Honour what’s right, not what someone else made up

I had finished an appointment in town and instead of a stressful drive on the Southern Motorway to my office in Manukau, decided to cruise down Sandringham Road to Highway 20, which always seems more relaxing (I wonder: has the Queen ever been driven to the intersection of St Lukes and Sandringham Roads where the sign directs you left to Balmoral and straight-ahead to Sandringham?!). At the Wesley Community centre I came across a colourful and bustling market, prompting me to stop, grab the camera and have a look around.

A terrible tragedy has struck in the heart of Moscow. A suicide bomber declaring “I will kill you all”, detonated a large bomb, killing, well not all but 35 and maiming scores. In the weekend, a woman’s body was found burning on the side of the road near Huntly, after what appears to have been a so-called “honour-killing”. It may or may not be the case here, but whatever the circumstances are, such a terrible thing, does exist. Last week a couple in their sixties were subject to a cruel and cowardly attack in small-town New Zealand, because of their sexual preference. Like something from the small-church USA who picket gay funerals.

In our leadership work much of the growth in leaders comes form understanding, challenging and seeking to change leaders’ mental models. Compared to a suicide bomber or “honour” killer, the subject matter can seem pretty insignificant. But what happens during our life’s experiences will shape us and cause us to interpret things in a certain, blinkered way. It’s our way of making sense of the world. And we put up with some of it because “that’s the way they are” or “you need to be careful that you approach her this way” or whatever.

As I walked to the market a polynesian church service was underway inside the community hall. A chinese man, struggling to do his sales pitch to a couple who’s mother-tongue was something else too, was selling tools, gas cookers and an assortment of bathroom fittings. So reasonably priced, I soon found myself the proud owner of a trademan’s filler gun. Just had to have it. Fruit for Africa –  in fact some of the locals may have originally been from Africa – second-hand clothes and cheap DVD players. It was a colourful and vibrant scene. And the sense was of tolerance of culture and perhaps belief.

We can delude ourselves with tolerance though. Some things are just not right and we should never forget it and how that they came to be. Our species has only been around for 100,000 years. If the existence of planet earth was a 24-hour clock then our time on it is only a few seconds. So what? I reckon this can put into perspective a claim of “culture”, “ancient belief” that justifies behaviours, some that are tragic. That is, some other guys (mainly) and girls came up with these ideas in quite recent history. Like everything to do with man. Recent, really.

I hope that you are as offended as I am by the examples of behaviours that are driven from some part of human culture. If we want to make it to 200,000 years we need to keep demanding of ourselves that any behaviour that causes harm to another because of some belief held as true, be stomped out. And this might include less dramatic behaviours than murder of course.

Otherwise, are we any better than those sick men in my culture that murdered the women as witches in the not too distant past?

Be tolerant, but not of deluded beliefs that fuel tragedy. Ever.


Integrative thinking with Judith

Everything can be understood and is explainable. Cause and effect will explain everything we do. So if we put guns in all the police cars then that will deal with the apparently permanent increase in attacks on police. Just as more police officers, tasers, harsher sentences, more prisons, less parole have all reduced crime. Excuse me a modicum of sarcasm. Could it be that these measures actually don’t do anything? Has the crime rate reduced? The uncomfortable demeanour of the police commissioner fronting media on the proposal and John Key’s caution contrasts starkly with the forthright, simplistic “they’re armed more so we have to be” approach of the police union and our minister of police Judith Collins. Why?

The mental models that determine our world view are deeply rooted in beliefs from the last several hundred years where at times we as humans have thought that we were the centre of the universe (literally!), that the solar system was akin to a clock with moving parts, all of which were understandable, that we would eventually understand all things and that cause and effect answer all problems. If that sounds odd ask yourself: have you recently addressed an issue at work with confidence that your understood the problem, and that all was required was some creative thinking around the solution. You might even have congratulated yourself on your creative thinking.

Our police minister has said that she simply waits on a recommendation from the police commissioner and a decision will be made. Well, we know what that recommendation is going to be. So advocacy (sort of) and implementation.

Were any counter views sought or listened to? The prime minister, I would say, but for political reasons he doesn’t want to appear weak on crime. But none are asked for publicly.

So what is wrong with all of this? Integrative thinkers understand the concept of mental models – the world views that shape their thinking, they are open to other world views, in fact, they openly acknowledge that there will be conflicting systems at play. Paradox is embraced. Advocacy is eliminated and replaced with open enquiry. Integrative and strategic thinkers focus on understanding the real problem which may not be linear – in fact it almost never is in intractable problems. If it were, it wouldn’t be intractable.

In government circles there is a phrase “whole of government” which if used properly might head a government to think integratively. Imagine seeing the head of the Ministry of Social Development with the police commissioner at a press conference announcing a series of changes that were to attack crime and disrespect to the police. Maybe that sounds all soft, liberal and do-gooder to you. Maybe it is. But just maybe we might start to resolve something so serious as increased crime. Because so far, we’re doing nothing.

It’s a line of failures brought on by linear thinking and a belief that we know everything so we only need to find more solutions. What’s the problem I say.

If you find yourself thinking: well what would you do about it man?, you’ve done it. Straight to solution.

Open the curtains to stop your valuables being stolen

The burglar operates best under cover of dark, stealing your most precious valuables. So, nothing is more likely to deflect the burglar than a well-lit shop front.

For the last year or so a friend has been attempting to have a quasi-government agency look into a matter of some significance. For reasons that remain obscure the agency did nothing for six months. When the lack of attention to her matter was brought to the agency’s attention, the initial response was to apologise and a promise to deal with my friend. These promises came to nothing and my friend wrote and questioned the agency’s conduct. Continue reading “Open the curtains to stop your valuables being stolen”

Back to the future: Microsoft is playing with old models. Are they mental or what?

I had the pleasure of hearing the CFO of Microsoft Chris Liddell speak today.  Chris is very much one of us Kiwis and he has made it to the top levels of organisational leadership on the international business stage.  Chris spoke of the 5 strategies that Microsoft is adopting to deal with the current financial position (is it still a crisis?):

  • Cash
  • Quality
  • Market Share
  • Innovation
  • Cost reduction

Where did all this come from?  Well it looks like pretty good common sense, but it seems that Microsoft have researched extensively the winners and losers from the 1929-37 Great Depression.  Those that survived, survived with a greater market share than at the beginning of the depression.  Those that invested in R&D were well placed for the 5-10 years ahead.  Microsoft has cut 5% of its workforce but has maintained its R&D spend.

R&D spend for them is typically 5-10 years into the future.

What does it mean?  Leadership is about looking forward isn’t it:  “There is only the future”, ” The past has gone”  we hear, and maybe even say.

Certainly Microsoft is a company looking forward.  But even this giant in international terms (hey they have $30b cash in the bank!) has taken time to reflect and look back for lessons from another era.

There are lessons here for organisations, battling to survive and retain focus.

And there are lessons for all of us at a personal level as we face our leadership challenges. We might ask:  are we learning from the past?  If so, what? Learned not do or to do something?  But what of those things that underpin our behaviours?

What are our mental models that shape our view of the world?  Are we prepared to look at them?  Do we even know what they are?

Thanks to Ali at TransTasman Business Circle for the invitation.  Please feel free to comment below. I’ll be writing more about mental models soon.

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