Posts Tagged ‘decision-making’

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.

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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.

Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and no amount of hype and fashion-mania can eliminate that basic law of nature.

I’ve been reading (and rereading) books by Vaclav Smil. He’s a professor at University of Manitoba who is a world renowned expert on energy, energy flows, and modern industrial society. He analyzes claims about various industrial processes and energy conversions and uses in terms of their technicalities. More important, though, is that he highlights the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options and practices. There is no “perfect” energy conversion or industrial process. All we have are positive effects and negative effects, cost and benefits, opportunities and risks.

This resembles the way I was trained to develop and assess tactical, operational, and strategic plans and manoeuvres in the Army. You first must know what your realistic options are. Then you develop them sufficiently to identify key advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, and opportunities and risks. There is no free lunch, much less a perfect option or plan.

If someone comes along telling you they’ve got the perfect solution or a cost-free alternative, you’re better to treat them as a snake oil salesman, because what they’re selling is akin to a perpetual motion machine.

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

I’ve developed the following model to guide leaders in when and how to be decisive, delegative, consultative, or participative.

Decisive-Participative Matrix
I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

The essence of military style command and control is mission based planning and direction. Most people have a vision of military command structures based on caricatures dating back to the First World War. However, even during that war (and preceding ones) military forces were only successful to the extent that units and leaders at all levels were free to interpret plans and orders and exercise their initiative within the superior commander’s intent, rather than following detailed set-piece plans and executing orders to the letter.

If you want to be truly successful in achieving your aims, you have to give your team members the overall intent and scheme of manoeuvre, while letting them figure out the best way(s) to achieve them. This can be summarized as “tell them what to do, not how to do it.” Yes, there are times when you must be highly prescriptive, implement procedures, and set minimum standards. But these only cover the most common and basic needs. Leaders must have the freedom to explore different options with their teams and to reinforce what works while dropping what doesn’t. Not only is this more effective and efficient, it also leaves them with more space to exercise initiative and provides everyone with the intellectual stimulation and intrinsic motivation to succeed.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

One of the things I learned in the army on peacekeeping operations was that first information is usually (i.e., almost always) wrong, and to avoid overreacting. The worst thing you can do when you’re trying to keep a secure and safe environment for everyone is to believe everything you hear and then react immediately. This is why “ground truth” is so critical to a measured response.

Ground truth is what you learn by actually going out and seeing for yourself, talking to the people involved–on all sides–and then drawing your own conclusions. Just because one side says the other side did or didn’t do something doesn’t automatically mean it’s actually the case. Moreover, acting without optimal information and understanding can lead to unintended consequences. The key word is optimal. Perfect information is impossible, and trying to get it is extremely costly, in time and resources. On the other hand, shooting from the hip can work–sometimes–but there is usually something important you’ll overlook.

Get the ground truth, exercise reasonable skepticism, and try to look beyond the immediate effects of your decisions and actions to estimate intended and unintended consequences.

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Last week Target announced that it was shutting down completely its Canadian operation, all 133 stores, and taking a $5.4 billion writedown. What was originally supposed to be the beginning of a glorious international expansion has turned into a lesson in humility and hubris. There was a lot of talk of how they had poor merchandising, high prices, lack of stock, etc etc. This is all true, but the main cause of this was arrogance. They appeared to think they could launch across Canada en masse without learning about the market(s), building a solid supplier network and logistics, and experimenting to adapt to the Canadian marketplace and competitive dynamic.

A military force that’s fixing to cross a major obstacle into new territory always starts with a bridgehead. The aim is to secure a foothold that can be defended and to build up strength and supplies of fuel and ammunition. Only when you’ve done so successfully do you extend the beachhead by probing and seeking gaps in the enemy defenses. You can then attempt a breakout. We can’t be sure Target would have been ultimately successful, but if they had started with a few stores in various parts of the country, experimented, generated experience and lessons learned, and only then tried to expand in phases, they would probably have done a lot better and would still be expanding instead of retreating humbly back to their home base in the US.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.