It gets emotional riding the rails
I’ve just finished working on a job that took me to the heart of downtown Toronto for several weeks. To save time and parking money I decided to use public transit although I’m usually more inclined to take the car, particularly when not working in the urban core.
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Simon LuntComment
From Silence to Screams: Feedback loops in the Simple Domain
I have come to think of the Simple domain as the Enabling domain. However, most of our clients enjoy the excitement of the Complex domain, and dismiss the Simple domain as necessary though dull, but this is too shortsighted. If we manage them correctly, activities in the Simple domain enable us to spend more time and resource in the other domains, but if we get it wrong, there are huge negative consequences that can disable the resources allocated to growing and driving the business. Consequently, the greater the negative impact of failure of Simple systems, the greater should be our vigilance in ensuring that sensors are in place to pick up weak signals and hence avoid catastrophe. We don’t often talk about weak signals in the Simple domain, but I believe they exist.
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Extracting value from Fear and Loathing
About 12 months ago, I attended an early morning meeting whose sole purpose was to approve a short list of strategic options. Based on bravado over the bacon and eggs and the strong opinions regarding the ‘follies’ of certain investments, I was looking forward to a hearty debate prior to exultant agreement. However, within minutes it became clear that the dawn bluster was all wind. I think the phrase from the home state is, “big hat, no cattle.”
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Cynefin - a time management and productivity tool?

The thirst for easy fixes to the challenges of time management appears unslakable. I have no doubt that for some, the act of seeking and tinkering with the latest ‘getting-things-done’ (GTD) tool/philosophy/process is an addiction. It affirms we all seek efficiency without compromising effectiveness. And in a minor example of exaptation, the Cynefin framework has the potential to be a useful tool in this pursuit.

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Curing growing pains with Cynefin
How does a successful entrepreneurial organisation deal with operational growth pains without losing its ‘soul?’ I have been working with an Asia-based family owned business that markets health products through retail outlets. The business has grown considerably since starting 15 years ago (revenue of $2bn), and has ambitions to grow further. However, certain aspects of the operation are failing to keep pace with the market opportunities and the ‘rapid and flexible’ decision making processes of senior management. Application of the Cynefin framework in concert with the Kirton Adaptor Innovator (KAI)Theory provides useful insight into the possible contributors of the conundrum, and some possible practical choices about its resolution.
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Beware the "Flavour of the Month"
Last year we were part of the team that launched an exciting new initiative in a major industry in North America. The initiative was tested on a small part of the market with handpicked customers and when it received high marks it was rolled out to the wider market where it was also enthusiastically received. But the offering almost faltered because one unit of the company was not delivering the product correctly. Significant components of the service were not being included and this meant that the core benefits of the new offering weren’t there. So what was happening? We discovered that the offending unit of the company considered the new program the “flavour of the month”. The front line employees who were charged with delivering the new offering didn’t believe in it. This business unit was sceptical of the company’s commitment to changing so fundamentally even though the CEO had made it quite clear that this offering was central to the company’s future growth.
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Simon LuntComment
What is strategy? A coherent response to a motivating problem.
The plethora of definitions of strategy is, quite simply, overwhelming. The range of strategy books; the breadth of activities conventionally contained within the strategy process; the inappropriate split between strategy generation and strategy implementation; the checklist of vision, values, mission, goals, objectives, initiatives, must-win, metrics; all of which has ensured that “everything is strategy” and thus obfuscates the real thrust behind the need for strategy in the first place.
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Dare to take the test? Is your team cohesive around the strategy?
The primary role of the problem-solving leader is to focus the depth and diversity of the problem-solving team upon removing the obstacles preventing achievement of the business goal. However, despite many hours of well-intentioned discussions with colleagues, leaders are often frustrated (or even exasperated), that senior members of business teams often drive functional plans divergent to the core strategy, or miscommunicate the strategy to subordinates.
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Do you give your customers pain relief or a thrilling performance?
You have joint pain or a headache. You have a list of things to do but the discomfort is distracting. You ingest the recommended levels (or slightly above) of tylenol/paracetamol or aspirin, and as the fog lifts you move down your check list of activities. But do you rush to discover what other fine products and services are offered by the company that has relieved you of this burden? Probably not. If you do reflect on your pain relief, you’re probably grateful of its discovery, but thankful too that this malady doesn’t strike too often, as the toxic pressure on your liver is considerable.
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The best Leaders focus on Problem A and minimise Problem B
The range of literature on strategy is perhaps only surpassed by the volume of literature on leadership. Though one may be a task, and the other an action, both share a dizzying range of definitions, many contradictory and most of no utility. I was once told that, “Getting a definition of leadership is like nailing jelly to the wall.” This amusing nod to the struggle in tying down an understanding of leadership might be acceptable in literary and academic circles, but Executives need something solid and useful. They need a practical approach to understanding leadership, one that opens up opportunities to personal and organizational improvement. We define leadership as the two-fold activity of identifying the problem to be solved and corralling the problem-solving resources to solve it—all for mutual benefit. Thus, problem solving is the key of life.
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Inside the tube and the importance of feedback
Failing to give feedback when it is expected or desired builds stress and resentment in the recipient. The consequences for the problem solving leader may include lack of support in future projects, destruction of good will in current activities or, in the case of agencies such as the Samaritans, a potential harming of an individual if promised contact does not materialise. Human beings are devoid of instinct. We develop ourselves exclusively through learning, either directly or via the experience of others (parents, teachers, friends). This is why we spend more time than any other species being taught, shepherded and learning from others. We measure the effectiveness of our applied learning exclusively through feedback loops. The absence of feedback after dispensing our (problem solving) expertise severely curtails our motivation to help the requester in the future. This is an important learning point for the problem solving leader.
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Simon LuntComment
Make them practice: improving your return on talent development
In a recent conversation, an Executive VP of a global pharmaceutical company bemoaned the poor rate of return from one of her biggest investments, talent development. In the past two years she had sent three of her direct reports to an advanced executive development programme at a prestigious business school south-west of Paris, each placement costing £35,000 and requiring four weeks absence from work. Now, as someone who is a graduate of one of the school and has helped designed and present one of their programmes, it is naturally that I leap to the defence of the Faculty. And I do. Not because I believe they are faultless, but because I believe establishing the conditions and expectations for a high rate of return are the responsibility of the sponsoring line manager.
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Great businesses are built by great leaders—not prophets (part 2 of 3)
In an earlier posting, I reviewed whether mental illness was a pre-requisite for great leadership, and concluded that this was not the case. However, occasionally these far-reaching perspectives do match reality and, assuming the requisite knowledge, intellectual capacity and motivation are also in place, then the triumph of these problem-solvers can be spectacular; Winston Churchill provides but one example. But whilst excelling in a crisis is worthy and admirable, is it the definition of great leadership? I would argue not.
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What's the story? Tell me more...
Every business has a story to tell. How your business tells its story will have a critical impact on the success of your company. But what is even more important is discovering what that story will be. This can seem very obvious but I am astounded by the number of companies who did not know what their company’s story is. They tell us in our meetings that they know what their story is and they just want to get on with telling it but usually they completely miss the essence of the story and thus miss an important opportunity to connect deeply with their customers.
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Simon LuntCustomer R&DComment