Posts Tagged ‘change’

Monday Stand To! by Richard Martin
Expert in Readiness and Exploiting Change
We’ve all heard that refrain before. And it makes absolutely NO SENSE! If you find you have no time to plan, then you have to MAKE IT.
I’ve been discussing the steps of the Business Readiness Process I’ve devised, based on military readiness for operations and battle.
We’re at Step 2 of the BRP…

Preliminary Assessment of Time and Tasks

You must identify and assess the tasks and time required to complete them before you are ready to launch execution of your mission.
  • Start at the end: When must you kick off the execution of your mission, strategy, operation?
  • What tasks must be accomplished before you can successfully launch? List EVERYTHING you can think of. You can ask for advice from your team and colleagues. You can also create and refer to a standardized list.
  • How long does each preparation task take?
  • What tasks can be delegated and executed concurrently while you do your reconnaissance, estimate, and planning?
  • What is the sequence of events, including parallel tasks and activities?
At the very least, you should include items 3 to 10 of the BRP.
Business Readiness Process (BRP)
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.
Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?
Feel free to contact me at any time to discuss your objectives and needs.
And remember… STAND TO!!!

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.

Last week I introduced the concept of self-similarity and showed its relevance for power law distributions. In this post I discuss the applicability of self-similarity in S-curves.

To recap briefly, self-similarity implies that a structure looks essentially the same at all levels of “magnification” or scale. You can zoom in on any part of a “power curve,” and it will look like… a power curve, with basically the same appearance as at the higher scale.

The same phenomenon can be seen in s-curves, with the difference that the scale invariance is less apparent, at least initially. The following diagram shows how each phase on an s-curve can be broken out into smaller, constituent s-curves at the next lower level. By extension, each of these subordinate s-curves can be parsed in the same, self-similar way. The structure is recursive and nested. If you want to grow, develop, or improve in any way, you must see it as a succession of s-curves at all levels of scale.

self-similarity-s-curve

This is why I’ve titled this post “Growth is a stairway, not a high jump!”. You make progress in increments, climbing from one step to the next in a succession of achievable bounds. This breaks progress and improvement into (to paraphrase Neil Armstrong) a series of “one small step” moves so you can make “one giant leap” for your bigger purpose… or goals.

This is more manageable from a psychological standpoint as well as logistically. It also makes risk more manageable. As I illustrate in the following diagram, there are risks at each transition to a succeeding s-curve. Risk can arise from making a jump–even a small one–to a higher level of performance and engagement. It can also arise from a drop in performance at this critical juncture. We can seldom know and do everything that is needed at the new level. We need to learn–which is why progress is depicted as an s-curve in the first place. We start out with low performance at the new level and a high potential for mistakes. If we’re focused on learning from our mistakes and on improvement, we get progressively better until we hit the rapid growth stage, and continue up the “learning” curve from there on in. When we hit the inevitable plateau, we must jump–or drop–to the next curve.

risk-at-thresholds

The final point is that performance or growth can bog down or slip at any point, for any number of reasons. We can stop or slip back down the curve we’re already on. I call this regression. Even more consequential is when we drop back to a previous curve. I call this retrogression, and I’ve illustrated it in detail in the following diagram. It shows how you can fall from any performance level to any other, usually through neglect, over-confidence, smugness, or simply through inattention to changing conditions in the environment. For instance, new technology, new competitors, changing demographics, all these can make our current success or standing shaky or even irrelevant.

retrogression-s-curve

I don’t say this to be overly pessimistic, but rather realistic. Stasis is death. Movement is crucial. Business, life, performance, everything, they are what is called a “red queen” race. You have to work just to stay in place and work even harder to make progress, grow, develop, get better.

We’ll address these issues and many more in my coming posts under the topic of “Ideas,” so stay tuned to this space.

My name is Richard Martin and, as indicated by the title of this blog, 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.

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

Do you try to mould your future and create the conditions for your success, or do you instead remain passive while others seize the initiative?

The whole point of Business Readiness is to “take the bull by the horns” and shape your competitive battle space for you and your customers. This isn’t simple P&P (preparation and planning). It’s about vigilance, preparedness, and robustness so you see, assess, respond, act, and pounce on opportunities before others see them.
Situational Awareness
Step 1 of the Business Readiness Process (BRP) is…

Vigilance through constant Situational Awareness. Situational awareness requires systems, procedures, and mindset to be on the lookout for changes and trends at all levels–strategic, operational, tactical–of your business and organizational environment. This includes keeping eyes on:

  • Changing customer needs and wants
  • Changing political, social, demographic, cultural milieu
  • Technology, finance, economic factors, etc.
  • Competitors and other stakeholders, including changing alliances, support, and opposition to your goals and strategies
Think of how effective non-business opposition to Keystone XL,
Northern Gateway, and other pipelines has been.
Could this have been anticipated?
Could the companies involved have managed the situation better?
Could they have assessed their courses of action better?
You need…
  1. A consistent and constant watch and evaluation system.
  2. A method and the right mindset and motivation in you and your people.
  3. To decide if this changes your mission and objectives or whether you need to update them.
It starts at the top. If you’re not open to change and ignore signs of imminent disruption, how can you expect your team members to be engaged and motivated for it?
Business Readiness Process (BRP)
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.


Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?
Feel free to contact me at any time to discuss your objectives and needs.
And remember… STAND TO!!!

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc.

This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

In my last two posts under “Ideas” I introduced the concepts of the S-curve and Power Law (a.k.a. Pareto’s Law, Zipf’s Law, or the 80/20 rule).

In this post I discuss the concept of self-similarity. I view it as an adjunct to the S-curve and Power Law that multiplies their effectiveness for anticipating change and other dynamic interactions in society, businesses, and other forms of organization.

According to Wikipedia: “In mathematics, a self-similar object is exactly or approximately similar to a part of itself (i.e. the whole has the same shape as one or more of the parts). Many objects in the real world, such as coastlines, are statistically self-similar: parts of them show the same statistical properties at many scales.” The term fractal is also frequently used to characterize self-similar structures.

Furthermore, self-similarity is characterized by scale invariance. Again according to Wikipedia: “In physics, mathematics, statistics, and economics, scale invariance is a feature of objects or laws that do not change if scales of length, energy, or other variables, are multiplied by a common factor.

(My emphasis in both quotes.)

In practice, this means that it is difficult or even impossible for an observer to detect the system level depicted just by looking at a picture. As mentioned above, coastlines are the paradigmatic illustration of this phenomenon. You can look at satellite image of a coastline at various scales and, barring the presence of a scale indicator (e.g. a boat or a human on the picture), you can’t determine the scale with any certainty. Moreover, this is also a statistical effect, as the underlying math is the same or very similar at all levels of magnification.

There are many phenomena in nature and society with this characteristic structure. However, for business and strategy, the most crucial realization comes from the self-similar (or fractal) nature of power curves and s-curves. Take any distribution governed by a power law. If you hone in on any particular segment of the distribution, you find that it is also governed by essentially the same power law. In other words, the distribution looks basically the same at all levels of magnification, or scale. The follow diagram shows this effect.

self-similarity-in-power-laws

No matter what you’re measuring or tracking–it could be total sales, the performance of your salespeople, the relative impact of your clients–you are likely to notice a power law working at all scales. This was illustrated in my Power Law article last week by the example of real estate agents in the Greater Toronto area. I’ve reproduced those two graphs here, as they show how a power law is in evidence at two different scales.

treb-6-and-under treb-gif

Although not as stark at the level of agents with only 0 to 6 deals, we can see that the two scales are broadly similar. What about practical applications? Well, for one, we can see that the effect is likely to be similar at all levels and in all categories of agents. For instance, if you break out each category (7-12 deals all the way to 201 plus deals), you will probably find the same pattern. A small number of top performers skewing the results of the group upward.

This type of distribution plays havoc with our basic assumptions of normally distributed performance or effects. If we were to assume a normal distribution (Gaussian distribution in technical statistical terms) for real estate agents, we could easily be fooled into thinking that there is an “average” performance, a “typical” real estate agent. But this could not be further from the truth. In a normal distribution, the mode, median, and mean are all very close to having the same value. This means that the arithmetic mean could give a false understanding of the performance distribution for a sales group. In actuality, the mode (most frequent value), median (the middle value), and the actual mean could be different, with the latter possibly heavily skewed in the direction of the highest performing class of sales people. This is what we see with the distributions of real estate agents above.

Would the arithmetic mean of this distribution truly represent the average or typical performance of a real estate agent in the Greater Toronto area? Obviously not. If we look at the numbers of deals, 0-6 is the modal value, and represents about 50% of the total number of agents! This means that the largest number of real estate agents are actually sluggish performers, and even don’t participate in any deals at all! If you’re looking, say, to providing products and services to real estate agents–at least in the Greater Toronto area in 2011–then you’d be better to look at the actual performance distribution at varying scales so you can segment the market properly.

These relationships tend to hold across time and space for any particular phenomenon. We can safely assume that the distribution of real estate agent performance is broadly similar no matter when and where you build your sample. While it’s ultimately a question for empirical investigation, in my experience, self-similar power laws are ubiquitous in market dynamics and human performance. You can apply this insight to all market and performance numbers and you will get similar results. This enables much better analysis, planning, and strategy to gain and sustain a competitive edge.

I’ll explore scale-invariance and self-similarity in s-curves in my next “Ideas” post. In subsequent ones I’ll also look at the broader implications of self-similarity, particular as they relate to hierarchy in organizations, specifically what I call “nested hierarchical planning” and “nested hierarchical vigilance.”

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

Military readiness is the the capacity to exploit change in order to achieve strategic, operational, and tactical objectives.

By extension, business readiness is the capacity to exploit change for strategic, operational, and tactical business objectives.

The business readiness procedure is the the concrete instantiation of this standpoint as it provides the framework, tools, and mindset to exploit change for the achievement of business goals of all types and at all levels. The following list gives each step of the BRP, and I will provide additional insight and examples into each in subsequent issues of STAND TO!

Business Readiness Procedure (BRP)

  1. Maintain situational awareness.
  2. (Re)analyze your mission.
  3. Do a time appreciation.
  4. Activate/mobilize your organization or team.
  5. Conduct reconnaissance.
  6. Do your estimate of the situation.
  7. Compare friendly and opposing scenarios and decide on the optimal solution.
  8. Perform risk analysis and contingency planning of your selected solution.
  9. Communicate your plan and issue clear direction.
  10. Supervise preparations and the build up for implementation.
  11. Lead and control the execution of the plan.
  12. Assess, adjust, and adapt.

Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?

Feel free to contact me at any time to discuss your objectives and needs.

And remember… STAND TO!!!

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc.

This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

The “Power Law” is one of the most useful concepts for making predictions and decisions in business and management.

The power law shows how two variables–one dependent, the other independent–covary. Mathematically, one varies as a function of the other by being raised to a certain power (exponent).

The following diagram shows this type of relationship. Often these are depicted on log or log-log graphs, but I show the “power curve” as an asymptote on both axes of the graph to highlight the non-linearity of the relationship between the two variables.

power-law-basic

A concrete example will help. The great majority of earthquakes are of very low magnitude. High magnitude earthquakes are much rarer than low magnitude earthquakes. In fact, their magnitude varies in inverse exponential proportion to the total number of earthquakes. In practice, this means that there are literally thousands of earthquakes every day around the world, but magnitude 6, 7, and 8 ones are much rarer. The most powerful earthquakes of all, over 9 on the Richter, scale are very rare. They can happen only a few times a century, or even less. This doesn’t mean that the magnitude of any particular earthquake can be predicted. It does however imply that given a sufficiently large sample, we will eventually see a frequency-magnitude distribution that resembles the graph above.

This type of relationship is ubiquitous in nature, and that includes our human and social natures. There was a whole book written on this topic–The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson–with emphasis on the right side of the graph. In his book, Anderson described how the internet has made many businesses or ideas viable which would not previously even have been known. He called this the long tail because there are musicians, artists, artisans, crafts workers, professionals, etc. who can provide their productions and services to people around the world, even though they can’t compete with the more traditional providers who dominate markets by occupying the left side of the power curve. This makes for much more diversity and many more opportunities to get known and appreciated, and to develop a following because it lowers traditional barriers to entry and long-term viability.

This type of relationship is also depicted in the following diagram. I show the relationship between number of clients and the number purchases, interactions, or value of each category of client that characterizes the market and product distributions of most, if not all, companies (including my own clients).

power-law-of-clients-and-value

For instance, I’ve been working with a banking client. This graph shows the relationship between number of clients and the number of products/services that each client has with the bank. The total market size for this bank is about 80,000 potential users of its services. Of these potential users of its services, the great majority, about 85 %, have no business relationship with the bank. Of the 13,000 or so that do use the bank’s services, the majority only use less than 3 of over 20 products and services. As we move to the right, there are less clients, but their interactions with the bank are more intensive. In other words, there are are many fewer clients in categories to the right, but they use many more of the bank’s services, which in turn generate much greater value. On the other hand, there are no actual clients who do all of their banking and meet all of their financial needs and objectives, much less use all of the bank’s services. This is why we can depict the lower right part of the curve as an asymptote. You never actually reach complete saturation or use.

We’ve all noticed these types of power-law relationships in our professional and personal lives, our management and business experiences, and even in some natural phenomena. This relationship is often referred to as the 80/20 law, Pareto’s Law, or Zipf’s Law. It shows up in such truisms as: 80 % of my problems are caused by 20 % (rates can vary) of my people; most of my sales and profits come from a small number of sales reps; only a few of my clients provide most of my revenue and profits; this product category accounts for 45 % of my sales, but 70 % of my profits; etc., etc.

The following diagram is a further illustration of the principle. It comes from an online article by Mark McLean of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) and shows an almost perfect example of a power-law distribution in the number of deals done by different categories of real estate agents who are members of TREB.  We can see that only a very small number of agents in TREB can be considered highly successful, prolific even.

treb-gif

Of those agents having completed 6 or less deals in a year, a similar relationship holds, although it’s less stark:

treb-6-and-under

Whatever we wish to call them, power-law distributions and relationships underlie much of the correlations and dynamics that surround us. We can use them in making general predictions and, along with the S-curve phenomenon I described in a previous post, we have two very powerful tools and concepts for understanding the world around us. Moreover, power laws and S-curves are not only ubiquitous, they tend to show what’s called “self-similarity,” or a fractal pattern. I’ll discuss that third powerful concept next week.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc.

This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

“Stand to!” is the order given to put troops in a high state of readiness. It comes from the trenches of the First World War, when forces on both sides would stand ready for action at the parapets just before dawn and just after dusk in case of surprise enemy attack. The practice continues to this day, although adapted to the realities of modern warfare and conflict. The order to “stand to!” encapsulates the whole theory and practice of military readiness, which is about awareness, anticipation, and preparation before, during, and after operations, in war and in peace.

It’s time for a change. My book Brilliant Manoeuvres came out in the fall of 2012 and since then I’ve been issuing Brilliant Manoeuvres just about every Monday morning to help, you, my faithful readers manoeuvre successfully to achieve outstanding growth in your business and leadership capacity.

I’ve decided to change my focus to generating and building your business readiness. This is also in line with my latest writing project, tentatively titled, Stand To! Military Readiness Principles to Thrive in Business and Propel Your Growth.

Why is military readiness relevant for business? In my practice as a business consultant, I’ve noticed that many, if not most, executives and entrepreneurs are well prepared to fight the last war, but not well positioned to fight the current one, much less the next one. They frequently have limited situational awareness, poorly adapted decision-making, planning, and communication processes, and are sluggish in leveraging opportunities, responding to threats, and mitigating risks. After all, change is permanent; the real question is whether a business can exploit it and shape it to its advantage, whether it is positioned to seize and maintain the initiative or to reel from successive blows of evolving markets and competition.

From Awareness to Robustness–What Is Business Readiness?

Business readiness is the capacity to exploit change by maximizing opportunities and minimizing risks and threats in order to grow and thrive.

The first level of business readiness is situational awareness, which I define as the ability to discern an organizational shock or environmental change that may lead to crisis, and to take a measured approach to avoiding, leveraging, or resolving it.

The second level of business readiness is preparedness. A well prepared organization is one which has identified a number of risks and threats beforehand and has taken measures to mitigate or even eliminate some of these through active prevention. Many organizations have contingency plans to deal with various disasters, emergencies, and crises due to technological or natural hazards. The quintessential ready organization is the fire department, which has a well-defined set of threats and risks and is structured, trained, and equipped exactly for that purpose. There are others, however, such as airports, hospitals and other health-care facilities, law enforcement agencies, etc. Firms such as builders, manufacturers and mining companies also must have plans and procedures in place to deal with accidents, technological hazards, competition, and socio-political opposition.

The highest level of business readiness is robustness, which I define as the ability to absorb change and shocks by shaping the environment and leveraging the inevitable risks, threats, and uncertainty. Not many organizations operate at this level of readiness. Military forces come to mind as singularly robust and they can be used in a number of areas beyond combat because of their built in resiliency, flexibility, and access to logistical and human resources anywhere, at any time. While they can provide a useful example of what is possible, the reality is that most organizations are currently not very capable in this regard.

What all of these levels have in common is a certain level of resiliency, the ability to bounce back from adversity and shock and to continue functioning adequately. Further to that, however, situational awarenesspreparedness, and robustness are functions of increasing flexibilityredundancy, risk-taking, resourcefulness, and individual/collective initiative. All of these capabilities can be built into an organization and inculcated into its leadership and employees.

I hope you’ll join me as I develop this theme over the coming weeks and months. Feel free to contact me at any time with suggestions, questions, or comments.

And remember… STAND TO!!!

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding, and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.