Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

What Keith is currently reading

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by admin-kablooey No Comments

future primalWhat Keith is  currently reading

‘Future Primal – how our wilderness origins show us the way forward’ by Louis G. Herman

His thoughts on the book?

A ‘game-changer’. I think this book will become one of the most significant books I have ever read. Herman’s breadth of knowledge is awe-inspiring. It makes me hesitant to ever attempt another book! It is a unique contribution to our collective story and given that he is a South African, of Jewish decent, living in Hawaii there are several parallels that were of immediate interest to me. I met him in Hawaii (before reading his book) and I can assure you that setting up time with him on my next trip to Hawaii is a priority. It will be somewhat intimidating that is for sure but I do what to have a conversation with him having read his book!

To be recommended – and if so, who should read this book?

Well, it isn’t what I would call a ‘light-read’. A couple of pages read and you will want to pause to reflect and think a bit – it is that kind of book. It draws on philosophy, history, anthropology, economics, psychology and I could go on but anyone who loves this type of deep meta-narrative, will relish this read.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you may enjoy our article with a list of 42 books that our team suggests that leaders should.

You can purchase the book here

Horse Play – Learning about leadership

Posted on: March 15th, 2014 by admin-kablooey No Comments

A repost, triggered by this article which appeared in the Skyway Magazine this month, of an article Keith Coats wrote a while back reflecting on our experiential leadership programme that we partner with Horse Play with in the Natal Midlands.


“As I write this I am once again in the Dargle area located in the picturesque Midlands of Kwa Zulu Natal. It is a place that when created surely must have brought a smile to the Creator; reflection of a job well done! It is a special place, made even more special by the activity that brings me here: HorsePlay. Horse Whispering is not new but in so far as it applies to leadership development, is unique. A brief history is that many years ago, at this very spot, I was listening enthralled to Carlene Bronner explain about learning the art of natural horsemanship. She spoke with passion about the difference it was making to her relationships – and not just those with her horses, but also with people! I have known Carl forever it seems and a social visit to her and her husband John’s farm was when I first heard of this unique way of working with horses. I found myself wanting to experience the magic myself and, curious to explore any potential parallels there might be to leadership, made a plan to join her for a day of horse whispering. The rest as they say, is history.

Today we use horses to teach leaders about leadership. I know of no better way to help those responsible for leadership – or those being groomed for leadership, to understand the leadership challenges they will encounter in the new world of work. If the world is changing, and we know it is, then it follows that leadership thinking and practice needs to change. In many instances this is easier said than done as, more often than not, successful leadership moulds prove particularly stubborn to any suggestions of change. Many leaders will readily acknowledge the changing context of leadership and may even acknowledge the need to change their own leadership approach. Yet, in spite of this, they still fail to make any meaningful adjustments. Well-worn habits prove hard to break and add some successful formula / experience into the mix, and you have the equivalent of leadership mould superglue!

‘Savvy’ is a word commonly used in the world of natural horsemanship and it is translated as knowing the why, what, when and how to doing something. Applying that meaning to leadership is both apt and instructional. Horse Whispering provides an experience that evokes profound thinking around the challenges of what it takes to lead into the future and specifically, in the context of the emerging Connection Economy. It is an experience that acts as a mirror to one’s own leadership ability and serves as an exceptional understudy to the Invitational Leadership model that we frequently speak about in TomorrowToday. Quite simply, it is an experience like no other. This isn’t the first article I’ve written on leadership and horse whispering, and I suspect it won’t be the last; however being here has once again made avoiding further reflection and writing impossible. In part my motivation for doing so is to hopefully encourage you to seriously consider investing in this experience – especially those of you for whom the Midlands is easily accessible. Take it as a challenge – a challenge I would count a privilege to get to share with you…but more on that later.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is to get the right kind of behaviour and effort from those being led and to do so through cooperation rather than through coercion and compliance. How often have you heard the sentiment expressed that can be represented by the exasperated leader saying, “If I turn my back for a second…if I don’t continually push those workers / my team…then nothing ever happens!” This type of directive leadership is actually more of a reflection on the Leader than on his or her team! It is a leadership type that requires consistently being ‘online’ – in other words it is dependent the presence of a direct, visible and tangible chain of command between the leader and those being led. To go ‘off-line’ would have disastrous results and so we continue to develop stronger lines; rules and procedures that tether the leader and the followers even more closely. To do so seems natural and right – after all, ‘isn’t this what strong leadership all about’ is our reasoning. It makes sense given our lack of trust in others to do what they are told without repeatedly being told. So ‘online’ leadership becomes the norm and is reinforced by the traditional carrots, sticks and measures – and so the game is played. For a time doing online work with your horse is necessary. It is necessary in order to create the trust and bond that will make doing ‘off-line’ (or what in natural horsemanship is referred to as ‘liberty’) work possible.

And this is when the magic happens! Having done the necessary groundwork and established the relationship and earned the right to lead, your horse is freed from the restraining rope (line). The trust bond between you and your horse now depends on an invisible line that magically connects the two of you together. Synchronicity and harmony ensue as cooperation replaces coercion and willingness replaces force. It is at this point that all the earlier effort and learning concerning the art of natural horsemanship – the ‘whispering’, makes sense. This is the point at which it all comes together like a crescendo to a musical score. There was the need to learn the new ‘language’; the need to fully understand the animal with which you are partnering; the need perhaps to conquer a fear in the learning process; the insight or acknowledgment that there is indeed a ‘better way’ to exercise leadership than what the conventional wisdom would have us believe; the need to learn how to effectively use the props available, including the necessary elements of pressure and reward. And for each of these aspects that underpin the unfolding magic, sits profound leadership analogies and lessons that await discovery. It is in the process of this discovery that leadership mindsets shift and new paradigms begin to emerge.
I have seen individuals and teams transformed by this experience. It invites ongoing reflection that prompt changes to the shape and form of one’s own leadership mindset and behaviour. It is an experience that no amount of classroom time can replicate and speaking as one who frequently lectures and teaches strategic leadership, if I had my way, every leadership academy and programme would be routed through this bit of Midland’s magic.

The impact we’ve had on our clients through this programme:

The session was an absolute eye opener especially around leading staff to achieve an objective. There are many ways to get a result but I often take the easier route because patience, coaching and developing staff can take time and be a pain. However, as the organization grows, it showed we need to adapt/change to our environment. It was amazing to see how the horse was able to understand and respond to our approach and so too our approach in managing and leading staff can either send the wrong or right message. Trevor.

A brilliant, humbling and unique experience with surprising results
Fearne, Manline

The Horseplay clinic was a huge eye opener for me in that it helped to question the impact we actually portray in the workplace. It has helped me to realize the importance of direction and that correct communication is vital and the combination of these need to be consistent. Struan.

A total different experience working with horses- nice to be outdoors, great fun! I learnt about the clear instructions and guidance you need to give to get the horse to respond, and if you did not you were both lost. Therefore a team needs to have clear instructions and direction to reach a common goal. Daniel.

A great learning experience, a reminder of how clear the communication needs to be when working with people, and do not assume anything. It all starts with me when dealing with people, being aware of my approach, the personality of the person I am dealing with, how they would react and feel, to be tuned into their body language and how to interpret it. Kevin.

An excellent day to interact and bond not only with the horses, but with the team. The day taught me communication and patience skills and took me out of my comfort zones. Gavin

I was impressed by- how well the horses had being trained, how well she knew each horse, the horses respond to anyone as long as the commands are correct, the horses will challenge you as a leader to see what they can get away with. This reminded me so much of our staff and our role as leaders. Tony

It was great to see how you can get the response where people want to follow us without having to force the outcome. Also how each leadership model needs to change to get the best out of people. Blanket leadership is not as effective as individually leading. Lee

Thank you for a wonderful opportunity to learn and a big thanks to the horses. Helen.

Having ridden horses at various points in my life I was excited to get into the Midlands to meet Carlene and her beautiful horses. Initially I was a little disappointed when I realised that we would not actually be riding the horses! But my disappointment was short lived as we got to know the HorsePlay team. Our management team of varying individuals were challenged mentally, physically and most unusually, spiritually, as Carl and her team tested us with various horse tasks
Most surprising was the realisation that working with these beautiful Friesians is rather similar to managing people. That for each of our own personal behaviours, actions and emotions there is a defined response. And let me tell you, if you don’t communicate with the horses in the manner they recognise or appreciate, you have got no chance! A humbling experience, and skills that can be bought into any management team.

Business Outcomes:

  • Personal leadership insights and applications
  • A mirror is provided to one’s own leadership style and practice – one becomes aware of potential and real blind spots in the art of exercising leadership
  • A deep understanding of the basic elements – or DNA of what it will take to lead in the emerging ‘Connection Economy’
  • Insights as to how to engage and lead ‘talent’ within the organisation
  • An engaging and fun experience that can significantly contribute to team building and reflective discussion within the team
  • Personal confidence as one masters the art that is natural horsemanship




Four lessons in leading people as a young entrepreneur

Posted on: February 4th, 2014 by admin-kablooey No Comments

Three years ago I started DigitLab, and with it I began leading people. I wanted to lead a team instead of manage them.  I believe that people are at their best when they are happy, challenged, inspired and a part of a bigger vision. I have always believed it – now was my opportunity to test the theory.

I have been able to operate DigitLab with a utopian mindset of leadership, free from the challenges of historical management and old business process. I was allowed to build a business that valued people before process.  I have learnt a lot over the years and wanted to share four principles that I have found invaluable in leading people. These are not always easy to make happen, they require trust, humility and faith in the people you have in your team, which leads me to my first principle:

Hire people who get excited about your vision

We hire based on two main principles; can you do the job (capability) and do you dream about the same things we do (chemistry).  After intensive interviews and tests to make sure people are capable of doing the job, our final interview with potential employees is dedicated to finding chemistry. We drive hard to understand what drives this person, what excites them and what they see as their value to add to a team. What I am looking for at the end of the day is simple but difficult to find. What are your dreams and can I make them come true as we both pursue the DigitLab vision? This has helped me build a team of like-minded, multi-skilled people who are passionate about the vision of the company.

Delegate ownership not responsibility

Responsibility is over-rated. When people are given responsibility they often feel it has been delegated to them. So they very often look for ways to delegate the work themselves, which in essence abdicates them from the responsibility. In essence, they look for someone else to blame when it all goes wrong but are ready to take the credit when it goes well.

Ownership is different. I’m not talking about business ownership, I’m talking about people being given ownership over their roles in the business. People being held accountable for the problems, being given the resources to solve them and ultimately a clear directive about how to succeed in the position they now own. It has been so encouraging to watch people in our business take ownership over each and every aspect of what we do. People are passionate, dedicated and resolved to succeed when they know its up to them to see the success happen. Ownership means everyone in the team is contributing to the business success and choosing the road we take to that success.

Clarity not job descriptions

I have spent a lot of time talking with our people, trying to make sure they are clear about what it means to succeed in their area of ownership. I don’t write job descriptions because they tend to write themselves when the focus is finding clarity.

Job descriptions tell people what they should be doing with their time. These are often coupled with targets which tell them if they are doing their task well or not. Job descriptions are limiting, they limit people in achieving what they need to, they box people into a mould and create an expectation for delivery in a specific way.

Clarity is very different. When you make sure an employee has clarity in their role, you are showing that you are clear about what you are expecting from them. They know what they need to achieve, and because they own it they can choose how to achieve it. They are aware of what their role means to the entire business and how they can make an impact. This kind of clarity takes your vision and shows people their part to play in it.

Employees need to be heard

I am constantly in search of great people in my business and we are blessed to have many. I have learnt that the hardest part of leading great people has been to listen to them. As leaders we tend to present our vision and create the means to make it happen. Great people who buy into that vision very often want to contribute to it, to add their flavour and make their mark.

In business, leaders need to take the time to help the great people they’ve hired so that they can find their own greatness inside your business.  Otherwise they will leave you and join the team that challenges them. As leaders we need to be humble and consider all ideas from our team. We need to work out how their ideas fit with our vision and look for opportunities to collaborate within the business. We need to open the door to resources to help their idea come to light.

The more leadership experience I have, the more I am impressed by people and what they can achieve when you set them free with a voice that is heard, a clear directive to succeed and a passion for a common vision.

A Crystal Ball for Business: 9 Tips for Future Success

Posted on: January 29th, 2014 by Graeme Codrington No Comments

crystalballAs another year dawns and we turn our eyes to 2014, it’s still clear that we are living and working in an era of extreme uncertainty.  A global recession continues and is combining with significant disruptive forces in technology, politics, economics, corporate organisation and societal values.  In other words, we are living at a moment in history when a large number of different trends are all working together to generate more change than we’ve ever experienced before.

We cannot just continue with business as usual.  And we can’t wait for things to “go back to normal”.  It just isn’t going to happen.

An era of change such as this brings both threats and opportunities.  The threat is that as the rules of success and failure are redefined, your business fails to keep up and becomes outdated – when the rate of change outside your business exceeds the rate of change inside, you are becoming a dinosaur.  But there are opportunities too.  In order to identify these potential new business opportunities, you need to be able to see what is changing and anticipate how this will affect your industry.  A key part of ensuring your ongoing success is to better future-proof your strategy by looking in new places and directions.

A crystal ball would be useful.  But assuming you don’t have access to some supernatural knowledge, here are nine ways in which you can gain insights into the future of your industry and create tomorrow’s competitive advantage today:

Ask new questions to new people – Companies often don’t realise they are stuck in a rut.  They repeat last year’s activities, listen to the same experts, run the same focus groups and ask the same questions of the same people year after year.  Broaden your horizons and ask new questions to new groups of people inside and outside your organisation – especially the young, bright ones who find it easier to embrace change.  You might discover that there are people other than your current customers who are interested in what you do.

Data, data, data – the radical power of knowing everything – Businesses have access to more data than ever before.  Capture everything you can and use it – but with a twist. Look for new trends and the likely impact of any disruptive change by combining different data sets.  This new science of business analytics is sometimes called ‘big data’.  Understand that this is a real source of competitive advantage and insight.  You will need to employ a new type of person (“data scientists” or “data detectives”) to do this – it will be worth it.

Enjoy the discomfort (and bring ‘uncomfortable’ people into your life) – In a world dominated by disruption, you need to ensure your people are comfortable with constant change.  Changes in our working environment, increased globalisation, technology advances and changing social values are all challenging people to work differently and forcing us to change our habits. Employ people who can take you outside your comfort zone and engage with new technology and business practices to help your business transition to where you need to get to.  Don’t just look for people who are similar to your existing team – bring in a few mavericks and stretch your boundaries a bit.  Do something every day that takes you out of your comfort zone, and meet with one person every week who will do the same.

Change the physical space – Our physical environment shapes our habits, and these in turn shape our thinking. Move things and people around, and allow your people to work in different places and at different times. Sometimes change really IS as good as a holiday.  Nothing opens the mind more than travelling to different parts of this diverse planet. When you travel on holiday, do at least one activity that deliberately is aimed at chasing an insight that will help your business.

Learn to share – 83% of Generation Y (teenagers and 20-somethings) will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible and 79% want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society.  These are your future staff and customers and they are looking for you to demonstrate that you are not only making a profit but sharing the value that you generate not just in terms of cash but also knowledge, technology and people.  Future-proofing your business by ensuring you contribute to community and society is a simple, but highly effective strategy.

Watch the competition you didn’t realise was your competition – This is quite difficult to do, because you spend a lot of your time watching your own industry.  But recent history shows that in times of uncertainty and change, there is the potential for your industry to be ambushed by unexpected competitors.  There are plenty of examples of missed opportunities: Kodak spectacularly failed to see the shift to digital photography; Nokia has fallen so far so fast by missing the smartphone revolution; Sony, EMI and the other music giants failed to see Apple coming in to dominate their markets.  And I wonder if the car companies of the world realise that Google will become big competition with their driverless car?

Who could come into your market and ambush you?  Learn from them: not just the competition you know, but innovators and start-ups in other sectors.  Your future competitors may well be in a completely different industry.  They don’t pose any threat today – but who might they be?

Mind the Enemy Within – talking of the competition you don’t realise is competition, our team is convinced that the biggest issues you will face in the next few years will not be from market forces and competitors, but actually from inside your own company.  We call these the enemy within.  This has to do with your mindsets, your orthodoxies, your systems and structures that actively work against your future plans.  It’s also to do with a significant percentage of your staff that are actively disengaged from your business, some even working against you.  This is not just an HR problem.  This is key to future success.  And not many leaders are prepared to take both the time and the hard work to look inside and honestly identify the internal hurdles that need to be overcome.

Read, watch, listen – Make it a habit to expose your mind to content that doesn’t directly relate to your industry or even to business.  There are thousands of great publications, blogs and websites out there to keep you up to date with what’s coming.  Try TED videos, The Economist, Wired, Popular Mechanics, or The Futurist magazines.  Get your team to report back on what they’ve seen and how it has helped them to think differently.  There is remarkable value in looking at innovations and change in other industries and sectors – you never know when a radical idea will spark a creative thought for you.

Use stories to make sense of it all – Some of what you learn will have a huge impact on your business; some less so.  The same data can help you reach different conclusions.  Use you business knowledge to create scenarios or narratives not just facts.  How will your customers live and work in the future?  How will they commute?  How will they exchange ideas?  What will meetings look like?  Or will they work from home – in another time zone?  How will this impact your sales team?  Your customer service centre?

Build scenarios and play with new ideas in your mind.  The future is ours to both discover and create.

Our ability to see the future is not a matter of luck or fortune telling.  It’s a skill that can be developed.  And it is something that everyone in your team needs to be involved in.  Thinking about the future is no longer something for just the senior leaders to do once a year – everyone at every level of your organisation needs to be looking for the threats and opportunities that lie ahead of us in a changing world.  Only then can you really future-proof your business.

The Neglected Work of Leadership

Posted on: June 13th, 2013 by Keith Coats No Comments

The practice of leadership has many important facets and nuances. Strategic formation and implementation is often regarded as the ‘most important of all leadership responsibilities’ and it certainly is important. Strategy almost always forms a core part of the curriculum in any leadership development programme. Leaders have come to both understand, and appreciate the need for sound strategy. They have become familiar with the models and tools associated with strategy; it is a subject that feels like ‘leadership work’ and is something that can be measured.  Leaders tend to like that combination.

sky_boardroomHowever, doing the work of leadership does not necessarily equate to being a leader. When it comes to leadership, the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ agendas are very different. Over the years there has been a growing understanding and awareness of what leadership is and isn’t – and how to go about the development of leaders. I have a mentor and friend who, well into his retirement years, took on and completed his PhD in leadership – with a specific focus on education. I have learnt a great deal from him through stimulating conversations facilitated by ‘coffee meetings’ as well as many hours of travelling together through our mutual work on some joint projects.  The core of his thesis was to review the evolving process that has characterised leadership education.

Leadership theory initially led directly to leadership practice. There was theory that was required – theory that itself has evolved over the decades, and then there was leadership practice. I once attended a Salzburg Seminar session titled: ‘Linking the Theory and Practice of Leadership’. In attendance were both leadership practitioners as well as leadership academics. It was a source of personal bemusement that the two groupings mixed as easily as oil and water! Whenever the practitioners were speaking of their problems and challenges, the theorists would mutter something along the lines of, “Well if you only paid attention to what we say and write you would not be experiencing those problems”. Of course when it came the turn of the theorists to share their insights and opinions, the practitioners in the room would roll their eyes and retort, “Come and spend just one day in my office and let’s see how your theories stack-up!”

When the link in leadership was simply between theory and practice, the emphasis on leadership as something ‘you do’, as a skill-set to be mastered, held sway.

Later a third aspect to the ‘leadership cycle’ was added, that of evaluation. Theory leads to practice and practice in turn needs to be evaluated. This additional dimension introduced a plethora of evaluation tools, tools that today we simply take for granted. Evaluations became a standard part of ‘best practice’ and quickly became entrench as part of any corporate environment. This has been the dominant framework for a long time: theory – practice- evaluation.

However, in recent times there has emerged a fourth element or dimension to the leadership cycle and one that ‘closes’ the loop bringing us back full-circle to theory. The additional dimension is that of reflection: theory – practice – evaluation – reflection – theory…Reflection takes on many forms and descriptions. It can be seen as the habit of stepping back, or what Heifetz in his Adaptive Leadership model refers to as, ‘being on the balcony’. It can be seen as the pause, the space to think before taking action. Meg Wheatley describes the act of thinking as the thing that precedes all intelligent action or activity. Thinking and taking intentional time to think is not necessarily the same thing – certainly not in the corporate world where ‘taking time to think’ is not understood and seldom practiced.

This ‘new’ element to the leadership cycle has introduced another dimension to the leadership discussion – that of, ‘being’. An understanding that the leadership agenda is no longer merely about ‘doing’ but it is also about the character ethic. It is an understanding that you ‘lead out of who you are’ and that whilst skill-sets are important, they are no longer the definitive element in leadership development and practice.  Much of this remains unfamiliar to those in leadership or at least, if is known, it remains viewed with suspicion and a fair degree of scepticism. I do have some sympathy for this take on the subject given how poorly this ‘new agenda’ is often positioned and presented. Hard-nosed and cynical leaders have little time and less patience for some of the extremely poor attempts and efforts to raise their awareness in this area. It is often reduced to the ‘motivational’ agenda and left to external speakers and consultants who are viewed as anything from ‘entertainment’ (motivational speakers) to an ‘unnecessary evil’ (consultants).

Reflection requires practical tools and clear articulation as to the ‘why’ ‘what and ‘how’ if it is to gain traction within our corporate organisations. In a global context of increasing complexity, connectedness and volatility, finding time to think is not only challenging but is a necessity. No longer will a focus on efficient operational expertize and an over-reliance on experience be enough. Leaders will need to step back, step out of and consider the disruptive influences, connect the dots and see the big picture. They will have to become comfortable with asking good questions and being able to harness the wisdom and perspective of the many. They will be required to rethink and revisit many of the formula and methodologies that have brought success in the past  – an unlearning process that is often as traumatic as it is difficult. They will need to think like futurists.

As we hurtle headlong into this future, leaders will be required to demonstrate a new mind-set and model a new behaviour in what will essentially be a ‘new world of work’. Turbulence will be the new operating norm and in this regard Peter Drucker’s words sound a clear warning: “It is not the turbulence that is the problem but rather it is the use of yesterday’s logic in the turbulence that is the problem”.

When those responsible for leadership education and leadership development programmes (LDPs) understand the need for reflection as both part of leadership theory and practice, I suspect that many of these programmes will come to look very different. There will be a greater emphasis on self-awareness and an unpacking of what it means to ‘lead out of who you are’. Time will be made for reflection and pauses will become more commonplace. It will change some of the work expected and done; it will alter the metrics – the ‘what’ and ‘how’ we measure; it will both look and feel different. I recently wrote a blog voicing my frustration at the insistence of a leading South African business school that insists on me grading a reflective paper I set the LDP participants in the course I an invited to teach. How does one grade a reflection paper? Certainly there can (and should) be comment of effort, approach and engagement with the tough and demanding work that is reflection…but a grade? There needs to be the encouragement to see this essential discipline as part of a leadership practice that will eventuate in it becoming a leadership habit but, ascribing a grade to it, is just too simplistic and is entirely the wrong thinking. But try telling this to those ensconced within the business schools’ ivory towers!

Someone has to lead this new charge to reshape our approach and thinking on leadership. The reality is that it will come from different sources from a variety of settings. Embracing it and adopting it into your context will be the work of leadership. It will be culturally nuanced as much as it will be driven by personalities. It will look different from place to place and will need to be used differently from setting to setting. However, the ability to reflect, at both an individual level as well as at a corporate level, will be an essential survival tool to 21st Century leadership and living.

A good place to start might be with your executive or management team. What would a reflective habit look like in the mix of your agenda?

I know of a CEO of an engineering firm who, at my suggestion, introduced a time of silence to ‘bookend’ his executive agenda. Initially greeted with real scepticism by his team, this practice has grown to become an essential part of their executive meeting with telling results. You might need to be bold. In fact, you will need to be bold, given the prevailing conditions. You also will need to be willing to try some things that may not work. However, as with getting physically fit, it will take time, perseverance, discipline and effort. But, as with getting fit, it will become easier with time and the benefits will be felt and seen by all.

You want to be ‘future fit’? Well then I would suggest you incorporate reflection as a discipline towards that goal. I don’t think you will regret doing so.

The Leadership Trap of Flat Earth Thinking

Posted on: January 22nd, 2013 by Keith Coats 3 Comments

earthIt was 16 February 1600 and a crowd had gathered to watch Italian friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno being burnt at the stake having been condemned as a heretic. To go against the ‘truth’ as the church defined it was to run the risk of being labelled a heretic. Copernicus was also condemned as a heretic and met a similar fate as that of Bruno – also in 1600. It seemed to be a busy year for the church!

Their crime? They proposed ‘new truths’ about the universe and how it worked at a time when the church believed the earth was both flat and the centre of the universe. Of course we now know that both Bruno and Copernicus were on the right path in believing what they did, but that counted for little when stacked against the prevailing status quo – the  ‘truth’ of the day.

Recently I was having breakfast with a mentor who has been a constant source of encouragement, challenge, resource and example when an interesting conversation unfolded.  It started with me asking him what he thought represented today’s ‘flat earth thinking’. When the future looks at our current era and context, what will they consider to be our ignorance in the light of what they already know? It is the kind of question (and discussion) that immediately tends to suspend the present and allows one to look from the outside in as it were. It creates a different perspective and can lead to some interesting debate and discussion. It certainly did in this instance.

Flat earth thinking flourishes in every era. One of the more important leadership responsibilities is for leaders to identify such thinking and be able to lead their organization away from the precipice that inherently comes with a flat earth belief. This is easier said than done. The forces invariably opposing any new thinking have marshalled in their corner the majority, the status quo and conventional wisdom.  It is a formidable array of weaponry to have at one’s disposal!

There is no silver bullet when it comes to changing a business. Change processes are a dime a dozen and certainly there is no shortage of resources when it comes to embarking on any change initiative. Today, change is big business. Certainly this is justified when considering the context in which businesses operate – it is one of ubiquitous, non-linear and constant change. Turbulence is the new norm and leaders had best learn to fly in such conditions if they are to succeed going forward.

Flat earth thinking flourishes when the current dogma goes unchallenged. Dogma can be described as ‘perceived truth’. Calling out ‘perceived truth’ is risky business. Certainly it is likely to have career inhibiting consequences and as a result, there seem to be few willing to run the risks involved in challenging current ‘wisdom’ and the prevailing worldviews, whatever they may be. But if we are to move forward this is precisely what we have to do. As Abraham Lincoln said to the American Congress in the December of 1862, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As the situation is new so we must think anew and we must act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves if we are to save our country”. 

Decoupling or ‘disenthralling’ oneself from favourite methodology, pet theories or simply well worn traditions that have outlived their usefulness and purpose, is never easy. Yet this is what the work of challenging flat earth thinking entails. In furthering this discussion with a client from a major law firm, he added a valuable insight into why it is that dogma is so difficult to let go of or to challenge. “It becomes dogma because you live it. You don’t choose it at the outset, it becomes such over time as you come to defend it and so start to live it” he said. He is right.

There are three things that leaders can utilize to counter flat earth thinking. 

  1. Curiosity. I believe the enemy of dogma – of flat earth thinking, is curiosity. The presence of curiosity will always mean that things that are taken for granted will be challenged. Children are born curious but then as then enter formal education that natural gift that is curiosity is educated out of them. Educator Ken Robinson has a wonderful TED Talk on the subject and it is hard to argue with his point that we in fact steer our children away for their inborn curiosity in the pursuit of educational objectives. Smart leaders look to nurture and foster curiosity within the DNA of their organisations. Smart leaders understand that well directed curiosity can lead to wonderful things and so they actively encourage such, believing there is always a better way to do things. Here might be an interesting exercise for you to conduct: at your next team meeting, count the number of questions asked without telling the participants what it is you are doing. It might be worth recording the actual questions asked and then categorising and evaluating them. Questions for the sake of questions aren’t always helpful. Learning how to pose the ‘right’ question is the art that needs developing. This might take time but one has to start somewhere in the quest for quality questions as a natural ingredient in your meeting mix.
  2. Courage. If you are going to be curious, courage will be required. Courage means that you are willing to live with the consequences of where your questions and subsequent actions might lead you. Courage means you are not prepared to play the political games that characterise many work environments; courage means that you are willing to be wrong; courage means that you value authenticity; courage demands values – values that serve to anchor your curiosity and that provide reassurance to others who choose to follow you into the unknown, into the unchartered territory.
  3. Commitment. Leaders need to be committed to the process that challenging flat earth thinking will require. We live in work environments dominated by programmes and quick fixes. There is often little appreciation or patience for things that require process. Commitment means an appreciation for processes and the willingness to see things through – even though it may take time and no small amount of effort. To challenge prevailing wisdom and turning that into a new way of seeing / doing / being is seldom instantaneous or done easily. Disruptive processes are the lifeblood of innovation and newness and what such processes look like requires wisdom, perspective and…commitment.

Curiosity, courage and commitment may not seem the ideal ‘how to’ tools to add to your leadership toolkit. However if you are willing to start with curiosity you will quickly discover the need and importance of courage and commitment! You might well have further suggestions to assist you in your quest to identify and challenge the flat earth thinking that marks your environment. I hope that next time you are in a meeting that you will start to filter the conversation and ask yourself whether or not what is being said is representative of flat earth thinking. Identifying the presence of flat earth thinking within your team and the willingness to challenge it might just be your GPS to navigating the future!

Social Media in Business: Close the Gap Conference on 20th March

Posted on: March 15th, 2012 by admin-kablooey No Comments

Knowledge Dimension and Social Business Consulting are inviting TomorrowToday readers to attend the Close the Gap Conference, where leadership experts will highlight the social business gap that exists in organisations today.

The principles of social media in business, if applied to resolving business pains, can have a remarkable effect on your company’s profitability and effectiveness.

By being able to access appropriate experts and the applicable information on time, in context, as needed, as well as leveraging the sharing culture of your extended workforce, your company can gain strategic advantage.

Highlighting the social business gaps that exist in organisations today

Join Walter Pike, Keith Coats, Gary Swale, Ray Hayes, Randy Frink and Mike Saunders as they discuss key leadership challenges that occur on the path to closing the gap between traditional ways of working and the new world in which we now operate.

Date: Tuesday 20 March 2012

Time: 08h30 f0r 09h00

Venue: Hilton Sandton Hotel, 138 Rivonia Road, Johannesburg

Please book your place as soon as possible, as spaces are limited. Click here to RSVP.

The speakers

Walter Pike is a marketer, advertising strategist and academic. He consults with brand owners and agencies about marketing and brand building in a social world. He founded The Digital Academy recently to provide the skills needed to operate in a changed world in open enrolment and in-house programs.


Keith Coats is an internationally respected leadership expert, author, speaker and facilitator. He is also the leadership specialist at TomorrowToday. Keith unpacks and discusses the challenges leaders face and how to tackle them.


Gary Swale is a Director of Knowledge Dimension. Gary is a social business and enterprise collaboration expert, both from a leadership as well as a technology perspective. Catch Garyʼs informative discussion around Creating a Social Business.


Ray Hayes has three decades of experience in helping businesses understand and adopt new technologies, achieve measurable results and deliver business value. Ray joins the panel of keynote speakers at the Close the Gap event.


Randy Frink serves has an IBM Worldwide Business Unit Executive for Social Software. As an IBM Social Business pioneer and evangelist he has been in the trenches selling social solutions to clients representing about every industry, customer segment and job function.


Mike Saunders is a Keynote Speaker and Social Media Coach at TomorrowToday, as well as the CEO of DigitLab, a digital marketing and social media agency. His vision for social media in the marketplace is to see organisations effectively using digital media to communicate online – increasing their reach, influence and productivity.

To find out more about the conference, connect with Social Business Consulting at or 084 556 7125


Social business challenges hierarchy business model

Posted on: May 25th, 2011 by admin-kablooey No Comments

Almost every business older than ten years runs on a hierarchical structure. This structure has equipped businesses for ages, making sure they are accountable, profitable and running smoothly.

This hierarchical structure is under attack when looking at social business. To refresh your memory, social business is the process of taking all that is good in social media technology and using it to better your business. Social media technology can help organisations improve collaboration, increase employee engagement, break down silo’s and create a friendlier environment for generation y.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Why social business challenges a hierarchy structure is that it removes it completely. There is no hierarchy in social media. A person is a person with a profile, an idea is as good as it is (not where it comes from) and respect is earned from what you put in not what title you hold.

John Kotter recently presented an idea on HBR that suggests business may need to take on a network structure in the future. I believe that this network structure would be a great asset to the business looking to social business practices. The set of this article is an excerpt from John’s article:

“But 20th-century, capital “H” Hierarchy (a sort of hardware) and the managerial processes that run on it (a sort of software) do not handle transformation well. And in a world with an ever-increasing rate of change, it is impossible to thrive without timely transformations. The data, case studies, and personal anecdotes to this effect abound.

The challenge is that, at both a philosophical and a practical level, the Hierarchy (with its management processes) opposes change. It strives to eliminate anomaly, standardize processes, solve short-term problems, and achieve stopwatch efficiency within its current mode of operating.

In a sense, the crowning accomplishment of the Hierarchy and its management processes is the enterprise on autopilot, everyone ideally situated as a cog whirring on a steady, unthinking and predictable machine. Thus, the Hierarchy ignores new opportunities that require transformation because these don’t align with its core purpose of maintenance and optimization. A market opportunity for tablet computers, for example, is more of a distraction than an opportunity to the hierarchy of a giant PC manufacturer focusing on this quarter’s earnings targets.

That is not to say that small- and medium-sized change are impossible in the Hierarchy. In fact, many critics point to change management processes, Kaizen initiatives, and the like as evidence that the Hierarchy can do change. But I am referring to something far bigger: large-scale organizational change, such as a company redesigning its entire business model, or accomplishing its most important strategic objectives of the decade, or changing its portfolio of product offerings. And there is no evidence to suggest that the Hierarchy allows for such changes, let alone that it effectively facilitates them.

All of this has led me to believe that the successful organization of the future will have two organizational structures: a Hierarchy, and a more teaming, egalitarian, and adaptive Network. Both are designed and purposive. While the Hierarchy is as important as it has always been for optimizing work, the Network is where big change happens. It allows a company to more easily spot big opportunities and then change itself to grab them.”