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Daily Archives: July 16th, 2012


by Frank Partnoy | 8:00 AM July 13, 2012

Speed is killing our decisions. The crush of technology forces us to snap react. We blink, when we should think. E-mail, social media, and 24-hour news are relentless. Our time cycle gets faster every day.

Yet as our decision-making accelerates, long-term strategy becomes even more crucial. Those of us who find time to step back and think about the big picture, even for a few minutes, have a major advantage. If every one else moves too quickly, we can win by going slow.

No one understood the challenge of time-pressured decision-making better than military strategist John Boyd, arguably the greatest fighter pilot in American history. Boyd developed a decision-making framework that our best leaders use today, in military and in business. It is known by the acronym OODA, for observe, orient, decide, and act.

As a pilot, Boyd advocated lightweight, maneuverable aircraft. He helped design the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which could be used like a switchblade in a knife fight. A pilot could pump the control stick back and forth, force the adversary to overshoot, and then flick through buttonhook turns to gain a tactical advantage. Boyd could outmaneuver his opponent — not by acting first, but by waiting for his opponent to act first.

Boyd saw these pilot tactics as a metaphor for longer-term strategy. What matters in battle, he said, is not merely speed. He developed a time-based theory of conflict, derived from Sun Tzu, in which the crucial insights for a fighter come in four stages. First, observe the rapidly changing environment; second, orient yourself based on these observations, process the disorder, and understand when and how your opponent might become confused; third, decide what to do; and finally, act at just the right moment, when your opponent is most vulnerable. Boyd spoke of operating “inside” your adversary’s time cycle: once your opponent moves, gauge his degree of overreaction or underreaction and swoop in accordingly.

The ultimate goal of OODA is to act fast, but not necessarily first. This applies to lots of things beside armed conflict. In general, we make better decisions when we minimize the time it takes to decide and act — so that we can spend more time observing and orienting.

Consider professional athletes. Because a pro baseball or tennis player has only half a second to hit the ball, it might seem like the key to success would be going faster. But high-speed studies show that professionals are better than the rest of us because they start their swings later. They wait a few extra milliseconds, so they can take in more information about the speed and trajectory of the ball, then orient themselves in order to make an ideal swing.

The same applies in business. The faster we can execute a decision, the more time we free up to understand the task, gather information, and analyze the issues. If we require too much time to decide or act, we are forced to finish observing and orienting earlier. And if we act too quickly, we might respond to a problem that changes or even goes away before the deadline. The four-step OODA framework works for decisions of all types, small and large:

1. Observe

The first step of any good decision is to take in information. What are opponents doing? How are they superior or weaker? Are there relative drawbacks to your product or service?

This first step is the easiest one to ignore under time pressure. But it is the anchor to good decision-making. Great leaders assess how the winds are changing before they set sail.

So the first step is simple: what do you see?

2. Orient

Once you have gathered the relevant information, the next step is to process it and position yourself for a decision. Orientation means becoming aware of the implications of what you are seeing. How important are particular strengths and weaknesses? Where is the open water?

The second step also gets lost when time is tight. Yet without a proper orientation, a business will head off in the wrong direction.

3. Decide

Finally, once a manager has gathered information and understands the key questions (who, what, when, and where), it is time to make a choice. Notice that this step is distinct from action. It is purely mental, the moment before implementation.

For the third step, it is important to make a confident, firm move. This decision is not the first — nor will it be the last. There will be time to adjust later. Remember, the enemy is watching.

4. Act

Finally, every businessperson understands the importance of execution. Once a decision has been made, it should be implemented in the most efficient, straightforward manner. Don’t look back.

The fourth step is not the final one. Once it is complete, go back to step one: observe. Don’t second-guess. Instead, assess. How quickly do you need to change your product cycle? Are your customers changing? What information do you need? Ask these questions, and then look. As a pilot, Boyd would constantly adjust his speed and tactics, cycling through the “OODA Loop” to refine his plans, confuse his opponent, and maintain superiority.

Boyd, like the most successful business decision makers, outgunned his competition because he was so good at managing delay. He got fast in order to go slow. He used time, instead of letting time use him.

Misleading title, but interesting article

Amy Winehouse.

Amy Winehouse.

Has anyone noticed that we’re only kind to addicts when they’re dead?

In the press reports about singer Amy Winehouse before her death a year ago, there’s a meticulous documentation of every foot she put wrong. Each lurch or stagger – snap! – someone was ready to record it. Even her ‘pot belly’– in reality, a teensy bump visible above low slung jeans as she left a London restaurant – created spiteful headlines.

But flash forward to the days after her death a year ago and it’s all warm tributes and mourning the loss of her talent. The same public mood swing followed Whitney Houston’s death in February. After years of condemnation disguised as newsgathering (‘Whitney Houston leaves club stumbling and bleeding’; ‘Whitney Houston will always love crack,’), there was the same outpouring of sorrow when she died. So why can’t we show the same compassion for drug dependent people when they’re alive?

Because we’re still stuck in the idea that people bring addiction on themselves, says psychiatrist Dr Glenys Dore, clinical director of the Northern Sydney Drug and Alcohol Service.

“The perception is that it’s all about lack of self control. Yet no one sets out to become addicted. Every patient has said to me ‘I never imagined this could happen’,” says Dore who’s worked in addiction medicine for over 20 years.

To understand why quitting drugs isn’t as simple as pulling yourself together, we need more education on the biology of addiction. Drug use might start out as personal choice but once dependence develops, there are changes in the brain that amp up the drive to use and override willpower.

Let’s start with the brain’s reward system. To make sure humans survive, nature has wired us to feel pleasure when we do things like eating or reproducing that are essential to our species’ survival. The trouble with alcohol or drugs like cocaine, heroin and cannabis is that they can excite the brain even more than sex, says Dore. That’s why the priorities in the brain change so that the drive to have the drug eclipses the drive to eat.

“On top of that, the brain becomes more reactive to stress so people become less able to deal with pressure – and are driven to use a drug more as a result. The more problems mount up, the more people feel driven to use the drug.”

This explains what the rest of us don’t get – why people continue using or drinking even when the fallout from their habit is destroying their lives.

Drug dependence is a complex mix of biology and environment, according to Dore who says there are genetic differences that can influence our susceptibility, including how we respond to a particular drug.

“If I have three or four drinks I get a headache and feel nauseous so I’ve got inbuilt protection against drinking too much, but we find that people who get into trouble with alcohol don’t get the same cues that they’ve gone too far,” she says. “It’s similar with other drugs – one person can smoke cannabis and have a panic attack and never touch it again, while others feel relaxed and more sociable.”

Having anxiety or other mental health problems can also make you more vulnerable and although the ‘addictive personality’ is a myth, personality traits like being very impulsive or a risk taker can make some of us easier targets for addiction, Dore says.

You can’t shame someone out of a drug or alcohol habit because stigma only makes things worse. Just as telling people they’re fat doesn’t make them thin, calling people junkies doesn’t make them clean.

“The shame generated by stigma is a critical part of addiction. Not only can it act as a barrier to getting help, but hurtful reactions from other people can drive more drug use. I say to medical students ‘you should treat people with addictions just as you would any other patient – or as you’d like your own family members or yourself to be treated,’ ” she adds.

“We need to see symptoms of drug addiction not just as bad behaviour but as a health problem – if Amy Winehouse’s symptoms had been caused by epilepsy, we’d be more sympathetic.

“There’s also a huge paradox in the way we promote food, alcohol and gambling in our society – yet when someone develops a problem with any of these things they become vilified.”

Creativity – How to foster not hinder.

via Creativity – How to foster not hinder.

July 16, 2012

Rania Spooner

The Australian oil and gas sector needs about 90,000 additional workers over the next four years, according to the federal government.Energy-producing nations, including Australia, are competing fiercely for scarce labour. Photo: Bloomberg

AS HE pushes into his mid-60s, no one – least of all employers – could admonish Rob Anderson for some well-earned golfing or a caravan-mounted souvenir spoon collection. But instead of spending his days out on the links, the oil and gas veteran – a fixture on the scene for 40 years – opted to keep working full time on an offshore project in Papua New Guinea.

He still receives several job offers each week, as employers fight to keep his generation in the industry, prolonging an almost inevitable generational gap in experienced, skilled workers.

The Australian oil and gas sector needs about 90,000 additional workers over the next four years, according to the federal government.

The bolstered labour force would be needed to build and maintain seven big, additional liquefied natural gas projects worth more than $290 billion in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

And LNG is just one piece of the broader, growing Australian energy landscape.

To find those skilled workers, hungry gas-producing nations are competing fiercely for scarce labour and – according to global recruiters and academics – increasingly looking to people well into the usual retirement age, offering them big incentives to stay in the game.

In fact, demand for geologists, engineers, project managers and senior designers is at an all-time high, according to, the largest online energy job board in the world.

Australian universities and TAFEs produce about 9500 engineering graduates each year, compared with annual national demand of as high as 20,000 a year, according to the results of a Senate inquiry into engineering skills shortages released last Thursday.

And Australia must compete globally to retain these scarce graduates, with skills shortages being felt world-wide. figures show vacancies for engineers have increased by 71 per cent globally in the past year, while oil and gas job advertisements on the Australian site increased by a staggering 94 per cent.

”The demand that is there for oil and gas production globally outstrips the skills – and it’s as simple as that,” managing director Mark Guest said.

”The skills are retiring out of the industry and the only way you can stop them retiring is to increase their incentives to stay, which is usually financial, which pushes the whole cost base of the industry up.”

Curtin University department of petroleum engineering head Brian Evans said he knew of people still working in the industry past the age of 70, even though they could have retired more than comfortably at 50.

”I see many of the people who would normally retire take their superannuation and become consultants back in the industry,” Professor Evans said. ”Not every day of the week, though, they’re keeping one or two days open for their golf.”

Mr Guest said employers were left with little choice other than to lure back retirees because of the scarcity of the next generation of workers, who should be there to replace the skilled seniors now reaching their 60s and 70s.

It’s a global phenomenon known as ”the big crew change” and although it has been a concern for the oil and gas industry for more than 10 years, the effects of this generational gap are expected to be fully felt in the next five years as Mr Anderson’s generation goes into permanent retirement.

Mr Guest said hiring and training contractions had come in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when the price of oil dropped to $US10 ($A9.70) a barrel and made many projects unviable.

”In most cases, it was costing more than $US10 to just take it out of the ground,” he said. ”If you’re in that situation, you’re not going to invest in new installations or in production, and if the industry isn’t producing, skills aren’t required so people didn’t enter the industry, they went into other careers and that’s why you’ve got this big flat spot – the big crew change. There’s nobody there.”

Although Australia offers competitive salaries, the higher cost of living in Perth, for example, compared with Canada, the US and parts of Europe can work against employers seeking to lure or retain workers in Australia, Professor Evans said.

”The average 10-year-qualified petroleum engineering person in Perth is on about $250,000,” he said. ”And that’s the average, that’s nothing fancy; I know some of them are up around $300,000. But they’re not that impressed because it costs so much more to live in Perth than it does in the US.”

There has been a 50 per cent increase in the uptake for Curtin’s four-year petroleum engineering undergraduate program in the two years since the program was created, according to Professor Evans, but the numbers are still relatively low.

About 25 students enrolled in 2010; nearly 50 in 2012; and the demand for all of them from oil and gas graduate programs remained high.

”All of my present fourth-year students have got jobs,” Professor Evans said.

”All have job offers before even taking their final semester – they’re across the board with Chevron, Woodside, Halliburton and the service industry – the whole range of the industry.”

Professor Evans’ graduate students tend to start on $80,000 but could be bumped up by $30,000 within six months and could look forward to a salary of $160,000 by their second year out of university.

But these graduates would need years of on-the-job experience working with seasoned industry professionals before they could start to fill senior roles.

It is these seasoned industry professionals who are now considering retirement.

Mr Guest believes senior workers need to be imported. These workers would help train up the next generation of skilled Australian graduates.

He admits this would not be music to the ears of Western Australia’s unions, which have already campaigned hard against foreign labour on resource projects.

”But if you don’t bring these people in now, it won’t just be senior people you’ll have to bring in, it will be graduates from other countries as well,” he said.

”And I think that’s where your unions will be challenging it a bit more than they are now.

”If you don’t have the local talent, then it’s inevitable, because other countries are developing these people.”

The Senate inquiry’s findings suggest employers are of the same view as Mr Guest, with employee-sponsored 457 visas for engineers more than doubling in seven years to nearly 7000 in the 2010-11 financial year.

Mr Anderson said he had watched some of his counterparts retire, but many his age still worked full time.

”I’ve thought about it but I don’t think there are many people who have gotten so much enjoyment out of their work for 40 odd years,” he said.

”If companies took a long-term view, they could have been training them and keeping them multiskilled and then they are more useful when the upturn comes, because the upturn will always come.”

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July 16, 2012

Alice Hogg

WHEN security guard Craig Symes told his manager to ”get f—ed” his employers felt they had strong grounds to sack him.

But the company, Linfox Armaguard, has instead found its policies on swearing at work have come under scrutiny.

In one of several cases of workers challenging their dismissal over the use of four-letter words, Mr Symes was reinstated last month because Fair Work Australia found bad language was commonly used in the guard’s Brisbane workplace.

The assistant secretary for the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers Union, Scott Connolly, said Mr Symes felt his employer had shown a double standard. ”He felt uncomfortable and that there was a level of, from his perspective, victimisation in how he was treated in the workplace,” he said.

A Melbourne lawyer, Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou, said employers needed to prove that their policies did not tolerate swearing in the workplace, and educate their staff about this.

”If someone says, ‘Eff off’, and a manager says, ‘Do not say that again. I consider that to be serious misconduct and you might be dismissed if you say it again’, and the person says it again, then that’s a breach of a reasonable and lawful direction, and that’s when it’s a potentially sackable offence.”

But unionists say swearing can be used as an excuse to sack workers.

The Mackay depot of freight company Toll NQX introduced a three-strike swearing policy: workers receive a written warning each time they swear at work and after three warnings they will be fired.

Mr Connolly says he doesn’t think it is impossible to eliminate swearing from all workplaces, but he says employers need to be consistent in their approach to it.

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