Episode 7 of THE THINKING LEADER PODCAST featuring Dr. David Landsman, OBE, is now live! Click here to listen now.

Resolve to be a Thinking Leader in 2021

Jan 14, 2021

I have said it before: Bad leaders react, good leaders plan and great leaders think. And right now, we need thinking leaders like never before.


Because most of the problems we now face – as companies, as organizations, as countries and as a world – are not scientific problems, technical problems or medical problems. They are problems that require leadership to solve, and they have been made worse by bad leadership, or by a lack of leadership entirely.

The shameful events that occurred this week in Washington offer a powerful – and painful – example of the consequences of bad leadership, and it will take a lot of great leadership from politicians on all sides of the political aisle to undo the damage that the past four years have done to America’s democracy. That will require some very deep thinking indeed.

The present pandemic is another case in point.

There is no mystery about how to get COVID-19 under control. A...

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UPS Is Becoming A Victim Of Its Own Success

Dec 16, 2020

Sometimes, success can be devastating.

Just look at what is happening to United Parcel Service Inc. right now: In the past two weeks, I’ve had two perishable food orders, well, perish because the delivery company failed to deliver them on time. Other nonperishable orders have also been delayed.

And I am not alone.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that UPS failed to deliver nearly one in 10 packages on time last week. Worse, the Journal said the struggling company has ordered its drivers to stop picking up packages at six of the nation’s largest retailers: Macy’s Inc., Gap Inc., L.L. Bean Inc., Nike Inc., Newegg Inc. and Hot Topic Inc. until further notice.

There is an important lesson in this for all businesses: Managing success can be just as critical as managing failure.


Be careful of what you wish for

The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the shift that was already underway from in-person retail to online e-tail,...

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The Key to Making Good Decisions Faster is Optionality

Dec 07, 2020

Today, we all recognize the need for speed. The world moves fast, and assumptions that were true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. New competitors, new threats and new opportunities are emerging every day.

This new reality of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – a.k.a. VUCA – has demonstrated the limitations of Industrial Age approaches to strategy and planning. That has led some to adopt more iterative approaches. That is a good thing. But it has led others to adopt a more reckless approach to decision making, and that can cause real harm.

Consider Facebook, which adopted the motto “move fast and break things” as its mantra. Facebook did just that, and while that approach led to some amazing, world-changing innovations, the things the company broke along the way were precious: productivity, privacy and democracy.

A lot of other companies that have followed Facebook’s motto have only hurt themselves – well themselves, their...

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U.S. Army Moves To Close Red Teaming University

Oct 30, 2020

The U.S. Army has decided to shutter the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, a.k.a. “Red Teaming University,” ending one of the most revolutionary experiments in applied critical thinking and effectively pulling the plug on red teaming in the American military.

“Effective 1 October 2021, the Army will defund the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) and repurpose our $2.5 million for other priorities. As a result, the Army, and the Department of Defense at large, will no longer possesses the ability to train and educate Red Teamers,” said the school’s director, Mark French, in a statement sent to me by UFMCS Friday. “At this stage, UFMCS leadership has exhausted the avenues for reconsideration.”

This cost-cutting move, necessitated in part by the Trump Administration’s absurd decision to steal money from the Pentagon to pay for a worthless wall on a tiny stretch of the...

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Why Do You Pay Your Consultants More Than Your Executives?

Oct 27, 2020

I recently asked a prospective client an important question: Why do you pay your consultants more than your executives?

If you are a senior leader at a large company, it’s a question you should be asking yourself, too.

The corporation in question paid millions of dollars last year to one of the Big Four consulting firms, ostensibly for “strategy development.”

“Yet, you have more than 300 employees who have the word strategy in their job title,” I pointed out. “How does that make sense? Have you hired the wrong people? Do they lack the right tools? Or do you not trust them to make the right strategic choices?”

I wasn’t trying to be a smartass. I really wanted to know – because I have seen the same thing at many of the large corporations I work with, and it baffles me.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to business school and have never been a corporate executive. I spent the first half of my professional...

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Use The COVID-19 Crisis To Make Your Business Better

May 19, 2020

It is easy at times like this for leaders to become paralyzed by fear, uncertainty and doubt. But great leaders know that crises such as the present pandemic present unique opportunities to rethink their businesses and figure out how to do what they do better.

Consider Boeing – not the Boeing of today, led ham-fistedly by the latest in a series of uninspiring GE alums whose only strategy seems to be using the coronavirus as a convenient excuse to get the American taxpayers to bail out a company that was already nosediving into bankruptcy before anyone started coughing in Wuhan, but the Boeing of 2001, whose commercial aircraft group was led by that exemplar of authentic leadership, Alan Mulally.

Boeing was in bad shape when Mulally was promoted to CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes back in 2001, even before terrorists turned four of its planes into flying bombs. It had been locked in a dogfight with Airbus for years. Mulally had managed to get the Europeans in his sights...

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Stop Lying To Yourself About The Coronavirus

Mar 25, 2020

This week, Apple Inc. became one of the first major corporations to issue a warning to investors about the negative impact of the coronavirus, demonstrating again the sort of transparency and responsiveness that has made it one of the most admired companies in the world. Meanwhile, the fact that so few other companies have followed Apple’s lead highlights one of the biggest challenges facing corporations today: telling the truth.

When I say companies have a hard time telling the truth, I don’t mean they are lying to their customers, to regulators or to investors; I mean they are lying to themselves.

While it is still too early just how big an impact the coronavirus will have on either the global economy or individual companies, it is already clear that it will not be negligible. Supply chains are already being disrupted. Consumer activity in China is already slowing. And Apple is not the only company that is going to feel the impact.


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The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Why Businesses Need Red Teaming

Mar 20, 2020

If you are a corporate leader anywhere in the world right now, I’m guessing you’ve dusted off your business continuity plan, read it and found it woefully wanting. That is because most of us, when planning for “worst case scenarios,” are unable to conceive of just how bad things could get.

Cognitive psychologists have a term for this: normalcy bias. And it’s just the sort of thing red teaming was designed to overcome.

As I describe in my book of the same name, decision support red teaming was born in the crucible of 9/11 when what was subsequently described as a systemic “failure of imagination” by U.S. intelligence agencies opened the door for the worst terrorist attack in American history.

The CIA was one of the agencies that dropped the ball. But not for long.

As they were still pulling victims out of the ruins of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet was setting up a group within the...

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Slow Down to Speed Up

Feb 20, 2020

And spend now to save later.

Doing this will invariably go against every grain in your body, but if you’re going through a transformation you’re going to have to unlearn those behaviours and feelings and do what’s right but what feels wrong. 

If you need to go faster (or are told to do so), then if you simply do your best, try harder, work more hours and add more story points to your sprint (because that always works!), then you will actually go slower – this is proven. Other bad things are also likely to occur… ‘Cliff Approaching!’ springs to mind. 

If your business is trying to do something that is really complex and difficult, and which brings about major change for most of its people, which any transformation will do, then you need to support them, and you need to do it right.  Your people are your No. 1 asset. 

It is better to invest now, surge the support upfront, plan effectively, and get the results you need in a...

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2020 Demands New Ways Of Thinking About Your Business

Feb 04, 2020

The new year is off to a crazy start. It took less than a week for us to reach the brink of yet another Mideast war, and now we’ve got impeachment hearings in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom and a potential pandemic brewing in China. On the business front, Boeing continues to self-destruct, Tesla has passed Volkswagen to become the world’s second most valuable automaker and Jeff Bezos is accusing the crown prince of Saudi Arabia of hacking his cell phone. And we’ve only made it through January.

One thing is certain: It looks like we’re all in for a wild ride in 2020.

I guess we should be used to it by now. Afterall, 2019 was no walk in the park either. But it does seem like every year now brings with it a new level of crazy.

Business thinkers are increasingly using the term VUCA to refer to this new normal, an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In other words: the environment we all...

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