Att skippa frukosten kan leda till en eller flera riskfaktorer …

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt on July 24th, 2013 by admin

… som fetma, högt blodtryck och kolesterol samt diabetes, vilket i sin tur kan leda till en hjärtattack senare i livet”, säger doktor Leah E. Cahill vid Harvard School of Public Health i Boston.

Hon är ledare för den amerikanska studien som undersökt matvanor och hälsa hos nära 27.000 män i åldrarna 45-82 under 16 års tid. Det visade sig att de som struntade i att äta frukost löpte en 27 procent större risk att drabbas av hjärtattack eller dö i hjärt-kärlsjukdom än de som åt ett morgonmål. Det ska dock poängteras att detta är en liten riskökning.

Det visade sig också att de som inte åt frukost oftare rökte, rörde sig mindre och drack mer alkohol, enligt studien som publiceras i tidskriften Circulation. Dessutom tog de oftast inte igen det missade målet senare under dagen.
Forskarna ger uppmaningen att se till att äta frukost och då vara noga med att den innehåller en blandning av hälsosamma produkter.
“Att till exempel hälla nötter och frukt över en skål fullkornsgröt är ett toppensätt att börja morgonen på”, säger Cahill.

Källa: TT, 24 juli 2013

Direction and Support: It’s harder than you think!

Posted in Aktuellt, Leadership / Ledarskap on July 23rd, 2013 by admin

Providing direction is more than just issuing directives, says Ann Phillips, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

“Leaders often believe they are providing direction when they tell people to ‘Do this, and then do that, and be sure to get it done by this date,’ but that is only part of providing direction—and probably the lowest form of the behavior.”

The same is true when it comes to supportive behavior, says Phillips. “Managers feel as if they know what supportive behavior is and usually have their own ideas about what it looks like. But without instruction, most people default to behavior that consists mainly of encouragement.

“People are good at encouraging others with phrases such as, ‘You can do it. We’re glad you’re here. We believe in you. Use your best judgment.’ But they miss out on all of the other supportive behaviors that are just as important such as listening, sharing information, and facilitating self-directed problem solving.”

“So folks are good at telling people what to do and then cheerleading them on to accomplish the task. And that is the one-two, ‘I want you to do this, and I know you can handle it’ combination that most people are getting in terms of direction and support from their managers. On the surface this may seem reasonable, but it is a style that only works well for direct reports who are already accomplished at the task. For people who are new to a task or are running into problems or are unsure of themselves, it’s a style that actually hinders progress—and can be damaging to overall growth and development.”

As Phillips explains, “A delegating style works great if you’ve got someone who is a Self-Reliant Achiever on a task, but if the direct report is at any of the other stages of development—Enthusiastic Beginner, Disillusioned Learner, or Capable, but Cautious, Performer—you’re going to run into problems. Leaders have to provide the right levels of direction and support and it has to be more than ‘Here’s what I want you to do and I’m confident that you can handle it.’”

How to get started
For managers looking to increase their ability to offer direction and support for their people, Phillips has a couple of recommendations.
• Recognize your own default settings. A considerable 54% of managers use only one style when it comes to providing direction and support for their people—either Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating. Each of these styles is great if it is a match for what the direct report needs. Each is also a hindrance if it is the wrong style for the situation. What is your default style as a leader?
• Expand your repertoire of directive behaviors and your willingness and ability to use them. Become more skillful at goal setting and showing how. Learn about setting SMART goals—Specific and measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable—and have current goals in place for each of your direct reports. Provide direction on how to do a task. It’s not micromanaging if a person is a beginner and doesn’t have experience.
• Expand your repertoire of supportive behaviors and your willingness and ability to use them. Improve your listening skills and share information to facilitate self-directed problem solving. Listen with the intent to learn, to be influenced, and to understand—not just respond. Share information. People recognize that information is power, yet many managers still try to maintain control by keeping information to themselves even though it undermines employee development.

Start today
The amount of direction and support people receive from their manager impacts the efficiency and quality of their work. Without it, people are left to their own devices, have to fake it until they make it, and learn primarily through trial and error.

Eventually people get there—but it comes with a cost, says Phillips.
“It’s one of the toughest types of issues to address because on the surface everyone’s putting on a brave face and pretending that everything is okay. But if you scratch a little underneath you’ll see the level of dissatisfaction that’s costing organizations billions of dollars in untapped productivity, creativity, and innovation.”

“Managers have the ability to bring out so much more from their people. Find out where your people are at with their tasks. What do they need from you in terms of direction and support? Improve your skills in both of these areas and see what a difference it makes.”

Source: Kenblanchard.com, Ignite! Newsletter, July 2013 Article
Link
More information about Ken Blanchard companies here
Read more about Leadership and Leadership development here

Nya tider och nya kundförväntningar. Hänger ni med?

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt, Försäljning / Sales on July 19th, 2013 by admin

Jag talar ofta om hur snabbt kundernas preferenser, köpbeteenden och önskemål förändras. Och följdaktligen betydelsen av att hela tiden utveckla sitt budskap, sin kommunikation och sitt totala sätt att göra affärer med sina kunder. “Do or die!”

Ibland ber de företagsledningar jag arbetar med om konkreta exempel att använda i sitt interna förändringsarbete för att verkligen skapa en insikt internt om hur snabbt förutsättningarnas förändras. Hur ska man få sin organisation att verkligen förstå?

Här följer ett mycket konkret och bra exempel på hur en bransch som vi alla känner till utvecklas snabbare än någonsin vad gäller att kommunicera med sina kunder:

Matchning – håll dig anställningsbar

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt on July 18th, 2013 by admin

Att skaffa rätt kompetens för framtiden är en nyckelfråga för den enskilde som vill hålla sig anställningsbar – och för de företag som vill stå starka i konkurrens mot andra. Viktigt för båda är att det finns en tanke bakom kompetensbygget. Annars finns risk att hamna snett.

Matchning. Det stora modeordet som står för att nuvarande och potentiella medarbetare ska ha den utbildning och kompetens som arbetsgivaren efterfrågar. Begreppet cirkulerar oftare i diskussioner om hur utbildningssystemet ska möta företags behov, och mer sällan i samband med hur anställdas och arbetssökandes samlade kompetens matchar arbetsgivarnas önskan. Trots att skolutbildning inte är allt.

Kompetens står för förmågan att utföra en uppgift genom att tillämpa kunskaper och färdigheter. Grundläggande utbildning kan vara till hjälp, men erfarenhet under karriärens ofta krokiga väg är många gånger minst lika betydelsefullt. På samma sätt behöver kompetensutveckling inte vara detsamma som kurs eller utbildning. Det kan lika gärna vara att läsa en bok i hängmattan, anta nya arbetsuppgifter, samtala med kollegor eller delta i ett mentorskapsprogram.

Utbildning är en färskvara och måste kompletteras med erfarenheter och färdigheter under karriären. Det blir extra viktigt då mål och behov för medarbetare och arbetsgivare ändras, ofta med samma frekvens som träden byter lövverk. Dagens allt mer kunskapsintensiva samhälle med snabba teknikförändringar och global konkurrens ökar kravet på anpassningsbarhet och kontinuerlig kunskapsinhämtning både för individer och för företag.

Argumenten för att bygga kompetens är alltså många och har inte gått företag och individer förbi. Vi beställer fler kurser och utbildningsföretagen tillhör de snabbast växande tjänsteföretagen under den senaste tioårsperioden. Enligt branschorganisationen Sveriges auktoriserade utbildningsföretag (Sauf) omsätter sektorn drygt 14 miljarder kronor årligen (och då är grundskola, gymnasium, universitet och högskola borträknat, liksom den internutbildning som sker av egen personal på många företag).

Men för att få önskad effekt måste det finnas en tanke bakom. Det gäller både för enskilda personer och för stora organisationer.

Proffsen tipsar om att börja söka kompetensvägar inifrån dig själv. Ha dina egna mål och behov framför dig så är det lättare att utvecklas i rätt riktning. Om syftet är inställt på att öka anställningsbarheten är det bra att också ha nuvarande och potentiella arbetsgivares mål i sikte. Risken är annars att de som själva tar ansvar för sin utveckling väljer kurser utifrån kataloger som har lite gemensamt med vad arbetsgivare egentligen efterfrågar.

Att som företag utveckla genomtänkta metoder för kompetensförsörjning är extra viktigt i kampen om lönsamhet. Experter är överens om att bristfällig och slumpartad kompetensutvecklingen hämmar såväl tillväxt som innovation. Samtidigt är det betydelsefullt att bredda synen på kompetens när fler behöver arbeta längre.

Ur individens perspektiv är det viktigt att lärandet blir kontinuerligt och tas till vara. Inte minst för att det påverkar hur vi mår på jobbet. Enligt den senaste Wise Happiness-undersökningen med 5 017 deltagare är utveckling en av de viktigaste jobbrelaterade faktorerna för lycka.

Samma undersökning visar att personer över 50 år upplever att de har färre utvecklingsmöjligheter på jobbet än yngre. Livs- och arbetserfarenhet väger troligtvis upp, men med 15 år eller mer kvar i arbetslivet borde arbetsgivare vara mån om att hålla alla dörrar öppna för fortsatt lärande.

Idag går vi i snabbare takt in och ut ur roller och tjänster. Ska vi jobba längre än till 65-årsdagen är det troligt att fler kommer lägga en gammal karriärplan och tillhörande kompetens åt sidan för att börja på ett nytt spår.

Både näringslivet och arbetsmarknaden är ständigt föränderliga. För de arbetsgivare och anställda som inte redan gjort det, är det därför en bra idé att stanna upp och ställa sig frågor som: Vilken kompetens saknar jag nu, imorgon och om tre år – och hur kan jag på bästa sätt skaffa mig den? Förhoppningsvis matchar arbetsgivarens svar med de från nuvarande och potentiella medarbetare.

Källa: SvD.se
Författare: Emmylou Tuvhag
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Läs mer om hur 3S hjälper uppdragsgivare att kartlägga kompetens och kompetensbehov här

How to think like a leader

Posted in Aktuellt, Leadership / Ledarskap on July 16th, 2013 by admin

Too often, people who are promoted to their first leadership position miss the point. And that failure probably trips up careers more than any other reason.

Being a leader changes everything. Before you are a leader, success is all about you. It’s about your performance. Your contributions. It’s about raising your hand, getting called on, and delivering the right answer.

When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. It’s about making the people who work for you smarter, bigger, and bolder. Nothing you do anymore as an individual matters except how you nurture and support your team and help its members increase their self-confidence. Yes, you will get your share of attention from up above—but only inasmuch as your team wins. Put another way: Your success as a leader will come not from what you do but from the reflected glory of your team.

Now, that’s a big transition—and no question, it’s hard. Being a leader basically requires a whole new mindset. You’re no longer constantly thinking “How can I stand out?” but “How can I help my people do their jobs better?” Sometimes that requires undoing a couple of decades of momentum. After all, you probably spent your entire life, starting in grade school and continuing through your last job, as a contributor who excels at “raising your hand.” But the good news is that you’ve been promoted because someone above you believes you have the stuff to make the leap from star player to successful coach.

What does that leap actually involve? First and foremost, you need to actively mentor your people. Exude positive energy about life and the work that you are doing together, show optimism about the future, and care. Care passionately about each person’s progress. Give your people feedback—not just at yearend and midyear performance reviews but after meetings, presentations, or visits to clients. Make every significant event a teaching moment. Discuss what you like about what they are doing and ways that they can improve. Your energy will energize those around you.

And there’s no need for sugarcoating. Use total candor, which happens, incidentally, to be one of the defining characteristics of effective leaders.

Through it all, never forget—you’re a leader now. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about them.

Source: Linkedin.com, July 2013
Authors: Jack and Suzy Welch
About the authors here
Link

10 secrets to success

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt on July 9th, 2013 by admin

1. How You Think is Everything.
Always be positive. Think Success, not Failure. Beware of a negative environment.
This trait has to be one of the most important in the entire list. Your belief that you can accomplish your goals has to be unwavering. The moment you say to yourself “I can’t…”, then you won’t. I was always given the advice “never say I can’t” and I’d like to strike those words from the dictionary.
I’ve found that from time-to-time my attitude waivers. A mentor of mine once said “it’s ok to visit pity city, but you can’t stay and there comes a time when you need to leave”. Positive things happen to positive people.

2. Decide upon Your True Dreams and Goals.
Write down your specific goals and develop a plan to reach them.
Write down my dreams and goals? Develop a plan to reach them? You mean like a project plan? Yes, that’s exactly what this means. You may have heard the old adage: A New Years resolution that isn’t written down is just a dream, and dreams are not goals.
Goals are those concrete, measurable stepping stones of achievement that track your progress towards your dreams. My goal is to start a second career as a freelance writer – what are your goals?

3. Take Action. Goals are nothing without action.
Be like Nike and “Just do it”. I took action by reaching out and started writing. Every day I try to take some action towards my goals. It may be small, but it’s still an action. Have you taken action towards your goals?

4. Never Stop Learning.
Go back to school or read books. Get training & acquire skills.
Becoming a life long learner would benefit us all and is something we should instill in our kids. It’s funny that once you’re out of school you realize how enjoyable learning can be. What have you learned today?

5. Be Persistent and Work Hard.
Success is a marathon, not a sprint. Never give up.
I think every story of success I read entails long hard hours of work. There is no getting around this and there is no free lunch. But, if you’re working towards something that you’re passionate about, something you love – then is it really work?

6. Learn to Analyze Details.
Get all the facts, all the input. Learn from your mistakes.
I think you have to strike a balance between getting all the facts and making a decision with incomplete data – both are traits of successful people. Spend time gathering details, but don’t catch ‘analysis paralysis’.

7. Focus Your Time And Money.
Don’t let other people or things distract you.
Remain laser focused on your goals and surround yourself with positive people that believe in you. Don’t be distracted by the naysayer’s or tasks that are not helping you achieve your goals.

8. Don’t Be Afraid To Innovate.
Be different. Following the herd is a sure way to mediocrity.
Follow through on that break-out idea you have. Ask yourself “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”

9. Deal And Communicate With People Effectively.
No person is an island. Learn to understand and motivate others.
Successful people develop and nurture a network and they only do that by treating people openly, fairly and many times firmly. There is nothing wrong about being firm – just don’t cross the a-hole line. How do you deal with people?

10. Be Honest And Dependable.
Take responsibility, otherwise numbers 1 – 9 won’t matter.

How to reduce resistance to change

Posted in Aktuellt, Leadership / Ledarskap on July 9th, 2013 by admin

Resistance to change is a natural reaction when employees are asked, well, to change. Change is uncomfortable and requires new ways of thinking and doing. People have trouble developing a vision of what life will look like on the other side of a change. So, they tend to cling to the known rather than embrace the unknown.

Change produces anxiety and uncertainty. Employees may lose their sense of security. They may prefer the status quo. The range of reactions, when change is introduced, is immense and unpredictable. No employee is left unaffected in most changes. As a result, resistance to change often occurs when change is introduced.

Resistance to change is best viewed as a normal reaction. Even the most cooperative, supportive employees may experience resistance. So, don’t introduce change believing that you will experience nothing but resistance or that resistance will be severe. Instead, introduce change believing that your employees want to cooperate, make the best of each work situation, and that they will fully and enthusiastically support the changes as time goes by.

By your thinking and your approach, you can affect the degree to which resistance to change bogs the change down. You can reduce natural resistance to change by the actions you take and how you involve the employees who will be asked to change.

In a best case scenario, every employee has the opportunity to talk about, provide input to, and impact the change. Rationally, this depends on how big the change is and how many people the change will affect. In a company-wide change effort, for example, the employee input will likely be about how to implement the change at a departmental level, not about whether to make the change in the first place.

These recommendations are made for the millions of managers, supervisors, team leaders, and employees who are asked to change something – or everything – periodically at work. You may or may not have had input into the direction chosen by your executives or your organization. But, as the core doers at work, you are expected to make the changes and deal with any resistance to change that you may experience along the way. You can reduce employee resistance to change by taking these recommended actions.

Manage Resistance to Change

These tips will help you minimize, reduce, and make less painful, the resistance to change that you create as you introduce changes. This is not the definitive guide to managing resistance to change – but implementing these suggestions, will give you a head start.
• Own the changes.
No matter where the change originated – and change can show up at any point in your organization, even originating with you – you must own the change yourself. It’s your responsibility to implement the change. You can only do that effectively, if you step back, take a deep breath, and plan how you will implement the change with the people you influence in your organization.

• Get over it.
Okay, you’ve had the opportunity to tell senior managers what you think. You spoke loudly in the focus group. You presented your recommended direction with data and examples to the team. The powers that be or the team leader have chosen a different direction than the one you supported. It’s time for the change to move on. Once the decision is made, your agitating time is over. Whether you disagree or not, once the organization, the group, or the team decides to move on – you need to do everything in your power to make the selected direction succeed.

• No biased and fractional support allowed.
Even if you don’t support the direction, once the direction is the direction, you owe it 100% support. Wishy-washy or partial support is undermining the change effort. If you can’t buy into the fact that the chosen direction is where you are going, you can, at least, buy into the fact that it is critical that you support it. Once the direction is chosen, it is your job to make it work. Anything less is disrespectful, undermining, and destructive of the team decision.

• Recognize that resistance to change is minimized if you have created a trusting, employee-oriented, supportive work environment prior to the change.
If you are considered to be honest, and your employees trust you and feel loyal to you, employees are much more likely te get onboard for the change quickly. So, the efforts you have expended in building this type of relationship will serve you well during change. (They will serve you well at work, in general, but especially during times of stress and change.)

• Communicate the change.
You undoubtedly have reporting staff, departmental colleagues, and employees to whom you must communicate the change. How you communicate the change to the people you influence has the single most important impact on how much resistance to change will occur. If you wholeheartedly communicate the change, you will win the hearts and minds of the employees.

One of the key factors in reducing resistance to change is to implement change in an environment in which there is wide-spread belief that a change is needed. So, one of your first tasks in effective communication is to build the case for why the change was needed. (If the rationale was not communicated to you, and if you are not clear about it yourself, you will have difficulty convincing others, so consult with your manager, first.)

Specifically inform the employees about what your group can and cannot affect. Spend time discussing how to implement the change and make it work. Answer questions; honestly share your earlier reservations, but state that you are onboard and going to make the change work. Ask the employees to join you in that endeavor because only the team can make the change happen. Stress that you have knowledge, skills, and strengths that will help move the team forward, and so does each of the team members. All are critical.

• Help the employees identify what’s in it for them to make the change.
A good portion of the normal resistance to change disappears when employees are clear about the benefits the change brings to them as individuals. Benefits to the group, the department, and the organization should be stressed, too. But, nothing is more important to an individual employee than to know the positive impact on their own career or job.

Additionally, employees must feel that the time, energy, commitment, and focus necessary to implement the change are compensated equally by the benefits they will attain from making the change. Happier customers, increased sales, a pay raise, saved time and steps, positive notoriety, recognition from the boss, more effective, productive employees, and an exciting new role or project are examples of ways in which you can help employees feel compensated for the time, energy, focus, change, and challenge that any change requires.

• Listen deeply and empathetically to the employees.
You can expect that the employees will experience the same range of emotions, thoughts, agreement, and disagreement that you experienced when the change was introduced to you or when you participated in creating the change. Never minimize an employee’s response to even the most simple change. You can’t know or experience the impact from an individual employee’s point of view. Maybe the change seems insignificant to many employees, but the change will seriously impact another employee’s favorite task. Hearing the employees out and letting them express their point of view in a non-judgmental environment will reduce resistance to change.

• Empower employees to contribute.
Control of their own jobs is one of the five key factors in what employees want from work. So, too, this control aspect follows when you seek to minimize resistance to change. Give the employees control over any aspect of the change that they can manage. If you have communicated transparently, you have provided the direction, the rationale, the goals, and the parameters that have been set by your organization. Within that framework, your job is to empower the employees to make the change work. Practice effective delegation and set the critical path points at which you need feedback for the change effort – and get out of the way.

• Create an organization-wide feedback and improvement loop.
Do these steps mean that the change that was made is the right or optimal change? Not necessarily. You must maintain an open line of communication throughout your organization to make sure that feedback reaches the ears of th employees leading the charge. Changing course or details, continuous improvement, and tweaking is a natural, and expected, part of any organizational change. Most changes are not poured in concrete but there must be a willingness to examine the improvement (plan – do – study – act).

If you implement your change in an organizational environment that is employee-oriented, with transparent communication and a high level of trust, you have a huge advantage. But, even in the most supportive environment, you must understand and respond to the range of human emotions and responses that are elicited during times of intense change.

Source: About.com
Author: Susan M. Heatfield
Link
More information about the author here

Five routes to more innovative problem solving

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Team / Ledningsgruppsarbete, Leadership / Ledarskap on July 2nd, 2013 by admin

Tricky problems must be shaped before they can be solved. To start that process, and stimulate novel thinking, leaders should look through multiple lenses.

Rob McEwen had a problem. The chairman and chief executive officer of Canadian mining group Goldcorp knew that its Red Lake site could be a money-spinner—a mine nearby was thriving—but no one could figure out where to find high-grade ore. The terrain was inaccessible, operating costs were high, and the unionized staff had already gone on strike. In short, McEwen was lumbered with a gold mine that wasn’t a gold mine.

Then inspiration struck. Attending a conference about recent developments in IT, McEwen was smitten with the open-source revolution. Bucking fierce internal resistance, he created the Goldcorp Challenge: the company put Red Lake’s closely guarded topographic data online and offered $575,000 in prize money to anyone who could identify rich drill sites. To the astonishment of players in the mining sector, upward of 1,400 technical experts based in 50-plus countries took up the problem. The result? Two Australian teams, working together, found locations that have made Red Lake one of the world’s richest gold mines. “From a remote site, the winners were able to analyze a database and generate targets without ever visiting the property,” McEwen said. “It’s clear that this is part of the future.”1

McEwen intuitively understood the value of taking a number of different approaches simultaneously to solving difficult problems. A decade later, we find that this mind-set is ever more critical: business leaders are operating in an era when forces such as technological change and the historic rebalancing of global economic activity from developed to emerging markets have made the problems increasingly complex, the tempo faster, the markets more volatile, and the stakes higher. The number of variables at play can be enormous, and free-flowing information encourages competition, placing an ever-greater premium on developing innovative, unique solutions.

This article presents an approach for doing just that. How? By using what we call flexible objects for generating novel solutions, or flexons, which provide a way of shaping difficult problems to reveal innovative solutions that would otherwise remain hidden. This approach can be useful in a wide range of situations and at any level of analysis, from individuals to groups to organizations to industries. To be sure, this is not a silver bullet for solving any problem whatever. But it is a fresh mechanism for representing ambiguous, complex problems in a structured way to generate better and more innovative solutions.

The flexons approach
Finding innovative solutions is hard. Precedent and experience push us toward familiar ways of seeing things, which can be inadequate for the truly tough challenges that confront senior leaders. After all, if a problem can be solved before it escalates to the C-suite, it typically is. Yet we know that teams of smart people from different backgrounds are more likely to come up with fresh ideas more quickly than individuals or like-minded groups do.2 When a diverse range of experts—game theorists to economists to psychologists—interact, their approach to problems is different from those that individuals use. The solution space becomes broader, increasing the chance that a more innovative answer will be found.

Obviously, people do not always have think tanks of PhDs trained in various approaches at their disposal. Fortunately, generating diverse solutions to a problem does not require a diverse group of problem solvers. This is where flexons come into play. While traditional problem-solving frameworks address particular problems under particular conditions—creating a compensation system, for instance, or undertaking a value-chain analysis for a vertically integrated business—they have limited applicability. They are, if you like, specialized lenses. Flexons offer languages for shaping problems, and these languages can be adapted to a much broader array of challenges. In essence, flexons substitute for the wisdom and experience of a group of diverse, highly educated experts.

To accommodate the world of business problems, we have identified five flexons, or problem-solving languages. Derived from the social and natural sciences, they help users understand the behavior of individuals, teams, groups, firms, markets, institutions, and whole societies. We arrived at these five through a lengthy process of synthesizing both formal literatures and the private knowledge systems of experts, and trial and error on real problems informed our efforts. We don’t suggest that these five flexons are exhaustive—only that we have found them sufficient, in concert, to tackle very difficult problems. While serious mental work is required to tailor the flexons to a given situation, and each retains blind spots arising from its assumptions, multiple flexons can be applied to the same problem to generate richer insights and more innovative solutions.

Networks flexon
Imagine a map of all of the people you know, ranked by their influence over you. It would show close friends and vague acquaintances, colleagues at work and college roommates, people who could affect your career dramatically and people who have no bearing on it. All of them would be connected by relationships of trust, friendship, influence, and the probabilities that they will meet. Such a map is a network that can represent anything from groups of people to interacting product parts to traffic patterns within a city—and therefore can shape a whole range of business problems.

For example, certain physicians are opinion leaders who can influence colleagues about which drugs to prescribe. To reveal relationships among physicians and help identify those best able to influence drug usage, a pharmaceutical company launching a product could create a network map of doctors who have coauthored scientific articles. By targeting clusters of physicians who share the same ideas and (one presumes) have tight interactions, the company may improve its return on investments compared with what traditional mass-marketing approaches would achieve. The network flexon helps decompose a situation into a series of linked problems of prediction (how will ties evolve?) and optimization (how can we maximize the relational advantage of a given agent?) by presenting relationships among entities. These problems are not simple, to be sure.3 But they are well-defined and structured—a fundamental requirement of problem solving.

Evolutionary flexon
Evolutionary algorithms have won games of chess and solved huge optimization problems that overwhelm most computational resources. Their success rests on the power of generating diversity by introducing randomness and parallelization into the search procedure and quickly filtering out suboptimal solutions. Representing entities as populations of parents and offspring subject to variation, selection, and retention is useful in situations where businesses have limited control over a large number of important variables and only a limited ability to calculate the effects of changing them, whether they’re groups of people, products, project ideas, or technologies. Sometimes, you must make educated guesses, test, and learn. But even as you embrace randomness, you can harness it to produce better solutions to complex problems.

That’s because not all “guessing strategies” are created equal. We have crucial choices to make: generating more guesses (prototypes, ideas, or business models) or spending more time developing each guess or deciding which guesses will survive. Consider a consumer-packaged-goods company trying to determine if a new brand of toothpaste will be a hit or an expensive failure. Myriad variables—everything from consumer habits and behavior to income, geography, and the availability of clean water—interact in multiple ways. The evolutionary flexon may suggest a series of low-cost, small-scale experiments involving product variants pitched to a few well-chosen market segments (for instance, a handful of representative customers high in influence and skeptical about new ideas). With every turn of the evolutionary-selection crank, the company’s predictions will improve.

Decision-agent flexon
To the economic theorist, social behavior is the outcome of interactions among individuals, each of whom tries to select the best possible means of achieving his or her ends. The decision-agent flexon takes this basic logic to its limit by providing a way of representing teams, firms, and industries as a series of competitive and cooperative interactions among agents. The basic approach is to determine the right level of analysis—firms, say. Then you ascribe to them beliefs and motives consistent with what you know (and think they know), consider how their payoffs change through the actions of others, determine the combinations of strategies they might collectively use, and seek an equilibrium where no agent can unilaterally deviate from the strategy without becoming worse off.

Game theory is the classic example, but it’s worth noting that a decision-agent flexon can also incorporate systematic departures from rationality: impulsiveness, cognitive shortcuts such as stereotypes, and systematic biases. Taken as a whole, this flexon can describe all kinds of behavior, rational and otherwise, in one self-contained problem-solving language whose most basic variables comprise agents (individuals, groups, organizations) and their beliefs, payoffs, and strategies.

For instance, financial models to optimize the manufacturing footprint of a large industrial company would typically focus on relatively easily quantifiable variables such as plant capacity and input costs. To take a decision-agent approach, you assess the payoffs and likely strategies of multiple stakeholders—including customers, unions, and governments—in the event of plant closures. Adding the incentives, beliefs, and strategies of all stakeholders to the analysis allows the company to balance the trade-offs inherent in a difficult decision more effectively.

System-dynamics flexon
Assessing a decision’s cascading effects on complex businesses is often a challenge. Making the relations between variables of a system, along with the causes and effects of decisions, more explicit allows you to understand their likely impact over time. A system-dynamics lens shows the world in terms of flows and accumulations of money, matter (for example, raw materials and products), energy (electrical current, heat, radio-frequency waves, and so forth), or information. It sheds light on a complex system by helping you develop a map of the causal relationships among key variables, whether they are internal or external to a team, a company, or an industry; subjectively or objectively measurable; or instantaneous or delayed in their effects.

Consider the case of a deep-sea oil spill, for example. A source (the well) emits a large volume of crude oil through a sequence of pipes (which throttle the flow and can be represented as inductors) and intermediate-containment vessels (which accumulate the flow and can be modeled as capacitors). Eventually, the oil flows into a sink (which, in this case, is unfortunately the ocean). A pressure gradient drives the flow rate of oil from the well into the ocean. Even an approximate model immediately identifies ways to mitigate the spill’s effects short of capping the well. These efforts could include reducing the pressure gradient driving the flow of crude, decreasing the loss of oil along the pipe, increasing the capacity of the containment vessels, or increasing or decreasing the inductance of the flow lines. In this case, a loosely defined phenomenon such as an oil spill becomes a set of precisely posed problems addressable sequentially, with cumulative results.

Information-processing flexon
When someone performs long division in her head, a CEO makes a strategic decision by aggregating imperfect information from an executive team, or Google servers crunch Web-site data, information is being transformed intelligently. This final flexon provides a lens for viewing various parts of a business as information-processing tasks, similar to the way such tasks are parceled out among different computers. It focuses attention on what information is used, the cost of computation, and how efficiently the computational device solves certain kinds of problems. In an organization, that device is a collection of people, whose processes for deliberating and deciding are the most important explanatory variable of decision-making’s effectiveness.4

Consider the case of a private-equity firm seeking to manage risk. A retrospective analysis of decisions by its investment committee shows that past bets have been much riskier than its principals assumed. To understand why, the firm examines what information was transmitted to the committee and how decisions by individuals would probably have differed from those of the committee, given its standard operating procedures. Interviews and analysis show that the company has a bias toward riskier investments and that it stems from a near-unanimity rule applied by the committee: two dissenting members are enough to prevent an investment. The insistence on near-unanimity is counterproductive because it stifles debate: the committee’s members (only two of whom could kill any deal) are reluctant to speak first and be perceived as an “enemy” by the deal sponsor. And the more senior the sponsor, the more likely it is that risky deals will be approved. Raising the number of votes required to kill deals, while clearly counterintuitive, would stimulate a richer dialogue.

Putting flexons to work
We routinely use these five problem-solving lenses in workshops with executive teams and colleagues to analyze particularly ambiguous and complex challenges. Participants need only a basic familiarity with the different approaches to reframe problems and generate more innovative solutions. Here are two quite different examples of the kinds of insights that emerge from the use of several flexons, whose real power emerges in combination.

Reorganizing for innovation
A large biofuel manufacturer that wants to improve the productivity of its researchers can use flexons to illuminate the problem from very different angles.

Networks. It’s possible to view the problem as a need to design a better innovation network by mapping the researchers’ ties to one another through co-citation indices, counting the number of e-mails sent between researchers, and using a network survey to reveal the strength and density of interactions and collaborative ties. If coordinating different knowledge domains is important to a company’s innovation productivity, and the current network isn’t doing so effectively, the company may want to create an internal knowledge market in which financial and status rewards accrue to researchers who communicate their ideas to co-researchers. Or the company could encourage cross-pollination by setting up cross-discipline gatherings, information clearinghouses, or wiki-style problem-solving sites featuring rewards for solutions.

Evolution. By describing each lab as a self-contained population of ideas and techniques, a company can explore how frequently new ideas are generated and filtered and how stringent the selection process is. With this information, it can design interventions to generate more varied ideas and to change the selection mechanism. For instance, if a lot of research activity never seems to lead anywhere, the company might take steps to ensure that new ideas are presented more frequently to the business-development team, which can provide early feedback on their applicability.

Decision agents. We can examine in detail how well the interests of individual researchers and the organization are aligned. What financial and nonfinancial benefits accrue to individuals who initiate or terminate a search or continue a search that is already under way? What are the net benefits to the organization of starting, stopping, or continuing to search along a given trajectory? Search traps or failures may be either Type I (pursuing a development path unlikely to reach a profitable solution) or Type II (not pursuing a path likely to reach a profitable solution). To better understand the economics at play, it may be possible to use industry and internal data to multiply the probabilities of these errors by their costs. That economic understanding, in turn, permits a company to tailor incentives for individuals to minimize Type I errors (by motivating employees to reject apparent losers more quickly) or Type II errors (by motivating them to persist along paths of uncertain value slightly longer than they normally would).

Predicting the future
Now consider the case of a multinational telecommunications service provider that operates several major broadband, wireless, fixed, and mobile networks around the world, using a mix of technologies (such as 2G and 3G). It wants to develop a strategic outlook that takes into consideration shifting demographics, shifting technologies for connecting users with one another and with its core network (4G), and shifting alliances—to say nothing of rapidly evolving players from Apple to Qualcomm. This problem is complicated, with a range of variables and forces at work, and so broad that crafting a strategy with big blind spots is easy. Flexons can help.

Each view of the world described below provides valuable food for thought, including potential strategic scenarios, technology road maps, and possibilities for killer apps. More hard work is needed to synthesize the findings into a coherent worldview, but the different perspectives provided by flexons illuminate potential solutions that might otherwise be missed.

Decision agents. Viewing the problem in this way emphasizes the incentives for different industry players to embrace new technologies and service levels. By enumerating a range of plausible scenarios from the perspective of customers and competitors, the network service provider can establish baseline assessments of future pricing, volume levels, and investment returns.

Networks. This lens allows a company or its managers to look at the industry as a pattern of exchange relationships between paying customers and providers of services, equipment, chips, operating systems, and applications, and then to examine the properties of each exchange network. The analysis may reveal that not all innovations and new end-user technologies are equal: some provide an opportunity for differentiation at critical nodes in the network; others do not.

System dynamics. This flexon focuses attention on data-flow bottlenecks in applications ranging from e-mail and voice calls to video downloads, games, and social-networking interactions.5 The company can build a network-optimization map to predict and optimize capital expenditures for network equipment as a function of expected demand, information usage, and existing constraints. Because cost structures matter deeply to annuity businesses (such as those of service providers) facing demand fluctuations, the resulting analysis may radically affect which services a company believes it can and cannot offer in years to come.

Source: McKinsey.com, April 2013
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Authors: Olivier Leclerc and Mihnea Moldoveanu
About the authors: Olivier Leclerc is a principal in McKinsey’s Southern California office. Mihnea Moldoveanu is associate dean of the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, where he directs the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking.