Posts Tagged ‘readiness’

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.

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

I facilitated a business continuity planning meeting last week with one of my clients, a mid-sized life insurance company. One of our objectives was to examine scenarios with business continuity impacts.

Upon consideration, it was apparent that several departments in the company had already encountered similar situations and developed informal processes and procedures to deal with them. However, it was also apparent that much of this valuable experience was dormant within these groups, and there was no ready way to extract the knowledge and share it throughout the company.

© faithie | 123RF Stock Photo

Such information is typical of what I call “unknown knowns.” This is knowledge that exists somewhere in the organization, usually informally and in the experiences of individuals or small teams, but that remains unknown by senior management and the wider organization. I developed this idea as a result of extending former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s musing about known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

If you build a two-by-two matrix you end up with a fourth quadrant, the unknown knowns. This is potentially highly valuable knowledge that is partially dormant and inaccessible to the whole organization. It can be useful for readiness, risk management, and business continuity preparation. But even more, there can be a treasure trove of client information, competitive intelligence, and operational know how that goes unexploited and unimproved, simply because there are no active means of accessing it and sharing it, much less improving it and exploiting it in a systematic manner.

As a military leader commanding peacekeeping forces, I found that the best information was often resident right within my unit. I had only to ask my troops what they had seen in their patrols and by talking with the local populace and I could generate enormous quantities of grassroots intelligence. That’s why military commanders prize ground truth so much.

There is a lot of knowledge and information resident in the minds of employees and managers in a company. There are salespeople visiting customers and prospects. Others are constantly interacting with suppliers, distributors, retailers, and even competitors. There is a lot of knowledge that goes unexploited simply because company leaders are unaware of everything that is known within their respective organizations.

Are there things you or your organization/team may know, but that you are not already aware of? What can you do to find out, or to promote this kind of sharing and awareness?

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

By Richard Martin

© Alexskopje | 123RF Stock Photo

The recent spate of natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes) have shown once again the need for readiness and resiliency for operational and business continuity. I’ve also been working with a client organization to review and upgrade its continuity programme. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind.

  • Readiness for business continuity is a leadership responsibility. It is a strategic concern and must be led by senior leadership and executed by the entire organization and its “chain of command.”
  • Business continuity is part of contingency planning and preparedness to respond and recover after prevention has failed. In other words, it’s part of your risk/threat mitigation strategy.
  • Insurance is needed to help recover and rebuild after a disaster or a crisis, but it can neither prevent nor mitigate the impacts as they unfold. That is where the entire preparedness and readiness programme come into play.
  • There are three phases to business continuity planning and management: preparation, response, and recovery. The preparation phase should always be in effect, and not just an afterthought.
  • Business continuity planning (BCP) must be conducted on a cyclical basis, for instance every year. It must be aligned with other normal management processes such as annual budgeting and capital planning so any required investments can be identified and adequately resourced.

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

by Richard Martin

Copyright: Tomas Griger

After the magnitude 8.3 earthquake in Mexico last week, an acquaintance of mine was fretting about how these natural disasters couldn’t be a simple coincidence.

Of course, that acquaintance was referring to the apparently large number of violent systems in the South Atlantic this hurricane season in combination with an earthquake. I’m not sure what these phenomena have to do with each other. How are weather and geology supposed to be connected? Perhaps in the very long term, on the scale of eons. But over days or hours? Not likely.

Humans have a propensity to see causality and correlations where there is just coincidence. Most things happen for no reason at all. It’s easy to see patterns where there are none, especially in nature. If you see linkages where there are none, you can drive yourself crazy with anxiety and paranoia. Things happen. Sometimes they bunch up in time and place. Other times they are more or less spread out.

The trick to being prepared isn’t so much to predict specific causes or events, it’s to prepare for generic outcomes and effects. If you’re in a hurricane or seismic zone, you can’t predict when or where events will occur, but you know that they will occur with a certain frequency and power. For instance, every decade or two, there is a major hurricane in your zone. Every year there is at least a major tropical storm. Geological risks are much harder to characterize, but if you are in high-risk seismic region, then you have to prepare for the worst case.

Of course, preparedness and resiliency are largely a function of wealth. Storms, earthquakes and other natural events are a lot costlier in wealthy regions, but relatively less destructive of life and limb. In poor regions, the relationship is inverted; there are many more deaths and the destruction, although extensive, costs much less. However, the time to rebuild and recover are a direct function of wealth. The greater the capital resources, the faster and easier it is to absorb the costs of reconstruction and resiliency.

These factors also play into the perceptions of coincidence, causality and correlation. We must keep things in perspective when assessing probabilities and impacts. Human destruction is greater in poor countries and increases toward the past. Material destruction was less in the past and is continually increasing. This isn’t because of some connection between events. Rather, it comes from the increased investments in infrastructure, housing, and transportation networks. What was the damage along the Gulf Coast or in Florida prior to people building houses right on the water?

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.

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

by Richard Martin

Here is an easy to use four-step to help in readiness for anything, any time.

Step 1: Mobilize

  • Confirm situation and mission
  • Do time estimate
  • Activate team and support network
  • Prepare equipment, dress, “ammunition”
  • Inform “troops”

Step 2: Reconnaissance

  • Terrain (market)
  • Objective (client, goal)
  • Enemy (competitors)
  • Weather (context, conditions)

Step 3: Plan

  • Aim, factors, options, decision, plan
  • Tactics: frontal, flanking, bypass manoeuvres
  • Exploit/protect centre of gravity
  • Economize and mass for optimal impact
  • Pit strengths against weaknesses, exploit gaps

Step 4: Deploy

  • Brief team, supporters, colleagues
  • Initial and final rehearsals
  • Update plan, develop contingency plans
  • Final preparation – material and psychological
  • Morale – How is your will to win?

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