How good are you at asking questions?

I just participated in the selection process of the Harvard Business Review “McKinsey award for best HBR article” for 2019.  The three  articles nominated for the prize where very interesting, but the one by Alison Wood and Leslie K. John caught my attention because it was about questions.  Are you good at asking questions? Do you systematically ask questions in a meeting? They called Questioning a “powerful tool”, and after you read the article (by the way the link is here: “The surprising power of questions”) you cannot but agree with them.

The good about it is that this is something at everybody’s reach. It’s another of those “soft-skills” that nobody taught me at school nor university; but being aware of the power of questioning and putting it to practice can not only improve the productivity of your exchanges but also improve the perception that others have of you.

In any conversation there is an exchange of information (on the subject we are talking about) and an exchange of impressions (sentiment that the words said provoke on the listener). When asking questions you learn more about the information you are receiving, getting then a better understanding of the problem or the situation at hand at the same time that you are building trust with the messengers by caring to hearing them. you may have guess that to accomplish those both results your questions must be effective and your answers carefully thought. 😉

First rule is to be a good listener, so your questions will be pertinent and your counterpart feels he or she is heard. They also mention this basic advice: ask  questions the other person will enjoy answering… Yes! To ask to the person who found the solution to a problem how he did it will allow him to explain it all over again, to show off and have his glorious moment a little bit more, even if somebody had already reported you the full answer!

Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding”

Ask small things about them to your colleagues, it will create a climate of trust, they’ill see you care about them, they are not invisible to you. By knowing them better we understand what moves them, their fundamental concerns and their particular points of view. Their values and concerns will be reflected in future discussions so knowing them will help to understand the basic issue and come around it.

Here are some tactics the authors pointed out:

  • Favor follow-up questions to solicit more information.
  • Know when to keep questions open-ended, so that you don’t feel interrogated. On negotiation processes, favor negative assumptions because people will open up more to the problems they have encountered (“this business will need some new equipment soon, isn’t’ it?”)  than if you have formulated the questions as if there was never a problem (“the equipment is in good working order, right?”)
  • Get the sequence right: Tough questions first work better to reveal sensitive information, but does not help if you want to build relationship with your counterpart.
  • Use the right tone: People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way
  • Pay attention to group dynamics: don’t forget that members of a group tend to follow one another’s lead.

 

 

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Motivational Tricks for New Year’s resolutions

This article by Ayelet Fishbach in the Harvard Business Review is giving us advice right in time to be used on our New Year’s resolutions! He mentions 4 strategies to motivate yourself:

 

  1. Design Goals, not chores: chores are those tasks that you don’t enjoy though you may like the outcome (the very explicit example given in the article is undergoing chemotherapy!!). She suggests to choose tasks with intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic one, that is the ones that motivate you right when doing it, instead of having to translate the task into a further away goal (like on the chemotherapy example) to remember you why you are doing it. But also motivation works at its best when goals at tangible. 

    “Abstract ambitions—such as “doing your best”—are usually much less effective than something concrete, such as bringing in 10 new customers a month or walking 10,000 steps a day. As a first general rule, then, any objectives you set for yourself or agree to should be specific.”Here is how to express those goals in a SMART way:

  2.  Find effective rewards: If there is no way you find an intrinsic task to reach your goal, if there is no attractive aspect of the task at hand ;-( then you could improve your motivation by offering you a treat.“[..]

    it can be helpful to create external motivators for yourself over the short- to-medium term[..]. You might promise yourself a vacation for finishing a project or buy yourself a gift for losing weight. But be careful to avoid perverse incentives.”
    “Another common trap is to choose incentives that undermine the goal you’ve reached. If a dieter’s prize for losing weight is to eat pizza and cake, he’s likely to undo some of his hard work and reestablish bad habits. If the reward for excelling at work one week is to allow yourself to slack off the next, you could diminish the positive impression you’ve made. Research on what psychologists call balancing shows that goal achievement sometimes licenses people to give in to temptation—which sets them back.”Other kind of external rewards that work quite well are the ones that count on/talk to/ your “loss aversion” bias:
    “Online services such as StickK.com allow users to choose a goal, like “I want to quit smoking,” and then commit to a loss if they don’t achieve it: They have to donate money to an organization or a political party that they despise, for example.”

  3. Sustain progress: don’t slow down after the first “burst of motivation”. There are many tricks that can be used, like:
    “If you break your goal into smaller subgoals—say, weekly instead of quarterly sales targets—there’s less time to succumb to that pesky slump.[…]
    Another mental trick involves focusing on what you’ve already done up to the midpoint of a task and then turning your attention to what you have left to do. My research has found that this shift in perspective can increase motivation.”
  4. Harness the influence of others: This next text really talked to me, did it never happened to you?

    When we witness a colleague speeding through a task that leaves us frustrated, we respond in one of two ways: Either we’re inspired and try to copy that behavior, or we lose motivation on the assumption that we could leave the task to our peer.[…]
    One rule is to never passively watch ambitious, efficient, successful coworkers; there’s too much risk that it will be demotivating. Instead, talk to these peers about what they’re trying to accomplish with their hard work and why they would recommend doing it.[…]
    Listening to what your role models say about their goals can help you find extra inspiration and raise your own sights.”

    Personally I prefer this bit of advice:

    “Interestingly, giving advice rather than asking for it may be an even more effective way to overcome motivational deficits, because it boosts confidence and thereby spurs action.[…] when they [offered their wisdom to others], they laid out concrete plans they could follow themselves, which have been shown to increase drive and achievement. 

So here we are, a little bit more in control of the result of our next New Year’s resolutions. Don’t you think so?  You’ll tell me about it in 2019! 😉

 

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The Global View at the European Digital Industry Cup

In October took place the “European Digital Industry Cup” in Croatia. Lovely country, great sailing experience, and above all, great quality of speakers!  They gave us an overview of the global trends in our industry, and in particular I loved the presentation from Claus Kjeldsen, CEO of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies on the “Development of the world scenario in the next 20 years”.

In his talk, he explained that the different uprisings of nationalism’s that we can see all over the world like in the US, Austria, Poland, Turkey or Italy are a consequence of the globalization: now that everybody can be reached, instead of a scenario of all of us joining forces to liberate countries, moving towards spreading open democracies in the world, this is a scenario of fragmentation, the personalization of powers.

I would like to add here Mario Vargas Llosa’s explanation; He calls this movements “the call of the tribe”: he explains that this nationalism mode is a defense system, we feel attacked with all the changes going on, so we put ourselves on a defense mode, and we look for security. it’s easy to just follow somebody and feel like being part of a group.  We feel less lonely and more strong, we feel safer.

They also see the power shifting towards China, as it was a long time ago. And it’s not the economical and political power but also the technological one too. Having technological power in these days means being able to collect more data, to make people dependent on your technology (as we are at the present of Google).

Look at the great influence China is getting in Venezuela?  Not to mention how they cope Africa and are here in Europe? We have an actual economical battle between Ali Baba and FedEx right now here in Liège, Belgium, would you like to guess who will win?

The thing is that China is, as you know, not a democracy. So we had it wrong, our wishes have not come true and there’s no spreading of open democracies. Instead other political organisations are gaining power, a little bit scary for our personal rights.

This mega-trend, foreseen for 10 to 15 years at least, makes us wonder: how we, western democracy powers, will react to this shifting of power?

What could we do to make people think? Any ideas?
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Will there be a recession?

Last Wednesday, at the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, Charlotte de Montpellier, economist at ING, gave a presentation on the view ING has of the global economic situation. It was very interesting, and the big question we were her expecting to answer was: will there be a recession soon?

 

First, she presented their analysis on the US economy: it’s doing well. 

The economy is boosted mainly due to Trump’s cuts in taxes. That injected money and people are spending it. But the government has many plans that need big government expenses, and with less taxes, it increases the risk if there is a recession because there will be no money left for the government to maneuver and avoid recession.

Unemployment is at it least since many years, production is well boosted.

The FED is increasing slowly the interest rates, what is a good practice when there is no need to have them slow to boost the consumption. That means they are confident that things are going well, and with the higher rate they increase their internal resources, so they’ll have funds to react if problems arise, if recession strikes.

Regarding trade: Trump wants to cut the unbalance reducing imports, and he does that augmenting tariffs on imported goods. But the other countries retaliated, then Trump is escalating by augmenting tariffs on other goods, and that creates uncertainty, because you don’t know when and how this war will finish. And uncertainty makes investors very careful, they stop investing until there’s a clear situation, so the global economy is slowing down.

Next US November elections may also be a turning point, because if Trump loses his majority on the chambers, he may be blocked to do the changes he wants on internal policy but his attributions as president allow him to deal with trade issues without consulting anybody, so that’s what the economists at ING think he will concentrate on.

 

Meanwhile in Europe the economy is doing a little less well than in the US. It’s going well, but slowly slowing down.

As oil prices are up, there is less consumption, less production.

Why are oil prices so high? Mainly because of the retreat of the US from the Iran agreement. Iran is a big oil producer, and as the US decreed an embargo, Europe and any ‘friend’ country from the US cannot trade with Iran, so you’re limited on your energy providers and prices go up.

Less consumption means slowing production, and less exported goods too (because of higher prices).

Unlike in the US unemployment is still an issue, there is an inadequacy of potential employees’ skills, companies cannot find the qualified skills they are looking for, and still there are many unemployed. Education is here a critical issue.

All of this makes for the lower confidence of investors.

Also Italy’s budget is a source of fear. They have a huge debt (131%), and want to maintain it but not to do investments but to use that money mainly for pension, lowering the age of the pension. The idea behind is that if old people leave the company, there will be room for the younger generation.  But that’s an unproven statement, and on the long run, it will not help to increase the country’s GDP (there is no investment) for lowering their external debt in the future.

The EU just revised the budget, but it’s not clear if Italy will accept the change; Markets could react strongly in the Euro zone if they don’t.

 

Regarding Emerging economies, things are not doing well.

Look at the Argentinian situation with a peso devaluated by 60%, the situation of Venezuela, Brazil.  All these problems make investors very careful, and that stops the global economy;

 

China on the other had is doing quite well, slowing down but still with a 6.5% growth.

And its great advantage is that the government can put in place economic changes because everything is regulated. So, they can react if things go wrong.

 

To conclude there was a positive note, though mitigated. They don’t see that there will be a recession in Europe in the following 2-3 years.  But the probability of being in recession has greatly increased in 2018 regarding what they thought on previous years 2016 or 2017. And though the US is doing better than Europe right now, recession could hit them in 2021, before hitting Europe.

Thanks Charlotte for this very comprehensive presentation.

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Agile games night: Lost in the Desert

We met again at the Wemanity Agile Tuesdays, and this time I joined the game “Lost in the Desert”, a self organizing exercise.

In this game, a group of people (around 8) are supposedly flying through Africa when the plane crashes on a desert.  All of the participants survive the crash, and they find themselves on a desert with a list of 15 items:

The game begins now, first letting these 8 people think by themselves and come up with their ‘personal’ list on how to prioritize these 15 items. Give them 10 minutes for that.

Once they have it, they have to keep for themselves their own list, and during the next 20 minutes discuss with the group to come up with a ‘common’ prioritized list.

You can guess that the objective of the game is not to the list itself, but more the analysis of the interactions, the thinking and acting behind the process of finding the ordered list.  This is our result:

 

Let me tell you that we have been congratulated by our Agile facilitator, because a regular result of this game is … no list at the end of the 20 minutes! He told us that usually people get lost on discussions and don’t deliver. And you know the saying: “A bad decision is better than no decision”.

To measure your result, compare your ‘personal’ list to the ‘common’ one.  For that you could add the distance of objects in each position between the 2 lists. Did you do better or worse than the group?  Sometimes you can observe that the ‘common’ list is better than any other ‘personal’ one: collective intelligence worked there at the most!

You could also compare how is your ‘common’ list related to an ‘expert’ survival list? This is just for fun, but I’m sure you are curious as me to learn survival skills for your next holiday trip to a desert 😉

As always in Agile Games, the interesting part is the debriefing after the game: that’s where you reflect on your own behavior, on the other’s ones, and you learn and improve yourself.

  • How was the process done? (in an ordered way, with shouting and frustrations or calmed?)
  • Did a vision on what to do emerged (do you stay there waiting for the rescue, try to rejoin civilization,..?).
  • Did more specific goals have been defined? (to survive, to get help, to get noticed..)
  • Who emerged as natural leaders?
  • Did everybody have the opportunity to talk? Remember collective intelligence is usually better than one person’s decision
  • What strategies have been used for negotiation? Which ones worked better?

If you work in Agile, you can immediately relate this exercise to many parts of the process:

  • the Sprint planning, where we define the goal of the Sprint, a common vision that will help get aligned the many small personal decisions every team member takes while doing their job.
  • the role of the SCRUM Master, allowing time to everybody to speak.
  • defining your prioritize Backlog features… going back to the game, I hope you gave a high priority to your parachute so you could be on the shade during the long hours of negotiation 😉

Want to know the optimal prioritized list? One done by an expert on survival on the wild? Drop me a line and I’ll reveal it to you 😉

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The Fourth Age, by Byron Reese

I received a copy of the book The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity for evaluation (thanks again!), and I can tell you that the way it has been written has some great advantages.  The subject of where lead the developments of Artificial Intelligence and robots technology is not easy and very controversial with questions like: will all our jobs be taken by computers in the future? Are we facing the destruction of humanity by the future Artificial Intelligence robots? and so on.

Byron Reese presents us not with one possible future, but with different possible outcomes of Artificial Intelligence technology depending on our basic beliefs.  Those basics beliefs are represented by the answers to classical though difficult philosophical questions, like: what are we, what is life for you (that will define if you believe a machine could be alive)? do you believe in a soul? and others alike. He guides your reasoning through these questions in a very easy way: he provides 3 or 4 possible answers for each question and he analyses each of them. That helps to clarify your thoughts, you can see which one resonates better with you. So it’s a multiple choice answer, what makes it much more easy to adhere to one possible answer, you don’t stay forever discussing it..

He uses the same method for each great question you ask yourself over the future society: will robots become conscious? will they take all our jobs? Will they take us over? You’ll have each time 3 or 4 possible choices of answers, and a discussion of the implications of each one. If you wonder, go to his website, he put there a quizz to see how ‘robot-proof’ is your job 😉

In conclusion, he’s not presenting his view of the future, but many options, each of them depending on your core beliefs. I liked it, it’s an easy and straightforward method to help us see the implications of actual technology on our future.

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Be crystal clear when communicating your offer to your customers

That was the final message of last Meetup I attended organized by the Fearless Female Founders group. Madeleine Alvarez, an experienced Business Development Consultant and Trainer, presented us the Personal Model Canvas to help us come with a clear definition of our offer. The aim of her presentation was:

Learn how to package your services and products so that your customers will see their value easier, how to align your offer to the market and how to communicate it better.

Don’t we all want that and flounder to do it? Wasn’t she clear? It’s super important that the person you talk to understands your offer from your first words. After some second, they either classify your talk as ‘interesting’ and keep their attention to your saying, or disengage and just don’t put so much attention to what you say.

The first question is to find the value for our customers of our work, not the definition of it. To help us finding the words that our interlocutor will be interested in, she showed us the Personal Business Model Canvas:

http://businessmodelyou.com/

This model helps to differentiate the services (or product) characteristics we are offering from our customer’s covered needs. These last ones, that are described in this model under “How you help”, are the things we must highlight in our communication.

Then, she urged us to find a sentence that could explain our work to a 10 year’s old child. Have you ever tried that? We all know it’s important to be clear, but when working on technological fields we tend to use technical terms, and even if not in technology, usually there are words only known by the ones in the field. We dared her to do so with her job, and she amazed us!

I teach parents to say please and thank you at work, so that everybody works happily and doing their best:
– Please could you give me a report?
– Thanks for your good report.

We enjoy your presentation, thanks Madeleine!

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Agile Serious Games

I went the other day to an Agile Serious Games session organized by Wemanity, and we did nice exercises to illustrate the values and advantages of Agile Management. If you’re not familiar with the expression ‘serious games’, it’s used when playing a game that has a professional purpose, that makes the participants experience a problem and sometimes also a solution.
I would like to share with you the ‘ping-pong race’ serious game:

  • Create teams of at least 5 people. It works very well with more people, try to keep it in teams of around 10 people, though it doesn’t matter if you only have one team. You’ll need at least 30 ping-pong balls and a basket per each team.
  • Tell people to group making a circle.  One person of the team will take the ping-pong balls from their container and this same person will be in charge of putting the ball that has already been passed to everybody in the basket provided. He’s the only one who will touch two times the ball. Each ball has to be passed to every team member, following these simple rules:
    1. The ball cannot be passed to a neighbor (the person immediately next to your right or to your left).
    2. The ball has to be in the air for a short time when passing it, you cannot put it directly in the hands of the person.
    3. All persons on the team have to receive the ball at one time, except for the first person that touches it twice.
    4. Balls that fall on the floor don’t count. Leave them there until timeout.
    5. The objective is to have as many balls in the basket as possible.
  • Time the game: give them 5 minutes to discuss how to organize themselves, then one minute to play the game (or more if the group is big).

First time this game is run, they end-up with a small number of balls that completed the assignment. But now comes the key element of this game: ask them if they think they could do better a second time. Let each team discuss between them for 2 to 5 minutes and then run the game again for a minute.

Usually the second time all teams do better.  Allowing them again some time to reorganize and running it a third time provides still better results.

The key part of the game is not the game itself, it doesn’t really matter who won the race, nor how many balls were in the basket. The key part is to realize that taking some time-off to think about how you are doing your work in order to improve it is worth the time lost on those meetings. Teams understand the point of the game and that they see that they can improve by self-organization. It makes them interact, communicate and take action instead of waiting for instructions to improve their work. In the Agile-SCRUM methodology this is covered by the Sprint retrospectives.

Image from www.agilest.org

This game is always fun to play, the whole cycle lasts around half hour, and it really shows people the benefits of having time to reflect on how you’re doing your job. And as you are doing it at work, it shows that the management encourages people to take initiatives 😉

In any case, it creates a nice feeling of team-building! It’s definitely worth the try.

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Are you getting your message across?

Jean-Luc Doumont came last month to the KUL University and delivered a very insightful lecture to rational students and researchers on how to deliver effectively the message on their papers. Effective communication is always difficult, so imagine  when discussing complex subjects, specially if the person delivering the message has been isolated and immersed in that particular domain for some time while doing the research!

I found very valuable his insights and they apply to many business situations. So here is a small recap of these tips, but don’t hesitate to visit Jean-Luc’s website for more insights.

  • When showing figures, don’t forget the labels of the axes 😉 and much more important, use the Title zone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • As shown in previous example, a good title is the one that shows the message you want to pass along.

A message is an interpretation – is what the information means:

  • Choose carefully how to express your message, it’s important to select the right subject:

A message is a statement – a full declarative sentence. The subject should be about what I’m talking, the verb what I’m saying about the subject:

  • For a log document, beware of this mismatch:

    I encourage you to go to his presentations for more detail on what to cover in the different parts to get your reader hooked 😉
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4 Behaviors to find new business ideas

I went to an open event at Vlerick, and Prof. Miguel Meuleman gave us a talk on the Entrepreneurial Mindset. He gave us good tips to find business ideas. Based on the six-year study behind the book The innovator’s DNA, he mentioned these 4 discovery activities that the authors have identified as the ones in which innovative entrepreneurs spend more time:

  1. Questioning
  2. Observing
  3. Experimenting
  4. Networking

 

 

The good news is that anybody can nurture these behaviors.

  • Questionning:

Miguel used a restaurant to illustrate how to question the status-quo: What do you need to have a restaurant? We quickly came up with a list:

  •  capital,
  • a venue,
  • marketing,
  • food,
  • a cook,

Now, question each of the assumptions: how could you have a restaurant without capital? how without a venue? without marketing?… He even gave us an example of a restaurant without food! (If you wonder, it was in a seafood market, where you could buy your own fish and bring it to the restaurant that cooked it for you 🙂

If you analyse your answers, you may see that to overcome one of the traditional assumptions (like needing capital to launch a restaurant) you are using a new trend (like crowdfunding). Our assumptions come from years of doing something in the same way, but then thanks to a technological advance, a new tool, a new trend, those assumptions are not true anymore.

When discovering a new trend we have to reflect on what it means to our business, is it challenging one of the basic assumptions we worked with before? What are the problems that can be solved with this trend? Is it creating new expectations from our customers? (As example of this, KBC is now offering a contact channel through Whatsapp)

  • Observing

Miguel suggests us to look at dating sites like Tinder 🙂 Successful dating sites are designed to attract people, they are  rich in new ideas of presentation.  The idea behind is to look at new startups websites to find good design ideas. When something is easy to use, it usually catches up quickly and soon your customers will want it in your site too.
Observe your customer, think of your customer’ journey.  As an example, Nordstrom innovation lab designed an ipad app to help customers choose their lenses in a very Agile way: they installed the whole team (developers, designers,.. even the SCRUM board!) directly in one shop, and they follow the customer to see how they walked around, what they were looking at, how they finally chose their lenses.  They came with a working prototype within a day, and asked real customers to try it, so they could see immediately the functionalities that were missing, or the ones that were not user friendly.

  • Experimenting

Experimenting is not just trial and error. It has to be designed. Facebook is not the same to everyone, there are many versions of the application running simultaneously, they can quickly see which features work better. To look for ideas, Miguel suggests us to look at the Airbnb site: they share all the experiments that they do with their users.

  • Networking

The idea is to talk to people about the new ideas, to discuss the problems to be solved, to come up with different options of your initial product. See people’s reaction, incorporate their insight to your initial idea.

At the actual pace of change in our society, we should do this regularly, to systematize the process of innovation and don’t become a dinosaur (professionally speaking).

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