Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Worthy Manifesto for Any Organization

This cuts right to it. While I can preach these sorts of cultural guidelines, coming from a guy who has run one of the world most successful hedge funds gives this a functional credibility that can't be brushed away.
Hat tip to  The Big Picture and to Farnam Street . The Farnam link will take you to the full piece.

Management Lessons from Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio, the sixty-one-year-old founder of Bridewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund, offers the following management advice. Dalio says “Taken together, these principles are meant to paint a picture of a process for the systematic pursuit of truth and excellence and for the rewards that accompany this pursuit. I put them in writing for people to consider in order to help Bridgewater and the people I care about most.”
“Two of the biggest impediments to truth and excellence are people’s ego’s and organizational bureaucracy. Most people like compliments and agreement, and they dislike criticisms and conflict. Yet recognizing mistakes and weaknesses is essential for rapid improvement and excellence. In our culture, there is nothing embarrassing about making mistakes and having weaknesses. “
“We need and admire people who can suspend their egos to get at truth and evolve toward excellence, so we ignore ego-based impediments to truth. We have a different type of environment in which some behaviors discouraged elsewhere are rewarded here (like challenging one’s superiors), and some behaviors encouraged elsewhere are punished here (like speaking behind a subordinate’s back).”
Think and act in a principled way and expect others to as well“all outcomes are manifestations of forces that are at work to produce them, so whenever looking at specific outcomes, think about the forces that are behind them. Constantly ask yourself, “What is this symptomatic of?”
If you don’t mind being wrong on the way to being right, you will learn a lot
“I once had a ski instructor who had taught Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, how to ski. He explained how Jordan enjoyed his mistakes and got the most out of them. At the start of high school, Jordan was a mediocre basketball player; he became great because he loved using his mistakes to improve. I see it all the time. Intelligent people who are open to recognizing and learning from their mistakes substantially outperform people with the same abilities who aren’t open in the same way.”

I have tended to point to fear as the biggest barrier to the kinds of necessary changes so many organizations need to go through, but ego and bureaucracy are highly related.
There is more here as well. Bridgewater--Culture and Principles

For those who are interested in joining our tribe (more on this to come), this is required reading!

News Flash! Canada Needs to Cultivate Innovation

Wanted: Culture of Innovation

Innovation doesn’t happen in the abstract – corporations have to manage for it. Successful innovation happens in four distinct areas.
Product innovation: The capacity of a firm to introduce new products and services ahead of competitors, to anticipate consumer needs or even to create them.
Market innovation: The capacity of a firm to decide to change its market, whether it’s geographically, virtually or creatively.
Process innovation: The capacity to change how goods and services are produced and delivered to reduce cost, improve efficiency and increase convenience for customers.
Organizational innovation: The capacity to convert creativity, market and customer knowledge and technology into marketable innovations.

I believe the organization is where we can best leverage our individual abilities to be part of a groundswell surge of innovation. The nexus of it is, we don't have to belong to business organization, or any specific organization to invest our social or intellectual capital. Rather, we can be part of a network that extends itself within the organization, where you, me, we can collaborate to create value and innovation.
I will be extending on this very theme in the coming days, weeks, months.
The question is, how can we create a solid enough network where we can further our skills, knowledge, connectivity in way that enhance the group, can extend itself within networks in collaborative ways where both parties benefit, and sustains itself?

Power Corrupts

Power, corruption, exploitation. Holdovers from the twentieth century, and the centuries that preceded it. And the very antithesis of what is going to get us through this century.
Where is currently one of the worst examples and practitioners of power, corruption and exploitation? You might be surprised.

The Shame of College Sports.

Its a very long piece from The Atlantic, but should be required reading for all of us who want to relegate this kind of organizational abuse to the history books. The practices of the NCAA and big business universities of college football and basketball in the U.S. have no place in a modern society.

For all the outrage, the real scandal is not that students are getting illegally paid or recruited, it’s that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—“amateurism” and the “student-athlete”—are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.

Don Curtis, a UNC trustee, told me that impoverished football players cannot afford movie tickets or bus fare home. Curtis is a rarity among those in higher education today, in that he dares to violate the signal taboo: “I think we should pay these guys something.”
Fans and educators alike recoil from this proposal as though from original sin. Amateurism is the whole point, they say. Paid athletes would destroy the integrity and appeal of college sports. Many former college athletes object that money would have spoiled the sanctity of the bond they enjoyed with their teammates. I, too, once shuddered instinctively at the notion of paid college athletes.
But after an inquiry that took me into locker rooms and ivory towers across the country, I have come to believe that sentiment blinds us to what’s before our eyes. Big-time college sports are fully commercialized. Billions of dollars flow through them each year. The NCAA makes money, and enables universities and corporations to make money, from the unpaid labor of young athletes. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Creating a 21st Century Organization

This is my big audacious dream. An organization that networks together investment management, capitalist enterprise, investors, management, workforce, venders and suppliers, customers, community.
The culture, the management philosophy and tools, the technology, the need all exist right now to make this possible.
With the right leadership, drive, determination and desire to become the model, the leader, in what an organization can be and what it can do, we can and will create this organization.

For myself, I am driven by a sense of purpose around defining what capitalism can be in the age of networks. A capitalism that can spread it's creative awards to those who participate.
A capitalism that not only rewards its core participants, but also looks forward to be part of solving society's most pressing problems.
A capitalism that can help create the vibrant, healthy social and economic society the future wants, the future needs. A win-win capitalism.

We're at the beginning. We're a seed. To grow, we want to attract the attention of those that can give this concept energy. Their social capital, their intellectual capital, their financial capital. Those that can understand the concept, and contribute their experience, their skills, their minds to make it better. To seed that culture of constant, never ending learning and improvement, a culture of growth.

A concept I am looking for feedback on right now is the idea of creating a investment fund, I am calling the North American Capitalism Investment Fund. I believe I have sound ideas around this, but it needs the expertise of fund managers who are looking for a creative edge in their investment strategies.

The Significance of a Socially Networked Organization

This for me illustrates the necessity for a socially networked, team environment organization. Protecting your top performers:
The Dark Side of High Achievement  (Hat Tip--William Reichard via Google Plus)

 In the movies and on stage, the leader usually fails because “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” a la Charles Foster Kane. Or, as in the case of Macbeth, the leader is tortured by thoughts of a sin for which he can never atone. In real life, however, many managers face similar problems even when they have committed no major sins and when their power is far from absolute. Indeed, becoming isolated and self-obsessed is something every business leader should fear, not just corporate titans but also middle managers and owners of small companies. To the detriment of their firms, their employees, and most of all themselves, many managers cling to the techniques that got them to the top long after those techniques have become obsolete.

One reason for this has to do with the personal attributes that lead to success within an organization, says Thomas DeLong, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School. Characteristics such as a high need for achievement and a focus on task accomplishment, which are invaluable in precocious new employees, can lead to counterproductive habits once a person has attained a managerial position. High achievers, while intelligent and hard working, are often terrible at taking criticism and examining their own weaknesses. Driven by their need for tangible accomplishments, these people end up managing their professional images at the expense of their core skills and their personal relationships.
Culture matters. A socially networked culture matters more. A team environment is intrinsic to a socially networked culture. High performer sports teams know this. They protect their top talent.

This also illustrates the strength of a learning organization. Today's socio-economic environment is evolving too fast, is too chaotic, too complex for anybody's knowledge, skills and techniques to last long.
A learning organization understands this, and creates an environment where learning is part of the everyday experience.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back from a Self Imposed Hiatus

It's been six months of digging deep within myself to find what it is I really want to do with the rest of my life. I am 52 years old, I've spent the the last fifteen years of my life studying and learning, developing a role I can effectively play in helping create the kind of sustainable future we need to sustain a growing population of us humans with the resources we have available. Oh, and earning a living being a carpenter.
Out of that learning process, there was no position I was particularly suited for other than a consultant. A consultant of what? is a reasonable question.
The answer comes back (every time I examine it) is I want to help organizations to thrive in any kind of future social and economic environment.
As we cannot predict the future, by the very nature of this purpose organizations have to a certain self awareness, a certain awareness of trends, an aversion to complacency, and what I've learned as two stand out features:
A desire to lead.
A desire to innovate.
While this has always been true, as numerous others have written, it is not easy.
Groups, organizations tend to ossify.

I continually seek out material, seek out the people with the skills that can transform organizations out of complacency, to break free from ossification.

My personal barriers to playing a more active role in developing highly adaptable organizations are working full time in the exciting and demanding field of custom home building, as it has it's own demands of time and energy.
That in itself is not that difficult to overcome. What's more interesting, is my process involves a pretty radical change, and people natural resist change. This is inherent with all those (there are too many amazing people and firms that endeavor to create the changes we need for healthy sustainable organizations) who ply these same waters as I do. Change is hard!
It's exciting for me, as I get to experience the changes I need to continually develop in order to pursue my passion, and learn from those who share this passion.
This is to say, securing willing clients is a tall order.

I also have a passion for creating and building. Essentially, building homes has been a very satisfying way to create and build!
But at this stage of my life I want more, much much more.

The question became this past six months, where and how to direct this energy, this passion? How to best utilize and express my full potential?

It keeps coming back as: Develop and grow an organization that is the full expression of all I've learned to this point in my life.

An organization isn't, of course, a solo unit. It is a company of people with a purpose. As the organization I envision is a capitalist one, a profit is the key output.

To develop this organization, we need a team. That core. This tribe of equally passionate people who want to build the same thing, be part of this mission we are on.

The purpose of this blog, along with my Google+ account, is create this shared vision, and find the people who want to build it.

One of the core values we begin with is win-win relationships. Win-win actions. We win, our workforce wins, our customers win, our suppliers and venders win, our investors win.
This is a key insight into what we are building. We are network of those components. Our whole will be greater than the sum of those parts.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Failure in Complex Systems

These is being touted as one of the best papers on systems failures. I'm dumping it here so I can find it when I need it.

18 Truths--The Long Fail of Complexity

"1. Complex systems are intrinsically hazardous systems. The frequency of hazard exposure can sometimes be changed but the processes involved in the system are themselves intrinsically and irreducibly hazardous. It is the presence of these hazards that drives the creation of defenses against hazard that characterize these systems."

Getting organizations, be they corporate enterprises, or public sector, (etc), to think of themselves as 'complex systems' is a start to implimenting the kind of processes that can create better understanding around 'system failure' and how to get the most out of the event. Learning to be better means better understanding why things fail.

As the 18th 'truth' say;

18. Failure free operations require experience with failure. Recognizing hazard and successfully manipulating system operations to remain inside the tolerable performance boundaries requires intimate contact with failure. More robust system performance is likely to arise in systems where operators can discern the “edge of the envelope”. It also depends on providing calibration about how their actions move system performance towards or away from the edge of the envelope."

It's a great paper, a must read as one IT blogger said. There is a lot that could be incorporated in making organizations the kinds of sustainable winning organizations the future needs.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vancouver 2.0 Initiative

I am also very excited to tell you about my latest project that I am rolling out this year, the "Vancouver 2.0 Initiative"!
My purpose with this initiative is to do for the Vancouver region what I want to do for people and organizations, which in itself will create a lot of cross-purpose and value. I have created a blog to introduce people and organizations to the concept, and create understanding how to be involved and what they can get out of it. Here is what I put on the blog header:
An Initiative to Harness the Skills and Creativity of the People and Organizations of the Vancouver Region to Maintain Vancouver as a Leader in Establishing The Future of Healthy World Class Cities-- Collaboration Create Challenge Change Opportunity

What Vancouver 2.0 will become is a "creation platform" that will exist both in the online world and physical world where the people and organizations of Vancouver can co-mingle and create the collaborative culture to seed and develop innovative projects that insure Vancouver can and will be the leader in evolving the kind of city region that we will want it to be in a rapidly changing 21st century world.
We will create an online community where we can both develop deep understanding of the challenges the world, regions, peoples and organizations will face in the coming years, and also constantly create innovative solutions, projects and transformational change to address the challenges and thrive in the opportunities.

Join me at Vancouver 2.0 Initiative!!
Anybody can participate, if you have a passion for our city and region, and love the idea of learning and being part of something new and challenging. We'll grow a deep and very rich network of amazing people and organizations in the process!!! It's win-win for all of us!

Getting to Know The Unconventional Consultant

For the last six months, I've immersed this blog in a lot of theory and reference points that support my ideas for creating value and purpose within organizations.
It's exciting stuff to me, but also obscures who I am, what I am about,  why I am passionate about what it is I want to do, and where I am currently at in doing what I want to do.
Today, as part of a shift in how I am developing my consulting practice, I'm going to tell you more about myself, what it is I want to do, why I am doing it!

My long term mission is to play as large a role as I possibly can to create the world we are heading towards. Transforming you, transforming people, transforming organizations, transforming the world is what I have on my business card. It's a large, long audacious journey and that is part of what I love about it!

While I have spent the better part of fifteen years developing, learning, and putting together what I call my 'three pillars' (systems thinking, organizational learning, deep social media) approach to creative adaptive change in people and organizations, I also continued to support myself as a carpenter in the exciting and competitive world of custom home building. As of this day, I still continue to support myself as a carpenter (working for G Wilson Construction one of Vancouver's premier custom home builders).

Developing a consulting practice while building custom homes brings with it a wealth of real world experience that I take with me.
For starters, I know first hand just how difficult it is to create meaningful change. Going from a career as carpenter/home builder to that of a change consultant is a huge step! What keeps me motivated to do so is a very deep seated belief in what I am doing.
When I talk about employee motivation, I understand it from my own real world experiences. Building homes under often difficult climate conditions, with challenging designs and structural issues, with schedules and budgets always in the forefront, for clients and architects that expect the best requires a range of ways to keep the crew on track and in the game. The same challenges most companies and organizations face, on larger scales. 
The roles I have played over the years, gives me deep insight to the nature of challenges for all the different interests involved. Building a home is an orchestration of the efforts and incentives of the general contractor, the carpentry crew, the home owners/clients, architects, engineers, designers, dozens of trades people and sub-trades, thousands of parts and materials, suppliers and even neighbours! While the ultimate goal is the home the clients dream about, keeping all the varying players and interests aligned is much more challenging than many realize.
It's a challenging--and very rewarding--work environment that has provided and proven an invaluable field lab for me to develop my own thinking and philosophies that would become the backbone of my consulting practice ideas.

None the less, taking the steps from the world of home building to that of consulting and creating the kind of transformational change I want to develop in people and organizations have also proven to be far more challenging than I already thought they'd be! It's a constant reminder of the challenges the people and organizations will have that I hope to transform! This creates a beautiful dynamic tension between daunting and exciting challenge!

What Is The Pay Off?

There are few greater joys than standing back with the home owners as you all admire the home you've just completed for them.
While the pay-offs for change consulting might not be as concrete (literally, that is!), with the establishment of clear metrics, we should be able to capture the joys of transformation.
With the astonishing change society and business has gone through and witnessed since the advent of the internet, the disruptions it and other macro trends have brought have created a staggering amount of challenges and opportunity. Just knowing I have positioned myself to help society, organizations and people manage and create the changes they need to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities is a powerful motivator!

What can the outcomes look like? What does the world we want to create look like?
We live in a world where we understand what motivates us, and keeps us interested and productive in the means in which we earn a living. We have meaningful and trusted relationships between the organizations, corporations and governments and the people--your customers and constituents--on which you depend and serve. We live in a world where value is constantly created by the interwoven feedback loops that exist between the consumer and constituents, and that of business and government. We live in a world where people are the greatest assets. We live in a world where we have a deeper and broader understanding of the kind of society and environment we need to maintain the sustainability where business, people, all living things and our governance can thrive. We live in a world where win-win relationships triumph over that of zero-sum strategies and the waste of personal greed.
It's a world where we still crown and admire champions in life, business and sport, and we all win in the process. 

When you fully embrace and engage in the philosophy and practice of systems thinking, the above is not starry eyed ideology, it is common sense. It taps into the intrinsic desires almost all peoples have, while maintaining the competitive and cooperative nature of humans. It is a respect and admiration for all living things, both biological and cultural. It embraces the power of individuality and the cohesiveness of collective endeavors. It weeds out the waste of collective ways, while harnessing the creativity and innovation we all possess.

In creating my own transformation one needs to make decisions. One of mine is to only work and associate with people that want to play their role--no matter how big or small--in creating that world.

My name is Gregory Esau, The Unconventional Consultant, and I want you to join me on that journey.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Order and Chaos--Trust is the Only Commodity with Value

One of the biggest differences between the land of today (our current operating environment) and that, say, of 1980, is the pace of change. Pace of change can be said to be the time and space between order and chaos. If order is predominant, there is relatively little change, at a relatively slow pace. Adjustment or adaptation is relatively easy.
If chaos is predominant, change is dramatic, pace can be instantaneous.

Today's world is more marked by chaos than it is by order. The music and media industries are two arenas of business where this is most noticeable. The avenues of disruption are fragmenting audiences (which affects advertising rates), radical shifts in distribution chains and models (the slow death of the CD as a music vehicle), the rise of consumer as content (barrier to entry of content creation and distribution is continually lowering), and what maybe can be best described as a general lack of trust between the consumer and the producer (producers seeing the rise of empowered consumer as the threat to their business models, which is correct, but seeing and treating them as the 'enemy' is no way to salvage your business).
This is of course by no means an exhaustive missive of the woes of the media world, but it touches broadly on the modes of disruption.

The broader point is this chaos is not going away--that's obvious enough I would hope--perhaps less obvious is where there is chaos there is opportunity. But the attitude to find those opportunities is to create and manage your own chaos, rather than letting it manage you. Being reactive can be effective in times of order, it is all but a fatal strategy in times of high chaos.

The question becomes two-fold:
1)--how much is your business (model) being or going to be affected by the space between order and chaos?
2)--how then do you and your company/organization create and manage our own 'chaos'?

Risk analysis of your own business, it's model, and it's general operating environment is not easy. Especially if times are good (or, for that matter, times are bad). The default assumption here should be that odds are pretty good that your business and model are at risk. Odds are you are leaving opportunity on the table that you cannot see because you are too comfortable in your current model and assumptions you have about it.

The challenge in creating, managing and finding opportunity in chaos is that it is by it's very nature Not Easy! This, I am here to tell you, is The Good News. If it was easy--as I am found of saying in the home building world--everybody would be doing it, and the arbitrage of opportunity would be diluted to the point of meaningless.

What is the take away here? That the power is increasingly going to reside in the consumer. What You Need To Understand is that the chaos is also increasing for the consumer. Be the organization that makes their life easier, and develop the real relationships with them so they will trust you.

When there is chaos, trust is scare. Scarcity creates value.