It’s funny how words suddenly become part of the business vernacular. One can’t help but plan for ‘going forward’. There always seem to be a whole ‘raft’ of changes. And one of my favourites ‘oh I think that’s drawing a long bow’.
The phrase is akin to the ‘old conspiracy theory’ quote; that is once laid down it’s meant to be the end of the conversation. But if we think about the long bow, it gives the arrow its greatest trajectory so I’m always interested to test ‘long bow thinking’ to see whether the mind expands in conjunction with the bowstring.
One such long bow thought is: are there any lessons from what’s happening in the Middle East for our business environment in Australia and perhaps more pertinently for us here at CTC?
I think it’s fair to say that without the aid of the ABC (read BBC) and SBS it would be mighty difficult to keep abreast of what’s happening across the Arab World; the pace of change being so fast.
Fundamentally the Arab Spring gave vigour to democratic movements, the populace, to either sweep aside tired and tyrannical regimes or replace them with something …err, well different or to get the ruling party, monarchy to ameliorate their policies with more citizen involvement.
It’s easy to be dismissive of this in the West. With centuries now of democracy behind us we can often sit in judgement of countries whose fledgling democracies haven’t produced the lush cropping that the early green shoots of spring optimistically suggested and thereby consider them naïve.
The fact is that the feudal system that is so engrained in many Arab countries will take generations to change (a bit like change management programs in large companies…think Telstra). The feudal system in itself had some populist and democratising elements. It is not uncommon in many Middle Eastern countries for example for you to be able to visit your local ruler or one of their high-up Princes and ask for an issue to be addressed. Can you recall the last time you were able to queue for Buckingham Palace or Yarralumla to see the Queen or Governor General to air your grievances?
We need to understand the complexity to understand the reality that the rapid pace of change will not be easily digested.
Take Egypt for example. Those who know the region well were never convinced by the wave of street protests that allowed for free and fair elections. The Egyptian military have always been the ‘power behind the throne’ and only allowed Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood to accede to power because they considered it too dangerous to put themselves as rulers in the first instance.
Using the tide of popular support to unseat Morsi, they now feel justified in coming forth and guess whose name has arisen? Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who when you look at it at first glance is indistinguishable from Hosni Mubarak who was deposed just three years ago in February 2011.
The sense of déjà vu for many ordinary Egyptians must be huge. Egyptian friends of mine have long warned me that there was a bigger play beneath the uprising in Tahrir Square and that the complex business interests that intertwine the Egyptian army would never be put in jeopardy. Their theory was that Mubarak was allowed to be unseated because he was directing business to his family that was previously the preserve of the Armed forces. Who is to say as the region is the home of conspiracy theorists?
Elsewhere the picture is complicated by the sectarian rivalry between Sunni and Shia (read as Saudi Arabia v Iran. Iraq has a blend of both being so close to both countries but has more Shia than Sunni). The conflict in Syria can be seen through this lens and the real shame and concern has to be the dragging in of the beautiful country that is Lebanon which has tried so hard to overcome its bloody civil war past.
So this is where the long bow comes in. What can the Construction Training Centre learn from all of this?
Well on the face of it we are world’s away, but scratch beneath that veneer and you can see that there are lessons to be learned from unforeseen consequences. Businesses must always think through new initiatives to see what might be the perverse incentives or unforseen before embarking on such ventures. In the same way as the unseating of Mubarak has now strengthened the military’s grip on Egypt through ‘people power’, so too poorly thought through ideas can have similar far-reaching consequences in the business world.
CTC is about to embark on its Hot Leasing initiative which is new and leading edge and is a prime example of the new managerial concept of collaborative consumption. Basically it is about providing businesses with the opportunity to lower, or remove altogether, the barriers to entry for certain types of training.
The previous imposts of high capital costs and long operating leases meant that only the really committed and those with the financial wherewithal could contemplate a business in this field. CTC now makes it possible for a much greater number of new entrants. CTC’s rationale is that new entrants will generate greater competition and thereby stimulate improved service offerings. In fact the earlier reference to Telstra is a case that illustrates this point. But we must remain cautious and not assume that some hidden hand of the market and competition will deliver up what we wish to see. A more rigorous decision-making process has been needed.
Such new initiatives require a great deal of zeal to get up and running and everyone needs to be ‘on the same page’ (eeek another one of those business jargon phrases). The problem here is that momentum can often mean that some considerations get overlooked. A small bump in the road is sometimes indistinguishable at speed.
CTC has certainly been driving the Hot Leasing concept along with a great deal of vigour. But what about any unforeseen consequences?
What about the concept of the Arab Spring where you get what you wanted but not what you wished for?
In management speak we call it Group Think where everyone lowers their collective guard safe in the knowledge that if it goes wrong the apportionment of blame is highly diluted anyway. There’s more than one pitfall to avoid. There are eight primary biases in individual and group thinking that may interfere with good decision-making.
1) Anchoring – where an initial estimate about the cost or implications of a project/concept becomes the overriding belief and it can anchor or distort any subsequent attitude, even where the refined information may make the proposition less favourable;
2) Escalating Commitment – This is the sunk cost approach. We have put so much time/effort/money in we have to pursue this;
3) Perpetuating the status quo – Avoiding a decision by just maintaining what you are already doing. We ‘know the knowns’ approach. Only problem is someone else may see value in the unknowns before we do;
4) Over-Confidence – Where a culture of good news only exists (a lesson learnt from the Space Shuttle disaster). If you are over confident about what will happen you are bound to be disappointed;
5) Optimism – making decisions based on delusional optimism rather than a rationale weighing up of the facts. Perhaps why many a toll-roads around the world fail. Everyone wants the project to be viable, it’s just the public won’t use it;
6) Confirming Evidence – Faced with an abundance of data, a particular prevailing viewpoint is reinforced by the data that is selected on a self-fulfilling basis. Perhaps why so many consultants doing toll road feasibility studies get it wrong?
7) Framing – Manipulating the context in which a decision is presented to show information in a certain light (see 5 and 6 above);
8) False Consensus – Talkers (those with more invested emotionally) overcome thinkers and the quiet ones go along for the ride.
In such cases one can appreciate the importance of ethical decision-making where identification of each decision-making ‘blind spot’ is made and consideration given to the possible bias that might be embedded. Perhaps those in Tharir Square were blinded by the smell of Jasmine such that they overlooked some consequences that they hadn’t first thought of. Once there and without a plan they were out-flanked by those with less noble intention.
The question arises then as to how to avoid some of the decision pitfalls? How do you identify the unforeseen which by their very nature are …well….unable to be see?
One good way is to deploy De Bono’s Thinking Hats (See De Bono) Basically he advocates putting each concept to full glare scrutiny all at the same time, with each decision maker wearing the same hat as the others. Each hat has a different colour and is designed to explore a different aspect.
The Black Hat is the devil’s advocate. Everyone is encouraged, when wearing the black hat, to throw rocks at the idea and arising from this should be a compendium of reasons why not to do something.
Each of the colours provides an avenue for exploring the possible consequences and gives the best chance to put a name to the ‘unknowns’. Using creative thinking, the unforeseen or perverse incentives can be identified. To know them is to name them and then have strategies to prevent or ameliorate.
So when Hot Leasing gets up and running, CTC will do its utmost to address the list of possible negative consequences that might arise should things not go as planned. An inkling of what to do in this case gives you the greatest potential to head them off at the pass. Who would have thought that such parallels exist between the Jasmine Revolution and our very own Hot Leasing? There are lessons to be learned from history; there are lessons to be learned from the world around us right now.