Category Archives: Innovation

Can I help you to make change happen?

One way street

As many of you know I’m coming to the end of my one month course – Seth Godin’s AltMBA – which is all about “making change happen”:

  • It’s been a part time, one month long, online course run by Seth Godin and has taken up all my evenings and weekends.
  • It has been an intense, stretching and eye-opening experience (one more week to go).
  • It takes a very different approach of working, learning and collaborating. I think it offers a glimpse into the future of education. I have loved it and have learnt so much.
  • I’ve completed 11 projects over 3 weeks with 25 other people based in France, Ireland, South Africa, Nigeria, Singapore, Boston, New York, California, and India. (It’s taken up every morning, evening and weekend since 15th June).
  • I’m now into my final week with 2 final projects to go.
  • Here’s the application form for anyone interested in applying for a future cohort (you can give my name as a reference): http://goo.gl/forms/RR470HLG9q

For my final challenge (Project 13) I need to organize and run a live event to teach others what you’ve learned in altMBA. Seth’s brief is –

“Not everyone is able to do the course themselves. Sharing is a generous act, a gift. 10 people (minimum) must attend. It can be at work, at a group you’re part of, or for strangers. It can be offered free or with paid admission. But at least 10 people have to come, and you have to be in charge. It needs to take place no more than four weeks after the end of the altMBA. This is the culmination of everything we’ve learnt so far…”

I would really appreciate your input on this. I haven’t yet figured out whether to do this at work, at home or an independent venue; whether to do a 1 hour summary, a half day interactive workshop ora one week series of mini altMBA experience.

My question for you is –

Are you interested in attending? What would like like to get out of it? Who else do you think might benefit?
How much time do you want to give to it?
How deep would you like to go?

Please reply to this message or email me on ‘[email protected] with your thoughts.

For those of you who wanted to read one or two of my AltMBA posts they are all public; but to make it easier I have listed them below (and tried to categorise them):

General Business:

Project 12 – Launching the ‘Future Leaders’ program (3 minute video on helping others to make change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/launching-our-inaugural-future-leaders-program/

Project 11 – Death is not the end it is just a shedding of skin (What if Apple did Savings & Investments): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/death-is-not-the-end/

Project 7 – I have a problem with Hierarchy (Organisational Change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/i-have-a-problem-with-hierarchy/

Business Development/Sales:

Project 8 – We are all in Sales and we haven’t got a clue (Closing the Sale when decisions are irrational): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/we-are-all-in-sales/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 4 – You were right to choose the competition (Understanding worldviews and empathy): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/right-to-choose-the-competition/

Redington/Pensions & Investments:

Project 12 – Launching the ‘Future Leaders’ program (3 minute video on helping others to make change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/launching-our-inaugural-future-leaders-program/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 4 – You were right to choose the competition (Understanding worldviews and empathy): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/right-to-choose-the-competition/

Project 2 – What is the difference between a dream and a goal (7 steps to Goal Setting): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/dreams-vs-goals/

Project 1 – Make better decisions in 5 minutes (using decision trees to decide what to do if a star manager leaves): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/make-better-decisions-in-5-minutes/

RedSTART/Saving/Financial Education:

Project 10 – If you don’t stretch your limits you set your limits (How do our Assets, Boundaries & Narratives limit us?) https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/stretch-your-limits/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 2 – What is the difference between a dream and a goal (7 steps to Goal Setting): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/dreams-vs-goals/

Personal/Spiritual:

Project 9 – He didn’t belong and that made him sad (How self-imposed constraints kill our dreams/How can we scale/leverage them)?: https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/he-didnt-belong/

Project 6 – Are you a guardian of the future? (Creating a campaign for change – Global Warming): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/guardian-of-the-future/

Project 3 – 4 strangers, 48 hours and 101 ideas (Using Business Canvas to brainstorm 101 new business ideas) https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/101-ideas/

Hope you enjoy them. It’s hard to believe but each of these was written within 24 hours. I welcome your feedback; it’s a gift!

Don’t forget to send me your thoughts on what you’d like to get out a live event covering the ‘top tips for making change happen’?

Thanks,

Mitesh

AltMBA: Reinventing the MBA

It all began just 4  weeks ago when I received this email from Seth Godin’s blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/05/a-different-way-to-move-forward.html).

Seth has been often quoted saying:

The traditional top-tier MBA takes two years, you usually need to move and it costs more than $125,000. The best business school experience is transformative. It exposes students to a new way of thinking as well as a cohort of fellow travelers, motivated, smart people in a hurry to change things. What’s changed is that access to information is no longer the reason to go to business school. The information is everywhere. Our goal with the altMBA is to assemble leaders (corporate executives, non-profit linchpins, founders, managers and people in a hurry) and to connect them and amplify their work. Without leaving home. In just a month of intense effort. Instead, we’re organized around action, around publishing, around sharing your work and learning from it.

Alt MBA 2

In his blog on 12th May 2015 he announced that he is finally launching the inaugural class of altMBA. It was going to be a real-time, month-long intensive program. This was going to be a small-group process that works online as well as through hands-on projects. The focus of the program was going to be on group work, leveraging the power of collaboration, both by learning from and teaching others.

As soon as I read it I knew I had to apply. I consulted my wife, my friends, my team and my bosses to check I wasn’t being impulsive; but all were supportive. Redington encouraged me to use my current strategic projects for the assignments (as appropriate) and to do the course at work and around my work.

So I applied. It was a very different type of application form and there was a video bio to record too (my first!). 100 people were chosen for the inaugural group beginning in June. I got in. I felt excited, daunted and terrified all at the same time.

Now that it’s really happening, there is a lot of planning and scheduling to do:

  • I will find out tomorrow (on Sunday) from my coach Paul Jun who my learning group of 4 is for the first week.
  • On Monday at 11am (6am EST) I get a prompt with the first 3 projects for week 1.
  • On Tuesday and Thursday I have online study meetings with my learning team from 6pm – 9pm. Sunday we are booked for the all day.
  • We need to submit each project by midnight on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. These are all online and public.
  • We review other people’s projects and give feedback by 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Saturday appears to be the only day off.
  • That repeats again next week and the week after … Until the 13th assignment is handed in on 15th July.

Last week I got a box in the post at work, filled with books. I also received a reading list by email with over 70 books/blogs/articles on it … I am in heaven!

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These are the commitments we have all signed up to:

  • I will do the hard part first.
  • I will embrace emotional labor.
  • I will think of myself as the type of person who can and does.
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will have a posture of generosity. Giving without hope of getting.
  • I will care about people and the world around me…
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will dance with fear.
  • I promise I will continue to keep making change (‘ruckus’).
  • And then I’ll teach someone else to do so, too.

This is a course of the future, for the future. We are using a whole bunch of online tools, many of which I have never used before – Disqus, Zoom, Slack, Feedly, Digg, etc. Other than what I’ve described above we have no idea what to expect, what the assignments are, how exactly we will work together, how exactly we will do them …

This is not for everyone. These first 100 appear to be a diverse and interesting group of people. As it gets closer many people on the course are feeling anxious, frustrated and stressed at the sheer uncertainty. I also feel like that at some level though the experience has made me realise that I am ok with uncertainty, I can handle change and I quite like being thrown in the deep end. This process is about feeling your fears, acknowledging them and facing them. It’s early days though, I’ll keep you posted on our adventures.

Here we go: 4 weeks, 5 coaches, 13 projects, 100 people, 175 concepts.

All our work is public and will be available for review and comment here – https://altmba.com/blog/

My work will be shared here – https://altmba.com/student/miteshsheth/

Wish me luck! See you in a month.

The Inaugural Class of AltMBA 2015 runs till 15th July.

Adapt or die?

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Earlier this week I had the privilege to meet and hear John Peters for the second time in the past 12 months. This time I was determined to make notes so that I could remember his unique lessons (from captivity) on dealing with surprise and change.

“Prioritize your tasks, so you have the capacity to think”.

Who is John Peters?

On 2nd August 1990, Iraq invaded the oil rich sovereign state of Kuwait. By January 1991 Operation Desert Storm went into full effect. Whilst carrying out a dangerous, low-level, daylight raid on Al Rumaylah South West airbase, John Peter’s Tornado was hit by a Surface to Air Missile forcing him to eject over enemy territory. Shortly after parachuting to the ground, the two men were captured by Saddam Hussein’s forces. What ensued was seven weeks of physical and psychological torture. John’s mistreatment was see in the living room of every household as theimage of his bruised and battered face was repeated shown on Iraqi state television. John emerged from his experience in captivity a stronger, more resilient and more confident individual. And whilst one would not ever welcome such an ordeal, he realises that it was probably the making of him.

The big questions he asked us:

  • How are we evolving? All our qualifications and achievements, all our previous experiences got us here. What are we learning today to take us forward tomorrow?
  • How do we remain relevant in a constantly changing world? What did I learn this week? How did I get better? Did I beat my personal best? How did I challenge myself? What did I do outside of my comfort zone?
  • Can people really trust and believe in us? How do we lead? What tone do we set in our business? Do our people know that we will put your life(style) on the line for them?
  • Do we know what we stand for? How do we behave when no one is looking? What can people expect of us when everything is falling apart?
  • Do we look beyond the walls/situation/struggles? Do we create an overall tone that is characterized by hope? Is our passion contagious?
  • How do we deal with failure? Do we hide, lie, acknowledge, learn and adapt? The fear of failure or looking stupid stops us trying, learning, or evolving.
  • How do we make the firm/team culture so compelling that no one wants to leave?

The most important lessons he shared:

His number one lesson about what to do when you don’t know what to do – “Prioritize your tasks, so you have the capacity to think“.

Even our best plans will not go exactly as intended, so how will you prepare for uncertainty and how will you deal with surprise? The challenges, issues and events we will face in the future cannot be predicted but you can determine how you will deal with them. You can only influence your reaction function, tone and culture.

How fast can you learn and adapt? It’s not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow. The speed at which you can complete the circle of design, deliver, execute, learn, feedback… Redesign, deliver…

If you’re working in teams, share, communicate, admit failures and learn fast. “The reason they separate prisoners of war is to avoid them sharing, and learning.”

If we are really willing to be ‘open’ that’s really powerful. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. How much do we reflect and learn?

Manage your self talk; keep positive and keep your head clear so that you can learn; so that you can adapt. You need to control your emotions through your intellect; to ensure you’re emotions don’t overwhelm you; if you move into fight/flight mode you lose 95% of your cognitive ability.

The culture we set of ‘who we are’ and ‘how we behave’ beats planning and strategy every time. Culture is not what you do, but how you do it, and who you are. To manage culture is to manage energy; we need to know which activities block energy, drain or boost energy.

We may think we are in a team, but are we competing against each other or are we completely competing against the people outside? Where do we want to be on that spectrum? Balancing cooperation, collaboration and competition. Red arrows – members are deeply committed to one another’s personal goals and success.

We are creatures of habit. We instinctively learn how to do stuff at a young age and continue to repeat this until its out of date. We all have a success formula that got us to where we are today; however we are not aware of it, we are not conscious of it and we do not evolve it. If we don’t reflect on it and adapt it, we will become irrelevant and ultimately fail.

Human systems are prone to fail; and we are prone to hide it. Even the smartest amongst us surgeons, fighter pilots, etc all do it. As human beings we don’t like failure. We don’t admit to failure. The key to success is to admit your failures. This is a key differentiator.

Leaders find it hardest to identify and admit mistakes; People tell leaders what they want to hear; the fear of failure or looking stupid stops us trying, learning, or evolving.

Maximum performance is right on the edge of failure. You have to keep your company on the edge, failing fast; at max performance. Right before the point of maximum performance, you need to lead with a new system, create what isn’t there yet. If you’re not transforming your team and business you are not a leader.

Companies need leaders because we need to deal with uncertainty; and because we need people to work beyond their known ability/capacity/expectations. Leadership is an attitude, it is a way of life, it is who you are; it is your character.

EEEE:
EDGE: win before you begin, team learning, how fast can you learn;
EXPLORE: experiment and test to fail fast and adapt;
ENGAGE: commit to the success of others;
ENERGY: manage energy not time.

ABC:
Accept the brutal reality (facts do not lie);
look Beyond the walls (otherwise I would not have survived);
Choose your future/make a choice (be completely honest with yourself).

Memorable quotes:

“The key to success is not who you know and it’s not what you know; but what do you do with what you know?”

“How fast can you learn & adapt? It’s not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow.”

“It’s easy like ABC: Accept the brutal reality; look Beyond the walls; Choose your future.”

“Will you choose to compete, collaborate or cooperate? There is real power in sharing lessons, admit failures and learn fast.”

“You need to learn how to control your emotions through your intellect; to ensure they don’t overwhelm you. 95% of your cognitive ability is lost in fight-flight mode.”

“Human systems are prone to fail & we are prone to hide our failures. The key to success is to admit & learn from them.”

15 top tips for a successful 2015

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I have jotted down my top tips for 2015 to help me remember the most important lessons from last year. If you are running a project, managing a team, leading a business unit, company or charity you might also find some of these tips useful.

1. Focus
2. Address conflicts
3. Consult widely
4. Be decisive
5. Don’t wait for perfect
6. Find brightspots
7. Challenge convention
8. Create new routines
9. Be prepared
10. Don’t underestimate people
11. Live by your strategy
12. Periodically step away
13. Zoom in / zoom out
14. Be flexible
15. Create assets

1. Focus: Don’t diffuse your attention over a dozen things.

As I have grown in age, roles and responsibilities I have had to take on an increasing number of goals, roles and jobs. In 2014, I found the power of focus. I decided not to diffuse my attention over a dozen things but pick one thing at a time to put all my energy into. When you apply all your energy, passion and intellect to solving one problem at a time, to delivering one outcome or achieving one goal, the results are incredible. There’s another benefit too that, with clear focus, others know what you’re working on, they can get involved, support and help you; they can also see when not to distract you; and it’s much easier to say ‘no’.

2. Address conflicts: to avoid confusion, loss of credibility and wider organisational disfunction.

Too often we are left to resolve issues that really should have been addressed at the top. So many things are left unsaid, unresolved and unaddressed despite people spending more and more time in internal meetings. Most of us would rather have polite meetings than have to face the discomfort of conflict. It feels difficult, destructive and disruptive to address the elephant in the room, even when everyone is aware of it. As Patrick Lencioni explains in The Advantage – What we often don’t realise though is that when leaders avoid conflict amongst themselves, they transfer it in far greater quantities onto the people they are supposed to be serving. We need to get better at addressing difficult issues, having difficult conversations and addressing conflicts to create momentum, clarity and loyalty.

3. Consult widely: but don’t wait for consensus.

It’s quite natural to wait for consensus before taking any action, in order to get proper support and buy-in. All too often though we end up with decisions that are too late and too mediocre. I have found that waiting for confirmation that a decision is right before making it is a recipe for disaster.
In 2014 I learnt that consulting widely and socializing an idea broadly is even more impactful than trying to get consensus. Most people will not actively commit to a decision that they haven’t had the chance to provide input to. However, they can rally around an idea that wasn’t their own as long as they’ve had a chance to debate and understand it.

4. Be decisive: overcome inertia and boldly deal with the consequences.

In the absence of clear decision making; confusion reigns, credibility is lost and the organisation suffers. It’s so easy to wait for others to make decisions or to avoid difficult decisions. We all hear people complaining about a lack of clear decision making. What I find incredible is how long people will continue to work in the absence of any clear guidance or direction, with little faith that the important decisions will ever be made. Often in these situations more than getting the right answer, it’s important to simply have an answer – one that is broadly correct and around which everyone can commit. In 2014 I learnt the value of being decisive – I still consult, test and socialise my thoughts – but I’m not afraid of making decisions and am happy to deal with the consequences.

5. Don’t wait for perfect: The pursuit of perfection is the real enemy of progress.

Whenever we are designing, writing, developing or changing something it is natural to seek perfection. We want to do the best. We want to hold on sending the document till it is perfect; we review and re-review our presentation and publications; we don’t communicate the strategy because it still has holes in it; we don’t share our values because it is always work-in-progress. I have found that striving for perfection causes huge inertia and ultimately frustrates everybody. We all know that we learn by making mistakes, even bad ones. By making decisions we allow ourselves to get clear, immediate and frequent data from our actions. We need to lead by example and foster a culture that encourages this.

6. Find brightspots: don’t just look at what’s going wrong.

In our day to day business of finding incremental improvements it is really easy to only look at problems, or what is wrong. Good teams try to analyse their mistakes so that they can learn from them. This is true and important. In 2014 I learnt that it just as important, if not more important, to also look for brightspots, to identify what going well, really well, and study the secret of those successes, in order to share them and replicate those successes again and again.

7. Challenge convention: just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean we always should.

A culture is a way of working together that has been followed so frequently that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. There is real power, speed and scale in having tried and tested habits. A culture is set through hundreds of everyday interactions. Once it is set it’s almost impossible to change. That’s no surprise given we all like the comfort of what we know and what we have always done. It only really becomes a problem when these old habits become outdated. We need a mechanism for periodically asking ourselves and each other whether our culture is fit-for-purpose, facilitating natural opportunities for challenge and creating mechanisms for change. Great teams and companies often disrupt themselves before others can come along and disrupt them.

8. Create new routines: it’s the most direct route to changing a culture.

In my experience if you have identified a problem, consulted widely, provided an opportunity to debate and found brightspots, then all that is left is to create new routines or rituals. These new routines, however small, can appear insignificant but can play a huge role in facilitating broader changes. There is no getting round the fact that change is hard and to succeed you have to persist. Our daily decisions about where we invest our time and how we respond to issues will reinforce this. Small and well thought out changes in routine are the first steps to facilitating bigger shifts.

9. Be prepared: failure to prepare is to prepare to fail.

We all know that with pitches and presentations just taking the time to prepare, to script, to rehearse and seek feedback can lead to a tremendous improvement in success rates. Great speakers and presenters don’t just ‘wing it’, they prepare till its spot on. This year I have learnt to take the importance of preparation in all aspects of my professional, charitable and personal life. My boss (Robert Gardner) comes prepared to every meeting; he has a mind map ahead of every conversation we have. Working with him has taught me to prepare for every meeting I have with him. It’s not long before you see the benefit of thinking ahead and I have started to apply it to every meeting and every conversation I have.

10. Don’t underestimate people: take time to understand them and to develop them.

The ‘right stuff’ that most companies look for is not a superior set of skills that someone is born with but skills people have honed through life’s experiences. Companies focus too much on the grades, trophies and accolades someone has. Over the years I have found that lots of people that have become ineffective or perform poorly are in the wrong role, are not understood, or not well managed. I truly believe that everyone needs to be given a chance to shine in their area of mastery, skill or expertise. In recent years I have learnt not to accept other people’s perceptions and judgements; but to understand people better myself, to look carefully for whether a person has wrestled with the problems you need them to tackle and to create these learning opportunities. As Clayton Christensen says “management is amongst the most noble professions as it offers more ways to help others learn and grow”.

11. Live by your strategy: Carefully choose how you will spend your valuable time, effort and money.

A strategy is not just a one-off, high level plan, created in board rooms and then forgotten till the next year. A good strategy is created through dozens of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy and money (how you allocate your limited resources). With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us. We need to avoid giving our limited resources to whoever shouts the loudest for our attention or wherever the need is most urgent. If your team are important to you then invest in their development; if learning is important then make time to learn; If your family are important to you, ask yourself how often family comes out top in all the choices you have made in the past week. As Aristotle famously said “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

12. Periodically step away: don’t overestimate your impact, allow others lead the way.

Over the past 12 months I have tried to be home for most of the school holidays. Initially I worried that this would make it hard to manage my workload, team, clients and deliverables. It’s actually turned out to be a blessing. Having to be away for a longer period of time forces you to train and coach others. It also gives others the space to fill your shoes and to step-up. I have found that getting some space, stepping away periodically critical to developing a team of leaders.

13. Zoom in & zoom out: we need to check we’re going in the right direction

Our first accomplishments as professionals are usually rooted in our skill in getting things done. We’re fast, we’re efficient, and we do high-quality work. However, to lead effectively often we need to do less. We need to go from being firefighters to being fire marshals, taking a more strategic approach to the business, and solving problems before they become crises. Whilst we all need to be able to get our head down to make sure we get stuff done, we equally need to periodically lift our head up to keep checking were going in the right direction. We need to learn how to both zoom in and zoom out regularly.

14. Be flexible: Work does not need to happen between 9-5pm at the desk.

There are times you need to be in the office from 7am – 9pm and there are times you are better off at home. In the concept/strategic phases of any project I find it’s better to not be in the office. In the socialization/implementation you absolutely have to be in the office. In the insights/feedback phase you need to get out of the office and speak to clients/stakeholders. I think the idea of working 9-5pm in the office everyday is out-of-date. We need to have shared goals and work towards them sincerely and above all flexibly to get things done best in the most sustainable way.

15. Create assets: Don’t just do a job, build process and turn them into assets.

Our teams need our time and attention but above all they need processes. All businesses and teams need ‘processes’, habits and routines to convert scarce resources into something useful. They need to learn routines for how to solve problems themselves, how to deal with mistakes, how to build client relationships, etc. They also need values and ‘priorities’. This defines how they will make decisions, what they will invest their time and resources in and what not. The best way of developing processes and priorities is by helping them solve hard problems for themselves. When we do this systematically we create assets, that are not dependent on us, that make the company or team more productive and more valuable.

2013 was a year of ‘discovery’ for me – listening to my calling, having faith, being bold. 2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ – I made a conscious choice about where, when and how I was going to devote myself, my time and my energy.

As I look forward to 2015 I don’t yet know what it holds for me. It has started as a year of sacrifice and giving. I feel excited by the possibilities as I am a whole year older and wiser. The best part of starting a New Year is that it is still unwritten and it is full of potential waiting to be released. I wish you all the best in maintaining focus to stick to your goals and resolutions, in learning from previous mistakes, in building upon previous successes, to create new routines, build new processes and to make 2015 a fantastic year.

Best wishes for the New Year.

P.S.

Now that the year is over I wanted to look back, review and reflect on my top 15 from 2015:

1. Focus — We all know that if you spread yourself too thinly you don’t progress anything properly. This year I learnt that though you may focus on one major thing at work (you can juggle various smaller things too). Also you still have capacity to focus on one major thing at home, one in your leisure time, etc.

2. Address conflicts head on — I tend to deal with the most difficult problem first and this year was no exception. What I learnt this year though was that most of our brains’ natural tendency is to put off or avoid difficult situations. Acknowledging this is a powerful first step.

3. Consult widely — I knew people want to have an input, contribute and be consulted, even if you don’t end up taking their suggestions on board. What I’ve realised this year is that actually many brains are better than one, and people will highlight things you would never have considered.

4. Be decisive — It’s so easy to procrastinate over a difficult decision. I’ve really learnt the value this year of “shipping”.

5. Don’t wait for perfect — I am not a perfectionist, but I definitely spend too long thinking about and working on presentations and reports. I’ve learnt it’s better to just get out a version 1, so you can get feedback and iterate on versions 2, 3, 4…

6. Find brightspots — I still need to work on this. I find it much easier to identify problems, point out shortcomings and criticise. I need to make it a habit to praise and acknowledge successes and brightspots daily.

7. Challenge convention — there’s a balance to challenging the norm. At one extreme you become a troublemaker, at the other end you’re too compliant. Like everything I’ve realised this is a matter of picking your battles.

8. Create new routines — I’ve struggled. I’ve allowed old routines that I really value to fall away. I haven’t been able to make new routines stick. This will need overhauling in the New Year.

9. Be prepared — I have been preparing a lot more for presentations, meetings and even conversations rather than just ‘winging it’ this year. It’s a really valuable habit.

10. Don’t underestimate people — the most unlikely people have surprised me when given the opportunity. What I’ve realised though is that they may need some support and coaching to really succeed.

11. Live by your word — it’s no good saying something is important to you if your actions don’t demonstrate it. I’m very conscious of this.

12. Periodically step away — the value of this has been really clear this year. Every time I stepped away, or went on holiday, my team really stepped up and shone. We need to do this systematically. It’s is the key to delegation.

13. Zoom in / zoom out — when faced with a problem it’s easy to dive further into the details but it’s a combination of stepping back to get perspective, alongside diving in that creates new solutions.

14. Create Assets — I have caught myself every time I get too consumed in delivery. I have consciously stepped back and tried to create processes, routines and assets for my team. We could all be even better at this, even at home with our children.

15. Work flexibly — I’ve been awful at this in the past 6 months working every hour I can. I want to plan my time better and work more flexibly next year. Moreover, I want to leave at 5pm at least 3 times a week so I can have dinner and do bedtime with my family.

I look forward to starting fresh in the New Year, with new lessons learnt, with new resolutions and new habits to create. Change is the only constant.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

Is your team a ‘Superteam’? Book review

SuperteamsSuperteams by Khoi Tu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super stories, super insights and super learnings from Khoi Tu. An easy read though quite thought provoking for anyone in a team, building a team, running a team or trying to fix a team. Find out why the SAS, the British Red Cross, team Ferrari F1, the Rolling Stones and Pixar are ‘superteams’.

My 7 top takeaways for building superteams:

  1. You need a set of shared objectives (clear common purpose); this is the most potent force in attracting the right talent and in getting them to want to do great work, together.
  2. Great teams are led by great adaptive leaders (there is no single style preference here) but  you have to lead by example and ultimately foster a team of leaders
  3. The best teams start by bringing in the best individuals for every role; however, choose people that know they aren’t perfect, but pursue excellence always and want to get better by surrounding themselves with excellence
  4. You have to get the small things/routines right to create the best environment for success (agendas, team size, engagement rules, clear roles, etc)
  5. Individuals have to respect each others’ skills and contributions and have to build trust in each other in order to thrive under pressure
  6. Avoid comfortable harmony and ‘groupthink’; foster and harness conflict and abrasion to ensure sparks of creativity thrive
  7. You have to continuously improve; reflect, review, feedback and change (“this is how we do things here” – is a killer); always seek ideas for improvement from your team using both success and failure as lessons for learning.

I highly recommend this book.

Here’s a link to Khoi Tu’s TED Talk – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLw4vDveH-s

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

http://www.miteshsheth.com/recommended-books/

Outcomes revolution in investment management & pharmaceuticals

IMG_0744In this month’s issue of IPE Mitesh Sheth outlines what investment managers can learn from the transformation taking place in the pharmaceutical industry.

03 June 2013

I was recently invited by Sanofi, the fourth largest healthcare company in the world by prescription sales, to talk to 500 of their UK and Irish employees about my experiences with innovation in the investment management industry. As I prepared for the presentation, talked to Sanofi’s leadership team and participated in their workshops, I came to realise the massive parallels between the pharmaceutical and fund management industries. Both industries are in the middle of an outcomes revolution.

Investment outcomes in investment management

I was first drawn to investment management, having been a pension fund consultant and manager researcher at Towers Watson in 2005. I joined David Jacob, head of fixed income at Henderson, determined to design better investment products and solutions for institutional clients. I felt strongly that clients shouldn’t care about index benchmarks, narrow asset class definitions, regional boundaries and deceptive strategy labels (like hedge funds) in achieving their overall investment outcomes – be that income, capital preservation, beating inflation, long-term growth, and so on.

We built a risk budgeting and capital-allocating ‘investment strategy group’ at the centre of the investment process. This allowed us to engage with our clients (and their ultimate clients) around their goals, risk appetite and time horizon in designing and delivering investment outcomes. With a focus on outcomes, we brought together high yield and investment grade analysis, developed market and emerging market analysis, as well as cash bonds and derivatives expertise to give clients access to the fixed income universe against their choice of benchmarks and targets.

I still believe clients should begin with the end in mind. Our starting point should be: where am I today; where do I want to get to and by when; how much risk am I willing to take (what return volatility would be uncomfortable and what’s my maximum drawdown); and what cash flow (or liquidity) do I need along the way. This is true for a pension fund, an individual investor, a family office, a sovereign wealth fund – in short, anyone.

Background to the pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry has changed a lot over the past few decades but at its core it still develops, produces, markets and distributes drugs licensed as medicines. Drug discovery and development is very expensive as only a fraction of all compounds investigated are ever approved for human use. To cover these costs a company needs to discover a new blockbuster drug (one which generates revenues in the billions) every few years.

The industry has been growing at a rapid rate since the 1970s, as legislation allowing for stronger patents has come into force in most countries, helping pharmaceutical companies to generate significant profits from their patented products. In recent decades, a handful of large companies have dominated manufacturing of medicine around the world, supported by numerous mergers and acquisitions.

Pharmaceutical companies have been great cash generators for shareholders over the past 20 years, and IMS Health values the global pharmaceutical industry at over $800bn (€620bn). But while healthcare ought to be simple at its core, layers of management regulation, processes, policies, business models and acquisitions have complicated pharmaceutical organisations and the healthcare industry over the years – creating a global problem today that itself appears to defy definition.

Drivers of change

The market capitalisation of the largest pharma companies is expected to come under significant pressure in the coming decade. Over the next few years patent protection on historical blockbuster drugs will continue to run off. Regulators are demanding more affordable and cost-effective therapies. In addition, there is an industry-wide research-and-development pipeline gap meaning there are no big blockbusters on the horizon.

Furthermore, there is a growing demand for personalised healthcare challenging the current business model, with new competitors with new business models emerging and gaining in strength.

To add to its woes, the industry’s image has been damaged by accusations of disease mongering, bribing doctors, false claims and illegal marketing, not to mention the high profile court cases. Bestselling books such as Bad Pharma (2012), Side Effects (2008) and Big Pharma (2006) have built on the public’s impression of big businesses putting profits over patient welfare. Even Hollywood portrays pharma as a global, shadowy force (not unlike the way in which the investment industry is portrayed).

The industry has survived a continuous series of regulatory, scientific, social and political challenges in the past. However, the changes it faces today from regulation, competition, commoditisation, technological advances, austerity and public perception are significant on their own and even more disruptive when considered together, demanding a more radical response.

Parallels with fund management

These forces of change are very similar to those facing the fund management industry (global assets under management are estimated by IPE to be around €39.2trn):

• Historical blockbuster products are being commoditised;

• Intense competition is putting pressure on margins;

• Disillusioned clients and customers are frustrated with fund manager self-interest;

• Regulators are ever more intrusive, demanding more transparent charging, better management of conflicts and clearer marketing;

• Technological development is spawning new products, new business models and new avenues for client communication;

• Economic austerity, low growth and on-going cost cutting mean clients and end-customers want more for less.

Pharmaceuticals, like fund management, are B2B businesses in that the customers are essentially not the end-patients but the intermediaries – the healthcare professionals, doctors, consultants and pharmacists. These intermediaries are facing change and disruption of their own with intense regulation, flat budgets, pressure to cut costs and growing patient demands, much like the pressures on IFAs, platforms, banks, insurance companies, pensions consultants and funds.

With this roller coaster of changes and resultant uncertainty about the future, the only constant that pharmaceutical and fund management companies can hold onto is putting the end-customer (patient) at the centre. Both industries need to transform from being product centric to customer (service) centric; from pushing drugs and funds to helping customers improve their health and wealth.

Pharmaceuticals and fund management are in the midst of an ‘outcomes’ revolution. This is a huge undertaking and it cannot be achieved through a series of incremental steps or a long list of initiatives. Such fundamental changes call for a focused and radical response, leveraging one’s strengths.

Pharma’s response

Historically, large pharmaceutical companies have reacted to market pressures by cutting costs, and on the face of it this time is no different. If you look deeper though, there is a realisation among senior leaders that cost cutting is short term and incremental, and it will not address the fundamental shift they are experiencing in the competitive landscape.

They know that their entire business model needs to be looked at differently.

Sanofi (and the other major pharmaceutical companies) have recognised the need to shift from being a product marketing company to becoming a customer relationship business.

They believe that while having great products was enough to drive success in the past, this nowadays creates diminishing returns. They know that their future success will be determined not just by how many drugs are sold, but how well their products, services, tools and education have helped to improve or maintain a patients’ health and wellbeing.

Their revenues will still come from product sales, but the reason why customers will want to buy from pharmaceutical companies is changing. They need to offer their customers more for less and create an ecosystem of products and services around the end-patients’ health outcomes.

For example, in 2012 Sanofi and Agamatrix launched a new type of blood glucose monitor, which also connects to a smart phone. This allows patients to track glucose levels continuously and give them access to a telephone hotline and other support services, which earns Sanofi considerable customer loyalty. This shift to integrate products with innovative monitoring technology and personalised support services was possible because Sanofi listened to the needs of patients with diabetes.

With any change in strategy it is critical to diagnose your problems honestly and to leverage your strengths to differentiate your business. Pharma companies continue to build a stronger product portfolio through deals, partnerships, alliances and virtual R&D to access a broader universe of research companies.

However, they know not to stop here. Their sales people know their customer and they have unparalleled access and information. The best pharma companies are determined to build on this to be the partner of choice for their customers and to go beyond that in building a relationship with the end-patient too.

Pharma companies are breaking down silos (diabetes, oncology, generics, and so on) to use key account management techniques to ensure their customers do not get lots of different sales reps trying to get a share of their limited time. Instead, they are working on a single point of contact which understands the customer’s needs and offers support, education, services and products to help meet patient health outcomes. They are learning to think and care more about the customer and the patient (their needs, their experience and their long-term relationship) rather than just focusing on the disease, the drugs and their profits.

There is a significant effort being made to transform how medicines are presented, marketed and sold with a better understanding of stakeholder needs, demonstrating clear value for healthcare professionals and end patients. Sales reps are increasingly becoming a conduit of best practice among healthcare professionals, making links and introductions between stakeholders. The best are helping their customers – the intermediaries – deal with their challenges, as well as the steps, processes and tools to get to where they need to.

I am most impressed with the acknowledgement that this requires a major shift in attitude, behaviour, people and culture. Significant training of senior leaders, middle managers and other employees is underway. Employee-led customer-centric innovation is a powerful way of achieving this kind of culture change. In the past pharmaceutical innovation was limited to product development much like in fund management. Pharmaceutical companies are starting to use innovation more broadly across their employee base to improve business efficiency and customer service too. This requires giving employees permission to take risks and experiment with new ways of working without the fear of failure.

Taking a blank sheet of paper to fund management

The vast majority of investment management companies are not structured around their clients’ needs and outcomes. They are built around fund, asset class and regional silos that operate independently with limited dialogue, interaction and collaboration. A handful of houses have created successful outcome teams or divisions – with LDI or multi-asset specialists – though even there the challenge remains to apply this way of thinking to the rest of the business.

Senior leadership in investment management houses does not yet accept that the investment management business model needs to be overhauled. There is no overall drive to move the business from being product marketing to client relationship centric, and no corresponding plan to shift attitude, behaviour, people and cultures. Innovation remains a product manufacturing activity.

As an industry we need to look at the end investors and clients, rather than just being focused on the intermediaries and consultants, and start to ask ourselves how we can work together do a better job for them.

Some of the more dynamic, agile and client-centric investment managers are starting to realise this and are taking it seriously. Here are some lessons we can all learn from the disruption facing the pharmaceutical industry and their response:

  1. Our clients’ focus on outcomes will affect our whole business model not just a single multi-asset product area;
  2. A central risk-management, risk-budgeting and allocation team is essential in responding to clients’ needs and designing/delivering investment outcomes;
  3. Break down silos between funds, between equities and fixed income, between manufacturing and distribution, between back/middle office and the front office and between the corporate/board and the business to work together to deliver better outcomes for the end client;
  4. Focus on our strengths, rather than being all things to all people. Build alliances and partnerships with specialist investment boutiques and complementary players;
  5. Rebuild trust by putting the end-customer at the centre of our business. Help the clients and intermediaries deal with change and work together to deliver better solutions for the end customer;
  6. Train sales people to behave more like well-informed, trusted advisers. They must be able to listen and draw out client’s unarticulated needs. They must be able to offer advice and assistance to help our clients reach their overall strategic goals;
  7. Foster a client-centric, employee-led innovation culture beyond product manufacturing;
  8. Give our employees permission to take risk and experiment with new ways of working, without the fear of failure.

Finally, it is all too easy to stick to what we know and who we know. If the investment management industry wants to adapt, innovate, transform and engage, we need to include people with different perspectives, with different experiences and expertise; intentionally draw on customer insights, employee ideas and other industry perspectives.

I think if senior leaders in investment management commit to becoming fit for the future they will be blown away by how many middle managers, employees and clients volunteer their time, ideas and enthusiasm to solve these complex industry challenges.

If we get it right, our clients will be more successful in meeting their investment outcomes and our employees will thank us for investing in them and for helping them to do the best work of their lives.

Here’s a link to the full article here. 

We can all be more creative

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The BBC’s Kate Dart has written and directed an excellent Horizon documentary on creativity, insight, the brain and how we can all be more creative.

If you’re interested in understanding or developing your creativity I would highly recommend it.

It is available on BBC iPlayer till 18th April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b01rbynt/

Here’s a summary of the main ideas:

The advancement of humanity depends on creative insight and innovation and always has – from the wheel, to mobile phones, medicine and the internet. Our ability to think in novel ways is a defining characteristic of humanity.

The flash of Insight

Insight is a critical aspect of creativity. We all know the moment when we experience a flash of insight, when we figure out a problem or when the penny drops. However, for years creativity has been considered too elusive for scientists to study. Now with better technology and tools scientists are finally able to study creativity more objectively, as it occurs in the brain. They are concluding that we can all be more creative.

Observing the inner workings of the brain shows that we really are thinking differently when we have an insight. During a flash of insight it is the right side of our brain that erupts with gamma waves. Flashes of insight don’t just subjectively feel different, but they are objectively different in the brain.

The creative side of the brain

There is a structural difference between each side of the brain. The left side of the brain is primarily involved with reason, logic and language. The right hemisphere of the brain is more likely to make the connections that lead to insights. The neurons on the left have shorter dendrites while neurons on the right have broader/longer dendrites pulling together more distant unrelated information, finding connections that might not otherwise be made.

Check out this fantastic video on “Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain” pioneered by Betty Edwards, where she shows that anyone can draw if you can turn the left side of the brain off. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctkRwRDdajo

Developing divergent thinking

Creativity and intelligence are related but are not the same thing. Whilst intelligence is primarily linked to quicker thinking, creativity is not. Creativity is not fast and efficient but slow and meandering. Creativity is fostered when we allow our brain to slow down and to try different neural paths, rather than the shortest and quickest pathway from A to B. Partially formed ideas from different fields of experience need to collide with each other to being them into our consciousness.

Top tips for kick-starting your creativity

Creativity exists in everybody. Each second of our day and life is not scripted. We make most of it up. We improvise. We just need to understand our brain better and exercise our creativity regularly.

New, unusual and unexpected experiences boost your creativity because they open up your mind, help you see things differently and make new associations between concepts.

To think differently we need to disrupt our normal patterns of thought, routine or behavior. Just switching the steps of a well travelled routine, or doing something we don’t normally do boosts our creative abilities. When we break well trodden neural pathways, we open new possibilities.

We have our best ideas when we least expect, because ‘mind-wandering’ has always had a strong connection with creativity. When our mind wanders the front part of the brain (pre-frontal cortex) switches off. This is the part that is responsible for conscious self monitoring. When people improvise the same part of their brain switches off – our inhibitions reduce, we are less self conscious, any mental handcuffs come off and ideas flow more freely.

If you’ve been doing mentally demanding work your creative ability crashes. When you allow your mind to wander you become more creative, but that doesn’t mean doing nothing. In fact, the best thing you can do is to engage in a non mentally demanding task (for example, arranging Lego bricks by colour, watering the garden, washing the dishes, yoga, meditating, etc.), which allows your mind to wander and fosters creativity.

The best thing to do if you’re stuck on a problem, is to take a break, go for a walk or shower and then return to the problem. If you’re still stuck – disrupt your routine or try out a new experience. This allows the creative process to kick in.

So we can all be more creative, if we can slow down, let our minds wander, allow different ideas to collide, experience something new or do something differently. 

 

Further reading and videos:

  • Steve Johnson, Where good ideas come from – RSAnimate Video
  • Dr Mark Beeman (Northwest University, Cognitive Neuroscience) – Website
  • Dr Charles Limb, John Hopkins University – see his TEDxMidatlantic talk 
  • Dan Pink, A whole new mind, 2005
  • Dr Simone Ritter, Creativity: the role of unconscious processes in idea generation and idea selection, 2012
  • Robert Ornstien, The Right Mind: Making Sense of the Hemspheres, 1997

Mercedes Benz have captured the difference between the right and left hand side of the brain beautifully in these pictures:

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Management needs reinventing

In this excellent video (click here) Gary Hamel, founder of Management Innovation Exchange (MIX) and one of the world’s most influential business thinkers, explains why management is out of date and needs reinventing to make it fit for the future and fit for human beings.

Many of management tools we use today were invented before 1920, as we entered the industrial revolution. The problem that management was invented to solve was – how do you organise human beings into semi-programmable robots that deliver consistently, efficiently and on time? How do we get farm hands to turn up on time, to do the same thing every day, over and over again? Our management structures were built to solve this problem and we were successful, but that is not our challenge today!

We face unprecedented challenges today: exponential change; hyper competition and creative destruction. Knowledge itself is becoming a commodity. Our challenges today are: how to create organisations that can change as fast as change itself; where innovation is the work of everybody, all of the time, everyday; where people are willing to bring to work the gifts of their creativity and passion. We are struggling to create organisations that are adaptable, innovative and engaging.

To deal with this Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies (India) created ‘reverse accountability’ where all his employees rate their boss rather than the other way around. This is a culture where people hold their management accountable. It may not be for everyone but Vineet firmly believes that all value is created in the interface between the employee and the customer and so a manager’s job is to encourage the innovation there.

“My employees are more important than their managers; in fact they are more important than our customers. Unless I take care of my employees they are not going to work hard for my customers” – Vineet Nayar, HCL Technologies

In this video Gary Hamel says promotes aspiration, being a contrarian and learning from the fringe:

  1. Aspiration – Innovation starts with aiming high
  2. Be a Contrarian – Next you have to be willing challenge dogma, confront embedded and unexamined beliefs that limit us and our organisations
  3. Learn from the fringe – innovation happens at the edges.
To make our organisations future-proof we need to instil some of the values that underlie the success of the the Internet which is inherently adaptable, innovative and engaging.
We have an amazing opportunity to create organisations that are fit for human beings, because as humans we are already adaptable, innovative and engaging. We already have many of the qualities our organisations don’t, because they were built to serve another purpose.
I want to be a champion for the future and help build more human organisations that fully utilize and honour the gifts of every single person who comes there every day.
What about you?

How to avoid drowning in a sea of rejection

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When you’re starting out, building a new business or searching for a new job you have to deal with rejection all the time. Even when you are launching a new concept or trying to change direction within an existing business you usually have a string of failures before any glimmer of success. In this blog I discuss how do we can avoid drowning in a sea of rejection?

Although I’ve heard a hundred times before that “it takes time to build a business” and “you have to fail your way to success“, I have found it tough to maintain my motivation in these past couple of months.  When dealing with disappointment I try to remind myself of why I am doing this, tell myself that this is just the beginning and I try to keep my goal in mind. I also tend to meet up with other people in a similar situation to get comfort and encouragement from them. Sometimes that works. Other times you start to feel like a bit of a failure. You start to question your own ability, relevance and even existence.

When I’m in a dark self-pitying place, telling me to “stay positive” doesn’t help much.  It’s usually my wife or good friends that succesfully pick me up with a strongly worded pep talk.  Having been in this place a few times and having heard this a few more, I decided to give myself the same talk, repeating some of their most piercing words, wanting to be able to pick myself up.

I say something like – “You have so much to be grateful for. You cannot control what happens to you in life, only how you react to it.  You choose how you respond to what life throws at you. Life is a battle – fight it.  Moreover start to enjoy the battle. Only the test of fire makes the finest steel”.  It’s early days but this seems to be working.

Last week I was fortunate to meet Dan Pink, author of To Sell is Human, A whole New Mind and Drive, the timing could not have been more perfect.  What he had to say helped me made sense of how I deal with disappointment.  Here are 3 of his ideas for staying buoyant in the face of failure and rejection.  Some of these are intuitive but others fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

1. Talk to yourself

Before we go into any important encounter or presentation we often give ourselves a mental pep talk.  You say “You can do this!” and get yourself pumped up for the occasion. Recent social psychology research suggests this does not work. Surprisingly we are better off asking ourselves “Can I do this?”.

Questions by their nature illicit an active response, even if you are ask yourself questions. Your mind starts to answer the question subconsciously and prepares you for the situation ahead. Try it!

2, Be more positive and friendly than feels natural

In sales and negotiations we are often taught to be poker faced. In business meetings we are coached to be professional. During any important encounter or act of persuading, influencing and convincing we should be positive. We are far more likely to succeed if we smile and are friendly. Positive emotions open us up and make us explore possibilities, while negative emotions narrow us and make us focus.

“Positive emotions broaden our ideas out to possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and making us more receptive and creative.”

How positive? How friendly? Research suggests that our positive emotions should outnumber negative emotions by a factor of 3.

One way of making yourself more positive is by making time for ‘awe’ – to stop, observe and appreciate nature, human endeavor and the world around us. Try it. Take a moment  to pause and feel a sense of awe for the magnificence of a building, a garden, a view and achievement.

Another approach is to practice ‘gratitude’. Regular reflection on what you have to be grateful for improves your quality of life and well being. Try it. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for each night for a week.

3. Remember that it’s not the end of the world 

The key to surviving and thriving from failure is in how we explain our failure to ourselves (and others). We need to ask ourselves – “Is it really the end of the world? Am I really a complete failure? Is everything really ruined?”.

Following any failure or rejection ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  • Is this permanent? Have I lost all my skills or could I just be having a bad day? Could the client be having a bad day?
  • Is this pervasive? Will everyone always react in the same way? Could everyone miss the point and be uninterested or is there a chance that its just this person that didn’t get it.
  • Is it personal? It’s rarely personal. Maybe he just wasn’t ready. Maybe he’d agree on another day.

We hate rejection so much. We often over-react and start telling ourselves “this always happens”, “it’s all my fault” and “its going to ruin everything”. We need to be less dramatic and de-catastophise things.

If you’re applying for a job try writing yourself a rejection letter before you apply for the job. By thinking about valid objections and rejections you can mentally start to prepare for and respond to them.

What do you do? How do you avoid drowning in a sea of rejection? How do you keep positive in the face of failure and rejection?

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