Strategic Leadership

for Leaders in an Uncertain World

Follow up on Harvard Business Publishing Voices Blog on Effectiveness and Focus

Following a Twitter posted link yesterday, I found the blog post entitled The Key to Effectiveness-Focus. This is what Norman wrote about the

classic questions of focus and bandwidth

by way of a comment on the same site:

The late Stafford Beer, who did brilliant work on governing with Viable System Models, wrote that “Ethos was the ultimate variety reducer”.

The governing paradox is that policy makers must regularly enlarge variety to absorb vital new ideas; whilst then reducing variety to focus on what to manage; and how; and when. It seems that failures occur regularly in each direction.

Both tasks require abstract thinking skills, concept creation, relevance testing, understanding of multiple communications’ trajectories and persuasion time constants. These must be linked to critical path planning, causality analysis of a high order, input-output analysis, and strategic awareness of present and alternative demand possibilities and their future impacts.

Ethos – defined as the characteristic spirit and genius of a society, culture, policy, system or idea – or an amalgam of them – embraces the summation of what we stand for today; it is also tomorrow’s vision of what we want to stand for then. Stafford Beer called these two distinct positions “the inside and now” and the “outside and then”. Thinking about them requires successive utilization of divergent and convergent multi-disciplinary thinking, together with abstraction, transduction and learning skills, if change is to be managed successfully.

So one can redefine governance as continuing ethos management from now to then; as eras are created and fashions and zeitgeists pass. Or, at its simplest, if what was promised in an election is to be delivered in office.

In retrospect, what President Obama and others failed to realise was that Health Care Systems’ Policy-making attacked far too many constituents’ views and value systems for fast decision-making that would stick. His decisiveness and need for control, his team’s skills and policy options, what future care would provide to whom, etc. all had to take account of the different ethos and value systems of a vast multitude of constituents that cut across and within all party lines.

In retrospect it was an elementary mistake to make for a team whose collective bandwidth had only previously practised on-the-fly policy-making, speech writing, opinion forming, multi-media broadcasting, perception and manipulation in one on one contests and debates; rather than governing a digital society in all its complex variety. He recognized this recently in a working meeting when he said something like “I want more people in this room around this table, with different opinions than you have provided here”. What he did not see is that he alone cannot take the decision of what they come up with round the table. Enlarge the assumed participants in increments of 5 and you will soon get to a number of those involved where you will agree that it is unworkable. A more rigourous option-generation and decision-making system is required. Put simply no single person can absorb enough new data to take rapid decisions on their own, without a process to aid them. And whatever it is, that degree of bandwidth, information processing, knowledge building and multi-disciplinarity is not a normal meeting.

Additionally, just adding to available inputs, by using the internet to allow fully open inward communication of external ideas and publishing them as “Wordle” diagrams will not do. The need is both to take in more inputs and to understand how to manage the contradictions, paradigms, systems of thought and analysis, complexities, alternative values, potential policy shifts and conflicts of opinion which their variety provides. Ultimately, I expect we will need to define another governmental separation of state power – beyond the executive, legislative and judiciary to become skilled in the on-going variety all of this. I know of no country or institution which does this well, so there is a pressing need to create one ab initio. We could call this fourth separation of power the “Plurality” – E pluribus unum; out of many, (ideas to) one.

Without such continuous, because institutionalized, organic thinking across all aspects of society, government ( and /or regulation ) will not be matched to the complexities of preventing the emergence of critical national and global problems that require urgent solving – if not first prevented in a “just in time” or “well before they become urgent” way.

The number of upset countries, distraught citizens, failing companies and failed leaders thrown up by the global financial crisis proves just how much such basic reappraisal of our bandwidth in governing, regulatory, organisational, structural, constitutional,institutional and leadership systems is still required.

Opposing opinions must be reconciled more effectively by institutions learning to practice higher order unifying concepts, such as ethos, so that all of the best available knowledge is properly evaluated and absorbed by the governing system, rather than “Wordled” or manipulated by dumb software.

True bi-partisanship has a multitude of faces whose opinion polarities must be subtly handled. A new ethos of health care that won broad acceptance, beyond the simplicities of the victorious ideology, was the only way to achieve this goal. And that task, as it turned out, tested the Democratic party’s governance well beyond the limits of its academic advice, bandwidth, competence, experience, culture and processes.

How can it recover without addressing the true complexities involved? Which academics, or businesses, or system engineers or researchers or citizens have bits of the answer; and who will focus this into a new governance vision?

According to Stafford Beer, it is ethos alone that can unite disparate policy functions, purposes, meanings and motivations clearly, to summate what an organisation, nation or political party stands for. In my view, good government is Ethos Management, and I suspect he would agree.

Perhaps the modern democratic state needs to be redesigned around these precepts if vision, policies, values and multiple motivations are to be captured in a distinctive ethos, enacted by a Viable System and coupled with the effective governance that leads to optimized citizen engagement and satisfaction for the majority, without alienating too many minorities. Then we could hope that we have at last created an organisation and operating culture, that is best suited, to carry out the ruling values, derived from the distinctive ethos, which summates the critical policies that citizens voted for. Yes we could!

– Posted by Norman Strauss
September 2, 2009 12:24 PM

Please let us have your comments. We would love to hear more views.


September 2, 2009 Posted by | Business thinkers, diversity, Knowledge, Strategy, Systems | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

25 years on -and that from one of Tories leading thinkers

On Wednesday 20th May Daniel Finkelstein wrote a well argued article in the Times entitled Will the next Mr Speaker get the new era? He argues that large political parties arose in the era of mass media and that the information revolution is changing all that. The thesis is that the shift is thus from closed politics to open politics.

About time someone noticed. This is exactly what Norman Strauss argued 25 years ago, among other places in the Article “State of Mind that Can Stop Decline” He pointed out that government is not well designed for building a bridge from values to policies and legislation- as we so graphically see now! In the days well before Barack Obama went to his graduate studies at Harvard and much before Lord Layard from LSE recognised the need for lifting UK dismal levels of life satisfaction, Norman wrote:

Building a positive ‘can do’ altruistic ‘mental-welfare state’ is what modern politics should be about.

Any of the major parties doing anything about it? If not, why not?

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Government, Politics, Systems, Values | , , , , | Leave a comment

Management Issues, 14th March 2008 – Interview with Howard Gardner (re. introduction to Ethical Mind)

Common Voice: Howard Gardner

Common Voice: Howard Gardner
14 Mar 2008

Renowned worldwide for his theory of multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner was ranked #39 in the latest Thinkers 50 ranking of global business thinkers.

Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University.

Moving on from his multiple intelligence work, Gardner is now focusing on the future and “the cognitive abilities that will command a premium in the years ahead.” In the new technological and information age, he offers an insight into the qualities of thinking that will allow people to survive and prosper in the 21st century, both in work and life generally.

Des Dearlove talked to Gardner about his new book Five Minds for the Future.

There is a different approach to your subject material in the new book?
Yes, in the book Five Minds for the Future I’m writing less as a psychologist and more as a policy maker. All of these minds would have been important at other times, but I argue that these five are particularly important going forward.

You say these five ways of thinking will be even more important in the future. What’s changed?

There are three significant trends in the modern world which establish the background for these kinds of minds.

Number one: the importance of technology, particularly computers. Computers can do almost everything that human beings can, so the things we are going to value human beings for will be very different.

The second thing is globalisation. It is about understanding the interconnectivity of the world and the kinds of things that you need in order to be able to function in a world that was not nearly so interconnected 50 years ago.

And the third big change?
The third change has to do with diversity. We evolved as a species having contact with about 150 people, most of whom looked like us and were probably related to us.

Today, diversity stares you in the face in a way that was inconceivable when I was growing up. I hardly need to say this in a place like London, where you have millions of people, many from non-English backgrounds, and many with different religious and cultural backgrounds.

So there is a sense that we can be in contact with, and have influence on, everybody around the world and vice-versa.

And the five minds in the book are the ways of thinking that are best suited to this new world you are describing. What are the five minds?
Well the first three are the kinds of things that I have been talking about for a very long time: the disciplined mind, the synthesising mind and the creating mind.

The last two, though, have more to do with the human sphere: the respectful mind and the ethical mind. Over the last decade a lot of my research has focused on these two.

Could you explain a little more about each mind?
The disciplined mind is knowing something very well, being an expert in an art, or craft, or profession and keeping it up. That means being disciplined. If you don’t have a disciplined mind, you really don’t have a job at all, or you end up working for somebody who does.

The synthesising mind stems from the fact that we all are deluged with information. How do you decide what to pay attention to, what to ignore, how to put it together in a way that makes sense to you? How do you communicate your synthesis to other people? That’s probably the most distinctive mind, because I’ve given a label to something that people haven’t really talked about much before.

And the creative mind?
The third kind of mind, the creating mind, is basically coming up with something new that eventually affects how other people are and think. If it is “thinking outside the box” then the disciplined and synthesising minds provide the box and, for many people, that’s enough and you wouldn’t want everybody to be creative or the world would be too chaotic.

But for some cutting edge or eccentric few, it’s thinking and doing stuff that really ends up affecting a lot of other people.

And what of the remaining two minds, which your recent work has focused on more closely?
The respectful mind is very simple, and certainly goes back to pre-biblical, pre-literate times. Basically it means giving other people the benefit of the doubt, trying to know them, trying to understand them, not being too judgemental and being capable of forgiveness.

It begins at birth. Infants notice how other people treat one another and how they treat themselves. The reason it’s so acutely important nowadays is because of the diverse society we live in. My belief in the importance of the respectful mind has caused me to change my views about issues like whether women students in France should be allowed to wear the hijab.

Which leaves the ethical mind.
The last mind, the ethical mind, is one that I’ve been working on intensively for a decade plus, and it’s a little bit more technical to define.

The ethical mind is a mind that is capable of abstraction. And the ethical mind basically can think about oneself abstracting. So I’m not just Howard Gardner, but I’m Howard Gardner who is a journalist, an author, a lawyer, an engineer, whatever. I have a role occupationally and I’m also a citizen; I’m a citizen of my community, my city, my state, my region, my nation, the world.

The ethical mind asks, what are my responsibilities as a journalist, what are my responsibilities as a citizen of London, the UK, of the planet?

What relevance does the five minds concept have for organisations in the future – and does it apply more broadly than business?
My work has an ‘is’ aspect- what are the minds that will be at a premium in the future? It also has an ‘ought’ aspect – what sorts of minds should be cultivated?

Individuals involved in management need to think about their own minds, and the extent to which those minds embody discipline, synthesising capacity, creativity, respect and ethics. If they are lacking on these dimensions, what might they do to enhance them? How should they assemble teams, and can one person’s strength compensate for the weaknesses of others?

Could you give some examples with reference to some of the individual minds – and how they relate to a non-business organisation such as the UK’s National Health Service, for instance?
Respect and ethics are good examples. The NHS needs to understand and know how to deal with its diverse populations. Here, both respect and ethics become vital. Unless there is an atmosphere of respect, individuals will not trust one another and relations will deteriorate.

Ethics entails an understanding of responsibilities attendant to a specific role. It is vital for members of the NHS to behave in an ethical way, and to be able to assume that their peers will also behave ethically. And in those cases where ethical norms are clearly violated, the question of consequences looms large.

One cannot guarantee, of course, that patients will be respectful and/or ethical. But, to the extent that the NHS embodies these virtues in its own interactions with patients, the chances are enhanced that the patients will reciprocate.

You also talk about the concept of “good work.”
I define good work as work that is technically Excellent; personally Engaging; and carried out in an Ethical manner. When pressures are too great, any of the three “Es” can suffer.

So, for example, when physicians or nurses are asked to do too much, they become stressed, and risk burnout; the factor of engagement is undermined. Excellence can also be at risk.

Threats to ethics come from the overall ambience of a community. When a community comes to value money, power, or success, over all other priorities, then individuals have little incentive to be honest, responsible, or treat others with integrity.

And again, that also applies to non-business organisations?
Yes, a public sector or voluntary organisation should embrace a contrasting set of values, having to do with pride in services well rendered and in top results. But the spectre of monetary success is often very powerful, and unless it is counteracted by strong contrasting norms, it is likely to prevail.

What about the synthesising mind?
Nowadays, we are all inundated with information. The premium is to figure out what to pay attention to, what to ignore, how to organise it so that it makes sense to oneself, and then how to convey it so that it makes sense to others.

A fortunate few can figure out how to synthesise well, with little help from others. Most of us, however, need all the help we can get in synthesising. I think this is a particularly acute need in highly innovative fields such as IT and medical science – where information compounds at a feverish pace and lives may be at stake.

In a future world where the five minds are valued, nurtured and prevalent, how do you see work changing?
I would love to live in a world characterised by good work – work that is excellent, engaging, and carried out ethically. In such a world, one could count on service being delivered reliably, with care, and with expertise.

Obviously respect and ethics are essential for good work to be carried out. But only when practitioners have mastered their disciplines well, know how to synthesise, and can, when appropriate, come up with creative solutions to problems, will this become a reality for most organisations.

March 25, 2008 Posted by | Business thinkers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Havas New Media lab – strategic leadership at the edge

Havas Forms Digital Media R&D Unit | paidContent:UK

Havas Forms Digital Media R&D UnitBy David Kaplan – Wed 13 Feb 2008 09:13 PM PST

Spanish ad holding company Havas is creating a digital media R&D division intended to synthesize the insights and capabilities of venture capitalists, agency executives, marketers and others whose roles intersect with digital media, InfluxBranding reported (via AgencySpy). Dubbed the Havas Media Lab, the unit will be headed by Umair Haque, a London-based Harvard Business School blogger who runs a consultancy called Bubblegeneration.

Writing on his blog, Haque is fairly vague about his vision, promising to post more details later. He did provide some reason for its existence: “The Lab happened because I don’t think any of the standard models – venture funds, corporates, firms, etc – can really make it happen (or else it would be happening).” He added that the unit will be made up of individuals with whom he has previously worked.

— Adweek: Haque’s promises of something new notwithstanding, just about all the other holding companies have started this kind of “futures planning” practice. Most prominent examples include Interpublic Group’s Futures Marketing Group, which which oversees the IPG Emerging Media Lab; WPP Group has WPP Digital, which manages new media investments for interactive shops like companies like Spot Runner, Invidi and Jumptap; and Publicis Groupe has Denuo, which guides start-ups it has a stake in on the appropriate ad models that fit their abilities.

March 25, 2008 Posted by | Leadership, Strategy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment