Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career planning 7: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 23, 2017

This is my seventh installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-6.)

I began this series by offering a very briefly stated outline of what I would delve into in it, at least as a matter of building a foundation for further discussion there (see Part 1.) And I have at least briefly addressed the first four points offered in that list in its first 7 installments. I turn here to at least begin to address the fifth basic point that I listed there, which I repeat here, restated for this posting’s immediate context:

• Career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis, and of thinking and planning beyond the limitations and givens of where you are now, and in terms of next possible steps that you might take as you seek to succeed in any current job that you hold and as you advance and prepare to advance along a career path.

I begin this posting by repeating a point of observation that I have offered to others who I have mentored and helped train, and that I have found of value in my own career development and in my own overall work life:

• Where do you see yourself five years from now in your career and in your life? (Note: five years is arbitrary, so pick a closer but still somewhat distant time point if that would work best for you. But I would generally recommend you’re not pushing your next-step of consideration time point any further out than five years for purposes of this exercise.)
• And what can you do today that might at least incrementally help you to move towards that goal?

My goal for this posting is to at least begin to outline how to do this, and with a realistic-to-you focus and particularly where you do not necessarily know a best long-term answer for yourself as you start out. This two bullet point observation offers a useful career development perspective as stated and when it is simply considered in general terms. It does, after all, offer a general direction for identifying and pursuing next career steps. But operationalizing it and actually pursuing the career development path that it suggests as a practical and ongoing process, and one that can become an automatic part of a work life, gives it significant practical value.

Where do you start there? I reframe that question with a second one. Where precisely are you now and for all of the positives and negatives that you face, as a starting point that you will have to career build from? I recommend starting this exercise from the perspective of the second of these two questions, and I begin developing an approach here, for thinking about and answering it by offering a set of organizing actionable question-framed points, as follows:

• What, in broad brushstroke terms, would you like to be doing in general terms in five years, or at whatever other timeframe benchmark point that you are using in this exercise? I strongly recommend that you start this exercise without explicit consideration of the precise details there, and in general terms and for a simple reason. Precise more narrowly focusing goal details, if included too early and if focused on too restrictively, carry more implicit and unconsidered assumptions than they do direct and usable value. They can serve more as blinders than anything else, foreclosing the new and novel from your consideration. They can close off doors and path-forward options and opportunities, before you can even become aware of them – and even if they would be best possibilities for you to consider and even actively work towards. So start this process in general terms and only focus in on the details of your overall goal in this as you build a framework for selecting and adding in the right ones, and realistically for you and your needs.
• Now start assembling two positive details lists: a list of the skills and assets and other positives that you have and can demonstrate now, and a list of what you would most likely have to further develop or add to your current toolset if you were to reach your still-generally stated next big career step goal. Note that this can include new technical skills or certifications, or expanded experience using skills that might become more important for you. But this can mean working on and refining your communications and other “soft” skills too, and it can means you’re strategically networking and reaching out for information and insight that might, among other things help you bring all of this into focus where you can start adding in the right details.
• Now do this same thing from the opposite perspective and list the issues that you face and the challenges that you face that might hold you back from reaching your next-and-beyond goals. Note that I added issues such as technical and other workplace performance skills in the positive-side lists. These assumed-likely next-step requirements belong there if they can be made attainable and certainly if you do not set your assumptions there in stone and remain open to reconsideration for what you would include there. This more negative-side list is as much a matter of thinking through wider life issue considerations than anything else, and about looking for contexts and issues from your own and your family’s lives that might create barriers or challenges as you move forward and as you seek to do so in your work life and career path.
• An obvious possibility there might arise if you are married or have a life partner, and a possible next big step career move that you might work towards, would require relocating and to a new workplace and a new home community that is a significant distance from where you are now. How would this impact on your overall life and how would it impact on your immediate family and certainly where they would have to make this move too?
• Let me point out and challenge some assumptions that I just made in the above three bullet points. First of all, non-work life issues can enter into this as positives too. If a possible relocation, for example, can be seen as a negative for its potentially adverse impact on a career developer and their immediate family, relocations can also be positives as well. Sometimes, for example, both a husband and wife can benefit from a same relocation possibility with greater opportunity for better jobs if they make a same specific move together. And technical and other workplace skills and experience issues can be real negatives too, and particularly if a would-be career developer has a work history that could be seen as type casting them in a negative way – and they really need to reframe themselves with new skills to get out from under the weight of that.
• This brings me to a crucial point. Potentially positive points can be perceived as negatives and by hiring managers and other next step career gatekeepers if they are not addressed and presented effectively, and possible negative ones can reframed as more career-neutral, if not as overt positives if they are so addressed and presented and built from.
• Simultaneously with looking at yourself and at what you have done and can do, and at what you have to learn and do moving forward,
• You have to actively look outward and at what is needed and where, and by what types of at least potentially hiring businesses. And you have to look for emerging trends and shifts in that, where some skills are becoming less and less important and less and less in demand in new hires, and others are emerging or ramping up in importance.
• Let’s consider the dynamics of this. Just considering more technical hands-on skills for the moment here, the newest of the new in technical skills, and at least basic experience effectively using the tools that they would be deployed through, are going to start out only appealing to more pioneer and early adaptor hiring managers and their businesses. As a new computer language or other technology-based skill proves itself, a wider range of businesses and their hiring managers are going to start looking for and even demanding it from their new hires and I add from their current employees too. So a peak market demand for new, in skills and experience can and usually does arrive only as a newer hands-on skill and the technology it connects to have diffused out in employee marketplace acceptance, to be positively appreciated by more middle-stage adaptors, if you view this along a more standard innovation acceptance and adaptation curve. Timing is important here, and for any career development planning. And the demand for both skills and experience, to complicate this, means middle-stage hiring managers requiring in many cases, new hire employees who began using a new technology and mastering it, before they would have ever considered hiring for it themselves.
• Yes, I set that up in this discussion as something of a catch-22 and intentionally so. Planning and preparing for career advancement in a rapidly changing and evolving technology-driven industry usually means looking ahead and preparing for jobs that do not exist yet, except as still just fringe opportunities, but with skills that you are convinced will become more mainstreamed and in wider demand. And this can mean learning and finding opportunity to learn what you hope will become the next more widely accepted “must have” before it gets there so you can be one of the few with both the skills and the experience in them to be in peak demand and with all of the career development and advancement opportunities that this can create.

I am going to continue this narrative and its Point 5 discussion in a next series installment where I will more fully consider the issues of refining and fine tuning, and more fundamentally resetting your plans as you proceed. And I will discuss step by step implementation of this too. And I note here in anticipation of that, that networking with a real career development focus can be crucially important in all of that, so you can be as informed as possible about what is currently available and wanted and what is trending and emerging, and so others who you need to favorably reach out to can be more aware of you and what you offer too. I stress the importance of identifying and networking to the “right others” there, noting that this is most likely going to mean reaching outside of your known and familiar networking circle, and where you cannot necessarily start out knowing in advance who you have to meet and connect with or who specifically could best help you to network to them.

It should be noted that I wrote this posting in terms of rapidly changing industries and in terms of employment and career advancement in the face of markets that demand new and better and all of the time. I will also discuss the sometimes all too comfortable trap of “established and settled” jobs and job descriptions, as they can lead people into the traps of obsolescence and the human employment dead end of automation. I will also discuss the role of outsourcing and even to businesses multiple time zones away for established jobs that cease to be considered essential elements of an employer’s core business. I will at least begin to discuss this in my next series installment too. Then after considering and discussing all of that, I am going to consider an emerging challenge that many of us now face and certainly in countries such as the United States and in the West in general: non-compete agreements as they are increasingly becoming common hiring requirements and by more and more types of employers and for more and more types and levels of jobs and work positions.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 19: keeping an effective innovative focus while approaching and going through significant business transitions 9

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 21, 2017

This is my 19th installment to a series that offers a general discussion of business transitions, where an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 559 and loosely following for Parts 1-18.)

I offered a to-address list in Part 17 and Part 18 that I repeat here for continuity of discussion:

1. It can be vitally important to make explicit strategic effort to more deeply understand where your business is now and where that business is headed if it seeks to simply follow a straight-forward more predictively linear path, rather than making a more profound shift and going through a genuine transition.
2. And it is equally important to be aware of the possibilities, at the very least of what types of transitions could be possible, and their implications and consequences.
3. This leads me to the question of what would be planned for in a strategically considered, intentionally entered into business transition, and how such a transition plays out.

And I offered at least an initial discussion of the first two of these points in those postings, noting that I would delve into the third of them here. I will do that in what follows, and in terms of the responses that I have already offered when addressing Points 1 and 2. And I begin that with the absolute fundamentals:

• True transitions, as I use that term, involve changes away from the current here-and-now of a business, and in ways that do not simply involve linear, readily predictable change along the lines of the pattern: the template of a business’s current operational systems, already in place.
• True transitions are by definition disruptive and novel and new, for what they bring and for their impact. And that can mean introducing fundamentally new processes and/or resources, and new goals and priorities that they would help meet.
• And this can mean closing down and shifting away from what has been a business’ standard and usual too. And this means both increased cost and increased risk and both for what is dropped and for what is added in. I have at least touched on this point already in this blog. But I expand on what I have said about this set of issues here, for purposes of fleshing out this line of discussion.
• Direct costs are increased as new systems have to be developed, and with that frequently involving bringing in new staff with areas of specialization and expertise that are new to the business, and that that business might not already be fully prepared to effectively performance-review, among other details.
• If new employees are brought in to manage tasks and take responsible for completing them, that are new and unfamiliar in detail to the managers who would supervise them, those managers are unlikely to be fully aware of what would and would not be realistic timelines for completing them. They would not start out knowing or fully understanding where legitimate impediments or challenges might arise and even when a hands-on expert in some technical skills area is working efficiently and effectively. And they might not know what would qualify as best performance benchmarks either. This is definitely a situation where managers and supervisors are going to have to go through learning curves – not in how to do this work themselves, but so that they know enough about it and its requirements so as to be able to effectively manage the people who do it and support them in their effort to do so.
• This, as presented here, directly addresses lover level and middle managers who are already in place in the business and who would have to help manage what this business is transitioning into, at its points of change. But goals, prioritization and scheduling issues of the type that I raise here, can have ripple effects too, and certainly when task completion dependencies arise that have to be accommodated, and where shared resources can become business performance bottlenecks. These ripple effects can spread out through large areas of a business and its overall functional systems, and particularly where key processes that widely connect to multiple areas in a business might be slowed or stopped by performance dependencies that mean employees not having the starting point resources that they would need for them to proceed.
• That addresses a few of the direct cost issues that arise here. Now I turn to at least briefly consider some indirect cost issues too, and I begin with one that could arguably be said to be both direct cost and indirect cost in nature: the need and expense of prototype testing.
• I could include this in the top half of this list of discussion points and as reflecting direct expenses that would go into carrying out a more fundamental change, and a true transition. But prototype testing is in many respects a risk management and risk-related due diligence exercise too, in which a new, next step process or approach, or a more comprehensive new system is locally tested and refined for more effective use and deployment in a business – if it proves itself as being worthy of that.
• Prototyping can be very disruptive for the offices, manufacturing facilities or other business areas that are tasked with actually testing these proposed changes. Time and effort in doing that, means not being able to carry out proven approaches in meeting standard ongoing goals and on time and according to priorities set from above.
• So the people and the teams that are assigned prototype testing responsibilities need to be supported in doing this, with allowances made as they go through learning curves in performing this New, and as they get up to speed with it.
• And allowance has to be made in addressing resource allocation requests, that this prototyping might require – and even at least somewhat unexpectedly, as experience with the systems being prototyped prompt refinement in them, and perhaps some recovery and correction too. And new and novel approaches that sound great on paper and in development and design, sometimes prove less than practical, and prove to be more expensive than desired when put in practice. Ideally, that type of challenge emerges during prototyping if it is to arise at all, and that in fact is one of the core risk management reasons why businesses prototype. But sometimes real problems only overtly make their presence known when scaling up from small scale and organizationally localized prototype testing too.
• The ripple effect issues that I made note of above, can and do enter into all of this.
• And this brings me to a second, and less easily preemptively planned for risk management, indirect cost issue that I would raise here: calculating into a transition’s budget the possible costs of failure of at least some aspects of a change program that is put into place, and with or without prototyping but with need for Plan B development and execution in any case.
• Real transitions do not always go smoothly or according to what might be more idealistically preconceived budgets. And even when they do succeed and certainly overall and as refinements and corrections are identified as to need and carried out, initial budgets can prove to have been unrealistic.
• These points reflect real costs that can collectively add up significantly, but they do not simply fit into the step-by-step budgeting of a change creating development so I offer them as indirect costs here.

I have discussed change and transition from a How perspective in the above narrative. The Why side of this, that orients and informs this How, is that change would be made with a goal of more fully and effectively fulfilling the business mission and vision and its overall strategic goals and their realization. That underlies all that I have said here up to this point.

I am going to step back from the details of Points 1 through 3 of the list of to-address points listed at the top of this posting, to reconsider the context that this transition is carried out in. And to be more specific there, I will address the issues of urgency, and its impact on both what is done and how. And I will also address all-at-once and step-wise transitions.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

China and its transition imperatives 46: thinking through Xi Jinping’s current realities in a larger context 4

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on June 20, 2017

This is my 54th installment, counting supplemental additions, to this ongoing and even open-ended series on China. Basically, what I am doing here is to trace how China has changed under the rule of Xi Jinping, with this series narrative starting approximately one year after he first took leadership of their Politburo Standing Committee, and through that of their entire Communist Party of China and of China as a whole (see Part 1, as written to first go live on this blog on February 8, 2014.)

I initially planned on writing this posting to go live on May 29, 2017 but have delayed doing so until now. It is not that I have not seen any recent news worth reporting on or analyzing here, as coming out of China. It is more because so much of that has simply fit into an ongoing pattern that I have been writing about for years now. And I have to add, I wanted to see at least something of how Xi Jinping would respond to Donald Trump and his chaotic bombast before writing this posting, and particularly as Trump has reached out towards China, and in what could arguably be seen as both positive and negative ways in Beijing.

On the negative side and certainly from a China perspective, Trump has presented himself as a source of destabilizing threat to China and in a number of significant ways and since his election. As an example of that, I have already made note of his direct dealings with Taiwan and of his privately held company seeking out massive business opportunity there – as the sitting president of the United States and regardless of any conflict of interest considerations that this might raise. It is fundamental to China that Taiwan is a part of one China, with Beijing as its true capital and the People’s Republic of China government the one true power that is supposed to be governing there: the so called One-China Policy.

Previous US presidents: Republican as well as Democratic have at least paid lip service to this understanding and have, for example, refrained from directly speaking with the president of Taiwan and even as the US and Taiwan governments have cooperated with each other in practice and on a variety of issues. Trump tore away that veil and in ways that made it look like he would completely repudiate the One-China Policy that has helped to stabilize the relationship between the Beijing and Washington governments overall, by formally recognizing Taiwan independence.

Trump has not actually taken that threatened step, but I pick this specific example here for a reason. Even without that move on Trump’s part, it represents a completely avoidable source of friction between Beijing and Washington: this unconsidered challenge to this accommodating fiction. And Trump’s action in this regard was carried out without any real thought as to its possible consequences, except perhaps for himself. He appears to have found it ego boosting to be called by yet another head of state. And he and his family business were and probably still are trying to land a massive infrastructure development project in Taiwan that would be expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for himself.

On the positive side, Donald Trump has continued to do personal business with Mainland China and their state owned and at least de facto state controlled businesses, as well as with their government. I cite his and his family’s continued efforts to buy up Trump-related brand rights in China as well as his ongoing outsourcing of manufacturing of Trump branded merchandise to that country.

Trump and his election to the US presidency have been a mixed blessing to China. When I initially wrote of this in earlier installments to this series, I stressed the negative side-tipping value of his chaotic nature, and how even a seemingly stable positive for China can be made to disappear at an unconsidered whim and in an instant, as Donald Trump tweets and speaks off the cuff and at least seemingly without a thought in his head (see Part 39, Part 40 and Part 41.) But his instability and chaos, in and of themselves are probably the greatest positive that Trump could confer on China and it is one that he has given to the Russian government of Vladimir Putin and others too: and certainly for nations that directly compete with the United States. Trump has created a power vacuum from his diminishment of United States authority and influence in the world, as he repeatedly places American trustworthiness and reliability in doubt from how he repeatedly displays his own.

Is the government of the People’s Republic of China and the reign of their one allowed political party: their Communist Party now more stable and secure as a result of this seeming opportunity? They still face the same fundamental challenges of corruption and inefficiency and of authoritarian excess in their own systems as before, and they still see the same emerging consequences of them and in their air and water pollution and other environmental quality challenges that they cannot hide, and in their structurally unstable economy, among other fundamental challenges. But Donald Trump has, nevertheless, given Xi and his government and Party what amounts to a new lease on life. And as I will discuss in a few days in a concurrently running series, Donald Trump has made his influence self-limiting. It is now increasingly likely that he will face impeachment charges and that he will be removed from office, and by his own hand as he makes no effort to change either his behavior or that of his inner circle as they report to him and do his bidding (see my subseries: Donald Trump and the Stress Testing of the American System of Government, as can be found at Social Networking and Business 2, postings 256 and following.)

What will happen when and as Trump begins to really lose his support, and even in his own Republican Party in Congress, and in fact nationally in the United States? A great deal of evidence has been developed to the effect that Russia and their government led a systematic effort to throw the 2016 elections in the United States and help Trump win the presidency (see the above cited Trump-related series for references to that.) But the increasing sanctions imposed by the United States Congress on Russia and on Russian interests, in response to that and the re-imposition of cold war level opposition to Russia’s government in the United States and increasingly in the West as a whole, have made that a pyrrhic victory at best for them.

Will the American government and the American private sector take a new look at China and their expansionistic approaches to the East and South China Seas, among other ventures, if there is a Trump impeachment driven change in the American government’s executive leadership, and with effort made to reestablish America’s global position of authority that Trump has squandered?

I wrote in Parts 39-41 of this series and in other installments to it since then of the uncertainty that Xi and his government now face from president Trump and his presidency. And I find myself doing so again here, as I contemplate a possible early shift from a Trump presidency and most likely to a Pence presidency from a Trump impeachment. Will that happen? If it does, what would that mean to China specifically and to the world at large? And if Trump simply becomes more and more hobbled and isolated as president, but remains in office for at least one full term, what would that mean, as the United States Congress takes action, and even in complete defiance of Trump administration policy or directive?

I have a lot of specific in the news events and current events points of analysis that I have been accumulating for discussion in this series, and will probably delve into at least some of them in my next installment to it, but I decided to step back from these more-current news update details for this posting, to consider currently emerging and evolving events and their patterns from a wider perspective. And I end it by raising a point of assumption that I have been making here in this posting, that might or might not be true:

• Do a chaotic Trump presidency and the globally impactful power vacuum that he seems intent to create actually benefit China and Xi Jinping and their Communist Party, or any other powers or potential powers as they seek greater voice and authority in the world?
• And considering that strictly in terms of China and in terms of their longer-term prospects, does a Trump presidency actually confer any greater stability or resilience to them?

I leave these as open questions worth thinking about. As of now I expect to return to this series, with a next installment in approximately one month, and will undoubtedly at least briefly address those questions there. Meanwhile, you can find this entire series and all of its postings at Macroeconomics and Business as postings 154 and loosely following for Parts 1-12 and for a supplemental posting: Part 12.5. And see Page 2 to that directory for subsequent main sequence and supplemental installments to this. You can also find other, China-related postings and series at those directory pages, and at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time too. (And as a time stamp, I wrote this as a single draft on June 15, 2017.)

Meshing innovation, product development and production, marketing and sales as a virtuous cycle 5

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 19, 2017

This is my fifth installment to a series in which I reconsider cosmetic and innovative change as they impact upon and even fundamentally shape the product design and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sales cycle, and from both the producer and consumer perspectives (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 342 and loosely following for Parts 1-4.)

I have been discussing virtuous and vicious cycles in businesses, as they alternatively pursue proactive and reactive approaches to change (see Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.) And at the end of Part 4, I stated that I would more fully discuss the paths to change that these businesses would respond to and in both its evolutionary and disruptively revolutionary forms.

• This means discussing what businesses respond to, and in the specific context of this series, as they respond in patterns of decision and action, review and further decision and action that can have recurringly cyclical elements to them.
• And it means addressing how they would respond at a higher level strategic and overall operational level and not just at a day-to-day, here-and-now details level, and certainly if they do so effectively.
• In anticipation of that point, I cited agility and resiliency as organizational goals – and as buffering mechanisms against the down-sides of change.
• And I indicated that I would return to my restaurant example of Part’s 3 and 4 to add in another complicating factor there. I initially presented this case study example in negative terms, and in term of what I have come to call the “restaurant death spiral” scenario: an unfortunately real phenomenon that I have seen play out a number of times, and for its basic form in more than just restaurants. I then turned that scenario on its head and away from that initial vicious cycle pattern, to illustrate how a restaurant in precisely the same situation that launched my Part 3 vicious cycle pattern, could instead pursue a success creating virtuous cycle response (in Part 4.) My goal here is to add in a new contingency (that I add here is based on fact but that might I admit seem a bit historically dated now), that in effect stress tests that virtuous cycle approach with an unpredictable adversity. The question there, is one of exactly how robust this business has made itself as it seeks to redevelop itself through its virtuous cycle of change and improvement, and next step change and improvement. And this is where agility and resiliency enter in, as noted in the immediately preceding bullet point.

I am going to begin this overall thread of discussion with the specific case in point example of that last bullet point, and then address the first three points at least in part in terms of this example, as a means of taking my overall narrative here out of the entirely-abstract.

I suggest you’re at least briefly reviewing Parts 3 and 4, for their discussion of this restaurant example, and Part 4 in particular as I turn to consider a more positive and productive approach to restaurant turn-around and recovery. But in brief, this case study example involves a failing restaurant that turned itself around by among other things switching from easier to procure canned and otherwise processed ingredients, to a more knowledge and labor demanding local fresh and farm to table approach.

Local in-season produce and I add locally sourced eggs and dairy, meat, fish and poultry can be both better quality and more appealing to the customer for what you can do with them. And they can be less expensive for the restaurant at the same time. It is just that these locally sourced and farm-to-table fresh ingredients require a lot more knowledge of how and where to locally source, and this requires a great deal more effort and in networking to local sources and building relationships with them, and in making purchases from a much more widespread and diverse range of sources. Picking up on that last point, this means not being able to turn to one or a few wholesaler middlemen, but along with buying and being able to cook with fresher, this also means cutting out middleman businesses that can and do add to costs paid as they add in markups to cover their expenses and to bring in a profit for themselves too. I repeat the up-side of this here. Now I toss in that complication that I warned I would add to this happy, virtuous cycle success story:

• Consider the potential consequences of weather-related crop failures.

Late heavy frosts and freezes in places like the Northeast in the United States can essential destroy crops for a season that would normally be starting their growth cycles early. This year, in the Northeast, as a very specific case in point, essentially all of the trees that produce fruit with stony pits, such as peaches or nectarines were hard-hit and overall crops for a lot of growers were essentially devastated by this. Weather related losses of this and a variety of other types can hit corn or tomatoes or essentially any other produce crop. And that type of loss impacts on both the growers who can lose significantly from what should be their year’s peak income seasons, and on their customers: wholesalers and other resellers, and customers such as farm to table restaurants definitely included.

What should a restaurant such as the one of this series’ example do if they suddenly find that crop failure has really seriously impacted on a significant range of the locally sourced ingredients that they would now normally turn to and require? I answer that by raising at least a few of the first round questions that such a restaurant owner would start asking:

• As a set of questions to the farmers who are now their regular providers of produce and other ingredients for their kitchen: How severe is this loss? How much of your expected crop if any, is going to be available this year and at what price? How much of that and of what I need at my restaurant can be made available to me and my business?
• If appropriate for the type of crop failure in question and the timing involved: Can you replant and have a later harvest run, and of so when and with what delays? Some types of crops routinely offer more than just one crop per year so for them, a late frost for example, might simply mean that type of product arriving at the restaurant later than usual for a first crop, though possibly at higher per unit price then too.
• As a set of questions for consideration inside the restaurant: Should we try buying fresh for at least some ingredients that we see as more indispensible, or should we try making perhaps radical changes to our menu to stay locally farm to table? And where should we take each of these two approaches in our purchasing and menu planning considerations?
• And of course, what will this do to our restaurant’s finances, and both from having to buy rarer commodities that are more expensive now as a result, and from possible loss of customers if the menu cannot be kept as appealing to them? Consider an Italian restaurant that suddenly cannot buy fresh local tomatoes that he has been planning on for seasonal pasta sauces that absolutely require them?
• In that case, consider specific Italian tomato varietals such as Costoluto Genovese, or San Marzano. Only tomatoes of these types that are grown in Italy and in their specific areas of origin can be identified as such, in the same way that a number of wine varieties can only be called by their traditional names if they are produced in their traditional domains: their traditional growing and production regions (e.g. Chianti in one of the eight so called Chianti districts in Tuscany, Italy.) But many of these traditional varietals are also grown outside of their sites and regions of origin and sold under different names, and locally fresh.
• Should this restaurant by from more distant sources and get tomatoes that were perhaps picked earlier and greener for travel, or should they very selectively go back to canned again, for high quality canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes, for example? Note: tomatoes can be harvested and shipped green and even fully green and ripened off of the vine – but they never taste the same when they are as when they are ripened on the vine. And this can have real on any food prepared with them and its taste and quality.

If the owner of this restaurant – here imagined as an at least largely Italian one, is now really firmly committed to farm to table and away from canned anything, but the fresh tomatoes they can get from more distant sources just do not meet their quality standards, this would put them in a real quandary. Fresh tomato and basil sauce would be out of the question however this decision were resolved, at least until locally gown higher quality tomatoes could be made available again. What should be done?

I realize that people who have never worked in or with a restaurant of this type, might see this as a trivial and artifactually contrived case in point example (unless that is they are real foodies, to use a current term of choice.) But for the owners of this restaurant or ones like it, the type of challenge that I have tried to present here, can be consequential and it can strike to the heart of what they seek their restaurant: their dream to be. And decisions made and follow through actions taken lead to next round decisions and actions too.

Picking up on the third of the four bullet points that I have been focusing on here, and with my above discussion of the fourth of them in mind, building for agility and resiliency can call for making difficult decisions. And it can mean thinking through and preparing for scenarios and possibilities that would be anything but comforting, and that might even be very disturbing as sources of possible emerging challenge.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will start at the top of my four bullet point, to-address list and more fully consider the first three:

• This means discussing what businesses respond to, and in the specific context of this series, as they respond in patterns of decision and action, review and further decision and action that can have recurringly cyclical elements to them.
• And it means addressing how they would respond at a higher level strategic and overall operational level and not just at a day-to-day, here-and-now details level, and certainly if they do so effectively.
• In anticipation of that point, I cited agility and resiliency as organizational goals – and as buffering mechanisms against the down-sides of change.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 3

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 17, 2017

This is my third installment to a brief series on simplicity and complexity in business communications, and in carrying out and evaluating the results of business processes, tasks and projects (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I began addressing the issues and challenges of effective business communications in Part 1, and then switched to consider a special case in point example as provided by project management. And to clarify what I mean there, I refer to both the:

• One-off nature of specific projects, and the need to carry out such endeavors as perhaps-exceptions to business-as-usual processes and practices,
• And the need for standardized processes and mechanisms for setting up and managing and participating in projects and certainly for any organization that recurringly carries out specifically organized projects: in-house or as a client-facing service or both.

I stated at the end of Part 2 that I would shift directions in this series installment:

• To consider communications and communications best practices from the perspective of project management and leadership best practices, where different organizations and I add different types of projects might face different best practices alternatives for managing the issues that I have been raising here.

And I begin doing so by considering the role of scale and focus in projects. As a general rule, smaller and simpler projects – projects with more constrained and limited goals, can be managed and carried out by a smaller and more constrained headcount of participants, and at all levels. This, among other things (usually) means fewer opportunities for scheduling conflicts for hands-on participants where they would find themselves torn between requirements to carry out special assignment project tasks, and their more routine work. I parenthetically added in that word “usually” there because all it takes for chaos and complication in project work, is one inopportunely positioned gatekeeper manager who sees themselves as owning the time and effort of at least one crucial would-be project participant. I refer here to managers who have in their teams, employees with specialized skills that might be required for a project that requires interdisciplinary participation, who insists that their routine work is always more important than any non-standard work that members of their team might also be responsible for, that will not enter into their own pre-established performance review goals or stretch goals or those of their team. This type of resistance to active and timely participation can throw off any project’s schedule and I add any project’s budget, as work-around accommodations have to be arrived at and followed through on and as work completion dependencies and complications of missing goals create ripple effects. And this can happen even in small but important projects, and certainly if a bottleneck manager’s own next level up supervisor is unwilling to step into adjudicate matters as can sometimes happen.

• Effective communications cannot always guarantee buy-in and active support, but a failure in communications in this type of context can and probably will stymie them.

If this at least potential problem is important at the level of the individual project, it is even more so in setting up and actually following more general guidelines for any business that recurringly faces need to carry out projects in general.

Flipping this around with regard to my starting assumptions as addressed up to here, larger projects with correspondingly larger overall headcounts are more likely to draw in people from a wider range of functional areas in the business, including for example at least someone from finance for managing project budgets, and even if the projects under consideration are not financial department oriented for what they would accomplish. Larger projects of necessity bring in wider ranges of types of stakeholders. And larger projects can also of necessity call for larger and more complex management structures too.

• And a real driver of complexity there can be found when seeking to maintain communications and buy-in and in the face of information sharing friction or management resistance.

And with that point noted, I offer a division of labor option at the top of a project’s management that I have found very useful, where a given project might have:

• An overall project manager who provides overall strategic leadership and who works with more senior business management on behalf of a project, and
• A right-hand man or woman, project coordinator who reports directly to the overall project manager and who is tasked with keeping everything on track on a more details-oriented operational level, and for working with and managing communications and other problems as they arise within the project and with managers who project participants normally report to. Note: the overall project manager would become involved in that if needed and if a sufficiently impactful point of disagreement was arrived at between an outside manager and a project participant or manager. That would be specifically identified as an escalation in problem resolution response.

What I am writing of here, is the need for reasoned and need-based growth of a project team, and at all levels and to facilitate communications and the completion of task dependency work, and to help keep everything moving as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. When adding in a specific new position and project team member would specifically lead to improvements there, that person should be brought in. When a project participant is no longer needed, they should be relieved of this project participation responsibility and returned to their usual work responsibilities so they can focus more fully on them again. And for complex, long-term projects this process of bringing in and in time phasing out involvement of specific active participants becomes an ongoing endeavor, that would be strategically managed by the overall project manager and tactically managed by their project coordinator, at least where such a position has been carved out as a separate project level work description.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will look beyond the more limited context of projects and project management systems. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

Building a startup for what you want it to become 24: moving past the initial startup phase 10

Posted in startups by Timothy Platt on June 15, 2017

This is my 24th installment to a series on building a business that can become an effective and even a leading participant in its industry and its business sector, and for its targeted marketplaces (see Startups and Early Stage Businesses and its Page 2 continuation, postings 186 and loosely following for Parts 1-23.)

I began explicitly discussing three basic business model approaches in Part 22 and Part 23, that I continue to address here in this posting too:

• A conservative business model,
• A normative business model, and
• An aggressive business model.

And I begin this continuation by repeating a crucially important point of explanation made in Part 23, that is often overlooked as people make unexamined assumptions as to what words like “conservative” and “aggressive” mean, and certainly in a business context:

• Conservative in this does not necessarily mean building for reduced overall risk, and aggressive does not necessarily mean building from a more risk accepting and risk tolerant perspective, and it does not necessarily mean accepting more of it – even if that can be the case when making specific comparisons between specific businesses.
• The real distinction here can in fact simply be one of where the risk that is allowed for, is considered acceptable in the business’ overall operational systems.
• (Following up on my Part 23 new manufacturer example), would risk be best accepted in the form of reduced liquidity with its consequences, in order to better safeguard here-and-now production line continuity, or would it be best accepted in the form of allowing for greater risk there in order to safeguard liquidity levels – that would now be more readily available to meet other business needs? This is where business planning has to be comprehensively inclusive and where it has to take into account all anticipatable factors.

I began addressing a key defining and organizing term in Part 23 that I pick up upon here as I continue this narrative: “essential.” If I were to distinguish between the three basic business models under discussion here in terms of one word, it would be in noting how their owners and managers variously find meaning in that one. Business owners and managers, and from senior executives on down, seek to optimize what they are doing and what they are building for, in terms of their understanding as to what is essential and what is most essential and certainly in their immediate here-and-now. But they can systematically differ in where and how they use this type of word and both in that immediate here-and-now and as they plan forward and for their longer-term too, and certainly when making comparisons between same-type and same-level managers or executives as they work in businesses that follow different business models, according to the tripartite business model distinctions made here.

I have already been considering this from a risk management perspective, even as I have left out that terminology in the last two postings. I explicitly apply this label with its baggage of associated assumptions and presumptions here, where I will more generally consider the issues of stability and opportunity, as pressures towards them can come into alignment and as they can come into at least apparent conflict too. In anticipation of that discussion to come, I will continue to focus on first steps that businesses take when entering their first early growth phase and for the three basic business models under consideration here. And as part of that, I note here that where stability and opportunity and the benefits side to what would enter into a more traditional SWOT analysis, offer a roadmap to where a business seeks to go, risk and threats and potential weaknesses inform how and when and according to what timetable this might be carried out along.

I begin all of this with consideration of timeframes and the question of how far forward, strategic and operational planning would be carried out. The farther out you look and seek to predict and plan, the greater the uncertainty you have to accept and for reasons that arise both internally to your business and from its and your own outside contexts.

• Short term and even essentially here-and-now analysis and planning: tactical analysis and planning can offer real clarity of vision, but do so at the cost of not helping you prepare for new and emerging contexts or contingencies as they arise over time, and often even where simple, predictable longer-term change can accurately be predicted.
• Long-term planning has to be able to accept and even actively accommodate alternatively arising contexts, and the possibility that none of the predictive models considered might actually become the reality actually faced. Disruptive novelty and change can arise at any time and in a seeming instant; but the odds are greater that this will have to be faced, the farther forward you plan and predict into and the longer the timeframe you have to allow for.

And this brings me to the key words of this posting’s discussion: “stability” and “opportunity,” or at least planned for stability and predicted opportunity – where this means predicted paths forward in business development that would be expected to maximize value achieved, with ongoing stability while accomplishing that.

• New and still forming and developing businesses carry a significant level of risk in all of their decisions and actions that they take, and certainly insofar as those decisions would impact upon their working budgets and the levels of reserve funds that they might have.
• Ultimately, “essential”, “stability”, “opportunity” and I add “risk” and “cost” are all terms that are financially grounded, and that are most firmly grounded in liquidity terms.

That, I add is a very fiscally conservative assertion; when a business has lean financial reserves, a measure of conservatism can be essential as a due diligence and risk management position. But let’s consider non-liquid assets, and assets that can only become explicitly financial assets of any sort, over time and as a business actually develops and begins to succeed. And the most important such assets in general and essentially categorically for any startup with potential, is the set of ideas and concepts, vision and understanding that could be developed into a unique value proposition that would make this new venture stand out.

I return here to the absolute essentials here: if you want to build a startup and make a successful go of it, find a path forward in what you could offer to a marketplace that would be uniquely yours, and develop your business into that. Don’t strive to be the 17th best business in town in the business sector that you would build into and the 17th best for offering an already readily available product or service; plan for and strive to be the best, and even the first and the best possible for what you can specifically offer, and with a point of distinction in what you do and offer that the consumers of a marketplace would see as offering special new value to them. And this brings me back to the main thrust of argument of this posting, and to stability and to the uncertainties of longer timeframes:

• On the one hand you need to be prudent and even conservative in managing your resources,
• But on the other hand and at the same time, if your do not take risk and invest towards fulfilling the potential of your initial dream: building to realize your new and novel and value creating vision of what you could accomplish, then conservative management of the resources that you have in place will not help you and certainly long-term.

Success here means finding and reaching an effective balance between taking a conservative and a risk-taking approach. And with this, I return to the notion raised in Part 23 of the normative business model, as noted at the top of this posting, as representing finding an effective balance point between conservative and aggressive, and with a goal of taking the best of both in finding what is hopefully a best combination for you.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will focus on making business analysis more data-driven. And I will delve into the questions and issues of where this source of raw material for insight would come from in a new business setting – and how it would be used there. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory and at its Page 2 continuation.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 15: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 7

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on June 13, 2017

This is my 15th installment to a series on general theories of business, and on what general theory means as a matter of underlying principle and in this specific context (see Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, Section VI for Parts 1-14.)

I began addressing business strategy and operations from a game theory perspective in Part 12 and Part 13 and continued that in Part 14, successively examining win-win, win-lose and mixed strategies and how they arise as best perceived approaches in business contexts. And my primary focus there was at the level of the complete business enterprise, as a more monolithic entity that would follow a single, if mutable strategy and game theory approach. I have at least touched on how different areas of a single business can pursue differing game theory-based approaches to meet their specific needs, and in support of a single overarching business strategy. But I have mostly focused on businesses as a whole there.

1. I am going to more explicitly consider how different areas of a single business can pursue differing game theory approaches, and even in support of a single shared business mission and vision and a single overarching strategy and business plan. And I will at least begin doing so here in this installment.
2. After that I will consider the basic issues raised and considered in this series, from the perspective of the individual employee, whether hands-on and non-managerial or managerial, or executive or owner. I add here that a still wider range of stakeholders has to be considered here so I will throw a wider net when delving into this set of issues, than would be included within the boundaries of any one organization.
3. And then I will expand the scale of consideration outward from that of the single complete business enterprise to consider supply chain and related value chain systems and I add, business and marketplace ecosystems. If Point 1 here addresses a baseline middle ground level of consideration, Point 2 focuses in to a deeper, finer grained level that underlies it and this Point 3 telescopes outward to consider the wider context that Point 2 issues take place in.

But I begin this at the organizational level of functional areas and separate offices and related facilities within a single business entity as they might pursue different mixes in an overall mixed game strategy approach.

I begin this with the fundamentals, as initially laid out in a complete business-as-single-unit context in Part 14, where I repeated how and why a business would pursue a win-win approach, and why it would preferentially find greater value and reduced risk from pursuing a win-lose approach:

• Win-win makes the most sense, offering higher overall value and reduced risk, long term when a business, or in the context of this posting, a unit or functionally distinct element of that business, faces long-term stability, and with reciprocity for value offered where it is shared. I couched this in supply chain and similar business-to-business collaborative contexts in earlier series installments as listed above, and in terms of business-to-market and business-to-customer dealings where positive value shared and offered lead to increased business and increased revenue and profits generated.
• This same basic paradigmatic model applies essentially entirely as-is, within businesses too and certainly when a functional unit or area under consideration is viewed as working with other areas of their own overall business as if in a supply chain system with them, and when they are viewed as serving the needs of a marketplace, and even if that means in-house clients and customers.
• Win-lose on the other hand, applies and both for entire businesses and for functionally separable units of them, when they enter into value creating transactional processes with other areas of a business that would only be expected to continue for a limited duration,
• Or that would be carried out under conditions of greater perceived risk and uncertainty as to how value would be exchanged (where that, for example can mean either uncertainty as to payout, or limitations to the overall pool of value that could be paid out that would not necessarily cover all value owed),
• Or for some combination of these win-lose oriented strategy-shaping constraints.

Win-win would probably seem fairly obvious as an approach within a business, and certainly when the success of any given unit or functional element in an enterprise is tightly linked to the success of the business it is part of as a whole, and to the success of all other areas of that larger entity. Where would you expect to see a more win-lose game strategy apply here? I have in fact discussed businesses and business contexts where win-lose is the only approach that would make sense within a business, on a number of occasions in assembling this blog. And I begin addressing this general area of consideration by citing a few of those relevant contexts here, at least in general terms:

• Consider the perhaps all too familiar situation in which a business has at most a limited level of some critical resource that would have to be shared by multiple employees and even by multiple here-competing teams or other units within a business (e.g. a single very expensive and costly to maintain piece of equipment that has become a functional bottleneck for the business as a whole, but that it cannot readily afford to buy more copies of.) Now consider what happens when the various business units and their managers and staffs compete for access to this one crucial resource and with all involved facing very tight completion deadlines for their work that calls for it, and with intense pressures from higher up on the table of organization for everyone to meet their performance goals and on time if not before then.
• Even if the business as a whole seeks to pursue a more purely win-win approach with other collaborating businesses, circumstances that would be difficult to fully control can bring units within it into more win-lose competition. And there, one of the goals of the leadership of such an enterprise would be to limit this, and to find a way to resolve the resource bottlenecks in place in their systems that engender it.
• As a second, in effect intentionally staged example of within-business win-lose competition, I cite an approach to business leadership that I have seen play out. Some business owners and executive leaders intentionally create competitive conflict between the people and the teams of employees and managers that work for them. And this can literally take the form of assigning the same exact goals to more than one individual or team and under terms where everyone involved knows that the winner of these races will be rewarded and the losers punished. Yes, this is toxic; some managers are toxic in how they lead and manage and through setting up win-lose conflicts that are at best only mildly damaging and certainly to morale and to achieving employee buy-in.

I offer that last example for a variety of reasons. First of all, I do so because it does in fact represent a real world within-business win-lose scenario that I have seen play out and even in businesses that by all outward appearance seem to be quite successful. And when other workplace factors are added in that would influence stay or go decision making on the part of employees caught up in these conflicts, this type of competition might not in and of itself lead to a real increase in key employee turnover either. So I am not necessarily citing this as a reason for change management becoming necessary: I am simply citing it as a challenging workplace environment where win-lose competition can become relatively commonplace and certainly on high priority projects.

Beyond that, I also cite this to note a point that should be obvious but that is often overlooked in discussion of business and management practices and processes: a truly general theory of business should address bad and questionable processes and practices and as thoroughly as good and best ones, and how they related to each other and how they would be distinguished from each other.

I am going to continue this discussion and addressing those issues in a next series installment, where I will turn to consider the second numbered point of my above repeated to-address list, and the individual employee, manager, executive or owner and their issues.

In anticipation of that and as a closing comment to my perhaps toxic seeming second win-lose competition example from above, I briefly recount an in-house competition that I have seen and participated in, in a differently run business, which for purposes of this narrative, I identify as an up and coming high tech firm: Alweron Inc.

• Alweron took on a major project as the successful bidder in a competition held by a national government agency. And the initial project proposal that they offered did in fact fit entirely within their current technology and technical solutions comfort zone, which is why they were able to bid to complete at the cost and within the timeframe that they offered.
• Then, as sometimes happens and certainly in a cutting edge technology context, the lead project manager and their team assigned to this work, ran into a roadblock, where they came to realize that a key element of their solution could not be made to work, at least with what for them was their currently available off the shelf technology.
• They got creative and in effect held an in-house stretch-goals contest, coming out of a brainstorming session held by the team as a whole as they sought to arrive at a best approach for resolving this impasse. And three teams came together, each attempting to solve this problem with a different, novel innovative solution that they had initially sketched out in principle in that brainstorming session. The winner of this contest would be rewarded with extra vacation days that year and with a cash bonus, upon delivery of their working solution, and with the first to cross this finish line with a cost-effective problem resolution declared to be the winner. Early delivery, ahead of the designated and agreed to deadline for completion, would mean a larger bonus too, as this would help the business as a whole to complete the overall project ahead of schedule and achieve an early completion bonus from the agency that was paying for this project to be done in the first place.

This was as much a win-lose scenario situation, as is presented in the above outlined more toxically presented in-house competition scenario. But rather than being set up to pit employees and teams against each other, to keep everyone a bit scared of possible failure to perform and succeed, this win-lose contest was organized and run to encourage out of the box creativity, and with bonus and longer-term career enhancement potential. The overall orientation of this was positive, rather than negative and affirming rather than threatening.

I am going to discuss business processes and practices from the perspective of the individuals involved, with a focus on assumptions made and the contexts that decisions and their follow-through are made in. Here, to note a point of difference between these two in-house competitions, both of them were set up as competitions between employees and groups of them that would see themselves as opponents to each other. But the second of them was not set up in such a way as to make this a basic workplace norm. And it was not set up with a goal of bringing employees and managers there to see each other as opponents, and even at least potentially as enemies in a drive to meet senior executive and owner expectations. A general theory of business has to include and both descriptively and predictively explain that too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material about what I am attempting to do here at About this Blog and at Blogs and Marketing. And I include this series in my Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, as topics section VI there, where I offer related material regarding theory-based systems.

Career planning 6: learning from the experience of others 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 11, 2017

This is my sixth installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I began discussing mentoring in this series from the recipient, mentee side of the table (see Part 5.) And I focused there on finding the right people to seek out and connect with as sources of information and insight, and on best practices for doing so.

• Mentoring can serve as a powerful tool for helping cultivate the skills, strengths and potential of those who could do better at their jobs, and further in their longer-term careers too.
• But this can only work if it is approached and carried out in ways that are respectful of the needs of all concerned, and of their time and effort commitments.

I delved into this from the mentee perspective as a key element to my Part 5 discussion. And I turn here to consider these best practices considerations from the mentor side of the table.

I acknowledged in Part 5 that I have made a consistent practice of seeking out others who I can learn from, and in all directions in the organizations that I have worked with, and certainly when working with new clients as a consultant and striving to get up to speed on their issues and challenges, and in learning my way through their systems of resources and their corporate cultures in place. At the same time I have always actively sought out opportunity to help others in this way too, and both through networking and as a mentor (see Consultant and Mentor – bridging the contradiction for a posting related to mentoring in a specifically consulting-oriented context.) Focusing on that side to this set of opportunities, I see mentoring as a means of helping people with unrealized potential to do better in the jobs that they already hold so they can more fully succeed there. And I see mentoring as a valuable resource in helping prepare people with real potential for their next career steps too, and in better understanding what their best-for-them career goals might even be.

I wrote in Part 5 of how mentees can find great mentors and great sources of knowledge and insight from essentially any direction in an organization. But to simplify this posting, I will write it in terms of top-down mentoring as is more commonly considered. And I simply note here that most all of what I would offer here, applies in other mentor/mentee relationships too, and particularly when a more collegial relationship develops there, and not a more strictly superior/subordinate one, which tends to limit candor and mentoring effectiveness anyway.

Where does mentoring per se fit into the picture for a manager in a business? How does this fit into their here-and-now job and into their own career advancement? That depends on the corporate culture in place as much as it does on anything else, with more collaborative cultures valuing mentoring more positively than a more strictly competitive one would. But assuming at least some business process and business culture support for collaborative, positive support – which in essence can be seen as supporting enlightened self-interest as much as anything else, I would propose the following as holding the greatest value for a manager as they seek to rise through the ranks and up the table of organization:

• Specific hands-on technical skills offer the greatest value for hands-on workers but hold progressively less such value as you reach higher levels of management authority. And as part of that shift in priorities, the higher up a chain of command you go, the higher the percentage of people who you will find yourself supervising and managing, directly and indirectly through others, who have and use specific skills that you do not have too. Flipping that around to emphasize this point, the higher up you go in a management system, the more people will find themselves working under you there who will have expertise and experience that you do not share and that you never will have, and that you might understand for results achieved, but that you will not know the details as to how those results were achieved.
• Interpersonal and communications skills become progressively more and more important as you organize and coordinate larger and more skills-sets varied tasks and projects and as you find yourself responsible for larger and more varies ranges of them.
• And helping the perhaps many people under you in your area of the table of organization to perform better, and to live up to their fuller potential while doing so, can become a defining point of consideration when you yourself are up for performance review, and when you are up for possible further career advancement yourself. This is where support of more general employee training and related staff enrichment opportunities enter this narrative, and this is where mentoring can too, and particularly when it is offered to employees and more junior managers who genuinely show promise and without any ulterior bias added into that selection process.
• A concern on the part of potential mentors, of a perception of possible bias in who they actively mentor and who they do not, probably deters more people who could help others in this way than any other possible confounding issues faced here. But it is possible to build this type of support into a business and in its business practices and in its corporate culture too and it is possible to build a mentoring culture into a business, and as a source of its defining positive value as a place to work.

I assume in what follows that mentoring per se is seen as at least something of a positive, and that this includes it’s not having been turned into a “favoritism minefield.” How can a prospective mentor find the right people to help train and guide in this way? Two possible avenues come immediately to mind here, that I will explore for their complexities:

• Performance review findings, where that includes both pertinent technical skills and work performance findings, and communications and interpersonal skills evaluations.
• And this selection process of necessity, and certainly in this context, should also consider enthusiasm for the business and for what can be done there, and at least something of a consideration of interpersonal fit, between potential mentor and mentee. If everything else is there, but a potential mentor and mentee cannot seem to find common ground for working together, this is not going to work out.
• And self-selection, and on the part of mentees in particular. An employee who asks really good questions and who actively seeks out the information and insight that they need to go beyond their current day-to-day routine and do more: that is a good sign. And employees at whatever level on the table of organization who seek out special projects and opportunities to stretch and expand their skills and the range over which they apply them, and who actively seek out opportunity to help address genuine otherwise-unmet needs, are good candidates here too.

Managers and senior managers in a mentoring business culture can become eligible, or at least more visibly so for advancement through mentoring and particularly when the people they so help, benefit from this and prove that from their own work performance and their own professional growth. And mentoring and supervising at that level can serve as a gateway into management for non-managerial employees who seek to career advance into management too. Mentoring, after all, is in large part a matter of communications and interpersonal skills – some of the very skills that become so important in management per se, along with capabilities in delegating both tasks and responsibilities, and authority to match the level of responsibility so conferred, and capacity to see and understand work done and goals worked towards from a bigger picture perspective than would be called for in immediately here-and-now hands-on work.

Let me conclude this posting with a crucially important, if basic and even elementary observation: An effective mentor learns at least as much as anyone they would help train and advise and for several reasons. First, mentoring, and I add teaching in general force you to look at and reconsider the knowledge and skills that you would share, with new fresh eyes. This can in effect force you to reorganize and consolidate what you know, thinking through gaps and possible inconsistencies in that. It can force you to really see and examine your own automatic assumptions and preconceptions. It can leave you more solidly grounded where your might have been thinking and operating more in terms of special case rules – but where you could generalize to more widely applicable general understandings. And mentoring builds bridges, and for networking and for simply working with those around you with greater awareness and understanding of your human context.

• I write this posting in particular, for those who have never mentored but who have something to offer – and something to gain from doing so. Never feel threatened by the people around you who seek to excel and who seek out the knowledge and insight and tools they would need to do so. Cultivate the best in others and strive to help them reach their own best potentials, and strive to become the best that you can achieve too, and regardless of your title or level of organizational authority. And I offer this as a career point that goes way beyond the issues of mentoring and of seeking out or serving as a mentor.

I have been developing this series according to an outline that I first offered in its Part 1. And I will continue following that same basic pattern in my next installment, where I will address that posting’s Point 5, as offered in its principle to-address list:

• Career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis, and thinking and planning beyond the scope of this list’s Point 2 (e.g. thinking in terms of where you are now, and in terms of next possible steps that you might take now to specifically reach where you seek to be next, as discussed in Part 3.)

And I will proceed from there to discuss the rest of the more general, foundational issues of career planning and execution as noted in that first series installment. Then, in anticipation of further discussion to come, I will go beyond the scope outlined in Part 1, to consider the impact of change, and of automation in particular as that will come to redefine what employment and employability are in this 21st century. And the issues that this transformation raise, are among the most important that we as humanity will face in the years and decades to come. But before delving into that, I will continue building a foundation for its discussion here, as first outlined in Part 1.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Innovation, disruptive innovation and market volatility 33: innovative business development and the tools that drive it 3

Posted in business and convergent technologies, macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on June 9, 2017

This is my 33rd posting to a series on the economics of innovation, and on how change and innovation can be defined and analyzed in economic and related risk management terms (see Macroeconomics and Business, posting 173 and loosely following for Parts 1-5 and Macroeconomics and Business 2, posting 203 and loosely following for Parts 6-32.)

I offered a to-address list of topic points towards the top of Part 32, that I repeat here for continuity of discussion, as my goal here is to continue delving into them in follow-up to that posting:

1. Innovation and its realization are information and knowledge driven.
2. And the availability and effective use of raw information and of more processed knowledge developed from it, coupled with an ability to look beyond the usual blinders of how that information and knowledge would be more routinely viewed and understood, to see wider possibilities inherent in it,
3. Make innovation and its practical realization possible and actively drive them.
4. Information availability serves as an innovation driver, and business systems friction and the resistance to enabling and using available business intelligence that that creates, significantly set the boundaries that would distinguish between innovation per se and disruptively novel innovation as it would be perceived and understood
5. And in both the likelihood and opportunity for achieving the later, and for determining the likelihood of a true disruptive innovation being developed and refined to value creating fruition if one is attempted.

I focused on Point 1 of this list in Part 32, and then stated at the end of it that I would turn to consider Point 2 here. I am going to do so but to set the stage for that, I want to at least begin by clarifying and explaining a point of terminology that I raised in Part 32 when discussing innovation per se. Innovation might be more minor and incremental in form or it might be more dramatic and overtly consequential, and disruptive innovation usually represents the more fundamental change end of that continuum. I noted that there is a gray area between innovation as a more general term and when more evolutionary change is considered, and overtly disruptive innovation, but without fully clarifying what I mean by that. Part of an explanation as to what this gray area represents, simply means that incremental change can mean smaller or larger increments on the one side, and that new and novel can be profoundly new and unexpected, or only somewhat new and novel; innovation does fall along at least something of a continuum as to the level and degree of novelty arrived at and even if we all tend to think more in terms of extremes and certainly for identifying the more disruptive-facing end of that continuum. But this explanation only tells one half of the story that I seek to convey in that term.

I in effect prepared to explain the other half of “gray area” in this context in Part 32, when I wrote of information and processed knowledge partitioning in an organization, in the context of business systems friction in information management: the ongoing cyclical processes of data collection and vetting, knowledge development from it, access and communications and use of both raw and processed knowledge and information, and their challenges.

I discussed this in terms of conundrums, where the same processes that can lead to risk reduction from prevention of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands, can also lead to the creation of barriers to effective legitimate information sharing too, and certainly where possible disruptive innovation development can call for new and novel patterns of who legitimately should be brought into an information sharing conversation. And as stated up to here at least, that just addresses the more contrived and planned-out, side to information sharing and its control, leaving out more entirely ad hoc decision making options and their use in information policy and information management.

• In practice, businesses face real risk of porosity, and unexpected information transfer out of the areas where specific forms of sensitive data and knowledge belongs, and into areas where it should not go, coupled with the equally unintended development of barriers to acceptable and even essential information and knowledge transfer and sharing.
• Information access and control processes and practices in actual day-to-day use can and all too often do leave the door open to sensitive information transfer and visibility where they should be limited and blocked, while limiting and blocking where they should be more open and communicative – and particularly, for the later, where novel lines of communication and information sharing would be called for, as for example when developing a disruptively new innovative opportunity and in ways that can lead it to a production line and profitability. I repeat this detail intentionally here.
• Let me pick up on and highlight a crucially important aspect of this, to clarify what I am addressing in these points. If the gold standard for controlling and managing sensitive and confidential information is to be found in developing and following explicit rules-based access and storage systems, and ones that can be largely automated with explicitly rules based, established permissions assigned to anyone who in principle might be involved in this information sharing, then novel and unexpected and unplanned for communications requirements that would bring in unusual combinations of experience and expertise into a conversation, would likely be blocked and certainly for proprietary and closely held in-house business intelligence and as both raw data and as more processed knowledge – barring explicit exception making decisions.

And this brings me to a scenario that I briefly touched upon in Part 32 where a business fails to develop a new and potentially very profitable innovation, and even a disruptively novel one, and even though it has had all of the pieces to that puzzle in place, because they cannot bring what they know together and into production. So another, competing business that may have started much later in the race to develop that type of innovation gets there first. And this sheds a whole new light on that “gray area,” where a lack of effective business intelligence development and sharing, and for actionable processed knowledge in particular, can mean real innovation and even disruptively novel innovation going essentially completely unrecognized for the value potential that it carries. Barriers there can prevent event the potentially most valuable disruptive innovation from ever taking place, and from being brought to market if started upon.

• If the gray area in the innovation continuum that I made note of in Part 32 represents a perhaps-rapidly evolving but still just incremental and perhaps-disruptively new, middle ground area along a continuum, where different viewers might rate the level and significance of change differently,
• That gray area also represents an area of friction-clouded uncertainty and of loss of visibility, where innovation and its potential are not going to even be visible and for at least some of those who should be key stakeholders of innovative change and advancement. And when that “some” includes the key gatekeepers who control which developments can be prototyped and which of them can be developed for production and brought into market-facing production, that can have long-term consequences.

I cited an earlier series in Part 32, with essentially this same area of concern in mind that I repeat here for its importance: Keeping Innovation Fresh, as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, as postings 241 and loosely following. And once again, see its Part 2: Xerox PARC and Menlo Park and its Part 3 continuation of that in particular, for their relevance here. The Xerox PARC research facility is renowned for both the volume and importance of the innovations that its researchers conceived, and the much smaller proportion of those innovation opportunities that its parent company ever allowed to be developed in-house and to their own profitability and benefit.

So the gray area that I touched upon so briefly in Part 32 and that I have been exploring in more detail here, is both a product of more objective reality where not all change is equal is scale, and subjective, and subject to information barrier-facilitated friction, if not always information barrier-creating friction. And with this stated, I overtly acknowledge that I have written this entire posting up to here as a direct and immediate response to Point 2 of the to-address list that I repeated towards the top of this posting.

Blinders can come from preconception and bias and even when all of the information that could possibly be needed to take a next conceptual leap is right in front of us. But more insidiously, those blinders can come from a lack of essential information that might be fully developed and in-principle available in-house, but that is so scattered in non-communicating offices that the people who would most need it are constrained to be unaware of it. Then they cannot even know enough of what is in-principle available for them to know and act upon, for them to even just realize that they are missing something – and even when that is a vital something.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will address Point 3 in the above list:

• Making innovation and its practical realization possible and actively drive them.

In anticipation of that line of discussion to come, this means my addressing approaches for both identifying where deleterious information and knowledge bottlenecks and barriers have arisen and remediating them, while still meeting genuine information access control requirements. And I will explicitly consider disruptive innovation, where novel and unexpected patterns of information and expertise sharing might be essential for timely success, that would call for both precise and flexible rules-based systems for allowed sensitive information sharing, with explicit exception handling capabilities built into them.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

Rethinking vertical integration for the 21st century context 16

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 7, 2017

This is my 16th installment to a series on what goes into an effectively organized and run, lean and agile business, and how that is changing in the increasingly ubiquitously connected context that all businesses, and that all individuals operate in (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 577 and loosely following for Parts 1-15.)

I have been discussing symmetrical and asymmetrical business-to-business relationships in supply chain and other collaborative relationships for several installments of this series now, at least as a matter of general principle. And I have done so by way of several case in point examples, including Apple, Inc. (with that case study discussed through much of this series), FedEx (in Part 14), and Eastman Kodak (in Part 15.) My goal for this posting is to at least begin to reconsider the issues raised there, in much more operational terms and from both sides of the table when negotiating and carrying out these business agreements, and from both shorter and longer-term timeframe perspectives.

I begin addressing this set of points with a basic question. And it is one that effectively shapes the operations-level nature of the relationship between collaborating businesses in any such ongoing business-to-business system:

• What defines primacy of place in establishing asymmetry of strength and position in these relationships, where and as it arises?

Let’s consider three possible answers to that question, all of which can be valid and true depending on the specific case-in-point examples considered:

1. Primacy of place can be determined essentially entirely on the basis of scope and reach, and certainly when one business in such a collaboration is responsible for and owner of most of a large and comprehensive business process system, and partner businesses that it works with only individually manage and hold responsibility for small add-on elements to what that controlling member business does.
2. Primacy of place can be determined by which business provides the compatibility standards that have to be followed, that all participating business would have to adhere to in collectively providing a consistently functional product and bringing it to market. This can hold whenever proprietary formatting or other standards are in play and owned by one participating business in such a collaborative system of them.
3. And primacy of place in this can be determined by the marketplace, when one business in what might even be a complex collaborative system has come to be seen as owning the collectively created brand, and its standards of excellence in meeting publically perceived needs.

Obviously, a single company can gain primacy of place in its collaborations according to one, two or even all three of these criteria. And I would cite Apple, Inc. as an example of a business that has achieved this for all three. They selectively farm out and outsource a wide range of productive activity, and both in hardware and software production, and certainly for hardware as it is produced according to their standards. They are the most wide-reaching and controlling partner in the supply chain systems that they enter into, and are first among (not really) equals in any and all business-to-business collaborations that they participate in, according to the Point 1 criterion as just noted above. But they also own and actively control ownership and usage of Apple branded standards and formats, and they determine what is and is not going to be allowed into them, that might be more open-source as to formatting – to the to the extent that they allow for that at all (e.g. their supporting bluetooth connectivity as a layer in an otherwise proprietary connectivity format protocol stack.) And Apple definitely owns and controls its brand and its name recognition. From a consumer perspective, anything they acquire from or through an Apple store, and either from a bricks and mortar storefront or online, comes entirely from Apple, Inc. Everything so offered is an Apple product. The partner businesses that contribute to Apple products are entirely eclipsed in branding and name recognition and very few Apple users could name even just one partner business that contributes, for example some specialty hardware component, or even a partner business that plays a key role in overall assembly of at least one line of Apple products.

With this in mind, I come to a second defining question:

• If as in the case of Apple, one partner business predominates and in a way that leaves all other participating businesses essentially invisible to end-user and purchasing markets, then where would these “lesser partners” gain value here?

The answer to that is easy: sales and profitable revenue generation. Ultimately, it is business effectiveness and capacity to create marketable value and revenue flow to match it, that count here, and it does not matter how widely known their role is in the collaborative systems they participate in, in order for them to reach their value creation and profitability goals. And this brings me directly to the issues and questions of operational systems and:

• Making sure as an ongoing due diligence requirement, that all operational processes in place in supportive partner businesses in these collaborations,
• Actively support those systems that they have entered into that actively drive their revenue generation and that actively sustain them in the process.

This means more minor supporting businesses seeking to participate in supply chain and related systems, in ways that bring positive value to all participants, as a means of keeping these collaborative systems stably profitable for themselves. And a well-run leading partner business in asymmetrical business-to-business collaborations will actively seek to positively support its smaller supporting partner businesses too, as the success of their supporting partners feeds into their own by helping those businesses to more effectively meet their needs and in a timely and cost-effective manner. Switching perspectives there and certainly from a longer-term perspective, a leading partner business in such collaborations risks losing access to good collaborative partner businesses if it gains a reputation for burning supporting businesses. The best supplier and specialty provider businesses that it would seek to work with and gain value from in this manner, essentially always have choices in which other businesses they would work with. And if they see a prospective collaborative opportunity as offering more risk than positive benefit to themselves, they will go elsewhere leaving that perhaps larger potential partner with fewer and lesser value options to work with in meeting their perhaps most pressing outside-sourced needs.

The above two bullet points and the paragraph that follow them sound reasonable on one level and can be, and accurately so. But they contain within them some assumptions that do not always hold true. I am going to conclude this posting by at least starting to identify and address them, beginning with the two bullet points and from the smaller, supporting business side of a business-to-business collaboration.

Yes, a business that seeks to gain value from entering into and participating in a business-to-business collaboration is going to benefit from making an effort to arrive at and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship there. And this means making the connecting systems and processes that functionally define an ongoing recurring collaboration reliable, predictable, timely and cost-effective – and for all concerned. This certainly applies in the short-term, and when dealing with current collaborations and the current context that might make them profitably worthwhile. But longer-term, it is vitally important that any business that enters into business-to-business collaborations remain flexible too, as circumstances can change. If a smaller business that for example produces and provides some specific line of parts or subassemblies for other manufacturers, takes on a single larger partner business as its sole client, and loses that business and even just briefly, it might fail into bankruptcy as a result and quickly if it does not have adequate reserves or back-up plans.

I wrote of Apple’s proprietary standards above, when briefly outlining how it is the largest and more powerful partner in any business-to-business collaboration that it enters into. What would happen to one of its smaller supporting partners if Apple were to suddenly walk away from them when their contract to work together comes up for renewal – and without warning from Apple that this was even being considered? Consider a smaller partner business that has put itself in the position of only manufacturing for Apple as its sole client, and to Apple’s proprietary standards and formats. And now it quite unexpectedly has to find new client businesses and retool its production lines away from what it has been doing for this one client company, if it is to manufacture for other partner businesses, and with all of the next-step, up-front costs that that entails.

• Longer-term due diligence means balancing ongoing and long-term flexibility and capacity for resilience, with here-and-now and shorter term need to efficiently meet current business contracts and transactional requirements.
• And this becomes particularly, critically important when a smaller business or really any business finds itself beholden to a single client business as the sole purchaser of all that it provides that would bring revenue into its coffers.

And from a leading business perspective in such collaborations, needs and requirements change. And their due diligence analyses and the decisions that arise from them can in fact lead those businesses to make changes in their selection of which other businesses they would actively collaborate with. This can mean changing what they require from the partner businesses that they work with, where meeting new requirements would entail significant retooling and other costs on a partner business’ part. Or it could mean cutting back the level of business carried out collaboratively with a current partner business, or it can even mean ending such a relationship with them entirely – and even at least relatively abruptly. So the points I made above that I have been commenting upon here, apply in the shorter term and when such collaborations are mutually beneficial. But circumstances and due diligence decision making conditions can change and certainly over longer stretches of time. Both sides of a business-to-business collaboration should strive to make these relationships work and profitably for all involved while they are in force. But such collaborations begin, and with time they end too. This also has to be taken into account.

I have been running a concurrent series on a general theory of business as Section VI of Reexamining the Fundamentals, in which I discuss businesses and their collaborations in terms of general principles. And one of the approaches that I have been delving into there is the application of game theory to understanding business decision making and its follow through in actions taken (starting with its Part 12: Some Thoughts Concerning a General Theory of Business 12: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 4.) Think of the two bullet points and following paragraph that I have just been commenting on here, as representing an implicitly win-win game strategy approach. And think of my commentary in follow-up to that as allowing for a more win-lose approach as well. I offer this comment here to connect this series to that one as a source of foundational background to what I have been offering here. And I offer this note to highlight how different businesses in supply chain and other collaborative systems can align or diverge in their basic conceptual understanding of the systems that they participate in, and of the strategies that they should best follow in them.

I am going to conclude this series, at least for now with a final installment in which I will focus on alignment and divergence in what participating businesses seek to achieve in business-to-business collaborations, and in how they would pursue their perhaps diverging goals. And to return this overall discussion to a tight focus on vertical, and I add horizontal integration, as carried out in-house, I will discuss the risk and benefits issues of alternatively working with other businesses or going it alone and seeking to do as much as possible in-house. And as with much of this series, I will consider Apple Inc. and its decisions and actions as a case study example for that.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

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