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Feeling incompetent with Jules Goddard

The AGSM have really cranked their game up this year. Lot’s of events – networking evenings, Learn@Lunch (basically you show up with your lunch and listen to / discuss a topical management issue with a senior academic), Meet The CEO and various other learning / socialising opportunities.

So when the invite for their most recent evening event called “The Core Incompetence of the Corporation: Where and Why Things Go Wrong in Business” presented by Dr Jules Goddard showed up in my inbox, it was definitely worth delaying dinner for. Dr. Goddard is a current Fellow of London Business School and AGSM Unilever Distinguished Visitor, and an altogether entertaining and thought-provoking speaker.

Dr. Jules Goddard at AGSM

Geeky academic digression:

The name of the presentation is a play on “The Core Competence of the Corporation” the game-changing and popular 1990 Harvard Business Review article by the late C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel, which broadly posits that organisations need to develop and focus on their core competencies – the things that they do really well and potentially uniquely – to build and maintain a sustained competitive advantage.

The basis of Dr. Goddard’s presentation was his recent book Uncommon Sense, Common Nonsense: Why some organisations consistently outperform others, which challenges most (all?) of the current popular organisational management theories. The key proposition of the book and the presentation was that incompetence is easier to articulate than competence, and therefore a better mechanism to learn from. Rather than accepting that there is a correct way of doing things, Dr. Goddard suggests that we should recognize that this is a manifestation of a systemic error or bias in most current management thinking.

I won’t outline the whole lecture because it’s probably better to read the book for that, but I did take away some interesting ideas:

  • Success in business is not a pattern, and therefore impossible to theorize.
  • It is also not like cooking, where a formula can be used. It is more like chess, where mastery is gained by studying half-played games and determining how to proceed from there.
  • Measure the “spirit of the workforce” rather than some of the usual financial and operational metrics to determine how the organization is placed, and working on making it an extraordinary place where ordinary people can do exceptional things.

Dr Goddard also pulled out some gems from the book that had the booked-out hall laughing out loud:

  • Best practice:- the recipe for formulaic sameness
  • Operational excellence: doorknob polishing
  • Balanced scorecards: the bureaucrats revenge
  • Performance targets: insults for the conscientious
  • Annual budgets: the pathology of under-ambition
  • Financial incentives: bribes for loners and cynics
  • Organisational alignments: the fear of diversity
  • Shared values: the extinction of individualism
  • Professional standards: box-ticking for the risk-averse
  • Charismatic leadership: narcissism unbound

All-in-all, it was a very engaging and provocative session, and it’s clear why Dr Goddard is highly regarded as an authoritative international management strategist and thinker. As my friend George Powell commented while we were leaving – for someone who is so anti-establishment, he sure is well read on the establishment.

I’m looking forward to reading the book (and might post a review if I get the time). Thanks AGSM, and well done on hosting Dr. Goddard and providing the opportunity to hear his ideas firsthand.

The audio recording of the presentation can be found at

Giant Phablets

Let’s just get it out there: I’m a technophile. I love my tech, especially gadgets. I shudder to think about how much money I’ve sunk into (technology and other) gizmos over the years, many of which were either ahead of their time, or just didn’t live up to expectations.

But I just don’t get “Giant Phablets”. (Ok, I made that term up.)

Phablet = phone + tablet (with up to 7” screen size)

Giant Phablet = phablet with screen larger than 7” = Fail.

I mean, I get the conceptual usefulness of a converged device, and the convenience of only having to carry one. But when I see this, I don’t know where its going:

Phablet 1

Phablet 2

At least this guy was sitting. I recently saw someone walking around with one of these.

Add a wired or Bluetooth headset, and ok, it kind of works. But seriously. Please don’t put one of these to your head.

Edit: Updated photos to focus only on Giant Phablet usage.

Innovation and misprints

Check out my article on cultivating and fostering innovation in the current edition of CIO magazine:

Syed Ahmed - CIO Magazine - Sep-Oct 2013 - Innovation

They accidentally printed my job title as CIO, which I’m not – I’m the Head of Business Technology. Queue awkward conversation with my boss.

In any case, pretty happy with the article, and very privileged to be published next to Nagib Kassis (Head of IT & Business Alignment, Allianz Australia) and Peter Campbell (CIO / Director of Knowledge, Sparke Helmore Lawyers).

Insights from Andrew Stevens, Managing Director of IBM Australia and New Zealand

Ok, so while I’m documenting insights from successful leaders, I thought I would write a quick post about things I picked up while listening to Andrew Stevens, Managing Director of IBM Australia and New Zealand last week.

MTC - Andrew Stevens

As an AGSM alumnus, I get invited to the Meet the CEO series hosted by the University of NSW Australian School of Business. I’ve attended a couple of events before, where Cameron Clyne (CEO of National Australia Bank) and Alan Joyce (CEO of Qantas Airways Ltd) shared their views, and both times I came away with a sense of clarity about approaches to leadership and career management.

I don’t particularly want to dwell on everything Andrew said, since that can be watched on the recorded video, but rather the technology and leadership insights that I found interesting.

First realisation: I really need to go away and read the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. Both Andrew and David Thodey mentioned this paper in the same week, and that tells me I better read it and take a position on its content.


  • While there’s no easy and agreed-upon definition of what innovation in technology means, Andrew defined it as “the application of IT to create new services and business models”.
  • An increase in consumerisation is good for the consumer, because it puts pressure on businesses to deliver better. Big Data helps this by enabling greater segmentation – down to a market of one. This helps the consumer because they can be offered a targeted product or service that they desire at a price point that is within their statistically acceptable threshold.
  • Broadband: the economic utility of this era.

Management and Leadership

  • A good CEO provides a balance of
    • Realism – Analytical definition of the problem being faced
    • Hope – That individuals and the organisation is going forward instead of stagnating or regressing
    • Change management – Being able to move other people with you
  • Great leaders (for Andrew) apply principles from sport – regardless of how well the game plan has been understood and rehearsed, knowing when the game has changed and adapting to the situation.

Lots to absorb and think about from an hour’s interview.

Also, I’m reminded again about the other thing Andrew had in common with David – and in fact with the other two CEOs previously interviewed in the series that I’ve attended: the total and effortless ease with which they communicate. Definitely something I need to keep working on.