Most Popular Blogposts on georgevrakas.com for 2014

Thanks to all those who read, commented, joined, queried, challenged and enjoyed my blog in 2014.

This year, apart from the themes of Procurement, Team Development and Organisational Design, I also focused more on the multiplicity of use of philosophy and innovation within the procurement and contract management profession and beyond.

Moreover, the blog hosted its first interview in an effort to spread the word of the developing nature of the Procurement profession. 

Recapping the year, below are the top 5 blogposts that readers found most useful for 2014.

I hope they do to you too! Read it now, or pin for later.

The top 5 blog posts for 2014 were:

1) Procurement and a Differentiator

“In 2020, company leadership will likely look at procurement not as a group that focuses on sourcing raw materials, goods and services, but rather as one that sources ideas. Creativity will involve engaging stakeholders in new, innovative ways” -Deloitte, Charting the Course, Why Procurement must transform itself by 2020
Over the recent years, the procurement profession has started going through a….read more
Innovation Anna betts

Image courtesy of Anna Betts/ www.flickr.com

2) Procurious – Behind the scenes – An interview with Chantelle Genovezos

5 months ago Chantelle Genovezos announced to the Australian Procurement community (click here to see full article) that she and her team were working on establishing an “innovative online community called Procurious” by May 2014.

Following the successful launch of the Procurious web community site, I caught up with Chantelle to find out more about this project and the value this aims to deliver to the Procurement community….read on

Procurious logo

Image courtesy of Procurious

3) How to perform a mid-year Procurement review

Constant reviews are part of every effective system. As Peter Drucker mentioned, every so often, it is crucial to do the “Feedback Analysis” in three steps:

1. Whenever you take a key decision or action, write down what you expect to happen.
2. Review results at regular intervals and compare them with expectations.
3. Use this feedback as a guide and goad to reinforce strengths and eliminate weaknesses.

                                                                                                                         Peter Drucker

The end of the Financial year (in Australia) and reaching the mid-calendar year point in other parts of the world, makes for a great opportunity to review the progress made so far…..read on

Alexander Knight

Image courtesy of Alexander Kaiser, pooliestudios.com / www.flickr.com

4) 6 Additional Pitfalls to Avoid during a Negotiation – Cognitive Biases

It was Richard Feynman who gave the most profound warning: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Following my post which highlighted the importance of identifying Logical Fallacies and showcased the 6 most prevalent ones with practical examples, I feel that it is time to also  touch upon another significant field that can become a pitfall in a negotiation, that of “cognitive bias”.

Read on if you want to find out and become conscious of 6 prevalent tendencies to self-deceive yourself by restricting into thinking in a particular way i.e. fall a victim of cognitive biases. 

Gaining consciousness of this “bad reasoning” will assist to…read on

250px-Kaninchen_und_Ente

5) What Aristotle and Plato have to say about Team Development?

This post focuses on two basic principles that assist us to conceptualize Team Engagement (analyzed before herehere and here) starting from an interpretation of Ancient Philosophy that seems more contemporary than ever. 

Read on if you also want to get some tips on how to go about to achieve this within your teams…..read on

Aristotle and Plato

Plato and Aristotle

CLICK HERE FOR A FULL CATALOGUE OF ALL PUBLISHED BLOG POSTS SORTED BY THEME

Cheers to a wonderful holiday season and a joyous and prosperous 2015.

Kindest Regards,

George Vrakas

What is your Excalibur? Power Sources in organisational settings – an enhanced model!

“One of the things about powerful people is they have the ability to make it look easy” Ice-T

Which are the sources of power in an organisation setting? 

Are the previous studies’ outcomes regarding organisational sources of power still relevant? Will these be still relevant in the 21st century setting? 

Do the current organisational goals allow the same thinking about power to flourish or is there additional sources that we need to consider as more relevant in this age?

This article will argue that, as I have mentioned here and here, the skill-set of a good “questioner” i.e. someone that has a well-developed inquisitive mind, is the additional source of power that needs to be added to the existing lists. Let’s have a look why.

Excalibur

BRIEF HISTORY IN THE RECENT RESEARCH OF SOURCES OF POWER

1959: French and Raven’s Sources of Power:

In 1959, John French and Bertram Raven (American Sociologists) published an article called “The Bases of Power”. This is regarded as the basis for classifying power in organizations.

They identified five sources of power, namely: coercive, referent, legitimate, expert and reward power. These were defined as follows (reference from Paul Merchant’s article “5 Sources of Power in Organisations“):

 

1. “Coercive Power is derived from a person’s ability to influence others via threats, punishments or sanctions.

 

2. Referent power is derived from the interpersonal relationships that a person cultivates with other people in the organization.

 

3. Legitimate power is also known as positional power. It’s derived from the position a person holds in an organization’s hierarchy.

 

4. Expert power is derived from possessing knowledge or expertise in a particular area.

 

5. Reward power arises from the ability of a person to influence the allocation of incentives in an organization”.


1982: Hersley and Blanchard’s addition to the model

French and Raven’s model was expanded in 1982 by Hershey and Blanchard’s publication titled “Management of Organizational Behavior”.

In it, Hershey and Blanchard added two more sources of power namely:

6. Connection power which is derived from the ability to connect people and also from the width and breadth of one’s network (within and outside the organisation)

7. Information Power which derives from been able to gather, process and turn relevant data into information and knowledge. This source may or may not coincide with the Legitimate or Expert power source. The internet has flattened the information field and so, expertise and/or position may not be the only indicators for up to date and relevant / useful information nowadays.

 

SUMMARY OF POWER SOURCES

We can summarise and possibly simplify this list in the below broader categories i.e. Power because of:

i) Position (Coercive, Legitimate, Rewards, Referent),

ii) Relationships (Connection, Referent)

iii) Information (Expert, Information).


TODAY AND TOMORROW

We currently see that the 21st century brings along a different type of complexity. In the most dynamic and fast changing landscape we have ever experienced the skill sets for breaking down and working through complex issues based on critical thinking and good logical skills become more and more in demand.

The Customer base is becoming increasingly astute, as there are many more tools enabling it to compare and find out a highly customised solution.  This is the new norm.

Moreover, social media allows for information to spread rapidly throughout the world. It has been mentioned that, through social media, it now can take less than 20 minutes for an event to spread globally.

As I have discussed here, our ability to combine knowledge and invent solutions to the new challenges encountered can be a very strong differentiator in the marketplace.

“Thinking outside the square” becomes a skill heavily sought after.

Learning how to deal with new issues and organising your analysis, plans and actions towards effectively breaking down a situation and seeking solutions thus, becomes a critical skill.

Just think, when was it last that you had faced a “new” challenge, a more complex situation that you had not encountered before? Who did you seek advice from?

It is possible that you weren’t necessarily looking for a person with the power source described above but for someone who could guide your thinking through the maze of the problem’s elements and potential solutions towards effective mind mapping.

I firmly believe that this is a new source of power that is slowly evolving and establishing itself as a key for the future. We can call it “Effective Questioner” Power.

Organisations by default have positional power figures. The more successful organisations also have relational and informational-experts that deliver results.

How many though have implanted the critical thinking skill-set as a requirement in their Human Resources strategy? I believe that the successful ones of the future will.

Finally, the above plethora of power sources means that we now have more ways to differentiate and add value in an organisation. Like King Arthur who by searching and finding the Excalibur embraced a unique Power and privilege to rule, you now have to consider and reflect on your source of Power and answer the question:

What is your Excalibur?

OTHER RESOURCES 

Previous blog posts on critical thinking, logic and innovation.

  1. 8 must know question types for Effective Leaders (link here)
  2. Innovation: SCAMPER- A Practical Guide
  3. Top Tips – Avoiding Common Negotiation Pitfalls (link here)- First published in TheSource e-news
  4. 6 Additional Pitfalls to Avoid during a Negotiation – Cognitive Biases (link here)
  5. The Future of Learning – Are you part of the Learning Revolution? (link here)
  6. How to Conquer tomorrow? (link here)
  7. Conscious Communication – A paradigm for the 21st Century! (link here)
  8. In pursuit of Best Practice – Intrapreneurship (link here). First published in www.procurious.com
  9. The Leader’s Role is Setting and Keeping the Tune (link here) – Two inspirational Videos included.
  10. How to develop a winning organisation today! An inspiring talk (link here)
  11. “All Models Are Wrong, But Some of Them Are Useful” (link here) – First published in Procurement and Supply Australasia


 

 

 

8 must know question types for Effective Leaders

“The key difference between leaders and managers is that leaders focus on getting to the right questions where as managers focus on finding solutions to those questions”. Michael Marquardt

How many times have you found yourself wondering over a well placed question?

How challenging and stimulating is it to ponder over or doubt established beliefs and guided by a thoughtful question reach new lands previously unexplored?

You can think of the art of questioning as your compass towards a meaningful and productive answer and result.

Michael Marquardt in the insightful book, Leading With Questions How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, explores this very theme. He posits that leadership is all about asking the right questions.

Let’s look at some basic points he makes that will enable us to become better “questioners” and thus, better leaders.

 

question

 

TAXONOMY OF QUESTIONS  – OPEN ENDED VERSUS CLOSED ENDED QUESTIONS

In general, open ended questions stimulate thought and the overall discussion. Closed ended questions do the opposite.

In Procurement terms you can think of open ended questions closer to what an RFI or an RFP is aiming at and a closed ended questions closer to an RFQ.

Let’s look at an example:

Close Ended: “Did you meet your KPIs?”

Open Ended: “How has our KPI performance been going?”

It is evident that in the close ended version the answer is “Yes” or “No”.

The open ended version allows and welcomes commentary and frees up the dialogue towards constructive and productive interchange of ideas.The use of “why”, “how” or “what do you think about…” aims to structure open ended questions.

We have now moved on from a black and white world (if ever we were living in one).

Currently working on complex concoctions of all shades and colours means that we need to embrace tools that stimulate discussion, employee engagement (see here and here for more on this topic) and allow innovation to thrive (other tools for innovation can be found here and here).

 

WHAT TO DO: TAXONOMY OF OPEN ENDED QUESTION

  • what to do

There are various types of open ended questions for us to choose from. The basic ones are listed below:

1) Explorative questions open up new avenues and insights:

Example: Have you explored or thought of………..?

2) Affective questions invite members to share feelings about an issue:

Example: How do you feel about ………?

3) Reflective questions encourage more exploration and elaboration:

Example: You said there are difficulties with your project; what do you think causes these difficulties?

4) Probing questions invite the person or group to go more deeply into a particular issue. Words such as describe, explain, clarify, elaborate or expand aim to do just that.

5) Fresh questions challenge basic assumptions:

Example: Has this ever been tried?

6) Questions that create connections establish a systems perspective:

Example: What are the consequences of these actions?

7) Analytical questions examine causes and not just symptoms:

Example: Why has this happened?

8) Clarifying questions help free us from ambiguity:

Example: What specifically do you mean by that?

 

WHAT NOT TO DO: CLOSED and OTHER DISEMPOWERING QUESTIONS

what not to do

1) Closed Questions call for a specific answer, either yes or no, or calls for the respondent to select an answer from a limited range of choices. Closed questions often begin with what, when, or how many, or ask the respondent to agree or disagree with a statement.

Example: Do you like black or white?

2) Leading questions are those that force or encourage the person or group to respond in the way intended by the questioner.

Example: Were you at the meeting with Bob last night?

A non-Leading example would have been: Where were you last night?

 

SUMMARY

Continuous improvement and radical change relies on good and bold questions been asked.

Coming back to Procurement and Contract Management, results in a recent IACCM study,show that 88% of Contract Management professionals believe that improvement of the quality of the Requirements specifications was the number one factor to improve contract performance in their organisations (see here).

Imagine if the above tool of well placed and well thought of questions was used to clarify and specify Requirements Specifications for our RFx. 

How much better the Procurement and Contract Management process would then be?

 

 

Can you always find what you are looking for? What Heraclitus, Pasteur, Goleman and a recent marketing study posit about the benefits of focus

“Opportunity favors the prepared mind” Louis Pasteur

Wouldn’t it feel strange if you always found what you were looking for? Aren’t there times that it feels like when you are stuck on an issue and something someone says or something you read or see is exactly what you were looking for.

How lucky are you? But is it luck or something else at play here?

I have written before about how ancient philosophical tenets meet modern thinkers (here and here) and in this occasion modern neuroscience.

Reflecting on these notions, serendipity seems suddenly less influenced by luck and more a matter of statistics.

It appears that Heraclitus (the Dark Philosopher), Louis Pasteur (the French chemist and microbiologist) and Daniel Goleman (the writer of Emotional Intelligence) may have had a lot to share on the subject.

Heraclitus

HERACLITUS 

“Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those that have rude souls” Heraclitus

Heraclitus, the so-called Dark philosopher was a Greek Natural philosopher that lived in the city of Ephesus around the 500 BCE. Most of his work was lost and/or destroyed. We currently have access to only a few fragments of his writings. The most famous phrase attributed to his philosophy is the below:

“Τα Παντα ρει” – “All things pass and nothing stays” (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)

Apparently, it cannot be proven that he actually wrote this but it pretty well sums up key tenets of his philosophy.

What is of interest for this blog is a lesser known jewel from his fragments, the one that posits that eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those that bear rude souls.

What Heraclitus seems to be suggesting with this tenet is that when we are predisposed to view a situation from a particular perspective we tend to favour a positive or a negative interpretation of stimuli depending on our character, our state of mind and maybe how well we are attuned to ourselves, how well we “know thyselves” (i.e. our “soul”).

Heraclitus was not alone in the view that, the way we interpret things is the key (see here).

For example, imagine you graciously give up your seat on the tram or train (person A) to a person that appears to need it (person B). There may be two responses to this action:

  1. a positive response may be that you (person A) get a “thank you” based on the acknowledgement of your gracious action (from person B) OR
  2. a negative response when e.g. person B perceives this action as if someone is thinking less of his/her capabilities i.e. as if person A is putting them down. So, in this example person B chooses to tell off person A in the most ungracious of ways.

I am sure you can reflect and recall a few such examples when the disposition or attitude allows for a polar opposite interpretation of an action.

Reflecting on Heraclitus’ quotation we can also phrase it as follows:

“Eyes and ears are good witnesses to those that have refined souls”

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur

LOUIS PASTEUR

Similarly minded about the usefulness of focus and attitude was Louis Pasteur (French chemist and microbiologist).

Pasteur was very persistent and enormously successful in the fields of vaccination and the prevention of disease, as well as, his invention of “pasteurisation” which is a technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination. He always tried to find solutions to problems and break new ground.

He focused on finding solutions and this focus appears to have reaped results as the solutions came to him (combined with hard work of course) resulting to his breakthroughs.

Hence, he articulated:

“Opportunity favors the prepared mind”

The two great thinkers do agree that if one is focused on something e.g. an opportunity, a question, a required result to a problem, it is as if the mind consciously and unconsciously seeks the solutions.

When you set your mind to something you usually find a way to succeed.

Solutions are out there, in the combination of things, the re-engineering of processes. Focused attention is sometimes the missing ingredient.

Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman

DANIEL GOLEMAN – How Heraclitus and Pasteur were onto something

For me, all of the above was just quite reasonable empirical deductions towards developing a positive attitude in life until I came across Daniel Goleman’s classic book, Emotional Intelligence.

In it, Goleman describes in layman’s terms the different functions of the parts of the brain and in particular the functions of the Limbic system and the Neocortex. The results are surprisingly revealing in support of both the great thinkers.

A Short History of Brain Development:

There are three stages of evolution in the brain:

  • The brainstem (which is the primitive brain) which we share with all other species that may a minimal nervous system. This is where the basic body functions are regulated e.g. breathing.
  • The limbic system (from the word limbus which means “ring”). This is built upon the brainstem and is also called the emotional brain g. when you are overwhelmed by craving or fury (“I can’t think straight”) that’s the limbic system taking over. The limbic system refined two essential tools forhomo sapiens a) learning and b) memory. Key structures of the limbic system that do much of the learning and remembering are:
    1. Amydgala – is the part that does most of the learning and remembering in terms of the emotional flavor of events. The Amygdala is the specialist for emotional matters.
It has been found that if theAmydgala is severed then
      1. We lose recognition of feeling as well feeling about feelings,
      2. Lose the urge to compete and cooperate, have no sense of social order.
      3. Emotion is blunted or absent
      4. Repository for emotional impressions and memories that we have 
known in full awareness
    2. Hyppocampus – is the part that deals with registering and making sense of 
perceptual patterns than with emotional reactions, it provides a keen memory of context (e.g. recognizes the 
differing significance of a bear in the zoo than a bear in the 
backyard) and retains the dry facts whilst the amygdala retains the emotional flavor e.g. hyppocampus – that is your cousin, amygdala - you don’t like her.
  • The Neocortex (also called the thinking brain) evolved as of 100m years ago and is the center that puts together and comprehends what the senses perceive. Strategizing, long-term planning, art, civilization and culture are the successes of the Neocortex.

How do signals get processed?

Sensory signals get processed from the ears and eyes through a structure called the Thalamus, to the Amygdala through a single synapse and at the same time to the Neocortex. The signal reaches the Amydgala at 1/3 of the time it takes to reach the Neocortex. So, the emotional brain begins to respond earlier than the thinking brain.

The usual way for sensory information to be processed is from the eyes and ears through the Thalamus and then to the Neocortex where the signals are put together into objects, as we perceive them. These are then sorted out, recognized for what they are and what they mean. The signal is then sent from the Neocortex to the Limbic system and from there the response is coordinated internally and externally.

The usual way takes precedence if the Amydgala is not aroused by the direct signal for e.g. fear of danger. If the Amydgala is aroused then we instinctively respond to the signals before the Neocortex has a chance to analyse the information.

So, essentially, the Amydgala is a repository for emotional impressions and memories that we have never known about in full awareness.

And this is where it gets very interesting.

LeDoux (Goleman p.18) proposed that the Amydgala’s role in memory explains the “startling experiment in which people acquired a preference for oddly shaped geometric figures that had been flashed at them so quickly that they had no conscious awareness of having seen them at all”.

So, the Amydgala and Hyppocampus, as part of the emotional brain, can be viewed as a subconscious sorting mechanism to the myriad of signals that come through our eyes and ears so, we “choose” to distinguish and pay attention to the ones that are emotionally charged only.

In this way it becomes apparent that if we provide significance and emotional charge to specific things these are registered in the recesses of the Amygdala and the Hyppocampus (in the limbic system) and so, we can distinguish them subconsciously within the sea of signals we encounter everyday.

EXPERIMENT USING “THE EYE CONTACT” DEVICE PROVES THE POINT

As reported in The Guardian’s article “Shopper’s eye view of ads that pass us by” as the result of an experiment in marketing conducted in 2005 in the city of London:

In one 45-minute journey, the average London commuter is exposed to more than 130 adverts, featuring more than 80 different products….. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages. ……The experiment, analysed with the help of ID Magasin, the company which developed the device, highlighted both the extent to which individuals are bombarded by commercial images and how adept most have become at screening out advertising messages. The results of our experiment showed that 99% of adverts make little or no impact.

The marketing messages encountered in a day in a metropolis like Melbourne (my home city) cannot be far from this number. So, out of the thousands of brand cues we encounter we tend to recognise and consciously pay attention to just a handful. The above brain mechanism Goleman analysed is the one that allows us to do so.

SUMMARY

So, what we choose to focus on and in general our attitude towards things i.e. on whether we perceive challenges or opportunities, on whether we focus on why something would not work rather than how something could work plays a huge role at the cues that our emotional brain selects to display into our consciousness, the things that help us move forward and solve the challenges we encounter.

A healthy attitude and targeted focus on what matters most is thus, keys to developing a productive lifestyle.

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