Three significant events happened this week. On Tuesday, we proudly witnessed our son graduate from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours. Tim is a member of the cohort of 2011, the so-called earthquake cohort. He has endured the trials and tribulations of the Christchurch earthquakes, and we are convinced he and many others are stronger for the experience. On Wednesday, ANZAC Day, we remembered those New Zealanders and Australians that fought for freedom in wars in faraway places. Many returned, but many young lives were lost. Lest we forget. And then on Friday, we received a large package of information relating to our daughter's AFS student exchange. Megan leaves in mid-August to live in Belgium Flanders for 12 months. The experience will change her life, as it changed mine when I participated on an AFS exchange to USA in 1979-80.
Together, these events reminded me of our responsibility as parents and adults to prepare the next generation, and to provide them with space to make their contribution in life. We all owe it to our kids and those that follow to give our best to this task. How will you prepare those you influence to become significant contributors in the world?
Some very interesting articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review recently—articles about motivation, meaning and habits. These articles caught my eye because they were very different from the usual diet of (very good) economic, business and leadership articles. The majority of HBR's articles can be categorised as "tools and techniques that readers can apply to improve their business". In contrast, these articles focus on the person—on improving one's self and one's contribution—and they are just as applicable in the boardroom as amongst the wider workforce. That's right, directors are not immune. These articles are relevant because we seem to be living in a world where selfish motivations take precedence over "community good". I wonder how many corporate failures could have been averted had the characteristics described in these articles been apparent in the boardroom? Perhaps the global financial crisis and subsequent recession may have been averted as well?
A couple of months ago my PhD supervisor recommended that I read The Arch of Knowledge by David Oldroyd. The book provides a concise (if you call 400 pages concise!) history of the philosophy and methodology of science. In other words, it's about how knowledge is created. My supervisor said I should read it because doctoral students need to understand this stuff.
When I took on this challenge, I expected to skim read the book and move on. However, after persevering with the densely packed text for a couple of weeks, the opposite has happened. Famous philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Galileo, Hume, Popper) and their theses have slowly become real. I've been drawn in. Along the way, I've gained an insight that may well enable me to frame my research in a new way (I'll expand on this in a separate post later). If this insight has legs (I think it does), it should be good for governance research all round.
Reading Oldroyd has provided another (unexpected) benefit. My vocabulary has been expanded—albeit mainly with Greek and Latin phrases like ex suppositione, ex ante, a priori, and a posteriori—by quite some margin. Now if I can get my wife's agreement to allow Greek and Latin alongside English, I might have half a chance of beating her at Scrabble!
In the last couple of days, I've been involved in a very significant discussion with a panel of governance experts from three countries (Canada, USA, New Zealand). We've been exploring the notion of value creation and the role that boards of directors could (should?) be playing in creating value and building wealth. This has been a timely discussion, because it has come not long after my latest research piece which explored this very topic! So, what role should governance boards play in value creation and the development of strategy? Here's a summary of the three main insights from my research:
The panel explored a wide range of related topics, some of which are country-specific. You can read the full discussion here (it's a long and rich discussion—86 posts—but well worth the read). If you'd like to discuss this topic further, or explore how to improve value creation in your context, please contact me.
One of the things I'm re-learning as I continue on my doctoral research journey is this—that critical thinking and a broad, open mind are two crucial characteristics that need to be mastered and maintained. The sheer volume of material available at my fingertips (through electronic library systems) is mind-blowing. A simple search on "governance AND high-growth" revealed thousands of peer-reviewed academic articles and books. With this volume of material, where do I start? Clearly, my searches need to become more refined and more specific (and they are). I've found it relatively easy to go down seemingly interesting and relevant pathways, only to subsequently find that I'm miles away from where I need to be.
Learning involves the management of tensions. On one hand, an enquiring mind is good, very good. On the other, the vastness of the pool of information is such that you simply need to become ruthless about what gets explored and what gets left. The question that begs to be answered is: "How do I manage this tension"? As I continue to write my research proposal, I've embraced two techniques that seem to be serving me well:
How do you manage the tension between effective enquiry and information overload?
Ever wondered about the sacrifices people around you make as they pursue their goals? Some people are motivated by quite selfish goals. They'll go without in one area to potentially win big later on. These people often get ahead, but equally often these people stand on toes and some are despised because of the selfishness. Others however are motivated by making sacrifices in order to make the world a better place. Simon is someone that fits in this latter category. I want to tell you about the work he is doing to help children who live in some of the poorest areas of our city.
Simon runs the Shoes Project at our local church. He decided one of the ways we could help our neighbours was provide shoes to every child (yes, every single one, that's thousands of kids) that attends a decile one primary school in our city. He negotiated a deal with a sports shoe company and put the word out there. He asked people to make a sacrifice, to give money, to help a child. And guess what? They did. His workmates gave. So did local businesses, and so did people at our local church. Even other kids. People were moved by not wanting these children to go through winter without decent shoes. You see, with good shoes they'd stay healthier, and learn more at school. People took up the opportunity to forgo some of their own hard-earned money in order to put shoes on the feet of a child who either didn't have any or whose shoes were quite simply falling apart.
And do you think the kids appreciated the gesture? You bet! The project made the front page. Simon started with one school. When the sacrificial donations made by many were added up, there was enough money to give every child in two schools a new pair of shoes. All this has happened in the last four weeks. It's exciting! There's nearly enough money to do the third school, but there are so many more children still missing out.
Would you like to be part of this? Can you sacrifice $26 to fund a pair of new high-quality sports shoes for a child? If so, please contact me by email or Twitter and I'll connect you.
This weekend, Easter, is when Christians the world over look to the core of their faith and the sacrifice God made. Dying for the sake of others is the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make—Jesus did this. Funding a pair of shoes for a growing child in a poor suburb is a much smaller sacrifice, but one with huge upsides.
Why is Simon doing this? It's all about improving the wellbeing of our community and the society we live in. Simple as that.
When I sat down this morning to re-read a research article that I didn't quite understand on first pass yesterday, I did as I normally do. I checked my email account, news feed subscriptions and my social media pages (LinkedIn and Twitter). Amongst the other things waiting for my attention was this article, originally posted by Tony Schwartz on the HBR Blog Network.
The article set me thinking. Why is it, in this so-called modern age of productivity, that we are simply so busy, trying to fit so much in to our lives? We use electronic diaries to keep track, and now they've come to rule our lives. We seem to be constantly "running". Going faster, but seemingly getting nowhere.
If I drive down the road quickly, my attention is devoted to the road. I don't see the wider vista, just the road. I drive to the short-term view immediately in front of me. And guess what? I stand a real chance of missing vital turning points. Ever wondered why car rally drivers have navigators beside them? Simply, they are driving too fast to also concentrate on bigger things like overall direction and goal.
So, back to the article. "Speed is a source of stimulation and fleeting pleasure. Slowing down is a route to depth, more enduring satisfaction, and to excellence". This is profound stuff. What do you aspire to? Speed and all its short-term trappings? Or significance? Perhaps it is time to slow down and find out.
During the last nine months I've been privileged to have the space and time to ponder many things. Strategy. Governance. Why companies fail. Our purpose on Earth. Life.
Some of these thought pathways have emerged as a direct result of enrolling as a post-graduate student, and the work I needed to do to prepare to become a doctoral student. Others have emerged because I have time and space to think, and because the academic pathways have taught me to think more critically about things.
"Musings" is my response to all this. Rather than hold things close, I've decided to share with anyone who's prepared to listen or to follow. My ideas. My observations. My thoughts. Indeed, my musings.
How often will I publish an entry? I'm not sure but I'd imagine once or maybe twice most weeks. Sometimes, I'll publish more publicly via LinkedIn or Twitter. The RSS tag means the system will alert you to new entries if you subscribe.
The discussion about gender diversity disclosures this week piqued my interest.
NZ Herald article
Are these calls for gender and age disclosures simply representative of societal pressures towards inclusiveness, or are they because increased gender and age diversity is linked to increased company performance?
Researchers have been studying the supposed link between board composition factors and company performance for many years. To date, their findings are inconclusive. Gender diversity does, however, seem to lead to more civilised debate in the boardroom, higher accountabilities and better attendance. So, there appears to be goodness in diversity. However, we must to be careful not to confuse these inputs and activity with the desired output of increased company performance.
New Zealand was first to give women the vote, and that was good for society. Moving towards diversity in the boardroom may also be good for society. However, we don't know that yet.
I applaud any move towards increased transparency and disclosure, particularly for listed companies. However, if the motivation is to move down a diversity pathway for which no solid evidence linking increased diversity to company performance is available, are we not on dangerous ground?
Follow the discussion on LinkedIn here.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.