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Brexit, CIO, Entrepreneurship, Failure, Leadership, Lean Startup, Philosophy, Product Management, Stability

Your “de-growth journey” and what it means


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When I read the HBR article here: https://hbr.org/2020/02/why-de-growth-shouldnt-scare-businesses I had one of those moments.  Read about why de-growth might not be such a bad thing after all.

When I was a child I was totally happy.  I lived in a small house in the black country, in a not too pretty road, looking out across the flats that rose over us.  We literally lived in their shadow.  We played with the kids in those flats but we didn’t dare enter the flats.  Even back then there was a feeling that these buildings would suck you into their soullessness.  There was no snobbery on the playground I must assure you.  If anything the kids in those flats were cool because they were street-wise and interesting but even at that age I could tell where the boundary was between hope and despair.  Even then I was aware that if the hole was big enough and deep enough, a person might never get out of it.

And so it is in business.  There is always a hole you might never get out of however smart, lucky, professional, likeable, etc etc you are.  And the 80’s kids amongst us, the Gen Xers, have pretty much been brain-washed that you “sell, sell, sell” and you “grow, grow, grow”.

But there was something they never taught us.  Nothing continues to grow endlessly.  Countries do not become more and more productive over time.  Look at Japan.  Arguably the most innovative country in the world.  People don’t simply get richer and richer with no interruption in their fortune.  If they appear to, they are either very lucky or very dishonest.  For in the dice we roll, for longer-term benefits, there is always a short term sacrifice.

And so it is with many things.  The planet.  We cannot go on in the same way and expect a different outcome.  We can be smarter and change our habits but the re-dress will be painful for some, make no mistake.  To stop chopping down rainforests we need to wean ourselves off palm oil, to go electric we must wean ourselves off the internal combustion engine.  What about classic cars?  What about the roar of an engine?  What about chocolate?  For everything, we win we inevitably lose at the same time.  The question is whether the equation of sacrifice and gain eventually tips in our favour.

Maybe all this is why 80’s actors like Richard Gere got into Buddhism.  https://www.lionsroar.com/impermanence-is-buddha-nature-embrace-changemay-2012/. The concept of impermanence called anicca (Pāli) or anitya (Sanskrit) is that everything is subject to change.  The body is finite and will eventually die.  Moments of suffering can be fleeting only because moments of joy are also fleeting too.

So the idea that business, or projects, products, or careers will continue on an upward trajectory with no interruptions or culd-de-sacs is as absurd from a practical perspective as it is from an Eastern philosophical perspective.

Eventually, they demolished those flats.   And the people within them moved into brand new maisonettes.  They were almost in the same place.  Meanwhile, at 21, as a graduate, I found myself living part-time with an unemployed musician in a block of flats down the road.  How times had changed.  Now it was my turn to stand in a dodgy smelling lift in a cheap suit.

So just think, right now about your “de-growth” time.  You may even be having it now, or just come out of it.  Is your life richer for the good times or for the bad?  Is your business better for the highs or for the lows?

The journey to clarity may not be comfortable but when you travelled there on the bus, the limousine is all the more satisfying.

Don’t beat yourself up in the troughs.  Think about how you can re-group with the space given to you by the silence of failure.

agile, CIO, Lean, Lean PMO, Lean Startup, Philosophy, Purpose, Stability, Strategy

Why purpose driven businesses attract more criticism


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A natural consequence of getting older is the realisation that backing the “right moral cause” doesn’t necessarily win friends and influence people. In fact, sometimes it can do quite the opposite.

Disrupting things for the “common good” can even put a price on your head.  

If a man of the stature of Martin Luther King can have liberal opponents at the height of the civil rights movement, then you can bet your life that whatever purpose you stand for, the criticism with come from every which way. What’s more, it will come from friends and enemies alike.

From Tesla to Gillette and from Cadbury to Laura Ashley, companies have lost the moral high ground for a number of different reasons. PR mistakes, powerful competitors, or just a misplaced purpose that doesn’t resonate with the brand’s customers. Purpose is a fine line to tread and the sands can easily shift.

Tesla’s founder Elon Musk was already facing a storm from powerful players invested in the status quo when he famously fell from grace with the “Pedo tweet”. Gillette recently created an advert that left a huge backlash while Cadbury never quite regained its wholesome quaker, high quality, worker championing reputation after the Kraft takeover. Laura Ashley meanwhile, never moved it’s wifely image with the feminist times and got left behind in the process. https://hbr.org/1999/07/why-good-companies-go-bad

Don’t we just love to bring down the self-proclaimed hero or heroine? What is it about human nature that draws us to do this? Is it just good old Schadenfreude that makes us joyful at the fallen? Is it just that it’s a bigger story to bring down the god fearing priest rather than the self-proclaimed Lothario? Or is there something deeper going on?

As humans we often seem to search for an easy, cartoon style dichotomy and we struggle with nuanced characters. These days working out the baddies from the goodies is actually harder than ever. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_makes_a_hero. Philip Zimbardo, the world-renowned psychologist (perhaps best known for his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment) says, “[A]..key insight from my research has been that there’s no clear line between good and evil. Instead, the line is permeable; people can cross back and forth between it.” 

And boy, are we sucked into the news story when they do!

Meanwhile, in today’s media jet-washed, squeaky clean world we are lacking the main quality of leadership – authenticity.

Unfortunately, these days our leaders are incentivised to be less authentic in order to avoid the media backlash should they say something “wrong” or be caught “dancing to the wrong tune..” as Teresa May was said to have done. This makes purpose driven entrepreneurs (and politicians for that matter) arguably more courageous than ever before if they step outside of societal norms to give an opinion that swims against the tide. Reputation damage is the new death blow. At the same time, the Gillette advert and other similar contentious campaigns, have perhaps left the consumer more distrustful of the purpose-led narrative overall.

So is this all just rather depressing or is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Well maybe there is. The existence of this opposition may actually be doing purpose-driven entrepreneurs some good! Take Gareth Southgate’s England experiences as an example from Sport. On the one hand he was once the most jeered at man in football. Today? – Today he is the hero and an archetypal leader. This is apparently known as “Adversarial Growth” (http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/3626/)

“A number of studies have shown that extremely negative, stressful experiences  actually lead to  positive psychological outcomes. ..positive cognitive abilities like efficiency of cognitive processing, problem solving and acceptance, optimism etc can all be enhanced by experiencing and dealing effectively with negative, stressful experiences.” (https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2018/jul/06/zero-to-hero-the-psychological-benefits-of-gareth-southgates-experience)

Furthermore, the people with the most critics are often the ones with the most passionate and vocal advocates too. Take Elon Musk as a good example. His car doesn’t even need advertising https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/tesla-paid-advertising/310008/. Why is that? Because Tesla have created a sales force bigger than any other – its customers.

As businesses looking for our voice, we should therefore

embrace authenticity and purpose and go out into the unknown with courage.

This is what leading people do and from the statistics it appears that this is what leading companies do. “According to New York Times bestselling author Simon Mainwaring, 91% of consumers would switch brands if a different one was purpose-driven and had similar price and quality.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/hayleyleibson/2018/01/25/the-power-of-purpose-driven/#a213d9c5dca6

So as we reflect on the nature of purpose (and indeed it’s worth) we should perhaps accept that we may not convince everyone of our brand’s wider virtues. Indeed we may attract opposition and even downright animosity towards our organisations. However, if we stick to the truth of who we are, our values and what our companies were built to do. Then, I am willing to wager we will fly rather than falter. And.. if we don’t fly as far as we’d hoped? Well, knowledge and friends are certainly a good launchpad in the new disrupted economy.

Stephanie Chamberlain is CEO & Founder of Magic Milestones a company that helps large organisations keep their product roadmaps agile yet in line with their strategy & purpose. www.magicmilestones.com 

agile, Brexit, CIO, Investment Management, Leadership, Lean, Lean PMO, Politics, Stability, Strategy

A Nifty Article Fifty Breakdown


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If you are a UK CIO you have a lot to think about if June 8th takes article 50 to its natural conclusion…

Here is a nifty breakdown from CIO.com..

“The major milestones for CIOs to keep an eye on include the following:

  • U.K. parliamentary review of Great Repeal Bill (Late 2017): This will provide the first opportunity for an initial assessment of legal impacts on managed service agreements and other IT contract documents.
  • Royal assent of Great Repeal Bill (Mid 2018): At this point, any gaps in the legislation should be addressed, enabling IT organizations to confirm legal impacts and initiate contractual change activities.
  • Brexit negotiations wrap up (Fall 2018): This will create clarity the regulatory, operational, audit, and reporting impacts on IT services.
  • U.K. Houses of Parliament, European Council, EU Parliament, and remaining 27-member Parliament vote on deal (Early 2019): This will confirm IT impacts and enable CIOs to begin related IT change programs
  • Transition period begins (March 2019): CIOs can structure timelines for completion of IT projects to address necessary digital transition and transformation requirements.”

http://www.cio.com/article/3189040/it-industry/how-brexit-will-impact-global-cios-and-it-services.html

However, with all these (less face it) rather boring boxes to tick and cross there will be little resource to deal with the ever increasing pace of change within the wider economy.  As such, the threat of Brexit is not just one of legal and commercial wrangling (Although that will certainly feature heavily).  The real issue is going to be that already stretched IT departments are going to be hit with “Regulation, Regulation, Regulation” when they also have to deal with “Innovation, Innovation, Innovation”.

If Brexit goes ahead the latter is likely to be the biggest casualty.

So how can the CIO keep pace with this?

During this period 3 things will be key to the post-article 50 CIO:

  1. A razor sharp focus on investment in the biggest IT return.  Yes Brexit projects will HAVE to happen but others will need to be picked for their direct impact on organisational outcomes.  This might be revenue or reputation, either way it will be high on the agenda.
  2. Use of Agile to ensure that those BAU projects are kept on track.  Agile methods and techniques such as KANBAN will be needed more than ever to keep visibility high.
  3. IT departments will need to become product centric and better at marketing than the marketing department!  No-one will use your internal product let alone your external one if your team can’t break through the noise of Brexit.

Magic Milestones has a number of services specifically designed to give you maximum bang for buck in times like these.  Read more here.. https://magicmilestones.com/services/