Monday, January 8, 2018

Reflections on True North

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

A New Year, and a new strategic cycle. Strategy begins with our strategic & philosophical Purpose, also known as True North.

True North comprises:
  1. a "Hard" goal, usually entailing critical end-of-pipe measures, e.g. Revenue, EBIT, fatalities, and,
  2. a "Broad-brush" goal (hoshin), a few words defining our purpose, vision, commitment
I encourage leaders to draw a picture of where we want to be, how we’ll get there, and how we will go about our business.

The business chessboard is foggy, multi-dimensional, and unpredictable. Why bother to define a distant, uncertain future?

Because doing so forces us out of the rut of our current thinking. We engage dormant neural pathways thereby, and begin to see the clear blue sky of what's possible.

True North is also the ‘tie-breaker’, to which we turn for guidance at critical moments. “Is this who we are? Is this where we’re going and how’ll we get there?”

True North will tell us. For example, imagine we are a designer & manufacturer of high-end lighting solving challenging technical problems in high-margin niche markets. Our hoshin is Speed Style Invention. Now suppose a major automotive company, say Toyota, approached us and said, “We’d like you to manufacture lighting for our next Lexus model.”

How would we respond? The answer is clear, no? “We’ll have to decline, with great respect, because that’s not what we do, that’s not who we are.”

Our annual plans will be simple & modular one-pagers that express our hypotheses. We’re often wrong, but we adjust quickly. Life never goes according to plan. Clear hypotheses & modular plans enable the rapid PDCA cycles that’ll dispel the fog & get us closer and closer to True North.

Strategy Deployment is messy, humbling, intuitive, a marriage between the Right & Left brain, between intuition & logic, art & science.

Michelangelo's unfinished sculpture "Bound Slave"
I'm reminded of Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the greatest golfer ever, whose swing routine always entailed imagining the perfect shot.

Or of Michelangelo seeing the perfect sculpture in the marble block.

Have a good year, all,


Monday, December 11, 2017

Reflection - the Breakfast of Champions

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Year-end is my favorite time of year. A time to hit the PAUSE button & humbly reflect...

How did things go this year? Did I meet my personal goals? Did we meet our team goals?

What worked, did not work – and why?

What have I learned about myself & our team?

What have we learned about our business? What's it mean for the upcoming year?

What skills do we need to strengthen? What new skills do we want to develop?

We are human by the grace of our intellect, by the grace of reflection. But given our inevitable blind spots, proclivities, neuroses, and occasional insanities – it’s hard for any individual to do well.

But we have to try. Even better if we can reflect as a team, which can blunt the effect of individual foibles.

Action without thinking is aimless. Thinking without action is lifeless.

Here's to honest reflection, growth & good spirits - and to a safe & healthy 2018.

Best regards,


Monday, November 27, 2017

One for Ed Deming – Learn the Profound System of Knowledge!

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Tip of the hat & a deep bow to Ed Deming, the great American quality guru, who coined the above term, and gave us so much more.

Nowadays, some call it Toyota Production System, others ‘Lean’, yet others ‘Lean Six Sigma’.

But I have a soft spot for Deming and for ‘profound system of knowledge’, a rich phrase which harkens back centuries. As far back as Aristotle and the Athenian Agora, some say.

There is very little new under the sun. We are trying to apply the Scientific Method to the chaotic world of work, are we not? (Who knows what we’ll call it in a few decades?)

The Profound System of Knowledge has four cornerstones, Deming taught. Here they are along with what each means to yours truly:

1. Theory of Systems
  • What’s a system?
  • How do systems behave? What laws govern their behavior?
  • How do we create order out of chaos?
  • What is systems thinking? How do we apply it to get better outcomes?

2. Theory of Human Psychology
  • Why do people behave as they do?
  • What is the nature of human relationships?
  • How do we develop our team members?
  • How do we build trust?
  • How do we motivate our team members?

3. Laws of Variation
  • What are the causes of variability of work, in planning and problem solving?
  • What are the laws of variation?

4. Theory of Knowledge
  • How do we learn?
  • Different learning styles
  • How do we create a learning environment?

And everything is connected to everything else. Creating order in chaotic systems, for example, requires a deep understanding of why people behave as they do, how people learn, and of the laws of varation.

Good stuff, no? And worthy of a lifetime’s study and practice.

Thanks, Ed, again and forever. Trust the martinis are good in the Heavenly Bar, and the company diverting.

Best regards,


Monday, November 13, 2017

Are Google & Facebook Destroying Our Minds?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Do no evil?
Google motto

Steven Zuckerberg, Sergei Brynn and Larry Page and their ilk are reportedly well-meaning people. And I imagine their employees try to live up to some version of Google’s motto.

But good intentions not enough, as outlined in a recent, splendid Guardian piece by Paul Lewis.

Google, Facebook & social media, Lewis suggests, are weakening our ability to think deeply, reflect and learn. They are master manipulators, Lewis continues, who are weakening us, hurting our children and degrading democracy.

Don't want to be misunderstood. We're not helpless. And in measured doses, our screens can be enormously helpful. Our technology can the "bicycle for the mind" that Steve Jobs imaged.

The dose makes the poison, is a core principle of Toxicology. Some substances that are toxic at high doses, are actually beneficial and even essential at low doses.

Pure acetic acid causes severe burns, yet small quantities, say, in a fine vinegar, enhance our enjoyment of food. Pure oxygen will scorch your lungs. Alcohol poisoning is a chronic problem, yet a glass of red wine each day enhances health.

Our daughters, Katie & Eleanor, both in university, agree with Paul Lewis. "Dad, we may be the last generation to grow up relatively free of screens."

They're protective of their teenager brother, Matthew, who is surrounded by screens and thus vulnerable to the manipulators.

Accordingly, our family applies the following guidelines:

1) No phones or Pads after 8:00 p.m.

2) One hour reading for every hour at a screen

As a general principle, I turn my cell phone on for an hour in the morning, an hour at lunch, and an hour late in the afternoon. It's off the rest of the time (exception: Safety).

Do such measures work? Partially...but that makes all the difference.

Google & Facebook may be destroying our minds. Write it on the bathroom mirror, on your whiteboard, in your journal so you see it every day.

Tell everybody you know, and above all, take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. Let's use the technology, not the other way round.

Stay safe, stay awake