An IT Managers Guide to Managing Personal Devices in the Enterprise

Developing a strategy for managing and securing employees’ personally owned mobile devices is now a necessity. iPhone is joining BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile smartphones in the workplace. And their numbers are only going to increase.

Regardless of whether corporate policy allows mobile devices to access the corporate network, workers will continue to bring them into the office.

Read this whitepaper now and learn how to find just the right balance—maintaining the integrity and security of the network while allowing easy access to the critical applications will give organizations a competitive advantage in the coming years.

User Experience Architecture – Working Through Screens

100 Ideas for Envisioning Powerful, Engaging, and Productive User Experiences in Knowledge Work.

User Experience is becoming more essential as we start to embrace devices such as the iPad, Smart Phone technology as well as the more traditional PC/MAC work in the corporate world. It is also necessary as become more demanding of web-based applications and systems.

For all you designers & architects out there interested in this topic – a good reference which I’d thoroughly recommend to help with usability & web design is “Working through Screens Book”.

This is available here –

If you’re interested – I have a PDF version of this book which I’d be happy to share. Would appreciate any comments/thoughts.


Is work working?

Predicting the future of work

Predicting the future of work

Autumn 2010: Over the last year, Lynda Gratton led a research consortium of 21 companies and over 200 executives from around the world in an exploration of the look and feel of tomorrow’s workplace. The conclusion? You will need to manage in new ways – and sooner than you think.

Work is universal. But, how, why, where and when we work has never been so open to individual interpretation. The certainties of the past have been replaced by ambiguity, questions and the steady hum of technology. Now, in a groundbreaking research project covering 21 global companies and more than 200 executives, Lynda Gratton is making sense of the future of work. In this exclusive article she provides a preview of the real world of 21st century work.

You may be a Baby Boomer in your 50s with Gen Y children just joining the workforce; an alumnus of a business school, a 40-year-old Gen X preparing for 30 more years of work, with young Gen Z children; or an MBA student thinking about the years of work ahead of you.

Whatever your age, one of the most crucial questions you face is how the FORCES SHAPING THE FUTURE OF WORK future of work will develop and the impact on you and the organisations of which you are a member. If you are now aged 30, you can expect to work for the next 40 years — that means in 2050 you will be a member of the workforce. If you are 50, you can expect to be actively employed for another 20 years — that’s 2030. If you have young children, they could be working until 2070.

Work is, and always has been, one of the most defining aspects of our lives. It is where we meet our friends, excite ourselves and feel at our most creative and innovative. It can also be where we can feel our most frustrated, exasperated and taken for granted. Work matters — to us as individuals, to our family and friends and also to the communities and societies in which we live.

To read on … Click here to read the complete article.

Make up your mind


Make up your mind

Web Exclusive: Everyone seems to like having lots of options before making a decision. It helps you feel like you have done your homework and will enjoy a better outcome. So, do the best decisions come about this way? Simona Botti’s research may surprise you.

Do people understand what is the exact point at which the energy you put into a search for the best deal outweighs its benefits? Everyone knows it pays to compare prices of airline tickets, hotel rates, cars and cell phone service. But, sometimes unbeknown to consumers, these extensive searches may cost more than the benefits they provide.

This possibility is the subject of a research project I recently completed with Professor Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. We wondered if university students in four separate studies would correctly discount the emotional, cognitive, and temporal costs associated with having more freedom of choice or if they would always expect better results when provided with more choice.

While it seems counterintuitive, our study confirmed that although more choice freedom is always preferred because it is expected to bring better results, less choice freedom when making a decision may lead to superior outcomes.

The costs of making decisions

It seems that decision makers often experience anxiety when they choose. They feel ‘buyer’s remorse’ and worry that they have made the wrong choice. People tend to forestall this uncomfortable feeling by considering more options and collecting more information, even if the new information is unlikely to sway the outcome. As you can imagine, this additional search may increase, rather than reduce, the emotional discomfort and at the same time generate distracting thoughts. The result is poor and costly decisions.

We hypothesise that people systematically underestimate the costs of choice compared with its benefits. Thus, people steadfastly believe that more choice freedom leads to better decisions even in those cases where the costs of choosing actually outweigh its benefits.

To test this we created experiments that measured the objective quality of the participants’ decisions by scoring cognitive tasks. All the participants were given modest financial compensation to motivate them to do their best. Students were randomly assigned to experimental conditions in which they either had more or less choice freedom and were made to consider the costs of choice.

Bank on it

In the first study, students were offered incentives for choosing the highest-yielding one-year certificate of deposit (CD) from a number of banks, ranging from 3.01 and 4.00 per cent. The participants in the more freedom group could look at as many randomly generated sets of three banks as they wished at a cost of $7 each time. The participants in the less freedom group was offered just one choice from three banks and also charged $7 for the service.

A third group of students, called ‘predictors’, were asked to read descriptions of the two situations and guess: “Which of these two services do you think will ensure a higher return?” They said the more-freedom group would earn more. They were wrong. The more-freedom group underestimated the cost of searching and over-searched, ending up with a lower return than the less freedom group.

Participants were asked why they liked or disliked the choice process they experienced. Most of the participants expressed the belief that by choosing they could get a better outcome (“I feel I have a better chance at selecting the right one”) whereas only a few  recognised the escalating costs of choice (“Too many options required too much to consider.”)

Hold the phone

Our next two studies were, ostensibly, about memorisation. In one, while facing a five-minute deadline, the more-freedom group was asked to select one from a set of 10 randomly generated phone numbers to memorise in ten subsequent trials whereas the no-freedom group was given 10 numbers, one at a time, to memorise. The predictors guessed the more-freedom group would perform better at this memory task. They were wrong again.

Although all participants were told that the time spent choosing the number to memorise would reduce their final score, the majority thought selecting the number of their choice would benefit them because they believed associations would help them remember the number. In doing so, however, more freedom participants discounted the time it took them to select the number and thus earned a lower score than less freedom participants.

Test of wills

In a fourth study, students in the more-freedom group were asked to pick 10 multiple-choice math questions from a possible 50 to answer whereas those in the less-freedom group had to answer 10 questions in the order they were shown. All the questions had a similar level of difficulty. Familiarity was an added option: half of the students were first allowed to review multiple-choice math questions but the other half was not. This test was done to see if familiarity with the task would persuade the more-freedom participants to forgo their option of selecting a question because they would know ahead of time that there was no benefit in looking for better (easier) questions.

Students who were not given the chance to review the material, but were given the freedom to choose, spent too much time searching for an easy question and thus performed worse than those who were not given the freedom to choose. However, the freedom-with-familiarity students did as well as the no-freedom-with familiarity students because they realised that all the questions were of equal difficulty and didn’t waste time comparing questions.

Choose or lose

Decision makers may feel compelled to explore all the options in order to find the best choice, but sometimes the cost of doing so outweighs the benefits provided by this best choice. Going into these studies, Professor Hsee and I entertained the hypothesis that people prefer more freedom to choose because they believe this freedom allows them to make better decisions. However, study participants who had more freedom not only performed worse but also experienced lower positive affect than participants who had less freedom. Although choice is often associated with beneficial outcomes, in some circumstances this association definitely fails.

So consider the wear and tear on your cognitive and affective system the next time you are faced with a decision, and ask yourself if you really need more choice to make a good decision.


The New IT Survival Guide: How to Thrive After the Recession

The worst of the recession is over, and IT management is coming to grips with the “new normal” of slender resources and pressure to make “alignment with business” more than a buzzword. The demand for technical skills is still strong, but if you want to succeed in this “new normal” environment, you have to offer more to your employer — a lot more.

Consider the career of Ginny Lee, who in 2008 became Intuit’s third CIO in just four years. Her predecessors, says the man who hired her, CEO Brad Smith, had the requisite technical chops but lacked a clear understanding of how IT could contribute to the company’s overall success. They didn’t keep their jobs. “In the world of SaaS [1], SOA, social networking, and mobile [2], IT is no longer just about great technology,” Smith says.

[ Get sage advice on your IT career from InfoWorld’s Bob Lewis in the Advice Line newsletter [3]. | Learn why running IT as a business is a really bad idea [4]. ]

Lee, a former investment banker with no formal training in computer science, exemplifies a tectonic shift occurring in the world of enterprise IT. Today’s CIOs — and by extension, everyone who works for them — are living the “new normal,” an age where budgets are recovering but still constrained, and where IT is responsible for generating moneymaking ideas and applications. The “new normal” means that business skills are essential if you want to climb the ladder to IT management, and you’d better understand that the days of IT being merely a support organization that just keeps the network running are over.

Data Explosion iGuide[5]

Yes, things are different, but the world of enterprise IT has not turned upside down. Although it’s trendy to think that the days of the big CRM and ERP deployment [6] are past, that’s not the case. There’s been a noticeable uptick in sales of major enterprise applications this year, fed in part by the resurgent merger and acquisition activity, says Mark White, a principal with Deloitte Consulting. Indeed, Oracle had one of its best quarters ever recently with a big boost from the sale of new licenses for business applications.

There is, however, strong demand for IT hands who have the skills to help deploy a new generation of cloud-enabled applications, virtualization, social networking, and mobile services. And predictive analytics is building on the legacy of traditional business intelligence and data mining to become an essential tool for older businesses and Web-centric companies alike that need to move faster — and at lower cost — than ever before.

Above all, the “new normal” is about accepting change. “IT is afraid that its value proposition will go away — and that’s a real fear,” says Steve Sterns, a senior manager of IT at Cisco Systems. “Internal IT needs to transform, and it’s not fightable. Either adjust and learn the new skills [7] or fail,” he says.

The moneymaking CIO
With 40 million customers using its tax, accounting, and payroll products, Intuit generates immense amounts of data. A traditional CIO would view that digital mountain as an asset to be managed and guarded. Lee says her job is to monetize it: “We’re responsible for execution, of course. But we also have to ask what is the business opportunity that we see.”

Backed by a cadre of data analysts, many of whom sport doctorate degrees, Lee looks across product groups to see what data can be mined and exploited. Here are just two of the revenue-generating projects her IT department generated:

  • Data from Intuit Online Payroll is used to produce the company’s Small Business Employment Index. What’s more, some of the same payroll data can be used yet again by employees of those firms when they file their taxes using TurboTax.
  • Data from QuickBooks online is aggregated, made anonymous, and melded into a feature that lets small businesses compare their critical metrics, such as margins and days payable, to those of competitors. Because the data is so granular, customers can drill down to compare themselves to businesses within a particular vertical and a particular geographical area.

Lee is hardly the only CIO chanting the mantra of monetization. “We’re calling this the era of the moneymaking CIO,” says Gartner analyst Ken McGee. McGee recounts a recent conversation he had with Terry Kline, the CIO of General Motors. When asked his top priority, Kline did not talk about security or network efficiency. “My top priority is helping GM sell cars,” he told the analyst.

For IT to build business, it must first build a new relationship with the business units. Tata Consultancy Service, for example, guides clients to make CIOs a part of the company’s core management group. One customer has added a business relationship manager to work in IT to bridge the gap between the techies and the business groups, says Harcharan Sing Rajpal, head of Tata’s IT application services for North America.

Within five years, that kind of cooperation won’t be optional, and McGee predicts that by 2016 compensation for IT mangers in Global 200 companies will be based, at least in part, on the amount of revenue driven by their departments.

The new IT in action: Applying analytics
It’s not coincidental that IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft have all made massive investments in BI, or business analytics [8], in the last few years, largely through a series of billion-dollar acquisitions. Oracle bought Hyperion [9] for $3.3 billion; SAP acquired Business Objects [10] for $6.8 billion; IBM bought Cognos [11] for $4.9 billion in 2007, paid $1.2 billion for SPSS [12] in 2009, and plunked down $1.7 billion for Netezza in September.

IBM, for one, is projecting is projecting $16 billion in business analytics and optimization revenue by 2015. To see why Big Blue is so bullish on the sector, consider Infinity Property and Casualty, or IPACC, a supplier of auto insurance with a network of more than 12,000 independent agents and revenue close to $1 billion. Large as it is, once IPACC weathered the worst of the recession, the company realized that it had to find significant efficiencies in the claims process, says senior vice president William Dibble.

A cornerstone of the cost-cutting effort is the use of new technologies, ranging from the simplicity of a cell phone camera to the complexity of advanced analytics software. Instead of sending an agent to take pictures of damaged autos, IPACC encourages its customers to photograph the wreck themselves, saving money and time.

Much more complex, though, is the task of quickly deciding which claims are probably not the fault of its policyholders. “We want to go after the low-hanging fruit first,” says Dibble. With the help of IBM software, IPACC developed an analytics application that sorts through incoming claims, looking for keywords and phrases like “parked” or “garage.” Claims with phrases that indicate the customer probably wasn’t at fault are fast-tracked, freeing up adjusters to deal with more complex cases.

Even more challenging is a still nascent effort to use an IBM analytics tool that prompts claims agents to ask the right question. For example, Dibble says, a client may mention that he’s miles from home after an accident. As the agent enters that fact, IBM SPSS Decision Management will prompt the logical question, “Would you like me to arrange a rental car?”

The really difficult part of the application is dealing with unstructured data, says Dibble. But the payoff could be substantial. “Unstructured data is the richest unmined vein,” says White, the Deloitte consultant. Indeed, finding ways to make use of unstructured data [13] is a key task as IT departments look for ways to leverage corporate data into cost savings or, better still, revenue-generating uses.

Better budgets will help IT transition to the “new normal”
If the recession that started some three years ago was a hurricane that blew away IT budgets, business is now living with calmer but still unsettled weather. Instead of cuts, increases of 2 or 3 percent are common now. But mundane “run the business” expenses are taking a backseat to initiatives, particularly around cloud computing [1], that will save money in the not-too-distant future, says Tata’s Sing Rajpal.

Sing Rajpal has probably never heard of Steve Davidek, but the Tata executive and the system administrator for the city of Sparks, Nev., are speaking the same language. Sparks, with a population of about 88,000, was hit hard by the recession, and when it came time to trim services, the IT department was in the cross-hairs, losing 6 of its 14 full-time employees.

During the very worst of the budget crunch, Davidek’s budget for new projects was zero, and it was all he could do to keep the city’s network up and running. Things are looking a little better now, and if the recession doesn’t go double-dip, he expects to launch projects that will modernize his infrastructure and keep costs down. “Running leaner is my new normal,” he says.

First on Davidek’s list is upgrading his 45-server data center: “We’re about half virtualized now, and it’s been a really positive experience.” He plans to virtualize more of it, and then initiate a desktop-virtualization project. One reason: His inventory of PCs is getting old, but rather than replace them, he may use them as clients. Or, if the money is there, he’ll buy thin client machines. Either way, he figures on significant savings.

Davidek knows that desktop virtualization [14] has not really taken off. But while his budgets were frozen, he made a point of being active in Connect, an independent user group for Hewlett-Packard customers, and says he’s gotten encouragement from other members to take the plunge. He even brought in a vendor to virtualize one PC as a test, and the results were excellent, he says.

Embracing the “bring your own tech” culture
Meanwhile, Davidek and other IT executives are also embroiled in a culture war over the use of personal technology (think smartphones and iPads [15]) and social networking in business, the “bring your own tech” movement [16]. “We want to hire a younger group of people used to using that kind of technology. We can’t be the roadblock,” he says.

In the old IT, where marketing would see a business opportunity and HR would see a way to hire younger, hipper employees, IT would see security threats and threats to job security. Larry Miller, who has headed IT for large retailers and legal firms, saw this conflict firsthand: “Our marketers wanted to use social networking [17] like Facebook and Twitter; IT was afraid of it.” Although Miller has been an IT hand for more than two decades, he comes down on the side of the new technology. “IT shouldn’t get in the way of business. It should build it,” he says.

Such “old IT” conservatism is being challenged from the top, says Cisco’s Sterns. “CEOs read about [new technology] in the inflight magazines. They hear that they can get results for an eighth the cost and they ask IT why they’re not doing it,” he says. Sterns was referring to cloud computing [1] (which is both a form of “bring your own tech” and a form of outsourcing), but the CEOs are of course bombarded with news about iPhones [18], Twitter, and the like and thus want to know why their companies are being left behind.

The acceptance of adopting new, consumer-oriented technologies and supporting the heterogeneity of “bring your own tech” [19] won’t happen over night, particularly at very large enterprises, but it’s a battle that “old IT” will lose in the long run.

The value of soft skills
Not everyone who succeeds in IT leadership will have a résumé like Intuit’s Lee — and hard-core technical skills remain critical in many positions. For example, “everyone wants to use virtualization [20],” says Sean Dowling, manger of recruiting for Winter Wyman, a technology contracting firm “Also at a premium are UI skills [21] and the ability to take mobile apps across hardware platforms,” he says.

But senior executives like Adam Rice, vice president of Managed Security Services for Tata Communications, says when he hires for high-level jobs he’s looking for the “soft skills” as well, such as risk management, compliance, and the intangible “business acumen.”

Intangible? Maybe, but Intuit CEO Smith explains how he wants his IT mangers to think: “When something goes wrong, the purely technical person tells management that the network was down for four minutes. But the business-oriented person says the network was down and 55,000 customers couldn’t reach us, and our call center was backed up for hours.” That’s the “new normal.”

This article, “The new IT survival guide: How to thrive after the recession [22]” was originally published by


How Job Seekers May Use Social Media in the Future

Back in the day, companies posted jobs in the newspaper, on job boards and spread them by word of mouth. All of those methods still exist today and continue to have a certain level of success.

But in today’s fast paced and competitive business market, companies are learning that using social media allows them to cast a wide net. And recruiting is no exception. So, if job seekers want new opportunities, they will eventually have to learn where companies are posting positions. Then follow.

If the future of recruiting is social, then job seekers need to get social. Read below for a look at some social media success strategies for conquering your next job search.

Add your own thoughts on how job seekers will use social media in the future in the comments below.

Going Where the Recruiters Are





To stay in the job search game, job seekers should make an effort to learn how companies in their desired industries are posting job openings, and then peruse those areas often. Ever more often, social media is playing a part in the recruiting process. So, job seekers, keep your eyes on your dream employer’s tweets, posts and updates.

Jason Mitchell, owner of Movement Strategy, a digital marketing agency that helps brands such as the New York Knicks and Whole Foods with their social media strategies, explains how social media is his first stop when trying to recruit:

“We have everyone in the company post on their FacebookFacebook and TwitterTwitter accounts that we are hiring. Pretty much every time we do this there are multiple friends or a friend of a friend who sees the post and is very interested in the position, or who knows someone that would be a great fit.

“We always prefer to hire people that are somehow connected to our personal networks, because they tend to be more reliably good employees than people who we find on job posting websites. Often this is because they had one of our friends vouch for them or they are one of their friends and so they want to prove themselves or not make their friend look bad.”

Another company that agrees with getting out on social media is the accounting firm, Grant ThorntonPaul Peterson, national talent resource manager, shares the company’s tactic. “One of our key strategies is simply to engage more. Our people are playing an active role in using social media for recruiting, which I think is fantastic. When everyone gets involved, it seems like we have hundreds of part-time recruiters working across the country,” he says.

Getting Better at Search

There are more than 200 active social networking sites, according to WikipediaWikipedia. That number might not seem very high, but from a job search perspective, that’s 200 places a company could share a job opening.Gina Kleinworth, social media coordinator at HireBetter, a talent assessment solutions company, says her firm “currently utilizes LinkedInLinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and SkypeSkype along with the usual job boards and groups, like Yahoo Groups, to post jobs and network with potential candidates. Since we work with clients in a variety of areas, it is incredibly beneficial to have a network that reaches well beyond our immediate circle.” She adds that as the firm grows, it might begin to leverage FoursquareFoursquareHabboHabboBeboBebo and Ning.

This means there’s a vast amount of information available. Job seekers will have to learn how to find the data they are looking for… and fast. While Boolean search (using phrases that limit search results, such as AND, OR, NOW and NEAR) is a very good technique to know, it might not be practical for everyone. If you need some help refining searches, check out the Search on the Go iPhone app and’s series of articles on web search, which can be of assistance. While the Search on the Go app is marketed to recruiters, anyone needing help with search can benefit from using it.

Use of Non-Traditional Resumes





Once a job opening is identified, having a ready-to-go resume will be key. It only seems logical, if more and more organizations are going online with their job openings, that having a digital resume will be equally important for job seekers. Not only does it make sending an online resume easier, a digital profile allows companies to find job seekers. So, optimizing online profiles for search will need to be part of the development.

Cathy Nemser, a recruiter with Blue Fountain Media, a website design and online marketing company, shares how recruiters are taking advantage of the various ways candidates can present themselves to employers. “We are able to get fuller pictures of candidates by searching not only for a candidate’s LinkedIn profile and online portfolios to learn about work history and accomplishments, but also by viewing Facebook accounts, personal blogs, and — if they even have them — YouTubeYouTube accounts, to get a feel for a candidate’s personality. It has become much easier to get a broader sense of an applicant and cross reference any information that they highlight on their resume.”

Enhancing a job seeker’s online presence with a VisualCV or social resume has its advantages but can also be a double-edged sword. Nemser cautions, “While you can create an in-depth portrait of yourself, you have to be very careful about the type of information you are sharing. Off-color comments and drunken party pictures of yourself may just be raising eyes out there instead of thumbs ups.”

Constant Engagement

Pamela Slim, author of the blog Escape from Cubicle Nation, talks about the concept of the side hustle. These are secondary jobs used to try new business ideas, or they’re the backup plan if a person loses their job. If the world becomes a place where everyone will be looking for multiple opportunities (a.k.a. their side hustle), this changes how individuals approach the job search. Traditionally, there used to be two kinds of job seekers: active (“I’m looking for a job.”) and passive (“If someone calls me, I’ll listen.”). In this opportunity economy, we all become active job seekers.

Mitchell’s company is focusing more on interacting with potential hires even before it’s actively hiring. “That way we can get a great sense of a person and build a relationship with them and then when we want to hire we will know exactly who to go after,” he says.

Carolyn Goodwin, president of Cake Communications, an online branding and communications agency, offers advice on how any of us can start building those relationships:

“Position yourself as an expert. Be really proactive about what you want and reach out to the decision makers at those companies with helpful suggestions and constructive information. Support their work, and if you impress them, they’ll find a spot for you. Use things like blogs, websites, and social media campaigns to show that you are someone who believes in a cause, and utilize the skills and traits that make you an attractive candidate. Don’t be afraid to send results and proof of your accomplishments to top executives, and work to develop a relationship with them, both online and offline.”

Going Mobile





We all know that we can use our phones to connect via LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Kleinworth mentioned that some of HireBetter’s clients are creating YouTube videos for their job descriptions. “I love this idea because it gives a good sense of the culture of the company before you even get your foot in the door for the face-to-face interview,” she says.

There’s a variety of job board apps available including Monster, CareerBuilder and Adecco Jobs. Companies like AT&T are developing their own mobile careers apps, as well. Organizations are using Skype to conduct interviews. And this week, Starbucks made its first hire via its iPhone app.

When the statistics show mobile use is on the rise and smartphone use is increasing, it’s only a matter of time before apps will allow us to take more of the hiring process online. Kleinworth points out, “It allows for real-time updates on positions and increased capabilities like scheduling interviews. As more people turn to social sites for the latest job postings, I expect to see an increase in referral candidates. The likelihood of someone seeing a posting that fits with a connection they already have is high. Already I see the decrease in the length of time it takes from the time we post jobs to the time we are scheduling interviews with candidates. Social media is certainly streamlining the processes and cutting lag time out.”

The future of work is very fluid. As such, companies and job seekers alike need to rise to the changes in recruiting, or they’ll drown in the sea of competition. New tools and updated strategies will help organizations fill positions quickly and with new employees who are a good fit for their corporate culture. Job seekers need to identify these new strategies and adapt their approach to take advantage of good opportunities.

Series supported by Gist





The Future of Social Media Series is supported by Gist. Gist keeps you better informed with less effort by giving you a full view of your professional network in one place bringing together information from across the web for all your contacts giving you the right information at the right moment to get a meeting, deliver an amazing pitch, or just find a better way to make a connection.


The Leadership Lessons of Ants

A few years back, I planned to build a networked digital library where theses from African universities could be stored. I wanted to find a way to make these contributions visible to the whole world. It was a hobby, not a job, and I took the time to personally craft it to my taste. The project took weeks, then months, and years. Finally, I gave up: no time.

Then, driving to New York for an IEEE Leadership Workshop, a few weeks ago, I stopped at a rest area in Connecticut. As I was resting, I noticed some ants in action. I observed that when one finds food, others immediately gathered to help pull the food to their storage. I decided to disturb the pattern, which unfortunately, resulted in wounding one. Quickly, they came together and evacuated it. Then they re-organized and continued on the line they had created. I saw no form of supervision, yet they were accomplishing tremendous tasks, such as moving pieces of food that were about 30 times their individual sizes.

As I watched them, the theses project flashed to my mind. Wouldn’t it be good to trust others to help you? Right there, I made the following decisions on the project:

The ants worked as a team: I will form a team, bringing professionals together.

The ants trusted one another: I must do away with the notion that only by working alone can I ensure quality.

The ants were open: I will share the idea with like-minded people. I later got a Boston area professor to lead the design. When ants discovered food, they informed others, who came along and helped.

The ants were partners and of different sizes: I will bring help and make the task our project, not mine. As much as possible, each team member will get assignment based on his capability.

The ants were diligent and focused: The team must keep working, even slowly. Deadlines will give us focus.

The ants regrouped: I will be open to try new ideas if present ones are not working.

It is about a month later now and the project is progressing well. We hope to launch it in November, from Ethiopia, the seat of the African Union.

Peter Miller has written that swarming animals, like ants, can teach us a lot about planning, military strategy, and business management. They make decisions as a group and depend on one another to survive. Samuel Haldeman had already observed that these small creatures live in unity, are hard-working, prudent and disciplined. It is no wonder the Biblical Solomon rebuked the lazy man: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

For small business owners, especially, there is a major lesson here. By engaging everyone in the organization, and trusting people, you will have more success. You must not think that only you can close the sales, install the products, and fine-tune the design all by yourself. Give others the opportunities to fail or succeed, and always ask for help. I have learnt to forward emails on the projects to others, instead of hoarding them for days. I also share project progress and challenges to all team members. The more people know where we are, the more they come up with solutions. You never know which member of your staff has information or networks that can unlock future growth opportunities unless you share and communicate with the team. It means understanding like my ancestors that “The ant-hills are not built by elephants, but by the collective efforts of the little rejected ants.”

About the Author

Ndubuisi Ekekwe is the founder of non-profit African Institution of Technology.

He recently edited Nanotechnology and Microelectronics: Global Diffusion, Economics and Policy.


Can’t Change Your Leader? Change How You Follow

  1. Research conducted worldwide shows that leadership contributes to 70% of corporate atmosphere, while corporate atmosphere contributes to 30% of corporate performance. Therefore, leadership can exert direct influence on 21% of corporate performance.
  2. In Chinese companies, 19.1% of the managers are found to be high-performance leaders, 9.8% inspiring leaders, 13.4% leaders who create no obvious value, and 57.7% leaders who actually discourage their employees. That is to say, 70% of the managers either don’t help or discourage their people.

The first conclusion reinforces that leadership does have a significant impact on organizational performance. But the second conclusion tells us that leadership development in Chinese companies really has a long way to go.

As a follower, we may not be able to change our leader’s style. But we can help solve the problem by adjusting our own work style. Based on my experience — meeting with two or three CEOs a week for the past five years — I have come to think of leaders as falling into one of three categories. Being able to categorize which type of leader I’m working with has helped me figure out how to work most effectively with them.

Sun-like leaders. The quintessential sun-like leader is an entrepreneur, one who takes the lead in everything, just as the sun illuminates everything. Their subordinates get close supervision. These hands-on leaders sometimes feel like if they’re not involved, they’ve lost control — as their follower, you need to be aware of this sense of insecurity. When working with such a leader, be sympathetic. Include him in work where he can demonstrate his ability — he wants to be useful, so give him something to do! Invite him to get involved — he will do so anyway, and bringing him in increases the odds that he’ll support your work. Make your own job easier by leveraging his experience and his insights with customers and others.

Moon-like leaders. The moon reflects the light of the sun; a moon-like leader reflects the light of his employees. He is more open-minded and trusting of his people. Only when you lose your way — just like someone walking a dark road at night — would he step forward to shed light on what he thinks you should do. This kind of leadership gives employees room for development. However, trust between the follower and the leader does require timely maintenance; when the leader does step forward, be willing to answer questions and open your project up for inspection.

Star-like leaders. Leaders of this type will only indicate a direction, like the North Star. Their teams, however, still need a light source, so star-like leaders need followers who can step up and light the way for others. Only those leaders with great wisdom have the confidence to be star-like. Their empowerment shows high recognition for your capabilities. This kind of leadership only works when the leader has built a capable team that can function with minimal supervision. As a follower to this kind of leader, you’ve got a great platform, but you have to demonstrate that you deserve the trust you’ve been given.

In reality, each of us is both leader and follower. As a leader, review your behaviors and words from the perspective of a follower; as a follower, ask yourself how you can work more effectively with your leaders. Imposing high standards in both roles will improve performance for all.

About the Author


Li Xin Bai is a Senior Strategy Consultant for IBM in China.