“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle (comedian and actor)
“Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.” – Samuel Johnson
I spotted this quote by Robert Rowland Smith in the Sunday Times magazine last weekend:
You want to succeed, so what’s stopping you?
Some people feel they don’t deserve it; others just don’t think they’re the successful type; a few hold themselves back because they believe that equality should prevail. There’s also a deeper fact. To succeed is to stand apart from others, and that can be lonely.
Coincidentally in the Appointments section of the same newspaper there was an article on how peer groups can give bosses a way to reduce the loneliness of making hard decisions. In these groups, participants (from various industries) speak frankly about their problems and learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Obviously suppliers and competitors are not allowed to attend to ensure a confidential environment.
Senior management is a lonely place…Having a group of people with whom you have built a rapport and who are able to give you a different perspective, or who can just support your thinking…is something you won’t get in your own business, either because people are all in the trenches or aligned with the same problems. Getting a fresh pair of eyes gives you new ideas.
Importantly, the interactions can be quite trenchant – if someone thinks you’re doing the wrong thing, they’re allowed to say so. I would imagine this would be very natural anyway with the type of personalities involved. Another benefit is that:
Giving advice can be as useful as receiving feedback. It helps people to think about an issue broadly and to crystallise their own ideas.
The article says that the usual format is a half-day workshop on a specific topic, followed by a round-table session where members ask for advice on difficult problems.
Various colleagues of mine in startups are members of similar groups but their experience has been variable. It should be a good idea but I guess it all depends on how open you really want to be, how candid others are and how much you trust their advice! It’s interesting to speculate on whether some of the business issues they’ve encountered would have been avoided if the peer groups had jelled a bit better.
So the key factors seem to be getting the right collection of individuals in the first place (although this is partly a matter of luck) and then in wisely facilitating ‘fierce conversations‘ between them so that something different and useful comes out on a regular basis.
“The most dangerous strategy is to jump a chasm in two leaps.” – Benjamin Disraeli (politician)
Recently I met up with a friend that I used to work with in a large scitech company. The aim was a general catchup but by chance we got on to two topics we normally wouldn’t have discussed (at least in detail): the need to be politically-savvy in large organisations and Feynman (the topics were not connected). I’ll write on the latter topic in a later post.
As part of this we chatted about the Baddeley-James model of assessing political skills, which I’d not heard of before.
The basic idea is that you can broadly classify people into four groups and the animal moniker is given to make the descriptions telling and memorable (see picture above). I mean who wants to be called a donkey, or (less so) a sheep?
Here are the general characteristics:
Donkey – inept : typically says: ‘Let’s decide what we want and make it look like what they want’ , ‘Well, we all know how he got his job, don’t we?’ etc
Owl – wise : typically says: ‘How are we going to get this sorted out?’ , ‘I wonder what’s lying behind these ideas?’ , ‘Let’s look at the ways we can speed this up and get over the difficulties’ etc
Sheep – innocent: typically says: ‘Could we get on with the main task of this meeting?’ , ‘Well in strict hierarchical terms, I think it’s X’s decision’ etc
Fox – clever : typically says: ‘Leave it to me, I’ll have a word with him, he’s out of touch’ , ‘I think it would be unwise for me to take this one, it’s very delicate. How about you… you know how good you are’ etc
So, if you find yourself saying any of these phrases, have a think!
If you’re ‘stuck’ in an organisation and feel you have more to give but it’s not working out, then having an honest appraisal of your political skills might be a useful step forward. This is perhaps especially true of technical people who may not always appreciate (the rather complex) soft factors often involved.
Picture credit: here.
It’s enlightening to see this short clip of Margaret Thatcher in action. To an unconventional question, she gives this assured riposte:
“I make great leaps forward, not little jumps in studios.” (20 seconds in)!
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013).
From: This Is A Book by Demetri Martin (via Madeline Levine)
“The things we fear most in organisations – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are the primary sources of creativity.” – Margaret Wheatley (writer and consultant)
“Requirements are actually Hypotheses and your Projects are really just Experiments. Realizing this should be liberating.”
From David J Bland – picked up via a retweet from Scott Berkun.
So true! More on this (in an enterprise context) here.
In a related manner, and on a much smaller scale, I’ve been using this ‘experiments’ viewpoint in a social enterprise startup I’ve been working on. It’s been very helpful as, by premise, you can question any aspect of what you’re doing or assuming and quickly change things if they don’t turn out as expected ie start another experiment.
This approach fits in well with the premise that it’s rare that your first idea will be your final (and best) idea.