Fons Trompenaars: Cultural Differences

It is a truism that we live in a global culture. But it is not in fact quite true: we live in a highly connected set of cultures and making political and business interactions work across the divides between them is far from easy. Fons Trompenaars is the foremost thinker in how businesses can understand and manage these differences pragmatically.

Fons Trompenaars

Very Short Biography

Fons Trompenaars was born in 1953, with a Dutch father and French mother. He grew up in the Netherlands and earned a Master’s degree in Business Economics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1979. He then moved to the US, to continue his education at Wharton, gaining a PhD in 1983.

Working for Royal Dutch Shell, Trompenaars gained experience of many business cultures, being posted to nine countries in less than that number of years. He also met long-term collaborator and business partner, the British academic, Charles Hampden-Turner. In 1989, the two of them founded a consulting business, then called the Centre for International Business Studies. It has subsequently been acquired by international professional services firm KPMG, and renamed Trompenaars Hampden-Turner (THT) Consulting.

In 1997, the two wrote their hugely influential book, Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business, which set out their model for understanding cultural differences.

Accolades, awards and academic positions have followed for Trompenaars, as have several other books that build upon his ideas and spread them outwards, but Riding the Waves of Culture remains his pre-eminent work and very much a modern business classic that no manager who works in an international context can afford to be ignorant of.

Riding the Waves of Culture

The essential thesis at the heart of Trompenaars’ thinking is that the challenge of leadership is to resolve choices – dilemmas – in the context of different cultural pressures. People from all cultures face much the same dilemmas, but their cultural backgrounds influence the way they will choose to address those dilemmas. Leaders need to reconcile those differences to create effective change and to manage efficiently.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner created a powerful model for understanding cultural differences. Superficially their model resembles that of Geert Hofstede, another Dutchman. However, while Hofstede focuses on the underlying psychology that drives differences, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner are more practical in their approach, aiming to create a tool that managers can use to work with the differences. Both approaches are, however, informed by meticulous research.

Riding the Waves defines culture as the rules and approaches a coherent society adopts, to resolve the issues it faces. These become ingrained in its population and therefore second nature, at which point an external observer recognises them as culture. Consequently, we need to understand the rules and approaches we take and those that the people we deal with accept, and therefore we need to recognise and adapt ourselves to the differences. Failure to recognise and adapt to cultural differences leads to a breakdown in communication and trust.

The model that Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner created sets out seven continua that they represent as pairs of opposite attitudes. Each culture occupies a unique position on each of these continua, creating a very rich array of possibilities. Even were there only 5 positions on each scale, this would yield 78,000 possible cultures, rising to 824,000 with a seven-point scale. Let’s look at the seven continua.

Universalism – Particularism

Universalist cultures value and apply rigorous standards and like to enforce rules. Particularist societies prefer the flexibility of adapting the rules to the circumstances, valuing people over set rules and therefore embracing exceptions.

Individualism – Collectivism (or Communitarianism)

This is about how a society values the group. Collectivist cultures place care for the group and the need for consensus above the needs of the individuals within it. Individualist cultures value autonomy and the creative opportunities they believe it offers.

Neutral – Affective (or Emotional)

The extent to which people within a culture display their emotions (Affective) or keep them hidden (Neutral). In Neutral cultures, reason plays a far more overt role in decision-making.

Specific – Diffuse

A subtle concept about the way we relate to one another. In Specific cultures relationships form around the sharing of specific resources or objectives, whereas in Diffuse cultures, the sharing is far more widespread, creating more holistic relationships.

Achievement – Ascription

This dimension represents the way society evaluates our status. Achievement-oriented cultures are more meritocratic and allocate status according to performance, whilst Ascription-oriented cultures pay greater attention to background, education, and connections.

Sequential – Synchronic

Unlike those above, this dimension is not about social attitudes, but in this case attitudes to time. Sequential cultures tend to be more orderly and value planning more than Synchronic cultures, which take a flexible view of time, with greater spontaneity and less orderly use of time.

Internal – External

This continuum is also not about social relationships, but the expectations about whether we as a society can either control nature (Internal) or are subject to it (External).  The labels refer to the source of control for our society – either internal, within society or external, from the environment.

Where Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner create a powerful resource for managers is in articulating, for each of the 14 polarities, a series of strategies that allow us to adapt to a culture that shows each of these 14 characteristics. This is vital, because your own cultural preferences will be different from those of people of another country or even region within your own country.

In addition, their research also rated many countries on each of the scales, allowing readers to understand the cultural preferences of the people they are dealing with. Many of their findings match recognisable cultural stereotypes, but many do not. If you want to figure out why a British business person with a strong preference for rules and an orderly approach to time, but a mixed attitude to merit versus background can best do business with their counterpart in Latin America, with a fluid approach to rules, a highly emotional response to pressure, and an ambiguous relationship with time, Riding the Waves of Culture is the book for you.


 

A Pocketbook to help you with managing across cultural differences

You may enjoy the Cross-cultural Business Pocketbook

Fons Trompenaars at TEDx Amsterdam, 2013

Amy Cuddy: Power Poses

Amy Cuddy is best known for her research on how non-verbal behaviours assert power…

I’ll start again: Amy Cuddy is best known for her remarkable 2012 TED talk, ‘Your body language shapes who you are’, which has become the second most watched TED talk, with over 26 million views to date. You can watch it and add to that number at the foot of this blog. And you should.

Amy Cuddy

 

Short Biography

Amy Cuddy was born in 1972 and grew up a small Pennsylvania town. As a result of a car accident during her undergraduate years, she suffered a serious head injury that doctors asserted would compromise her academic ability. Nonetheless, she graduated from the University of Colorado in Social Psychology (1998) and then went on to earn her MA and PhD (2005) in the same subject, at Princeton.

Cuddy took a role as an Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, teaching leadership to MBA students. She moved to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, and then, in 2008, to Harvard Business School as Associate Professor, where she teaches MBA courses and executive education programmes, specialising in negotiation, body language, power and influence.

Cuddy’s Research

Amy Cuddy’s research interests have yielded nuggets of valuable knowledge for managers. Her most famous and impactful for many is the concept of the Power Pose, developed with Dana Carny and Andy Yap. But I will leave her to describe that far better than I ever could, in her TED talk below. Instead, I will focus on her research (with Susan Fiske and Peter Glick) on how we judge one another.

How we judge people

Cuddy’s research indicates that our judgements of people can determine how we will interact with them. This can affect our emotions, intentions and behaviours in hiring, promoting, electing, taking risks, giving to charity, and even persecution and genocide. Two trait dimensions are particularly salient in our judgements: warmth-trustworthiness and competence-power. This leads to stereotyping of racial groups, leading onwards to discrimination and persecution.

The first and most important judgement we make about someone we meet is their warmth: it is an attempt to assess ‘friend or foe?’ Then we try to assess their competence – ‘if they are a foe, how much care do I need to take?’.

Interestingly, competence in one arena leads us to infer a wider competence, whilst incompetence in one arena does not lead us to generalize in the same way. But it is different for warmth: one example of coldness creates an impression that this is our true character. This is how Cuddy describes it in one interview (with The Harvard Magazine):

‘You can purposely present yourself as warm—you can control that, but we feel that competence can’t be faked. So positive competence is seen as more diagnostic. On the other hand, being a jerk—well, we’re not very forgiving of people who act that way.’

Another generalization we make is pervasive and dangerous: we generalize our experiences across a whole social or racial group: gender, ethnicity, age, or nationality.

We also create another dangerous generalization: that warmth means not-competent and competent means not-warm. Too much of one trait leads us to suspect a shortage of the other. Hence the title of her much re-printed 2009 Harvard Business Review article, ‘Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb’.

Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for models and they don’t get simpler than four boxes. Here is one that flows from this, developed by Cuddy, Fiske and Glick.

Warmth-Competence Cuddy, Fiske, Glick

As soon as you look at this chart, you can see how the people and groups seen as cold are also the ones whom societies persecute – particularly when they are under pressure – either as ‘soft targets’ or as a ‘danger to society’.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Amy Cuddy’s 26million+ TED talk that introduced the world to power posing.

Samuel Walton: Retail Giant

Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart, growing it to over a thousand stores. He is a serial early-adopter whose commitment to innovations made them ubiquitous and his investors extremely rich.

Sam Walton

Short Biography

Samuel Walton was born in Oklahoma, in 1918, and grew up on the move in Missouri, during the great Depression, as his father worked at a series of sales jobs. Walton worked too, during his education, pausing to take a degree in Business at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

On leaving, he started working as a management trainee at JC Penney, where he also started learning the management skills that would help him grow his own business in the future. As for many young men of his age, the Second World War put the brakes on his career, when he served in the US Military Police. Returning to civilian life in 1945, he decided not to return to JC Penney, but to open a franchise Ben Franklin store in Arkansas, funded by a loan from his father-in-law.

This thrived, but he was unable to renew his lease, so opened a new one in a nearby town in 1950. Gradually, he bought more and grew his empire, using a light aircraft to get from one store to another and to scout possible new locations.

In 1962, he opened his first Wal-Mart store, on a new model he’d seen in Chicago – a Kmart, owned by competitor Sebastian Kresge. He had started his experiment with bulk retailing. Over the coming years, he experimented further in stock lines and layouts, and opened a second Wal-Mart in 1964. Then, in 1970, he raised $5 million in equity through a stock issue (at $16.50 per share), and opened six new stores and a distribution warehouse. By the time of his death, one of the original Wal-Mart shares had grown in value to $26,000 and the Wal-Mart empire was the biggest retailer in the US, with over a thousand stores.

Sam Walton stood down as CEO of Wal-Mart in 1988, to fight both leukaemia and bone marrow cancer; and finally died of it in 1992.

Five Retail Lessons from Sam Walton

1. The Personal Touch

Walton would get to know his employees (or Associates, as they are known) personally in the early days. He maintained this as long as he could, having gained a pilot’s licence so he could fly from store to store. The use of the term ‘Associate’ was a deliberate choice to create a sense of inclusion and what we would now call engagement. Indeed, he encouraged managers of new stores to take shares in the business to create a sense of their ownership. Walton practised, from his earliest days at JC Penney, a management style that can be called MBWA: Management by Walking About.

2. Rigorous Standards

In visiting stores, Walton set and expected strict quality standards. If he did not find them, he was sanguine about just shutting the store and not re-opening it until the management and staff could get it right.

3. Control your Supply Chain

There is a story about Walton that reminds me of one I recounted about Ingvar Kamprad (founder of Ikea). In the early days (his second Ben Franklin store), when a local competitor sold out of a product – women’s rayon underwear – instead of ordering himself a stock, he bought the distributor. In one move, he deprived his competitor of stock and assured his own supply chain. The money he raised in 1970 from a stock issue was used in part, not to expand his retail base as much as possible, but to fund a distribution centre. Like a good military general, Walton understood the criticality of his supply chain. He invested heavily in warehousing, logistics and, early on, in networking his stores and warehouses to one another.

4. Embrace the New

Less of an innovator and more of an early adopter, Walton frequently saw and rapidly embraced new ideas that would help him grow his business (Jim Collins’ Flywheel principle). I mentioned satellite networking of his stores, above, but other examples abound:  self-service retailing, discounting, and hypermarkets. Each step made him more successful.

5. Experimentation

Walton believed in achieving the best results he could, so he was constantly experimenting to test the effects of different layouts, promotions, and stock lines. Once again, the flywheel principle at work, but the salient lesson for me is test-evaluate-improve – then test something new.

If all this sounds a little familiar, take a look back at the blog on Ingvar Kamprad, which I posted just over a year ago. I cannot help feeling that these two retailers, born only eight years apart, are kindred spirits.

Jim Collins: Corporate Comparisons

Jim Collins has built an astonishingly successful career as an author, speaker and corporate commentator, on a simple methodology. Pick the best, compare them with the rest, and find differences in behaviours that appear to explain the causes. It is a methodology that has created simple, coherent lessons and led to vast book sales, in the millions.

Jim Collins

Short Biography

Jim Collins was born in Colorado in the USA, in 1958, and lives there today. He studied at Stanford University, where he earned a BSc in Mathematics and an MBA. He then went to work at management consulting firm McKinsey, before moving into industry as a product manager for Hewlett Packard. He returned to Stanford as a lecturer in the Graduate School for Business, and then, in 1995, returned to Boulder Colorado to found his own ‘Management Laboratory’.

This move followed the success of his second* book – and the one that made his name – ‘Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies‘, which he co-authored with Jerry Porras. It has sold over 4 million copies. In his management laboratory, he works with a research team, gathering and analysing the data that form the basis of his books:

Jim Collins’ Ideas

In Built to Last, Collins and Porras established a simple methodology: hypothesise a reason why some companies endure and thrive, identify a set of thriving, enduring companies and compare them with others that are not, and look for evidence to confirm your hypothesis. Their hypothesis, for which they found ample evidence, was that corporations with a strong vision, purpose and value set that would guide all of their choices would endure and thrive over a long period. Each of their prime examples were industry leaders and had been since  the 1950s. Each was compared to a similar competitor that had not fared so well and was far less admired. Each was shown to have stronger, more immutable core values, a central raison d’etre, and a clear sight towards its future, guided by them.

In Good to Great, Collins went on to look at why some companies perform and achieve results that are markedly superior to direct competitors and others in their sector. Again, Collins’ research, with a team of 20 researchers, identified their best performers, paired each one to a similar but lesser performing comparator, and also compared them to other players in their sector. His research data found seven characteristics that distinguished the great from the good:

  1. A distinctive style of leadership, which they described as Level 5 Leadership: with a drive for the company to succeed paired to a personal humility
  2. Starting with selecting the right people and then deciding on their roles; ‘First Who, Then What’.
  3. A climate of tough conversations that face realities and move forward with deliberate optimism: ‘Confront the Brutal Facts’.
  4. A real sense of focus on one thing, rather than dissipating efforts across many: ‘The Hedgehog Concept’. Collins illustrated this with three overlapping circles of passion (‘What creates real passion?’), excellence (What can you be best in the world at?), and infrastructure (What drives your economic engine?)
  5. A ‘Culture of Discipline’ that means people follow the rules yet paradoxically are freed up to innovate.
  6. Careful adoption of technology that deepens their success in the three circles: ‘Technology Accelerators’.
  7. Continual innovation and change that constantly improves the business (within the constraints of the Hedgehog concept): ‘The Flywheel’.

A Critique of Collins’ Methodology

Collins’ books are readable and their logic is compelling. However, he misses one key point: correlation does not imply causation. Because there is a pattern, we cannot be confident that any one element of that pattern has caused the differences. Both Built to Last and Good to Great contain exemplars of excellence that have since declined and even failed. Collins and his supporters assert that this is because they deviated from what made them great. Critics would say that the examples were little more than the tail of a distribution of poor, good and great data points.

Indeed, as a scientist, it seems clear to me that, no matter how compelling Collins’ evidence is, it conflicts with the scientific method. Data analysis alone does not make good science. In science, we form a hypothesis and then try to disprove it. We shake it, test it, challenge it and try to break it. The more resilient our hypothesis is to these insults, the greater confidence we can have in its predictive capacity. Collins, on the other hand, forms his hypotheses and then builds ever more evidence to support them. He does not try to break them, and so falls into the trap that cognitive psychologists refer to as ‘confirmation bias’. Indeed, one of his strongest critics is Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman.

It seems to me that it is events and time that will shake Collins’ hypotheses and test what stands or falls. I don’t feel confident enough to critique his findings, but I do worry that I find his answers compellingly plausible. This is far from proof and we must accept that there may be an equally large role for contingency in the levels of success of some businesses. However, I will make my last words in support of Collins’ analysis. Luck or design: it is hard to see how adopting his ideas can possibly harm a business; it seems to me that all of Collins’ seven Good to Great characteristics are self evidently ‘good things’. You makes your choices and you takes your chances!

 


 

* Collins’ first book was 1992’s Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company, co-authored with William Lazirer

Margaret Heffernan: Serial Entrepreneur

Margaret Heffernan’s caree has been varied and successful – with roles in television production and leading large organisations. Her current focus is as a thought leader in the world of organisational effectiveness, where her ideas are both interesting and practical.

Margaret Heffernan

Short Biography

Born in 1955, in Texas, in the USA, Margaret Heffernan grew up in the Netherlands, finished her high school education in London, and graduated in English and Philosophy from the University of Cambridge in 1977. This gave her the perfect (and familiar) springboard for a career at the BBC, where she became a television producer, working on documentary, news and arts programmes.

She went on to run the Independent Programme Producers Association (IPPA – now a part of PACT), before heading off to the US in 1994, to work in public relations, focusing on the technology and media sectors. Through the late 1990s and early in the 2000s, Heffernan seized the opportunities of the internet and became CEO of several new businesses: InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and iCAST Corporation. In these roles she won a series of plaudits from industry commentators as a top influencer in the high tech sector.

In 2004 Heffernan entered the ‘portfolio phase’ of her career to date, combining visiting academic roles, writing business books, blogging and commentating, and speaking. She recently published her latest book and has had three appearances to date on TED (a high number – only a small handful of people have spoken three times or more).

Her books are:

  1. 2004: The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters
  2. 2007: Women on Top: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Rewriting the Rules of Business Success
    (formerly published as ‘How She Does It)
  3. 2011: Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious
  4. 2014: A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn’t Everything and How We Do Better
  5. 2015: Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes.

Heffernan’s Ideas

Margaret Heffernan has a knack for synthesising the ideas from psychology with her real-world experience as a senior executive working at the sharp end of business. This makes her ideas very appealing to business people who like to feel that  academic ideas are grounded in genuine experience and that their practical wisdom is rooted in sound research.

The clearest thread running through Heffernan’s published thinking is the importance of ‘Social Capital‘ – the network of social relationships that make business effective. Her earlier work focused on the different attitudes women have (compared to men) to ambition, power and motivation in the workplace. Their success comes about, to a fair degree, through greater levels of social interdependency, and Heffernan shows that women-led organisations statistically outperform organisations led by men and attributes the difference to that factor.

Wilful Blindness addresses a favourite topic of mine: cognitive bias in decision making. It is full of case studies, interviews, science and highly quotable sound-bites, like:

‘Stereotypes are energy-saving devices; they let us make shortcuts that feel just fine. That’s why they’re so persistent.’

‘”We have monuments for people who have displayed physical courage in war,” Lieutenant Colonel Krawchuk mused. “But where are the monuments to people who said no, we won’t do this because it’s a bad or wrong or unethical decision?”‘

‘The sooner we associate long hours and multitasking with incompetence and carelessness, the better.’

‘Because it takes less brain power to believe than to doubt, we are, when tired or distracted, gullible.’

In her next book, A Bigger Prize, Heffernan starts to look at what makes organisations successful and determines that it is not about being the best or hiring the best or nurturing the best: it is about creating a culture of helpfulness, so that everyone is comfortable with asking for help and ready and willing to offer their help. Competition is damaging and co-operation is adaptive. This is another topic I found absorbing and, when put back to back with an all-time favourite book of mine, ‘The Origins of Virtue‘, Heffernan and Ridley have covered a lot of the ground that most fascinates me in this arena.

Heffernan’s latest book seems like a continuation along the same trajectory. Indeed, the five core ideas in Beyond Measure feel like something of a summation of her thinking. Maybe this one quote summarises everything: ‘Walk around. Talk to people. Turn the other cheek. Build a network. Feed that network. Don’t get boxed in.’ Not a revolutionary idea, but a small change that can have a big impact on the way you do your work.

Margaret Heffernan’s most recent TED talk.

Heffernan is one of TED’s stars with huge viewing figures for her first two TED talks:

The subject of her latest talk, Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work, is drawn from her book, A Bigger Prize.

 

 

Guy Kawasaki: Corporate Evangelist

It is a common cry that the internet has changed everything and almost equally common to hear that it has transformed marketing. One person leading the charge to dedefine marketing in the technology age is Guy Kawasaki; formerly, and perhaps most famously, Chief Evangelist for Apple.

Guy Kawasaki

Short Biography

Guy Kawasaki was born in 1954, in Honolulu. He says of his school that ‘it is not as well known as its rival, because no presidents of the US went there’. However, it did allow him to study psychology at Stanford University, from where he went on to UCLA, after a week at UC Davis; starting Law School, but finding it wasn’t for him. After gaining his MBA at UCLA, his first job was in the jewellery trade, which taught him how to sell.

Kawasaki’s next job took him into the milieu in which he has remained: the technology industry. It was when his employer was taken over, and he was asked to move to Atlanta, that he made the move instead to Apple, in 1983. There he took the role of ‘Software evangelist’ – his job was to convince developers to create products for a new computer that, at the time, had a tiny user-base, no backwards compatibility, and minimal sales. He stayed in this role for four years.

His next role was leading a software business, creating products for a new computer… He says deprecatingly of himself that he believed his own hype, but for a while, the database software that Acius created was among the best for the Apple system. A spell of journalism followed (in the Mac arena) and then he collaborated to set up another software company. But in 1995, Kawasaki returned to Apple as their ‘Chief Evangelist’ charged with developing and protecting the brand.

Leaving Apple again in 1997, he co-founded a technology venture capital business and gradually built up a wide portfolio of advisory positions with tech businesses. Indeed, he continued to found businesses too – most notably Alltop, and increasingly became a much in-demand speaker and author. He is currently Chief Evangelist at graphics and design software service company, Canva.

Kawasaki’s Ideas

The first thing to say is that Kawasaki’s ideas are not original, and I doubt he would claim it for them. His skill is creating a coherent narrative around ‘marketing by enchantment’ – using the ideas of soft influence to engage an audience and build a loyal customer base for a product or service. He himself likens the content of his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, to Dale Carnegie’s earlier book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He also describes himself as the author of thirteen books, or of one book, written thirteen times. Be aware of this when shopping, as it does contain a grain of truth!

For me, Enchantment is the book that contains his central thesis. He describes ‘enchantment’ as ‘to charm, delight, enrapture’, and as ‘the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization, or idea.’

So how can you create enchantment?

Kawasaki identifies three primary requirements for enchantment:

1. Greatness

Greatness is about quality – you cannot truly enchant with a sub-standard product. If you want to enchant, you need to start with the passion to create a great product that people will crave, because it goes well beyond good: in Steve Job’s words; ‘crazy good’. Canva, with which he is currently associated, has been described as ‘the easiest to use design program in the world’. Whether or not you believe this is true, the fact that people with knowledge say this is a sign of its greatness (and it is pretty good – and free to use!). It is also an example of another of Kawasaki’s points: that a grand vision is not important, drawing the supposition that Richard Branson almost certainly had no concept of ‘Virgin Group’ when he started Virgin Records – he simply set out to create a great record label. For many years, Canva has been targeted at individuals; only recently has it started to create an enterprise level offering.

2. Likeability

You need to make your product or service likeable, by being humble, generous, decent and doing what you say you’ll do. Answer your phones quickly, and do the right thing for people. Kawasaki is mistrustful of charisma and instead urges real engagement with customers and prospective customers. Show them courtesy and respect, and do nice things for them and they will surely come to like you and your brand.

3. Trust

Long-term, likeability will turn into trust. When you continually delight with both the quality of your product or service and treat people exceptionally well, they will come to trust you. Once you have that, as long as you do not squander it, you have created real and valuable capital for your brand.

I think you can see that none of this is revolutionary.

So why is it important? It is important because it works, yet is not that widely acted upon. The burden of Kawasaki’s advice is honoured more often in the breach than the observance, as the vast majority of corporations continue to invest highly in traditional forms of marketing and advertising, which fail to respectfully engage with their markets. Why? I think because it is easier. I think that you can readily hire an agency for the one, but need exceptional individuals and exceptional commitment to ‘do enchantment’ well.

Presenting to Enchant
A short diversion

I was very much taken, while researching this blog, with Kawasaki’s simple advice for presenters, so here it is…

The 10-20-30 Rule:

  • 10 Slides
  • 20 minutes
  • 30 point font

Use lots of graphics and images

Where you can, demonstrate rather than explain

Kawasaki Speaking

Guy Kawasaki is a much in demand speaker. Here he is at TEDx talking about ‘The Art of Innovation’. This is one of my favourite TED talks with plenty of aha moments.

Jamie Oliver: Chef Businessman

There are many celebrity chefs, and many of them operate successful businesses, so choosing one to feature as one of our management thinkers is tough. But British chef, Jamie Oliver, more than fits the bill. For nearly twenty years, he has maintained the love of the public in the UK, avoiding mis-steps as he took his celebrity career to the US, retains fierce loyalty of people who have worked for and with him, and continues to grow his businesses steadily, whilst contributing significantly to some major philanthropic initiatives, many of which he has led.

Jamie Oliver

Short Biography

Jamie Oliver was born in Essex in the UK, in 1975. He grew up in Cambridge, where his parents ran and continue to run a pub. It was in their kitchen that he first learned the skills of cooking, which developed at catering college and started to take wings when Oliver spent time in France, learning the basics of classical cuisine.

Returning to England, he worked for renowned UK-based Italian chef Antonio Carluccio, where he met long-time friend and cooking mentor, Gennaro Contaldo. From there, he moved to a role as sous chef at Fulham’s River Cafe, where he appeared, unscripted, in a one-off 1997 documentary about the restaurant, and caught the eye of numerous TV producers. After five offers, he signed a deal that led directly to two series of The Naked Chef; a title that reflected his ideas of simplicity in cooking, rather than an alternative to traditional chefs’ whites.

This kicked off a hugely successful TV and recipe book career that continues today, with the addition of massively profitable mobile apps and his own YouTube channels with nearly 2 million subscribers between them. Perhaps his most notable television endeavours are:

  • The 2002 Jamie’s Kitchen,in which he took fifteen seemingly unemployable young people and trained them to be chefs in a restaurant, Fifteen, that subsequently won awards. The model has been replicated in several places and continues to train new cohorts of apprentices under the aegis of the charitable Jamie Oliver Food Foundation
  • The 2002 Jamie’s School Dinners which saw him campaigning for better food in Britain’s schools. This has led to other public health campaigns in the UK, US and Australia. In 2013, Oliver was made Honorary fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners in recognition of his food health campaigning
  • The same year also saw the first of many culinary travelogue programmes – a format that is particularly popular in the UK. This one took him to Italy and a cuisine he seems particularly attached to
  • Other food campaigns include Atlantic fish stocks, pig farming and poultry

But hey, this is the Management Pocketblog!

Reading about Jamie Oliver’s business nous, it is hard to select a shortlist of admirable management lessons that we can learn from him. These range from the obvious, like seizing opportunities that arise, assessing choices shrewdly, and trading on an endearing personality, to those which are hard for most of us to generalise to our own practice, like keeping a large proportion of your business interests within your family and network of close and trusted friends and colleagues. One might also have added, until recently, maintain a large share of the equity in your business (I believe Oliver owns around 80% in total of his many businesses at time of writing). However, in early June 2015, the press started to report that he is trying to raise significant equity capital to fund a major global expansion of some of his restaurant brands.

So what to focus on?

Jamie Oliver is a public personality, but he has used his charm and charisma shrewdly. He has avoided all manner of scandals that attach to celebrities (including other British celebrity chefs) and seems by all accounts to be a genuinely nice and decent chap, who inspires great loyalty. Many of his close business advisors and staff have been with him from very early on, and many people rush to praise him in the press. On the other hand, there seem to be very few public feuds. This has allowed Oliver to take his personality as the basis for all of his brands, many of which have his name attached to them: most recently, Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube – his primary YouTube Channel.

What are the elements of his personality-based leadership and management approach that can be emulated, if you put the work into them? I think there are five:

  1. Care
    Care passionately about what you do, whether it is your core business, your campaigns, or your appearances in public. And don’t be afraid to let your enthusiasm engulf those around you. This is charisma. And care also about the people around you. This attitude of Oliver’s has clearly rubbed off on many of the people who give interviews and quotes about him.
  2. Inspire
    Set out a vision that you truly believe in with a passion and you can engage people to follow you. Choose your fights wisely, but do be prepared to take on a big fight, if it is important enough to commit everything. You may lose, but Oliver shows that dedication and passion can mean that a catering college educated son of publicans, with little academic background can do better than win the ear of Prime Ministers, he can create an environment where senior politicians can barely afford not to take him seriously.
  3. Work Hard
    Without a doubt, Oliver works hard. His is not a glitzy celebrity without substance. He puts in the hours and models what he expects his followers to emulate. He doesn’t tell, he shows. He doesn’t enforce standards, he sets them for himself.
  4. Learn
    At every stage, Oliver has learned from his experience and grown with that learning. This is wisdom: to become more than you were yesterday, to learn from your mistakes, to shift your approach, and to come back again and again. He has made very commercial misjudgements, but when he has done, he has acted decisively, rather than hesitating, and moved on.
  5. Have Fun
    It is hardly possible to imagine Jamie Oliver without a smile. Even in the serious portrait shot at the head of this blog, he seems to me to be about to smirk. His sense of fun is a big part of his personality and his brand, but more than that, I suspect it is a major resource for him, in maintaining his resilience.

The Power of Food

Jamie Oliver being serious, passionate, and provocative about the impact of food on health: Teach every child about food.