Communities of Practice


One of the most successful uses of the Internet has been the emergence of informal knowledge communities or a community of interest. It is an environment usually outside of conventional organizational structures, where people can converse with each other about the common problems they face in their workplace or in their professional life, a common passion for some subject or a common mission. Most communities of practice are contained within a single organization but sometimes they cross institutional boundaries.

A community of practice does not necessarily have to be transacted solely on the Internet and in fact the most successful ones almost always have a face-to-face meeting component to them. As good a tool as the Internet is, it can never replace the intimacy and fullness of communication of face-to-face meetings of individuals. The importance of the internet to a community of practice js that it provides a link beyond the times when people can physically meet and hence sustains the group. It also permits a community of practice to develop among people who are not co-located.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

21st Century Competition


The fundamental nature of competition in many of the world’s industries is changing. The pace of this change is relentless and increasing. Even determining the boundaries of an industry has become challenging. The companies compete not only among themselves, but also with companies in other sectors. The pace of change among once-stable phone companies is as relentless as it is in the “traditional” grocery industry.

Still other characteristics of the 21st century competition are noteworthy. Conventional sources of competitive advantage such as economies of scale and huge advertising budgets, are not as effective in the 21st century competition.

The traditional managerial mindset cannot lead a firm to strategic competitiveness in the competitive landscape. In its place, managers must adopt a new mindset—one that values flexibility, speed, innovation, integration, and the challenges that evolve from constantly changing conditions. The conditions of the competition result in a perilous business world, one where investments required to compete on a global scale are enormous and the consequences of failure are severe.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Seeking Specialized Knowledge


For generations, most people never sought specialized knowledge after completing school. What they learned about business, managing, selling, or their profession was acquired on an accidental hit-or-miss basis.

Now that’s changed. Today there are seminars, workshops, short courses, and conferences where you can learn the latest techniques and knowledge about anything you need to know. These sources of specialized knowledge have three advantages over conventional education. They are taught by experts, not be people whose only qualification is a degree. Second, the subject matter relates directly to your needs. Irrelevant information is avoided. And third, you’ll acquire as much useful information from other attendees as you do from the instructors. Specialized learning meetings attract only sharp people eager to make more money and enjoy greater success.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Know your Customer


The conventional wisdom for product design and marketing says pay attention to the customers. Learn as much as you can about their needs and wants and then design the product on the basis of information. The customer is then part of you R&D department.

But the customer can be crucial to your R&D in a totally different and often overlooked way. You can learn a great deal by watching how your customers misuse and abuse your product after they buy it. Major breakthroughs in new products and innovative product redesigns have come from watching the customer “trash” the original intent and use a product in a totally different way.

By paying attention to how customers actually use, misuse, and abuse products, you’ll have the world’s largest R&D team and an endless supply of ideas with which to work.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

Accrual Accounting and Cashflow


Before the end of World War 1 most managers kept track of cash out and cash in. many senior citizen owner-managers still do today. There is an inherent problem in keeping the records that way, however, if the business offers and receives much credit. Doing business on credit displaces the time of the exchange of cash from the exchange of goods and services. Sometimes very little cash comes in during a particular month and very much cash comes in during other months. The same is true of cash out.

Keeping in track of what you pay or get paid for credit transactions causes the monthly reports describing the operations to fluctuate from month to month even though the goods and services flowing in and out of the business may be very much the same. About 1920 the accounting profession began placing emphasis on the accrual method of accounting to overcome this difficulty.

The accrual method portrays the smoothed-out profit as if all the transactions had been for cash and as if the business had purchased only exactly what was needed to make the sale. It is not an accurate portrayal of everything going on in the business, but it is a good approximation of the net effect of those things that affect profit. The problem is that so much emphasis has been placed on the accrual method income statement and balance sheet that the importance of cash has been regulated to virtual obscurity.

Even this result is satisfactory when the reports are describing large businesses with access to external financing through the stock market, commercial paper, and bank loans at the prime interest rate. But companies that do not have access to these external sources of financing have a different problem. For them, the flow of cash through the business means life or death, whether the accrual based profit is great or terrible. When new or small businesses need cash they must turn to the bank, the banker will look to the personal savings and assets of the owner-manager for collateral.

Accountants have not forgotten nor overlooked the importance of cash. They recognize the need for cash in sufficient quantity to keep the business operating. For their purposes, however, they often infer the cash available to the business from the income statements and describe future cash availability with the balance sheets. They, and others, frequently describe it as: cash flow equals net profit after taxes plus depreciation and other noncash expenses, such as amortization.

This statement is incorrect except under some very stringent preconditions that rarely exist in practice for a small business. This statement is an approximation that is valid for large and stable businesses in which changes from year to year are small and the statements from which the cash flow is inferred are annual reports. For a small and new business looking at monthly financial reports this approximation is inadequate. In a small, growing business the net cash flow to the firm’s bank account does not equal the net profit plus depreciation. Profit is not cash nor is it cash flow.

Although this pronouncement may be unconventional, entrepreneurs are realistic. Successful entrepreneurs ask how it really works and then get on with building their business. In the conventional approach the analysts, having inferred cash flow from profit, depreciation, and amortization, stop there, allowing their readers to assume that the resulting cash is in the bank wiating to be spent.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Change when you don’t have to


Most organizations don’t change until they have to. They wait until things are going poorly and then desperately try to find a quick fix, changing strategies, products, services—anything to try to catch up. The problem is that you don’t think clearly with a gun at your head. The poor decision making, lack of innovation, and low morale characteristic of organizations playing catch-up create a vicious cycle that keeps them significantly behind.

Innovative thinking and the resulting quality and service so necessary today don’t come from a struggling organization that’s “gotta” make some changes fast to keep its head above water.

The best time to change is when you don’t have to. Initiating change when you are out front will keep you there. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the best time for pioneering and innovation is when you are on top. Confidence is high.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Managers are not just Leaders in Waiting


Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” Conventional wisdom is proud of maxims like this. It uses them to encourage managers to label themselves “leaders.” It casts the manager as the dependable plodder, while the leader is the sophisticated executive, scanning the horizon, strategizing. Since most people would rather be a sophisticated exective than a dependable plodder, this advice seems positive and developmental. It isn’t: it demeans the manager role but doesn’t succeed in doing much else. The difference between a manager and a leader is much more profound than most people think. The company that overlooks this difference will suffer for it.

 The most important difference between a great manager and a great leader is one of focus. Great managers look inward. They look inside the company, into each individual, into the differences in style, goals, needs, and motivation of each person. These differences are small, subtle, but great managers need to pay attention to them. These subtle differences guide them toward the right way to release each person’s unique talents into performance.

 Great leaders, by contrast, look outward. They look out at the competition, out at the future, out at alternative routes forward. They focus on broad patterns, finding connections, cracks, and then press home their advantage where the resistance is weakest. They must be visionaries, strategic thinkers, and activators. When played well, this is, without doubt, a critical role. But it doesn’t have much to do with the challenge of turning one individual’s talents into performance.

 Great managers are not mini-executives waiting for leadership to be thurst upon them. Great leaders are not simply managers who have developed sophistication. The core activities of a manager and a leader are simply different. It is entirely possible for a person to be a brilliant manager and a terrible leader. But it is just as possible for a person to excel as a leader and fail as manager. And, of course, a few exceptionally ralented individuals excel at both.

 If companies confuse the two roles by expecting every manager to be a leader, or if they define “leader” as simply a more advanced form of “manager,” then the all-important “catalyst” role will soon be undervalued, poorly understood, and poorly played. Gradually the company will fall apart.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Study Your Best


If you want to be sure that you have started with the right three talents, study your best in the role. This may sound obvious, but beware: conventional wisdom would advise the opposite.

Conventional wisdom asserts that good is the opposite of bad, that if you want to understand excellence, you should investigate failure and then invert it. In society at large, we define good health as the absence of disease. In the working world, the fascination with pathology is just as pervasive. Managers are far more articulate about service failure than they are about service success, and many still define excellence as “zero defects.”

When it comes to understanding talent, this focus on pathology has caused many managers to completely misdiagnose what it takes to excel in a particular role. For example, many managers think that because bad salespeople suffer from call reluctance, great salespeople must not; or that because bad waiters are too opinionated, great waiters must keep their opinions in check.

Reject this focus on pathology. You cannot infer excellence from studying failure and then inverting it. Why? Because excellence and failure are often surprisingly similar. Average is the anomaly.

For example, by studying the best salespeople, great managers have learned that the best, just like the worst, suffer call reluctance. Apparantly the best salesperson, as with the worst, feels as if invested in the sale that causes him to be so persuasive. But it also causes him to take rejection personally—every time he makes a sales call he feels the shiver of fear that someone will say no to him, to him.

The difference between greatness and failure in sales is that the great salesperson is not paralyzed by this fear. He is blessed with another talent, the relating talent of confrontation, that enables him to derive immense satisfaction from sparring with the prospect and overcoming resistance. Everyday he feels call reluctance, but this talent for confrontation pulls him through it. His love of sparring outweighs his fear of personal rejection.

Lacking this talent for confrontation, the bad salesperson simply feels the fear.

The average salesperson feels nothing. He woodenly follows the six-step approach he has been taught and hopes for the best.

By studying their best, great managers are able to overturn many similarly long-standing misconceptions. For example, they know that the best waiters, just like the worst, form strong opinions. The difference between the best and the worst is that the best waiters use their quickly formed opinions to tailor their style to each particular table of customers, whereas the worst are just rude—average waiters form no opinions and so give every table the same dronning spiel.

And the best . . . .

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Writing a Resume Letter


The Resume Letter is not a true cover letter—that is, a letter of transmittal for your employment resume. Instead, it is intended to replace the resume and to convey sufficient information about your background to create employer interest in interviewing you.

In general, it is usually a poor substitute for the resume itself, and thus can frequently do the job seeker a great injustice if not properly designed. Specifically, if it is poorly planned and written, it does not provide sufficient information (when compared to the resume) for the employer to make a reasonable assessment of the applicant’s qualifications and for deciding whether to grant an interview. Additionally, it may frustrate the prospective employer by not providing sufficient detail, suggesting that the applicant is simply too lazy to prepare a proper summary of qualifications. Neither of these reactions will serve your cause very well.

It appears that the most frequent use of the resume letter is by top level corporate executives who wish simply to convey their availability and conduct a very cursory search of the job market. Generally, such letters are directed at the highest level of the target organization and are intended to convey availability and general interest in discussing appropriate opportunities. The typical logic supporting such letters is that the applicant’s current position and employer “speak for themselves,” and thus there is little need for a detailed resume.

Although this can be true, it is not typically the case. Obviously, if the individual is a top corporate or division-level officer of a Fortune 200 company, use of a resume letter may be sufficient. Sufficient is to say, however, that if the applicant is the Chief Financial Officer of a little known company, the resume letter will not have quite the same effect, and its use may seem somewhat presumptuous (if used in a place of a formal resume). In such a case, a full resume and a conventional cover letter is recommended.

The use of the resume letter by lesser known top executives, middle managers, and professionals is not recommended. Since employer’s name and position title convey little information to the reader in such cases, much more needs to be written to convey the same understanding about the author’s background and responsibilities. The damage here, of course, is that the letter will become unwieldy and will therefore not be read by its recipient.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

What Great Managers Know


Conventional wisdom encourages you to think . People’s natures do change, it whispers. Anyone can be anything they want to be if they just try hard enough. Indeed, as a manager it is your duty to direct those changes. Devise rules and policies to control your employees’ unruly inclinations. Teach them skills and competencies to fill in the traits they lack. All of your best efforts as a manager should focus on either muzzling or correcting what nature saw fit to provide.

 Great managers reject this out of hand. They remember what the frog forgot: that each individual is true to his unique nature. They recognize that each person is motivated differently, that each person has his own way of thinking and his own style of relating to others. They know that there is a limit to how much remolding they can do to someone. But they don’t bemoan these differences and try to grind them down. Instead they capitalize on them. They try to help each person become more and more of who he already is.

Simply put, this is the one insight echoed by tens of thousands of great managers:

  • People don’t change that much
  • Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out
  • Try to draw out what was left in
  • That is hard enough.

This insight is the source of their wisdom. It explains everything they do with and for their people. It is the foundation of their success as managers.

This insight is revolutionary. It explains why great managers do not believe that everyone has unlimited potential; why they do not help people fix their weaknesses; why they insist on breaking the “Golden Rule” with every single employee; and why they play favorites. It explains why great managers break all the rules of conventional wisdom.

Simply though it may sound, this is a complex and subtle insight. If you applied it without sophistication, you could quickly find yourself suggesting that managers should ignore people’s weaknesses and that all training is a complete waste of time. Neither is true. Like all revolutionary messages, this particular insight requires explanation.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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