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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Leave your comfort zone!

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The Biblical Abraham was one of the world’s most successful individuals. (It doesn’t actually matter whether or not Abraham really existed – from a Biblical critical perspective. He is revered by at least half the world’s population who belong to one of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As such his influence has been immense). In the Bible, the story of Abraham starts in Genesis – chapter 12. God commands him to leave his country, his extended family and his father’s house and to move to a land that God would show him. In return, God promises that Abram (Abraham) would become a great nation, and that he will be blessed.

Of course the Biblical commentators have a field day looking at the wording and what was being said. However I think that in fact, the idea is quite simple. Abraham was being told to take a risk and to do something new. In return, he was promised success in his venture. This is a lesson that businesses and individuals can learn from – and perhaps governments too.

  • Where is the safest place for an individual? Generally the parental home.
  • Where can one expect help from when things go wrong? From close family and friends.
  • Where are you most likely to know your way around and know the “system” – and least likely to get lost physically, or metaphorically in bureaucracy? In your home town and country.

Abraham is commanded to leave each of these – in reverse order, with the easiest first, and the place you feel most safe last. In terms of business the same lessons apply.

Igor Ansoff is famous for the Ansoff matrix.

Existing
Product
New/Modified
Product
Existing
Market
Penetration Product
Development
New/Modified
Market
Market
Development
Diversification

When you have lots of opportunities in your home market and your product is doing well the objective should be to increase sales with this product to this market. However when things start to change – perhaps most people in your current market already have your product – then you need to move outside your immediate comfort zone and look to a new product or a modification of your existing products. You need to be willing to take a risk. Failing to change is likely to lead to eventual corporate failure, as the market becomes totally saturated, and profit levels reduce as the only way to compete becomes price. Product enhancement gives you the choice to differentiate your product and maintain profitability. Leave you father’s house and try something new.

This also applies in many other circumstances. The recent phenomenon known as “boomerang kids” is not just a problem for parents having to cope financially with adult children returning to the nest, but also the children themselves. Although living at home can be comfortable and secure, it becomes difficult to move out when all your needs are being met and to become truly independent. It means that such children are less likely to be successful – until or unless they do leave home.

The next stage is when even product variations don’t work – as your current market sector is saturated. You need to look for new markets. In Biblical terms - Leave you family and friends and try something new. In business this means looking for new markets. These can be different industry sectors or geographies. Again, being scared of taking the risk will lead to failure – as your current customer base ceases to purchase your products in sufficient quantity for you to make profits.

Globally, many people are now in this stage of the cycle. Their opportunities in their home countries are poor – for various reasons, and emigration to another market promises a better chance in life. Historically this has often been the case – with emigrants being highly successful and also enriching the cultures and life in their new countries. In contrast, their compatriots who stayed at home often continue a cycle of poverty or lack of success. I believe that many governments see emigration as a threat – and I think that they are correct, as often emigrants are the very people who should be encouraged to stay as they are the innovators and the risk-takers within society. If emigration is a problem in a society it means that the society itself has problems, and perhaps the government should look to itself as to why people want to move. Conversely the antipathy to immigrants in the destination countries is also misplaced – as many immigrants contribute massively to their new homelands, especially when welcomed and encouraged to integrate into the new society.

The final stage is the most difficult and also may appear the riskiest. However if the markets (old and new) for your current product lines are stagnant then the only hope is to move into completely new areas – with new / enhanced product lines targeting new customers and markets. You need to diversify away from your home products, your home markets and move to a new area -i.e Leave the location you are now in and try something new. In fact this promises the best chance of all for success – as it allows you to capitalise on both current product lines and markets and also the new ones. Companies that manage to diversify into new markets are likely to grow at a much faster rate than their “stay-at-home” competitors. Of course how to manage a successful diversification programme is a different question – requiring research, planning and strong, thoughtful and innovative management. The willingness to try and to leave comfort zones should help prepare management for this stage – so that when the time comes, they are willing to take risks necessary to protect their organisations.

Only by being willing to change, and move away from your comfort zones can success be guaranteed. Do it right, and like Abraham, you can succeed and make a name for yourself.

© Arthur Weiss / AWARE, 2005-2010

Management Partrnerships

August 11, 2007 Leave a comment
Last year I wrote a blog entry on leadership. That entry was based on an idea expressed by Rabbi Mendel Lew, and given in one of his weekly synagogue sermons. Today Rabbi Lew gave another sermon which I think has implications for management.

The topic was a strange verse in the Book of Genesis just prior to the creation of Adam’s wife, Eve. Genesis chapter 2 verse 18 is generally translated from the original Hebrew as follows: God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a compatible helper for him’. Two verses later (verse 20) the same idea comes up. The man named every livestock animal and bird of the sky, as well as all the wild beasts. But the man did not find a helper who was compatible for him. The Hebrew words “ezer kenegdo” are translated as compatible helper or similar variations (e.g. a suitable helper) but a more literal translation would actually be a helper against him or a helper who contradicts him / argues with him. (For linguists – ezer means “helper”, while kenegdo means “against him”)

So what does this have to do with management. The second verse quoted gives the clue – in that Adam was not actually on his own, as implied in the first verse. Adam had companions – dogs, cats, livestock, etc. However none could advise him or work with him. They were all subordinate to, and dominated by, him.

There are two types of managers

  1. those who seek to dominate those around them
  2. those who listen to, work with, and respect the opinions of those around them.
The first sort generates “yes men” and “yes women” who dare not question the wisdom and leadership of the manager. The problem with this sort of manager is that if they are wrong they will have nobody to tell them so. They will have helpers – but nobody to tell them when they are wrong, or even to discuss issues objectively. Nobody will risk contradicting such managers – and if such a manager did ask for the opinions of those around them, the answers received would be crafted to correspond to what people thought he/she wanted to hear. Essentially the helpers are a bit like a sheepdog rounding up sheep for the shepherd – very useful, but only so long as everything is straightforward and there are no problems. The moment problems occur, the manager – like the shepherd – will be alone. Essentially this type of manager has nobody to share ideas with: he/she has no peers to listen to, to respect and to view as equals.

For true management and leadership success this is not enough. You also need to hear contradictory opinions and take into account the views of those who disagree with you – who are against you. From the differing opinions you can then develop a balanced viewpoint – and end up making better, more profitable decisions.

In a recent blog entry (Thinking Hats) I suggested that prior to making a decision you look at the problem from six different perspectives, with the sixth being a synthesis of the other five. The same applies to management: to manage successfully you need to consider the opinions and attitudes of those around you. You need an ezer kenegdo whose opinions are seen as equal to your own, so that you can balance your and your peers’ views when making decisions.

However this only goes as far as the planning stage. When it comes to action, you need to think as one – and act as one. There should be no scope for different people to pull in contradictory directions. Successful managers should take on board diverse viewpoints, and then come up with rational strategic or tactical decisions that bring people together; that unify the various perspectives; and that lead to coherent actions that fulfill agreed business aims and objectives.

Honey Traps!

December 20, 2006 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about a topic for this entry. I was considering something along the lines of the uses and dangers of honey-traps in competitive intelligence and counter-intelligence. This was prompted by the story of Judith told in the Apocrypha, and featured in some of the world’s greatest art work. (If you see a woman holding somebody’s decapitated head then it is either Judith with the head of Holofernes, or more commonly, Salome with John the Baptist’s head. Judith’s story is remembered on the Jewish festival of Chanukah that ended just after Christmas, and led to a custom to eat cheese on this holiday. The key point is that Holofernes, a Greek general, was tempted by the beautiful Judith, who plied him with salty cheese, and then wine to quench his thirst. Holofernes had lost his head to Judith’s beauty before he fell into a drunken stupor. He then lost his head to Judith’s sword! It is essentially the old-new story of beware Greeks bearing gifts – in reverse, as instead of it being the Greeks tricking the Trojans, it was the Greeks getting tricked. For competitive intelligence professionals, it shows three things:

  • How easy it is to get information or what ever is needed when tempted by an unexpected gift. Rather than ask for information and give nothing in return, try and make it a quid-pro-quo by offering a piece of harmless (but unknown to the interviewee) information. This exchange can stimulate conversation and encourage the passing of information. As an example, many years ago, I was working on a project. I promised interviewees a copy of the report I was writing in return for their co-operation. This was a sanitised version of what I was giving to my client. In fact, it was pretty much a rehash of what my interviewees had just told me, with the useful bits wanted by my client removed. I sent this to one interviewee – who promptly called me back to thank me. He had been my main source and much of the report was based on his input. He then proceeded to give me much more information than he had before – invaluable to my client.
  • How an unexpected gift can encourage people to talk. The above example shows how it can be done. The danger is that people in your company may be giving away valuable information – so it is important to ensure that there is a policy on who can talk to outsiders, and what can be said.
  • How women can tempt men. Yes – I know that this is politically incorrect, but it is done. I know of a CI consultancy that had a reputation for employing extremely attractive, and very bright 20-year old graduates. These girls would then call up senior executives, play naive, and get the executives to talk. They would then invite them to a lunch meeting to talk further – and the executives would melt, giving away information that they should have known not to give. Unfortunately it is a failing of some middle-aged men to give away the store when flattered by a much younger woman. This is the classic honey-trap, and although it may not be ethical, it does go on.

The question of leadership

July 2, 2006 Leave a comment

I last wrote about leadership almost a year ago. Yesterday I heard a talk that made me think again about this topic.

Understanding leadership is a crucial competitor analysis skill. Poor leadership is a weakness which is reflected in the strategies taken by the company. And companies with poor leaders are less likely to survive when competition intensifies. The opposite is the case for good leaders.

But what makes a good or bad leader. Is it just an ability to come up with winning strategies, or is there more to it.

I’ve written before about how the Bible can teach us lessons that are applicable for today’s business. The biblical story of Korach – told in the book of Numbers is one story that illustrates the issues of leadership. Korach was a cousin of Moses, the Israelite leader. According to Jewish legends, he was fabulously wealthy, and he was also sufficiently charismatic to attract several followers. He approached Moses and asked why he was being passed over – questioning the right of Moses and his brother Aaron to be top dogs. God was not amused, and eventually Korach and his followers were destoyed.

But was it so wrong to aspire to leadership. What was so special about Moses and Aaron that made God accept their leadership style and not that of Korach. Afterall, Korach had proved that he could be successful – his wealth and followers showed this.

The answer lies in how you lead. There are two sorts of leader. The first, leads for reasons of ego. They want to lead. They want to be the boss. Essentially, their ambition is to make things better for themselves, and if those beneath them benefit, then all the better. They thrive on the feeling of power and control that leadership can convey. This type of leader can be viewed as a taker. They take what is given from their followers and those underneath them. If they are good at strategy, then all benefit – although they will often benefit more. If they fail, however, then through not cultivating successors and partners, they are likely to drag all down with them.

The second sort of leader is the opposite of the first, in that rather than choosing to lead, leadership is thrust upon them. They may be the boss, but their ambition is not to benefit themselves but to make things better for those who entrusted them with the leader role. They are givers and will encourage others to follow them, through taking up leadership roles and sharing power. As a result, such leaders are more likely to leave a long-lasting legacy, and will also be better suited to withstand problems. They can call on others for help – and as their motivation is altruistic, they are more likely to receive help.

So how do you spot givers and takers in companies. The first thing to do is look at the company culture. Is it collaborative or mercenary? Do the leaders lead by example, or do they just expect to be obeyed? Do they consult with others and take account of the needs and interests of all the organisation or just a select few who they see as their near-equals?

People like to knock Microsoft, and Bill Gates. Gates is a ruthlessly successful businessman. It is not for nothing that there used to be a Googlebomb that claimed that Microsoft was more evil than the devil. Afterall, Windows and Office are the dominant computer operating systems and software (although not 100% – this is being written on an Apple iBook using Firefox – if you are not using either, consider switching for a better computing experience!). But let’s look at Gates himself, over the last few years. He stepped back from being the Microsoft CEO, and now has virtually stepped out of the picture. The world’s richest man stated that his aim is to use his wealth to benefit others – via his charitable foundation. This is not the profile of a taker but of a giver. Is this why Microsoft is so successful – it listened to its staff, its customers, its suppliers and the inner voice that says make the world a better place.

Or what about Google. Their company motto may be a trite Don’t be evil but this at least recognises that corporates can be evil – Enron and Worldcom were just the tip of the iceberg. OK – so Google’s practices in China are suspect. And the way they don’t filter out pornographic sites is defintely wrong. However I personally think that both these examples are reflections of how difficult it is to resolve mutually incompatible conflicts of interest. How do you supply search listings when a government gives you a choice of censorship or nothing. Refusal to comply, and so getting blocked totally, doesn’t help the population of China. And machines don’t find it easy to tell good from bad – Google set rules on what could be found and how, and although these could be altered for exceptions, it sets precedents that could destroy the very accuracy people want. Essentially, Google’s leadership style is that of a giver – but giving is never easy. It is taking that is easy as you then consider what is best for a small elite and don’t have to balance multiple conflicts of interest.

Both these examples link to computers and the Internet. But givers don’t just come from these areas. Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream company is another example – that as part of its corporate objectives supports small-scale family owned farms that would otherwise have gone under – squeezed out by their larger competitors. Ben & Jerry’s new owners – Unilever also take corporate social responsibility seriously. And if you look at how Unilever is managed, you will see a truely diverse company with many races and creeds at senior positions. Or take the Indian ICICI bank. India is seen as a patriarchal society by many. Yet ICICI has more women at senior / board positions than many US corporations. It is also India’s fastest growing private bank – success and the giving mentality seem to go together.

There are many more examples. Just recently Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hatherway, announced that he plans to leave 85% of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation – which made charitable payments in 2005 alone, of more than twice that donated by UNESCO. The name Buffet won’t even become incorporated in the charity’s name.

So, when you look at the leaders of your competitors (and your own companies) think about whether they are givers or takers. If they are givers and your company is a taker than be worried, as long-term it seems that being a giver is a more reliable indicator of success.

(With thanks for the idea of givers and takers to Rabbi Mendel Lew and his sermon given following the annual reading in synagogue of the story of Korach).

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