Archive for the ‘Op-Ed’ Category

I wish to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May we all live in interesting times, and find opportunities to grow and thrive.
It’s always good to take stock when readying for the future. In the interests of sharing some of my recent observations, I provide this list of my “lessons learned” from 2016. Not all directly related to business, but still enlightening I should think.
  1. We need demanding goals. In late 2015 the Trudeau government committed to admitting 25,000 Syrian refugees quickly. Initially, it was by the 31st of December 2015, then by the middle of February 2016 (or something to that effect). The initial timeline was missed, but it appears the second one was mostly met. There were plenty of nay-sayers, but ultimately, the goal was achieved. Had Trudeau set the goal at 5,000 refugees, we probably would have struggled to meet that. He had the guts to set a high goal, which put everyone into overdrive. Kudos!
  2. It ain’t over… till it’s over. Yogi Berra’s favourite saying about baseball games was very true this year, especially in the political arena. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was declared dead and buried several times since mid-2015, but he always seemed to rebound. Whether you like him or not, he stayed until the end and proved a lot of people wrong.
  3. Homo homini lupus. That’s a Roman saying: “Man is a wolf to man.” As we saw in Syria, Turkey (Kurdish terrorism), Northern Iraq, France (Islamic terror), Europe (with the migrant crisis), and other hotspots around the world, there is no lack of barbarity these days. I like to think of myself as a political and strategic realist. People are capable of great feats of generosity and hope (see point 1), but atavistic tendencies can also surge in a heartbeat.
  4. Geography still exists. Geopolitics and geostrategic interests are the main drivers of international conflicts and tensions. European countries are dependent on Russia’s oil and gas. Consequently, they don’t want to upset Russia too much. Russia wants to control the Crimea because that’s its only guaranteed access to the Black Sea. By extension, Russia and Turkey are in a rapprochement because the only access to the Mediterranean is through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. I could go on; these are only two examples in one region of how geography continues to dominate international politics, economics and strategy.
  5. Leadership matters. Who’s in charge and how they’re leading and managing the situation make a major difference in performance and events. It’s evident in politics, but we can also see it play out in business. For instance, Microsoft is becoming a leader again after floundering for over a decade. That is largely attributable to the outstanding leadership of the new CEO Satya Nadella.
  6. Elegant scientific theories still need evidence. Without much notice, two of the most cherished theories in physics appear to be on their respective deathbeds. Many physicists have staked their careers on finding dark matter and proving supersymmetry. The first supposedly makes up about five sixths of all the matter in the universe, but efforts to observe it are leading nowhere. The second is needed to make the sub-atomic world comprehensible and is one of the key explanations of dark matter, but the Large Hadron Collider in Europe has eliminated all but the most unlikely candidate models. Things are going to change in a major way in the coming years and decades in physics, possibly as fundamentally as the relativity and quantum revolutions (which gave us microelectronics, nanotech, and nuclear energy, among many other things).
  7. The universe is mind-bendingly big …and inhospitable to life as we know it. We learned a few months ago that there is an earth-like planet in orbit around the nearest star to our solar system. But unlike in science fiction, it would take well over 100,000 years using current understanding (and likely future technology) to reach it. Heck, it took 9.5 years for the New Horizons spacecraft to reach Pluto, and it is the fastest spaceship ever launched. Suspended animation anyone? There is still no sign of life on Mars. Getting there would probably kill any life form, just because of solar radiation. Maybe we should cherish our presence here on earth a bit more…
Remember Richard’s Business Readiness Process in 2017!
  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

Call me if you would like a 90-minute Business Readiness Briefing in early 2017!

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Meat and Potatoes Blackberry

Posted: April 30, 2013 in Op-Ed
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That’s not a new recipe to get your starch.

According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal, the new Blackberry Q10 launched over the weekend in the UK and demand exceeded expectations. The new smart phone has also garnered kudos from reviewers. It incorporates RIM’s latest version of its operating system, but more importantly it incorporates the BB’s traditional physical keyboard.

Apparently there is pent up demand for a ‘meat and potatoes’ BB smart phone, one that sticks with the company’s roots. As a Canadian, I hope RIM continues to sail through the doldrums it’s been in for the last few years. The company’s been hard hit by Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS, but by sticking to the basics of what has made the BB’s success — a keyboard and peerless security — the company is building on its strengths.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

Data was published yesterday that PC sales are plummeting throughout the world.

It is obviously a result of a move to mobile communications and computing. Most people don’t need a powerful desktop or laptop computer for everyday tasks. Email, messaging, reading news, talking on the phone or through video conferencing, scheduling activities, budgeting, etc., they can all be done on mobile devices. Even the occasional memo or report can be produced on a tablet.

With the rise of ubiquitous voice recognition, artificial intelligence, and cloud based services, there is really a limited market for desktop computing. What we’re seeing is the realization of universal computing machines that can act as a multitude of useful devices. Most people can get by in their personal and professional lives without a dedicated computer.

There are still mainframe computers, but they are now highly specialized or focused on truly high powered applications. The desktop computing model will remain, but it will be increasingly marginalized to specialized applications and uses. Everything else will be mobile, always online, multimedia and multichannel, with embedded specialized AIs and interaction facilitators such as voice dictation, field of vision tracking, and various other forms of man-machine interfaces.

Microsoft, Dell, HP, etc., they all have business models that rely heavily on the desktop computing model. They’re trying to make the transition to cloud computing, mobile interactive online living, and various other manifestations of the universal computing machine model. But, it’s not easy.

This just shows how even the most successful companies can see their business models undermined. The only way to overcome this is to shape the future yourself. To take the initiative and to try to create the new business models, rather than just react to them. Microsoft, for instance, has been singularly unsuccessful at adapting to, and shaping, new business models. The company was highly successful at riding the wave of democratization and decentralization of computing, and even created it to a large extent by offering cheap and reasonably effective and usable operating systems and productivity software. But then it just stopped really innovating.

There are only a handful of companies that have operated in highly changing competitive markets that have been able to evolve and adapt, and even shape the changes around them. IBM is one, HP in its previous incarnations was another. Who will be able to adapt to, and shape the future business environments? Who will have the offensive mindset to seize and maintain the initiative? I’ve written about this extensively in my book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

 

Imagine Christmas Music

Posted: November 3, 2012 in Op-Ed
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I just read that Shoppers Drugmart, the leading drugstore chain in Canada, has yanked its Christmas music after complaints from customers that it was way to soon to be hearing that in stores.

I wish to buck that trend by asking you to imagine Christmas music as of today when you visit my blog. Naturally, this will last only until January 2nd, after which I will be playing Valentine’s Day music. Wait…that doesn’t exist. Okay, well, I’ll put out the red hearts and roses on January 3rd 2013. So you can then imagine those adorning my blog at that time.

In the meantime, enjoy the Holiday cheer.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…

Research in Motion yesterday announced a new service to allow corporate IT departments to manage fleets of iPhones and Android phones using their secure management features.

I wrote last year at about this time that RIM had to refocus on its true strength, which is the management and security of corporate and institutional mobile digital communications. I said at this time that it was the only way that RIM would be able to maintain its differentiation in the face of the Apple and Android onslaught.

With this move, I think that RIM is finally starting to fight back in a manner that leverages its stengths and strong strategic position in providing highly secure corporate and institutional communications. This is exactly the type of savvy strategic manoeuvring that companies need to engage in to take back the initiative and go back on the offensive. I write about this extensively in my forthcoming book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How To Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

I’ve been quoted in an article on the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan by Lauren Krugel of the Canadian Press. This article has already appeared on the Canadian Business and Macleans websites and in a number of newspapers across Canada.

Apple’s (and ATT’s) difficult introduction of the iPhone 4 should be seen by the company as warning signals. Instead, Jobs and company seem rather more interested in minimizing problems and taking their customers for granted. Case in point: When faced with reception problems with the new iPhone, Jobs tells people to “hold it different.” Really? That’s the best you can do?

I’m a big Apple fan. I have a Macbook Pro and an iPhone. However, I am seeing behavior that is classic in business. Success breeding arrogance. Maybe we should state it as a new law of nature. Meanwhile, Google is coming on strong with Android, on both phones and tablets, and other manufacturers are not giving up terrain so easily, such as RIM.

This is the perfect opportunity to move in on Apple’s turf. The technical know how and design can be created by others. The advantages that Apple has had are not forever. They have to keep moving forward and, especially, not take their admirers and customers for granted.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

I’m quoted in an article by the CBC on Guld oil disaster. My take is that we not overreact with a ban on offshore drilling, especially in Canada. To me, the real issue is prudent risk management, not total risk avoidance.

Calls grow for tougher offshore drilling rules

Divas of Doom Article by Ian Brown

 
There is an article in today’s Globe and Mail about what the author, Ian Brown, calls the “Divas of Doom.” He specifically refers to Niall Ferguson’s declarations in an interview with the Globe and Mail earlier this week (“There will be blood”) and “Doctor Doom,” Nouriel Roubini. Brown’s article is interesting and I agree with it, at least in part, but I also think there it is somewhat representative of the opposite tendency. In other words, for every merchant of doom, there is a pollyanna who professes that the rebound is just around the corner. I’m not saying Brown is one of these people, but why shouldn’t we give air time to historians who can give us some perspective?
 
What we’re facing right now is big… and highly unusual. Many economic and financial phenomena are currently frighteningly similar to what occurred during the Great Depression. Does that mean we’re at the beginning of another great depression? I don’t know, but that doesn’t mean we should put our heads in the sand and whistle a happy tune.
 
Whoever succeeds in this kind of environment has to be optimistic, but they also have to be realistic. In fact, realism about internal and external circumstances is the starting point of success, because it allows one to make appropriate decisions and focus on what is truly important.
 
Furthermore, when assessing the future, I prefer to put my money on the speculations of a historian, especially one so well versed in the ups and downs of financial and economic history over the last 300 plus years as Niall Ferguson, than some investment or central banker. What we need now is historical perspective.
 
As Winston Churchill said, “History never repeats, but it does rhyme.”
 
© Richard Martin 2009

 

Unless you’ve been on Mars in the last year, or you’re a troglodyte, you may have noticed that the whole world has been going through a major financial crisis. People are, rightly or wrongly, worried about their livelihoods and their futures.

We’re hearing a lot of gloom and doom. This is normal in a period of economic uncertainty, but I think we also have to keep things in perspective. One way to do this is to focus on fundamentals and ensure we have sound plans and flexible strategies and tactics to meet personal, professional, social and business objectives.

When I was in the military, we used to say that a plan is only good until you cross the line of departure. That expression encapsulates the recognition that things go wrong, no matter how well they are planned. In the current period of economic turmoil, governments, companies, organizations, and individuals will be increasingly confronted with rapid change, risks and uncertainty. This will create havoc with preconceived notions and rigid plans. The watchwords are therefore flexibility, adaptiveness, leadership, resiliency, and robustness.

A natural response is to hunker down and adopt a defensive posture, to wait for better times to come back. Instead, we need to make plans and organize our lives so that we get beyond mere survival and thrive. We must avoid sticking our heads in the sand and prepare for various contingencies while staying on the lookout for opportunities and positive changes. It can take a lot of courage and determination to do so, but that is what good leaders do during times of turmoil and crisis.

It’s gloomy now and it may get better or worse. I don’t know and no one else does. But remember this. Movies and radio really took off as industries during the Great Depression. There were also major advances in aeronautical technology, automotive technology, and many of the household goods we associate with the booming 1950s, such as washing machines and refrigerators, were actually invented in the 20s and 30s and their respective industries took off during the Depression. The social and economic turmoil also led to the creation of social programs that we now take for granted and which make the lives of millions better every day. This was because of political leaders who were prepared to take calculated and prudent risks. In some cases, they had to lead everyone else in taking very bold ones, people such as Roosevelt.

No matter what, people will continue to need basic services such as transportation, health care, education, and food distribution. They will seek new forms of entertainment and recreation. They will continue to learn and to develop as people, to read books, and to travel. Individuals and companies will also seek new forms of security, new investments, and new challenges. Quantum computing, communications technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence, genomics, environmental science, to name but a few, will probably have a massive impact on economies and societies. Businesses will be created in the process of what Joseph Schumpeter termed the “creative destruction” of capitalism.

Through all of this, it can be of help to focus on three basic principles. First, we need to focus on our strengths. Second, we need to be ready to reinforce success and to jump on opportunities because they may appear very quickly and be somewhat ephemeral. Third, we need to create products, services and modes of organization that are in tune with the times.

© Richard Martin 2009