The Friday Smile …. la sonrisa del vierners 310812

Hola amigos y amigas,

Life is good in Spain – England – Spain – England _ ….. you get the picture. Some hectic traveling, some fascinating work and some good old fashioned “jolling” thrown in as well.

The UK has been great this last month with some passable weather especially compared to the rest of “Summer” (I use the term loosely) and with all the excitement of the Olympics. Everyone over there (I am now here (Madrid)) seems to have got firmly behind the games and Team GB; and one cannot not be affected by the energy and animation. The fact that we (note my return to being British) won a ton of medals, put on some good ceremonies and organised the whole thing pretty well has left the population continuing to wear Union Jack hats and wave flags.

Last weekend saw my friend Kevin Gleeson visiting Madrid for the weekend. Plenty of eating and drinking and, (don’t tell his friends or family), a bull-fight as well. I think he left beginning to understand why Madrlienians are called “gatos” (cats) – because they stay out all night. It was great to catch up and show him around a little, even if he did look a little tired on the second night after an early dinner (10pm)!

Birthday season here and my eldest (Devon) just turned 18 – can you believe it and about Phototo start his matric exams (and hopefully start studying too!

And Marc turning 15 tomorrow – also incredible. Young men now, no longer boys!

As usual it has been good to spend some time with the ever-kind Andy and Maria and Stephie- although not sure how long they can put up with a semi-permanent lodger without putting a star rating outside the door. Vivi (the gorgeous one) is also well and putting up with my frequent flyer lifestyle with limited complaining; and I am hoping she does not get too used to it!

And now, she and I are about to hop on a train for Galicia and start our Camino de Santiago de Compostela, which is a pilgrimage made by thousands every year to the town of Santiago de Compostels (there’s a surprise) where the remains of St James are said to have been taken. It is one of the 3 most famous Christian pilgrimages in the world (others being Rome and Jerusalem). ( ).

There are plenty of different reasons for doing it … some do it for spiritual reasons, some do it for the walk in the country, others as a vacation, …. whatever. I believe it is an incredible experience and many come back reporting significant changes in their lives through getting in touch with themselves, their purpose, their God, their direction …. For me, it will be a chance to unhook from the world (including email, phone and news), spend quality time with Vivi, enjoy the journey, seek some answers, and re-set my life compass a little if necessary as I try and clear the smog between my soul and my maker. Whoops, that may sound a bit profound, onto the more mundane….
Backpacks still to be packed and last minute closing up of work responsibilities mean this is going to be a really short Smile. Starting now.

Have a great couple of weeks everybody and enjoy the beginning of Spring/Autumn  in whichever hemisphere you may find yourself. For my English friends, the changing of the seasons are more dates than weather patterns – so for you: enjoy the heros’s of the Paralympìcs!

No real jokes today as I am short of time to source them (double next time, I promise), but I thought I would leave you with an interesting article which is going to go with me on the Camino:

“I think therefore I am not”.

And next Smile I will sound less like the monk that had his Ferrari stolen and more like Simon again!!!!

Abrazos a todos,



Billionaires and biology

A number of blogs, ideas and headlines have come together to write this article stimulated by some thoughts around “biomimicry”  (creating solutions designed by nature), a topic that has been around for a while but is now being taken more seriously by business thought-leaders.

The first article came from a blog called The Nature of Business and was titled: “Super organisations – learning from nature’s networks” which applies aspects of complexity theory, particular the analysis of networks, to the state of the economy and business today. That sounds like a tough read, but it is surprisingly easy-going and a fascinating article showing how nature organises itself and how there are lessons for business.

That led me to a second article about risk and resilience from a web-site called “Business Inspired by Nature”. It shows how natures uses 3 strategies for building resilience: decentralisation, redundancy and diversity. This is really important. Genesis, along with one of our partner organisations: Consileo (specialists in building resilience through insight and foresight), are convinced that with the increasingly uncertain environment, resilience must be one of the prime requirements for all organisations. The increased possibility of unexpected exogenous shocks, together with coping strategies that are unlikely to be based on past experiences, demands that organisations must build in resilience and the ability to act at the front-line independently and spontaneously. It is clear that nature can provide us with lessons and metaphors that could help us to survive and thrive in these environments.

You are probably wondering where the “billionaires” (from the title) comes into this thinking. That came from a recent Forbes article in August putting Amancia Ortega ahead of Warren Buffet on the billionaires list and in third place overall. To me, Amancia’a organisation Inditex (owner of Zara and other brands), is a great example of a company that (perhaps deliberately or perhaps intuitively) uses nature-type strategies in their own strategies. A detailed description of the Inditex strategy would lengthen this article too much (and it  is easy to Google it), but they manage their entire business more as an ecosystem than a traditional business with boundaries. Built-in flexibility and speed to react are key survival mechanisms that provide its competitive advantage. Latest results of 12% profit increases and 10% revenue, the third consecutive year of growth in an impossibly-tough economic climate, combined with an increase in head-count demonstrates that their strategy is working.

The quality of decision making within an organisation is key to its success, survival or failure. I believe the three resilience building mechanisms adopted by nature hold lessons for how we make decisions in our business to build our own resilience:

  • Decentralisation (performing a function or responding to a disturbance in many distributed locations throughout an organism or system
    rather than in a single or centralized location).
    For example: encourage decentralised decision-making so decisions are made where they are best-informed and which can result in rapid response
  • Redundancy (performing a function or responding to a disturbance in more than
    one way.
    For example: when forced to decide what to do about a specific challenge (such as shrinking revenues), consider a number of different alternatives and allow those options to be explored and applied differently in different areas (locations, divisions, units).
  • Diversity (constantly seeking new and different ways of performing functions or responding to disturbances.)
    For example: find different ways of reacting to challenges and ensure that your decisions are are not based on “how we did it before” heuristics.

How might you go about putting this thinking into practice? It really will require some time and courage. Time to move out of fire-fighting operational mode and give yourself and your team some time to consider your current position and levels of resilience. Courage to move from tried and tested responses and explore some more innovative actions that may help you move from survival-thinking to a thriving-mentality.

Genesis Management Consulting would be delighted to facilitate a workshop with you and your selected team (not necessarily your Executive Committee!) to investigate these options.

For further reading:
Superorganisations – learning from natures networks.
Risk and resilience: how can I protect my organisation from future risk

And a new book that I have not yet started, but comes highly recommended by my colleagues:

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back




Information Overload and Decision Making

John Payne, a Professor at Duke Institute for Brain Science and gave an excellent TEDPhoto of John W. Payne talk around information overload and decision making. At the bottom of the page is a link to the 10 minute video (where there is a transcript as well).

As a quick summary, the Professor states that the problem we tend to face in decision making is not scarcity of information (in fact to the contrary we often have information overload). He claims the main challenge is scarcity of attention.
(My view is that the word “attention” may be a little narrow and covers a number of items (some or all of which may be present) such as time availability, ability to understand or process the information provided and capacity to make trade-offs.)

He uses a good example of information overload in decision making in talking about the 4 medical plans offered to him at the University – each of which had 33 different features such as additional costs for care and ambulance services. A second more common example is simply trying to select a mobile phone provider and plan – the options are dizzying and often hard to compare.

The most common results of this excess information are:

  • Decision avoidance or procrastination
  • Selection of the default (for instance staying with what you have always done before or maintaining the status quo)
  • Reverting to simple heuristics and using less information or using it in a less complex way (for instance: is it acceptable or not).

Human beings have survived on heuristic-based decisions for millennia and often they result in very good decisions – but not always. Sometimes they can lead us to focus on some pieces of information and ignore others. What will make us focus on a specific piece of information may be based on our values, but may also be based on the context in which we are making the choice – which includes the way in which the information (or decision selection)  is presented.

John provides a number of ways of dealing with this. Firstly, the providers of the information should aim for “cognitive fluency” – basically how well the information is presented visually; as well as “emotional fluency” which is how well you are able to interpret the information. Lack of cognitive fluency may lead to the data being ignored and lack of emotional fluency may lead to incorrect processing of that information.

A second (and to me more important) piece of advice is that one should try and get in touch with your values and objectives in taking the decision before one even starts examining the information provided. This aids in making “value-based decisions”. And in a world crowded with info, this becomes increasingly more important.

He gives a simple example in the video using 3 cards (gold, silver and bronze) and writing prioritised objectives on each of them. He also demonstrates good use of visual information in the video by referring to a display notice detailing how environmentally friendly is a certain car.

One area John briefly touches on, but is worth considering in more detail, is “choice architecture” that is how the decision is put across, including what is the default. There are many examples of where a very simple change in choice architecture may have a dramatic effect on the results. One example of is this architecture is in how people are asked if they wish to donate organs. A simple default opt-in to the programme (requiring a conscious opt-out action) has been shown to have significantly better results than the opposite (default opt-out). Thalers book “Nudge” also gives many examples of this. Obviously ethics and values can become important considerations here – but that is the topic of another publication.

This work is of particular importance to us at the moment as we are currently undertaking work in the UK where we are assisting local government in implementing “choice” policies for vulnerable adults who receive support from the State. The idea that too much choice may not be good, seems to have been ignored by the Department of Health – especially considering that many of these people have less mental and/or emotional capacity than the general population. The second area where it may be important in this work will be in helping these Local Authorities in constructing decision architecture around the choices.

If you still have time, enjoy the video – you will find it at the link below.

John Payne on TED

The science around decision making, managing information overload, and complexity and choice architecture is important in many aspects of our personal and business lives. At Genesis we do not claim to have all the answers, but we are able to help you think through the issues and consider how to find optimal solutions to the challenge.