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Sunday, 27 December 2009

Information, Knowledge and Intelligence

Of the many speakers we have had to my Vistage group, probably more than 300 since the group was formed, several stand out as memorable. One of these was Herbert (Herb) Meyer who had been a journalist and author and later, special counsel to Bill Casey who was Director of the CIA during the Reagan administration.

For perhaps obvious reasons, Herb was a genuine specialist in the assessment of information and ran a superb session on the Information Overload.

He made the point that the availability of information is growing exponentially but our ability to absorb all this growth is extremely limited to say the least. Search engines, led of course by Google, have made it very simple to find what we are looking for and this allows us to be selective in our searching and consequent absorption of the information.

The clue is, however, when we have the information, what are we going to do with it? Google is so all-encompassing that even a simple search will bring up literally millions of web pages and then what?

Research shows that our attention span is so short that unless what we are looking for appears on the first page of the Google search and even more, in the top three, then we ignore the rest.

What is needed, then, is the ability to transform the raw information into knowledge which possibly requires more “drilling down” research.

And then what?

Herb made the point that information and knowledge is no more than interesting and the real value lies in our ability to transform the knowledge into intelligence.

In other words, what is the ADDED VALUE that we can derive from the research?
What OUTCOME are we seeking from the research?
Hence, what ACTION can we take as a result of the research?

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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Emphasise the Important, not the Urgent!

In my life as a Vistage Chairman, it has become apparent to me that a great deal of business time is devoted to trivia, irrelevancies and inconsequentialities. On the other hand, far too little effort is put into assessing the real priorities in the business and devoting time and effort to them.

Too much time is spent on the urgent rather than the important. If major effort is put into solely that which is urgent, then the consequences are, almost inevitably, fire fighting. A side issue is that emphasis on the urgent invariably begets “upwards delegation”. In other words, no decisions are taken at any level other than the top.

It seems to me that managers of businesses need to take time out to decide on what is truly important and then to ensure that all other matters are delegated. However, if that freedom is to be given to managers then the quid pro quo is that they become accountable for their performance. Top management can then assess performance and work out ways in which it can be improved, perhaps incrementally, and how they (top management) can assist.

A further quid pro quo is that there must be a “no blame” culture in the business. People must be prepared to bring the bad news as well as the good without feeling that the messenger will be shot. We learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes.

Ask the questions: What should we do more of? What should we do less of? And crucially, what should we STOP doing?

All of this takes a great leap of faith but the results can be startling. The basis is that of simplicity, elimination of complexity and emphasis on the important.

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Sunday, 13 December 2009


It’s the cry of the leader who just can’t let go, who considers that if he/she dives in to do the job, then it will be done right and, moreover, quickly.

How many times have we heard the cry? Worse, how many times have we said it ourselves?

I recall a Vistage member some time ago, who started a business when he was very young and, perhaps not to his surprise, but certainly to everyone else’s, it was successful, to the extent that he had developed a (at the time) unique product and sales were beating £2million. Not bad for a twenty something.

However, not only was he the sole owner, he was the sole leader and consequently, everyone reported to him. In addition, sales had started to flatten out.

The inevitable happened. He started to experience “upward delegation”, that phenomenon which moves the monkey from one back to another and preferably the leader’s.

To give him his due, he had read some books on management and he decided that he would have to build a management team if he were to grow the business, so he recruited.

He told me: “I was fed up of being nagged for decisions all the time so I decided that we would have a Sales Director, an Operations Director and a Finance Director. What is more, I accepted that they wouldn’t do the job as well as I could but I had to accept that.”

“In fact, arrogant as I was,” he said, “I persuaded myself that even if they did the job only half as well as I could, then it would be worth while”.

“So what happened?” I asked him

Slightly shamefaced, he said “I soon discovered that not only did they do their job as well as I could, they were actually far better because they were dealing with their own function, in which they were expert, and I had to do it all and learn how to do it at the same time”.

The company went on to grow by about 700% and he bought a Ferrari and a boat.

And the moral is? As we say in Vistage, “No-one is as smart as all of us”.
Building a business is a matter of building a team of like minded individuals all of whom have the same objective, to make the business successful.

You might just finish up with a Ferrari and a boat.

Check the Vistage blog at www.vistageblog.co.uk
Contact me at ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

Saturday, 5 December 2009


The great Phil Copp, perhaps the very best engineering salesman I ever worked with, demonstrated to me how you can exploit your strengths in a situation which may, at first sight, seem lost.

One of Phil’s major customers recruited a new buyer and the inevitable happened. The young upstart called Phil in and told him that unless he negotiated a significant discount, then he would lose the business.

Because Phil worked for a company that had the nerve never to negotiate its prices, he told the buyer and waited for the reaction. It came pretty quickly; Phil’s company would get no more business and it would go to the competition.

Phil’s reaction was immediate. He went in to the former customer and specifically into the drawing office (do they still have drawing offices these days?).

Going to each of the draughtsmen in turn, he asked them to give him his company’s catalogues. This they did until Phil was burdened down with a great pile of them and he turned to leave.

I should, at this point, explain that the catalogue was much more than merely a listing of the products available. It was used by virtually every engineer worth his salt to calculate the optimum product for the application as it had an invaluable technical section which applied to any make of product.

At this stage, the bemused draughtsmen began to realise that something was not quite right. The cry went up:

“What are you doing Phil?”

“I’m taking our catalogues back” was the reply

“You can’t do that; we use them all the time”

“Too bad” said Phil “I’m taking them back because you aren’t dealing with us any more so you won’t need them”

“Oh yes, we do” they said “we can’t work without them”

“You’re going to have to try” said Phil adamantly, “your buyer has dumped us for the competition” and he marched out triumphantly with his pile of catalogues.

It took about six weeks for the drawing office to register their fury at the buyer’s high handed decision and make him rethink. While he would have saved perhaps a few percentage points on the price, his company would have lost out badly in terms of service and more particularly, in the vital technical backup which Phil and his company gave.

The moral is? Where you have a strength, make sure that you know what it is and how it impacts on your customers. Ask the question – why do they buy from us if we are more expensive than the competition? In the end, it will answer the WIIFM question set by the customer – what’s in it for me? Then exploit it mercilessly!

For further information contact us at:

Email: ivan.goldberg@maa-uk.co.uk
Website www.maa-uk.co.uk