LITERATURE

The Mentors team has written extensively about the fields of mentorship, business development and the contentious yet critical question: 'Are you actually right for your own business?' Please feel free to explore this thought leadership archive.

Enjoy these blog entries written by Mentors

Emotionless Decisions  New!

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2014-06-17

Have you ever constructed an argument that was so reasonable, so perfectly logical and so absolutely foolproof that the other person could not possibly out logic you? Until they did? Or until they weren’t swayed by your seamless logic?

Here’s an interesting fact: Emotions, or affect, which are completely unrelated to the decision at hand, can still have a significant impact on someone’s judgments or choices (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2003). This means that if we're upset about something at home, our professional decisions are impaired - and visa versa.

Emotions are the colour in our lives, they are the component which expresses our reactions, the commentary of our thoughts, and the pre and post curser to our behaviour. The interesting part is that our emotions can actively work against our logic. Isn’t it incredible that such a beautiful component of ourselves, over which we have control, can govern our lives so completely? It’s as if there is potential for our greatest enemy to reside between our ears.  Oscar Wilde said “I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”  

The other side of managing emotions is utilizing them to guide our decision making processes. In fact, research has shown that using emotions in models of decision making can greatly increase their explanatory power. So how do we achieve that? How is it possible to come to terms with the impact that our feelings have on our thought processes – particularly in a business environment where the decision needs to be made quickly and accurately. Obviously the potential consequences of the decision will have a significant impact on how much your emotions can interfere or aid you.

Antonio Damasio is a Neuroscientist who studied people who had specific brain injuries: They could not generate and experience emotions. The result of this is that they can logically describe what they should be doing, yet they are unable to make decisions. In particular, a decision which would have pros and cons. Does that mean that all decisions are emotional? Or that our subconscious is in charge and we are being led regardless of what our cognitive path is?

The impact of this is enormous. No matter how logical and intelligent we are, there is actually no reality of 'emotionless decisions'. Of course we have positive and negative emotions, Isen and Patrick (1983) showed that happy people would rather avoid taking a risk which may challenge their happiness. Conversely, negative people prefer high risks with the potential of a high reward. This throws another curve ball into the equation, are you naturally happy or sad, or don’t you know? Does your general state of affect impact on your business decisions? According to research, absolutely yes!

So, the bottom line is that your emotions will invite themselves to the decision making table, why not invite them and let them lead you with your control? We call this intuition.

“One ought to hold on to one's heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

(For Deon)


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The Entrepreneurial Flare

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2014-03-24

“Opportunists seek for a chance. Entrepreneurs make new chances.” Toba Beta.

There's a fantastic image of an entrepreneur which portrays the idea generator, the go-getter, a source of energy and unlimited passion. Often there is a wonder of how they can do as much as they can as well as they can. Perhaps within that is a reality which is often not realized, Nolan Bushnell summarized it perfectly when he said “The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” Much of the image of the business initiator seems to forget this aspect of the small business visionary - they make the business work and they do the work in the business. Further to this is usually a wonderful social skills which charms and engages others so that they do business with, trust and enjoying being with the business owner.

The entrepreneurial flair is one of dynamism.

The flame is magnetic and invigorating.

The flame empowers and inspires.

The flame is exciting and illuminates a path of exhilaration.

The flame radiates a thrill of a new chance.

The flicker intrigues.

Having said this, there is usually another side to this personality profile, which is not as fantastic as the excitement depicted. Many people who have worked with entrepreneurs will be able to identify with this picture, and many of those who have never worked closely, and yet know entrepreneurs, would never believe this exists.

Jarod Kintz  said: “Instead of a Lemonade Stand, I should open up a “You know what I can’t stand?” Stand. I’ll sell rants in small, medium, and large.”

I don’t think that anyone could have worded it more flawlessly. The paradox of this human being is remarkable: The entrepreneurial flair embodies perfectionism and then personifies impatience.

The extremely low tolerance for procrastination or imperfections breed more mistakes. The more errors an employee makes the more the entrepreneur yells, and consequently the more the employee blunders. The simple truth is that when an employee demonstrates proactivity and is shouted down because what they have done is wrong; they simply start to become less and less proactive and more and more of a good soldier, to prevent the avalanche which consumes them when they are mistaken.

 

The concept that the entrepreneur’s time could be wasted is an immediate trigger for a temper tantrum – in fact, there are generally limitless triggers which launch a barrage of abuse which takes various formats - and usually results in the same impact. This person, who usually has a dominant personality, believes they are generally right (regardless of any evidence to the contrary). More importantly, they justify their actions – including the emotionally abusive ones – by telling themselves and others that they are right. They will say things such as others ‘take things too personally’, ‘are too emotional’, and ‘lack perspective’. And they will explain themselves as I ‘merely told them”, ‘simply explained’ and ‘hardly said anything’. Employees tend to become so terrified that they never give their perspective or contradict the entrepreneur or tell him that he is wrong or could do things differently for fear of the tornado that will hit them. The irony is that often these employees remain with the business for many years, and this in itself is then twisted by the entrepreneur as proof that they can’t be that bad, because so-and-so has worked with me for 10 years. The fact that so-and-so has been reduced to tears on countless occasions, and has damaged their personal relationships as a result of their emotions from work spilling into their home life, is completely negated. Distrust is a significant trait of these individuals, and even employees who have proven their loyalty time and again are questioned and their motives are skeptical.

Another trait of this entrepreneur is the tendency to find a gospel in a book somewhere and follow it because it makes such sense for the business, and then, just as quickly to find another source of information and immediately move all business decisions in line with that resource. Once again, the impact of chopping and changing on the people performing the work is completely unconsidered and patience runs thin when tasks are incomplete or done without a full heart. Ideas are taken from any informant, often regardless of ethics or given credit, and immediately becomes the entrepreneur’s idea which he was ‘considering for a while’. The entrepreneur also tends to over-emphasis their contribution to the business or a project and minimize any one else’s work. It was their idea that saved the company; their addition to the proposal which closed the sale; and their way of problem solving which created a solution. Often the work of others is negated or ignored, or was a fluke, or was done half-heartedly.

Finally, one of the greatest strengths of the entrepreneur is that there seem to be no limits to their work hours and passion, the problem arises when they expect everyone else to have the same commitment – and get angry if they don't. The business must be the biggest part of everyone’s life and any other element which is meaningful to the employees is an irritant which should be dissolved or delegated away so that full focus can be with the company. The demands are relentless, the pressure deposited on another human being is unyielding, and often the stress created is inhumane. Regardless, the entrepreneur drives on because he has results to achieve and the people who can be pushed to get to the result must be pushed to perform regardless of the cost to them.

There is no debate regarding the value and contribution which entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial business add to the economy and society. The issue resides with the negative lasting impact which the people who work within this environment suffer.

The flame that ignites also burns. It scars, scalds and destroys in such a vicious way that the victims take years to recover, if ever.

The flame is bright and powerful and potent.

The flame is terrifying and consuming.

The flame suffocates oxygen; it starves life and results in personal darkness.

There is a point at which the flair becomes a flare.

The flicker of the flare smolders and singes.

Light the path with the entrepreneur at your own peril.


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The Literate Hound

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2014-02-10

I heard a great story the other day: A man makes a promise to a dog owner that he will teach the dog how to read within three years, in exchange for a fee. He then prays that either the dog or the owner dies within the three year period because he has no clue how to fulfill his promise.

I love this story because it is the mantra of so many small business owners. It’s illogical and often impossible to create a warehouse full of products that might potentially sell, so instead we often sell products that have not yet been manufactured, and once we have an order there is a mad panic to get the product produced in order to meet the deadline.

As a business person I understand and concur with the business philosophy; as an Industrial Psychologist all I think about is the undue stress and negative impact that this kind of selling decision has on the production department. The funny thing is that some personalities thrive under this kind of pressure. They rise to the occasion, they revel in the excitement, and they produce fantastic results!

Whether it is possible or not to educate a dog is almost irrelevant. The key issue which this highlights is the pressure that the teacher has immediately placed on himself and the position in which the innocent dog now find herself.

What is the most likely outcome? The teacher will be able to get the dog to perform a few tricks. The tricks will give the impression to the dog’s owner that she can read. The teacher feels relief, the owner is pleased, and the dog is a round peg in a square hole performing functions which are unnatural. Yet the reward or the punishment is so appealing that the dog cannot help herself, she just keeps at it.

This analogy parallels so many people’s careers and lives. They work to do what they have to do, and yet, it is so incongruent with their natural strengths that it is completely absurd that they should have gotten involved in the tasks in the first place. The trainer is just trying to make a living, although the application of his work is immoral, and the owner is being hoodwinked but surely he should be wiser and more realistic?

Does the story resonate with you?

Who are you? The dog? The owner? The Trainer? Or the outside observer?


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It always seems Impossible until it is Done

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-12-12

Amazing words from an amazing human being. It would be unfeasible to conclude the blogs of 2013 on the doorstep of the funeral of one of the greatest individuals to have lived in our time, without drawing inspiration from his life. Nelson Mandela made the statement “It always seems impossible until it is done”, and yet how impossible did so many of his achievements appear to be?

If you had asked me 20 years ago ‘Can one person make a difference to change the world?’ my answer would have been a resounding ‘No!’ And, I could have justified that quite convincingly. However, when I see 100 world leaders culminate at one memorial service to pay homage to one person, I am forced to reconsider my thinking. On a daily basis I interact with small business owners, who, in their own way are fighting to change the world in which they operate. The organization which Nelson Mandela led during his early years showed very little promise of success, and yet he lived his philosophy that “the greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail”. His organization persevered through dogmatic obstacles to gain the position of control of the country. Entrepreneurship demands that we rise and insists that we raise our bar every time we rise. Any small business owner will be able to identify with the concept that “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb”. How mesmeric to know that someone who reached such great heights faced similar challenges!

Part of the rhetoric of a small business owner is the fear of losing what has already been built up, and what we worked so hard to achieve. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Business is a constant challenge and one of the greatest triumphs for a business owner is the satisfaction of knowing that your instincts and decisions are right. There are a myriad of reasons for going into your own business, some of these are lived and others disappoint. This time of year facilitates introspection, it is a time to meditate on why you chose the paths you have and to ponder on where you would like those roads to lead you. “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. I encourage you to use this time to reflect on yourself and your life and to embrace the changes that have happened within yourself. We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Barack Obama stated that Nelson Mandela had earned his place in history. If one person can change the world, then surely you can take control of your own life, your own business and your own destiny.There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Let yourself live the life that you have worked towards. And find passion in the life that you truly deserve.

Make the year ahead be the year in which you live the life that you are capable of living.

Have a magnificent 2014!


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Ask and ye shall Receive

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-11-10

The biblical verse hit a chord with me this week. I happened to stumble upon the verse of Mathew 7:7, it reads: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." Isn't that amazing? Imagine having that faith, that confidence of assistance, and that immeasurable assurance. My problem is that in my 15 years of working with people, the exact opposite seems to be upheld.

Throughout my career I have associated with a specific breed of individual - the entrepreneur. There are many peculiarities and noteworthy characteristics pertaining to this type of person - which anyone who has worked with a true entrepreneur will verify. They can find information within 2 or 3 actions; they locate resources when there are none; they have the capability of adapting the most arbitrary piece of information to benefit their business; and they have the incredible capability of acquiring ideas and advice free of charge. Most importantly, entrepreneurs seem to struggle to ask for help. And, those who do ask often tend to negate it or devalue it.

This leads me to an intriguing life paradox. There are experts, such as Mentors, who encompass almost 50 years of business experience and knowledge, with a specific purpose of assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs. Yet, the small business owner who is running a relatively successful business is so caught up in the operations of the business that help is too time consuming to consider. Isn’t the psychology fascinating? ‘I’m too busy working in my business to work on it!’

So here lives a thought process which is the direct antithesis of Mathew 7.7. The world of entrepreneurs have the option of asking for help and receiving qualified opinion, which will save them time , effort and most importantly, stress, and yet the most passionate drive to ‘do it myself’ prevails. I have to ask the question, what else could you get help with that you don’t have the time to? Or where could your business be saving costs? Or using your people more effectively? Or making a higher profit? Or making more sales? Or simply doing things better? But there isn’t time to find out because we’re all working so hard and too busy being busy.

Please don’t get me wrong, I have a genuine and infinite respect for those who have a vision, launch a business and succeed. And, from the inside, I have never seen more hard-working and committed individuals in any sphere of life, as a dedicated entrepreneur. My point is that there appears to be a self defeating psychology which prevents people from helping themselves, when it is so easy to simply ask for help.

My bible search led me to Exodus 18:18 which reads "You're going to wear yourself out - and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself." It’s not that business owners are not capable of doing everything themselves, rather, why should they? If they can ask and they shall receive, then why the reluctance to ask? Others have gained the experience made the mistakes, walked a similar road and gained the know-how, so why is there a hesitation to use the value that experience yields? Zig Ziglar said: People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily. It’s exactly the same with business support, guidance and know-how… the more you make use of the service, the better your business will be – even for a successful entrepreneur!

So quite simply: Ask Mentors for their value - and you shall receive!


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Emancipating Gulliver

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-10-14

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

There’s a vision that often comes to mind when people talk about how stressed they are, and how they struggle to cope with the demands and pressure that others exert onto them. It is the image of a huge body trapped on the ground by hundreds of miniature people tying it down. It’s one of those pictures in your mind that originated somewhere else, like with Gulliver, yet has become more and more my own.

The image arises when people discuss how overwhelmed they feel trying to juggle every one’s priorities and all the expectations on their performance. It astounds me how many people are Gulliver. Trapped and incapacitated by other people’s demands and pressures. And, how many people create Gullivers out of others; how many of us drive other people to achieve our goals so that we feel that we are achieving and progressing. One of the fundamental concepts of human behaviour is that you actually cannot motivate another person, so why do so many of us spend so much time trying to get others to do what we want?

Probably the most significant component of Gulliver is that this person cannot get up. Be it that they are too tied down, too overwhelmed, too exhausted from the struggle or have simply given up, the human being who is embodied with creativity, vibrancy and brilliance is completely deflated by the endless responsibilities which fill the space of each mini person ensuring that it is done.

My greatest enjoyment in working as part of Mentors is the empowering practice of giving people the managerial and process tools to manage their situations, coupled with the emotional methodologies and support required to emancipate Gulliver. The capacity which exists within each person is astounding. The limitations which we put on ourselves are often debilitating. Mentors enable people to reach their true potential within their business world, while freeing themselves of all the minutia and drudgery which stifles productivity.

“Deep within man dwell those slumbering powers; powers that would astonish him, that he never dreamed of possessing; forces that would revolutionise his life if he aroused and put into action” Orison Swett Marden. Isn’t it more incredible that most of us would rather lie on the ground feeling disempowered rather than embracing our gifts, embarking on change and pulling ourselves forward? Most people would prefer to restrain themselves and detain Gulliver rather than activate their lives.  Isn’t it incredible that there are people who can help to emancipate Gulliver? Who can liberate your mind, your frustrations and grow your business? Why don’t you take the initiative to use help to free yourself, one mini person at a time so that within a few months Gulliver can stride across the world in the way that he was designed to?


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Breaking the Habit of Habituation

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-09-02

A week ago I was sitting in a boardroom listening to company Directors justify why they allow an employee who is blatantly counterproductive to behave in the way that he does. When taking a step outside of the picture there is only one real reason why he is permitted the endless list of liberties that he demands and that is: Habituation.

Habituation is defined as the decrease of human response to a stimulus after repeated presentations. In English, this means that when we become accustomed to something, we simply stop responding because we are now used to it and it no longer excites us. For example, an alarm that used to get us to jump up the minute we heard the sound, after a few weeks we no longer react so instantaneously, instead we snooze it and roll over for an extra few minutes. Every aspect of our lives engages habits, most of which we are completely oblivious to. We tend to watch TV from the same chair; we start to wash our bodies from the same hand or foot; and most of us tend to settle down to work using the same routine. Habits form part of our daily operations and we become so used to them that we couldn't even describe them.

One of the scariest quotes I've ever read comes from Samuel Johnson who said "The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken." I find this frightening because within a business environment how many activities are propagate subconsciously without a deliberate action plan which considers best practice or the consequences of performance?

The value of habituation is that if we want to reinforce positive behavior we continue to repeat processes, even if they started off as being uncomfortable, until they become normal and add value to the business. The negative side is far more daunting. How much that happens in our business do we become so habituated to that we don't even see it? How many aspects of employees' behavior do we accept because it has been going on for ever and we no longer react to the stimulus? How many activities in our business could we improve upon if we were aware of how they are currently being performed?

Einstein's definition of insanity being the propensity of repeating the same action while anticipating a different result correlates with the insanity of habituating oneself to processes and behaviours within a business and never questioning our own premises. A plethora of business tools - such as the balanced scorecard, lean manufacturing, process reengineering and total quality management - were created with the simple principle of questioning the habituation in the business and breaking the shackles of habits.

One of the greatest values that Mentors Business Enablers offer is that we stand on the outside of a business, equipped with years of knowledge and experience combined with business tools, and we consider each aspect of the business as if we are seeing it for the first time. Habits are questioned, routines are considered, and best practice is created. What a beautiful gift to give yourself as a business owner! The opportunity to refresh and revive your business practices!

Ghandi said:

 
"Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny."
 
What form of destiny are you prescribing for your business if the habituation that you allow to embed itself in your business becomes stagnant? How can your future be upgraded if your present is subconscious? And how can we create a future vision when the strategy depends on people changing their existing habits?

Stephen Covey said that we become what we repeatedly do. Wouldn't it be nice to have business experts consider what you do and make it that much better? Mentors Business Enablers do exactly that – we watch, we listen, we analyse and take the habits that exist within your business and make the execution just that much better.


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Self Promotion or Self Demotion?

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-07-14

“There is no need to boast of your accomplishments and what you can do. A great man is known, he needs no introduction.”  CherLisa Biles

Modesty is a virtue which negates conceit, conceals arrogance and erodes superiority. For most of us we are brought up not to boast. We are schooled to be mindful not to tell others how good we are and to behave in a way that is appropriate and humble. Society, like the quote above states, tells us that if we are good at something people will find out soon enough. The question needs to be asked, if you are good at something, and you don’t communicate this in one way or another, how will the people who can make a difference in your life and influence your destiny ever know? How would talent ever be discovered if it wasn’t paraded?

Modesty may be an admirable quality; however, it is also a trait which may be the most self destructive tool in a person’s career or self esteem. After many years in business circles one of the most striking factors is that the people at the top of organizations don’t hesitate to tell you of their successes. They will argue correctly that this motivates and inspires those who follow them to reach similar achievements. I will postulate that for many of them the habit of sharing their successes lead them to reach their positions in the first place. As opposed to most premises I believe that people believe what you tell them about yourself until it is disproved. So if you tell them that you are an expert wine connoisseur, there is no reason for them to disbelieve, unless the person you are speaking to either has a greater level of knowledge than you or if the situation presents itself wherein you are unable to perform in a manner that you stated you could.

In direct contradiction to the principle of modesty being respected, it would appear as though our environment prefers to promote self promoters. There is a beautiful interaction in the movie Seven Years in Tibet between a Tibetan national and a German visitor, where the Tibetan makes the following observation: “There is another great difference between our civilization and yours.  You admire the man who pushes his way to the top in any walk of life, while we admire the man who abandons his ego.” There is a distinction between abandoning your ego and being modest. Modesty implies being humble and unassuming whereas abandoning your ego implies reaching a level of spiritual enlightenment.

Confucius said "He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good." Confucius had a point and perhaps the lack of boldness to position oneself leads to the deficit impression that someone is incapable. The greatest issue is that if people believe what they are told and if self promotion leads people to be elevated either in the minds of others or in literal terms within a hierarchy, then what is the impact on the non-self-promoting person who chooses to operate within a society that admires and rewards bragging?

You see if we believe those who tell us that they are wonderful, we naturally behave differently towards them and further embed their glowing self perceptions. This breeds a society in which people tell others they are great, others treat them as if they are great, they further believe in their own greatness activating the Pygmalion effect and resulting in them achieving greatness. Now what about those who may have greatness within them but choose to be modest? They are treated as if they are average or below, they start to believe in the perceptions that others have about them and once again the Pygmalion effect starts to wear away at their levels of self efficacy as they begin to underperform or question their own capabilities. The consequence of not being able to self promote is a natural antithesis of self demoting. It’s the same principle as those who do not change with the needs of their market are actually moving backwards; those who do not speak of their own capabilities may be eroding their own credibility. Perhaps the answer is a middle road between endless shameless self promotion on every platform available and a well considered strategic plan which facilitates a fulfilling career.

Consider those around you who have achieved some form of formal success, and then those who are of similar competencies and yet have not achieved the same results, what for you stands out as the major factor differentiating these people? Arthur Schopenhauer made a beautiful statement which puts perspective on this thought: With people of limited ability modesty is merely honesty. But with those who possess great talent it is hypocrisy.         


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Tyranny of the Minority

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-06-10

There is a new term that has been coined to refer to a situation where the minority control the majority. It’s called Minoritarianism, or more appropriately: tyranny of the minority. It’s a fascinating concept that a few people can dominate numerous; and an even more fascinating concept that one person can raid domination over many.

When examining the leadership styles in various organisations, the most interesting observation is made: An amazing amount of business leaders in small to medium sized enterprises are run by screaming, intimidating autocrats. And, if their behaviour is discussed with them, they justify themselves by quantifying the incompetence, stupidity or ineptitude of the staff.

As a business psychologist this presents a fascinating paradox. The business leader needs to ensure the effective and profitable operation of the business which in turn provides the staff with job security. However, working for a dictator takes a greater toll than simply having unhappy employees who are demotivated. It results in a spiral of inefficiency and lack of productivity as each mistake is magnified. The result must be that each individual lives in fear of repeating their blunder, which gradually enforces a reactive unthinking workforce, who do what they are told as opposed to thinking for the business, innovating solutions and creating passionate results. Inevitably, the more the leader yells, the more the negative counterproductive work behaviour escalates. From the leader’s perspective, he becomes increasingly frustrated and loses his temper more and more.

The businesswoman in me empathises with his aggravation; the psychologist in me sympathises with an almost psychologically abused workforce.

How does the tyrant become such a tyrant? Would the business be a success if his behaviour was different? Most intriguingly why do the majority in the organisation allow themselves to be treated in this way? Does the minoritarianism become a company culture where the concept of opposing the leader is so terrifying that everyone just jumps into position? Is it a matter of being afraid to lose one’s job takes precedence over self respect and emotional preservation?

What would happen if the business leader adopted the principles of all the textbooks and considered his employees value systems, personal motivators and career aspiration? Does textbook logic not work in reality? Or is it a tradeoff fact that a certain size of business can either perform financially or take care of its staff and once the focus shifts exponentially in one direction, the other dimension suffers?

The question remains: Is it possible to run a small or medium sized business, where the responsibility of results is limited to a few people, without becoming a tyrant?


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Bully Your Way to Self Preservation

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-05-20

Pop psychology will tell you that when people have a low self esteem, they resort to bullying to make themselves feel better. Psychology has a plethora of research which indicates exactly the opposite:

-Bullies not only see themselves positively, they often have inflated self perceptions.

This discussion has arisen not from some school yard pushing around, rather from a recent facilitation experience endured at the hands of an executive committee (Exco). Ironically, when dealing with an Exco, a little bit of extra care is given to the course content, the facilitation style and the overall presentation. You see, as an external business enabler, the Exco - purely by position - sit powerfully with the capacity to have your services embedded in the company or to have you fired.

Right from the start the atmosphere was frigid. Which is frankly surprising, because surely any external advisor selected and appointed by the Managing Director is a guest in your organization, and regardless of your position, this individual should be treated with courtesy and hospitality? Our reception was daunting and within a few minutes of beginning our professionally planned process, both my business partner and I (with a combined 28 years of study and 53 years of business experience) were under attack:

  • Assumptions were made about our perceptions of the business – these were never verified;
  • One person on the Exco decided we were there to tell them how bad they are and the rest just jumped on board;
  • Our professional backgrounds were questioned without granting us the opportunity to reference ourselves;
  • Two members of the Exco started screaming at one another and then stopped half way as the one decided it was ‘wrong’ to air their dirty laundry in front of outsiders;
  • Our material was referred to as being non-applicable at such a high corporate level despite several examples being given in the next few minutes of the extreme relevance and application to this business by members of the Exco themselves;
  • Our content was criticized – and then utilized;
  • The value we could add was negated without consideration.
  • In summary, a full bullying attack was launched, engaged in and finalized, leaving two professionals somewhat ‘whiplashed’ and feeling an injustice. The purpose of this blog is not to whine, rather to reflect on the potential validity that pop psychology has touched on.

Why would a team of the professionals at the highest level of a business feel so threatened or resentful at external business enablers being brought in to assist them? Surely the opportunity would have been welcomed and all potential knowledge, skills and experienced drawn out of us to make the morning worth their while? Unless some validity reside

The result has left me shocked at being bullied for the third time in my life; disillusioned at the caliber of person who works their way to the top of an organization; disappointed at the closed mindedness of professional individuals; staggered at the level of emotional dysfunction within an Exco team; and amazed that this kind of behavior was considered acceptable within a professional environment.

I find myself wondering at the personal value of bullying. Does it really work for the bully? Did these individuals get themselves onto the Exco by bullying away any threat or competitor? I cannot help but wonder how much value has been lost. Not specifically by sidelining our advice or experience, but as a general mindset. The bully wins the war on the day but how much is lost in the battle in terms of learning something new, seeing a different perspective or showing a vulnerability that someone else can help to ensure a forward progression over time as opposed to vehemently protecting the current position so that others who are open to new thinking ultimately overtake with ease.


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The value of identifying value

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-04-20

Value is defined in the dictionary as 'something which is precious or of importance'. It is a fairly easy term to understand and yet when you translate it into business terms, it somehow becomes ambiguous. The reason for this is simple: when we work we exert effort, apply energy and create outputs, for most people whatever task we perform is of value because we are the ones doing it. There is validity in this argument, however, when considering the Lean approach to business, value has a very simple definition: Will the client pay for this?

As simple as this sounds, how do you know? One of the greatest skills in business is the ability to predict. Predict client or market demands or trends and satisfy them. One of the greatest errors made in business is to fall in to the "I'm too busy to analyse my business" trap.

I would imagine that the biggest criticism to value stream mapping comes from Hayes (2005) who argues correctly that even implemented lean principles do not guarantee strategic advantages over time. To answer Hayes simply: The principle is that Lean serves as a tool to aid the company and improve productivity, it is not a strategic end in itself. One of Hedberg and Lindstrom's (2011) greatest criticism against value stream mapping is the difficulty met in managing variability. The fundamental principle of value stream mapping is designed to accommodate variability. The tool is designed to assist, not hinder business. To map a business process so that the areas of value-add, non value-add and required non-value-add are clearly apparent. To further complicate the issue let's bring the human element into the equation:

Chris Argyris, an American business theorist, developed a way of explaining behaviour called Action Science. Action Science introduces two simultaneous mental models which make it difficult for us to change. The first is our Espoused Theory, which describes how we describe how we act (or how we would like others to think we act). The second is our Theory in Use, which is the one we actually use to make decisions.

Mental Models are a way to describe a person’s intuitive perception of the world around them. By this we refer to how we act, our decisions, the rules we use to make those decisions and so forth are based on our mental models. Argyris believes that people always behave consistently with their mental models (theory-in-use) even though they often do not act in accordance with what they say (espoused theory). Within our companies, we create and maintain generalised beliefs about "what is valued in this business" and "how things get done around here". We also hold specific beliefs about events and people. These beliefs are important because they influence and constrain what we do and don't do in the workplace.

If we return to the primary discussion of perceived value and client-paid-for-value it becomes clear that as much as business is an objective platform upon which client perceived value should be neutral and simplistic, human beings process the concept of value therefore value adding activities are comprehended through our mental models in order to achieve our understanding. If we believe that what we do as a business is value adding, then we are likely to perceive value in our activities. The question come in in how will we ever know if our activities are truly value adding if we never engage in the strategic activity of trying to find out?

Adding value integrates the objective and subjective criterion, one of the greatest value-adds in business lies in the capacity to identify and quantify the value that is actually added in each component of your process. Ask yourself this: Do you know how much of the work done in your business truly adds value? And if not, how will you engage in a meaningful process to identify what value is added and at what cost to you?


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Measuring Business Success

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-02-25

How do you measure business success?

Is it a matter of how much money you earn?

How much money the business is making?

How much you’re learning?

How much the customers are buying?

How well structured and organized you are?

How many hours you work?

The answer is as complex as the analysis of business.

Traditional business schools approach business by creating, measuring and monitoring departments. Or, as it is taught in business school, by subjects. So, the academic application to business considers various competent silos which perform their functions in accordance with departmental objectives and measures. This works quite effectively for the individual departments, yet the question needs to be asked: is this best practice for the business?

It is with this in mind that a holistic approach is sought which looks at the business as a whole and then the overall business vision, objectives, measures and productivity dashboards are filtered through to each department so that their objectives tie into achieving the overall business objectives. It is a bit of a mind shift for those who are used to considering and measuring business performance by departmental productivity.

One of the most effective holistic tools available is the balanced scorecard. The principles are not novel and the approach is simple, yet it certainly achieves its purpose. The balanced scorecard does exactly what its name states: It looks at the business from a balanced perspective and then creates scorecards for each of those sections which have measurements and targets. The result of the balanced scorecard is a dashboard of performance, which is basically a summary view of the critical criteria of your business to ascertain how well the business is doing.

The first measure in the balanced scorecard is the financial results of the business. Isn’t this why most companies are in business? So the logic flows that from a holistic perspective the business needs to be performing well in monetary terms. The second measure is the value that the business provides to its clients. The value that the clients perceive to be gaining from the business is not only a current indicator of business success but it also provides a view into the immediate future in terms of the sustainability of the business. It is important to remember that this is neither a medium nor a long term guarantee of client satisfaction. The third criterion is the processes through which the business operates which instill stability, efficiency and the mechanisms to handle the required capacity. The final measurement is the people who work in the business. What skills and competencies are required to keep adding value to clients, to keep the operations running smoothly and to continually grow the financial results of the business.

These four areas exists and are measurable regardless of what business sector you operate in, regardless of the official departments which your business houses, and regardless of all other performance measurement structures.

The question needs to be asked, does measuring the business holistically not provide a myriad of loopholes for non-performance in terms of shifting the focus to a bigger picture and allowing departments to function autonomously? Quite simply, if the key dashboard criteria are looking good and continue to look good, then maybe the ‘loopholes’ which emerge are areas of the business which do not truly add value to the business. The beauty of measuring business success on a holistic scale is that the various components of business success are all considered and measured and the business owner is able to objectively measure progress, growth and success. Albert Einstein said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible – but not simpler!"

This is the principle and application of measuring business success - keep it simple, keep it value-based and keep it holistic!


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Intelligent Life

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2013-01-09
"If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying" Bob Dylan.

Last year we began the year contemplating the positive interlude  which is encouraged by the start of a new year. It's not a matter of setting unrealistic resolutions which will never be actioned, rather it is a time to chart new goals, reflect on the past and design aspirations for the future. The launch of this year seems far more esoteric and far less directioned than previous years. Perhaps there is wisdom in this approach.

Yesterday I walked past the new magazine Intelligent Life. The title caught my eye. Isn't that exactly what we strive for when we spend hours considering our plans and future conquests? An intelligent life. This Life generally has the connotation of extraterrestrial life forms who would be able to communicate and provide for themselves. The online dictionary defines it as "wisdom or the ability of an organism or entity to act with appropriate judgment". Let us consider the application to our realities...
   
How much of our lives do we live intelligently? And what does the concept of an intelligent life mean? Like most aspects of reality the answer is defined by a personal set of values and priorities. The simple answer is that an intelligent life is one which 'works for you' as opposed to one in which you work continually and never have the chance to renew yourself in the way in which you enjoy. It's the age old analogy expressed so perfectly by von Goethe when he said "things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least."  I often feel like it is the urgent or bullied priorities which swallow our lives leaving the people and activities which matter most discarded and neglected. 

I recently heard the term 'city life' referred to as an oxymoron. How pertinent for so many who run the race on a daily basis and consider no alternative to life. It's not a matter of clocking hours or doing as much as possible in the least amount of time; it's a matter of utilising the limited time that we have for the greatest benefit, whatever we consider that to be. Ghandi said that "action expresses priorities", isn't this the perfect time of year to observe your actions and see what they reflect about your valuable time spend and priorities? What does an intelligent life mean for you? Whose life are you living? Does you behaviour reflect your priorities? Is the life you are living intelligent for you?

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Taking Task Oriented Managers to Task

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-11-24
How would you define your management style? And, does this style work? Would you employ someone with the same management style?
 
In business there is a simple divide in management styles, either a manager is people-oriented or task-oriented. Obviously there are far more constructs, elements to consider and aspects which define a management style, however, for the purposes of this discussion let us center on the simple division of being people or task-focused.
 
This is an interesting discussion, because by nature, most of us perceive ourselves and our styles to be of value and to be correct. The complexity arises when there is a mix of manager-style with worker-style. For instance, if you have a team of highly task oriented individuals who are managed by a strong people-manager, there is a strong possibility that the team may not perform optimally and may find the management style to be frustrating. Similarly, a team of people-oriented individuals who are managed by a task-focused individual may not feel appreciated nor motivated to excel. It sounds very simplistic, until you experience it in reality, in which case life can be very demotivating and frustrating.
 
It is true that certain industries attract certain personalities, and certain types of management styles. Therefore, it should follow that, for example within a financial sector there would be task-oriented managers and work teams and the functionality should be satisfied on both parts. There is also a perception that business is about achieving results and that a people-oriented manager may not be ideal to drive performance. That, however, would not be the true definition of a people-oriented manager. A people oriented manager is not meant to be his team’s best friend. An effective manager does not adopt the country club management style and hope for results through nurturing people and their feelings.
 
The people-oriented manager is focused on the capabilities and potential within each person. His other mantra is to bring out the best from each person in a manner in which the person excels and is driven to give their best on an ongoing basis. The task-oriented manager is driven to achieve the end result, regardless of the means, the potential or the capabilities of the individuals involved. The task-oriented manager will achieve the immediate result because that is their objective. Very possibly, the task-oriented manager will destroy creativity, ambition and optimism while achieving the business goal. The people-oriented manager has the ambition to build a team that will excel not only in the immediate task, but to actualize their abilities for many projects to come.
 
When recruiting, many senior people tell me that they want a manager who will get things done. The perception exists that a task-oriented person will get things done, which they may well do. But, firstly, at what cost? And secondly,  the company with vision and a long-term perspective is far more likely to seek a manager who is capable of focusing on the individuals in his or her team, drawing out their potential and building the company into the future. Business results are not a once off achievement, they are a long term commitment in the people who create those results.

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Enabling Business Enablers

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-11-19
If you had three wishes for your business, what would they be? All business owners have their wishlists and regardless of the business circumstance there is always room for improvement. Whether you are building a successful business; maintaining a successful business; growing a successful business; or making an unsuccessful business successful, the concept of a business genie might appear like a godsend! The issue, however, is that business genies do not exist and for many business people, they are not even able to define what their three wishes would be, let alone articulate a path to achieve them. Business is not about making wishes on lanterns, rather it is about planning the actions through which competent people will yield results.
The business dictionary defines enablers as capabilities, forces and resources that contribute to the success of an entity, programme or project. Wouldn’t it be nice to have such capabilities, forces and resources in your business? Wouldn’t that be a good wish to make?

Business enablers analyse, examine, identify and define key opportunities for business improvement. They continually challenge each area of the business by investigating systems, processes and people in order to ensure that your clients and business profitability remain at the forefront of all decision. Having business enablers in your business is like having internal entrepreneurs, who bring a critical eye for improvement, a positive attitude of growth and a mindset of innovation. Part of the contribution that business enablers make, is that their scope of work stretches to each aspect of the business, enabling performance, self-actualisation and increased top line results.

Many businesses engage in elaborate strategizing sessions without considering the internal capabilities and resources required for implementation. Fundamental to business enablers’ focus is the systematic analysis of operational, functional and strategic systems individually, and, consequently as part of a holistic system which drives the business towards the strategic objectives. The competence that business enablers bring into your business is the expertise and capacity to analyse and understand each aspect of the business, as well as the impact that changing or improving that component may have on the business as a whole.

Consider this as part of your wishlist, all businesses have divisions, formal or informal, these division perform either direct or non-direct value adding functions. Within each division, there are the ‘hard’ and the ‘soft’ issues, both factors have complexities, necessities and characteristics which would enhance their performance. Business enablers tap into these subtle balances to perfect the performance of each component of the business; There is a need to be expert in the hard – with an appreciation and understanding of the soft; and an expert in the soft – with the ability to work within the hard.

To make a wish implies that you are ready to accept the changes which your hopes are asking for. Business enablers are catalyst to improvement and development. With that comes change and commitment. Warren Buffet said “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get”.  If you could wish for enhanced value in the performance of your business, would you? If you could ensure value was added to each area of your business, would you jump at the opportunity? If you could define your three wishes, how would your optimize the capabilities, forces and resources’ to achieve your business dreams? If you were given the opportunity to have business enablers in your business, would you enable them to drive your business to success?

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Unchain my Mind

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-11-01
There's an intriguing comparison between the capabilities of humans and computers which highlights the fact that although computers can function seamlessly and effortlessly for hours on end, no matter how complex their programming there is still one thing that a human can do that - to date - no computer is capable of. I'm not speaking of emotion, natural mistake identification or build relationships. Within the realm of computer programming there is one capacity that programmers are unable to generate.... that is, for a computer to initiate a thought.

This is a powerful advantage that humans have, and some are able to initiate more thoughts than others or more effective thoughts than others. However, it is that same initiation of thoughts which causes humans an insurmountable amount if suffering. You see, the initiation of a thought is a great ability, however, to erase that thought is a completely different skill.

We see a plethora of eastern influence telling us to meditate on issues, release our thoughts and to sit with our issues. The problem arises as the emotion is linked to the thoughts that just won't leave. So, as you sit with the issue so too do you sit with the emotion, which continually grows and your stress levels start to increase. A human can outsmart him or herself into believing they are distracted or working through an issue, but the minute we are alone, or our sugar levels are down, or we are tired, or quite simply the opportunity is there, so is that thought!

The human mind is incredible. It has the capacity to build thoughts and develop a chain of thoughts that circles on itself as it grows. Scientists tell us that 80% of our thoughts today were our thoughts yesterday - Deepak Chopra says 90% of our thougts are regurgitated. Isn't that incredible? We are these innovative, proactive, thinking beings who actually obsess over the same things again and again. How much more for the disturbing or upsetting thought which torments us and just won’t leave?

To master the art of meditation is a process that takes years to cultivate. Not to mention endless calmness, patience and tenacity. As far as I'm concerned, learning to meditate effectively is like praying to God for patience - and asking Him to hurry up about it. In fact, the thought crosses my mind that people who know how to meditate shouldn't actually have anything to meditate about because they would have encompassed the meditative way of life as their life.

The other captive of our mind is the paradigms through which we view the world. Charles Duelll, the Commissioner in the US office of patents stated in 1899: "Everything that can be invented, has been invented!" I sometimes feel that we smirk at the arrogance while most of us live our lives along similar constructs, Newton defined gravity but gravity did not only start to exist in Newton's time. We accept the way things are because of habit, and we obsess about the way we want things to be because of ambition. One of my ambitions is to meditate peacefully and release the 80% of today's thoughts which were yesterday's.

Imagine if we started on a new slate each day. Imagine the freedom of our minds, the wonder of our vision, the uniqueness of our imagination, and the excitement of our relationships. Imagine the space we would create in our minds to contemplate new ideas if we were free from our tormenting existing thoughts.

Ray Charles crooned “Unchain my heart; baby let me be...” To release the heart requires either changing your mind about someone, or meeting someone new (sounds so simple), to unchain my mind is a completely different exercise. A mind that is unchained of recurring thoughts is in and of itself free!

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What Makes a Successful Business Person?

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-09-28
If you won the lottery would you continue working?

I'm sure you've heard this question before but I'm asking you to really consider this as a genuine measure of how happy you are in your work. The second question is how successful are you? Would you classify yourself as a ‘successful business person’, in whatever sphere you choose to operate, and with that in mind, how would you define a successful business person?

When talking about business success I'm not looking for some philosophical deep understanding of the meaning of success, rather what it is that makes some people successful in business and others not. I know this is a topic that's been through 12 years of leadership studies focusing on diverse factors such as people’s heights, education, background, genetics, date of birth and all those things put together. This angle is a little bit more interesting - as far as I'm concerned. Why is it that three people can start the exact same business at the exact same time with very similar backgrounds of education and experience, putting in the same amount of energy and one person makes a success any others struggle along for years? Certainly the element of personality cannot be that significant; the factor of luck can only be credited so much; and the consideration of innovation can only sustain itself for a period of time.

The other day I was speaking to a very successful businessman, he was gushing about a new venture that he and his business partners are embarking on. His eyes lit up and he smiled broadly as he told me they were going to make oodles of money. In my mind a clear focused goal – like money – is one the key points on why some people are successful and others are not. I do acknowledge that money is not the only measure of business success, however, when analyzing business, it is impossible to ignore money as a significant factor contributing to the definition of success. Someone of my disposition would argue that life is about the journey not the destination, however, the argument could then be made to look at the lifestyles experienced by successful business people. For those businessmen who are adamant that they are going to make oodles of money, I have no doubt that they will make oodles of money. For many who do hanker after oodles of money, it is likely that the chase and the close is more exciting that the final reward.

Business is about the end result. Therefore this discussion needs to consider the traditional definition of business success - how much money you make. We reach an interesting juncture as I am a firm believer, and this was further embedded by my thesis, that in order to be successful in anything, including business, you need to be passionate about what your business is about. I will even go so far as to postulate that 80% of the people whom I interviewed - successful woman in male dominated industries – selected their profession based on a passion or interest. None of them had any regard for whether this was a viable career choice. None of them considered whether not they would be able to make a living. They just follow a passion, knowing that they would enjoy what they were doing and the money and success followed. The women who I interviewed had all reached to top of their chosen professions.

So let's marry these theories, let's say a big two kinds of successful business people, those who chase the money with such a drive and ambition then they will sacrifice anything in order to achieve the monetary reward. And the other side of the continuum, the successful business person who is not particularly interesting money, they just enjoy participating in their passion. They have an ability to translate that passion and dedication into business and voilà.

We mustn't forget the third-party the party who has a passion and has the business acumen to transform their enthusiasm into a business. The lady who enjoys baking and the next thing you know she's making millions from her nougat.

Clients, customers and loyal users of any product or service value the result that they gain from the business. They don’t consider the hours, thought or hard work behind the scenes and therefore this could be termed redundant. It’s a sunk cost which the clever business person seeks to minimize. To work less hard, to put in fewer hours, to have a better quality of life, and to create a business that works for you.

I guess, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then why are you doing it?

There is no doubt that the definition of success is a personal one, however, within the business realm, the definition of a successful business person is a culmination of the financial rewards, combined with the lifestyle, the opportunities borne from success and the satisfaction of knowing that success has been achieved within a professional sphere. It would be assumed that the average successful business person would not hesitate to answer the question: If you won the lottery would you continue working? With a resounding: Yes! Because the money is not the only factor which defined business success, it’s just one of the pieces (albeit it a large piece) of the jigsaw of success which allows people to keep on being successful. Money doesn’t guarantee happiness, however, most people I know would rather be unhappy rich than unhappy poor!

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Propagating Insanity

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-08-20
There is a Chinese proverb which states: Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself. I suppose the English equivalent would be “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” Somehow the Chinese version seems so much more positive! When contemplating  human proactivity and advancement my mind wonders to Einstein, who  is duly credited with defining insanity as doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome. When stated like that it does seem insane, however, repeating the same actions and anticipating varied outcomes is not necessarily such a crazy idea. Neale often uses the example of pressing an incorrect key on the keyboard, hearing a ping, getting the error message and repeating this process until you finally realize that pressing the same key continually might not be the best possible solution to your problem. Quite simply, the reason why we repeat the same action is because initially we need to comprehend what is going on. An action is performed with an expected result, when something else happens; it sometimes takes us time to adjust to what is actually going on.  The other possibility for why we do the same thing over and over again is because we often don’t know what else to do.

This begs a simple question: Does not knowing what to do indicate an element of insanity or does it simply demonstrate a flawed problem solving ability? If we simply continue to do our jobs within the expected boundaries of productivity then we remain safe, predictable and employed. We also remain relatively problem free, until the computer - or whatever causes anxiety in our lives - decides to do something strange of its own accord and we are expected to resolve the issue without the skills, knowledge or inclination. When we proactively initiate change and make things better, we place ourselves into the realm of the unknown. Unless we shift our mindsets with that proactivity, insanity becomes a real threat.

There is another corollary to consider. Last week I had a meeting with a superbly intelligent and well spoken lady. She articulated herself magnificently and vaguely discussed nothing for an hour. I understand why the company employed her, however, as a medical professional in a corporate business environment; she has clearly been set up for immanent failure. The problem being that this lady is blatantly unconsciously incompetent. She has no clue what she should know and what she doesn’t know. Therefore, when she finds herself in a problem scenario she reverts to a ‘call center’ mentality, wherein she attempts the 3 or 4 things she has been instructed to try and works her way into a spin trying the same options again and again until she reaches exasperation. Desperate behavior can beautifully imitate insanity. This poor woman, who is a qualified professional, is not insane, she has merely been set up for failure and personally positioned herself in an arena in which she is not qualified to perform. The company inadvertently aids her in reaching her own level of incompetence very quickly.

This professional woman is not the exception, she is the norm. We all press the same key and wait for a different result because it would be easier not to change our behavior, search for a different solution or innovate beyond our own expectations. Further to this, we support one another in this process so that when we find ourselves managing a crisis, other people say “You did everything you could”; “How could you have known”; or “That’s not in your job description”. The tunnel vision which we allow ourselves and others to propagate within us keeps some people nicely in their comfort zone but for the pioneering thinkers amoungst us, it only embeds a behaviour which emulates insanity.

Oscar Wilde once said that in all opinions, our adversaries are insane. Meaning that when someone disagrees with us, we tend to disregard their logic for our own. Insanity is not a judgment, it is a frame of mind and if we revert to Einstein’s definition, it is a commonly accepted form of behavior. We do what we are instructed to do within the realms of that instruction. When something threatens the equilibrium of that situation, we dogmatically return to performing the same three or four ideas which may or may not resolve the issue. Companies cry for proactivity, yet embed procedures and reactivity. People call themselves proactive, yet complain that their lives just keep on keeping on without any progress.  In varying aspects of life the door is wide open; however, if you are unable to recognise the door, you are certainly unable to see beyond it. The Chinese proverb demands self-proactivity and personal empowerment, this is the antithesis of pressing the key again and again and hoping that the ping will disappear. Perhaps Milton Berle said it best when he postulated: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”.

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Discarding Greatness

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-06-20
If you could talk to someone who had walked every possible path which was relevant to your financial security, would you? If you could talk to someone who would save you money, would you? If you could talk to someone who would make your money work, while you don’t, would you? If you could talk to someone who could give you guaranteed peace of mind, would you? Would you ask him or her for their advice or would you discard them in order to make your own mistakes or to listen to a great administrator? These questions are stupid. They carry no weight. The answer is obvious, isn’t it?

After 36 years in the financial industry, my business partner has retired. Retirement is not the easiest decision in the world to make, particularly when you are in your own business. For working people the concept of retirement is fantastic! Someone once said that retirement is the practice of doing nothing – and not worrying about being caught at it! However, in reality, the process translates into a web of complications, countless people affected and endless logistics. And that does not begin to touch on the humongous personal emotional and psychological transformation experienced.

This process that I am now bearing witness to, reminds me of my father’s retirement 15 years ago. I can still see the picture I took of him as an old sick man, standing with his certificate of registration from the South African Institute of Architecture, which was returned to them on the date of his retirement. My feelings at the time were that it was so undignified to spend your life working in a profession and then have the dishonor of having your awarded certificate taken away. My feelings this time are more inclined towards the institutions. I actually feel sympathy for the financial services board of South Africa. It is not because I believe my business partner to be such an exceptional human being that I pity their loss, but rather that I honestly perceive his retirement as being a loss to the industry. The deficit in this case is unquantifiable. Pete Seeger asked: Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; Experience is what you get when you don't. This is my point exactly… the culmination of knowledge, street-smarts and live experience is so immeasurable because no one knows how much 36 years of experience carries until you need to draw on that bank and it no longer exists.

This retirement would be okay, if it wasn’t forced. Governing bodies have instituted such stringent regulations that the financial services industry now projects financial advisors to spend 70% of its time on admin and 30% on adding value to clients. Ironically, the intention is to stabilize and build integrity, the result can only be an industry of administrators. The people who are able to add value either need to find a way of outsmarting the system or they need to leave the industry. My business partner has chosen the latter. Organisations are constructed by people for people. Regardless of the industry, product or profits, people are involved somewhere. A board which represents an industry, represents the professionals therein and is deemed to protect them. Paradoxically, it is through the regulations that the good guys are forced to make another path for themselves.

It has been said that hindsight has 20:20 vision. How pitiful is this short-sightedness of an individual, and how many more like him, who embody greatness in terms of his knowledge, skills, experience and abilities have been discarded in place of white papers, check boxes and supervision. It makes me think how often we carelessly do this, discard greatness or the opportunity to nurture it because we are too busy, too focused, too structured, too arrogant or too important to notice it. Greatness appears in many forms but the result of discarding it looks the same. How often do we disregard advice because we have been burnt by ignorant advice or an opinion? How easy is it to find someone who genuinely has the capability of making your future more stable? How privileged would we be if we knew that 36 years of active experience and knowledge was protecting our investments? This rare opportunity has been discarded for the sake of a bigger picture which looses focus of the grand picture.

After 36 years a decision was taken, an industry has lost, and the next business and industry gains an opportunity to glean this man’s value. I can vouch that he will be an asset in any environment – except now, to financial services.

Best of luck Neale

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And that's my opinion

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-05-28
  Winston Churchill once said "There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion." True or false, Churchill had a point. An opinion is a subjective interpretation of facts, meaning that the actual objective data has been considered, placed into a context, had some emotion poured into it and presented as a result. A true intellectual has the ability to integrate a myriad of information and originate an opinion. What makes opinions fascinating is that the same source of data can be used as a basis for opposing arguments. It has been said that once an opinion is formed, new information is usually used to further embed that existing notion, as opposed to breathing new light and creating cause for reconsideration.

The potential harm comes when someone has an opinion, states the opinion as a fact and that 'fact' circulates or is acted upon. The person who took the opinion as fact can incur damage. The originator of that damage is usually completely oblivious of the domino effect that he or she has actioned. The logical response to this is surely you check your sources. Surely people do not just accept everything they hear as fact. Funnily enough, we seem to do exactly that. The more confident the source, the less we question the information they give us. And from the quotation above, Churchill believed that the public was completely lead by the media. A newspaper would publish something, people would read it and accept the content as fact. His quote indicates that he did not give the public much credit for creating their own opinions, nor for contemplating the validity of those they read. So if we can not believe everything we hear or read, then why would we even engage in a discussion in the first place and why is the media allowed to print something that may be based on fact but is now simply an opinion?

The reason is that we enjoy hearing opinions, they spark our own thought process in terms of whether we agree or disagree or respect someone or think they are a fool. If the opinion holder has a perspective that we hadn't thought of or with which we agree, we deem them intelligent. Conversely if we find flaw with their argument or simply disagree, we tend to disregard them and the opinion. Someone who sprouts endless thoughts we label opinionated and tend to disregard them too. Many tertiary institutions train their students to form opinions, and although a professional opinion must be justified, based on solid research and completely unbiased, the habit of forming an opinion seems to spread to all sectors of life. I mean if you would like financial advise countless doctors, dentists and psychologists are very happy to enlighten you! People seem to love sharing their opinions, just look at the booming tweets on twitter where that's all people do all day. Share their views. In fact, research has proven that broadcasting personal opinions gives people the same sense of reward as earning money. The study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell, "Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding"]

The reality is that an opinion is exactly that. It's a perspective. If that perspective is liked or makes logical sense it becomes a generally accepted point of reason. I think Plato defined an opinion perfectly when he said "Opinions can be persuasive, but only the assertions they are based on can be said to be true or false."

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Giving Credit where it's due

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-02-08
There is an African fable about how fire was brought to the Bushmen. It goes like this:

"In addition to life, Mantis also brought the first fire to the people. Before this, they ate their food raw, just as they killed it, like the leopard and the lion, and they slept in their shelters at night, with no cheering light to brighten the long dark hours. Mantis had noticed that whenever Ostrich went to eat, his food smelt different and delicious. So one day he crept close to Ostrich to observe him as he ate. He saw Ostrich furtively take some fire from beneath his wing, and dip his food into it. When he had finished eating, he carefully tucked the fire back under his wing, and walked off.

Mantis knew that Ostrich would not give him any fire, so he decided to make a plan. One day he went to visit Ostrich. 'Come,' he called, 'I have found a tree with delicious yellow plums on it.' Ostrich was delighted. He began to eat the plums that were easiest to reach. 'No, higher, higher! The best ones are right at the top,' Mantis urged him. As Ostrich stood up on tiptoe and spread his wings to balance himself, Mantis snatched some of the fire from beneath his wing and ran off with it. This was how he brought fire to the Bushmen. Since then, Ostrich, terribly ashamed, has never flown and keeps his wings pressed to his sides, to preserve the little fire he has left."

I like this fable because the result is that the Mantis is credited with bringing fire to the people. The fact that it was done in a manipulative and scheming manner is almost irrelevant. This is the exact result that we see in a business context. Ideas are initiated and often developed by one party, and then stolen and implemented by another, who receives all the credit. The question which comes to mind is it this wrong? The obvious answer is “Of course it’s wrong! Its theft!” However, what if the thief is oblivious of stealing the idea in the first place? What if the entrepreneurial nature is to take ideas as they come and develop them into money-making opportunities and the origin of the idea is completely forgotten. Our integrity tells us that this should not be the case, but reality shows us that it most definitely is the case. If one is oblivious of doing harm, does that make him or her innocent of wrong-doing? The psychology is simply that it is convenient to forget. In the self same manner that many successful people forget their roots, idea thieves forget to credit their “idea banks”.

Business culture rewards initiative and commends originality. There is no place in most existing cultures for those who are used for their abilities and then discarded without thought. The tradition that we propagate is that the person who came up with the idea should have moved quickly enough to implement it. Fair enough, but if society was based on ethical standards, surely the implementer would work together with the originator? This train of thought is naïve. It’s not a matter of feeling bitterness towards those who become successful based on another person’s idea, rather, a principle based on giving credit where it due and still building a success.

The Mantis brought fire to the people. How would it have hurt the Mantis to tell the people that the fire originated with the Ostrich? The fable continues that : “According to the Bushmen, the ostrich has always been rather an odd fellow. When the female makes her nest in a hollow in the warm sand, she lays 20 to 30 round, creamy eggs, but invariably leaves one outside. Why? Because she and her husband are so busy brooding on the theft of his fire that they can be very absentminded. She is even liable to forget she is sitting on a clutch of eggs, and so she puts one outside, just to remind herself and her husband that they are there.”

You see, the Ostrich is harmed. There is no compensation for being outsmarted in a dishonest way. The self doubt and harm created by greed knows no limits. The Mantis did harm and the Ostrich suffered and the people enjoy fire.

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New Year's Re-evaluation

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2012-01-10
There's an expression that New Year resolutions are something that go in one year and out the next without any action being taken. The array of smirks and knowing looks which follow when most of us share our resolutions, find their source in an awareness of human fragility to plough through the hard stuff - The actual steps and habit-adjustments which transform a resolution into a new way of life. For me, new year is a creative and introspective time.

The symbolic arrival of a fresh start denoted by the literal calendar shift, presents the clean chapter of the year ahead. The pages of the year appear blank and through our decisions, choices and actions we have the opportunity to draft the path which will mark our life and translate into memories, when this year reaches completion. The occasion to design an improved self coincides with the sun’s movement which reminds us that time is passing and there is a need to seal off the old and to engage with the new. Resolutions are goals and goals are only achieved when the goal-writer is really committed to the end result.

All the milestones and activities or self-restraint required to succeed form part of the planning and specification of how each self-improvement can emerge. The new year is a gift, in which each person is rewarded to examine his or her life, dreams and aptitudes, and then endowed with the chance to grow themselves into the person they would prefer to be. Chesterton worded it perfectly when he said "The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul." Happy New Year.

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Business in Botswana

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2011-10-13
Einstein said that the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. He maintained that it is the true source of art and science.

The hot musty air breedlast illness in me as we spend a few fascinating days working in Botswana. It's a privilege to be welcomed into people's lives in an environment where everyone is friendly, helpful and kind. It's hard to imagine any form of conflict emerging here as everyone seems so pleasant. But work is to be done so regardless of the weather, the nice people and the great temptation to take the rest of the day off!

Part of the enjoyment of this experience is the mystery of people minds and actions. We plan and strategize and consider and finally implement to make our client's businesses better. It's a detail-specific process laden with contemplation and scenarios. Our final act of implementation is their introductory steps to this process. We cannot implement for them. We cannot take control of each person and drive them to perform in the way we see fit to achieve results. We cannot transform an organization through concepts and ideas. We are obliged to develop the people in order to gain momentum within our structures so that the process becomes exactly that... A process towards success.

So in reality, our finale is actually our induction. We plan and strategize and consider and then we try very hard to make our clients also plan and strategize and consider so that our partnership works in tandem and that their business achieves results.

 The mystery of human thoughts and actions blares in each discussion. How diligent it would be to take plans and implement. How satisfying it would be to watch the business grow. How rewarding it would be for each person whose lives we touch to be genuinely uplifted. how simplistic our jobs would be if that were the case... So I guess I don't get to take the rest of the day off...
 
 Once again, it was Einstein who said that the only source of knowledge is experience. The Botswana experience is magical, productive and very enjoyable!
 
 Thank you.

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The cost benefit of social media

Author: Elana Siew
Date: 2011-09-16
Recently we, who are business mentors, who spend hours enhancing other people's businesses, decided to spend some time focusing on our own business. We have our website, our Facebook page and our LinkedIn site but now, strategically, everything must link, correspond and correlate so that we broadcast a common message.

For 2 days this has been the main business activity... Who is responding to all this high-energy-time-consuming-activity? Currently our existing client base. The result begs the question: what will the value of social networking really be? Will the cost yield benefits? Or will we be doing the work that we always did and just spend extra time that we never had doing extra activities for zero result?

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