Think Sharp: Great Minds Don’t Think Alike

 29th March 2017 by gihan

Every month, I host a “business book club” at my house for a group of 15 people. Each month, we choose a business book – the most recent was Daniel Coyle’s book “The Talent Code” – and discuss it, accompanied by catered food and a few bottles of red wine.

It works extremely well, for two reasons.

First, we have people from diverse professional backgrounds – including mining, aged care, education, the arts, marketing, financial planning, accounting, and IT. We also have diversity in other areas: both men and women, different ages and generations, and from different cultures. We didn’t design it that way, but it’s a big advantage.

Second, we have a clear focus (the book of the month). Our conversation always extends beyond the book itself, but it’s a common starting point for everybody.

The group always generates a variety of interesting insights and new ideas. I always walk away with something new I can apply to my life, and I hope the other participants feel the same way.

I facilitate the meeting, and we capture our thinking in different ways. Last month, we used sticky notes on a whiteboard, like this:

Even if you can’t read the details, I’m sure you can see the variety and breadth of ideas.

This is the core secret to sharp thinking.

Our recipe for success has two ingredients: Diverse backgrounds and a clear focus. That’s the ideal combination for sharp thinking, which leads to innovation.

Combining diversity and focus in this way gives us four options:

All of them have their purpose and use, so let’s explore them in turn …

Similar Backgrounds + Vague Goal = Fixed Thinking

This is the default mode in most workplaces, where people mostly do routine work (and – if you’re lucky – with occasional flashes of brilliance). It would be harsh to say they are “plodding along”, but they are definitely not innovative. They bond through their similarities, and might not have specific goals, so there’s no need to stretch or think differently.

That doesn’t sound very inspiring – and it’s not – but most people aren’t doing inspiring work all the time. Fixed thinking and routine work are important. Fixed thinking only becomes a problem if it’s the only kind of thinking you have.

Similar Backgrounds + Clear Focus = Narrow Thinking

Many leaders try to break people out of fixed thinking by giving them a clear focus – at an individual, team or organisational level. That will definitely narrow their thinking, and this often creates positive results. In fact, that’s the way most projects work: You set a goal, share that goal, and then work towards it.

Narrow thinking is useful for project work. But it’s not so good for innovation, because it can lead to groupthink, where you end up with bad ideas just because everybody agrees. Innovation is not a popularity contest!

Diverse Backgrounds + Vague Goal = Wide Thinking

Alternatively, instead of narrowing their focus, you might try breaking out of fixed thinking by increasing the diversity of thinking in your team. You can do this from natural sources (diversity in age, gender, culture, and so on) or by artificial means (creativity exercises, off-site retreats, flexible workplaces, and the like).

This widens the thinking of the group, and can be extremely useful for generating new ideas. But it runs the risk of just creating a talkfest, where you get lots of ideas but not many results.

Diverse Backgrounds + Clear Focus = Sharp Thinking

Finally, we get to the best option for innovation, which combines the previous two areas. To get the best ideas, take a diverse group of thinkers and give them a clear focus. That’s sharp thinking: The diversity generates more ideas, and the focus means you narrow them and sharpen them towards specific goals.

Ideally, you will build a diverse team and continue to encourage diverse thinking, so that innovation becomes a natural part of your workplace. If you’re not there yet (and most teams aren’t), work on those two areas:

  1. Encourage more diverse thinking in your team.
  2. Channel their ideas into clearly-defined goals and projects.

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The New Skills for the Legal Profession (and the Rest of Us, Too)

 21st March 2017 by gihan

Last week, I presented the closing keynote presentation for the Queensland Law Society’s Annual Symposium.

Their theme was “Framing the Future”, and the previous speaker was Professor Nick James, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law at Bond University. Professor Dean spoke about what it takes to be a legal professional in the 21st Century, and I was pleased to see his emphasis on people skills rather than technical skills.

Here is one of his slides pointing out the difference between “old” and “new” law:

In case you can’t read the details, here’s a summary:



Legalistic mindset   

   Commercial realism

Orthodoxy orientation   

   Digital literacy

Emotional distance   

   Emotional intelligence

Demographic bias   

   Cultural competency

Moral neutrality   

   Moral leadership

He was addressing the legal profession, but his advice applies to all of us. If you want to be fit for the future, start by building the five skills he recommends:

  • Commercial realism
  • Digital literacy
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Cultural competency
  • Moral leadership

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Draw to Win, by Dan Roam

 17th March 2017 by gihan

If you have already read Dan Roam’s bestselling book “The Back of the Napkin”, you know his philosophy of conveying ideas and messages using simple drawings. This is his fourth book, and it’s a kind of “best of” book, summarising the main ideas in a concise form. There’s some repeated material from the previous books, so don’t expect a whole bunch of new stuff. But if you’re looking for a quick guide to sketching out your ideas to cut through the clutter, this is a great start. And if you haven’t read his previous books, start with this one.

The book’s subtitle “A crash course on how to lead, sell and innovate with your visual mind” promises a lot, and if you take this literally, you might be disappointed. This is not really a book about leadership, sales, or innovation. Rather, it assumes you already have some of these skills, and it shows you how to share your ideas with others using drawings, models, sketches, and diagrams.

I think this book is most valuable for people who say, “But I don’t know how to draw!”. Roam explains why that doesn’t matter, and why you don’t need to be a Leonardo or Picasso to create simple ideas that convey a powerful message.

This book is also extremely useful if you’re caught in the “Death by PowerPoint” trap, with presentation slides full of dense blocks of text, long bullet lists, or complex graphs. You know you want to escape this trap, but you don’t know how. Well, this book will show you how.

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Are You Ready to Lead in a VUCA World?

 14th March 2017 by gihan

I heard somebody say recently that you don’t know what real pain is until you step on a piece of Lego on the floor when walking barefoot from your bedroom to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

OK, it’s a First World problem, I know! But anybody who has had that experience can sympathise with her.

For many business owners and leaders, that’s not a bad analogy for trying to lead an organisation in this fast-changing world.

Only it’s worse.

At least, with the Lego on the floor, you might have known it was there, you had the option of turning on the light, and you could step carefully around it.

But what if you didn’t have any light, you were walking on slippery polished floorboards, and the Lego pieces keep randomly moving around the floor?

In the business world, they don’t call it Lego – that would be so childish!

They call it VUCA.

Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

The future is:

  • Brittle (volatile): We look ahead and think we know what’s coming up, but it doesn’t take much to shake it up, and then everything seems to change.
  • Slippery (uncertain): We feel like we’re always walking on shifting, slippery, shaky, ground – and that sometimes paralyses us.
  • Fuzzy (ambiguous): Even the things we can see aren’t clear, so it’s tricky to “get a handle” on them.
  • Messy (complex): Many things are inter-connected, and there are no simple answers anymore. Sometimes we don’t even know the right questions!

You know all this, of course, because you might be living it. But knowing it is only the first step.

How do you lead in this brittle, slippery, messy and fuzzy world?

The big mistake most leaders make is to try to simplify the world. But that doesn’t work.

You can clear the Lego from the floor today, but tonight it will be there again. And tomorrow. And the day after. And you can’t wait until the kids outgrow Lego before making another midnight trip from your bedroom!

Don’t try to simplify the world around you – that’s a battle you can’t win.

Instead, aim for clarity – so you can operate in a world that isn’t simple anymore.

This means accepting the brittle, slippery, messy and fuzzy world – and figuring out how to lead in it.

Here are a few differences between leaders who try to achieve simplicity and those who aim for clarity:

What will YOU do differently?

I’ve only given you some broad principles here, but I hope they are enough to get you thinking about your own leadership style.

You might be doing some of these things already – if so, great! If not, it might mean learning some new skills – and perhaps unlearning some old skills that worked for you in the past.

Welcome to the future!

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Recommended Podcast: Between Worlds

 10th March 2017 by gihan

Australian futurist Mike Walsh interviews interesting people from his travels around the world. The audio quality isn’t always the best, because some of the interviews are in a noisy cafe or conference hall, but the content is usually interesting.

Subscribe Now

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The Six Disruptive Forces That Will Turn Your Business Upside Down

 8th March 2017 by gihan

If I asked you to name a disruptive company – quick! – I reckon there’s a pretty good chance you would name Uber. And that’s fair enough. There’s no doubt Uber has disrupted the taxi industry – a long-established, entrenched industry that’s completely been turned upside down by Uber.

And hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear some speaker at a conference talking about “The Uberisation of [their industry]” or “Uberfying [their business]”.

So yes, Uber is certainly the poster child for digital disruption, but it shouldn’t be!

Let me tell you about my new insurance company …

My insurance broker recently reviewed all my insurance policies and recommended a number of changes – including moving me to AIA for one of my insurances (TPD or trauma, I think??? I don’t know – insurance talk puts me to sleep, but I trust Todd to do the right thing for me).

AIA gave me better coverage (tick!) and for a lower premium (tick! tick!), but also gave me some unexpected benefits as part of their AIA Vitality program. One of the biggest benefits is a 10% discount on all Qantas flights. As somebody who lives in Perth and travels a lot, that’s a huge benefit – and is worth more to me than the lower premium (but, hey, I’m not knocking that back).

So why is AIA disruptive?

You might look at this and think that’s nothing special. So a company is offering some extra benefits that might give it a competitive edge over others in the industry. Smart? Yes. But disruptive? Hmmm …

And I agree that AIA isn’t disrupting the insurance industry. But it has a huge impact on the travel industry.

Most travel agents struggle to make anything near 10% margin on airline bookings. Suddenly, along comes somebody else – a random company from completely outside their industry – who pulls the rug out from under them.

And you know what? AIA probably didn’t even think about it. They weren’t trying to compete in the travel industry – they just found a smart way to attract more customers. The travel agents are just unfortunate victims of this smart idea.

What about Uber?

Uber is different. Sure, it’s disruptive, but it has deliberately taken on an established industry.

It’s not just a startup, but an upstart, because it plays outside the rules. It was – and sometimes still is – illegal in many places, but it offers such a compelling experience that governments and society are changing the rules to allow it.

The taxi industry could have done many of the things Uber does – online payments, no credit card fees, GPS tracking, cashless commerce, driver/passenger ratings, and so on – but chose not to, until it was too late. Sure, there were some other things the taxi industry couldn’t do, but there were so many things it could have done. But it was in a tightly regulated, tightly controlled, profitable industry – and didn’t see the writing on the wall.

These are two of the six disruptive forces.

Uber is a Level 4 disruptive force – an upstart (somebody who disrupts an industry from outside, sometimes breaking the rules).

AIA is at Level 5 – a random (somebody who disrupts a completely separate industry – sometimes unintentionally).

In total, there are six kinds of disruptive forces: competitor, dominator, startup, upstart, random, and terminator.

You can probably guess what some of these mean, but if you’d like to know more about them in detail, watch my recent webinar recording:

After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:

“That ‘randoms’ play outside the rules”

“Awareness – thought provoking insights into impacts of competition and trying to stay ahead of the game”

“You only have to outrun the competition!”

“The example of driverless cars”

“To think about the different types of disruptive forces”

“The ideas of up-starts, randoms and terminators is new, and give me more ways of looking at possible emerging players.”

“The types of disruptive forces and how to apply to my industry”

“Concept of upstarts”

“Made me think about possible disruptions to my business and profession”

“To analyze other areas competition falls in”

“About upstarts and terminators”

“to be aware of the possibility of Terminators coming along and wiping out our industry “

“The big picture of emerging economies from now to 2050”

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Managing Conflict in Distributed Teams

 1st March 2017 by gihan

Conflicts are inevitable in any workplace, but can be particularly challenging in distributed teams, where team members don’t work in the same office. As a leader, it’s important to understand these differences, so you can prevent conflicts before they occur if possible, and address them promptly when they do occur.

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How to Build a TED-Style Online Presentation in One Hour or Less – Free Webinar Tomorrow

 27th February 2017 by gihan

The world-famous “TED Talks” have set a new standard in presentation skills, and many audiences expect far more now from presenters. This can be a challenge for online presentations, because some of the techniques that work for a TED Talk don’t work in online presentations. But you can still learn from the best TED Talks, and use or adapt these techniques to make your next online presentation zing!

Join me in this webinar, hosted by Logmein (the people behind GoToWebinar, GoToTraining and GoToMeeting), as I share the secrets of the best TED speakers, and show you how to use them in your online presentations.

In this live, interactive webinar, you will learn how to:

  • Build rapport with a remote audience
  • Design attractive slides (fast!) to enhance your message
  • Selectively use your webcam to provide a more personal connection
  • Shift the energy regularly with interactive engagement techniques

All of these techniques apply just as well to in-person presentations. So if you make any presentations at all, come along to this webinar and learn how to take your presentations to another level.

When: Tuesday 28th February 2017, 11am BST (U.K.), 7pm Perth, 10pm Sydney/Melbourne

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