Holden finds soft stuff is the hard stuff

Holden is not exactly the environment you expect to see Emotional Intelligence high on the agenda. But according to Catherine Fox’s piece in the August edition of BOSS magazine that’s been a key ingredient in getting Holden’s latest V6 production plant up and running.
Read the full article.
This $400 million plant was Holden’s biggest investment in decades. Fox continues:

The hurdles were all about people and leadership. No one had banked on the need to mesh the various personalities in the team, most of whomhad never worked together before.

I am still surprised that managers and project managers get taken into the fantasy that the project is all about managing deadlines, resources, critical paths and tasks. The thought that people issues might be important never seems to be covered until the project gets off the ground.
People issues are always the important issues in a project. Projects on tight deadlines create high anxiety and high anxiety creates people issues.
For more about my ideas on this topic download my workshop brochure The Flip Side of Project Management.

Howard calls Election

In breaking news just announced, John Howard will become the first ‘Coalition of the Willing’ leader to face an election on October 9.
See national broadcaster ABC’s coverage here.
The latest Morgan opinion poll is bad news for Howard, but apparently internal Liberal Party polling is better for him.
Political commentators have been swinging around on the relative fortunes of the contendors but Michelle Grattan’s latest piece also paints a bleak picture for Howard.
But, as we all know, things can change quickly.

Surowiecki on the Google IPO

Kottke notes that James Surowiecki has finally weighed in on the Google IPO.
Surowiecki comments:

When Google went public on Thursday, it immediately became one of the most highly valued companies in the world. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, its co-founders, are now billionaires (at least on paper). And the company raised an immense pile of cash that will stand it in very good stead as it faces an increasingly competitive future. You might think, then, that Google’s initial public offering was a success. But that is far from the message from Wall Street and much of the financial press. They prefer words such as “debacle” and “amateur hour” to describe Google’s performance. On this view, Google looks like a runner staggering across the finish line, out of breath and gasping for water.

The reason, he goes on to say, is that Wall Street is dark on Google because it’s former darling effectively cut it out of one of (if not) the biggest IPOs of the year. The suits had been sallivating over their commissions on this deal it was just a matter of who would get it. But Google committed the biggest crime possible in the eyes of the kindergarten between the river and the graveyard and now they are attempting to make it pay – at least in reputation.
All fascinating stuff. Especially as I’ve just started reading Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker – the story of Lewis’s sojourn at the now defunct Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers. (Hence the obscure reference to the kindergarten between a river and a graveyard – Wall Street.)
Surowiecki goes on to say:

Wall Street can spin this however it wants. But Google went public without underwriting from a major investment bank, without handing out favours to well-connected executives and without dictating a price in the manner of Soviet central planners. Because it did, it now has hundreds of millions of dollars that it would not otherwise have had. By any standard, this was one IPO that worked.

In one way it’s slightly ironic and in another way it’s entirely appropriate. The biggest enduring success of the dotcom era thinks up new ways of doing things. The internet is a totally new way of doing things. The brokers want us to believe that we keep doing what we always did, only using the internet, so we keep them and their commissions in the loop.
Google, used its new way of thinking to ask “Why?” and is reaping the benefit. A lesson for us all. The new technology opens new doors, we just have to try them to find out what lies behind. Just look at the top 6 letters on the left of your keyboard. The only reason they are arranged like that was because it stopped the keys from jamming on the earliest typewriters. We’re still using them because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
Well done Google and thanks to James Surowiecki for more independent thinking.

Executive Leadership and IT

Applied Abstractions has a report on the symposium Executive Leadership and Information Technology – A Fragile Dance.
Just a couple of quotes:

Jim Cash considers IT-business-alignment – the notion that the business should come up with a strategy, and IT align with that – outdated. In the companies he is involved with, there is an IT/business convergence – and no new strategy is contemplated without thinking about the influence of technology and technology evolution on the specific business environment.

A good way of understanding the new technology is to see the Internet not as wiring diagram, through which messages are sent, but as platform for inter-company applications. – John Seely Brown

AFR BOSS 2004 True Leaders List

I have come to look forward to the AFR
BOSS
True Leaders List each year. This is the fourth edition
of the list and I’m feeling that although it’s still a good read, the
format is getting a little tired. (And I wish Catherine Fox wouldn’t
start every article with “We’re over…” — this time it’s "We’re
over the heroic chief executive and the charisma factor…"

— as though fads are something true leaders are slaves to. Can’t
we have something deeper?)

Fox’s introduction is really just a collection of quotes from panel
members without any real attempt to develop themes. I think I would
have preffered some headings with the quotes listed underneath. Fox’s
slim prose just gets in the way.

Editor Helen Trinca’s piece on Bill Clinton — The Leader
as Storyteller —
is a gem but all too short. Now that would
have made a good introduction. The idea that a leader is someone who
tells a story that makes sense of what’s happening around the team.
That would have given the feature some depth.

Amanda Sinclair challenges with an overview of the central themes from
her book — Doing Leadership Differently (a new edition
of which is due out in September).

It’s also good to get an overview of the challenges facing our leaders
and how several of them deal with them.

Overall I’m disappointed that what started out as a challenge to find
a different kind of leader has become just another list trying to emulate
a format. I’m not yet ready to ditch the True Leaders List but I hope
it gets a facelift next year.

Espen on Stupid Simplistic Management Books

For a while there I thouht I was the only one who despaired for quality in management books.
But then I came across Espen making the following observation:

But the question remains: Why do stupid and simplistic management books – books that the thoughtful and well grounded managers I tend to talk to wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot grounded earth excavator – sell so well?

Espen uses Who Moved My Cheese as a case study of this genre. I’ve never read the book but have had the same reaction to many others I’ve seen. Read Espens piece here.
Thanks to Bleeding Edge for pointing me to Espen.

Moneyball and political commentary

Greg Hywood in The Age this morning has one of his most rational pieces for the year.
However I couldn’t resist the comparison with the sports commentary of Moneyball. Hywood has made up his own standards of success. Try this:

It is acceptable in the Australian system of relatively short three-year flexible parliamentary terms for an opposition to lose two elections. Even losing a third can be justified if the government is cohesive and the economy strong. But failing at the fourth attempt and beyond is poor form, indicating an inability to shape the policy agenda and to instil confidence by way of sustained political dominance of the government.

It’s really amazing how such small changes in public mood can be interpretted by commentators in such a definitive sense. An election held in Australia in the current environment is, in Billy Beane’s [Moneyball's GM of the Oakland A's] words is a “crapshoot”.
There are so many things that could affect the outcome of the coming election. In all likelihood, it will be decided by a few thousand votes. If Latham gets those votes, he will be labelled a master tactitian who was able to capture the mind of the Australian electorate. If he doesn’t he will be labelled as an experiment that went wrong, dismally unable to adequately portray his message.
It sounds so much like the commentary on the Oakland A’s playoff campaign. Not matter that they had won more games in the regular season than all but two other teams, once they failed by one win to get through the playoffs, their “style of play was not suited to the pressure of the playoffs.”
I wonder what Hywood would have as the result of dismal failure. If a political party fails to win government after three successice attempts, does that mean the electoral commission should come along, stamp “FAIL” on its registration and bar it from participating in furture elections.
Where does Hywood get his standards of acceptability from?
It reminds me of [my beloved AFL team] Essendon’s performance over 1999-2001. Despite winning an amazing proportion of its games over the three years, finishing the home and away season on top of the ladder each time, the team was labelled an ‘underperformer’ for winning only one premiership. The clup president said it was simply unacceptable.
The problem is, no matter how good you are, you can’t make absolutely certain of anything in this life. There are things outside your control. The difference between the best AFL team and the worst is miniscule when compared to lower leagues. Given how closely matched they are, everything has to go right for the best team to beat the second best on any given day.
The same is true in politics and business and many other fields of human endeavour. This isn’t surprising. What is is the failure of commentators to take even the slightest heed to this fact and set themselves up to determine with absolute certainty to describe the reasons why one event happened and another didn’t.

Rober McNamara on security

1966 speech by Rober McNamara on national and international security
A nation can reach the point at which it does not buy more security for itself simply by buying more military hardware. We are at that point. The decisive factor for a powerful nation already adequately armed is the character of its relationships with the world.” [my emphasis]
via Kottke