Fail, ponder, learn

“Education is an experience understood in tranquillity. You look back and see where you went wrong.”

Charles Handy (interview in The Economist).

When a new idea comes along or something doesn’t work out as expected, take time to ponder. Allow enough space to see what it means and what you should change. Most importantly, remember to give your team permission to do the same.

Thinking about systems

I’m taking some time to learn about systems thinking. Businesses are basically a big system that is made up of hundreds (thousands?) of smaller systems.

My understanding is very basic but the exercise of breaking a business down into its component systems is a really interesting exercise. One that leads to a better understanding and might result in new ideas.

A system, at it’s most basic, is a group of elements, connected by relationships and paired with a purpose. Elements can be visible and physical or intangible. Eg you can see and touch the physical things that make up an office but the culture in that office is way more amorphous. However, in a great company, culture could be a system in it’s own right.

Relationships hold the elements together. They include things like norms, processes and standards but it’s the role of purpose that really intrigues me. Purpose is what the system is seen to do rather than what it says it is going to do. That’s why it’s so important for a companies stated purpose to be authentic and alive.

Elements can change easily, so to some extent can relationships but purpose is the glue that holds it all together.

How to think like Satya Nadella.

It takes a lot to change a companies culture. But when that company is Microsoft, I’d argue that Satya Nadella has achieved the near impossible in transforming it in just 5 years. I’ve become a big fan and take every opportunity to learn from how he thinks and acts.

People who know him well cite three key beliefs that are at the heart of how he thinks:

Learn it all, not know it all.

He has turned Microsoft into a place where it’s all about future possibilities rather than the past successes. How good are we at creating new products? How well do we adapt to change? Does our culture reward risk taking and learning?

Culture comes first.

A winning culture needs a bold mission that captures the imagination and Microsoft’s new one certainly does that ’empowering every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more’.

Act quickly, think slowly.

This seeming contradiction proves him to be a long term thinker who is not afraid to embrace new trends and weak signals. In a VUCA world that requires fast decision making he recognises that 80% confidence is enough to act.

I obviously dont know him but do have to admit to being a bit of a virtual stalker. Every time I hear him interviewed or watch a keynote, he comes across as a decent, thoughtful and caring person. And that’s definitely something to be admired in today’s corporate world.

Hard work is not enough

‘It is important that you work hard, but don’t be enamoured of the feeling of working hard. If you are drunk on that feeling, then you care less about the actual work than about how you appear to others to be working hard’

Haemin Sunim

I love this quote as it balances the need for hard work with an understanding of what you are working hard for. We’ve all been there – you spend a day working hard but at the end of it you can’t seem to look back at any achievements.

Having said that, I firmly believe that hard work is an essential part of any worthwhile achievement. By all means look for a life changing purpose but never believe that it is rightfully yours to have.

The model that has consistently worked for me is:

  1. Choose a direction,
  2. Devise a plan,
  3. Take fully committed action.

This has proved true in many areas of my life – from the big stuff like starting a business, sailing the atlantic, or climbing a mountain to the small things like 1-1 meetings, preparing a talk or writing a blog post.