AMI Consultancy Blog



Why work doesn’t happen at work

A great TED talk by Jason Fried on why the office environment isn’t a good place to be..


Making Room for Reflection Is a Strategic Imperative by Umair Haque

Business is, above all, busy. And maybe it’s too busy.

Let’s face it. Most of us spend most of our time chasing the immediate reward, the short-run “objective,” the near-term “goal — in short, the expedient and the convenient. But maybe business’s obsessive focus on doing hasn’t defused any of the following conflagrations, and is, instead, dumping Molotov cocktails on each: customers as detached, distrusting, and “disloyal,” investors firing back at boardrooms, regulators with bloodlust a-burning in their eyes, and about a trillion low-cost factories who can do it all faster, quicker, and cheaper anyway.
What most companies (and economies) don’t do is to stop doing — and that’s a self-defeating problem. We seem to be clueless about making room for deep questioning and thinking: reflecting. Our doing/reflecting ratio is wildly out of whack. Most action items might just be distraction items — from the harder work of sowing and reaping breakthroughs that matter.
The most disruptive, unforeseen, and just plain awesome breakthroughs, that reimagine, reinvent, and reconceive a product, a company, a market, an industry, or perhaps even an entire economy rarely come from the single-minded pursuit of the busier and busier busywork of “business.” Rather, in the outperformers that I’ve spent time with and studied, breakthroughs demand (loosely) systematic, structured periods for reflection — to ruminate on, synthesize, and integrate fragments of questions, answers, and thoughts about what’s not good enough, what’s just plain awful, and how it could be made radically better.
They consistently ask — in my experience, at least once a week, in informal, quick powwows — a handful of interrelated questions, never taking for granted that they’ve found the right, perfect, everlasting answer, but understanding instead, that the better answers evolve (and coevolve) with the world around them. In turn, reflection becomes the rocket fuel for experimentation, the lifeblood of high-level innovation, the spark of deeper meaning, and the wellspring of enduring purpose.So throw Frederick W. Taylor‘s textbook about “productivity” squarely at my nose if you’d like, but I’d suggest: the sharpest implement you might not yet have in your toolkit is a set of reflection items. Reflection items are what Mycroft was to Sherlock: the smarter — but largely invisible — big brother.
The catch is that most companies don’t know how to reflect. They’ve been finely engineered, instead, to do. So here’s how to craft your own reflection items.


Help is Not a Dirty Word by Mike Myatt

As much as some people won’t want to hear this, “help” is not a dirty word. Rather asking for help is a sign of maturity as a leader. So my question is this: Are you easy to help? Think about it…do you make it easy for others to want to help you, or is your demeanor such that most people won’t lift a finger to assist you in a time of need? How many times during the course of your career have you witnessed executives and entrepreneurs who desperately need help, but either don’t recognize it, or worse yet, make it virtually impossible for someone to help them? In today’s post I’ll address the importance of positioning yourself to be helped…
If your pride, ego, arrogance, ignorance, the way you were raised or any other excuse (yes I did say excuse) keeps you from asking for help, it is precisely those traits that will keep you from maximizing your potential. I hate to break it to you, but you don’t know everything or everybody, so why even bother pretending that you couldn’t use a bit of help? No single person can or should go it alone in today’s business world. The more partners, sympathizers, champions, allies, supporters, enablers, influencers, advisers, mentors, friends, and family you have helping you succeed, the faster you will achieve your goals. Without question the most successful business people on the planet are those that have learned to blow through self-imposed barriers to openly harness the power of broader spheres of influence.


Quieting the lizard brain

How can I explain the never-ending irrationality of human behavior?
We say we want one thing, then we do another. We say we want to be successful but we sabotage the job interview. We say we want a product to come to market, but we sandbag the shipping schedule. We say we want to be thin but we eat too much. We say we want to be smart but we skip class or don’t read that book the boss lent us.
The contradictions never end. When someone shows up and acts without contradiction, we’re amazed. When an athlete just does the sport, or when a writer just writes the words, we can’t help but watch, astonished at the purity of their actions. Why is it so difficult to do what we say we’re going to do?
The lizard brain.
Or as Steven Pressfield describes it, the resistance. The resistance is the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise. The resistance is writer’s block and putting jitters and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn’t stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door.
The resistance grows in strength as we get closer to shipping, as we get closer to an insight, as we get closer to the truth of what we really want. That’s because the lizard hates change and achievement and risk.
The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because her lizard brain told her to.
Want to know why so many companies can’t keep up with Apple? It’s because they compromise, have meetings, work to fit in, fear the critics and generally work to appease the lizard. Meetings are just one symptom of an organization run by the lizard brain. Late launches, middle of the road products and the rationalization that goes with them are others.
The amygdala isn’t going away. Your lizard brain is here to stay, and your job is to figure out how to quiet it and ignore it. This is so important, I wanted to put it on the cover of my new book. We realized, though, that the lizard brain is freaked out by a picture of itself, and if you want to sell books to someone struggling with the resistance (that would be all of us) best to keep it a little more on the down low.
Now you’ve seen the icon and you know its name. What are you going to do about it?


Why You Should Focus on "Worst Practices" by Umair Haque

If you want to be disruptive, don't start with best practices. Try, instead, find your industry's worst practices and take tiny steps — or better yet, giant leaps — towards bettering them. When you learn how to see them, worst practices lurk everywhere — because they're baked into the tired, toxic assumptions of business as usual. Customer service nightmares (think Dell Hell), design desolation (as I discussed in my recent post on Pontiac), lowest common denominators (like KFC's stomach-churningly grody Double Down), marketing by half-truth, and what you might call total zombification (think GM's reanimated IPO) — they're just a few shining examples of the worst of the worst, desperately crying out to be bettered. But they're not the only ones — and your challenge is finding and then bettering a few of your own, to form the basis of a disruptive competitive position.
So how do you find your worst practices? Here are four ways to get started.
Ask your critics. The simplest way to uncover a worst practice is to ask your critics — the fiercer, the better. Most companies have been taught to bash, beat, and silence them — but if you really want to discover where "best" is far from good enough, your critics are worth about five hundred times their weight in management consultants, pundits, and assorted beancounters. Way back in 2005, Jeff Jarvis wrote about his original experience of Dell Hell — and if Dell had listened to him with intent and candor, perhaps there wouldn't be an instant replay today.
Spend a day in the trenches. I'll admit it: I'm a compulsive watcher of "Undercover Boss." Why? Because there's nothing like watching a cloistered suit get a hefty dose of reality — and there's nothing to deliver that dose like spending time doing battle in the trenches. Want to discover what really sucks about your distribution, marketing, pricing, service, partners, or products? When you're in the boardroom, a dozen yes-men can cook up a billion excuses — but when you're the one doing the above, there's no escaping the truth. What might happen if the Gap's senior management had to spend time actually trying to sell its uninspiring clothes to increasingly fashion-fragmented teens? I'd bet they'd cotton on quick to their worst practice: aesthetic aridity.

Examine your past.
Most forlorn, fading companies had a day in the sun — once. And a great way to look for worst practices is to get historical. There's nothing like looking backwards, and examining the treasured memory of what made you great, to provoke the "a-ha!" moment about what you lost, when you lost it, and, most importantly, why you lost it. Once upon a time, Sony made awesome stuff like the Walkman because it was hyper-attuned to people's rapidly evolving expectations. If I had to put money on it, I'd say that's exactly what Sony lost somewhere along the corporate-reshuffling way. Now, like too many doddering corporations, Sony's stuck on auto-repeat, pushing capital intensive, overmarketed, marginally improved, less-than-relevant stuff at people, instead of igniting new markets for what they will want next — but don't yet have. Funny — that sounds a bit like the story of the American economy itself.
Diet on your own dogfood. What would happen, one wonders, if every CEO had a new clause inserted into his or her gilded contract: you make it, you use it — exclusively. It's just a hunch, but I'd bet that if fast food execs could only eat fast food, if bankers could only invest in their own toxic securities, and if pharma execs had to swallow a handful of their own pills every morning, the economy might not be so riddled with toxic, self-destructive junk. Hence, if you want to track down your worst practices, start by making what you make part of the fabric of your own daily life. What — you think Steve Jobs types his emails on a Dell? Of course not. There's a lesson there for every company struggling to break out of the lumbering herd, by bettering its worst.
While we might not want to admit it, I'd bet that deep down, we all know it: business as usual isn't just marginally, barely not good enough — at doing stuff that lasts, resonates, and matters, it's downright lousy. Business as usual is to enduring worth, bigger purpose, and deeper meaning what motivational posters are to the Mona Lisa. Result? An economy awash in the trivial, banal, inconsequential — and the downright toxic.
The 20th century's best just might not be good enough to create 21st century advantage. To get there, you have to master the art of mattering. One way to start is hunting for what's terrible, insufferable, and downright awful — and then striving, relentlessly, harder than your rivals think is even conceivable, to better it.



Entrepreneurs Must Focus on Learning by Patrick Lefler

The Entrepreneurial Mindset written by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan is one of the best resources available for organizational entrepreneurial strategy. While the book was written ten years ago in 2000, it still defines the methods for success for fast competitors who “move on ideas that others overlook and who confidently act while others dither.” One of the authors’ key points for success is to “keep the focus on learning.”
“Ensure that team members practice the discipline of discovery-driven planning. Document assumptions and test them before making major investments. Systematically redirect your project as you convert assumptions into knowledge. In particular, learn from surprises as well as mistakes. A surprise is what occurs when you do better than expected. Even so, you did something wrong! Often the results won’t be analyzed, because it was positive. But because surprises stem from incorrect assumptions, you need to check out those assumptions to make sure that you continue to be surprised.”
Converting assumptions into knowledge is one of the most important determinants for success–whether it be a radical new market start-up or a product line extension–for any new venture. And the first step in this process is to actually write down all your assumptions. Getting these assumptions or hypotheses down on paper is essential because you’ll be referring to them, testing them, and updating them throughout the process. These assumptions can be on a myriad of factors that can affect the success (or failure) of your entrepreneurial venture, but most likely they fall into these six categories:
  • Product
  • Customer challenges
  • Distribution and pricing
  • Demand creation
  • Market type
  • Competition
Just about the only way to test these assumptions and convert them into knowledge is to get out of the office and speak to the market. Talk to customers (current or assumed). Find out what their challenges are. Find out what they might be willing to pay for a solution that solves their challenges. Don’t just target the users or decision makers, also find out who the influencers are, who the recommenders are, and who the real economic buyers are. In many cases, the economic buyers are different from either the users and decision makers. And one more thing, find out who the saboteurs are-the individuals and groups who have become comfortable with the status quo and would be most threatened with your new product, solution or entrepreneurial venture.
Here’s the takeaway: Testing your assumptions and converting them into knowledge is an essential first step in getting any new venture started. Spend time formulating these assumptions; write them down; test them and then modify them. Continue to repeat until the feedback loop tells you otherwise.


The Five Habits of Highly Effective Hives by Thomas Seeley

How the hive makes its most important decision One of the popular misconceptions about honey bees is that their lives are ruled by a queen — or perhaps by even some more fanciful system. But in the forty years that I've spent studying bees, I've learned that their colonies are remarkably complex, in many ways comparable to an animal brain, despite being individually quite simple. And every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing a new home, honey bees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. It is a democratic process that humans — especially office drones — might do well to emulate.
When a beehive becomes overpopulated, usually in the late spring or early summer, some two-thirds of the workers and the old queen, often up to 10,000 bees in total, leave home in a swarm and gather on a nearby tree branch in a beard-shaped cluster. From there, a few hundred scout bees, which are often the bees that have the most experience with the world beyond the hive, take off in all directions, searching for tree cavities. The ideal space for a new hive can be difficult to find: the opening should be small, about 10 meters off the ground, and lead to a 40-liter cavity inside a sturdy, living tree. Each scout that discovers a promising site inspects it to see if it is suitably roomy and secure, and then returns to the cluster to announce her find by performing a waggle dance. The dance indicates both the location and the quality of the site.
As the scouts report on their respective sites, other scouts observe and follow the directions to the indicated locations. (The direction of the waggle dance shows the direction of the new location relative to the angle of the sun, and the duration of each circuit of the dance indicates distance — I told you this was complicated!) Each scout inspects the site she navigated to and if she agrees that is a desirable dwelling place, she too performs a waggle dance when she returns to the swarm.
Bees are thoroughly honest advertisers. The better she judges the site, the longer she dances, and the more effective she is in recruiting other scouts to make their own forays to the spot. This means that, despite the competing information that scouts bring back to the swarm, eventually, usually over a day or two, enough scouts will agree on the best site to cause them to induce the rest of the swarm to fly there.
Even though an individual bee is not particularly intelligent, the collective intelligence of the group produces impressive results. Almost always — about 90 percent of the time in my experiments — the swarm chooses the best of the options it has found.

What we can learn from the hive


Building Balanced Teams by Roy Luebke

It can be very obvious when looking at dating or married couples that opposites attract. We see strengths in others that we do not possess ourselves and it oftentimes brings people together. Yet it can be these very differences that cause the conflict, misunderstanding, and frustration which cause couples to break apart. The fact that people of opposite natures do attract one another is important to consider when building teams of people in the work environment. We have probably all been on dysfunctional teams as well as fantastic teams. Why is it that some teams work great together, while the same set of people configured on different teams will struggle?


"I don't have any good ideas" by Seth Godin

Now I know you're bluffing.

First, everyone has good ideas. Maybe not as fast or as often as others, but are you telling me that in your entire life, you've never had one good idea? Ever?
Second, and way more telling, what happens if I give you a good idea. Here. Take it. Now what? You have it, right?
Now you need to find a second reason for not making things happen. "I don't have enough time." "I can't get the resources." "I'm not sure, really sure, guaranteed, that this is a good idea." "My boss won't let me."
And so the lizard brain speaks up, and so the cycle continues, and so the Resistance wins.
There are more good ideas, right here, right now, for free, than ever before. More opportunities to connect and lead and make a difference and an impact and a living. Fewer guarantees, sure, but more ideas.
It's your choice about whether or not you do anything with them, but please don't tell me you don't have any good ideas.



Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything by Tony Schwartz

I've been playing tennis for nearly five decades. I love the game and I hit the ball well, but I'm far from the player I wish I were. I've been thinking about this a lot the past couple of weeks, because I've taken the opportunity, for the first time in many years, to play tennis nearly every day. My game has gotten progressively stronger. I've had a number of rapturous moments during which I've played like the player I long to be.
And almost certainly could be, even though I'm 58 years old. Until recently, I never believed that was possible. For most of my adult life, I've accepted the incredibly durable myth that some people are born with special talents and gifts, and that the potential to truly excel in any given pursuit is largely determined by our genetic inheritance.
During the past year, I've read no fewer than five books — and a raft of scientific research — which powerfully challenge that assumption (see below for a list). I've also written one, The Way We're Working Isn't Working, which lays out a guide, grounded in the science of high performance, to systematically building your capacity physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
We've found, in our work with executives at dozens of organizations, that it's possible to build any given skill or capacity in the same systematic way we do a muscle: push past your comfort zone, and then rest. Aristotle Will Durant*, commenting on Aristotle, pointed out that the philosopher had it exactly right 2000 years ago: "We are what we repeatedly do." By relying on highly specific practices, we've seen our clients dramatically improve skills ranging from empathy, to focus, to creativity, to summoning positive emotions, to deeply relaxing.
Like everyone who studies performance, I'm indebted to the extraordinary Anders Ericsson, arguably the world's leading researcher into high performance. For more than two decades, Ericsson has been making the case that it's not inherited talent which determines how good we become at something, but rather how hard we're willing to work — something he calls "deliberate practice." Numerous researchers now agree that 10,000 hours of such practice as the minimum necessary to achieve expertise in any complex domain.
There is something wonderfully empowering about this. It suggests we have remarkable capacity to influence our own outcomes. But that's also daunting. One of Ericsson's central findings is that practice is not only the most important ingredient in achieving excellence, but also the most difficult and the least intrinsically enjoyable.
If you want to be really good at something, it's going to involve relentlessly pushing past your comfort zone, along with frustration, struggle, setbacks and failures. That's true as long as you want to continue to improve, or even maintain a high level of excellence. The reward is that being really good at something you've earned through your own hard work can be immensely satisfying.


Childish vs. childlike by Seth Godin

Childlike makes a great scientist.
Childish produces tantrums.
Childlike brings fresh eyes to marketing opportunities.
Childish rarely shows up as promised.
Childlike is fearless and powerful and willing to fail.
Childish is annoying.
Childlike inquires with a pure heart.
Childish is merely ignored.


Get Buy-In by Keeping It Simple

When presenting a new idea or proposal, chances are that you know more about the topic than your audience. When this is the case, it can be tempting to bombard them with data and analysis. But rather than being convinced, your audience is likely to feel overwhelmed. Forget the hundreds of pages of numbers you have to back up your argument and keep it simple. Present your point in a short, uncomplicated, and clear manner. Focus on what the audience cares about and use common sense — not fancy charts and complicated analysis — to win their approval.                            


Over commit to one thing by Dan Rockwell

“Successful people have a glaring tendency to over commit,” Marshal Goldsmith. Leaders live for opportunities. Opportunities ignite passions. As a result they may chase too many chickens at once and end up empty handed. In other words, opportunities may create over commitment. Over commitment yields mediocre results. Get further by doing less not more.