Tag Archives: engagement

Managers as Myriad Actors

One of the fundamental questions raised during the Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna two years’ ago was what our actions will be, as managers, when facing the Great Transformation; in other words, when facing transformational changes that lie in the future for companies, governments and communities alike, what actions will we take today? Will we be one of what Richard Straub, President of the Drucker Society Europe, calls the “myriad actors” who shape the future and impact others or will we abstain from courageous and decisive action?

Peter Drucker talked about the role of managers as “the central resource, the generic distinctive, the constitutive organ of society…” and that managers’ actions are essentially a “public concern” because our survival as a society is “dependent on the performance, the competence, the earnestness and the values of their managers.” (Drucker: The Ecological Vision)

The conversation in Vienna re-examined management’s responsibility to society and humanity. One of the things that drew me to the work of Drucker over 15 years’ ago was his focus on human-centric organizations. And yet, today, we still see organizations more focused on short term profits for shareholders rather than a balance of long and short term value creation for all stakeholders including employees, community and society in general.

Are we doing enough to keep that balance? Many of the speakers did not think seem to think so. They cited studies showing that only 13% of employees around the world are engaged in their jobs (Gallup’s “State of The Global Workplace” report) and that 63% of 1000 corporate board members and C-suite executives surveyed by Mckinsey claim that pressure to generate strong short –term results has increased over the past five years. Clearly, we have a lot of work to do – to shape the future towards value creation for all stakeholders and unleashing the incredible creative and human potential of the people who work with us.

How might we do this? By being “myriad actors”; by looking for ways to shape the future, “see around corners” (as Forum speaker Nilofer Merchant said) and impact others in positive ways. Some organizations, for example, choose to connect leading edge technology and a commitment to improving the human condition (see HopeLab recipient of the Drucker Award for Non Profit Innovation). Others focus on improving employee engagement levels (see Telus, and Dan Pontefract’s work).

I don’t think management can be taught only in a management program; I think it’s a combination of art and edifice – and perhaps this is what Drucker was referring to when he defined management in The New Realities, as a liberal art: “’liberal’ because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; ‘art’ because it is practice and application.”

We might not know exactly how the future will turn out or how it will shape our industry or impact our livelihoods but we can certainly act – in a myriad of ways – to ensure that we keep humans at the center of decision making within our organizations.

As Richard Straub states in “The Great Transformation” (EFMD Global Focus 2014), “Management is a real world practice of dealing with people and organizations. Managers can make all the difference in the world with their knowledge, their creativity, their emotions and their values.” Managers are myriad actors.

Esther M Clark


A version of this blog post was published in 2014; two weeks following the Drucker Forum in Vienna.

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Savvy Saturday April, 26th, 2014

Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.
– Anonymous

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Learning to See the World: Application of Design Thinking in Education

The purpose of education is learning; learning to see the world, critique it, interact with it and relate with it. There’s a quote by the writer E.M. Forster that says:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

If we expect education to help members of our society to build things such as a business, a rocket ship, a masterpiece, a software program, or a soccer team, we must teach young people to see the possibilities of creating something relevant, innovative, and meaningful. Education should attempt to show the world in all its complexity.

Today’s Latin American youth are already interacting with the world. We live in highly transaction- based environments. Recent studies show that in certain cases, our attention span is a mere eight seconds. But education is not a zero sum game. It is not necessary for education to compete with these distractions in order to gain a foothold in the lives of young people. Instead, we need to reframe these “distractions” and invite more interaction from community, business, family, arts, or sports in the realm of education. Overspecialization or excessive focus on one aspect of education detracts from the overall learning experience.

One of the current crises facing education in the region of Latin America is that young people – from all walks of life – are not finding relevance in formal education. Graduate XXI has generated some amazing solutions from a diverse community of what can be done about the 50% school desertion rate in Latin America. It’s a topic that concerns us all.

My idea is the application of design thinking to education in Latin America. Design thinking is about designing something – in this case education – for the heart (emotions) as well as the hand (practice). If we apply design thinking to education in Latin America we would start with the question: “what would an ideal educational experience look like?” and then go on to engineer that experience. We would look at the entire educational experience – in and outside the classroom – to see where we can improve the experience; whether it be making travel to and from school safer or giving more autonomy to teachers – the lifeblood of education and learning.

One real life example of this can be found with “we.learn.it”; a European initiative that reframes education as a learning expedition. It is a multidisciplinary approach to education; it lets young people be creative as well as learn the skills required to take their creations and put them into practice. Referring to E.M. Forster’s quote, why not ask “what might a spoon look like for an alien?” of “how might we replace the spoon?”

Rather than look at how we can identity youth at risk of leaving school, why not ask what an ideal educational experience for those youth would look like? Why should we look at alternative education after a student has left school when we can offer a richer and more relevant learning experience at the very start of a student’s voyage of discovery and learning?

We all have the innate ability to create and that’s why learning to see the world is the most valuable education we can give our young people. By embracing the complexities of life in Latin America – rather than ask a student to choose between family, friends, economic subsistence, community, or non-conventional goals and aspirations – we can expect higher levels of engagement, participation and interaction with education and schooling and drive down school desertion rates.


Author’s note: This is a longer version of an idea I submitted to Graduate XX1 on the subject of high school desertion rates in Latin America. The short version (Idea 77) can be found here: http://www.graduatexxi.org/ideas/.

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Complexity and Education in Latin America

Last month I submitted an idea to the Inter American Development Bank on how to get students more “engaged” with education in Latin America. It’s my response to a troubling problem: nearly 1 out of every 2 young people in Latin America does not finish high school. You can find my idea to the IDB “Graduate XXI” competition here in English or in Spanish (choose Spanish option at top of page).

For me, education is the basis for building better societies, communities and businesses. It’s the foundation for us to convert our ideas into reality.

Would love to get your feedback as I have another interesting idea on designing a better education system which I will share with you soon!


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What I learnt about leadership on a 111-foot topsail schooner

clarks in mystic seaport

I grew up on sailing ships; every summer I would sail around Vancouver Island (B.C.) and Desolation Sound and at the age of 10 I undertook my first offshore voyage from Victoria, B.C. (Canada) to Brisbane, Australia and back. Later trips included the intercoastal waterways of US and Canada and sailing around Latin America and the Caribbean.

clarks in brisbane
Photo: Onboard the Pacific Swift in Brisbane, Australia.

Here is a summary of what my sailing experience taught me about being a leader:

1) It’s about trust.
There is an excellent video by Simon Sinek where he talks about how leaders eat last. Leadership is about creating a circle of people that trust you to lead them and to “provide” (in the broadest sense of the word) for them. Establishing trust as a leader – whether you are the captain or a member of the crew – is paramount to others contributing their talent, “risky” ideas and energy towards completion of a goal.

2) It’s about vision.
I’m talking about a tangible vision – not “we will to be the most respected company in the ….industry” but rather, “we will sail this 111 foot schooner to Australia and back”. I am a firm believer in establishing project vision at the start; every project (and project collaborator) needs to share a vision in order for people to be able to come together to create something valuable, meaningful and “real”; a project vision also helps people feel the rewards of achieving that vision once the project or journey wraps up.

3) It’s about communication.
Listening, talking, checking-in…leaders invest their time in people. They interact personally with their team and are often not the loudest person in the room because they listen and observe in order to lead more effectively and not fall into the traps of “trade-offs”. Of course they command when necessary (as a captain commands the person at the helm when entering a port or a military leader orchestrates a mission) but their “commands” are in line with the established goals that the project or organization is trying to achieve.

“He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.” Aristotle

4) It’s about forming other leaders.
I have “taken the helm” of a sailboat many times. I don’t remember having to ask for permission. Leadership means forming other leaders and inspiring others to take risks, take action and help to further the shared vision. It’s not about control or power but rather about giving those things to others so that the whole can be larger than the sum of its parts.

“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” Peter Drucker

5) It’s about love.
We don’t use the “L” word very much in business but we are social creatures and helping others makes us feel good. When we communicate in person, shake hands or do something for someone else we feel good about it. Scientifically speaking, we are wired to release the “bonding” hormone oxytocin when we are generous towards others. Leadership is about fostering more connections and bonds with people. Sailing means living in very close quarters. Interactions are inevitable. The challenge is business is making transactions more like interactions and fostering dialogue and engagement with people in and outside the organization in order to make people feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. Leadership means making people feel like they are on a voyage of discovery.

Sailing onboard a ship – especially when you are out at sea and two weeks travel from the nearest landfall – teaches you about community, about sharing, and about leadership. It teaches you that people from all walks of life can come together to create something amazing – a society with a shared goal or purpose; a little floating ecosystem; a community of pioneers or explorers.

And you, what do you think leadership means?


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“Permission Marketing” in life and business

In 1999, Seth Godin popularized the concept of Permission Marketing. It was a very common sensical approach to something we – as consumers and business people – had been feeling for several years or perhaps several decades!

The “feeling” was that we don’t want to be bombarded by advertisements that are irrelevant, boring or aggressive. The idea with permission marketing is to “hit a chord” with specific people – people that are interested in our product/service – by grabbing their attention and using it well – do develop a brand, a following, a community, a fan base, a business…

In the connection economy, businesses can get closer to their customers (or potential customers) and really understand what they want and how they want to be communicated to. The potential for permission marketing has exploded with social media and engagement – listening to customers and interacting with them as a business and a brand. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) can also support organizations in permission marketing.

In Seth Godin’s own words:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

So my thoughts on permission marketing are these:

1) humility is key to business – if you have a huge ego, you may not have the time/sense/ability to listen to what people are saying about you or telling you how you can serve them better;

2) attention counts- you may want to think about a teacher analogy here – if you don’t have their attention they will not respond and if you abuse their attention you are at risk at creating a negative response in the future;

3) know thyself – you must know your product or service and the “why” behind your business in order to be able to sell it to customers. You must know what solution you provide and be able to articulate who will benefit from it – present and future.

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5 Ways to Achieve Collaboration Excellence



Collaboration – whether on a project, a campaign, a strategy, a new product/service – helps you to create more relevant products or services for your target market. And don’t we all strive to be relevant?

Collaborating with your market (called collaborative marketing) is a way that you create things that have heart and meaning for your clients. Why? People who help create things are more likely to buy and support those same things. It makes sense.

Here is a list of 5 ways to promote collaboration excellence in your organization (your business, your social groups, your family, etc.):

1)      Listen

Look and listen to what your customers and saying and doing. Do an “audit” of what is being discussed both online and offline. What trends do you see?

2)      Engage

This is a fancy word for finding your customers and encouraging them to act as both buyers and marketers. Word of mouth marketing is one of the oldest forms of advertising and still one of the most important (in some instances the most important). I also like the term “grassroots marketing” – marketing from the ground up. Engage your customers and find ways to bridge the gap between your business practices and their needs (see #4).

3)      Align Content and Messages

Consistency is a key factor to effectively getting your message across and building rapport with your customers.

4)      Improve Processes (Cheaper, Faster, Better)

Optimize what you can in order to bridge any gaps that might exist (see  #2).

5)      Commitment

Commit resources to collaboration and to the continuous process I have just described.


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Community is Key to Creating Value-Driven Interactions

Building a loyal following – a community, a tribe, engaged stakeholders – is vital to organizations world-wide. It means that you have a group of people that support your business, your products, your employees, your brand. They promote your products and services to their friends, they can tell you what your next product should be and they can notify you if you have made (or are about to make) a mistake. Building a community is organic but, I would argue, should be part of an organization’s strategy. Corporate strategy should ensure that it has the mechanisms in place to listen to customers, business partners, employees, communities and the people empowered to make the right decisions for your community and business.

With all the complexities of doing business in developing markets and, in my particular experience, Latin America, it seems that focusing on building a community is a “nice to have” and not a “must have”.

I would argue the opposite and here’s why…

Building a community reminds us why we are in business to begin with. It creates a sense of purpose that helps us (our employees, our management, our board of directors) strive to be our best. It drives us to succeed and to take good care of those around us and those who support us. It is what interaction is all about. And business is about interactions and about creating meaningful and value-driven interactions. If we don’t do this, why are we in business to begin with?

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