Do we need AI, if humans can grow in development?

It seems like every day there is a new article or story about artificial intelligence (AI). AI is going to take over all of the jobs. AI is going to do all of the repetitive, menial tasks carried out by admins on a daily basis. AI is going to rise up and take over. AI is not going to take over but instead be natively baked into all systems to produce more human interactions.

For all the things AI is allegedly going to do, it can already do a lot right now, such as automation, custom searches, security interventions, analysis and prediction on data, serve as a digital assistant, perform algorithm-based machine learning and more.

It will be a good number of years before we get AI doing everything for us, the real question is can humans survive without AI?

Does anyone recall the Trachtenberg speed system of basic mathematics?

The Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics is a system of mental mathematics which in part did not require the use of multiplication tables to be able to multiply. The method was created over seventy years ago. The main idea behind the Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics is that there must be an easier way to do multiplication, division, squaring numbers and finding square roots, especially if you want to do it mentally.

Jakow Trachtenberg spent years in a Nazi concentration camp and to escape the horrors he found refuge in his mind developing these methods. Some of the methods are not new and have been used for thousands of years. This is why there is some similarity between the Trachtenberg System and Vedic math for instance. However, Jackow felt that even these methods could be simplified further. Unlike Vedic math and other systems like Bill Handley’s excellent Speed Math where the method you choose to calculate the answer depends on the numbers you are using, the Trachtenberg System scales up from single digit multiplication to multiplying with massive numbers with no change in the method.

Multiplication is done without multiplication tables “Can you multiply 5132437201 times 4522736502785 in seventy seconds? One young boy (grammar school-no calculator) did successfully by using the Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics.

So, with human intelligence why do we need AI, AGI, deep learning or machine learning?

Faster than a calculator, Arthur Benjamin discusses the speed of mathematics TEDxOxford

Albert Einstein is widely regarded as a genius, but how did he get that way? Many researchers have assumed that it took a very special brain to come up with the theory of relativity and other stunning insights that form the foundation of modern physics. A study of 14 newly discovered photographs of Einstein’s brain, which was preserved for study after his death, concludes that the brain was indeed highly unusual in many ways. But researchers still don’t know exactly how the brain’s extra folds and convolutions translated into Einstein’s amazing abilities.

Experts say Einstein programmed his own brain, that he had a special brain when the field of physics was ripe for new insights, that he had the right brain in the right place at the right time.

Can we all program our brains for advancement, does our civilisation really need our brains rely on AI/AGI?

Artificial intelligence is incredibly advanced, at least, at certain tasks. AI has defeated world champions in chess, Go, and now poker. But can artificial intelligence actually think?

The answer is complicated, largely because intelligence is complicated. One can be book-smart, street-smart, emotionally gifted, wise, rational, or experienced; it’s rare and difficult to be intelligent in all of these ways. Intelligence has many sources and our brains don’t respond to them all the same way. Thus, the quest to develop artificial intelligence begets numerous challenges, not the least of which is what we don’t understand about human intelligence.

Still, the human brain is our best lead when it comes to creating AI. Human brains consist of billions of connected neurons that transmit information to one another and areas designated to functions such as memory, language, and thought. The human brain is dynamic, and just as we build muscle, we can enhance our cognitive abilities we can learn. So can AI, thanks to the development of artificial neural networks (ANN), a type of machine learning algorithm in which nodes simulate neurons that compute and distribute information. AI such as AlphaGo, the program that beat the world champion at Go last year, uses ANNs not only to compute statistical probabilities and outcomes of various moves, but to adjust strategy based on what the other player does.

Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, and Google all employ deep learning, which expands on traditional ANNs by adding layers to the information input/output. More layers allow for more representations of and links between data. This resembles human thinking when we process input, we do so in something akin to layers. For example, when we watch a football game on television, we take in the basic information about what’s happening in a given moment, but we also take in a lot more: who’s on the field (and who’s not), what plays are being run and why, individual match-ups, how the game fits into existing data or history (does one team frequently beat the other? Is the centre forward passing the ball or scoring?), how the refs are calling the game, and other details. In processing this information we employ memory, pattern recognition, statistical and strategic analysis, comparison, prediction, and other cognitive capabilities. Deep learning attempts to capture those layers.

You’re probably already familiar with deep learning algorithms. Have you ever wondered how Facebook knows to place on your page an ad for rain boots after you got caught in a downpour? Or how it manages to recommend a page immediately after you’ve liked a related page? Facebook’s DeepText algorithm can process thousands of posts, in dozens of different languages, each second. It can also distinguish between Purple Rain and the reason you need galoshes.

Deep learning can be used with faces, identifying family members who attended an anniversary or employees who thought they attended that rave on the down-low. These algorithms can also recognise objects in context such a program that could identify the alphabet blocks on the living room floor, as well as the pile of kids’ books and the bouncy seat. Think about the conclusions that could be drawn from that snapshot, and then used for targeted advertising, among other things.
Google uses Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) to facilitate image recognition and language translation. This enables Google Translate to go beyond a typical one-to-one conversion by allowing the program to make connections between languages it wasn’t specifically programmed to understand. Even if Google Translate isn’t specifically coded for translating Icelandic into Vietnamese, it can do so by finding commonalities in the two tongues and then developing its own language which functions as an interlingua, enabling the translation.

Machine thinking has been tied to language ever since Alan Turing’s seminal 1950 publication “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” This paper described the Turing Test—a measure of whether a machine can think. In the Turing Test, a human engages in a text-based chat with an entity it can’t see. If that entity is a computer program and it can make the human believe he’s talking to another human, it has passed the test.

But what about IBM’s Watson, which thrashed the top two human contestants in Jeopardy?

Watson’s dominance relies on access to massive and instantly accessible amounts of information, as well as its computation of answers’ probable correctness.

Why humans will always be smarter than AI…..

This concept of context is one that is central to Hofstadter’s lifetime of work to figure out AI. In a seminal 1995 essay he examines an earlier treatise on pattern recognition by Russian researcher Mikhail Bongard, a Russian researcher, and comes to the conclusion that perception goes beyond simply matching known patterns:

… in strong contrast to the usual tacit assumption that the quintessence of visual perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate constituent objects followed by the activity of attaching standard labels to the now-separated objects (ie, the identification of the component objects as members of various pre-established categories, such as ‘car’, ‘dog’, ‘house’, ‘hammer’, ‘airplane’, etc)

… perception is far more than the recognition of members of already-established categories — it involves the spontaneous manufacture of new categories at arbitrary levels of abstraction.
For Booking.com, those new categories could be defined in advance, but a more general-purpose AI would have to be capable of defining its own categories. That’s a goal Hofstadter has spent six decades working towards, and is still not even close.

In her BuzzFeed article, Katie Notopoulos goes on to explain that this is not the first time that Facebook’s recallbration of the algorithms driving its newsfeeds has resulted in anomalous behavior. Today, it’s commenting on posts that leads to content being overpromoted. Back in the summer of 2016 it was people posting simple text posts. What’s interesting is that the solution was not a new tweak to the algorithm. It was Facebook users who adjusted — people learned to post text posts and that made them less rare.

And that’s always going to be the case. People will always be faster to adjust than computers, because that’s what humans are optimized to do. Maybe sometime many years in the future, computers will catch up with humanity’s ability to define new categories — but in the meantime, humans will have learned how to harness computing to augment their own native capabilities. That’s why we will always stay smarter than AI.

Final thought, perhaps the major limitation of AI can be captured by a single letter: G. While we have AI, we don’t have AGI—artificial general intelligence (sometimes referred to as “strong” or “full” AI). The difference is that AI can excel at a single task or game, but it can’t extrapolate strategies or techniques and apply them to other scenarios or domains you could probably beat AlphaGo at Tic Tac Toe. This limitation parallels human skills of critical thinking or synthesis—we can apply knowledge about a specific historical movement to a new fashion trend or use effective marketing techniques in a conversation with a boss about a raise because we can see the overlaps. AI has restrictions, for now.

Some believe we’ll never truly have AGI; others believe it’s simply a matter of time (and money). Last year, Kimera unveiled Nigel, a program it bills as the first AGI. Since the beta hasn’t been released to the public, it’s impossible to assess those claims, but we’ll be watching closely. In the meantime, AI will keep learning just as we do: by watching YouTube videos and by reading books. Whether that’s comforting or frightening is another question.

Stephen Hawking on AI replacing humans:

‘The genie is out of the bottle. We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans.’

From an interview with Wired, November 2017

Disruptive change is inevitable – Change is constant

Change is inevitable.

More and more organisations today face a dynamic and changing environment. The oft-heard rallying cry in today’s organisations is “Change or die.” Survival in today’s global economy requires organisations to be flexible and adapt readily to the ever-changing marketplace. Change has become the norm. It is as necessary for organisations to pay as much attention to the psychological and social aspects of change as they do to the technological aspects.

We live in an era of risk and instability. Globalisation, new technologies, and greater transparency have combined to upend the business environment and give many CEOs a deep sense of unease. Just look at the numbers. Since 1980 the volatility of business operating margins, largely static since the 1950s, has more than doubled, as has the size of the gap between winners (companies with high operating margins) and losers (those with low ones).

Change is the one true constant in business, especially when it comes to operating a business. Having defined processes in place to effectively manage change can help companies sustain success.

In today’s business environment, knowing how to successfully navigate these changes and develop appropriate and effective processes to properly manage such change is a must. It’s virtually impossible for organisations to make sound strategic decisions and completely accomplish objectives when deprived of strong change management strategies. This is especially true in the world of project, program and portfolio management, where obstacles and ambiguity are inevitable at every juncture.

Companies all over the world find that they have to continually make changes to the way they work in order to stay ahead of the game, be profitable, and be relevant. Oftentimes, the changes could be externally mandated, internally conceived, or both, but the reality is that companies do have to evolve, change, or die. The global landscape is changing: businesses are moving to take advantage of new markets; organisations are restructuring to operate better, given the current market dynamic; competition is causing companies to radically change the way they do business.

The old business is not coming back – this is not just a statistic, it is a fact.

Companies operate in an increasingly complex world: Business environments are more diverse, dynamic, and interconnected than ever – and far less predictable. A study I read recently suggests that 75% of the S&P 500 will turn over in the next 15 years.

Many businesses that “have done things the same way for years” are affected by disruptive change: the economy changes, the competition changes, products change, technology changes, customers change, employees change, vendors change, buying methods change, delivery methods change.

Disruptive change is coming, and the only question is whether companies are going to cause it or fall victim to it. Disruption is not easy, to create or to confront it.

Businesses need to grow continuously in one way or another to achieve and maintain success. Growth comes by making positive changes that promote growth and by responding correctly to external changes.

Organisations throughout the world and across the global markets also recognise the need to embrace ‘nimbleness’ and ‘agility’ if they are to survive in the long run. The ever-changing landscape, globalisation, global dynamics, make it inevitable that companies have to evolve fast, repeatedly, and in a continuously improving manner in order to comply with regulations, collaborate with customers, and stay ahead of competition.

Whilst awareness of the challenges associated with change is prevalent, there is also compelling evidence of the long-term benefit of being great at driving organisational change. Therefore, it is expedient to look at some of the reasons why change is difficult, so that we can deliberately tackle the reasons for change complexity.

Sustaining success depends on an organisation’s ability to adapt

Why can some companies take advantage of any change the market brings, while others struggle with market-necessitated modification? The reasons why will differ for each organisation, but the question is definitely worth asking especially in light of the fact that the pace of change is accelerating at the fastest rate in recorded history.

Most companies find it hard to transform themselves in difficult circumstances. Corporate transformation under pressure.

Leadership needs to have a mindset that although change ability (agility, resilience) is essential for the survival and growth of many companies, there needs to be a concerted effort to build capacity to lead change effectively, and to purposefully build a change friendly culture in a systemic manner. This means that change leadership or sponsorship becomes a leadership competency that is recruited for and developed in leaders in the same way that it is done for other competencies such as decision-making.
Companies most likely to be successful in making change work to their advantage are the ones that no longer view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a constant opportunity to evolve the business.

Change readiness is the new change management: change readiness is the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimise risk, and sustain performance.

Organisations, and the people within them, must constantly re-invent themselves to remain competitive. Sustaining success depends on an organization’s ability to adapt to a changing environment.

Senior executives recognise that in order to compete optimally in the current and future landscapes, their companies will be expected to do more for less in a more dynamic landscape with issues of globalisation, new market opportunities, and new ways of doing business. There is a recognition that the changes are going to increase and the demands for business benefits realisation will also increase. It is therefore no longer optional for leaders to increase their ability to successfully implement strategies by increasing their ability to manage change and in fact leveraging this change management skill to become a competitive advantage.

If you’re struggling or your market is down, change management is especially critical because growing companies are not afforded the time to weather the storm of down markets or decreased demand. Offensive change when the company is doing well is a whole lot easier to manage than defensive change.
With this sentiment, I am not suggesting that you overhaul your business entirely change your mission, vision, and values or abandon your product strategy with every minor bump in the road. I am suggesting, however, that the best companies the ones that experience exceptional long-term success are able to quickly recognise the need to change and make the tweaks necessary to help their business continue its growth trajectory.

Here are three tips that can help the journey of change easier:

  • Top down support from the CEO level down to the senior executives below the CEO is what ultimately drives successful change. When the changes are major, you need to create a burning platform scenario that will encourage a sense of urgency.
  • Clear, consistent, and transparent communication by all executives is critical to explain why the change is necessary. Throughout the change process, it’s important to regularly and clearly communicate the reasons for change and reinforce that message to your team so they understand why you’re taking the hill in front of you.
  • Quickly identify the senior team members who don’t buy in and encourage and support them to leave the company if they refuse to embrace change. This means you may lose some very good people who helped you get to where you are, but those people won’t be as valuable going forward if they aren’t willing to help you get to where you need to be.

Final thought on the subject – business is a little like the growth rings on a tree. Every year, something changes it could be your product, your top competitors, your customers’ preferences, or any number of things. The best companies adapt to those changes, reinvent themselves when change requires it, and find a way to grow – in good times and bad.

Successful organisations foster a positive attitude toward change by anticipating it and purposefully planning for change. Change must be addressed in an intentional, goal-oriented manner. Change is something that people should do, not something that is done to them. People are more comfortable with change when they participate in planning for or implementing it because they gain some sense of control which reduces their fears.

As George Soros once said:

‘Market fundamentalists recognize that the role of the state in the economy is always disruptive, inefficient, and generally has negative connotations. This leads them to believe that the market mechanism can take care of all the problems.’

Why Leadership Matters

As all leaders experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, you will know you have been tested in ways that you never expected. And yet, somehow, we all prevail. Despite the frustrations, anger and fear, you will have learned a lot about yourself. You will be be forced to recognise your own weaknesses and eccentricities, and discover reserves of strength that you had not known existed. In the process, you will become less judgmental and more accepting of yourself and of others.

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. You will learn that overcoming adversity is what brings the most satisfaction, and that achievements are made more meaningful by the struggle it took to achieve them.
Leadership will conquer, the most profound truth of your individual journey’s. Courage, drive, determination, resilience, imagination, energy and the right team, you will find success.
Winston Churchill once said:

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

A single brain sometimes cannot take decisions alone. One needs the assistance and guidance of others as well to accomplish the tasks within the desired time frame. In a team, every member contributes to his level best to achieve the assigned targets. The team members must be compatible with each other to avoid unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings.

Every team should have a team leader who can hold their team together and extract the best out of the team members. The team leader should be such that every individual draw inspiration from them and seek their advice and guidance whenever required. A leader should be a role model for his team members and a great mentor.

I had the pleasure of meeting Brendan Hall for lunch recently – he led the Spirit of Australia crew to overall victory in the Clipper 2009-10 Race, when aged 28. It was the second of three times the trophy has gone to an Australian team.

Recruiter 360 TV – Brendan Hall, Author of “Team Spirit” and winning Clipper round the world captain

Following the win, Brendan wrote the book “Team Spirit”, based on his race insights into the teamwork, leadership, skill, courage and focus required for performance.

Talking to Brendan he discussed how his team had just faced the ultimate challenge and one that they could never have been prepared for but circumstances dictated that they sail across the world’s largest ocean at a particularly fearsome time of year, on their own.

‘They had pulled together in the true sense of teamwork, and kept each other safe.’ ‘I feel it was their greatest achievement, and it was mine by association as I had got them to the point where they could take on that challenge. Ultimately that experience and those qualities led to our overall result.’

His crew were the same raw materials that every other boat had. They had characters and influential people and its leaders, together they made a great leadership team. The approach Brendan took was to empower everybody throughout the race and the goal was to get to a point where Brendan was redundant on deck and he could concentrate on everything else, the weather routing and the navigation.

A true team leader plays an important role in guiding the team members and motivating them to stay focused. One who sets a goal and objective for the team. Every team is formed for a purpose.
The leader alone should not set the goal, suggestions should be invited from one and all and issues must be discussed on an open forum. He must make his team members well aware of their roles and responsibilities. He must understand his team members well. The duties and responsibilities must be assigned as per their interest and specialization for them to accept the challenge willingly.

Never impose things on them.
Encourage the team members to help each other. Create a positive ambience at the workplace. Avoid playing politics or provoking individuals to fight. Make sure that the team members do not fight among themselves. In case of a conflict, don’t add fuel to the fire, rather try to resolve the fight immediately. Listen to both the parties before coming to any conclusion. Try to come to an alternative feasible for all.

The following 5 reasons summarise the importance of teamwork and why it matters:

Teamwork motivates unity in the workplace
A teamwork environment promotes an atmosphere that fosters friendship and loyalty. These close-knit relationships motivate employees in parallel and align them to work harder, cooperate and be supportive of one another.

Individuals possess diverse talents, weaknesses, communication skills, strengths, and habits. Therefore, when a teamwork environment is not encouraged this can pose many challenges towards achieving the overall goals and objectives. This creates an environment where employees become focused on promoting their own achievements and competing against their fellow colleagues. Ultimately, this can lead to an unhealthy and inefficient working environment.
When teamwork is working the whole team would be motivated and working toward the same goal in harmony.

Teamwork offers differing perspectives and feedback
Good teamwork structures provide your organization with a diversity of thought, creativity, perspectives, opportunities, and problem-solving approaches. A proper team environment allows individuals to brainstorm collectively, which in turn increases their success to problem solve and arrive at solutions more efficiently and effectively.

Effective teams also allow the initiative to innovate, in turn creating a competitive edge to accomplish goals and objectives. Sharing differing opinions and experiences strengthens accountability and can help make effective decisions faster, than when done alone.

Team effort increases output by having quick feedback and multiple sets of skills come into play to support your work. You can do the stages of designing, planning, and implementation much more efficiently when a team is functioning well.

Teamwork provides improved efficiency and productivity
When incorporating teamwork strategies, you become more efficient and productive. This is because it allows the workload to be shared, reducing the pressure on individuals, and ensure tasks are completed within a set time frame. It also allows goals to be more attainable, enhances the optimization of performance, improves job satisfaction and increases work pace.

Ultimately, when a group of individuals works together, compared to one person working alone, they promote a more efficient work output and are able to complete tasks faster due to many minds intertwined on the same goals and objectives of the business.

Teamwork provides great learning opportunities
Working in a team enables us to learn from one another’s mistakes. You are able to avoid future errors, gain insight from differing perspectives, and learn new concepts from more experienced colleagues.

In addition, individuals can expand their skill sets, discover fresh ideas from newer colleagues and therefore ascertain more effective approaches and solutions towards the tasks at hand. This active engagement generates the future articulation, encouragement and innovative capacity to problem solve and generate ideas more effectively and efficiently.

Teamwork promotes workplace synergy
Mutual support shared goals, cooperation and encouragement provide workplace synergy. With this, team members are able to feel a greater sense of accomplishment, are collectively responsible for outcomes achieved and feed individuals with the incentive to perform at higher levels.

When team members are aware of their own responsibilities and roles, as well as the significance of their output being relied upon by the rest of their team, team members will be driven to share the same vision, values, and goals. The result creates a workplace environment based on fellowship, trust, support, respect, and cooperation.

Final thoughts
Leadership is a necessary element to promoting teamwork in an organisation. When leaders are great, there is a lot of positive teamwork and many benefits. However, when leaders are poor there can be negative consequences that are completely opposite to the benefits of teamwork.

In business, leaders have the responsibility to do what they reasonably can to promote a good team environment. Practicing team-oriented leadership strategies can do a lot to usher in a sense of teamwork among professional team members. It is up to the leaders to make sure teams are functioning to their highest capacity. Although it sounds like a large responsibility, the benefits of promoting teamwork are incredible!

Henry Ford once said:

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right. Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

Have we forgotten leadership and the foundation of business planning?

One of the questions I hear frequently from emerging and current leaders is this one: “How has leadership changed from 10 years ago and what do I need to understand about running a successful enterprise that I don’t know today?”

Well the reason is simple: only 14 Percent of CEOs Have the Leadership Talent to Execute Their Strategy.

The data in Global Leadership Forecast 2018 shows that organisations with effective leadership talent outperform their peers. Yet very few organizations manage this high-value asset in an integrated, cohesive way.
Even after spending more than $50 billion annually* on developing their leaders, many companies still don’t have the bench strength to meet their future business goals. And despite the spending, investments are often fragmented and see a lack of returns.
Leadership models and development programs abound; few ties to business goals. Worse yet, there’s scant evidence that they actually work. What’s needed is a coherent, integrated leadership strategy.
A well-crafted blueprint ensures that companies have the right talent, at the right cost, and with the right capabilities to deliver today and into the future. Yet, this report found less than one-third of the HR professionals surveyed feel their organisations have an effective leadership strategy. Companies that do have such strategies in place report better returns on their investment in talent. They consistently feature deeper leader bench strength and stronger leaders at all levels.

Many leaders are living under an identity crisis. They are uncertain about how to lead in a more diverse, transient, multigenerational environment that requires them to embrace diversity of thought – and they fail to see the potential opportunities this represents to both workplace and marketplace success.

When leaders become too comfortable with a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, they conversely become uncomfortable with the uncertainty and change that more successful leaders embrace as part of the job. Complacent leaders are at risk of becoming irrelevant because they are unable or unwilling to course correct their style, approach and attitude to the environment of change they must lead through.

Leaders fail in their primary role and responsibility of enabling the full potential in people and the business they serve because they don’t know the difference between substitution and evolution. Instead of leading the organization and its people to continually evolve, they get stuck in a cycle of complacency and the substitution of activities associated with it. As a result, the company cannot grow or its growth cannot be sustained.

The result is a major shortfall in competent, clued up global leaders.

According to a 2017 report by Price Waterhouse Coopers, 75 percent of hiring managers believe leadership skills are hard to find in new recruits. And a Deloitte study found a whopping 87 percent of companies aren’t effective at building global leaders.

What could be more vital to a company’s long-term health than the choice and cultivation of its future leaders? And yet, while companies maintain meticulous lists of candidates who could at a moment’s notice step into the shoes of a key executive, an alarming number of newly minted leaders fail spectacularly, ill prepared to do the jobs for which they supposedly have been groomed.

Look at Coca-Cola’s M. Douglas Ivester, longtime CFO and Robert Goizueta’s second in command, who became CEO after Goizueta’s death. Ivester was forced to resign in two and a half years, thanks to a serious slide in the company’s share price, some bad public-relations moves, and the poor handling of a product contamination scare in Europe.

Or consider Mattel’s Jill Barad, whose winning track record in marketing catapulted her into the top job—but didn’t give her insight into the financial and strategic aspects of running a large corporation.

Ivester and Barad failed, in part, because although each was accomplished in at least one area of management, neither had mastered more general competencies such as public relations, designing and managing acquisitions, building consensus, and supporting multiple constituencies. They’re not alone. The problem is not just that the shoes of the departed are too big; it’s that succession planning, as traditionally conceived and executed, is too narrow and hidebound to uncover and correct skill gaps that can derail even the most promising young executives.

However, Harvard Business School released some research into the factors that contribute to a leader’s success or failure, the findings found that certain companies do succeed in developing deep and enduring bench strength by approaching succession planning as more than the mechanical process of updating a list. Indeed, they’ve combined two practices: succession planning and leadership development, to create a long-term process for managing the talent roster across their organisations. In most companies, the two practices reside in separate functional silos, but they are natural allies because they share a vital and fundamental goal: getting the right skills in the right place.

A final thought: to succeed in the 21st century workplace and marketplace, leaders must come out from under their identity crisis and embrace diversity of thought so that those they lead can overcome their own identity crises and reach their full potential. They must embrace risk and change as opportunities that others may fail to see as such. And they especially must understand the difference between substitution and evolution: one leads to the trap of complacency, the other leads to a path of growth and continued success. In the end, the wise leader knows their subject matter expertise and specifically what their leadership (identity) solves for – in support of the organisation’s evolution.

Perhaps the underlying lesson is that good succession management is possible only in an organisational culture that encourages candor and risk taking at the executive level. It depends on a willingness to differentiate individual performance and a corporate culture in which the truth is valued more than politeness.

A.P. J. Abdul Kalam once said:

“When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realise that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.”

Guest-blog: Roger Phare – A Nod to the NED – the key dynamic of the modern board

We welcome back Roger Phare as our guest blogger, who is an accomplished Global Executive Director, equipped with a commanding track record over the past 37 years of bringing sound judgement and a strong commercial perspective to IT businesses, from ‘Mainframe to Mobile’.

Roger has been fortunate to have been part of the commercial computing lifespan. With a market driven approach, which he has strategically supported, a number of organisations, both at significant Board, Executive and Regional Directorship and responsibilities. An expert in corporate governance and compliance and risk management; enjoying challenging the status quo and providing independent advice to Boards whilst maintaining sound judgment, impartiality and with integrity.

In the third of this series (view Part I and Part II ), we are going to look at the role of the Non-Executive Director (“NED”), which is a highly debated subject in today’s modern board.

To provide some background, before I hand you over to Roger, as an Independent Non-Executive Director and Executive Adviser on several companies, I talk with experience across the list of attributes required of a non-executive director, which is so long, precise and contradictory that there cannot be a single board member in the world who fully fits the criteria.

They need to be: supportive, intelligent, interesting, well-rounded and mature, funny, entrepreneurial, steady, objective yet passionate, independent, curious, challenging, and more. They also need to have a financial background and real-life business experience, a strong moral compass, and be first class all-rounders with specific industry skills.

Chairmen and chief executives should use their NEDs to provide general counsel – and a different perspective – on matters of concern. They should also seek their guidance on particular issues before they are raised at board meetings.
Indeed, some of the main specialist roles of a non-executive director will be carried out in a board sub-committee (particularly the remuneration and audit committees), especially in listed companies.

The key responsibilities of NEDs can be said to include the following:
Strategic direction
As ‘an outsider’, the non-executive director may have a clearer or wider view of external factors affecting the company and its business environment than the executive directors.
The normal role of the NED in strategy formation is therefore to provide a creative and informed contribution and to act as a constructive critic in looking at the objectives and plans devised by the chief executive and the executive team.

Monitoring performance
Non-executive directors should take responsibility for monitoring the performance of executive management, especially with regard to the progress made towards achieving the determined company strategy and objectives. They have a prime role in appointing, and where necessary removing, executive directors and in succession planning.

Remuneration
Non-executive directors are also responsible for determining appropriate levels of remuneration of executive directors. In large companies this is carried out by a remuneration committee, the objective of which is to ensure there is an independent process for setting the remuneration of executive directors.

Communication
The company and its board can benefit from outside contacts and opinions. An important function for NEDs, therefore, can be to help connect the business and board with networks of potentially useful people and organisations. In some cases, an NED will be called upon to represent the company externally.

Risk
NEDs should satisfy themselves on the integrity of financial information and that financial controls and systems of risk management are robust and defensible.

Audit
It is the duty of the whole board to ensure that the company accounts properly to its shareholders by presenting a true and fair reflection of its actions and financial performance and that the necessary internal control systems are put into place and monitored regularly and rigorously.
An NED has an important part to play in fulfilling this responsibility, whether or not a formal audit committee (composed of NEDs) of the board has been constituted.

Now I would like to hand over to Roger!

Thank you Geoff, today I would like to discuss the role and ‘A Nod to the NED – the key dynamic of the modern board’.

Of all the Board positions the Non-Executive Director (NED) role is undoubtedly the most confusing. Not so much as to the expected outcomes of growth, compliance, shareholder returns and social responsibility but more as to the background and dynamics of the modern NED.

Why confusing?

Surely the NED role is the most historically formulated, culturally cultivated and legislatively defined of all board member roles.

Yet instead of being well defined and well-structured the NED requirement seems to be all over the place.

Part of the issue is that demand has rapidly increased due to factors such as legislation, compliance and business growth. This has spread the net further afield and created a demand over and above the previous norm.

The result of this demand there has seen “NED Membership” organisations springing up. I recently read as part of a membership promotion the following excerpt:

“If you have the right amount of experience to offer, you could become a Non-Executive Director. This could be an especially good option if you are approaching retirement because it can be a useful way to earn money without the pressures of being involved in the day-to-day decision making of a business.”

Whoa! This conjures up images of geriatric un-prepared old-boys rolling up for a four-hour board meeting; pontificating and story-telling before retiring to their local club for a large brandy and an afternoon nap in a dark leather padded armchair!

Nothing could be further from the truth for the modern NED. Guidance around “day to day” decision making is a critical part of the NED role. Four hours in the Boardroom can equate to four days spread pre and post meeting guiding and assisting the CEO & executive team. It is serious business.

A related problem is that somehow a “one size fits all” approach to NED requirements has become the prevailing attitude. Other than “Chair” type roles it seems that there is little demarcation in the nature of the role nor organisation in which the NED is required.

Contributing to this is the definition of organisation types. Most understand the concept of listed or private organisations and the duties, responsibilities and remuneration levels required by and from the NED’s. When community organisations are brought into the mix then things really go off the rails.

It starts with the concept of “Not for Profit”, equating with the concept that NED roles being “Volunteer”. To start with, Not for Profit organisations should be re-branded “Not for Dividend”. In other words, they need to be governed and run the same way commercial organisations operate with a view to making a surplus; the only difference is that those surpluses are distributed to beneficiaries rather than shareholders.

This topic is probably the subject of a whole new thread but the point is that community organisations need directors with the same level of skill and due diligence as those in the commercial world.
The question is when an ad appears that asks for applications for a NED “Volunteer, expenses only”, who is going to apply?
Yes, there is a small percentage of experienced and talented individuals who are prepared to provide their time on a “pro bono” basis and these people are to be commended. Simply having time on one’s hands and looking for an activity is not necessarily a qualification for a board position.
Even worse, to a degree, is the concept of applying for volunteer positions to “gain experience” as a Board member. This can lead to frustration and disappointment for all parties.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Demand for high quality Non-Executive Directors is increasing and it is generally acknowledged that the keys to success are the right recruitment, support, training and ongoing engagement. With these factors in place, NED’s can add significant value to all types and size of business.

So, here’s a nod to the new breed NED – exciting times ahead!

Roger Phare

You can contact Roger Phare via LinkedIn: Roger Phare on LinkedIn
or by email:
roger phare @ gmail .com
(remove all spaces)

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?

Regenerative Capitalism is an alternative framework for capitalism that embodies a deeper purpose than merely optimising financial returns, with the goal of promoting the long-term health and well-being of our human communities and the planet.
Aligned with our latest understanding of how the universe actually works, the collaboratively created framework illuminates eight key principles backed by solid science and transdiciplinary scholarship.

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


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.”

Guest-blog: Roger Phare – The Jekyll, Hyde and The Executive Director

Roger Phare

As an executive director, how do you powerfully lead your organisation through complex challenges? How do you align your organisation, staff, and board around impact and achieve financial sustainability? As daunting as these questions can seem, they are fundamental executive leadership responsibilities.

In spite of its institutional power, the position of an Executive Director remains an immensely demanding one, and not one that any qualified and capable man or woman will agree to lightly.

We welcome back Roger Phare as our guest blogger who is an accomplished Global Executive Director, equipped with a commanding track record over the past 37 years of bringing sound judgement and a strong commercial perspective to IT businesses, from ‘Mainframe to Mobile’. Roger have been fortunate to have been part of the commercial computing lifespan. With a market driven approach, which he has strategically supported, a number of organisations, both at significant Board, Executive and Regional Directorship and responsibilities. An expert in corporate governance and compliance and risk management; enjoying challenging the status quo and providing independent advice to Boards whilst maintaining sound judgment, impartiality and with integrity.

Roger is going to talk to us about ‘Jekyll, Hyde Associates and the Executive Director’

Thank you Geoff, today I would like to discuss the role of the Executive Director, which can arguably be the most individually challenging and changeable of all Board roles. Not that the responsibilities are any greater or less than Non- Executive counterparts, yet the concept of disassociating the “day job” with the Board role can be tricky and take some fortitude. The Executive director must possess or develop the ability to perform separate roles with separate mindsets; a veritable Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (and maybe other) set of personas.

The majority of companies start from small beginnings. Friends, family or work colleagues decide to set up in business and likely form a limited liability company. Almost invariably they become shareholders, directors and employees overnight. Generally there will be a leader; a chief executive who, more often than not, will also be elected chairman of the board. The other board members are often generalists, providing input based upon their work role experience.

Confusion can set in as the company grows and more employees are taken on board. This is where the understanding of role demarcation is vital. I recall being an executive director on the board of a growing company some years ago when one of my colleagues, who was head of the technical department as well as an executive director/shareholder, threatened to fire the receptionist for an indiscretion.
The receptionist did not report to this individual but his view was that as a major shareholder and director he had the over-riding power and right to make such decisions. He clearly had confused the roles, effectively merging all three responsibilities into one.

In the board room the need to disassociate the individual roles becomes even more apparent. Recalling that a director’s duty is to represent the medium and long-term interests of the shareholders, the double or triple role can be a major challenge. Let’s say that within a growing goods and services company the head of development, one of the founders and a minority shareholder, also sits on the board as an executive director. As a manager doing his day-to-day job, he has put up a business case to employ a number of new staff members within the development team.

At a board meeting, the annual item regarding profit distribution by way of dividends is discussed. The head of development sees this as an ideal forum to lobby for the approval of the business case. This is not say the overall decision will necessarily be wrong; it is that he has unwittingly brought his managerial role into the boardroom.

Once a company goes public, then the appetite for executive director’s wanes considerably. Most Commonwealth countries operate a unitary system, indicating a balanced mix of executive and non-executive directors. Yet over the past twenty years there has been a push for greater board member independence, with a move towards more non-executive directors. The executive directors are often consigned to the roles of chief executive and possibly head of finance.

Yet are we about to see the return of the executive director on public boards? There is no doubt that the need for up to date subject matter knowledge of industry trends is as much a requirement as expertise around governance and compliance. The need for this has started show itself in the rise of the advisory board; yet this can never replace true in-house expertise.

Perhaps we are about to witness the return of our Henry’s and Edward’s; but this time around improved peer mentoring and coaching maybe the answer.

You can contact Roger Phare via LinkedIn. Roger Phare on LinkedIn or by email: roger phare @ gmail .com (remove all spaces)

Guest-blog: Roger Phare – The qualities and experience needed to getting the right advise on the Board

Roger Phare

In the small business world, there is a lot of talk about whether a company should have a Board of Advisors (Advisory Board), and if yes, what the composition of such a group should be. In my time in the small and medium enterprise (SME) world, I have been exposed to and worked with hundreds of companies, a small percentage of which have had a Board of Advisors. Whether having such an advisory group makes sense depends a lot on the business and more importantly, the CEO and senior management team of the business.

In my opinion and I state this with wisdom, one of the smartest growth initiatives a business owner can implement is an advisory board: a hand-selected group of advisors that believe in your leadership, are aligned with your culture and mission, and are committed to your success.

The vast majority of business owners who implement an advisory board fail to see a strong return on investment because they have not followed guidelines to recruiting the right advisors, and have not set them up for success.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Roger Phare, who is an accomplished Global Executive Director, equipped with a commanding track record over the past 37 years of bringing sound judgement and a strong commercial perspective to IT businesses, from ‘Mainframe to Mobile’. Roger have been fortunate to have been part of the commercial computing lifespan. With a market driven approach, which he has strategically supported, a number of organisations, both at significant Board, Executive and Regional Directorship and responsibilities. An expert in corporate governance and compliance and risk management; enjoying challenging the status quo and providing independent advice to Boards whilst maintaining sound judgment, impartiality and with integrity.

Roger is going to talk to us about the qualities and experience needed to getting the right advise on the Board.

Over recent years we have seen the rise of the Advisory Board concept, a trend that reflects the changing nature of modern organisational leadership and governance. Thinking further on this, the obvious question is why? What has changed in public and private Boardrooms to see such a demand for specialist knowledge and expertise?

The answer perhaps dates back some twenty or even thirty plus years. Up until the late eighties board members generally came with experience related to the company’s market or industry, together with all round leadership and business skills. This had largely been the post war formula, in other words Executive or Non-Executive Directors in 1958 had much the same attributes of those in 1988 – then everything changed.

We had Wall Street, Enron and the Sub-Prime less than twenty years apart. Not co-incidentally, this timeframe was paralleled with the rapid rise of business computing and the internet. Ironically, while technology was an enabler for business growth it became an inhibitor for effective all-round board performance. Directors became much more focussed on financial and legal due diligence as the regulators took control. Boards became largely the keepers of compliance and governance, with their members skilled and qualified in these disciplines. So what happened to the much needed advice in areas such organisational structure and market direction?

Enter the Advisory Board, bringing relevant expertise and experience in key strategic areas.

There is perhaps another reason for the rise of the advisor(s) in the boardroom. Casting the mind back to our pre-1988 Director, past industry experience was a key attribute for the senior board member. Being five to ten years away from a hands-on roles was not a major issue – as business and market fundamentals remained consistent. Today key industries are in rapid growth mode that did not even exist five to ten years ago, with “here and now” expertise required.

So Advisory Boards are most likely here to stay and ideally should complement our incumbent NEDs or Exec Directors; the key is find the right balance and consistency.

You can contact Roger Phare via LinkedIn. Roger Phare on LinkedIn or by email: roger phare @ gmail .com (remove all spaces)