Steven's Blog

Conversation with AIG Japan Holdings K.K. CEO, Robert Noddin

I conducted an on-stage conversation with AIG Japan CEO Bob Noddin yesterday. This was an American Chamber of Commerce in Japan luncheon event, held at the posh Tokyo American Club. About one-hundred people attended, and everyone got a free copy of my new book!

Robert Noddin and Steven Bleistein

While this event was off-the-record, allow me to elaborate on what my personal takeaways are from the provocative conversation with Bob Noddin. Continue reading


Process, Not People

The key to rapid culture change in any organization is process, not people. First focus on changing processes. Attention to people comes later.

For example, in working with a leadership that was having difficulty in coming to consensus and making decisions in a timely manner, I asked them to try a process I had developed. Unconvinced, they humored me and gave it a try. As a result, they worked through a list of seventeen strategic issues requiring decisions in two hours. Previous efforts had taken weeks with no result. The CEO and many of the managers had ascribed cause to cultural and communication issues, or otherwise to personalities of certain individuals in the group. Yet simply changing processes fixed most issues right away.

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Presume the Best in People: The Gains Far Exceed the Losses

Recently, when traveling first class on the Shinkansen (the Green Car), I noticed that conductors no longer check passengers tickets. It used to be that uniformed conductor, often female, would first distribute complimentary disposable wet towels to new passengers who had just boarded, noting their seat numbers, and then some minutes later return to the same seats to inspect tickets. Now they just distribute towels. No one checks the tickets. Continue reading


The Fallacy of the Buy-In Imperative

Staff involvement in decision-making is useful means of ensuring buy-in and achieving success, as long as staff involvement does not entail abdication of your role as a leader. Not all staff involvement is good, and buy-in is not always imperative for success. Some decision are best taken unilaterally, and some changes are best imposed despite objections. Continue reading


Secret to Persuasive Strategy: To Persuade Others that you’re Right, Talk about why you might be Wrong

All senior level executives and managers are asked to develop and present a strategy, whether global, regional, or simply for a domain that they oversee. Many create long slide presentations with lots of data to justify why the strategy is right, and feel they need to persuade others and convince them. Their arguments provide support for their conclusion. However, the most effective way to persuade others that your strategy is right, is to talk about all the reason it might be wrong.

All strategies are based on assumptions, whether explicitly stated or not. For example, “This course of action is based on the assumption that are only three major competitor brands in the Japan market.” What could possibly go wrong?

Every strategic assumption’s mirror image is a risk, and can be restated as such. For example, “The risk is that brand X, which has been ignoring the Japan market up to now, decides to enter.” How do you handle risk? You can take action to prevent the risk from realizing, and you can plan contingent action should the risk be realized.

While it may seem detracting from the persuasiveness of your strategy to talk about everything that might go wrong, the reality is the opposite. If you can explicitly enumerate assumptions, restate them as risks, say when you will be able to validate whether or not each assumptions pans out, and talk about your preventative actions and contingencies plans, you will be come off as highly convincing. You will have demonstrated that you have thought your strategy through, and are prepared to safeguard the business when things go awry–and things always go awry.

Strategy, its management, and its execution are just as much about process as content. If you can demonstrate that you have sound processes for these, the specific content of the strategy matters less. You show yourself as someone who is in control because of strength in strategic process capability, not just brilliance in strategic content development.


Pride and Confidence

The goal of every business is to create a customer, and its mission is to contribute to the society in which it serves. This is not about CSR or charity. Every successful business does something to make people’s lives better in some way.

As a leader, you want your staff to take pride in what they do, and have confidence in their talent and expertise. We often default to relying on hitting targets, big wins, quarterly results, etc. to boost people’s confidence and give them a sense of pride of accomplishment. However, this rarely endures the inevitable ups and downs of business, and can often ring on an individual level.

If you want to boost pride and confidence, ask your people to think of all the people they helped in some way during the day before going to sleep. This is applicable to any individual in any role in an organization, including yours. Who have you helped today in some way? Today, I helped you.


The Productivity of Doing Nothing

The best way to achieve rapid progress in your professional is to regularly schedule doing nothing. Management is primarily brain work as opposed to hands-on manual labor. The higher the level of the manager, the more significant the brain work becomes. We advance our businesses by the power of our ideas and innovation. One good idea can eliminate countless fruitless meetings, unnecessarily lengthy processes, rapid growth in profit, or an improved capability of staff. Ideas are not the product of brute force labor, but rather emptying of one’s mind. The best ideas come not so much when when are grinding away at our work, but rather when we are idle.

As managers, we need to be idle with regularity at our best all the time. We cannot improve and succeed if we try to cram every waking hour with work, filling our minds with so much as to crowd out any possibility of new ideas. The most important part of our work ironically is not to work.

Put idleness into your schedule, even during business hours. Yes, that’s right–in the middle of the work day. Take yourself for a walk. Go to an art museum. Sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch people. Clear your mind to make room for new ideas. What is it that you observe? How does what you observe relate to your business and to your life? You may find that while you think your mind is relaxing and idle, after you return to whatever you are working on, suddenly a new approach is clear to you. We may make ourselves idle, but our minds never stop working on our challenges even without our knowing.

My most successful clients schedule idleness into their work without compunction or guilt. They make it habit. In fact, the most successful managers I know work the fewest hours. You can too as long as you have the courage to do so.