Martin Weigel wrote an article titled Visionaries, Prophets, And Heroes: Facing the future Without Them (October 4, 2021).

The article cites Phil Rosenzweig, author of The Halo Effect and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers, Howard Marks, author of The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, Andy Nair, author of Go Luck Yourself: 40 Ways to Stack the Odds in Your Brand’s Favour, and many others.

« Collins and Porras authors of the bestselling book Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. To get to their recipe for success, Collins and Porras identified 200 leading companies then narrowed them down to include the best and most durable and successful. … But in truth their analysis tells us nothing. Other than we are suckers for good story. »

« during World War II, the statistician Abraham Wald was tasked with helping the Allies reduce the number of bombers lost to enemy anti-aircraft fire. … Wald’s achievement lay in the fact that unlike his superiors, he did not focus exclusively on the survivors. He avoided what we call ‘survivorship bias’ and instead found a way of seeing the bombers that did not make it back and the bullet holes that were missing. The lesson of this story of course is that focusing exclusively on survivors creates a very distorted reality. »

« no person, no organisation, no business functions in isolation from the environments and contexts they are located within. Any story of success is a story of a complex interaction of factors. Reducing that complexity to a single variable or a simple aphorism might make for good storytelling, but it is usually an exercise in nonsense. »

« We’re suckers for this stuff because as the author of Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan and Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Nassim Taleb has written, “We favour the visible, the embedded, the personal, the narrated, and the tangible”. In other words we love a good story. »

« This is not to deny the skill of successful people and businesses… But the idea of the entirely Self Made Person (or brand or business) is a toxic illusion and fiction. »

« When we recognise the role of chance and circumstance and context we fast realise how absurd it is for the successful to make claims of universal wisdom and lessons based on their experience and accomplishments. »

« psychologist Philip Tetlock: The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually had an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. As Dr Tetlock puts it: “Experts in demand are more overconfident in their forecasts and predictions than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.” »

« In fact not only should we be cautious around the pundits and prophets, but we should be dubious of all confident, sweeping predictions and prophecies of what life, marketing, the universe, and everything will look like in the decade(s) to come. Economies, companies, technologies, and societies are vast, complex nonlinear systems. And what those tidy predictions ignore is that their complexity and scale renders complete and accurate explanation (and thus prediction) impossible. Trying to understand the whole system by simply looking at a few of its individual parts teaches us little. As the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and founder of the Santa Fe Institute (“the world’s leading research center for complex systems science”) Murray Gell-Mann put it, “No gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behaviour of the whole”. In the face of that complexity says Michael Mauboussin Head of Consilient Research at Morgan Stanley “You can’t make predictions in any but the broadest and vaguest terms.” »

« The fact is that many (most?) self-styled marketing prophets aren’t really trying to predict the future at all. They’re trying to make it happen to their advantage… They don’t want you to be smarter. They’re using, as Heffernan puts it, “prophecy as a sales technique” to shape or accelerate a future they seek to dominate. »

« Situational awareness, knowledge of the knowable, starting where you are – they all point to the need to pay attention, and to see clearly. But the simplicity of this advice belies the discipline, rigour, and silencing of ego required to exercise this. »

« Navigation of any kind demands that we see. But it’s to see clearly when we’re living in a bubble. … And it’s hard to see clearly when we’re focused on the thing that we are making, rather than who we are making it for. It’s easy to lose perceptive. »

« Labels give the illusion of seeing and insight. But they are a substitute for doing any actual thinking for ourselves. »

« Helen Edwards … told the story of how Emirates Airlines came to create the footrest that we perhaps now take for granted. It was cabin staff – those in immediate, close, direct contact with the customer – who had noticed that passengers often used their luggage as an improvised footrest.

When the conversation around developing consumer understanding (‘insight’ if one really must) all too quickly descends into one about research methodologies, it’s a salutary reminder that there are many ways for organisations to open themselves to their surrounding environments and develop this proximity and intimacy of customer understanding. »

« The fact is that we need to be able to see at two focal lengths, as Richard Huntingdon has argued: At a deep focal length we are able to understand and identify the broadest themes of humanity, the eternal drivers of behaviour and the cultural tensions of the moment. Here we see the thinking and work that moves culture, and that resonates because of its universality… At a shallow focal length, we empathise with and relate to the most intimate of experiences. Personal stories and the details of individual lives that resonate through proximity and relevance…  For Huntingdon, the middle ground is the dead zone of cliche. The focal length of too much research. Of seeing without actually really seeing: We need to move far further away from our subjects so we can see and appreciate the vast sweep of humanity and able to mark the turning of culture. And at the same-time we need to get far closer to them, so we can press our noses against the glass of life, serving people as people, individual and idiosyncratic. »

« Homogenous groups that pay insufficient attention to minority views are vulnerable to biases, groupthink and over optimism. … a 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. »

« For if we are to see better we need to [be] creating organisational and workplace cultures that allow for dissent. »

«The necessity of puncturing conformity … It can give rise to so-called ‘social cascades’ in which social groups blindly pick up and mimic the behaviours of other groups without actually examining the information they themselves hold. And it can give rise to polarization in which our tendency towards conformity means group members end up exaggerating their in-going tendencies and taking an even more extreme position. Social influences then, according to Sunstein, “diminish the total level of information within any group, and they threaten, much of the time, to lead individuals and institutions in the wrong directions” »

« Nextflix: The decision was eventually reversed, but the realization that differences of opinion had not always been welcome at Netflix and thus not voiced resulted in a lasting shift in culture and process: That’s when we added a new element to our culture. We now say that it is unacceptable and unproductive when you disagree with an idea and do not express that disagreement. »

« Hiring for diversity of background, downgrading the obsession with hiring for cultural ‘fit’, encouraging a culture of experimentation and enquiry rather than dogma and ideology, and actively seeking out dissenting views would all go a long way to encouraging higher-quality conversations and better, more complete, more accurate ways of seeing. »

« Seeing clearly means asking better questions. Or asking the questions nobody’s thought of asking or dares to ask. »

« Ideology and dogma (what we in marketing call ‘best practice’) … – the conviction that we already know the answers – narrows our field of vision and our range of opportunities and chances. Conversely, letting go of dogma and ideology … opens our field of vision and our range of possibilities. »

«

  • Drucker … told us that it was often very simple things that an outsider could do which would have a major impact in the company he assisted. This was because inside people were generally much too close to the issues… 
  • Drucker: “There is no secret. You just need to ask the right questions.” …
  • Drucker: “You must frequently approach problems with your ignorance; not what you think you know from past experience, because not infrequently, what you think you know is wrong.”

»

« The more we see real people, real lives, the more we see real humanity, real needs and wants., the more we are prepared to listen to the stories people have to tell, the more we are prepared to open the windows of our corporate cloisters and let reality blow through, the more we see the muck and joy and pain and striving and dreaming and grafting and hoping and creating… the more we understand it, see it, embrace it and have empathy for it, the greater our chances of creating something of genuine value for them. »

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