January 16, 2015 Show Notes: Interview with Dr. Jules Goddard

Ed and I were honored to interview Dr. Jules Goddard, author of Uncommon Sense, Common Nonsense: Why some organisations consistently outperform others (co-authored with Tony Eccles).

Jules Goddard

Biography

Dr. Goddard earned his MA at Oxford, an MBA from Wharton, and his PhD from London Business School. He’s a Guest Lecturer at INSEA and formerly Gresham Professor of Commerce and Mercers School Memorial Professor at The City University. He is currently Research Associate of the Management Lab (MLab) at London Business School. He’s a teacher, writer and consultant in the areas of business creativity, strategic thinking, leadership and corporate transformation. Lead designer and director of senior-level, high-profile development programmes for many companies, including BP, ICL-Fujitsu, Rolls-Royce, Orange, Prudential, Ericsson, BG Group, Rio Tinto, Mars, Smith and Nephew, SCA, Danone, and Volvo. Over the last 10 years, he has worked with a third of the FTSE 100 companies.

Specialist advisor on strategic issues facing professional services firms, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Smith System Engineering, Conran Design Group, Braxton, Banque Paribas, Lazard Brothers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, J Walter Thompson, Benfield, Deloittes, SHL, and Credit Suisse.

Recent publications include articles on futuristic models of management (Sloan Management Review), the economic crisis (Business Strategy Review), cost strategy (Business Strategy Review), a new definition of accountability (Interconnections), as well as a monograph on employee engagement, social media and management innovation (CSC Leading Edge).

My book on organisational strategy, co-authored with Tony Eccles and entitled Uncommon Sense and Common Nonsense, was published by Profile in 2012. He is married, with 4 children, lives in London and Provence.

The Best Business Book Ron Read in 2014 (and Ed’s read in 2015)

Uncommon Sense Book

His book is the best business book I read in 2014, and Ed says the same so far in 2015! There are so many quotable and profound insights in this work it’s hard to do it justice in a short review.

We highly recommend you read this work, especially if you’ve enjoyed some of the topics we’ve discussed on The Soul of Enterprise. Our thinking seems to be very much aligned with Dr. Goddard’s views on business.

He’s working on a new book on behavioral economics and we will definitely have Dr. Goddard back on the show!

Here are some of our favorite points from the book, sorted by topic.

Purpose of book?

We believe that most enterprises today are insufficiently entrepreneurial.

The great virtues of markets is that they disproportionately reward firms that have the creativity to see the world differently from their rivals.

The book’s thesis is that: market-based competition is a discovery process; that asymmetric knowledge is the object of the search; the business strategist is the intrepid explorer; the effective organisation spurs such exploration.

THE PRINCIPAL ARGUMENT of this book is that profit is a return on knowledge and that therefore decision-making in business should be modelled on problem-solving in science, which is the most reliable and productive form of knowledge acquisition so far invented.

In place of dogmatism, science injects a healthy dose of critical inquiry.

Scientists do not argue from facts to theories, except by showing that some of these facts falsify or refute some of these theories. Facts are used by scientists not as the source for their ideas but as the test of their ideas.

Uncommon Sense, Common Nonsense Defined

The basic law of wealth creation: principle of asymmetric knowledge – that is, any situation when somebody in a market knows something that nobody else in the market knows, and then has the courage to act on that knowledge.

We call this type of knowledge “uncommon sense.

When the same sources of error unite all the competitors in a given space, they become what we call “common nonsense.” Most management theories are little more than sophistry or folk wisdom.

Austrian Economics Influence?

The Austrian rather than the neoclassical tradition of microeconomic theory competition is modeled as a discovery process where the rewards flow to entrepreneurs possessing valuable new insights or unique data rather than as a state of equilibrium.

Strategy

Strategy is less about the application of theory than the activity of theorising.

Chess masters do not achieve their mastery through the application of “best practice.” They are their own masters.

Scientific discovery or a work of art, it is a unique, non-repeatable event. It resists generalisation or theoretical explanation.

Strategic solutions do not generalise. They are built on insights, not rules or principles.

Businesses decline as the production of new insights dries up. A theory of business therefore cannot be a substitute for insight.

Any theory that puts forward a winning recipe for commercial success is a fraud. There cannot be an algorithm for making scientific discoveries or creating artistic masterpieces.

Firms outperform their competitors by aiming to be different, not better

“Strategy is about setting yourself apart from the competition. It’s not a matter of being better at what you do – it’s a matter of being different at what you do.” ––Michael Porter

“You don’t want to be the best of the best. You want to be the only one who does what you do.” ––Jerry Garcia

Budgeting – the undisputed champion of managerial nonsense. Balanced scorecards—the bureaucrat’s revenge.

Markets are battles between belief systems.

Ideas vs. Execution?

Aiming to be “better at implementation” is no more a recipe for success than aiming to be better generally.

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness? The Effing Debate

Russell Ackoff, “The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. Therefore, when we correct a mistake doing the wrong thing we become wronger. It is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.”

Our favorite insight in the book!

Strategy is the rare and precious skill of staying one step ahead of the need to be efficient.

The true test of the innovative capability of a firm is that it never needs to worry about, let alone wrestle with, the cost competitiveness of its business model. An example is Apple. Immunised it against ever having to resort to such mundane and demoralising activities as operational excellence or change management.

Over the life cycle of a business, efficiency is usually exchanged for effectiveness, as focus is sacrificed for scale.

The pharmaceutical industry, more than any other industry, perhaps, understands the importance of “inefficiency” to innovation.

Best Practices/Benchmarking

Losers look to competitive benchmarks rather than to their own imagination for their model of success

The concept of best practice is perhaps the single most value-destructive idea to have come out of business schools and management consultancies over the past 20 years. All they have achieved is to urge the laggards to catch up with the herd.

The lead indicators of strategic failure are typically three: the firm benchmarks its costs against competitors; managers are set targets to close the gap on the most efficient competitor; managers seek solutions among the latest management fashions, with the result that the half-life of each new panacea gets shorter and shorter. Toyota did not get to outperform General Motors by emulating GM practices.

Business is not about best practice. It is about unique practices.

The day that Google starts to take an interest in competency profiling or balanced scorecards or corporate social responsibility or some other form of management sophistry is the day to sell Google stock.

Accounting Profession

I argue that the accounting profession is suffering from what philosophers call a “Deteriorating paradigm”—that is, as accounting gets more complex as it explains less and less.

It seems Dr. Goddard agrees, quoting James Noble of the FCA:

“Over the past decade the [accounting] profession has completely lost any sense of what accounts are for. …Accounts do not reflect reality. They reflect an extremely complex set of standards comprehensible to a tiny minority of professionals, if that. They are full of weird conventions such as goodwill write-offs, share options accounting and revenue recognition that I defy anyone to call reality…If accounts reflect reality and accounting standards are just fine, how is it that every bank in the UK has in effect become bankrupt when every single one received a clean audit opinion, including a going concern test [within a year of going broke]?” James Noble FCA

Small Visions

ASK CEOS TO NOMINATE the business leaders they have most admired, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Alan Lafley. They’ll point to their bravery, decisiveness, boldness of their vision, contrarian beliefs, the originality of their strategies, the courage of their convictions, their self-confidence and willpower.

Now inquire into what strategies and policies they themselves are advocating in their own businesses, the answers that you get are depressingly familiar: cost reduction, 360-degree feedback, outsourcing, downsizing, margin improvement, shared services, process re-engineering and change programmes. Actions of most executives fall far short of their aspirations and ideals.

Simplicity is always the result of design

“There seem to be many people making things more complex but very few people trying to make them simpler.” Edward de Bono

Perhaps we should be as worried by complexity as we are about cost. TSM (total simplicity management).

“Black Belts” in simplification.

Many people in an organisation have a vested interest in making things complicated and keeping them that way. No one cuts costs by eliminating their own job.

December 19th, 2014 Show Notes: Interview with Dr. Thomas Sowell

Ed and I were absolutely honored to interview Dr. Thomas Sowell, certainly one of the world’s greatest living economists, on The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy.

Dr. Sowell is currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Sowell was born in North Carolina, but grew up in Harlem, New York. He dropped out of high school and served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. He received a Bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1958 and a Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, he earned his Doctorate in Economics from the University of Chicago.

Dr. Sowell has served on the faculties of several universities, including Cornell University and University of California, Los Angeles. He has also worked for think tanks such as the Urban Institute. Since 1980, he has worked at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He writes from a conservative and classical liberal perspective, advocating free market economics and has written more than thirty books. He is a National Humanities Medal winner.

The new edition of his international best seller on economics, Basic Economics – 5th Edition (Basic Books, December 2015), was the focal point of our discussion.

Basic Economics is the best single volume primer on economics ever written. There are no graphs or equations, and the writing is clear, uncomplicated, eye-opening, and cogent. Ron has recommended this book to hundreds of people, most have thanked him profusely.

We discussed Dr. Sowell’s early years as a Marxist, his definition of an economy and economics, early baseball tryout, the notion of a “fair” price, the illogic of the “trade deficit,” his views on immigration, Thomas Pikkety’s book and income inequality, and why there are only “non-economic values.”

We also asked Dr. Sowell during the break what he thought of President Obama’s recent policy on easing restrictions on Cuba. He was adamantly against it, and hopefully he will be writing on this topic for his syndicated column.

It’s difficult to suggest one of Thomas Sowell’s books over another. Be sure to read Basic Economics, 5th Edition, but if you want to venture beyond that (and you will), we’ve listed Dr. Sowell’s books below, though not all of them. He’s written two on late-talking children as well, which I hear are excellent.

Ron’s favorites are: Knowledge and Decisions; A Conflict of Visions; and Intellectuals and Race.

Other Resources

Dr. Sowell’s Wikipedia page.

Fred Barnes interview with Dr. Sowell.

Article by Jay Nordlinger, of National Review, on Thomas Sowell.

Follow Dr. Sowell’s syndicated newspaper column on Twitter @sowellcolumn

Books by Thomas Sowell (partial list)

Say’s Law: An Historical Analysis, 1972

Classical Economics Reconsidered, 1974

Knowledge and Decisions, 1980

Markets and Minorities, 1981

Ethnic America: A History, 1981

The Economics and Politics of Race, 1983

Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality, 1984

Marxism: Philosophy and Economics, 1985

Education: Assumptions Versus History, 1986

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, 1987 

Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays, 1987

Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, 1990

Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas, 1993

Race and Culture: A World View (Part I of a trilogy), 1994

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, 1995

Knowledge and Decisions, 1996 (1980 original)

Migrations and Cultures: A World View (Part II of a trilogy), 1996

Conquests and Cultures: An International History (Part III of a trilogy), 1998

The Quest for Cosmic Justice, 1999

A Personal Odyssey, 2000

Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy, 2004

Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One, 2004

Black Rednecks and White Liberals, 2005

Every Wonder Why (collection of columns), 2006

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, revised and expanded 2007

A Man of Letters, 2007

The Housing Boom and Bust, 2009

Intellectuals and Society, 2009

Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One, Revised and Enlarged Edition, 2009

Dismantling America (collection of columns), 2010

The Thomas Sowell Reader (collection of columns, essays, etc.), 2011

“Trickle Down” Theory and “Tax Cuts for the Rich,” (essay), 2012

Intellectuals and Race, 2013

Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy, 5th Edition, 2015

Trailblazer Podcast – Chris Farmand

I had the chance to interview Trailblazer Chris Farmand about his experience in moving to be a Firm of the Future. Enjoy!

Episode #25 Preview Redux – Interview with Thomas Sowell

tom_4bOn our December 19, 2014 episode, we will interview Dr. Thomas Sowell, the most famous (and we think best) living economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author. His appearance on TSOE coincides with the release of a new edition of his international best seller on economics, Basic Economics – 5th Edition (Basic Books, December 2014).

In this soon-to-be released volume, Sowell revises and updates his popular book on common sense economics, bringing the world into clearer focus through an understanding of the fundamental economic principles that influence our lives.

Sowell shows how to critique economic policies in terms of the incentives they create – rather than the goals they proclaim. This is a universal truth for all economic systems, whether socialist or capitalist or feudal.

In his new chapter on International Disparities in Wealth, Sowell addresses the impact of geographic resources and the role of culture (including human capital) on economic advancement.  While disparities in wealth have received international political attention, Sowell employs a common sense prism through which to view the issue.

Dr. Sowell is currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Sowell was born in North Carolina, but grew up in Harlem, New York. He dropped out of high school and served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. He received a Bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1958 and a Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, he earned his Doctorate in Economics from the University of Chicago.

Sowell has served on the faculties of several universities, including Cornell University and University of California, Los Angeles. He has also worked for think tanks such as the Urban Institute. Since 1980, he has worked at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He writes from a conservative and classical liberal perspective, advocating free market economics and has written more than thirty books. He is a National Humanities Medal winner.

Partnerships: Lessons from the Army

A little over a year ago, I read a fantastic book by Thomas Ricks title The Generals:  American Military Command from World War II to Today.  It is a fantastic book on leadership, vision, character, failings, and resurrection.  For over a decade, I have been part of a chorus of colleagues wailing against the Partnership Model for CPA and other professional knowledge firms (PKFs).

 

As an outside observer of local, regional, national, and global firms, I have first hand witnessed the daily dysfunction that the Partnership Model creates and the carnage it leaves behind.   Partnerships as they are formed are more about protecting their firm’s bounty rather than increasing it.  Partnerships are more frequently about inequality among a band of supposed equals as it about collectively working together for the benefit of the firm.  Partners within partnerships are more frequently rewarded for individual actions rather than firm driven results.  Partners in partnerships more frequently sacrifice others before they sacrifice themselves.  Partnerships destroy more value frequently than they create even when their measured numbers increase, the toxins of the partnership permeate thorough the firm and its human capital.

Compare Partnerships with the Army.  Both have an overall mission/vision.  Both have groups of individuals, each with a personal vested interest in the success of the organization.  Both have to learn how to nurture a process for finding, recruiting, and retaining talent.  Both have specialists.  Both have career paths.  Both have roles that focus inwardly on producing results while others have roles of interfacing outside the organization.  The list of similarities could continue.  Ultimately a Partnership shares a lot with the Army.  Except in one major distinction.  Leadership.

The Army treats ultimate leadership differently.  Yes, the Army promotes within their groups and specialties. The Army rewards for time served and skills learned, just like Partnerships.  Except for the last major promotion, the processes are similar.  It is the last step that separates the Army from the Partnership and it is this last step that truly matters.  The Army transforms a soldier during the promotion to General.  Generals leave the insignia of their specialty behind.  They become Generalists.  Generals aren’t merely superior rank, they are to be the superior leaders of the entire organization and not just their current assignment to a Company, Brigade, Division, or Outpost.  As Ricks writes (p. 35 of 1407 on my iPad (how does one site a page when we can change the font?):

As brigadier generals, the newly promoted officers are instructed in a special course – they no longer represent a part of the Army, but now are the stewards of the entire service.  As members of the Army’s select few, they are expected to control and coordinate different branches, such as artillery, cavalry, and engineers – that is, to become generalists.

Compare the above to Partnerships.  Partnerships promote within their current groups.  They do not promote leaders for the benefit of the firm. They promote within their departments, or offices, and silos.  This is a mistake.  It leads to the continuation of the status quo. It leads the the hoarding that stops cross selling.  It leads to the world of Me instead of We.  It leads to choosing to benefit internally rather than externally.  We promote and reward the specialists at the time and leadership position that requires a generalists.

Substitute Rick’s terms of artillery, cavalry, and engineers for tax, audit, and consulting.  Partners in firms should be leaders of and for the benefit of the firm and not just their department.  They should be able to lead across the platforms and not merely within their chosen field.  Managing Partners should have demonstrated true multidisciplinary leadership by having lead in all departments and divisions with only one goal:  enhancing and protecting the firm.  This is why MPs should never have customer responsibilities.  the firm is the customer.  Partners should have leadership responsibilities first, including vision, nurturing, coaching.  Let the senior managers (think Colonels , Lt. Colonels, and Majors) provide the services, direct customer leadership, and technical review.  That is their speciality.  Partners should be their visionary leader with their hearts and minds on the organization and its components and not about the working papers that are collecting dust on their floor or credenza.

The Partnership Model is broken.  It regularly destroys value and interferes with the firm’s future.  When reality finally sits in and the firm  tires of listening to the mundane voices of the common consultancies, look to the Army for wisdom.  Promote leaders with vision and make the generalists and have them direct across the organization.  In this way, the firm flourishes, egos diminish, and the customer is truly served.

 

 

 

 

Blockbuster CPE/CPD – Scientific Management and Other Leading Techniques of a Modern CPA Firm

Today, Ron Baker, Tom Hood and I were proud to present this webcast which is part of the new Sage LEAP webcast series.

UPDATE: We have had a huge outpouring of love for this session and requests for the presentation.

Rerum Novarum: A VeraSage Fellow Conversation

A few days before Christmas, Ron Baker, Ed Kless and Adrian Simmons conducted a Google+ Hangout to dialogue about Rerum Novarum, an encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in which the Pope warns about the perils of socialism. It is truly prescient.

The conversation runs almost an hour, so make some popcorn (or have a cocktail).

Podcast: Touring IVP – Chapter 2 Part 3 – Where do profits come from?

Ron Baker and Ed Kless continue their tour through Ron Baker’s book Implementing Value Pricing: A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms. This a part three of three on Chapter 2 – The Firm of the Future. The topic is where do profits come from.

Podcast: Touring IVP – Chapter 2 Part 2 – Eff’ing Debate

Ron Baker and Ed Kless continue their tour through Ron Baker’s book Implementing Value Pricing:A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms. This a part two of three on Chapter 2 – The Firm of the Future. In this episode, we discuss what is affectionately known in the halls of VeraSage as the Eff’ing Debate – Efficiency vs Effectiveness vs Efficacy.

Podcast: Touring IVP – Chapter 2 Part 1 – The Firm of the Future

Ron Baker and Ed Kless continue their tour through Ron Baker’s book Implementing Value Pricing: A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms. This a part one of three on Chapter 2 – The Firm of the Future. Ron describes the business model in general and delves into profit vs revenue and the forms of capital.