Personal Evolvement

If you look back at your career, or (if you are a student your) academic career thus far, what changes have you seen in yourself? How have you evolved?

If someone were to observe your life, would there be a clear cut pattern of evolvement such that growth/positive change is obvious? Check out the iMac’s evolvement:

Although it’s mostly visual, we know the computer has gotten not only thinner but faster/better/more useful. Is this sort of pattern visible in your life?

The power of multiplication

I was recently in Nepal and had a chance to meet and hear from some incredible Nepalese Christian leaders. I heard an amazing story of the power of multiplication. Nepal is predominately a Hindu nation. In 1950 there was only 1 known Nepalese Christian, but in the mid 1950’s there were around 100 or so. In 2001, there were 150,000 Christians. In 2006, there were around 350,000. Now, in 2012 there are over 1.1 million Christians. How did they grow so quickly?

The key is in multiplication, not in addition. Assume that all of the Nepalese Christians in the 1950’s simply taught their children about their Christian beliefs, and they in turn taught their children, and so on. Through this method, there is no way there would be 1.1 million Christians in Nepal today in just 2.5 generations. (A generation is roughly 25 years.) The key to this growth is not simply telling others and convincing them, but rather to tell/convince others who will then tell/convince others who will also tell/convince others, and so on. This is no easy feat in a nation that is predominately Hindu. The original Nepalese Christians had to really be convinced of their beliefs to give up their Hindu beliefs, and to tell/convince others to give up their beliefs and so on.

This is not a post about Christian beliefs or religious beliefs, but rather one about the power of multiplication. Do you believe in your organization and your organization’s principles/products so that others will tell/convince others, who in turn will tell/convince others? This is the power of multiplication. Some organizations such as Apple and Samsung have multiplied, there are many “macevangelists” and devotees of Samsung products who will consistently tell/convince others of the benefits of owning an Apple or Samsung product. As a leader, how can you harness the power of multiplication for your organization? In other words, is there something that you believe in so powerfully that you would tell/convince others and they in turn would also tell/convince others, and so on?

It’s, its, your, and you’re

Look at these sentences can you pick out the incorrect ones?

  1. Its raining outside.
  2. It’s raining outside.
  3. Your car is being towed.
  4. You’re car is being towed.

Both 1 and 4 are incorrect. (2 and 3 are correct.)

The most common grammatical error I see on presentations is between it’s and its. The second most common error I see is between your and you’re. The difference between its and it’s is simple. It’s (with the apostrophe) = It is. If you use it’s, be sure that you can replace it’s with it is. So sentence 2 is correct because you can substitute It’s with It is. Sentence 1 is incorrect. The confusion is that we often add an apostrophe for other words which have a similar meaning to its. For example, Jenny’s car is outside. The apostrophe indicates that the car belongs to Jenny. It is possessive. However, the possessive form of it = its (without the apostrophe). If you remember this it will help you not to confuse the two terms.

The difference between your and you’re is also pretty straightforward. You’re (with the apostrophe) = You are. So sentence 4 is incorrect since if you replace you’re with you are, the sentence is nonsensical – You are car is being towed.  The word your indicates possession. Your mother, your father, your job, your car, your house, your apple, your computer, or your apple computer. You’re = You are.

You’re done reading this post. It’s important to remember that it’s easy to confuse the words ‘its’ and ‘it’s.’ I hope your day is filled with joy.

Give up what you’re good at

Something interesting about leadership is that the higher you go up an organization, to be promoted, you must let go of the very thing that got you there. Here’s a statement about this transition from Harvard Business School‘s Executive Education Program:

Most managers achieve success in the early phases of their careers through increased specialization—continually refining their expertise in a single functional area. At some point in their careers, however, the best of these specialists face a difficult challenge: to re-create themselves as generalists. Almost overnight, they must develop new skills and adopt a business wide perspective to become effective strategists, organization builders, and leaders.

Suppose you were an engineer and had a Ph.D. in engineering. Or perhaps you have a background in finance or IT. In your first position, or perhaps even your second position, you would be hired because of your expertise in engineering, finance, or IT. However, in your third promotion or beyond, you would most likely have been promoted for reasons that had nothing to do with engineering, finance, or IT. You may have gone from being an engineer, to head of an engineering unit, to head of a division, to becoming a VP, and then into the C-suite. The further you go up this chain, the further you are from that first specialization/first job.

What will get you promoted? The most clear answer is that it has nothing to do with your speciality. So you do not get promoted by being an excellent engineer, though that may be the very reason they hired you in the first place. At this point something else is required, leadership. What do leaders know that others do not know? What do they practice to get that promotion or raise? The most obvious first step is that they have to give up what they are good at to become a leader in their organization. This is a hard thing to do. Can you give up the very thing that you excel at? Can you give up the years of education, training, and mindset that you have put into your specialization? If not, you may be an excellent engineer or finance whiz but it’s very unlikely you’ll truly become a high level leader in your organization.

All and Some quantifiers

A common mistake made by many people in drawing inferences from an argument is to confuse the the quantifiers “all X” and “some X.”

[The next part is technical so please feel free to skip it.]

Universal quantification, or all X, can be symbolized by ∀x. The upside down A means “for all x.” For example. ∀x P(x) = for all x, P(x) holds. Suppose x = unicorns. ∀x P(x) = for all unicorns, property P holds.

Universal quantification is very different from existential quantification, some X. Existential quantification can be symbolized by: ∃x. The reverse E means “there exists an x” or “there exists at least one x.” For example. ∃x P(x) = there exists an x, such that P(x). Suppose again x = unicorns. ∃x P(x) = there exists a unicorn (or there exists at least one unicorn), such that property P holds.

Compare sentences 1) and 2) below:

1) All unicorns have a white mane.

2) There is a unicorn, such that it has a white mane.

Suppose 1) were true. It does not follow from 1) that unicorns exists. So simply because 1) is true, does not mean that 2) is true. Suppose 2) were true. It does not follow from 2), that all unicorns have white manes. 2) claims there is at least one unicorn and that unicorn has a white mane.

So the truth of 1) and 2) are independent of one another. An effective communicator must not confuse 1) or 2) or assume they are the same.

Recruiting from the lower tier

If you had the choice to hire someone from a top-tier school or a lower-tier school, which would you choose? This is usually not even a serious question, since the answer seems obvious to most: hire the best possible candidate with the best possible training which typically includes the criteria of having attended the best possible schools.

The Taj Group, however, believes they’re better off recruiting from lower-tier schools for their top management positions.1 Here’s why:

“For the company’s topmost echelons, the Taj Group signs up 50 or so management trainees every year from India’s second- and third-tier B-schools… It doesn’t recruit from the premier institutions, as the Taj Group has found that MBA graduates from lower-tier B-schools want to build careers with a single company, tend to fit in better with a customer-centric culture, and aren’t driven solely by money.”

The Taj Group has decided to strategically recruit in this manner because they believe that a potential leader’s commitment is as important as their educational background. The fact that these recruits have graduated from lower-tier business schools is enough, they believe the minimal business/technical qualifications have been met. Yet, they’ve seen humility and commitment from this group that they have not seen/or have seen rarely in graduates from top-tier business schools.

This is a bold move, since most organizations are blinded by the more visible qualifications such as educational background when in fact there exist other valuable qualifications that are often found in those who are not from top-tier schools. Perhaps, some companies have overvalued the prestige factor or have simply overlooked the fact that there are other qualities of a recruit that are equally valuable.

Advantage or disadvantage?

Sometimes you or your organization might find yourself in a disadvantageous situation.

In 1912 in the USA, Theodore Roosevelt was running for president and his campaign manager had printed 3 million copies of a leaflet which included a photograph that he had not been granted permission to use. According to the laws at the time, the photographer could have demanded $1 per photograph for a total of $3 million – an astronomical sum in 1912. There was no time to reshoot the photograph. How did the campaign manager resolve this situation? It seems there were only two options: 1) pay $3 million dollars for the pictures, or 2) cancel the pictures and go without the important campaign leaflet. Which would you choose?

Was a third option available? This is what Roosevelt’s campaign manager told the copyright owner of the picture: “We are planning to distribute millions of pamphlets with Roosevelt’s picture on the cover. It will be great publicity for the studio whose photograph we use. How much will you pay us to use yours? Respond immediately.” The copyright owner replied: “We’ve never done this before, but under the circumstances we’d be pleased to offer you $250.

The campaign manager took advantage of the situation to negotiate a better deal for Roosevelt. Some may believe this was unscrupulous, and others may believe this was just a shrewd negotiating tactic. Regardless of how you viewed the tactics of the campaign manager, the important issue here is that he thought of a third option. So often our organizational strategies rely on finding a competitive advantage in our field and sometimes the greatest competitive advantage is merely finding a third (or fourth) option when the others only can think of two.

The Ultimate Scarce Asset

What is the ultimate scarce asset for any corporation? Money? Gold? Human Capital? Petroleum?

Some, like Tarun Khanna, believe that the ultimate scarce asset is “being clean in a sea of corruption.” The idea is that all other resources can be bought or if one is lucky, it can fall into one’s lap. However, being clean – especially in an era of corporate corruption and ethical mudslides – is an individual and organizational choice. It requires someone (or many people in the case of an organization) to make the choice to work and conduct business a particular way. It requires organizations not to pay bribes or go about doing business in an unfair manner. This is easier said than done, since one mistake or one bribe can derail an entire organization.

This is a significant challenge in emerging economies. However, there is a strong commercial value to doing the right thing since a clean organization often draws much more business from outside investors and even from the general public. The problem is that if one is clean only for commercial reasons, eventually the temptation will probably prove too great. Clean organizations in corrupt economies often have great profits. Of course if profits were the only goal, then the organization most likely wouldn’t be very clean since they would most likely cut corners to achieve greater profits. Once they achieve these greater profits in the short-term, it would lead to less profits in the long run since investors and others would know they’re not a clean organization and would not be able to trust them.

So it seems that being a clean organization ethically is important to an organization’s profits, but they must have other values that are equal to the goal of profits for them to maintain being a clean organization. Organizations and individuals who make up the organizations need something more the mere goal of profits to continue and maintain their cleanliness. Again, this is not an easy thing to do for a business. It requires a strong conviction and actions beyond the conviction for the long-term. This is probably the very reason why Tarun Khanna is convinced that “being clean in a sea of corruption” may be the ultimate scarce asset. I wholeheartedly agree. Going further, perhaps one can argue that “being clean in a sea of corruption” may be a very important strategy in addition to being a scarce asset.

The invisible man or woman

Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone. That’s sort of like dividing by zero, though. You’ll get no criticism, but no delight either. – Seth Godin

Some qualities of being invisible:

It’s safe. No one can hurt you because no one can see you.
It’s easy. Laying low means never putting anything out there.
It’s quiet. If you speak up, people may know where you are so to be truly invisible is to be quiet.
It’s comfortable. You’re accountable to nobody, just yourself. Most of us are usually easy on ourselves.

Safe. Easy. Quiet. Comfortable. If you want to be a difference maker, in particular a leader who makes a difference in this world, then these four qualities are probably the qualities you most want to avoid. However, if you want to be a difference maker in this world then we need to be visible. How? Simply look at the qualities of being invisible and consider when you need to be the opposite of safe, easy, quiet, and comfortable.

How can you be more visible in your life today?


Employees and competition

I once heard Jack Welch, well-known former CEO of General Electric talk about employee performance clauses during his time at GE. He gave details on how he would reward/promote the top 10% of his employees based on certain metrics, and then fire the bottom 10% of his employees. There would consistently be new employees being hired, and then the next year the top 10% of the entire pool of employees would be rewarded/promoted, and then the bottom 10% again would be fired, etc.

Some, however, have questioned whether this is the best way to get the most out of one’s workers. After all, if you knew that out of 10 people on your team one of you would get fired you may be tempted to sabotage or just do the minimum so that you wouldn’t get fired. Prospect theory is a theory on loss aversion developed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The basic idea is that humans hate losses more than they love to win. If their research is correct, rather than striving to be the best or be in the top 10 % the focal point of most of the employees will be on not being in the bottom 10%. Of course if that’s the focal point, then the workers will be doing the minimum rather than the maximum for the company. What about your company? Would you or your colleagues be more productive in such a system? Or would you simply do the minimum as to not be in the bottom 10%?

Leading from the back?

Often people have this view that leaders lead from the front. They show others where to go by acting first. This is true of course. Leaders do need to show others where to go, how to get there, and especially the “why” of going in the first place. However, many believe that this is all that is required of leaders to lead – being first in all things.

There’s another aspect of leadership, however, that often appears in leaders who have led for more than 30 or 40 years – and that’s leading from the back. Some call this “servant leadership.” The idea is that leadership requires that one not only lead by being first in all things but also being last. That is, putting the needs of others above one’s own interests and needs. Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, and others often display this trait. They are world class leaders who excel both in leading from the front and leading from the back. To ignore leading from the back is to ignore one of the most powerful traits of being an effective leader. What kind of leader are you?

Happy Happy Workers

Does it matter? Isn’t it enough for your products or services to be top quality? Some companies truly believe that the happiness of the employees or the workplace environment should be a top priority. Consider the following written about EC studios in Japan and Zappos in the USA.

If you examine the nuts and bolts of these companies and why their employees are so happy, perhaps you may think that it’s all about the benefits. For example, Zappos offers free lunches, concierge services, and 100% coverage of health insurance premiums. EC Studios offers a free iPhone and data plan (nearly $100/month in Japan), 140 days off including weekends and four vacations of at least 10 consecutive days, and there’s no overtime which is highly unusual in Japan. In fact, they pay for employees to visit their hometown twice/year if it’s more than 140km away which is extremely unusual (and important) in Japan since visiting one’s hometown to see family is a very important part of Japanese traditional culture.

Of course, there are other companies that offer equally great benefits including Google which is famous for great healthcare, free high quality food, and an excellent health club all on Google’s facilities so you never have to leave work. However, Google’s goal in providing these benefits is to “strip away everything that gets in our employees’ way.”

However, the goal of Zappos and EC studios is much more explicit. The goal of these companies is actually foster happiness for both their workers and their customers, the benefits are merely a means to the end goal of happiness. Zappos offers several thousand dollars for each new employee to quit, just to be sure that everyone who is working there wants to really work there. You can get an idea of their environment by looking at their blog:  Zappos Blog. At EC studios, each employee is treated to a monthly lunch with the CEO just to talk about how things are going – another highly unusual practice in Japan. It’s not just about the benefits, but rather a philosophy that is committed to the following: if you focus on the employee first, then the product/customers will take care of themselves. If you focus internally, then the external will automatically follow.

This philosophy applies to both large companies as well as smaller groups, including families. What about your company or your group? What is the goal of your company? Is this something you’d want for your company where the happiness of its employees is goal #1A or #1B? What would it look like to implement such a philosophy at your company if you were the CEO?