Leave the entrails in the kitchen: 6 steps to plan for future success


“The future belongs to those who prepare for it” 
– Malcolm X.

How unexpected is the unexpected?

In the last week, one of the UK’s leading fashion retailers Republic went unexpectedly into administration putting 2,500 jobs at risk. It was only in 2010 that the business was bought for £300 million by private equity firm TPG and appeared to have a bright future at the time. The immediate issue appeared to be poor trading over the key Christmas/ January trading period, the unusual poor weather and snowfalls hit store sales badly across many market sectors. Whilst it’s always difficult to predict the future, this blog covers a useful technique to help you manage the worst the unexpected can throw at you.

How can you better manage unpredictable events?

In ancient Rome, an augur interpreted the will of the gods by examining animal behaviour and their entrails. Today, few of us would base our predictions for the future on the pecking behaviour of sacred chickens, or the liver of a sacrified sheep.

In fact, many of us would say you cannot predict future events. We may be able to envisage likely outcomes, or have a global notion of what is to come, but improbable events occur without warning, and catch many of us off guard.

But whilst we cannot know for certain what will happen in the future, we can plan for it. And what’s more, we can plan for future success.

To do this, we must shift our focus from the general to the local, because it is in the detail that we sink or swim. Have you thought about specific situations that might arise in the future with regard to your business? Have you planned a strategy to react to them?

In order to avoid being paralysed by indecision when faced with the unexpected, and take measures to ensure future success, we need to home in on the specifics of a situation. When we break this situation down into its component parts, we can identify and develop strategies for what needs to be done. How to do this is outlined below.

Six Steps to Plan for the Future

There are two parts to the process, identification and development. The four initial steps form the identification part, starting by pinpointing the initial problem and leading to building the possible scenarios which derive from the specified problem. Once these are established, the final two steps are the development part of the process, in which the scenarios are explored and business opportunities are predicted and analysed.

1. Identification: problem

Find and specify a particular problem or potentially challenging situation for your business. It is useful to state this as a question. Though the problem can be phrased generally (in terms of concepts rather than specific business facts), it is best to keep it as simple as possible to minimise variables.

2. Identification: decision

Isolate a decision which arises from the problem situation that will need to be taken. You should only select one decision, as your problem should be specific enough to only allow for one variable you can control by a decision-making process. If there is more than one variable beyond your control, refine your problem identification to its simplest form.

3. Identification: forces

Pinpoint the principal forces which will have an impact on your decision. These forces could be economic, technological, environmental, or otherwise associated with your business or your competition, and should relate back to the subject of your decision.

4. Identification: scenarios

Based on the principal forces you have identified, you can now build scenarios which could potentially arise given the forces at play. Of course, the possibilities are infinite, but it is best to restrict your scenarios to four or five plausible future situations. Remember to factor in both probable and improbable scenarios, and don’t forget that a valid scenario may be ‘nothing changes’ (i.e. all factors remain the same in the future as today).

5. Development: scenarios

At the development stage, you need to explore what could happen in the scenarios you have identified, and you do this by varying the forces (identified at stage 3) that affect your decision. By changing the forces and combining the changes produced, you create patterns which illustrate the possible consequences of your decision. These ‘narratives’ allow you to track the possible outcomes of a decision needing to be made based on the outside factors which influence it. A sensible projection for your narrative’s timeline is five years (i.e. what impact will your decision have over the next five years?).

6. Development: actions

You have now plotted out a step-by-step, multi-outcome forecast for your business over the next five years, with the key scenarios identified and explored. The final stage is to analyse these developed scenarios and search for business opportunities within each possible future situation. On establishing the scenarios, some actions to be taken will be immediately obvious. However, it is worth taking the time to explore the narratives you have developed to find potential commercial opportunities and areas for innovation.

Is there a bright future now for the Republic business?

The Republic business has some great brands, a decent website and some high performing store. I remain hopeful that the new owners can reshape the business to save as many of the 2,500 jobs at risk and satisfy its loyal core of happy fashion customers in the next few weeks.

Post-its and pit-stops: how can the humble Post-It help you conquer distraction and get more vital work done?

What did you set out to achieve yesterday? We can wake up each morning with a real focus on what’s most important in life and then find a tide of emails, text messages and voicemails have distracted us from what we really intended to do.

Shame on me, but sometimes a terrible temptation to quickly sit down to check my emails first thing can end up distracting me onto new tasks that I’d not planned on doing. And when I look up at the clock, I end up wondering where so much of the morning has gone?

If I just think about this morning, I got up bright and early only to have two calls before 7AM, one from Australia and another in the UK inviting me to a meeting discuss the challenges of cultural change in banks. At least I said no to the bank meeting as achieving cultural change in banks is a challenge almost on a par with parting the Red Sea.

In this 24/7 ‘always-on’ mobile phone social media world, it’s all too easy to get sucked into a black hole pattern where you seem to work non-stop all day, yet interruptions and distractions – whether self-induced or created by others – prevent you from achieving that action plan in your head.

It sounds simple, but start with writing your action plan down!

If you haven’t written your action plan down, even if only on a post-it note, chances are it is unlikely to get done. You don’t need to publish a multi-page plan in PDF. Putting pen to paper cements your intentions and confirms your priorities. If it’s on that post-it, it needs to get done; if it’s not, maybe it can wait.

We often want to achieve everything, and, especially in the world of business, there do not seem to be enough hours in the day. And you’d be right in thinking that: there aren’t enough hours in the day. Prioritisation, therefore, is key. And the humble Post-It is a great tool to help focus our attention.

Remember to pause

It may be, however, that you aren’t sure what to prioritise. So, take a brief pit-stop. Our day-to-day life isn’t all that dissimilar from Formula 1 cars looping round the track, but, unlike F1 racing drivers, we often forget to take time to refuel and make minor (or occasionally major) adjustments.

When we are overburdened, our minds are frazzled but there’s still work to be done, we don’t want to stop. Just a few more hours should do the trick, right? But we all know taking a rest will refresh us and will leave us better-equipped to take on the world when we return.

More often than not, we forget, choose not to, or feel guilty when we do take a pit-stop. Yet when we do, we afford ourselves the opportunity to take control over our distractions and re-focus our efforts and energies.

Refuel to refocus

Introducing a pit-stop isn’t just about refuelling in our daily lives. Is there something you don’t like about how your company’s latest deal is going? Or you’re not convinced about the direction in which the business is headed?

Take that pit-stop and listen to your intuitions. The pause gives you space to rest but also to reflect: time to think about those minor adjustments. Do you just need to clean the windshield, change a tyre, or make a larger repair?

Taking the time to prioritise, make an action plan, and write it down is vital to conquering distractions. Remembering to pause, slow down and make any necessary changes not only helps to conquer distractions, but it enables you to re-focus and pinpoint what your priorities are. So take a pit-stop and pull out a post-it: what do you need to get done today?

How Mobile Technology is Changing Business

The rapid pace of technology innovation developments is changing the way business is done all over the globe. There are an estimated 4.6 billion mobile phones around the world. While many people picture cell phones in the hands of individuals in more developed countries, where they’re used to play games and chat with friends, these devices are having a huge impact in developing countries as well. A mobile phone in the hands of some of the poorest people on the plant can equip them with the information they need to drastically improve the way that business is done and increase their profits.

How Mobile is transforming the Global economy

In locations where goods need to travel a long distance from the producer to the buyer, a new mobile technology innovation can drastically change the process. Fishermen in Bangladesh can maximize their profits by using mobile phones to find the highest paying buyers for each catch. Shea nut pickers in Ghana use mobile technology to check the market price for these nuts. Orders for bulk goods can be placed on mobile devices for more efficient restocking of small stores. Where shop owners once had to close up and travel a long distance to navigate a complex marketplace, they can now send out an order while manning the counter.

Mobile and Home Working

Another mobile technology innovation that is changing the landscape of the workplace is the opportunity for employees to work from home. Entire companies can be run without a single office building. This not only maximises profits by eliminating the need for pay rent and utilities on an office, it also allows the company to hire the best employees for each position from candidates around the country, or even the globe. Even businesses that do have a traditional office can maintain employees on the road. Mobile technology allows these individuals to send in reports, enter new customer information, and even make sells through a cell phone or tablet device.

Mobile Integrates The Whole World

The latest mobile technology innovation to hit the market often focuses on idle pastimes, but the paradigm for successful mobile programs is rapidly changing. This kind of technology can significantly improve the quality of life in developing countries and change the entire model for how business is done. With mobile technology, crafters in remote locations in Africa can connect with a worldwide marketplace for their goods. Farmers can find the best prices for their produce without leaving the farm. Individuals can connect with one another from almost anywhere on the planet, and with each new innovation that planet gets a little bit smaller.

How to master decision making rather than let choices master you

Master your decision making rather than let choices master you

Decision making can be tough, especially when it may mean undoing the well-intentioned efforts you and your employees previously made. One of western

Decision making

Decision making dilemma

history’s biggest decision-makers, Napoleon, had this to say: Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide”. However, although it’s true that decisions are easier for some people than for others, it is not an innate talent, but something you can train yourself to do.

To opt for the sudden and new can be tempting. But beware simply leaping wildly into the unknown as a reaction against failure. It is at these times that Euripides’ words on the subject of decision making are worth heeding: Second thoughts are ever wiser”. Having left time to do its work, in other words having slept on the decision, use common sense and add a dash of humility before acting. Sound advice from experienced managers is to involve others in the decision. Canvas opinion, then distil the results. The best people to consult are those who have no vested interest, who played no part in earlier unsuccessful initiatives.

Guilt-free Decisions

Guilt-free Decisions

Beware beating yourself up. The result is that you clamp your mind in a vice, not a healthy state for the decision making process. Any re-think or re-invention crucially demands a positive approach. The demon which can kill that positivity is the one that tells you to be hard on yourself. It is important as a manager that you let go of any guilt feelings. They are quite simply unproductive.

Turn previous less than successful decision making into a learning process. Similarly, let go of any purposeless resentment about choices that failed to work out. Instead, extract useful lessons.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s comments on some of Europe’s less wise decisions can be read in the Wall Street Journal.

And the ability of machines to make our decisions for us is explored by The Economist’s blogger Babbage.

Are too many monkeys stealing your time?

Monkeys on your back

Monkeys on your back

Do you often find yourself feeling overwhelmed? Do you feel like your list of things to do is never ending? When looking back on your workday do you feel like you have done mountains for other people and yet you haven’t accomplished what you really wanted to do? If you answered yes to any of these questions chances are you have too many monkey stealing your time.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “monkey on your back” which refers to some type of problem that you are dealing with. In the workplace, a monkey is not so much as a problem that you are dealing with, but a task that you have suddenly taken on that somebody else was responsible for.

Remember that person who stopped you in the hall and told you about a huge problem that was going on. As soon as you heard the words we have a problem,” you decided to take action and get involved. What you did not stop to think about was that you now allowed that monkey to climb onto your back, your colleague just successfully sifted responsibility for the problem onto your shoulders.

Just Say No!

Just Say No!

While it is great to help your colleagues, there comes a time when you just have to say no. Taking on too many tasks makes it nearly impossible to do your own job; you are constantly running out of time to get everything done. What people with ‘monkey issues’ need to learn is effective management or put another way find a smarter way to say “No” to picking up other people’s issues, it is the only way to stop taking on so many monkeys! [Easier said than done as I spent the weekend fixing my daughters’ computers, completing my wife’s tax return and chasing the builders working on the apartment upstairs to come and fix the overflow pipe that’s overflowing constantly onto my window frame!].

Effective management not only gets rid of those time consuming monkeys, giving you back the time you need to do your own job, but it also helps better your colleagues. By not taking on your colleagues’ monkeys, you are forcing your colleagues to deal with the problem. This can mean giving your colleagues new skills allowing them to learn and grow for themselves.

How to get the Monkeys back where they belong

Not sure how to stop accepting those monkeys, want to make sure they stay with their rightful owners. If so following these three effective management tips will ensure you no longer accept any more time consuming monkeys!

  • Make Appointments – One of the worst things that you can do is stop and talk about any problems your employees might have in random places, such as hallways. Instead, make an appointment with them to come into your office to discuss what is going on.
  • Get employees Involved – Effective management means getting your employees involved, but only you can specific to what level. When your employees come into to discuss the issue at hand specify how involved you want them to be. Employees can sit back and wait until they are told what to do, they can be given the freedom to solve the issue on their own or they can be involved at some level in between, but you as a manager must inform them of how involved they should be and never let them sit back and do nothing!
  • Look At Your Motives – Make sure you look at your own motives. Many managers tend to limit the amount of responsibility their employees have because they are afraid it will make them as a manager look bad and useless. This is mainly due to insecurities. Effective management plans involves giving up direct control, giving your employees a chance to grow and become a better employee from that growth!

Ridding yourself of monkeys will allow you to regain proper use of your time, as well as lower your stress levels. So what are you waiting for, the sooner you put these effective management tips to use the better!

How can Technology Innovation rescue a father in distress?

This weekend my daughter Florence had to get to her audition for the National Youth Orchestra. It’s her absolute highlight of her year participating in the NYO orchestra training and big events like performing in the summer Proms season in the Royal Albert Hall. Competition is intense so you need to be relaxed to perform at your very best.

London roads in gridlock preparing for the Olympics

Public transport isn’t running properly over the weekends as the underground network is being upgraded for next year’s Olympics, so we’d left an extra hour to travel the 15 minute car journey across London to Hampstead. Unfortunately the whole of London also appears to be in their cars too on Sundays faced with the same problem and the roads just can’t cope so central London is in gridlock. So an hour had passed and we were jammed in traffic when a fantastic piece of Technology came to the rescue.

Google Maps to the rescue

I was using Google maps on my mobile phone to get to the venue and then suddenly realised to switch on the real time traffic overlay. It tells you the speed of the traffic on all the main roads, so I was able to work out a tortuous route through back streets and alternative main roads to get past all the logjams (showing up with a deep red warning on the Google maps traffic overlay) in the road network.

Technology Innovation in the public sector

On my research today, I discovered that the Highways Agency has made available the road traffic data on England’s roads to Google. It’s a fantastic example of Technology Innovation being applied in the public sector. So three cheers to the Highways Agency and their boffins who made this all possible.

A happy ending?

And yes we did make it to the audition with 10 minutes to spare, we await the results later this week so fingers crossed.
What’s your best traffic jam anecdote? Let me know.

The Three Most Deadly Decision Making Mistakes

So how good is your decision making?

Stephen Elop

Stephen Elop

Making decisions is a constant challenge whether at home or at work. Whether you are Steve Elop as the incoming CEO of Nokia choosing which operating system to bet your business on, or choosing the perfect present for someone you love, when the stakes are high making the right decision is never easy.

In fact the more important the decision is the harder it is, then the greater the danger that you might fall into one of the three most deadly decision making traps.  So here’s the top 3 deadly mistakes and some advice to help you make great decisions no matter how high the stakes.

  • Confirming Evidence – While it is natural to gather evidence that supports your point of view, it can also cause problems in the decision making process. Talk to a friend or colleague to find out what their perspective is, hopefully it will shed more light onto the subject. You also want to avoid just seeking advice from working with people who always agree with you, if they always agree with you who is going to play devil’s advocate?
  • Status Quo â€“ Nobody likes dealing with change, but change is often necessary in order to grow. It is always easier to make decisions that allow things to remain the same, but those are not always the right decisions. Avoiding this mistake is as simple as asking yourself if the old way is best for your goals, you must downplay your desire to keep things the same though. Get out of that comfort zone!
  • Anchoring – Accepting the first information you find is normal, but can leads to some dreadful decisions. While it is OK to be incorporate this information, you must also remain open minded for additional perspectives. Even if the information is screaming at you that it is right, never settle on that information without first checking other sources. Gather as much information as needed and you can rest assured that you will always make the right decision!

Some books that you might find helpful

Decision making

Decision making can be tough

If you want to improve your decision making skills you might want to get yourself a copy of some of the following classic texts on decision making:

So will things work out for Stephen Elsop and Nokia?

Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia announced their new range of Windows powered smartphones today. So we’ll find out soon if Stephen Elop (ex-Microsoft senior insider) was guilty of the ‘Confirming evidence’ trap when choosing to bet the farm at Nokia on going with Microsoft, rather than the Android, smartphone operating system. Take a look at the first reviews of their new Lumia 800 and Lumia 700 phones at Engadget and see what you think?

Gnip – listening to the world’s conversation

Will Gnip make you go mad?

The scream

The scream

Imagine being able to hear everyone’s conversation, all the time. The voices in your head would drive you insane.

However there is now a constant stream of chatter available through the web. Using an interesting new technology service, Gnip, it’s possible at low-cost for you to monitor the explosion of social media usage of hundreds of thousands of peoples’ conversations in real time.

What would you listen to, given the choice?

The explosive growth of Twitter

Twitter

Twitter

The  mini blogging’ social media site Twitter now has over 200 million users with 200 million ‘tweets’ per day and over 1.6 billion searches per day (see Twitter blog for more facts on usage). Users post 140-character updates (‘tweets’) of what they are doing, reading, watching etc. It is much like status updating on Facebook. Think: Eating toast, doesn’t Eammon Holmes’ hair look funny today’.

Twitter has its uses when other communication mechanisms fail

Social Media sites

Social Media sites

But not all uses have been so trivial. During the Japanese earthquake earlier this year people on the island communicated via Twitter as mobile networks went down. And elsewhere worried relatives used social media to get in touch and emergency help was set up. The same thing happened during the more recent US earthquake. And in the case of the Arab Spring, Twitter was a powerful communications channel for the masses even in the most repressive of regimes.

Gnip – tapping into the world’s conversations

Gnip

Gnip

Enter Gnip, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that has bought the rights to sell data from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and many other social media sites.

Gnip deals in the very serious business of helping companies see what people are saying about them.

Airline JetBlue has taken Twitter seriously for years, using it for such diverse activities as ticket giveaways to seat planning help and it now uses Gnip through its customer experience management partner Attensity.

They can hear you

They can hear you

Can Gnip help you see into the future?

The obvious, direct uses of social media to see what people are saying about you now seem old hat. What is trending can almost be used to forecast the future: to see how people react to news, product launches, sporting and stock market events. You could imagine tracking Twitter comments as a mean of potentially forward predicting movements of betting odds on Betfair or prices on financial markets.

The world may now be having conversations online. But if it’s you Tweeting or posting on Facebook, just be aware that more people than you might think are listening to you.

Hello Kindle Fire, bye bye Waterstone’s?

Amazon launched Kindle Fire last week, a tablet competitor to the iPad. Poor old Waterstone’s: is this the last nail in its coffin?

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire

Kindle’s technology means that books can be bought instantly, many of them for 99p and £1.99 instead of the £20 you might pay for a hardback in Waterstone’s. And the fact that the new $199 Kindle is in colour means that users can browse magazines and picture books, giving booksellers yet another reason to worry.

Waterstone’s, the UK’s largest chain of book shops, has experienced similar woes to the US’ Barnes and Noble, losing out to online sellers and supermarkets. New Waterstone’s boss James Daunt acknowledges that Amazon is tough competition but asks: Why wouldn’t you want to spend half an hour in a really nice bookshop?” His plan is to turn the 300-strong fleet of stores into a collection of friendly, local venues in which readers can comfortably browse and buy.

Waterstone's

Waterstone's

The idea has merit. Of course people don’t want to go to another identikit Waterstone’s in Leeds or Birmingham or Manchester. Foyles had the idea of the destination event’ bookshop long ago and its overhaul saw it win bookseller of the year for 2010, among other gongs.

But can chummy staff and a frapuccino work for such a large chain? The job to pull Waterstones’ stores up to standard is a big one in itself, but to do it in so many locations with such tough competition is mammoth. And even those who love browsing through bookshops have to admit that it is much simpler to ping a request through cyberspace to get the latest read sent to them for a fraction of the cost.

Recent reports from UK publishers suggest digital book sales now account for around 9-10% of their overall book sales compared to 4-5% last year. That still leaves 90% of the book market sold as actual books.

There are takers out there for the ‘book buying’ experience. Daunt has to find a way of get them through his doors, and fast.

Technology Innovation – how can you use it to create competitive advantage?

This expert interview is designed for CIOs and those leaders and managers responsible for Technology Innovation to create competitive advantage for your organisation.

iPadIn this interview with one of the world’s leading Technology experts, Bill McGrath (Global CIO for AOL Inc), by John Corr you’ll learn:

  • What’s the biggest mistake  CIOs make in regard to Technology Innovation and how can we avoid it?
  • What’s the one thing we should do first when it comes to Technology Innovation?
  • What can you do differently to improve the impact of Technology Innovation?
  • 5 quick tips on what you can do to significantly increase the impact of your Technology Innovation
  • What’s the easiest thing you can do right now to accelerate Technology Innovation in your business?

CLICK HERE to download the interview (in MP3 format). I can guarantee that your investment of 15 minutes of your time will enable you to learn and apply invaluable lessons to ensure the success of your own Technology Innovation programmes. You can also download a transcript (in PDF format) CLICKING HERE. 

Technology Innovation

Technology Innovation

Why is Technology Innovation so powerful when applied successfully?

Professor Clay Christensen described the phenomenon of ‘disruptive innovation’ (see him describe his concept in brief here in video) whereby a new innovative technology disrupts an established industry and most of the existing market leaders go bust.

Why does Technology Innovation matter?

To begin with a technology innovation, such as Google, is not seen as a market threat. However eventually the business models of existing players Yellow Pages, newspapers, magazines and other media businesses are faced with extinction. Technology Innovation is particularly powerful where the new technology is combined with a new business model concept. While Google was a somewhat better search engine than leading competitors such as AltVista, when it was combined with the new business model of ‘paid search’ it became an unstoppable force.

Can you learn from other leading global experts?

If you’ve enjoyed this interview with Bill McGrath on Technology Innovation, then CLICK HERE to learn more from some of the other interviews with some of the worlds leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and thought leaders on improving business performance and helping your customers be successful. You may also enjoy additional articles related to successful technology innovation on the eWallet and the revolution in mobile banking services and on exploiting social media for business benefit and additional interviews with global thought leaders on delivering innovation.

Would you benefit from expert advice on your specific situation?

John Corr

John Corr is the Managing Director of Close Quarter, a firm specialising in helping ambitious leaders transform the value of their businesses through Technology Innovation. John is the current global President of BPGroup.org, a leading global community of professionals interested in sharing best practice in performance improvement, turnarounds and process management.

 

If you fell you need to discuss your specific situation, issues and challenges in depth and benefit from expert confidential advice then you should consider calling John on +44 (0) 20 3637 5501.

 

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