Archive for February 2011

Libya – a temporary distraction for the West in the Middle East

February 28, 2011

Sky News TV is leading a brilliant expose of Colonel Ghaddafi’s reign of torture. The UN has rushed to declare wide-ranging sanctions. Obama is appalled.

But where have these hordes of self-righteous protesters been until now? It is only a few months ago that CNN and Human Rights Watch were praising the regime in Tripoli.  In January 2003, Libya was elected to head the UN body on human rights and nobody muttered a word. The world was too busy condemning Israel, defending itself from Palestinian homicide bombers.

Back at Sky, they have issued an easy-to-understand map of the Middle East, explaining why so many people are revolting. No mention of the Palestinian territories. The economy in Gaza is clearly on the up, which ironically is damaging Hamas’s financial stranglehold. With amazing irony, the tourism industry in the West Bank has benefitted by the Egyptian turmoil.

So where is the West going to focus its attention next week? Well, actually if you look beyond the headlines, they are desperately trying to get back to the Palestinian Issue. Apparently, this is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, a unique spin designed to help decision makers ignore torture and riots in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Iran, and Yemen………to name but a few. 

Tony Blair has arrived in Jerusalem to help prepare for the next round of Quartet meetings and pressure Israel. Obama needs to balance helping Israel recently at the UN. According to a report in the Israeli newspaper, Yediot, the British Foreign Minister is considering recognising the state of Palestine, even if this is in direct contradiction to the commitment of both parties not to take unilateral one-sided measures.

But here’s that all misses the point.

Mohammad Bouazizi didn’t set himself on fire in December, thereby triggering Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, to express solidarity with Palestinians. Instead, his suicide was a direct response to the economic and social strictures in his own country…..The conventional wisdom that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the mother of all problems in the region has now been exposed as nothing but a myth.

What gets me is that all the efforts of the West are based on the support of moderate regimes like Egypt and Oman and Jordan, which are supposed to help convince Israel that they will ensure that no Arab country will attack it again, once Palestinian land has been given up. But these governments no longer exist or have had to back track.

Be it Hague or Blair or Ashton or Obama or Clinton, can we believe that the word “oops” – with a large O – is in their vocabulary? Or does the Libya fiasco merely provide another distraction to learn how the Middle East really works?

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I hate preparing power point presentations

February 25, 2011

“Help! I have no idea how to make a presentation.”

As a mentor, you hear it all the time: What should I say? Can I read from my slides? What if they don’t like my ideas? I am no good at fancy graphics? I think my printer is on the blink!

Any excuse, which will prevent the petrified presenter from going out and doing the one thing they are good at – telling the potential audience just why they have a cracking idea that deserves a chance! Ironic.

There is no shortage of advice on the web. Have a look at “5 tips for a great presentation“. In a nutshell, it is all about telling a concise and enticing story. And like everything else in life, in order to do it well, you have to practice, repeatedly.

Simple, no?

I used to be part of the frightened crowd. Then, about 15 years ago, I saw my boss at the time give a talk on a subject about which he knew nothing, but I was well-informed. While he missed out key points, but the audience found it fascinating. And I had to ask myself what made him such a hit.

He had stuck to his theme, had some clear slides, and spoke fluently – at least as if he knew what he was talking about. Simple? Yes.

This week, I had the good fortune to attend a seminar in Tel Aviv, cohosted by Profeel. This is a new outfit, which has brought together a group of business mentors from different backgrounds. (I declare that I am one of them). There was guest talk from “Debate Company“, which has a track record in helping executives deliver their message.

The discussion revolved around the importance of counter-intuitive messages and how to project them. It is not just good enough to talk to your audience. You need to be convincing. But how?

The short video on Debate’s website provides an interesting check list:

  • Be brief
  • Share your experience and knowledge
  • Think how your presentation will help lead the audience to the outcome you want
  • Look for impact

I invite to view the other short clips, probably the most practical offering I have yet seen on the subject.

And here’s a well-known secret. In order to deliver a good presentation may take a heck of a lot of preparation, but we are all capable of getting it right.

From boom to bust in 2011?

February 21, 2011

A 7.8% growth rate certainly sounds like an impressive figure, and something to smile about….However anyone who analyses all the components of growth in the economy, must reach the conclusion that we are on the way to something far from happy, and that there is more than one reason for any finance minister to express concern, rather than boast of a situation that recalls economies that have recently gone swiftly from boom to bust. The picture that emerges from the growth figures released today is not one of a healthy economy, but the picture of Spain in 2007.

Thus wrote Avi Temkin a few days ago, one of Israel’s leading economic commentators. And with some degree of ironic timing, Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, is commencing today a state visit of Madrid.

Temkin may have a point. Factor in world food prices on the up and up. And instability in the Arab world is almost certainly going to see a rise in oil prices, which will have negative economic implications globally. However wonderful the statistics, the reality may be otherwise.

But Israel is not alone in facing an uncertain future.

The US stock market has doubled, but so what? As somebody commented:

The reason is money printing, period. Essentially what is happening right now is the Fed is printing money and its being handed out to people to spend and buy assets. That has propped up asset prices. When the money printing ends, what is left are horrible fundamentals of a US economy with a decent probability of collapse.

If these analysts are accurate, it will not just be Israel that is in a pickle. If America were to sneeze, just imagine what kind of cold Europe would catch, with Britain and others still feeling fragile after the credit crunch. 

By the end of this week, we will know if the Bank of Israel will raise interests rates sharply. This will be one of the first signs of central authorities beginning to act in order to prevent an all-too-familar mess.

Business risk – financial or emotional equation?

February 19, 2011

It has happened to me a few times over the past year. In one situation or another, I have placed an opportunity before a company, where they have been encouraged to spend a relatively small amount of money in order to ramp up sales or secure an investment. Eventually, the CEO has ducked out, often claiming that they could not see the added value.

On face value, that is fair enough. Putting it bluntly, the CEO asks: If I put in $1, will I get $2 back reasonably quickly and painlessly?

Today, risk models are all over the place. The Financial Times newspaper is sponsoring a series of events on the subject. Software is around in quantity for the small or large enterprise to help with the decision-making.

However, there is another element at play in these thought processes – the emotional layer. I have frequently written how some people are too afraid to make a decision. I have discussed the “what if” scenarios that get in the way of making a clearly defined decision. So many of us are expecting the worse for no logical reason.

A similar factor is a burning desire not “to let people down”. How many managers are so caught up and pegged down with former scenarios, where they perceive that they have failed others. Whether they have judged correctly or not what did actually happen, that perspective is hindering how they should proceed currently.

It seems that leaders who “pay attention to how others influence their emotional states” are also the ones who reject unnecessary risk, yet know when is the right time to accelerate beyond commonly accepted boundaries. We find these leaders are able to take responsibility for grim situations, and are willing to risk their status and comfort in order to stand behind bold, new ideas that will keep their companies flourishing.

With hindsight, could I have handled my potential clients differently? Maybe. On the other hand, I cannot research all the external influences in advance.

In parallel, for all their bravado as CEOs or senior management, it is interesting how relatively few people in business make a decision without understanding that their thought process is not always based on commercial factors alone. And this ignorance or lack of control is costing a lot of people a lot of money.

Israel’s economy – going well, but for who?

February 18, 2011

In the past year, Israel’s economy has managed to defy both the global economic crisis and the worsening security situation, posting an annualized 4.4 percent growth in the last quarter…

Impressive. Now here’s, something even more amazing. That quote comes from Newsweek, almost exactly one year ago, in early March 2010. As for the economy at the end of 2010 itself, note the similarity in the description.

Israel’s GDP rose at an unprecedented pace of 7.8%,on an annualized, seasonally adjusted basis, in the fourth quarter of 2010, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported today. GDP rose by an annualized 5.4% in the second half of last year, after rising 5% in the first half, and 3.4% in the second half of 2009.

Direct investments continue. Kaltura, a developer of open source online video platform, has just secured US$20 million. The government is ploughing around US$100 million into incubator companies. Everything is coming up roses …but there again, maybe not quite.

At the beginning of the week, Bibi Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, was forced to make a series of tax concessions. Petrol, water, transportation will all come down in price. So far, the budget framework, which was passed only recently, has not been too disjointed. But it is clear that the government will have to make cut backs in order to finance the tax changes.

However, it is a mute point if the threat of strike in the public sector will force more concessions from the politicians over the coming month. Talks with the Histadrut, the trades unions, are not progressing smoothly.

And this pressure group has a point. The price rises hit the lower and middle classes. Tax  comparisons continue to show how the latter in particular are being squeezed on all sides.

And that is not all. Let’s start with something simple like inflation. The official stats point to price stability, well within the limit set by the Treasury of under 3%. However, given the rise of oil prices, commodity prices in general and poor crop growing weather, prices are on the move upwards.

These factors will only encourage the wonderfully cautious Stanley Fischer,  governor of the Bank of Israel, to raise interest rates. Correct he may be, but this will impact negatively on future economic growth. More squeezing of the weaker sectors.

Where next? Growth will probably continue, but not necessarily at the same pace. Will the politicians care? The fear is that they will bury their heads and gloat about wonderful economic stats.

Arab unrest: The shoe thrower’s index and Israel

February 17, 2011

The Economist magazine has made great efforts to predict which Arab country might be the next to fall after Egypt. Syria? An emirate?

More intriguing is the “Shoe Thrower’s index, which aims to predict where the scent of jasmine may spread next.” Simply using factors such as youth ratios, unemployment and corruption, the Economist has attempted to which autocracy could go next, assuming that the bug spreads.

It is interesting how Egypt, Libya and Yemen figured at the top. There again, Tunisia is placed in the middle, close to Jordan, another potential time bomb, and Bahrain below that. So, the index makes for a cute exercise, but it is not complete.

Marxists and co are having a field day. Do the violent street protests signify a return of proletarian revolutions, with the proverbial spark spreading virally via facebook? A man burns himself in a backwater town in Tunisia and within a month, billions of petrodollars become meaningless, as leaders in Iran, Bahrain and Algeria hurry to learn the art of damage limitation. 

So where are the protests from the Palestinians? Without claiming that Israel is the perfect country – who is? – it is all very quiet inside the Ramallah/Gaza axis. True, Abu Mazen’s cabinet reshuffle is seen as a defensive response rather than a move from strength. And the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights issued a statement on 6th February:

concerned by the restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly by Palestinian security agencies, which have banned peaceful protests by Palestinian citizens in solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt.  On 2/2/2011, the Palestinian police banned a peaceful protest which was organized in the city of Ramallah and arrested a number of journalists and participants for a short period of time.

In Gaza, it is possible that the situation is still too raw for change. “The new wealthy class — many associated with Hamas — as well as established capital owners are concerned about keeping their money inside Gaza, preferring to move it abroad….even to Israel”

As for the Jewish State, the Netanyahu government has backed down on some price rises. There may be a general strike in two weeks. But there are no mass demos, coloured by riot police. Why?

Dr Robert Brookes is leading blogger in the field of psychology. With amazing irony, his latest monthly posting is titled “we all want out voices to be heard“. He concludes that: –

Self-determination and autonomy are basic needs that exist throughout our lives, …… Intrinsic motivation and democratic ideals flourish when environments encourage and support one’s voice being heard. In all of our institutions, whether in schools or in various organizations or businesses, those in leadership positions must ask if all members truly believe their opinion is respected and that they are afforded a certain level of choice and autonomy. This kind of respect does not imply a loss of authority on the part of leadership, but rather the cultivation of a climate in which leadership will be honored for validating the input and voices of others.

For all its faults, and despite of a very real existential threat for all of its modern history, Israel has a free press, freedom of worship and a secret vote for all. The country is at the heart of the industrial revolution in telecommunications, with over 50 companies at this week’s World Mobile Congress in Barcelona. Open source tech and apps are everywhere, near impossible to block. 

I know that many, possibly even most, of these demonstrators in the Arab World do not like Israel. But for all their hatred, are they telling their leaders that they are actually envious of the way the Holy Land is ruled? Israel is a democracy.

And maybe there is another message here for world leaders. They have often thrown shoes at Israel, claiming that Jerusalem’s intransigence on the Palestinian issue is the core of instability in the Middle East. The Economist’s index is telling you that it is time for a review of your mindset.

Innovation – new rules for entrepreneurs

February 11, 2011

“The rules of the game have been rewritten” exclaimed Luke Johnson in the Financial Times.

The world of business has changed dramatically since the 1980s, and the rules of the game have been radically rewritten……An important factor has been the all-pervading influence of the internet. ……Various consequences flow from this digital revolution that affect the very nature of a business. It means you can test an idea quickly and cheaply and, if the trial does not work, you can reinvent it or just shut it down.

24 hours after reading this, I found myself mentoring a very talented young lady, who intends to take her hightech company global within 24 months. When I say talented, she has had a great career to date in the arts. As for her firm, despite a struggling website, they have generated some initial income.

This lady is very serious. She has already started and sold a couple of small (non hightech) enterprises. Like Master Zuckerberg, and she is only a few years older than him, she has hit on a simple idea. And it seems that nobody is in that space, yet. 

What is she lacking? A little bit of initial guidance and a small amount of financial backing to support site design and promotion. Initiative and determination, what you are not taught at Harvard Business School, are in no short supply.

Luke Johnson referred to Mark Zuckerberg, as an example of somebody, who “can create a 500m-strong community with Facebook – employing just 1,000 staff. Facebook is also an example of how investors are willing – in certain circumstances – to back projects that have minimal revenue, following a belief that a lucrative business model will emerge in due course, as it did with Google.”

I often set homework, and this time I pronounced a two hour assignment. I told her to watch the film, Social Network.