Archive for October 2011

Decision paralysis – can you see the light?

October 21, 2011

On page 34 of their book, “Made to Stick” Chip and Dan Heath refer to the problem of  “decision paralysis”. We all know that we have to prioritise matters, but sometimes we just become bogged down.

Why? Because quite often we cannot sort out what is important to us. We become confused by irrrelevant details.

Whether the Heaths talk about “core messages” or what I often refer to as a “clear vision”, so many people seem to lose their persepctive when confronted by meaningless details.

I see this so often in mentoring. A client will give me a detailed analysis of why they cannot progress or what’s bothering them. I simply ask “so what?” Initially dumbfounded, they often begin to realise that they have raised a lot of issues that have no bearing on what they are trying to do.

One client was confused, trying to sift all the contrary advice they had received about the domestic market. What to do next? Simple – keep to your vision and plan your iitnerary overseas. Nobody had told you not to do that.

Somebody else was concerned if they should launch a marketing campaign directed at multiple potential clients. What if this, that and the other was to go wrong? “So what?” You will not receive the blessing and support of everyone, but you need more than one new client. Just go for them all.

In one of its very first stories, the Bible gives us an example of this false decision making. As pointed out by Rabbi Ari Kahn is his new book, Echoes of Eden, the serpent confuses Eve with warped details. It was not just the increased power that the animal allured to. There was a “lust for beauty and experience”,  beyond what her husband could offer. 

In reality, these factors were never on offer. However, Eve’s judgement had been clouded. She lost perspective. nd the only experince she gained was the punishment of child bearing.

What do we learn from these seemingly unrelated anecdotes and stories? Clarity – the ability to see the light is so important in life. Otherwise, we end up making a lot of very silly decisions.

What can social protests achieve – Israel as a case study.

October 17, 2011
Consumer brands have bombarded our subconscious – and won
Thus summarises the Financial Times newspaper in a discussion on a timely new book, Brandstorming, by Martin Lindstrom.
 
In many ways, this is what the Wall St protests are all about. With disturbing similarities to the social exhaustion caused by the 1929 financial collapse, and the Great Depression, people around the world are fed up combatting a double whammy: the continued perceived domination by big business and the empty rhetoric of their leaders.
 
If the protests remain in the social sphere – ie, do not spill over in to something more sinister – can they realise their targets? During the summer of 2011, Israeli consumers proved what can be achieved through non-violent mass action.
 
It all started with a nondescript posting on Facebook. Why Facebook? One reason is because Israel’s democracy is based on PR and thus has no constituencies. Politicians in Jerusalem do not have to listen to their voters.
 
In fact, members of Israel’s ruling elite have been “sidetracked” by two parallel issues. First, there is the persistent existential issue – Iranian nuclear threat, a dissolving peace treaty with Egypt, Hamas, et al. And, there has been a need to protect Israel’s economic achievements of recent years. For all the anger, the country will register growth of nearly 5% in 2011.
 
From June to August, the streets of most major cities in Israel were home to a wide array of protests, “tent towns”, musical artists performing for social change and more. In a country of 7.8m people, it can be estimated that over 1m made their voices known. And the result?
 
1) Last week, the inflation index showed a drop of 0.2%, partially caused by the fall in the prices of many staple products. The prime sellers of milk and canned products have all rushed to reduce prices, partially prompted by the calls for boycotts by large consumer groups. Similarly, newspapers have run stories, comparing prices of brand-for-brand products between America, Europe and in Israel. The reading makes you feel a fool, if you happen to be living in Tel Aviv.
 
As a side bar, Globes published a critique of Unilever Israel and its so-called price cuts. The newspaper found large evidence that the changes were illusionary in the main, possibly reflecting some of the conclusions of Martin Lindstrom.
 
2) The Israeli housing market has not been seriously perturbed by a global credit crisis. Prices continue to rise. To that end, the Trajtenberg committee has proposed a serious of measures, which will ensure that there will be a greater volume of cheaper housing available for young married couples. The governor of the Bank of Israel has added his voice of approval.
 
And what is this committee? Led by the chief economic advisor of the Prime Minister, it was set up to provide answers to the questions and demands posed by those same demonstrators.
 
3) It is a matter of debate (for now) if Trajtenberg has gone far enough. But it is definitely a start. The professor went further. He is providing an avenue to shift resources to different social groups in the economy.
 
That is not only to say that the budget of the defence sector will no longer be seen as a sacred cow. “Economic powerbrokers” – those who own mobile companies, finance houses and who knows what else through webs of shareholding arrangements – will have to sell off some of their assets.
 
It is too early to predict how the protests in America or wherever will turnout. Will they be beaten by the wintry weather of the East Coast or encouraged further by politicians seeking fuel for the election campaigns.
 
Either way, so far, they have been wrapped in strong overtones of racism and antisemitism. By comparison, the student leaders in the Holy Land had gone out of their way to seek support in minority communities, be they Muslim, Druse or ultra orthodox Jews. 
 
And maybe that last point is the clue to what is really going on around Wall Street and how events could eventuate. Is it (just) the economy, stupid?

What you don’t know about Jerusalem

October 14, 2011

Google “Jerusalem” and you will emerge with billions of references to biblical issues or the latest updated geopolitical drama.

Now think again: Remember that it is a city can boast over 5,000 years of history. It has to be full of charm and interest that has to reach beyond the standard issues that interact with ordinary travel guides or editors of global media giant, often simply looking for instant copy.

How do I know this? Well let’s start with some boring stats for proof. In September 2011, a record number of people visited Israel, around a quarter of a million people. Most of them visited Jerusalem. Surely, they were looking for more than a few explanations about Crusaders or the Wailing Wall?

What is special about Jerusalem? Because it is the centre of three mega religions? Because it is just 45 minutes drive from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth and considered by many as one of the wonders of the world? Because a walk on its roof tops offers a most surprising multicultural experience? Because……

Maybe. Here’s my take.

Earlier this week, my family hired some quads and left the city westwards through the Jerusalem forest. Within seconds, we had put behind us the hustle of the Middle East and emerged into a “time warp of tranquility”.

All those cute lines about getting out into nature, birds chirping, wild animals around you – suddenly became a reality. Who would have suspected this, just kilometers away from the Old City, one the central issues in the Middle East conflict? It was fun, exhilarating.

The authorities are obviously trying to protect the area. New trees are visible. Picnic spots are clearly designated and clean. Walking and biking paths were well-marked. And kudos to the team at Jerusalem ATV Tours for a great ride.

My point? Jerusalem is more than just a city of hot political and religious news. A melting pot of around three-quarters of a million people, it hosts a deep inner beauty that needs to be seen to be understood and treasured and protected from the ignorant.

World economic gloom and Middle East anomalies 2

October 10, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I wondered why if G8 economies are plunging into a debt-driven recession, they are handing over US$80 billion dollars to Libya, the world’s sixth largest oil producer. Non comprende on my part.

Yesterday, I learnt of another Eastern absurdity that is fooling Western politicians.

The European Parliament (EP) budget committee proposed to increase financial aid to the Palestinians by €100 million in 2012.

Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong in giving to the Palestinians per se. The ec onomy of the West Bank may have picked up. A lovely new mall has opened in Gaza. But the economic base is still very limited.

That said, the question is whether in a time of severe economic instability, foreign monies – extra cash at that – is to be handed out to a grouping, which has a poor record in abiding by the principles of accountability and transparency?

ITEM 1: For years, the Funding for Peace Coalition (FPC) provided an excellent job, monitoring European transfers to Palestinian organisations. The report card for Brussels was so poor that the EU was not even able to publish its own investigation into the issue.

It is nearly a decade since Nigel Roberts, the previous World Bank’s top official in the region, described global financial support for Palestinians as “the highest per capita aid transfer in the history of foreign aid anywhere”. And still the questions remain. Where has it gone to? What has it achieved?

ITEM 2: Numerous UK-based investigative groups over the past few years have posed similar questions to the FPC. The Daily Express newspaper was forced to post the headline: “How 100m of your cash goes to fund terror.” A year later, The Taxpayers Alliance pressure group similarly wondered why aid is distributed without reasonable scrutiny. And I have seen similar articles in Germany, Australia, et al.

ITEM 3: NGO Monitor is an academic group, based in Jerusalem. Over the past decade, it has forced several governments to reconsider their funding efforts of teams, supposedly advocating peaceful change on behalf of Palestinians. In fact, on many occasions, a more deceitful agenda has been hidden from the national Treasuries concerned.

One excellent example is the Dutch government. Over the past 18 months, it has realised the need either to downgraded or to eliminate support for NGOs that have effectively encouraged a policy of incitement against Israel, while purportedly focusing on bettering the lives of ordinary Palestinian citizens. 

And so on.

All of the above have no small share of their critiques. They are despised as right-wing with a narrow – even Zionist – agenda. Even if all this was true or partially true – and in many cases that is inaccurate – , “so what“?

Public taxpayers money is being distributed without due regard. That is unacceptable!

These are not empty words. Just google the phrase “Palestinians + corruption”, and see what you end up with. Abbas, Arafat, Arafat’s family – the list is endless of top people associated with creaming off money. And as Palestinian tax revenues are weak, most of those funds must have come from………… Deja vu!

Will the next load of European dosh support the peace process? “Tawfik Tirawi, former commander of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Force in the West Bank, has said (last week) that Fatah has not abandoned the armed struggle option against Israel.” Can this threat be interpreted as a case of ‘give me the money or I start blowing up the peace process’?

What next? I quote a very simple line of thought from Laima Andrikiene, MEP and vice chairperson of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights:

It was about time the European Parliament showed some common sense and demonstrated that it can base its policy with countries beyond the EU on clear-cut strategy and reason.

When a business coach takes on “the analyser”

October 9, 2011

All mentors have listened to the scenario several times.

The client delivers a detailed and accurate analysis of their own commercial situation. The issues are exhaustively listed at great length. And, usually with a sense of triumph, they eventually finish their final sentence with a smile.

A smile? As if to say: “you see, I do know what I am talking about”.

What can the coach do? The facts cannot be disputed. The client is a very capable person. The delivery has been well thought out. All is fine…until the mentor remembers that the company is leaking money. Or that sales targets are not being met. Or the staff are revolting. Or…, well whatever it is, the client has got it very wrong.

I was once on the receiving end of all of this. Asked to comment on an aspect of my life, I ended up writing a very long report. I verified the contents with family members. I excitedly delivered my results. Then, to my surprise, I found myself mumbling: “so what?”

And that’s the point. “So what?”

Analyses are great if they deliver a solution. If not, they are effectively covering up the problem. They can be more dangerous than useless in the long run.

Only last week, I ended up on two separate occasions listening to very erudite people. And each time, within a few seconds, I guessed that the “sw” phrase would be my reaction. Bingo!

Actually, I felt a touch guilty. Because I am effectively popping their balloon of hope. True, because that balloon is filled with hot air, and very little else.

The clients have since returned to earth with a very nasty bump, but they are now better prepared to restart their commercial journey. As for the analyses, like all good things of taste, they need to be used in moderation, only.

Crisis management, mentoring and a sad case study

October 3, 2011

The Israeli government is revamping its mentoring programme. As one of the referees from the Ministry of Industry said to me last week: “Where we need to improve is in our planning and management skills”.

No doubt about that. The question is if the Israeli public sector capable of following the advice it offers to others?

Tomorrow morning, Tuesday 4th October, 730 specialist doctors located in hospitals around the country are about to quit. Yup – simply walk out of their jobs. Now, before you scream “How could they? What about the oath, etc”, I caution you. These are not lazy or greedy people.

One of them was interviewed on television last night. When he downs tools, it will be after completing yet another 24 hour plus shift.

Typically, these are people in the 30s and 40s. They are fully qualified, and have often taken on extra army service along the way. Their average basic wage is around 29 shekel per hour (almost US$8). By comparison, my teenage kids earn around 24 shekels waitering in part time jobs. 

The whole country knows the situation. Medical unions have been demanding changes for years. My father was unexpectedly hospitalised earlier this year – it was hours before he was seen by a doc in the ward.

So let’s assume I was appointed mentor to the Prime Minister, with a specific emphasis on health issues. What questions would I ask?

  • Why have you failed to appoint a full Minister of Health, but only a deputy minister? Are coalition affairs more important than the lives of 7.8 million citizens?
  • Why is this deputy minister rarely seen in public or in newspaper interviews? What is he hiding?
  • With all your advisers and your own experience, why have you let this situation develop? What could you be doing better?
  • Are you not able to see how desperate are hundreds of medical experts that they are prepared to abandon a system for which they have trained years to enter and to better?
  • And if you cannot negotiate with doctors, who are the core of the middle class and a positive influence on society, what does it say about your ability to “deal” with Israel’s enemies? 

Meanwhile, as the two sides play out the final hours of bluff in the national media and in courts of arbitration, the Israeli government continues to boast of managing a falling budget deficit. Great, but….,

And here is my final question, can good fiscal policy simply be measured in financial stats? Is not the Prime Minister responsible for the lives of his country?