In a Knowledge Worker Economy – Risk OVER the Status Quo?

Nearly thirty years ago, Peter Drucker saw the need for and wrote of the imperative of change management within an information based, highly educated, “knowledge worker” economy and workforce:

To be sure, the fundamental task of management remains the same: to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform and to respond to change. But the very meaning of this task has changed, if only because the performance of management has converted the workforce from one composed largely of unskilled laborers to one of highly educated knowledge workers.

We live in a world obsessed with safety, and mitigation of risk. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with either of these elements, except for the fact that no matter how hard we try, we cannot guarantee either absolute safety or the absence of risk.

In an excellent post in the Harvard Business Review, as summarized in this morning’s Management Tip of the Day, the whole concept of risk versus safety is put to a challenge:

Most of us consider ourselves to be risk averse, but what we consider “safe” behavior often contains much more uncertainty than we suspect…The challenge is that there are very few environments that remain static. “Safe” investments like gold can lose value. You could be fired from your “safe” job. And yet we behave as if the current state will persist in perpetuity. While no one can predict the future, there are a few tactics you can use to get better at evaluating risk. Before you make a decision, do your research on all of the potential avenues of action. Ask credible experts to weigh in. And don’t forget to evaluate the inherent risk of doing nothing. Sometimes the status quo is actually riskier than taking a leap into the unknown.

Excellent advice, see the full post here. Of course, as noted above, risk must be carefully researched and thought out. To use an old word, to exercise prudence, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the, “ability to recognize and follow the most suitable or sensible course of action; good sense in practical or financial affairs; discretion, circumspection, caution.” In short, to exercise judgement when making a decision about the future. But too much caution, or worse, being restrained by fear amounts to the idea that we are actually in more control than we are, and that is little more than self-deception.

Hulu Expanding Skinny Options for Cord Cutters – First Step Toward True Broadcast Streaming?

A Wall Street Journal article confirms that, “Hulu is developing a subscription service that would stream feeds of popular broadcast and cable TV channels.” Although the specifics are still a way off, a couple notable highlights from the article:

    • Targeting around a $40 price point for monthly subscriptions, “Many [competing services] are seeking to deliver a subscription pay-TV package that includes a dozen or so popular channels for a price between $24.99 and $39.99″
    • Major networks are involved, “Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox, which are co-owners of Hulu, are near agreements to license many of their channels for the platform…Disney’s ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel are expected to be available on the service along with the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, FX and Fox’s national and regional sports channels”

Competition is fierce, which is good for consumers as the rivals seek to hit a price point and array of options that make sense. The article notes Apple’s frustration with, “its efforts to license programming from big media companies at rates that would allow it to keep retail prices attractive to cord-cutters.”

The Disciplines of Success for Leaders

What is required to succeed at a rigorous challenge requiring a long-term commitment? While recently participating in an exercise to answer to this question, I thought of a number of ways I could address this. Many of which are true in the perspective they convey. We certainly need inspiration. We need a sense of realistic hope. We also need the right application of building habits that will see us through the long haul. But when it comes to completing a long-term goal that occupies a great deal of willpower, much of our success comes down to discipline. The rigors required to attain a significant goal require what Peter Drucker described as the Effective Executive: first managing ourselves. Here are three core components of the disciplines of success: focus, perseverance and persistence.

Focus. The first of these disciplines is the ability to and application of focus. It is a self-obviating understatement to say we live in a world of extreme distraction. And we can thank the remarkable world technology (of which I am very thankful for) for this. We have always had to battle distraction, but never at the amplified and accelerated pace that we now contend with. The higher the aspiration of leadership, the greater the need for the discipline of single-minded focus.

This involves two points, the first is the actual skill set of focus, next is the development of habits in order to successfully apply this skill set. To develop the necessary skill set to sharpen our focus, we need to perform an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. This is simply part of self-awareness and the continuous improvement process. Where we are already strong (possible interests, etc.), we may need only modify our habits to capitalize on those strengths. But where we need improvement we need to take deliberate action to ratchet up our deficiencies. From here, we need to take deliberate actions to develop habits that will enable us to apply the skill set of focus.

Perseverance. The act of perseverance sounds a lot like persistence, and at some point, perseverance certainly means exercising persistence as well. But the distinction between the two is the origin of the needed resistance. Successful completion of a goal requires perseverance regarding any number of life events that originate internally as well as externally. External challenges such as managing time, home, family and work may require foregoing discretionary personal time. Internal challenges will involve fatigue and emotions. Both sets of challenges require perseverance and only those who persevere at a long-term challenge will complete it.

Persistence. Closely related to perseverance is persistence. As mentioned before, both are related but distinct. Perseverance requires resistance to internal and external challenges. But persistence requires mental and physical output of energy not only to resist the forces of challenges, but overcome obstacles that would prevent a successful work product. There is much that can be said about willpower, the instinct of it, and that we generally quit too easily. Those with unusual, pre-determined persistence will be successful and see long-term challenges through to completion. This is the willpower of leadership.

Planning for the Coming Year: Confidence Through Perspective

It’s easy to look back at a previous year and focus on what could have gone better, how different decisions may have affected outcomes to the good, or even how we may feel stuck in one way or another. As with many, I share the view that a new year is an excellent time to make or update goals, modify plans or start a strategic course of action for the upcoming year. This could be as simple as a reading list, a habit change, or a significant life changing decision. Either way, I think outlook and perspective can be a key driver in making this a positive exercise, whether reflecting or planning.

One of the benefits of experience is long-term perspective. I used to have promotional poster from a brokerage firm that read, “confidence through perspective.” Within the poster there was a montage of pictures, dates, graphic measurements and major event annotations. The idea being, when you look at current events with too much granularity, you may lose focus on an overall perspective on how things may turn out, given a certain trajectory, determination, diligence, planning, hard work, and a little more time. But at the same time, if we fail to look carefully, and with the proper focus, we may miss some of the obvious details right in front of us. For reflection purposes, consider the words from Henry David Thoreau’s Journal, June 10, 1853, titled, Looking through a Spy-Glass:

Source: http://www.concordmuseum.org/spyglass.php

I amused myself yesterday afternoon with looking from my window, through a spy-glass, at the tops of the woods in the horizon. It was pleasant to bring them so near and individualize the trees, to examine in detail the tree-tops which before you had beheld only in the mass as the woods in the horizon. It was an exceedingly rich border, seen thus against, and the imperfections in a particular tree-top more than two miles off were quite apparent. I could easily have seen a hawk sailing over the top of the wood, and possibly his nest in some higher tree. Thus to contemplate, from my attic in the village, the hawks circling about their nests above some dense forest or swamp miles away, almost as if they were flies on my own premises! I actually distinguished a taller white pine with which I am well acquainted, with a double top rising high above the surrounding woods, between two and three miles distant, which, with the naked eye, I had confounded with the nearer woods.

All of that from the view from an attic window, because the author took the time to look, focus and reflect. When you consider the outlook for this year and take time to think and plan, hear the words of my great hero, C. S. Lewis, “Mere change is not growth. Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, and where there is no continuity there is no growth.”

Image Source: http://www.concordmuseum.org/spyglass.php

Travel Adventure Roulette: Bargain Basement Prices with One Little Catch…

The Wall Street Journal reports that if you are traveling within Europe, there is an option for those looking for ultra low priced fares known as “blind bookings.” The tickets as low as $37 round trip come with one caveat: the airline chooses your destination and you only find out (to where) after your trip is booked. The parameters you are in control of are the dates, as well as an array of interests (culture, shopping, etc.), and then surprise! Find out where you are headed.

Who is Germanwings currently targeting?

For Germanwings, the cheap prices have been particularly popular with American expats and military families in Germany interested in seeing more of Europe. Jenny Crossen and her husband Bill, posted in Germany with the U.S. Army, heard about the fares from a co-worker. The couple has taken three blind-booking trips as a way to see more of Europe together. Ms. Crossen said the uncertainty was “kind of exciting while you wait for the big reveal.’’

And the article rightly questions whether such a service would work here in the States – as there are an awful lot of places that may not make for an exciting destination.

What I love about this story is how this all got started,

Blind bookings were conceived in 2007 by a university student who did a thesis on ways airlines could get more fliers without cannibalizing higher-fare ticket sales. Often when an airline launches a sale, business travelers take advantage of discounts. The student’s work included an internship at Germanwings, and his idea focused on student travel habits. “Students ask, Where could we go without paying much? They don’t care where they go, just choose,’’ said Oliver Scheid, head of revenue management and pricing at Germanwings.

This is business in the social era: customer experience, engagement, input and (indirectly) partnership with the organizations providing the product or service. See more here:

Ignorance is NOT Bliss

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – John Powell

Right now the overall job market is an undeniable difficulty for us as a country. Thinking about this reminds me of a few things from some years back. The above quote causes me to reflect on a few difficult times and painful past lessons – experiences which are now filtered with hindsight (and the advantage of 20/20 vision as it were). But I am thankful for the experience of many of these difficulties, though some have taken years to get to that point. After one painful business experience in particular, I was encouraged by a friend (at a different stage in life and much more experienced than I) to journal out what I had learned. I remember that at that time, I didn’t want to hear of it, and I certainly didn’t want to talk about it, even alone within the very safe pages of a journal. All I could think about was the frustration I was experiencing from my own decisions, some of them hasty. But learning is an ongoing, dynamic process.

Sometimes, I believe, we don’t feel quite ready to learn from what we are presently going through. Which is part of the reason I am determined to learn from decades past, because our current problems span way beyond few years of misguided choices. I am optimistic too, because I think for many, there is an honest inquiry into present difficulties, and why past approaches may no longer be relevant. Ultimately, I want to be a better learner, and a better practitioner of that knowledge and experience.

The Lesson of ‘Good Enough’

Comparing and contrasting the birds-eye view with the worms-eye view

The higher a person ascends the ranks of financial operations, the more imperative it becomes to discern between certain levels of detail, and the need to push work products forward to completion. This is especially true in the budgeting aspects of financial operations versus compliance issues in accounting and auditing which can become exceedingly nitpick at times. Closely related to this is the need to learn to communicate financial information to other business professionals who are not financial specialists. This can proved to be exceedingly difficult for a highly competent analyst who frankly, loves “getting their hands dirty.” In other words, this is not meant in any way to trivialize the value of a highly detail oriented analyst. But it is meant to serve as a cautionary note to those who wish to exercise leadership that is built upon their years of financial expertise. Two quick thoughts may serve to illustrate this: the worm’s eye view and the bird’s eye view, each with its strengths and limitations.

The worm’s eye view will assist with a great deal of detail, but sometimes distorts reality due to its limitations of vision. This is not to in any way demean or devalue the benefits or the work of highly detail oriented people. It is simply to say, sometimes in order to complete certain types of work in a timely manner, decisions of priority must take precedence over the desire to continue with hedgehog-like determination and the quest for perfection that is sometimes not practical.

The bird’s eye view on the other hand, enables a panoramic vision of the whole while simply limiting detail. Both have their function in analytical work. But here is the takeaway. Leaders communicating financial information need to be able to deliver highly summarized, accurate information. Then in an instant, zoom into detail in response to a question, request for clarification, etc. Then zoom back out to high level – smoothly and reassuringly. Listen to a few quarterly earnings conference calls for effective and ineffective examples. For the executive leader, a careful distinction between the two approaches and the timing of the each is essential.

Shared Credit for Hard Work

The way to get things done, is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them – Benjamin Jowett

Credit for hard work is not something we should seek to avoid. But at the same time, should we not be overly preoccupied with acknowledgement if our goal is truly to produce our very best work product [as possible] with what is required of us right now.  Self-aggrandizement, overbearing personalities, and the inability to actively and empathetically listen, short circuit the team building process and the natural outworking of progress.

This disproportionate concern with acknowledgment runs contra to the concept of a team, and its accomplishments.  Goals and objectives can still be accomplished by an organization with leadership who tends to be in it for themselves, but who wants to live “one man’s dream” when you could experience all the benefits of healthy team effort? It goes without saying that at best, it is generally not pleasant for those who have to constantly to one person’s ideas to the exclusion of all others. But at worst, over the long haul, an organization will have to deal with the wreckage of only one person being heard. When contributors are heard, included and acknowledged, I think it will encourage not only being truly on board with an organization and its mission, but these same people can become the greatest advocates for changes needed in response to challenges.

Purpose and Vision Will Keep Us On Target

I was reading through (and writing about) the BIS 84th Annual Report recently and was struck by the tone of the introductory remarks,

The global economy continues to face serious challenges. Despite a pickup in growth, it has not shaken off its dependence on monetary stimulus. Monetary policy is still struggling to normalise after so many years of extraordinary accommodation. Despite the euphoria in financial markets, investment remains weak. Instead of adding to productive capacity, large firms prefer to buy back shares or engage in mergers and acquisitions. And despite lacklustre long-term growth prospects, debt continues to rise. There is even talk of secular stagnation.

What also struck me was that this section was titled, “In search of a new compass.” The repeated occurrence of “despite,” followed by some good news, that is ultimately eclipsed by bad news underscores the point that in spite of five years of economic recovery, this time is indeed different. Most importantly, the above statements speak of policymakers in search of direction.

The context of such headwinds puts extraordinary pressure on those who are trying to navigate their own career through such challenges. This is particularly felt among those who are either searching for employment, or simply searching for direction. In an age where we are bombarded with more information than can ever be processed or analyzed, this highlights the importance of principles and guidelines that are timeless in nature. I thought about that as I recently came across this excellent quote from Daniel Webster:

If we work upon marble, it will perish. If we work upon brass, time will efface it. But if we work upon immortal minds, and instill into them just principles, we are then engraving upon tablets which no time will efface but will brighten and brighten to all eternity.

Purpose and vision will keep us moving the right direction, whatever the challenge. And when we get off track, that same statement of values and mission, will point us back in the right direction.

The Shelf Life of Innovation

For a visionary, a perfectionist, an idealist or someone who is driven by simply tying to get things right organizationally, there is a great deal of satisfaction in driving innovation whether it be product, process or service. But just about everything we work with was once an innovation. Everything was new once. It is not enough to fix something, and then create a monument to it in the form of a process that soon becomes dated and ineffective. Or worse, protect that monument rather than allow the present order to be disrupted with ideas that we may not quite understand. What needs to happen is outlined in The Case for Institutional Innovation,

In today’s environment of exponential technology change and market uncertainty, institutions that can drive accelerated learning will be more likely to create significant economic value on a sustainable basis… As institutions are rearchitected to take advantage of rapidly evolving technology infrastructures to scale learning, they can become more adept at generating richer innovations at other levels, including products, services, business models, and management systems.

This goes for every type of organization, including governments. This is perhaps especially true for smaller governmental entities even though such organizations are being challenged due to overall economic trends and possibly, long-term shifts in revenue. However, due to their manageable size, the above stated innovational trends are entirely possible if such an organization adopts and aggressively implements a philosophy of learning from top to bottom. This can be largely implemented through scaled learning, rather than simply turning to economy of scale. It does not necessarily have to be a choice between the two, scaled learning can take place in any context, and it does not require of formal system in place. This is the nature of a learning organization and the characteristic that emerges within an organizational culture that leverages learning opportunities. And it begins with leadership and willpower.

Reference:

Hagel, J. III & Brown, J. Institutional innovation: Creating smarter organizations to scale learning. http://dupress.com/articles/institutional-innovation/