Sunday, 25 January 2009

WYBIWYG: What You Believe Is What You Get

I knew the world was in danger the last time I visited Meg's delicatessen in town. It was back last Summer and we popped in for something nice to eat one afternoon.

There were only a handful of customers and Meg didn't look too busy. When we asked how things were, her reply was, "It's very quiet. I think it's this credit crunch. Everyone's in the same boat."

Now Meg is absolutely brilliant at what she does. You can't get better strawberry tarts this side of the Border. Her place is spotless, cheerful, and well-priced. But Meg is no financial analyst.

That's when I knew she'd been infected.

As more bad news pours out of our newspapers and TV screens, I was reminded of Meg this week. And of this story from Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian author of the best-selling novel, "The Alchemist". Here it is...

A man was selling oranges in the street. He was illiterate and so never read the newspapers. He merely put out a few signs along the road and spent the day proclaiming the excellence of his merchandise.

Everyone bought from him, and the man prospered. He invested the money he earned in more signs and went on to sell more fruit. Business was booming when he had a visit from his son, who had been educated and had studied in the big city. "Brazil is in desperate straits, Pa. The economy's going into a terrible recession."

Worried, the man reduced the number of signs and started selling inferior oranges because they were cheaper. Very soon, customers who had enjoyed the better oranges deserted him and sales plummeted.

"My son's right," he thought. "These are indeed difficult times."

That story has been in Volume 2 of our series of "Stories that Coach" for as long as I can remember but it could have been written in just the last year.

Sometimes the world gets infected with a strange collective virus and then sleepwalks into nightmare scenarios of its own making.

It's time to wake up from the nightmare. It's time for a collective return to a belief in our ability to creatively deal with anything thrown at us. It's time to stop believing in the doomsayers.

It's time to believe in ourselves again!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Any Dream Will Do

Some time ago, my wife and I went to the theatre to see a performance of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat".

It was a magical evening, with great songs, great performances, and a great story.

If you don't know it, it's about the Biblical Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob, who is despised by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, thrown into prison on false accusations, saved by his ability to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, and appointed as overseer of Egypt's economy during periods of plenty and famine.

On our way home, we wondered why, 4000 years on, the story of Joseph still has such a pull on 21st century audiences. What other story this old gets audiences pouring into theatres and cheering from the rafters?

And, then, the penny dropped.

Joseph is very much a modern figure who has plenty to teach us about some of the problems we face today.

Consider how...
  • despite all his bad fortune, most of it unfair, Joseph never complains
  • even when literally at rock bottom, in a deep prison dungeon, he still believes that things will turn out OK, telling us "any dream will do"
  • he uses his strengths, - interpreting dreams, - to build contacts and serve others
  • when rescued from prison and appointed viceroy by Pharaoh, he becomes the consummate manager, organiser, and planner ensuring that the farmers of Egypt grow enough during the 7 years of plenty to get through the 7 years of famine
  • when he is finally reunited with his starving brothers, he doesn't seek revenge, but gives them food and a few cleverly-delivered learning points.
My friend, Terrence Seamon, Principal of THS Facilitation Solutions in New York, says that in our own credit crunch year of 2009, managers need 6 qualities to get them through:

1. courage, to face the facts and make the personal sacrifices needed
2. steadfastness, to hold on to core values and not take the easy route
3. wisdom, to recognize what is happening and distinguish the baby from the bathwater
4. engagement, to work with others in figuring out how to weather the storm
5. vision, to know for certain that things will get better
6. caring, to help others who are looking for guidance and support.

To me, these qualities sum up the story of Joseph, who is surely the modern manager par excellence with the ability to lead as well as manage, to inspire as well as plan, and to dream as well set goals.

Isn't that exactly what we need today?

PS The mix of Personal Development, Management and Leadership Skills is exactly the mix you get when you train and learn with ManageTrainLearn. Take a look at the Leadership and Management skills you can learn or the range of learning products in our Superstore.

PPS And for another great place to learn the skills you need to get by, go to Terrence Seamon's Learning Voyager blog at It's great!

(c) ManageTrainLearn 2009

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Welcome to 2009 - the Year of Uncertainty

Just a few days into 2009, and already the talk everywhere is about the uncertainties of the year ahead. Of course, this is partly media hype but there is a very real sense that, after last year's extrordinary events, nobody really knows what is going on any more in finance, business or management.

So what should the astute manager do? Answer: manage uncertainty.

Managing uncertainty sounds like a contradiction in terms. Management is normally about order, planning, measuring, observing, calculating, reasoning: things that we can be certain of. But in times of change and turmoil, there may be no certainties, no definite ways to manage, no easy answers. That is why we need to develop a management approach that copes with the messy, the crazy, the illogical and the contradictory.

Managing uncertainty requires us to handle the following concepts...
1. beliefs that you can't prove
2. goals that might change
3. priorities that don't stay the same
4. knowledge that you can't be sure of
5. plans that get ditched
6. actions that don't lead where you expected
7. outcomes that you don't expect.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter probably described it best a few years ago when she said that the modern manager needs to be "an elephant that has learned how to dance". In other words, firmly grounded in the right values and the right certainties but adaptable to changing times and the changing fears of customers and employees.

The following story is a good one to take us all through 2009. It's called "You Never Know..."

The Sultan of Persia had sentenced two men to death.
One of the men, knowing how much the sultan liked his stallion, offered to teach the horse to fly within a year if the sultan would spare him his life.
The sultan, fancying himself as the rider of the only flying horse in the world, agreed.

"You're mad,” said the other prisoner. “You know that horses can't fly. You're only putting off the inevitable.”
"Not so,” said the first prisoner. “I have four chances of escaping my sentence.
First, the sultan might die.
Secondly, I might die.
Thirdly, the horse might die.
And fourth…I might teach the horse to fly.”

Moral: Never be too certain of what the future holds.

Learn how to cope with change and come out of the year on top with Change Management resources from ManageTrainLearn.