More I read which got me thinking

Over half a year has passed since posting What I read got me thinking. It’s time to update the list with other great books – ones which made me think, find fascinating and thought-provoking.
Inspiration is a source of engagement which is key to reach goals and new things. Inspired by Marty Cagan is a great book on inspiring products and product management. Marty helps teams to discover and build outstanding products at the right time for consumers. In today’s fast-moving world it requires empowered teams which have experiences and deep insights to innovate and produce products clients love. The managers’ main duty is to enable and foster such teams rather than performing short-term labour arbitrage for income polishing.
Maybe you are tired as well of yearly performance management processes and feel that such processes do not produce any value in the current time of change. Measure What Matters by John Doerr gives a lot of insights into the operational key results (OKR) based approach adopted by many of the most successful companies today. Not all companies are ready to adopt this as it requires an honest and transparent culture from the CEO down to all the employees to get the organization aligned with what really matters.
Many companies have lost their innovative power which attributed to their past success(s). Many started to preserve their brand and sustain by iterations of the same products lacking any real innovation or change. Iterations are a sign that a company is on the way down and that it may need somebody to revitalize it by hitting the refresh button. Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella shows how Microsoft did this by aligning the employees and the company behind common goals. Such a refresh action will eliminate a substantial amount of the bureaucracy/overhead in many organizations today.
Zurück an die Arbeit‘  is another great read where Lars Vollmer relates as though he is an employee of the company you are working for. In a world of fast changes it is key to give the people the option and the authority to decide and move. In his newest book ‘Wie sich Menschen organisieren, wenn ihnen keiner sagt, was sie tun sollen‘ Lars outlines with great examples what happens when people just start to organize themselves based on shared objectives and how incredibly powerful and engaging the results can be.
Many people define goals without reflecting enough and get frustrated if things do not work out in the way they imagine. It becomes key to understand one’s own motivations and priorities to identify what really matters. The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson explores this in a direct and immensely thought-provoking style.
The amount of great knowledge out there at your fingertips is amazing. I wonder how many people think they are too busy to take the time to read, think and reflect.

Motivation and the need to disrupt yourself

Mark Murphy recently published an article on Forbes titled What Motivates You At Work? He lists five types of motivations:
  • Achievement: People with a high need for achievement seek to excel.
  • Power: People who are driven by a need for power as they do want to be recognized for being influential. 
  • Affiliation: People with a high need for affiliation want harmonious relationships with other people and they want to feel accepted by others. 
  • Security: People with a high need for security look for continuity, consistency and predictability in their job, work, and pay. 
  • Adventure: People with a need for adventure are motivated by risk, change, and uncertainty. They thrive when the environment or the work is constantly changing. 
There is an online self-evaluation to help you identify the things that motivate you. I did the evaluation and it suggested that I’m motivated by adventures, by trying out new things and move forward.
But man is a creature of habit. And it is hard to get out of habits built up over years. I noticed that I stopped moving forward in my former life which finally triggered a decision. We, a group of colleagues started a new company named YAPEAL. A month is not a long time but I think there is one big change I feel each and every day. Maybe not the best way to phrase it, but I started to feel myself much better again. The work before was interesting but somehow had little impact, reactions were always similar and any change felt impossible or at least difficult. Now everything matters – this is challenging but very motivating.

Who is leading?

Our post Next stop – FinTechGiants touched on the three structures existing in any organization:
  • a formal structure of power, required to perform business and ensure regulatory compliance
  • an informal structure of social networks and communication paths
  • a value creation structure which solves problems and produces the values 
All three structures exist in each and every organization or company and each has its own leaders. Leadership is one of the often used terms. But what is a leader? What is leadership? 
  • Leadership is the result of a social process 
  • It is something which happens between people
  • It is typically the result of a bottom-up process 
  • And it often requires passion, inspiration and motivation to jointly achieve a goal
Leadership is something which cannot be actively assigned – it needs to be earned or gained. It is about being respected or accepted as a leader. 
The roles in the formal structure are assigned. They are 
  • typically the result of a top-down assignment
  • they give position power 
  • they allow controlling a group to achieve a goal
  • they come with clear expectations by those with more power who made the assignment
  • often results of internal politics used to secure or gain assigned power
Having such a formal position does not imply being a leader – it just implies control or management power. While a good leader typically also has management skills there are many managers which are no leaders. Individuals with important formal roles in companies often start to separate themselves from the rest. They become an elite in an organization and lose the contact with the base. Many of them also have no vision to share and hence focus on managerial or material aspects driven by the fear to fail. This is not sufficient in the current time of change where companies need leaders to move successfully towards a shared vision by giving direction.

Ongoing loss of agility

Do you remember Wall-E and the Axiom? If not, then you may want to go and watch the movie before reading on …

What comes into your mind when thinking about the humans on the Axiom? They are harmonious, homogenous in lifestyle, well-functioning and polite. They follow the daily routines and enjoy somehow the time on the ship. The ship has taken control of their life and organizes it for them. Everything is predictable, under control and automatically managed 24×7.

An interesting question is if such a comfortable state is really desirable. Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills in unexpected situations. But what is the result if intelligence is actually no longer required in daily life? The axiom could stimulate the humans by creating surprises and challenges but the people would soon figure out that this is only a game and does not really matter. If typical human skills are no longer required, what motivates people? What is the value and position of humans in such an environment?

The situation on the Axiom is an extreme state. But the question if we are progressing in such a direction is interesting.

It feels that the civilised world wants a “constant” to make all predictable and eliminate negative surprises. But such events may often not be positive or negative by their own. It is more how people react to them. If a system like the Axiom takes care if everything, will human intelligence, processing, or even value degenerate?

When people are in such a comfortable state, will they try or attempt something new – fearing to lose what they already have? Could the evolution of our society bring, as a consequence, a complete loss of agility? Are we already on the way to such a state caught in daily routines defined by others?

Need to break free from legacy ….

Interaction with the environment is an essential ingredient to success in the mesh economy of the age of information. Many companies seem to struggle with this as they cannot let the past go. The legacy defines what is possible and also what success means. The activities are inside out oriented dominated by the inherent constraints.

One reason might be that many organizations have lost the sovereignty to move forward. For quite some time organizations were optimized by means of business process outsourcing. Near and offshoring, it was believed, would bring efficiency. That was maybe true in the age of industrialization. But it is not true anymore in the age of the information where lean and agile structures, skills and technology make the difference while repetitive tasks are automated. The approach may have provided a bit of short-term profit polishing but unfortunately resulted in a longer term strategic disadvantage as skills and know-how moved to the sourcing partner.

Another reason might be the way how business cases are used today. Any change requires a business case. This was relative simple in the slow changing age of individualization and also works well for small changes today. It does not work well in the world of VUCA.

In addition the dynamics in organizations do not help with the approach. The own business case has to be better than most other cases to have a chance in the internal competition for funding, so it will be optimized a bit. Since everyone knows that, all the cases are being tuned. The management sees the number of excellent business cases a a luxury problem – it feels good to have such choice.

On the flip side the decision process gets difficult and tedious. During all these processes and procedures, a lot of time passes by. At the point when decisions are finally made the environmental conditions have changed, and everything should actually start again. But that would be too painful, so the execution of the initiatives starts anyway. At some point after the project start, management realizes that the projects are a little off the mark, then the organization re-prioritizes and the internal bureaucracy starts again. Then also the ego of the typical manager starts to amplify the effects – a great manager cannot have done anything wrong, which brings the whole theater to the next round.

Bigger changes are hard to get through – the assumptions feel less intuitive and the risks are perceived to be higher. Hence the small incremental changes are preferred and the core fundamental ones continuously push down in priority. The company change capacity slows down and the cultural legacy is soon be joined by technical legacy. Some people like this stage as it offers the opportunity to launch simplification programs, which of course suffer from the same effects as all other projects.

I think there is only one way to resolve such a situation – push ‘refresh’. Rethink the business model and decompose the organization into self sufficient units. Give them the competence to decide and also the responsibility to deal with outcomes.

And this leads to the most challenging point – the time “where the turkeys are asked to vote for Christmas” and to disrupt themselves.