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.
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
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
- those who seek to dominate those around them
- those who listen to, work with, and respect the opinions of those around them.
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.
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.
I just read an e-mail newsletter from the headmaster of my old school – Rabbi Jeremy Rosen. Rabbi Rosen is not your typical Rabbi, and likes to challenge and get people to think. He encourages questioning at a deep level.
The Old Testament is often seen as a book of vendettas and vengeance – and compared unfavourably to the New Testament. Many of the most interesting stories are not even taught in Sunday schools, so most people – unless they read the bible – are unaware of some of the stories that appear in the bible. For example, Rabbi Rosen mentions how the book of Genesis contains the following:
- A story about a major character who puts his wife and marriage in danger – with blatant lies about her – in order to save his own skin. This happens not just once but three times;
- A story about how a lively teenager and his mother are kicked out of the biblical hero’s home into the world with no more than a day’s supplies;
- A story where the above biblical hero tells his son that they are going on a hiking holiday, when in fact the intention is to kill him;
- A story about another biblical hero who cheats his father and tells lies – in order to get his hands on the inheritance promised to his older brother;
- Stories where one child is favoured over another and stories where the hero takes advantage of their siblings;
- A story where the hero moonlights and takes advantage of his father-in-law’s capital assets;
- A story where two of the hero’s children go out of control and top the local gang (in revenge for the gang leader molesting their sister);
- A story where a major character spends the night with a call-girl who he’s picked up off the street and who turns out to be his daughter-in-law.
And this is just Genesis. There are many more stories as graphic as these and more later on in the bible. Yet – this is a source book and holy writ for Christianity and Judaism, and many of the characters and stories are also sacred to Islam and Bahaism. The characters have influenced the way we think about life, society and ethical behaviour.
So what does this all have to do with competitive intelligence. Well – one mistake that people make is to make myths out of information. They get blinded and make assumptions. They read the company histories and believe that what was written about the company history is correct – or mostly correct. But real life is not like this. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. The company founders were never the paragons that are portrayed in later company literature. Part of the role of competitor analysts is to uncover the truth, and to disperse the fog that companies like to put around their origins and history. Because the history is important in that it sets the scene for the present. The culture, strategies and vision are all products of what went before – even if the company refuses to accept this and tries to airbrush the unpleasant bits out of their collective story.
That is part of the genius that is the bible – as the bible does not run away from stories that put its heroes in a bad light. The idea is to show that even biblical heroes got it wrong and that nobody is perfect – and that we should learn from the mistakes made. If only companies did the same, and were as honest: the job of a competitor analyst would be much easier.
PS: I’ve deliberately not identified the above stories. As good information searchers it should not be too difficult to identify each. However as a seasonal competition (no prize – just the honour of getting praise) – see how many you can work out. Post the answers in the comments – or wait, and I’ll respond in a couple of weeks if people ask!
You can get tips to better practice from many sources – and one of my favourites is the Bible. There are several bible stories that convey lessons for today’s competitive intelligence professionals. One example is in the story of Noah. After the biblical flood, Noah sent out a raven and a dove to search the earth for clues that the flood had truely ended.
The story seems simple, but in fact it is not. Why couldn’t Noah just look outside and make a decision? The reason is that when he did this, all he could see was water. It wasn’t even as if he was on low ground. The bible says that the Ark came to rest on Mt Ararat which is in today’s Turkey. However Noah realised that what you see close up is not necessarily the real situation. Sometimes you need to look further afield. A colleague of mine pointed this out to me – stating that what Noah needed was an unmanned air-reconnaissance vehicle (UAV) (this colleague works for an aircraft / defence manufacturer). So Noah used birds who spied out the land. The first came back with nothing whereas the second, the dove, brought back an olive branch. So what!
It is not the evidence that counted, but the analysis. Noah had gathered information – that with the raven there was nothing to be found, whereas with the dove, there was an olive twig. The analysis showed that with the raven, the waters had not receded whereas with the dove they had.
The same lesson still applies. It is not the information that is important, but the analysis that you make based on this, turning information into intelligence and leading to operational or strategic decisions..
(At this point I can’t resist a “business” type joke: Who was the first entrepreneur in the Bible?. Answer: Noah. He floated a company when the rest of the world was under liquidation!)
In fact, it was not Noah that made me think of this theme, but an article I recently read about Bilaam and his donkey. In synagogues throughout the world, the story of Bilaam (told in the Biblical book of Numbers) will be read this Saturday. Essentially, the heathen soothsayer/prophet Bilaam was paid by King Balak to go and curse the Children of Israel (plus ça change…). On his way, an angel appeared blocking the way forward. The donkey on which Bilaam is riding sees that the way is blocked and turns aside. In response, Bilaam hits the donkey – and this happens twice. (Hence the joke that Bilaam had a stubbon ass).
At this point, the donkey spoke to Bilaam and asked Why are you hitting me? Bilaam then enters into an argument with the donkey about why it turned aside which only ends when Bilaam looks up and spots the angel.
The question is what is going on here? Bilaam is not a fool so why is he talking to animals? And why are animals talking in the first place? (The Bible is not Dr Dolittle or Babe).
The question on why the donkey was talking is relatively easy – God made the donkey talk. (God can do things like that!)
Explaining Bilaam’s response is not so easy. Here is a man who is seen as sufficiently wise that Kings are willing to pay a lot of money for his words of wisdom. Yet in the story he talks to animals and does not see anything odd or unusual in this. The answer to this problem has many lessons for contemporary competitive intelligence practice.
Every now and then, there is some intelligence that does not fit in to the general pattern of things. It is anomalous. The easiest way to treat something anomalous is to ignore it, or pretend that it does not exist. If the anomaly continues to crop up, then denial can occur in which you just accept the anomaly as a fact of life and try and live with it. In fact, rather than face up to the new situation and change direction it is often easier to keep on trying to move forward on the same path – perhaps using brute force to try and continue by increasing advertising spend, reducing prices, or other marketing equivalents. In other words, to behave like Bilaam and to keep hitting your donkey.
It is only when all these attempts fail that the company / organisation / person in denial is forced to face up to a new situation – and look up, as Bilaam did, and see the angel blocking the path.
Part of effective competitive intelligence is to keep an eye out for anomalies and new situations. They may not be part of a current key intelligence topic (or KIT), but just because they aren’t does not mean that they are not relevant or that they can be ignored. On the contrary, they should be incorporated into the current knowledge, and decisions on future actions should take them into account.
This is the lesson of Bilaam. He was in denial and refused to accept that something was wrong or odd. Rather, he incorporated the anomaly into his own world view, until it was almost too late. Only then did he look up and see that his path was blocked.
The story ends with the angel telling Bilaam that he cannot curse the Israelites – but instead should bless them. Sometimes organisations need to change direction and only then will they be able to move forward. It is often the anomalies that give the clues to such situations – rather than the routine intelligence that is collected to a schedule.
© Arthur Weiss, AWARE, 2005
The last couple of weeks have set me thinking about what leadership is or should be. This entry will be fairly rambling – as I want to throw up ideas. I’m still unsure myself what the ideal leader should be like.
Maureen Sharib’s blog entry (Psychopaths in the Hallowed Halls touched on this. Maureen mentioned an excellent article – a must read at www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss.html. This great item looked at the psychology of business leaders. However it did not go far enough in my opinion, by looking at national leaders. If your boss is a psychopath at least you have the option to change jobs. If you live in a democracy, then if the President/Prime Minister is psychopathic then he/she may not get re-elected. But what if you are not in a democracy – what then! Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria under Assad, Myamar (Burma), Zimbabwe….
A couple of years ago there was a session at the SCIP London conference (SCIP Europe 2003) entitled “Advanced Analysis: Pychological Profiling” by Jens Hoffman and Everhard von Groote. The aim was to teach methods of leader profiling, and several of the examples were national leaders. Four leadership styles were discussed:
- Narcissistic (feelings of grandiosity, lack of empathy, need for admiration, power fantasies);
- Paranoid (General distrust, jealousy, provokes interactions, aggressive, feeling of superiority);
- Compuslive (High structure, perfectionism, rigid, highly adapted socially);
- Pyschopathic (Superficial charm, grandiose sense of self worth, a liar, manipulative, no guilt, lack of empathy. Often impulsive and reckless – and lifestyle may be parasitic, feeding off others).
Several national leaders were discussed – Clinton, Margaret Thatcher. There is a wealth of literature on the topic. (For example: Profiling Political Leaders: Cross-Cultural Studies of Personality and Behavior edited by Ofer Feldman – containing essays on several political leaders e.g. on Mao Zedong’s Narcissism).
What worries me about all this is that it gives the impression that those who reach the most senior positions in countries or companies are all suffering from some kind of personality disorder – paranoia, narcissism, pyschopathy and so on.
At the same time, there is a second element to leadership – trust. Without trust, you won’t get people to follow you. Instead you need to rely on control and your status.
In the bible there is an odd story – of Phinehas, who was the great nephew of Moses (and grandson of Aaron). The book of Numbers discribes a plague that came about following an episode of immoral behaviour. (See Numbers ch 25). It appears that none of the leaders of the Israelites did anything to stop this – other than talk. That is until, Phinehas (who was not in the chain of command) caught one couple in flagrante delicto. In a gesture of righteous indignation, Phinehas killed the couple. The strange thing is that instead of being condemned for murder, or taking the law into his own hands, Phinehas is praised, the plague stops – and Phinehas is granted a covenant of peace.
The Jewish Rabbis spent a lot of time on this story – discussing what was meant by it and what was meant by the covenant of peace. They also raised questions on leadership and what it involved.
Re-reading this story (the weekly reading in synagogues this week) set me thinking about all the above issues – what is leadership?
- Is leadership managing others and controling them?
- Is it the ability to be decisive – like Phinehas – and take actions which might be unpopular, damning the consequences?
- Or is it something else?
A lot of this thought has also been tied in with recent events in London. How do you fight terrorism? What do you do with a suspect who runs? (As happened last Thursday, when an innocent man was shot dead – in a Phinehas like act by the police. He’d been linked to one of the bombers, although the link appears coincidental, and when ordered to stop, he ran. He was also wearing a quilted jacket on a hot day. The police thought that this hid a suicide bomb belt, and rather than risk shooting his torso and setting off a possible bomb belt, or allowing him to set it off, they shot to kill).
Mistakes may be made – but in fighting terrorism the leader needs to be prepared to take positive action, even if this is unpopular. Appeasement and other approaches to avoiding an unpleasant decision are not really options as they only sort things out in the short-term – deferring the problem until later. (Think of Chamberlain, the pre-WW2 British Prime Minister who followed a policy of appeasement with Adolf Hitler – letting Hitler carve up a bit more of Europe, and proclaiming peace in our time, while giving Hitler a chance to arm up).
Terrorism is a plague! (Blaming it on the Iraq war, the situation in Palestine/Israel, and so on is just such appeasement in my view. Otherwise how do you explain the weekend bombing in Egypt, or last week’s bombs in Turkey – both unrelated to the Iraq and Palestine issues.) I believe that the only approach is to hit hard at the terrorists and not give them a chance to group up. Obviously you also use other approaches to try and stop people joining the terrorist movements – and without clarity and a willingness to emphasise this is wrong some people will continue to be brainwashed into believing that setting off bombs on buses, trains or in shopping malls is an acceptable way of reaching heaven or achieving political aims. Perhaps this is what the Bible is trying to say when it talks about the covenant of peace. That it is only through strong and decisive actions that will we be able to defeat such plagues and gain peace?
There is leadership story told about Presidents Bush and Clinton.
When President Clinton turned over the reins of government to George W Bush the public and political pundits were all quite surprised how short the two of them met to discuss transition issues. In a recent exclusive, it was revealed what Clinton discussed with Bush.
It appears that Clinton handed Bush three envelopes, each consecutively numbered from 1 to 3. Clinton told Bush that his father, George Bush Senior, had provided him with the same briefing and the same three envelopes, as had all Presidents done from the time of George Washington.
“When things get tough,” said Clinton, “open the envelope marked Number 1 and follow the instructions. If things get worse, open the second envelope. And, when things get really impossible, open the third. Do not,” emphasized Clinton, “open these envelopes under any other circumstances” The envelopes were passed on to a new era of leadership and the two shook hands and took their leaves.
Bush, being an intensely curious and impatient man and one who is frequently up at all hours of the night, became rather curious as to the contents of the envelopes opened the first. He read “Blame your predecessor.” His curiosity piqued, he opened the second. “Blame the Senate.” He then tore open the third. It read “Prepare three envelopes.”