Does shareholder value rule business?

What is the purpose of a corporation?

It’s remarkable that after a century of management theorising, there is no agreed upon answer.

Common-sense tells us that the purpose of a business is to make money.
A conversation with almost any businessman or economist shows it to be so.
Why else would a company be in business? Many experts agree: The Economist has recently declared that the goal of maximizing shareholder value, i.e. making money for shareholders, is “the biggest idea in business.” Today, “shareholder value rules business.”

Yet two distinguished Harvard Business School professors – Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine – recently declared in Harvard Business Review that maximizing shareholder value is “the error at the heart of corporate leadership.”
It is “flawed in its assumptions, confused as a matter of law, and damaging in practice.”
Bower has long held this view: back in 1970, he told NPR that maximizing shareholder value was “pernicious nonsense.”

Jack Welch, who in his tenure as CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001 was seen as the uber-hero of maximizing shareholder value, has been even harsher.
In 2009, he famously declared that shareholder value is “the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.

Managers and investors should not set share price increases as their overarching goal… Short-term profits should be allied with an increase in the long-term value of a company.”

But despite these denunciations, the “pernicious nonsense” of shareholder value has spread.
Shareholder value thinking, say Bower and Paine, “is now pervasive in the financial community and much of the business world. It has led to a set of behaviours by many actors on a wide range of topics, from performance measurement and executive compensation to shareholder rights, the role of directors, and corporate responsibility.”

There are thus two opposing schools of thought: Shareholder value is either the best idea in business and the worst idea in the world. Which is it?

Corporate strategy on the other hand, is the overall plan of contemporary management practice, CEOs have been obsessed with diversification since the early 1960s, because almost no consensus exists about what corporate strategy is, much less about how a company should formulate it.

A diversified company has two levels of strategy: business unit (or competitive) strategy and corporate (or companywide) strategy.
Competitive strategy concerns how to create competitive advantage in each of the businesses in which a company competes.
Corporate strategy concerns two different questions: what businesses the corporation should be in and how the corporate office should manage the array of business units.

Corporate strategy is what makes the corporate whole add up to more than the sum of its business unit parts.
The track record of corporate strategies has been dismal.
A study of the diversification records of 33 large, prestigious U.S. companies over the 1950–1986 period, found that most of them had divested many more acquisitions than they had kept.
The corporate strategies of most companies have dissipated instead of created shareholder value.

The need to rethink corporate strategy could hardly be more urgent. By taking over companies and breaking them up, corporate raiders thrive on failed corporate strategy.
Fueled by junk bond financing and growing acceptability, raiders can expose any company to takeover, no matter how large or blue chip.

Recognising past diversification mistakes, some companies have initiated large-scale restructuring programs. Others have done nothing at all. Whatever the response, the strategic questions persist. Those who have restructured must decide what to do next to avoid repeating the past; those who have done nothing must awake to their vulnerability. To survive, companies must understand what good corporate strategy is.

Many post-Enron discussions about corporate governance have focused almost exclusively on the responsibilities of directors and the structure of boards and shareholders.
This is hardly surprising – after all, a company’s survival ultimately depends on the effectiveness of its board’s decision-making processes.
But boards don’t exist in a vacuum. Ultimately, board structures and decision-making cultures will depend on a company’s unique circumstances.
Large companies may also operate different levels of boards throughout their businesses. The complexity of large international organisations with many subsidiaries makes the issue of management information and decision-making more complex, and the need for directors of such vast organisations to have early-warning systems is a must.

The board of directors in any organisation is responsible for its operational, strategic and financial performance, as well as its conduct.
Boards exercise their responsibilities by clearly setting out the policy guidelines within which they expect the management to operate. They will set out the short- and long-term objectives of the organisation and a system for ensuring that the management acts in accordance with these directions.

They will also put procedures in place for measuring progress towards corporate objectives. There is therefore a clear difference between the main responsibilities of directors and managers.
In his recent book, “Corporate Governance and Chairmanship: A Personal View”, Sir Adrian Cadbury distinguishes between direction and management: “It is the job of the board to set the ends – that is to say, to define what the company is in business for – and it is the job of the executive to decide the means by which those ends are best achieved.”
They must do so, however, within rules of conduct and limits of risk that have been set by the board.

Can your board answer the following strategic questions:

· Who are our stakeholders?
· What are our stakeholders’ stakes?
· What opportunities and challenges do stakeholders present?
· What economic, legal, ethical, and social responsibilities does our organisation have towards our various stakeholders?
· What strategies or actions should we take to best manage stakeholder challenges and opportunities?
· Do you have a system for managing relationships with stakeholders?
· How do you measure results? What metrics do you use to assess and gauge stakeholder relationships?
· In a crisis how quickly can you communicate with your relevant stakeholders?
· Do you know the various methods to engage with stakeholders and when not to use it?
· Can you state how much you are spending on each stakeholder group and what your ROI is?
· Have you developed a set of rules and practices on how best to manage the process of building stakeholder reputation with each stakeholder group?

Once you have answered the above questions, then you should attempt these:

I. What strategies or actions should our firm take to best manage stakeholder challenges and opportunities?
II. Should we deal directly or indirectly with stakeholders?
III. Should we take the offense or the defence in dealing with stakeholders?
IV. Should we accommodate, negotiate, manipulate or resist stakeholder overtures?
V. Should we employ a combination of the above strategies or pursue a singular course of action?

Shareholder value: Has been called the driving force of 21st-century business.

What value do shareholders bring to the companies they invest in? Are most shareholders interested in what is best for the company, or are they in it only for the financial performance of the company’s shares?

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Adam Smith, the founder of capitalism, said that everyone should do what is best for themself.
However, Professor Nash, portrayed in the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, starring Russell Crowe, stated that “Adam Smith was wrong!”
Commercial organizations can only succeed if everybody is doing what is best for themselves while simultaneously doing what’s best for the whole group.

Beginning in the 1990s, we witnessed extreme egocentric behavior among public companies who were motivated solely by their own financial gains. Several studies prove that self-centered and egocentric companies perform poorly as compared to companies who focus on developing innovative products, delivering value for the customer, and motivating their employees to be more productive and successful.
How can these companies deliver value to their customers or suppliers if they are only looking at their own bottom line? Too much focus on shareholder value, measured by quarterly reports, is one of the primary reasons that public companies are not realizing their full potential and that the West has been in financial chaos for the past six years.
Companies that outperform the rest – over time – build their success on a performance-based culture, driven from the outside in.

Most executives agree that it’s important to create value for the customer. The problem is that despite the good intentions of the senior management team, this mindset often doesn’t travel farther than the company core values posted in the reception lobby of the corporate headquarters.
You know the classic four: honesty, engagement, customer focus, and collaboration.
If you exchanged one company’s value statement for the values posted in the lobby of the corporate headquarters across the street, would anyone notice? Or are the values posted in the lobby of the neighboring company the same four?

Professor Solow, winner of the Nobel Prize for his theory on economic growth, found that only a portion of financial growth in the world comes from companies making money out of money.
Instead, the majority of financial growth comes from companies actually producing a product, developing a new service, or changing the way we conduct business.
Corporate leaders need to do more than shuffle numbers on a balance sheet.
Consider Steve Job’s unrelenting focus on product innovation and what Apple was able to achieve by creating the iPad, iPhone, and iPod. As we know, iTunes has literally changed the entire music industry!

The obsession with maximizing shareholder value has also impacted the way that companies approach negotiations with their customers and suppliers.

To solve the world’s economic crisis, we need brave CEOs and leaders to step up and declare, “I don’t care what the share value will be for the next two years. We might not make a profit during this period. But we are going to focus all our resources on product research and development with the goal to create the best product the world has ever seen.
We’re here to change the world! We are fully committed to delivering value and a return on investment to our shareholders. Yet it may not be in the next 30 days or even the next three quarters. I am asking our investors to look at us with a long-term view. I am asking them to stand by us and risk a much larger return on their investment if they will agree to fund the innovation required to develop a market-changing product.”

If you left Sharpies under the statement of core values that hangs in the lobby of your company, what kind of graffiti would you find scribbled on your values statement? What would your customers and suppliers write? Your corporate values are better articulated by your employees, customers, and strategic partners than by your management team and board of directors.
If there is a disconnect between your formal statement of values and the graffiti, you have work to do.

If you can build a product that will truly change the world, like Steve Jobs did several times, your shareholder value will take care of itself. Your problems will be protecting your distribution channels, defending your intellectual property, and retaining your talent. Which set of problems would you prefer? I think the answer is obvious – to hell with shareholder value.

Experience tells us that listening to your stakeholders and strive to meet their expectations—difficult or not.
Ensuring they are feeling heard, valued, and appreciated grows trust, support and credibility. Building relationships and understanding motivation takes time and effort but will make your job easier in the long run. Companies are more successful when everyone is on board and on the same page!

A famous quote by Dennis Muilenburg:

 “As we continue to drive the benefits of integrating our enterprise skills, capabilities, and experience – what we call operating as ‘One Boeing’ – we will find new and better ways to engage and inspire employees, deliver innovation that drives customer success, and produce results to fuel future growth and prosperity for all our stakeholders.”


Does your executive board need an Entrepreneurial approach to business?

There has been much discussion around transformative innovation that explores new horizons and potentially disrupts business models, and whether this requires an entrepreneur mindset on the Board of Directors.

Recently, I was asked by Freeths LLP, an award winning and large UK legal firm, to share insights on ‘how to infuse boards with entrepreneurial spirit’ – an article that was included in their prodigious Winter 2018 edition of their Platinum Magazine.
The Freeths Platinum Magazine is sent to their top and private clients. You can read it online HERE (page 15).

This subject is increasing in board discussions and agendas, which has prompted me to continue the subject discussion, to take a deeper dive across the positives and repercussions of adapting and entrepreneurial approach to business.

If you are leading a start-up business or involved in a scale up business with potential for high growth, one of the most valuable things you should do early on is to set up an board of advisors.
Scaling an enterprise is hard work, and you only stand to benefit from drawing on perspectives, experience, and networks that augment your own.
A group of advisors committed to your success not only provides a sounding board to test and strengthen your ideas, it gives you access to important competencies and resources.

But many entrepreneurs, especially those in the early stages, find the task of building an advisory board daunting.

Whose strengths would complement their own and counter their weaknesses?

Who might bring an insight to the table that would otherwise be missed?

It can feel like an exercise in knowing what you do not know. Moreover, most people who have not formalised such a board before have not given much thought to what it takes to keep one running effectively.

Board members tend to have immense experience in at least one of these three areas: financial expertise, industry-specific knowledge, or operational management.
Over the past couple of decades, though, companies have become more interested in diversifying their boardroom both in race and gender as well as in expertise.

Today, you’ll find individuals with backgrounds in marketing, IT, and human resources in addition to the “classic” board member tracks.

The latest trend, however, is adding someone with an entrepreneurial background to your team of directors.

Boards are constantly being pulled between short term goal-oriented oversight and long term, strategically focused planning.
Entrepreneurs are generally going to default to strategic thinking and will help pull your board out of conversations that should be left to your company’s C-suite.

Entrepreneurs are often “visionaries” in the business world and offer a complementary element to boards that already favour members who are well-versed in risk management or short term, operational guidance.

This is not to say that an entrepreneur will always be right about their theories or suggestions, but their presence alone will force more conservative members to tackle some out-of-the-box thinking.

The boardroom is not generally thought of as the ‘nerve centre’ of entrepreneurism within a company, particularly a company trading on the stock exchange.
The role of a typical director is often more about audit, risk reviews and compliance, and directors may see ‘entrepreneurship’ as a risk element.

Often this means keeping one or even both eyes on the rear-view mirror, and yet maybe the biggest threat is ahead and not yet fully visible in the headlights.

Most directors have little experience or understanding of the risks posed by disrupters and technological changes. With many directors on stock exchange companies being recruited from large and established companies, few of them can boast about any entrepreneurial experience. This raises a number of questions:

Do boards need to be more entrepreneurial to detect and counter modern-day risks?

Could a board that is more diverse in terms of experience, age or culture help address this?

We live in a fast paced and rapidly changing world. Even just a decade ago, changes to markets and business challenges were slower paced. However, since the dawn of global connectivity, big data and the maturing of the World Wide Web, companies are encountering threats at a much faster pace and competition is global.

Companies face modern-day risks associated with the ‘Sharing Economy’, cybercrime or even the IoT (Internet of Things).
The threat posed by disrupters can be catastrophic and quickly bring down what was a very successful company.
The board needs to anticipate changes and be innovative in relation to these modern day risks; that is, it has to become more entrepreneurial.

Yet, though the environment in which companies now operate is constantly changing, the behaviours of directors and the majority of boards are not.

Boards spend significant time on compliance and on examining historical data on company performance and comparisons to budgets, yet the strategic role sometimes remains an annual event completed, printed and filed away for 12 months.
Directors spend limited time considering strategy at a typical board meeting, and may regard innovation as a change of state and, therefore, a risk factor.

Directors have a duty of care to their shareholders and are responsible for determining the company’s growth and survival strategies. But do boards spend enough time discussing competition, or new developments in technology, or even possible changes to regulations that may in the future impact the business?

For many boards, these areas are never discussed.

In the business world, will we ever forget Kodak and its devastating collapse, after being a highly successful business that neglected the need to change when digital photography was first introduced.
The irony is that the technology was originally developed by Kodak in 1975 and was effectively discarded because Kodak feared it threatened its photographic film business.
The digital and, at the time, much smaller companies took it on, and everything else is now history.
Although this is a classic example and a tragic one for Kodak’s shareholders and staff, there are many other examples and are likely to be increasingly many more to come.

The new disruptive technologies of the Sharing Economy such as Uber and Airbnb are having a significant impact on the market value of companies in transport and hospitality.
We should also consider the changes that have occurred in print media, including the retrenchment of many journalists because of the impact of digital media and resulting decline in advertising revenue.

Also consider the decline of Blockbuster video and the rise of Netflix. These types of disruptions in other industries could have staggering implications across many markets.

In the area of banking and finance, for example, people are starting to collaborate to exchange money and bi-pass the banks’ foreign exchange departments with the high rise of high growth and disruptive fintech companies.

Directors need to better understand threats and also assess more innovative growth strategies if their companies are to compete in the rapidly changing world in which we live in.

This means a different set of skills are needed at board level, in addition to the more traditional skills.
Business survival requires boards and directors to be more agile and predictive, particularly in relation to disrupters that could be catastrophic for their business.

Technological advances and customer behaviour can turn the business fortunes of companies around very quickly. For the modern-day director, it is necessary to be constantly aware of the external environment so that potential disrupters can be quickly detected and countered.

As a result, more effort is needed to create an entrepreneurial approach at the director level through properly managed processes and structures. This may include extending the current standard board committee structure to include a standalone innovation committee, providing leadership in innovation, and to bringing in a structured process to manage and assess opportunities and threats.

Many classic-minded board members are extremely risk averse and for good reason!

They are tasked with a great amount of responsibility to shareholders and to the overall success of an organisation.

Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead them to fear failure in such a way that it stifles success.

Many successful entrepreneurs are known for embracing small failures in order to reach large triumphs.

This attitude in support of both flexibility and evolution brings a unique and forward-thinking element to any boardroom

For the modern day director, it is necessary to be constantly aware of the external environment so that potential disrupters can be quickly detected and countered.
As a result, more effort is needed to create an entrepreneurial approach at the director level through properly managed processes and structures.

This may include extending the current standard board committee structure to include a standalone innovation committee, providing leadership in innovation, and to bringing in a structured process to manage and assess opportunities and threats.

With the growing need for businesses to fend off disruptions, as well as to create their own disruptions, it is time to consider how board meetings can evolve so that instead of spending so much time on backward looking and historical data, boards do a little bit of creative forecasting and consider the future of the business and the market.

Some suggestions are:
• Create an Innovation Committee. Increasing the time spent considering innovation will make an enormous difference to many companies.
• Spend some time discussing ‘what if’ scenarios to facilitate innovation discussions.
• Develop an opportunity management focus at the board level, instead of just a risk management focus.
• Place on the board’s agenda an item for competitive trends and behaviours and possible disruptions to the business model. Look to other industries for examples of how disruptions have been addressed.
• Encourage management to look to untapped knowledge in the staff pool (e.g. users of the ‘sharing economy’ might have a good understanding of disrupters).
• When it comes to funding a company, maybe consider other innovative methods to raise funds.

The future is bright for those who direct their focus to the headlights and away from the rear-view mirror. Being forewarned of an impending risk or threat may provide the opportunity to develop strategies and so mitigate that threat before its impact is catastrophic.

Keeping an eye on what is coming may help enable your company to be the disrupter, not the disrupted. Maybe we all need to reflect on that ‘Kodak Moment’ to see how quickly things can change.

Final thought, to achieve substantial and continued growth in the 21st century, companies will have to look beyond improving the existing business model or simply launching new products. These actions just will not generate enough growth anymore.

Growth will come from more ambidextrous organisations that excel at improving their established business model (exploitation) and excel at inventing tomorrow’s growth engines at the same time (exploration).

As Peter Drucker once said discussing Innovation and Entrepreneurship – Practice and Principles:

 “This defines entrepreneur and entrepreneurship – the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.”

Peter Drucker


Not enough time… too much work

I really enjoy meeting up with my colleagues and friends, especially when we engage in ‘Meaningful Conversations’, but just recently, and more than ever, the words ‘I do not have enough time, I am on work overload and feel exhausted’ seem to be a running theme with life in general.
So the question is do we have enough focus, are we taking on too many initiatives?

One of the most persistent challenges that people face these days is “initiative overload” – driving themselves too hard and having too many projects and not enough time to get them done.
If you’ve ever found yourself working long days and weekends, and still not feeling caught up with your workload, then you know what I mean.

We all know that a big reason for this overload is the surge in expectations that’s tied to a technology-enabled and connected global economy. As email, texting, instant messaging, teleconferencing, and other electronic communications have become indispensable, people have grown conditioned to expect fast, if not instantaneous, responses to almost everything.

For example, a recent study found that when consumers contact companies through social media, 42% expect a response in one hour or less, and 67% expect a response the same day.
The same seems to be true with work assignments in companies: Customers, managers and even in our personal lives we do expect much more rapid turnaround times for getting things done.
And as people try to action faster, actions and changes to actions end up taking on more and more – and less gets finished.

Sometimes boards of directors and leaders are unaware of all the initiatives under way and their impact on the organisation. In other case’s organisational politics conspires to let initiatives continue long after they should have run their course.
Either way, overload can result in costly productivity and quality problems and employee burnout. With record low unemployment, companies that do not adjust the workload are also at risk of losing valuable talent.

So why does “Initiative Overload” happen?

In my experience, companies often lack the means (and the will) to stop existing initiatives. Sometimes that’s because they have no process for determining when to close things down.
A project might have been vital for the business when it launched, but later the rationale no longer exists – and yet the funding and the work continue.

Leadership teams often engage in prioritisation exercises that define and communicate where people should focus their energy. However, they undermine those efforts if they don’t also do the hard work of explicitly deciding what trade-offs to make and what has to stop.

For companies already experiencing ‘initiative overload’, focusing on the benefits of cutting back can make the path forward somewhat easier.

Organisations are at a great advantage when they learn how to say no, as Steve Jobs once put it, to the “hundred other good ideas that there are.”

They can then use their creative and productive energy more wisely, foster greater employee commitment and loyalty, and accomplish more in the areas that really matter.

The facts are that we’re subjected to thousands of distractions throughout the day. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that you can be distracted simply by hearing or feeling your phone vibrate, even if you don’t pick it up.
Try putting your phone out of sight (and touch) for 10 minutes of uninterrupted productivity.

Modern technology has evolved to exploit our urgency addiction: email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and more will fight to distract you constantly.

Turn off all your notifications. Choose to check these things when you have time or allocate time to be distracted - say, during a break from work – and work through them together, saving time.

My final thought on the matter is, it’s not easy but once you build the good habit of turning off notifications, you can actually get to work and be more productive.

Schedule your priorities and stick to them.

Treat your highest priorities like flights you have to catch: give them a set time in advance and say no to anything that would stop you making your flight.

It pays to unplug.

If you can be reached via smartphone, email, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, you’re way too available and all these outlets are possible connections that can distract you from your purpose.

Disconnect and watch as your productivity improve.

Your smartphone might be the biggest productivity-killer of all time. Most people just can’t put the phone away.
If your phone is connected online, the temptation to stay updated about almost everything is very high. If you can, put down that phone (or power it off) for a while when in the office and witness the effect that can have on your level of productivity.

Don’t take on too much

The basic principle of success is to focus. It is what makes the difference between those who are successful and those who are not, regardless of how much talent, resource, and energy that they have.

The most accomplished and well-known people in history were known for something unique to them. Einstein pursued the theory of relativity like his whole life depended on it.

Relativity is one of the most famous scientific theories of the 20th century. Mozart was incredibly passionate about music. He was the very best for many generations before and after him. Even today, is there a second musician who could match his genius?

Spend most of your time on the right things and the rest takes care of itself.

It’s not enough to just ‘work hard’. Hard work is not necessarily a bad thing.

But hard work can be a waste of your life when it’s directed at the wrong cause. Decide what is good for you in the long term, and pursue it with all you’ve got.

Each time you have something extra to do or an additional goal to pursue, you further split your power.

Less is more

The key to focusing on the essentials in life and at work is to limit yourself to an arbitrary but small number of things, forcing yourself to focus on the important stuff and eliminate all else.

A great video by Carl Honore, who discusses ‘Thinking Slow and Smart’

When you are doing too much at a time, you are constantly switching from one task to another, constantly interrupted, constantly distracted.

Do less, clear away distractions, single-task, and get more done.

When you do too much, your work is spread thinner, you have lower quality, and people won’t spread your work like they should.
By doing less, you can create something remarkable. Something incredible worth sharing.

Prioritising and optimizing your time during the day will give you more time to focus on what matters, getting more accomplished in a lesser amount of time.

A really great quote by Nido Qubein, he once said:

“One of the greatest resources people cannot mobilize themselves is that they try to accomplish great things. Most worthwhile achievements are the result of many little things done in a single direction.”

Why Corporate Governance should not be stored on your C-drive

Being a director is often challenging and potentially lucrative, but if the prospect of being sued is looming, it can be a lonely and alarming position.

Directors and officers cover (D&O) provides a suit of armour in the face of legal action, with the insurer stepping in to provide guidance at the first sign of a problem and ensuring legal costs and damages are met.

According to Eleni Petros, commercial crime practice leader for broker Marsh: “Cyber risks are a key topic in many boardrooms and are driven onto the agenda by high profile data breaches, distributed denial of services attacks and rising ransomware and cyber extortion attacks.

In the digital age, threats are coming thick and fast and directors are now more frequently having to contend with cyberattacks and data breaches – these are not just issues that affect large organisations.

Directors and high-ranking officers in public and privately-held corporations are under scrutiny like never before as they conduct business in an increasingly regulated and complex global business environment.

As regulatory authorities have responded to public and shareholder pressure in the wake of the credit crisis with more rules, heightened vigilance and tougher enforcement powers, corporate leaders find themselves exposed to even greater risks on a daily basis as they go about their roles.

The pressures on their time are vast, not least for non-executives, who frequently spend as little as 30 days a year working in the business, and for the many directors who sit on the boards of four or five companies.
These directors tell us the information packs that they receive from the companies they run are either far too large, and make it difficult for board members to target the business-critical information, or that they tell directors far too little about the key issues.

Nevertheless, directors face sanctions that make them sit up and take notice, not least the threat of jail. Though probably the least likely outcome for corporate leaders, jail terms can be handed down for antitrust failings, insider trading, bribery and corruption, money laundering or sanctions violations.
There is also the very real concern of regulatory fines and penalties. And these penalties can extend to being prohibited from sitting on boards in the future: the SIF regime now means that directors of banks that perform badly, though not necessarily personally liable, can find themselves excluded from directorships in regulated businesses going forward.

Then of course there is the growing threat of civil actions, and particularly shareholder class actions on both sides of the Atlantic. For antitrust violations in the United States, the maximum jail term for executives is ten years, and there are instances where officers and directors have served four-year terms.
These penalties apply equally to foreign nationals running companies with U.S. operations as they do to those businesses headquartered in the States, and antitrust authorities around the world are increasingly adopting similar approaches.
There are now more than 120 regimes that pursue this conduct around the world, with around a dozen of those imposing criminal sanctions for breaches.

The number of antitrust cases being dealt with by the enforcement agencies has increased exponentially in recent years, not least because the incentives for reporting incidences of wrongdoing have increased, encouraging whistle blowers and pushing companies to approach the authorities when they are alerted to issues within their own organisations.

This first-mover advantage can work to the detriment of directors, who may be implicated by the companies they work for when detailed investigations take place

It is increasingly important for directors and officers to work hard to set the compliance tone for the organisation from the top, by making it clear to employees what is expected of them, by setting an example and by ensuring that the messages are communicated across, and become part of, the company.

The guidance published with the Bribery Act 2010 is just one example of express reference to the importance of “tone at the top”.

Business leaders need to design and implement systems and controls that are appropriate to their organisation, and regularly review and test those systems to ensure they are delivering results. At the same time, compliance requires a bottom-up approach, such that the system ensures that regular requests for information are made of all levels of the business, and frequent enquiries are initiated and followed up.
Directors need to ensure that the information that they receive is both timely and appropriately prioritised, so that they know they have done their best to be on top of what is going on.

In today’s environment, directors and officers also need to look out for themselves, which means that if they have questions they must not only raise them, but also pursue answers, and record the fact that they have done so.

Directors need to be assertive with their colleagues across the business. If they find themselves dealing with topics with which they are not comfortable, they should seek external advice. There were countless examples of directors of financial institutions telling Congressional hearings in the U.S.- that they didn’t understand the collateralised debt obligation products that their banks were trading, but ignorance is not an excuse that will find favour with regulators.

The key message is that devoting time, resources and effort to the compliance programme is the best guarantee of success, and that the companies that have successfully introduced effective cultures have done so only as a result of sustained commitment.

Directors must take responsibility for introducing and maintaining a culture of compliance across their organisation, which means building the right structures; delivering regular training to employees, and particularly those in high-risk areas; setting up proper audit procedures that allow for deep-dive checks on a regular basis; and acting on discoveries in a timely and effective way.

Finally, with an ever-growing list of mandatory and non-mandatory rules is ramping up the risks faced by directors & officers. The general trend is toward raising the level of care expected of D&Os and expanding their existing duties.

These higher standards increase the personal risks and liabilities for D&Os as they look to steer their organisations through the complexity of today’s business challenges. As a consequence, at-risk senior executives are searching for more sophisticated D&O coverage.

In many instances it is not the personal liabilities of directors that have changed, nor what constitute illegal acts, but rather the appetite of enforcement agencies to hold directors and officers accountable. Reprimanding senior executives is increasingly seen as the most effective means of changing behaviour and preventing criminal and civil offences going forward.
The trend of rigorous enforcement particularly holds true when it comes to international criminal acts, including crimes committed against antitrust legislation, against the UK Bribery Act or America’s Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act, or breaching international sanctions laws.

Final thought, whether you are a large corporation or a small business, reaffirming the significance of the role of good corporate governance.

Corporate governance performed properly, results in the protection of shareholder assets. Fortunately, many boards take on this difficult and challenging role and perform it well. They do so by, among other things, being active, informed, independent, involved, and focused on the interests of shareholders.

Good boards also recognise the need to adapt to new circumstances—such as the increasing risks of cyber-attacks. To that end, board oversight of risk management is critical to ensuring that companies are taking adequate steps to prevent, and prepare for, the harms that can result from mis-appropriation of management.
There is no substitution for proper preparation, deliberation, and engagement on company related issues. Given the heightened awareness of these rapidly evolving risks, directors should take seriously their obligation to make sure that companies are appropriately addressing those risks.

Nicolas Berggruen once said:

‘The biggest determinant in our lives is culture, where we are born, what the environment looks like. But the second biggest determinant is probably governance, good governance or a certain kind of governance makes a huge difference in our lives.’

Every day we interact with hundreds of people across dozens of platforms, but how can a meaningful conversation help your business?

Conversations are key to language development, the exchange of thoughts and ideas and listening to each other. People learn by hearing each other’s thoughts while observing facial and body expressions that show emotions.

“Face to face conversation is the most human and humanising thing we do,” says Sherry Turkle in her book ‘Reclaiming Conversation – The Power of Talk in a Digital Age’.
“Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It is where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard and of being understood.
Conversation advances self-reflection, the conversations with ourselves that are the cornerstone of early development and continue throughout life.”

Technology is a part of everyday life, but replacing face-to-face conversation with phone conversation, via texting, emailing, etc., has taken important skills away from children and young adults.
In today’s world, there is a “flight from conversation,” as Turkle says. All ages of people cannot do without phones and screens, but a balance is of utmost importance.

How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect.

If you’ve ever been trapped in an lift with a casual acquaintance, you know just how painful small talk can be. “Such a shame that we’re stuck in the office on a beautiful day like this!” your peer may even smile. Or, “How was your weekend?” your neighbor may ask not because he or she actually cares about the quality of your weekend, but because there is an awkward silence that begs to be filled.

There’s a reason small talk like this exists. If your peer were to ask you about your darkest secrets or deepest wishes while the two of you descend floors in a tiny metal box, you would probably feel like this is too much, too fast. As in, too much intimacy, too early on in your relationship.
Likewise, small talk can help us probe for more interesting topics to talk about.
For example, if you were to answer your neighbor by saying, “My weekend was great! I bought the final component for my laser defense drone,” your neighbor would definitely have some follow-up questions.

The instant and omnipresent world of communication has increased our capacity to connect on a perfunctory level, but in some cases has thwarted our capacity to have real and meaningful face-to-face conversations.
The two forms of communication — virtual and physical — can work in tandem, though the physical kind obviously takes a bit more effort, but most often results in a far more meaningful experience.

A popular article in The New York Times, Your Phone vs Your Heart, mirrored some of these observations. In particular, the article explored how we can actually “re-wire” our heart and brain to become more secluded.
It contends, “If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.”
In summary, if you don’t go out of your way to form meaningful, personal friendships beyond the virtual ones, you may lose the ability to do so in the future.
A sort of “use it or lose it” model. What was also intriguing about the article was that through these connections, you actually build up your biological capacity to not only empathize but also improve your health.

Heidegger probably had it right when he made the prescient statement, “Technology makes us at home everywhere and nowhere [at the same time].”

We are more connected than ever, yet we remain walled off behind our smartphones, mobile devices and computer screens.
Perhaps our communication tools are more cosmetic than we think; they have yet to master the ancient and inimitable art of human contact.
Your success is determined in large part by your ability to have a conversation. You can be the best at what you do, but if you’re not communicating effectively with clients, staff and the market, then you’re missing opportunities.
There are many different ways to look at communication in the small-business world from the individual formats such as writing and speaking, to different contexts such as client communication and employee management.
Each and every day you will be required to flex your communication muscles and interact; a bad conversation could spell disaster for an employee relationship, a customer or your business.
Alternatively, the right words at the right time could propel your business into places you didn’t think possible and can deliver opportunities that were not available before.

Geoff Hudson-Searle – Meaningful Conversations

We should all stay inspired with ideas and innovation, creating great things!

Interestingly, meaningful conversations are not restricted to, or guaranteed by, long-term relationships. I’ve had deeper conversations with strangers on an airplane than with some people I’ve known for decades.

Karen Salmansohn once said:

“Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.”

Why forecasting is important

Many CEOs tell me they would seek more comfort and be more confident if they could keep better tabs on their financials. They have put their plans into place based on economic and market assumptions made a few months back, but will they sustain the continual pain barriers to maintain, and increasing growth?

Any company seeking growth in 2018/2019 would be wise to include a sensitivity analysis as part of the balance sheet forecast. There are many ways to book actuals, and financial teams may want to spend some time determining the best processes for their companies.

In either good times or bad approaching the future with a robust forecast is vital for all kinds of businesses, other considerations should also consider, Politics, Economics, Global Risks and Customer Behaviour.

Politics
The pollsters failed miserably to predict the outcome of the past two UK general elections, the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election.

It’s tempting to blame the influence of fake news posted on social networks, given that allegations of foreign interference via such media are rarely far from the headlines.
But Ian Goldin, director of the programme on technological and economic change at the University of Oxford’s Martin School, suggests that other forces are stronger.

“The growing extremism we’ve seen is part of a broader set of factors, of which the web is an amplifier, not a cause,” he says.
“Change is accelerating and our social-security safety net is weakening.

People are getting left behind more quickly and insecurity is growing. There is a distrust of authority and expertise. Because house prices, rents and transport costs have increased so much relative to their incomes, people are getting locked out of dynamic cities where unemployment is low, pay is relatively high and citizens are more comfortable with change and immigration.”

So where does that leave those whose job is to gauge public opinion and forecast electoral outcomes accordingly?

Earth image courtesy of NASA http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/

Economics
The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said:

“If all economists were laid end to end, they would still not reach a conclusion.”

More than 120 years after he co-founded the London School of Economics, his wry observation has lost little relevance.

Paul Hollingsworth, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, agrees, noting that their profession has “taken a bit of a beating in recent years” for its failure to predict, among other things, the 2007-08 global financial crisis.

“More emphasis needs to be placed on possible ranges of outcomes and the associated probabilities, to enable businesses to plan for the worst but hope for the best,” he says.

Andrew Goodwin, lead UK economist at Oxford Economics, believes that “a premium on adaptability” is the smart way forward. He explains: “We find that the best approach is to combine sophisticated tools with expert insight and to identify alternative scenarios.”

Parikh, meanwhile, points to the value of “stronger intelligence-sharing and collaboration”, especially among SMEs.
Given that the Office for Budget Responsibility has dropped its 2018 GDP growth forecast from 1.6 per cent to 1.4 per cent, calculated circumspection – or what he calls “stress-testing organisations against an array of macroeconomic scenarios” – seems wise advice indeed.

Global risks
“In many respects it’s becoming easier to assess business-related risk owing to the increasing accessibility of open-source information and intelligence,” says Phil Cable, co-founder and CEO of risk management firm Maritime Asset Security and Training.

“Global competition has forced businesses to spread their wings and trade in places where they wouldn’t otherwise go. But assessing personal risks and employees’ safety, security and health concerns in places where western standards are limited is still challenging.”

The Ipsos Mori Global Business Resilience Trends Watch 2018 survey, conducted in partnership with International SOS, revealed that 42 per cent of organisations had altered the travel arrangements of their employees in 2017 because of risk ratings pertaining to security threats and natural disasters.

200 million people were connected in the late 1980s to one in which more than six billion people are connected. The silos we used to work in no longer apply. We can sell to places anywhere in the world, but there’s a downside – a pandemic can now cause a financial crisis, for instance. Hurricane Sandy, had it been bigger, could have led to a global crash.”

Customer behaviour
Forecasting how the public might spend its hard-earned cash is a far better-informed exercise than it ever has been.
So says Steve King, co-founder and CEO of Black Swan, a firm that predicts consumer trends using what he calls “the world’s most advanced database of consumer thought and opinion” – aka the internet.

“Never before have we lived in an age when so many people have shared so much information about themselves, or when this knowledge has been so readily accessible,” King says.

“It’s going to be incredibly interesting to see how the development of disruptive connected technologies such as the internet of things will change our behaviour in unexpected ways.”

To fully exploit the sheer volume of customer-related information to be found online, real-time monitoring and instant responses are imperative, he adds.

“Micro-trends are effectively created and destroyed almost overnight now. Brands must start moving with the times and away from qualitative future-gazing. They need to adopt new platforms that continually analyse social trends and offer quantifiable, robust predictions powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

A final thought
Many companies do not understand the strategic importance of forecasting.

Having the right resources available at the right time is essential for efficient functioning.
In today’s tough business environment where businesses are trying to save costs it is needed that every penny is saved.
Forecasting is one way to save costs as from forecasting only companies can guess the future demand and can manage their resource accordingly. Any mismanagement in forecasting can lead to great loss in both small and large businesses.

All large companies use forecasting when formulating their strategy because without it no decisions can be made. It is true that no one can predict the future accurately, but forecasting can give a general idea about future on which present decisions can be made. Forecasting is therefore an important strategic tool for all businesses.

Paul Polman once said:
“Practically, systemic thinking can be used to identify problems, analyze their boundaries, design strategies and policy interventions, forecast and measure their expected impacts, implement them, and monitor and evaluate their successes and failures.”

Guest-blog: Neil Cattermull – ‘A Guide to Machine Learning’

Neil Cattermull

Because of new computing technologies, machine learning today is not like machine learning of the past. It was born from pattern recognition and the theory that computers can learn without being programmed to perform specific tasks; researchers interested in Artificial Intelligence wanted to see if computers could learn from data.

The iterative aspect of machine learning is important because as models are exposed to new data, they are able to

They learn from previous computations to produce reliable, repeatable decisions and results. It’s a science that’s not new, “but one that has gained fresh momentum”.

While many machine learning algorithms have been around for a long time, the ability to automatically apply complex mathematical calculations to big data “over and over, faster and faster“ is a recent development. Here are a few widely publicized examples of machine learning applications you may be familiar with:

• The heavily hyped, self-driving Google car? The essence of machine learning.
• Online recommendation offers such as those from Amazon and Netflix? Machine learning applications for everyday life.
• Knowing what customers are saying about you on Twitter? Machine learning combined with linguistic rule creation.
• Fraud detection? One of the more obvious, important uses in our world today.

Resurging interest in machine learning is due to the same factors that have made data mining and Bayesian analysis more popular than ever.
Things like growing volumes and varieties of available data, computational processing that is cheaper and more powerful, and affordable data storage.

All of these things mean it’s possible to quickly and automatically produce models that can analyze bigger, more complex data and deliver faster, more accurate results – even on a very large scale. And by building precise models, an organization has a better chance of identifying profitable opportunities – or avoiding unknown risks.

In the second of a two series blog (“Digital-transformation“), we welcome back Neil Cattermull – Public Speaker and Commercial Director living in London, United Kingdom and a public figure in writing about technology, and entrepreneurship, he is considered a global Industry influencer and authority within the tech scene.

Neil has travelled around the world assisting small to large firms with business models. Ranked as a global business influencer and technical analyst.

Neil has held directorship positions within technology divisions within the financial services market, such as Merrill Lynch, WestLB, Thomson Financial and I have created many small to midsize organisations.

Neil is going to discuss ‘A guide to Machine Learning’.

Thank you Geoff,
Machine learning is one of the most innovative and interesting fields of modern science around today. Something that you probably associate with things such as Watson, Deep Blue, and even the infamous Netflix algorithm.

However, as sparkly as it is, machine learning isn’t exactly something totally new. In fact, the concept and science of machine learning has been around for much longer than you think.

The beginnings of machine learning
Considered to be the father of machine learning, Thomas Bayes’ theorem was pretty much left alone until the rockin 50’s when, in 1950, famed scientist Alan Turing managed to create and develop his imaginatively named ‘Alan Turing’s Learning Machine’.

The machine itself was capable of putting into practice what Thomas Bayes had conceptualised 187 years earlier. This was a huge breakthrough for the field and along with the acceleration of computer development, the next few decades saw a gigantic rise in development of machine learning techniques such as artificial neural networks, and explanation based learning.
These formed the basis of modern systems being managed by artificial intelligence. The latter being arguably the most integral to the development of systems management technology.

Explanation based learning was primarily developed by Gerald Dejong III at the Chicago Centre for Computer Science. He essentially managed to build upon previous methods and develop a new kind of algorithm, enter the “explanation based algorithm!”

Yes, the explanation based learning algorithm was fairly standard in that it created new business rules based on what had happened before. However, what sets this apart as a breakthrough is that Dejong III had managed to create something that would independently be able to disregard older rules once they had become unnecessary.
Explanation based learning was one of the key technologies behind chess playing AI’s such as IBM’s Deep Blue.

A cold AI Winter
However, there was a period during the 70’s when funding was disastrously reduced because people had started thinking that machine learning wasn’t living up to it’s original billing.
This was compounded when Sir James Lighthill released his independent report which stated that the grandiose expectations of what artificial intelligence and machine learning could achieve would never be fulfilled.

This report led to many projects being defunded or closed down. This was incredibly unfortunate timing as the UK was considered a market leader when it came to machine learning. This dark period of time was effectively known as the ‘AI Winter’ and bar a momentary slip in the early 90’s, was the only real time that the possibilities of machine learning were ever really discounted by the scientific community.

Who is pushing the technology forward now?
Machine learning has reached a level now where companies such as DataKinetics have the capability to transform legacy systems into business driven analytics.

DataKinetics are at the forefront of their field and have been entrusted by many blue-chip companies, such as Nissan and Prudential, to streamline and optimize complex technology environments. With the advancements within technology today IT professionals are now capable of achieving so much more due to new innovations in machine learning.
However, this is just the beginning – if funding and interest into machine learning and AI remains consistent, there’s no telling what can be achieved.

Machine learning algorithms that can predict future outcomes, giving us – the humans – to react accordingly.

In essence, the main idea behind machine learning is that it’s essentially where a computer or a system takes a set of data created previously, applies a set of rules to it and provides you with an output that in that is more efficient.

In much the same way, there’s a cycle between the innovators and forefathers of machine learning and with the companies and groups of people that are doing it today.

That’s why companies such as DataKinetics are proud to be associated with such a rich and storied period of human endeavour.
Innovators are equally as important as pioneers, without innovation we have static evolution that does not progress our species further and we are staring at a near constant change in the tech space.

Datakinetics are innovators within technology and have had the foresight to predict the evolution of mainframe, machine learning and analytics with a tech roadmap spanning for over 30 years!

You can contact Neil Cattermull:
– LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/neilcattermull
– Twitter: @NeilCattermull
– email: Neil.Cattermull@gmail.com

Guest-blog: Neil Cattermull – Digital Transformation and ‘Open source on steroids’

Neil Cattermull


The two words ‘Digital Transformation’ seem to be words that we hear and see everyday across internal discussions at main executive board and c-suite. But exactly why are these discussions important, and why should they be a priority?

Firstly, what is Digital Transformation and why is it so important?




Let’s start from the beginning. Heraclitus once said:
“The only thing that is constant is change,” – and this is very true and relevant today.

With major moves forward in technology and accessibility toward digital media in the past 10 years, people now view technology in a completely different way and also learn in a different way.
This has been a huge factor in creating a need for companies to evolve and stay relevant, transforming the way they run their business, and also train their staff.

With the general concentration span of millennials being much shorter than that of their predecessors, businesses must change the way they interact with millennial employees and customers.

If we look at this from an internal perspective too, we see everything from employee training to onboarding and productivity can be improved through digital transformation in the correct way.
It is important to remember though that digital transformation will generate some push back and resistance. This is very normal, and this is also why it is important to implement it in the right way.

Effectively, Digital Transformation is an ongoing effort to rewire all operations for the ever-evolving digital world, by adopting the latest technologies in order to improve processes, strategies, and the bottom line.

Digital transformation became a term, decades ago, and at that time largely meant digitising. But today, a company needs to leverage digital tools to be more competitive, not just more digital.

Going forward, companies will need to harness machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of things (IoT) to be pre-emptive in their business strategies, rather than reactive or presumptive.

And after that? We can only speculate. Technology is advancing at a faster pace than we can adapt to it. What is clear is that digital maturity is a moving target, which makes digital transformation ongoing.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Neil Cattermull – Neil is a Public Speaker and Commercial Director living in London, United Kingdom and a public figure in writing about technology, and entrepreneurship. He is considered a global Industry influencer and authority within the tech-scene.

Neil has travelled around the world assisting small to large firms with business models. Ranked as a global business influencer and technical analyst. He has held directorship positions within technology divisions within the financial services market, such as Merrill Lynch, WestLB, Thomson Financial and he has created many small to midsize organisations.

Neil is going to discuss ‘Open Source on Steroids’.

The words “digital transformation” are on the lips of every person in technology and tech media, as well as many business leaders – from company CIOs and CTOs to technology to business line managers to writers in news publications and tech blogs.

At its core, a digital transformation is the enablement of technologies and workplaces tuned to today’s digital economy. The beating heart of this digital economy is the API, and is being followed now by emerging technologies like IoT (Internet of things) and FinTech technologies like Blockchain.

Today the transformation of processes, IT services, database schemas and storage are proceeding at exponential rates with Cloud, AI and Big Data currently taking center stage as new ways of working in the enterprise.

The glue to the majority of developments in the technology world is the adoption, proliferation and acceptance of Open Source technologies. Community developments such as Hadoop, Apache Spark, MongoDB, Ubuntu and the Hyperledger project are some of the names that freely fall from any Open Source discussion.

The question is where do you run these workloads? How do you run these workloads? And in what form should these workloads take?

Most major companies will have mainframe systems at the core of their IT systems, so the question is really whether to run new workloads there, or on other platforms?

Any building architect will tell you that before tearing down the walls of an old house or doing any significant structural changes, you should always consult the original architectural plans. In the same way, any systems architect would look very closely at what a mainframe system is doing now before considering running workloads elsewhere.

However, it is imperative to understand the difference between mainframe and midrange server technology at a very high-level:

• Mainframe systems are designed to scale vertically not horizontally
• Input / Output is designed in mainframe systems to move processing away from the core and very fast I/O is built in to the core of a mainframe system, even at the hardware layer
• Centralized architecture is a key feature allowing mainframe systems to manage huge workloads extremley efficiently – catering for 100% utilisation without any degradation of perfromance
• Resilience is built in to every key component of a mainframe; redundancy at the core
• At a transactional level there is no other system that comes anywhere near the level of processing of data that a mainframe system can process.

An argument against the mainframe could be to decouple software systems onto commodity hardware or cloud systems; but this tends to create server and cost sprawl, particularly if an important goal is to mirror the mainframe’s performance, security, transaction throughput capacity, reliability, maintainability and flexibility.

But as we move further into the world of IoT, with databases and Big Data systems acquiring vast amounts of ingested social media and transactional data, how are we scoping the growth and security of these systems?
We are not if we simply just keep adding to existing IT infrastructures – we need to be able to scale access and throughput to manage, interigate and optimse the hottest commodity we have: data!

Data is becoming a currency in its own right but we need to secure this new currency in a way we do today with traditional moentary systems.
And perhaps the best way to leverage this valuable asset is via APIs that allow enterprises to take advantage of the mainframe investments already made – enter a LinuxOne Open Source ready mainframe that assists with creating a familiar Open Source tooling stack on steroids!

The argument here is that a digital transformation is more than just empty words and data thrown on cloud servers, it is a state of mind, and an architecture that should encompass current and future systems towards overall business goals.

At the heart of this goal is the end-user consumer, something that every system architect should be very mindful of; however, downtime and security are quite often understated when creating the initial framework for key infratsucture projects.

These key elements must be baked into every project and at the very core of future technology initiatives – something that the Open Source Ready LinuxOne infrastructure delivers extremely well.

You can contact Neil Cattermull:
– LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/neilcattermull
– Twitter: @NeilCattermull
– email: Neil.Cattermull@gmail.com

Parallels between corporate environments and hummingbirds – hummingbirds return to places where there is positive energy

I recently paid a visit to Silicon Valley, California for an executive board meeting and aligned this trip to visit my international business partner in Oregon, Mark F. Herbert, for my yearly catch up, cross border strategic discussions and many “Meaningful Conversations”.

Whilst having a Meaningful Conversation we could not help but see a group of very excited hummingbirds, so we started to provoke thought and discussion across the possibilities and parallels between corporate and that of hummingbirds.

Mark and I sat there and then I said, ‘so why is a hummingbird so positive with energy? Hummingbirds should not physically be able to fly, and like these birds that always defy the “impossible,” ‘Mark stated to discuss that hummingbirds are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring 7.5–13 cm in length.

The fact that the hummingbird is the smallest extant bird species, the 5 cm bee hummingbird weighing less than 2.0 g, and these little winged wonders flutter their wings at a remarkable 80 times per second. Hummingbirds have essentially been reinventing themselves throughout their 22-million-year history’, which made me think of how us humans have so much to learn from these amazing little birds.

Then, there is the migration each year a hummingbird will fly from North America, in January or February to South or Central America proceeding at an average rate of about 20 miles per day, the northward migration is complete by late May. Banding studies show that each bird tends to return every year to the same place it hatched, even visiting the same feeders. The Rufous has the longest migration route of all hummingbirds—up to 3,000 miles (4.828km)—traveling from summer in Alaska to winter in Mexico.

Hummingbirds have so much association, they are associated with goddesses throughout the myths and legends of multiple cultures. In one Mayan legend, the hummingbird is the sun in disguise, trying to court a beautiful woman, who is the moon. Hopi and Zuni legends tell of hummingbirds helping humans by convincing the gods to bring rain.

An Aztec legend tells of a god who, in the form of a hummingbird, flew to the underworld to be with a goddess, who later gave birth to the earth’s first flower. A Native American hummingbird animal totem is said to aid in self-discovery and provide us the paths to self-expression and awareness
Hummingbirds can only be described as Agile and Adaptable!

The Oxford dictionary meaning of Agile is Nimble, Supple, Dexterous, Acrobatic, graceful. Qualities that organisatios and leaders today certainly look at building, being and demonstrating.

It seems to me that there are leaders who are more like hummingbirds in their approach to life and leadership.
As a leader your attitude will make you or break you. The right attitude can guide you through times of adversity with poise and grace and be a source of inspiration for others to emulate. And at the end of the day it is all about the daily decisions you make.

Here are four considerations for a good positive attitude.

1 – What you choose to see. As you look over the landscape of your business or organisation do you see recession, fear and uncertainty or do you see opportunity, growth, and new markets?

What you choose to see speaks of your perceptions. Your perceptions are shaped by your attitude. That is not to say you are not mindful of the negatives that exist but you are making a choice not to be defined by them. If you are going to have an attitude of excellence it begins with what you choose to see and ignoring the rest.

2 – What you choose to believe. By its choice the hummingbird chooses new life and growth over what is dead and gone. Your belief systems form the foundation of your personal growth and that of your leadership potential. What you choose to see formulates your perceptions but your beliefs formulate how you live. This attitude is the deal breaker both personally and professionally and it truly matters.

What you choose to believe speaks of your passion. Your passions are a reflection of your attitude and that is a reflection of your heart. What you choose to believe may not always make sense at the time. Yet when you choose faith over fear, hope over despair, trust over doubt, forgiveness over resentment, and love over hate, you are living out an attitude of belief that will set you apart as a leader.

3 – How you will spend your time. The hummingbird spends its time seeking life and beauty. When your attitude is aligned with what you believe and what you see it makes how you spend your time an easier proposition.

How you spend your time is all about priorities. Whether in business or in your personal life your priorities are a good indicator of a healthy attitude. Your time is your most valuable possession and a smart leader learns how to master it.

4 – How you will live your life. The vulture and the hummingbird, for better or worse, have made their choices and live their lives accordingly. Your attitude as a leader has consequences that will determine your altitude. The choice to have a good attitude is not always easy. Someone cuts you off in traffic, the deal you thought you were going to close doesn’t happen, your earnings report falls short of expectations; a friend betrays you; these scenarios and more constantly challenge your resolve to have a good attitude.

How you will live your life speaks of your purpose. Your attitude should be one of your strongest attributes that sustains you in the good times and what gives you the courage needed when times are tough. Make it your priority to live your life as a leader with purpose in your heart.

A final thought, let us take a moment to analyse the amazement of this little creature that have been known to some scientists as “An Impossible Miracle” and derive some lessons.

Hummingbirds are one of the smallest birds in the species. They can probably fit in your tall cup of coffee and weigh less than a tennis ball. They are one of the most adaptive creatures around. Having one of the highest metabolisms in any animal but can also go in a hibernation-like state to conserve energy when needed.

They are one of the most versatile animals on earth. The only bird that can fly both forward, backward, upside down and has the ability to hover in one place as needed. They are also one of the fastest animals on the planet with recorded speeds of up to 54km per hour. That is faster than some of the best race horses around. And, if you did not know, hummingbirds actually inspired the creation of the Helicopter.

There are a lot of things we can learn from the Hummingbird, both from the story and around the real facts about it.
Perseverance, Courage, Innovation, Adaptability, Versatility, and defying all odds.

As a human you always think about the experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and we are all tested in ways that you never expect.

Leadership forces you to stay true to yourself and to recognise when you are at your best and when you are at your worst; the important thing is to stay focused and keep moving forward. We aleways learn that it is overcoming adversity that brings the most satisfaction, and that achievements are made more meaningful by the struggle it took to achieve them.

Like the hummingbird, anything is possible if you believe in yourself and if you set your mind and heart to it. If you want something badly enough, you must be prepared to go after it with everything you have, no matter what the odds.

Change has a funny habit of teaching you much about yourself; it goes to the core of your own weaknesses, strengths and eccentricities. Leadership forces you to stay true to yourself and recognise times when you are at your best and worst; the key is to stay focused and to make decisions that will look at continuous improvement. Even though this may be small, incremental change, it is positive change you can build upon even though you may be in quicksand.

The question is, how much do you truly want your dream?

As the famous scientist Charles Darwin once said:


‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’

Guest-blog: Brad Borkan – Pivot from your goal for greater success

Brad Borkan

I have the fortune of meeting a fellow author recently, Brad Borkan, for a meeting of minds, to discuss our literature journeys, which I must say was incredibly enjoyable.

We discussed many subjects but importantly our personal thoughts and experiences across resilience and overcoming adversity.

Adversity of any magnitude should make us stronger and fill us with life’s wisdom, however, art in any form is born from adversity, I wrote ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ from adversity and set up a business in the double dip of 2008 and 2009, many people have done the same and it is almost a universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds.

For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse, and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning difficulty and challenge into opportunity.

As Eckhart Tolle once said:
Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.

Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, the books we read, and the paintings we look at among other forms of performing art are attempts to find meaning in human suffering.
Art seeks to make sense of everything from life’s potentially smallest moments of sadness to its most earth-shattering tragedies. You have heard the statement ‘there is a book in everyone’ we all experience and struggle with suffering.

Determination, resilience, and persistence are the enabler for people to push past their adversities and prevail. Overcoming adversity is one of our main challenges in life. When we resolve to confront and overcome it, we become expert at dealing with it and consequently triumph over our day-to-day struggles.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Brad Borkan, who works in SAP Strategic Partner Marketing. He has a graduate degree in Decision Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania. Brad co-authored the book, “When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic”. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and lectures internationally on early Antarctic exploration and its relevance to modern-day decision making. His website is: www.extreme-decisions.com.

Brad is going to discusses with us today “Pivot from Your Goal for Greater Success:”

One of the five key lessons from the early Antarctic Explorers

Have you ever been in a situation where you are so close to achieving your goal, you can almost taste it? With just a bit more effort, luck and perseverance you can get there, but there is high risk and danger along the way. At what point do you push through and at what point do you determine that the risk is too great and turn back?

This was the dilemma facing Ernest Shackleton on January 8th 1909. Shackleton was leading a team of three other men: Jameson Adams, Eric Marshall, and Frank Wild. Their aim: to be the first to get to the South Pole.

As described in my book, When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic, this was the first Antarctic expedition under Shackleton’s command. In the style at the time, Shackleton named it the Nimrod Expedition, using the name of the ship in which he and his men sailed to Antarctica. The Nimrod Expedition had taken years to plan and everything hinged on this one life-and-death decision.

By January 8th Shackleton, Adams, Marshall and Wild had been on the ice for two and a half months, man-hauling a heavy sledge containing all their equipment: food, cooking oil, tent, sleeping bags and other gear necessary for survival across 750 miles of dangerous terrain in sub-zero temperatures. They were totally on their own; the only communication was as far as they could shout. However they were nearing their goal.

In that era, there was no understanding of nutrition, calories, vitamins or the causes of scurvy. Shackleton and his men knew they were running desperately low of food and were subsisting on starvation rations. While there were some depots of food and supplies they could pick up on their return journey, there was a substantial risk they could die on the way back trying to reach one of those depots.

Yet the South Pole was tantalizingly close. One hundred and three miles to go to attain the biggest, unclaimed, land-based prize on Earth – the first to the South Pole. It would guarantee their names in the record books forever. A bit of luck with the weather and snow conditions, fewer rations, a bit more effort each day — surely goals this big deserved some risk. As goal-driven human beings, wouldn’t we all want to go for the goal, regardless of the consequences?

Yet, amazingly, Shackleton turned back.

What he did before turning back is one of the great lessons from the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration. He told Adams, Marshall and Wild that on January 9th they would leave the tent, sleeping bags and all other supplies behind and walk South as far as they could in one day, plant the flag, and turn back to their camp. Then the next day they would begin the long and treacherous journey home. Why did Shackleton do this? Why not just turn and head back immediately? They all knew the return journey would be risky.

The answer is: Shackleton wanted to cross the 100 mile mark. He wanted to go back to England with a prize. Maybe not the prize, but getting to within 100 miles of the South Pole sounded a whole lot better than either: (1) achieving the South Pole and starving to death on the return journey or (2) getting back alive with only have reached the 103 mile mark. In a letter to his wife Emily about the decision, Shackleton wrote, “I thought you would rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.”

He and his team did almost starve to death on the return journey. Remarkably, they did survive and upon his return, Shackleton wrote a two-volume book about the expedition called, “The Heart of the Antarctic”. He didn’t dwell on failure. He celebrated success — pivoting from his initial goal, and achieving a memorable landmark — the farthest South.

So why is this an important lesson for today’s business leaders? Because it is exceedingly difficult to turn away from one’s goal. It is difficult for a business to do it, and even more difficult for goal-driven businessperson to do it.

Business schools teach us that:
“Goal attainment = Success”

&

“Success = Goal Attainment”

Yet, this is not always the case. Businesses can be so goal driven that they do not see the big obstacles in their way. Take the case of Blockbuster. Their goal was to dominate the high street of every US and UK city and town, and they were achieving that. They were on such a tear, that in 1989, a new Blockbuster video rental store was being opened every 17 hours! In the early 2000’s Netflix was offered to Blockbuster for $50 million. Why should Blockbuster turn away from their goal of high street dominance? Goal attainment was so tantalizingly close.

We all know what happened to Blockbuster and Netflix. Had Blockbuster taken the Shackleton goal-assessment approach – that survival is more important than goal attainment — they may have survived, just like Shackleton and his men did, to live to see another day.

Shackleton’s next expedition, the Endurance Expedition, also didn’t achieve its goals. Again he had to pivot from his primary goal. Yet it propelled Shackleton to even greater fame, success and glory. It also revealed compelling lessons for modern business decision making. We will save that story for the subject of another blog.

You can contact Brad Borkan on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/bradborkan or by email: brad.borkan@gmail.com or via his website: www.extreme-decisions.com