The Wisest One In The Room

February 11, 2016

I came across this powerful story whilst skimming through the Preface to “The Wisest One in the Room (How to Harness Psychology’s Most Powerful Insights)” by Thomas Gilovich & Lee Ross:

In late spring 1944, Allied forces were making final preparations for the momentous events of D-Day, the landing of troops on the five beaches of Normandy, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The invasion would take place in two phases: an assault by twenty-four thousand British, American, and Canadian airmen shortly after midnight and a massive amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions at 6:30 a.m. The British commander, General Bernard Montgomery, gave the officers who would lead the assault their final briefing—a tour de force performance, thorough in its content and impeccable in its delivery.

The Supreme Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, known to all as “Ike,” had assigned this task to “Monty” and did not do much talking himself in the final hours before the invasion. He did not reiterate details about the operation. Nor did he offer his own perspective on the larger significance of the operation or of the long struggle ahead—a struggle that would culminate in the defeat of the Third Reich. He simply walked around the room shaking hands with each and every man who would lead the assault, mindful, as they were, that many would not survive.

He recognized that their thoughts would be focused on the challenge that each of them would face in the next twenty-four hours, on the fates of their comrades-in-arms, and on the well-being of their families. He gave no hint that he was contemplating his own fate or future reputation. His wordless handshakes communicated to each officer that he understood what they were thinking and feeling, and that he honored them for what they were about to risk and what they were about to experience. He was the wisest one in the room.

I’m quite interested in the personalities and characters of WW II, thinking about it from the viewpoint of project/programme management, where there was great uncertainty both in systems and people. There are some comments on the unique personal style of Eisenhower here.

Knowledge Creep

February 3, 2016

“As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Pitching Tips

January 20, 2016

Interesting post on Linkedin by Creel Price on common pitching flaws. It starts (after having heard a series of pitches):

But unfortunately there were a few too many over engineered slide-decks and pitches that left me confused and with little understanding of what the business actually did long after waving them goodbye on the sidewalk. The reality is, there were countless flaws in the majority of pitches I listened to, which shouldn’t be surprising given how little support and training currently exists in the market for entrepreneurs.

The article is directed at angel investors and similar but the basic principles are widely applicable and apply in many situations.

The key points he highlights are:

FLAW #1: Not Being Succinct: try summarising everything into just one sentence. That’s often very hard, although that in itself may indicate that there’s an underlying problem or maybe you’re just not thinking about it in the best way (for others to understand).

FLAW #2: Not Speaking With Confidence: he suggests a conversational approach rather than canned powerpoint. Interestingly “Sure rehearse but then rehearse it so it doesn’t sound rehearsed.”. Everyone carefully practises presentations but maybe we should do the same for important conversations as well?

There has to be room for spontaneity and movement of course but it’s probably true that lots of the likely questions can be imagined beforehand. The interesting part of conversations are when something new occurs and changes you, not the formalities.

FLAW #3: Not Speaking Frankly: use simple clear language and avoid (often meaningless) jargon. The aim is communication in a short space of time rather than a superficial form of trying to impress someone.

FLAW #4: Not Being Authentic: this is actually a tricky one. Someone is buying into you (authentic, passionate, likeable) rather than an idea, business model or whatever. You can relatively easily change/modify the latter but not so easily yourself or your style. On the other hand, if things don’t work out then it may be more a case of incompatible chemistries rather than anything else.

FLAW #5: Not Having An Ask: in a wider context, this is also an interesting one. Lots of colleagues tell me what they’re doing, their trials and tribulations but very few ask me to do something specific for them. Why not? This links strongly to the previous points.

I’m reviewing a startup business plan at the moment and I’m going to rethink the situation using the points above, it should be a useful test.

Cooking Up Failure

December 7, 2015

I’ve been developing my cookery skills over the last few months and (fortunately for all concerned) it’s starting to pay off. As part of this I’ve been reading lots of books and articles for tips and insights.

As an interesting link to R&D (which I’ve spent most of my professional life doing), here’s an illuminating quote from the well-known chef Jamie Oliver:

Some people think I am a businessman or massively strategic,” he said, speaking with PR chief Richard Edelman at the Cannes Lions festival. “[But] I worked out the other day, I took a little review of my 17 years – we’ve done all right, I’ve sold a few books and we’ve made a few quid – I realised that I think I wasted and fucked up about 40%.”

Oliver, who the Sunday Times Rich List estimates is worth £180m, said while the failures have been “painful” he has come to consider the learning curve as research and development.

“I don’t know if that is acceptable or not acceptable,” he said. “That 40% is quite painful. But then I sit back and look at it: Would I change anything? Did the mistakes not teach me powerful lessons? I’m trying to turn those mistakes into what maybe you guys call R&D. What is the percentage of turnover that is right for innovation? What is healthy? Is it 10%, 20%? Is 40% reckless?

It’s a really interesting question. Of course, fixing the budget to a set number is not the point, it’s more it’s use as a rough indicator and to motivate people to think and talk about ‘sustainable innovation’ (even if that goes against vested interests).

Startup Stories

March 11, 2015

CB Insights have put together a fascinating set of stories of how 101 startups ‘failed’, collected from their founders and investors.

Here are some examples:

Ultimately, I didn’t heed the lessons of so many failed music startups. It’s an incredibly expensive venture to pursue and a hard industry to work with. We spent more than a quarter of our cash on lawyers, royalties and services related to supporting music. It’s restrictive. We had to shut down our growth because we couldn’t launch internationally. It’s a long road. It took years to get label deals in place and it also took months of engineering time to properly support them (time which could have been spent on product).

We didn’t spend enough time talking with customers and were rolling out features that I thought were great, but we didn’t gather enough input from clients. We didn’t realize it until it was too late. It’s easy to get tricked into thinking your thing is cool. You have to pay attention to your customers and adapt to their needs.

I started to feel burned out. I was Blurtt’s fearless leader, but the problem with burnout is that you become hopeless and you lose every aspect of your creativity. I’d go to work feeling tired and exhausted. I was burning the candle at both ends.

Do not launch a startup if you do not have enough funding for multiple iterations. The chances of getting it right the first time are about the equivalent of winning the lotto.

The full report is a free download on their site.

See also: More Lessons From Startups

Getting Rewarded For Your Skills

February 24, 2015


The topic of getting suitably rewarded for your skills is one that crops up regularly in discussions with colleagues. There often seems a conflict between doing what you really want to do and making that financially viable and sustainable.

There’s an interesting post on this at ‘The problem isn’t that life is unfair – it’s your broken idea of fairness’ from which the diagrams above and below are taken. Although they are obviously a bit simplistic, they do make a key point very clearly.

The only change I’d make is that the top picture illustrates how we like to think reward works even if we know that the picture below is far more more realistic, and probably a lot more uncomfortable. The question then arises as to where an acceptable compromise point is, which is where personal values and circumstances come in.

However it’s a step forward to be aware that a decision on this matter is always being made, either knowingly or by default. So it’s helpful to regularly question this compromise point, preferably with others (to get a spread of views and experiences).

A slight change of direction may yield a delightful improvement!


Images: from the site above.

A Corporate Sense Of Humour

February 19, 2015


On a lighter note, I was quite surprised to read that my local train operator, South West Trains, modified the standard messages on the digital info signs to fit in with Valentine’s Day – quite a creative move!

An example is given above.

From GetHampshire:

Love was in the air for South West Trains passengers this weekend after the rail company romanced them by renaming station on electronic platform signs.

Those travelling on Valentine’s Day (Saturday February 14) were treated to a range of loved-up plays on station names across Hampshire and Surrey.

The London Waterloo to Salisbury service was changed to “London Waterlove” to “When Harry met Salisbury”, while Liphook became “Lips-Hooked” and Petersfield “Passionfield”.
Fleet was changed to “Fleet-ing Romance”, Ash Vale to “Ash Valentine”, Hook to “Hook, Line and Sinker” and Farnborough to “Four Weddings and Farnborough”.

It’s not without risk of course:

However, the puns may have backfired slightly after some commuters claimed it left them confused and even led to some missing trains.

The sight of the pun names next to notices informing passengers of delays or cancellations also killed the romance for others.

Anyway, it’s good to know that some companies are brave enough to try a corporate sense of humour!


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