Genetically Modified Thinking

I came accross an article recently which helped to catalyse some thinking for me around the concept of Biomimcry, but also lateral vs verticle thinking. Those of you that know me will also know that I have a penchant for Lateral Thinking (De Bono Stylin’) and that I can’t stand seeing organisations/people/companies divert and focus their thinking Vertically when they are simply not ready for it. Bad ideas, bad logic and wasted resources occur when people choose not to invest a simple hour or two in some good, lateral thinking.

Anyways, in the article, it spoke of the current growth of the worlds largest (don’t quote me on that) Genetically Modified Organism (and crops) company, Monsanto’s. It discussed how the company had gone from a stock price of $US8 in 2002, to the current price of $US104.84 in December this year. Thats a 1000x return on your money. It has a PE ratio of 58.6, about two points higher than google, the naughties market darling.


The interesting thing about the company, is that it sells GMO crops (mainly commodity crops such as corn, soya beans, cotton and canola) that don’t end up on your table directly because of the large (predominatly bad) PR against GM crops. Instead, they sell commodity crops which are further down the value chain, and so don’t directly end up on the kitchen table for dinner.

What’s interesting about all this, is that GMO crops are simply the next verticle step in a long history of verticle thinking which has taken place in the farming and food procution industry. What started as a simply way for one person to reduce the amount of time they spent hunting for food, has now turned into a highly complex, intensly logistical, process that feeds the population of whole countries. And yet, our farming techniques have been delivering diminishing returns for some time now, as soil quality and reliance on chemical growth addititives kill off any ‘natural’ growth which may occur. Essentially, we are now pumping 4000 Kilojules of petro-chemical energy into our crops to produce only 1000 Kilojules worth of food energy (Biomimicry, Benyus) to the permanent detriment of the soil.

So my question is….at what stage do we stop and smell the crop paddocks? To become a more sustainable economy we must find a way to reduce our dependance on fossil fuel. With our current line of thinking in the agriculture industry, our verticle thinking, we seem only determined to continuously improve our chemical mix to kill the new strand of ‘super-bug.’ I say, lets have some lateral thinking about what a new crop production method might look like… 

Guus Hiddink, total football and innovative teams

Well, Guss Hiddink has done it again. Can you believe it? This man (read, marvel) has yet again taken an underdog team,  hopelessly under-achieving on the world stage, turned it around through a solid foundation of expectations and playing methods and then successfully cajoled them into high-performance mode to be 2 wins away from lifting the Euro08 Cup. The man is amazing, and anyone who remembers of the Socceroo’s 2006 World Cup campaign, as well as the success of the South Koreans in 2002 will know just how incredible this mans achievements are. But what makes him such a good coach?

How could you not love this man?

Surely, it can’t be his tactics. There are many great coaches about, all have their own bag of tricks but sooner or later those tricks get found out. Guus has been leading underdogs towards immense success for the best part of 15-20 years now…all in highly varied cultures (Netherlands, South Korea, Australia, now Russia). The answer, as I believe it, is a methodology of coaching known simply as ‘Total Football.’

Total Football was created by the Dutch, who used the system to devastating effect in European club and international matches through-out the 1970’s and 80’s, teams in which Guus was involved. Essentially, Total Football is a way of playing that allows for each player on the pitch to cover for another player where-ever he moves. Essentially, all the players in the squad ensure the tactical roles on the pitch are always filled. The success of the system depends greatly on the technical attributes of each player on the team, and especially on their fitness. Each player on the team must be able to fill each tactical role that may be called for in a game.

 ‘Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing.”

– Johan Cruyff

I think there is a lot to learn from this particular area of the sporting world, especially where innovation comes into play. Recently, I have been in many a conversation about the validity of starting or running innovation unit’s in larger companies.  There are many issues that ALWAYS seem to come up when innovation units are discussed, many of which are things like ‘Resource Allocation’ and ‘Implementation.’ To me, there is never a shortage of ideas around any company (and especially not around World Vision). But, there is always a shortage of ‘resource’ to make things happen and essentially lead the implementation of an Innovation Units best ideas. Props here to Deloitte’s Innovation , championed by Peter Williams. They’re amazing at this – best in Australia I’ve heard/seen/read of.

This is where the Guss Hiddink/Dutch philosophy of ‘Total Football’ meets the business paradigm of Innovation. To me, just as in a game of football, there will be times when a super-talented, super-freaky employee will need to launch into a new venture or project to achieve outcomes beneficial to the entire team (opps, organisation/company). There will also be times when those players will need to be covered whilst they progress up the field to score. And, at different times, these employees will need to swap roles, to bring to bear the best talent available for any particular project at any particular time.

And so come the innovation units. These units, which seem to be popping up everywhere, should contain the Guus Hiddinks of the world. The people who can train in people the techniques, abilities and ‘fitness’ to be able to take advantage of any given opportunity when it arises. You don’t see a football player take a back step when a gap opens up in an opponents defence because it’s not his place to run into it, do you? So why do we continue to believe that business is best done by people in extremely specific, role centred jobs? This just makes them harder to release forward when the time calls for it. To me, the ability to create a flexible, proactive team that can support and change quickly to match any given opportunity but still defend their own goals is one that is extremely powerful and successful. 

My prediction – Gus Hiddink moves into Corporate Coaching at $$$$ an hour to teach corps Total Business. Will you be fit enough?

Do you know how to play the game?

I’ve been ruminating about this post for quite a while and it is being finally ‘penned’ because of the quote I ran into yesterday.

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretzky

I couldn’t help but think about the world of entrepreneurship and innovation, where often a shot not taken is an opportunity missed. Unfortunately, in life (and by extension, in business), when to take the shot is not always apparent. Gretzky relied on a gut feel and hours and hours of practice to know, instinctively, when was the right time to take his shot. I ask, are you practicing and ready to step up and take your turn to shoot? Will you know when this time is?

One of the more successful musicians of the last few years has been Justin Timberlake. Now, I love JT – he can wear a man-vest like no-other-man-can but that is not the reason for his success. To me, his success is attributable to his ability to practice his game rigorously and then take his shot when it was time. Not only this, but take his game to another level through amazing collaborations. In an MTV interview I saw recently with JT and Timbaland, there was one other quote which really stood out to me.

  This, is money

“You see this…this, is money” – Timbaland, MTV Interview.

These guys are an amazing example of a collabroative approach. But, also, they know their game so well that it’s merely a matter of doing ‘their thing’ to create amazing results (ahem – ‘money’). Have a read of this Rolling Stone article for more on how the two came together to create songs for the Futuresex/Lovesounds album. It’s not easy, but Gretzky never said shooting was either. For them, their partnership and the way they go about taking their shot again and again produces immense success. For me, I’m learning how to play the game of innovation and entrepreneurship. I don’t know my game perfectly yet, but I’m working everyday on getting better. And I’m practicing by taking as many shots as I can.

Jenga block financials

I’ll happily throw my hand up and admit that my financial modeling is not what it aught to be. But I have been learning quite recently from a guy at work who used to be in the Venture Capital industry about just what makes a great, initial, financial model. Yes, I hear you say, World Vision has a Venture Capitalist on it’s books?! We’re innovating, baby! (Well, we’re on the way. We’re not there yet – more in future posts).

Anyways, David describes the ability to create a good financial model is not how well you structure your excel spreadsheet. It’s not even how well your P&L matches your Cash Flow which matches your Balance Sheet. In fact, he says, you don’t need any of that in the first instance.It’s how well you can play Jenga.

The type of analysis he talks about needs to be done on the back of a napkin, in ten minutes, and then show what the key factors are for success. There are going to be some things in the business which are not so important, and some that are crucial. The ability to show investors (and internal stakeholders that control budgets) a quick sensitivity analysis, which highlights the key factors of an opportunity, is amazingly powerful and useful.

Some things in your business are not going to be as important as others. Just like a game of Jenga, a good entrepreneur will highlight to investors which blocks not to pull out, and which ones can be moved. What’s the value of this? Immense. How many can do it? Apparently, not many at all. The question now is, how to practice such a skill?