Ignorance is a Choice

I don’t frequent football fans’ forums very much – as a Newcastle supporter it’s not a sensible way to spend Saturday evening. But you know how it is, sometimes you can’t resist… And what did I find after we snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Crystal Palace a few seasons back? An important business lesson for us all, that has long since stuck in my memory.

If you’re not a regular visitor to football chat rooms – and let me congratulate you on that particular life choice – I should tell you that all the fans have fictitious names and ‘signatures.’ Mostly these signatures question the manager’s competence or the owner’s sanity, but one of them ran much deeper than that. “Right now,” it read, “Ignorance is a choice.”

And for every reader of this blog, that’s true.

Let’s do a simple test. How far is it from Vladivostok to Delhi? Starts stop watch on iPhone…
It’s 5,088km – and it took me 18.53 seconds to find that out, including the time it took me to type the query.

Maybe something more philosophical? Why is it wrong to steal? In 0.31 seconds Google offers me 43m results.

So I’m inclined to agree with my pal on the forum. Ignorance is a choice.

But sadly from a business point of view, it’s a choice that a lot of us make. The mass of men not only live lives of quiet desperation: all too often they live lives of quiet complacency as well.

And if you’re running a business in this rapidly changing world, that’s dangerous.

Let me ask you two questions:

• When did you last challenge yourself intellectually?
• When did you last feel out of your depth in a discussion, at a conference or in a meeting?

It’s human nature: we all like to feel comfortable: we all like to feel in control – but very often we’re only learning when we’re slightly out of our depth.

One of the best business tips I’ve read recently is to take yourself off to a conference or a meeting that’s well outside your comfort zone. Maybe it’s programming or SEO or mobile apps: you’ll be surprised at a) how much of it is relevant to your business and b) how much you learn.

I find as I get older that I like learning more and more: it’s one of the bonuses I never expected from TAB. I know far more about management techniques, different leadership styles and – above all – different ways of coping with the trials, tribulations and joys that running your own business brings.

One thing we can be sure of: the world will not stand still and the pace of technological change will continue to increase. If you don’t carry on learning you’re going to be left behind. Ignorance is a choice and unfortunately it’s going to be a choice that will put your business at risk.

One of the great strengths of TAB is that it allows you to go into areas where you’re not comfortable; where you don’t know everything. I’m constantly amazed at the collective wisdom round a Board table and I’m constantly gratified by the discussions: it’s fantastic to hear successful people say, ‘All I know about this is that I don’t know. Can someone help me?’

It’s a characteristic of good leaders that they’re always willing to learn: rest assured that if you’re going to run a successful business over the next ten years a willingness to learn and to go on learning will be absolutely crucial.

To paraphrase the famous Robert Kennedy quote, successful leaders won’t be the people that see things as they are and ask ‘why?’ They’ll be the ones who see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’

 

Time to go in Reverse

Mentor: noun – an experienced and trusted adviser. Someone who gives an inexperienced or younger person help and advice over a period of time.

And, of course, we’re all familiar with the most famous mentor of them all…

But now the phrase on everyone’s lips is ‘reverse mentoring’ – because it’s not just young people that need training in the office.

What is reverse mentoring? To turn the dictionary definition around it is when an inexperienced or younger person gives an older, more experienced colleague help and advice. Why? One word: Snapchat. Another word: Instagram.

old-and-young-business-meeting-e1432757568907-300x300

As social media – and other developments such as gamification and virtual reality – come to play an increasingly important part in both the workplace and the customer journey, so Mr Older-Experienced can be left feeling, well… helpless.

But why do you need training in the office? Why not just ask your teenage children? If you’re asking that question I can only assume you don’t have teenage children. You cannotask your teenage children. Sadly, I’m becoming all too familiar with their response. The long, drawn-out sigh. The raised eyes, the pained expression. ‘Oh God, I’ve got to explain it to the old person again…’

Back in the office there are some very successful advocates for reverse mentoring. Former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts credits it with helping her turn the company around and grow the brand value from $3bn to $11bn. John Lydon, MD of McKinsey Australia said that his tech-capability had increased tenfold – and he was able to understand the minds of a younger generation, and the emerging trends that came with them.

Why does reverse mentoring work? Because human nature all too often dictates that we spend too much time talking to people like us. People who are roughly the same age, from the same background and have the same views. Speaking to someone who’s younger than you, from a different background and significantly lower down the organisation chart can help you see the business from a new angle. In large companies it’s also a good way to identify future leaders: not just how much does someone know, but how good are they at communicating, and making the complex easy to understand.

The other great plus of reverse mentoring is that it creates a culture where everyone in the company is constantly learning – something you emphatically need to do today.

Depending on which projection you read, by the middle of the next decade millennials (people who entered the workforce around the turn of the century) will comprise up to 75% of employees. And yet most MDs and CEOs will still be significantly older.

So we’ll be hearing a lot more about reverse mentoring. I think it’s a great idea: looking back over my days in the corporate world, I can remember plenty of times when it would have helped me, my boss and – in the long term – the company. But I worry that too many organisations will introduce a reverse mentoring programme and simply pay it lip service – ‘this is the latest big thing apparently. I suppose we’d better give it a go’ – while carrying on doing what they’ve always done. And as I have said many times, if you always do what you have always done, these days you will no longer get what you have always got.

In many ways reverse mentoring has been part and parcel of TAB since I joined – even if we didn’t use the exact term. When I was running TAB York I always wanted my Boards to have a mix of ages and backgrounds – and it’s something I now encourage the franchisees in the UK to do. When someone brings a problem, challenge or opportunity to a monthly meeting it is absolutely invaluable for them to see it from different angles and different perspectives. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ as the old saying goes: a problem seen from seven different viewpoints is very often a problem solved.

With that, I’m going to leave you for a fortnight. Next week I’m on holiday and the week after I’m joining TAB colleagues from around the world in Denver. But first, a holiday with Dav and the boys: hopefully without the sighs and the pained expressions…