Tag Archives: military

Geographically Embarrassed Businesses

Geographically Embarrassed. Its a euphemism for being lost. Whenever you go wandering about in the bush on an Army exercise, individuals or groups are sure to get lost. In my my experience, the first assumption made when you realise you are lost is that the map was wrong. Unfortunately it almost never is.

The army of course knows people will get lost, so it gives them tools to figure out where they are. And no I’m not talking about GPS. The problem with GPS is that they need batteries, can break and don’t always work properly.

One of the first things young soldiers learn about navigating (apart from reading a map and using a compass) is how to conduct a resection. Effectively what you do is:
1. Look around for 3 major features (eg hills).
2. Find them on your map.
3. Use your compass to get a bearing to each of the features.
4. Draw that bearing on your map, making the line go through the feature.
5. You should have 3 lines on your map that (depending on your accuracy) create a small triangle.
6. Unless you have buggered things up, you are in the centre of the triangle.

“But” I here you say, “So What?”. Well navigating from point A. to Point B. in the bush is not that dissimilar from getting your business from point A. to point B. You start off with a well thought through plan, that normally begins to fall apart as soon as you move. The terrain isn’t how you expected it to be, holes in you plan become gaping chasm’s, people in your team have their own agendas and if you end up running into a little bit of competition, all bets are off.

So one of the things that I regularly see in both businesses that I am an investor in, and my clients –  is a business plan that regularly mutates to suit the current situation . This always seem rational at that moment in time and is described as a benefit “We are dynamic and not a moribund corporate, we are constantly changing to market conditions”. Unfortunately, like the dodgy map, its not just not true .

Its very hard in startups and SOHO firms to have strong management and governance but I suggest that in monthly management meetings, a resection is conducted. Take 3 of your KPI’s for the year, metaphorically draw a line back to where you are and figure out whether you are still on track. Which KPIs should you pick? Material ones of course – large &  drivers of your business,  the ones that matter. This is normally around Customer acquisition, Revenue and Cashflow management.

If your not where you expected to be, don’t change your plan, change your actions to get yourself back on track. Your map is almost never wrong.

Getting more done in lean times

Last week I wrote an email that started off with “Sorry I’ve taken a while to get back to you, I have been swamped lately”.  Not the first time I have written those words lately, and I don’t reckon I’m an orphan either.  Because the GFC, like any garden variety recession, always seem to end up with you needing to get more done with less resources.

This isn’t news to most people, but the fact that there are courses you can do to make yourself more effective might be.  If you look up “Getting Things Done” on Google, there is a vast number of resources, courses, tools and plenty of philosophies.  Unfortunately I don’t really know much about them.  I do however have plenty of experience with how the Australian military gets more things done, so I thought I’d share some of them. Continue reading Getting more done in lean times

Failing or Flailing?

In the late 80’s when I was training to be an Army Reserve Officer, one of the major training (and leadership development) techniques that had a major impact on me was ownership of failure.  If you taught a lesson and more than a handful of people failed the quick test at the end, then you the instructor failed.  If your team was depressed, your fault, if they got hurt or “killed” it was your fault.  From the smallest mishap to the greatest catastrophe, you owned the problem.

All this failure from a training point of view was massively useful.  It let you gain an intimate understanding of why successful strategies or tactics worked, and how to execute on them seamlessly.

From my point of view, this focus on failure worked because of two major reasons.
1.    The objective you were trying to achieve was tightly defined, and therefore the failures had enormous learning value.
2.    There was a culture that accepted, and valued, failure in training as the pathway to sustainable success.

Interestingly, I have recently discovered a connection between the military and creativity.

Preparing for the upcoming Churchill Club Panel on Creativity , I have been reading a book by Nadja Schnetzler called the Idea Machine : How to Produce Ideas Industrially . Nadia runs a Swiss business called The Brain Store which was founded in 1989.  Nadja’s business focuses on the industrial production of ideas, and has a premium client list in Europe and the USA.

Anyway, an area that Nadja discusses early on is failure.  The Brain store has a culture that accepts failure on the path to success, and in fact sees it as necessary and highly valuable.  The key for them is to tightly describe the question before they start generating ideas to solve it.  This ensures that that every single failure has value when reviewed.  The result of the study of what went wrong leads to the development of the world beating idea (rather than mediocrity).

The process of tightly describing the question is so important that they have set up a business offering just to train staff!  They have a shop front service that allows people on the street to come in and get great ideas for a token fee.  Eg. A guy comes in and asks “What shall I buy my girlfriend for her Birthday?”.  This then gets improved into something that includes pricing information, her interests, what she hates, what you have purchased in the past and what would really excite her.  All this and more before the ideas flow.

Nadja describes the process as the difference between failing and flailing.  Failure is good, but when you regularly fail, don’t learn from it and are not sure where you are going, you are just flailing about.  I’m sure the Army would agree.

Just too bad that 95% of people I meet in business would rather eat worms than accept they may be responsible for a failure and get value from it.