Oblique Strategies

WFH Week 5; J’s and P’s in a VUCA world

VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) – yes, we know it can get a bit over used – but this definition of the post-Cold War era has definitely found new resonance in the current climate. For those of you less familiar with it, VUCA focuses on the unpredictability of events and conditions outside of the normal controls of the organisation But, the impact of VUCA doesn’t just affect leaders – it can be felt keenly throughout the business potentially impeding decision making something which is certainly affecting everyone throughout organisations at present.

In coaching sessions this week it’s become clear that as teams move out of ‘scramble mode’ and begin some first tentative steps into thinking ahead, the usual constructs for planning are having to be reworked and ‘VUCA rules’ applied. The conditions that seem most unmanageable though are also the very same that often generate the most creative and inspired solutions. As a client of our quote only today, ‘Well, it is a challenging time, but adversity also breeds innovation and some great things have been happening too.’ So, in this time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity how are MBTI Judgers and Perceivers (the planners and the experiencers) doing?

For J’s this, in many ways, can feel like familiar territory. Devising plans and schedules is an obvious preference of theirs and so to work through what the stages of release from lockdown and recovery might look like is a task they’re more than capable of and one most will relish. Where it becomes less appealing is the constant revision necessary or the multiple solutions needed in our present VUCA state. To the outside world J’s appear decisive, they like to have things settled and not in limbo but, as with all MBTI dichotomies there’s more at play than what we might first assume. Internally J’s may feel very able (and willing) to flex and adapt to new information amidst the flow and flux of data and opinion swamping our daily lives at the moment. Part of their challenge will be their innate desire to make sure processes align to plans and are adhered to in the bubble of WFH.

For P’s in search of alternative options and other ideas, there’s a wealth of material to go at and they may actually feel energised by the need to ‘avoid taking a hard line’ too quickly, keeping several routes open. This after all is their domain. Rather than being corralled into position, P’s may well be enjoying this period of exploration and speculation, utilising their preference to best effect. It’s important not to misread this as being indecisive or sitting on the fence though – P’s are every bit as capable as J’s in coming to a conclusion and considering the scale of upheaval at present, may even be craving closure on some levels.

Tips for P’s:

  • Influence the business to see the value of collecting additional data in order to make decisions – but keep testing and questioning the validity and rigour of the information. And know when to stop!
  • Recognise that acting with pace in the current climate can be an advantage and as such some deadlines, however short, are necessary
  • Inform the team, don’t surprise them! Think about how you keep information flowing and communication channels open. Make sure people know where your thinking is at and where your focus is. Teams we’re working with are finding the short, regular ‘virtual’ sessions much more effective and efficient than the old lengthy weekly meetings

Tips for J’s:

  • Pay attention to and enjoy investigating the ideas coming in and being shared rather than focusing on the decision or deadline
  • Inject into the tasks and projects definitive milestones and closure and use these to keep your J fed and engaged
  • IJ’s in particular who tend to favour gradual change based on accurate and adequate information may find inspiration in partnering with an EJ who will be more likely to want to move quickly, but will still enjoy seeking out the practical value of any ideas suggested

‘Better Lives’ – using the power of fashion to tackle issues around equality, social mobility, diversity and sustainability

Image courtesy of shutterstock.

It’s just over a week later and we’re still talking about the amazing event we had the honour of attending at Buckingham Palace, celebrating 10 years of London College of Fashion’s ‘Better Lives’ work which aims to ‘…use fashion as a discipline to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live’ through:

  • Working with brands on projects to improve sustainability processes.
  • Embedding social responsibility, diversity and sustainability into the curriculum of our undergraduate courses.
  • Working with women in prison to aid their rehabilitative journeys, by giving them professional skills and qualifications in fashion and textiles, and supporting them on release.
  • Engaging groups and individuals in local communities in participatory art and fashion education projects.
  • By working with young people in partner schools and FE colleges in Greater London, whose parent(s) or guardians do not have a university degree.

With consumer and corporate demand for sustainability increasingly on the rise, it was inspirational to see the difference that the Better Lives work has achieved to date – from creating careers in and around the fashion industry to ensuring students are aware of how to sustain fashion and keep it on the agenda. Better Lives, we salute you!

Jane Shepherdson, Karyn Maier, and Sim Scavazza having the obligatroy ‘Buck Pal Pic’


The faces of fashion’s sustainable future

What makes for an innovative working culture?

Big idea

A ‘culture of innovation’; an ambition that resonates with many leaders, particularly those undergoing transformational change within their organisation.

So, what are the perceived ingredients of an innovative culture and why is it such an important area for businesses to explore and nurture?

Chicken or Egg…

‘‘Culture is the net effect of shared behaviours, and therefore adopting innovative behaviours must come first. You change the culture by becoming more innovative — not the other way around.”

[/av_testimonials] On one side of the debate in a strategy & business article, Shelton describes a culture of innovation as ‘one that will encourage employees to take risks that lead to breakthrough products.’ Whilst it’s fair to say that a customer-focussed approach is key it’s important to not discount other areas of business that have the potential for innovative thinking and action. Wunker’s 2015 article emphasises the importance of mapping out these potential ‘innovation arenas’:

“By highlighting the different arenas in which employees can be involved with innovation, companies can help employees add value in areas where they have deep knowledge and a desire to get involved.”

Think big – actually small

It’s not just the big ideas that make a difference, more often than not the smallest of changes can have huge impact.

Deval’s Customer Think article sums it up nicely:

“It has often proved a better strategy to try and think of the optimising tweak rather than the game-changing ‘big idea’, even in companies which we see as the quintessential ‘big idea generators’.”

Collaboration is King (or Queen) – ‘innovation is a team sport’

It may come as no surprise to hear that in all of this ‘culture business’ collaboration plays a key role in delivering innovation success. Those of you familiar with our work at Maier will know of our track record in establishing effective collaborative working practices across complex organisations (with great innovation, naturally). However, a recent study by Nielsen suggests that collaboration is but a pipe dream for many organisations due to ‘a striking lack of diversity among the people contributing ideas’.

The study showed that ‘teams of six or more people generated a substantially larger number of unique concept alternatives than teams with fewer people.’ Not exactly rocket science when it’s put that way but why aren’t we considering how you branch out with more boldness and risk taking to really capitalise on the diverse and rich talent across our businesses? No excuses really.

Changing mindsets – ‘the only places you see uncreative people are graveyards’

Mark Brown, Chief Executive of the Dolphin Index – an organisation which helps businesses create innovative workplaces – emphasises the importance of breaking down the misconception that only some people have the ability to be creative. In a recent article he suggests that by making creativity and innovation a core value and part of everyone’s job description, you’re one step closer to shifting a mindset and reinforcing how creativity can be applied to the operational as well as the ‘bigger picture’.

It’s all very well and good introducing a value, but how can you provide the tools to make it accessible? 

Wunder references Autodesk as a great example of an organisation who use innovation workshops to show employees how to ‘create business pitches that highlight the value of their ideas and demonstrate why Autodesk is uniquely positioned to implement the solutions’. A neat way of combining the rhetoric with a good dose of practical reality and application.

Freedom and responsibility – The Netflix Culture

The Netflix slide deck that surprised even its originators in going viral, with viewing rates over 15 million, is another fabulous example of how values link to culture, ambition and innovative day-to-day practices.

“Instead of a culture of blind process adherence we have a culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility”.

With great freedom

Image Source: Peter Cauton – juangreatleap.com

We’ve been referencing it in many different ways recently to inspire and revolutionise Executive teams’ thinking and aspirations. We tend to not actually use all 124 slides – attention spans you know!!

Brain teasers

As far as British summers go it might have been a slow start, but things have definitely started to heat up and at Maier we’re putting every effort into extending the summer vibes. While we’re hanging onto the sunglasses for as long as possible we are also keenly focusing on the next few busy months as the ‘holiday season’ comes to an end and the mad dash to Christmas begins.

Having wound down, it’s definitely now time to wind back up so what can we do to keep energy levels high and our brains performing at full potential? Perhaps most importantly, how can you as leaders help your teams take on the post summer slump challenge?

 “Thanks to research on human behaviour, we know what it takes for the average person’s brain to perform at its best, cognitively and emotionally…These new insights suggest that simple tweaks in leaders’ communication and behaviour can potentially create a much more productive atmosphere for any team”

Here comes the science bit…

The more we understand how the brain functions the more we’re able to positively shift behaviours in ourselves and our teams…. for example:

Avoiding ‘information overload’ and ‘leaving by example

Ever heard of automatic and deliberate brain systems? In a nutshell, ‘the automatic system is great at executing plans but not so good at making them. The deliberate system is inefficient for carrying out plans but excels at making them’ (Social Psychology and Human Nature, Roy F. Beumeister). When we’re overtired or stretched thin the brain’s automatic system can begin to execute plans without thinking and that’s where mistakes can happen. Sound familiar?


“If leaders can encourage people to go offline when doing their most important work, as well as taking more frequent breaks, they’ll see an uptick in productivity, innovation, and morale” (McKinsey)

Whilst it may sound too good to be true research says otherwise and, as leaders, a few small changes to your own daily routine could make all the difference. For example, try role modelling behaviours or ‘leaving by example’ – show that you’re switching off, make a point of leaving your desk, set a timer to ensure you take time out.

“It’s become a collective thing in the office now. And everyone’s decided that breaks are a legitimate use of time because we get so much more done afterward.” (McKinsey)

Even the smallest of insights into how our brains work can potentially have a huge impact on productivity, so perhaps think about how you can apply some of the science to the day-to-day and you never know, it might just pay off.

Tapping into ‘discovery mode’

We’ve all had times where a business problem can knock you off course or leave you feeling flat and demotivated. When thinking for example about delivering bad news  it’s key to reflect on not just the what but the how – it’s genuinely what can make all the difference. Yet we still get so caught up in the content of the message that we neglect the delivery don’t we?

InBusiness sums it up nicely: ‘The more we understand what is happening in the brain, the more we can make adjustments that have real productivity gains’.

Ultimately by creating a positive frame for difficult tasks or discussions you’re more likely to get to a solution quickly. In a recent interview, Caroline Webb, author of ‘How to have a good day’ discusses the impact that ‘discovery mode’ can have with regards to decision making:

‘…if you’re dealing with a really tough discussion topic, you don’t have to be soft about it, but you can get people to think more clearly and, indeed, yourself more clearly if you first ask, “What’s our ideal outcome here? And what’s our first step towards that?”

‘Competence and purpose are inherently rewarding for the brain. If you can get the brain to focus more on the rewards than the threats in the situation, then you’ll get to clearer thinking’.

Simply put, listing the positives and focussing on the ideal outcome can make all the difference between a team in defence mode vs. discovery mode. It’s about looking at the other side of the same coin.