by Richard Martin

This is my last Stand To! of 2017, as I’ll be taking a break until 7 January. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous 2018! May all your goals and plans come to fruition and may you have all the resolve and resilience you need to be ready for change and uncertainty in the coming year.


With that said, I’ve noted a disturbing trend that undermines good will and social accord. In recent weeks, a message has been circulating through numerous networks on Facebook concerning Muslims in Montreal. Muslim parents of children attending a school in Dorval Quebec allegedly requested that pork be removed from the cafeteria menu. The mayor of Dorval supposedly penned a letter refusing the request on the grounds that it goes against Quebec culture and customs. The “letter” is the object of Facebook sharing, with hundreds of people weighing in with their “attaboys,” and worse in some cases. Well, it’s a fake. It goes back to 2015 and even earlier, as it appears the meme originated in 2013 in the U.S. Just Google it to see.

Another occurence last week in Montreal shoes how the media and wider public are quick to overreact to purported outrages when it corresponds to prejudices or biases. The imam of two mosques in Montreal allegedly requested that a construction site near the mosques remove the women working there as this is against their religion. The Commission de la construction du Québec investigated it quickly and it is, once again, a fake. The TVA television network had to recant its story on Friday and apologize for its sloppy reporting, i.e., failure to go beyond what had been claimed and verify the source. The mosques have since received threats and there are hateful messages circulating on Facebook, that fount of calm and intelligent consideration.

Now, I’m not picking on Montreal, French Canadians, or Quebeckers in general. There’s plenty of intolerance to go around, regardless of nationality, origin, or religion. I’m not even pro or anti-Muslim. Though I come from a Catholic background, I’m an atheist, philosophically and practically. However, I am a firm believer in freedom of religion and freedom of speech. People can say and do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm others. On the other hand, spreading hate propaganda of any kind, whether it’s anti-Muslim, antisemitic, or anti-anything goes against these principles, because it produces a climate of hate, fear, and mistrust. It feeds on atavistic tendencies in all, and that includes me. We can all be guilty of reacting with emotion when we should be reacting with our head.

When I commanded troops on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, our motto was “First information is always wrong, so don’t overreact.” Whether we’re journalists, business people, politicians, managers, or just plain citizens, we owe it to others (no matter how different) and to ourselves to validate information before we start climbing the barricades. A simple test is to ask ourselves if the information conveyed in a message corresponds to a popular belief (not necessarily founded), a prejudice, a bias, or a stereotype. If yes, is it possible that the message is just repeating a “meme”? The latter is a bitesized piece of information that is designed, usually unconsciously, to be repeated and spread through a population, just like a virus.

The first question we should always ask ourselves is whether something we hear or read–in some cases, even claim to see–is true. Is the information valid? Does it come from a trustworthy and valid source? What is its provenance, i.e., can we trace it back to an actual author and follow the “paper trail”? The second question is, do I really need to react to this information? Is it of vital importance to me or others? Will I make things better or worse by weighing in? Can I back up my opinion–because that’s all it is, opinion?

I’m not saying people should keep their opinions to themselves. Rather, I’m saying that freedom of speech, association, thought, worship, etc., carry privileges, but also responsibilities. Retransmitting hateful propaganda or messages of dubious origin and validity are rights, certainly. But they are also actions which can have harmful or hurtful consequences. We must be smarter than the low-lifes who start these hateful memes and propagate them to satisfy their own twisted purposes.

I may not be religious or a believer, but I don’t think one needs to believe in God or Allah or Shiva to hope and act for peace and goodwill to all men. Amen!

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

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by Richard Martin

“So convenient a thing to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”
Benjamin Franklin

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

This week I’d like to discuss the topic of cognitive biases. These are the ways in which our minds trick us, or can be tricked, into thinking in a way that is not fully conducive to realism and success in our undertakings. If there is anything that can undermine readiness, it’s that.

The content in the diagram above was created by Buster Benson of the Better Humans website. He took the ad hoc list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia–incidentally, probably the most complete such archive–and organized them according by similarity. The list was then organized graphically by John Mahoogian.

The important point is that the cognitive biases can be classified or collapsed into four main categories:

  • Too much information
  • What to remember
  • Not enough meaning
  • Need to act fast

Let’s consider how these can impact our readiness for change, uncertainty, risk, and opportunity.

  1. Too much information: The world is a kaleidoscope. How can we know what is important and what isn’t? The only way to make sense of the data and information coming at us constantly from all directions is in light of our goals and plans. I find the concepts of threat and opportunity are most useful, but how do we distinguish them? An opportunity is anything that can advance us toward our goals or enhance the effectiveness of our actions. A threat is anything that can block attainment of our goals or hinder our actions toward them.
  2. What to remember:There is too much information to remember it all. That’s why we need to classify it according to whether it is an opportunity or a threat. However, even this can get tedious. We can become overly focused on the ways (options, plans) and means (inputs, resources) and forget what it was we were trying to achieve in the first place. This is why military commanders and planners follow the dictum to always get back to the mission. What are we trying to achieve? What are our mission and end state? What are the commander’s intent and concept of operations? It is only by asking ourselves these questions regularly throughout our planning and action that we can stay on target, filter out the irrelevant, and put our resources and energy on what will get us the biggest effects for our efforts.
  3. Not enough meaning:Most of what happens and surrounds us is meaningless. In other words, stuff happens; it may be random or not, relevant or not, but we’re just not sure. So what do our brains do? They invent stuff. We see causes and correlations where there are none. We impute intentions to others and to impersonal forces where there are none. We project our thoughts, feelings, and intentions onto others, or we anthropomorphize collective phenomena, such as the “market,” the “competition,” the “environment,” the “government,” “immigrants,” etc., etc. Needless to say, we can get wrapped around the axle for nothing. The only remedy that works against this is to test our assumptions and hypotheses by putting ourselves in the others’ shoes and trying to imagine what they are thinking, feeling, intending, planning from their perspective, not ours.
  4. Need to act fast:This is common in fast-changing, risky or dangerous situations, such as emergencies and crises. My definition of a crisis is any time we’ve lost control of the situation and events are moving faster than you can assimilate and react to them. An emergency is a crisis where the risks to life and limb are imminent or actual. The best way to accommodate the need to act fast is through preparation and planning prior to a crisis occurring. To do this requires anticipation, and for that you need to consider what could go wrong–or right–beforehand. By extension, you need to set in place the tools and procedures to meet that need when the time comes.

There are no surefire ways of eliminating cognitive biases. They are inherent to human nature and the fact that we are constantly trying to assess what is really the case “out there,” in the world, or “in here,” in our minds and bodies. We are also trying to find the optimal means and ways available to achieve our ends. Furthermore, we are constantly assessing–or should be–our ends and values, to ensure that they are still relevant and congruent with our higher goals. This takes constant vigilance, self-cultivation, and self-discipline to carry out, along with a good dose of humility and openness to change, ideas, and criticism.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

by Richard Martin

Copyright : Nikom Twytit | 123 Stock Photo

I always advocate looking at what we’ve accomplished in order to gain a better grip on where we need to go in the future. This is crucial to learning and readiness as well as for continuing improvement and development. December is a good time to do this as it provides a natural break point for after-action review and self-development.

What were my objectives at the beginning of the year?

Have I achieve my goals in the following areas: financial, strategic, professional, leadership, personal, family, developmental, educational, motivational, volunteering?

Could I have been more focused on key goals and activities?

On the other hand, was I too focused on some areas, to the exclusion of other important goals and activities?

Did I have a strategy and overall plan? Did I adhere to them or was I flexible in adjusting to circumstances and needs as they evolved?

Did I have a good support network and employ it to its fullest?

Did I procrastinate and waste time on irrelevant activities and time fillers?

Did I exercise regularly and care for myself in body, mind, and spirit?

Have I put off important personal and professional matters because I feared the effort or consequences?

What am I most proud of having accomplished or changed during the year that is ending?

What am I least proud of? How can I avoid that in the future?

Was I opportunistic during the year so I could progress faster toward my goals and implement my strategy with greater effectiveness and efficiency?

Did I seize and maintain the initiative, or did I coast on previous gains and try to defend my position?

There are still 4 weeks in December. What are the three key things I can do, right now, to make the end of 2017 a success?

What opportunities are close at hand and that I can seize to gain/regain and/or maintain the initiative as I head into 2018?

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Copyright: Tomas Marek | 123 Stock Photo

by Richard Martin

“Then you, or anyone else who is to be ruler and trustee, not only of himself and his private business, but also the city and city’s business, must first acquire virtue himself.” Plato, Alcibiades

The Alcibiades was considered in Antiquity to be the entry point to Plato’s philosophy. Although studying his works eventually led to esoteric discussions on the nature of ideas and reality, i.e., metaphysics, the process was all in the service of determining who should lead in public life, how they should be educated and selected, and how they should actually lead and manage the affairs of state.

The recent spate of revelations of abuses by prominent leaders in business and other areas shows that the question of ethical and virtuous leadership is still alive and remains as pertinent as ever. The emphasis on political leadership in the Alcibiades and Plato’s other works should not blind us to the relevance of this wisdom for the exercise of leadership today, no matter what the field.

Alcibiades was a real historical figure in 5th century B.C. Athens. An aristocrat by birth with the most noble lineage, extremely wealthy, physically attractive and charismatic, Alcibiades was destined and entitled, or so he thought, to lord it over his fellow Athenians. He didn’t start the destructive Peloponnesian War against Athens’ deadly rival Sparta, but he was instrumental in prolonging the struggle and convincing the assembly to launch an ill-fated punitive expedition against the Greek-Italian city-state of Syracuse. When the operation started to go pear-shaped, Alcibiades jumped ship (literally), and defected to Sparta, and eventually Persia, Athens’ supreme nemesis. His boundless ambition and egotism led him to repeatedly switch sides and led to his ultimate assassination, as even the Persians’ grew to distrust him.

Plato’s dialogue Alcibiades ostensibly presents a conversation between Socrates and a youthful Alcibiades on the cusp of manhood. As summarized by translator and editor D.S. Hutchison,

“Socrates feels the time has come to approach Alcibiades and bring him into his intellectual and moral orbit. It is Alcibiades’ lust for power that Socrates appeals to, promising that Alcibiades will never amount to anything without his help. In the discussion that follows, Alcibiades is brought to see, very reluctantly, that he knows nothing about moral values or political expediency and that he needs to cultivate himself assiduously in order to realize his enormous ambitions. But what is the ‘self’ that he needs to cultivate? It is his soul, the ruler of his body. The virtues of the soul that he needs to acquire are the intellectual skills that give it the authority to rule, over its body and over other people as well.”

In a later work, The Republic, Plato shows Socrates presenting what those virtues should be: courage, justice, temperance, and practical wisdom, i.e., the judgment to know what to do, when to do it, and to what end. To take Harvey Weinstein as the most revealing example of how to break all of those principles, Weinstein himself showed little moral courage; he preyed on women who were ambitious and prone to accept his abuses and advances in order to further their careers. Quentin Tarentino, his long-time collaborator, has admitted to his lack of courage in turning a blind eye for decades on Weinstein’s lasciviousness. Weinstein’s injustice is obvious, as is his lack of temperance and self-control. He was a slave to his passions. As for practical wisdom, his exploitative strategies eventually turned against him. Uma Thurman recently tweeted that a bullet was too quick for him, implying that he deserved to suffer a long and humiliating downfall.  I’ll leave others to judge the wisdom of her own attitude.

My point, however, is that Weinstein is a modern-day Alcibiades. He couldn’t rule his own desires, his “soul”; in the process, his exploited, degraded, and abused subordinates and business partners. We can add his name to a long list of others in recent years who have illustrated themselves by their lack of a moral compass. If, in the final analysis, one can’t lead ethically, with wisdom and justice, then one shouldn’t lead at all.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin

Copyright: scanrail | 123 Stock Photo

  • Are you preparing to fight the last war, or are you learning by assessing and adapting to current and future realities?
  • Are you set in your ways, or ready to consider alternatives?
  • Do you look for ready-made solutions to your challenges and problems, or do you think things through for yourself?
  • Do you have a specific process for analyzing trends, risks, threats, and opportunities, or do you just wing it and go with the flow?
  • How confident are you in your data, explanations, and knowledge? Could you increase your confidence in these?
  • Do you often claim you’re the victim of bad luck or the beneficiary of good luck, or do you look for explanations and causes that can be traced back to your skills, processes, systems, and inputs?
  • Do you stay as vigilant and aware as possible? Do you know what this means in terms of trends, opportunities, threats, and risks?
  • What are your forecasts and predictions based on? Validated information and causal explanations, or simply assumptions and hopeful wishes about the present and the future?
  • Are you prepared for risks, obstacles, threats, and opportunities? Do you assume your competitors are as smart as you?
  • How robust and resilient are you and your organization? Are your plans flexible and adaptable under changing circumstances?

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin

© Rotislav Sedlacek | 123 Stock Photo

My study of military history has taught me that most soldiers and warriors throughout history have gone willingly, if not enthusiastically, into battle. They followed their comrades in arms, and they followed their leaders. They participated in behaviour that was downright counter to their survival and the wish to live a long and prosperous life. In many cases, they fought to defend themselves, their families, and their lands against hostile depredations. But in many other cases, perhaps most, soldiers and warriors have fought for conquest, glory, pride, courage, status, recognition, and booty.

 

On the other hand, the Canadians who have served and sacrificed for peace and security around the world present something of an outlier in this respect. Since the Boer War at the turn of the 20th century, Canadians have largely fought or operated oversees, taking on the forces of countries that have threatened Canada and its allies directly and indirectly, or endangered world peace and security. Over 116,000 have given their lives in these missions, and countless more have sustained debilitating mental and physical wounds. Of these, 158 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011. Often forgotten is that approximately 130 Canadian soldiers have died in peacekeeping missions.

It’s only by talking to combat veterans that we can gain a true appreciation for the sheer difficulty of combat and what is involved in military leadership. I was on a battlefield tour when serving in Germany. A Canadian veteran of the D-Day campaign had been a platoon commander during an operation to capture and secure Carpiquet Airfield, near Caen, Normandy. His recall of the engagement was of crawling uphill under the enemy’s grazing fire. Rationally, he knew full well that he had fought on an airfield, and that his memories of crawling uphill must be mistaken. On the other hand, he couldn’t shake the persistent impression of having to struggle against gravity. When he eventually visited the battlefield after the war, he could see that the ground was basically flat and even. It was an airfield after all. But still, the memory stuck with him, and it was only decades later that he could picture the fight in a more objective manner.

The leadership challenge in combat is singular. That soldiers under your command will follow you is not necessarily given, despite the weight of military discipline. Charly Forbes, a veteran infantry officer with the Régiment de Maisonneuve during the Second World War and the Vandoos in Korea recounted his baptism of fire. He had just taken command of a depleted platoon in a company that had been decimated only days before by friendly fire from Allied bombers. He had to lead his platoon to take out a German machine gun that was holding up the battalion’s advance. He did his combat estimate and came up with a simple plan and briefed his men. On his signal, they would run on the flank to assault the machine gun nest while his own machine gunners would lay down covering fire. As he gave the signal, he leapt up and rushed toward the German MG. After a few yards, there was so much withering fire that he had to take refuge in a shell hole. That’s when he realized that there was only one of his soldiers with him. Unflustered, the private said, “It’s okay sir; we’ll take ‘em out,” and the two of them completed the mission.

What does it take to lead soldiers and partake in combat? What makes your troops want to follow you? What makes you want to lead them in this dangerous and, frankly, irrational behaviour? It seems daunting, but it has been done since time immemorial. Coercion and punishment are always possible, but they only work to a certain point. In the final analysis, the best troops are the ones that want to fight, that have morale and cohesion, and who are willing to follow their officers and NCOs until the mission is done. This is what most sets apart the Canadian soldier, sailor, or airman.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin

Source: Canadian Armed Forces

Leadership is the art of influencing others to get things done in the manner and to ends desired by the leader. The biggest challenge comes not in figuring out what to do, or even in how to do it, but rather in communicating your intent and actually getting people to implement it and achieve desired results.

Companies–small, medium, and large–can have this problem, even those with sophisticated, complex operations and processes. I call this the “disconnect problem”: There is a break between what goes on in a leader’s brain and what happens on the ground to achieve the mission and vision. The resulting gap leaves the organization open to distorted information transfer, mutual incomprehension, corrosive conflict, and other forms of friction.

How can a leader overcome this disconnect problem, and get from her intent to her desired outcomes? There are a few basics that have to be respected. First, there must be a clearly articulated mission with a concrete vision of the end state or desired outcome. This aim must be articulated into supporting objectives which are in turn broken into specific functions and tasks.

The resulting work hierarchy then becomes the framework for assigning responsibilities, authority and accountability, along with the resources and supporting structures and systems to get the job done. It isn’t enough to browbeat people or simply set goals and make compensation depend on their satisfactory achievement. This is a necessary but non-sufficient condition for attaining the aim.

When I went through leadership and command and staff training the army, we had to learn how to “assign troops to tasks.” We were taught–and realized through experience–that things only get done when you have a reasonably good understanding of the mission and effort involved, but also when the work is actually assigned to real people, along with the weapons, vehicles, equipment, ammunition and combat stores to achieve assigned tasks. Otherwise, it’s all just wishful thinking.

Are you just browbeating people into implementing your intent, or do you have a clearly articulated plan, with specific assignment of responsibilities and enablers? If the former, then start now to be more specific in transforming your intentions into actionable direction on the ground. If the latter, then refine your approach and ensure that all levels in your team are doing the same. Also, seek to apply “troops to tasks” to all areas of endeavour within your organization.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Copyright: Borislav Marinic | 123RF Stock Photo

By Richard Martin

The ongoing saga in Catalonia is an excellent illustration of how crucial it is to consider a range of scenarios before implementing a decision that could be heavy with consequences. And the scenarios shouldn’t all be rosy and positive for us. Consideration must be given to the worst-case possibility as well, so we know what we may be up against before acting. This entails a detailed consideration of competiting and opposing positions, as well as those of other stakeholders and bystanders. It also means preparing contingency plans for the most probable and dangerous possibilities so we aren’t caught flatfooted if they come to fruition.

A well-known radio commentator (and former politician) here in Montreal said this week that he had the impression that the Catalonian prime minister and regional authorities hadn’t really thought through the potential consequences of the independance referendum held a few weeks ago. I agree with him; both sides appear guilty of amateurish improvisation. It seems as though both the instigators of Catalonian independance and their opponents inside and outside Catalonia have given little or no thought to the inherent risks in their decisions and actions, as well as the range of possible responses of the Spanish government, population, businesses, and other countries. I also little or no evidence of forethought in securing international recognition for the referendum and subsequent moves. It’s as if it was all being driven by pure emotion, with not a lot of rational consideration of options.

Such conflicts usually build and fester over time until they reach a feverous level. And it takes two to tango. Threat generates counterthreat; action entails counteraction. Not all outcomes can be foreseen ahead of time, but a great many can be characterized to some extent and compared to see which are most probable and consequential. This is the essence of risk management.

Whether we’re talking about a political entity, a business, a non-profit organization or an individual person, prudent forethought should be given to the range of scenarios and options available or possible before deciding and acting. No forecasting or planning process is perfect, but the benefits of a disciplined and rigorous assessment of the situation and its various branches and outcomes will always pay dividends in better decision-making, management, and leadership. And this includes looking at the situation from your opponent’s or competitor’s standpoint. If I were to take this action, what would my opponent do?

It’s how we try to play sports and games, and it’s the essence of strategy, military, diplomatic, political, and commercial.

Copyright 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc.

By Richard Martin

There has been a lot of chest thumping and ink spilled in recent days about the announcement that Airbus and Bombardier Aerospace have agreed to transfer control of the new C Series airliner business from the latter to the former.

There are important implications from this transaction in terms of politics and economic policy. My goal here, however, is to focus on the readiness and strategic implications for the two companies involved. In a nutshell, both Bombardier and Airbus saw a window of opportunity open and jumped through it at the right time.

© Sergey Ilin|123RF Stock Photo

For Bombardier, Airbus brings financial, commercial, and industrial know how and credibility. If you want to be a global player in the market for commercial airliners, then you have to have a global network with a strong backbone, including the robustness and resilience to batten down the hatches during storms, absorb shocks, and bounce back when the weather turns. Bombardier, while technically able in terms of innovation and development, didn’t have the wherewithal to compete against the big boys: Airbus and Boeing. As a business decision, this opportunity makes eminent sense and I’m sure will be a long-term success.

For Airbus, the opportunity was just too good to pass up. Airbus acquires a brand-new design with huge commercial potential, especially in Asia and the Far East. Talks between Airbus and Bombardier had apparently been ongoing for two years or so, but had broken down more than once for undisclosed reasons. The biggest advantage for Airbus, though, is that the tie-up with Bombardier’s C-Series deals a blow to Boeing. Airbus no longer has to continue developing an aircraft in the same size-class as the C-Series, while acquiring new capabilities and geographical reach.

The big loser in this manoeuvre is, however, Boeing. The latter was evidently trying to destroy the C-Series by lobbying for punitive tariffs on the planes if sold in the US. However, Airbus already has facilities in the US to assemble the aircraft. Delta Airlines, Bombardier’s lead customer for the C-Series in the US, has already declared that they will wait for the planes that are assembled in Airbus’s Alabama factory.

The biggest difference between Boeing and Airbus when faced with Bombardier’s competition is the fact that Boeing chose to view the C-Series antagonistically, as a threat, whereas Airbus viewed it positively, as an opportunity. The same goes for Bombardier. Claims and counter-claims of “illegal” government support are overblown. No one is blameless in that regard, and Boeing is probably the most hypocritical of all.

Regardless, from the standpoint of business strategy and business readiness, Airbus and Bombardier have shown that exploiting opportunities are just as important, if not more so, than trying to prevent or mitigate threats, as important as these may be.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.