Category Archives: Business

Follow The Pack Or Lead The Pack?

For every hype, there would be those who would jump in the bandwagon at first sight and those who would wait and see whether this fad is worth their attention. There is also another category: those who would start the hype. People in need of novelty would always find someone who is willing to give them what they want. Because it is out of place, “unique” and makes them stand out of the crowd, novelty lovers would fall for it. Whether this hype is a fad or is powerfully disruptive to create jobs, generate income, it would largely depend on the factors that have created the hype in the first place.

Most new trends tend to collapse once the novelty factor dies out. They disappear as fast as they came. They took shape because there were “easy money” to be made: banks giving cheap loans and people looking for the next big thing, aiming to become the next “millionaire”, like their neighbours, a few blocks down the road – showing off their new car or pictures of their new property bought in some exotic place. If your new investment depends on market values to pursue a never ending rise then prepare for the pain of the downfall. For everything that goes up must come down.

When it requires you to be part of a “select” group of people to take advantage of this “new innovative idea”, I would stay away from it… “Cozy” relationships require long term investment of one’s own energy and time. Being well connected is not about being seen with the right crowd. Joining an “in” group makes you vulnerable as you are subject to “peer pressure” and the need to feed your sense of pride that you have made the right choice.

Creative disruption comes from making wise and challenging choices that would have a long term positive impact on the future. These choices are not dictated by what the rest of the herd is doing. People’s lives and success can bring inspiration and kick start your own creative sense. Emulating them can bring you some dividends. As there is no real ownership from you and no strong personal commitment of using your own strengths, you remain in your “comfort zone” and tend to refrain from going the “extra mile”. Whatever popular idea that you borrowed loses its momentum and its value to you.

The most unfortunate denominator for all those “financial soufflé”: memories of the collapse fade over time. Also, people tend to cling to dated ideas and rules for too long, particularly notions that minimize or explain away potential risks. Generally speaking, it always painful to recount your mistakes and learn where you went wrong. It is easier to put the blame on “bad timing” or on receiving bad advice as long as your sense of pride does not take the hit. Playing “the victim” won’t help restore your self confidence.

To be a serious trend setter requires that you are able to bounce back from all previous failures and embrace the lessons learnt.  To leave the past where it is and focus on what matters in the present requires personal resilience and pragmatism. When things start to go badly, keeping your own inner compass intact is necessary if you want to come out in one single piece.

Most well known trend setters went through a major personal ordeal before raising from the “ashes” to make a stronger comeback. Their personal fortitude makes them all the more determined to strive. A few well known examples are Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs.  It does take a lot to be a trend setter and what matters to most people is to have their own place in the sunshine, at the end of the day.

Whether you are a trend setter or a follower actually does not matter as long as you are aware of your core assets and mindful of your personal challenges. Everyone has the right to one’s own place in the sunshine. Taking a consistent approach of understanding whether the hype is moving in a productive direction is most important. The “herdlike” mentality of having to catch up to the Joneses can be highly risky and lead to nowhere other than pain, disappointment and loss in self confidence.

Stability in growing your own wealth is what makes your life enjoyable. It helps you to focus on the essentials – investing your resources in productive assets, setting the right priorities, managing your sense of pride so that it does not cloud your judgment, hanging out with people who inspires you, stands up to you when there is need to and truly supports you. It is all about balance: a strength taken too far can become a liability or ignoring your personal challenges is a huge risk.

To follow your own path to success is doing what is necessary: engaging deeply with yourself so as to learn how to deal with your personal challenges. Exploiting your strengths is easier as people tend to be more at ease with themselves in times of success. No one can hope to succeed as a free rider on the tailwinds of fortuitous circumstances. Complacency in dealing with yourself can only lead to stagnation. No one can continue on to be successful by using their sense of pride to mask their personal challenges. Living beyond one’s means intellectually or financially is the fast express route to doom! “If there is no wind, row”.

Gender Diversity – No Hard And Fast Rules.

Gender Diversity has been a hot topic for decades and being a woman, I must admit that I have not given much thought to it until recently. Gender biases have existed for centuries when it comes to involving more women in the workplace, in politics, in leadership roles, etc. Over the past few decades, gender diversity has taken on a new meaning. LGBTQ community, an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer are now voicing out their concerns of being not properly integrated into our society.

The reason why I have not often considered the issues surrounding gender diversity is because I think there needs to be a profound change in societal norms – something that can only be dealt with by making important changes in the school curriculum and more importantly changes in how we raise our kids.

Issuing and endorsing gender diversity policies at work or enacting laws that promotes gender diversity is rarely going to be enough for attitudes to change at work and for society at large to transform itself so that everybody feels a sense of belonging. There is also the fact that each individual has her/his own life experiences influencing personal life choices. Individual A can feel that he is respectful towards others whist Individual B believes that A does not have the right attitude. In other words, getting the right balance is complex. Bearing in mind that our laws and national policies tend to lag behind societal changes, there will always be room for improvement.

I believe that any changes start with our own personal journey. Teaching the next generation at home to be respectful of others is my personal contribution to the gender diversity agenda. The formation of the beliefs and values of an adult starts early. It has been proven that “a child’s perception of the world is directly downloaded into the subconscious during the first six years of life. The fundamental behaviours, beliefs, attitudes we observe in our parents, teachers: people in our immediate surroundings becomes hardwired as synaptic pathways in our subconscious minds.”(c.f The Biology of Belief : Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce H Lipton). The subconscious mind always operates in the “now” whilst the conscious mind can travel in time: past, present and future.

In other words, the subconscious mind is the one who is in control. Positive affirmation can influence our behaviour and genes but only when they are in harmony with our subconscious programming. To change someone’s attitudes, there needs to be a reprogramming of the unconscious. According to Bruce Lipton, thoughts consume energy as surely as does marathon running. Rewriting programs in the subconscious mind can be achieved through the help of a number of modalities known as “energy psychology”. Some well-known modalities are hypnotherapy and body centered therapies.

However, whenever there is an opportunity to bring my personal contribution to promoting gender diversity, I would not hesitate to do so. The thing is that no matter how many policies are endorsed, it all starts with us making a conscious effort to change our own mindset. Our social culture is dynamic with people continuously making their own contributions. If we want to give a gift to our daughters or sons for Christmas 2017, we may want to give them something that will encourage less gender biases. Giving a boy something that will raise his awareness that “nurture” is as important as “winning” can make a difference in how he views the world in the next 10 – 20 years. Allowing a girl to choose her own career gives her the self worth she needs to succeed later in life.

There are no hard and fast rules as to how we can ensure that no matter who we are, we all feel that we belong to this current world. Inclusion and belonging is important for better social cohesion as past research have proven that they are critical for a human being to function optimally in terms of health, adjustment and well being. Improved social cohesion also implies less costs to society in terms of health care and social welfare benefits.

RACE TO THE BOTTOM OR TO THE MOON?

Businesses thrive when they are able to provide something not easily replicable by other players in the same industry or the same market segment. There are different sources of competitive advantage: cost savings, access to a critical source of raw material, first mover advantage, etc. These competitive advantages do not last forever. They have to be renewed over time. The weakest source of competitive advantage is cost savings, it is the one that is the most popular in many industries.

Cost savings do not imply that costs disappear.  They are actually transferred from people who have power and money to those who have nothing.  Operating a business based on cost savings actually signals, most of the time, the loss or a lack of creativity.  No business can be sustained over the long term by continuous cost cutting. Such strategy will eventually lead to the build-up of unseen risks that will arise unexpectedly, leading to more value destruction and thus to the closing down of the business activities. So, cost savings is more a race to the bottom rather than to the moon!

The recent fire at Grenfell Tower is an example of the race to drive down costs which led to huge loss of lives. It is important to bear in mind that organisations operate within a society, the impact of their race may spread far beyond their immediate operations.  Outsourcing activities to third parties in an effort to cut costs is another strategy that can lead to potential collateral damage.  It is true that outsourcing is a major source of employment in some countries which are known to provide excellent levels of service. It is unfortunately not always the case. It is the responsibility of business owners to ensure that any outsourced activity is being carried out with the same ethos as theirs because collateral damages to their business brand can be irrecoverable.

When activities are being outsourced hastily in an effort to generate “quick wins” without any attention given to risk management, it can be disastrous. It is to the long term advantage of any business not to get cheaper but to get smarter about what consumers really wants and how to make it well. According to Ray Henderson from Interface, “Sustainability is all about coming up with ways to meet our needs (not wants) today without undermining the ability of other folks to meet their needs tomorrow.” See his TED Talk.

Instead of seeing Interface as being separate from society, he viewed it as being integrally connected to the entire world. According to Ray Anderson, businesses need to identify all of their costs and then had to find or invent ways to eliminate them completely and permanently – not just pass them along.

In the extensive research carried out by Margaret Heffernan, “innovative institutions and organizations thrive not because they pick and breed superstars but because they cherish, nurture and support the vast range of talents, personalities and skills that true creativity requires”. A collaborative culture requires continued commitment from all parties involved and can be achieved with a genuine effort to communicate without status, awe or intimidation. Part of this collaborative culture is the permission to fail and to learn from those mistakes made. This is necessary if employees are meant to add value, give useful feedback and go the extra mile to make things work.

For decades, the theory of Darwin prevailed. It emphasized life’s competitive nature leading to a dog eat dog attitude in many spheres of life: business, social, political etc.  We now know the results: the emergence of systemic risks, the breakdown of conventional systems and regulations in various industries.

In Bruce Lipton’s book, “The Biology of Belief”, he explains that in the past few years, research in the field of epigenetics have determined that environmental influences, including nutrition, stress and emotions can modify our genes without changing their basic blueprint. In other words, if someone tends to live in a certain environment where certain core values prevail, over time that person will inevitably be influenced by those same set of values unconsciously. As a result, asking a group of people to team up and collaborate genuinely is not going to happen overnight. .

For a group of people to endorse values such as cooperation, professionalism, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the culture prevailing in the workplace. The business needs to operate on an operational model where people are encouraged to be supportive and failures are viewed as opportunities to create something new. For a few to be rewarded whilst the rest of the team are considered as “ordinary” or “losers” sends the wrong message that there are winners and losers. For outstanding performance to take place, there has been the correct flow of information, the right kind of infrastructure and the right sort of training. All this is the outcome of good collaboration between multiple parties who are “unsung” heroes.

Racing to the moon requires more than replicating successful business models or cutting costs. It is the result of a rigorous commitment to taking a long term view of encouraging a thriving collaborative culture.

 

The  following books have been used as reference for the write up of this post.

  1.  A Bigger Prize by Margaret Heffernan
  2. The Biology of Belief : Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce H Lipton

Creating Value Within Your Organisation.

The Value Of Any Organisation Is In Its Sustainability. A business that cannot survive over the long term has no value.  There are very few organisations which can boast continued success from the day it was launched to the present date. Most organisations had to go through a number of transformations over time to survive. Those who failed to review and adapt, were either bought out or shut down. The most well-known example is Lehman Brothers. The main lesson learnt is size does not matter when it comes to survival.  Economies of scale if they can be achieved, eventually reach a point where they become counterproductive. According to Margaret Heffernan, “we need organisations that are robust, that can survive the vicissitudes of political, social and economic change. Expecting any organisation to be infallible is madness. What we want are organisations that are functional – but can fail safely.”

The belief that size makes you invincible has been disproved again and again. Yet, people continue to believe that there is safety in numbers and that scale commands respect.  Large organisations lead to organisational complexity which makes it difficult for the company to fix itself. The voice of those involved in the operations or having proximity to the market is not heard and they are sometimes discouraged to provide feedback due to the steep hierarchies involved in those organisations.  As a result, changes in the trends of the market are not taken into account in time so that the organisation adopts more of a reactive attitude rather than a proactive attitude.

For smaller organisations, succession planning is a typical challenge faced by most founders. Tackling succession planning at an early stage is recommended if you are looking to leave your business/organisation as part of the legacy for future generations or for society at large. It is challenging to create the right blend of people to succeed to the founder(s). Most owners of SME’s or of small charities would rather continue on their own than invest time, energy and money to building a team that will end up leaving them after a few years or that may not live up to their expectations.

According to Margaret Heffernan, collaboration is hard because so little in our culture trains, rewards or even seems to notice great collaboration. True collaboration is characterized by passionate curiosity, modest confidence and mild obsession. Creativity and innovation is derived from the careful nurturing of relationships and a commitment to the long term. Trust requires constant communication. There is a lot of give and take.  The more power you delegate the more people feel they are empowered and as a result, they take ownership and will not let you down. What we need is to build the structures and processes, the habits and relationships that draw it out and make it grow.

Creativity clearly challenges the status quo and this is how new ideas and concepts emerge. You don’t learn when people tend to agree with you. You actually grow and learn when people challenge your beliefs and your way of doing things. It is then an opportunity for you to make your self assessment and learn from their point of view.  Great leadership is not the result of the efforts of one single individual. It is the ability to acknowledge and integrate the contribution that each person brings to the team.

It is also important to bear in mind that the success enjoyed by most organisations is the result of inspired teams made up of highly collaborative and creative individuals. The CEO or leader of any organisation can be a great visionary and highly charismatic individual but it takes more than that to materialise the inspired vision into a positive contribution to the performance of the organisation or to society at large. The idea that only a great leader can lead an organisation to success is not realistic. There is neither a single hero who can master the complexity of the economic environment nor one single brain who can comprehend the amount of data required to be analysed to make the right strategic decision.

As Margaret Heffernan explains in her book, A Bigger Prize, managing an organisation is not the same as running the 100m sprint where athletes can focus on short term goals to achieve perfection. “A competitive mindset may help you hit achieve tomorrow’s sales target or get through the week’s call sheet but it is a terrible way to manage complex projects over the lifetime of a business”.

Organisations are set up to implement a series of ideas be it for profit or for the greater good of society. Ideas come from people and people provide ideas when they are inspired. People are inspired when they are able to mix work with pleasure. 100% focus on work only creates a tunnel vision that does not have the necessary diversity needed for a human brain to think outside the box. Corporate cultures that encourages their workforce to stay long hours – exceeding 40 hours a week are actually putting a limit to productivity, Research has shown that working long hours for a number of years tend to lead to more mistakes and therefore, more resources spent to clean up the mess.

When the workplace is all about individual performances – the heroic soloist, the team is focused on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies. People are encouraged to “play safe” leading to “people pleasing” attitudes rather than striving for excellence and creativity, stifling innovation – much needed for the sustainability of any organisation. Every person craves for a sense of belonging and connectedness and an environment conducive to collaboration fulfils this very need. Employee loyalty and commitment is not solely linked to financial remuneration but also to the desire to belong to a group which personifies the values that they cherish and uphold as part of their overall identity.

The bigger prize is a creative activity that everyone in the organisation can own. People tend to focus on the bottom line when in truth; it is the implementation of a series of winning ideas that make an organisation thrive. Also, the most successful organisation has an inclusive approach when it comes to ownership. Employees, who have proved their commitment, are invited to be part of the shareholding of the organisation. When you own part of the organisation, you want everyone to be at their best. “When anyone wins, everyone wins”.

The book: “A Bigger Prize by Margaret Heffernan” has been used as reference for the write up of this post.

Self Empowerment To Achieve Your Goals

Goals setting is a very popular exercise. You become more aware of your goals once the last quarter of the year has started. The approach of a new year reminds you of the goals you have set yourselves at the beginning of this year. It is sometimes very frustrating to find out that some goals tend to be more elusive than others. Old habits die hard and goals such as eating healthier or spending more time with family tend to be more challenging to achieve. They can become unattainable if you are not ready to make the necessary changes in your lives.

Your skills and talents are not being questioned here. It is more about having the right mindset: those beliefs and values which empower you to achieve those goals. It takes discipline, love, commitment and self awareness. Discipline is combining willpower and actions to turn them into empowering habits.

When your habits stall you, learn to understand the payoff so as to change them. Simplify your life by focusing on what is most important to you. The rest are distractions. Having fun is an important part of the journey because it makes the journey interesting and encouraging.

Goals are not about figures, targets. They are in relation to your dreams: financial comfort, legacy to your loved ones, to the community etc. Emotional goals are those that really motivate someone to move forward. Connecting your goals to a purpose ensure that your heart is into achieving them. The emotional aspect strengthens your commitment and builds your resilience to the challenges that you face in your journey.

Caroline Neita, the Money Mentor, is well aware of the challenges that someone can face to achieve their goals of being financially free. In her talk at SBN Croydon, she emphasizes the need to review your daily habits to ensure that you are not “sabotaging” yourself. She helps her clients to review their “financial” habits and raise their awareness about what is getting in the way of them achieving their financial freedom. Debt management and repayment is also part of the financial mentorship program that she offers to her individual clients.

In going through your monthly expense, Caroline helps you identify those cost savings that will allow you to grow your pot of money so as to buy your property or save for the business idea you want to implement in the very near future. Being a qualified accountant, she also helps business owners to review the financial situation of their business so as to assess whether their current corporate strategy is having the desired impact.

Most people seem to think that financial literacy is about being able to count money and do a monthly budget. Caroline Neita thinks otherwise. It is all about having the right attitude towards managing your personal finance and being focused on the results that would give you your own financial freedom. If you need some help in reviewing your financial literacy, Caroline Neita can be reached on englishneita@gmail.com

The Sharing Economy, Millennials And The Abundance Mindset

Uber, Air Bnb have transformed their respective industries by bringing in new values and mindset. They have promoted values or concepts related to living in community, sharing, “win win” solutions and this has worked wonderfully well in an era where Millennials are now able to dictate the market.

Creating a “win win” solution and sharing what you have with others are part of the Abundance mindset. People adopting this mindset are more open to working in teams, supporting each other and having a longer term vision. They are willing to try out new concepts and create a whole new dimension of experiences. Someone with an abundance mindset considers any challenge as an opportunity worth taking and any failure as valuable lessons for the future.

Millennials have similar values and mindset. They were born in the globalisation era and have lived in places where it is “normal” to listen to a number of different languages being spoken. They value their freedom to go and do as they please without having to worry about “what others will say or think”. For them, their identity is not attached to owning branded products or being seen as living a certain lifestyle. Their identity is more related to what they believe in: fairness, tolerance, flexibility. They would be willing to make a purchase if that purchase supports the cause they believe in.

Making a “quick” profit or buying into a “glamorous” lifestyle is not what they would be supporting. This is similar to having an abundance mindset. Being you and not wanting to compare yourself with others, being appreciative of others and valuing relationships are amongst the various traits of someone having an abundance mindset.

It is difficult to fake an abundance mindset when you don’t believe in it. Your actions will not reflect your speech and thoughts. For businesses to tap into this growing generation of millennials, they would probably need to do more than understanding the psychology behind it. They would need to embrace it fully!!! With social media being their main means of communication, a number of Millennials are all about being in the open and sharing their views about everything to everyone. So faking it would only hurt the long term sustainability of your business.

How do you know whether you have an abundance mindset and how do you know whether your business is geared to tap into this growing generation of potential clients, employees and business associates?  Here are two tests that help find out for yourself. Abundance Mindset and Are You A Millenial?