Episode 99 of THE THINKING LEADER PODCAST: Rebroadcast - Uncertainty and the Limits of AI with Chris Butler: Click here to listen.

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 19, 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 19, 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 03, 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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Are you a ‘Social Gadfly’?

Jan 22, 2020

When I was a young junior officer in the Royal Air Force, I was once called a ‘social gadfly’ by an old boss of mine. I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time and, as we didn’t have instant access to the internet (yes, it was that long ago!), I just assumed it meant something along the lines of a social butterfly. This was a fair assumption given the total of my mess bar bill each month and the occasional high jinks I found myself involved in…but never assume, right?! 

At my next performance review this gadfly word arose again. Whilst it turned out I was indeed a social butterfly (a point also raised in my performance review!), my boss said that, as a gadfly, I was a contrarian thinker and had challenged him and our ways of working a lot in my first few months on the squadron. Here we go, I thought, he’s already identified me as a young drunk with a rebellious streak. My long-planned military career was about to become very short-lived....

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Boeing’s Emails Show The Company Has The Answers – Calhoun Just Needs To Listen

Jan 16, 2020

While the internal Boeing Co. emails released last week paint a disturbing picture of a toxic corporate culture and a manufacturer that has lost its way, they also reveal something the company’s new CEO should take some solace in: Boeing’s employees know what is wrong with the aerospace giant, and I think it’s a safe bet they know how to fix it, too.

The only question is whether David Calhoun will let them.

When I started covering Ford Motor Co. as a journalist for The Detroit News back in 2005, the automaker leaked like sieve. Ford employees regularly forwarded me everything from product plans for new pickups to financial forecasts intended for the board’s eyes only.

One day, after I’d published a story revealing Jaguar’s staggering losses and the equally grim projections for the brand’s future, Bill Ford called me to complain. He asked me who had provided me with those privileged documents, suggesting several names to see if...

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In 2020, Resolve To Ask “Why?”

Jan 09, 2020

Back in the 1980s, a German theoretical psychologist named Dietrich Dörner conducted a fascinating series of experiments that offered amazing insights into the differences between good decision makers and bad ones.

He and his team used computers to create simulations of complex, interconnected systems ranging from small towns to African countries. Each of these systems was beset with a host of problems that threatened their very survival – everything from high infant mortality rates and drought to underperforming schools and stagnant industries. Then Dörner gave his research subjects dictatorial powers over those systems and challenged them so solve their underlying problems. It was like an early version of SimCity, albeit much darker and more complex.

Over the course of these experiments, Dörner discovered that bad decision makers shared several common traits. They focused on one aspect of the problem, rather than thinking complexly about all of the...

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If Boeing Wants A Better Future, It Needs To Look To Its Past

Dec 28, 2019

Boeing has been in trouble before – never more so than it was on September 12, 2001. After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, half its orders for new jetliners were cancelled or delayed. It was only the latest in a series of existential challenges that had been battering the company for several years, including a long and costly battle with Europe’s Airbus and a difficult merger with McDonnell Douglas.

That was the hand dealt to Alan Mulally, the new president of Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes Group. Mulally, who had led the development of the Boeing 777 — the company’s most profitable aircraft ever — was promoted to that position just a few months before 9/11. His quiet confidence, insistence on transparency and team-based approach to leadership carried the company through that crisis and the painful restructuring that followed.

Mulally developed a new model of management to save Boeing.

He began by identifying and articulating a...

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Are You A Thinking Leader?

Dec 15, 2019

Bad leaders react. Good leaders plan. Great leaders think. And revolutionary leaders — the sort of leaders who transform not just companies, but entire industries — think differently. The question is: What sort of leader are you?

It is not a hard question to answer, if you’re honest with yourself.

If you spend most of your time putting out fires, responding to emerging threats, talking with your team about what went wrong and who is to blame for it, then you are a reactive leader. And that means you are probably not a very effective one.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do better.

You can start by developing a strategy – or at least a plan – that establishes clear goals for your organization and outlines a path to achieving them. In that way, you can drive events, rather than letting events drive you.

That’s what good leaders do: lead. They do that by working with their team to figure out where they need to go, as...

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