Has your thinking become institutionalised?

Do you need to start thinking differently?  We are now into the fifth year of an economic downturn, and yet so many organisations that I talk to still seem to be struggling to find a new path.  There are many examples of firms who are tinkering with numerous change initiatives, whilst continuing to slowly shrink.  Perhaps our problem is a lack of capacity to change the way that we think. Albert Einstein was famously quoted as saying that “we can’t solve problems by using the same thinking that created them.”  The logic of this statement is beyond dispute, but how does that help us.  We think what we think! My observation is that many organisations become stuck with a form of institutional thought process.  Businesses are usually led by senior people who come up through the firm over a period of time.  The longer you have been in an organisation, the more likely you are to stop thinking about alternative ways of carrying out your trade. I offer a simple example to illustrate what I mean. When I was working in a consultancy firm, I used to try and make it a habit to meet with a new recruit four weeks after they had started working for us.  The purpose of the meeting was to ask them to critique the way that we worked.  Over time, it was a great way of getting a check on what business practice made sense and what practice was there simply because we have always done it that way. I found that if I left this interview any later than six weeks, then the new recruit had now become part of the team and was quite happy to believe that our systems were all fine. My point is that whilst we can intellectually see new ideas and thinking all around us, something in our collective mind set decides that those things wouldn’t work for us. The concept of Groupthink has been around for many years, and it is an understandable human trait to want to fit in with the rest of the gang. When conditions change, however, this tendency to avoid being seen as an exception is problematic. This is particularly evident when we try and introduce change. It is the perceived wisdom that 70% of change programs fail.  One reason is that whilst many people can see a need for change at an individual level, they will continue to follow the thinking patterns of the group, which will usually remain rooted to the past. Another, often cited reason for the low success of change program is a lack of commitment from senior management.  However, the senior team is as likely to have institutionalised it’s thinking process as much as the rest of the firm. The guys at the top may intellectually understand the need to change, but if your existing markets have been turned upside down, you need to be clear as to what you are going to transform you business into. This requires an entirely new perspective from the leadership team. We often have no shortage of ideas, but lack the conviction to take on board the risks involved in implementation. Conviction comes from a belief that it can happen.  Belief comes not just from the head but also from the heart.  To achieve the kinds of transformation necessary to make a step change that will lead to stability and then future prosperity, leaders need to feel as well as see what the future could be. Thinking is not just an analytical left brain process.  To think creatively we also need to tap into the perceptual, whole pattern processes that come from the other side of our brains.  To find the passion for change we need to access our feelings so that a commitment to change becomes a personal mission. A new leader from inside or from outside the organisation may try and introduce some different thought processes, but if there is any danger involved, then the tendency of the group will be to fall back to the numbers.  Steering the discussion away from fanciful ideas and back to hard facts and figures provides a haven from being asked to take a risk on an unproven concept. And so the thinking that has seen a business stumble along over the last five years will keep it in a downward spiral of small initiatives that at least give the impression that change is happening, whilst periodically cutting away at their asset base by reducing headcount. If you want to introduce a different way of thinking then you need to change the stimulus. At a personal level, you can challenge yourself to identify your own tendency to conform. Read some different books, explore websites outside of your sector or just get out and talk to more strangers. Then check your team. What are the filters that set the perimeters of our discussions.  What are the areas that your team is uncomfortable talking about and what topics are deemed irrelevant or even off limits. At meetings change the structure of your agenda. If you need to spend time discussing numbers keep it tight, but make sure that the best part of the meeting is spent exploring a different approach. And if you find that your team really are stuck in a thinking rut, change the people sitting around the table! It is hard to change any ingrained habit, and thinking in a different way takes practice and patience. Like a 30 a day smoker who is trying to quit, you know that the reward for finding a new habit is likely to substantial. So stick with it. The alternative is probably quite unpleasant.

Stability over growth – a strategy for 2012

It is a pretty safe bet that any management team that prepared a five-year plan back in 2010, showed anticipated growth of over 15% in 2012. Having grown up in an extended boom, we have become used to the concept that successful businesses continually grow at exponential rates. So whenever we are asked for a three- to five- year projection of income, we feel that if we can’t project some chunky growth figures, our peers and stakeholders will think we are wimps. Continue reading

Agile Working or Hot Desking – A Missed Opportunity

I’m increasingly hearing stories of organisations that have started implementing aggressive space-saving policies under the banner of an Agile or Intelligent Working initiative. Experts have been predicting a change in how the workplace is used many years, and whilst think the thinking behind Agile Working has been around for awhile, it has taken the current economic downturn to get organisations moving. Taken at face value, Agile working offers organisations the opportunity to increase both the efficiency and the effectiveness of their physical space. My concern is that management decisions are focused primarily on the financial savings and ignoring Continue reading

GOBO Site launched

Introducing GOBO

To most of us, running a business is complicated. As soon as one problem is resolved another two materialise. A stable business depends upon the successful interaction of marketing, sales, operations, finance and premises, but the larger the organisation, the more difficult it is to manage this interaction. A constantly changing external environment does not make it any easier. The reality, however, is that the processes of running a business are often quite straightforward. It is people that make things complicated. Over the years, I have learned that it often pays to look at a problem in a different way, and attempt to simplify what we do and why we do it. I call it looking for the GOBO.

I first came across the term GOBO in 1996 when I attended a brilliant workshop on marketing budget gentleman called Ray Willshire. Ray was a man with a significant personal presence with a big walrus moustache, and he held his audience rapt attention whenever he spoke.. His opening remarks caught our attention when announced this morning session was to be little more than a series of glimpses of the blindingly obvious. In a three-hour session he talked to us about some of the fundamentals of marketing and how marketing must really works at a human level.

Looking back, that session sticks in my memory as one of a number of Eureka moments that I have had in my career. It brought a realisation that you can look at a problem in such a way that it can be articulated in human terms then the answer is often blindingly obvious. The point here is that just because something is obvious does not mean it is immediately clear. As human beings we are often blinded by complexity or emotion, and therefore takes some thinking to get matters into perspective.

So this website assessor to provide an alternative way to look at a number of the big issues that managers struggle with. Over the next few months I will be posting articles giving my personal take on issues such as business strategy, sales, marketing, and operational improvement. I make no claims to any form of gifted insight, and I’m certainly not a management guru. Over 25 years of managing different businesses, I have constantly had an appetite to learn a better ways of doing things. I have learned the value of using the GOBO approach as an alternative way of moving people to a place with the blindingly obvious suddenly becomes clear.

My intention is to give you some ideas that you may not have previously considered. I have a personal opinion that there is a little real intellectual property in management theory or process. I believe that once an idea is given the freedom of the open air, it can be absorbed, interpreted, adapted or mangled to fit another set of circumstances.  This is the joy of ideas. Human beings are highly imaginative, and we have no shortage of ideas.  The real challenge is to make the idea useful. When I was a young man, my old friend and mentor, Jimmy James, asked me an important question, ‘Do you want to have the credit for your idea, or do you want to see it implemented?’  This caused me some confusion at the time, but I came to see that it was only when others took ownership of concept and adapted it themselves that anything actually happened.

So please feel free to take the thoughts, ideas and observations that will be developed in this site and make them you own.  Your part of the deal is to do something with them.