How often have you heard something – and not questioned it, as you don’t want to appear stupid, foolish or ignorant?
Too often people accept what they are told and don’t question information. In educational environments this leads to a failure to learn. In business environments, it leads to bad decisions and bad strategy. Received wisdom becomes the operating principle rather than reality – especially when things have changed or are changing.
The reason people don’t question is that they don’t want to look foolish in front of peers, bosses or employees. Rather than highlight something that doesn’t make sense, they prefer to keep quiet so as not to appear stupid. The term for this is “pluralistic ignorance“. It is especially a problem in cultures where “losing face” is an issue. (I wrote about this almost two years ago -see Competitive Intelligence & Culture). In such cultures, employees find it difficult to question superiors – there is almost a belief that superiors are in their position as they know more and are better.
“Pluralistic Ignorance” is a phenomenon that prevents people questioning, when they fail to understand something or when they disagree with an issue, because they feel that they are the only ones not understanding or agreeing. It leads to “group-think” whereby a group of people fail to face up to their lack of knowledge or address false/inaccurate information because they don’t wish to appear foolish by questioning it.
In business it is important to emphasise communication and openness at all levels – and encourage questioning. This is especially key for effective competitive intelligence, but can be just as much a problem in CI as in other corporate areas if CI people aren’t looking out for it. For example, in CI there is the risk that a key piece of intelligence is missed because the person (perhaps a sales rep) doesn’t pass it on. They are sure that the CI team will already know this / that senior management is sure to know this – and so they don’t want to look stupid by passing it on.
The solution appears easy – build a corporate culture that rewards those who share information, even if it is already known. The difficulty is that such openness often contradicts other aspects of the corporation including hierarchical aspects – where one needs to address chains of command to pass on information. This leads to problems where the person at the bottom passes on information to their superior. This person then qualifies the information (exaggerating good news and softening bad news) when they pass it up – and by the time it reaches the actual decision-maker the information has been so transformed as to become meaningless and often false.
An example of how pluralistic ignorance works can be seen in this video of a college lecture. This brief (5 minute) video is the first in a course on behavioural economics. The lecturer, Dan Ariely of Duke University Business School (and TED speaker), is aware of the problem and halfway through this lecture shows how it works.
Every morning at around 7.45am, BBC Radio 4 includes a short talk from a religious figure giving listeners a thought to ponder. The daily “Thought for the Day” is given by Christian priests and vicars, Rabbis, Imans and others.
This morning’s programme (25 February 2013) featured Dr Giles Fraser, priest-in-charge of St Mary’s, Newington. Fraser spoke about Jesus and pointed out that the Western World’s perceptions on what he looked like are likely to be wrong. He referred to classical paintings of Jesus and contrasted these to Judas. Jesus is often blonde while Judas tends to be much more swarthy looking with a longer nose and red or dark hair. Jesus has become an archetypical North European, while Judas reflects stereotypes on how Jews are supposed to look. Of course Jesus was Jewish – and was born and lived in what is now Israel. So did Judas. Both would have had Semitic physiognomies – as both were Jewish.
Fraser’s point however has further implications. There is a tendency to put our own preconceptions and views onto others – and expect others to behave and think like we do. In a business context, this can be fatal as it means we see competitors as just reflections of ourselves. When a competitor comes up with something that appears odd, or that we don’t understand, the inclination is to say that the competitor has it wrong – rather than that we have it wrong, which could just as easily be the situation. This error is a classic type of blind spot.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicators
One part in Fraser’s short talk caught my attention. While he was studying to become a priest, he was taught about Myers-Briggs Type Indicators based on work by Carl Jung. Fraser commented that both he and his fellow trainee priests were asked to assess the personality type of Jesus based on what they knew and had learned about him. They were then assessed using the Myers-Briggs test. Most found that the personality type they had given to Jesus was actually a reflection of their own type.
The implications for this are that people have a tendency to assign their own expectations and prejudices onto others – and judge them accordingly.
In business recruitment, this can mean choosing a candidate who, rather than bring something fresh to the business, just continues the same old approach. Although this may avoid conflict, it also means that the chance for new, innovative thinking and an ability to change or challenge current norms is also lost. There is a real risk that recruiting clones may lead to the business stultifying and failing to recognise new opportunities and threats.
In research interviewing any attempt to profile an individual remotely is just foolhardy and a key source for interviewer bias, resulting in flawed interviews and erroneous conclusions riddled with misconceptions. Yet there are interviewers who claim to be so expert at such psychometric evaluations that they can assess an interviewee within minutes even though the published tests for Myers Briggs involve dozens of questions that need to be answered before an assessment can be made.
In business analysis it can lead to a potentially more serious problem. Some analysts pride themselves on their ability to identify the personality type of business or political leaders, without meeting them and with minimal information. Unless there is a vast quantity of information available on another individual – speeches, TV and radio interviews, published articles and opinion pieces, etc. it is risky to extrapolate about another individual and anticipate their behaviour remotely. The danger is that the analyst may project their own typology onto the leader – judging them by reported actions without necessarily understanding the thought processes that lay behind those actions or even the accuracy of the reporting. The risk is that any assessment will be based on prejudices – rather than reality, and so lead to poor decisions.
Business research and analysis should depend on accurate and rigorous methodologies, and not pop-psychology. Myers-Briggs can be useful when backed up by sufficient data. It should be viewed as an analysis tool requiring detailed insight into the subject. Using these, and other similar psychometric approaches, as a basis for complex business decision-making without the full data as demanded by the process is another route to business failure, so treat with care, and treat advocates of these tools even more carefully.
Apple has developed a reputation for creating new markets that didn’t exist previously. The iPod was not the first mp3 player but it created a mass market. The iPhone launched the SmartPhone era – showing BlackBerry the potential of an Internet enabled phone, in a way that has almost killed BlackBerry’s manufacturer, RIM. The iPad was the next innovation – but since then nothing at all except rumours. The rumours include an Apple TV that would shake up the television industry, and an Apple watch – the iWatch. The AppleTV was said to be the next big innovation – and was briefly mentioned in Steve Job’s biography, where apparently Apple had something that would really shake up the TV industry. Nevertheless, the rumours relating to this have died down – and the iWatch is the latest rumour target.
My first thoughts on seeing images of the rumoured iWatch were why?
Why would anybody want something like this on their wrist when there were so many beautiful products from Citizen, Seiko, and higher-upmarket, Rolex & Patek Phillipe, among many others. It didn’t even have the look of the Swatch watch.
I also couldn’t see it as a replacement for a SmartPhone – as it’s too small to do all the current functions expected of phones that seem to be getting bigger, not smaller. So I personally dismissed the iWatch as just rumour, or a sign that Apple had lost its mojo, if it turned out to be true.
Nevertheless, the rumours have become pervasive – and so I’m sure that they are either a smokescreen or reflect something real.
I started to think about it. The watch market can be divided up into a number of sectors. One sector views watches as a form of jewellery – and this is the market Rolex, Patek Phillipe follow. To an extent it is also the market that Citizen and Seiko chase too – although their watches also emphasise functionality, with the Seiko Solar and the Citizen Ecodrive watches that don’t need batteries or winding. Further downmarket, Swatch tries to be a fashion item. However all have a basic raison d’être – to tell the time. I couldn’t see an Apple watch easily replacing the jewellery element (or at least not initially). I doubt it will be a solar product – and so (again initially) it won’t replace Seiko or Citizen. It could compete with Swatch, but from previous Apple history would be much more expensive and so bring little to the pie.
The next question is who wears watches today – and that gave the clue to why I think the iWatch is real. Most watch-wearers are Generation X or older. Millennials / Digital Natives don’t wear watches. They use their SmartPhones to tell the time. That’s the clue – and the target. A SmartWatch – especially if it could interact with existing devices – makes a lot of sense, as it could provide a more compact device to supplement their iPhone, iPod and iPad or even replace them for around the house, workplace or college dorm. I think that contrarians that say such a device won’t work are falling for the mistake I think I made, by not thinking about how people tell the time today. The potential problems revolve around the other expected features. Will it also be a phone? A music player? A portable sat-nav device? How would these work ergonomically?
Assuming that the iWatch is real and not a smokescreen for something else, the argument that it won’t be attractive fails when you see some of the suggested design concepts. Some are very attractive and wearable as both a fashion item and even as jewellery. The potential objections to functionality are also less if the iWatch were to interact with other devices. The problem here is that there may be an expectation that the interaction is with another Apple device – which would mean that the iWatch would not be a stand-alone product. This limits its potential considerably. What about linking to Android phones – that have overtaken the iPhone in overall market share – or a Windows computer? If this were to be allowed then I think the iWatch would be another Apple success story.
If this is the case, then it does something else. The onset of quartz watches in the 1980s was highly disruptive to the Swiss watch industry. Initially the Swiss industry dismissed such timepieces as cheap and nasty, but in classical disruptive innovation style, they soon overtook mechanical watches to become the dominant format. The rise of quartz watches caused serious damage to Switzerland’s watch industry – until it recognised the threat, and created products such as the Swatch. An Apple iWatch that succeeds promises to be equally disruptive – and overtime, most of us may end up wearing such products.
This is the first blog post I’ve written on the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I’m writing it in response to a number of twitter conversations I’ve had over the last week with Palestinian supporters. This has relevance to business research as it shows how people who are obviously intelligent and reasoning can be so influenced by prejudice and false assumptions that they fail to see this as a blind spot. They are blind to what is mostly false propaganda and so continue to believe lies. The Israel-Palestine conflict is highly emotive but can serve as an example and metaphor for any area where people have firmly entrenched opinions. Such dogmatism leads to bad decisions that are based on fallacies – irrespective of whether it relates to the Middle-East or business.
Those who know me know that, although I support Israel, I also believe in the rights of the Palestinian people to fulfil their dreams and have their own Nation State. However this should not be at the expense of the Jewish people’s dream. The land now governed by the State of Israel was originally designated for two peoples, and the Palestinians have rights to govern themselves as much as Israelis have.
What has disturbed me has been the unquestioning faith of the anti-Israel proponents to their cause and the lies they use to justify this faith. Worse, they believe that these lies are totally true.
I stand by everything I wrote. I am not a liar and everything I said is verifiable.
was one comment. Yet this same person said that anti-Semitism also relates to Arabs, ignoring the proper definition of the word. He suggested that I check the “Miriam Webster” (sic) dictionary. Well here’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition:
Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.
No mention of Arabs here. The concise encyclopaedia entry after the dictionary definition does continue:
Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious group or “race.” Although the term anti-Semitism has wide currency, it is regarded by some as a misnomer, implying discrimination against all Semites, including Arabs and other peoples who are not the targets of anti-Semitism as it is usually understood….
This is quite clear – some people think that the term could apply to Arabs too, as Semitic peoples, and so the term is a misnomer (i.e. a wrong name or designation) and that Arabs are not the target of anti-Semitism.
This simple example demonstrates that even checking a dictionary entry can lead to a misinterpretation by somebody who has a prejudice.
Bible Stories & Ancient Languages
The other twitter conversation started innocently enough:
Abraham was from #Iraq ,Moses from #Egypt , Jesus from #Palestine, Golda Meier from #Russia and Herzl from #Hungry ,so who was “#Israeli”?
I responded, slightly flippantly:
#Palestine was the Roman name. Abe became #Israeli. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon… Jesus: All #Israeli
to which came back:
Abe was a guest in the land of the Canaanite, Salomon has had a Phoenician mother and Jesus did not even speak Hebrew.
I pointed out that Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, was not Phenician but was from King David’s own tribe i.e. was an Israelite, and that Aramaic was a Jewish language.
Although we do not know whether or not Jesus spoke Hebrew he would have spoken Aramaic – the language spoken in Israel/Palestine at the time. His last words, as recorded in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, are Aramaic. The language is used for a number of Jewish prayers (including the Kaddish prayer said by mourners) and the majority of the Talmud. It is feasible that Jesus also knew Hebrew based on some of the New Testament stories such as Luke 2:46-47 which relates that Jesus was in the Temple listening to the Rabbis’ teachings. This was the time when the Mishnah was being written – and the Mishnah is in Hebrew, implying that Jesus understood these teachings.
Despite the above, prejudices and inaccuracies started to come out – for example:
Aramaic is the old-Arabic-language. While today´s Israelis have re-invented the Hebrew-language in 1920
This is false on two counts. First, Aramaic is in a different branch of the Semitic language group to Arabic (the South Semitic group) – but in the same group as Hebrew (North West Semitic). Second, Hebrew was never re-invented – and certainly not in 1920. Eliezer Ben Yehuda who revived the Hebrew Language revived the language as a spoken, everyday language, in the 1880s – 1890s. Cecil Roth summed up Ben-Yehuda’s contribution to the Hebrew language: “Before Ben‑Yehuda, Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did.”
Even when I pointed this out, I got back the response:
Nevertheless Ben Yehuda invented it……
This suggests that Hebrew is a language like Esperanto - showing a prejudice that refuses to accept what should be common knowledge i.e. that Hebrew is the language of the Bible and most Jewish prayer and Rabbinic writings through the ages. It gives a flavour of the problems – and the ignorance.
The Ottoman Empire’s dissolution
Here are more tweets from the conversation:
In 1948 the UK left PALESTINE after being there 25 years as a mandate power….there was no “Israel” !!
To which I responded:
Independence Years: #Iraq 1932 #Lebanon 1943 #Jordan & #Syria 1946; #Israel 1948 #Palestine ?
Prior to 1917 no Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, either. All part of Ottoman empire. No real difference but years!
My point here is that although Israel was founded in 1948, the other nations were also new, formed out of the carved up Ottoman Empire, with Britain and France granted mandates by the League of Nations following the First World War. Each of the nations gained independence from the colonial powers in the years stated. None had existed as sovereign nations before – except, like Israel, in pre-History. All were thus the result of a European mind-set, that took maps and drew borders. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was granted to an ally of Britain – Abdullah – as was the kingdom of Iraq, initially ruled by Abdullah’s brother, King Faisal. Iraq was drawn up by Winston Churchill in 1921 by using a ruler and a pencil and does not reflect the ethnicities or geographies of the area. Syria and Lebanon were ruled as French Mandates and were handled in a similar way to the British mandated territories.
The only difference between Israel and these other countries, is the majority peoples in the other countries were Arab. Not Iraqi, Palestinian or Syrian – but Arab. The majority religion was Islam. In contrast, Israel was Jewish.
The conversation continued:
So was also half of Europe being part of the Hapsburg empire and yet we have Romania,Poland Italy Hungry etc,,,,,,
This is, of course, correct – but doesn’t refute my statement. I agreed:
Agree. Geopolitics from 1850-1950 resulted in lots of national self-determination movements including Israel!
Jewish beliefs & Zionism
There then came nonsense trying to define what Jews are and falsifying Jewish history. (Non-Jews telling Jews who they are, and what they should believe is a classic anti-Semitic trope).
No sir !! there was never a “Jewish-nation” since the year 0070 !! it was invented by Zionists in Basel.
Zionism is simply a colonial-adventure with a Jewish artificial-flavour !!!
This, of course, completely ignores traditional Jewish belief and prayer. It ignores the fact that after every meal, religious Jews ask for Jerusalem to be rebuilt, and in each daily prayer they ask for a return to Zion (i.e. Israel) and an ingathering of the Jewish people there. This is not just in the prayers of Jews from Europe, but all Jews – irrespective of where they lived following the exile in the year 70. This exile is remembered in the Jewish calendar – with fast days, and even on joyous occasions such as weddings, where the breaking of a glass as the final act is to symbolise that we still remember the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and our subsequent loss of sovereignty and exile in the Holy Land. (It’s not – as the joke says – the last time that the man will be allowed to put his foot down!)
Population Exchanges & the Refugee Problem
I tried to move from history to a contemporary solution – without assigning blame for the Palestine-Israel problem:
Peace also means recognition of ALL Middle East refugees resulting from ’48 & ’67 wars. Jewish & Palestinian.
Majority of Israelis are now descendants of refugees from Arab countries forced out from their homes.
Back came more ignorance and prejudice:
There are no “Jewish-refugees”, there are rather Jewish-colonialists who came in carrying guns…….
I tried to correct this:
False. Jews forced out of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon… Pre-1948 Baghdad was 1/3 Jewish. Now no Jews in Iraq
But got back the statement:
Arab-Jews were NEVER forced out , but rather tricked-out by Zionist-bombings of their own synagogues .
to which I responded:
The fact that these were all before Israel’s establishment was ignored – perhaps the truth was too inconvenient, as the response was:
If there were no State of Israel those Jews would have remained in their own Arab-country !!
I pointed out that this was because the Jews from the Arab countries had no choice – as without Israel there was nowhere else for them to go easily. (Many did try to escape to France, the USA, Australia – but in the main there were quotas and restrictions, unlike for Israel).
Life for Jews in Arab lands was not as rosy as anti-Israel supporters would like us to believe. Non-Muslims (Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians) were tolerated but viewed as Dhimmis (i.e. second-class citizens). Although sometimes there was peaceful coexistence, generally this was because non-Muslims accepted that they had minimal rights. Post-1948 the situation Arab Jews found themselves in became intolerable with regular pogroms and attacks in almost all Arab nations – resulting in over a million refugees i.e. at least the same number as Palestinian refugees fleeing their homes in the aftermath of the 1948 and 1967 wars. (More recently, the position of the Christian minorities in many Arab countries has deteriorated – with murderous attacks in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere). Israel gave Jews a chance to escape.
I didn’t mention in either conversation that the definition of a Palestinian refugee is unique. Usually refugees are long-standing residents of a country. The Arab Jewish refugees had lived in their countries for generations – many pre-dating Islam. In contrast, Palestinian refugees only had to have been living in the area since 1946. (UNRWA – the UN agency set up to help Palestinian refugees define Palestinian refugees as “people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.“).
The facts are that as Jews returned to what was then Palestine, they drained swamps (e.g. in the Hula Valley) and started farming the land in a way that had not been done for centuries. This increased the affluence of the area, and Arabs started moving in to take advantage of new work opportunities. Prior to the 1880s, the area was desolate – with subsistence farmers being the majority population, except for in a few towns. Jerusalem had a majority Jewish population, for example – ignored by anti-Israel advocates who even claim it is an Arab city. So, in reality, there was a population exchange – with Jews being forced from their ancestral homelands in Arab countries, and Arabs – many of whom (like Yasser Arafat) had not been born in Palestine – forced out of, or leaving, their homes too. Further, the Arab Jewish refugees and their descendants are now the majority of Israel’s population – and not the descendants of European Jews, as anti-Israel apologists try to claim.
The need for separation – Two States for Two Nations
Eventually of course, we got onto that canard of Israeli Apartheid. Whenever you point out that there is no Apartheid – and mention that there are Arab members of the Knesset, Arab judges, Arab military officers – in fact, Arabs in all aspects of Israeli public life the point is ignored. Instead, the fact that the West Bank Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and don’t wish to be makes Israel an Apartheid State, according to this view.
The true situation is that prior to the second Intifada, West Bank Palestinians had freedom of movement and work within Israel – although as non-citizens they did not have a vote. The only reason they are separated today is because they chose to attack and kill Israelis. The separation is for security reasons – and if there was a genuine peace there would be no need for such separation. Contrast this with Jordan and Saudi Arabia which have a policy to ban Jews living there or pre-Civil War Syria, where Assad’s Alawites held all the power. These more match the actual definition of apartheid – where ethnic and racial groups are kept separate.
I tried to end the conversation peacefully by pointing out:
There SHOULD be both Palestine & Israel. Needs to be 2 States. Both sides need to talk peace.
The following response shows the mind-set of the anti-Israel apologist – refusing to accept a fair, just and logical solution to the problem:
“2 states” means half of Palestine stolen forever !! One State would be secular-inclusive-Palestine
I pointed out that there is no truly bi-national State anywhere in the world that is stable. My correspondent tried to refute this by pointing out that Switzerland has a number of different groups living there – French, German, Italian and Romanche. However Switzerland is built on a canton system where each is essentially self-governing. Further, the Swiss nation hasn’t experienced decades of hatred. Another example – Belgium – is actually poor as the French and Flemish groups dislike each other would split if they could. Yet there is more in common culturally between these two groups than between Palestinians and Israelis.
I believe that if Israel and Palestine became separate States then one day the two could feasibly federate on a Swiss model if both peoples wanted it. However today, because of the enshrined hatred between the two peoples, there would be war which would lead to massacres – potentially by both sides.
I try to look at both sides and take into account both national narratives. Unless the Palestinian and anti-Israel side does the same then there will not be a peaceful and fair resolution of the problem. Instead there will be a continuation of the status quo which is good for neither side – or something far worse.
Whenever there is a conflict – or disagreement – it is important to understand both sides of the argument, and avoid bias. It is essential to check facts – and also the source of any information, in case there is bias there. Unless this is done, poor decisions and continuing problems are inevitable. This is as true in business as it is in Middle-East politics.
Two recent items highlight the impact of disruptive innovations on industries. The first is a presentation from the Business Insider called the The Death of PC. The second is an article looking at Amazon and mentioning its March 2012 purchase of Kiva Systems.
Since 2009, the PC market has hardly grown. In the same period, Smartphone & Tablet sales boomed. Many tasks that used to be done on PCs are now done on these newer devices: email, web-searching, social media, and more. This has had a massive impact on the traditional PC market and its suppliers such as Intel and Microsoft. Whereas Apple’s and Samsung’s share prices have grown substantially, Dell & HP have been static or fallen. The introduction of both Smartphones and Tablets illustrate how disruptive these technologies are to the traditional PC industry – although as the The Death of PC presentation shows, things are actually more complicated. This is typical for a disruptive innovation – especially in the earlier stages.
Disruptive innovations do not always kill the products and industries they replace. What they do is change them radically. Smartphones haven’t killed the camera industry. They have, however transformed it so that DSLR and higher-end / special function cameras are now the main products sold. The cheap mass-market snapshot camera has gone – who needs one, when a Smartphone does everything that they could do, and much more. Disruptive innovations also mean that companies that fail to adapt quickly enough disappear. Kodak’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is an example of this. Kodak and photography were synonymous – but the company failed to anticipate how digital camera usage would change the way people process photographs.
In the case of the PC market, so far it’s only the home PC that’s dying. The PC in the workplace is doing fine – and that’s because the type of task it is used for is different. It’s hard to work on a spreadsheet, or a complex graphic or even a long report using a Tablet and almost impossible on a Smartphone. These aren’t tasks that the home computer was used for. So Tablets haven’t changed the work PC – only the home PC market. However expectations have changed – and this has led to newer devices and cloud computing which promises to be as disruptive for the traditional hard-disk based PC and so the PC as we knew it last century is gone or going. It’s not yet dead – just changed.
Amazon’s purchase of Kiva Systems in another example of a disruptive innovation. Amazon itself has shown how disruptive e-commerce is to traditional retailing. The high-street and even the out-of-town retail outlets struggle to compete with Amazon on price. However they can still compete on service: if you want something on the same day, then such outlets beat Amazon, even if the price is higher. Further, Amazon’s warehouse distribution system could be copied and many of the larger retailers now offer online options. Currently both use human labour to select and package products for delivery – and this represents a significant proportion of retail costs. The Kiva Systems purchase promises to change all this. Kiva Systems manufactures robots and the software used to control them. The robots are designed for use in warehouses for accessing goods. They remove the need for a human being to go to the relevant shelf and remove a product for sending to a customer – instead a machine does this. Eventually such systems are likely to completely automate the distribution process – meaning that Amazon’s labour costs will fall dramatically.
Any retailer that still depends on human labour in their warehouses or retailing is likely to find it even harder competing with Amazon’s prices. Such retailers should start thinking now on how they could compete. Options include looking at ways of improving service or focusing on narrow niches requiring in-person expertise. Waiting and hoping that some shining knight on a white charger will come and rescue them is not an option. There will be no shining knight because, however much retailers may wish it was, true life is not a fairy story.
[After writing this post, Michel Bernaiche, Program Development Director of AurowaWDC and current Chairman of the SCIP board, pointed out this news story to me - highlighting how robots are impacting not just retailing but many other business areas - from hospitals & surgery to legal research. CBS News Video on Impact of Robotics in Industry]
Six sigma is a great idea: make sure that your product or service is as close to perfect as possible with almost zero (3.4 in a million) faults. So is just-in-time (JIT) and lean manufacturing. All involve tight control on business processes and require businesses to focus on efficiency. You can’t have a JIT manufacturing process without being highly efficient in controlling all aspects of your supply chain.
The problem is that when circumstances change it can be difficult to adapt the processes quickly enough. When the change is disruptive then it’s likely to lead to business failure. Casey Haksins and Peter Sims describe this in a Harvard Business Review blog post: The Most Efficient Die Early.
The authors correctly point out that business must also expect the unexpected and plan to absorb it and cope with it. The problem is that pursuing greater and greater efficiency goes against this need for flexibility to change. Instead there needs to be a balance. Look for efficiency but not at the cost of losing flexibility. Success requires both.
And look who was promised:
Hundreds of the world’s most successful chief executives, from the likes of Google, Paypal, Acer and Bentley will gather to debate, share ideas, network and enjoy the last day of Entrepreneurs 2012.
It sounds like an event not to be missed, with tickets priced at £120 for seats at the back to £3000 for a front row seat. The promotional material said that I’d “have the opportunity to learn from the best with hundreds of like-minded people at our unique and exciting event” and that
YOU will network with entrepreneurs and high-achievers from Leading Global Brands.
YOU will meet some of the World’s most Successful Entrepreneurs.
YOU will Enjoy & have FUN with celebrity guests and your peers
YOU will take away a most memorable experience that will propel you and your business toward continued success for 2013!”
How could any serious entrepreneur turn down an opportunity such as this. Even better, the event was then advertised on Groupon – with tickets for only £17.00. So I jumped.
The first day started with “motivational” speaker, Andy Harrington – who describes himself as the ”world’s leading public speaking expert”. He failed to motivate me. After around an hour of hoping for something better, I walked out and got myself a coffee. I returned to see if he was still going on – and it looked as though he had stopped “motivating” and moved to some content. This was actually quite good – he talked about his “System” for being a better public speaker – covering aspects such as the importance of standing up straight, maintaining eye-contact, using different vocal tones, and being in the right mindset. Unfortunately after covering this he went back to “motivating” again – with a sales pitch for his training programme costing £1000s. Amazingly this worked on enough people that I reckon that if all pay he’ll have made over £200,000 from this 3 hour or so talk. Not bad work – and definitely entrepreneurial on his part.
Next up (I think) was Daniel Priestley – the CEO of a company called Triumphant Events. Priestley put over some interesting and relevant content but his talk ended with a sales pitch, as did Simon Coulsen‘s who followed – talking on selling via the Internet. Strangely Coulsen seemed more genuine although this was still a sales pitch and not a talk that fulfilled any of the event promises. Certainly no real networking opportunities (except to complain with the people sitting next to me – who were also hoping for some genuine content that wasn’t delivered by a snake-oil “follow-my-system and you’ll get rich quick” salesperson). So far no real hints on running a genuinely entrepreneurial business or case studies and life stories to learn from. Just hard-sell schemes at high-prices. These speakers certainly profited from their slots – making tens of thousands of pounds in just a few hours.
Day 1 was supposed to be about How to Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset. No – it was how to be conned into spending lots of money on training courses to turn you into a public speaker, or to systematize your entrepreneurial idea, or to sell self-help books on the Internet. I did learn a little – and got some ideas. For example, I do a lot of public speaking, leading executive workshops globally, so I got ideas on how I could earn more from this. However the entrepreneurial content was minimal.
Naively I hoped day 2 would be better – especially as the promised programme on the website for Entrepreneurs 2012 (now down) stated that the topic was Uncover New Technologies to Give your Start-up Business the Edge. This seemed right up my street so I was hopeful. I arrived in the afternoon having had to do some real work in the morning – and just missed Caprice who apparently gave a very good talk. So I was hopeful that day 1 was bad and things would look up. Unfortunately the promise was quickly dashed – as the speakers were, again, purveyors of “get rich quick” type snake-oil schemes. I’m not even sure who the speakers were as no schedule existed. (I asked. Not even the event staff – from a company called Blak Pearl – had any idea).
I haven’t a clue about day 3 – as I was unwilling to be subjected to more sales pitches – despite having paid and scheduling all 4 days in my diary. From what I was told by people I spoke with on day 4, it was more of the same, punctuated by shortish talks by Levi Roots of Reggae Reggae Sauce and Kate Hardcastle.
Day 4 however looked more promising with some panel debates on topics that looked interesting.
|The day started well with Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden giving a genuinely interesting and motivational talk that didn’t include a hard sell. The panel debates followed – with several of the “keynote speakers” on the panel. (Point of information to the organisers: keynote speaker does NOT mean panel participant). We were also told to expect that the event star – Bill Clinton – would be speaking at 1.00pm, after the panel debates. At 12.30pm three of the “motivators” who had spoken on the earlier 3 days got up and were given 10 minute slots. At around 1.00pm some bozo called Marco was then given the stage. Marco claims to be one of the top 3 platform speakers in the world. (He doesn’t say which world. Based on his performance in London, it can’t be this one). After 30 or so minutes, the twitter feed (hashtag #ents2012) looked like this.|
Unfortunately I had to leave at 2.00pm and so missed the remaining speakers, including ex-President Bill Clinton, who based on the twitter feed was amazing. C’est la vie.
My feelings on the event were that:
- it was badly organized – with no time schedule or formal programme. Nobody seemed to know what was happening or when.
- there was far too little content. The event was aimed at entrepreneurs i.e. people who want to work for themselves or are already working for themselves. Yet most of the speakers were selling systems that were closer to pyramid and multi-level marketing schemes than genuine entrepreneurial support. They were supposed to be motivational and instructive. They were far from this – and some were positively de-motivational and destructive of any entrepreneurial mindset.
- there were almost zero networking opportunities – no break-out sessions or discussions or even real interaction with anybody. I spoke to a few people but this was because I made the effort. Most didn’t.
- promised speakers didn’t appear – no Ruby Wax; no Carol Vorderman, no Kevin Spacey (as named in the video) … and keynote speakers turned out not to be keynote speakers at all, but panel members.
- no evidence that any of the promised chief executives from Google, Paypal, etc. attended. (The one exception was Olaf Swantee from Everything Everywhere who was a panel member on day 4 – and who made several points that were worth noting).
- the few genuine speakers had something to say and didn’t name-drop. You could almost guarantee that a speaker that started name-dropping Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Donald Trump or other genuine entrepreneur or leader would turn out to be another quack opportunist – especially when this was accompanied by a photograph of the entrepreneur looking extremely uncomfortable standing next to the speaker who exhibited a massive cheesy grin.
My views on this event were echoed by others – for example: CelebStorkey’s “10 reasons it went wrong”.
The lack of a programme meant that I gave the event more of a chance than I should. Was the event a con-trick to get people who want to work for themselves into pyramid schemes and similar? Possibly – certainly the management of the event seemed to encourage the speakers making “sign-up now” sales pitches. At the same time, buried among the 80% of useless hard-sell there was a small amount of material worth listening too and speakers like Brian Dickenson had something to say. Personally I will in future be vary wary about allocating so much time to any similar event without doing many more checks on the actual format.
The last day was billed as a “Leaders First Finale” where the “movers and shakers of our business world will be networking and rocking our boats” and where I’d “benefit from the incredible knowledge and experience” of these “great leaders and business champions” who we were told would “head-up the presentations and debates on the main stage”. Unfortunately this also turned out to be hyperbole. There was a buzz in the room after the panel debates, but this was quickly destroyed by Marco (described in lots of tweets as like Kermit the frog). Had I known he was going to drone on for so long I’d have left earlier and not had to suffer his spiel. As compensation for this additional waste of my time, I’ve sent Blak Pearl an invoice – with a request that the sum be paid to charity. They should pay the money – not just for me but all attendees – as it was insulting to subject so many real and budding entrepreneurs in the room to such nonsense. If they do pay, I’ll update this blog and give them the credit for the honesty and authenticity they lost in their event promotion.