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Welcome to the belivernomics blog

 

I will try my best to update this webpage with  thought provoking and interesting content, as often as I can.  Please feel free to leave comments as  there is much that can be learnt from the sharing of ideas.

By pa360, Sep 23 2018 02:20PM

I am convinced that one day my 16 year-old nephew will become a multi-millionaire. For someone so young, he is incredibly lucid and innovative. Just last month he came to see me, about a new online business venture that he was planning to launch this year. However, as he presented both his idea and business strategy, I became convinced that, whilst the idea was a good one, he had thought his strategy through.


Over the next 30 minutes I began to ask him various questions and the very productive discussion that ensued, brought some perspective and realism to the challenges that lay ahead of him.


Reflecting back on that conversation, I realise that it represents something of a microcosm of the many reasons why small start-ups never get off the ground or never survive long enough to realise their potential. On the presumption that learning is transferable; set out below, are the ten questions from my 16 year-old nephew's start-up journey.


1. Who told you, it was a good idea?

Sometimes when people reflect on their ideas, it can often be like a person sitting in an echo chamber. One of the most dangerous things in business is the propensity to take one's own counsel or that of like-minded others. Let's be clear, that is not to say that you should ask people over 60, what sort of products would appeal to those under 20 or vice-versa. Rather, it is to say that any product assessment, should be based on a robust and considered appraisal of upsides and downsides, by those with some understanding of what they are talking about.


2. What do you know that they don't know?

Consider this scenario: you are in a room interviewing 100 excellent candidates for one vacancy; what would make you appoint one candidate over the other 99? Progress in the world of business, will present you with exactly the same conundrum. The only exception is that the complexity of the conundrum will be multiplied a thousand times over. By themselves, good ideas are not what makes you competitive. Neither, on their own, do good ideas produce the best businesses. The thing that makes the difference, is when a good idea can be translated into a viable commercial proposition.


3. What's the hurry?

What is the imperative that is driving you to act now? Is it changing consumer attitudes, or prevailing economic conditions or just your own impatience for action? Time spent testing and proving new ideas, is better than time spent re-launching products that fail for lack of proper planning. Never confuse decisiveness with desperation. Learning is an inevitable and essential component of any commercial success, but learning can also be costly. In business, you can recoup your losses, win back disaffected customers and rebuild a damaged reputation, but the one thing you cannot regain is lost time. Plan it thoughtfully, use it wisely and realise it productively.


4. How long are you prepared to wait?

The point here, is that; once you get started, how long are you willing to wait for success? In any business, you will have some idea of what success looks like and the sorts of margins you expect to achieve in the short, medium and longer-term, This is completely normal and any business will be able to re-adjust its financial forecast in the face of changing realities on the ground. The business of business is largely formulaic, but within that formulae, there are a wide variation of possibilities. Therefore, from the get go, you need to be clear about a reasonable return on your investment.


5. What do you know that you don't know?

In business, it is critical that you are aware of your space, but whilst vision is both forward and peripheral, no-one has eyes at the back of their head. Ultimately, however, the key to success isn't what you know and what you can see and plan for, it is what you don't know. Whilst it is true that, to achieve success you must be able to make the most of what you have and the opportunity that is put in front of you, to make success sustainable, you must be able to prepare and plan for the things that you don't know.


6. What if?

Anyone looking to start a business, needs to ask the fundamental 'what if' question. For example, what if your primary investor backs out? What if your suppliers let you down? What if things take off faster than you had planned? The greater the number of processes in your business and the more complex your supply chain, the greater the number of 'what if' questions you need to consider. If you haven't thought about the practical questions that could face your business and developed viable contingencies to moderate them, then you are not prepared.


7. What are the big challenges and small things?

It is natural and right to give the bigger issues your most urgent attention. By their very nature, the bigger issues are also the most important things and the pivots upon which the success or failure of your business is likely to rest. However, where small start-ups get it wrong, is in taking their eyes off the many seemingly less significant (but inter-connected) issues that often go under the radar. In business, the difference between success and failure isn't always the big things that you plan for, it is the cumulative effect of the little things that you ignore.


8. What are you not good at?

Knowing your short-comings is not an admission of failure. On the contrary, the ability to honestly appraise what you are and are not good at, should compel you to think about who else you might need to bring on board to help you. Muddling through and hoping for the best or believing that you will work it out when you get there, is silly and costly. The possibility of working alongside suitably qualified or experienced people, at the right time, is something that you should think about now not later.


9. Does anyone know you are there?

There is a reason why businesses invest in marketing campaigns and allocate resources to marketing budgets. It is because there is no point having a unique selling point, if no-one even knows what you are selling. Effective marketing is not just about making a loud noise it is about making a loud noise in the right places and at the right times. The same principles that apply to multi-billion dollar conglomerates, also apply to a small start-up, with a tiny operating budget and small profit margins.


10. What do you want them to remember?

When planning for your future customers, don't just think about what you want them to know, think about you want them to remember? There are so many points of interaction that any business will have with its customer base, from product development and marketing, through to service delivery and customer care. Each point of contact, represents a unique opportunity to communicate a powerful message, establish a meaningful relationship and demonstrate the value of your brand. In visual terms, knowing what you want people to remember, is the difference between writing your message on paper and setting it in stone.


In conclusion, the path to success doesn't start with the insight to capture a bright idea, it starts with the ability to ask the right questions. To that end, the most viable product of any start-up, is a penchant for perpetual curiosity.


By pa360, Sep 9 2018 03:43PM

Considered in a historical context, the curious case of Colin Kaepernick is not really that curious at all. For those of a certain generation, history is simply repeating itself. The script goes something like this: a sports personality takes a stand on a social or political issue and is reviled and ostracised from their chosen sport as a result. Years later, the same sports personality is recognised as courageous and heroic. The names are different, aspects of the situation are different, but fundamentally we have been here before haven't we?


Ultimately, the political climate in the US will change, the wanton orgy of divisiveness will end and everyone will come to their senses. It is funny how history has a way of repeating itself, but sometimes it takes the re-learning of past lessons to remind us that, much as we might go to the brink, few are willing to go over the edge. Or to paraphrase the words of Martin Luther King: even if we struggle to live together as brothers, we are not prepared to perish together as fools.


As such, the curious case of Colin Kaepernick will end predictably, with Kaepernick remembered as a pioneer of his time and with history repeating itself, once socio-political conditions permit.


With that in mind, the purpose of this blog is not to prognosticate or pick apart the evolution of the social issues that have driven the Kaepernick protest. Rather, it is to highlight ten leadership lessons that can be learnt from them.


1. Conditions will always create leaders - in many ways, the actions of Colin Kaepernick restore one's confidence in the idea that the concept of leadership is alive and well. The sheer diversity of life experience and life outcomes within and between communities guarantees that leaders will always emerge to further one cause or another. There are few social institutions that evidence the health of a society more than a thriving economy of leadership. Whether or not you agree with the interpretation given to issues, or with the leaders who choose to champion them, just don't be surprised when leaders emerge. Perhaps more fundamentally, if you do not like the leaders that you have, then change the conditions that produce them.


2. Prepare to speak your truth in the face of overwhelming power - in the grand scheme of things, Kaepernick and his fellow 'kneelers' are mere specs in the face of the overwhelming power and might arraigned against them. Whether this is the individual might of the team owners, the governing might of the National Football League of the political might of figures in the highest office in Washington. A 'sensible' person might reasonably weigh and balance these competing elements and decide that discretion is the better part of valour. However, in leadership, there is no better time to speak truth to power than when you are, by comparison, powerless. Consent and dissent are the hardest things to do when you disrupt the status quo.


3. Leadership is not a measure of perfection - in preparing this blog, I have read various articles and watched many commentators critique the credentials and character of Colin Kaepernick. Personally, I have never met the man and therefore do not know whether any of the positive or negative things said about him, are true. One thing I do know however, is that neither perfection nor piety are pre-requisites of leadership. The fact, for example, that Kaepernick is a multi-millionaire, no more disqualifies him from protesting, than it qualifies him to do so. Leadership is not about your standing, it's about where you stand and what you stand for.


4. Be prepared to be despised, but never accept to be intimidated - one of the more predictable aspects of Kaepernick's case is the level of animus being directed towards him. This is a man who has taken no hostages, detonated no bombs and led no terrorist insurrections. Yet he is still seen as a hate figure by some, not just for what he has done, but for what he is perceived to have done. In leadership, being despised is often par for the course. If you are more concerned with your reputation, ratings or public approval, then you are unfit to lead.


5. Be prepared to go it alone - in leadership, the hardest place to start is at the beginning. The passion, energy and sense of purpose that propels you when you first decide to step forward, can quickly dissipate when your motives and being questioned and your message is perceived in a negative light. Even more so, it can be energy sapping, when momentum fails to materialise, behind your cause, as you expected. So here's the rub, if you are not prepared to lead with the understanding that you might have to go it alone and with the recognition that you might ultimately get nowhere, then stay where you are. In leadership, the truth is that just because others agree with you, doesn't guarantee that they will follow you.


6. Do not compromise - in leadership if it mattered in the beginning, then surely it should also matter in the end. Leadership is not something that you can opt in and out of or a construct through which your message can be watered down. Kaepernick may well have been imperfect in the way in which he initially sought to make his protest (sitting rather than kneeling) but he has none-the-less been unwavering in the commitment to his cause. Nothing shores up leadership credibility more than the authenticity of your issue and few things undermine your credibility more than the inconsistency of your message.


7. Sometimes people who look at the same situations can see different things - do not assume simply because you have a cause that you care about, that others will see the same issue in the same way. In leadership, you can only control what you say, but you have zero control over what others hear or indeed what they want to hear. In leadership, you cannot beat yourself up over the fact that 'people don't seem to get it'. They do get it, but they just don't agree with you.


8. Engage with the disgruntled, don't play politics with them - one of the more interesting aspects of the Kaepernick protest is how quickly senior politicians at the highest levels of the US government have used it to play politics. It is fascinating how one persons protest, has been appropriated by another as 'cladding' for their personal profile. In truth, it is not just fascinating, it is fundamentally wrong. Even if, for the sake of argument, one believes that Kaepernick's attempt at leadership is ill-judged; surely the 'higher leadership' response to that has been much worse? The ineffectiveness of political leadership, in responding to the method of the Kaepernick protest, has only served to multiply the number of protesters, not change the method of protest.


9. Never 'commercialise' a cause - for Colin Kaepernick's sake, I hope he and Nike have carefully thought through the public relations implications of their new 10-year partnership deal. I say that because the image of brother Kaepernick getting paid, whilst others are getting shot, isn't a good look. Such a perception would undermine his message, raise questions about his commitment and create a reason for people to doubt him. More likely however, Kaepernick and Nike have probably spent months stressing over how this deal can be turned into something strategically successful. I am never one to encourage others to make public displays of their good works, but I will make an exception in this case. My advice for Kaepernick would be to make a public commitment to give a sizeable portion of personal earnings, from this deal, to social charities.


10. ...but be prepared to broaden your constituency - the willingness to broaden one's constituency and utilise a wide of channels to vocalise one's cause, is a perfectly legitimate thing for any leader to do. So too is the willingness to make common cause with those who are prepared to make common cause with you. The fact that a person has a different life experience, is from a different social demographic or represents a different political flag, should never be a disqualifier. In leadership, even if you espouse a cause that makes people feel uncomfortable, you should never adopt a position that makes them feel unwelcome.


By pa360, Dec 30 2016 08:56PM

People often talk about leading from the front. In fact it is probably the best known and certainly the most visible form of leadership. In my mind, the classic image of leading from the front is the First World War, where soldiers would leap up out of their trenches and charge across battlefields to engage the enemy in acts of extraordinary courage and astonishing bravery.


But what about leading from the back ie: leading through others? Are there ever times when it is helpful for a leader to be less visible or even invisible? Yes, very much so. Indeed, leading from the back is the only viable way to facilitate the empowerment of people. It simply cannot be achieved any other way.


So how and when does leading from the back work and what are the conditions under which such an arrangement might achieve a successful outcome. Set out below are the eight ways to lead effectively from the back.


1. give people permission to act - the importance of permission to act is that it creates a controlled environment and sets the boundary and context within which activity can be planned, conducted and sanctioned. The alternative to boundaries is unstructured activity, rules made up on the hoof and lack of accountability. When leading from the back, boundaries are especially important because those whom you empower must clearly understand the authority with which they have to act and the point at which authority for further action must be sought.


2. give people permission to fail - one of the hardest things to do in leadership is to accept your own failure, how much more to be accountable for the failure of others. Yet, you simply cannot lead effectively from the back unless you accept that you must empower others with permission to fail. Let’s be real here, if you give people the permission to act on your behalf, you must also give them permission to fail on your behalf. As long as those whom you empower operate within the delegated permission to act, you must be prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.


3. deploy visible invisibility - the essence of leading from the back is that you are leading through others and therefore whilst you are not physically in the room, you are none-the-less present through those who represent and are accountable to you. The measure of a truly great leader is that their presence is felt even when they are not physically there. To lead from the back, you cannot be physically present otherwise once people catch sight of you, they will defer to you, which is undermining of those whose leadership capabilities you are trying to develop.


4. give people the freedom to think - few things are as disempowering as repressing peoples freedom to think and express their views. Clearly there are limitations to this and I am not referring to those who use their freedoms to act outside established norms of behaviour and practice. Rather, I am referring to the value placed on involving people in the decision-making process that empowers them to think for themselves and solve their own problems. To lead from the back, you must accept that you do not know all the answers. By doing so you will cultivate collective accountability and enable to find solutions whether or not you are in the room.


5. trust yourself to trust others - like any arrangement involving people, successfully leading from the back must be based on trust. Without trust, permission to act or fail cannot be granted, boundaries cannot be established and people cannot be enabled to demonstrate their leadership capabilities. In my experience trust is a push and pull, in that it must be earned as well as extended. Asking people to take on roles for which they are unsuited is an abuse of trust. However, a good leader who knows the capabilities of their people, ought to be able to create the right environment for potential leaders to step forward.


6. motivate effectively - there will undoubtedly be times when those who represent you are not performing well or complacency sets in or any one of a number of other issues occur that require urgent attention. At such times, you need to have a range of motivational tools to deploy. I have often found that to generate energy and enthusiasm you must find out what motivates people (and each person may be different). For some it may be your ability to spot the positives in a sea of negatives and for others it may be the reassurance that you will step forward and take responsibility if things go wrong. However, if all else fails you must be ready to deploy tough love and strong words.


7. do not be threatened by the success of others - this is a very serious point. I have known leaders who choose not to empower others into leadership for fear that they may be recognised and rewards for their efforts. Here’s the rub, petty jealousy kills leadership development. Furthermore, anyone in such a position, who holds those kinds of views should seriously question whether they have chosen the right vocation. It bears reminding that the role and purpose of leadership is not lordship, it is service – specifically the empowerment of others.


8. maintain standards - in every endeavour where there is a stated objective, there must also be some way of describing or defining what success looks like. In other words what sort of behaviours do you want to see demonstrated, how long do you want to be hand-holding before those who you are seeking to empower, take off on their own? As I often say, if you do not know what success looks like you will not know it when you see it, nor will you be able to use knowledge gained from it to develop capabilities and maintain standards.


If your goal is to empower your organisation, achieve culture change and deliver sustainable results, then leading from the back is the way to do it. In simple terms, you achieve sustainability not through your own efforts but rather through the efforts of others. Therefore any organisational design and development strategy that doesn’t have the empowerment of people at its heart, is probably destined for the dusty top shelf, just like its predecessors.

By pa360, May 30 2016 11:57AM

For any new enterprise, the requirement to 'start small' is more likely to be a necessity than a preference. This is because the resource base, competitiveness and market reach, that are so characteristic of larger organisations, take time to develop.


But it is easy to forget that starting small actually offers many important strategic advantages and benefits, which are denied to organisations of greater size and with more plentiful resources. Harnessing these opportunities is crucial, because it helps to ensure that an organisation that starts small, in the short term, will be better able to grow sustainably in the longer term. Set out below are six strategic advantages of starting small.


1. maximises the value of limited resources - if you have little to work with, then you will always look to make the most of what you have. Resourcefulness is so much easier when every penny counts and when every second of productive time must be accounted for. Starting small is therefore the ideal place to learn good habits, apply good principles and model good practice. It is also worth noting that resourcefulness is scalable. As such, the practices that you apply when you are small, can also be applied as you grow.


2. builds character - to truly appreciate what it means to have much, you must first appreciate what it means to have little. Character is what you develop when you are under pressure, face tough challenges and keep going long after others have given up. If you are a small fish in a big pond you are perfectly placed to develop the resilience to survive, the courage to compete and the determination to succeed. But even more than being well placed to achieve success, those who start small are equally well placed to sustain it.


3. enables intimate relationships to develop with staff and customers - big organisations are more likely to know their stakeholders by number, whilst smaller organisations are more likely to know their stakeholders by name. To build loyalty you need to establish relationships and the most effective way to establish relationships is to get to know people and develop intimacy. This is where size offers distinct advantages to smaller organisations who are more naturally suited to developing one-to-one relationships and are therefore more likely to be rewarded with loyalty for doing so.


4. innovation is much easier - as organisations grow, structures fall into place which, over time, can become rigid and unwieldy. Needless to say, inflexible structures are often the most difficult environments within which to develop fresh thinking and implement new ideas. By contrast, one of the greatest advantages of starting small is the freedom it provides to innovate and do things differently. The more you experiment, the more you learn and the more you learn the more confident you can be about what works and what doesn't.


5. decision-making is much quicker - if you do not have to delegate or escalate, then decision-making can be much quicker. If you cannot make a quick decision, it doesn't matter whether or not you know the right answer. Speedier decision-making not only positions you to take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise, it also creates a perception of agility and organisational competence. This is crucial in building confidence amongst employees, customers and potential investors.


6. responsiveness and flexibility - one of the most valuable assets of any organisation is its capacity for responsiveness. Being responsive is more than the ability to reassess priorities and refocus effort in light of changing needs and demands; it is the ability to do so in a timely fashion. By virtue of size, smaller organisations are much better able to surf the curve of change and respond quickly as and when required.


The overarching message of this blog is that there are many distinct advantages of starting small. However, though a business might start small, the longer term aim is usually to become bigger. This is just the natural order of things because growth is an important indicator of progress and progress is an important indicator of success.


By pa360, Apr 9 2016 08:35PM

We all know great leadership when we see it. People are inspired by it, organisations are transformed by it and the divided are united by it. But an eagerness to lead does not, by itself, translate into effective and capable leadership. On the contrary, leadership is a learned competency, which is developed as much by knowing what to avoid as it is demonstrated by knowing what needs to be done. So then, what are the biggest leadership pitfalls to avoid? Well, set out below are my top seven.


1. the lure of lordship - one of the biggest traps that leaders often fall into is the pitfall of 'lordship'. A lord expects to be served, but a leader expects to serve. The best leaders exemplify their leadership by putting others first and putting themselves second. A 'leader' that is actually better known for lordship, undermines their credibility by subjugating the very people they are supposed to serve.


2. a closed mind - the problem with a closed mind is that it is often symptomatic of self-righteousness. The problem with self-righteousness is that those who demonstrate this trait are often the last to realise it. Even after irreparable damage has been done, the self-righteous will absolve themselves of responsibility and look for whom else to blame for their faults and failings. The fact is that, even if your mind is open, you will not always be right, but if your mind is closed you won't know when you are wrong.


3. indecisiveness - vacillation or indecisiveness doesn't just sap confidence, it creates utter confusion. The ability to be decisive is important because it provides clear direction and enables a leader to unite effort behind a common purpose. A leader who fails the test of decisiveness undermines their own leadership and invites questions about their leadership legitimacy. Decisiveness does not guarantee that you won't get it wrong, but if you cannot be decisive, how will you ever get it right?


4. weak character judgement - one of the main expectations of those in leadership is to be able to judge and evaluate the character, capabilities and competencies of those around them. This is important because a leader needs to make important decisions regarding the delegation of duties and the promotion of subordinates. However, a leader who struggles to rightly judge the character of others will inevitably find themselves surrounded by sycophants, the self-serving and the cynical.


5. lack of personal integrity - the question of personal integrity is essential because it goes to the very heart of leadership character. A leader that is perceived to be deceptive, dishonest and unreliable is like a house built on quicksand. No-one in their right mind would go anywhere near such a place, much less seek shelter there. Character is the solid foundation upon which leadership credibility can be demonstrated and upon which leadership confidence can be built.


6. failure to recognise others - during a time of celebration, a truly great leader should be falling over themselves to give credit to others. Leaders who feel the need to claim credit for themselves, will likewise think nothing of throwing subordinates under the bus when things are not going well. In simple terms, leadership that cannot recognise the effort of others, will not inspire confidence, and if leadership cannot inspire confidence it will not inspire loyalty.


7. failure to 'walk the walk' - the most effective form of communication is not what you say it is what you do. Leaders who say one thing and do something else demonstrate that they lack credibility and people who lack credibility simply cannot be trusted. But it doesn't end there, without trust you cannot exercise influence either and without influence a leader cannot mobilise effort.


It is important to stress that every leader makes mistakes. In many ways, getting it wrong is an essential part of the learning process and helps to ensure that a leader can get it right next time. Yes, even great leaders can fall into a pit. But what separates great leaders from the rest, is not how quickly they fell in, but how quickly they were able to climb out.


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