Muzeable Thinking

Our blog, occasional white papers and case studies represent the foundation of Muzeable Thinking… enjoy

‘The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of mediocrity…’*

Posted by on May 14th, 2014 in muzeable thinking | 0 comments

Muzeable Thinking No. 14 – posted by Tim Brooks 14th May 2013

If you spend any time looking at business performance you quickly realise that most of what we all do is positively average. Worse still, too much of it is actually pretty poor. Sorry.

I have been musing on a couple of notions relating to this. Like many of us I have spent years trying to suck in the best ideas and examples of success, but my cynical side is fast realising this process might be fun/inspiring/personally useful/important, but perhaps a bit of a waste of time in considering the overall quest for growth and working in the real world. Often, it’s like comparing elite athletes with park players – not meaningful, not fair! So what needs examining to start to change this?

1. A lot of business is at best like the Emperor’s new clothes at worst a lie. Leaders package up mediocrity and sell it as future success. They insist on 4% growth when the business can really, really only do 2%. ‘We’re doing badly, now, but wait till next year…’ Sadly, they have to do this. The truth is unpalatable and we all want to keep our jobs. But it means nearly everything starts off on the wrong foot.

2. Business also loves optimists. So, it’s not even a lie, people actually believe what they’re saying!

3. Both these points go right to the heart of the debate on short termism/quarterly results etc. – an institutionalised farce! This has to change… even if only in relation to our internal decisions/discussion!

4. Within this, we all hide behind the inevitability of big, complex forces and say it’s not us it’s the market/category [ see following great article in Strategy & Business ] This is a cheap excuse, since there is growth/success in most/all categories – it’s a lame bit of leadership spin.

5. We constantly look to best practice/case studies from organisation WE have no possible chance of replicating – for reasons too numerous to mention. Unless you have a Steve Jobs and the unique set of forces that coalesced around him – simplistically, look at it, but don’t expect to get too much practical input from looking at an Apple.

6. Maybe, we also need to acknowledge a reality – people only need so much ‘stuff’ so competition makes winners and losers inevitable in any market. All categories will have a mix of performance levels/cyclical performance. Obvious eh!

So, I think we need a step change in business rhetoric. We need to learn to do ‘brutal truth’ without brutality and atrophying negativity. We need to genuinely start to deconstruct how the average company, the average leader and his/her average team actually work and how they can improve. It’s not enough to bludgeon them with reflections on genius, the best… they won’t get it or do it. In fact it might end up being demotivating.
Problem is this is just not very sexy.

*paraphrasing John Knox, not a very pleasant 16th Century misogynist. Look him up!

Brief Musings: Microsoft Nokia deal – opportunistic punt or ‘new strategy’ in action?

Posted by on Sep 4th, 2013 in muzeable thinking | 0 comments

Muzeable Thinking No. 13 – posted by Tim Brooks 4th September 2013

The news…

Interesting, very interesting.  I talk a lot about leadership/business and its need [often failure] to embrace the new world with new approaches to strategy; including a review of what might be new age essential skills. The skills that allow us to navigate in a world only idiots and charlatans pretend to understand or be in control of!

3 recently articulated new age skills were:

  • IMAGINATION – being the ability to see how the tectonic plates ‘might’ be shifting and to view innovation or M&A in this light
  • EXPLOITATION – when a freebie comes along… exploit it, but don’t pretend it was a strategic outcome resulting from your genius – publically sell the luck – then back to reality!
  • AMBIGUITY – or the essential ability to cope with and embrace the fact it’s too complicated out there for us to know with any certainty… much at all.

The Microsoft-Nokia deal is, or should be, about all this and more. At this point who knows if it is genius or desperation, a well-considered long term move or a last punt from an out-going leader, etc. but whatever holds true, it’s bold.

The bottom line

The Windows Phone is not winning and it already looks like it can’t win. It looks like a niche alternative for people who ‘just have to be’ different! With predictions [as in BBC link above] predicting 5% share by 2017, the business is looking unsustainable and for Microsoft – a bit like X-box/Tablets  – another ‘exciting leading edge division’ that the core just funds ad infinitum i.e. a commercial luxury.

In terms of the new world essentials above:

  • IMAGINATION: Microsoft is seeing their trad PC software business ebb away. The mobile world currently is marginalising them, so picturing a world with a smaller Microsoft and a series of platforms that don’t need or want ‘windows’ doesn’t need much imagination! But investing big [it’s more than money, it needs BIG CHANGE too] in competing via an integrated solution a la Apple is imaginative… as without it Windows Phone will die. With it… it might still die as this is a steep hill, but… The key is that IMAGINATION is not just about the WHAT [‘let’s get into integration/hardware’] it’s more about the WHY [‘how does this fit?’ strategic integrity] and most importantly the HOW [‘what changes round here to make this happen?’]. From here, Microsoft’s ability to do the last 2 MUST BE QUESTIONED!!
  • EXPLOITATION: Nokia are on the cusp of irrelevance in the phone world… without sales of old tech phones in Emerging markets it would be further along its decline… so Microsoft are exploiting the situation to buy a still great BRAND with tech creds and track record of note. It’s still an ASSET!
  • AMBIGUITY. Either they are supremely arrogant or MS management must be knee [neck] deep in uncertainty at the moment… mainly because I can’t really think of many e.g.s of tech companies pulling a vertical integration or leap into a brave new world off. Let alone the uncertainty brought by the current speed of change. It’s possible that developing a competitive position in Smartphones might be old hat by the time they’ve done it! I suppose the hardware platform means they are better placed to invent, create or drive that. And what does all this mean for the MS tablet division – separate it should not remain!

So, to an outsider this is a bold move with more challenges than easy money, but it has a certain logic and [potentially] it was based on a bit of imagination. For that reason alone some of me hopes it comes off [the other bit that has to work with Windows 8 on a PC doesn’t give a monkeys!]. As always to test against my principles I need some evidence that it is attached to a strategic framework that reflects something akin to a cunning plan and the IMAGINATION goes as far as the HOW.

Brief Muzings: Poor medium term prognosis for HP – when did it start?

Posted by on Aug 22nd, 2013 in muzeable thinking | 0 comments

Muzeable Thinking No. 12 – posted by Tim Brooks 22nd August 2013

As opposed to my usual ‘articles’ here is a genuine BLOG… brief and current – I hope!

That HP is struggling and sees limited light into 2014 might or might not surprise you. What interests me is how familiar this cycle of potential decline seems for so many legacy and especially legacy tech companies? I am quite obsessed by how businesses act at [or disastrously ignore] what I call Points of Change  and this is a good example of those moments when leadership earns its ‘cake’ or lives in the fat cat stylie. The moment when the next few steps on the journey will determine success or… the other, sadly more common, thing!

It could apply to many… but for HP the symptoms are obvious:

  • Their core market[s] is slipping away – what made them successful isn’t the answer now
  • & even within their current world they face new competitive threats from EMCs [Emerging Market Multi-National Corporations] like China’s Lenovo.
  • Outside in – they look like a Leviathan; lacking flexibility and a coherent [& visible] perspective on the world to drive their growth agenda.
  • & I hear on good authority of a history of petty divisional rivalries between Printers and PCs
  • They probably can’t remember the last disruptive/exciting thing they did.
  • Recent M&A has been… at times strategically questionable, apparently poorly executed and even hints at a bit of desperation…
  • & rest assured sponsoring Tottenham Hotspur is not going to help!!

A real expert could expand on this, but the point is that so many legacy companies find themselves wedged – rock and hard place – like this. Old gits will remember DEC [Digital Equipment Company] and their stall and dive from No. 2 in size, perhaps 1 in kudos [profit] to non-existence in a matter of a few years. They missed the Point of Change and then failed to find a meaningful response to it.

The problem for HP is that the answer might lie in the past.

Yes, Meg Whitman, current CEO, might have the ‘Canutian’ powers to turn the waves and rebuild a salient place in the world. I wish her every success. To be fair, HP have managed Points of Change before and HP’s scale means it’s decline will probably be slow and painful, so there is some time to play with. IBM’s ability to leave Mainframes behind and discover ‘services’, shows a re-incarnation, albeit as a smaller, but successful business is possible.

The HP Point of Change was probably 5 years ago. A host of disruptive changes were bedding in – the emergence of mobile and mobile internet; a rush of fundamental product developments, primarily revolutionising the UI [user interface]; the rapid global adoption and copying of it all; the resulting changes in working practices; the content rich social media/entertainment changes driving end usage/needs; the fundamental changes in data storage and its potential value etc. I could go on. But, 5 years ago – maybe 10 – the leadership of HP lacked the IMAGINATION to see or react to their possible futures. They failed to cope with the huge levels of AMBIGUITY and UNCERTAINTY that was all around them. They probably imagined, Dr Beeching-like that they were a PC/Printer manufacturer.  I’m not even feeling  too critical, Points of Change are one tough gig… but one suspects they didn’t REALLY live by the old Ad Agency/Mad Men adage – one proven to keep you honest and forward facing at ALL TIMES – that:

‘There is only one certainty in life; you will lose all your existing clients. The only uncertainty is WHEN!’

Death and taxes notwithstanding.

So whilst I wouldn’t advocate paranoia, I would suggest that any business, especially one with a hint of legacy, should [excuse the alliteration]:

  • Devote more time to thinking about the future more deeply, widely, slowly and reflectively – business model and future customer connectivity must be at the heart of this. There is discontinuity, so find and define it
  • Develop an 80/20 mind-set for activity/investment; 80 now and 20 in new stuff/models…
  • Dump 20th Century strategic planning processes – think more in terms of FLEXIBLE FRAMEWORKS, more RULES of THUMB than rules and all based on a deeper understanding of the Climate and Context you work in
  • Don’t imagine CHANGE is an INITIATIVE or PROJECT, start getting it hard-wired into the NOW – through your approach to innovation, interactions with customers & consumers and, most importantly, your staff’s performance and development [measurement]
  • Defend the medium/long term perspective by ensuring the business isn’t built [metrics et al] around the next quarter or two. It will be the headlights that your rabbit gets caught in. [Paul Polman at Unilever MUST be admired for his stand on this.]

There are no simple answers, cos if it was easy, we’d all have done it already, but if we all learn to run up hills – sometimes in the triumph of hope over experience – in search of USEFUL, USEABLE stuff we can actually USE to manage our POINTS OF CHANGE more effectively we might save a few DECs from the Corporate Mausoleum.

Exhibit 1: The future of computing…

Dec pic

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