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I recently saw an amazing post by Ian Mathews which prompted me to write this article.

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Before becoming a Management Consultant, I was an Infantry Army Officer within the Australian Army.

My early years within the Army were founded in an education into military strategy and tactics. Many veterans would have experienced this for themselves. I can say with absolute confidence, that the lessons I learnt during this time have significantly shaped the way I perceive the world, most notably those interactions between organisations in highly competitive markets. This is not to say that organisations cannot co-exist, cooperate, or operate with an abundance mindset, but it is to recognise the fact that the actions of one organisation can directly impact the operational effectiveness of another. And, if we agree that the interactions between organisations, coupled with unique approaches to market ultimately decide our own team’s fate, then I feel it is something worth learning about.

During my first four years in the Army, a number of fundamental lessons were taught regarding the different types of warfare and strategic approaches. These lessons were further investigated throughout my career and were regularly cross-referenced against our operational efforts at the time.

History has shown that the differences in strategic approach inevitably decide the outcomes of almost every major military and international effort. My observations accrued from working inside the commercial and corporate world as a relative outsider have shown me that there is a reluctance to change strategy or consider different approaches often at the long-term detriment of the organisation. Furthermore, there is often a lack of willingness to learn new more simplistic methods of operation or approach. Conversely, those organisations that are willing to consider different perspectives and approaches often leave their competitors in their wake as they seemingly glide their way to success. The most damning situation of all is the vast number of organisations that aren’t operating with any strategy at all…

For the companies that are doing well, the reason they seem to glide so effortlessly towards their goals is because they are able to answer one fundamental question:

“How can we best use our precious resources in order to achieve the strategic outcomes we seek?”

With this said, I want to take the opportunity to introduce a number of different military methodologies and in turn demonstrate their utility in a corporate and commercial context.

ATTRITION WARFARE

“Attrition warfare is a military strategy consisting of belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material. The war will usually be won by the side with greater resources (Military-SF, 2007). The word attrition comes from the Latin root ‘atterere’, meaning to rub against, similar to the “grinding down” of the opponent’s forces in attrition warfare (Merriam Webster Dictionary).”

World War 1 and many sections of World War 2 were prime examples of attrition warfare. During these campaigns, an enemy would simply try and saturate an enemy force by bringing as much force to bear on them as possible until their systems and team’s collapse. Attrition warfare unequivocally favours the larger force and requires less imagination and agility in order to conduct. The resource cost is immense but if conducted in the right context (with the right force offset) can result in decisive victory, whereby an opposing force can be completely incapacitated in one location and in one event. There is a catch though, when a decisive victory is not achieved it results in prolonged wars that can extend for years with organisation’s ‘digging in’ and are incredibly difficult to dislodge.

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In the commercial and corporate context attrition takes the form of monopolised businesses that are so massive and occupy so much of the market, there is no practical way for smaller organisations to try and compete with them by using direct or overt methods. Examples would include (but are not limited to):

  • Certain types of paid advertising
  • Sponsorship of events
  • Undertaking certain types of legal action
  • Poaching high-end staff by way of salary incentives

Attrition as a practical commercial strategy is almost solely limited to those incredibly large organisations with huge resources on hand. The very same organisations that advertise during the Super Bowl as an example.

MANOEUVRE WARFARE

Manoeuvre Warfare refers to a strategy aimed at unbalancing, unhinging, or outmanoeuvring an enemy. It was developed in response to emerging middle-sized conventional armies that were adamant in avoiding the huge losses associated with attrition warfare. It pays particular attention to identifying and defining the root purpose of a campaign and finding different ways to achieve the same aim. It is commonly referred to as targeting an enemy’s ‘Centre of Gravity’, which is loosely defined as that ‘thing’ that gives them the will or the ability to fight.

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.globalsecurity.org%2Fmilitary%2Flibrary%2Fpolicy%2Farmy%2Ffm%2F3-90%2Ffig3-15.gif&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.globalsecurity.org%2Fmilitary%2Flibrary%2Fpolicy%2Farmy%2Ffm%2F3-90%2Fch3.htm&tbnid=il1keRMAQEy8aM&vet=10CMYBEDMoxAFqFwoTCKjUjpqQlewCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAC..i&docid=9wuHS7ELD_rPsM&w=479&h=292&q=manoeuvre%20warfare&ved=0CMYBEDMoxAFqFwoTCKjUjpqQlewCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAC

History has seen different militaries use Manoeuvre Warfare in different ways. Some armies have made use of:

  •  Physical Dislocation. Geared at removing the key assets or logistics that enable them to operate.
  •  Temporal Dislocation. Being faster to move than the enemy, particularly in achieving important terrain, milestones, or assets ahead of time.
  •  Moral Dislocation. Attacking the enemy’s will to win, or fight. This often includes a significant effort to get into the minds of the key decision-makers and shape their decisions.

Each of these different methods may be run simultaneously, and all of them have emphasis placed on surprise and making faster decisions than their competitors.

In the commercial and corporate context, we see manoeuvre characteristics in those organisations that are adept in prioritisation and channelling their efforts towards those outcomes that will have a disproportionate impact in support of their strategy. These organisations know their strengths and weaknesses and magnify their results exponentially by focusing their precious resources towards 2 or 3 outcomes. Manoeuvre in this sense allows organisations to start capturing market share from bigger competitors, and the market share they capture will be more tailored towards where they can have the highest impact.

GUERRILLA WARFARE

“Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars, use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military (Wiki).”

The concept of Guerrilla style tactics was heavily publicised in the works of Sun Tzu who suggested that a much smaller force could win against a much larger competitor if it made absolute use of all its available resources and was able to move faster before they could respond properly.

https://vietnamwarexposition.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/impact-of-guerrilla-warfare/

Guerrilla warfare is based on an idea that smaller teams can create significant issues for their enemies providing they stay under the ‘detection threshold’. They almost always have significantly sparse resources and they rely heavily on the use of supporters, partners, and sympathisers. Their support networks are often incredibly loyal and ideologically linked with their fighting purpose.

In the corporate or commercial context, it means that smaller more agile organisations can achieve huge proportionate impacts providing they are willing to remain agile, dynamic and are able to incentivise people behind their cause. It also means that smaller boutique agencies can provide highly tailored services to organisations who are not keen on paying premium prices.

In many ways, this has been one of the founding success features of The Eighth Mile Consulting as we endeavour to support areas of the market that are not detected by the larger players in the industry. This in turn with our support from partner organisations has meant that we can seize opportunities quickly, provide valuable services and maintain our loyal support network (providing we continue to give value regularly). With this as context our organisational values and ethos make sense:

  • Service – Client tailored service delivery
  • Initiative – Find a need, fill a need
  • Integrity – We do what we promise
  • Accountability – Actively seek responsibility

CONCLUSION

I have not even scratched the surface on the intricacies associated with each of these strategies or the myriad of other strategies available, but I am sure we can agree that there is a utility in their application within a corporate and commercial context.

Now it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that these strategies do not always have to be adopted in an overtly aggressive manner against others. The more astute readers will recognise that in the corporate and commercial context that these strategies often speak more to how we operate our own teams and strategies and are less geared towards destroying your competitors. I firmly believe in the concept of an abundance mindset, but I also acknowledge that the actions of one organisation can have far-reaching implications on our own. So, this being said I would suggest that understanding of these strategies:

  • Helps us prioritise our efforts towards the effect we are seeking to achieve.
  • Reduces our scope of operations towards those things that will provide the most significant impact and effect.
  • Encourages us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses, and therefore assist us in finding our relevance.
  • Promote early adoption of detecting those routes that will provide the paths of least resistance.
  • Incentivise us to think outside the box instead of always reinventing the wheel.

‘The enemy’ in the corporate or commercial context might not be your competitors, but it might be your environment and its ever-changing conditions.

If we look at it from this angle, we open the door to huge opportunities to reinvent our brands, define our team’s purpose, and provide an enduring legacy.

For those interested in developing unique business strategies please feel free to reach out and discuss with me or my team. 

For other articles and daily posts please follow David Neal and  Jonathan Clark.

 

One of the most distinctive memories from my early days within the Army was one of my respected Sergeants suddenly and abruptly correcting one of my trainee peers.

My mate had mentioned the unmentionable…

We were discussing what we should do if we encounter an enemy that was larger or more dangerous than we had originally predicted, and someone mentioned the word ‘retreat’. The response from my sergeant was immediate, ‘Australians DO NOT retreat!’. He went on to explain that we might withdraw in the interest of finding a terrain that was more conducive and favourable for us, but we do not retreat.

This is a statement that has stuck with me since that time. It speaks of the importance of always moving forward and regaining the initiative. Of remaining focused and deliberate in everything we do. It accepts that at times we might have to take a step back, but this should only be done to regain our footing in which to be able to take more steps moving forward. Over the years this phrase has spread its utility into most aspects of my life such as:

The Importance of Strategy

But here is the catch, it is predisposed on an assumption that we know what direction we should be heading. What point is there moving forward if it is entirely the wrong direction?

This is why having a strategy is so incredibly important. A strategy is a framework which sanity tests our decisions in short time, in order to allow us to stay focused on heading in the right cardinal direction. I have seen so many people get this wrong at their detriment.

We need to ask ourselves does our strategy (personal or professional):

  • Detail what we are seeking to achieve (Mission)?
  • Explain what it looks like when we achieve it (Vision)?
  • Include a sequence of how we might actually transit there (Goals, pillars, objectives, measures of success)?
  • Contain an acknowledgement of what we are willing to invest (or give up) in order to achieve it (resource allocations)?

It is an area that is too often paid lip service, but it is this defining feature that separates good teams from the absolute best.

A strategy allows a team to make quicker decisions, allocate precious resources towards those efforts with the highest impact and effect, as well ignore those shiny distractions which enticingly seduce people off of the centre line of their success.

Stopping the rot

‘Moving forward’ all the time is extremely difficult. It requires consistency, dedication and focus. Traits that can be increasingly hard to come by these days.

Our world is full of ever-increasing distractions and information that act as ‘white noise’ to our concentration. This white noise can incrementally increase for some people to the point where it becomes debilitating to their decision-making abilities. Some teams can become so confused by the pressures associated with these distractions that they reactively overcompensate by creating more and more high priorities. Leaders become withdrawn as the idea of moving forward appears less and less tenable.

For these teams, a ‘circuit breaker’ is required. Something that can stop the spiralling confusion and provide some level of clarity. This often requires a combination of the following:

  1. Strong leaders & managers with clear roles and responsibilities. Kotter once described the distinction between Leadership and Management, explaining that leaders coordinate ‘change’ and managers coordinate ‘complexity’. I particularly like this description as it is a simple reference for teams to make in order to refocus and distribute their team’s efforts. It is a common observation that the teams that are drowning have not clearly identified the distinction in roles and responsibilities between key roles. Everyone is trying to do everything, and no one is doing it well.
  2. Objectivity. Sometimes people are so saturated in their problems that they cannot see the overall context. They are literally living minute by minute and the idea of popping their head about the parapet in order to refocus their direction is unimaginable. This is where objectivity is so key. A third set of eyes, from someone who is not so absorbed in the problem, can be invaluable in asking the right questions and assisting in resetting the focus.
  3. Horsepower. Some teams are under-resourced and under-supported – plain and simple. These teams have often been heading in the right direction but just do not have the horsepower or workforce to get their project over the line. They have been doing ‘more with less’ for so long that they have reached culmination, and they just need reinforcement. Jonathan Clark once said to me, ‘sometimes you don’t need more people standing around the hole telling you how to dig better, you just need them to jump in and help dig’.
  4. Prioritisation. It is common to see teams that have a massive list of ‘what to do’ they have forgotten to detail what they ‘do not need to do’. The list of what is not required is often more important than what need to do. It stops people being lured down the enticing trip falls we eluded to earlier…

Some of the readers might resonate with some of these observations. If you have, I would love to hear your comments, case studies, and ideas.

The Eighth Mile Consulting team has founded a reputation for helping teams navigate through this confusion. There is an amazing feeling of elation as a team steps over the line of success when things months prior looked dire and unachievable.

For those slugging their way through problems at this very time, remember:

  • We don’t retreat, we withdraw to more favourable conditions
  • We ensure the actions we are doing are working to an overarching strategy or design.
  • We don’t give up, but we do adapt our approach

 

 

Sometime back I posted this on LinkedIn, on the topic of leadership.

 

In response to this post many responded with a popular John Wooden quote;

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

I would like to pull this apart in a little detail because I feel for some it might add some significant value in their personal and professional growth.

Now I openly admit that John Wooden is a smarter guy than me, and he has raised an important point about the importance of once’s character as a significant precursor to developing a good reputation. In essence, Wooden is saying that by consistently adhering to strong personal values one can focus on the things that create a good reputation. To this end, you will get no objection from me, the maths adds up.

But there is something missing… Objectivity.

Defining Leadership

Forbes defines leadership in the following way:

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Notice key elements of this definition: Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power. Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports”.

I personally think that this is one of the most astute definitions of Leadership that I have read in a long time. It speaks of service to others, of influence, and a lack of reliance on formal structures and authorities.

Leadership effectiveness

So, if we agree that a Leader needs positive influence over others in order to be considered a leader then surely our reputation is an incredibly important indicator of how we are tracking. One could reasonably argue that our reputation is a social litmus test which gives us a reading on whether:

  1. Our communication is landing effectively with others
  2. People align with our values and intent
  3. Our teams want to work for, and with us
  4. We are adequately explaining the context behind our initiatives and proposed changes
  5. We are suitably prepared for progression into ever increasingly complex situations and problem-sets.

Objectivity

Now I will concede that people often develop reputations that are not aligned with their personal intent or values.

These people might have initially approached situations with a personal strategy that was misaligned with the organisation’s culture or strategy. On occasions, this has potentially resulted in people developing a poor reputation that is not accurate with their true character.

But looking at this objectively, I am sure we can all agree that their reputation, in this case, is still indicative of a problem, or breakdown, somewhere along the line. This problem might be due to:

  1. A breakdown in communication
  2. Joining an organisation that had a misalignment of values in the first place
  3. Making decisions that were not understood by others
  4. A lack of personal accountability

The specifics of our reputations might be factually incorrect, but the indication that something is wrong is 100% accurate. It is our job to find out what it is and fix it.

Influence

Personally, I believe I am fortunate to have worked alongside some of the most amazing and influential leaders in the world. Every one of these leaders held amazingly positive reputations – even when they had made decisions that others had professionally disagreed with, they were still respected.

People respected these leaders due to their consistency and authenticity, enough so, that others would give them benefit of the doubt and remain loyal and avid followers in pursuit of supporting a higher team purpose. These leaders were an incredibly valuable resource, particularly in environments characterised by uncertainty, confusion, and complexity. They were often dragged from one problem to the next, leaving a positive legacy wherever they went.

With this as context, this is what is meant by ‘your reputation is your real business card’.

It is also important to note that these leaders were very well represented in forums where they could not represent themselves. Simply put, they had people covering their backs and supporting their messaging, even when they were not being watched. This is the power of positive reputation and influence! People want to help your teams, even when you are not watching or listening to them.

Legacy

One of my personal life goals is to leave a positive legacy and be remembered for being a ‘good person’. I will measure this on the day of my death bed, with the people that surround and support me, and the stories of positive (or negative) legacy I leave behind.

My reputation is critical for me to measure my success as a leader in my family, my friends, and my teams. I cannot conveniently discount its importance or its messaging throughout the course of my life.

Closing

I personally believe that the best leaders are those that are committed in the pursuit of truth.

The truth about themselves, their performance, their teams, and their impacts.

As leaders, we cannot be so quick to discount the importance of one’s reputation. It is the universe’s way of telling you that something is right or wrong in the way you are delivering your messages and interacting with others. This is valuable information for those that are genuinely wishing to improve the way they lead others.

 

Over the years I have heard consultants get a pretty bad rap. When I worked on the other side of the fence, I heard consultants described on occasions as ‘vultures’, ‘sharks’, ‘idiots’, ‘morons’ and everything in between. Ironically, the organisations which I worked in at the time had felt the need to bring them in order to get momentum and horsepower in areas where they were significantly lacking. On other occasions consultants were brought in to provide objectivity and impartiality.

I have only been a consultant for a relatively short time, and I chose the profession as it seemed like a logical choice which would enable me to support different organisations in achieving their goals, as well as entwine myself in varying and complex problems.

When we launched The Eighth Mile Consulting, we created a mantra and ethos of ‘good people, helping good people’ and made sure it translated in our service towards ‘positive projects and people only’. At the time we felt the need to do this in order to demonstrate some level of separation from what some people see as a ‘dirty’ word.

Since our launch we have kept true to our mantra and have supported only positive projects taking the form of social support projects, scholarship programs, Veteran services projects, leadership & professional development projects, medical projects, and more. It has been a roller coaster to say the least but here are some of the observations from a ‘bloody consultant’.

I hope that in providing some objective observations it might allow people to learn from some of the consistent friction areas experienced by many organisations

Be very wary of a ‘Yes’ culture

Just because your staff are telling you everything is alright; it doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, no organisation I have ever worked in is without its faults. It is impossible to have a perfectly oiled system and operation. If you cannot find areas for improvement, then you aren’t looking hard enough, or your staff aren’t raising it to your attention.

If your staff are always telling you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear then there might be some significant issues with trust or rapport in the team. Either:

  • They don’t trust the information will be kept confidential and used for its intended purpose
  • They think you will react adversely against them or another member of the team
  • They believe its easier to just go along with whatever their manager or supervisor says than to raise issues.

There is a term I have picked up on my journey called ‘malicious compliance’ and it refers to a tendency for jaded staff to literally follow directions from their supervisors despite knowing that it will have significantly negative effects. When this occurs disastrous things happen, and what is worse is the leaders are left holding the ashes, not knowing how they could have stopped it. Rapport and respect are the weapons against evils like malicious compliance.

Many executives have called us in because they don’t feel they have a good understanding about an issue in the organisation. In this way consultants are gather in order to ground truth what is actually happening and provide truthful feedback for the executive or manager. This can be hard to deliver sometimes, as it takes a very courageous and well intentioned leader to open their doors to critique and objectivity. It also takes an equally courageous consultant to relay information that could be poorly received by their employer.

I have a lot of respect for those leaders and consultants willing to engage in open and honest conversation. It takes integrity, self awareness and professionalism to pull it off.

Plan to communicate

So many issues in the world are caused by miscommunication. In one of my previous articles I wrote that misinformation is worse than no information at all. At least with no information you can actively source data, but with misinformation it will corrupt your decision making and cause nightmares in your deliveries.

Many of the issues associated with the teams we work with are based around a distortion of information from the top to the bottom and back up again. There was a great scene in a Simpsons episode where Bart starts a rumor about another individual and by the time it gets to the end of a long line of people it has evolved into ‘purple monkey dishwasher’. Unfortunately this demonstration of information distortion is uncomfortably close to the truth for many organisations.

Here are some rules which I hope will serve some people in their attempt to tighten their communication:

  • More touch points or crossover points always equates to more errors. Ask yourself how many gates are required in order to get this information where it needs to go. Can we cut it down, or streamline it?
  • Translating information between systems and people dramatically increases the chances of errors.
  • Ensure your communication clearly answers an organisational question or need. Don’t create or collect content for the sake of it.
  • Too much information and no one will read it.
  • Less is more. Brevity is key in communication and stands out like a sore thumb in todays saturated environment.

Leadership will make or break teams

No brainer right? Wrong. I have been very fortunate to be mentored throughout my whole life by very capable and influential leaders. What I thought was intuitive and obvious is not. Leadership is learnt by seeing others and adapting it into a methodology that suits the individual and the circumstance.

People need to be trained and mentored if they are to become better at leading and managing teams. Worse yet, some people will have to be trained to drop bad or toxic habits. Unfortunately for people like myself, we cannot change someone else’s mind. All we can do is provide additional information and context that might lead them to another conclusion.

If your organisation genuinely wants leaders it needs to invest in them. This means (as a minimum):

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Executive and senior management buy-in
  • A strategy that they can understand and align to

One key mistake I see routinely is that people are promoted, or worse yet forced into leadership roles due to their tenure in an organisation. This is dangerous, particularly in technical or specialist streams. Someone might not want to be in a leadership role, or might not be suited to it. This opens a can of worms that can be very difficult to put a lid back on.

Luckily for me and my team, we love helping other organisations with leadership and management training. There is nothing more satisfying than supporting someone else to a point where they can support others.

Strategy reinforced by systems and processes allows you to scale

There is significant pressure placed on organisations who have scaled too quickly and are now forced into becoming reactionary and responsive to their operating environments. Their staff regularly feel like they are behind the eight ball (no pun intended). Over time this develops animosity against their teams and their profession. Scaling properly takes planning and preparation if it is to be done right. It also takes a concerted and deliberate effort in order to decentralise certain roles and responsibilities to other staff or capabilities. One person cannot do it all effectively.

Scaling a business should be leveraged off a unified strategy which can act as a compass during the confusion. When things get crazy and the operating environment becomes more complex, our staff need an agreed direction to head, as well as sanity check their decisions.

Companies that ignore the importance of a well communicated strategy do so at their own peril. Consultants are often well positioned to assist companies in developing a strategy as they are able to cross reference against market trends and other companies.

Resilience is not a buzzword 

Resilience is a serious issue in today’s society. With ever increasing psychological issues influencing our workspaces, it is becoming more relevant than ever to have teams that are robust, focused and unified. Without going in to my personal beliefs as to why this is occurring, I think we can all agree that a resilient team is often a key determiner in improving our chances of success.

Companies that invest in formal resilience training perform better overall, as they see benefits in their staff retention, leadership and their ability to respond to change. Companies that don’t take this seriously experience highly transient workforces, poor reputation, and numerous incomplete projects.

Change takes courage and commitment

The world is going to change whether you like it or not. The difference is whether you are leading it, or being led by it. Companies considering large-scale changes (structural, technological, product delivery, etc) need to seriously assess the implications on their staff, clients, profile and operational delivery. Being quick moving and agile is great providing you have a framework and team built to support such actions. Move too quickly and you will leave a wake of destruction in your path.

Good change management relies on strategic alignment, development of a ‘need’ (combined with an agreed sense of urgency), clear methods of communication, and responsible/accountable people who play a strong stakeholder game. Too light in some of these areas and the implications can be terrible.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Many organisations wait until the damage is done in order to bring in consultants to support their work. This can be a tough gig for consultants as they are asked to achieve seemingly impossible results and are then chastised when it is not delivered. I believe this reflects poorly on the consultant in many instances, as they have not fully expectation managed their client and have then subsequently under-delivered. But in any case, we can probably agree that if issues are addressed early than we have an infinitely better chance of fixing it before it becomes a true detriment.

The key capability a consultant brings is objectivity, providing they are courageous enough to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear – refer to my first point about ‘yes’ cultures. Having someone approach the problem without the same biases and internal politics can be the difference between bad, good and expert.

Conclusion

I love being a consultant! I love being held accountable for my work, and my team’s work. Our consultants at The Eighth Mile Consulting are focused, professional and experienced and it makes my job of managing the brand a breeze.

There is no more satisfying feeling that supporting a positive project or initiative and seeing it through to delivery. Our measure of success is when we get called in to the next positive project, based on the success of the previous one.

I hope these observations serve others well. Remember, it is just one man’s opinions…

If you are ever think you might need an objective and friendly hand on something. Give us a call. We are always here to help.

Safe travels.

Dave

My father is one of the most intelligent people I know, blessed with a highly analytical brain, and an ability to simplify the complex. He once challenged a younger version of myself, when I was massively overthinking about an issue. During one of my lengthy rants he stopped me abruptly and asked, “what is it you know?” Not paying much attention (as I hadn’t yet learnt to listen) I went on listing hundreds of pieces of what I thought were truths. He asked again, “What. Is. It. You. KNOW?” Upon further analysis it became evident that all but one or two pieces of information were assumptions, fabrications or guesses at best. This second challenge caught me off guard and has induced a healthy skepticism that has aided me to this very day.

When I stopped and thought about it, I really didn’t know anything. I had jumped to numerous conclusions based on my emotions, my perceptions of individuals (and their behaviour), and subjective observations which if had been seen or experienced by someone else would have ultimately led to very different conclusions. My father, on this day, changed the very way that I look and analyse problems. It has kept me more grounded through a combat military career, as a project manager, and as a consultant.

In 1997, Men in Black (MIB) was released, but there was one quote that really resonated with me. Kay, an experienced MIB operative is attempting to recruit Edwards and has just confirmed conclusively that humans are not alone on Earth.

Edwards: “Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.”

Kay: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow…”

Assumptions Vs Fact

An assumption is ‘a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof”. A fact is defined as, ‘a thing that is known, or proved to be true’.

When I was in the Army, we often conducted planning in preparation for complex emerging issues, conflicts and situations all around the globe. Planning under these arrangements was often characterised by:

  • Limited planning time
  • Very restricted resources
  • Scarce information
  • A complex and confusing operating environment
  • A need to gain early momentum on whatever it was we were committing to.

Our planning methodology was commonly referred to as, ‘assumption-based planning’. In doing so, we would spend numerous iterations of planning identifying a lengthy list of assumptions. These assumptions would become the premise to whatever plans we were simultaneously developing, allowing us to get early preparation and movement. Data collectors and different organisations would push significant time and resources towards confirming whether the assumptions we were using to form the foundation of our rapidly developing plans were factual, or not. It was not uncommon for assumptions to be disproved and would suddenly change large aspects of the plan, at short notice. But when the assumptions were proven correct, it would inevitably have given us the jump on our enemy or would have allowed us to get significantly ahead of schedule.

During my time in the Army we never, I repeat, NEVER made the mistake of thinking that our assumptions were facts.

There is one key difference between the commercial industries and the Army. The Army is deliberately geared towards effectiveness and capabilities, and less towards efficiencies and cost reduction (although effort is still invested into cost reduction). This approach is what largely separates the two communities, as a business that is not continuously reducing cost is likely going to encounter significant survival problems later.

Since my transition from the Army to the commercial sector, I have observed a common mistake for businesses to make sweeping generalisations and assumptions and use them as the basis for an organisation’s overarching strategy. This can be very dangerous! It’s okay to use assumptions, provided there is adequate time invested in proving, or disproving them later.

Misinformation Is Worse Than No Information.

In today’s world we are constantly barraged with information. Information that directly disagrees with other reputable sources. Technology in all its forms has now saturated our brains with so much content that it can be very confusing where to turn, who to listen to, and which medium to approach.

If I could invite you to consider one thing; Misinformation is so much worse than no information. Conclusively knowing we do not yet have factual information about a topic affords you the opportunity to conduct targeted analysis in order to prove or disprove assumptions. Misinformation on the other hand, only offers the opportunity to run down rat warrens, poorly invest resources, and waste time.

Misinformation itself is often manifested by our own personal biases, our aversion to collecting accurate and contemporary data, our available sources of data collection.

“Before the invention of printing press, the problem was, lack of information, and now due to the rise of social media, it is too much information – the former leads to mental starvation and the latter to mental obesity.”

Abhijit Naskar

My recommendation to those teams conducting strategy planning is to spend the time confirming the following:

  • What do we conclusively know?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What do we need to know more about?
  • What assumptions can we make at an early stage in order to get things moving?
  • How do we scale or rate the assumptions?
  • How will we prove or disprove these assumptions later? By when? For what purpose?

This should provide an opportunity to streamline your data collection and ensure that you are only collecting information that you need, and not wasting time and resources unnecessarily.

These are some of the lessons I have taken with me in my current capacity as a Director at The Eighth Mile Consulting