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Summary:

The concept of the opposable mind is simple – the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time. When faced with choosing option A or option B,  you come up with option C, which is a better solution (and not a compromise of A or B).  Implementing this is much more difficult than the concept sounds, and it would appear that there are not a lot of business leaders practicing it. It leads to a concept that Roger calls “Integrative Thinking” which is really holding a lot of complex details in the brain at the same time, rather than dumbing it down to the simplest component (a la factory setting). He holds that the greatest thinkers of our time have this integrative thinking capability, and thus have opposable minds.The observation is based on 50 interviews he did with top business leaders where he was trying to figure out the skill that they all had in common.

And just like opposable thumbs set us apart from most of the animal kingdom, he argues that the opposable mind sets those people apart from the rest of business thinkers. The book is peppered with great examples from real life situations that provide supportive examples for the theories presented. One of the early examples he gives in the book is where a mutual fund is facing ruin and everyone expects that the fund manager should just sell everything and close the fund. The fund manager sells some of the fund but buys a significant investment in other areas that actually recover the fund and have it go on to become a success.

Key points and quotes:

– Pareto 80/20 rule: “We settle for 80% to avoid being overwhelmed by complexity and losing the ability to function at all”
– “Simplification impairs every step of the integrative thinking process…” and “Simplification, 80/20 style, leads to more business as usual. Truly creative resolutions spring from complexity.”
– He argues that business could take a coherent, holistic approach to “crafting” their products or services but they don’t because of the factory setting” of the contemporary business organization which is based on simplification and specialization.  The example he gives is where IDEO is hired to change the interior of some AmTrak cars but that was only 1/10 of what needed to be changed – passengers hated the entire AmTrak experience, not just the car interiors.
– Roger takes us through the 3 main things that make up the integrative thinker’s personal knowledge system (and are under your control): Stance, Tools, and Experience

– When someone sets off in a given direction, that direction is likely to be re-inforced and amplified (not diminished or altered) because of simplification familiarity. This can result in good spirals or bad spirals. He gives the example of inner city youths that get involved in gangs (bad spirals) and those that break out of them (good spirals).

Integrative Thinkers have a very different stance than others:

1st: Believe that whatever models exist today do not represent reality (they are merely someone else’s simplification, and is only a model of reality). He uses the great example of the Hispanic locksmith and the Persian shopkeeper in the movie “Crash”.
2nd: They believe conflicting models, styles, approaches are to be leveraged, not feared (they are the richest source of insight into the problem)
3rd: Believe models exist that have not yet been seen. Fallibilism – they believe that the best current model will be eclipsed in due time. We all have models we hold to be true on the basis of no or little testing, and we defend those models.
4th: Not only do they believe that a better model exists, but they have the capability to bring that new model from hypothetical to reality. Many non-integrative thinkers will look for data that supports their own models…and argues that we need to have an opportunistic, model-seeking approach if we are to be successful as integrative thinkers.
5th: They are comfortable wading into complexity to bring about a new model (defying the lizard brain). He argues Thinking -> Actions -> Outcomes, and that reflecting on actions is tough, but reflecting on the thinking that led to the action is even tougher.
6th: They give themselves time to create a better model (not looking for a quick fix)

Three tools that can be used to help build this skill:

Generative Reasoning – a form of reasoning that inquires as to what might be rather than what is

Causal Modeling – He lists three types. Material Causation – if you do X, Y will happen: Telelogical Causation – why do we want Y to happen in the first place: System Dynamics – holistic thought involving multiple feedback loops

Assertive Inquiry – not challenge, but explicitly seeking to explore the underpinnings of your own model and that of another person – using inquiries such as “Could you clarify?” and “How did you come to understand that”.

Whether a business owner, consultant, or employee, there’s lots of food for thought in this book. Chew slowly. (I’m still digesting!)

(Ed Note: This is as much for my own r

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Dealing With Small

Small Animal

Many people are fed up with big business (the “factories”) and are deciding to take their purchasing/eating/dealings to smaller local businesses. There is friction in moving away from large businesses to the small local business that we need to understand and deal with in advance, lest the issues come up later.

1) Convenience: Many times the local business or producer does not have a storefront in your neighbourhood. We may need to travel to get to their place of business or where the service is offered. Chances are they aren’t open 24 hours a day, and likely not even 7 days per week.

2) Selection & Diversity: Many small businesses will specialize in a specific market segment as they are not trying to be all things to all people. As long as we remember that we are not at a supermarket and set our expectations in advance, this is avoidable.

3) Process: “Mom and Pop” shops won’t have a process for many things that big businesses do. Their daughter at the cash might not know how to deal with our traveler’s cheque (check) because she’s never seen one before, and HQ (Mom or Pop) didn’t think to write a process for her. And if we’re trying to do a B2B transaction, and our B is much bigger, trying to force our process on them is going to be painful for them.

4) Price: We should expect that items that don’t come from the large factory are going to cost more. “Artisan”, “hand crafted”, “free-range” are all monikers that should have us realize that our purchases will cost more per item than similar stuff from Costco or Walmart. While it sometimes may seem “expensive”, looking at it in the bigger picture (health + environment + economy) can illuminate that the price is fair.

We’re dealing with these people because we’re looking for something else, something that doesn’t come from the factory. Minimizing this friction is quite simple – we need to educate ourselves about the new way of dealing with small and expect some inconvenience in doing so. In essence, we need more understanding and tolerance within ourselves. Kind of like how we deal with small children and small animals. Which makes it even more worthwhile…

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Anne McCrossan introduced me to the term ‘Visceral Business’. In fact, it is the name of her blog and her business. It’s that feeling in your gut that just connects, whether it is a product you are using, drooling over, or a feeling of authenticity when dealing with a RHB (real human being). It’s not that superficial “this is kind of neat” feeling but a much, much deeper connection. I’ve been trying to be more cognizant of that visceral feeling when it happens and I never realized how often it was actually happening until I consciously looked for it. (Sidebar: When Anne and I met in January we talked about a bunch of things, but on one subject in particular, she said “your eyes light up when you talk about food”. That’s because I have a strong, visceral connection to food. Having someone point it out for you is sometimes helpful!)

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED video (and his book ‘The Element‘)  really connected with me viscerally. It makes me want to raise my arms in the air and shout “Hell, yes!”. I think it is because I have been lamenting the educational system since university and have felt there has to be a better way.

Does it do the same for you?

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