Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Structure overkill - taking the hammer approach

I'm all for methodologies and tools. By applying rigor to a systematic approach to solving problems, the outcomes in general are of much higher quality.

Last week, I was participating as a judge to the John Molson MBA International Case competition . The different teams are given the same case and three hours to read through the case, discuss it and prepare the presentation for the judges.

Given the time pressure, most of the teams have similar approaches to the presentation. SWOT analysis is prevalent for North American teams for example. What I noted after listening to many presentations is that some of the teams apply a structured approach to presenting their response. They have an outline to the presentation they will be making and then they fill in the blanks with the analysis they generate.

Applying this structured approach works well for standard cases in which there is both a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data to be analysed. However, certain cases are different and require a different approach and this is where the cookie cutter approach was laid bare. The team's presentation came across lacking and not suited for the case in question.

This made me reflect on my practice and how we have to understand our client and their company's culture and needs in order to be able to match the approach and methodologies proposed. A master mason selects the appropriate tool (from a range of tools) to use depending on the type of the stone and the results he/she wants to get. An amateur stone carver can only use a few ( I experimented with stone carving - I reflect my experience here)...

Expertise is built by doing an applying in a practical setting and the young MBA students will one day (hopefully) have the practical experience to see the nuances in order to select the right approach.

"when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail..." Anon

Monday, January 08, 2007

A prelude to "Animal Farm"??

This article caught my attention:

Farm worker attacked by herd of pigs"

It reminded me of the takeover by the animals in Orwell's book called Animal Farm.

For some reason, the book was fresh in my mind.

How come? I read the book over 20 years ago and I do not profess to having an encyclopedic memory... However, a couple of weeks ago, I was reading a recent Chomsky interview that was forwarded to me (Iraq: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Noam Chomsky interviewed by Michael Albert, December 27, 2006 - thanks SD) and there was a comment that I found interesting:

"In our society, intellectual elites are deeply indoctrinated, a point that Orwell noted in his (unpublished) introduction to Animal Farm on how self-censorship works in free societies. A large part of the reason, he plausibly concluded, is a good education, which instills the understanding that there are certain things "it wouldn't do to say" -- or more accurately, even to think."

Part of my interest was in the fact that we (as humans) seem to keep on repeating similar actions over and over within a lifetime and between generations (that's why The Prince by Machiavelli is still a classic on power). The other part was the note that there was an unpublished introduction. That seemed odd given that the book was published and its message was reasonably clear at the time of the writing.

As such, I looked up the unpublished preface called The Freedom of the Press. I enclose what I found even though I cannot vouch for its authenticity (the site was cross referenced twice - but that does not make it right). If anyone can find a better reference let me know.

Reading quickly through the unpublished introduction - I am reminded that many things have not really changed when it comes to group norms...

PS: I also enclose for you a bonus - a summary of the Animal Farm book by Penguin Press as a reminder of the big themes of the book. It is a quick refresher of the big themes of Animal Farm.

seeing with new eyes

Over the weekend, while reading the news; I noticed an ad for an international online newspaper that made me think. The ad was simple - yet it used a word I have seen countless times without seeing what they showed with it.

The word was NEWS...

What's so special about the word? We must have heard it (and seen it) 1/2 a million times during our lifetime.

In the advertisement, the letters were decomposed and put around the logo of the newspaper in the form of a compass.




How about that for a new way of looking at this word?

It brought back memories of discussions I have had with a customer a couple of years ago on consumer sales and what "the next great thing" is all about. "It's about repackaging the familiar into new forms" (my recollection) as he talked about the candle market specifically and the changes it has went through from adding scents, to materials and the look and feel. At the end of the day it is a "candle"...

It also brought back a discussion with a dear friend who suggested to me to look deeper into what I have. This was after she saw a crumbled paper I did. Somehow, she concluded that there is much more that could be done with what's already on the table.

To conclude:
- Innovation in many cases is based on changing the familiar
- One could always extract / create value with what they already have

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands, but in having New Eyes." Marcel Proust.