Subba’s Serendipitous moments

April 26, 2010

The push and pull models – Not business models, but a mindset!

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 6:08 pm
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A good friend of mine who is a regular reader of my blog and keeps asking me what’s serendipity got to do with what I write sent me the blog post which published extracts of the new book by John Seely Brown and John Hagel III titled The Power of Pull. The extract mentions the role of serendipity in creating new paradigms;which was one of the reasons why the blog post was sent to me.

I have been mulling over the push and pull models for several years. Apart from what is mentioned in the blog post, I reckon the following:

A push based thinking is at best an eclectic  mix of intellectual sloth and arrogance. It starts with the premise that the “pusher” knows what it is in the best interest for the recipient. Push further accentuates the efficiency syndrome and believes that the right mechanisms and triggers will ensure success. It invariably tends to replicate the past, making just minor tweaks to current environment. The more different the reality, the greater is the research and more diligent is the design of the mechanisms and “push” messages. The arrogance of the past success ensures that they remain in continuous denial about the new world and push outmoded things with greater vigor. The perpetuation of the past is sadly created by the elite at the top who often believe that they are the sole owners and arbiters of the reality. The role of conceiving and creating new offerings gets considerably devalued over time. Tactical thinking gains ascendancy often at the cost of strategic thinking and innovative approaches. Such thinking has led to a slow but sure decline and eventual death unless a radical thinking ensues.

A pull based thinking on the other hand forces people to be humble as they necessarily have to be clued to the environment and listen constantly. A pull based thinking essentially harnesses the power of many different entities and creates possibilities and scenarios that were not conceivable in the first place. It does create chaos and confusion, but slowly there’s a defining fluidity which lends itself to constant learning and innovation. Further a force of serendipity acts as a regular glue helping people make connections and improvisation. It is an open mindset that constantly calibrates itself.

Tell me a successful innovation or a major breakthrough and I can demonstrate how pull based thinking contributed to the phenomenon.

Sharing has becoming second nature (thanks to social networking and Facebook) in the world that we live in. Facebook’s open graph in fact is perhaps the biggest opportunity for pull based thinkers and marketers as they can participate in the conversation. It will force people to conceive not just value propositions but every attractive value propositions as they compete for attention in a rapidly attention deficit mental state. The digital native should have had a natural advantage here. Yet most digital natives are content with pulling data and information from the Web and not creating value out of them. Worse still, many impose their own pull based thinking into this push based environment and are none the wiser.

Hence I am tempted to conclude that notwithstanding the environment it is one’s thinking model that needs examination and scrutiny.

While the sort of pull based thinking described above is externally directed, there is an internally directed pull based thinking that is equally potent. It transforms passive observers and learners into performers. I have often noticed that pull based thinkers are natural performers as they constantly attempt to pull new information, concepts and thinking into something meaningful to them. All that is needed is persistence, the willingness to experiment and occasionally fail and constantly call upon themselves to be curious and seek out new things.

June 4, 2007

How does this committee perform?

Filed under: Business,Leadership — Subbaraman Iyer @ 9:49 pm
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Just came across the fact that Citigroup’s Senior management committee has 112 members. I wonder how does this committee function, how it holds their meetings, manage expectations and arrive at decisions.

The list of members in the committee can be found here

By the way, the papal conclave which manages the Roman Catholic church has 118 members.

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How VISA International came into being — Amazing story

Most of the people who know me understand how I value a good story that inspires and aligns people. I strongly believe that management dashboards and KPIs, targets and measures, and all quantitative measures have their role in managing, but they still don’t get the commitment and dedication needed for success. A story with real events, charachters and the drama contained therein is a far superior way to build a natural sense of allegience and loyalty.

I was just reading this amazing book on Managing as Designing which has the story of how VISA was formed.

Here’s what happened at VISA. In the early 1970s, National BankAmericard Incorporated (NBI) turned around the Bank of America’s faltering credit card business in the United States (Hock, 1999, p. 155). Soon thereafter, NBI was pressured by BankAmericard licensees in the rest of the world to do the same thing for them. The problems were formidable. Not only did each licensee also have different marketing, computer, and operational systems, but each licensee also dealt with different language, currency, culture, and legal systems, all of which had to be transcended somehow. A technological fix was out of the question because banks were still using computer punch cards and tape, and there was no Internet. After months of tense negotiations, a meeting of the organizing committee was scheduled late in the second year of organizing. The meeting was to one last attempt to resolve three deal-breaking disagreements. Positions had hardened and the organizers could think of no compromise that had any chance of being accepted.

Shortly before the final meeting, the chairman of the organizing committee, Dee Hock, reflected on how the international group had been able to get as far as they did. It dawned on him that “at critical moments, all participants had felt compelled to succeed. And at those same moments , all had been willing to compromise. They had not thought of winning or losing but of a larger sense of purpose and concept of community that could transcend and enfold them” (1999, p. 245). Hock and his staff hatched a plan for the final meeting. They contacted a local jeweler and asked him to create a die from which he would cast sets of golden cuff links. One ciff link would contain a picture of half of the globe and the phrase, “the will to succeed.” The other link would contain the other half of the globe and the phrase, “the grace to compromise.”

When the final meeting actually convened, as expected it was polarized, contentious. The Canadian banks refused to participate and withdrew, and Hock adjourned the meeting midday and said they would reconvene the next morning on order to plan how to disband. Before adjourning, Hock invited everyone to a grand dinner that evening in Sausalito in recognition of their undeniable efforts to try to make the organization work.

After dinner, there was brief reminiscing about shared experiences and obstacles overcome. The the waiters passed among the diners and placed a small wrapped gift in front of each of them. Hock asked people to open the elegant boxes and examine the contents.

He then said quietly, “We wanted to give you something that you could keep for the remainder of your life as a reminder of this day. On one link is half of the world surrounded with the phrase ”the will to succeed“ and the second link is the other half of the world and the phrase ‘the grace to compromise.’ We meet tomorrow for the final time to disband the effort after two arduous years. I have one last request. Will you please wear the cuff links to the meeting in the morning? When we part we will take with us a reminder for the rest of our lives that the world can never be united through us because we lack the will to succeed and the grace to compromise. But if by some miracle our differences dissolve before morning, this gift will remind us that the world was united because we did have the will to succeed and the grace to compromise (paraphrased from Hock, 1999, pp. 247-48)

Then Hock sat down. There was a full minute of absolute silence as people examined their gift. And then the silence was shattered by one of Hock’s exuberant Canadian friends who exploded, ”You miserable bastard!“ The room erupted in laughter. The next morning everyone was wearing the cuff links. By noon, agreement was reached on every issue and VISA International came into existence.

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Why employees leave organizations?

Filed under: Business,Leadership,Learning,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 9:24 pm
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“People leave managers, not companies” is often the fact, especially in the 21st century, where there’s a demand for talent. However, while most managers accept this, at a cognitive level, rarely do they make the necessary changes in their behavior to become accommodative.

It is also true that most Managers do not take responsibility when their subordinates or team mates leave and in turn blame the system and factors which are beyond their control. While this could be true in specific cases, in my experience their reporting manager cannot escape the responsibility.

I have often observed that managers who develop even a modicum of coaching and mentoring skills are more successful in retaining people. And even if people under them leave, for better prospects, they hold the manager in high regard. Ex Managers become their friends and mentors. I talked about the nature of bosses here

Thanks to a very good manager that I had in my early days as an engineer, I gained useful insights in understanding and managing teams. Not that I have always been successful with my direct reports, but most of them have kept in touch with me over the years and have always agreed to work with me, should the right opportunity come about.

The article by Azim Premji CEO and Chairman of Wipro emphasizes this aspect. The complete article is available here.

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Mckinsey overstates the value of scientific management

Filed under: Business,Leadership,Strategy,Winning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 12:05 am
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Mckinsey recently released its annual report on Ten trends shaping the future corporate landscape, and most of it was well known. Yet, one trend (trend #9) seemed to imply that scientific management would triumph over gut instinct and intuition, to imply that companies can be run on a technology auto-pilot. I completely disagree.

Roger Martin who served as Dean of the School of Management at the University of Toronto gives his opinion here.

I am intrigued at how Mckinsey reached this conclusion (perhaps they must be watching the trend of increased use of Enterprise software and BI), I can’t help but disagree with Mckinsey’s assessment.

Whenever any business activity is caused or is a result of human activity, a complete rational approach never solves any business problem. While a scientific approach helps in solving operational problems and improving operational efficiency, growth and innovation comes about differently. It requires instinct, insight and an intelligence of a rare kind to discover opportunities.

I have seen companies deploying elaborate Business intelligence applications, and do sophisticated data mining. Yet asking the right question, or framing the right context is often the trigger to get more out of data warehouses, even for operational decision making. Strategic decisions often rely on data only to the extent of making projections, but assessment of capabilities, risk etc. are clearly areas where the gut instinct plays a dominant part.

Business problems are indeed getting complex, and often throwing more data at the problem and hoping that somehow sophisticated data analysis will simplify the problem is indeed a seductive thought. Worse people adopt the SCATE approach, without fully realizing that they could be misled. In all my consulting approaches, I tend to use data and a rational approach, but never ignore my own gut instinct.

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