Heavy Lifting Time

Wicked

This is weird. Disruptive, challenging, productive. What is termed a wicked problem – a mystery to be understood not a puzzle to be solved.

The thing I believe is this. We are dealing with two challenges. 

The first is about getting by for the next three months. Not elegant, not trainable, not consultable. The time period is too short, the situation too mobile and unpredictable. It’s hands on, leadership heavy, coping.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

F.Scott Fitzgerald

The second is to work out what to do as we pass the peak of this, because it won’t be the same as the situation we’ve left. We have around three to four months to peak Covid-19, and are facing it remaining in circulation through next winter, and most likely before a vaccine is ready and distributable. There is a reasonable chance of a repeat performance.

Schumpeter’s Birthday Party

During this time, the infrastructure will change. Weak businesses will fail, alongside some good ones. Some good employees will be displaced or lost to better financed competition. Other good people will discover that they like working from home, want to stay doing it, and will have options with other employers. The government will try hard and work hard, but won’t keep pace with rapidly morphing business needs. 

It’s like Schumpeter’s birthday (actually, that was Feb 8th, so its a bit of a late party). The economist who gave us creative destruction. For the next period – maybe two years, who knows? His model rules right now.

Lifting the weight

That doesn’t leave us helpless, anything but, although there will be no cavalry riding over the hill. The qualities we need – resilience, agility, imagination, creativity – we mostly already have, but are often not using.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, he of “Black Swans”, and the idea of “antifragile” – the art of using the energy of shock events to grow, not just recover – highlights that is times like these we need “barbel” strategies. Harness both ends of the spectrum, avoid the procrastinating middle, where people wait for things to return to normal.

Here are the ends of the barbel, in my view:

  • End 1 – the “right now” end. The next three to six months. Leadership, Improvisation, Inclusion. Work with the people you have. Challenge all the assumptions you are making. Harness ideas, experiment, keep moving. Learn.
  • End 2 – the “new world” end. Get your top team round you, and others who will support you. Explore possibilities. Create scenarios. Identify the early “signposts” that will indicate which scenarios are emerging. Entertain radical alternatives. Get ready.

This is no time for caution. Coming out of the other end of this to discover the world you left is not returning is no time to start thinking.

If you want an alternative perspective of where you stand, and your options, call me. I’m happy to talk over Zoom with you for a while, without charge.

Richard@richardmerrick.co.uk 

You could help me  and my colleagues by completing a short survey put together by the EGA which is considering ways of using peer group power to peer through the murk at what is emerging. They will circulate findings to you.

All best to all as we work through this. 

Wingman

One of the most valuable things we can do when we’re trying to find a way forward is to put our thoughts out there with somebody we trust.

Somebody who will challenge and look for our weak spots, with the intent of sharpening our argument, or our game.

I’ve been wrestling with a paradox. When we coach, we cannot have an agenda- we are in service of our client’s thinking. The moment we introduce our own thinking, uninvited, we are no longer coaches.

At the same time, part of our job is to introduce ideas and concepts that might move our client forward.

So, how do we square this circle?

My “sparring partner” today helped me see a route.

In what seems a long time ago, I was an officer in the R.A.F. During my time there, I was taught the idea of a “wing man“. The concept is as simple as it is powerful. When we are focused on a target, we lose peripheral vision. We are so focused on the target, we fail to see what is going on around us.

The wing man provides that. She looks out for us, and feeds back to us threats we may not see.

The biggest threats we are facing today sit outside of our immediate vision. We may achieve and celebrate short term financial goals, whilst at the same time not see the bigger systemic picture, wherein lie the issues that will take us out of the game.

All of us need a “wingman” or woman. I’m grateful for mine. Who’s yours?

Processing speed

Concentrating on how fast we process data is a dangerous and unhealthy trap. Rather like fast food, we don’t consider what we’re consuming, and fall foul of the carb rush.

Instant gratification.

We’re entering (if not already in) an era where processing faster is ceasing to be an advantage. Except, maybe on trading floors, where milliseconds enables us to take advantage in a passing, temporary trade. It doesn’t add any real value to the stock being traded.

In areas of rather more substance, the data is valuable but partial. It will tell us where we’ve been (though maybe not why), but is a poor indicator for anything other than the very short term of where we’re headed.

Like the carb rush though, it’s as addictive as it is unhealthy.

Data is great for those judged on their operational strategy. Lots of numbers, comparisons, forecast returns. We become seduced and blinded by the beauty of the numbers, and judge the strategy at speed. Read the executive summary, maybe scan the rest. Compare the numbers to alternative offerings, Judge. Move on.

The foundation of strategy though does not lie in the numbers. It lies in awareness, purpose, spirit, relationships, agility, imagination, reflection. All qualitative, not easily measurable, yet vital.

The reason that the vast majority of operations strategies fail is because they are not grounded in these softer qualities. A fast food diet with little real sustenance.

I find it a sobering thought that most of the stuff of operational strategy is moving towards algorithms. Much better than us flaky humans at analysing history and projecting it forward and removing the extraneous, outlying data that is the harbinger of change, but not renowned for it’s imagination or thoughtful questioning.

The qualities that will define lasting success in the next era will be our ability to think, reflect and imagine. If we don’t make time for that, as individuals and organisations, we’re likely to have the useful lifespan of fast food packaging.