Welcome to our November business briefing

We have just re-launched the idenk website: www.idenk.com

Do take a look and let us have your feedback.

We hope you’ll find lots of useful things there, including articles, business briefings, resources and online assessments.

We have also started sharing our ideas in short form more regularly through the idenk Ideas Digest.

You can receive this by clicking on this link. If you register, you will get 5-6 short observations or thoughts (each is about 100-200 words) every two weeks.

Here is the round-up of the November entries.

Acting the leader

Fans of Strictly Come Dancing will know how important it is for the celebrity contestants to put on a performance. It’s not just about getting the steps right. You need to get into character. Tell the story with the dance. Remember to smile.

Leadership in business is the same. You need to perform – to act the part. It’s not just about doing or saying the right things technically. Get into the play. Look confident, work on how you come across, even remember to smile!

Irony #3

In Cambridge, a car revs, blares its horn and launches past a cyclist who has just (somewhat slowly) passed a T-junction.

The car?

A Prius.

Giving thanks

It is the night before Thanksgiving (OK, this is written in London, but hang on in there)…

Getting a mini-cab in London…the car arrives. A Prius with tinted windows – and well cared for. The nicest mini-cab I have seen.

The driver is friendly. Happy.

In conversation he shares his story…in 2001, he travels illegally from Afghanistan to Sangatte. He climbs under a lorry and hangs on as it loads on and off Le Tunnel. He shudders now to think of what would have happened if the lorry had been waved on to the M20 instead of being inspected by Customs and Excise. He asks for asylum, and years later it is granted. He now loves to travel – in and out of England on Eurostar – upstairs! He loves the UK – he is so grateful for his chance. He doesn’t understand why everyone doesn’t appreciate what we have. He wants to settle down and become fully English – living in the country, with a local wife.

Organisation choices

3 modes of organisation – for conscious choices in organisational life:

  1. The sort of conversation – creative and opening up, yes/and plus appreciative OR debate and critique, yes/but and challenge
  2. The approach to personal responsibility – taking charge or making a request; give or get
  3. The nature of line management – direct or devolve

There is not a good and bad, rather the need to signal and agree which moment by moment.

Ironies #1 and #2

  1. En route to see someone devoted to improving travel in a large city – and I am in a taxi in traffic jam…
  2. Waiting for a client at 4pm, I meet someone who has turned up early for a 5.30pm seminar on… ‘avoiding working long hours’

Taking responsibility

Nature or nurture. That is it. That’s the choice. As well as being a cliché it misses something really important. In explaining something, the other option is “no, it is me”. Looking back for explanations leads so easily to excuses. Living in the now, in the present, the moment, demands personal responsibility. Stopping and reflecting on personal choices is hard, but helpful.

So when you next hear that little phrase to do with biology or socialisation, think “Now, how might deciding to see the issues as about personal choice change things?”

Today : tomorrow

Climate change / The Hybrid Car / Global warning / Renewable electricity : the possibilities beyond Peak Oil.

Patient demands / The best of medical practice / Government targets / Compassion : The potential beyond today’s reality.

Challenge / Response / Change / Hope : The solutions a problem can create.

The old ways / The Demand for new solutions / Anxiety and Pain / Ideas and Acceptance : Something new and better will come.

Deliberation or democracy?

It seems so sensible. A band needs to agree 4 songs for a demo. “Let’s set up a Google vote – that will be fair”. A dissenting voice: “I prefer deliberation to democracy – your views change mine, your vote doesn’t.” The result? 10 minute later a reaffirming of the likely preferences of pub and party sponsors – with a restatement of what The Band wants to offer. The vote will now be chosen from a short list of 9, not 30. The options are narrowed but not eliminated through dialogue. There is more energy and commonality. The Lowest Common Denominator receeds…for the time being.

A dilemma you can’t afford

Better quality for less cost. That’s what most organisations are being asked to deliver.

Quality means meeting or beating the expectations of the people you serve, delivering them a service or product they’ll pay for again and again and will be happy to recommend to others. Less cost is part of maximising the profit you make if you’re a commercial organisation and part of living within your means if you’re publicly funded.

Yet some argue you can’t have both. It’s one or the other. You can have better quality or less cost. You’re left with a dilemma in choosing one over the other.

It doesn’t have to like that though. Toyota led the way more than 50 years ago in discovering that the two go hand-in-hand. They did this by believing in better. Yes, they developed a whole production system, set of management practices and tools and techniques to improve the business over decades. But what made their achievements possible (and the success of many who have followed) was a belief that things could be done better by being done differently.

Resolving the quality/cost dilemma is partly an article of faith. You have to believe it is possible before you can start to make it happen.

The economics of happiness

What role does happiness play in your decision-making?

Not that much according to most economic theory. Humans are treated as completely rationale beings - Homo Economicus. We’re supposed to decide systematically on what is best for us (to maximise utility) based on trading off costs and benefits that can all be quantified.

But we know this isn’t the case in practice. From De Bono’s work on learning 25 years ago to the latest neuroscience research on how the brain functions, the role of our emotional responses is being shown to be more and more central in shaping how we act. And happiness?

It’s not a straightforward concept to define. Aristotle thought it was about looking back at the whole of your life having tried to exhibit the ‘virtues’. Betham considered the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Modern surveys of happiness – such as the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire – use a rich blend of measures, also including judgements about laughter, joy and elation.

Nonetheless, the Cambridge economist Jonathan Aldred in his new book ‘The Skeptical Economist’ thinks that to understand the big value judgements of our age – on things such as global finance, climate change and development aid - we need to work with the idea of happiness as a factor in human endeavour.

Clients of ours in government reached the same conclusion when working on some scenarios of possible future changes in society. Happiness is a function of us all being social creatures. A British Medical Journal study from 2008 (based on 20 years of data) showed how happiness spreads between individuals within a network of friends and contacts. This has implications for the workplace as well as for us personally.

All those you deal with – customers, colleagues and the like – are making judgements influenced by their happiness. That might be worth thinking about.

With best wishes,

Ross, Phil and the idenk team

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