One of the interesting aspects of working with many client managers is hearing how they’ve experienced or observed the Major Mistakes Managers Make. One such manager described this fatal error (concentrating on problems not objectives) to us as follows: "One reason for the lack of effectiveness on the part of so many managers is that they major on minors." When we asked him what he meant, he said he had observed many managers spending as much as 90 percent of their time dealing with problems that only influence 10 percent of their productivity. In many instances, they become so involved with problems that they totally lose sight of their objectives.

Turning Problems into Opportunities

Managers will often approach us seeking a personal conversation. Given a supposedly sympathetic ear, we find very few talk about their objectives or goals. Almost invariably they’ll concentrate on problems, so it seems that managers could use some tools to help them avoid this flaw.

A number of years ago we consulted with a company that recognised this failing of management. In response they attempted to eliminate the word problem from the vocabulary of their managers by having them referred to as opportunities. We found it fascinating to participate in their management meetings and hear managers say, "I'm faced with an opportunity I'm having difficulty solving." They may have changed their vocabulary, but they didn't have the tools to eliminate the fatal error. One of their managers revealed the futility of this exercise when he described his attitude to a new marketing approach by quoting Pogo. He said: 'We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunity."

Business Creativity

We call the opposite of concentrating on our problems and losing sight of our objectives "creativity." Creativity fails us when we become absorbed in problems and ignore the end results we want to obtain. Creativity dies, or at least withers, until we shift our attention back to our objective. In our opinion creativity in business can best be defined as "the ability to understand the forces impacting upon us, and being able to utilise those forces as a means of reaching our objective." More simply stated, it means ‘the ability to understand your business environment and conditions and to use these to your advantage’. The very issues and circumstances that first appear as roadblocks to our success can often be used as levers that make success a reality.

To achieve this we must first stop dissipating our energy on being obsessed with our problems, and fighting the environment or situation. Far too many managers act like they are total ‘non-swimmers’. If you put a non-swimmer in a boat, take them a kilometre offshore and toss them in the water, what will they do? Certainly they will try to swim, but in their panic, they will fight the water. The more they thrash about, the more they fight the water, the faster they dissipate their energy, and the faster they drown. Put a competent swimmer in the same situation and they will do something quite different. First, they’ll relax, float and tread water. In treading water, the expert swimmer is using the environment, using the conditions to sustain themselves. Next, they set an objective, the shoreline, as a destination; then at a reasonable pace, keeping their shoreline objective in sight, they swim to shore. Throughout the entire process, they use the water (their environment) as the means of achieving their desired result. Whenever we abandon or lose sight of our objective, we begin to drown, because we’re killing our creativity.

Why do we do this? Our educational system has conditioned us to view any situation that might disrupt our plans as a threat. For the most part, when we were in school we were taught that we must have a "right answer"; this conditioned us to develop a ‘one-answer mentality’. That may be true in mathematics; however in the business world, things are more variable. There is always more than one way ‘to skin a cat’. When we have a set of objectives and we’ve developed a plan, the factors that may interfere with its achievement can disturb or frighten us, because we can see the right answer (our plan) ‘running off the rails’. French philosopher Emile Cartier described the danger in our one-right-answer approach when he said, "Nothing is as dangerous as an idea, if you have only one."

Creative managers versus those who fall into the trap of concentrating on their problems think differently when challenged. Faced with a roadblock, the problem-obsessed manager asks the question "what?" "What will happen to me if I fail?" The creative manager, on the other hand, asks the question "how?" "How can I use this situation or condition to my advantage?" The very use of the question "how?" presupposes success, and that the objective will be reached.

The need for creativity runs through every segment of business. Management is essentially a thinking, not a doing job. The lifeblood of every business lies in ideas and creative thinking. Just look at Apple as an instructive example! Truly successful managers not only learn to view the environment as the vehicle for reaching their objectives; they train their people, their team, to share this creative perspective.

In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #6 "Being a buddy, not the boss".

Posted: 30/08/2012 12:37:37 AM by Brett Morris | with 1 comments
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Two weeks ago we posted the first part of a conversation with Bud Boughton in which we explored why so many leaders fail to take action. In Bud's mind, this is most often attributable to a fear of failure.

This week, we share excerpts in which Bud offers his opinion on what leaders can do to ensure that they cultivate an environment that embraces taking measured risks.

How can leaders get over their fear of failing and take action?

Maybe everybody doesn't have it, but I think it comes down to finding the entrepreneurial spirit deep inside of you that says, "We need to believe in what we're doing." Think of Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks. If he walked into his parents' living room and said, "I'm going to start a coffee shop chain that sells drinks for $4.25", his parents would have thought he was crazy! The same is true of Frederick Smith, the founder of FedEx. Who would have ever thought that you could put together an overnight package delivery service that would literally have 747s flying all over the world, pulling into depots where packages would be unloaded and rerouted onto other planes... and it would only cost customers $23? In both cases, and in the case of the most successful business models, the founders were not only willing to think outside of the box, but they so firmly believed in their vision that they could set any fear aside and take action.

It's probably easier for a fledgling company to embrace this spirit. But what about mature companies – you can even point to the modern-day versions of Starbucks and FedEx. How can leaders in these businesses engender a culture that isn't imprisoned by 'the box'?

That's a great point. Interestingly, in the case of Starbucks, they realised in the last few years that they had grown too fast and made some bad decisions. So they adjusted back and closed a number of Starbucks worldwide. About a year ago, they even went so far as to close every US location for one day to regroup with all employees and discuss how they would move forward. Think about that – that's unheard of! But you know what? Someone saw the need to do something very, very different, so they did it, and now Starbucks has turned their situation around.

Where does the creativity required to make these changes come from within an organisation?

I think it comes from anyone. There's tremendous value in getting cross pollination between the different generational groups, such as matures, baby boomers, Gen X's and Gen Y's. There are big cultural differences between each, but in the workplace, we have to get them working together. The young people need to sit down with the older people, and those older people need to let themselves be educated about the Gen Y's. Ask the Gen Y's, "If we were to come up with a new service, what would you suggest and how would we do it?" For example, I can tell you that many of the innovations in Internet banking weren't thought of by 60 year-olds. They were probably younger people who said, "Why should I have to go to the bank? I should be able to do any of this from my computer or mobile smartphone!"

It's an all-hands-on-deck mentality. And what better way for people in leadership roles to rally their troops than to invite their ideas and their participation?

I believe that every day is filled with opportunities to learn new things. People should always look to be students, to adopt an attitude in which they're willing to change and learn new things: it keeps you fresh, thinking younger, more productive and more successful. But some people aren't comfortable with doing that. They're either intimidated by it or they're fearful that they'll be judged if they fail. It's very real. I think you need to take advantage of all of the brain cells that are out there. Put everyone in the same room and say, "We all live in the same world, how do we do things better?"

I'm not the first person to say this, but senior managers have to get out of their office and walk the floor more. At one of my prior jobs, our chairman had practically isolated himself with a corner office and a private parking spot; he had no exposure to people. So I suggested to him that he should personally distribute pay checks once a month throughout the whole building so he could thank people, shake their hands, ask how they were doing and get their opinion on what the company could be doing better. Those are the people who understand the situation the best because they're closest to the customer, they're closest to product development issues, they're closest to everything. So many senior managers fail because they're so busy with their discussions about strategy and numbers that they forget that the nature of the business is how to deliver the product or service better and produce more satisfied customers. And sometimes to get inspiration to achieve these ends, it means you have to walk the floor and talk to people.

A huge thank you to Bud for taking some time to offer his thoughts on these topics – we hope you found it as interesting as we did! If you have any thoughts to add, feel free to share in the comments below.

 


Author of two books and numerous articles, Bud Boughton is a former senior executive and thought leader who as a sales coach and leadership development consultant is wired to do one thing – improve performance. A former American football coach who has sold for three Fortune 500 companies and was an officer of a publicly traded company, he brings a wide range of experience to his clients. An outstanding professional speaker, go to www.budboughton.com for more information.

Posted: 16/08/2011 2:19:08 PM by Andy Klein | with 1 comments
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Bud BoughtonA few weeks back, you may have read our post arguing that business value is determined by the creativity of its people. In the blog, we also explored the stimulus for human creativity, which to us is directly attributable to the quality of management and the quality of leadership.

You may have also seen a comment left on the blog, from Bud Boughton, in which he said (in part),

"Isn't this why so many businesses today are struggling? Inept leadership or the lack thereof is what plagues so many companies. We need to cultivate a new brand of leadership, leadership that is not afraid to think creatively and take measured risks. It is not enough to think creatively, we must cultivate leaders who are willing to take action based upon their creative thinking."

As a form of introduction, Bud has a longstanding relationship with The Fortune Group in the USA as a customer and an advocate. Formally a senior executive of a publicly-traded company, he now acts as a sales coach and leadership development consultant.

We often say that The Fortune Group's approach turns ideas into action, and action into results. As Bud's comment speaks directly to the first half of this – turning ideas into action – we were interested to hear more. Specifically: How can leaders not only inspire ideas but also ensure they're actioned? So in a recent conversation, we asked him to elaborate.

This week we offer some excerpts in which Bud explores his original comment in more detail.

What's the current state of leadership in regards to this issue of thinking and acting creatively?

People give lip service to thinking out of the box all the time. But when it really comes to the rubber meeting the road, it's all about taking action and doing things outside of the box. And I think that's where a lot of people in leadership positions struggle and fail immensely.

If you're going to talk the talk, then walk the walk. In other words, as a leader, if you call your people together for a brainstorming session, say you're going to do things differently and ask for their input, that's great! It will get employees excited and motivated. But all too often leaders allow their people to leave that session and let things go right back to the way they were. Leaders must take the responsibility of ensuring that action is taken – it's the only way to impact bottom line results.

I heard a quote the other day: "If you want to have something you've never had, then you're probably going to have to do something you've never done." That's the essence of what we're talking about: If you truly want to get to a level you've never been to before, if you want to compete more effectively in an environment that's more competitive than it has ever been, chances are you're going to have to do something you've never done before.

Can you offer an example of a company that has failed to take measured risks?

Well, an entire industry that's coming to grips with this failure is banking. For years, especially here in the US, banks operated under the mantra of "build it and they will come." So they blindly built more and more branches and assumed that the organic growth of the market would support their own growth. But with recent regulatory changes that limit the types of fees they can charge and technological changes that have created a demand for Internet banking, the banks have been forced to act outside of their comfort zone. And because they've never cultivated this culture of acting outside of the box, it's something they're really struggling with.

Why do so many leaders fail to act?

The big thing that holds us back from doing something new is that famous four-letter word: FEAR. Fear of the possibility of failing, fear that people may look at us differently. Taking qualified risks has always been part of business and it's something that I think people in leadership and management positions need to consider and find ways to creatively do. By doing so, it motivates their employees and helps them be more productive, more excited and have a greater sense of purpose for where they work.

With the scene now fully set, next time we'll hear Bud's suggestions for how leaders can get over this fear, cultivate an environment of action and how to take qualified risks.

 


Author of two books and numerous articles, Bud Boughton is a former senior executive and thought leader who as a sales coach and leadership development consultant is wired to do one thing – improve performance. A former American football coach who has sold for three Fortune 500 companies and was an officer of a publicly traded company, he brings a wide range of experience to his clients. An outstanding professional speaker, go to www.budboughton.com for more information.

Posted: 2/08/2011 10:23:58 PM by Andy Klein | with 2 comments
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With last month's release of the world's most valuable brands, topped by Apple at $142.5 billion, it seems an appropriate time to consider how organisations accrue value. Where does it come from? If we can understand this, we can apply the lessons gleaned from these thriving businesses to our own.

In Apple's case, some may point to their string of successful product launches over the past decade, starting with the iPod, then the iPhone and most recently the iPad. But while it's easy to cite tangible products like these as the backbone of a company's success, the reality is that true value comes from its most precious asset: the human creativity of its people.

Simply put, human creativity, embodied in ideas, is the lifeblood of every business. It's not Apple's innovative products that account for the $142.5 billion valuation; it's the innovative people who created those products that have made Apple into this behemoth.

So where does human creativity come from? How can companies engineer and manage it, just as Apple has? To us, the answer is quite straightforward: Human creativity is a direct function of the quality of management and the quality of leadership.

This truism is most transparently reflected in any publicly-traded company's stock, because within each of them there's a component for the quality of management and leadership. As a simple example, when news of Steve Jobs' illness broke, Apple's share price went down. And when he regained his health and retook the reigns at the company, the share price went up.

It's also important to note that although we say leadership produces human creativity, it must be accompanied by influence. Of course generally speaking, the two go hand in hand. But we have encountered the occasional leader who assumes their influence comes simply from their position or title. Title alone is not enough to garner influence; it must be earned through actions. And at the end of the day, it's those within an organisation who hold influence – including those who may not be in traditional leadership positions – who can inspire and guide human creativity.

No matter how you fit into your company – as a manager or a leader or a team contributor – if you can exercise influence, think about how you can encourage and direct that human creativity amongst others. The more innovation you can stimulate, in as many dimensions of the business as possible, the more you'll be feeding the real lifeblood of the business.

Posted: 28/06/2011 9:25:52 PM by Andy Klein | with 3 comments
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In our last Fortune Roundup we featured a blog post from Wally Bock, Idea Deficit Disorder – Treating Yourself, in which Wally argues education can condition us to believe there's only one correct answer to a given situation, and that this saps much of our creativity in business. But, Bock says, "creativity is a natural part of being human". So to help counter this mindset, he offers some practical suggestions for how individuals can put themselves in situations that reignite personal creativity.

Business leaders however cannot leave it to individuals alone to tap their creativity; critically they must develop the environment in which it can flourish. As a leader, it's vital to the long-run performance of your organisation that you encourage (your) people to access this "creative time". When people are not embracing their creative potential, businesses and teams become stuck in a state of 'active inertia' – never moving forward, never changing, never improving. Inertia becomes a powerful magnet because whilst there may be activity that gives the appearance of change, so often it's delusional. If you've never experienced active inertia it feels like swimming in peanut butter.

Why does the success of every organisation ultimately hinge so much on people's creativity? Because the lifeblood of every enterprise is ideas!

However, our organisational capacity to change (take action), adapt and grow has been heavily influenced by a formal education system that instills in us a right answer/wrong answer mentality. The more an idea or way of doing things is engrained in us, the more we can be deluded into believing it's the only way of doing things, which of course by default becomes the right way! So if it's the right way, by contrast, alternative ideas/courses of action become the 'wrong way', powerfully reinforcing a natural inclination to resist change. Yesterday was good, why do we have to go to tomorrow? In fact, as Steve Brown discusses in Leadership In Action (view change leadership system preview), when confronted with change people often experience the feeling that they'll have to give something up. When people have mindsets such as this it's little wonder implementing organisational change is challenging, and instilling the idea of change and growth as a competitive imperative, even more so!

Of course the reason it's challenging is because fundamentally, action (change) is always preceded by dissatisfaction. Which is why leadership is key. When effective leaders instill purpose, energy and urgency into the cause of organisational change in pursuit of competitive advantage, they also know they must support the discomfort it creates by facilitating and selling the change. Effective leaders believe, not just intellectually but gutline, that if you're not growing you're decaying because nothing is ever static. Part of a leader's responsibility is to bring people with them in the change process by helping them discover the value in it for to them.

As a leader, create a culture that eschews the right answer/wrong answer mentality by actively encouraging people's creativity and curiosity. By doing this, you will develop a team that is open to new ideas and embracing change as the norm.

Posted: 1/09/2010 8:20:39 PM by Andy Klein | with 2 comments
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