Monday, February 28, 2005

In memoriam - Jef Raskin (1943-2005)

Jef Raskin, the creator or the Macintosh and the man in quest of high-quality design in user interfaces, passed aways on February 26th. I read his book "The Humane Interface", which offers fresh views and great insights into the design of software interfaces. Great piece of work. My admiration for Raskin is HUGE because he had this original way of his to look at interface design in a critical manner, offering alternatives that could just make everyone happier with software. So I just wanted to thank and pay tribute to this extraordinary creator today. In admiring memory.

Still valid, especially in infotech

"A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The legacy of bureaucracy

Bureaucracy assumes that the people factor can be eliminated from
the organizational equation
, that people will simply do as told in
procedure documents, that rules will apply by virtue of simply being
written down somewhere, that the threat of punishment and promise of reward will be enough to
convince each individual to set aside common sense and apply
bureaucratic wisdom... In reality though... People are people and
cannot be forced to behave as machines
. A machine-person lacks Harmony in my opinion and Life will always make them pay the price of lack of Harmony in some shape or form. But again, that is just my opinion, not a universal truth.
Harmony is one of my quests in business. Actually I find information and communication technologies, the Internet in particular, to be extremely harmonious. And please note that for me harmony does not mean purity, perfection or "excellence".  Imperfection can be very harmonious. I won't go into that here, if you don't mind...

The information age brings tools and methods that make it possible for human activities to be managed in a productive, efficient and controlled manner without the major overhead of bureaucratic practices. These tools and methods enable the creation of agile organizations that are able to engage in collaborative projects and activities to produce more value than bureaucracies. And I don't think the question is large vs. small companies, because a large company can be operated as a portfolio of small businesses as GE or 3M tend to show. Of course, to be successful with such a model a large company will have to focus on its edges, invest in its customer-facing people and give more power to the field than to headquarters or at least force headquarters people to spend a sizable proportion of their time in field contexts.

I believe in agile organizations which:

  • put a premium on talent, flexibility and autonomy, managing their
    human potential as a strategic asset and investing heavily in the
    development of their carefully selected people


  • strive for balance and harmony in their development: sales and
    engineering, long term and short term initiatives, tactical and
    strategic aspects...


  • manage their set of internal and external rules to meet the specific requirements of each stage of their growth

  • nurture their relations and ties to the "outside world" and relay market impulses to all relevant people inside the organisation

  • consciously move from one stage of development to the next in an inclusive
    that makes use of all of the existing components of the
    organisation and brings them to their next stage of existence

  • have fun doing what they are doing, thus transforming each second of their lives into a moment of art and creation


And, yes it is a promise, I will write a piece about the importance of harmony in business.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

In praise of art & creation

I took a few days off to visit a few friends in Vienne, France and in Switzerland. Now is this a beautiful country! We put on our snowshoes and spent a good part of last Saturday wandering in a stunning snow-covered landscape one hour drive from Lausanne. It felt good and I strongly recommend it to anyone who needs to breathe some fresh air and take a good break from a hectic modern life. It's a good form of "deceleration" for me.

Adj_alexsblog_1Well, to tell you the truth this was not a "complete" break for me, as I did a bit of work visiting my favourite blogs and adding some content on this blog. I actually spent enough time blogging for my good friend Arnaud Du Jardin to sketch me as I am intently blogging. Many thanks to you Arnaud, not only for your lovely creation, but also because you made me realise that art and creation can really be everywhere in our everyday lives. I am in bewildered awe every single time I am lucky enough to discover a piece of creation that moves me. This one does, not because I happen to be the subject, but rather because it came as a complete surprise in the middle of a beautiful Sunday afternoon and made me realise each second of Life can be art and creation.

I certainly believe there is an aesthetic dimension to my professional activity, seeking Harmony in the production of my deliverables for my customers. Actually working in IT / tech projects I like it when methods and approaches are humane rather than procedural and robotic. That is probably one of the reasons why I endorsed the agile manifesto. And because I believe that the information age is simply the last nail in the coffin of bureaucratic organization of human activities, I chose to devote time (therefore life-energy) to developing and refining tools for organizational design modelled after living organisms. In a sense, that is also what I mean when I say that it is people that make the world go round (or not). This too is a manifestation of Harmony for me.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Edge of Chaos

Last year I bought and read "Surfing the Edge of Chaos" for a paper I was writing. I am currently reading it again as part of personal research on organisational design for the information age. I strongly recommend it if you are interested in a fresh way of looking at companies and business.

This book made me realise why organigrams, workflows, procedures and working instructions are sometimes so difficult to really implement in a company. I personally believe that the more a company makes use of information processing devices, the more it allows its people to interact in novel ways that often do not fit in traditional organizational molds. I even remember one of my employers in the business of payment cards (a priceless experience...) who used to distribute hard copies of the company's organigram once a month. These documents where no sooner printed than they were out of date and on top of that they did not reflect the real dynamics of decision making (or decision non-making sometimes). On decisions, you can read another piece I published earlier.

So for a professional manager, I guess one of the questions to be examined is "how do I organize that part of the business for which I am in charge so as to fully leverage dynamic interactions within my teams and with the rest of the company in accomplishing my business objectives?" And this is where it may be useful to think of a company not as a set of boxes or matrix-structures or silos, but perhaps as a set of agents that operate following certain rules and who interact in various ways to assemble as project teams or temporary workgroups and disband once the mission is accomplished.

On decisions

Making a decision is often a difficult exercise. I personally found it easier to decide in business contexts than in personal matters. Perhaps it is so because it is easier for me to have "detached involvement", as Jagdish Parikh puts it, in business rather than in my personal life. Sometimes in the past I felt unable to decide because the availability of all options and possibilities was more important to me than the execution of a decision. Sometimes marvelling before the potential of all the possible courses of action was more rewarding than chosing one path... Perhaps it was the sheer fact of eliminating all other possibilities but the one selected that caused me to feel ill at ease. Anyhow, I sometimes delayed decisions so much that I eventually lost the window of opportunity and therefore decisions were forced on me by other people or by situations. My conclusions and my lessons are that:

  1. it is impossible not to decide;

  2. if I don't make my decision, then a decision will make me;

  3. a course of action imposed by situations or other people is less good for me than a course of action I have selected, even if my choice turns out to be wrong.

Well, these are just my lessons, not a universal truth. I just felt like sharing that with you today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Is Skype great or what?

I just LOVE Skype. I started using their service late 2003 or early 2004, I can't recall.

Their ability to make things easy and straightforward is one of their biggest strengths. No nonsense. And when Skype became capable of handling calls on legacy telephony services, I was stunned with their design of the software: they were able to make full use of my existing experience and user education with a phone!

I know this may sound naive, but still I wanted to praise those guys for their excellent design. Small "details" were clearly thought through and everything works smoothly, including when I am calling a service provider who greets me with an IVR system. Great work! Design is great at Skype and marketing communication is as great: I just love their counters on their web site with numbers of downloads and minutes served.

Skype is stunning. Praise to their people for their accomplishment. Yet another indication that it's all about talent!

People make the world go round (or not)

Of daring ideas

"Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game." - Goethe

Monday, February 14, 2005

Teaching is similar to specifying

Over the past couple of weeks I spent some time training a student-trainee who is about to graduate in marketing. She is going to work with Alter Eco, a software service company I support, in the field of marketing and sales. So, providing some training was an important first step for her to be able to be part of the team in a productive manner. That is how I came to think about the many similarities between teaching a subject to someone and building functional specs in the context of a development project.

When I want to teach something to somebody, there are several steps I have to go through, which are essentially the same as those I have to execute when discussing functional and non-functional requirements of a business with a delivery team:

  1. command -  my own understanding of the subject must be crystal clear or at least I have to be disciplined enough to say "I don't know and I will look for answers" when I don't know instead of making erroneous assumptions;

  2. see the world with the learner's eyes - I must put myself back in the situation I was in when the subject matter was fresh knowledge and I had to apply it step by step, because otherwise I will just omit things that are essential and now seem so obvious they shoudl not even be mentionned;

  3. use the learner's language - when presenting the topic, I must use words and images that have meaning for the people I am working with;

  4. seek feedback - it is necessary to check on a regular basis that the message is clear and to invite comments and questions. When a question is interesting I must seize the opportunity it represents to provide information as it is requested because that's when attention is at its peak. That is even if answering the question totally changes my game plan for the training session;

  5. use metaphors and stories - metaphors and real-life stories are just great tools. That is one of the reasons why I like so much the principles of the Agile Manifesto;

  6. involve the audience - each time a logical unit of the training has been delivered and discussed, it is great to invite the audience to sum-up the points that where presented;

  7. focus on exchange - as a general rule, training is about exchange not about a monologue... which alos has the benefit of keeping everyone alert. So I kind of like situations where the "learner" ends up teaching stuff to the "trainer" or helps him / her see new connections between ideas and topics. Which is another reason why agile methods make so much sense.

So, I guess that poor training skills could be one of the reasons why there have been horror stories at times with bespoke development projects: somebody who is a functional expert in a given field for which a software tool needs to be built is not necessarily very good at presenting his activity... Then the question becomes: can a good "student" / "learner" / "investigator" / "analyst" ensure decent specifications are built by asking "the right" questions? I personally think so, but by now you must know I am a fan of questioning, a "questioning agent" if you will... Which explains the logo :-)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Of wisdom, philosophy and greatness

"Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children" - Khalil Gibran

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Quote of the day

"We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive
qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of
our defects
" - Alexis de Tocqueville

Friday, February 11, 2005

How to set sales objectives properly?

Usually sales objectives are set in terms of volume of business to be signed by a certain date or in terms of growth of turnover over a period or as improvement to the gross margin of a line of products... I wonder whether all of these objectives are properly formulated. I mean to examine how adequate it is to be setting objectives that are not strictly dependent on the mobilisation of the people who will eventually be assessed for their ability to reach the said objectives. This is actually something I learned in the NLP class I attended: "proper" / adequate formulation of objectives. I found it to be extremely powerful, so I thought I would use the tool to think a bit about the ways in which sales objectives could be set.

Let me use an analogy for a minute before proceeding further. Let us assume I am an actor and decide that my objective is to make the public applaud my performance without interruption for at least 15 minutes, because that is for me a good indication that my performance was good. Is it "fair" to be setting that objective given that it is not solely dependent on me and on my will? Indeed:
- the public may love the performance and still not applaud for 15 minutes for whatever reason
- the public may not like the performance even though it was excellent
- ...

So is it "harmonious" (I told you Harmony is important to me and I will write something about its role in business sometime) for me to define a criterion,
which is not solely dependent on my acting, to measure my success as an actor?

In a way, something similar happens with sales. When I set for myself the objective of signing at least 15 new customers this year, is it a gracious way of doing things? Should I consider it a failure if I sign only two who will generate twice as much turnover as my forecasts with 15 new customers? Should I consider it a success if I get 15 new customers to sign for something they don't need or I don't feel like delivering to them? What if despite my doing my job in the best possible way there are not 15 new customers by 31 Dec 2005 and? What if...

How would it help harmony (and therefore my business since a sustainably profitable business is also a manifestation of Harmony for me) to formulate objectives that are solely dependent on me? If I do so, can I afford to attach "rewards" and bonuses to those objectives given that their occurrence will not necessarily mean "turnover now", much less "immediate return"? How can I formulate objectives that are solely dependent on myself (which is "fair" and harmonious in my view) and still have the drive it takes to make my business fly?

I believe that incentives are not always productive methods for building sustainably profitable and recurring business. Incentives are not necessarily to way to achieve quality of sales, assuming they are a proper way to achieve quantity of business. Yet, focusing solely on quality of sales is a conspicuous lack of Harmony for me, because both quality and quantity TOGETHER are important.

Photosho_1 So I guess that "dry" targets of quantities are not enough to drive sales activities that can help build a sustainably profitable business. It is also necessary to set goals that are solely dependent on the actions of each and every person participating to the sales operations. That second part of the equation is more often than not forgotten in targetting and setting of objectives. It is also absent from approaches like the balanced scorecard. And it is definitely absent in consulting activities that are solely interested in improving performance indicators or indeed in governments that are exclusively focusing on reducing a rate or unemployment (sometimes by "creatively adapting" the definiton of "unemployed")...

Thoughts in progress...

"Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be" - Khalil Gibran

Quote of the day

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal" - Henri Ford

How talent made me lease a car...

While thinking about evidence that the tide is turning in favour of talent, I realized that I actually decided to lease my next car not because of the car's quality. Not even because there is a host of services attached to the leasing agreement (maintenance, express service, replacement car, insurance, taxes...). Oh yes, all these are handy. But today, I consider them as pre requisites. The automobile industry is mature enough for me as a consumer not to want to be bothered with manufacturers:
- that fail to consistently deliver quality or
- who do not seem to care much about product design or
- who do not care about services or
- whose personnel is not interested in following-up on my request for quotation
- ...

In fact, I expect the auto makers to deliver reliability, convenience, an acceptable price, services... and all the other things that are "normal" today. So what made a difference in favour of the brand I chose? I guess the answer is "the experience". What is the experience?

Seen with my naive eyes of buyer / decision-maker, the experience includes the following elements:
- satisfaction of the expectation to find all the "normal" elements in the value proposition
- feeling deep inside that the sales person was able, willing and determined to actually listen to and understand my needs as though they were his needs. Evidence of this was the fact that he took the initiative of producing an additional leasing proposal that made more sense for me even though his employer would make slightly less money on it than on the offer we had initially discussed
- flow in the interaction: good feeling during the test drive, both because the car meets my requirements and because the sales guy was sitting next to me, showing genuine interest about the way I felt driving the car and suggesting available functionality to test
- effectiveness: immediate production of the leasing offers using dedicated IT tools (here goes the POSITIVE impact of infotech again!)
- excellent follow-up on my calls to the sales person for additonal information while I was assessing my options
- excellent welcoming by the people who were answering the phone each and every time I called
- last, but not least: a smiling nod from one of the mecanics guys whose eyes caught my distracted stare while I was waiting for the sales person to finish configuring the car on his laptop... When even the "back-office" cares about the customer, I feel good about the way the business as a whole performs with customers.

Conclusion: what made me chose the car was the experience imprinted on my mind and in my heart like an impresionist painting on canvas, with brush strokes being all the moments of "harmony" in the interactions with the people of the car dealership... Yet another indication that it is talent that matters and that the tide is turning.

"people make the world go round (or not)"

Thursday, February 10, 2005

HTT+ - Fiorina is out

"Carly virée" = Carly Fiorina is out!

That was the SMS I received from a friend of mine who knew of my constant ranting about how bad Carly was for HP. Negative or destructive events seldom cause me to feel elated; but I must admit these were good news.

Best news for HP since the end of the past century. Great indication that the tide is turning in favor of talent.

Carly Fiorina might be a great communicator, might have great public relations and might be a great marketing person...BUT she certainly was not a great CEO for HP and that has been absolutely evident from day 1... Does anybody remember her Comdex speech right after she became CEO? Empty, no vision, meaningless, pittyful... How about the brilliant decision to stop investing in HP-Unix? Instead of, I don't know, something bold and daring like open-sourcing the technology or merging it with Linux or joint-venturing it in China... And how did you like the "me-too" initiative on "e-services", mimicking Big Blue, only with a delay of a few years? Let me not start writing about "The Compaq Affair"...

"Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation" - Mahatma Gandhi 

Let Us Move On!


Fear is the mind killer in business too

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn my inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

- Litany Against Fear of the Bene Gesserit, Dune, Frank Herbert

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Free open source software (FOSS) lets talent shine

This is the first article on the HTT category. I thought a bit about the challenge Eric posted and about the ways in which I could collect facts about talent in today's business world.

Free open source software strikes me as a great field that is more than ever within the realm of business and where talent is the key differentiator for customers.

The process of peer reviewing refines software and improves the capability of contributors. Through open source people build things in a context where they define positive objectives with playfulness. Playfulness is what characterizes the learning process of children to a large extent: they experience their environment and build their capabilities in a lively manner by allowing themselves to be wrong and sometimes fail. With its peer reviewing process open source creates an environment in which talent can be led to greater heights. Individual contributions are assessed, completed, enhanced, improved, commented, documented and communicated. A whole chain of talent is at work to create software that can subsequently allow each and every person willing to use it (including those of us who are perfectly incapable of building software) to do so. To let the chain of talent continue to operate its wonders inside the economy, the open source software is also made available for free (what is sometimes called FOSS... YAUA if you ask me).

When it comes to actually to business uses of the software, another set of capabilities are put into action to ensure quality of implementation. The fact is that with the same resources (i.e. free open source software packages) there will be service providers (often independent professionals in IT services) who will excel and service providers who will do slightly less well for their customers. Where does the difference in performance come from? I will not discuss the concept of quality here (an intersting resource on that would be Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"). However, let us list the differences between the two situations:
- nature of the project
- the client organization and its personnel's capabilities
- the people who delivered the service of deployment of the free open source software package
- other factors (that I consider to be not significant)

Ultimately however, is it legitimate for a service provider to find excuses in the nature of a project or in the capabilities of the client's organization? If the service provider has access to enough talent (how much is that I will not discuss), can he not overcome those issues?

If not, then can we not consider that the service provider bears the responsibility of failing to properly assess the obstacles of the project in the first place, which in the end is a matter of judgement of the people the service provider can use (therefore a matter of talent)?

If yes, then it does make sense to consider that the single most important factor of successful use of free open source software in business contexts is TALENT.

I see that as an indication that the tide is turning in favour of talent. FOSS contributes to the creation of a business environment in which talent shines and becomes the single most important factor for business sucess.

"It is people who make the world go round (or not)"

Quote of the day

"A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business" - Henri Ford

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Some more thoughts about tech bashing

Indiscriminate and non-factual condemnation of new technologies is something that has consistently been, through the years, one of the most irritating attitudes I have been confronted to. Now, my recent participation to a training session about NLP is making me even more sensitive to generalisations although I think I do need them to a certain extent to be able to learn and "navigate" the world.

I recently came across a sentence written by Alvin Toffler and I would like to quote him because I strongly back his view:

"To think that the new economy is over is like
somebody in London in 1830 saying the entire industrial revolution is
over because some textile manufacturers in Manchester went broke
" - Alvin Toffler

Yes there have been failures. I choose to call them experience. I choose to view them as opportunities to learn. I choose to congratulate and honor and thank all those young and not so young, experienced or "green", rigorous and not so rigorous, who took part in the EXCITING, SUPERB, UNIQUE endeavours that characterized the Valley in the late nineties. Failures were most of the time superb because they were original and thought provoking. Successes were brilliant and inspiring. R&D happened on the grandest scale in human history. The cost was high. I don't think there are shortcuts to any place worth going. Each success clarified and confirmed the benefits of good infotech (good infotech is a subjective concept I will not explore here). Each failure brought us closer to using infotech much better. Why should we focus on failures only to argue that infotech is useless or that "the Internet makes no difference to distribution of music" (sic!)? How much value did successes AND failures actually generate? How do we measure the learning process? What is the value of the direct and indirect experience that was acquired during the past 35 years of actual use of infotech?

Yes infotech is alive and kicking!

Working with love?

"If you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work" - Kahlil Gibran

Is the tide turning?

Further to a comment posted by Eric on this blog, I made a decision to start watching the business world for signs, strong indications or proofs that the tide is turning in favour of talent as well as hints, clues and evidence of the opposite.

The point I was making in a previous post was that it is becoming easier by the day for individuals to express their full potential, to make their talent visible and to make other people pay the price for acquiring that talent, for talent is what really makes a very significant difference. I will use my experience of leasing a new car as a first case in point to show that it was talent that eventually affected my decision. And while my behaviour is not necessarily shared by everyone else, the rationale that led to the tipping of the balance by talent could be valid for other people and for other products.

I hold a belief very dear that it is people who make the world go round (or not) regardless how much sophistication we are able to inject into modern technology. I don't know if this is right... Only time will tell. Like for all the other things published here, I have decided to give myself authorisation to be wrong and change opinions over time depending on what I think at the time of writing my posts. I have actually given myself mandate to be wrong, mandate to go on one or more quests that I find crucial for me as a professional. Because each time I see my wrongs I progress towards my rights... That too is a belief, which I hold dear in the name of evolution, progress, flow and movement. In the name of one of the numerous incarnations of Harmony as I see it.

So there is now a new category of posts on this blog that is called "High Tide of Talent", for which I am creating YAUA (yet-another-ugly-acronym): HTT. I will be posting thoughts, substantiation, confirmation, hints and clues that the tide is turning in favour of talent as well as signs and corroboration of the opposite in this category. In a year's time I hope to be able to assemble a factual picture on this matter.

THANK YOU ERIC for this challlenge!

"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It
is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other
innovations." - Steve Jobs

Monday, February 7, 2005

Quote of the day

"Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done." - Peter F. Drucker

Sunday, February 6, 2005

What is an elephant?

Onetruthperperson_1We all have our own very personal ways of looking at the world.

I know it sounds trivial, but from experience I know how difficult it is to actually keep that in mind all the time.

I know the size of the gap between understanding something intellectually and actually doing what I understand.

So I chose this picture as a reminder for:

  • speaking to prospects and customers

  • interviewing users of computer systems

  • creating and delivering workshops

  • training people on so called "productivity" suites when productivity goes down the drain simply because Word is used like the good old typewriter or a user does not trust Excel to add properly the contents of two cells

  • discussing with other people about their careers (people tend to confide a lot... must be the trust inspired by the bald-man)

  • ...

If you would like to view the image in full size, just click on it.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Why NLP?

Some of the people who know me asked me: "what the heck are you doing learning about NLP?" Well, it's a good question. I have been involved for a number of years in IT projects (trying) to bridge the gap between users of tools and makers of tools (IT geeks & gurus) and I hold an Master of Science in Management... So where does NLP fit in the picture?

I guess the answer is simple:
"people make the world go round (or not)"

Another way to put it would be "Talent Makes Capital Dance" as Ridderstrale & Nordström show in Funky Business. From experience I formed the opinion that over 80% of unsuccessful endeavours are rooted in "people" problems, interpersonal issues... in other words lack of ability of all of us to interrelate in a good enough way.

At the same time, we live in a world that is blessed (and sometimes cursed) with the technical capabilities to develop interactions (this blog is an example, email is another one, short messages on cellular phones...) And because I strongly feel that developments in our world happen for a reason ( I even believe that in the long run it's for a positive reason that brings more Harmony to the universe, but that is another topic), I interpret the existence of these tools as a response to something very essential in human nature: the need of a person to relate to other people. This is one of the foundations of team endeavours, which are enhanced when individuals are able to interrelate better day after day. And when it comes to designing an organization, to agreeing on strategy, to transforming decisions and words into action... in short to walking the talk (which is key to good management in my opinion), it's people who make things happen.

Human organizations (NGOs, political parties, sports clubs, companies, entrepreneurship networks...) do not exist because somebody drew a beautiful org chart, or because thick binders with ISO procedures are printed or revisited twice a year before audits of the quality management system... And organizations don't just march when somebody barks marching orders or when headquarters send out directives... These are to some extent things of the past: can anyone seriously think of managing a team or a project today by applying the principles of Frederick Taylor? No, because our world is moving out of the era of "mass logic", of "bell curves" and "standard consumers", giving more breathing space (and great opportunities if you ask me) to

  • individuals not organisations / entities

  • project teams not frozen hierarchies / bureaucracies and

  • communities of practice not once-obtained-never-questioned diplomas

No, because our world needs talent, I mean indecently good talent, and talent does not bow to orders and barks (especially from less talented people).

Of course, there is always the old saying: "it's who you know, not what you know"... That has always been there and will never disappear. The bureaucratic system was invented among other reasons to eliminate this factor... Still the tide is turning in favour of talent and networks of talented people.

So anything that improves my ability to relate to other people, to help them interrelate better, to unearth enthusiasm that will make a business perform beyond its people's wildest dreams, to inspire... Anything that makes me more able to listen and truly understand my prospects, anything that helps me understand better user requirements when working as an analyst... Anything that helps me achieve these goals is good for me. And these goals are amongst the most central to good management in my opinion.

But that's just my own very personal truth and I don't expect anyone to endorse it. I just share it with those who dare asking good questions :-)

"A man is but the product of his thoughts: what he thinks he becomes"
Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, February 4, 2005

Is tech bashing the way to go? #2

Well, let's cut a long story short: infotech is the single most significant evolution in recent human history with consequences that go well beyond our most daring imagination. It is not only a radical change per se but also an enabler driving deep transformation and advances in business, life sciences and space exploration.

As with all advances, we as a species will most definitely manage to make the best as well as the worst uses of it. The question is whether we will be better at doing good stuff or really bad stuff with infotech...

I believe the benefits of infotech to be enormous and I think anyone who refuses the acknowledge the profound changes it brings to all human activities must have been or  still is in one of the following states:

  1. has been hibernating for the past 35 years (at least)

  2. was born without analytical functions in the brain

  3. was abducted by aliens many years ago like Fox Mulder's sister and just came back (unlike Fox Mulder's sister)

  4. thinks infotech is a new kind of music

  5. thinks email is the stack of paper his secreatary prints out for him / her every morning

  6. imagines the world wide web as an attack of giant spiders on the planet

  7. believes ERP means Evening Radio Programme

... you just add your own explanations. It's funny and the list can become mega long.

"Organizations with lousy infostructures will look like 65-year-olds competing in the Olympic marathon wearing high heels and evening gowns" - Funky Business

That's ALL organizations including the most scandalously preserved oligopolies and monopolies (lawyers, notaries public, bankers)...
...within 10 years at most

Quote of the day

"If you're doing interesting stuff, you're screwing up all the time." - Tom Peters

Lessons for entrepreneurs in "Life of Pi"?

"I have heard of a Korean merchant sailor named Poon, I believe, who survived the Pacific for 173 days in the 1950s.

I survived 227 days. That's how long my trial lasted, over seven months.

I kept myself busy. That was one key to my survival. On a lifeboat, even on a raft, there's always something that needs doing. [...]

A tiger is a fascinating animal at any time, and all the more so when it is you sole companion.

At first looking out for a ship was something I did all the time, compulsively. But after a few weeks, five or six, I stopped doing it nearly entirely.

And I survived because I made a point of forgetting. My story started on a calendar day -July 2nd, 1977- and ended on a calendar day -February 14th 1978- but in between there was no calendar. I did not count the days or the weeks or the months. Time is an illusion that only makes us pant. I survived because I forgot even the very notion of time." - Yann Martel, Life of Pi

It definitely reminded me of a couple of past entrepreneurial experiences: there is a lifeboat and a raft (the start-up), a tiger (the unwanted guest: vulture capitalists or "demon angel" investors), the sea (the market), ships (commercial success)... There is also time (the factors that we cannot control and therefore should stop worrying about; ther's enough worry on matters that we can sort out). Anyway, that's my analogy.

Great content, names that suck

Today I attended my first day in a four-day seminar aimed at teaching the basics of Neuro Linguistic Programming to participants.

Neuro... what?  I means that is quite a name to put people off! And NLP (since that is the best way that was found to KISS, since we are at "acronyming" everything nowadays), is full of extremely interesting tools that are indeed very usable in all sorts of contexts (professional, family, leisure, politics...) MOST of which bear impossible names: Internal Map, Computation Index (huh?), Logical levels of change...

Anyway, I think it's often well worth going beyond this jargon thing, but, in the name of whatever experts in any field of interest hold dear, please, we mortals beg you, choose nice, simple, concrete names to speak of concepts and tools. PLEEEEASE!

I certainly became even more aware today of the complexity of human communication, so why do we feel a sort of urge to make things worse by inventing language that is tough to understand? Remember words like "subsidiarity" in the Maastricht Treaty back in the early nineties? Can we seriously believe that it is sound practice to be organising a referendum on a topic written in jargon or to be asking people to learn and use tools full of jargon (typical of IT / ERP projects)? I know, I know, I am becoming annoying with my "stupid" questions...

Reminds me of the famous story giving an Accenture consultant's answer to the question "why did the chicken cross the road?"...

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The meaning of my logo

Ap_logo21Yesterday I told you about the process that led me to become a freelance professional manager. It's now time for me to tell you what my logo means.

"ap" are my initials and the "a" is underlined because I want people to call me "alex", no capital letter needed. My brand is friendly and accessible to people who want to contribute something positive to themselves and to the world in this life.

The inverted question mark represents my natural tendency to ask questions, sometimes so-called "stupid" questions, because I am not afraid of what I don't know yet or don't undertsand yet. The question mark is inverted because I tend to turn questions upside down until I feel the quest becomes harmonious. Questions need to have grace and I absolutely need to be passionate about the questions if I want to be passionate with the answers. That too is a lesson from past projects that failed. Yes, I have been involved in projects that did fail and no I am not one of those perfect professionals with spotless track records built in dreamland or in risk-averse, frozen corporate environments. And obviously, I am not one of those super brilliant guys (perhaps like Tom Peters) who were on the right track very early on in their lives. That's why my logo contains a question mark and that's why it's inverted: past experience, both failures and successes, made me reflect on the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything... So I am used to turning questions upside down productively :-)

Anyway, getting back to the meaning of my logo: the orange rays coming out of the inverted question mark represent all the avenues that become possible once the question-crunching exercise has reached a proper level of harmony. The sky is the limit for what can be done when the attitude and approach are right (see post of Feb, 1st).

Factors affecting a customer's buy decision

I recently made the decision to lease a new car. So, I wrote down a list of essential requirements: (1) to be able to safely travel from point A to point B, (2) to do so with a good deal of comfort - most usual distance 250 km - most usual duration duration of trips: 2.5 h, (3) good sound system, (4) decent gas consumption, (5) decent envrionmental performance.

All this sounded pretty simple until I started visiting car dealers:

  • the first one looked at me head to toe and I suspect did not feel inspired by my casual attire on a weekday. So he dealt with me in a slightly demeaning fashion. Did not like it. Would not buy from him if I decided to go for that car manufacturer.

    And I know it is utterly subjective, but that's what sales is all about: a subjective relationship between two persons that will or will not transact. And yeah, there are "objective" ways of deciding, with scorecards and the whole lot, but ultimately... it's all about people.

  • the second one knew what model of car I should get before even hearing my above requirements, but proceeded to listening to what I had to say with a distracted expression on his face. When he failed to find the car in his catalogue he called a colleague to get some help. That's when he discovered that the model he had in mind was no longer manufactured and started ranting about it with his colleague on the phone... in front of his would-be customer.

    Sad, but that's not where it ends. I asked him to tell me why he "immediately" thought of model X for me and he said: "well, because it has that great looking dashboard with chromed rims around the rev counter and  speedometer... and of course it also has the  cruise control that you wanted". Did I have reason to feel my requirements were understood?

  • the third never managed to follow-up on our initial appointment until I sent a fax complaining for not getting his leasing proposal and for his failure to organize a simple test drive. He immediately sent me a leasing offer. Would I make such an important decision (for me it is important) without trying the product first?

  • a fourth one just took the configuration I had made on the car maker's site on the web looked at it and gave me the keys to try a similar model. To him selling a car was tantamount to processing a file in a bureaucratic fashion and he would not bother listen to requirements or accompany me to tell me about the greatness of the car he was about to lease to me. Dan Sullivan, an executive coach, says that "a bureaucrat is an expensive microchip"

I was not impressed. But I kept looking.

And finallly, I was blown away by a young sales person who took the time to listen to my needs, asked good questions, offered proper advice in a language I can understand (I am not a car specialist / fan)... Then he entered the paramters for the car configuration we had agreed upon and issued a formal leasing offer on the spot for me to take away and reflect upon. After that he came with me for the test drive, probed how I felt, showed me functions I would not have tried otherwise... The next day I gave him feedback asking for a different engine and he faxed me two leasing offers, one that was exactly what I had requested for and the second that was slightly amended in a way he thought was better for me. And he was right: it was a better deal for me.

Initiative, common sense, listening, undertsanding, empathy, enthusiasm, confidence, determination to make a damn difference for the customer...

That's a G-R-E-A-T sales person.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

How I became a freelance professional manager

During the second half of 2004 I made the decision to work much more as a freelance professional manager. Prior to that I had been involved in entrepreneurial ventures, which were not successful for a number of good and bad reasons. I will most likely post content on my lessons from these endeavours in the future; in the mean time, please feel free to check my bio for info on the projects I was involved in and if you have questions, by all means drop me a line.

Anyway, I thought hard about how I would go about offering my services to the economy as an independent professional, able to join projects for as long as my contribution would be valuable and then move on the the next thing. So clearly, there were several issues: (1) who do I want to be?, (2) what projects do I want to become involved in?, (3) how do I sell my services?, (4) how do I secure outstanding delivery and (5) how do I exit properly.

To answer the first of my questions I was lucky to "discover" a book that a friend of mine had left in one of the failed companies I co-founded in the past: Tom Peters' Brand You 50...  A great call for action, an inspiration to reinvent work and a very positive approach because it states plainly that the future is mostly in our hands. At least, we have to do whatever is in our hands and as a matter of fact, the rest kind of always falls into place... oddly enough. Full of excellent advice and a source of action items that will probably keep me busy for the coming five years! One of the things Tom is saying is that when one decides to work as an independent service provider, they need to think of themselves as a unique brand that must deliver superbly to delight customers and make good profit from the activity. Tom describes very vividly the white collar revolution that is currently taking place and I think he is right on most of the stuff he writes. The book got me thinking and then I decided to start exploiting The Project 50 book (you don't really read Tom's books, you use them for driving action in your professional life: you exploit them). And I paid almost daily visits to Tom's blog... I was WOWed! Love it bceause I can feel genuine passion in what he does.

So, I decided to use his advice, and this is how I started working as an independent professional manager seeking to make a damn difference by superbly executing exciting projects that make a lasting impact.

And in fact, since I started thinking as an independent professional connected to the rest of the world thanks to the might of modern infotech (I cannot possibly be thankful enough for the time I was born to live!), everything is "miraculously" falling into place. Which does not mean that I have no problems to solve or no massive workload to cope with, but rather that it all flows with considerably more Harmony (I will write something about the reasons why Harmony is important in business). And yes infotech does make a bloody big difference in the way the world works no matter what the brilliant lawyer says. The simple fact that you are reading this proves it amply... But getting back to the issue of how attitude affects everything in our lives, I come to think of something Mahatma Gandhi once said, and this is the thought I will leave you with:

"A man is but the product of his thoughts: what he thinks he becomes." - Mahatma Gandhi

A lawyer's tech-bashing

I recently attended dinner at a friend's place. There was this vocal lawyer who was among the guests. An expert in intellectual property issues, he is currently writing a book about the issues facing the media industry with file sharing schemes. Sharing a few thoughts of his with us, he expressed the opinion that "the Internet makes no noticeable difference to distribution of products, in particular music".

Excuse me? I was flabbergasted!

So all the trends, measures, indicators, analyses and successful examples of using the Internet to support new forms of distribution would be wrong and in fact Amazon, OOPrint, UPS, General Electric, Dell, Cisco Systems, IBM, eBay... and many others are just plain wrong about the benefits of the Web!

Interestingly, this brilliant lawyer does not seem to have factored i-Tunes or Creative Commons in his analysis.

I think the lawyer fell victim of the latest fashion of tech-bashing (which may actually just be about to become not so much in fashion). He did not do his homework on the subject and just goes with the flow that currently prevails in parts of Belgian society.

And in fact the issue is not so much the Internet per se, which is already transforming in a very fundamental way all human interactions and all sorts of transactions, but information technologies in general I think: infotech is a genuine revolution of colossal proportions that makes industrial era thinking obsolete to a very large extent. We have yet to see all of its effects on our lives. So the vocal lawyer is mega wrong in his statement and he too can bet that his job will be transformed radically well before he quietly ends  his traditionally constructed career.

"An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does
truth become error because nobody sees it." - Mahatma Gandhi