them became known as "Biscuit Bombers".

The Biscuit Bombers dropped supplies along the various tracks or into clearings hacked out of the jungle.

The job was hot and dangerous.

They operated without harnesses and without protective gear. They weren’t shot at, but some of these crews were lost in the process.

When I was in the Army, we were taught to appreciate the support crew (being one of them myself) - which outnumbered the frontline troops by 7:1 we were told.

Think about the impact on the troops in the jungle if they did not get their ‘biscuits’.

And at the local park footy, the same applies. Even for that game at that level, there are at least eight to ten officials required to make one match happen, Not counting the runners, the medics and the canteen volunteers and raffle ticket sellers. Without them, the game would not happen.

Without the Biscuit Bombers, the war would not happen.

And in every organisation you have your biscuit bombers. The foreman in the warehouse. The executive assistant. The junior designer. The security guard.

It may vary, but often the sales crew are the glamour folks. They bring in the dough. And act like it. The organisation evolves around them. They are the frontline troops.

In retail organisations it may be the area managers or the merchandisers who get the accolades. Biggest bonuses and first in line for promotion.

But without the biscuit bombers, there wouldn't BE an organisation to strut around in.

Real leaders know that if you want to take home the chocolates, you must make sure that biscuit bombers are empowered to do what they need to do too.

How does your organisation treat the biscuit bombers?

The lesson even a smart guy like Einstein had to learn

 www.newhistorian.com

www.newhistorian.com

In 1905, Albert Einstein determined the theory of special relativity. It introduced a new framework for all of physics and proposed new concepts of space and time. Then he spent more than a decade years trying to include acceleration in the theory. His General Relativity Theory determined that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time, which is felt as gravity. He published this in 1915. Science geeks will understand the magnitude better than us, but suffice to say that it literally changed how we understood the world.

However he needed proof of the theory. Proof would not only provide him professional validation, but provide the finances to pay off his wife who had divorced on the promise of paying his (future) Nobel earnings as alimony. So the pressure was on.

The easiest proof was to be provided by astronomers who could measure a gravitational effect on stars specifically during a total eclipse. He had a few hurdles to overcome. Firstly he had to find astronomers who were willing to devote time and resources and reputations to what was mind-bending theory. Then there was the challenge of finding an eclipse to photograph (before someone else proved the theory) and finally, there was the matter of World War 1 that made everything more difficult by an order of magnitude, not made easier by the fact that he was a German Jew, effectively making him an enemy of both sides.

The first attempt to photograph the eclipse was thwarted by bad weather and to make it worse the Russians confiscated some very expensive equipment was .

Einstein was naturally devastated. With w war in full swing, the chances of getting another crack at it seemed nearly impossible.

But he kept working.

And he found a flaw in his calculations.

If the first attempt at photographing the eclipse had succeeded, his theory would have been disproven. He would have been the laughing stock of the scientific community.

He remedied his formulae.

Then  there was another opportunity to photograph another eclipse.

Several simultaneous parties departed for Australia, which offered the best vantage point.

The photos were taken, the calculations made.

Einstein was proven right.

The failure of the first expedition was a blessing in disguise.

Many failures are.

Whilst we are dealing with a fresh, raw failure it may not seem like it. Sometimes it takes years. But how often do we live through bad times, only later to realise that ‘that was the best thing that could have happened to me’.

A retrenchment, a business failure or a lost sale does not mean it is the end, unless you want it to be.

More often than not, a failure is a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to do better and a challenge to keep going.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. (Winston Churchill.)