The Four Dimensional World of Commerce

 

To the naked eye the world appears in a 3D format, however, we gradually become aware that this is not how we experience our world around us.

In the world of commerce there are four underlying dimensions that businesses, by and large, fall under.

 

Dimension 1 

Businesses that lie along this axis most commonly appear during an economic boom. The sole purpose of the business is to profit from the good times. They are profit centric, therefore, they concentrate on satisfying shareholder needs and the upper echelons of the company. They aren’t willing to forego present profit for a more long term plan and future financial stability. They don’t appreciate their employees because hiring the best talent wasn’t one of their primary objectives to begin with. These businesses generally follow the crowd and are therefore unadaptable when big challenges present themselves, this is predominantly linked to the reason they went into business in the first place.

 

Dimension 2

These businesses follow the economy, in the sense that they see profit as important, but they concentrate more on stability. They see their employees as one of the more valuable resources and therefore they invest in them and attempt to empower them. They attempt to filter potentially negative employees by having a strong recruitment team, and/or through employee recommendation schemes. They may also have some form of profit sharing incentive in place.

 

Dimension 3

These companies have successfully navigated dimension 2 and now they see the next step as giving back to society, in a purposeful and meaningful manner. These businesses don’t have a CSR committee for keeping up appearances, rather they have it because they realise that they now have the energy and power to pump resources into worthwhile causes that are also in line with their view of the world. This helps to exponentially grow the type of society they need to prosper in.

 

Dimension 4

This dimension skips dimension 1 entirely, and has a focus, in some way shape or form, on dimension 3 and 4 from the offset. They do the opposite of dimension 1 in that they don’t follow the profiteers. They form a business based on a need they see that exists in their modern day society. These companies look to create a positive impact on their world and it just so happens that creating a business is the best outlet for positive change. These companies, when successful, capture the hearts and imagination of the people.

A company is simply a group of people coming together with a common goal – Sir Richard Branson.

Weakness, The Interview and Peter F. Drucker

What is your biggest weakness?

It was questions like this that I vividly remember as a university student preparing for work experience interviews. I scrawled the internet, asked friends and consulted recruitment professionals. The most common answer I could find was  something like ‘I am too much of a perfectionist’, if I could have backed this up with some sort of genuine example then it was, ironically, a ‘perfect’ response.

The problem was, I hadn’t strived to be a perfectionist since I was nine or ten years of age. In fact, I pride myself on not being one. The way I look at it, if someone tells me that their biggest weakness is that they are too much of a ‘perfectionist’ then the best case scenario is they are being dishonest with me. It’s really a lose/lose situation because nobody wants to work with a personality that has dishonesty at its core. Dishonest work colleagues generally try to conceal the errors they make and delegate blame away from themselves. This leads to minor errors becoming near fatal errors and resentment and bickering taking over a team.

If on the other hand the person is being completely honest with me then I also don’t see it as a strength masked as a weakness. There are quite a lot of negatives to a person who feels pride in ‘perfectionism’. Perfection at its core, is a ‘nirvana state’ that cannot be reached on a consistent basis by humans. Therefore, if we believe ourselves to be ‘perfectionists’ then we will, more often than not, find ourselves with feelings of frustration and feelings like frustration often lead people to lash out at others. Perfectionism hinders fast decision making and solid teamwork. The cultures of the Google’s and the Facebook’s of the world would be largely at odds with someone who prides themselves on ‘perfectionism’. In fact Facebook seems to prefer to ship when it is good enough, rather then procrastinate over minutia in the pursuit of excellence every time.

The best way to prepare for an interview is to find out what it is that you want to do in the long term and then decide what role fits in line with the next stepping stone. Granted this is no small task, but it will stand you in good stead if you do figure it out. From my experience, the next step should be to watch interviews of people in that field and read books that you can relate to that field. The good news is most great books can be related to many different fields.

A good general book that can assist greatly with an interview is Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker. This book is relatively cheap and short (about 70 pages). In this book it is clear why it is important to try and identify authentic weakness. The vast majority of people cannot properly identify their weaknesses or even their  strengths. Therefore, if you can do this then you will stand out from the crowd, and these thousands of people applying for the same job won’t intimidate you as much.

I think that this identification mismatch phenomena stems largely from the fact that most people won’t ask and take on board  third party opinions, and most people are not self motivated into action. The best companies seem to look for people who have their own side projects. This not only demonstrates that the person is driven and has purpose, but  in general people with their own agenda and ambitions become more self aware and more aware of their environment. Through action they begin to see what they are naturally good at and what they are weak at. They can then go on to either work on their weaknesses or leverage their strengths. The best option, according to Managing Oneself, is to leverage your strengths. Indeed this is why I think teamwork is so important, because it allows us to leverage our own unique strengths and in the process learn how our weaknesses can be lessened through observation.

This principle of knowing our true strengths and weaknesses is not relatively new. In fact it can be seen as far back as  Ancient Greece when the Greek philosopher Thales said

The most difficult thing in life is to Know Thyself

The next time we find ourselves looking for a new job, it would be wise to first consider how well we know ourselves and our goals before we go looking for our next partner. Always remember that questions like ‘what is your biggest weakness?’ are double edged swords. Anything can be turned into a strength, it is simply a matter of your perception and that perception is what will make your interview stand out from the masses.

Maslow’s Hierarchy, the Businessman and Filippo Brunelleschi

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs.

As a student of Business the chances are you may come across or even overtly study Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. If, like myself, you encountered this important framework in a theoretical environment then it may fail to make much sense to you. Therefore, you may find yourself trying to memorise the pyramid in order to pass a mandatory exam.

An understanding of psychology and  human behaviour are fundamental skills in the world of Business and Management. The best leaders, like Jack Welsh and Angela Ahrendts, display an innate understanding of this through the way they communicate with and make sense of the world around them.

Fortunately, like many frameworks, the underlying principles can be applied to our own lives, in a way that makes sense to us, so we can then begin to make sense of the pyramid. The key to learning is to learn the underlying principles, memorisation is a very good brain exercise but memorisation in isolation becomes an ineffective tool. It is a hammer that simply isn’t aware of the existence of the screw.

In the pyramid we can clearly see that Self- Actualisation and Esteem are valued more than Safety and Physiological Needs. All the needs are important, but not all needs are created equal. Once we have fulfilled the most primal needs at the bottom of the pyramid then we should direct our focus on the top needs. We can achieve a sense of Love/Belonging through fulfilling Safety and Physiological Needs alone, but the nectar lies at the top of this category, with the pseudonym of Esteem and Self-Actualisaion.

In order to understand the pyramid and how it relates to Business, we first need to apply it to our own lives. When we play things safe, go for that ‘safe’ job with an adequate wage and ‘solid’ career prospects then we will often succeed in fulfilling the bottom two segments of the pyramid. However, we will not usually fulfill much of the top half because no matter how hard we try to conceal it, at some level we feel like we sold out, played it safe and settled. We didn’t challenge the societal norms in any meaningful way and we let external expectations govern our behaviour. The bottom half is relatively ‘easy’ to fulfil for most of us but it will also leave a lot of us with the feeling that there has to be more to life, as we get a sense of being just another ‘cog’ in the machine.

The top segment is a lot harder to fulfil, as it requires that we first build a solid foundation. Indeed if we look to history, the construction of the dome for the Cathedral of Florence, one of Filippo Brunelleschi’s crowning glories, was the difficult, time consuming and most impressive part. It took meticulous thought and engineering to accomplish the dome structure in an era where the possibility of cranes existed in an imagined reality. The top half is about taking risk or at least ‘educated’ bets. The top half is hard to achieve, but it can be relatively straight forward to initiate. It is often initiated by the people who simply experiment with a slightly different haircut or different dress sense from their circle of peers.

Actualisaition is the physical manifestation of visualisation. Self- actualisation comes from esteem and esteem can be achieved when we can create an internal sense of self-worth, and a value of our own uniqueness in the world. It is useful to see a team as a single unit but it is just as important to uncover the individual uniqueness of each team member, so we can leverage it to create a better shared world. When we hold ourselves and others in high regard then we can begin to obtain the courage to self actualise, to conquer our fears and doubts, embrace failure as simply a learning curve and become creationists. In order to master and complete our pyramid we don’t need to reinvent the wheel but we need to initiate our own variation of it.

Jordan Belfort and the Ballpoint Pen

Jordan Belfort has unarguably been a ‘colourful’ character to date. In the movie the Wolf of Wallstreet his narcissistic, manipulative and materialistic tendencies are clearly underlined. The movie teaches us many things, one being the danger of letting power get to your head and losing the run of yourself.

If Belfort was highly narcisstic then how then did he become such a powerful leader? Highly narcisstic people by their very nature rarely tend to be highly self-aware or perceptive of their surroundings. How then did he get people to proverbially run through walls for him if he hadn’t the capacity to be relatable to other people? It may be because his narcissism was only one aspect of his character and a characteristic that unfortunately began to dominate him and lead to his ‘gloriously’ destructive downfall.

I was watching a video the other day of Belfort speaking with Piers Morgan about the art of selling a pen. It is quite an interesting video because it demonstrates that Belfort has a strong grasp of at least two fundamental principles. An economist will see that he clearly understands the basic concept of supply and demand and a sociologist will see that he understands the immense mutual power that is created when you invest in someone other than yourself.

Jordan Belfort selling a Pen

Winston Churchill and the exalting bigot

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.  – Winston Churchill.

 

It was quotes like this one that are credited with assisting the Allied forces to win the war and quell the inordinate ambitions of a brain washed nation. There is great wisdom in this quote and it highlights the mantra that true leadership often falls under. The majority of us have little problem comprehending and living up to the ‘never give in’ part of the line. On television shows like The Dragons Den and Shark Tank we have seen some contestants pursue ‘ludicrous’ ideas for years on end because of this admirable yet ultimately foolish philosophy. It is in the latter part of the sentence where we see the pearls of wisdom, that make the whole a wise expression, it is the yin to the yang that we often miss. It is in this part that a person is aware of the fact that sometimes they need to cut their losses and move on, something which the majority of us seem to struggle with on a regular basis.

Leadership is a skill that is rare and highly sought after. A leader is like a diamond in the rough, diamonds are perceived as a precious commodity and they are created under pressure, I think that all of this and more is true of a leader. The greatest obstacle to leadership, in oppose to management, lies in the fact that it is easy to unknowingly portray ourselves as the hypocritical type. When we come across as hypocritical too many times, we start to lose our authenticity and this becomes detrimental for everyone involved. It is all too easy to come across as a hypocrite, in fact all we need to say is something like

I pride myself on being open minded.

Or an unfortunate trap that we all too often fall into:

You are a bigot.

as these words spring for our mouths, I am sure there is a dictionary somewhere contemplating its existence as it repeats to itself over and over:

bigot: a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions.

In saying all this, it would be unhealthy to spend our lives walking on eggshells. I don’t think it is possible to never come across as a hypocrite to another person at some point in time. I think that what we can do is learn to become more self aware and maybe laugh at ourselves and make light of the situations where we get that awful realisation of acting like a hypocrite. A good manager gives out constructive criticism and feedback in the hope of improving their team, a great leader both gives and takes constructive criticism and feedback with the same measure of eagerness and willingness.

 

When the Status Quo is best left alone

the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do – Steve Jobs.

This is quite an inspirational quote from one of the men who has made a huge impact on the world, although it is rather deceptive. At first glance it seems like one person should believe that he/she is capable of changing the world on their own, in this way it may come to fruition some day. I often ask myself is this what Jobs originally believed when he was an ‘unknown’.  From looking at the man’s life, I think the popularity of this quote stems from the media bias. The media bias has a tendency to often sensationalise things.

Jobs started Apple with Steve Wozniak with the simple purpose of building computers they themselves wanted to use, then when friends became interested they wanted to build computers for them. They didn’t set out to build an empire but they ended up changing the world all the same.

It is widely acknowledged that the key to solving big problems is to think small, find that starting point. It is an easy task to spend the majority of our time complaining about governmental policy and lamenting the past but it comes with the price of a hard life for that individual. It is much harder for us to swallow our pride and take a more holistic approach in order to solve the meaningful problems. Problems like how to make our own lives better and making community life better, problems that will require hard work but will make our lives easier and all the more purposeful for it.

The big problems, like solving inequality, are far too large for a single man to solve. For centuries, nations have failed to solve them, so we should not delude ourselves with arrogance when we could be playing our own part in society a little better. Great nations are born when rural communities and urban communities both thrive. Great nations are rare because it is a rarity that the majority of a population will become consciously aware that the big picture is not created by a single man or woman but it is created by the masses coming together to work on their own little bits of the tapestry.

It is necessary to give feedback on how a nation is run and could be run but it is entirely unnecessary to spend the sum of our natural lives with this sole purpose. Life is often simple but if we spend our lives thinking about huge societal problems, that in my opinion are continual tests for which there are no correct answers, then life becomes a lot more complex and therefore a lot harder for us. We are just as fallible as the nation we are born into so why should we pretend otherwise when we are looking at problems perched aloft a fence.

We think too big when we think of changing the world. What we have to do is play our part in the scene we are in. What is required is that we show up and not give in to stage fright. In order to change the world, we need to strive to improve our own life and in turn help improve the lives of the people around us. Changing the world isn’t such a monumental challenge once we each think smaller, work as a team and try to show up everyday.

The Elephant in the room

The elephant has the title of the largest land mammal and they have a memory to match, so why can some circuses around the world keep them captive with as little as a rope tied to the front leg? The adult elephant would quite easily break free if it only made half an attempt.

Looking at it from the outside there can only be two possible reasons. Either the elephant has become lazy and enjoys its life in captivity or it simply doesn’t realise its own strength. The general consensus is that the latter is what has happened. The elephants in such situations were tied up at a young age when they were not strong enough to break free. They were conditioned into giving up from a young age and now they serve as a reminder that no matter how big we get physically, if we allow our spirits to be fully broken then this is what will inevitably await us.

This picture of the captive elephant is analogous to our own lives. The rope around our legs is not a physical one but it is the numerous aspects of society, including the education system. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where people will say ‘I get to learn’ but most will say ‘I have to learn’. I am not an unrealistic person dreaming of a utopic society, therefore I don’t blame the education system per se, it is like politics, there will never be an optimal solution, only efforts to reach the optimum level along the continuum. I prefer to look at the education system as one of life’s many challenges and I am reminded of Richard Dawkins in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’, for it is the most adaptable that survive, in evolutionary terms.

I don’t think that the solution for the elephant is to wait until it gets big enough to break the rope. It’s memory is one of the elephant’s biggest assets but in this situation it has become the elephant’s Achilles Heel. I’m not sure if elephants have the capacity for visualisation but I know that humans do. If the elephant did have this capacity then I would advise the elephant to use it’s brain in a smarter and more efficient way. I would suggest that the elephant simply make one kick for freedom everyday, nothing more and nothing less. In this way it can do it subtly, the circus keepers will not be aware of the intention of escape, the elephant conserves energy and even the risk of embarrassment, most importantly the elephant will break free on the exact day that it is strong enough, no sooner or no later.

The Power of the Metaphor

I have often pondered about the existence of metaphors. In a world where it is often better to explain technical topics using  the ‘layman’s’ words, why then do metaphors exist? I mean metaphors only serve to make things appear more complicated than they actually are, right?

As time goes by, I have begun to see metaphors more as a simplifier of profound ideas. The metaphor serves as a useful human tool which can bring with it, two over arching benefits. The first is that it can help the orator expend less energy. When an idea is profound it will often take a lot of explaining in order to become comprehensible to the receiver of the message. In direct parallel to this, the second advantage is that it helps the orator reach his tribe. The orator will begin to see, overtime, who comprehends the meaning he wishes people to obtain from the metaphor, which will signal who is more or less on his wavelength so they can begin to see each other as allies.

When I first heard Robert Frost’s famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, all those years ago, I could never see past the physical nature of being in a forest and choosing a path. I couldn’t comprehend the depth of that message until I had acquired some life experience. Reading the ending of the poem once again, I now see clearly how it relates to life and how choosing your own unique path, while wandering slightly from the masses, is where we can obtain satisfaction and purpose.

I know in years to come I will revisit many a famous metaphor and hopefully uncover more depth to them. The beauty of a metaphor is that it enables a person to tell many stories in as little as a single line. It is art in its purest form, there is never one correct answer, only endless interpretations. The great thing  about a metaphor is that anyone is capable of using it, and it can be passed down from generation to generation, within a family, in order to help that family and those around them prosper with the same values.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Preconceived Ideas – The Devil is in the Detail

People often use the irrational logic; I am good at this therefore I am not good at that. I am either left brain oriented or right brain but rarely a mixture of both. While I believe that people can be particularly talented in certain areas, it doesn’t mean that we cannot build up a sufficient knowledge in any area of life, no matter what our background is in.

The thing that is holding us back is not technical ability or the ability to grind things out. Our talent will fail us if we are not skilled and what is skill only hours of practice. Skill is more important than talent and therefore we can become adequately skilled in any area without ever having any particular talent for it.

If the key to success is finding what we are talented at then it is alarming just how  many of us sit back and wait for that talent to uncover itself, or worse still, let other people predetermine what we are talented at. It is always good to get an objective opinion but most objective opinions are rarely unbiased. Everybody comes with preconceived ideas of the world around us, it helps us combat the unknown and categorise the world. Preconceived ideas are a useful tool as they help us to avoid expending energy on mundane things like what should a cat or dog look like.

The only person we truly know is ourselves, we don’t share 100% DNA with anyone else, identical twins aside. This fact is blatantly obvious when we think of all the times that other people have drawn different and often contradictory perceptions of us, all in our pursuit of external validation. A problem solver solves each problem one solution at a time while maintaining momentum, not with hundreds of variations.

Josh Kauffman has spoken about the 20 hour curve to learning anything. I believe the analysis to be true with ‘smart’ and efficient study. In any area quick ground can be made before we reach the intermediary plateau. There is nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades if we also find the trade we excel at. It is impossible to find what we are really good at if we are not open to trying everything and taking ideas and principles from all areas of life.

We can’t afford to let too many of the cognitive biases into our lives. There is no reason why a man in IT cannot take an interest in art, fashion or dance in the same way a woman in the field of arts and humanities cannot take an interest in all things technological. The key to a successful career is finding your unique selling point (USP) and I believe that it is through diversification that we can begin to mould it.

Whenever I unwittingly fight the urge to talk to someone outside my field of interest, that I think doesn’t fit in with the preconceived ideas my culture and nation has bestowed upon me, I simply think back to my first poker match. On my first game I scanned the room and failed to find the sucker and concluded, to my detriment, that poker was simply a game where they didn’t exist.

The McGregor Effect

The ‘McGregor Effect’ is a term that has been coined and thrown around quite a lot recently. In the space of a few years he has gone from a ‘nobody’ to a ‘somebody’. Some people may think he is arrogant and ignorant and he will meet his match someday, I believe he is a man that is continuously in the process of mastering the art of human psychology. I believe that this is his greatest asset, followed closely by his physique.

Whenever I see Conor I am reminded that words are powerful and you become what you think. We really have to watch how we speak about ourselves and others. He may come across to people as arrogant, but there is no arguing that he talks about himself in a positive light. While he may be prone to thrash talk, as success in his industry often dictates, I believe that it is in his seemingly inconspicuous answers where he demonstrates his sharp intellect.

Whenever Conor is thrown a ‘curve ball’ aimed at knocking him off his perch and highlighting a ‘chink in the armour’, he passes the test each and every time. I have seen that his default answer at times can be as simple as ‘It is what it is’.

This is a very simple yet very effective default answer. I remember when he was asked about Jose Aldo pulling out at the last minute and Mendes coming in, if it had hampered his preparation in any way, he responded with ‘It is what it is’. By doing so he stopped the interviewer from delving any deeper into the topic and it sent out the message that he is fully adaptable and he is mentally toughened to anything life may throw in his path. He oftens says he has a vision and he has playfully said that he is ‘Mystic Mack’ but it isn’t really his unique vision that is getting him places, it is his stern belief that his visions are real. It isn’t the visualisation part of things that is making him go places, it is the actualisation.

Conor has been credited with bringing more positivity and optimism to Ireland, and rightly so. He is one of those unique sports personalities who transcends life. I believe that he is the physical manifestation of the ideal that if we believe in something and work hard enough everyday then someday that dream will become a reality. If you are what you think and say then I am glad that there are people like Conor in this world, warts and all.