Category Archives: Expectations

Careers and Gigs

A new year has started and that has got me thinking again. Always a dangerous pastime for me. I watched my dad go through his career. He was and still is a scientist. One of those guys who actually conceptualized and then created things. A PhD in physics. He worked at Bell Labs and got put on permanent loan to the United States federal government for research. Later in life he went on and did some other interesting stuff. He created some forecasting capabilities to predict price movements in the commodities markets. Most recently he started to lose some of his hearing, so he created a new type of hearing aid (which he and my mom sell), and from that technology he is working on the creation of true High-Fidelity ear-buds for listening to music.

That to me was, and still is an amazing career. He will be eighty-nine next month. He is still having fun. I hear it in his voice when I talk to him.

I bring this up because I believe for the most part, that the age of the career in business as we have known it, is just about over. Most people in the workforce, and certainly those that are just entering the workforce are probably not going to be able to enjoy what has in the past been described as a career. Like everything else, the definition, and expectation of a career is changing.

It used to be that a career was built on what you learned and then how you applied it to the next opportunity or situation. You learned, you internalized, you synthesized, and you applied it elsewhere. You built, and you grew. There was an investment in you and you were vested in them.

I’m going to change gears here a little bit and talk about music, one of my other advocations. I like to play in some of the Jazz bands located around here. It has been a long road to get there. I had to learn, practice and apply what I had learned in order to get to the capability to play with some of the musicians in the area. Even then I feel as though I am barely able to keep up. I enjoy that challenge.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of demand for Jazz bands. There is some, but it is a decidedly niche type of audience. What this means is that the opportunities to play for people, particularly people who specifically like and appreciate Jazz are somewhat limited. The opportunity to be a “house band” or have steady employment as a Jazz musician is pretty limited.

The opportunities to play for an audience are usually referred to as “gigs”. defines “gig” as:

a single professional engagement, usually of short duration, as of jazz or rock musicians.

So, as a Jazz musician, you are usually always looking for the next opportunity to play, or gig. Even if you currently have one, you are looking for the next one because you know that in a reasonably short period your current gig will be over, and you will need to find the next one.

I think you can see where I am going with this. also defines “gig” in the following way:

any job, especially one of short or uncertain duration

I looked back over my career and realized that I have had the opportunity to work for no less than eight major corporations. Some of the moves and changes were of my own volition. Some of the changes were due to corporate mergers and acquisitions. Some were due to corporate downsizings and changes in strategic direction.

The point I make here is that my dad worked for basically one company (Bell Labs, even while on loan to the Federal Government) for the vast majority of his career. I have considered myself nominally stably employed for the majority of my career, but even so I have worked for eight companies. I think that going forward that corporate tenures are going to continue to become shorter and shorter, either through the individual’s own volition, or the company’s.

In short, it would seem to me that business employment is going to take on many of the characteristics associated with gigs. Opportunities are going to be shorter term as both the employee and the employer begin to expect and react to the gig environment. It does not appear that there will be the longer-term commitment or investment by either the company or the employee going forward.

In other words, don’t expect a career. It will be a job. And as time goes by, it will probably be best described as a gig. You sign up, work and then sign off.

A side benefit to the company with the new gig business structure will be the corporation’s ability to better control their labor costs. Due to the fluidity and replaceability of labor associated with the gig structure, annual, merit, seniority and cost of living raises will probably become things of the past. Instead of increasing someone’s pay to perform the same gig, it will be cheaper to just hire someone else to do the work.

In the past it was sometimes viewed as a sign of instability if there were too many different positions and companies on one’s resume. I think that will obviously change. In fact, I think in the future having multiple assignments, or gigs, with various companies will be seen as a strength. If you don’t have enough, varied assignments with different companies, employers will wonder why.

Employees should no longer look to or expect to matriculate upwards into management, in a single company. As the horizon continues to shorten, each gig will be viewed as just a step in an overall body of work. (Very similarly to each album is an increment to the musician’s bodies of work.) If you don’t change your direction and content often enough you will run the risk of being type-cast or worse, thought of as lacking in aggression or creativity.

As companies continue the drive toward being process driven, the gig will continue to be defined and refined into smaller and smaller, discrete functions. The only way to get broader experience will be to have multiple, different gigs. The best way to get that will be to go to different companies.

This could have a disillusioning effect on those that are coming into the workforce with expectations that may be unaligned with the current corporate directions and trends. Simon Sinek, the British-American author on business and organizations, had a very interesting video discussion where he addresses the millennial in the workplace topic.

In it he discusses how he believes that organizations are going to have to change and adapt to this new millennial force in the workforce. I think he is partially correct in that there is a mismatch between the millennial generation’s expectations and the direction that business is moving. As business moves to contractor / gig / low-cost labor model, the new employees are going to have less and less of an opportunity to have an effect on the corporation. This is the direction that companies appear to be moving, of their own volition. There is a drive for this inter-changeability.

Just as when a musician becomes unhappy with the band he may be in and leaves, the ability to replace them with another musician becomes paramount. So it will be in business. The process will define your gig. The way to move forward will be to have multiple gigs. The way to get multiple gigs will be to move from organization to organization.

As with any new organizational or employment structure, there will be ways for people to prosper. Just as good musicians are always in demand for bands and gigs, so will competent and capable employees be in demand. It will however change the dynamic between employees and employers in the extreme. Employees will be more and more apt to leave at any time. Employers will more and more structure employment around gig concepts and temporary assignments. When the assignment is up, it will be incumbent on the employee to find something else, either internally or externally to the company.

Just as all musicians, even those with a current gig, are always looking for the next gig, employees will also have to start preparing for their next gig, even when they have one. Times are changing. Cycle times are getting shorter, and so are the horizons that companies are willing to invest in research and development, new products, new markets and employees. The returns will need to be seen almost immediately or they will move on to something, or someone else quickly.

Just as a musician likes to have his next gig lined up even before he is done playing the current one, I think in the coming environment it will be almost a necessity to line up your next business gig before the one you are on is over. No one likes to be waiting on, or without a gig.

Getting Angry

I was recently asked why I was such an angry person. This question caught me off guard and surprised me greatly as I had never thought of myself as an angry person. Others may have, but not me. Before answering, I asked why it is that they thought I was so angry. They responded by saying that they thought I had become angry during the last project review we were in. I said they were incorrect, I did not get angry during the last project review. I had quickly and directly responded to what was unacceptable performance as reported in the review. I explained that I am not generally an angry person, but that I can get very direct, both with myself and with others, and will challenge unacceptable behaviors when commitments are not honored, and responsibilities are avoided.

I also said that one should not confuse the immediate and direct challenge to unacceptable performance, with anger.

I have mentioned before that my preferred method of leading is to focus on, and address the achievement aspect of performance. I tend to look at what has been done well and what has gone right, far more so than what has gone wrong or needs to be improved. But that doesn’t mean that failure to deliver on commitments, or objectives can be excused or ignored. And depending on the reasons for that failure to deliver, occasionally they must be dealt with directly.

I have found this to be the case more and more often in the matrix structured, process driven organizations of today. This is the structure where members of the “virtual” team actually report up through separate organizations, and where authority and accountability lines can have a tendency to blur. In this type of structure, it is not uncommon to find that it is felt that the process is the responsible entity for the project’s performance, and not the people that operate within it.

It is true that sometimes events occur that can make it exceedingly difficult if not impossible to honor our commitments. It happens. However, that does not remove the responsibility. Even with mitigating circumstances, the responsibility to try and deliver on agreed commitments, to the then best of an individual’s capabilities continues to exist. And most of the time I think everyone tries to operate in this manner.

However, occasionally, such as the afore mentioned project review, that was not the case.

When you are told that someone did not honor their agreed upon commitment because “they were busy”, that is an excuse, not an acceptable reason.

We are all busy.

I mentioned this this to the person who thought I was angry.

I also mentioned that I did a little further exploration during the project review before truly engaging on the failure to deliver on such a direct level. Were there unexpected issues or circumstances that arose? Were there other activities that got reprioritized, and if so why were this project’s commitments the ones that were deprioritized? In short, why did this happen?

If there had been reasonable responses to those questions, it would have resulted in the creation of a mitigation and response plan to try and recover from the missed commitment. There wasn’t. They just said they were busy.

Sometimes a direct and focused response to unacceptable performance can be perceived as anger, since it seems to occur less and less these days. The idea of individual deliverable ownership can have a tendency to fade in a large process driven project. If the process is the preferred methodology, and something is not achieved, how do you directly address the process? You don’t. You address those that are responsible for executing the process.

Anger in general has no place in the professional environment. When commitments are not honored and there are no acceptable or mitigating reasons, an immediate and direct response to that level of performance can be called for, not anger on a personal level. It is in short one of the best methods to communicate that the performance and the excuse are not acceptable.

The fact that it was so memorable by the participants in this case was because it has become such a rare approach to performance. As I said leading from an achievement focus usually provides the required drive to achieve the desired goals. The fact that the response in question was such a departure from the norm is what made it so memorable.

My litmus test for if the reason presented for missing a deliverable acceptable is very simple: Would it be acceptable to senior management?

It has been my experience that some of the best leaders are also some of the busiest people. The demands on their time and the breadth of the decision responsibilities require a continued focus on the objective and the components and deliverables that will be required to achieve them. Will telling them that you were too busy to get something done be acceptable?

The short answer to that question is “No”.

There is a fine line that should not be crossed in instances such as this. The focus needs to be on the performance, deliverable or objective, and not directly on the individual. Direct responses to performance issues cannot and should not become personal attacks.

In our now process driven, performance interdependent business world, any individual failure to deliver has a far broader affect that on just the specific individual in question. Knock-on delays and other dependent deliverables will also suffer. Everyone’s performance can and will suffer to some extent.

As we become more “PC” (which in this instance means “Process Correct”) in the business world, we tend to attribute both the successes and failures in business to the process and not the people. Performance issues become obfuscated as process issues. And as a result, we have a tendency to try and address the process instead of the performance within the process.

In the past direct and immediate feedback, both positive and negative was viewed as a cornerstone of a strong performing team. It is now difficult to single out an individual’s performance, either positively or negatively without the interaction being construed as either lavish praise, or anger. Neither of which are particularly conducive to positive team alignment or performance.

We all can be and should be sensitive to a certain extent about the feedback we receive. It should help and serve to drive us forward. We also need to understand that it is our own individual behaviors and performance that serve as the baseline for whatever feedback we receive. We also need to understand that while the feedback may be specific to an individual, it must be focused on specific performance items and cannot be construed as being personal in the way it is delivered.

Anger is a personal thing. It doesn’t belong in the professional environment. We are all human and sometimes it is hard not to get angry. Still we must try to maintain our focus. The focus must always be on the performance of the individual, and not the individual themselves. When dealing with performance we must stay at the professional level and not the personal one.

The “Hail Mary” Career Strategy

I was riffing through the Yahoo! Finance page the other day and saw what I thought might be an interesting article: “The Real World Is Increasingly Rough For 30-Year-Old Americans”, by Katie Krzaczek.
So, I clicked on it, hoping it was not the obligatory “click-bait” that we have all come to love. To my surprise it wasn’t. But it did send me to “The Huffington Post” page. Before I went any further, I did a little research on just who the Huffington Post is. I didn’t want to be responsible for furthering some Russian troll’s agenda.

It turns out that Wikipedia has this to say about the Huffington Post:

“HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post and sometimes abbreviated HuffPo) is a liberal American news and opinion website and blog that has localized and international editions.”

With that out of the way, and despite the fact that am probably far from being considered either a thirty-year-old, or a liberal, I read on.

The article dealt with the idea that despite the fact that all the available empirical evidence that that should logically lead to a different conclusion, this age group demographic was by and large positive about their earning potential.

The article cited the available data that the current percentage of thirty-year-olds earning more than their parents was at an all-time low: approximately fifty percent as opposed to almost ninety percent fifty years ago. It brought up these additional facts:

“Bloomberg recently used Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis data to highlight how today’s young people “are weighed down by student debt and stagnant wages”, and

“Axios published several charts to show how more of today’s 30-year-olds are living with their parents, paying higher college tuition, taking on significant debt, and buying fewer homes than 30-year-olds four decades ago.”

In short it was painting a pretty bleak picture for what has been termed Generation Y, but was noting that they were still positive about their earnings prospects. In fact, it pointed out that more than half the people in this demographic expected to be millionaires.

Now, perhaps with inflation a million dollars neither goes as far, nor is as difficult to obtain as when I was in this age group, but even so, this seemed pretty amazing to me. What was even more amazing to me was the way they thought that they would get there.

Ethan Wolff-Mann and Melody Hamm of Yahoo Finance noted in the article:

“I’m not exactly sure where all of this positive sentiment is coming from… I’m not sure whether the stagnant wages are contributing to this or anything like that. I do think … people [are] just hoping that something comes along that they walk into luck.”

“… some young people “think they can become influencers or they can sort of get a following, perhaps have a YouTube channel, perhaps be on Instagram and get $5,000 to pose with a bag or a beauty product.”

“Unfortunately, the power of social media, and the “Hail Mary shot” it presents …. works for only a fraction of those hoping to get rich quick.”

Oh, my goodness…

This approach strikes me as betting your future on winning the lottery, or the Readers Digest Sweepstakes, or some such equivalent opportunity. Yes, it is true that someone usually wins, but as noted above, it is usually a small fraction of those that are playing. However, planning on being “lucky” does not strike me as either a good or intelligent strategy for making money, or prospering in business.

If you don’t believe me, just walk into any casino on the planet. When inside, look around. Notice all the nice employees, luxurious prizes, and very nice crystal, wood and marble appointments. Then look at all the people in there gambling. Understand that those are the people paying for all those nice things in that casino. Yes, there may be a very small percentage of them that actually win and are held up as examples to all the rest, but by and large, the vast majority of people that enter a casino leave it with less money than when they entered it. That’s how casinos stay in business and pay for all the nice appointments.

It seems that many may now have the opinion that you no longer have to work hard and excel at something to be successful. Perhaps it is the constant bombardment from the media depicting reality “stars” who seem to only excel at being famous as opposed to being talented, that is influencing this generation as to what success is. Perhaps it is the commercials only showing the Publishers Clearing House winners, and not the millions who don’t win.

Rightly or wrongly I have learned to associate success with hard work. Yes, there has to be some innate ability, but it is the drive and hard work to make something of that ability that leads to success. It seems that too often we attribute success to “luck”. Perhaps that is why so many now are relying on this Hail Mary approach to success. They just expect to get lucky.

The Roman philosopher Seneca is attributed as being the source of the following quote on luck:

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”

But we now depict the successful as not being prepared to be anything other than famous and successful. They are no longer famous because they were successful, they were successful because they were famous.

Too often we see the successful after they have “paid their dues”. Gates, Bezos, Jobs, Buffet and the others all worked long hours and were driven to be successful. I guess watching people work hard doesn’t make for good television, although the “Jobs vs. Gates” episode of the “American Genius” series on The National Geographic channel was an outstanding depiction of what hard work looked like.

It was also condensed down into a one-hour time frame and put together thirty years after the actual events. It seems today that people want to know and see who will be kicked off the island, or out of the house, tonight.

In business there are very few opportunities for the Hail Mary approach to success. I am sure that they happen occasionally. I just have never seen one, let alone had the opportunity to participate in one. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Just that they appear to be very rare opportunities and events.

As an example, when discussing the rarity of events, for the longest time people thought that the only type of swan that existed was a white one. There was even an old proverb relating to them (“A rare bird in the land”, first attributed to the Roman satirist Juvenal.)

It was not until relatively recent times that it was found that black swans do actually exist (in western Australia). This idea of “The Highly Improbable” was then put into a theory by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, present day scholar and statistician, to explain the rarity of certain events:

“The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist – a saying that became reinterpreted to teach a different lesson after black swans were discovered in the wild.”

Furthering the idea of the rarity of the business Hail Mary, or Black Swan event, is the continued relative drift away from critical thinking business opportunities in favor of process expansion and edification. Simply put, the business structure of today does not lend itself to many Hail Mary opportunities for success.

Instead business presents the opportunity for focused and hard work, and the potential opportunity for advancement and increased responsibility. “Potential” being the key word. In business today, many have the ability and intellect for advancement, but few have the focus and drive that Gates, Jobs, Bezos and others have demonstrated as a requisite for their levels of success.

The opportunity for success in business is still there, as shown by those that do rise to the most senior levels of leaders in it. It seems it is more the internal drive (and hard work) that separates the successful in business as opposed to them planning on being lucky.

This idea does not play as well when stacked against reality TV, or YouTube channel auteurs who are seemingly being successful at being famous – although I am sure that being famous is probably hard work as well.

What is interesting to me is the way Krzaczek ends her article on thirty-year old’s plans and methodologies for success and getting rich, in a seemingly “liberal” publication. She cites Andy Sewer, Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief, who said:

“Get real, work hard, and don’t spend money. The best way to get rich in America is not to spend money.”

That sounds like a pretty conservative, but smart approach to success to both getting rich, and being successful in business to me.


Inspiration is that magic elixir that enables us to be better. Without it, we would continue to just be what we currently are. It allows us to be cheaper, better and faster. It is how the better mouse trap is conceived and created. It is how we beat the competition at their own game. When we have it we can change the course of our business for the better. When we don’t we are forced to fall back on the plodding methodology of the current process. The good are always looking for inspiration. The great know where it is.

I was sitting waiting for inspiration to strike me so that I could start on my next article. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Still nothing.

Regardless, I figured I had better get started. Since I was currently lacking it, I would examine it. What is inspiration? As usual, I started looking for it on Google:

noun: inspiration
the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

Okay. I now recognized that there is a link between inspiration and creativity. However, I was still waiting for it to hit me.

Then I remembered that it was opportunity that knocks, not inspiration.

I decided that if I was going to be inspired enough to write something worthwhile, I was going to have to go look for it. It wasn’t just going to come to me. At least this not time.

Normally both current and past business events have a way of bubbling up within my psyche to enable me to look at them and share them here. Sometimes it is easier than others. Sometimes, not. This time however, no luck at all.

There are a great many things going on both in business and on the global stage, and in the past I have tried to capture some of these ideas and concepts, and both the current and past events associated with them. But none of the ones that I looked at seemed to resonate with me.

I don’t know if it was the World Cup entering the final stages (since I would not consider myself a real fan), or the NHL draft and ensuing free agency (since I would consider myself a real fan), but “it”, whatever it is, just wasn’t there. I would get a line or two into an idea and then become disenchanted, or uninspired.

This sad state of affairs is not the normal situation for me. Those who know me will be the first to say that I will usually have something to say about almost anything. It is far more difficult to get me to refrain from commenting than it is to get me to say something.

I am fond of quoting Ron White, the Texas based comedian, who once said when he was being arrested:

“I know I have the right to remain silent. I just don’t have the ability to remain silent.”

I think he has actually said it multiple times, since it has become a part of his stage act, but I think you get my point.

This time however, I just couldn’t find something that felt worthwhile to share here and comment on.

What I was missing here was that I was thinking that inspiration was something that came from without. It either “came” to you, or you went looking for it. In general, at least for me, I don’t think that this is the case. And, I think that for the most part it is probably not the case for most others as well.

We have a tendency to think that the event, action or activity that triggers our inspiration, is the source of our inspiration. I don’t think this is the case at all. It is merely a trigger. Something that causes us to take what we already think, know and feel, and bring it to the surface and recombine it in a new way.

Inspiration actually lies within.

Steve Jobs said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

I think too often we rely on external queues for our inspiration. We want to follow the process for something that by its very nature does not lend itself to process.

We in effect, are trying to schedule our spontaneity.

And what we should all know by now is that “the process”, actually almost any process, does not lend itself to spontaneity, creativity or inspiration. Process is designed to reduce risk and replace judgement. Both of which are required for inspiration.

Getting back to Steve Jobs for a moment. He was recognized as one of the most inspired people in business. He “knew” and “saw” how his products should be, well before they were ever created. He demanded that they meet his inspirational expectations. He anticipated and created markets, instead of chasing them.

But don’t confuse being inspired with being inspirational. By all accounts, Jobs was not a particularly inspirational leader. The quotes regarding his management style range from:

“…It is well-known that Steve Jobs could be arrogant, dictatorial, and mean-spirited….”


“…Steve Jobs is … a man who shouted down colleagues at meetings, was visibly impatient and dismissive of others’ contributions… and yet he is lauded as perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of his generation….”

I guess this means that you can act this way as long as you are right. But be wrong, just once, as Jobs inevitably was, and that behavior will come back to haunt you. This was seen when he was ousted from Apple.

As we know, he would eventually come back and experience even greater success.

So where did Jobs’ inspiration come from?

With a personality such as his, I think it obviously came from within. He made the connections intuitively and then drove the technologists, and the rest of his team to fulfill them. He was inspired, but he was not inspirational.

Every analysis and business review, seems to confirm this. He was an anomaly as a business leader. He did not lead his team. He drove his people. He demanded of his team. He invariably used the stick, instead of the carrot.

Most of us do not have the option of behaving the way Jobs did. But we can learn about inspiration from him.

He was able to make the intuitive connections that enabled him to see a better way of doing things. To see new products that would be needed and wanted, before others, including the prospective customers. To step outside of the current processes and procedures to make those quantum improvements.

It came from within him. The triggers were the current way things were done, and the current products that were being provided. He didn’t particularly try to make the current products better. He tried to make something else.

He looked at the way things were to establish a baseline. He looked within for his inspiration regarding what he thought they should be in the future.

I don’t really want to get to philosophical here. I was just trying to find the inspiration for a new article topic, and got to thinking about where inspiration came from. When I got to thinking about it enough, it then hit me, and voila, I had my new topic and article.


I think the time has come to coin a new business term. It needs to sound vaguely familiar and reasonably important, otherwise it won’t be very useful. It has to resonate with an ongoing application in business. It must identify a function that almost everyone is aware of on some level of consciousness. It needs to be a term that we can all get behind and utilize to its fullest potential. Based on these requirements, I hereby submit the new business word: Strategery.

The last person to attempt to coin a new word with any amount of success, was Stephen Colbert during his first edition of The Colbert Report on television in 2005. While I do not claim to have even a small percentage of his ability to identify trends and needs in the lexicon, I will soldier on even in the face of these personal shortcomings. He was so successful that his new word has even made it to Wikipedia. If that isn’t a measure of success, then I don’t know what is.

Colbert coined the word “Truthiness”. And the Wikipedia definition of Truthiness (as supplied by Colbert) is:

“truthiness refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. I don’t trust books.”

Of course the public seized on truthiness as truth.

The definition was then further refined and was officially in the mainstream media when in 2006 Dick Meyers of CBS news stated:

“Truthiness is a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”

From inception to mainstream media acceptance in one year. Think about just how far ahead of the curve Mr. Colbert was with truthiness. Today I believe the support for an individual’s concept of truthiness comes in the form of what are now called “alternative facts”. From truth to truthiness and from facts to alternative facts. He was correct. It just feels right.

Now back to my turn at the plate.

The word “Strategery” was initially was coined for a Saturday Night Live sketch, written by James Downey, airing October 7, 2000, which satirized the then presidential candidate George W. Bush. It actually became a term that was used during the Bush presidential years, but as those years have receded from memory, unfortunately, so has its usage.

But not anymore.

I think in every business discipline, and in every economic realm, there are those shaman like individuals and groups that every organization has, that purport to be able to divine the next industry fundamental shift that is currently residing just beyond the visibility of the event horizon and is destined to be the next game changing event. They claim to be the Visioneers who sound as though they are able to see beyond the future, and who seem to have no discernable role other than that of forming opinions, and possibly writing industry papers about what is out past the most distant of 3 and 5 year business plans and lies in the darkness beyond. These are the people who practice the art of “Strategery”.

The art of Strategery is to purport to look so far out into the future as to be almost useless, but to be able to make it sound as if it is most important.

In this case the word “Visioneers” comes from the 2008 movie of the same name. The movie is set in a dystopian near-future where a Corporation is driving out a culture of independent thought and intimacy. The corporation claims success is achieved by its strict philosophy of mindless productivity and teaches that productivity equals happiness, and the business logo (a middle finger) is the standard greeting in society. Credits again to Wikipedia.

The true art of Strategery is that the Visioneers that practice it can never be wrong. By continually keeping their focus on items that are out beyond the event horizon, and the next industry shift, they can never be directly tied to the current industry events and business performance as they actually occur.

A very good example of this “can’t be wrong” sort of Strategery can be seen in any of the various stock market prognosticators. During any sort of an extended stock market run, either up or down, there will be those that are espousing a “contrarian” point of view. They are the ones that say during a Bull market that a Bear market is coming, and vice-versa.

And they are usually correct. The markets do move in cycles. That’s why they have the names Bull and Bear Markets, and they usually do follow each other. They would only be of value if they could truly predict the point where the market will turn. Most of the time they can’t and will only be able to claim success once the event is long in the rear-view mirror, and they are on to the next pre-event horizon prediction.

Probably one of the first and most famous Visioneers to practice Strategery was Nostradamus. He cataloged all of his divinations and future predictions in a book, purporting to span across hundreds of years, and did it in such a way that no one could tell which event he was foretelling until long after the event in question had actually occurred. In short no one knew what he was talking about, and still don’t until well after the fact. To this date, almost 500 years later, he has not been wrong, but the usefulness of his predictions is generally thought to be non-existent as they have not been recognizable until well after the predicted event has occurred.

A good example of this is that Nostradamus is usually credited with accurately predicting World War II, but the accuracy of his prediction was not generally recognized until several decades after World War II occurred, at which time its usefulness does become questionable.

Technology based organizations are not immune to Strategery either, and in fact they can be a hot bed of such a questionably valued activity. It is easy to spot the Visioneers within these organizations as they will be the ones utilizing the phases such as cloudification, virtualization and Internet of Things amongst others when describing whatever they feel is the next big thing that they will be at the forefront of the charge on.

If you hear:
“The Internet of Things will utilize Big Data to push Virtualization to the Edge.”
There is a very good chance that you are in the presence of a Visioneer practicing the art of Strategery.

How could you prove that statement wrong? How could you prove that statement right? When could you prove anything of value even remotely associated with that statement? Who would actually say something like that?

It appears that value is truly in the eye of the beholder.

However, a true practitioner of the art of Strategery would have probably uttered that statement years ago when those phrases were first coined, not now when there is the potential for some substance and measurability behind them. Today’s master of Strategery would more like be talking about the future next big things, which will include phrases such as robots and machine learning, not so much a virtualized system but virtual reality, and the objectification of experience. (As provided by Pocket-lint:

I understand some of the value that Visioneers and Strategery bring to businesses. I am a little concerned that as the speed with which change is occurring in business increases, so seems to increase the number of people who purport to see Nostradamus like into the future to tell us what will come after whatever is next. And while it may be interesting to speculate on whatever comes after whatever is next, it seems that the commitment of ever larger amounts of precious resources to visioning it creates an increasing risk to the business environment.

The problem for me seems to be that when we have so many people who claim to be so focused on what is so far out in the future, we run the risk of falling into the “Chasing the next shiny thing” syndrome. We tend to devalue whatever we are doing today, or what we plan to do tomorrow because it doesn’t sound as cool as what we think we will be doing in a couple of weeks.

I understand the risk of not having Strategery and that is not what I am advocating. In the past all societies and organizations that had shamans, seers and Visioneers had a very limited number of them. That was part of the mystique associated with them and what made them interesting. Today we seem to be generating entire organizations and processes around them.

Now it seems that we are well on our way to the justification of another overhead group which by its very nature does not lend itself well to any utility or value measurements. If we are going to do it, we might as well have a new name for it: Strategery.


Okay friends and neighbors. It is time to look up. Cast your eyes skyward for I will be climbing way up on my soap box, my high horse, and anything else that I can orate from. It is time for me to emulate Don Quixote and joust one of my windmill like pet peeves: Preparation.

This is a topic that has been rattling around in my head for a while. I just didn’t quite know how to go about approaching it. I liken it to the general malaise that I feel has been permeating the business environment for several years. It is the feeling that not quite good enough is now good enough.

Let me provide an example.

There once was a time where it was unacceptable to have any issue whatsoever with your phone. This was a time before cellular service and mobile phones. The phone company was held to the absolute highest standards of reliability and quality of service. If you had a dropped call or a quality problem, it was addressed. You were paying for the best network and by golly you were supposed to get the best network.

Fast forward to the current mobile communications networked world. We have all experienced and have even come to expect dropped calls and garbled communications. It comes with the wireless territory. If you wanted the old network desk set reliability you would have called from a desk phone, or your home phone, or a pay phone. (As an aside, when was the last time anyone has seen a pay phone? They are gone.) Now as these wireless type technologies and capabilities are applied to our business and home communications networks in the name of cost reduction, we are now experiencing the same types of dropped calls, garbled communications and generally lower quality of phone service.

Business communications service and performance levels that would have gotten IT executives fired in the past are now the accepted norm. Money has obviously been saved, but not quite good enough is now good enough. In fact it is the norm.

So what has all this rant about networks and such have to do with preparation? Good question.

The idea of preparation was brought home to me the other day. Some of you may know that I am something of a would-be musician. I have told many people that the only thing keeping me from being a good musician is talent, or actually the lack of it.

Ron White, a very funny Texas comedian said “You can’t fix stupid.” I have definitely found this to be the case. Hard workers are great. Smart people are at a premium. The Steve Gobeli corollary to this statement is “You can’t learn talent.” I can learn all sorts of musical theory, styles and songs, but I will not be as good as those that were born with the musical gift.

But here I have truly digressed.

I was called the other day and asked if I would substitute for a regular band member who would be unable to play the gig. I was flattered and of course said yes. This was about six days before the gig.

I then started my preparations.

I got a copy of the set list so I would know what songs to play. I added about twenty minutes to my practice time to better familiarize myself with them. Things were going well.

On the day of the gig I left ninety minutes early because I knew that it would take me at least thirty minutes to get to the venue. I also knew that it would take another thirty to forty five minutes to load my equipment in and get it set up and ready to play. (In my world “roadies” are mythical beings. I have to haul my own amps and instruments.) I could then spend ten to fifteen minutes loosening up, relaxing and getting ready to play. At the appointed time I would be prepared, relaxed and ready to go.

It was interesting that the other guys in the band showed up about the same time I did. They did the same things. When it came time to start they were also ready.

We played for two hours. It was a blast. Even my wife said we sounded good. Strong praise indeed.

In business, for the most part, we know when our meetings are scheduled, what our roles in them will be and what the agenda is. When you think about it, it is a little bit like a musicians gig. The only difference is that in the new world where not quite good enough is now good enough if musicians performed their gigs like many business people are performing in their meetings, they would never be called back to play again.

Since meetings have evolved to where they are no longer really meetings, but more than likely conference calls, I can’t seem to remember when one actually started on time. People are late dialing in, switching phones because the one they are on is not working, hushing barking dogs, quieting crying children amongst other distractions, to the point where just getting the meeting started becomes a significant obstacle to overcome.

I am not saying that everyone needs to “practice” their parts in the meeting. What I am saying is that everyone should know what the meeting is about, have read the agenda and prepared for the role in it. If they are going to present charts, they should have located them on their computer, opened the presentation and been prepared to present them, instead of making everyone else wait while they perform these tasks.

In short, everyone needs to be prepared.

I have talked to other people in the office who have told me of the detailed preparations that they go through when they are getting ready for a game of golf or a ride on their motorcycle, or what they must go through in order to properly clean and wax their black corvette in the Texas heat.

I couldn’t make that last one up. He actually has a black plastic car in a place where the temperature regularly exceeds one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. According to him it requires all sorts of special cleaners and waxes because of the abundant (and hot) Texas sun.

These are just examples of how we prepare for events and activities (my substitute gig included) outside the office that we assign appropriate importance to. We know what it takes to play well in front of an audience, or get the paste wax shine on our car. We also know what it takes to be prepared for, and contribute to a meeting. We know when they start and what we are supposed to do.

Just like the audience lets the band know if they prepared for and performed appropriately, we need to start holding ourselves (and each other for that matter) to the same levels of preparation and performance in business. Not quite good enough in music is definitely not good enough. It sounds terrible.

But we seem to be willing to say that not quite good enough is good enough in business. We let it slide that the meeting started late, or that the slides weren’t ready or the attendees couldn’t respond to or answer the questions.

In most instances it’s not a question of talent. As I said, you can’t teach talent. For the most part I find most people in the professional environment to be very talented. I think it’s more of a question of preparation and the pride of performance in the public realm, or meeting as the case may be. In the new world of not quite good enough being good enough, it seems that it is okay to not be quite prepared enough for a meeting.

I find it to be frustrating, but then I guess I’m the kind of person that goes through the eight hours of preparation to play music and get paid only slightly more than minimum wage per hour for the “two hours of work”. I also invariably show up for meetings on time.


Believe it or not walls can be an interesting topic. I think I have probably written about them before. They are often taken for granted, but where would your roof be without them? On the floor, that’s where. Walls are always being metaphorically built up or broken down. Sometimes it’s not even metaphorical. Mr. Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down” his wall. One of our current presidential candidates promises to build a new wall as his solution to illegal immigration. Pink Floyd told us that “all in all you’re just another brick in the wall.” Even this country’s national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner mentions walls.

In case you are wondering, “ramparts” is a fancy word for the walls of a fortress, which in this case was Fort McHenry, the bombardment of which by the British was Francis Scott Key’s inspiration for his poem which eventually became the lyrics for the national anthem.

Needless to say walls are an important aspect of our everyday lives. It is possible that nowhere else are they more important than in the office environment. Many of us have become dependent on the walls in the business world for any number of multiple reasons, some of which many of us are not even consciously aware of. With all of this focus and dependency on walls for the maintenance of the very fabric of the business world, I for one would like to know why it is now all the vogue for businesses to try and do away with them in our office environments.

In the past you could walk into almost any office environment and get an idea of the relative rank and importance of just about anyone in it. You would just look at the height of the walls surrounding each individual’s work area. Low walls meant low status, higher walls meant higher status and walls all the way to the ceiling meant an office instead of a cube. Everybody wanted an office. With a real door.

But not anymore.

In these days of cost cutting and the desire for hyper efficient utilization of every precious corporate resource, some smart guy (or girl) must have stood at the edge of one of the corporate cube farms and had an epiphany:

What do we need all these walls for? They really don’t serve any purpose other than to delineate the supposed working areas for the cube farm denizens. Since they only provide the illusion of privacy due to the fact that they don’t reach all the way to the ceiling and everyone can hear everything each other is saying anyway, why don’t we just remove the illusion of privacy all together and get rid of the walls.

Think about how much additional space will be freed up that was just being taken up by these essentially non-functional walls. Where there were once walls, there will now be more people. And since there will no longer be any walls to delineate a work area, we can give everyone even less space to work in and they probably won’t even notice. Our efficiency and space utilization numbers will go through the roof. We can call it the “open office” concept, and claim that it is the latest and best thing. We will save money by cramming more people into the same space.

Senior management will be pleased.

Gone will be the days of speakerphone utilization as no one will want everyone within a twenty foot radius to be included in on their call.

Gone will be the ability to utilize the computer or surf the web for any purpose other than company business as everyone will be able to see what is on the screen.

Gone will be the messy and expensive to maintain desk phones since no one will be able to guarantee that they will be sitting in the same spot each day that they are in the office so each phone can no longer have a consistent phone number. People will need to become versed in the usage of soft-phones and especially headsets if they want at least half of their phone conversations to remain relatively private.

The incremental indirect benefits just go on and on. The brave new world is here, and it is even more efficient in the utilization of office space.

Wow. Well, maybe not.

While the open office concept will allow companies to pack their employees ever more tightly into a given space (think traveling in economy coach instead of regular coach or coach plus on your favorite airline – except without the complimentary peanuts or soft drinks) at least some of your business communications (especially with customers) will require some privacy. Hence there will be an increased demand and a respondent increased supply of conference rooms.

These new open office conference rooms will now also be new and improved as well as designed for people to take and make private calls in. They will not be designed to meet in for any length of time as they too will be smaller. They will no longer be designated as conference rooms but will now become “huddle rooms” or “call rooms”. They will be great. Just don’t try to have a meeting of more than two people in them as it might be a little close.

Also don’t mind the queue outside of them as people wait for their turn to make a call.

There have been rumors that companies may in fact try to double the number of conference rooms associated with the open environment concept. This means that instead of the obligatory two standard sized conference rooms per floor, capable of allowing as many as ten or twelve people to hold a meeting, there could now be as many as four huddle rooms possibly capable of allowing as many as two people to meet.

This will now create a competition to see who can get into the office the earliest. Those that get there first will obviously claim ownership of a huddle room for that day. It will become their de-facto office for the day. However, those that pursue this course of action would be advised to bring their lunches and not make any trips to the bathroom as any perceived vacancy would probably result in the removal of their belongings from the room and someone else staking a claim to it.

Ownership of a huddle room will be viewed as the proverbial nine tenths of the law, especially when it comes to any amount of privacy in an open office environment.

I’m not really sure what the question is that the open office environment is the answer to. I suspect that it is what I have already postulated, namely if a company can remove all of the office and cube walls that are just taking up space in their expensive office environments, they can get more people in the same space and achieve a higher efficiency, at least on paper. I have not had the opportunity to work in one yet so I couldn’t truly say that it will be better or worse.

I have however had the opportunity to visit other offices and customer environments where it has been implemented. It is definitely different. I can see its allure for business. To be honest I can also see that by putting people in such close proximity to each other that it could almost force people to work together and collaborate.

I have long been a proponent of having people work together in the workplace as opposed to the virtual office idea. I don’t know what the reaction will be when people are pushed so closely together in the coming open office concept environments. I guess that as this change proliferates in business we will probably all eventually get the opportunity to see.


I think we need to get one thing straight up front: I am a patient person. I just have an internal clock that seems to run at a faster rate than other people’s clocks. Okay, maybe it runs faster than most people’s clocks. Everybody’s clock? Whatever, I don’t have the time to try and explain it.

I think it is also pretty well known that I am not the world’s greatest proponent of meetings and reviews. Staff reviews, team reviews, whatever, I can lose some interest in them rather quickly if there is not something in them specifically for me. I tend to drive toward very short and succinct reviews, when I have them. I prefer to have people doing things as opposed to reporting on the things they have been doing. It’s funny how you seem to get much more done that way.

Why then, you may ask would someone lacking such an apparent abundance of patience, who does not ascribe to a significant amount of value in reviews say that sometimes they are in fact called for? It all depends on what needs to get done, who is needed to get to do it and when it needs to be complete.

Violet Fane is attributed as having said “All things come to those who wait” as a phrase extolling the virtues of patience. I think it has been modified many times and has entered the language lexicon in many forms since then. I guess in Violet’s world I would not be the most virtuous person available.

Abraham Lincoln is one of those that have been attributed as having slightly modified this phrase and said “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” (Somehow I have a little bit of a problem believing the man who had such a command of the English language and penned something as memorable as the Gettysburg Address used the word “hustle”, but it seems to have been corroborated on multiple web sites. I guess I will have to go with it for now.)

What I am getting to here is the seemingly diametrically opposed forces associated with wanting to make something happen within our own predetermined time frames and waiting for something to happen in its own appropriate time frame. Sometimes you can push to get things done, and sometimes you can’t. But which is which as these differences can be crucial to both success and sanity.

We have all seen and have been steeped in the idea that leaders “make things happen”. They are movers and shakers. They act. They don’t react. They shoot, move, communicate and repeat as necessary. They never sit in economy coach when flying. We have all come to believe that the way to be a leader and the way to move ahead is to be first on the scene, the first to recognize and respond to a problem, the first with the answer.

In many instances this is indeed the appropriate course of action. In most cases a leader is the one called upon to recognize an issue, either before or after it has happened and to chart an appropriate course of action to either respond to or avoid the problem. They are required to act, solve and move on to the next problem.

When a leader has the ability to directly address a problem or issue, then they have the ability to be the active participant in the solution that we all aspire to be. However there are many instances where the solution or the implementation of the solution may be outside of the leader’s direct sphere of control or influence. In effect many times a leader must rely on someone else to implement the desired solution or take the desired action.

This is a point where mismatch in expectations regarding the desired solution can occur. If the person who has responsibility for the resolution does not have the same priority for resolving the issue as the person who needs the resolution then there will be incremental stress added to the situation. It is always good to remember that just because you have a problem does not mean that other people see the same problem, have the same problem, or even have a problem at all, for that matter.

So not only does a leader need to be able ascertain if a solution needs to be “driven” versus allowed to occur, they must also know how to modulate the priorities of those that must be relied on to implement the solution.

In many instances this may not be a difficult thing to do. If those that are responsible for the solution are on the leader’s direct reporting team then it is just a simple matter to reassign priorities (understanding what is elevated and what is reduced) and moving on.

However if the person responsible for the solution is not on the leader’s team, then the leader must find a way to make sure that the two group’s priorities are aligned. In many instances this can be done by appealing to or aligning with a higher order organizational priority. Priorities such as revenue increases, cost reductions, margin improvements are universally recognized across an organization. Aligning desired activities and solutions with these priorities are an excellent way to make sure that people align with the desired goals.

No one wants their inaction to be pointed out as the reason a margin improvement, or an incremental sale was not recognized. This is probably one of the best ways to get an action from an external entity or individual.

But what happens when a leader needs something done and there is not a higher order priority that can be aligned with in order to get another party to act on the issue? This is the situation where no matter how immediate the leader’s perceived need is, there is no leverage that can be applied to motivate the party that may be responsible for the activity.

A good example of this type of situation is the hiring process. No matter how much the candidate may want the decision maker to make their hiring decision, there really is not much that they can do to expedite the process. The candidate may be in a position where they would like the selection decision made as soon as possible, but the hiring entity may actually be incited to slow down the process in the hopes of attracting more and better candidates for the role to choose from.

So how does a leader get an activity prioritized outside of their own group? The simple answer is patience. A simple clear and concise explanation of what needs to be done and more importantly “why” it needs to be done will be required. An explanation of the time frames and their relevance will also be helpful. The final key will be the agreement not so much on when things will be done, but when the milestone reviews will be held.

No one likes to go time after time to a review that they agree to hold or attend without their deliverable being complete. Knowing that a review is coming and that there is an agreed agenda item that they must provide an update on is normally enough to get people to move on their commitments, even when there is no apparent downside to their non-delivery.

The idea here is that no one likes to be reminded or re-asked to provide a deliverable regardless of whether or not it may be germane to their own functional requirements. This goes for leaders (and the rest of us impatient types) as well. However the patient leader usually needs to only ask once for a deliverable, if they accompany that request with an agreeable schedule of reviews where progress against that deliverable can be reviewed.

Once the desired deliverable has been supplied, there will no longer be a need for the review and it be cancelled, and then everyone can get back to the real work at hand. Most people dislike reviews, so the added incentive of not having the review once the deliverable is supplied can work wonders.

Reviews rarely serve a useful purpose within an organization. If there is good leadership in the organization, there will normally be good communication, thereby rendering a review somewhat redundant. However across organizational boundaries they can be useful as a methodology for inspiring those outside an organization to provide deliverables that are required within the organization. The inspiration being that the responsible party has the dual drive of first avoiding having to report any potential lack of progress on their deliverable, and second knowing that there will be no additional reviews once they have provided their deliverable.

Just as we have heard management say “The beatings will continue until morale improves”, we can now say “The reviews will stop once the deliverable is provided”. Patience and perseverance will usually prevail.

A Soundtrack for Change

I got to thinking about change recently. I was concerned that it might be a little bit of a trite topic to discuss. There has already been an incredible amount written about change and I was concerned about what I might be able to add. Be that as it may, I still kept coming back around to it. I guess if there is already so much written about change then it won’t hurt if I decide to write a little more about it.

I did a quick search (gosh, things like this have become so simple thanks to Google) and found that there have been no less than one hundred and four songs written that have “change” in their title. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I did a quick scan and did not see “The Times They are a Changin’” by Bob Dylan. How could they leave that one out? I did however see “Things Have Changed” by Dylan. I have never actually heard that one. Guess I will have to head to YouTube after this to check that one out.

There were some interesting song titles in this list, as well as some rather unexpected artists, at least to my way of thinking. There were no less than eleven songs with just the word “Change” as a title, and another eight with just the word “Changes” as the title. The late David Bowie’s “Changes” was the only one out of these groups that I really recognized.

I thought about looking up all the songs that had change as part of their lyrics, but I decided that I really didn’t need to go to that level. There are a lot of songs written where change plays a major role. I haven’t even tried to approach all that has been written in the business world with respect to change. When I thought about it I decided it would be better to use music as the allegory instead of referring to all the business management change books. That way we can all have a song run through our collective heads whenever I try to make a point.

Besides, song writers are so much more “lyrical” in how they write.

What I got from looking back at all the changes that I have been through was that change in and of itself was usually neither good nor bad. It was whatever I expected it to be. Think about that. Change is usually what we make of it, not something inherently good or bad. It is probably impossible not to look at a change without some sort of concern. After all by its very definition change means that we will be doing something different than we have been doing.

Change: verb (used with object), changed, changing.
To make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone

I think we have all been in roles where doing something different might have been preferable to continuing to do what we had been doing. There would be two ways to affect this type of change: Change what we had been doing in the role we have, or change the role we have.

About this time I have Sheryl Crow’s “A Change Would Do You Good” running through my head.

The idea here is that when we want to make a change we expect that change to improve things. We see what may be wrong with the current role or process we are in and we act to try and improve it. We expect it to get better and it invariably does, at least to our way of thinking. We either change the role we are in to improve it, or we change roles we have been in to a hopefully improved role.

My idea of expectations of outcomes is very similar to what the economist in me knows as “Expectancy Theory”. Expectancy Theory states that an individual will behave or act in a certain way because they are motivated to select a specific behavior over other behaviors due to what they expect the result of that selected behavior will be. Basically stated this theory explains peoples behaviors based on the rewards they expect to receive.

This is why sales people who are only commissioned on orders (volume) really won’t care much about the margin (profitability) on those orders. If you want to modify that behavior then you will need to add a profitability / margin factor to the sales compensation plan.

What I am saying about expectations of outcomes is that if you expect the outcome of change to be good, your behavior will be such that usually the desired good outcome can and will be realized. My point here is that how we approach things, including change, is a significant determining factor in the outcome of that change.

Brandon Flowers, the lead singer for the band “The Killers” has a solo project song out called “I Can Change” that has suddenly popped into my head.

On the other hand, many times we must go through a change that was not the result of our own action or decision. Someone else has made a decision or taken an action that has caused a change in our environment. Sometimes we don’t get to choose to change. Sometimes we just have to deal with it.

It may not be relevant how well we think we have been doing or the goals that we have achieved. We may or may not have been consulted regarding the change. Regardless of any contributing factors we will occasionally find ourselves reacting to a change stimulus instead of acting on one.

I am going back a little ways here, but I now find myself humming “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. I started hearing “Victim of Change” by Judas Priest, but I never really was a metal head and again that one doesn’t go along with my premise regarding expectations for success in change.

In many instances our normal reaction to an imposed change is to fight it. We want to see a justification or reason for it. It may not have been decided with any input from us. At that point in time it doesn’t matter.

It is at that point in time where I again believe in the expectation of outcomes having a significant contribution to how successfully an imposed change will be dealt with. Resistance and unhappiness will lead to a difficult and unpleasant change. Acceptance and alignment will almost always lead to a much more palatable transition.

That doesn’t mean give up. Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” wrote many times of when it was proper to engage in battle, and when it was not. Many times his objective was that it was just as important to “not lose” as it was to “win”. If he recognized that he could not win, he would not engage in battle, and therefore would not lose. When it comes to battling change, it is almost impossible not to lose.

Now I can’t seem to get REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” out of my head. There is a really great keyboard solo in that one. I actually saw them perform it live in concert once, back when I was in college. By the way, this one was not on the “change” song list that I looked up either.

By accepting that sometimes we will have to change, whether we want to or not, we can identify a key to making a successful change. The positive approach that we can choose to take when making that change is one of the determining factors in how successful we will be in making the required change. Leaders need to infuse their teams with the ability to react and adapt to change, instead of resisting it.

Sometimes we get to choose to make a change. Sometimes we are told we have to make a change. Either way, how we decide to make that change is up to us and that will be a significant contributing factor to our success in changing.


No discussion of forecasting would be complete without some back handed comparisons to those people who actually make their living by forecasting, namely weather forecasters. There are others that also can be said to make their livings this way. People who are in the stock or commodity markets are in effect forecasting the upward or downward movements of prices in the markets based on whether they buy or sell at any specific time. But when it comes to forecasters, it is the weatherman that everyone immediately thinks of. Believe it or not this idea fits into my general business and sales approach to topics. I think it is pretty apparent that if you forecast in business as accurately as weather-people (need to be politically correct here) forecast the weather, you won’t be in business very long.

I heard a great weather-person related joke the other day. It goes:

When I die I want the television weather-person to be the one that lowers my casket into the grave. That way they can let me down one last time.

To be honest it has been a challenging period for weather forecasters here in Texas. Probably not so much in the other parts of the country. Elsewhere in the country it seems that any forecast that contains the words “cold” and “snow” has at least a reasonable chance of being correct. Here in the last week we have had sunny warm spring like days, rain, sleet, ice (yes ice, they immediately shut the entire state down when anyone anywhere in the state gets ice) and snow. Sometimes we have had multiple selections on the same day. We have had almost fifty degree temperature swings between the sunny warm highs and the snowy cold lows in just two days. Still, you would think that based on either the officially certified coin flipping or dart throwing weather predicting process that appears to be used, that the laws of probability and statistics would have to take over at some point and they would get at least one forecast right.

It is against this publicly recognized futility in forecast accuracy that we need to look at forecasting within the business environment.

Successful business is predicated on properly setting expectations. If you set your customer’s expectations properly, and then meet them, they will be satisfied. We all know that a satisfied customer is a good thing. If you set the stock analysts’ and business press’ expectations about how the business will perform, and then meet them, the price of your stock will probably go up. We all know that an increasing stock price is also a good thing. If you set the expectation with management regarding the performance of your business, and then you meet it, you will probably get to keep your job and may even be asked to take on more responsibility. Keeping your job is also a pretty good thing.

Setting expectations is also known as forecasting. It leads to a thing called “predictability”. Predictability is usually a desirable thing in business.

Good business forecasting is all about breaking down the complex (in this instance, “the business”) into its component pieces (such as “revenue”, and “costs” and things like that) and working the individual forecast for each one. You can then combine these individual forecasts into the overall business forecasts.

It also provides you an excellent insight into which specific components may need to be looked at for potential adjustments should the total forecast not meet what may be considered acceptable levels of expectation by management.

Expectations are funny things. They can cut both ways. Businesses usually want to set expectations that are difficult but achievable with senior management. Senior management usually wants to set the expectation that it requires more from the business than the obviously easily obtainable expectations that they are currently being provided. Senior management will then in turn try to set expectations for the overall business performance with the analysts and market that are believable, and the analysts and market will decided whether or not they will believe them.

This all takes us back to forecasting. Expectations are set with management through the use of forecasts. There are forecasts for revenue. There are forecasts for costs. And then there are the resulting forecasts for margin or earnings. Hopefully there is a relationship between the revenue and the cost forecasts so that margin and earnings can in fact be realized.

As an example of forecasting, in Texas you know that in May it is going to start getting hot. By June it will be hot. It will probably stay hot until September and that by October it might start to not be so hot. This is known as “Climate”. In general you can expect this. You can look at historical averages and trends and see what the various highs, lows and precipitation were for specific days, but you don’t know what they will be this year. That specificity is known as the weather.

The closer you get to any specific date, the more accurate your forecast can and should be for that dates weather.

The same should apply for businesses. At the beginning of the year there is a general expectation of what the “climate” should be for any specific business. This is based on past performance and the desires for growth (or contraction) in the component markets and businesses. As data comes in and performance evolves the forecast for any specific piece of the business will begin to come more and more into better focus. Unexpected events and unforeseen issues can always occur and cause the accuracy of the forecast to change, but in general, the closer you get to a specific date, or target, the more accurate you should expect the forecast to be.

The key here is that the forecasts should always be based on the factual data. If it has been cold and snowy in the northeast for the last few weeks, and there are still several feet of snow on the ground, then no matter how badly senior management would like to see sunny, spring like temperatures it is probably best to stay with reality. Understanding the business equivalent of “in the summer it’s hot and in the winter its cold”, regardless of the specific day to day variations, is an important aspect of accurate forecasting.

Forecasts are designed to inform people of what they need to know and hear, not what they want to know and hear. They are keys to setting expectations of the business’ performance and targeting areas for attention when expected performance does not meet the business needs. When a forecast is missed it will have a ripple effect throughout the business.
When a weather forecaster misses a forecast there is a possibility that someone may get wet when they thought they would be dry, or they may be cold when they dressed for warmer weather. When a business misses a forecast the financial performance of the entire organization can be brought into doubt. This usually results in actions that must be taken to bring the financial performance back in line with expectations. These actions can usually be distilled down to one of two things: increasing revenue or decreasing costs.

The need for decreasing costs is never a fun forecast for the people in a business.