Making Better Decisions in an Opportune and Adverse World

Have you had those times when you felt you made the wrong decision for your enterprise? 

For myself, countless times.  If only I did this, if only I did that.  I would have been richer.  I would have had a better life.  I’d have been happier.  Etcetera, etcetera.

Making wrong decisions is a part of life but how does one know a decision is wrong in the first place?  How does one make a right decision? 

Decisions reflect our desired outcomes, our visions for the future.  We base our decisions on objectives and overall strategies. 

Decisions we make are manifest in the plans we implement and the policies we set.  Decisions illustrate how we deal with so much or so little information.  Decisions determine how effective we hurdle day-to-day obstacles and how we turn unexpected opportunities into beneficial realities. 

We would always want to know if our decisions are on track with our goals.  How do we do that?  The following are my two-cents’ worth of tips:

  1. It starts with a roadmap. 

A ship navigates based on what it sees ahead and the maps it has.  It’s the same with enterprises.  We plan our routes based on our destinations.    An enterprise needs a roadmap to know how it will reach a desired outcome. 

Enterprise roadmaps come in the form of objectives and supporting action plans.  Every action plan is a step towards a pre-determined objective.  Action plans need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound, and challenging (achieving an objective often is)[1].  Action plans must be relevant to the roadmap otherwise it is a useless exercise, a wasted diversion for the enterprise. 

2. Establish visibility from all angles and observe. 

Sea-going ships utilise technologies such as over-the-horizon radar and satellite weather imagery to see what’s ahead of them, behind them, beside them, and what’s coming.  (Also, below them if you include sonar). Ship crews also monitor the insides of their vessels to know how well things are operating.   

Ship crews, however, don’t just rely on data.  They observe.  Observe means to detect for the sake of response.  Because when a ship is at sea, it needs to be responsive to whatever unexpected event may happen. 

Enterprises in the same way need to know what’s happening from all sides, that is, the market, their vendors, and their operations.    And they need to observe and respond. 

State-of-the-art technologies such as artificial intelligence have brought on ideas for automated decision-making.  There may come at a time when many day-to-day decisions will be left to high-tech machinery.  Accountability, however, will still be on the shoulders of the enterprise’s ownership.  So, whatever the future may bring, enterprises need to ensure they have the protocols to observe for the responses they would decide to do. 

3. Organise the Observations.

Enterprises should organise what they observe to guide their owners in the decisions they make. 

Organising observations means putting them in order for quick understanding and response.  Key data need to be identified.  Records kept.  Summaries made.  Reports presented.  Charts and visual aids would be helpful.  And all should be updated frequently

An enterprise knows it is organising observations effectively when it sees its owners using them every day and basing plans on them.  Enterprises should winnow (i.e. optimize not filter) data to their most useful state such that owners can make responsive decisions.

4. Run weekly planning sessions but if things get boring, run simulations.

Some of us hate to exercise.  But most of us do it anyway because we know it’s good for us. 

Enterprises should also exercise.  Armed force militaries do it to prepare for battles, so shouldn’t enterprises do it too? 

Many enterprises already exercise via weekly crisis executive planning sessions.  I say crisis, because if an enterprise’s executives are meeting once a week, there probably is at least one crisis after another that’s happening.  (Some enterprises conduct once-a-quarter planning sessions even if there are pressing problems; it is in these enterprises that executives are constantly in stress). 

Planning sessions, however stressful they may be, hone the skills of executive managers.  Something like when a blacksmith heats iron bars and immediately quenches them with cold water.  The up and down stresses of the sessions condition managers for future challenges. 

But as enterprises grow and managers get more skilful, the sessions get boring and fewer.  It is at this point that executives should consider simulations in the place of infrequent real-life crises. 

Simulations are like mini-workshops for enterprise executives to develop their decision-making skills.  The traditional option would be to attend seminars and workshops.  But doing workshops and seminars would like be jogging a few days a year.  One should exercise regularly to make a difference. 

Simulations bring forth what-if cases of opportunity and adversity for executives and managers to work through.  The best types of simulations are those that would entail issues that executives would least expect (like a global health virus from China).  Simulations should target executives’ responsiveness towards opportunities and adversities.   

5. Record the experiences, not only yours or mine but everyone’s.

One must record everything from minutes to notes to action plans to performance metrics.  Doesn’t hurt to have archives especially when people change within organisations.  A datum is like a book in a library—an enterprise may never need one that often but when the need does arise, it’s nice if one is there ready to be referred to.  It’s important of course to organise the records (see #3 above). 

It has come to a point where we need to assure ourselves that we are making the right decisions in a world where things change quickly, either adversely or opportunely. 

Making the right decisions starts with a roadmap that’s made up of deliberate action plans.  We’d need to establish visibility for what’s ahead and organise our information into content that matters.  And we’d need to sharpen our skills through multi-functional teamwork in crises or via simulated exercises.  We’d need to record all of what we do because it would be helpful to have something to refer to for future challenges.

Being decisive includes being secure in deciding correctly.  Opportunity knocks, adversity strikes.  It pays to be prepared.   


Why Enterprises Lose Customers to Piracy and The Simple Strategy to Stop It

Just the other day, I tried to download a free episode of a new science fiction television series that streaming services were offering on their websites.  Instead, I was greeted with a message:

“Isn’t Available In The Country or Region You’re Currently In.”

It turned out that the free episode is only available in selected countries.  It wasn’t available where I lived so I couldn’t download.  There is no way for me to watch the free episode of the new series, unless I get it from a vendor selling pirated videos. 

Pirated videos are illegal.  Downloading movies, TV shows, and computer applications without permission from their owners are against the law and penalties await those who illicitly sell or possess such stuff or what is otherwise called intellectual properties. 

Intellectual property piracy, however, thrives because:

  1. They are readily available especially when the original stuff isn’t;
  2. They are much cheaper, as in a downloaded movie can cost less than a US dollar. 

Countries have cracked down on piracy to the extent that courts have penalized culprits and confiscated their assets.   Legitimate online streaming services offer themselves as alternatives for pirated media by providing access to original content at reasonable subscription prices.  Spotify and Netflix, for instance, have become very popular platforms for offering a wide expanse of music and video content at quite attractive subscription rates. 

Yet, the underground economy of intellectual property piracy flourishes.  The piracy business operates openly in shopping centres and in the internet.  People looking for newly released movies, new television episodes, and the latest software applications can find them easily from vendors, either in-person or virtual. 

Intellectual property pirates download illegal content via under-the-radar websites with the help of boosted internet connectivity.  Despite the low prices, the income from selling to a large market of buyers comes out profitably for pirates.  Downloading is fast such that interested buyers can get the newest content in real-time.  If someone wants a video, a song, or a software app that’s not available from legitimate sellers at his or her location, he or she can get it, fast and cheap from pirates. 

A similar scenario applies for popular brands of products.  Newly released name-brand cosmetics for example are bought from their home countries and then sold by independent sellers in places where licensed or exclusive dealers have yet to set up shop. 

Independent but unauthorized sellers bring in new models of laptop computers, tablets, and cell-phones while licensed dealers lose revenue opportunities as they wait for their allocations of new models to arrive from the original manufacturers.    

When there’s demand for new products, it would be common sense for the creators to distribute them as fast as possible to waiting consumers. Unfortunately, they do not.  They invest in only so much capacity that doesn’t immediately cover all locations.  They brush off waiting buyers and threaten pirates with legal action if their creations are copied illegally. 

But many buyers are willing to take the risk to buy illegally pirated products.  Sprightly sellers would ignore the possibility of prosecution.  They’d ship in what they can from source countries where new products are available and sell them to where buyers would be eager and able to pay.

Independent sellers would sell at higher prices if demand is strong but many would resort to razor thin margins that would make them comparable to the original prices of the creators.  For example, sellers have been found selling Apple products at margins almost unnoticeable in comparison to those from authorized dealers. 

Legitimate streaming services have almost no additional cost to distribute their content world-wide at a moment’s notice.  It is curious that they would still withhold distribution to countries with sure buyers that would opt for originals versus having to buy from pirates. 

The way to beat intellectual property piracy is to simply and swiftly distribute to where the demand is.  The price of not doing so is the loss of market share to underground competitors who will pick up the slack and profit in their absence.   People will buy from pirates if the content is available and they want it now. 

Consumers will not care about how much creators invest in their content and the ramifications of illegally procuring pirated products.  They also won’t wait for creators to sell original content if the pirated products are on hand and almost equivalent in quality. 

Piracy is an option when original products aren’t available and the demand is there.  The easy way to beat piracy is for enterprises to sell their wares everywhere where there would be certain demand.  Warnings about criminal prosecution for piracy can instil fear but it won’t be scary enough for impatient customers to opt for illegally channelled products. 

The technology is there.  The networks are there.  The available capabilities are there. Enterprises just have to plan and direct their products to their markets, make their money, and beat the pirates in their own game. 

How to Avoid the Aggravation of Un-Available Items

If there’s one thing that ruins the productivity of your day, it’s when a needed item isn’t available. 

A wonderfully designed business may have skilled workers, state-of-the-art machinery, and a talented management team.  But the business yields nothing if the needed items to run it aren’t there.  

Managers deal with challenges such as absent workers, power failures, and machine breakdowns.  In most cases, they find ways to overcome these challenges and thereby avert costly problems.

But when it comes to the unavailability of an item, there are hardly any outright remedies.  Once one finds out that an item, whether it be a raw material, a packaging box, a spare part, or even a light bulb that’s critical to a business operation, isn’t there, it will inevitably lead to downtime. 

No one likes downtime.  When downtime occurs, the impact is irreversible.  Output is lost; productivity suffers; costs go up; deadlines are not met; customers don’t get their orders; the bosses complain.    

The best way to deal with downtime is to avoid it.  Make sure it doesn’t happen.  And the first best starting point is to ensure that one has all the items, components, and materials it needs and when it needs them. 

So, how do we do that? 

  • Establish a policy; a realistic and doable policy

It’s one thing to have a policy to guide managers in buying and stocking items.  It’s another to have a policy that’s realistic and doable.  Many enterprises routinely plan materials, components, and parts based on unrealistic policies.  These enterprises end up experiencing expensive downtimes. 

For example, a buying clerk orders 1,000 litres of fuel because there’s 500 litres in inventory and the policy is to stock no more than 1,500 litres.  The business operation, however, require 2,000 litres of fuel a week.  Because there’s only a maximum of 1,500 litres on stock at any one time, the enterprise runs the risk of running out of fuel and shutting down. 

Obviously, the policy of having only at most 1,500 litres of fuel is unrealistic.  The policy should perhaps consider a minimum purchase quantity of 2,000 litres and perhaps a buffer stock of at least 500 litres, to cover for possible delivery delays.    

A viable policy should be in tune with the needs of the enterprise and doable in terms of capabilities from the source (i.e. vendor).  It sounds like common sense (and it is) but many enterprises, believe it or not, follow outdated policies that are based on past practices that don’t consider current needs and capabilities.  These enterprises experience expensive downtimes, as a result. 

  • “Plan for Every Part”

There should be a policy for every item, part, component, and material involved in the operation.  The policies established should be realistically and respectively applicable for every item.  One may have a sweeping policy that covers many items although experience has shown that doing that results in inefficiencies and undesirable outcomes (i.e. downtimes).  This is simply because a sweeping policy seldom covers for each item’s uniqueness. 

The best approach would be to “plan for every part” which Chris Harris best describes in his essay (  Mr. Harris argues that operations management should catalogue every item’s identity and background information.  This not only includes its specifications but its supply information as well, that is, its sources (vendors), purchase information (e.g. vendor’s terms & conditions), shelf life, storage requirements (e.g. requires refrigeration), and handling (e.g. fragility). 

What an item’s characteristics are, how the vendor supplies it, and how it should be stored and handled, would guide managers in the buying and stocking of every item of the operation.

  • Get Consensus

Managers are accountable for the delivery of products and services.  Purchasers are accountable for the cost of items and the reliabilities of vendors in delivering items to the quantities and qualities specified.  Finance is accountable for the management of an enterprise’s wealth.  The accountabilities of all three overlap when it comes to inventories.

Purchasing managers would prefer to buy items in bulk at discounted prices, especially if these items are imported from other countries. 

Finance managers would prefer that inventories be kept to a minimum to avoid tied up cash in working capital. 

Operations managers would want to have enough inventories to avoid run-outs that would result in downtimes. 

All three (3) disciplines need to reconcile their preferences to arrive at a consensus of policies for the items needed for an enterprise’s operations.  Balancing the preferences to arrive at a consensus is key as an enterprise would no less want a business that saves on cost, have lower working capital, and provide competitive customer service. 

  • If one can’t collaborate, at least communicate

Many enterprises don’t want to collaborate with their suppliers.  They’d rather have an arms-length relationship that doesn’t require having to share to much information or end up at a negotiating disadvantage.  Enterprise executives simply don’t want to put too much trust in vendors (or in anyone for that matter). 

Some enterprises collaborate closely with suppliers so much so that the latter have exclusive contracts.  But that’s not a popular thing in industries as enterprises prefer to have multiple suppliers for the items they buy such that there’s always the option to sourcing from someone else. 

Not opting for collaboration does not mean enterprises shouldn’t communicate with their vendors especially when it comes to the day-to-day supply of key materials, components, or parts. 

When enterprises order from vendors, they order based on projections of output.  And more often than not, these projections change from time to time. 

On the other hand, external factors such as commodity price increases, foreign exchange fluctuations, and events in global trade are constantly influencing the supply of any item.  Talking about these things with suppliers may help in anticipating upcoming challenges. 

There is no downside in dialogue.  It’s always to everyone’s benefit to have two-way communication on issues that would affect each party’s business.  And it always helps if each party empathizes with the interests of the other.  There is no harm in talking.  Information sharing is never a waste of time.  Customers and vendors can still be careful when it comes to disclosing confidential data.  One doesn’t need to share too much to have a constructive relationship. 

No enterprise executive favours a business shutdown because something wasn’t available.  Downtime is never an option when there are deadlines and targets to be met.  Managers should check the policies of all items and plan for every one if there isn’t one already.  Operations, purchasing, and finance managers should strive for consensus in policies to avoid conflict with the overall enterprise’s strategy.  Enterprises should also have open lines of communication with suppliers to anticipate issues. 

It sounds like hard work to make sure one has every item available when needed.  It is hard work; nothing is ever that easy.  But it’s better than the stress and aggravation one gets when there’s no stock of that one essential part, component, or material one needs for the business. 

Quality: It’s About Meeting Customer Standards, Not Yours

For the nth time, one of the elevators broke down. The three (3) elevators at the office building had just been rehabilitated.  But a few weeks after the elevator contractor’s technicians packed up their tools and left, the elevators had begun to show problems. 

The elevator contractor who did the rehab arrived every time to fix the elevators.  He did so again for this latest one.  But something had to be done.  The breakdowns were too frequent.  Worse, a passenger got trapped in this latest incident.  The lady had to wait more than an hour to be rescued.  This was getting out of hand. 

A day before, the building administrator reported that the contractor pointed to worn out parts in the elevators which were causing the breakdowns.  Wait a minute, I said, the elevators were just rehabilitated.  Weren’t all parts replaced?

It turns out, no, not all were replaced.  The elevator contractor replaced only parts that they assessed were in need to be changed.  They didn’t change all of them.  Why, I asked, didn’t they change all the parts?  Was that not the point of the rehabilitation?  The Board of Trustees of the office building, I said, had resolved to have the elevators overhauled such that they would come out like brand new.  The Board, I added, also resolved to support the rehabilitation with a hefty budget.  Quality would trump cost.  We wanted elevators that would be good as new. 

The administrator replied that the elevator contractor felt that some of the parts were still in good condition such that they didn’t need replacement.  The parts that had been breaking down in the recent days were some of those un-replaced parts. 

The elevator contractor, despite the mandate of his customer to rehabilitate the elevators to be like brand new, had his own strategy—one which was based on his standards, and not of his customer’s. 

To add insult to injury, the elevator contractor notified the building administrator that he would bill the replacement of the parts since they were not covered by the warranty of the rehabilitation.  Unbelievable! 

This is a classic example of how we misunderstand quality. 

Many of us would say we know what quality is and we would say it’s about:

  • Meeting customer specifications and service requirements;
  • Exceeding expectations;
  • Selling a product that doesn’t have defects;
  • Receiving no complaints from customers;
  • Marketing products that are superior versus the competition;
  • Selling products and services that work and are affordable;
  • Making products that comply with stringent international standards and qualify for certificates of excellence. 

In short, we’d say quality is about having a very good product that stands out. 

But where do we base the standards of quality on?

Do we base it on our own standards or on the standards of our customers? 

I have seen executives argue with customers about the quality of products and services.  A car buyer would argue with an automobile dealer that the car the former bought isn’t of good quality.  The dealer would stand by the quality of the car he sold and dismiss the customer.  More often than not, the dealer would say the car buyer doesn’t know what he or she’s talking about.  If the buyer already bought the car, the dealer would just dismiss the buyer as an ingrate.

And this is exactly what was happening with the elevators at the office building.  The contractor stood by the quality of his work in rehabilitating the elevators of the office building.  Never mind that his rehab strategy left out a few hundred parts that he felt didn’t need replacement. 

Quality is about meeting the standards of customers, not of the ones providing the products and services.

Enterprises sometimes trade off customer expectations with their own.  They then develop strategies and policies that would cater to their perspectives instead of the ones who buy the products and services.

There are enterprises who dominate markets and have not much in the way of competition.  Customers would patronize the products and services of these domineering enterprises especially if there are not many other competing choices. 

Such situations would only last so long if the products and services don’t meet customer expectations.  Customers would be ready to switch once a competitor shows up that does a better job.  It also won’t stop customers from grumbling and complaining about the enterprise’s substandard products and services. 

Enterprises may ignore complaints if there is no effect on the business.  But things have a tendency to catch up with enterprises sooner or later. 

And when that time comes, customers would abandon these enterprises.  Customers do not remain loyal to enterprises who don’t meet their expectations

For the elevator contractor, the office building’s board will have no sympathy, much less any loyalty.  The board will pay him for his services but not without a fight.  Too bad.  I thought he did a very good job.  Turned out it wasn’t. 

What Are Action Plans, How Can They Help, and What Are We Supposed to Do to Make Them Work?

Do we get a feeling sometimes we do too much but we’re not getting anywhere? 

Roughly 75% of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) projects fail, and that’s because of lack of planning. ( (ERP is an information technology enabled planning system that responds to the market environment and optimizes company resources). 

From a Harvard Business Review article:

“In 2016, it was estimated that 67% of well-formulated strategies failed due to poor execution. There are many explanations for this abysmal failure rate, but a 10-year longitudinal study on executive leadership [sic] showed one clear reason. A full 61% of executives told us they were not prepared for the strategic challenges they faced upon being appointed to senior leadership roles. It’s no surprise, then, that 50%–60% of executives fail within the first 18 months of being promoted or hired.”

In other words, not an insignificant few organizations and highly-placed executives aren’t succeeding and we can point to poor planning and resulting ineffective execution thereof as one, if not the sole, cause for it. 

The basic building block of a plan is the action, task, or step.  Essentially, what we can call the action plan.   

An action plan is a task or a set of steps that directs a person of accountability towards a goal or objective.  The ideal action plan has six (6) attributes, which can be symbolized by an acronym: SMART-C.   

  1. It is Specific
  2. It is Measurable
  3. It is Attainable
  4. It is Realistic
  5. It is Time-bound
  6. It is Challenging

An action plan is specific in that it clearly spells out the details of the action or step to be taken.  These details include who would be the accountable actor of the plan, what the plan is, what it will accomplish, what it would cost, and when the step would start and end, at least in the terms of a target or estimate. 

It is measurable in that the accomplishment of the step manifests itself in a manner that can be observed. 

It is attainable.  The action or step is possible to accomplish.

It is realistic.  The person accountable for the step has the capabilities to accomplish the action or step.

The plan is time-bound, that is, it has a deadline.  But not just a deadline but a connection with other action plans in getting it done so other plans would also get done. 

It is challenging.  As much as it should be attainable and realistic, the action or step requires innovation and collaboration on the part of the accountable person and his team to accomplish the step or task. 

Note that accountability for an action plan lies with an individual.  It’s advised to not make more than one person responsible for an action plan.  This is because if groups of people become accountable, it will just be hard to pinpoint who should be the owner of the action plan. 

A SMART-C action plan works best via a matrix:

Figure 1: Action Plan Matrix

Action plans in a matrix with an overall goal provides clarity of direction.  A matrix also spells out in one view who’s the owner, the timetable for action, and status or commentaries about the plan. 

There’s no real limit on how an action plan should look.  For instance, one can make an action plan matrix more comprehensive:

Figure 2: More Comprehensive Action Plan Matrix

In the above case, the action plan includes “milestones” and “success criteria” which serve as guides for knowing when an action plan has been accomplished and when it succeeds, respectively. 

There’s no real rule on how comprehensive an action plan matrix should be.  What’s advised is that the ones who make them follow the SMART-C criteria as much as possible. 

The people I’ve worked with usually have their own ways for action plans.  Their matrices often vary a lot.  But when it came to which ones really succeeded, it was often those that followed the above criteria.

It should be noted that action plans work best with overall goals that are clear, mandated by, and/or agreed with the top leadership of the organization.  I’ve seen many beautifully prepared action plans flop because the people who did them didn’t realize that the overall goals of the plans weren’t truly priorities of their bosses. 

Leaders sometimes enumerate goals but really don’t put too much focus on them.  Action planners therefore get discouraged and later feel that action planning is just another waste of time. 

Goals matter.  Otherwise action plans are just simply indeed a waste. 

If leaders don’t have clear goals for the organization, action planners can still attempt to thresh out matrices based on their conclusions from their day-to-day activities.  Action plans can still help though it would be much better if leaders get their act together by clarifying goals.  And remain focused on them. 

Compliance: We Hate It But We Have To Do It … Productively

No one really taught us about compliance. 

Compliance is about satisfying requirements for the sake of legal and ethical obligations.  Examples of obligations are paying taxes correctly, making sure one’s operations pass environmental inspections, and providing employees their mandated benefits. 

As much as we accept the principles behind the obligations, we hate the tasks we have to do to fulfil them.  Most of these tasks involve filling up forms and reports that would need to be deemed acceptable by authorities and submitted before pre-set deadlines. 

Compliance is really for the benefit of the authorities who enforce the obligations.  It doesn’t benefit the one who has to do the complying.  No matter how noble the principle behind a compliance, we hate the work we have to put in for it.    

Compliance is an adversity, a hindrance or an unwelcome element in our everyday to-do list that demands attention we’d rather not give.  It distracts us from our goals, it is a major pain in the rear. 

Whether it be by some logical rationale or by some political whim, compliance changes from time to time in terms of rules and requirements.  From something that would be simple to follow, it can turn into something that’s more complicated and that needs more resources to accomplish. 

But as much as we hate it, we have to deal with it.  And it would be best if we become productive in the tasks required from us.

The following are some tips to be more productive when it comes to compliance:

  1. Set up a structure.  Plan out the assignments consisting of what needs to be done and who will do them by when.  An example of such a structure is the following table: 
  1. Define the routine.  Establish the procedures needed for every compliance task especially for the more complicated ones (like income taxes).  Document the routine with your team and include it in their performance measures;
  2. Seek continuous improvement.  Include compliance in regular meetings with your team.  Keep the team updated to changes in the rules, forms, and requirements and tweak the routines to those changes.  Always find a better way to save time and money (e.g. planning to secure permits at city hall in one day instead of two);
  3. Look long-term.  There will be requirements that may need significant changes in one’s equipment and capital.  Pollution standards, for example, may entail purchase of new and expensive devices.  Securities regulations may necessitate changes in stock ownership. One may need to invest much time and resources to comply.  This means compliance should be part and parcel of our strategic plans as much as it should be in our daily routines. 

Compliance is an irritant.  It benefits more the external entity (more often government) than the one who has to fulfil the task.  Compliance is an adverse shape-shifter; it changes in terms of requirements and rules and we are forced to follow whether we like it or not. 

But we have to live with it, adapt to it, improve on it and include it in our strategic planning as well as in our daily routines. 

When it comes to compliance, the idea is to not only make oneself more efficient in getting it done but also in ensuring that one complies productively to the ever-changing requirements.  Quality matters just as much as quantity even for tasks that don’t contribute to our goals. 

Surmounting the Insurmountable

There are just some things we cannot surmount.  As we work with what we have, we run into roadblocks and disruptions.  Examples include:

  • Government bureaucracy (you can’t fight city hall)
  • Climate change (you can’t stop the weather)
  • Inflexible corporate structures (that’s not for you to decide)

For many of us who work for other people, we tend to just go with the flow and just do the jobs given to us, no questions asked.  Bosses may ask us for suggestions and even offer rewards for the ones they like but, most of the time, what we offer gets discarded and forgotten. 

That would be fine with us if not for the insurmountable things. 

The trouble with insurmountable things is that they could (and they do) turn into pretty bad adverse things. 

For instance, most, if not all, of us pay taxes.  Taxes are insurmountable things.  We can’t really stop paying taxes or else we get into bad legal trouble.  Therefore, we pay for them and live with them. 

When the government decides to raise taxes, we may fret and we may grumble.  But we still have to pay for them.  No further questions asked.  Fine. 

When government continues to raise taxes and add complicated rules, we might say: “Wait a minute! They can’t do that!”   We protest.  We complain to other people in person or via social media.  Because it isn’t right that paying taxes should become more unbearable.

But yet paying taxes can still be an insurmountable thing.  And despite all of the protesting and complaining, we would by the end of the day still need to pay our taxes or else we’ll get into bad legal trouble. 

This is where some people attempt to be leaders and try to change things via rallying other people to the cause, their cause. 

But can we as leaders with followers tackle something as insurmountable as taxes? 

It took daily protests over a number of weeks to overturn the poll tax in Great Britain in the 1980’s.  Margaret Thatcher ended her long term as prime minister thanks to those protests.  The citizens succeeded in stopping the tax.

Millions of people in Greece have been protesting government austerity measures for almost ten (10) years and yet the government still pushed through with them, which included increases in taxes.  The citizens failed to stop the tax increases. 

Yes, we can tackle insurmountable things.  It would entail a lot of effort with a lot of people.  It likely may take a lot of time.  And there’s no guarantee of success. 

We would need to enlist a lot of people to help.  This is where leadership comes in.  But to be a leader, one must have the ability to influence others to one’s cause. 

The next step would be to succeed in overpowering the strength of the insurmountable thing, which in short is called the opposition. 

We can try to go head on against an insurmountable thing or we can be like waves that hit the seashore, eroding the opposition a little at a time.  The former may be quick but very risky in terms of possible irreversible failure.  The latter may take a long time to do but may end in success in the long run. 

As individuals, we can only do so much for change.  Sometimes it feels like we have to move mountains. 

We tend to limit ourselves to what we can capably change.  But in doing so, our lives become one that has an offense and defence.

We go on an offense to change what we can change.  We go on defence to fend off the adverse things brought on by the insurmountable things. 

This is why many of us end up working overtime in our jobs.

We do our routine stuff during our regular office hours and we go on overtime to try to get ahead in something we are pursuing (like a promotion).  In the daytime, we work on stuff that have deadlines.  At night after work, we work on our spreadsheets to make our reports look better. 

Insurmountable things are parts and parcels of our realities.  They disrupt our routines.  They distract us from our pursuit of individual goals and force us to invest time and resources in defending our worlds. 

We can tackle insurmountable things but most of the time it would require leadership that enrols a lot of people to a cause.  But it can be done.  If not by head-on engagement, it can be addressed via gradual efforts. 

We become productive when we come together in groups and point our individual efforts toward a common direction.

Efficiency versus Productivity; It’s Like Speed versus Velocity

What is the difference between efficiency versus productivity?  One way to compare both is by looking at speed versus velocity. 

In Physics, speed is the rate an object covers distance.  Velocity is the rate at which an object’s position changes.  Speed is all about how fast one is going.  Velocity is how fast one goes from one spot to the next. 

This is speed.

This is velocity

It’s one thing to go fast.  It’s another for how long it takes to reach a destination.   

We sometimes measure our speed but we sometimes don’t measure how much nearer to where we want to go.  Do we know where we are going in the first place?

If we travel 100 kilometres in one hour, our speed is 100 kilometres per hour.

But if we travel 100 kilometres in one hour but end up back where we started, our velocity is 0 kilometres per hour:

Efficiency is like speed.  It measures how fast we produce versus how much resources we use. 

Productivity on the other hand is like velocity.  It measures how much nearer we are to our objectives versus the resources we spent. 

Both are important.  We shouldn’t need to choose one over the other.  Both work for our benefits.  We should just know which one we’re talking about when we wonder how well we’re doing versus our goals. 


Thanks to the Physics Classroom for the very nice explanation between speed and velocity:,scalar%20quantity)%20per%20time%20ratio.&targetText=On%20the%20other%20hand%2C%20velocity,at%20which%20the%20position%20changes.

What Can We Do About Adversity?

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”

-old Chinese proverb

We encounter adversity all the time.  We talk about it when we succeed or fail.  It is part and parcel of our daily struggles. It comes in all shapes and sizes from the mere annoyance to the major catastrophe.  But as much as we fully acknowledge it, we often find ourselves resigned to it as we try to figure out how to work around it. 

Adversity is a prominent word for ambitious people seeking high levels of accomplishment.  We call them challenges, difficulties, misfortunes, obstacles, and setbacks.  Adversity either motivates us to do better or discourages us from moving forward. 

Adversity is the unfavourable situation that we run into or that arrives in untimely fashion.  It demands our attention and we are at its mercy if we don’t respond. 

Adversity is not the same as a challenge.  A challenge is a path we choose to pursue and which we plan for with advanced knowledge of the obstacles.  A challenge is like a golf course.  We play on a golf course knowing what to expect with clear objectives.  Adversity is the rain that prevents us from playing on the golf course. 

The damage adversity inflicts depends on how well prepared we are for it.  But as much as we may anticipate adversity, overcoming it requires planning and discipline. 

Planning for adversity is not the same as making a schedule.  A schedule considers resources and constraints that we already identified.  A plan for adversity considers contingencies such as detours and safety nets. 

Having a plan for adversity is not like having a list of things that tells us what to do in case of an emergency.  It is a strategy of preparation and awareness which requires investment in time and resources. 


  • Having a guest room in the house which we regularly clean every day that would be ready for visiting relatives who drop in in short notice;  
  • Constructing a building with a foundation that exceeds structural standards which provides an extra buffer for safety against the very unlikely but possible stronger than normal earthquake; 
  • Packing additional prescription medicine in our hand-carried luggage in case of unexpected changes in our travel itineraries. 
  • Establishing a culture of innovation in our business so we’ll be set for the next disruption in technology, business, and lifestyle.  (Better yet if we somehow can take the initiative against adversity by being the disruptor rather than the disrupted). 

We can perceive adversity as a darkness that suddenly envelops us.  But it is not darkness that is the enemy but on how we react to it that is the problem.  We can either curse the darkness or we can light a candle and continue our way forward. 

Productivity: What Is It and Why We Should Pursue It

We all strive to be productive.  At work, at home, in whatever activity we participate. Yet, we don’t talk about productivity so much. 

That’s maybe because productivity isn’t simply measurable.

It’s easy to picture sales, costs, profits, and cash-flow.  Even if the accounting that generates them can be a little complicated, they’re easy to imagine in our heads. 

Not productivity.  We may know what it means.  Productivity is about how much we achieve versus how much we put in.[1]  But beyond the definition, productivity doesn’t have a standard performance measure we can identify with. 

We may not be able to measure productivity with one measure, but we can measure it via several. 


  1. Labour productivity:  ratio of output (e.g. production) versus man-hours put in;
  2. Energy efficiency:  ratio of output (e.g. kilograms of baked bread) versus energy input (e.g. kilograms of liquefied petroleum gas);
  3. Yield:  ratio of acceptable finished product (e.g. metric tons of steel) versus directly inputted raw material (metric tons of iron);
  4. Delivery Reliability:  number of on-time, completed, & accepted deliveries versus total number of dispatched deliveries including those that returned or that failed to deliver). 

With measures we can identify with, we can get a grasp on productivity for whatever we do.  We don’t have to discuss it as one word but as a word derived from how we use our resources from several different angles. 

Productivity may not be in the same class as the financial yardsticks of sales, costs, and profits but we can at least respect it nonetheless as something worthwhile to improve. 

Because when we improve productivity via the different measures we can identify with, the financial yardsticks follow. 

[1] A more thorough definition of productivity: “Productivity is defined as the efficient use of resources, labour, capital, land materials, energy, information, in the production of various goods and services.  Higher productivity means accomplishing more with the same amount of resources or achieving higher output in terms of volume and quality from the same input.” © 2019. Ministry of Employment, Immigration and Civil Status, Republic of Seychelles