A short break

The Comparative Advantage blog is taking a short break due to personal reasons. I will be back shortly with more posts trying to change the way people manage people.

Thank you for following and reading.


Language matters!

Photo by viZZZual.com


A few weeks back I wrote a post about the language we use in management. Describing a post in HBR.org giving advice to leaders and managers I complained:

Just look at the language. I, the little employee, need you, the big boss, to take control. I cannot excite myself. I need you, my liege, to get me excited. I want you, my monarch, to impress me and set me up to win. You are on top. I am in the bottom waiting for your holiness to give me some autonomy.

Really? Are you serious? Has it turned 1900 and I haven’t noticed? Or maybe more like the 1200?

Language and words matter. They affect our thinking and more importantly our behavior. I was thinking about this issue while reading Tom Peters’ blog post about helping. He describes Edgar Schein’s new book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help and some of the principles described in it. This is one of them:

PRINCIPLE 2: Effective Help Occurs When the Helping Relationship Is Perceived to Be Equitable.

In the comments to that post, you find a comment by Schein himself explaining what this principle means:

The reason a helping relationship has to be equitable is that all relationships work best when each party feels he or she is getting something out of it, not necessarily the same thing.

Peters is fond of saying, and I have taken after him, that one of the most important roles of managers is to help employees, or take hurdles out of their way (or as he calls it: Boss as CHRO—Chief Hurdle Removal Officer – see #125 here). I think Schein’s perspective completes that. It is not just help, it is equitable help. It is help that comes out of partnership and not out of hierarchy and control.

Language matters.


I want to have a conversation with all of you


For a number of days I have been thinking about how to introduce one of my new projects to the readers of this blog.

I think there is no better way to do that than this TED talk by Clay Shirky. The talk deals with issues I write about a lot in this blog, but from a different prescriptive (connectivity, transparency, autonomy, letting go the mechanisms of control and stopping with rules) and more then everything explain the essence of what this blog is about – a conversation with all of you.

Watch it. It will be worth your 16 minutes.

As effective is this blog may be, I found myself yearning to spread my thoughts in other mediums. Changethis is one of these mediums. Thus, I have a Changethis proposal up for a vote on their website. At the end of this post you will find the proposal. If you would like to see it written, please take a minute and cast your vote right here. Thank you.

Breaking time – Going after the Conventional Wisdoms

A few hundred years ago the world was flat. Everybody knew that. Trying to dispute that could result in being hung. It was the Conventional Wisdom. And it didn’t change for hundreds of years.

The field of management is a prominent victim of Conventional Wisdoms. Living in the 21st century, almost a century after Frederick Winslow Taylor wrote The Principles of Scientific Management, our understanding of the subtleties of managing has changed considerably. However, the average manager still conducts herself according to Taylor’s principles. It is our modern day Conventional Wisdom.

Isn’t it time we stop believing the world of management is flat? There is so much evidence out there to teach us that some Conventional Wisdoms are just wrong, but we continue to embrace rigid and unyielding ideologies. Isn’t it time we start breaking some of these Conventional Wisdoms? It’s breaking time!


Best posts on The Comparative Advantage for 2009 (and a little more)

Photo by Optical Illusion

The best posts of 2009 (and the end of 2008)

This has been quite a year. A year and a quarter passed since I started writing this blog. My first post was on October 1st, 2008. However, because I did not do a “best of 2008” list, I will include the last quarter of 2008  in this post. In the last few days I have been going trough all my posts (more than 170 of them) ranking them, indexing them and choosing the best ones. So, here is the list of my 25 favorite blog posts for 2008-2009:

General thoughts (see more posts on this subject here):

Passion, Creativity and Personal Development (see more posts on this subject here):

Managing people:

Teamwork (see more posts on this subject here):

Communication/communicating with employees and teammates (see more posts on this subject here):

Feedback, Recognition, Noticing and Motivation (see more posts on this subject here):

Presentation & PowerPoint (see more posts on this subject here):

Business, Strategy and Decision making (see more posts on this subject here):

Marketing & Customer service (see more posts on this subject here):

Constant improvement

As I was going through all my posts during the last few days I was amazed to realize how much I learned, grew and improved. Actually, reading some of the earlier posts made me cringe, due to the style, the bad use of grammar and spelling mistakes (I left the original first post, just as a reminder of how badly I used to write). I guess i will continue to make mistakes, but less and less over time (one has to be optimistic).

However, I also saw my improvement over time. How my writing got better. How I started to focus. How I started writing things that  actually matter and I even dare say, are groundbreaking. I have been experiencing a growing readership to this blog all through the last year and the upward trends is continuing. I want to thank each and everyone of you for taking the time to read, comment, tweet or e-mail me about the blog. There is no greater reward than the interaction with you and than being recommended by you. Thank you.

Three new additions to the blog:

1. My Philosophy page – this page represents some of the pillars of my thinking. Issues and concepts I constantly write about and deal with. I guess it will be updated from time to time, but I feel confident enough with this list to publish it and use it as a symbol to what The Comparative Advantage Blog is all about.

2. About page – If you would check out the about page, you will see I updated it (as I try to do that from time to time). However, one update, is especially important to me. An addition of one sentence explaining what I am trying to do with this blog: I am trying to change the way people manage people, one post at a time.

3. Index – The blog has tags and categories, but I have been looking for a way to make it more approachable and to create better lists according to the subjects I am writing about. I am still currently playing with it, but I am going to use the BagTheWeb website to create an index of the web site. This is the link to the main Bag, and in the above best posts  list, you will find links to lists of posts on every subject.

Happy New Year!

Lessons from conductors – musings about modern managers

Modern managers deal with a challenge. Mangers have to manage people who know more than they do. In the past, the manager was someone who did the job and was promoted to the management role. That meant that he usually had superior professional knowledge and could teach his employees how to practice the profession.

In many of today’s jobs, that is not the case anymore. Specialization and specific knowledge are commonplace and even if a manager knows about a specific profession, the speed in which profession change and evolve do not allow managers to keep this advantage for long. That is why managers need to learn how to manage people who are more proficient in doing their job then they are. And there are many professions from which mangers can learn how to do that. The profession of a conductor is one of them.

A conductor manages an orchestra to do a task. Create music. He knows and understands music. Perhaps he can play a few instruments. But he cannot do what the musicians in his orchestra are doing. I doubt that every conductor can play every instrument in the orchestra. And like a modern manager, even if he did, he could not do complete the task, the music, alone. He has to rely on his team. He has to facilitate the creation of music.

That is why I think the above TED talk by Itay Talgam is so insightful to modern mangers. By giving examples from famous conductors, Talgam exposes us to different method of management for modern team. As usual, I don’t want to ruin the entire talk for you, as it is a magnificent talk. I just want to point out a few messages I especially liked:

If you are a manger and you wake up every day depressed to go to work you should know something is wrong. If you don’t find joy in working with people, in trying to help them excel, then you are probably in the wrong role. The joy in management is found in enabling others to feel the joy of work all the time. How can you enable them to feel joy? Help them find flow; help them use their strengths a higher percentage of the day. Help them develop personally.  

A manger leads his team, not by control or authority, but by being there a 100% of the time, full in awareness and with a passion to help and enable learning and development. It does not mean that authority is not useful. When it is needed authority is there and should be used, but it is not enough to make the members of your team into partners.

And making your employees your partners is what modern management is all about. The task could not be completed alone. It is a shared journey. Many people today are not satisfied with getting their wages and doing what they are told. People spend a high percentage of their day at work and they want to enjoy it. They want to feel that it is about them. That they are part of the story. And a manager has to remember that. It is not about the manager’s story; it is about the team’s story. The part of the manager is facilitating the building of a shared story for the team.

They way to create a shared story is not using your employees as instruments, but treating them as partners. And if you treat them as partners, the results will follow. It is more than making sure the job gets done. In order to get the job done, you can put processes in place. But a manager needs to think beyond getting the job done and beyond the process. A manager, as a facilitator, needs to create the conditions in which these processes take place. Conditions that lead to flow, joy and happiness.

Authority is not about telling people what to do either. The worst damage you can do is giving clear instructions because it prevents the communication inside the team and prevents the development of people. It means that there is a big chance the team will fail when you would not be there. And it is not about you, it is about your team. It is about completing the task together.


Setting your priorities straight


Photo by ➨ Redvers

When I was an instructor in the Israeli Air-force I used to give a workshop about time-management. The concept “time-management” is a little misleading. It gives us the illusion that time can actually be managed, when in fact, it can’t. Time is given. It will pass if we want it or not. And it will do it at the same pace it always did, no matter what will do. So, we need to manage our decisions given that time.

Every time I gave that workshop there was a least one person who would come up to me and tell me: “Look, I am swamped. I just have too many things to do and not enough time”. I always gave those people the same response: “You don’t have a time problem, you have a priorities problem”.

Because time-management is about choosing your priorities, being consistent with them over time and accepting that this process will inherently include some tradeoffs. There will be things you will not be able to do. But until you get your priorities straight you will face problems.

I like to take principals like the time-management-priorities one and see where I can apply them in other facets of life. Now, after almost completing two session of my MBA program, I think that I can confidently say that “getting your priorities straight” is the key concept that describes my learning this session. Because all the courses I studied this session, had this one concept in common. You have to make choices. And you have to be consistent about them. Or in other words, you have to set your priorities straight.

In finance you can see it in the choice between risks and returns. Do you want a higher risk or a higher possible return? What is the level of return are you seeking? You have to make a choice. And until you set your priorities, your goals, your preferences, be them as they may, you cannot make the right choice. And in order to deliver real value, you need to make consistent decisions over time.

Operations management – does my company need to cooperate with others in the supply chain or not? Do I need a pull or a push based production line? Is responsiveness or effectiveness more important? Well, it depends on your priorities. But whatever you do – you have to make sure, that all other parts of your organization and even you suppliers and buyers, are in tune with the same priorities and are consistent with the same decision.

How do you determine your IMC (integrated marketing communications)? Or how do you decide if you are going to concentrate on growth or retaining current customers? You guessed it – decide what your priorities are and make consistent decisions about them. And most importantly – as in time-management – you have to make choices that lead to tradeoffs that are inherent to the decision making process.

Finally strategy, the mother of all priory decision disciplines. To quote our strategy professor:

“Strategy is making choices… since you have limited resources, you cannot do everything (and expect to do them well)… that are genuine… ‘real choices’ that are ‘difficult’ and consistent. A ‘set of choices’ that different elements strengthen and reinforce each other”

And for me, all of this is the essence of another great idea I believe in. The idea of the comparative advantage. Because comparative advantage is not only about actual competition, but it is more about recognizing what is more important, where can I make the biggest contribution – to myself and to society – and going with it all the way. That is why I try, once in a while, to assess what my priorities are and what my comparative advantage is.

When is the last time you sat with yourself and asked your self – in a personal or professional setting – what are your priorities?


The service economy, kaizen, bear shaving and standards


Photo by Six Million Dollar Dan

I was studying for an exam in operations management today. I don’t know if this is commonplace for courses on this subject, but it sure feels like we concentrated a lot on manufacturing ideas. As most western states are becoming more service dependent, and as my own experience lies in more service like organizations, I am constantly trying to think about how to apply concepts from the manufacturing world to service world.

One of the most interesting concepts is we discussed is kaizen, the Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life. In the business sense, kaizen means continuous improvement of all functions of a business, from manufacturing to management and from the CEO to the assembly line workers. This concept is off course very transferable to service as it is to life. I actually think that without knowing the concept I wrote about something similar in my e-book. But, the fact that it is easy transferable, does not mean it is practiced. Hence, bear shaving.

One important part of kaizen is the concept of standardization. Because kaizen is about improvement, a lot of effort is dedicated into standardizing the improvement to keep it in place.  Because an improvement by itself will not contribute to kaizen unless in the end it can be maintained when the people directly involved leave. Moreover what can be continually improved if there are no strong standards for how things are carried out? Without standardised work kaizen becomes something practiced by the individual employee and not by the company as a whole.

And that got me thinking. I remember when I was a course leader in the Israeli Air-force. After every course we de-briefed the course and came up with all kinds of recommendations for improvement. The problem was we had trouble making sure that the instructors who will come after us will learn from our mistakes and implement our recommendations. Because some of the lessons we learned were about day to day activities, course planning or just small thoughts about how to make the course more effective. We wrote in a manual, but, if the people who come after us don’t read the manual, guess what happens. Because I later served as a reserve duty soldier in the same place, I saw in my own eyes, how lessons disappear and every generation of instructors have to learn things from the beginning or come up with ideas, that we already came up with five, six or seven years before.

In a service environment, the reliance on people is even greater than in a manufacturing environment. But creating standards for service is harder. However, harder does not mean impossible. It just means that you have to be more creative about the ways you change the process. In service environment it might even be a good idea to remind people about things they already know on a regular basis. And today, in contrast to my situation in the Israel Air-force more than ten years ago, you have technology to help you. After all, we do leave in a period of “combinatorial innovation“.

So, let’s try an invent ways to standardize service kaizen.