Here are some big questions for you!

A while ago I posted a blog on the importance of asking big questions to cast vision.

At the time of writing that blog I was looking for some local examples of big questions asked by leaders. I didn’t find any, but yesterday I found these great questions being asked by National in regards the large science challenges that face the country:

  1. How could New Zealand intensify its primary industries in an environmentally sustainable way – increasing production while at the same time protecting the environment, particularly water quality?
  2. What cost-effective technologies could be developed for sustainable energy production through use of biomass (plant material or agricultural waste) or advanced geothermal technologies?
  3. How could New Zealand produce a new generation of high-value foods – for example food or food-derived products that have demonstrated health benefits, designed for the Asian market?

OK, I am not big into sustainability myself…although I am getting there. But I like those questions more from the perspective that they are really big.

Such questions will stimulate scientists and engineers to find the answers and they will probably develop new and exciting technologies as a result. The outcomes will stimulate growth.

In my blog titled Ask Big Questions I talked about how Ratan Tata did exactly the same thing and the outcome was the TATA car, a car built for under $1,000.

This is not a plug for National! It is simply a reminder to consider how we can ask big questions to stimulate growth in our own businesses.

What big questions can you be asking your staff?

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How to Unleash your Organization

This is a great article by Geoffrey Webb

As companies grow, complexity and bureaucracy grow as well. As bureaucracy grows, agility, responsiveness and vitality decrease.

It’s an old story we’ve seen repeated many times—but the companies that are booming in this new economy have found a way off this ride.

They’ve uncovered—and exploited—a flaw in the premise that the only way to regulate the rising chaos of complexity is by adding regulations. Most organizations assume that growing complexity is the problem. It’s actually just a symptom.

Growing complexity only becomes an issue when it surpasses the ability of your people to handle it. Small businesses—where most businesses start—thrive because they operate in a low-complexity, high-talent environment. Simply trying to confine the chaos with rules is just treating the symptom. Instead focus on maintaining a high talent to complexity ratio.

As long as you can attract and retain enough quality people to off-balance your growing complexity, you’ll remain an agile and innovative organization—regardless of your size. A few ideas on managing that ratio:

1. Develop your Talent. Offer competitive salaries. Treat your top performers well. Offer them the freedom and tools to make a huge difference. Stick to your values and concentrate on your culture.

2. Prune your Bureaucracy. Choose simplicity over complexity. Review your system regularly for “policy creep” and get rid of it. Where you can, consider a values-based approach versus a policy-driven approach to aligning everyone’s behavior.

Bottom line, to stay relevant and responsive in today’s world, you’ve got to grow your people faster than you grow your business.

How is the talent to complexity ratio in your organization? What can you do to increase it?

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Why vision must capture the heart!

So much rests on the vision we cast. The future of those we are responsible for, our
families, our staff, our customers, shareholders, community, country and every country in which we operate are all affected for good or bad for as long as the vision and the resulting strategies are in place.

Strategic frameworks however tend to be confusing. Visions, missions, values, all stating different things, all pointing in different directions. Making the overall picture too complicated to remember let alone retaining any capacity to capture the heart.

For that is what vision must do. It must have the clarity and emotional appeal needed to inspire action and the simplicity to be remembered and enacted.

Living with an unclear vision is just the same as having no vision at all, possibly worse because the lack of clarity legitimises directionless action.

Vision must therefore be simple. But creating a simple, clear and compelling vision statement can be very difficult.

Here are some tips:

1.    Keep it short, 3-7 words.

Too often we try to fit it all into one long statement the result can be a long rambling paragraph or two that is impossible to remember and therefore completely unable to inspire action. The trick is to keep it short, perhaps only 7 words in length or less, then reinforce your statement with vivid descriptions. Vivid descriptions are paragraphs that describe what it will look like when you get there. Into these vivid descriptions you can and should inject emotional appeal. Every time I do this I end out with an A4 page with a single short vision statement at the top in bold with 3-5 paragraphs of emotional text explaining what it will look like.

2.    Make it specific

Avoid vague, go for something you can measure, it might be a number, or a market position or date, just keep your vision statement focused, simple. Doing this will result in a vision that is sure to inspire your team. Use your vivid descriptions to bring life to the statement, to give it legs and emotional appeal.

3.    Make it big

Think big. Make it inspiringly big. You want your team to think; “what… really…is that possible, can we do that?” You don’t want them to have the answer to that question right off…you want the vision to inspire them to look for the answers, to push forwards, to test the limits and to try new things. If your vision does not challenge everything you do, it is not big enough.

Have you had the pleasure of working for an organisation with a great vision? Please comment below.

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How do you know if you have a vision statement that works?

When do you know if your vision statement works? Well, simply put, it must do three things. It must:

  1. Inspire
  2. Impact
  3. Ignite

Let me explain…

Inspire: Your vision must inspire passion in you and your staff. It must also be big enough that you really honestly don’t know how you will achieve it. If your staff don’t respond to your new vision something like: “what… really…is that possible, can we do that?” then upon further explanation of it go: “WOW…ok…well, we could do this or that, what about…”then you know that your vision really won’t work. It must inspire!

Impact: If your vision does not immediately impact your business processes then it will not affect anything. If it does not affect the today then it is powerless to determine your tomorrow.

Ignite: If your vision inspires your staff, if all your business processes and staff structures are aligned to your vision then the result will be momentum. Such a vision ignites action.

What do you think, are vision statements important?

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Taking Action when it’s Too Hard

Failure, dissapointment, financial crisis… each of these things can debilitate us, causing us to give up, get angry, get depressed or all of the above.

One thing I have found to be absolutely essential in order to move towards a positive mindset is exercise. It is common knowledge that a fit person has more energy. Fit people are more likely to fend off depression, they are more focused and can achieve more.

For myself personally my fitness is very directly linked to my state of mind.

The other thing I have found essential to do during hard times is to seek advice from people I trust.

I distinctly remember witnessing a colleague and good friend of mine go through a very difficult time (in business) a number of years back. I respected him as being someone much wiser than I and yet it seemed that during this time he became irrational and started making quite bad decisions fueled by thinking that was off track.

I noted at the time that he was not seeking advice from others and I believe this isolation resulted in some faulty thinking that drove him deeper into trouble.

Since then I have tried to place myself in front of others I respect during hard times. I highly value people who recognize when I am doing this and listen and advise well.

The other thing that helps me is to focus on what I can do today. Even if it one small simple action, I have learnt to ask myself what can I do this day.

I came across a couple of great quotes that relate to this the other day from @elyshemer

  1. “The only difference between winners and losers is that winners take action.”
  2. You cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind.”

Can you connect to this? What have you done to keep moving forwards in hard times? Please comment below.

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Being Positive to PSA

On Nov 3 2010 the NZ Kiwifruit industry looked incredible. Growing gold in particular was highly profitable. The cash that the annual harvest generated allowed for deep investment right through the value chain.

The future could not look better, the new varieties tasted incredible and looked great on the vine. Our visions of the future on Nov 3 2010 were big and bright.

Then PSA went public and the ride since has been hairy. Some weeks look good and we think we can make it. Other weeks it looks like there really is no future for our precious kiwi in the Bay of Plenty.

Certainly our visions have been dashed. It is quite clear, even on the best of weeks that the growth we once planned cannot occur the way we once planned it.

Quite simply it looks like we are in for a very rocky ride. For some the ride may well be disastrous.

But how do we stay positive (excuse the pun) during this time? Certainly that is our challenge now, to stay positive.

I think one of the keys is to be there for others, to look out for our neighbors, to chat, to listen.

How is your neighbour or friend doing? Have you taken time to chat and listen, just listen without any other distractions, giving them your ear can be such a powerful way to help someone remain positive during PSA.

More than ever before we need to be a community of neighbors and friends who talk and listen to each other.

Your thoughts…is this enough? What else can we do to help each other? Please comment.

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Ask BIG Questions

Nothing stimulates vision more then asking big questions

In fact, a simple well stated question can actually become a powerful organisational changing vision.

Ratan Tata, the CEO of the Indian based TATA Motors, provided a good example of such a question when he asked his organisation: “Why can’t we make a car for 1 Lakh” (approx $1,000).

It was an audacious question, one he did not have an answer for, but it inspired his engineers. The result is the revolutionary little car the NANO.

The NANO has no power steering or electric windows and is being distributed via a radically new distribution network to stimulate demand and manage price. To save on costs, the engineering team gave the car a windshield wiper with one arm instead of the usual two and one side-view rear mirror, too. They even attached the wheels with three bolts instead of four.

TATA’s staff were inspired by the possibility that they could make the dream of car ownership a possibility for hundreds of millions of striving families in India and around the world.

The result was a revolution.

What makes a GREAT big question?

  1. Find a question that excites energy and passion in you
  2. Make sure the question also excites energy and passion your staff
  3. Ask a question you do not know the answer to
  4. Empower your staff to explore and dig for answers
  5. Do not cast any other vision or fix any plan until you have answers

Have you used big questions to stimulate vision? What other tips do you have? Please comment below.

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