How to win an argument every time (according to science)

Ever feel you’re fighting a losing battle at work?

Compromise and empathy are valuable assets, but sometimes you need to outright get your point across if progress is to be made. Laboring on under a false understanding can just create more trouble down the line – and nobody learns anything if their misconceptions are never challenged.

Sometimes, however, even if you do make a stand for the truth – be it a better technique, a business insight, or an interpersonal issue – you can walk away from the encounter feeling crushed and defeated. Losing an argument when you know that you’re right feels even worse than not speaking up at all.

So how can you make sure that your voice is heard, your points are understood, and your case is won? Well, like so many aspects of workplace life, you can go by instinct – or you can learn some proven techniques.

There are three stages to winning an argument the smart way:

  1. engagement,
  2. expression, and
  3. agreement.

You need to engage your opponent, because coming at them in an all-out attack will just raise their defenses before you’ve even made your point. Don’t frame the argument as an conflict, but rather a discussion. Quite aside from the fact that you might actually be wrong and/or learn something from listening, asking your opponent to explain their side first can foster a rapport, so they are more likely to trust you when it’s time to make your own points. Instead of countering their arguments, begin by asking open questions – especially if you spot a loose thread in their logic. Often their argument will fall apart in their own hands.

Back up this period of listening by repeating back what you’ve understood. This proves you weren’t just pretending to listen – and can also help loosen those threads a little further. And maintain friendly eye contact, but don’t force a smile. False smiles betray themselves, jeopardizing the trust you’ve built.

So now you’re leading the discussion on your terms, it’s time to express your side of things. But first, let’s skip back in time for a moment: you need to make sure you’ve researched your argument! Just as you can easily expose the flaws in your opponent’s poorly-thought-out logic, it is likely that you think you know your own logic better than you do (this is known as ‘illusion of explanatory depth’). Everybody is right until they are proved wrong.

Illustrate your points with visuals and back them up with evidence and supporting arguments from other people – particularly those who are noted in the relevant field. Unless your opponent is a troll or a contrarian, this will strengthen your argument by demonstrating that your mutual peers agree with you. Speak quietly, and soften potential aggression by using ‘could it be’ and ‘might we say’-type phrases, and little cues for agreement such as ‘isn’t it?’ and ‘wouldn’t you say…’. This reduces the impression that you are an opponent to be defeated, and instead promotes an atmosphere of doubt, discussion, and rational progress.

Just as you flattered your opponent into engaging with you, you can finish them off – er, secure their agreement, that is – by working with their point of view rather than getting hung up on your own case. One way to do this is to find a particularly silly area of their logic and to develop it to an absurd extreme. This is a great strategy when your opponent is clearly trapped in their own logic, and hasn’t considered the real world implications of their claims. You probably already know this technique: when your kindergarten teacher asked you, ‘if Billy told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that, too?’, your ‘Billy told me to snap the pencil’ argument dissolved in an instant.

And if total destruction of your opponent is not your over-arching intention, you can swing them over to your way of thinking by entertaining the common ground between your arguments. In a business scenario, chances are you want the same results – but are divided over the best way of getting there. Highlighting the elements that you are agreed upon can help pave the way from their high castle to yours.

Indisputable victory in an argument is not always the healthiest way forward, but if you want to sway things in your favor or to correct dangerous misconceptions, it can help to have a few debating tools on hand to do so. Check out this infographic for some additional tips – and don’t be afraid to be wrong, because it’s only by acknowledging our flaws that we can move past them.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans. 

Image: Pexels

The importance of human relationships in the modern world

I spend a large chunk of my daily life attached to technology. I wake up courtesy of the alarm on my phone and as I turn it off I am greeted by the notifications that have reached me overnight. Fantastic, one of my friends on Instagram has posted for the first time in a while. Swipe that notification away. Oh, good, two of my favourite shoe stores have given me a special 15% discount on their fall selection. Delete, delete. I put my phone down and have a fleeting recollection of my clash with a ferocious lion in my dream last night. I try to delve into my memory to find the remnants of my battle, but all I find are two cheap pairs of shoes. Before the day has even begun technology has penetrated its way into my conscious thought. I would imagine that many of you find a similar beginning to the day, perhaps with less lions, but likely with the same bombardment of trivial information.

That’s the cost of living in the modern world. Even if you try to cut down on screen time, most of you will find that your job requires you to spend many hours looking at a screen. Your appointments, communications, and the general organisation of your daily life are likely delegated to you by a small rectangular beacon of information. Technology makes life convenient and efficient. China, through Alibaba innovations, is the poster boy for the integration of technology into everyday life. Alibaba promotions show the ‘ideal’ daily life in which an individual uses their phone for every aspect of their day – getting from place to place with Didi Chuxing, reading news from Youku Tudou, shopping on one of their numerous online marketplaces, and so on. The growth of virtual reality makes this even more invasive. Online stores are being designed to replicate the interior of real stores, giving the feeling of walking around browsing products. Whether this level of assimilation reaches the Western world is yet to be seen, but unless there is significant pushback it appears that the impact of technology on everyday life will continue to grow.

This growing reliance on technology makes real human relationships even more important. Perhaps much of your interaction with a client or work associate happens through text or calls, with a rare face to face meeting along the way. A positive interaction with a client can lead to increased trust and bonding, thus taking the relationship to a new level. A client will often prefer working with an individual with whom they have good rapport, even if that person is less technically adept than the competition. Learning skills to make the most of face to face interactions is therefore paramount in the work climate of today.

Firstly, you should go into business meetings feeling relaxed and confident. In the lead up to a meeting try to remove any expectations that you may have set upon yourself. View every client interaction as an opportunity for success, but placing too much weight on that opportunity can cause anxiety. Nervousness can cause you to speak too quickly, fidget, lose concentration, sweat profusely, and leave an overall impression with the client that you are disorganised or even untrustworthy. You will personally have to test what works to quell your nerves. You could develop a pre-meeting routine that gets you in a confident mindset, or have a few pre-planned questions to fall back on in case you get caught up on your words.

Once in the meeting, begin with a firm handshake, an abundance of eye contact, and an upright body position. Whilst conversing consciously make an effort to slow down your speech to articulate yourself clearly. Mimic the client’s body language and mannerisms to create a subconscious bond. While this may feel wooden at first, these techniques should all become natural with some practice. However, if it continues to feel unnatural, drop it. The most important aspect of your interaction is that you truly listen. You don’t want to miss a subtle change in tone or choice of wording because you were too busy trying to cross your legs at the same time as the client.

Once you have overcome any issues of nervousness and mastered a few key techniques to boost your confidence, interactions should feel more genuine. That is the key to striking a positive business relationship. Yes, a firm handshake and upright body position may subtly influence a client’s opinion of you, but the true success of your meeting will come from human connection. Don’t try to refocus the meeting on business issues if the topic wanders, feel free to talk about fishing or dogs for twenty minutes if that’s where the conversation leads. The true purpose of the meeting should be to feel like you’ve developed a stronger relationship with the individual across the table.

Now that technology has permeated our everyday life, these client interactions have become fewer and farther between. As a result, to be successful in maintaining business relationships, you must nail down the impression you make in these meetings. Ultimately, the impression you give will not come from your body language, level of eye contact, or firmness of handshake, but from the bond you make with another human being.

Dean Franklet is a third year economics and finance student at the University of Canterbury where he is President of the largest commerce society on campus. Spending his life in Texas and then New Zealand with a few other stops along, he gives a unique global viewpoint to portray in his writing.

Image: Pexels

5 Strategies To Create Workplace Happiness


This is a guest post from Riya Sander.

Creating a happy workplace can make it easier to retain your workers, allowing you to avoid the costs related to employee turnover. It can also increase the morale of those who stay, which may lead to higher productivity and a greater likelihood that your people take ownership of their work.

If happy workers are more loyal and productive workers, then worker happiness will have a direct impact on the profitability of your business.

What are some steps that you can take to ensure that your people are happy at work?

1. Emphasize Employee Wellness in the Workplace

If you want to keep your people happy, you will need to keep them healthy. Emphasizing health and wellness in the workplace ensures that employees don’t come to work sluggish, sick or injured.

Ways that you can improve worker health include providing an on-site gym, an on-site urgent care center or allowing workers to take time out of their day for a short walk. As a general rule, a brisk walk to reduce stress is a much more healthy and effective way to keep energy levels up compared with common alternatives like a cup of coffee or energy drink to perk up in the middle of the afternoon.

2. Ask Employees for Their Input

Conducting an employee happiness survey will allow you to learn more about what your people like and what they wish they could change about their jobs. For instance, you may discover that they don’t mind working 12 hours a day so long as they have the flexibility to choose when and where they work. By asking your people for this type of input, you can craft a schedule or create other working conditions that best meet the needs of the company and those who work for it.


3. Provide Office Cleaning Services

Employees may have a hard time keeping their mind free from clutter if the office is a mess. Therefore, it may be in your company’s best interests to hire an office cleaning service that can vacuum the floors, take out the trash and get rid of dust and other irritants in the air. In addition to helping your employees get more done, they may be healthier for it in the long run.

Hiring an office cleaning service may be a good idea even if employees share a communal working space. In fact, it may be even more important if employees share one work space since you don’t want insects or rodents running around or germs being spread between people who are working in close proximity to each other.

4. Provide Financial Incentives for a Job Well Done

You should give your workers as much incentive to do a good job as possible. For those who go above and beyond what is expected of them, you might want to compensate them for their efforts. Providing workers with a bonus for doing a good job with a client or for adding a new account will show your people that their efforts are recognized and valued. You may also want to give employees stock options or an equity stake in the company if it makes sense to do so.

5. Give Your Employees a Chance to Step Up

Employees generally don’t want to feel stuck in the same position for their entire careers. If an employee doesn’t think that they have a chance to make the most of their talents with your organization, they may look elsewhere. This is generally true even if the person enjoys working for your business. Therefore, it may be worth implementing a training program to help workers develop their skills and communicate their desire to expand their role. This will allow you to identify your potential future leaders, which will make it easier to promote from within and to replace your top managers when they eventually leave.

Your employees deserve to have a rewarding and fulfilling work experience. If you can provide them with the right incentives and encouragement, then your business will find it easier to attract and retain a large pool of talented, loyal and productive employees. This is just what you need to keep your business thriving for years to come.

Riya Sander is a reader and Australia-based writer. As a freelancer, Riya understands the importance of productivity at work. She never stops finding new ways to increase her productivity. Follow her on Twitter.

(Image Source: Pexels 1 and Pexels 2)

Leadership Lessons: How to Reinvent Yourself as a Leader


This is a guest post from Caryn Walsh.

Being a good leader has never been easy. Not everybody can learn how to carry the expectations, demands, and ambitions of a company on a single pair of shoulders. You need to know when to be tough and have a willingness to make the difficult decisions, but it isn’t all about grit and determination. It isn’t all about power and wielding your authority.

This is one of the most important lessons for modern leaders, because the business world has changed. Employees have a lot more power now than they ever did. They want to feel personally invested in the companies that they work for and they want their contribution to be recognised. But, most of all, they want to feel happy at work. If you can give them this, you’ll have their trust and respect.

At Pure Magic Business, we work with people who are finding it hard to be good leaders. The first thing that we teach them is that there’s always time to turn it around. No matter how many mistakes you might have made in the past, you can flip the script and start again.

It’s Okay to Be Humble

The idea that managers and executives have to be untouchable is outdated and it fosters an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude within the workplace. If you wouldn’t feel happy taking orders from somebody who looks down on you, don’t expect your employees to be. A good leader knows that power isn’t always visible. It is about taking care of the people that you’re responsible for, even when the job doesn’t directly benefit your own image.

Your Ideas Might Not Be the Best

For a business to thrive, it will need to adopt the most promising ideas in order to make smart goals and effective plans. Leaders who fear ideas better than their own only serve to stifle the organisation’s potential. Leaders need to cast the creative net wide and listen to their employees. Some will have great feedback and wonderful ideas that can improve, develop, and enhance the company. Many minds working in harmony are always more constructive than a single, lone voice. Plus, inviting workers to contribute encourages them to get emotionally invested in the future of the company.

Gossip and Drama Are Not For You

Being a leader isn’t always a positive experience. The very act of having more power than others and being in a position to tell them what to do can foster resentment. This is common in people who find it hard to deal with figures of authority. The most positive and constructive response is to treat them with as much kindness and fairness as possible so that they understand that you’re not a threat. What you must not do is engage in any kind of gossip, drama, or sniping. Rise above and lead by example. There are leadership courses that can help you learn how to combat negative behaviour within the workplace.

You Know That Success Is a Journey

And finally, a great leader is a person who’s never truly content with where they are and what they’ve achieved. They know that there’s always another ceiling to push through and a bigger challenge to tackle. Crucially, some of these challenges will be to do with their own leadership style. As businesses and corporate cultures change, so too must leaders if they want to adapt and survive. So, don’t be afraid of self-appraisal, because it will ensure that you stay relevant, valuable, and perfect for the job.

For the past 25 years, Caryn Walsh has consulted to countless organisations in Australia and overseas in areas of leadership and team development. At the helm of Pure Magic Business, Caryn leads an impressive team who focus on ‘Growing People and Transforming Organisations’ in the corporate, community and education sectors.

(Image Source:

Learn How To Avoid The Five Most Common Mistakes Made By Leaders And Managers

Learn How To Avoid The Five Most Common Mistakes Made By Leaders And Managers

If you have recently been placed in a leadership or managerial position in your company, then you may need to change the way you approach work each day.

The five most common mistakes discussed below are made by those in management in virtually every sector of the business world.

Learning how to avoid them can help your team to thrive!

1. Goals – A team without goals is a huge problem. Some managers, especially those that are new to the role, make the assumption that everyone knows what to do rather than providing guidance regarding assignments and priorities.

2. Poor focus – Even those who have set goals do not always focus on what’s important. Rather than acknowledging progress and creating positive results, these managers get caught up in the details and busyness of urgent everyday tasks.

Rather than micromanaging your team, monitor their progress on a schedule, ensuring that they are moving forward as needed. Running around the office looking busy all of the time is not the same as accomplishing the desired results.

3. Hiring and firing – It is important to have a strong team capable of handling the tasks assigned to them.

In a rush to have sufficient manpower, some managers make the mistake of hiring people too quickly and are slow to let them go, even when it is apparent that they are not capable of fulfilling their role.

These poor practices can harm the morale of the team and make it even more difficult to get the job done.

Make sure that you consider candidates carefully before hiring. Not only do applicants need to have the necessary skills and abilities, but they also need to have the right combination of personality, flexibility and dedication.

It is better to have an open position than to expect your team to carry someone who is not a good fit for the job.

Likewise, delaying firing an employee can lead to frustration and your team may believe that you are too soft. Although it can be difficult to let someone go, you should not keep someone on the payroll just because you are uncomfortable with confrontation. You will be doing the employee and your company a favor by ending things quickly. Firmly but politely explain to the person why she is being let go, and give some positive feedback concerning the areas where she excelled.

4. Morale – No matter the size and type of organization that you are leading, good morale is essential.

Some managers believe that they need to rule with an iron fist, forcing employees to mold into some preconceived idea of what a “perfect employee” looks like.

Instead, you need to keep an eye on morale and take steps to boost it when necessary. This may be through encouraging stories or giving praise to team members for their contributions. In fact, some leaders make it a point during conferences to find something positive and honest to say about each person and the value they contribute to the team.

5. Poor boundaries – Whether standoffish or being a buddy, both strategies are doomed to fail for leaders. If those under you are not comfortable approaching you with questions, your company can lose valuable resources down the line because of mistakes. And, while you should be approachable, you should not perceive yourself as an equal, nor should they. While you can socialize and joke with the team, you should maintain a degree of separation. Otherwise, you may have a difficult time reprimanding someone and some employees may take advantage of your friendly nature.

You can embrace the challenges that come with your new role as manager or leader and have a strong team as a result. Avoid the five most common mistakes and continue to learn from mentors and others about the methods, tools and tricks for becoming a respected and successful leader.

Jeremy Johnson is a real estate enthusiast and has written content for dozens of real estate and related sites around the world. is a side project he maintains because of his interest in real estate.

Time and Money

Time and Money

(Source: Flickr)

If you had all the time in the world but not much money, then your capacity to create new ideas and connect with people would be great, but your capacity to consume would be limited.

On the other hand, if you didn’t have much time but had a lot of money, then your capacity to create new ideas and connect with people would be limited, but your ability to consume would be considerable.

Time and money, where should we be placing value?

This is not just a question for individuals but also for organisations.

Universities appear to value time over money (at least this was traditionally the case), and so tend to be geared towards sharing ideas and enabling people to connect with one another.

Many corporations today take the opposite approach and value money over time, and so tend to be geared towards maximising short term earnings. Employees are required to be in the office regardless of whether this improves productivity, initiatives that provide value to consumers but don’t generate revenue get discontinued, and the mantra “time is money” might on occasion be heard echoing through the hallways.

Companies will of course need to keep an eye on cash flows, but important strategic decisions should not be held hostage by the quarterly earnings report.

A resilient company will be one that has freedom to maneuver and sufficient time to anticipate new opportunities and respond to impending threats in a thoughtful and considered way.

Lee Kuan Yew – Statesman or Autocrat?

Lee Kuan YewWE were saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Kuan Yew last Monday. Harry is recognised as the founding father of modern Singapore and, from the time he was sworn in as Prime Minister in 1959, played a central role in building the fledgling city state into an Asian Tiger economy.

Having spent a week in Singapore in late 2013 with an Oxford classmate and his family, your author witnessed firsthand the level of respect and admiration that many Singaporeans feel for Lee Kuan Yew.

Under his stewardship Singapore’s GDP enjoyed a meteoric rise from less than US$450 per capita to more than US$55,000, lifting Singapore from third world to first in a single generation. Singapore was once a small colonial fishing village with limited natural resources and today its economy is the envy of the world.

In show of support to our Singaporean friends we posted some articles on Facebook and lamented the passing of a great man. To our surprise, one of our friends in London tersely responded “I guess we’ll just gloss over the fact he was an autocrat as long as the economy did well.”

A slightly unfriendly comment, we thought, given that Lee Kuan Yew had just recently passed away. However, over the course of last week it became increasingly clear that many people in the West hold mixed or unfavourable views of the way in which Lee Kuan Yew ran Singapore.

With Singapore suffering race riots in 1964, and being forced to leave Malaysia in 1965, Lee maintained stability by curtailing certain civil liberties: quotas on public housing to ensure racial integration, restrictions on inflammatory speech to limit racial tensions, and harsh penalties for lawbreaking extending even so far as to place a ban on chewing gum. His People’s Action Party maintained a continuous and firm grip on power, in part thanks to Lee’s strong arm tactics which included imprisoning political opponents and launching defamation suits to pacify the media.

On the one hand, Lee championed racial equality and instituted policies that helped income levels rise by two orders of magnitude; a remarkable achievement which roused the interest of China and many other governments who sent research teams to study Singapore as a model economy.

On the other hand, Lee used draconian laws and sometimes ruthless tactics to maintain a firm grip on power largely unopposed. Lee may have been a statesman, but he appears to have been an autocrat too.

How can we reconcile these two contrasting views of Lee Kuan Yew? And do we even need to? Is it a problem if Lee was both a statesman and an autocrat?

Well, depending on how you look at it, potentially yes.

A key part of the problem seems to be that Lee’s economic success has been used by less scrupulous authoritarian regimes (Russia for example) in order to legitimise their strongman politics.  These regimes have used Lee as a central character in a slightly troubling counter narrative that conflicts with the Western ideal of liberal democracy; a form of government that protects the rights of the individual and supports fair elections, freedom of the press, separation of powers and the rule of law.

We will leave it for others to discuss at length the political ramifications of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy. However, given his success in building Singapore’s economy, it might pay for us to consider his approach.  What lessons can business leaders learn from the life of Lee Kuan Yew?

There are many things that could be said, but we want to highlight just three leadership lessons that jump out at us.

  1. Focus on others: Lee saw the opportunity to build Singapore as the chance of a lifetime. It appears to have been his constant focus. While many autocrats and democratically elected leaders pursue power for its own sake, and are largely self-regarding and self-serving, Lee’s thoughts appear to have been always on Singapore. He believed in something larger than himself.
  2. Work hard: Different leaders have different ideas about how to pursue prosperity, for example Russia appears to quite enjoy annexing land. A key factor which distinguished Lee’s leadership was his belief in the need for hard work and self-reliance. He believed that everyone should be afforded an equal opportunity to do well regardless of the person’s race or religion.
  3. Think long term but be pragmatic: Lee had a long term vision for Singapore and combined this with a pragmatic approach to solving problems and getting things done. He had a clear understanding of the geostrategic landscape and an ability to communicate with and gain the cooperation of more powerful players like America and China. He looked internationally to find solutions that could be applied in Singapore, and took active steps to recruit Singapore’s best and brightest students to work for his government.

Below is a letter which expresses British PM David Cameron’s sentiments on the passing of Lee Kuan Yew:

Letter from 10 Downing Street

(Image sources: Flickr and Straits Times)

On the boundary

On the boundary

(Source: Flickr)

Failure can be painful but it tends to mark the boundary between what’s proven and what’s possible, between your comfort zone and your potential.

Failure is feedback, an opportunity to learn and grow stronger.

Keep pushing.

Discipline and Decency

All too often partners in professional service firms know how to issue orders, but forget about the need for kindness.

Employees develop fear rather than fondness for their managers, and quickly learn how little they can produce to keep people happy.

In professions where the quality of the final product hinges on the quality of the thought process used to develop it (e.g. law, accounting and management consulting), monitoring effort is often impossible and employees have significant lee way about how much effort they choose to exert.

In this context, discipline and punishment are unlikely to be effective motivational tools unless employees have first been treated with common humanity, and given a chance to develop an attachment to the organization, their managers and the role itself.

Being good to people, can be good for business.

Management vs Leadership

Management requires smooth process, leadership requires clear vision

Management vs Leadership

Management is about running systems, processes, and people.

Leadership is about taking action, and inspiring others to do so. Having a vision, and the ability to influence and motivate others to sail towards it.

Your team needs both.

If you have no managers, then key details, tasks and deadlines are likely to be missed.

No leader, and your team becomes a ship without a rudder. You are likely to become lost at sea.

19 Inspirational Quotes from Nelson Mandela

What can we learn from the life of such a man?

Nelson Mandela

NELSON Mandela passed away last Thursday at the age of 95. He was a man amongst men who fought and won the battle against Apartheid in South Africa.

As the world continues to mourn his loss and reminds itself of Mandela’s heroic leadership and contribution to peace and equality in South Africa, it is worth pausing to reflect on what we can learn from the life of such a man.

What can we learn from Madiba?

For one thing, he is a symbol of hope. A light in dark times. A reminder that it is possible to change the world for the better.

He opposed Apartheid – a system of segregation which curtailed the rights and freedoms of black South Africans. For having the audacity to fight for equality, he served 27 years in prison. He was ultimately released and elected to be the first black President of South Africa in 1994. Apartheid defeated, he had lived to see his vision fulfilled.

Mandela changed the world.

And, so can you.

19 Inspirational Quotes from Nelson Mandela

While his life-long perseverance is perhaps his most inspirational lesson, we can also learn from his numerous words of wisdom.

Below we set out 19 inspirational quotes from Nelson Mandela that capture the wisdom of his thinking and can help to guide us in our own efforts to change the world for the better.

On achieving success

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

On being a leader

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.”

On conquering fear

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. In letting our own light shine, we give people permission to shine. Who are you, not to be brilliant, fabulous and talented? You are a child of God, and playing small does not serve the world. As we are liberated from our fears, our presence automatically liberates others. And so I choose today to live big. My successes and mistakes teach me that the lessons are here to take us beyond our self imposed limits, so that we may be the best persons we can imagine.”

On gaining freedom

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

On positive living

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

On changing the world

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

Mercedes Leads the Race to Build Autonomous Cars

Look mum, no hands! Mercedes-Benz S500 Intelligent Drive has driven itself 125km through Germany without driver intervention

MERCEDES-BENZ has demonstrated its capabilities with self-driving technology and provided a glimpse of the future by successfully driving its prototype S-Class from Mannheim to Pforzheim without driver intervention.

Mercedes has successfully tested autonomous vehicles before. For example, in 1995 its autonomous S-Class successfully completed a trip from Munich to Copenhagen and back.

The new S500 Intelligent Drive is the latest iteration of self-driving technology, and the most advanced fully autonomous vehicle ever produced by Mercedes. What’s more, most of the  technology in the concept car is already in the current S-Class. The future is not far away!

With a hat-tip to history, the test drive followed the same route that Bertha Benz (wife of founder Karl Benz) followed in 1888 when she demonstrated the long distance potential of the world’s first car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen.

3 Lessons from Steve Jobs

Believe that the dots will connect down the road, love what you do, and remember that you are going to die

STEVE JOBS was one of the world’s great visionaries, entrepreneurs and businessmen.

On October 5th 2011, he departed.

People knew that he was sick, but nobody expected him to leave so soon. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was busy working on an urgent assignment, and dropped everything. I immediately started writing a farewell tribute, and I held back the tears as I wrote.

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?

Steve and I never met in person. So, why did his death evoke such a response?

Steve was famous. It is normal to feel sad when famous people die.  However, this explanation does not capture the outpouring of grief or the sense of loss that many people felt that day.

Steve was a visionary. He understood how technology was evolving, and how the new technology could be used to create super amazing products to delight his customers.

Steve was a perfectionist. Malcolm Gladwell argued in his New Yorker article that this was Steve’s real genius.  Steve saw things that kind of worked and then relentlessly tweaked them until they were perfect.

Most of all, however, Steve was passionate. And, his passion for design changed our lives for the better. If you have ever used a Mac, an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, then you have been personally touched by Steve’s personality and his passion for incredible design. It is the passion that we miss.

We can learn a lot from such a man and, in his Stanford Commencement address, he leaves us with three lessons:

  1. Believe that the dots will connect down the road: this will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path, and that will make all the difference.
  2. Love what you do: set backs are inevitable. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.  As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.  And like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years role on. So don’t settle.
  3. Remember that you are going to die: Nobody wants to die, even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. Death is the destination that we all share, nobody has ever escaped it. Death is very likely the very best invention of life, it clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, as they somehow already know what you truly want to become.

“Stay hungry stay foolish.”

The First 100 Days as a CEO

The approach a new CEO takes during their first 100 days can determine whether they succeed or fail

FIRST impressions count!  The approach that a new CEO takes during their first 100 days can largely determine whether they succeed or fail.  But how to get it right?  In an article in the second issue of the SVA Consulting Quarterly, six non-profit CEO’s – including Goodstart’s Julia Davison, Jonathan Crowston from The Centre for Eye Research, and Jan Owen from the Foundation for Young Australians – open up about how leaders can make the biggest impact and best impression during their first 100 days.

Here are five lessons from the article:

  1. Engage with the organisation before your first day: There are a range of ways to do this, for example, asking for papers from recent board meetings, polling staff about key issues, or shadowing the existing CEO before they step down;
  2. Gain visibility by meeting as many people as possible: CEOs will typically set out to meet board members, direct reports, other staff, external stakeholders, and people in other organisations working in the same industry;
  3. Clarify management and governance arrangements: For example, make sure that it is clear who has decision-making responsibility and what is the approved line of communication between the board and senior management;
  4. Understand the organisation’s finances: This includes understanding the organisation’s financial statements, how finances are administered, and what systems are in place for disclosure and control; and
  5. Assess the organisation’s strategic direction: Is the organisation performing well, or does it need a completely new strategy? Unless there’s a crisis, or you have prior knowledge or direction from the board, it is best to spend time assessing the organisation for more than the first 100 days before making any major strategic decisions.

For the full article: click here.

Kim Jong Il – farewell and good riddance

Too soon?

WHEN someone dies it is cruel to make jokes at their expense immediately thereafter.

However, not just any crackpot loony has the ability to single handedly plunge an entire nation into abject poverty.  Well done Kim!

Kim Jong Il, who passed away today (in case you missed the memo) will be fondly remembered along with other notable historical leaders such as Pol Pot (Cambodian genocide), Mao Tse-Tung (the Great Leap Backwards) and Adolf Hitler (The Holocaust).

Kim Jong Il was by all accounts a raving lunatic, and if you would like to laugh at his expense you can:

  1. check out Kim Jong Il looking at things here, and
  2. ponder the ridiculous fate of his son, Kim Jong Un, who is privately doubting that he’s crazy enough to run North Korea.

So, jokes aside, what can business leaders learn from one of the world’s worst leaders?

Luckily, Kim Jong Il was such a dreadful leader that it is very easy learn from his mistakes. Simply ask yourself “what would Kim have done?” and then do the opposite.

Here are three hand-picked leadership lessons brought to you by the dear leader:

  1. be a tyrant (don’t – you should encourage worker engagement),
  2. discourage diversity (don’t – you should promote a meritocratic work environment where people are hired and promoted based on value contribution rather than gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or other arbitrary forms of categorisation), and
  3. prohibit freedom of expression (don’t – you should keep the communication lines open because you should not be competing against your colleagues but against your own personal best performance).

We need you to lead us

You too can put a ding in the universe

THERE are three simple steps to being a visionary leader. That’s it. Just three simple steps.

To be a visionary leader, you need to:

1) Learn from everyone,
2) Follow no one, and
3) Look for patterns.

So simple and easy to remember.

Learn always, never follow, and look for patterns.

Oh, and one more thing. You’ll need to work like hell.

Go, get moving, we need you.

January 17th, 2012 #OWS

Things just escalated

LEADERSHIP has been described as the process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task (Chemers 1997).

From a “theory of leadership” perspective, what is interesting about the Occupy Wall Street movement is the absence of any one person as the identifiable leader.  This is remarkable when you consider that the movement started on September 17th and remains in full swing.

What can business leaders learn from the Occupy movement?

One thing comes to mind.

A resilient organisation is united be shared beliefs (“we are the 99%”).

Steve Jobs – farewell

Trust that the dots will connect down the road, love what you do, and remember that you are going to die

TODAY October 5th 2011, we received the sad news that Steve Jobs has departed.

We are lucky to have lived during the same age as Steve Jobs, a man who has put a dent in the universe, and whose lasting impact will be remembered in the same breath as Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sir Isaac Newton.

If you have ever used a personal computer, listened to digital music, or used a smart phone, then Steve Jobs has changed the way that you experience the world.  For most of us it would be impossible to imagine using a PC without a mouse, but this is just one of the innovations that were introduced and popularised by Steve Jobs, the visionary.

In 1976, Jobs and his high school friend Stephen Wozniak started Apple in a suburban California garage. Wozniak designed the original Apple I computer to impress his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club and Jobs was immediately inspired.  Jobs saw its potential and took responsibility for marketing this creation to the world. (source: New York Times)

Jobs understood that ideas which spread win.  Apple has always appealed to a different kind of person. A person who believes that things can change, that the world can be a better place, and that we can make a difference.  Apple’s products personify this idea, and the Apple faithful purchase Apple products not merely as a consumption decision but as an expression of their personal identity.  Steve Jobs is their poster boy.

Jobs also understood that ideas which fail to spread lose … even if they embody more advanced technology. Apple has often been criticised by the tech-purists for selling shiny products which contain ordinary technology.  The amusing iPhone4 vs HTC Evo video reflects this lament.  Why would someone buy the iPhone4 when the HTC Evo is technologically superior?  Why indeed.  The answer, which Jobs intuitively understood, is fairly simple.  When you purchase the HTC Evo you only get a phone.  However, when you purchase the iPhone4 you also get to be part of the Apple community, to express your personal identity, and to tell a story about who you are and how the world might be one day.  “Things can be different, things can be better, we can change things.”

Jobs understood how to communicate his ideas effectively.  His keynote speeches at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference were extremely popular, were covered extensively by the international press, and were so effective at influencing software developers that they came to be referred to as his “reality distortion field.”  How did he do it?  One technique Jobs used consistently in his communications was the Rule of Three – a simple, powerful and effective tool that you can adopt to improve your speeches, reports and other communications.

Jobs used his powers of persuasion to change the world for the better.  His passion for pursuing the future, and bringing Apple and the rest of the world with him, was captured in his keynote speech at the Macworld Conference and Expo in January 2007 when he concluded by quoting ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky:

There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will.

Some would argue that skating passionately into an unknown future is not only risky, but foolish … and Jobs would probably have agreed.  His view of the world was shaped by the 1960s counterculture of the San Francisco Bay Area where he grew up.  And he identified one publication from that period as having a lasting impact on his life: “The Whole Earth Catalog”. Jobs recalled that it was an amazing publication which, after a few years in circulation, left a brief yet memorable farewell message on the back cover of its final issue:

“Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

6 Steps to Blogging #WINNING

YOU may wonder whether you should blog.  Stop wondering. You’re either on the Internet or you’re with the trolls. Here are the steps:

  1. Search
  2. Digest
  3. Synthesise (hint: this is were all of the competitive advantage comes from)
  4. Polish
  5. Publish (hint: this is where all of the value comes from)
  6. Repeat


Vinnies CEO Sleepout

THERE are currently more than 105,000 homeless people in Australia.

Census figures from 2006 indicate that each night 54% of homeless people seeking supported accommodation are turned away, which means around 56,000 people are sleeping on the street each night in Australia.

The problem is that in the wake of the financial crisis the number of homeless people has risen much faster than the supply of homeless and housing services required to support the needs of people experiencing disadvantage.

The St Vincent de Paul Society indicates that the new face of homelessness is families: young families; two-parent families; families with no history of domestic violence.  The sub-prime crisis didn’t only hurt corporate Balance Sheets and Profit & Loss statements, it also hurt families in local communities.  Homelessness is no longer a problem isolated merely to the victims of substance abuse, gambling addiction or mental illness.   The market downturn has forced people on the edges of the labour force into positions of serious disadvantage.

On Thursday 17 June 2010, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout will be taking place in capital cities across Australia.  The event aims to raise funds and increase community awareness about homelessness by challenging business and community leaders to experience homelessness first-hand for one night.

There are already 350 CEOs who have risen to the challenge, some of the people taking part include:

Please check out the website, and consider supporting the participants by making a donation or rising to the challenge by taking part yourself!

Inspirational Leadership Requires Self-Esteem

A PERSON who wants to work on their leadership ability should work on their self-esteem.

The job of a leader is to persuade and inspire. A leader needs to develop and persuasively convey a clear vision of what their organisation plans to do, and to inspire and empower the people who work for that organisation to contribute towards making that vision become a reality.

A leader with high self-esteem will be able to do that job more effectively. There are at least three reasons for this:

  1. A leader with a low self-esteem may feel the need to prove that they are right, or feel the need to take credit for any success achieved by the organisation. This kind of behaviour is unlikely to inspire and will not encourage people to give their best efforts;
  2. A leader with low self-esteem is more likely to hire other people with low self-esteem because they are intimidated by people with more confidence than themselves; and
  3. High self-esteem contributes to high performance. This view is supported by Nathaniel Branden, author of The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, who has identified six practices that result from (and contribute towards) high self-esteem:
      a.  living consciously;
      b.  self-acceptance;
      c.  self-responsibility;
      d.  self-assertiveness;
      e.  living purposefully; and
      f.  personal integrity.

A leader who operates at a high level of consciousness, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, purposefulness, and personal integrity, that would certainly be inspirational.

Building flexibility into business planning

ONE of the take away lessons from the CFA curriculum is that the conventional method of valuing an investment is to determine the present value of expected future cashflows.  One way of doing this would be to use the constant growth dividend discount model, which estimates the value of a stock by assuming that dividends grow at a constant rate … forever.  If the present value of expected cash inflows exceeds the cost of the investment, then we should invest.

I hope this model of investment valuation concerns you. It certainly concerns me. It basically tells us that we should make an investment decision based on the most likely expected future.

If we are happy to agree that (1) it is not possible to predict the future and (2) past performance does not guarantee future performance, then this colour by numbers method of investment valuation leaves much to be desired.

The businesses that will prosper in the Global Financial Crisis are the ones that have flexible business plans. These are the businesses that looked into the future and saw uncertainty. These businesses understood that the state of the world in ten or even one years time is not only uncertain, but unknowable, and planned accordingly.

One company that comes to mind is Microsoft, which has a cash stockpile of some US$25 billion.  In the past, Microsoft has received considerable criticism for failing to either invest its vast cash reserves, or distribute them to shareholders.  Microsoft’s “conservative” approach now puts it in a strong position to acquire competitors who “strategically invested” their cash reserves in more prosperous times.

To quote the McKinsey Quarterly:

Corporate leaders might consider [using] robust business models incorporating some slack and flexibility instead of the models most common today, which aim to optimise value in the most likely future scenario and thus leave companies exposed when conditions change dramatically.

Daniel Kahneman on improving the decision making process

IN MAY 2008 the McKinsey Quarterly spoke to Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, notable for his work on behavioural finance and hedonic psychology, about quality control and improving the decision making process.

1. The decision factory

Kahneman says that you can think of an organisation as a factory for producing decisions. The organisation might produce other things, but it produces decisions at all levels. Thinking about decisions as a product is a useful way to think about it, because it immediately raises the issue of quality control. As an organisation, whenever you have a product you take measures to ensure that your product meets certain standards.

2. Improving the quality of decisions

What can be done to improve the quality of decisions that are produced?

Kahneman indicates that quality control of decisions will be organised, in part, by bearing in mind those mistakes that are common and recurrent, and by making a deliberate effort to check whether those mistakes are happening.

Are there ways of eliciting the best information that is available in an organisation? Are the talents of the people that surround the decision maker utilised effectively? In many cases the answer is no. One could do a great deal better in utilising the human resources and information that are available in the process of decision making.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of hostility to the idea of improving decision making processes. Kahneman argues that as there is convergence to a decision, dissent becomes progressively more difficult and costly. Some changes, even though they may be desirable, are not adopted because they threaten the leadership of the organisation too much.  As such, people warning of potential disaster are increasingly set aside, shunned and treated as basically disloyal to the organisation that is committing itself to do something.

3. Pre-Mortem

Given that improving the decision making process is a difficult task, Kahneman presents the idea of the “Pre-Mortem”, an idea that he borrowed from one of his contemporaries, Gary Klein.

The Pre-Mortem is a simple idea, and involves a very straightforward procedure that benefits an organisation by helping to improve the decision making process. When you have a plan that is being formulated, convene your group for a short meeting. The meeting might be led by the person in charge or facilitated by someone else. Either way, the group should be presented with the following scenario: “it is a year from now. We have implemented the plan. It was total a disaster. You have a sheet of paper in front of you, write down a history of the disaster.” After giving everyone some time to write down their ideas you collect the pieces of paper and read them out. The process does not have to involve an extensive discussion.

The beauty of the Pre-Mortem is that it legitimises dissent. In fact, it does more than legitimise dissent. In organisations where the members are competitive, you expect people to think quite hard about the flaws in the idea and what could go wrong. In a room of twenty people you might expect three or four new ideas that can be used to readjust and improve the proposed plan of action.

4. Anchoring

Kahneman identifies anchoring as one of the big sources of mistakes in the process of decision making.

When you think about some quantity, like the amount of time it will take to finish a project, the first number that gets mentioned has an enormous impact on the way that people think.

Kahneman states that the psychology of anchoring is simple and happens automatically. There is nothing we can do about it. You retrieve a biased sample of information and then you evaluate that sample, and then it is already too late.

Kahneman provides a simple explanation of anchoring. Imagine you have a group of people. You ask them to write down the last four digits of their social security number, and then to consider a question, is the number of physicians in Manhattan higher or lower than the number you just wrote down? Now you ask the group, what is your best guess about the number of physicians in Manhattan? Kahneman suggests that what you are going to find is a difference of roughly 30% in the size of the estimates between the people with high social security numbers and the people with lower social security numbers.

When there is a particular number that is critical to a decision, try to trace down where the number came from, who brought it up first, and what information was used to support that number initially. Tracing down the history of a number is an example of something that is not too hard to do and, Kahneman believes, is almost guaranteed to improve things.

One implication of anchoring is that, if you are the leader and want to have an honest discussion about a number, you shouldn’t start with a number.

5. Opinions on paper, pre-discussion

Making discussions more fruitful and productive is something that we should think about. Kahneman provides one suggestion of how this might be done.

Before initiating a discussion solicit the opinions from each member of the group on paper. If you are going to generate an estimate of a number, for example what price is to be offered for a particular project, then getting opinions from the group on a slip of paper is going to improve the quality of the discussion.

This approach will help to draw out dissenting points of view. Once the discussion has begun, some group members may choose not to voice their dissenting opinion or may silently acquiesce to the prevailing view. Obtaining everyone’s starting position before the discussion ensues avoids this from happening.

In some cases, soliciting individual opinions before you discuss can make the discussion unnecessary. Kahneman gives an example of his involvement in an academic committee where he implemented this idea. In deciding whether to fund particular grants, the academics discovered that they loved to discuss, at great length, grants on which they all agreed. Soliciting individual opinions prior to discussion resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of time wasted on discussion.

Sun Tzu on strategies for effective leadership (part 4)

THIS post, part 4, considers the principles developed by Sun Tzu on strategies for effective leadership. It is the 4th and final part in a series looking at how Sun Tzu’s military precepts provide a timeless guide to modern business leadership. Part one looked at the qualities of successful leaders. Part two considered principles for organising your business affairs. Finally, part three considered the principles for dealing with business rivals.

I have summarised Sun Tzu’s principles into four simple categories:

  1. Qualities of a successful leader;
  2. Organising your business affairs;
  3. Dealing with rivals; and
  4. Strategies for effective leadership.

4. Strategies for effective leadership

4.1 Create a common philosophy

Marc Benioff, CEO of says that “to be truly successful, companies need to have a corporate mission that is bigger than making a profit…By integrating philanthropy into [the] business model … employees feel that they do much more than just work at [the] company.

He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.

4.2 Foster co-operation

In order to be successful in business it is important to have many experienced employees working together in co-operation.

Adam Smith was the earliest to report the merits of specialization and cooperation some 230 years ago. He compared the output of a Scottish farmer working alone to make pins for his wife with a French pin factory’s daily production. The factory employed experienced specialists, equipped them with the latest tools and organized them to work cooperatively to produce pins. The factory turned out hundreds of times more pins per specialist per day than the farmer working alone. Moreover, the factory-made pins surpassed the farmer’s pins in terms of quality and consistency.

If two armies will help each other in a time of common peril, how much more should two parts of the same army, bound together as they are by every tie of interest and fellow-feeling. Yet it is notorious that many a campaign has been ruined through lack of co-operation…

4.3 Maintain good communication

Being well informed is the only way to make good decisions. Make sure that you have access to the latest information on who is doing what in your organization.

…the commander whose communications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false position, and he will be fortunate if he has not to change all his plans, to split up his force into more or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferior numbers on ground which he has not had time to prepare…

4.4 Pick your men carefully

A leader must use the skills of his employees to best advantage by using the right man in the right place.

The skilful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid man has no fear of death.

4.5 Control your men with kindness and discipline

If [subordinates] are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, they will be practically useless. If, when [your subordinates] have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. Therefore [subordinates] must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline.

Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to deal with but a single man.

4.6 Set up a dependable systems of reward and punishment

People respond to incentives, this is one of the first lessons learnt in Microeconomics 101. As such, it is important to encourage good behaviour and discourage poor behaviour with an appropriate system of reward and punishment.

…that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy they must have their rewards.

4.7 Do not micro-manage your subordinates

The art of giving orders is not to try to rectify the minor blunders and not to be swayed by petty doubts. Vacillation and fussiness are the surest means of sapping the confidence of a [company].

4.8 Foster a spirit of enterprise

Encourage your employees to be industrious and hard working.

Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.

Sun Tzu on dealing with rivals (part 3)

PART 3 of 4 considers the principles developed by Sun Tzu for dealing with business rivals and follows on from part one which looked at qualities of successful leaders, and part two considered the principles for organising your business affairs.

I have summarised Sun Tzu’s principles into four simple categories:

  1. Qualities of a successful leader;
  2. Organising your business affairs;
  3. Dealing with rivals; and
  4. Strategies for effective leadership.

3. Dealing with rivals

3.1 Employ experts and consultants

When operating in a foreign country it is important to seek the advice of local experts so that you can best take advantage of local laws and natural advantages. When operating in an unfamiliar industry, employ consultants to provide specialized knowledge on the industry and the competition.

Know your [competition], know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster…

3.2 Use spying, deception and bluff

Donald Krause, consultant and author of The Art of War for Executives, believes that people whose scruples do not include spying and appropriate levels of deception will not be very successful in business or politics.

Spies are a most important element in [business], because on them depends a [company]’s ability to [act].

Do not publicly release definite business plans.

The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points.

Release confusing, incorrect or contradictory reports to the media. Your competitors will not know what you are planning to do, and they will not be able to prepare accordingly.

All [business] is based on deception…when able to [release a new product], we must seem unable; when using [much energy], we must seem inactive…If your [competitor] is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

3.3 Understand the motivation of your allies

We cannot enter into alliance with [other companies] until we are acquainted with their designs.

3.4 Attack your competitor’s reputation

Donald Krause, author of The Art of War for Executives, says “…personal attacks are frequently used in business situations when more logical methods might fail. The person using the personal attack tactic is usually the one operating from the weaker position. Personal attacks are particularly effective in environments where performance is subordinated to personality. … I have found that Sun Tzu’s description of the ideal circumstances for a personal attack, as I interpreted the fire attack section, work excellently in real life.”

3.5 Poach customers and employees

Poaching a highly trained senior employee from one of your competitors is equivalent to training twenty of your own. Some of your juniors will leave you, some will prove useless, and some will be unsuccessful for other reasons. You will need to train ten juniors in order to create one senior employee; your competitor must do the same.

…a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one’s own store…Because twenty cartloads will be consumed in the process of transporting one cartload to the front.

Sun Tzu on organising your business affairs (part 2)

PART 2 considers the principles developed by Sun Tzu on organising your business affairs, and follows on from part one which looked at qualities of successful leaders,

I have summarised Sun Tzu’s principles into four simple categories:

  1. Qualities of a successful leader;
  2. Oranising your business affairs;
  3. Dealing with rivals; and
  4. Strategies for effective leadership.

2. Organising your business affairs

2.1 Management must be independent of owners

If you are the CEO of a company, you must not take directions from the owner or shareholders in how to run the day to day affairs of the company.

If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the [owner] forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the [owner]’s bidding.

2.2 Make preparations

You must constantly plan, prepare and train your employees. If you do not, you will not be in a good position to take advantage of the next exciting business opportunity.

…the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.

He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the [competitor] unprepared.

2.3 Make no mistakes

Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering [a competitor] that is already defeated.

2.4 Prioritise tasks

Having limited capital and resources at his disposal, an experienced leader must prioritise tasks in order to achieve specific goals.

2.5 Choose your battles

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

2.6 Work swiftly in short bursts

The chief lesson is the paramount importance in business of rapid action and sudden rushes, “great results can thus be achieved with small forces.”

2.7 Adapt to the circumstances

In business, there are no constant conditions and you must adapt your strategies accordingly.

Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

2.8 Pay attention to changing market conditions

The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an ambuscade. “When birds that are flying along in a straight line suddenly shoot upwards, it means that soldiers are in ambush at the spot beneath.

2.9 Adapt your strategy to the size of your organisation

You must adapt your business strategy to the size of the company and its competitors. For example, a large company may be suited to producing commodities; a small company may be better suited to producing highly specialised differentiated products.

He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

2.10 Seize opportunities

Look for gaps in the market.

You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.

Always be ready to seize the next big opportunity, especially when you are facing business difficulties.

If…in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.

Those who want to make sure of succeeding in their battles and assaults must seize the favourable moments… [w]hat they must not do, and what will prove fatal, is to sit still and simply hold on to the advantages they have got.

2.11 Avoid threats

If you can establish a business that has a natural monopoly, high barriers to entry or some other competitive advantage, this will greatly reduce the competition. For example, eBay has a natural monopoly in the online auction market. Buyers and sellers are naturally drawn to eBay because so many other people already use the site. This makes it easier for sellers to find a buyer and easier for buyers to find a product that takes their fancy.

You can ensure the safety of your defence if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.

2.12 Obey the rules until the decisive moment arrives

Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle [then] [d]iscard hard and fast rules. Victory is the only thing that matters, and this cannot be achieved by adhering to conventional cannons.

Sun Tzu on the art of leadership – qualities of a successful leader

Background to The Art of War

SUN TZU wrote The Art of War in approximately 490BC in the Kingdom of Wu, China, and became a general for the King of Wu in 512 BC. For the next 39 years his precepts were followed and the Kingdom of Wu was victorious. And then, they forgot … the armies of Wu were defeated and the Kingdom made extinct.

In 1782, The Art of War was first translated into French by a Jesuit, Father Amiot. There is a legend that it was Napoleon’s key to success and his secret weapon and the first English translation was produced by P.F. Calthrop in 1905.

In reading The Art of War I have tried to think about how Sun Tzu’s military principles provide a timeless guide to modern business leadership.

Dr. Foo Check Teck, Asia’s foremost expert on Sun Tzu, says, “I found many more CEO’s and entrepreneurs, especially those who had to compete at the edge, are unconsciously applying Sun Tzu’s ping-fa (Law of Soldiering).”

The essence of business, like war, is to pursue goals and achieve success (Dr. Raymond Yeh). Success, or even your proximity to success, can make you a target to those who oppose that success, however they might choose to fight you. That is why understanding Sun Tzu’s Art of War can prove advantageous to just about anyone (Robert L. Cantrell, consultant and author of Understanding Sun Tzu on the Art of War).

I have summarised Sun Tzu’s principles into four simple categories:

  1. Qualities of a successful leader;
  2. Oranising your business affairs;
  3. Dealing with rivals; and
  4. Strategies for effective leadership.

If you’re interested in The Art of War and want to read more, check out both and Wikipedia.

1. Qualities of a successful leader

1.1 Discipline

A leader must be disciplined. Having discipline includes maintaining the hierarchy within the organisation; clearly defining the specific roles and responsibilities of members of management; maintaining systems to ensure delivery of services by suppliers and payment from customers; and controlling expenditure.

I fully believe he was a good soldier, but I had him beheaded because he acted without orders.

1.2 Presence of mind

Presence of mind is the ability to stay calm and act sensibly in a crisis. This is a leader’s most important asset.

1.3 Self respect

If you do not respect yourself, your men will not respect you. If your men do not respect you, they will be unresponsive to orders and will delight in undermining your authority and reputation.

1.4 Wisdom, sincerity and good faith

If your decisions are well thought out and you act honestly, your men will trust you. If you are trusted, people will speak their mind freely and openly, which means business problems can be solved more quickly and effectively.

1.5 Prompt decision making

In a competitive business environment time is always of the essence. As such, a successful leader needs to make quick decisions.

…though we have heard of stupid haste in [business], cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.