Monday, February 11, 2019

If It’s Not Simple, It's BS

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, "any scientist who can't explain to an eight-year-old what he's doing is a charlatan." This principle is especially true in strategy, perhaps our most human management activity.

Artificial Intelligence & Robotics can eventually handle many jobs, but can they make & deploy strategy? Can they motivate a team to be better than it's parts, to rise together in some great endeavor?

"How will you win? What is the logic?" I`m a proverbial broken record in strategy sessions. It's remarkable how difficult we find these questions. We've been taught that complexity is profound. In fact, it's a crude state. Simplicity, by contrast, marks the end of a process of refining.

The late great physicist, Richard Feynman looked and talked like a New York City cabbie. His Caltech freshmen lectures in Physics, and all his books are classics for their simplicity & humor.

How did Feynman achieve that level of clarity? Through slow, patient reflection, by turning a problem over and over in his mind until a 'simple' explanation suggested itself.

And that's where the shoe pinches in our time-starved era. Who has time to turn a problem over and over in their mind these days? Who has the time, as Einstein did, to imagine himself riding a light beam - so as to makes sense of time and gravity and light?

Which invokes the second great law of strategy: less is more.

Knowing we'll be time-starved, please let's not over-fill our strategy plates, like teenagers at a buffet. "First we'll do this, then this and this and that over there. Oh, and then we'll..."

One of the many benefits of Lean Start-up and Design Thinking is that they force you to simplify and clarify your offering. We test our 'Minimum Viable Product', on the way to our 'Minimum Viable Company'.

Similarly, in strategy, we want to deploy our 'minimum viable plan', watching carefully what happens, and ever ready to adjust to the inevitable 'known, and unknown, unknowns' that confront us.

Breakthrough entails walking up the stairs in the fog, continually making & easy quick experiments, most of them yielding a negative result.

Best wishes,


Monday, January 28, 2019

Design Thinking and the PDCA Cycle

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

To everything there is a season

In a world of tumultuous and endless technological change, Design Thinking has rightly become a core methodology.

In many industries, we can no longer confidently claim that we understand the customer’s problems. An thus, we can no longer define Value with any certainty.

A generation ago we rediscovered, seemingly, Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle.

Deming’s work, in turn, was heavily informed by Walter Shewhart and the idea that operational data comprised both a signal and noise.

And that through patient observation and statistical methods, we could separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Before Shewhart, Deming and the other great pioneers of modern management, business processes were essentially unknown – unknowable.

(In a some sectors this is still the case, no? The ‘Noble Savage’ approach to management…)

Both Deming and Shewhart informed our Toyota senseis. Every day, a little up, Pascal-san!

Is Design Thinking entirely new? Or is our current expression of the timeless ideas that Shewhart and Deming conveyed in generations past?

Like PDCA, Design thinking entails a Diverge-Converge pattern. The 4 D’s are perhaps its most succinct expression:

Discover – (Diverge)
  • Develop empathy with the customer
  • Go see and experience for yourself
  • Seek thereby to understand their jobs/pains/gains in a direct way
Define – (Converge)
  • Define the customer’s jobs/pains/gains
  • Pick a focus and define the essence of problem
Develop – (Diverge)
  • Ideate possible countermeasures
  • Develop and test prototypes
  • Focus on the best solution
Deliver – (Converge)
  • Test and confirm your design choice
  • Once the design is confirmed, develop a deployment plan
  • Release and scale

Each of the 4 D’s finds unique expression in different industries. Develop, for example, entails very different activities in, say, web design vs car detailing products.

In the former, Develop entails developing, say, the web page’s content, and the front and back end – (translation to HTML, functionality, database, logic).

In the latter industry, Develop entails testing the various chemicals and application methods in the lab. This one works, that one does not…

Like PDCA, Design Thinking entails a journey up a staircase in the fog, during which we learn through rapid experimentation and iteration.

In my view, both are rooted in the same tradition but differ in that one is aimed at continuous improvement, the other at continuous innovation.

We need both arrows in the quiver, no?

Best regards,


Monday, January 14, 2019

Digital Transformation - the Critical Questions

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Digital is eating the world, as they say, and every industry is feeling it.

How do you steer a digital transformation? How do you decide on a purpose and strategy, and deploy a course of action?

We need to translate the eternal questions of strategy to suit our new terrain:

  1. What’s our Purpose?
  2. Where will we play?
  3. How will we win?
    1. What’s preventing us?
    2. What are our critical gaps in Technology, Customer Experience, People, Culture?
    3. What’s our overall approach?
  4. What capabilities are needed?
  5. What management systems are needed?

Job One, as ever, is defining our aspiration – not a trivial task in a world of tumultuous technological change!

Our best hope is to get close to our customer, and develop empathy thereby. What are her jobs, pain and gain points?

Proctor and Gamble and the great A.G. Lafley famously defined the critical ‘Moments of Truth’ as 1) Seeing the product on the shelf, and 2) Using the product at home.

These are correct, of course, and especially so for consumer goods. But even in this industry, as we digitize our offering, other meaningful pain and gain points arise, no?

How else to explain the explosive growth that some commodity products experience – even in the face of the incumbent’s overwhelming marketing might?

Such products can develop loyal social media followers who unite, communicate and promote the product for no outwardly apparent gain.

Clearly, there are ‘invisible’ and satisfying gains at work.

In my view, these invisible gains and satisfactions entail some form of ‘this product/service makes me better/smarter/cooler than I am’.

Seen in this light, our critical questions take on new meaning, no?

And this is a big reason why digital transformations are proving much more difficult – it’s not just about coding.

Here’s to a safe, healthy, big-hearted and prosperous 2019,


Monday, December 31, 2018

The Trouble with Corporate Clichés

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

"Think outside the box"

"Ducks in a row"

"Low-hanging fruit"

"Let's take this off-line"

Why do these and other corporate clichés make us cringe so?

Well, they're often used by lazy people to express stale, tired thinking.

If we haven't thought about something deeply, why burden people with inanities?

If we can't express an idea in a fresh way, why should anybody listen?

Secondly, clichés are often used by clueless people who want to sound intelligent, which can be unsettling.

(One wonders, "Why are there so many bozos around here?")

Thirdly, strategy & problem solving begin with a mature acceptance of reality. Clichés just get in the way.

Holy cow, that's a rhinoceros and it just did something nasty on the carpet!

A clear concise description of the problem. Effective countermeasures will eventually follow.

Now consider how a cliché-ridden mind might respond:

"We need to think outside the box, lean in and ask clarifying questions! There is some low hanging fruit here, and perception is reality.

Let's consider our scalable options, get our ducks in a row and create synergy between our silos!"

Want to bet the rhino will still be there in an hour?

Here's one last reason:

Leadership is about language.

Best regards,