An evening with Mark

A great wine!
A great wine!

My recent visit to Oregon became even more interesting when Mark and his wife Jackie introduced me to their wine cellar and the local Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties used for making wine. Ancient Romans knew this grape as Helvenacia Minor and vinified it as early as the first century AD. It is recognized worldwide as a great wine grape.

We visited several vineyards whilst in Oregon, in particular the Abecela vineyard which is renowned for winning gold awards for its wine. It was clear that Pinot Noir is also one of the more difficult wines to ferment. Partly due to the presence of 18 amino acids, which are naturally balanced in this variety, Pinot Noir ferments violently, often “boiling” up and out of its container, speeding the process out of control.

Colour retention is a major problem for the thin-skinned berries. Pinot is very prone to acetification and often loses the sometimes promising aromas and flavours it seems to display through fermentation and aging, as soon as it is bottled.

There is one part in which Pinot Noir seems naturally quite rich, three to four times higher compared to other varieties, especially when it is grown in cooler and more humid climates: resveratrol. While this may not affect the aspects of sensory enjoyment, it may draw the attention of health-conscious consumers.

Great wine, great company!
Great wine, great company!

Apart from enjoying Mark’s and Jackie’s amazing company in the beauty of Oregon, I could not help but think about the wine process which lead me on to the process of ideas, preparation, design and development, implementation and execution of a strategic plan.

The very nature of adverse variables in a the execution and delivery of a good wine is very similar to that of a new product or business. There is an entrepreneurial quote by Eric Ries that states “I would say, as an entrepreneur everything you do – every action you take in product development, in marketing, every conversation you have, everything you do – is an experiment. If you can conceptualize your work not as building features, not as launching campaigns, but as running experiments, you can get radically more done with less effort.”

Which lead me on to a more meaningful discussion around strategic planning and why you need a strategic plan.

Developing strategy takes time and resources. It requires the time and commitment of some of the most highly paid and highly experienced people in your organisation. So, if your team is not willing to invest what is needed, I recommend that you do not do it. Poor planning is often worse than no planning at all.

So, why do you need a strategy?

Why take time for planning?

Just like a great wine, strategic planning takes time, energy, and a focused effort to coordinate the actions of people and groups whether their number is 5, 50, 500, or 1,500. The ultimate goal for a strategic plan is to enable your team to focus on a small set of desirable, clearly articulated outcomes to produce desired results. After all, if the team doesn’t know the vision or direction, how can they stay engaged?

Entrepreneurs don’t usually start out with strategic plans because their internal drive for success is so powerful, so compelling, and so motivating. It’s usually everyone else who needs the plan. But make no mistake, leaders benefits from having a carefully crafted plan as well. Strategic planning with the major decision makers and managers in your company allows an entrepreneur – even one who has never needed a strategic plan before – to gain the following benefits:

  • New insights from other peoples’ perspectives
  • Identification of the challenges as your best thinkers see them
  • New ways of thinking about old problems
  • Alternatives beyond the resources the entrepreneur has traditionally brought to bear
  • Training benefits. In fact, strategic planning is one of the absolute best training tools for getting next generation family business leaders up to speed
  • Buy-in from others on the team
  • A sharpened focus on critical success factors for pushing the company forward
  • Analysis from others’ perspectives on the feasibilities of new goals and objectives
  • Identification of challenges and barriers

The biggest benefit of strategic planning comes from the actual process itself. It is executing the process which drives everything else; even the final planning document itself is less important than the “all for one, one for all” process of thinking through the strategies.

So just like an excellently fermented Pinot Noir wine, without the plan, engagement, the process and the capital resources, and performance improvement, the chances are it could fail.

An afternoon with Mark

Courtesy SH
Courtesy SH

I recently had the fortune of staying with a good friend and his wife, who is a successful author and entrepreneur living in the Portland area of Oregon, in the United States.

Mark Herbert was a very big inspiration to me when I wrote ‘Freedom After The Sharks’, and a true mentor. Mark is the Senior Principle and Founder of New Paradigms LLC.

During my trip we decided to take a car trip to have lunch in a beautiful coastal town on the West Coast called Florence – Oregon. Florence is a city in Lane County, Oregon in the United States, with a beach resort, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and has a very affluent local community.

Mark has a strong passion for thought leadership, business and fast cars, so we took his Porsche convertible on a very scenic drive to the city of Florence. Admiring the incredible views, we could not help but discuss strategy today. I have always made statement to the fact that ‘strategy has not really changed since the Roman days, but it does seem to get more complex.’ This prompted much discussion around the subject and included some very interesting insights from one of Mark’s favourite authors Jack Whyte.

You may recall two of Jack Whyte’s more famous quotes; “My admiration for Britannicus grew as I watched the uncomplaining manner in which he accepted the injustice and the inefficiency and inconvenience being heaped upon him by incompetent superiors” and “ What is honor – I suspect that if, after reading this book, you were to go and ask the question of your friends and acquaintances, you might experience some difficulty finding someone who could give you, off the cuff, an accurate and adequate definition of honor.

Florence, Oregon by SH
Florence, Oregon by SH

Mark then introduced one of Jack Whyte’s books to me ‘The Singing Sword’ which is book two of The Camulod Chronicles. I could not help but think of the days King Arthur was in power and of Julius Caesar. How were the words honor, integrity, probity, morality and self-sufficiency used then and exactly what can we learn from this era about ethical or moral conduct of a business or operation today.

Do we lack determination, imagination, courage, and passion in today’s business world?

Are we lost in the big data phenomenon and blame/accountability of others?

Do we actually take responsibility of our actions with others?

How is this effecting the way we behave , our conduct, and more importantly the outcomes?

So as you can imagine this discussion did provoke lateral thinking around our experiences and learnings from assignments, when finally we came to historical information vs. historical thought.

Mark stated that there is a great deal of historical knowledge around today. We are awash with books on history, massive biographies, and philosophy on historical figures. Information on history is much broader than ever before, but there is very little historical thought across both spectrums in the business world.

As a famous lord, Lord Acton, once said ‘historical thought is far more important than historical knowledge’. Historical thought is using the lessons of history to understand the present and to make decisions for the future.

Can or should we be using history as an analytical tool and making use of the lessons of history?

If we were to draw lessons from the Roman Empire and experience it in our everyday existence, as human nature never changes, similar circumstances will always produce similar events. Churchill did change history and this should act as a guide and impediment to understanding the present, so that we can change the future.

The questions we should ask ourselves:

  • Do we have the reserves of moral courage that the Romans did to undertake that burden of empire or in business?
  • If we make change, what will be our legacy to the next generation?
  • Are we generous in spirit, determined to leave the world a better place, or are we hoping that an algorithm or technology is the answer?
  • Should we constantly refer to the Roman era or can we instill the disciplines, teachings, values and techniques that are far more enduring and far better than that of the Roman era?

What do you think?

What are values?

Picture aug 2014I have had some significant meetings recently on and around operational risk, having the fortune to speak with directors about the risks to a business, when interestingly enough the subject moved to conduct risk and the behaviour of staff.

Five years ago if you spoke to most executive boards across the world about operational behaviour or cultural planning or implementation you would probably hear “are these normally reserved for likes of our human resource team”, or “does our brand actually have a vision, mission, values or personality trait.” Generally these discussions are reserved for an alternative agenda, that rarely transpires due to lack of understanding or knowledge in the area of specialism.

As conduct risk and culture are now entering a new era of board discussion and to use it to make a positive change to an organisation, we have to study values. Values are a company’s most important basis for what a company represents, what they want to accomplish, commit to and how they want to behave.

When we live out our values, we commit our actions to the important matters of ethics, integrity belief and commitment. Ideas like “individual character” are built around deeply held values, and the meanings and worldviews associated with them. When we talk about good societies and democratic politics, we’re always talking about culturally held, and shared, values and worldviews.

Worldviews are sets of beliefs about ‘how things work,’ ‘how life is,’ and ‘what’s objectively important in life.’ When we talk about cultural differences across nations (or subculture differences within a country), the core of those differences often grows out of particular values and worldviews held in common within a people, or an ethnic group, not just the way they dress and talk, or quaint customs.

Values are the deepest and slowest-changing indicators we can measure with surveys, and worldviews are almost as deep, while attitudes and opinions are closer to the social surface of life, more superficial, labile and faster to change. Values and worldviews are said to be ‘deeper’ when they are part of who we think we are, are more strongly held, matter more to how we live our lives, and are more a part of our personal ‘systems of meaning and important life priorities’. The more we believe that our ideas, beliefs and opinions are ‘who I am,’ the more tightly we hold onto them.  Not only are they slower to change, but when change comes, it is rather like a ‘conversion experience.’

Values are deeper and slower changing than attitudes and opinions, which change rather fluidly as new information, many aspects of attitudes and opinions are psychological: emotional or cognitive, but they too may be filtered through a heavy cultural framing. The ones that stick become incorporated in worldviews.

So exactly how can culture’ help plan and shape a company to improvement and increased performance?

Below is a study from Kotter & Heskett’s Landmark ‘Corporate Culture and Performance,’ Across 207 large U.S. companies in 22 different industries over an Eleven-year period

Kotter & Heskett
Revenue Increase Stock Price Increase Income Increase ROI
Improvement from managing change 166% 74% 1% X%
Improvement from managing culture change 682% 901% 756% X% x2



Are we truly engaging with our relationships?

Connecting RelationshipsI had dinner this week with a good friend of mine in Mayfair – London, who has just been appointed a strategy director for a very large software company when we decided to discuss the subject across people relationships and are we truly engaging with our relationships in this much dominated technology age.

We discussed social media and its engagement with relationships and generally agreed that social media is broadly your choice of tools. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus are most popular and important for relationship building through the use of your brand, context, goals, target audience, etc.

One definition that helps pin it down comes from Taylor Ellwood, author of Understanding the Social in Social Media. He writes:

“When I think about engagement in social media, I think of it as an activity where a person is purposefully choosing to interact with other people. S/he is actively interested in participating in the online community and is also actively interested in helping others out. Engagement then really means developing relationships, sustaining them, and consequently creating an environment where people can trust you enough to want to do business with you.”

More and more, individuals are empowering the use of technology and expect to engage with brands when and how they want; organisations are tasked with encouraging and supporting collaboration for employees, and customers, while keeping an unrelenting focus on user experience. How can they do this, while safeguarding the integrity of both the business and the brand?

It’s a complicated challenge to deliver a personalized and valuable experience – one that is challenging brands to metamorphosis to truly engage with their customers and would-be customers through understanding what they want (through analytics), providing them what they want (through valuable content and storytelling), and when and where they want through a consistent omni-channel brand experience (mobile, Web, and physical).

It means putting people at the center, to create open and authentic ways of engaging with individuals instead of segments or categories. This is possible today like at no other time in history because of the convergence of technologies for social, mobile, cloud, and security. This convergence is giving organizations and brands the means to meet people where they are. It is arming them with the data and the expertise required to personalise every human-to-human interaction. And it is giving them the credibility that is the foundation of trust. In fact, 80 percent of individuals are willing to exchange personal information for a personalized offering (IBM 2013 Annual Report, page 21) with brands they trust to keep their information safe.

The wonders of technology are impressive, it’s true, but in order to effectively engage with people we must look back to some of our intrinsic and ancient human qualities: storytelling, substance, empathy, and the value of specialised skills and talents. All of which is made most daunting to brands by the rapidity of the change and the fact that multiple shifts are occurring simultaneously…and the changes will keep coming!

IBM research shows that there are compelling reasons to foster this cooperation. Outperforming enterprises are 54 percent more likely than underperforming enterprises to collaborate extensively with their customers (see Figure 9). In fact, deep collaboration is a universal ambition: nine out of 10 CxOs foresee doing so in the near future (see Figure 10). (Exploring the Inner Circle: Insights from the Global C-Suite Study, IBM Institute of Business Value 2014.)


Of course, the crucial bridge between the organisation and its customers is the workforce. The ability to engage, develop, recognize, and support employees is essential in the high-stakes battle for customer loyalty. It is these individuals who represent – and effectively are – the organisation’s brand in the market. They interact with customers on a daily basis. It is they who monitor and analyze changes in customer preferences and who develop and maintain the technologies that help connect the physical and digital worlds. This is why a motivated and properly prepared and engaged workforce will be indispensable for success in the customer-activated world.

The exciting future of all of this is that we truly have the opportunity to co-create and innovate as both employees and as customers, allowing us to connect, engage, and collaborate as people – together – to create value and invention.

Available in print September 2014

Geoff SearleMy book “Freedom after the sharks” will be available in print coming September, 2014. The cover is still in preparation. As soon as this is done I will update the blog.

I am very excited about the great reviews that the book has received so far. Here are two examples:

“Discover the secret to succeeding in your business life, 11 Mar 2014
By Stevie Kay

The read of Geoffrey’s experiences is one that we see in SME businesses whether we admit to it or not, the book describes how irrespective of what background or circumstance you can succeed, the question whether you admit to or not is how much do you want to succeed. Life, career and setting up your own business takes courage, guts, drive and determination, a great read for those people in any walk of life considering change or transformation in their life, it delivers the tools, what to do and what not to do, but importantly has a good read to take you on the journey with an inspired ending, highly energized read for the serious entrepreneur.”

“A deeply inspiring read, 2 Mar 2014
By Otto 

With a new author, one never knows what to expect. This is probably one of the most deeply moving books I think I have ever had the pleasure of reading and I have been completely blown away by the incredibly inspiring story contained within. Only half an hour into the story, one begins to connect with the main character Geoffrey in such a way that one is almost moved to tears, knowing all the while that it is a true story. I wanted to scoop the little boy up and take him away from the sorrow that was his childhood after he gets battered again and again. Then there is a beautiful shift and the sad story turns into one of great resolution. I became deeply touched by Geoffrey’s determination to make something of his life and his perseverance throughout the many challenges he faced. As the plot unfolds, a great tale of forgiveness and the strength and freedom that comes from that forgiveness is a great message for us all to take away with us. I don’t usually write reviews for my books but I felt compelled to do so as never before has a book made me want to get up and make the most of my life as Freedom from the Sharks. This is a great read of how the hardships this little boy faced created a role model to inspire us all. A truly great read.”

Check here for more reviews and how to get the print version of my book. And, if you have questions drop me a line in the comment box.

A balanced business

DNA of a business modelThe pursuit of business success often comes at the cost of our personal life. We do not say no to another international trip. We put in the late-night hours to get a proposal just right. And we often throw ourselves into our work to avoid getting close to people or of coping when they disappoint us.

Could it all be different? Can you build a balanced business that leaves room for a personal life? And what if, in this business, you get to work with people who are interested in achieving the same kind of balance?

This thought became my new business philosophy: sharing, encouraging others – and ultimately trust. My mission statement is based on this thinking, philosophy, and discovery.

I started writing my mission statement by exploring my perceptions of various words. For example, I thought that confidence meant having or showing certainty; surety meant having complete trust in someone or something; respect required genuine actions based on loyalty. I considered whether people too often jumped to conclusions, analyzing a person or a situation too quickly and shallowly. Soon I was ready to clearly formulate my thoughts.

Are you ready to write your mission statement? How do you balance your business with your personal life?