Now that I have the honor and pleasure of being a father, I have to admit, that becoming one has dramatically changed my life. One of the things that changed are the kind of things you talk about with friends. Now suddenly the main topic has become the baby: how old is he now, does he sleep during the night, how heavy is he, etc. And sometimes the future is discussed: which school will you choose (or have you chosen) or in which language(s) will you raise your son? With a Dutch father, Taiwanese mother and part Korean family in a country that speaks Cantonese and English, that is a difficult topic. Some time ago I talked to my cousin who has a son that is a few years older. His son is a naughty little guy, very typical for his age. Somehow we got to the topic of where correcting transforms into coaching. » More: Coaching vs Correcting
Everything on ‘Tools and strategies’
A friend once told me a story of an experiment conducted in a supermarket. In two different time periods the supermarket offered two kinds of portfolios of jam. In the first setup the shop offered a number of shelves with numerous kinds of jam. Different fruits, different pot sizes and different brands. Many choices. In the second setup the supermarket offered a single large shelf of strawberry jam of brand x in one standard pot size. One choice. What was the result? Contrary to expectations, more jam was sold in the single strawberry jam setup.
Why? Because people hate complicated choices. » More: Choice as a detractor
I’m a huge fan of Civilization, the computer game series created by Sid Meier. And I have spent many hundreds of hours in the last two decades playing CIV I, II, III and IV. So buying the most recent part in the increasingly less accurate trilogy of five was a logical step, and based on the professional reviews, I expected a lot: better graphics, better battles, better development system, etc. Everything better. So my expectations were high. Well, after playing it, I’m a bit disappointed. Here is why.
Hong Kong television station Pearl showed an insightful lecture by a J Walter Thompson consultant about marketing in China. Most important lessons: traditional marketing principles don’t work and don’t listen too much to Chinese experts.
Here’s his list of “10 commandments”, as he called it, which I enriched with some examples:
- Don’t take your CEO to dinner in a rich neighborhood of Shanghai » More: 10 things not to do when dealing with China
The Dutch consumer interests television show Radar recently presented a very interesting story about symptom marketing. In the Netherlands it is forbidden to advertise subscription medicine. Companies try to circumvent the regulations by not promoting the medicine, but by promoting the symptom it cures. Symptom marketing aims to have people realize they have a symptom, have them think it is a decease that requires treatment and have them go to a doctor to ask for a treatment. The Radar team demonstrated how this works using the symptom of flatulence (the presence of excessive gas in the digestive tract which generally causes farting). » More: Recipe for flatulence marketing
What’s the most valuable questing one can ask? Yes, it’s not this question. It might very well be the ‘Why?’ question. Why? Because seeking its answer will provide true insight. And insight makes us grow and brings us further (in our professional domain, in life, in our existence, …). One might argue that answers to the ‘How?’ question, which is the current dominant scientific question, provides some kind of insight as well. And this is true.
How does it work? How do things relate? How do I feel?
However, answers to ‘How?’ questions only lets us look at the present and basically lets us stand still. Questions like ‘How can we improve this?’ can only be answered by considering ‘Why do we need to improve this?’ first. The answers to ‘Why?’ questions make us reconsider the present and drive us to consider change and improvement. In business they will define the business case for your projects.
Why must it work this way? Why do things relate this way? Why do I feel this way?
Children of any generation go through a natural phase in which they bombard the world arround them and especially their parents with ‘Why?’ questions. At first parents are pleased by the sudden interest of their child in the world arround them and try to answer the questions, soon finding out that every answer to a Why? question is followed by a new Why? question. In the end many parents either ignore the questions or kill the initiative with the ‘Because this is how it is’ or any other lousy answer. Basically they teach their children not to ask these Why? questions. And yes, with age children and grownups tend to be more reluctant to ask Why? questions and questions in general.
Management guru Eliyahu M. Goldratt wrote an interestion article about empowerment within organizations and related to that, the importance of the Why? question (http://www.goldratt.com/empower.htm). One of the two basic principles for empowerment in organizations (next to matching perceived authority to responsibility) according to Goldratt is that managers should sufficiently explain the Why behind their requests to the people they manage. This will enable them to understand the reasoning behind the request and to contribute beyond purely carrying it out (for example by suggestion an alternative). Of course this does not only apply to the ones we manage, but also to any other people we need to get things done. Goldratt also argues that explaining Why? will shorten learning curves. Often we only ask ourselves why we did things when they went wrong. If we know why we do things before we do them, we can learn from them without making a mistake first.
We might wonder why managers need to remind themselves to explain us why we need to do things? The answer is very simple: Because apparently we do not ask the question ourselves! Now that we understand the importance of the Why? Question, we can of course easily fix this…
Children have a natural talent of seeing the obvious differences between right and wrong. Killing is bad, caring is good. However, in real life it is often more difficult and that’s why already on an early age parents teach their children the more difficult right vs. wrong subtleties. Parents have a natural talent by themselves to use excellent rewarding and punishing systems.
The financial crisis that the world is suffering from at the moment causes new ways of looking at things. Monday the papers reported a new insight on the banking leadership intricacies, and especially the rewarding systems that intended to promote good above bad behavior. And how this system had obviously failed. According to the (Dutch) newspaper article, the bonus system for the banking management was based on growth and in a world market growing to it’s limits, this promoted taking excessive risks. In the end the risks were not containable and in a way the bonus system has contributed to the current crisis.
What is the problem with this bonus system? On it’s own it sounds quite good to promote growth. The issue is that this kind of goals (like growth, or profit, or margin) are very short term goals, focused on high visibility and immediate measurability. It’s very weird that the long term strategies taught to us by our parents, like “what goes around comes around”, are not considered by the financial top management of our world.
Unfortunately it is not just the top management that is measured by short term goals with no stimuli to consider long term consequences. The top management communicates the strategy (or rather short term policy) down to the lower management, which is confronted with one year goals, even if it would like to focus on the future of the company instead.
There is hope however. In a commercial world largely driven by shareholders, especially the shareholders will see that the short term results of a company are not relevant if the long term results are not satisfactory. They will reflect this to the higher management and put an end to short term rewarding systems. That’s why in some modern companies the yearly bonus systems are already being replaced by new systems that take long term strategies and visions into account. Financial institutions and other more traditional companies will shortly follow. Management, but also other employees for example will be given half year goals, two year goals and five year goals, which will secure rapid improvements combined with mid term strategies and long term vision. Companies that do not adjust, will just not make it.
Proffessor Piet Keizer from the Utrecht University suspects a strong correlation between the emerging financial crisis and the fact that the financial world is ruled by mostly men. “Men among each other often show macho behavior, top executives tend to narcissism; the bigger, the better.” [translated from Dutch]. Risky behavior is perceived to lead to prestige, especially in the United States, according to the proffessor who specializes in the relation between economics and social sciences. (Volkskrant, November 2008)