Posted by intellisg on June 26th, 2007
THERE’S a story – two salesmen who were sent to the African continent during the 1800’s to sell shoes – the first after spending a period in the Ivory Coast telegrammed the London head office and sent the following message,
“All of them are barefooted here! No point. I am coming back home.”
The other sent the following message,
“All of them are barefooted here, fantastic! Send as many shoes as you can!”
This story embodies a mystery, “what does it take to have good business judgment?”
There are some obvious hallmarks that we all associated with those who have good business sense – firstly, they can all navigate themselves out of sticky situations and all of them seem to have the maturity to remain unflustered when the shit hits the fan. Nothing ever seems to derail their sense of confidence and surefootedness. These winners also seem to have a keen nose for spotting opportunities which usually. When push comes to shove, they all have this uncanny ability to anticipate their competitor’s next move – right down to the minuteness detail.
It raises the question: what does good business acumen actually consist of? Does it have something to do with taking action? Following that mythical line called gut feel, intuition or does it have more to do with just plain good olde luck?
Can I or you develop good business acumen?
I presented this question to our resident subject matter expert. Dr Chandra who has counseled dozens of senior executives as they attempt to develop strategy in order to find out more of how, these winners regularly define personal and organizational success – what do they really have?
The Myth of the Action Man.
“Firstly, let me be clear on a few points, ‘good business acumen’ is nothing other, than a function of wise information management – that’s to say highly successful people and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s a technician leading a team on a production line – or a Prime Minister helming the nation, only really do one thing time and again. They never ever rush into things. Neither do they allow others to use time as a strategic weapon to leverage against their long term interest. They are masters of time.
This is where, one really needs to appreciate the difference between being prudent and probably slow and coming across as a man of action. Unfortunately public perception always favors the latter i.e those who are authoritative, decisive and can’t wait to roll up their sleeves to get the job done. These are traits we usually associate with winners.
Historically these sort of leaders have a patchy trek record at best. We all know Stalin defeated the Nazi’s, but at what cost? Dropping the atomic bomb ended the Pacific war, but at what cost?
This I am afraid also implies forbearance and restraint don’t count for much these days – that’s a myth that closer to fiction than the truth. In reality, highly successful people, firms, institutions and anything rarely ever produce results either incrementally or revolutionarily leveraging strategically on those attributes – forbearance and restraint.
If we believe the myth making machine for one minute, it skewers the whole picture and all too often it makes the charge of the light brigade looks like a sensible military enterprise – romantic it may have been – poetic even – but a rash failure it certainly remains!
As I said, highly successful people don’t allow time to control them, they know all too well, it can be crafted into a strategic weapon to be used for or against – its the same reason why: in most robotic labs – the best way to ensure steady prototypal development is by turning down the speed to the lowest level. That way every movement is slowed down. One may of course suffer inefficiencies in the short term, but in the long term, this offers us all a means of managing the learning curve, mitigating the risk by deliberately factoring in a greater margin of error. Only after this phase of proofing, do we actually consider ratcheting up the speed setting. One reason why the Titanic sank during its maiden voyage wasn’t because it hit an iceberg. That was incidental to the main causal reason: an abject failure to keep this rule of slow and steady progress. The directors of the white star liner wanted to win the coveted blue ribbon at any cost – so they went full speed ahead – the results were catastrophic.
Slowing down means, highly successful people often listen more than talk. Now this may sound like a cliché, but there is a real difference between just listening and deep listening. The former is just a sounding board and too often people listen to confirm what’s already in their minds, that’s to say they aren’t listening as much as practicing selective hearing ,deafness or what I term listening for confirmation – that’s to say, they aren’t actively gathering information as much as they are seeking out some form of validation to confirm their world view. Ones see this very often in certain blogs and this is where we simply have to appreciate that group dynamic has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with psychology. This of course means even highly intelligent people can too often make mistakes, if they rush into something. We regularly register this sort of phenomenon in mass collective robotic behavior – when one robot does something, the other mimics it without really going through the thinking process and the same rule applies in human psychology – that’s why we often get horrific car pile ups in highways, everyone assumes the person ahead must have a good reason for traveling at the choosen speed. They don’t of course, till of course the air bag goes off in their face. We see the same phenomenon in stock market behavior, where people may buy, hold or buy, not based on fundamentals, but instead on sentiments, but that is another topic all together. You get the picture – rushing into anything = lousy business sense.
Coming back to deep listening it’s definitely a characteristic of highly successful people. That’s one of the reason why deep blue the IBM chess computer was able to beat Kasparov in 7 out of 10 games- all of Kasparov’s moves from the first day he started to play professionally, where downloaded into deep blue that allowed its program to exercise something very similar to the results typically generated by deep listening skills. Allowing it not only too familiarize itself with the opponent, but also gaining key strategic intelligence which is used to predict Kasparov’s next move.
That’s the difference between winners and losers. The former can see a coup coming ten miles away, the latter is left with a bag wearing a dumb look when the tanks roll in – it’s tragic.
What I need to emphasize is this – Deep listening doesn’t really mean listening as much as the systematic ability to ask really important questions. That’s to say, they don’t begin with any assumptions and they restrict their conclusion solely to what they consider to be information and nothing else – let me give you an example what I mean by this in practical terms. A few years ago, while driving my car some chap in a SUV behind me started honking, flashing his lights and waving his hands at me. So I got out of my car armed with my camera phone and guess what? All he wanted to do was tell me, one of my doors hadn’t been closed properly! Silly me you say, but bear in mind this sort of assumptive or presumption based error happens all the time in board rooms – that’s what happens when people don’t listen deeply – the miss out – get the wrong picture- they screw up!
What this means is of course is highly successful people may not even process information conventionally and this may mean they can even be unpredictable usually doing the opposite of what others would expect of them – for example, they may not choose to come across as the smartest person in the room, because all the information tells them there is someone smarter there. So they switch gears by seeking out those who are the smarter and more importantly forging alliances with them. Of course, in common lay terms we call it charisma or the ability to inspire, but always remember: what makes it all possible firstly – is the ability to listen deeply.
You don’t need to be Freud to realize, if you can’t even be bothered to know what is or isn’t important to the person you are talking too then you will have practically zero chance of gaining a strategic advantage over him. Sun Tzu has spot on, if you know only yourself and not your opponent, its always only 50/50! I rather be playing Russian roulette any day!”
The Myth of Gut Decisions.
“Look here! This is one area that I happen to know a lot about. Let me just say a few things, if you want to get yourself employed in a firm that’s going to transform itself into a charitable organization overnight – then follow a leader that regularly makes decisions using two cells in his colon.
There are loads of historical precedents on this area and most of it has been compiled strangely not in the business world but in the field of failure test analysis i.e crash investigations namely conducted by the NTSB, for one voice cockpit and flight recorders give us a before, during and after account and in virtually every case. What we regularly see is disasters are caused by individuals who are really not so different from people who are shopping for power tools in a mega store. I am of course gross simplifying the process so that the lay audience here understands what I trying to say, but all they are doing is sorting through a pile of possibilities, rejecting as they go along, before settling on the one that they want i.e they don’t even have a purchasing strategy. Neither do they understand the strengths and weakness of what they are getting themselves into – so is it so unusual, too often they end up making a lousy buy decision – Have you bought a shirt that you want to donate to the salvation army? Or bought a car wished someone would steal? Or married someone who you wished an alien would abduct? Get the pic? We have all walked down that road.
The key is this (and please if you forget everything else, remember this. It’s jugular!): highly successfully people don’t nearly select or settle for anything, least of all off-the-shelf solutions. They tailor. What did I say? They tailor, in the same way many of you chaps fiddle around with your bicycles which I know you chaps ride regularly – that’s to say highly successful people are big into customization. Now I know some of you are saying well that’s a darn expensive business! OK agree and disagree. Because if all look or shall I say listen to it using our deep listening skills. It’s really a trade off between the short and long yield/benefit calculation – that’s to say, if one is really serious about peak performance, we all know off-the-shelf anything just doesn’t cut any ice! Firstly, it doesn’t take stock of your unique physical characteristics. Secondly, you need to accommodate the machine instead of the other way round, so there’s bound to be some drop off in efficiency and effectiveness.
That’s why peak performers are regularly big on tailoring everything from their retirement plan to strategizing their next empire building moves. And if you look at what they produce for their users, they are regularly tailoring solutions for their customers, partners, clients and supporters. In every case what we regularly see here is – how they are keeping all the possibilities in mind, rejecting none, They are not nearly trying to choose among alternatives as they are trying to come up with an idea that combines several elements – that’s to say, they are choosing the best out of each manufacturer or service provider to complete a whole solution, instead of going to a one-stop-shop. Using the bicycle analogy, that could mean buying the frame from X because they are the best, brakes from Y because they are the best, gear shift from Z because they are the best and when it comes together is it such a wonder one usually gets something superior than anything that is offered on the shelf?
Now you can take this analogy and even extend it by saying good business acumen isn’t just about profitability or the return on investment. That in my view gives you only a vignette – what if it comes at a cost of environmental degradation? Or it props up a socially abhorrent culture that exploits minors as sweat shop workers? The really smart businessmen are the ones who know the art of seamlessly fusing equal measures of realism and idealism, values with vision and goals with dreams. So next time you see a petroleum company spending millions on planting flowers, you know why they are doing it.
In every case if you break down the motivation, they are not really doing anything so different from how many of you regularly get the best components to enhance the overall man and machine performance factor.
Conversely, if you look at the really successful sales person, he isn’t as much selling you stuff as he is a valued partner in trying to facilitate you in reaching your goal. Now I know that I often come across as the guy that hates darkness because I disparage him no end, but in truth, if I want lets say a solution for a drive train that doesn’t exist in a catalog. We usually go to him and he regularly does something very strange when our engineers gives him the blueprints, he burns them or uses it as toilet paper and it doesn’t stop there – he sends acidic e-mails which begin with the words, “You fool…” and then, he comes up with his own designs and guess what, its usually superior to ours! That’s because I am not a manufacturing/ operations scientist. I don’t really know the difference between using titanium, aluminum or even timber to get the job done, but he does, so when he adds his inputs, value is generated, knowledge gets pushed further and as a result real and tangible improvements are produced.
That’s why really successful businessmen, never ever start a sentence with the word, “it is our policy…..” or “in our experience….” Once you start using those sort of adjectives, nothing new, innovative or creative ever gets generated and all you have is a man who is putting stuff together like Lego blocks and lets face it any idiot can do that – you don’t even have a competitive differentiator!”
Good Judgment about the Internet?
Now we all know that we live in the internet age and all, but what is worrying is this, the people who have the power to effect the highest degree of directional changes are also the ones who know the least about this medium. They don’t interact with it, neither do they really know from first hand experience and they know even less about its attributions, yet these people are the ones who are regularly charting, profiling and coloring how it should look like in the foreseeable future. That to me is a worrying sign, because what’s really needed is the kind of creative, constructive response that is the product of good business acumen and judgment – in other words, the people who have the best knowledge to tell you what you should be doing this week, next month or the in the next two quarters to be creative and competitive! Instead of just using those words like clothes hangers – those people aren’t even represented in the dialogue –perhaps you can tell me whether that’s good business anything?
(Harphoon / Dr Chandra – Science/ Business/ Socio – EP 99278A- The Brotherhood Press 2007)