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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Leadership beyond Nelson Mandela

In today’s Sunday Times, former President Thabo Mbeki called on South African’s to reflect on Madiba’s values. “Mandela’s memory would be best honoured if South Africans assessed whether the country was living up to the icon’s vision of a non-racial society”, he said.  

This is a noble thought and worth reflecting on. I think it is more useful though to think about what we could do personally. Real change always start at home.

We can do this by considering what Madiba would do in the situations we find ourselves in daily.

Finding our own inner Madiba would go a long way to providing us with a tangible and very symbolic moral compass. As with Mandela, leadership like this can go a long way.  

This would also be more in line with how Mandela saw himself, as described in his autobiography, “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

The extraordinary circumstances of today are the perception of widespread corruption in government leading all the way to the door of the president. 

With Madiba now belonging, as Barack Obama described, to the ages, is there someone living who can hold the moral authority which he has vacated?

There are plenty of people shouting from the sidelines about corruption. Most are however, safely ensconced in the ranks of the opposition parties or deep within the political setup such as COSATU. Their cries are expected and seldom with any consequence for themselves or others.

Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the public protector, has on the other hand many potential consequences in her quest for the truth. She has in recent weeks shown many characteristics of a true leader. She has been resolute, brave and principled. Unwavering despite the numerous attempts that have been made to discredit her and her organisation’s work. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his obituary to Madiba had mostly glowing praise for his friend and colleague. “People cared about Nelson Mandela, loved him, because of his courage, convictions and care of others”, he said.

The only fault he could identify was Madiba’s tolerance of mediocrity which he said, “arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.”

Perhaps in Madonsela we are seeing the emergence of a new leader of significance in South Africa. Although a completely different person, she appears to be guided by her own inner Mandela.

As Mandela, she has a stubborn disregard for anything that attempts to distract her from her role of being the public protector and seeking the truth that benefits the people of South Africa. 

Is Thuli Mandonsela the new Madela





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The best company to work for

Jim Goodnight on the SAS campus
Jim Goodnight on the SAS campus

Fortune released their 100 best companies to work for survey last month and the winner was a company that not everybody would have heard of, SAS. Not the airline which is better known but the privately owned software company in North Carolina.

If thinking about cool tech companies to work for, most people would think of high-profile Google but SAS beats Google by 3 places and in fact Google modeled their people policies on the older SAS (founded 1976).

Besides being privately held, there are a couple of other peculiarities about SAS such as the founder CEO who has been the CEO since he founded the company and still enjoys huge respect in the industry.

106,000 pieces of art, a hotel on campus (equivalent to a Four Seasons) hotel, masseurs and a day hospital for day-to-day medical visits all make up the uniqueness the company. Another peculiarity is the average weekly work hours which are 35, well below the minimum 60 hour work weeks in Silicon Value. Jim Goodnight, a programmer himself, understands that after 7 or 8 hours it’s hard to stay productive.

The company has always had a no layoff policy although people can get fired for poor performance. Talking about GE and Jack Welch, Goodnight disputes Welch’s claim that he fired the lowest 10% of GE staff each year. “He said that in his book but I don’t believe he ever did it… you would end up with a hugely unmotivated staff and it would cost a fortune to fire that many people every year”, says Goodnight.

You can view a detailed interview with Dr. Jim Goodnight and Rich Karlgaard the Publisher of Forbes Magazine recorded in November 2009. The Fortune article announcing the 100 best companies gives more details and lists the other companies.

Zille’s decision contrary to research

Harvard Business Review have just emailed me the story that is being run by most major French publications about how women on management teams have fared better than men in the current financial crisis.

Elle, Le Monde and many other publications have presented CERAM Professor Michel Ferrary’s research, which shows that companies with more women on their management teams have done better. I thought it particularly interesting in light of the debate about Helen Zille’s decision to pick an all-male team for her provincial cabinet.

Professor Ferrary’s research paper “When Gender Diversity Protects Stock Prices from the Crash” examines the relationship between women in leadership positions and the drop in share price since the beginning of the year.

Put simply, less women equals a greater drop in share price and likewise the more men the greater the drop in value. Professor Ferrary examined companies in the CAC40 and found that “firms with a highly feminised management like LVMH (56% female managers), Sanofi (44.8%) have gone down less than the CAC40. While stocks of more male-managed firms like Alcatel-Lucent (8.68% women), Renault (21.77% women) have fallen more than the CAC40”.

Contrary to the research, Zille believes her team can deliver. In her letter to the Argus she has chosen to attack the ANC only in areas where the DA is strong, women at party leadership level. She has not as yet addressed the diversity issue in her team.

Ferrary’s research says: “Several gender studies have pointed out that women behave and manage in a different way to men. They tend to avoid risk and to focus more on a long-term perspective. A larger proportion of female managers balances the risk-taking behaviour of their male colleagues.”

This points to diversity being the key to managing risk. The only question which remains in my mind is whether public service delivery is somehow different to managing a business.