Archive | December 2012

Smart Management!

No, I am not joking.  Besides, I really want to end 2012 with the last post on a high note.

A few recent reports, from different media outlets, on “in-sourcing (and here)” and “octopus management” have highlighted some smart management practices.

Learning from octopus’ decentralized adaptive strategies, such as localized camouflage or ejecting ink, the Department of Defense has reportedly authorized soldiers in Afghanistan to work directly with the locals to determine where IEDs, improvised explosive devices, might be placed.  This is called “Petraeus Doctrine” (some irony here, no?) which has helped reduce the casualty of our soldiers in Afghanistan.  (If you, like me, are now thinking “No shit, Sherlock!” the link does not elaborate on what doctrine preceded the Patraeus Doctrine, but one wonders: Were our troops supposed to ask the Pentagon or State Department where in Afghanistan the IEDs might be placed?)

Octopus vulgaris

Octopus vulgaris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rafe Sagarin, a marine ecologist, proposed that we can learn much from the octopus, and others of nature’s survivors, to fight against terrorists.  By that he meant, while the octopus nervous system is highly centralized and organized, the cells are able to “make local decisions” to meet threats from the environment.  Mr. Sagarin further elaborated some lessons from other natural systems in which many entities have built-in redundancy, not unlike a fail-safe mechanism, to face constant dangers.  Further, in nature, animals don’t “plan, predict, and be perfect;” it’s about using redundant and sometimes expendable parts in order to be flexible.  After all, nature presents unpredictable predicaments; being flexible seems the logical (natural?!) response.  Mr. Sagarin’s assertion seemed counter-intuitive at first, but has gained much traction in the last decade with the DOD.  Thus born the “Petraeus Doctrine.’

The octopus principle is basically “think globally, act locally.”  No amount of strategic planning, however fabulously conceived and written, can quickly defuse a local problem.  Too many corporations and big organizations are obsessed with strategic planning; they spend way too much money and time for very little long-lasting effects.  There is simplicity and beauty in allowing and relying on ground personnel’s local decisions to keep the system moving smoothly.  A prime example is Southwest Airlines’ operations.

"out of box?"

“out of box?”

The “in-sourcing” is based on different principles, but the goal is similar:  Bring about desirable outcomes effectively.  Opposite to the well-deservedly maligned out-sourcing practice for past decade and more, in-sourcing has been picking up some steam across many industries.  It is a welcome “out of box” thinking and practice by some industry giants, such as GE.  I question if the in-sourcing is truly an “out of box” thinking because the outsourcing was never really a convincing and good strategy. If executives had been honest and paid proper attention, they would have come to the realization that “in-sourcing” is more logical.  Be that as it may, it is still a welcome turn around.  Apple recently announced that it’s bringing back some manufacturing to the States.

What these major technology companies have discovered is that for many products that had been outsourced, the costs were actually higher than expected.  Trouble-shooting and corrections require frequent air travel and much cross-cultural misunderstanding, and mistakes are more easily made and more costly to correct than they could be.  What’s fascinating to me is that many managers knew at the time that outsourcing wasn’t really an optimal strategy, but since everyone else was doing it, they had to.  It’s the herd mentality.  It also illustrates the inevitable damage resulting from competitive thinking and posturing without understanding.  And I am still baffled why, when facing competition, many organizations opt for the strategy of copying what their competitors do – how is there strategic advantage in doing this?

As technology companies began to grasp the hidden costs of outsourcing, they started to revive many of their former production facilities in the States.  In the current “in-sourcing” thinking, there is much more smooth communication, from design, engineering, manufacturing process, to finished products.  And given the rapid innovative changes taking place these days, a product’s relevance may last only a few years.  Thus, it would be much more economical to do all the work in the States.  The ever-increasing cost of shipping (fuel prices) has been an important contributing factor as well.

Garment industry isn’t likely to follow this trend though.  There is little innovation involved.  Irreparable mistakes (What would they be: Wrong colors? Different buttons?) don’t really require frequent flying between design houses in the States or Europe and the production sites in Asia.

What is the link between octopus management and in-sourcing management?  It lies in this fundamental philosophy:  When one is willing to relinquish power and top-down control, the possibilities flow readily.  And when the top managers are willing to listen to the ideas of people on the ground, all kinds of learning can take place.

I am once again reminded of Dan Pink’s TED talk – where he highlighted so well what motivates people:  Autonomy.  Mastery. Purpose.  

Let’s hope for more success stories in 2013.

Have a great holiday!  I will resume 1/6/2013.  Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:

I Am Flummoxed!

I just wanted to find a way to use “flummoxed.”  One story and one news item put me in this state.

Here is the story:  Lynn Harrell, an internationally renowned cellist, found himself banned by Delta Airlines for violating their Frequent Flyer Program terms.  Travel is always a tricky venture for musicians who play large instruments, especially by plane.  How many of us would trust the airlines these days to check in our luggage that contains our livelihood? So, Mr. Harrell has for years been buying a full-price ticket for his cello, and registered “Mr. Cello” with the FFP.  Turns out one is not allowed to use accrued mileage points for musical instruments, even though the ticket is fully paid by a human.

11 years after Mr. Harrell had been using Mr. Cello’s mileage points for the cello, he got the “Dear John” letter.  Not only he was admonished for this “criminal” practice, but Delta also cancelled Mr. Harrell’s membership as well, and reneged on all his accumulated points.  Further, Mr. Harrell was never to be admitted into the program again.

Would Delta have responded in this way to Mr. Yo Yo Ma?

English: The Photo Shows Proper Bow Placement ...

English: The Photo Shows Proper Bow Placement for the Cello (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to a reader’s response to Mr. Harrell’s blog post of this story, this reader managed to “reason” with Delta Airlines and was granted “special” status for the reader’s cello.  The reader is to contact Delta directly every time he needs to fly with his instrument.

Why?  What is the purpose, and what value does it bring, making it more difficult than necessary for customers to buy your product?  If we humans pay full price for that which accompanies us, be it another human, an animal, a large instrument or other object, what’s that to the airlines? What am I missing?!

The news item is about Egypt, or, more specifically, about President Morsi.  I would love to examine the thought process of President Morsi, but it may not yield much enlightenment.

Egypt’s spring revolution that brought down Mubarak was truly inspirational at the time.  Growing a new democracy is a messy affair; a lot of patience and a lot of trial-and-error are required.  A leader in such a situation needs to be well educated and well informed, in addition to being able to lead.  Mr. Morsi is an educated man, but…

A professor friend once said, “You cannot right the wrong if you don’t have the right template.”  For example, at a personal level, we see quite often that first-born children tend to repeat the same pattern of marriage as their parents’.  But in the case of national politics? Mr. Morsi has plenty of examples from which to take positive lessons and create a viable model for Egypt, if he wants to.  So why follow the example of his disgraced predecessor?  Accruing more power for himself is not the way to go about building a democracy.  And as of this weekend, he is on the verge of declaring martial law, backed by the same military power that supported Mr. Mubarak.  If Mr. Morsi continues to insist it’s all the fault of the protestors and opposition, then he may soon find himself in the company of Syrian’s beleaguered leader, Bashar al-Assad.

But ultimately, why?  What is it with clueless people occupying the top tier of an organization/society?  Oh, I guess I can make several educated guesses, but the answers I am searching for are:  What could Mr. Morsi have done differently, and why didn’t he do it?  My usual suggestion of “talking with and listening to the lower ranks” seems so obvious yet so pedantic.  I am flummoxed.

Do you have explanations and suggestions?

This is the penultimate post of 2012.  Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:

Positive Talk, Positive Action, Positive Mantra, or Positive Stories

I am impatient with motivational speeches, especially the expensive ones.  (Are there cheap motivational speeches?)  I am also weary of self-help type/hype, with “I am worth it,” or, “I am special…I can do it” chanting.  After all that pumping, we are lucky to get a little bubble of satisfaction that might last a day.  So, I resonated with what Oliver Burkeman, journalist/author, said in his NPR interview:  Positive thinking can actually be counterproductive.  The more one wants to avoid negative images, the more one goes there.  Forced positive words are contrite and become obstacles instead.  The interview was about his book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.  Indeed, positive thinking is not equal to happiness, though they maybe highly correlated.

I thoroughly enjoy www.despair.coms irreverent anti-motivational sayings, always under awesome poster images.  For example, “Believe in Yourself because the rest of us think you are an idiot,” is placed under the poster image of a lone kayak, in frothy water, about to go over the edge of a huge waterfall.  Under a picture of molten lava devouring a highway, “Obstacles:  Some things cannot be overcome with determination and a positive attitude.” Or, “If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you…” against a beautiful image of sunset by a pebbled beach with trees and rocks.


procrastination (Photo credit: Mickie Quick)

So, how does such an attitude square with my advocacy for Appreciate Inquiry (AI) in which one focuses on positive stories and uses them as the foundation to build…an organization, a personal career, a stronger relationship, etc.?  The key lies in “stories,” which are based on past activities and realities.  However skewed our memories might be, there was still a general outline, process, or principle by which we accomplished something.  While we cannot recreate the last success, we can build on that.  As I have repeatedly mentioned in this blog, AI isn’t the Pollyanna make-believe where failures or shortcomings aren’t allowed; it is not wishful thinking.  The “I am great; I can do it; I am special” positive mantra is, just that, words.  Appreciative Inquiry is based on actions, and the thinking is in abundancy mode.

I actually have personally experienced a few self-discovery/help workshops, usually resisting every step of the way, till I found my own path and voice.  However, I have had enough sociology and psychology to recognize principles and lessons that would benefit me.  The key always lies in the process of my own journey, if and when I was willing.  The journey was never created by the facilitator’s words nor mine; I had to walk through it.  So, once again, it’s about our own experience and action, and therefore our own story.  There are no shortcuts.  Yet, inevitably, at most such workshops, there are moments when the facilitator gets people all roused up with mantras.  (This was my cue to go to the loo if I could escape; most likely though, I wasn’t allowed to.  So, I did my low-voice perfunctory rah-rah.)

While I embrace Appreciative Inquiry principles and generally prefer approaching work and life from abundancy mode rather than deficit mode, this does not mean that I don’t allow “failure” or “impossible” in my vocabulary.  There are valuable lessons from “failures;” without them, we may never learn the next steps, understand humility, or grasp the depth of our resilience.  I do use “impossible” sparingly; the word tends to kill off all future dialogue.  On the fifth hand, I’ve known people who would silently take “impossible” as an opening for challenge.  The person saying “impossible” is in deficit mode while the person taking it as a challenge is in abundancy frame.

What’s your modus operandi?

Till the next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:

copyright taso100 © 2010 – 2015 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent