"Innovation is CREATIVITY that ships" (Steve Jobs). Not a PowerPoint slidedeck.

“What you do now with this moment is critical. You are not going to get it back.”
John Covington, Cows Don’t Stay Milked

The MBA program that Joe the Plummer (JP) had minted at business school seemed vacuous and had lost its relevance. For brevity let’s label it as Missing Business Acumen (MBA). JP was at a fork in the road trying to decide whether he wanted to “think his way to a new way of acting” or “act his way into a new way of thinking.” A couple of frustrations ran through JP’s head.

In the new normal technology has become a first class citizen. As a result the art of Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA) had lost its luster as high tech has trumped high touch. Yet seasoned managers like JP can attest that, despite the hype of digital transformation, Managing by Walking Around (MBWA) — famous in Peter Drucker’s world — is a critical building block for busting strategic dissonance and building sustainable relationships with employees on the shop floor where work gets done (i.e., value creation) and mining for excellence.

The constant resume grooming on Linked In proved to be exhausting for JP. Jobscan trumped the “person behind the resume.” The PowerPoint of view with $5K words trumped the simple $5 interactions to get things done without corporate fanfare.  In the rat race of “humblebragging,” JP understood that he was always going to be rat. JP hit the pause button and said to himself that he needed to cross the chasm and pivot his career in a new direction.

The doubting Thomas, like a devil, creeped from within and played daily havoc in JP’s brain. It kept sounding the alarm about the risks in implementing JP’s vision to live a full joyous life and implored JP to return to the past and remain a relic. Doubting Thomas also created a false narrative that JP’s vision was bound to be a failure.

JP’s body kept its score each moment he felt discouraged or wavered in his resolve to be in the moment and create the future — arriving in small daily doses.  JP felt trapped in fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), His breath was shallow and the body kept its score with cumulative aches, pains and stress.

The visit to the Hindu temple at St Louis was remarkably healing for JP. The deities were unique unlike any other temple that JP had visited.

An invisible voice in the temple, speaking in John Covington’s voice, invited JP to immerse in “scripture, study, prayer and worship life.”

The sage advice that JP obtained at the temple was that the choice to be unwaveringly committed to this path is a daily yoga practice (moving meditation). It is a vital energy source for (1) building the fortitude and resilience, (2) unlearning fear and (3) erasing the voices of self-doubt that linger like the cops in the head.

The Yoga practice opens my own head to heart channels and the head to heart channels of those I lead in my sphere of influence. Yoga also releases act hunger and enables me to spontaneously emerge from inertia.

Reflecting on JP’s story, I had an epiphany that the chanting of Sanskrit  Mantras (scripture) and Breathing (uujayi pranayama) during one’s yoga practice is the growth engine for connecting with my Wise Advocate (neutral observer) and discovering my higher purpose (true north). Research has confirmed that focused attention and meditation enhances neuroplasticity in the brain.

Sanskrit Mantras with Breathing is my Wise Advocate (MBWA) — i.e., my personal roadmap for transformation. I consider this MBWA as my “reboot” to start my day on a positive note and enjoy life and innovate at work – one moment at a time.

The two aforementioned MBWA’s — in different contexts — are not just a play on words in the lure of jargonized eloquence (aka yet another buzzword). I am unable to feel the two MBWA’s in the fashionable “third place” (!) over a cup of coffee. Each of the MBWA’s is an experiential journey, both creative and spontaneous, without PowerPoint slidedecks!

The following is the MBWA-squared manifesto of a Job Coach.

  • As a Job Coach I draw upon the energy from the first MBWA (Mantras with Breathing is my Wise Advocate).
  • As I transition from the yoga studio to the shop floor in a brick and mortar setting, I am viscerally sensemaking “how things are done” and learning by doing while partnering with my coachee. This is Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA).

I change on the job, one step at a time, discover the hidden fabric of work and my coachee’s mojo.

On Thanksgiving day, the Spirit of Martin Luther King (MLK) arrived in the ecosystem of every zipcode in Viable Vision Land, as originally articulated in the “I Have a Dream” speech. This was a special homecoming for the Spirit of MLK and he was both fascinated and curious to explore what was working and what was still an uphill struggle in Viable Vision Land.  There was a yawning chasm between Wall Street and Main Street. In the horizon of the Viable Vision Land, there was an attention deficit, financial deficit, an empathy deficit, a dignity deficit, and rising income inequality.  The mood in Viable Vision Land was grim with a widening gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Moreover, there was a leadership vacuum in Viable Vision Land.


The Spirit of MLK was seeing up close that attention had become an orphan child in Viable Vision Land. A couple of decades ago, Steven Covey had evangelized the seven habits of highly effective people and invited leaders to consider not just focusing on production but also allocating time consciously to “sharpen the saw” to develop their production capacity.

As the Internet economy became mainstream in Viable Vision Land, the obsession with technology (state of technotrance) caused people’s attention to drift and gravitate into the echo chamber of tweets, social media, noisy rhetoric, and other distractions.

In this new normal, hyped as the digital disruption, multi-tasking, using PowerPoint slidedecks to skim over the “thinking process”,  putting out “fires” (poor planning) , emails and tweets becoming runaway projects, and other scenarios trumped over the mantra of (leading and) managing by walking around on the shop floor, which was a “high touch, low tech” practice in a bygone era (being closer to the operational reality of “how we do things around here”).

The current reality tree (CRT) illustrates the attention deficit spiraling out of control while the volume of unfinished business was spanning beyond my lifetime. I concurred with the Spirit of MLK that ignoring the unfinished business would be grossly unfair and “ungenerous to the next generation.”
(click to view the graphic)

While grieving the dissonance between (flawed) actions (to date) and the strategic intent (“I Have a Dream”), the Spirit of MLK remained calm and composed yet appearing pragmatic and tenacious to energize the rest of us to surge momentum and make the Dream come true.

Invoking the “inherent simplicity” of the thinking process, the Spirit of MLK imagined the future reality tree (FRT) for making “I Have a Dream” tangible, as viewed within the context of turning around a distressed business on Main Street in Viable Vision Land. Thinking ProcessSuch a frame of reference symbolized a powerful moment of truth for leading by example and, if successful, could become a legend for the current and future generations. The Spirit of MLK ignored the conventional wisdom of the balance sheet view of the firm and avoided falling into the trap of mining its deficits and denominator-based management (arbitrary corporate downsizing). By employing a reframed lens that “corporations are [made up of] people” and a business is a portfolio of projects, the Spirit of MLK creatively explored how to revitalize the distressed asset by nurturing its body and soul and increasing employee engagement and accelerate value creation. The Spirit of MLK clearly understood that inside every distressed asset is a diamond in the rough (I.e., increase throughput, decrease inventory, decrease operating expenses). The Spirit of MLK brainstormed using the following questions:

  • What is the Viable Vision of the business?
  • Is everyone in the “I Have a Dream” team aware of the job to be done in this distressed business and the unfinished business to “mine the diamond in the rough?”
  • Where is the constraint? What should be done with the constraint? How do we implement the change?
  • Is there a project plan for the “I Have a Dream” project? Is it realistic and believable?
  • Why is the current status of “I Have a Dream” project flaming red (not trending yellow or green)? How long has it been red?
  • Is there a risk management plan? What is the go-green plan?  Is it actionable?
  • What may be causing the wounds of division amongst some team members?
  • Is the coordination optimal in order to maximize project throughput?
  • Is there a dialogue holding environment for “I Have a Dream” community conversation?
  • Who is the owner’s rep for “I Have a Dream” project infrastructure?
  • How long have the project teams been in the forming or storming stages of team evolution?
  • What are the factors that may be causing inertia and inducing a culture of scarcity thinking?
  • What is the turnaround plan for managing the attention of everyone in the project team?
  • What is the (individual and team) game plan for sharpening the saw?

Guided by the expert facilitation and coaching of the Spirit of MLK, the business stakeholders let go of their fear of failure and scarcity thinking and started to embrace a growth mindset and developed a turnaround management plan for the distressed business on Main Street.

LEADER (who stretches to serve and play the role) as COACH (LaC) displays abundance thinking by encouraging and helping the coachee to realize one’s potential and become the best version of oneself.

Walking the leadership talk is never easy. Artificial conversations to “practice leadership” in an echo chamber (e.g., during “happy hour” or a corporate offsite) are not valuable or insightful. A LaC partners with the coachee to shape a clearinghouse for growth and help the coachee discover her (his) mojo.

Leadership is a rigorous practice that requires determination, disciplined imagination, and commitment. The endeavor is really about Managing the Business of Attention (MBA) and sowing the seeds of developmental transformation to become future ready. All the stakeholders in the distressed business committed to self-regulate their attention because they realized that the flawless execution of the turnaround plan required all the project teams to operate in a flying formation, like the Blue Angels, and nurture a culture of excellence.

Proposition: Walking the talk of the Theory of Constraints (ToC) is a force multiplier for Managing the Business of Attention and, in the process, always “doing the right things and doing things right.” This uncommon insight, despite its “inherent simplicity,” can be leveraged by every leader who has a passion for solution focused coaching.

As John Covington remarked, it is the intentionality of “putting the right thing in your head on an ongoing basis.” “Cows don’t stay milked.”  The operating system for this intentionality may be installed by engaging in deeper forms of consciousness (detached from going to a state of technotrance).

The Spirit of MLK experienced an Aha! moment that the secret sauce for incrementally excavating “I have a Dream” was in the “inherent simplicity” of the thinking process underlying “Walking the ToC.” The Spirit of MLK wondered if every church in Viable Vision Land could perhaps play a role to spread the wisdom in “Cows don’t stay milked” and juxtapose the management of attention and sharpening the saw every weekend and (re-)organize for resilience. Both MBA and sharpening the saw require an ounce of TLC (tender loving care) and the space and time that the weekend affords an individual can be very productive for personal introspection and self-discovery to “carve out the space for the 1st, 15th and 43rd thought.” 

The urgency to walk the ToC is here and now because the future is already here arriving in small daily doses. As a collective we need to recognize both the time value of money and the money value of time — this requires undivided attention. Which brings up an interesting question — should we permanently #RepealandReplace inertia with the five focusing steps in ToC (which mandates “status quo” to be out of scope) and inject a dose of the Amazon leadership model? That choice is perhaps personal and left to the reader to ponder.

The “inherent simplicity” of the thinking process provides a scaffolding for bridge builders to work together across communities and “bind the wounds of division” in Viable Vision Land with a sense of urgency and, as the Spirit of MLK would echo, into a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood” and an unspoken understanding of each other that builds mutual trust.

Whether it is at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the day, you are your own Chief Operating Officer (COO) and cultivating the habit of “first things first” and the other seven habits of highly effective people can be nurtured by MBA and sharpening the saw. As every maestro would agree in unison, the tango of MBA and sharpening the saw is the performance of a lifetime for every growth leader.

By “leaning in” to walk the ToC, every leader will be in a state of readiness to board the bus to turnaround the economy of Viable Vision Land.




The presence of the Spirit of MLK unleashed a breath of fresh air and created a clearinghouse for growth for the people in Viable Vision Land. There seemed to be a glimmer of hope and people were invited to choose and embrace compassion, humility and humanity. This is a “road less taken” to co-create an ecosystem for Option B leadership and reduce CAGE distances (cultural, administrative, geographic, economic) between people and across regions in a world of differences.

The Thanksgiving wish going into 2018 and beyond is that, as we are guided by the pioneering Spirit of MLK, “I Have a Dream” will continue to stay alive, visceral, real and vibrant in Viable Vision Land — both in the real-world and online.

road less taken

When President Abraham Lincoln was 32 years old and enveloped in gloom and sadness, he wrote, “I am now the most miserable man living.” Several studies on clinical depression have confirmed today’s reality that at least one in 10 Americans take antidepressants, a rate that many say is alarmingly high, especially among teenagers.

Today we have many children attending school who are affected by toxic stress and trauma as a result of adverse childhood experiences such as caregiver mental illness, substance abuse, chronic neglect, and family violence. Toxic stress can be emotionally costly because it can affect brain development and other aspects of the child’s health.

Trapped inside the void of the trauma, a persistent gloom arises similar to the dark nights of the soul. As a society, we eventually need to lend a hand and help people who are impacted by toxic stress.

Today’s life oscillates between the physical world and online world. If one chooses to live online in a state of technotrance, screens, tweets, hyperlinks and hyperbole often fill the void while distorting reality.

The human growth agenda has to evolve beyond the keyboard, mouseclicks, and transactional connections in a digital world. This requires the physicality of connection which can be best experienced by relating with others in an ensemble.

Dynamism and innovation are the fuel of America’s growth engine. Yet both are in retreat and in acutely short supply since America’s economy is generating fewer new companies every year. Since the Great Recession (2009-2011), the United States generated only 25 new firms per billion dollars of GDP (versus 95 new firms per billion dollars of GDP prior to the Great Recession). Nearly two thirds of the US metro areas saw more firms close than open in 2014. Employment has declined by 7.2% in economically distressed zipcodes. The country’s most economically distressed zipcodes continue to experience a deep and enduring recession while the nation as a whole has enjoyed years of recovery. There were 1 million jobs missing in 2014. The American economy has become more reliant on old firms to generate job growth since the recession.

American dynamism - IBIS

The daily consumption of prescription painkillers (opioid addiction) by prime-age males has unfortunately resulted in depressed labor force participation leaving them either unemployed or causing their job opportunities to decline dramatically.
Dignity Deficit IBIS

According to the Economic Innovation Group: “Even a percentage point increase in the job turnover rate would unlock millions of opportunities for American workers.” 

American dynamism in retreat

I personally feel that everyone has a moral obligation and stake to collectively erase the dignity deficit – identified by American Enterprise Institute.  Left unchecked or classified as an undiscussable, it will continue to deplete emotional bank accounts beyond our generation and weigh in our group consciousness.

From a global standpoint, the world’s economic center of gravity has shifted from a small part of the world to its entirety. Framed as the global tilt, while this unprecedented change can be disruptive, there are tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs and leaders to build the psychological fortitude and learn how to co-exist in a multipolar world.

Treating people with dignity is paramount even though entrepreneurs are driven to win, sometimes at all costs. This means working together without trampling or hurting each other during the entrepreneurial journey.

Global Tilt

Coupled with America’s dignity deficit, the declining economic dynamism is self-reinforcing. Furthermore, we are living in a tidal environment (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous) where we need to be in a state of readiness to mobilize a response in the event of a traumatic disaster (pandemic, wars, etc). This is an emergency room, special situation and requires attention, caring and meaningful action, without digital distortion, at the strategic and tactical levels.

Given the need of the hour and in the absence of a sense of urgency at the local or national levels, the Founding Fathers issue a spiritual mandate to reduce the dignity deficit among the disenfranchised people by creating a meaningful neededness agenda.

I’d like to join the cadre of bridge builders to heed that call to action and recognize that we need to treat people at the bottom of the pyramid and at the periphery of society across all the zipcodes with enough respect that can bring them feel needed and hopeful about the future.  We can’t afford to let a broad cross-section of America be mired in the past of a bygone era and ignore their mental health.

How we work together in this special situation creates the blueprint for Trauma Informed Leadership Turnaround in a Tidal, Tilted World.

In human communication, 93% is body language while only 7% is verbal. Yet body language seems to have taken a backseat in the mobile-first world where aloofness has become paramount. Becoming “World Class. Face to Face” – a Cougar tenet – is the cornerstone of empathic human conversation that needs to be reclaimed so that we can reach out and bind the wounds of division and reduce the dignity deficit.  I was reminded about the Paradise called the Palouse where there is a community in Walla Walla that has pioneered Trauma Informed Leadership in a school.

Building and cultivating community is a grassroots led effort to get people in a room together and realizing that when we choose to connect people like a threaded needle and be around people who are different than you are, we can find common ground and unite behind a shared purpose.

Trauma Informed Leadership Behaviors

Trauma Informed Leadership is an improvised human performance of a lifetime where the group mobilizes, heals, builds bridges, and uses a solution focused approach to learn new behaviors and perform a head taller than we are today.  A Trauma Informed Leader practices compassionate communication and helps individuals with a dignity deficit unshackle the chains of the past, and uses the canon of creativity to revive dynamism, arrest inertia, and achieve a performance breakthrough by launching an initiative to Skill Americafor example, by taking a page from Skillveri.

Performing Trauma Informed Leadership Turnaround in a Tilted, Tidal world  will enable my post-traumatic growth and is my playbook for reclaiming my mojo in the new normal.


Keywords: Rural Entrepreneurship, Technology Transfer, Regional Economic Growth

“CEOs are going to think harder about the consequences about moving jobs overseas.” (a response based on a trending tweet)

The quagmire facing policy makers is the question of job creation for the unemployed and underemployed in blue-collar America. While there are many answers to this question, it has been the topic du jour in many election campaigns.

I pondered about “Blue Collar Asset Management” (BCAM) over a bowl of Kellogg. In this note I will offer some rudimentary ideas for enhancing the economic security for blue-collar America.

First and foremost, taking a page from The Boys in the Boat, let’s not forget that “skilled hands [in America] can [also] do a lot more than tap at screens.”

As a nation, we need to reexamine the value chain of a business that is primarily driven by outsourcing and/or “shipping jobs overseas” [as a corporate policy] and “employ” (pun intended) tactics for systematically recovering and rebuilding the core competencies of a firm (lost due to sub-optimal decision-making, lackluster human capital management, or myopic cost cutting).

From a business perspective, with the default bias towards offshoring (selective or total), the prevailing trend is to use contingent staffing (nearshore, offshore) to get things done and, in the process, transfer technology and know-how to temporary resources. This strategy, in my view, leads to a gradual erosion of intellectual capital of the firm. Often there are other unintended consequences such as a “fox guarding the hen house.”

While profit maximization has received greater focus, preserving the core competencies or core capability management has received lesser scrutiny and has been off the radar of senior leadership, including the boardroom, in most companies.

Consequently, a firm’s ability to effectively compete for the future is at risk, which in turn impacts job creation, employment, and regional economic growth.

The recent Twitter prompts from the echelons or top of the pyramid could be viewed as a constructive nudge with a dash of positivity, if you will, to discuss the undiscussable (job creation in America) and cause a visible change in priorities in the corporate boardrooms towards the following:

  • How can we pivot to a significant shift towards Reverse Offshoring through Intrapreneurship (ROI)?
  • Can we germinate a Silicon Valley mindset across all zip codes to generate the momentum for entrepreneurial capitalism in America?

Pocock derived enormous pride from his work. He would not make more boats than he could make with perfection and beauty. “No one will ask you how long it took to build,” he said. “They will only ask who built it.”

“There remains a cultlike devotion to the wooden works of boatbuilding art. As long as it lasts, there will be a need for the Pocock type of boat-maker.”

Let us leverage the creativity of the Turnaround Management Association to turnaround distressed businesses on Main Street and coach, mentor, teach, and motivate the unemployed and underemployed to become both producers (entrepreneurs) who have a similar passion as a Pocock type of boat-maker.” These are the real-life case studies that B-schools could use for experiential learning and build community. We should also promote intrapreneurship inside the company and find ways to minimize or reduce the default dependence on offshoring.

Using an ROI lens in Main Street (not just Wall Street) and taking a page from Karma Yoga, let’s work together to “bind the wounds of division”  and practice Trauma Informed Leadership  in a Tidal world (TILT).

By working together with a renewed sense of purpose, we can increase our Tenacity quotient, Intellectual quotient, and Emotional intelligence quotient, “bind the wounds of division” (TIEd across all communities), and reduce the prevailing empathy deficit.

There is plenty of physical space in a number of strip malls where businesses have filed for Chapter 11. Why not use those spaces as incubators to engage with the community and champion entrepreneurship education by targeting the underemployed and underemployed. My sentiment is that a face-to-face encounter in a physical space can be game changer and bring people together while engaged in purposeful activities. Little things can make a big difference.

Relying on hope, my instinct tells me that with the collective wisdom, sponsorship, empathy, activism, and clout of the corporate boardroom and policy makers, we can form a coalition of the willing, operating without any quid pro quo and choosing to give more and take less, to make Reverse Offshoring through Intrapreneurship (ROI) as one of the core levers for Blue Collar Asset Management (BCAM) and enhance the security of blue-collar America.

Time is of the essence to act courageously like a leader for the American Commerce Turnaround (lights, camera, ACTion)!

As the President-elect remarked, we need to bind the wounds of division in our community. Turning a page from history, in the second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln had also issued the clarion call for binding up the nation’s wounds.”

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The collective work to heal these wounds is past due. Are these wounds (personified) in the ER? The nation currently suffers from a significant empathy deficit.

Over a bowl of Kellogg today, I noodled about the market positioning and relevance of the Scion branded hotels while reinventing Brand America.


I understand that Scion’s strategic intent is to leverage “convertible public spaces — transitional, multifunctional spaces that can bend to guest needs”, facilitate “connections,” and become a “place to be,” creating a “community vibe.”


In an increasingly online world the real-estate for community spaces (that are non-retail) in the physical world seems to be ever shrinking. Dr. Nisha Sajnani, Lesley University, has identified in her groundbreaking work on Trauma Informed Leadership that “schools may be one of the only spaces we have left where we can experience a convergence of children, families, public servants, municipal leaders, and other community members.” This clearly demonstrates that there is a yearning for hospitable physical spaces for relaxed conversations and connections in a social environment, community building and healing.

In order to “bind the wounds of division” in the community, physical spaces play a paramount role. Human to human interactions that are heart to heart (high touch, low tech) in a safe space enable healing, repair broken relationships, and rebuild trust. Only in the real-world can the physicality of the connection emerge. “The action is in the interaction” for the change to emerge. Professor Joe Brockner, Columbia University, also emphasizes that the [engagement] process does matter (i.e, HOW we interact; little things we do can make a big difference) in order to create positive experiences for everyone involved in the dialogue and achieve better outcomes for everyone.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, I believe that there is a great opportunity for the hospitality industry to fill this void and raise the bar for making a difference.

HOW can a business play a key role in “binding the wounds of division” by hosting spaces for community convergence and leading by example? This requires striking a dynamic balance between profit maximization (doing well) and social responsibility (doing good).

“You haven’t lived today until you’ve done something for someone who can never repay you.” 
John Bunyan

Hosting is at the center of humanity. Host leaders in the Scion branded community space will serve as a catalyst to usher and unleash new energy and bring people together with an open heart. They notice the possibility of what is happening and emerging and steer the group to hold the space collectively.


Given that there is generational trauma in many parts of America, we need to practice Trauma Informed Leadership. Consistent with this narrative, Prof Sheena Iyengar, Columbia University, also observes that “we are currently in a world where each of us is searching to find our authentic self.” I imagine that community building in the Scion space will “bind the wounds of division” and promote healing.




A Scion branded hosting space will offer room for people to tap skills, resources, contact and time (e.g., conduct training programs on entrepreneurship or converge on a turnaround plan for a distressed business or a healing circle).

As the famous architect Frank Gehry once said, “it is important to create spaces that people like to be in, that are humanistic.” Such spaces shape the context for meaning to emerge and new ideas to surface.

Serving as bridge builders, host leaders play the roles as gatekeeper, inviter and connector. They also sow the seeds of Trauma Informed Leadership in a sacred and hospitable space to build resilient communities.


I imagine that Scion will be not only have a presence in major metropolitan areas but also in the American heartland while simultaneously enhance the signature strength of the brand.

“Binding the wounds of division” is more than just a tweet and it is essential to realize that only through the art of forgiveness, with patience and determination, can old wounds heal and replenish depleted emotional bank accounts.

Let us leverage the physical spaces around us across the zipcodes to meet eye to eye, align our perspectives, and work together to:

  • Compete for the future (“race” against time);
  • Recognize that the only “race” is the human race;
  • Decrease our CAGE (*) distances in a bias for unity; and [CAGE: Cultural, Administrative, Geographic, Economic]
  • Inch closer towards “I have a Dream” (envisioned by Martin Luther King)

“Irish poet and novelist Edna O’Brien summed it up nicely: “In a way Winter is the real Spring — the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of Nature. […] Sometimes we just need to look toward what can be, and remember, in a more hopeful twist on the popular saying from the Game of Thrones, “Spring (*) is coming.””( * : empathy and healing)
Washington State Magazine, Winter 2016

As an American citizen at the grassroots level, I am interested in contributing and being a part of the conversation vis-a-vis reinventing Brand America.

Drawing a page from my experience, I have observed that, depending on the organizational culture, the rigor of project management practices (PMBOK) seem to lose traction and are not widely adopted. In a world of short attention spans, engaging the project team to review progress and update the plan is sometimes very challenging. Often the Project Manager is left alone in maintaining a project plan (MPP file or other format). Culturally there is an overwhelming appetite for ambiguous status updates rather than data driven insights using a project management tool. Stoplight colors that have no definitions are assigned, based on “gut instinct,” to describe project health. Style over substance and adhocism has veered to become the norm at the expense of disciplined project management and clear delineation of accountability. As an illustrative example, the status report of a runaway project claims that the team is “creating an execution plan that is dependency-driven, resource-loaded, viable and risk aware” (in the absence of a project planning process this is an imaginary plan). 

Using this business situation as a frame of reference, I put myself in the shoes of a General Manager running such an organization. I reflected on the nature of the conversation in the GM’s staff meeting.


A text analysis of the narrative of the problem-based conversation often consists of $5K words at the helicopter level, confirming that there is a lacklusre appetite for managing by walking around.

  • We have growing pains in terms of being to “land” this project
  • Need to ensure “alignment”
  • Looks like there are execution challenges in that “space”
  • Operationally how do we sustain those efforts?
  • We are going “one step forward and two steps back”
  • Need to make prioritization streams are cleaner and prevent any flare ups
  • There is a looming dark cloud where we go quiet
  • Let’s “leverage” the meeting next week to discuss those topics
  • Need to restart the “rhythm of the business” and build our “muscle”
  • “What is preventing you that is blocking you from executing?”
  • Need to understand the business model changes
  • What does the balance of the program look like?
  • How do the stakeholders want to “consume” the information?
  • There are increasing conflicts between headquarters and the subsidiaries as a result of the pain points
  • We need to engage in a dialogue and ensure “alignment”
  • Many of the business processes are not functioning now; they seem to have a lot of noise. Let’s make sure that the “water is flowing through the pipes”
  • The customers’ patience is running thin
  • We are not moving fast enough and seem to playing catchup
  • Are we holding ourselves “accountable”?
  • Need the next level of insight
  • Both time and complexity are constraints
  • At which “altitude” are we talking about?
  • Need to do a “reboot and reset” on the plan about how we get there and make sure that it is well orchestrated
  • Need to setup a different type of “cadence”
  • Need to “change the game”
  • Need to figure out from a “leadership perspective” how to “reboot”
  • This is a collective challenge about how we tackle this together as leadership team
  • We need to be in “flying formation”
  • Need to get a pulse of the issues impacting the program
  • We need to orchestrate some common motions
  • Let’s “double click” to the next level of detail

The goals of a General Manager include the following:

  • Seeing the linkages and interconnections across the organization
  • Managing through other people
  • Leading the business through turbulence: globalization, impacts of the changes in market boundaries, and shifts in technology

Viewed through the lens of an astute General Manager, the current state of project portfolio management does not create value in an uncertain world of increasing demands and shrinking resources. Falling into the trap of “hurry sickness” ends up achieving little or lasting value for the organization.

The aspiration of a GM running a global enterprise is to unlock sustainable, profitable organic growth on a global scale. This calls for doing less and being more Solution Focused (SF).

Although the GM had a Chief of Staff, I realized that the direct reports needed coaching to find their swing like the Boys in the Boat and foster a growth mindset.

A growth hacker is “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

Key Question

From a growth hacking perspective, how can we refactor the high-level (50,000 feet) General Management talk and use a Solution Focused (SF) approach and make this endeavor a coaching conversation using $5 words?

  • The SF coach has a bias for simplicity and reframes $5K words into $5 words that can be understood by the talent pool.
  • The SF coach works with the coachee to help establish ground rules, priorities and reserving time to think.
  • The SF coach encourages the coachee to learn to work smarter and not harder.
  • The SF coach acts as a sounding board and constructively challenges the coachee to adopt new perspectives and ideas around people and organizations to help her/him forge connections across functional areas.
  • The SF coach also helps the coachee understand and integrate consistency, cohesion, and alignment across many moving parts in the business unit.
  • The SF coach works with all the direct reports of the General Manager to examine their hidden curriculum of work and assess the mutual agenda between their own goals and desired contributions intersect with the organization’s needs.
  • A SF coach helps the coachee learn to identify and solve gray-area problems.
  • The SF coach also helps the Chief of Staff to become a force multiplier and reach extender for the GM’s strategic value.
  • The SF coach helps the coachee become a conscious leader who is connected with his (her) people at an operational level (descending from the helicopter level).

Pivotal in a GM’s realization is that all the direct reports as a leadership team cast their shadow on the company. This is the cornerstone of the GM’s succession planning endeavor.

Guided by a SF coach, the coachee (individual in the GM team) can  embark on her (his) personal transformation journey by developing an inquisitive mind and an acquisitive learning ability (“learner’s license”).

“Having through a unique time in business history, we are again thinking very hard about the things that are critical to our success.”
Steve Ballmer. “Four Pillars of Excellence,” published in Executive Excellence.

Below is the (living) dialogue map of the shared mental model of the Microsoft founding management team and represents the gist of the article.



Any firm that aspires to become a truly great company should understand the thinking process of its founders and create a dialogue map of the “Founders’ Touch.”


innovative thinking

To quote Stephen Covey — “Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – YOU.”

It is often easy to get wrapped up in the demands of continuous production and unconsciously ignoring this sage advice of “sharpening the saw” or rejuvenating production capacity of human talent. Practicing the sharpening of the saw is akin to the rigor of relentless training for any sport — be it athletics, skiing or mountaineering — and is a hero’s journey and consciously abandoning the victim’s mindset.

As Jim Collins insightfully observed while synthesizing his mountaineering experience, “You’ll only find your true limit when you go to fallure, not failure.” By not letting go, brink-of-failure designs may emerge as innovation breakthroughs, often as surprises, in enduring great companies.






“Because corporations have a low tolerance for failure — and face it, innovation carries risks—getting the true buy-in needed to see innovations through can be difficult.”

Mining why we failed in the past is a tired tradition. A corporation that competes for the future adopts a growth mindset and chooses fallure over failure.

Pixar Pitch

Once upon a time mergers and acqusitions (M&A) in many high tech firms was stratified as a financial transaction both in Wall Street and in cherry-picked Silicon Valley zipcodes. As a result, human capital was largely ignored like Cindrella, a drudge-like creature in the Technology Policy Ball. And because of that humanity seemed to be outside the radar of the human resources department. And because of that there was a slump in productivity and a majority of the workers were dissatisfied with their sense of accomplishment at work (also confirmed in Gallup polls). The prevailing conventional wisdom at the CEO and board levels staunchly believed that an adhoc mixture of one or more luck events, charismatic leadership and targeted rightsizing is the silver bullet for post-merger integration success. And because of that the strategic agility of the firm remained inherently weak and the accruing technical debt in the financially significant systems became a critical business issue (a three headed hydra) for the firm. Project management was also regarded an overhead which created a roadblock for the PMO to get a seat at the table. Until one day a grassroots campaign in the IT community to embrace the principles of the Agile Manifesto started a global movement in the business community to bring individuals and intereactions front and center as first class citizens, reject the tired traditions of yesteryear, adopt a system view and relentlessly focus on optimizing the business. As a result of this mandate, there was a visible change in priorities in the board room. And from that day forward, self-organizing teams catapulted into action by internalizing the founder’s touch and (1) welcomed the initial state of dissonance during post-merger integration to innovate, (2) built the muscle of strategic agility at scale in the enterprise and (3) revived the passion for Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA).


What is the M&A situation?

Nokia was a platform-based acquisition with a complexity that metaphorically represented a reverse two and-a-half somersault with a half twist. The acquisition, classified as a “burning platform,” was originally intended to provide a center of gravity for Microsoft to make an entry in the mobile phone business. As a challenger, this presented an opportunity to make a radical change to navigate towards uncharted waters in terms of both the upstream and downstream parts of the value chain while retaining existing and acquiring new Nokia customers.

“Nokia, our platform is burning.”
“We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.”
“The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behavior, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.”
Dated: Feb 9, 2011

At that time, as a shareowner, I had an outside in perspective of the firm and presented a compelling, not-to-miss opportunity to create a cadre of Activist Turnaround Managers (ATM, pun intended) on Main Street. I published a blog post in February 2011.

The corporate renewal of Nokia was not successful. The bad news was communicated via the “Hello There” memo.

“Companies spend more than $2 trillion on acquisitions every year. Yet study after study puts the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions somewhere between 70% and 90%.”
Clayton Christensen, The M&A Playbook, Harvard Business Review, Jul 2015

Precision Question

How do we turnaround the context from a public narrative of a high-visibility face-plant to write-off a failed acquisition as a distressed asset in the balance sheet to one that is more solution focused (SF), hands on, which also strikes a chord with both the financial and human propositions to achieve post-merger integration success?

Learning from Jack Welch

At an April 1986 board meeting in Kansas City, I had argued for it – and unanimously swung the board my way. It was a classic case of hubris. Flush from the success of our acquisition of RCA in 1985 and Employers Reinsurance in 1984, I was on a roll. Frankly I was just full of myself. While internally I was still searching for the right “feel” for the company, on the acquisitions front I thought I could make anything work. There’s only a razor’s edge between self-confidence and hubris. This time hubris had won and taught me a lesson I’d never forget. The Kidder experience never left me. Culture does count, big time.
(Jack Welch, Straight from the Gut, 2001)

“Even so, as lessons go, $7.5 billion is pretty steep tuition.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Rather than fall into the conventional trap of casting the blame on an individual for a bad deal (“tire that had a flat”), in a solutions focused (SF) approach we avoid spending an inordinate amount of time to find out why it is flat (root cause analysis) and focus instead on getting a new tire to try to make sure it stays inflated (i.e., make a good deal better and avoid a bad deal — sage advice that I learned at Ernst & Young). Jack Welch’s insights also emphasizes the importance of human capital during post-merger integration. However, the venture integration group in most firms often fall into the trap of viewing a potential acquisition only through a financial lens and worry less about the heavy lifting required during post-merger integration.

The Nokia acquisition was probably originally intended to be an enhancement deal since it was designed to bring the acquirer capabilities that it didn’t yet have but would allow it to intensify its own capabilities system. However, studies have shown that unlike leverage deals, both enhancement deals and limited-fit deals don’t produce the best returns.

M&A deals continue unabated

The 15 Biggest M&A Deals Of 2015 (so far) consist of the following:

  • Private equity firm Thoma Bravo and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan completed the acquisition of Riverbed Technology for approximately $3.5 billion.
  • Sopos acquired SMB email security and archiving company Reflexion Networks for an undisclosed account.
  • DLT Solutions was was acquired by private equity firm Millstein & Co. for an undisclosed amount.
  • HP bought Aruba Networks for $3 billion.
  • Bain Capital acquired security firm Blue Coat Systems for $2.4 billion.
  • PCM acquired solution provider and systems integrator En Pointe Technologies for $15 million. (En Pointe is one of Microsoft’s largest licensing solution providers in the country.)
  • Nokia acquired French rival Alcatel-Lucent for $16.6 billion.
  • Fortinet acquired Meru Networks in a deal valued at approximately $44 million.
  • Cisco acquired OpenStack specialist Piston Cloud Computing to accelerate its Intercloud strategy. (undisclosed amount)
  • EMC acquired cloud computing company Virtustream for $1.2 billion.
  • Accuvant and FishNet have completed their merger and will launch as Optiv Security.
  • SofwareOne acquired the software licensing business of $2.2 billion solution provider CompuCom.
  • Intel acquired semiconductor manufacturer Altera for $16.7 billion to bolster its Internet of Things business.
  • Avago is buying rival Broadcom in a $37 billion deal.
  • Charter Communications is purchasing of Time Warner Cable for $56 billion as well as buying Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion.

Post-merger integration success is not guaranteed for all the above deals. While there is no universal recipe, I feel that it is a valuable exercise to explore some options to “make a good deal better and avoid a bad deal.”

Higher Intent

One level up

The following Post It notes represent a subset of undesirable effects (UDEs) during an unsuccessful post-merger integration.

The higher intent “one level up” (my boss) is to reverse the UDEs and achieve a large subset of the following outcomes during the post-merger integration of a firm.


Two levels up

Taking an ounce of Tom Peters’ sage advice, the leadership (two levels up) has a recognized that a culture of execution-accountability is a pre-requisite for achieving corporate renewal (inclusive of situations during post-merger integration). Aside from the size of the deal, at a tactical level, execution excellence requires leaders to re-learn the behavior of Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA), which was the rhythm of the business during a bygone era at Hewlett-Packard (now in distant memory).

My Intent as a Shareowner

What are we trying to achieve and why?
  • Reframe past M&A failures as fallure so that organizational leaders can learn to adopt a growth mindset in a turbulent environment
  • Use the M&A (both pre- and post-merger) as a springboard to develop the generative process for strategic agility of the firm. (click on the link to view the dialogue map)
  • Develop the capability to notice an opportunity and make a rapid yet precise move using extraordinary accelerating power
  • Develop the capacity of making knowledgeable, nimble, rapid strategic moves with a high level of precision
In order to
  • Improve sensemaking, decision making and resource deployment during the selection, acquisition and integration phases of a merger
  • Increase Return on Luck (ROL) during post-merger integration and build a relevant @ResponsiveOrg

Return on Luck


A longitudinal panel of over 400 observations across multiple firms and industries has revealed that post-merger success hinges on achieving the dual goal of simultaneously improving customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. This in turn enables the merger to achieve a significant increase in long-term financial performance.

A lack of systems thinking during post merger integration can cause corporate myopia. We urge that one has to think outside the box, understand the causality among the undesirable effects (identified earlier) and target what to change, where to change and how to change.

Digital business strategy extends the scope beyond firm boundaries and supply chains to dynamic ecosystems that cross traditional industry boundaries. A digital firm’s design capital is the cumulative stock of designs owned or controlled by a firm. Design capital is a fundamental construct to the emerging logic of digital business transformation. The salient dimensions of design capital are option value and technical debt. In order to be strongly positioned for innovation and platform leadership, high-quality design capital is characterized by high option value and low technical debt. A study by the UK Design Council in 2005 revealed that companies with a sustained track record in design outperformed their peers in the FTSE 100 over a 10-year period by a startling 231 percent.

Akin to fiscal debt, technical debt is a common occurrence during systems development where time pressures or resource constraints cause developers to take shortcuts. Left unmonitored, accumulating technical debt obligations causes the cost of quality to increase over time which in turn impacts customer satisfaction and revenue generation.

Technical Debt

In a radical departure from earlier efforts, we have realized that during post-merger integration, it is vital to proactively manage the design capital of the firm (in addition to the firm’s balance sheet) by monitoring and controlling both technical debt.

Operationalizing strategic agility in an enterprise

Disciplined Agile is a process decision framework for a digital business at an enterprise level. Pioneered by Scott Ambler and Mark Lines, Disciplined Agile recognizes that an organization is a complex and adaptive system. Moreover, it is unrealistic to impose a “one-size-fits-all” agile-in-the-large model in a (global) enterprise.

Based on the cumulative real-world experiences from several hundred IT projects, Disciplined Agile is a proven framework for an enterprise to grow the muscle of strategic agility at scale in both IT and non-IT situations. Disciplined Agile has a rigorous focus on (1) the iterative delivery of consumable solutions (business value), (2) continuous learning from retrospectives, and (3) fostering an agile mindset around the enterprise. By adopting Disciplined Agile, leaders can achieve the following:

  • Pay increased attention to the (soft) human, cultural and non-functional deal aspects
  • Diminish the impacts of unknown elements (risk/value tradeoff) using an iterative incremental manner
  • Actively optimize technical debt and increase the design capital of the firm

Recognizing that there are several cross-project dependencies during any post-merger integration, there will typically be an active Project Management Office (PMO) that will be monitoring the project portfolio at an enterprise level. Disciplined Agile teams and PMO should work together and leverage suitable processes from PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) to practice project execution excellence.

The primary takeaway is that during post-merger integration, the secret sauce rests not on the framework per se but, echoing Tom Peters’ words, a culture of execution-accountability and Managing By Wandering Around (MBWA) in the trenches during post-merger integration. The Activist PMO Leader walks the Disciplined Agile talk with a learning by doing perspective and co-creates the generative process of strategic agility of the firm.


  • In order to build a resilient organization, establish self-organizing teams that practice autonomy, mastery and purpose.
  • Harness a culture of innovation so that the firm can become more intrapreneurial
  • Constraints
    • According to Barry Boehm, a system will succeed if and only if it makes winners of its success-critical stakeholders. This implies the importance of stakeholder management during post-merger integration.
    • Adopt the lean principle and minimize waste during post-merger integration.
    • Proactively identify the weakest link in the value chain during post-merger integration. This is a continuous activity (not just once at inception).


    Has the situation changed?

    The retrospectives from each of the projects in enterprise project portfolio creates a force multiplier for the firm to be in a state of continuous improvement and actively track the health of the human capital, the value of the design capital and the financial performance.


    Playing devil’s advocate, it is reasonable to critique that our proposal for post-merger integration success is either an unproven idea or old wine in new bottles. That said, the core tenet is to build the muscle of strategic agility and a passion for Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA) during the post-merger integration journey.


    • Patel, R., “Applying Project Management Approaches to Achieve Value Creation in Post -Acquisition Integration”, The ISM Journal of International Business, ISSN 2150-1076, Volume 1, Issue 4, October 2012.

A.J. Lafley constantly echoed that “We weren’t going to win if it was an ‘or,’ Everybody can do ‘or.’ That’s the way the world works. You trade things off. But you’re not going to be the best in your industry. You are not going to win if you are in a trade-off game.”
Roger Martin, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009)

Results from successful transformation efforts have proven that the paradox of true leadership is to become adept at using both sides of the brain and is a balancing act between the the following in dynamic environments:

  • Providing vision yet empowering others
  • Giving up control yet architecting the choices
  • Sustaining yet disrupting the business model
  • Relying on data yet trusting your intuition
  • Being skeptical yet open-minded

strategic agility root IBIS

what is strategic agility IBIS

what are the capabilities IBIS

Evaporating Cloud

strategic agility

Refactored Assumptions

  • We will always welcome messy, complex tensions (paradoxes).
  • We will foster a deep appreciation and respect for paradoxical tensions.
  • We will value paradoxes as vital ingredient of high performance.
  • We will proactively identify and raise tensions including a code of conduct to stress tensions that spur creativity.
  • We will avoid traps of anxiety and defensiveness.
  • We will consistently communicate a both/and vision while exhibiting, in Collins’ words, “pragmatic idealism”.
  • We will separate efforts to focus on both sides of a paradox (“collective genius of the AND logic”).
  • We will constantly learn to step back and question our initial discomfort and desire for an either/or solution.
  • We believe we are doing something that has never been done before and we will take risks, innovate, and learn from our fast failures.

strategic agility_1