Values (2)

Values come in two forms.

The ones we talk about every day are our spoken values. These are the ones we normally reach for when asked, ‘what are your values?’.

The ones we live are our lived values.

The two are not always the same.

It is easy to talk about our values, it is harder to live them. Unless our values have been tested, we do not really know whether they are our values. 

If our values are intended as an inner compass, a guide for our lives, then they are worth a little more thought. Are my values aligned with my actions or are they but cheap talk?

We can test this easily enough by looking back at big decisions we have made in our lives and the values that have underpinned them.

Big decisions are easy to spot, they are the ones where something changed. A relationship started or stopped, a change in career direction, the start or end of an era in our lives or a shift in the strategy of our business. There are surely more examples. 

If the things we value come up as the consistent thread in these big decisions then our spoken values are aligned with our lived values.

If our values waiver with every decision, then perhaps we need to take a closer a look at what we consistently value.

Those are more likely to be our lived values, and the ones we should speak about. 

Are our spoken and our lived values aligned






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Two ways forward

There are at least two ways to plan and get things done. 

One way is to plot.

That is breaking everything that needs to get done into smaller and smaller pieces and then manage your way towards the outcome. 

The other way is to be ready.

When opportunities arise grab them, when they don’t arise sit back and wait for opportunities to arise.

Both ways need you to know, at a high level, where you would like to get to.

The first so you can plot the steps and the second so that you know which opportunities to grab.

In 1998, author Richard Rumelt (Good Strategy / Bad Strategy) met with Steve Jobs and pointing out that having only one computer would consign Apple to a niche that they would never be able to escape from, Rummelt asked Jobs, ‘What is your long term strategy?’

Jobs didn’t attack his argument. Instead he smiled and said ‘I’m going to wait for the next big thing’

Steve Jobs - I'm going to wait for the next big thing













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The limitation of experts

Whenever we spend too much time looking for an expert. When we have an expectation that someone out there knows the subject so deeply that they will be able to advise us to make the right decision. When this happens, we are in danger of making a poor decision. 

The number of experts in the world has increased in proportion with our ability to communicate easily. Some ‘experts’ even offer courses on how to be experts. Others put themselves out as guides to the world of experts, the meta experts who help you navigate the experts. All in all we are awash with experts on any topic we can imagine.

Perhaps the growth of experts is in line with the amount of information available to us. The world appears more complex with data on just about every topic imaginable starting at wikipedia and spreading through portals, blogs, Linkedin and Twitter. Decisions appear a lot harder with so many choices. It is natural to want to find guides to help us navigate.

Unfortunately the expert guides do not have a good track record of getting their decisions right. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip Tetlock interviewed 284 experts  who are paid for offering advice about political and economic trends. He gathered more than 80,000 predictions over 20 years. The outcome was that these paid experts performed worse when compared to assigning equal probabilities to each of their predictions. This very serious study on the success of experts in politics and economics confirms the numerous instances where monkeys throwing darts beat professional money managers (see Forbes and Toronto’s Globe and Mail for two examples).

Listening to an expert who has spent time studying a particular area is useful. Making a decision based on the decision they would make is not. At the end of the day we are left with ourselves and our decisions. The experts provide context, we have to live with our own decisions. 

All those in favour of delagting decisions shrug your shoulders











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Follow the energy

When we are working within our talents and natural ability, we are able to work effortlessly and time flies by.

When we are working in areas where we are competent but have little natural talent, time drags.

Too often we look externally for answers when needing to decide to do something or not.

By paying attention to the energy that is generated or depleted as a result of our behaviours, we have a built in autocorrect mechanism.

Activities that build energy keep us in flow are easy to do and leave us feeling more alive when we are finished.

Those that use up a lot of our energy, exhaust us, leaving us tired and depleted

Energy inducing activities use strengths to make us stronger.

Energy sapping activities ignore strengths and make us weaker.

Our built in energy system can act as an intuitive guide to everything that we do.

As with all good guides though, we need to acknowledge that we need guidance.

Paying attention to our energy can guide us in our decision making












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The best way to end a meeting

Just before walking out the door after a meeting, try asking this killer question which summarises everything that has just happened.

“So what are you taking away from this meeting?”

The summary which follows gives you an opportunity to hear what others are concluding from the meeting.

It immediately gives you a checkpoint confirming  that they are leaving with the desired outcome of the meeting. If not, then it gives you an opportunity to correct it. If you are not sure what the other person or people are leaving with then the meeting may have been a complete waste of time.

Speaking of which, if you have too many meetings where the outcome that the other participants report back after you ask the question falls well short of the objectives of the meeting, then you have to rethink how you run your meetings.  

One question that effectively summarises a whole meeting











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The shortest meeting

When not managed properly, meetings compete rigorously with email for the title of greatest time wasters.

There are hundreds of books written on how to better manage a meeting. Unfortunately all of them make the faulty assumption that sitting around a table discussing and deciding is a requirement for a meeting.
One of the most effective game changers I have seen in the meeting space is what my Dutch boss did when I was working in the Netherlands. We would start a Monday morning with a cup of coffee while the ten of us would update each other on what we were doing, make decisions for the week ahead and ask for support from each other. 
This sounds pretty normal behaviour until I point out that we did that while standing up. It’s amazing how focused everyone gets when they are not comfortably lounging in a seat around a cozy table. In fact it turns out that sitting around a table is one of the worst ways to stimulate creative thought, something most meetings could do with a lot more of.
The best thing is that you don’t need to read a book to try this out. Do everything you normally do in a meeting except do it standing up. Standing creates a shift in the energy of your meeting. It is also guaranteed to be shorter. 
A sobering thought for those who organise meetings is the observation from Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister (Peopleware, 1999) that most meetings are a ceremony to reassure the organisers’ ego rather than an opportunity for people to get together and collaborate. True collaboration most often happens in an ad hoc manner rather than a scheduled meeting.
Standing meetings are crisper and more efficient
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Insiders and outsiders

So right up front I need to declare my bias. Some of my work entails working with executive teams to figure out better strategies for their future. I have a vested interest in, and believe it makes sense to involve outsiders when wanting to think about the future in a different way.

On Friday Clem Sunter and I were chatting after his annual guest lecture to our Strategic Thinking students. We exchanged stories about how so often our clients work backwards from their expected outcome. Limiting themselves to what they believe is possible, they then describe their future. While tweaks are often considered, it takes great courage to turn hours of interesting talk into an implemented strategy that changes course for the better. 

Scenario planning provides a rich vantage point from which to look at the future, especially when change is required. This is what is exciting about the work Clem and I do. The real power of scenarios is however when they cause a stirring of emotions that compel people to think and act in a better way. We agreed that a rational argument alone is not good enough to cause change to happen.

While many of us consider ourselves to be rational, a quick glance through the hundreds of biases that are affecting us all the time, should raise some doubt as to how rational we really are. Our emotions play a much bigger role in our decision making than we would like to think.

This is why a group of business people on a particular mission benefit from having an outsider in their midst. The outsider can do many things they cannot. One of these is to question the very assumptions on which their business future is built. We are often emotionally attached to our existing ideas and only an outsider can cause us to feel uncomfortable enough to think differently. 

This is hard for insiders to do themselves. Here are three reasons why.

  1. Often it is the leaders vision that is being followed. As Daniel Kahneman describes in his interview with Charlie Rose (see video below or follow this link), leaders like the idea of rationality but resist implementing it. None of us like our views scrutinised and this is even more so if we have climbed to the highest levels in an organisation. 
  2. Insiders are also vested in the activities that have built their business thus far. ‘That’s not the way we do it around here’, is cliched but we hear it often in various guises when asking about alternative futures that haven’t as yet been considered. 
  3. The third reason is that there is an element of risk in doing things differently. Sometimes to keep going with what we know, even though we are aware of the flaws, is easier than venturing out into a new area. Comfort zone or sunk cost bias perhaps?

Outsiders can help identify a new direction and new ways of implementing. Even though the really hard work of moving in that direction is left to the insiders, without identifying what is possible, we are more likely to remain with the known.

To break out of the tried and tested we need to ask outsiders into our inner circles.


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Starting again

It is hard to start a project. Sometimes it is even harder starting again. Picking things up when they have gone astray can be difficult.

The principal underpinning this phenomena is momentum. Just as more effort is required to move a stationery object, so too more effort is required to get momentum when a project is in its /early stages.


Sadly a stopped project has this momentum issue plus a whole lot of doubts about whether momentum can be gained again. Having known movement and then experiencing the stall can raise all sorts of doubts in the people driving the project.


The one upside of a stalled project is that the time away from it gives a space to reflect and refocus. 


If used beneficially this reflection can compensate for the doubts and sense of failure. 


Ironically if we overcome the challenge of being stalled, we immediately start feeling like we are making progress, just like before the break.


The trick is to not let the burden of being in a slump prevent you from lifting yourself out. 


Starting again can be hard and very invigorating.















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Closed questions

Will I find this career fulfilling?

Is this the right person to marry?

Should we do the deal or not?

These are all good questions, but limited. 

Shifting them from closed questions to open questions ramps up their power many times. 

What elements will make my career fulfilling?

What will being married to this person be like?

How does this deal fit into our overall strategy?

If the answers to our questions are limited to yes or no then we probably have defined them too narrowly.

Rewriting the big questions to provide more than a yes or a no opens us up to many more options.

Shifting a question from closed to open can open up a world of possibilities

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Trevor Manuel: "I could close my eyes now…"

Imagine sitting in a room in 1991 with a group of South African’s trying to map out what the nation would look like in 2002. At the time we were in the middle of negotiations, the country was racked in violence and uncertainty, we were yet to have our first democratic elections and predicting the future was a risky business.

Nelson Mandela had been released from prison in 1990 promising widespread nationalisation which was the ANC economic policy at the time, and the Anglo Scenarios popularised by Clem Sunter were veering towards the Low Road.

At the time, Pieter le Roux of UWC was offered money from German foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung to organise a conference on the future of South Africa. Sceptical about the conferences that had been held to that point, where delegates reiterated their stated positions, Le Roux decided to follow a different approach and run a scenario-planning exercise.

Meeting outside Cape Town at the Mont Fleur Conference Centre, Le Roux gathered participants from all major groupings of political, business, academic and social organisations*. He chose them based on who they represented but importantly asked them to participate on a personal rather than organisational basis, allowing them the freedom to explore all points of view rather than toeing a particular “party” line.

That group of people today looks like the who’s who of South Africa and includes Tito Mboweni, Trevor Manuel, Christo Wiese, Vincent Maphai and Saki Macozoma (for a full list of participants — see below).

The scenario-planning exercise was facilitated by Adam Kahane who had cut his teeth on scenario planning at Shell, one of the world leaders in the process. The group met in September 1991 followed by a period of research until their second meeting in November that year. There they assessed their progress and developed four scenarios. They then started a period of consultation until March 1992 where they finalised their work and started the process of dissemination.

One of the groups that Mont Fleur participants presented to and consulted with were select cabinet ministers. Nick Segal, who has researched all major scenario-planning exercises in South Africa, reports that “after the presentation, Derek Keys** casually mentioned that he happened to have in his car slides of a presentation he had recently made to Cabinet on the state of the economy and asked whether the team might have any interest in seeing them”.

This presentation was very influential as the group realised that South Africa wasn’t the rich country that they had believed but was rather in a dire economic situation predominantly as a result of sanctions and a very expensive war with the frontline states.

Segal goes on to say: “In mid-September 1992, only a few weeks after this episode and at a time when political negotiations had broken down, a wide-ranging interview with Mandela was published in Johannesburg’s leading daily newspaper The Star. Mandela made the following comments on the economy: ‘We want to break the deadlock (in the negotiations), because if we don’t, I fear that the economy is going to be so destroyed that when a democratic government comes into power, it will no longer be able to solve it. The longer it takes for democracy to be introduced, the more difficult it will be to repair the economy.’ ” Mandela’s position was changed as a result of a meeting the previous week with Manuel where they had discussed Key’s presentation on the economy.

The ANC’s economic policy was changing.

The four scenarios developed covered South Africa for the period 1992 to 2002 describing possible futures and how they would have an impact on the social, economic and political agenda. The idea was not to develop definitive truths but to stimulate debate on these topics.

The four scenarios described in the final Mont Fleur document are:

  • Ostrich, in which a negotiated settlement to the crisis in South Africa is not achieved and the country’s government continues to be non-representative.
  • Lame Duck, in which a settlement is achieved but the transition to a new dispensation is slow and indecisive.
  • Icarus, in which transition is rapid but the new government unwisely pursues unsustainable, populist economic policies.
  • Flight of the Flamingos, in which the government’s policies are sustainable and the country takes a path of inclusive growth and democracy.

Speaking about Keys’ presentation Manuel says “Derek sat around and chatted with us, and it was very important, because we were trying to understand the Icarus scenario and the dangers of macro-economic populism. That was certainly profound for me”. It was the start of a friendship and mentoring relationship across the political divide that Manuel and others admit was important in preparing the young team for the task that lay ahead. (From Alister Sparks’ book Beyond the Miracle)

Last year I invited Maphai (currently SAB executive director for corporate affairs and at the time chairman of BHP Billiton) to speak to our strategy students at UCT. Not wanting to miss the opportunity I asked him how much Mont Fleur had affected ANC economic thinking. He confirmed that the scenario exercise had had a profound affect on the participants who later went on to hold very influential positions in South Africa post 1994.

Mboweni, who became Reserve Bank Governor in 1999 stated in his inauguration address “we are not Icarus; there is no need to fear that we will fly too close to the sun”.

In his book, Solving Tough Problems, the facilitator of Mont Fleur, Kahane, quotes Manuel saying: “It’s not a straight line [from Mont Fleur to GEAR]. It meanders through, but there is a fair amount in all that going back to Mont Fleur … I could close my eyes now and give you those scenarios like this. I’ve internalised them and if you have internalised something then you probably carry it with you for life.”

With Manuel’s success as finance minister, following very similar policies to those outlined by the Flight of Flamingos Scenario, the question is whether he will now, in the possibly more powerful position as head of the National Planning Commission, be able to influence ANC policy sufficiently to keep the organisation on the right side of the balance between sound economic policy and macro-economic populism.

That the ANC is bigger than its individuals was demonstrated in the recalling of Thabo Mbeki last year. It is unlikely that Manuel was simply a renegade finance minister who managed a policy which wasn’t in line with broader ANC thinking.

Jacob Zuma’s resistance thus far to give into the labour movements’ calls for more populist policies, bodes well for a theory that it wasn’t Manuel alone that set the course of economic policy over the past years but that it was a widely accepted ANC approach.

ANC thinking is clearly aligned with that of Mboweni, Mbeki and Manuel and while South Africa has yet to demonstrate that sound economic policy rather than macro-economic populism delivers to the poor and not only the rich, a break with this thinking would lead us down a hole from which it will be difficult to recover.

* With the notable exception of the Inkatha Freedom Party

** Derek Keys — former Gencor executive chairman, brought into the cabinet by FW de Klerk as minister of economic affairs in January of 1992 later taking over the finance portfolio and becoming finance minister from 1992 to September 1994.

Full list of Mont Fleur participants:

  • Dorothy Boesak
  • Rob Davies
  • Howard Gabriels
  • Adam Kahane
  • Koosum Kalyan
  • Michiel le Roux
  • Pieter le Roux
  • Johann Liebenberg
  • Saki Macozoma
  • Tito Mboweni
  • Gaby Magomola
  • Mosebyane Malatsi
  • Thobeka Cikizwa Mangwana
  • Trevor Manuel
  • Vincent Thabane Maphai
  • Philip Mohr
  • Nicky Morgan
  • Patrick Ncube
  • Gugile Nkwinti
  • Brian O’Connell
  • Mahlomola Skosana
  • Viviene Taylor
  • Sue van der Merwe
  • Dr Winfried Veit
  • Christo Wiese