Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Hello everyone, welcome back to Fresh Perspective. With me today is André le Roux. André, thank you very much for joining Fresh Perspective to share your perspective with us.
Thank you, Francois, thanks for having me. We’ve known each other for a long time, so it’s a real honor to be on your podcast at last. We’ve known each other for twenty, twenty-five years?
Yeah. Twenty-five, easily.
It’s amazing to see. I’m really enjoying the Fresh Perspective that you’re bringing to people, so it’s an honor to be here, to be honest with you.
Thank you. Well, I want to share your fresh perspective with the folks. There are tens of people listening out there.
(Laughs) It is one for the archives, I’m sure.
Listen, I want to kick off with a very simple question. One that I ask all the guests. What is it that you do?
I usually struggle to explain this to my father. I’ve been thinking about it for years now. In a nutshell, what I do is, I am in strategic planning. I help guys develop strategies, various types of strategies. I help them develop strategic solutions for their businesses, or where they are, or where their business are. It’s the best way I can explain what I do, because there’s a few nuances to what I do. So it’s strategy, that’s sort of like the sandbox where I play. But it’s where complexity and strategy and probability meet. Where those three things come together. More often than not, the projects that I do has got a high degree of complexity and risk and uncertainty to it. There’s a strategic outcome, and the focus that I bring to it, or the thing that I bring to it, is I try to increase the probability of a successful outcome. To do that, I’ve got various methodologies and best practices and good practices.
Basically, there’s a broad spectrum of integrated knowledge and expertise that I bring to the table. Using those methodologies and processes that I developed over the years, you can then increase the probability of a successful outcome. So in a nutshell, that’s what I do. You can break that up into, sort of like six components. So there’s strategy engineering, or strategy planning, which is basically, how much more effectively can I get from A to B, or where I need to be? And then there are a few peripheral services that become very important in strategy development, specifically when it starts becoming more complex. So it’s things like complex decision-making.
It’s interesting - as human beings, we go to university, or we learn, but we never get taught how to make decisions. Specifically not complex decisions. It’s an interesting field. So it’s a lot of complex decision-making that I do, and then a big part of that is also stress-testing, or red-teaming. It’s where my company gets its name from. Red-teaming is a critical-thinking, contrarian thinking process that you can use to stress-test ideas, concepts, and so forth. So it’s a lovely process that you can stress-test your strategy, your thinking, your idea. With that, there is scenario planning, and there is behaviour change. Also, things like belief systems and culture design. So it’s within that gambit, that spectrum of strategy, where I play. That’s what I do.
(Laughs) That’s a lot of stuff. I love it. And I want to delve into all of it. So you talked about decision-making and that we never get taught how to make decisions. We learn a lot of things and knowledge, but never how to make decisions. Talk to us about how do you develop better decision-making skills?
What makes decision-making difficult for most of us most of the time, is that there is a strong emotional component to decision-making. Or actually, to be more correct, there’s a strong subconscious component to decision-making. You know, the subconscious starts playing a big role when you start making decisions, specifically complex decisions. So the fancy scientists, or the really learned people, will tell you the following statistic: they’ll say that when human beings are under a lot of pressure and a lot of stress, and there’s a lot of uncertainty and complexity, your brain doesn’t like that. So what you do, is your brain, when it becomes too much for you - and all of us has got a ceiling, right, a level that we can manage – when that happens over a long period of time, we start making emotional decisions. Or they say that system one kicks in - your sub-conscious. Your quick processes in your brain starts kicking in.
Then a few things happen, let’s start there. You start going down rabbit holes, that’s one thing. Because of all the uncertainty, in your brain you start creating future scenarios based on things that happened in the past, or that might have happened in the past. That’s what your brain does – it starts to create context. It needs to resolve this decision that you can’t make, you know, it needs to resolve this problem. So basically, under long periods of stress, you start thinking about, when did this happen to me previously in my life? Or, what if this happens? All of those things work together to make decision-making quite difficult. And more often than not, as human beings, we tend to make emotional decisions based on past experiences. Based on these highly uncertain environments that we find ourselves in. I’m going to take Covid-19, for argument’s sake. I mean, everybody’s under far more pressure than ever before. So what you see, is a lot of irrational, emotional decision-making taking place. Or people just freezing - I don’t know what to do. So decision-making actually starts there. It’s about understanding the human condition. That’s the most important thing. The first step is, understand that there is a human condition. Then, if you understand that, it’s about building in processes, principles, protocols to help you make a better decision.
All right. Before we go there, I want to talk about that sub-conscious emotional thing kicking in that you described. I understand that we all have that. Right when there’s pressure, it triggers us in a way to think, when did this happen before? When did I feel this way before? Or it reminds you of when you felt stressed before, or things like that. Are you saying that that, then, causes you to make a more emotional decision?
Not always. I need to just say that. Not all people are the same. But most of us. There’s even a number. If memory serves me right, it’s either someone like Daniel Kahneman or Dan Ariely or someone like that, they’ve even put a number to it. Or one of the big consulting firms. They’ve measured it. It’s like, up to 75%. It’s a number like that. You know, up to 75% of those decisions, then, are emotional decisions.
Isn’t it Dan Ariely that also said, we make emotional decisions that we then rationally justify? So kind of, like, almost all our decisions are actually emotional?
100%. Because you start going down rabbit holes, right. You start going down a route. And then confirmation bias, or a whole range of biases.
Explain confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is just – let me just think how to explain that clearly. Confirmation bias, I stand to be corrected, but I think the best way to explain that, is that you’ve now gone down this route. You are certain that this is the correct route, and then you try to convince yourself. In other words, you create confirmation that this is the best route you’ve gone down. And you start looking for clues to confirm that you’ve gone down the right rabbit hole. It’s like when we read a piece of literature, a complex piece of literature. Let’s say we read something like Moby Dick. It’s an interesting book, I like Moby Dick. It’s a really interesting book. Moby Dick is a really complex piece of literature, because not only does it communicate certain social truths, there’s certain satirical truths that’s being communicated in the book about how society is being judged during this time period that Moby Dick, you know, happens. But you can also read it as a comedy. It’s a really, really funny book. So the reason that I use that as an example, is it’s all got to do with context and what you look for. If there isn’t someone that’s telling you, this character is being portrayed like this in a specific light, and you need to understand the historical context to understand why that is significant, if there’s no one pointing that out for you when you make decisions, you’re gonna make emotional decisions. And you’re gonna look for things to confirm your decisions. I think that’s a simple way of explaining it.
Yeah. Confirmation bias is a fascinating field for me. The idea that once we have a decision locked in, especially if it’s emotional, it’s as if we scan the environment for things that confirm that that is the right decision. Or, that is the thing to fear. Even fear – we scan the environment. See, that’s why you should fear that, or that’s why you should be careful regarding it.
What is interesting, is that I think part of my job – just like your job – is we have to read a lot. So we have to assimilate a lot of information. And what I find is, a lot of the time, there’s a lot of thought leaders that tell us things like, don’t be afraid. Be bold. Be confident. So not only are we trying to find confirmation bias in the decisions that we make, we’re also subconsciously reinforced by certain paths, voices or influences. The voices that’s telling us, don’t doubt yourself. You know, go down this road. Stick with your decisions. Almost like, even if it is a bad one.
Even if it’s a bad one, stick to it.
Yeah, just stick to it, just be brave. Follow what you’re doing and just be confident. So all of that stuff plays together to make decision-making quite complex.
You said the brain wants to create context. Because if it’s got context, it enables it to make a decision. Even if the context that it’s creating is confirmation bias, or looking to the past, or comparing apples and pears. Just to get context. Can you say a bit more about that?
Context is an interesting thing. Your brain has been hard-wired to just make decisions within context. In other words, if I choose between A, B and C, your brain would like you to understand the value or the significant difference between A, B and C. Or, what value am I sacrificing in choosing between A, B and C? So Dan Ariely in his book, Predictably Irrational, he tells a story about – it’s something to the effect of, there’s a newspaper, and they want to increase the amount of subscriptions they get to the newspaper. They’ve got a newspaper offering, and there is an online offering. In other words, you can buy the newspaper physically, or you can read it online, or you can do both. So they started doing experiments to see which option and at which price would people buy. So let’s say they then sold the newspaper at 50 pounds a month, something like that, and then they created a second combination, and that is, you could read it online for let’s say, a hundred pounds. And then they created a third option. It was something to the effect of, you could read it online and you can get a physical newspaper, also for a 100 pounds. And then what they found through the research, is that everybody, or the majority of people, started choosing the option where they could get both. The reason for that, is people understood what they were getting. They could compare. So your brain likes clarity and simplicity. All that stuff is obviously ancient, right, it comes from a time long ago when there were far more dangers in the world, and the world was far more dangerous. So your brain’s adapted this fight or flight, you know - I really need to be certain - mechanism that lives in your brain. So it’s all connected with that at the end of the day.
What I was also curious about that you mentioned, is how do you stress-test ideas? I mean, maybe you can talk about two areas: within a company, I can kind of see how you can do that for a company. But in life, how do you stress-test your decisions or your ideas or your strategies in life?
It’s actually not – I don’t think it will be dissimilar. It comes back to decision-making. Some of the same principles that you can use in making quality decisions – it’s not about making good decisions, it’s about making quality decisions –
What’s a quality decision?
A quality decision is making the best possible decision with what you know right now. But going through a process. There’s a good book that was written, called Quality Decision-Making. It’s a book that tells you exactly the principles of what a quality decision is. So it’s a lot of processes and principles. But let me create a little bit of structure around that conversation. I can take it back to companies. One of the things that I always tell companies when I need to make decisions for them, or when I need to stress-test something – I always start with helping them understand and understanding myself. What is the prevalent belief system in the organisation or the company? All of us has got a belief system. A mistake that we make, is we don’t spend enough time thinking about what our belief system is, and we don’t spend enough time writing it down. So it’s like that Steven Covey book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It almost starts there. If you can understand what you believe, and you can understand why you believe that, what your principles are, and purpose and identity, then things like stress-testing ideas and making decisions become far easier. Because you’ve got a base-line. You’ve created your own personal context to do that. That’s a starting point, whether you’re stress-testing an idea or making a decision, that’s the critical thing.
I suppose it means it’s based on your beliefs, and you’ve also tested that. You figured that out as you’ve gone along in life. It’s based on those beliefs, and you are aware of those beliefs. You know why you believe those things, not based on experience from the past alone.
100%. Carl Jung calls it individuation. The process that you go through to become an individual. I think - a lot of people will disagree with me, but I think the same thing is in companies. Companies individuate as well. Companies come into their own with regards to who they are, or the purpose that they want to attain, or they want to realise in the world. Or the vision they want to realise as well. I think there’s strong commonality there. But it does start with that. Understand your belief system. That’s where it all starts. People get stuck with vision, values, and mission. Those things are good to have, but that’s not what a belief system is. A belief system is a little bit deeper. Belief system starts with, who am I? Or who do I need to be? Or who do I want to be in the future? And obviously, that’s an iterative process that you have to go through to understand that, right. But that’s the core of any kind of belief system. You can go back thousands of years. You can go to the Spartans, the Romans, Genghis Khan, Mongol tribes, you can go through to the Samurai, you can go to medieval knights, the Ottoman empire. Any one of those big societal groups or subgroups start with identity. This is who we are. This is why we are here. This is what we want to achieve. This is where we want to go. That’s quite a complex discussion, because there’s a lot in it. But that’s where it starts, right. There’s something that always sticks with me. I’m quite a bit of a history nut. I probably read way too much. I’m the best person to invite to a cocktail party, because I can talk for hours about useless facts that no one really cares about. But it makes me very interesting at cocktail parties. That’s about it.
I’ll give you an example of identity. Because what we do, is we create. So we spoke about context and confirmation bias. We all create identity markers. Or what we should do, is create identity markers. So if you’re a company, you create a logo. But as human beings – this is very Jungian psychology – we should create our own symbols to communicate who we are based on our understanding of where we are and where we’re going. If you look at the Romans, there’s a very famous – I probably won’t be able to pronounce the Italian name, so I’m not even going to try – but there’s a very famous statue of a wolf mother, female wolf, and then there are two young boys suckling on her. And that’s Remus and Romulus. Those are the founding fathers of Rome. So remember, in a society like that, you know, an ancient society like that, if you knew that the guys – or I – am supposed to fight now, in other words, the Romans, their forefathers come from wolves. They situate themselves as wolves. That’s a terrifying symbol. So all of that stuff works together to create a tapestry of who you are.
Stress-testing your ideas and making good decisions become a lot easier if you understand who you are, and what you believe. Those are the unchanging principles that guide you through life. Because then you’ve got context to make the decision. Then it’s about understanding. What are the things I don’t know? What have I not thought of? What am I worried about? Have I done my homework? Am I logical in making my decision or stress-testing this idea? The core pieces, who I am, what I believe. The other part is a process that you just go through. And that’s ritual, right. There are multiple decision-making techniques ranging from complex to simple. But it’s a process that you have to go through.
Say more about identity markers, or belief markers. What does that look like, you know, for an individual? So I’m assuming for a company, it’s a logo. It’s the brand. The things they’re associated with. What does that look like in an individual?
There’s a few ways to look at this. I can only tell you how I look at it. A lot of people will have their own opinion. For me, identity is far more than your logo or the brand. There are two ladies that wrote a book in the early 2000’s called Margaret Mark and Carol S Pearson. The Hero and the Outlaw. It’s got to do with archetypal identities, or Jungian identities. So there are twelve Jungian identities. It’s not like the Zodiac, those are star signs. This is identity. You aren’t an Aries, okay… I’m an Aries, because I was born in… that’s confirmation bias.
Yeah, that’s a good example (laughs).
Jungian identities come from the fact that we’ve been telling stories to each other for literally centuries, right. Centuries and centuries we’ve been telling stories as a way to communicate truth, to make sense of the world. As part of that story-telling process, certain identities come from those stories. If you analyse the old mythology, whether it be Norse mythology, Greek mythology… obviously they’re clever people. And Carl Jung and those guys, they started analysing those stories. From those stories you get certain identity types, or archetypes. So they analysed these stories, and from that they could pull these set identities or archetypes. Identity types. That, for me, is where identity starts. It needs to start as deep as that. So there are twelve archetypes. And various people have got various definitions of them. An example of an archetype would be a challenger. Or a warrior. Or a champion. Or an explorer, a sage, an everyman, a leader, or a ruler. All of them are common. So identity starts there. It starts on that level. It’s: who do I believe I am? Or who I need to be? Am I a warrior? Am I a champion? Am I a crusader? Which is all about, you know, I want to help other people, or have impact in the world. Or am I an explorer? Or a sage? In other words, I’m either using discovery, or I’m using my knowledge and expertise to guide people on a better path. It sounds very ethereal, but that for me is identity. It’s that belief that right at my core, who am I?
As you would know, because of what you do, your core identity, or who you are – a lot hangs from that. Your rituals. Good rituals depend on who you are. Good habits depend on who you are. In a modern world – I mean the new thing everybody’s talking about, is personal brand-building. We all need to become brands at the end of the day. Now, I buy into that quite a bit. I think it’s quite important to do your own personal brand-building in the social media world that we live in. But the point is, identity starts there. It starts with the core belief of who I am. Not just, I am André, that’s my brand name for lack of a better word, but identity starts with understanding who is André? And obviously, that’s the process that you have to go through. So you don’t wake up one morning and say to yourself, I am a warrior. You might be, but you have to test that a little bit and see what that is.
Can I ask you, André, about who do I believe I am? Because what I’m gathering from that, is if you believe you are a certain archetype or certain kind of person, that gets stress-tested by life.
So you look at your results in your life, the things you accomplish. You look at your rituals, your habits. And I want you to maybe say something about the difference between rituals and habits in a moment. But all of those things get stress-tested by life. And if you get that feedback, I’m guessing that’s where you make the adjustment. Maybe this is not really who I am. So, who am I? Or, who do I need to become for me to have what I want? To be able to go for the things I dream of? And that also gets stress-tested, right, that dream, that ideal, that vision.
Exactly. What is interesting to me, is we spend – I mean, I, specifically, spend a lot of time with big organisations, medium-size, small organisations, talking exactly about this. Who are we? What are we about? How are we going to communicate this? How does this belief, who we are, and our purpose, translate into an idea or a product or a service? What I find interesting, then, is – as people, I don’t think we spend enough time doing this. In other words, interrogating who we are, what we’re about. It’s probably got to do with what I do for a living, but – and I probably drive my wife up the wall – I’m consistently busy with this process, and stress-testing that. I don’t think everybody is busy with that. But if you want to better yourself, you need to be busy with that all the time as a human being. And you’re 100% right – at the end of the day, it’s strategy, right. We all have a strategy. We all need to have a strategy about our life.
He’s not the nicest guy, he’s a bit of a tyrant depending on who you speak to, but I always look at Genghis Khan as a historical figure. He had – you can see it today. When you read the literature, there’s an incredible book called The Secret History of the Mongols[MB1] , it’s a fascinating piece of literature. It’s hard to get your hands on it. They tell the story of Genghis Khan. His real name is Temujin. How he had a strategy to conquer the world, and how he realised – who do I need to be to conquer the world? How do I need to get my people to unite as one in order to conquer the world? Because when he took over, when he became the Khan, the Great Khan, the Mongols were a whole bunch of nomadic tribes constantly fighting each other. So he had to unite them, say, together we are stronger. He wrote a constitution, a law book, called the Yassa, that said, from now on we will all behave like this. So there’s strategy in life.
There’s another guy that’s a hero. He’s incredible. His name is Miyamoto Musashi, he’s a Samurai. He’s considered to be the greatest Samurai of all time. You can see it in his life. So he’s a swordsman, and he’s got a book called The Book of Five Rings. And when you read that book, he doesn’t refer to himself as a Samurai, he refers to himself as a strategist. So everything we do is strategic. My life is strategic. Specifically in this world we live in right now. I think about young people, and the opportunities and options they have to do incredible things. The platforms. When I went to university, my options were teacher, doctor, preacher, engineer, you know. I ended up not doing any of those things. Or an accountant, a lawyer or something like that. Whereas now, the field’s open. So because there’s more options, spend more time time understanding who you are what you want to do in life, and develop your strategy for that. The big strategic questions, there are five -
Before we go into those questions, André, I want to know them – but I want to comment on what you just said about the options for young people these days. It’s massive in terms of what they can do with their life, for the rest of their life. I don’t know if you know Barry Schwartz book, The Paradox of Choice. Basically it comes down to - we think more options will be better, will help us to make better decisions, but actually, it paralyses us. Because of context, like you mentioned. You can compare three things to one another and make a decision. But if you compare twenty or a hundred, or three hundred things to one another, then that sense of loss when you choose one option becomes very big. Because if you choose one out of three, you lose the other two. But you can compare them. But now, if you choose one, you lose out on two hundred others. So that makes a lot of sense to me in terms of why we should then focus more on ourselves, our belief systems, who I am, to guide us and help us make those kinds of decisions.
The paradox in that is – coming up with options is not necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s not a counter, it’s just – we get stuck in life when we’ve got too much options, and ironically in life, we get stuck if we don’t have any options. Because if we’ve got no options, that breeds fear. The more fear there is, the less we do. We just get stuck. So the way to get out of fear, you have to create more options. If you create more creative options, you’ve got options to play. There’s a great South African strategist called Nicola Tyler. That’s her thinking. So I really have to give her credit for that. She says, don’t go into this cycle of fear. Go to the cycle of hope. And the way that you create hope is to come up with more options. She’s a brilliant strategic thinker. But now the problem is, you’ve ended up with too many options. Because you haven’t put in the hard work to understand, this is who I am, this is what I am about – because you haven’t done that work, you’re stuck. How do I make this decision? How do I understand the opportunity cost? It’s difficult.
Absolutely. When students – I work with a lot of students – when they don’t know who they are, they don’t even have something to believe, who they want to be,. Who I believe I want to be. They look at the options, and they just think about the possible outcome. If I choose this path, I will be rich, or successful. Or I will be able to help people in this or that way. It’s not aligned with who they are, because they don’t know. They haven’t done that work. It’s hard work, as you would probably know. You focus on that a lot.
It is hard work. I think it’s a societal thing. I think as society globally, we say to our children, when we speak about who are you? The discussion isn’t really, who are you really and how are you going to develop that? It is, go do something to become a lawyer or a doctor or a strategist. But that’s not who you are. I might be a sage that is a strategist, but in the same way I can be a sage that’s a cricketer or a sportsman or a rocket designer these days.
I like the fact that you differentiate between a sportsman and a cricketer, because in my mind they’re not the same thing. I’m not a cricket fan.
(Laughs) I played way too much cricket. Whenever I think of cricket, I think of standing on a cricket pitch quarter past three on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon, and there’s 50 overs to go. So I’ve got post-traumatic stress when I think about cricket.
Yeah, exactly (laughs). You said there’s five strategies, or five ways to develop –
Well, there’s five questions. If you think about the basic strategic questions that you need to ask yourself, they are: one, what’s your strategic ambition? To make that real for people, your strategic ambition is pretty much your identity and your purpose. That’s your belief system. I believe this is who I am. In order to live who I am, and to live my purpose, I need to achieve, I need to do, I want to achieve, I want to succeed, in the following ways. That’s strategic ambition. The funny thing is, the clearer that is, the more effective you’re going to be. I think a lot of people get stuck in not implementing or not developing strategy, because they’re not clear on – who am I, what’s my purpose, where am I going?
Then the second strategic question is: where am I going to play? In order to achieve my strategic ambition, where am I going to play? In other words, where will I compete if it’s a competitive environment that I want to go into? What’s my sandbox? If you can have that, if you can define that, then you can say, okay: I know what my ambition is. I know where I’m going to play.
And then the third question is, how am I going to compete and win? What’s my big idea? What’s my thing? How am I going to win in the sandbox where I’m going to compete? And that goes for business and life. If you can figure that out, then you can say okay: if this is my ambition, this is where I’m going to play, and this is how I’m going to play and win, what do I need to put in place in order to achieve that? What are the strategic capabilities that I’m going to – in human terms, it’s skill sets, strengths, expertise, all of those things - that I need to put in place?
Then, if you’re a business, the conversation goes to: what’s my value proposition? What’s my brand going to be? What’s my message going to be? That’s the next step. Some people put it together with, how am I going to compete and win? I use it as a separate discussion.
The final thing is systems and procedures. What systems and procedures and protocols do I need to follow in order to implement the strategy? Those are the five or six strategic discussions that you need to have with yourself.
Could you go through them again?
Yeah. So the first one is strategic ambition. Strategic ambition is purpose, identity, who am I, what do I want to achieve in life or in business? Like I said, execution of strategy gets easier, and the development of strategy gets far easier when you’re clear on what your strategic ambition is, and what you want to achieve. I think we live in a world where we consistently say – let’s simplify. Let’s turn it into those three sexy words. That’s fine if you want to come up with a great line for your brand. It’s not fine if you want to define your vision, or if you want to define your purpose. Make it clear so that you can understand it. The stress-test for that is always, can you explain it in one sentence?
So that’s the first thing. The second question, then, is: where am I going to play? Or where am I going to compete? What is the sandbox I want to play in? In what borders am I going to play? You can think about – I think everything is about value. My philosophy about strategy or business is value creation. So it’s almost like, where do I want to go and create value? Do I wanna become a doctor, or do I want to be the best possible business leader, or whatever the case may be? That’s where you play. And it’s about understanding the opportunities, then, where you can play so that you can achieve your strategic ambition.
Still aligned with identity.
It needs to be. It’s always aligned with that. So it’s almost like, the narrative that you need to go through, is, this is who I am. This is why I do what I do. This is how I’m going to live who I am, so that I can achieve the following dream. To do that, I want to do the following things. That’s strategic ambition type of narratives.
Then it is, in order to achieve that strategic ambition, where do I need to play? Where do I need to compete? That’s understanding the sandbox. For me to achieve my ambition, in order to do the thing that makes me tick, I need to go into the medical field. Or I need to play in the wellness space. Or the enablement space, the empowerment space. Or the sports field. It doesn’t matter, it’s just about understanding. That’s why that first identity discussion is so important, because if you understand that, where I play becomes infinitely easier to understand.
So if you’ve done that, then the third strategic discussion is to say: how am I going to play and win? If strategy is about winning, life is about winning – it doesn’t mean it’s winning at the expense of someone else. That’s business, more often than not. And that’s sports. But in life, it shouldn’t be at the cost of someone else. It’s, how will I compete, and how will I win, in other words, how will I achieve my identity, my purpose, my goals and stuff like this, in the sandbox that I’ve set out for myself?
And then the next discussion is to say, what are the capabilities? What are the things that I need in order to win? In business, it’s called capabilities or strengths. For human beings or people, it is what are my personal strengths that I need to develop? What are my skill sets, or expertise, or knowledge gaps that I need to fill? What do I need to learn? How do I need to do? Habits and rituals would fall in there.
Then for a business discussion, it goes into – if you understand the capabilities and all of that stuff – what is my value proposition going to be? In other words, what is this product or service that I’m going to give people? What should my brand look like? How am I going to communicate? How am I going to sell this? For people, that then comes to, how can I translate my personal purpose into something that’s going to impact the world? What’s that thing that I’m going to do that’s going to make a difference in people’s lives? What are the tangible things that I want to do so that I can become a valuable citizen, so that I can impact people’s lives, so that I can live my purpose?
And the final one is then systems and procedures. And I guess habits and rituals and ways of doing can fit in there as well. But in a business sense, your systems and procedures are the protocols that you follow in order to execute and implement strategy. It’s the same for human beings. If you don’t set out rituals and ways of working, you know, we’re not disciplined in following those things, we’re never going to implement strategy. Strategy gets lost on implementation. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if you don’t execute it, you’re never going to learn, you’re never going to stress-test, you’re never going to fight the battles that’s going to build your confidence as a human being or a business leader, whoever you’re going to be.
Does that even mean that you can go through all of that, you know, identity, what I want, how I want to do it, you know, all of that – and then still not implement? Or will the fact that you go through all the others generate the will or the motivation to implement? Or not necessarily?
I think that’s a personal question. I think some people get stuck in the process. That’s one thing about me. Because of my personality, I get stuck in the cycle, because I really like thinking about things, I get stuck in thinking. So I have learned time and time again, I need to be hard on myself and I need to build in as many processes and protocols to help me implement and execute. Because implementation and execution is scary, right. That’s where it turns into reality. So that’s where the systems and procedures – and that’s why it’s so important that you write that down for yourself, to say that this is how I execute strategy. Part of that is also to figure out what works for you.
Over the years, I have figured out what works for me. I know that I find it hard to start implementing something if I haven’t drawn out a mind map, for argument’s sake. Because a mind map is how my brain thinks. So I know, if I’m stuck, I draw a mind map of what I need to do or what I want to achieve. How it fits. And then all of a sudden, I go over to action. So basically, I think my triggers are, if I’m clear and if I’m confident that I know enough – now that’s very specific to me – my brain likes the idea that I know - I can handle a lot of complexity and uncertainty, but I need to be certain that I know enough to move forward. So I think people get stuck, or people go through something, and there’s a failure. Because things happen. You can’t plan for everything in life, right. You can plan for things going wrong and stuff, but you can’t plan for everything. Things go wrong, people lose confidence, and they don’t start implementing. Then they go back to thinking and worrying, and oh, is my strategic ambition right? But you have to go through a few cycles. It is an iterative and systemic process at the end of the day.
Can you say something about the rituals and habits now, and how they might be different?
How I think about rituals and habits, is: the ritual is the things that I do to form a habit. So that’s how I look at it. It will probably have a lot of other definitions, but I think a ritual is the little mental model, or little cycle that I go through to implement a healthy habit. Habits, for me, is something that I automatically do. The interesting thing is, I think – I believe, that a habit is not just biting your fingernails. I think a habit is also how we think about ourselves.
So, how you speak. And that’s why language, the words that I use, is so important. And it all comes back to identity, why identity is so important. If I’m a sage, if I’m an expert, if I’m a guru, then I need to speak like a guru. Because if I speak like a guru, I start projecting that image of, well this is who I am. I am an expert, right. And that then means, I can reinforce that habit that I am an expert.
I like the idea that you project that, but you also kind of digest it if you act that way. Internalise it. One of the things I often tell people when I ask them, why don’t you have what you want? I tell them, don’t give me BS. No blaming other people or circumstances, but also, no shaming yourself. I am weak, I am lazy, I am a procrastinator, things like that. Instead, I go to – turn it around and give me SB. Meaning, systems which is about rituals and structure and things that help you create habits, help you create things that you actually want to do. And secondly, beliefs, which is where you started. The identity part of it, if that makes sense.
100%. And also, remember it’s also got to do with strategy, which more often than not, is systemic. Which means it’s a system. Our lives are a system where we’re – it’s a complex idea, but – we’re systems. We’re consistently engaging with systems, and if you start thinking about yourself as a system, you understand that it’s something that consistently needs to better itself. There’s a fascinating guy called Niklas Luhmann. I think he’s a sociologist. He developed something, or re-appropriated an idea called autopoiesis. Autopoiesis is basically – I need to tell the whole story for it to make sense. So there were these two guys that looked for an alternative definition of what is life? How do we define life? They came up with this idea of autopoeiesis, and replication. But it was from a biological point of view. From a biological point of view, that way of thinking never got any traction. It didn’t make sense. But then Niklas Luhmann read about it, and he said, this is an interesting idea to take to systems thinking. Specifically social systems. So autopoeiesis is where you have a social system, in other words, a group of people together, or a group, or an individual, and in order for that social system to continue to exist, its core idea needs to be replicated and continuously be replicated. For me, that’s value. That’s what purpose is about. I need to consistently replicate and refine and evolve and improve the idea that I stand for. Who I am. And that to me, is very relevant to strategy.
Strategy is not a thing that starts and stops. It’s a continuous thing. I need to consistently check out for what’s happening. I need to get feedback – like, I’ve done this thing, what is the feedback? So I’ve implemented this strategy. I’ve now started a YouTube channel, while we’re on this. And I’m putting out this type of content. How is it being received? What are people saying about it? And that takes a lot of bravery, right. Because you have to be open for people to criticize you. So for a long time in my life, when I was younger, criticism was a real problem for me. Today I understand, because of my identity and my personality, and I’ve done the work, that there’s just a trigger. It’s got to do with how I grew up. So I need to just tell myself when everybody criticizes me, it’s OK. It’s just feedback. It’s not criticism. I just take it as feedback. You’re just telling me, I need to change my system, I need to change my point of view, I need to adapt slightly. And I need to take it to heart and say, well, I know who I am. But I’m getting this feedback, which means I’m either not expressing who I am clearly enough or simply enough, or the thing that I’m doing isn’t reflecting who I am as an individual. Simply put, if I’m an expert, and I give someone a piece of work but it’s filled with spelling mistakes, I can’t be an expert, right? I say that, because I struggle with spelling. I’m a little bit dyslexic. So I really struggle with spelling (laughs). It’s hard work for me.
Makes sense. I like the thing you said about systems interacting with systems, because different systems will have a different effect on your system. If you think about people or organisations or circumstances, it’s all about a system. And I also like when you say your strategy is systemic. It’s not a model in terms of a model being static. It’s a model, and it just kind of ploughs through life, even though many people live with the mental model, as you said, of a strategic system they can adapt. Also, I like the idea that when you are interacting with other systems and you get that feedback that this interaction is generating, you probably also have the option to say okay, these two systems won’t gel. They won’t work together. Because one part is, where do I need to go or adapt, the other part is, maybe the other system needs to adapt. Or, they’re just not compatible. Or, these differences are okay. We can co-exist and even, you know, work together on certain things without completely adapting the other system’s mindset, belief system, priorities, whatever.
That’s why that identity and purpose peace, and belief system peace is so important. If you’ve got that clear, then it’s far simpler to understand what the other system’s belief system is. Is there resonance, and rapport between the two systems? Do we believe the same things? Do we do the same things? We don’t have to have the same identity, but at least we can have the same principles, ways of working. Then the other thing is also, I’m big on value. It’s a very simple idea. It’s just, I believe we’re here to have impact on other people’s lives. I’m a giver by nature, so for me it’s about – I really want to have impact in people’s lives and see a difference. Then I start looking for clues, feedback. If I’m engaging with another system and there’s no impact or there is an exploitation of it, then I’m going to say well, I’m no longer going to have the ability to have impact on this person’s life or this system’s life. So I’m either going to withdraw and see what the feedback is, or I’m going to try harder and see what the feedback is. But at some stage you need to realise that I’m putting a lot of value in here, and it’s not just about getting it back. Giving is about giving in a way, right. But if you see the giving away has got no impact, you can rather take that value that you give and apply it to another system. Because the feedback will be better.
Makes sense. It’s finite – what you have to give is finite.
Can you try and dumb it down for us, André, in terms of – if you give advice to young people and you tell them, here are the three principles in terms of decision-making? Make it very simple. If you remember these three things, you’ll get a 50% improvement on the kind of decisions you make? Now you’re supposed to go… challenge accepted.
(Laughs) I’m thinking. I’m going into thinker mode now. If I could simplify it, I think decision-making becomes easier – if I had to use three things, the three things would be: be clear about who you are and what you want. I think that’s number one. Be clear on that and consistently work on that. The second thing is, take a breather. When you need to make a tough decision, just take a breather. Just sit back. You don’t have to make it now. Go make a cup of coffee and think about it.
On that, sorry to interrupt, before you mention your third one – I think it’s in the book Getting Things Done, but he talks about decision-making, and when someone brings in a decision, it’s like, ask how much time you have to make this decision. Ask how much time you have. That helps you to not feel the stress of, I have to make this decision immediately. Just give yourself that breather, that time.
Yeah. So just take the fear away. A lot of the time there’s a lot of uncertainty. The scary thing is, sometimes you’re not even aware of the uncertainty or fear or pressure that you might be feeling. But when you make a critical decision, just take a breather. You can think about it. Something you said previously about – it’s an adaptive system that can evolve, and stuff like that. I always like to say, you’re not a tank. Tanks just run through things. You’re a human being. You have time to think about it and reflect. So that would be my second thing. My third thing would be to say, do you have a process? Or get a process for making a decision. That’s a very simple thing. Get a process.
Like your mind mapping thing?
Like mind mapping. But get one that works for you. Jeff Bezos has got this thing, he says you get two types of decisions. One decision is things that, if you make this decision, you can’t change it. This is a heavy decision. You go down this rabbit-hole, this is it. You’re no longer in Kansas, Dorothy, you’re in Wonderland. The second type of decision is then things that you can change.
So that’s an idea of process. Understand, get a process that works for you. And understand those things. Because if you can do that, you can make better decisions. So: be clear about who you are and what you want, take a breather, always take a rain check, understand, create space for yourself to really think about it, and the third thing is get a process to follow to make that decision. Whether it’s pros and cons, whatever it is, to a complex mathematical formula, just get something that works for you.
Awesome. We’ve talked about a few books already, but maybe one or two books you’d recommend for people? Business owners or individuals who want to learn about decision-making or strategy or things like that?
Let me just kick up my Kindle here. It’s so nifty to do these things on a computer. When it comes to decision-making, there’s a few books, and some of them are very complicated. So this is a very simple book. The book is called Decision Quality: Value Creation from Better Business Decisions. It’s written by Karl Spetzler, Hannah Winter and Jennifer Meyer. So Decision Quality. That’s a nice, simple, practical, effective book that you can apply not only to life, but that you can apply to your business as well. It’s a very good book.
Thank you. Great. Okay, last question. Or do you have another book?
When it comes to decision-making, I’ll stick to that one. The other ones get very technical. That’s a very practical, easy to use book.
You’ve touched on my last question already, but maybe you can put it into different words, or clarify it a bit more. What do you feel is your superpower?
My superpower, I figured out, is that I don’t have a problem with complexity. So I can read lots of information, and I’m not a brainiac, but I can retain large portions of that information. So I can read ten books, and I can understand those books, and I can retain the information. I can put them together into a new bucket of knowledge. If you’re going to solve this problem, we can think about it like this, because of what this guy said, but I like this, because of what this guy said. And we can bring that together. So now we’ve got a better latticework of knowledge and actionable intelligence to help us make this decision, or develop this strategy. That’s my superpower, integrating broad-spectrum knowledge and repurposing and repackaging it into a tool that you can use to make a difference in your life or in your business. My personal aspiration is, I really want to be a polymath. I’m a far way off from that, so I’m an aspirational polymath. A polymath is someone that’s got broad-spectrum expertise on a whole bunch of topics. So that’s sort of my goal. Because there’s something attached to that. There’s a lot of work being done in polymathy. So the ultimate goal of a polymath is to have what they call big-C impact. Big-C impact is to develop an idea and thinking that is not just new, but that’s got big, large-scale societal impact. It really changes how we think and how we do. That’s my big thing.
And you’re on your way there, because you’re already a great cocktail guest.
I just need to get it out from cocktails to – next will probably be, I don’t know –
Next will be braaiing. Great braais (laughs).
André, where can people reach you? When companies or individuals want to work with you?
I think the simplest way or the best way is always just an e-mail. So I’ve got two e-mail addresses. The one is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the second one is far simpler. It’s just email@example.com. That’s the best way to get hold of me.
You said that’s why you chose your company name, the Red Team thing. We’re actually done, but just say a few things about that.
Actually, I’ve had quite a few businesses in my life, consulting businesses specifically. And years ago, I had a business. The business was doing very, very well. But it was very focused, it wasn’t niche, it was just very focused in regards to what it did. So I sort of went through a bit of soul-searching, and I said to myself, there needs to be a better way of helping businesses. You can’t be so focused on this one discipline. Doing this one discipline is not going to save a business. It was purely around brand building. It was brand strategy. I realised that, I’m not going to save businesses purely by redoing their brand. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff that I do for people.
Then I read about something that happened in Israel. It’s a pretty interesting story. In nineteen, I think it’s nineteen sixty-seven, was the six-day war between Israel and the nations around them. And the Israelis attacked everyone, I mean they wiped out the Egyptian air force before 10 o’clock in the morning on day one. So the Egyptians had no air force. It was just incredible. It was this incredible victory for the Israelis. Then, the Israelis camped together, the Knesset or whoever, the thinkers there, and they said, let’s package this success recipe that we have. Let’s call it – I think they called it The Concept or something like that. And they said, as long as The Concept is in place, no one will ever attack us again. Everyone will be too scared.
Fast forward to nineteen seventy-three. It was the Yom Kippur war. Here’s the thing – they get attacked on the eve of Yom Kippur, you know, the holiday, and they were nearly decimated. Through sheer grit and determination, they fight back, they lose quite a lot of land, I think they lost the Sinai Desert and stuff like that. My history is a bit hazy, but long story short – and the Americans helped them, but the Israelis survived. But they nearly got wiped out. They’d come close to the brink. When the dust settled, they camped together again, they looked at each other and they said – hang on. The Concept is still valid. The Concept’s still in place, and we had double agents and spies telling us that the attack would happen and we didn’t listen. So they went into a self-reflection period. And they said to themselves, we need to stop this from ever happening again.
So what they then did, is, on their leadership council, one guy was appointed. And his job on that council was to do the following: whenever everybody was in agreement, he had to attack the idea. So when everybody agrees, his job is to attack the idea and to disagree with everyone. To drive a dialogue to say why it is a bad idea. So that they could stress-test their thinking in the future, so that this would never happen again. And that became red-teaming. So red teaming is when you have an outside person objectively stress-testing and checking the thinking and the ideas of a company. And there’s a whole methodology and process that you go through to do that.
After the 9/11 event where the Twin Towers were attacked, that kind of thinking was adopted by all the world’s militaries and leadership companies and stuff like that. Specifically now in a period like this, because it helps you plan for unintended or unseen eventualities or things that happen. It’s quite interesting to talk about it a little bit, because it ties back to the other stuff we spoke about. That is, red-teaming is about – the first thing is, obviously you’ve got your idea, you’ve got your strategy. But the first part of that process is then to understand the thinking that led to this idea being formulated. So how did we get here? So you don’t stress-test the idea, you’re not critical about the idea, you’re critical about the knowledge and the thinking and the processes that led you here. And there’s various methodologies and processes that you can use. And then what you do, is you take that knowledge and learning and insight about the thinking that got you here, to develop alternative ideas. Creative, do-able alternatives. You just come up with them. And then you say, okay, we’ve got two bodies of knowledge here. We’ve got a new narrative around a possible solution, and we’ve got background information that we can use. And then you use that to aggressively attack and stress-test your original idea. Then you’ll see one of three things: your idea is actually good, or your idea is good but we can improve it like this, or it’s actually a terrible idea, here’s a better idea. And that’s red-teaming. That’s something I do quite a lot of, and it’s another way of making a better decision in your organisation.
Awesome. André, once again, thank you so much for joining us on Fresh Perspective. Folks, remember, if you change your perspective, if you change your mind, you can transform your life. Until next time.
Books mentioned in this interview can be found on Amazon using the links below: