At my first corporate job in the 1990s, I used to work on several projects with someone nicknamed The Futurist.
The Futurist was called that because, at the beginning of each project, he would calmly tell you: “You know, this project will go this way, it will probably crash because of this and we’ll be back here in three months.”
This was usually spot on. It wasn’t an ironic nickname. The Futurist’s prediction came to pass.
So, a couple of months, I asked him: “Then, why we do it at all?”
His answer: “This is the way projects are done.”
That answer never satisfied me. When I worked alongside The Futurist, he would work on things that he knew that were useless. In the projects, they would discuss everything perfunctorily and then push on ahead. When questioned, the usual answer was: how do you get experience if you don’t work, then?
Almost a lifetime later, this answer still rings hollow to me.
Experience, theoretically measured by seniority, is just not a matter of simply doing work. You can keep working and be able to forecast a project’s fate, like The Futurist could, but I wouldn’t call that experience. The Futurist had worked for a long time, but that work hasn’t translated into experience and seniority.
This translation’s not automatic. It takes time and effort.
We can think of the generating of experience as four steps; four steps that should be the base for all Retro ceremonies within Scrum, but even outside Scrum, they are precious.
The Four Steps are:
Do The Work: you need to put the time into doing things. You need to fail fast. You need to test your hypothesis. This means two things: getting your hands dirty and getting things done.
Reflecting Together: Every once in a while, reflect as a team. Yes, self-reflection is a vital part of your personal journey. But as long as you are in a team, working towards a common goal, reflection needs to be refined and validated between you all, like anything else.
Getting Feedback: Even if you do your reflection, feedback is the blood that drives improvement. Metrics, pulse surveys, business results. Crave them.
Implementing Changes: So, you have your feedback. You brainstorm, you reflect, you know what to do. It is vital that you do it. While seemingly a trivial thing, I’ve lost count of the number of groups that I’ve seen that know what to change, but never get around to change it. Don’t be like them.
These Four Steps are deceptively simple. What’s hard is the discipline needed to always implement them. But if you achieve it, you move beyond The Futurist into the Changer of Ways, the most important of the archetypes for a Transformation. In order to become that, change yourself.
Learn. Become experienced. Don’t accept things as they are, but always strive to learn. Don’t accept the future just because you see it. The big difference between The Futurist and the Changer of Ways is not the knowledge of what is coming. In that, they are matched.
The difference is on the experience and seniority needed to know that change is possible. And to get there, you need to create both those qualities out of the alchemy of work, reflection, feedback and change.
Lately, I just summarize it into four main points.
So, here’s my new answer to why do you need Mindful Transformations which you can count in one hand while saving the thumb:
Creativity: Innovation is the name of the game. Innovation drives business, creates legendary products, makes a difference. But there’s another layer to Innovation: Innovation geared towards your work process. And let’s be frank: innovation feels great. When we innovate, we can see the effect that the change has on long-suffered problems. If we pause and recognize the moment, we want more. But that’s a great “if”. Mindfulness gives your people the tools to empower themselves to recognize the feeling and amplify it.
Joy: Often, work is very dull. Even if you feel challenged by it, the continuous burn down and stress can sap your energy. And in a Transformation, this translates into resistance and disengagement. Once R&D’s are in place, every single action becomes an uphill battle. Mindfulness helps counteract the effects of R&D in your Transformation by introducing moments of connection and joy in the middle of the workday.
Future Vision: If the day-to-day business is a slog, there’s zero interest in knowing the future of the company. If the routine brings only stress, our capacity to focus on long-term goals becomes compromised. By introducing stress-management techniques, we regain the enthusiasm for the future of our work and we can engage in a more creative fashion again.
Fly: One thing that Mindfulness techniques specialize on is not removing or crashing against obstacles in our path, but making those obstacles the path. Not reaching enough ratio? Instead of trying to brute-force our way, agility can help by testing hypothesis via MVPs. Are our metrics too innocent? The inherent fuzziness of User Story Points can help us adjust. But one thing that all these actions require is Mindset. If we try to implement an Agile framework without working on the Mindset of the people implementing it… we’re going to crash and burn upon that land called That was not my mistake. Mindset is the key to Agile and Mindfulness is a tool to work it. Not the only tool, perhaps not the best, but one that’s reliable, proven and has a great number of practitioners.
So, what do you think? Is throwing the book at people a better approach? Does Mindfulness make sense in a Digital Transformation? Do we need to create Mindful Transformations?
This is, today, the most common and most risky type of transformation, post-pandemic, at an enterprise level.
Digital Transformations are always changing, complex beasts, but they have a couple of things that stay the same and allow us to group them together:
· They focus on moving from a location and paper approach to a digital remote one.
· Usually, we do them via a shift of methodology. Depending on the Enterprise itself to adopt a new methodology or to adopt a methodology. This results in changes at a cultural, organizational, and work stream level.
· The primary goal of most Digital Transformations is better client satisfaction, greater innovation, or a clear focus on efficiency.
Having defined a Digital Transformation, I will do an overview of what are the best practices and approaches.
This will be, of course, my experience and opinions.
I will first divide the Digital Transformation in four arbitrary phases, which I call A.I.M.S., which means:
· Aiming: The phase in which we plot our way through the Transformation itself and we align expectations and goals.
· Inoculate: we go hard-for-broke with a skilled team, to build the beginning of the Transformation and gather momentum with a series of pilots and proof of concepts.
· Measure: when we make sure that what we’re doing is having the desired effect or we correct it.
· Scale!: when we have found the correct list of recipes, and how to measure them, it’s time to deploy them Enterprise-wide.
I’ll be covering the first phase next (Aiming), but what do you think? Does this sequence of phases, the A.I.M.S., make sense?
It finally caught up with me. After successfully evading the Corona Crown for all the pandemic, after dodging every risky situation, a PCR found me positive.
Mind you, I already felt sick. Headaches, fever, body pains. The works.
‘Ok’ I thought ‘we should be alright. We are not at risk since we have all the vaccine coverage. This will just take time’. I learned experientially about the importance of vaccination through the application of mindfulness.
Just to be clear about something, before we begin: I’m not any kind of qualified medical doctor or practitioner. I’m not a medic, nurse, or specialist in any biological science.
I’m also not any kind of untraditional practitioner of health, like a Reiki devotee or a crystal healer.
My work is mainly as a Strategy Consultant, with a specialization in Mindfulness as a tool to generate both systemic and personal change in corporation and their workers.
I found interesting, as both a meditation practitioner and teacher, how to apply my awareness to the process of my sickness and healing.
There was a very interesting correlation between the experience of vaccination and sickness.
This is just a personal and singular experience, but I found it helpful to document it.
I have three vaccines which followed a pattern.
After the first shot, I returned to work. Slowly, a general feeling of dullness dawned, followed by headaches and body pain. I found out that I couldn’t continue working, not in any useful way.
I went to bed to read, thinking that I’ll be up soon. Then, the fever came.
I had a pretty strong fever until the small hours of the morning. After that, I could sleep. I felt tired, but nothing else.
Second shot. I did this on a morning. By midday, I felt headaches. I went to my bed, fearing the repeat of the first.The fever came right on cue. I struggled, trying to distract myself, but I had to wait for the fever to break.
Third shot. ‘Ok, Fede’ I thought to myself ‘you’re slow, but even you can learn’. I had the shot, then went straight to my bed. Fell asleep as soon as I could. Slept through the fever. Woke up feeling refreshed.
Then, COVID came this week. I found out that it behaved the way it was supposed to. It was the experience of the vaccine, but amped up.
Every day, the same pattern: wake with headaches, mucus, body pain. Fever started mounting towards the end of the day. If I fought against it, I couldn’t sleep until the fever abated. If I tried to relax and sleep as much as I could, I just sailed past it.
Lying on a bed is easier said than done. My body, at least, hurts once the twelve hour mark is past. With mindfulness of posture, and small stretches, when I could do them, I managed.
Our thoughts are the main thing. All those questions. When I’m going to feel better? Should I call the doctor again? Do I have to lie here feeling bad?
This is where mindfulness comes into play; to help both manage our expectations and to relax on the experience.
On the expectation side, yes, we’re going to feel sick. But that’s what we can expect, isn’t it? By framing our expectations against our experience of the vaccines and seeing a similar pattern. We can be sure that this is not going to kill us. It’s not a bridge that we haven’t crossed already; it’s just that the intensity’s a little higher, nothing more.
On the experience itself, mindfulness can help us to manage those things, like posture, that we can manage and relax ourselves to those things we cannot. I don’t think that anyone can be fully comfortable during COVID fevers, but one thing that mindfulness teaches is to be comfortable while being uncomfortable. We need to relax into the pain and the fever.
Is it a good time? No, not at all.
Will it pass soon enough if we relax? Yes.
I did what I could. I took the strategy of my third shot iteration and reused it for COVID. I slept as much as I could, going to sleep at non-regular hours; just when I felt the fever rising. And it worked like a charm: I woke up refreshed and soon I was back on my feet.
The experience taught me more respect for the heroes of this pandemic: the scientists and immunologists who created a vast array of vaccines in a short time. Of course, I know that testing has proved them in a laboratory setting.
Still, it amazed me to see how well they prepared me for the actual thing. Not only did they create defenses in my system to not fall to the virus badly. It trained me on how to take the best course of action if I were to be infected.
So, this is my brief, mindful conclusion: if you still haven’t fully vaccinated… please do so now! I know you might read many people telling you about their personal experiences. This is mine, and I’m telling you, not only for yourself but for everyone else: this works.
And if you’re already have, please join me in thanking all of those who made these vaccines possible for all! The unsung heros of these years. Thank you!
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there was Uncreative Writing.
So, this weekend has been a long weekend here, in Argentina. I took advantage of it in several ways: did a lot of exercise and I took a lot of long rides in my bike. Before the pandemic, I used to travel the crowded, difficult to navigate by car or public transport downtown Buenos Aires by riding my bike. I used to do 20-30 miles a day, on weekdays. But it seems almost in another life; for the last year and a half, my daily commute is from my bedroom to my living.
What Tarantino does is not so much a novelization of his movie, but rather a re-edit and remix which only works juxtaposed the actual film itself. In the book:
We learned that Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, killed his wife. Not only that, but he got away with murder three times and was planning on either killing or crippling Bruce Lee. He fantasizes on starting a cult like Manson and constantly treats women like disposable objects. We forget it when we look at Brad Pitt’s genial smiling face, but the book does not shy away from the fact that the character himself is a psychopath who just hasn’t been caught.
He expands the story of the cowboy show where Leonardo Di Caprio’s Rick Dalton is working, and he uses to self-insert into their universe.
But the most impactful change is the ending. Remember the flamethrower scene? How the Mason family attacked the protagonists? Well, here it’s broached, out of time and sequence, in two paragraphs towards the first quarter of the novella, as something that will happen later on, in relationship to one of the protagonists’ wife. With that scene and that build up no longer there, the novel is an entirely different beast that the film.
This has been received with criticism across the internets. Blogs accuse Tarantino from being non-creative, derivate, just writing a script in novel form. But to my eyes, what Tarantino’s doing here is another kind of art, something that we do almost all the time, as consultants.
He is being UNcreative.
The poet and literary critic Kenneth Goldsmith defined Uncreative Writing as that writing that doesn’t produce new content by writing new material, but by remixing, re-matching existing materials and shining a light on some previous parts that weren’t in focus before. Now, this might require you to write some more detail, but it should be done in a way that does not contradict the previous material. So, Tarantino’s greater detail on Cliff Booth’s murdering ways, while (in my personal opinion) wasn’t very present in the movie in the book it doesn’t derail or contradict the character. But most of the new effect of the novel is done by remixing and rearranging focuses on characters, expanding and shrinking time on the spotlight, or introducing details that illuminate but do not contradict.
This, is effect, requires the existence of the film itself. While you might theoretically read the book by itself, with no prior knowledge, Tarantino has very astutely played for his audience, who probably by now (two years after it is debut) have seen it. In a scene, he shows the power that Roman Polanski has as a director to influence the way the audience thinks. I think he is aiming for the same here with his book.
(That he feels no compunction in making Polansky one of the more admired characters is in my opinion, either the most Tarantinesque virtue or his tacit admission that movies, for him, are the only thing that matters)
Whatever his aims, what Tarantino does is, in my opinion, a form of art. But a form of art which is much maligned, yet vital. The capacity to not be creative when you can be, when you are expected to be is a virtue that is very much absent in most of us, but, at the same time: how many consultants are creative? By “creative” I mean creating frameworks all the time, new concepts, new ways of working, etc.
I would think that most of us do that creative part of work not that much. Most of our work is Uncreative Writing. And that is ok. That is more than ok: the worst epoch in the Agile World, at least according to me, was the long stretch from 2008 to circa 2014, where everyone and their mothers had their own Scrum, their own way of doing Agile.
Wanted to do a Sprint Review? Sorry mate, these are called “group expositions” now and they are done via PowerPoint. Doing a daily? We do not do that, we do “chat-attack” via slack, but you need to upload topics via mail. And so on, ad infinitum.
It was such a relief when the Scrum Guide took over. Now we could agree at least on the basics of it and focus on what we wanted to emphasize. We looked at it Un-creatively and we made it work.
This is the kind of approach that, I think benefits our clients the most. We should focus on how to highlight and be artful in the way to combine previous, standard material. Bear in mind that every time we create something ad hoc for the client, this is something that must be factored in the training time of every single person who starts there. Time that, blown up to the level of even small corporations, adds up. Time that is not spent creating value for their clients, but rather in simply basic training to function. We should not only stop insisting that there’s more value in originality, but we should actually focus on the Uncreative skills that we use all the time. I think we are doing this already, without any reason or rhyme. How many of us are reusing templates, remixing presentations, jury-rigging Murals or Miro’s?
I would love a course on Uncreative Writing for consultants. I’ll look for it, and if I can’t find it, I’ll write it myself.
Hi! My name
is Fede Andino, and I’m, at work, a Culture Crafter. But outside work, I am
also a University Professor and Researcher, as well as a Buddhist Teacher. One
particular thing that I love to teach is the story of the 84 Mahasiddhas: a
group of bizarre, funny, disruptive hindu and buddhist practitioners who broke
down assumptions and inagurated a new style of practice: tantric buddhism and
hinduism (which, to be honest, has nothing to do with the sex-obsessed new
tantra taught in the west).
since it’s a big story, composed of 84 mini-chapters or stories, it tends to be
taught (by other and myself) in one of two ways: as a multi-day teaching,
usually in a retreat setting or in an abbreviated, written form. I wanted to bring
this story, which is funny, warm and profundly humane, in a more relaxed
setting; the kind of thing that I would love to hear in this never-ending
quarantine. Thus, I started a podcast this year.
Sep.17 I finished the Podcast. It was, surprisingly, kinda a hit in the
spanish-speaking countries (let’s be honest: it’s also quite niche, so that
helped) averganging 453 views per chapter (the most listened chapter has the
record of plays at 4.112 at the time of writing). The audience started low (near 10 people per
chapter) and climbed to stability (1.391, with people listening from Argentina
to Mali). This, of course, is small potatoes to really big Podcasts (not even
compared to Joe Rogan; the most listened Podcasts in Argentina averange between
ten times that volume) but, for someone who was doing his first attempt…it was
surprisingly solid, at least to me. This was enough to Anchor (my publishing
tool) to offer me a paid sponsorship program; Alas, living in Argentina I
cannot access it, but it was a nice touch.
completed my goals, the feedback that I’ve got tells me that I will probably
create another in a couple of months; meanwhile, I’ll also upload one-shots for
requested Mahasiddhas which are not in the general list.
Audio mixing: I used Audacity quite
successfully; you don’t need expensive software for a podcast.
Niche is king: as much as you can
laser-focus your podcast, you’ll reap benefits in the same amount
On a not-so known path: there’s a
lot of discussion here in Argentina, in academic circles, about the use of
gender-inclusive language. The main consensus is that it helps visibilize
inequalities, but it is a hot-topic for conservatives. I received a lot (I mean
a lot) of well-meant “advice” on the topic, that I should not include it in
order to broaden my reach. While I respect the “advice” (and the
insults/threats from more overtly concerned people) I think that a very
important differentiatior is the authenticity of your voice: since I use it in
daily talk I included, which helped solidify loyalty and build the audience
When I started, I tended to do one
story per episode. But since stories vary a lot in content (some are long and
detailed, some you can tell in two minutes) I wrestled with adapting the format
a quarter of a way in. I finally adapted (thinking the Agile way) and was
rewarded by a climb in audience
recap my Lessons Learned: Be niche, invest in a good mike, be authentic and
any other thing that you might think it helps? I would love to learn, if that’s
PS: If you’re
curious about it, I’ve made a Spotify list with the episodes. Warning: it is
J., & Hamel, G. (2015). The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and
Performance. Harvard Business Review Press.
and last book that Guillermo García recommended to me, The Open Organization,
is a most interesting book: a description, somewhat impressionistic, by Jim
Whitehurst, CEO of RedHat. It is interesting because the author presents RedHat
as a new business model, an adaptable and flexible company, with certain
structures, but that these structures are conversational.
interesting thing about the book is that it is not another recipe for how to
transform the company nor is it the autobiography of an Agile evangelist. The
author came, in fact, from a series of experiences that had disappointed him:
“Nearly fifty years ago, Warren Bennis, the much- missed leadership guru, predicted that we’d soon be working in “organic- adaptive structures,” organizations that feel like communities, not hierarchies. In a community, the basis for loyalty is a common purpose, not economic dependency. Control comes from shared norms and aspirations, not from policies and bosses. Rewards are mostly intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Contributions aren’t predetermined and individuals are free to contribute as they may. Examples are as diverse as a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or a team erecting a house for Habitat for Humanity.”
So are we stuck? On one hand, we have all those optimistic boosters for social collaboration who tell us we merely have to let the crowd have its say. That’s naive. What’s typically underestimated is the complexity and indivisibility of many large- scale coordination tasks. “Wisdom of the crowd” works when work can be easily disaggregated and individuals can work in relative isolation.”
“So no, we’re not stuck; we’re definitely not stuck. But getting unstuck— building and benefiting from communities at scale— requires us to start with “openness” as a principle, rather than with some particular set of collaborative tools or practices. Many companies have layered social technologies on top of their tradition- encrusted management practices— and most have been disappointed with the results.”
(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)
RedHat was already the opposite: a much more open company, less hierarchical,
more oriented to a product than to a process or a title. The author realizes
this when in an “interview” that he has, totally relaxed, the host
invites him to eat, to realize that he did not actually bring money and makes
was left thinking “is that a test? Did I pass it? ”… Until the person tells
him: no, he was simply hungry and had forgotten the money. Essentially, there
is an informality that someone like the author, considering a CEO position,
The book is
an attempt to understand and especially articulate the RedHat culture that at
the time was as foreign to the author as it was to most Fortune 500 companies. Defining
an Open Company, the author argues that:
“An “open organization”— which I define as an organization that engages participative communities both inside and out— responds to opportunities more quickly, has access to resources and talent outside the organization, and inspires, motivates, and empowers people at all levels to act with accountability. The beauty of an open organization is that it is not about pedaling harder, but about tapping into new sources of power both inside and outside to keep pace with all the fast- moving changes in your environment.”
(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)
the author takes as inspiration volunteer organizations that follow a passion,
such as Open Source communities:
“These communities involve many people working toward a similar outcome. They usually involve a diverse community of people who opt in as a way to work for a common cause about which they are passionate. And they produce results: they are more responsive to fast- changing environments and better at accomplishing “big, hairy, audacious goals” than any one single firm or organization.
To do this, you must transition into thinking of people as members of a community, moving from a transactional mind- set to one built on commitment.
Perhaps more importantly, you need to apply the same principles to your employees— the folks you pay— as to people who might volunteer their efforts for free.
Red Hat’s open organization operates using unusual management principles that leverage the power of participation— both internally and externally— to generate consistent financial results.
The more people you connect, the more value they create, which in turn attracts more people, and so on. Red Hat’s management system encompasses principles such as: People join us because they want to. Contribution is critical, but it’s not a quid pro quo. The best ideas win regardless of who they come from.
We encourage and expect open, frank, and passionate debate. We welcome feedback and make changes in the spirit of “release early— release often.” In short, we’ve found that the best practices in creating open source software also translate well into managing the entire company.
Red Hat is the only company that can say it emerged out of a pure bottom- up culture— namely, the open source ethos— and learned how to execute it at scale.”
(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)
(on the last statement, we believe that Ubuntu is also an example of the same, fulfilling in Amazon the same function as RedHat in IBM).
We find it
extremely interesting that, like Lou Gerstner, Whitehurst also identifies
culture as the key:
“You can’t lead an open organization in the traditional top- down fashion— what I was used to and, frankly, quite good at. I learned this the hard way.
My job at Red Hat couldn’t be more different. Sure, I still care about numbers— we are a public company after all— but I have an impact on them indirectly by working through our people and culture. I spend the majority of my time thinking about our strategic direction and culture and talking to customers rather than worrying if things are being done precisely as I would choose.
A huge part of that means trusting other people to do the right thing— to be hands- off enough to allow the people in the organization to direct themselves and make their own decisions. That might sound a bit crazy to many, especially those who came up through conventionally run organizations as I did.
I’ve also learned that the skills required to lead a company that relies heavily on the principles of open innovation are vastly different from those needed to run a business based on the hierarchical structure of a conventional organization.
Early on, I issued what I thought was an order to create a research report. A few days later, I asked the people assigned to the task how things were going. “Oh, we decided it was a bad idea, so we scrapped it,” they told me in good cheer. That’s a difficult concept for many of my peers in other companies to embrace. Other CEOs to whom I’ve told this story have gasped, “What do you mean they didn’t do what you asked them to? That’s insubordination! You should have fired them.” At first, I felt that way, too. But, the truth is that my team was right to turn down the job— it either wasn’t a great idea or, just as importantly, I hadn’t done a good enough job selling them on why they should jump into it. A leader’s effectiveness is no longer measured by his or her ability to simply issue orders.”
(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)
the role of CEO for the author is the role of who in some way inspires and on
the other hand, allows the culture to grow in a way that the company and the
employees benefit at the same time. It is to clarify purpose, it is to serve in
keeping the main objectives, trusting and empowering everyone to allow a
functioning with a non-traditional hierarchy.
we have used “non-traditional hierarchy” instead of Agile organization. This is
because the author considers that the way of organizing should not be
democratic, but meritocratic.
“In other words, the Athenians lived in what they called “a community of citizens,” which was built upon a meritocracy. That system, when applied within a company of citizens, would be based on this recognition: Merit means that decisions are based on the best case put forward; excellence, not position, prejudice, or privilege, is the criterion for choice. In a company of citizens, the best case for action is that which carries the day after the open, sufficient, and informed debate. Merit means that every thoughtful and knowledgeable individual, with good ideas based on real understanding, will get a hearing. The incompetent blowhard will not. The practice of merit gives lie to the idea that participatory democracy must devolve to the lowest common denominator.”
(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)
Por supuesto, la definición de “meritocracia” es compleja.
El autor, para darle crédito, sabe perfectamente lo complejo que puede ser utilizarla
y la define de la siguiente forma:
“But that raises two questions: Who is empowered to make a decision? Who decides who is empowered to make a decision?
At Red Hat, some of the seven thousand voices inside the company have far more sway than others. In most cases, decisions aren’t made by executive fiat, nor are they arrived at through consensus. Rather, those people who have earned their peers’ respect over time drive decisions. Associates who make a positive impact on the business and on the culture find that they gain more influence than those who do not. That’s why we call our culture a “meritocracy,” which, if you use Wikipedia’s definition, means: A system of government or other administration (such as business administration) wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their “merits,” namely intelligence, credentials, and education.
Within the meritocracy we have built at Red Hat, everyone has the right to speak and access the kinds of tools that will help ensure that his or her voice is heard. But to appreciate how a meritocracy works, you need to first recognize that not everyone is listened to equally.
To become a leader in a meritocracy, you need to attract followers first, not the other way around, as is typical in most conventional organization structures. Your peers actually have to select you as their leader based on how effective they think you are, not just because you have a more impressive title or résumé.”
(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)
That is why
he considers it vital that the creation of a certain consensus is the mark of
the leaders. The task of leaders, in Whitehurst’s vision, is to make persuasive
and transparent decisions that can be validated and at the same time generate
the main task of the leadership group is to catalyze decisions in a way that
generates value in the direction that is most beneficial for the company. For
this, the leader must have several characteristics that are not generally
considered within leadership groups:
Understanding of the personal motivations of those who work with him
• A mindset
that does not think about quid pro quo, but about building and supporting a
Essentially a high emotional intelligence quotient
• A degree
of faith in those who work in the company
“Patience. The media rarely tell stories about how “patient” a leader is. But they should. When you are working to get the best effort and results from your team, to engage in dialogue for hours on end, and to do things again and again until they’re done right, you need to have patience. High “EQ.” Too often we tout the intellectual capabilities of leaders by focusing on their IQ, when we should really be valuing their emotional intelligence quotient or EQ score. Being the smartest person in the room is not enough if you don’t have the capacity to work with the people who are in that room with you. When you work with and through communities of contributors as Red Hat does, where you can’t order anyone to do anything for you, your ability to listen, process, and not take everything personally becomes incredibly valuable. A different mind- set. Leaders who have come up through conventional organizations have been indoctrinated in a quid pro quo mind- set— one that’s been influenced by math and hard science that says every action should receive an appropriate response. But when you take a longer- term outlook to investing in something like building a community, you need to think differently. It’s like trying to build a delicately balanced ecosystem in which any misstep you make can create imbalance and lead to long- term damage that you may not see right away. Leaders must divest themselves of the mind- set that requires them to achieve results today at all costs to one in which the big payoffs come from delaying their sense of gratification and making those investments in the future. Of course, making these kinds of changes won’t appeal to everyone. There are times when issuing a top- down edict, for instance, would be far easier than allowing the meritocracy to reach a solution on its own time. Why would you want to open yourself up to criticism from your own troops? Wouldn’t your workplace seem less chaotic and in control if you stuck with doing the things the way you always have? To make this kind of culture work requires that leaders make an enormous investment in terms of time and energy, which can seem both daunting and wasteful. It’s almost like taking a leap of faith into the unknown.”
(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)
Organization is an extremely interesting book: instead of a story of how a
company was forged or how one person made a change, it is an attempt to
articulate the culture of a successful company by someone who came from outside
of it. Although it does not have specific actions or a transformation program,
the insights it provides are extremely valuable, in our opinion, to understand
the shock of cultural change.
only debatable point in our opinion is the idea of meritocracy: it is complex
to think that always the person who is heard is necessarily the one who is
right; on the other hand, the fact of who decides the value of the argument is
separate from that process makes it more complex. I also wonder how to go about
globalizing this process: although RedHat is a large company, it is mainly
concentrated in a global point. I wonder, do those people who live on the other
side of the world have the same capacity for arrival? And if they don’t, how
can we know that the best arguments are actually heard? If eloquence is a
factor, how can people for whom English is not their first language do? The
sophists were popular in Athens for a reason.
these points (which, we must clarify, are minor in relation to the content of
the book), we have found it to be a very interesting text, which presents a
different model of company and culture.
Jr, L. V.
G. (2002). Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround
(First Edition edition). Harper Business.
Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success—along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I might have chronicled the positive and negative cultural attributes of my companies (“positive” and “negative” from the point of view of driving marketplace success). And I could have told you how I went about tapping into—or changing—those attributes. The descriptions would have been accurate, but in one important respect I would have been wrong. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game. (emphasis mine)
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
been an unexpectedly difficult text to review, due to several factors. Full disclosure:
I work @IBM and I’ve been an IBMer for the last 10 years of my life. And I work
directly with culture at IBM, being it Agile methodology, Mindfulness or
Storytelling. Therefore, while I have a lot of hard-won insights of the
struggle of cultural change at IBM, I also have probably a very strong bias.
Also, some things seem discouragingly similar after so long. But when Guillermo
García (the CIC visionary leader and probably one of the most committed people
that I know for cultural change) asked me to include this book and the next on
the review list, I told him that I would try.
Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Inside IBM’s
Historic Turnaround Is a book by Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the CEO who essentially
changed IBM’s profile and saved the company from fragmenting into small shards
of a once imposing empire on IT. One of the major challenges on reviewing this
book is its disorganized structure: it’s nor a journal of the experience, an
argument for the politics or strategy of the change or an analysis post-fact,
but rather a combination of all of it. It starts on the biography of the
author, walks you through his first days at IBM in an hour to hour fashion,
then jumps into the following years and ends explaining both the trends that
the author predicted and does some financial analysis. That so schizophrenic a
structure is understandable is due to the strong voice of the author, who is
witty and self-effacing enough to admit the problems firsthand
I wrote this book without the aid of a coauthor or a ghostwriter (which is why it’s a good bet this is going to be my last book; I had no idea it would be so hard to do).
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
Since it is
difficult to implement a succinct analysis of the book given its structure and
lacking the wit of the author, I’ll try to summarize the main points at each part
of the book and then do a final analysis at the end.
The beginning: bio and the choice to become CEO
begins with a quick story of himself; coming from an upper-middle class
upbringing, he, interestingly is a graduate from both Darthmouth College and Harvard.
His first job is an executive consultant at McKinsey; then he moves to become
quickly CEO of Nabisco, of Amex and other major companies, until he’s
approached in December 1992 to become CEO of IBM. At first, he’s reluctant but
eventually agrees when it’s clear that he’s the main candidate. Then he
presents a story of the company starting with Thomas Watson; there’s no mention
of the issues and the existence of IBM before him nor the troubling time at the
40’s. The author’s main question at this point is: how a company that in 1990
had the most profitable year ever can be almost bankrupt in 1992?
There was no computer in the CEO’s office.
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
the author then takes us on a detailed journey of his first year as a CEO (to
the level when, at the start of the part, the first week is recounted almost in
an hour to hour basis). One of the first people he meets with is his brother,
who was an executive at IBM before having to retire due to Lyme’s disease (he
later says that he feels the brother provided the best advice overall). He
meets with luminaries of the IT field (the meeting with Bill Gates goes
specially badly) and clashes with the established IBMers. What he finds,
however, is dauting:
For me at IBM this meant, in some respects, seizing the microphone from the business unit heads, who often felt strongly about controlling communications with “their people”—to establish their priorities, their voice, their personal brand. In some companies, at some times, such action may be appropriate—but not at the Balkanized IBM of the early 1990s. This was a crisis we all faced. We needed to start understanding ourselves as one enterprise, driven by one coherent idea. The only person who could communicate that was the CEO—me.
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
aside, I’ve heard “balkanized” as a term for IBM more times that I can count)
goes to meet with most high-level managers in the company, including next CEO
Sam Palmisano, from sales. But his most impactful encounter is with Thomas
Edison Jr, whom with he shares a ride and a talk about “our” company.
issue that he finds, in Agile terms, is that there’s no space for value. The
client does not have a voice at all. All IBM wants at the time is to lock down
customers and then, essentially use them to pay an ever-growing, bureaucratic
structure. There are no PO, no stakeholders looking out for value.
greatest genius, in our opinion, is his outsider perspective and his unshakeable
conviction that he was the only man fit for the job. He recognizes that splintering
IBM will give away its greatest leverage, the size at the same time that he recognizes
how difficult the size itself makes the transformation possible. Therefore,
he starts a series of shocking, short-term actions to ensure the life of the
year ends with him, reflecting on the fact that both he and the company survived
what was almost certainly a death trap. Now, he has to figure what to do next.
From ’94 to 2002
on, the narrative becomes jumpier: it can both change years from chapter to
chapter, but it also can change from a journal of the year to a defense of a strategic
It would be
difficult to summarize it at, but essentially, the author’s choices as CEO was
to put business value over almost every other priority (he keeps funded the
research wing, despite not being directly business dependent, because he sees
it as a strategic differentiator). He fires thousands of employees, reorganize
all the systems of governance and promotes business administrators and sales
over tech specialists.
They included a general disinterest in customer needs, accompanied by a preoccupation with internal politics. There was general permission to stop projects dead in their tracks, a bureaucratic infrastructure that defended turf instead of promoting collaboration, and a management class that presided rather than acted. IBM even had a language all its own. This isn’t to ridicule IBM culture. Quite the contrary, as I’ve indicated, it remains one of the company’s unique strengths. But like any living thing, it was susceptible to disease—and the first step to a cure was to identify the symptoms. The Customer Comes Second
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
the value of the Mainframe, he streams and lowers the price of it to increase
market share. He changes the philosophy of most of the company towards that of
a Service company, understanding that the client may not want to be locked by having
every single app or server be from a single company, but that someone still has
to do that connection.
By 1996 I was ready to break the services unit out as a separate business. We formed IBM Global Services. The change was still traumatic for some of our managers, but it was eventually accepted as inevitable by most of our colleagues.
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
in a consolidated marketing strategy (there wasn’t a marketing department with
systematic training, the author notes), he does away with inefficient products
(like Os/2 Warp) because he values Customer Experience over technical
With os/2-the fallacy that the best technology always wins. (…) So we came to the OS/2 v. Windows conformation with a product that was technically superior and a cultural inability to understand why we were getting flogged in the marketplace. First, the buyers were individual consumers, not senior technology officers. Consumers didn’t care much about advanced, but arcane, technical capability. (…) Second, Microsoft had all the software developers locked up, so all the best applications ran on Windows.
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
he understands the client’s point of view well enough to empathize and direct
the strategy towards the greatest value.
In the case of application software-the myth of “account control.” This was a term used by IBM and others to talk about how a company maintained its hold on customers and their wallets. As a former customer, I was always offended and indignant that information technology companies talked about controlling customers.
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
ends with his farewell address and a financial analysis that shows how much
more profitable IBM was under his leadership.
mentioned in the intro, this was a difficult book to analyze, due to its changing
structure (it is written like a blog post storm, before blogs) and both its
greatest strength and weakness: the unique authorial voice.
hand, the author is witty, funny and very engaging. His points (disorganized as
they are) tend to be clear and succinct. He has complete conviction: he must
have been a terrific business speaker. His ideas of making the company more Lean,
Agile and oriented towards Value…make perfect sense in an Agile world, 25+
years later. His experience as a CEO and a client makes his extremely valuable
to deal with other CEOs and clients. He’s like the Ultra-PO.
other hand, it is clear that the author, although he considers himself a humble
businessman, is anything but. Not all businessmen come from Harvard. He never
had any job lower in the totem pole than executive and most of his life he’s
been the CEO. While he works on an IT company and he deals with IT People, it’s
made very clear in his writing that there are Leaders (with a capital L) and
then there’s everyone else. When he makes himself available to be criticized
via message, he’s almost in rage when someone does:
One employee, even as his employer was burning and sinking to the delight of our competitors, had the time and inclination to critique my entire visit to an IBM facility (…)
Sometimes I had to bite my tongue—almost in half. All I can say is, it was a good thing for some people that I was too busy to reply to all my e-mail!
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
somewhat compounded by the fact that he clearly believes in both dynasties and
that he was the only person fit for the job; only his elder brother, sadly
incapacitated by Lyme’s disease would have been an alternative. This total
conviction on himself, making himself essentially the next big CEO after
T.Watson Jr. does tend to run counter the Agile and Lean mindset of empowering
others and being transparent and accountable.
because of the year he took office on, perhaps because of the challenges and
perhaps even because of this almost psychotic belief in his own value and
incredible self-confidence, the author accomplished something no one believed
it was possible.
Their book concluded that “the question for the present is whether IBM can survive. From our analysis thus far, it is clear that we think its prospects are very bleak.” (…) Even The Economist—understated and reliable—over the span of six weeks, published three major stories and one lengthy editorial on IBM’s problems. “Two questions still hang over the company,” its editors wrote. “In an industry driven by rapid technological change and swarming with smaller, nimbler firms, can a company of IBM’s size, however organized, react quickly enough to compete? And can IBM earn enough from expanding market segments such as computer services, software, and consulting to offset the horrifying decline in mainframe sales, from which it has always made most of its money? “The answer to both questions may be no.”
(Gerstner Jr, 2002)
final review is: it is a very strange book. Almost a blog before the blog, it
tells a valuable story on how one man changed a culture. We might take away his
relentless focus and learn a lot about the almost LEAN way that the author
approached his objective; and while his voice might be troubling, specially with
some contradictions that glare specially in today’s Agile workplace, we would
remiss to not say that despite all, the author’s immense confidence in himself
was, actually, merited and he was the Right Man for the Job. His story is convoluted,
changing and genial, but never dull.