I finally got around to watching this talk by Seth Godin on Tribes this morning.

It got me thinking about another discussion I’ve been having recently on Thought Leaders Central regarding the perennial Mac vs PC debate. We don’t make buying decisions based on which product best suits our needs at the lowest cost. At one point or other we generally join a tribe (in this case Mac or PC) and then pretty much just buy whatever everyone else in the tribe buys. We ever try to bring others into our tribe.

When I first started thinking about this I thought we did this for social/emotional reasons. We like belonging to a tribe and we like to wear the badges of that tribe.

While I still think that’s true, I wonder if there is a pure economic element to it as well. Belonging to the tribe means we don’t have to spend time comparing all possible options when we are looking for a new product – we buy what the tribe buys. This might result in us having a product that does not quite suit our needs as much as another product and we might pay slightly more than we need to. However, we have save ourselves a lot of time and energy comparing all the available products. As well its likely other members of the tribe have already tried the product we’re thinking about and they’ll give us a good indication if it will live up to our expectations. This seems pretty efficient to me.

Silicon Valley sidelines best talent

The NYT article here raises two issues dear to our hearts at The Spiral Path: discrimination
against women in the workplace and cultures that frustrate innovation.

In another string to the argument business is irrational and makes decisions that hinder
productivity and profit, 
this piece 
in the New York Times points out the prevailing culture of sex discrimination
at Silicon Valley.

Women, although better at the helm of startups than their male counterparts, are rarely given
the chance. (Now of course The Spiral Path recognises that research is often
misreported so we mention quote the august NYT here with some slight hesitancy.

According to the article:

Women own 40 percent of the private businesses in the
United States … But they create only 8 percent of the venture-backed tech start-ups.

Candace Fleming, used as a case study for the article, 

“has a double major in industrial engineering and English from Stanford, an MBA from
Harvard, a
management position at Hewlett-Packard and experience as  president of a small
software company.”

Yet she was unable to obtain finance from any of the 30 venture capitalists she tried, instead
raising money from angel investors “including Golden Seeds
, a fund that emphasizes investing in start-ups led by women”.

More disturbing than this, though was the way she was treated by men on her journey.

  • one told her that she didn’t really need business cards because they would just
    say “Mom.”
  • another showed her a naked picture of himself as a way of inviting her on a yachting weekend
    with him.

Quoting further from the NYT:

Research indicates that investing in women as tech entrepreneurs is good for the bottom line.
Venture-backed start-ups run by women use, on average, 40 percent less capital than start-ups run
by men and are increasingly involved in successful initial public offerings of stock,
according to a recent white paper by Cindy Padnos,
a venture capitalist who compiled data from 100 studies on gender and tech entrepreneurship.

“When you have gender diversity in an organization, you have better innovation, and I don’t
know where innovation is more important than in the high-tech world,” says Ms. Padnos, who recently
founded Illuminate Ventures, which invests in
start-ups led by women.

Human Potential and Hope

I came across this piece by Marcia Devlin this morning.

The first part of her post reminded me of my Grade 6 teacher. (A Mr Horn, if I remember correctly.) Now I liked Mr Horn very much. I thought he was an engaging teacher who always made us think. But I do remember him one day looking around the class and saying, quite seriously and matter of factly, “I don’t think any of you will go to university.”

I now have four degrees and I know one other member of the same class has a PhD.

Predictions are not really very useful. I could go on about that but the part of Marcia’s post that really caught my attention was :

I’m a bit taken lately with human potential ideology and hope theory. The former moves away from deficit models to models of human potential and the latter promotes the generation and pursuit of goals. (links added.)

I was excited by just the thought of these concepts. How would it be if we were to move away from all this talk about (inherently self-limiting) standards in education and moved towards finding the potential in each child in our care? That instead of focussing on all that is wrong with our world, we were to move towards generating hope.

Our previous prime minister was famous for saying he wanted Australians to be relaxed and comfortable. On reflection, this sounds like an opium for the masses. It sounds a long way from finding the potential in every member of our society and generating hope.

Education is currently dominated by standards. What if it were dominated by potential and hope?

Business leaders are evaluated on achievement against “key performance indicators.” What if they were evaluated against the extent to which they developed their organisation’s potential? What if they were evaluated against their achievement in promoting hope, both within their organisation and in the wider community?

Lot’s of questions I know. You didn’t really expect me to provide answers did you?

Further reading:

The Dangers of the Human Potential Movement.

Lucky Entrepreneurs

What type of person makes a good entrepreneur?

I am currently a student at the Australian
Graduate School of Entrepreneurship
. It won’t suprise you to know that
we spent one semester studying Entrepreneurship
and Innovation
. One of the big questions of the seminar subject was the
one I posed at the beginning of this post, as well as the related question
"How can we tell if an entrepreneurial venture will be successful?"

I value the research that has been carried out in this area, but I wonder
about the questions. How do you define success anyway? Even if we agree on
what success is, can we really tell what made a venture successful and what
characteristics of the entrepreneur made it so? In the popular press, we look
at "successful" entrepreneurs like Richard
. How do we know that for every Richard Branson, there are a thousand
people out there with exactly the same mindset, the same life experience, the
same outloook on risk taking and venture formation who have eitther tried and
failed or never tried at all.

All of that is to assume that you can take two people and say on these range
of measures they are the same. Who is to know that the single most important
measure is the one you left out. Of course just like no two people have the
same fingerprint, no two people are exactly alike. So what’s the point of trying
to find what makes and entrepreneur?

I seriously considerr the possibility that it is all a mattter of luck. The
right person in the right place at the right time with the right idea and with
the right lucky breaks.

I was prompted to write by this piece [sorry can't login to to provide
a link — It was the main Leadership piece in the May 3-9, 2007 issue] in BRW.

is commenting on the 2006 Global
Entrepreneurship Monitor
which, according to the article, found that

Australia is still very much a ‘milk-bar economy’: a nation of small business
owners whose ambitions are limited.

James Womack goes on to say

You’ve got one guy, and the product concept is between his or her ears — no marketing
system, no no supply base, no media, no apparatus, nothing. It is esier to do
it right when you begin with than it is to rework it into right once you are
a way along."

The article then suggests:

A common failing is neglecting to define the business’s purpose.
Womack says most managers say the purpose of the business is to make money, which
is not an observation that leads to action.

The Spiral Path is dedicated to guiding people to think not so much what the
purpose of the business is, but what their own purpose is in starting and running
the business. These two are related but not the same.

Private Equity

Unless you’ve been asleep, hibernating, or out of the country for
the last 12 months, you will be well aware that the Private Equity
phenomenon has well and truly hit Australia.

I can’t remember when it actually hit my radar, but the KKR bid
for Coles
[Updated 20/4/07] last year (ie 2006) was one
of the first to come to my attention. I was certainly aware that KKR
was part of the successful bid for Myer,
but that didn’t seem to be much cause for concern. Coles
hadn’t known what to do with the iconic and once hugely successful
Myer brand for a long time and its stores were floundering despite Dawn
best efforts. Count in that the consortium included
the Myer Family and it all seemed like a good idea.

But then the separate semi hostile bid for Coles raised a lot of hackles
in the community here. Coles was another iconic Australian brand grown
from the battler success story of C.J. Coles — albeit suffering at
the hands of the much more successful Woolworths.
A lot of Australians just didn’t like the idea of big money from the
USA trampelling all over our heritage.

But the big one of course has been the APA bid for Qantas.
There’s nothing much more iconic than the Flying Kangaroo.
Unlike Myer and Coles, Qantas is a succesful business. But Qantas represents
more than an icon. It represents the working conditions of thousands
of Australians and more than a million people in this country value
(like me) our Qantas frequent
Now of course APA claims to be majority Australian
owned and Australian controlled – it needs to be to satisfy the conditions
of the Qantas sale act. However a significant amount
of foreign money is involved in the bid and questions remain around
the degree to which the act applies to Qantas’ subsidiary Jestsar.
What will happen to the working conditions of QANTAS and Jetsar employees.
Will they all be moved to Australian Workplace Agreements,
in the process losing hard won benefits? Will maintenance operations
be moved overseas? And, for millions of Australians, what will happen
to my frequent flyer points.

Notwithstanding that I think the last of these questions is really
of much import, the others are of great concern to those involved and
represent possible encroaching by example of the working conditions
of millions of Australians.

However, to my mind, none of these is the most important concern.
What bothers me most is whether the private equity partners in this
deal (or any other for that matter) have any concern for what happens
to their prey in the long term. Take Qantas as a case in point. APA
cares for one thing and one thing only – the profit they can make from
the deal. My concern is that APA will simply convert value into cash
in its own pockets.

Now I might be wrong about this. Certainly the supporters of private
equity argue that these arrangements enable owners to free themselves
of the short-termism of public equity. They can be allowed to make
losses, or at least not grow profit at the rate required by the market
for extended periods. This, in our mind, is a good thing.

However, is this really what they will do?

I guess we will have to wait and see.

Mistsakes I’ve Made

Julian Lippi‘s PhD thesis has been a rich source of reflection
for me over the last few days.

Today, I was caused to think about mistakes I’ve made both in my professional
career and in my personal relationships.

I was reading Jenny’s story where she said:

… every professional mistake I’ve ever made in my life … has
been a failure to listen. I cannot think of any time … I’ve got myself into
hot water that couldn’t be traced to a failure to engage with the other person’s
data for long enough, or at a deep enough level. Can’t think of a time where
it wasn’t about listening. (p161)

This would be quite true for me as well, although I would add an important
factor that comes into play for me. It might be the same as what Jenny is speeking
about or it might be something different.

For me, I always relate my mistakes to my failure to engage with myselft.
When I think about it afterwards, I realise that at some level I always knew
what was going on. I knew what was going on, or at least I knew that something
was wrong, but I suppressed that knowledge. More important than supressing
the knowledge, I supressed what my feelings about or sense of what was happening.
When I became uneasy, I would allow my natural optimism to overide the unease
and used it as an excuse to not even allow my conscious mind to be aware of
my unease.

In this way, my optimism is a defence against the conflict I fear would, and
often would have, arisen if I had acted.

I regard myself, and most people who know me well regard me, as an insightful
person. One colleague (who I would regard as a person with great insight herself)
I worked with on a year long project remarked to me "You see things that others
don’t." In my heart of hearts, I fully believe this to be true. I don’t like
claiming it for myself because it sounds like I am boasting.

However, because of my fear of conflict, I have sometimes been stingy or mean
with my with my insight. I have kept it to myself. In this way, I lose out
on being acknowledged for what I bring to the situation and the other (or others)
miss out on insight about themselves and how they might do things differently.

It has taken me a lot of personal work to know this about myself and to know
when it is happening. It is still my greatest challenge. Each day and before
each interaction, I need to prepare myself to be aware not only of what is
going on around me but, more importantly, to be aware of what I am observing.