Critics don’t count

I think I can safely say that most of us enjoy compliments and feel hurt by critics. We love to feel that what we put out into the world is valued.

The quote below from Teddy Roosevelt is probably the most profound on how to ignore critics. I remember my friend Chris de Bruin quoting it many years ago when he decided to do Ironman Korea. It really resonated – so much so that I decided to do the Ironman in 2008 (success) and 2009 (DNF). I’ll be back to do it in 2017 when I turn 50. 

When I’m feeling cautious to take a risk and put my work out into the world, I re-read this quote and it all seems better.  

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt 
Citizenship in a Republic, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris
April 23, 1910

Theodore Rooselvelt speaking at the Sorbonne Paris in April 1920













Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Creation and destruction

A friend told me once how in one night vandals destroyed six months of building work at the house he was building.

Creativity in business is similar to this. New ideas that take a lot of risk, vulnerability, hard work and commitment can be destroyed in seconds.

Typical approaches to idea destruction are:

  • Comparing new ideas to failed old ones
  • Trying to get a fixed answer about the risks of the new idea
  • Trouble shoot the proposal to find all potential faults

We have to think differently to foster idea creation. Especially if we want to turn those ideas in innovation.

New ideas are like newborn babies. They are vulnerable. Like a baby, they need nurturing, support, flexibility, love and care. Most important they need the right space to grow.

It is far easier to destroy something than it is to create. Make space for the creators so that their ideas can grow.

Vandalism kills creative ideas








Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Jack Welch was wrong

If we had all taken Jack Welch’s advice we would be firing 10% of our staff every year.

Firing the bottom 10% performers  may work for some companies for some periods of time. It doesn’t work for all companies, all the time.

Besides the disruption and killing of culture, it assumes that you have a good enough system for judging performance. Few companies do. 

This is the danger of business books from so called ‘experts’ who proclaim to have the answers to some of the toughest business challenges.

It is tempting to think that a book, talk or video from an expert will offer a solution to your problem.

Listen to the ideas and think about what works for you, in your business.

Being critical is, well critical.

Be cautious of adopting ideas without grappling with the complexity of your own situation.

Be even more cautious of people who say “Jack Welch did it so it can’t be so bad”.

Of course you could replace ‘Jack Welch’ in the above sentence with ‘Steve Jobs’ or any other famous CEO.

Jack Welch said fire the bottom 10% of our staff










Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Luck and skill

Michael Mauboussin’s book The Success Equation describes how you distinguish skill from luck. 

“There’s a quick and easy way to test whether an activity involves skill; ask whether you can lose on purpose. In games of skill, it’s clear that you can lose intentionally but when playing roulette or the lottery you can’t lose on purpose.”

This is a good initial rule of thumb but is too simple when it comes to business. Usually there is a healthy dose of both luck and skill involved. Ask Alan Greenspan or Jack Welch.

Typically our biases convince us that it was skill when we succeed and bad luck when we fail.  

To what can I attribute my success? Skill or Luck








Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Making something outa nothing

I tweeted a quote I saw earlier today from Theodore Levitt the American economist. He said, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing them.”

It made me think of Outa Lappies,  the ingenious artist who lived outside Prince Albert for many years before dying in July 2011. I remember Outa (his real name Jan Schoeman) telling me that he liked to make something outa nothing. His art would consist of unusual and original creations made from pieces of glass and tins that he collected from peoples waste. What most people regarded as having no value, he would create into something of value. You can read more about Outa in the Karoo Places article.

Then this story of the Landfill Harmonic came across my desk and I was touched by the resourcefulness of the children living on a landfill in Paraguay who make music using instruments built from the trash.

Perhaps facing less choice makes it easier to walk out the door and innovative.  

Outa Lappies from near Prince Albert













Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Overcoming bias

One of the best ways to overcome bias is to open up your thinking to the scrutiny of others. 

Of course this means you have to be prepared to put aside your ideas. This is hard for most of us. Harder for the A-type personalities that tend to gravitate to the tops of organisations.

These people think they are making rational decisions. Who doesn’t?

And that is the problem with bias, we can recognise them so easily in everyone except ourselves.

An example is the sunk cost bias which happens on many strategic projects that should be cancelled because they are failing. The people involved often push on in the hope that a little more cost will make it all worth while. It seldom does. Mostly more money is wasted before the project fails properly.

From the outside it is so easy to see but that is not the point.

The point is what are your blind spots and biases and what are doing to spot them in your strategic thinking?

Sometimes others see things more clearly than we do











Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Personal strategy

It used to be that strategy was reserved for big companies.

Before that it originated in the military with Sun Tzu being one of the more famous military strategists.

Today the nature of work is changing fast. If we don’t think about ourselves as self employed we are at risk of being left behind by those that do.

More focus on Me Inc. means that we need to think about our own strategy for our business life.

Where do I want to get to? Where am I now and what is standing in the way of me getting there?

Managing my own strategy





Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Looking and seeing are not the same thing

Looking and seeing are not the same thing. The choice of what we see is active, looking can be passive. 

You and I can look at the same event and see different things.

Our lenses, influenced by a lifetime of nature and nurture influence what we choose to see.

And we can choose to see different things from the same experience, just ask a couple in the process of a divorce. In this scenario there are usually three versions of the truth, what each of the former partners said and what really happened. 

Here is another example. What are five words you associate with ‘Bank’?

Seriously – list the five words before reading on…






If I asked the same question to a group of fly fisherman as they set off for the day I would no doubt get different answers.

Context is just one aspect that biases what we choose to see.

There are of many many biases (see pic) that afflict us?

What do you think yours are?

List of common biases that affect our decision making (source Incredible Strategies by Dale Williams)











Original image 

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Being scared

It happens every day. Some of us call it procrastination. Others create more elaborate schemes where we need a few more ingredients before we can move forward.

What’s really happening is we are scared.

We are scared of what happens after we do whatever it is we are avoiding doing. 

Something changes if we do it. And change can be scary.

How it is now is comfortable. At least we know the comfort. After the change it may not be so comfortable.

The question is, ‘Will it continue to be comfortable if I don’t make the change?’

Facing fears while walking the tightrope








Image source:

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

PS and PPS on failure

Two quotes I omitted from the previous post on failure – JK Rowling (Harry Potter) and Steve Jobs (that fruit company 😉 on their failures:

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”  

– J. K. Rowling

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life”

– Steve Jobs in his Stanford commencement speech

JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame and Steve Jobs from Apple






Image source: Adapted from and

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,