Sebastian Firtman

Untapping the potential of WOMEN

Man reached the Moon in 1969 propelled by the mathematical calculations of Katherine Johnson (1918-2020). Security forces have worn bulletproof vests since the discovery of Kevlar by Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) while working at Dupont. Automobiles have been safer since windshield wipers were invented by Mary Anderson (1962-1954). And food certainly lasts longer with the vacuum method of canning created by Amanda Jones (1835-1914).

Like them, an innumerable amount of women have contributed to human progress both in and outside the home. But despite the overwhelming evidence that women can achieve great things, it remains commonplace to question their skills and undermine their accomplishments.

Every woman, at some point in her life, has experienced a lack of confidence in her own abilities. For some, this feeling is temporary; for others, it’s permanent, an unshakeable suspicion that they have more to learn before they can dare achieve their goals or even demand the wage a man would earn for doing the same job.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, reflects on the complicated emotions that make self-confidence such a challenge in her 2013 book Lean In.

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face,” she writes. “Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”

Fear is based on our deep-rooted beliefs and assumptions, which exert great cultural influence. They give shape to stereotypes, like those that suggest men excel at some tasks and women at others, despite evidence to the contrary.

The price to pay for not fitting into a stereotype is high indeed. Elsa from Frozen may now sing “I’m free,” but most modern-day women grew up reading and watching more classical narratives, in which the heroes were brave knights in shining armor and women were either evil witches or damsels in distress.

Being self-sufficient, demanding, competent, daring, audacious, creative, and adventurous can still seem, even today, like the province of knights, not of princesses. And this can negatively impact women in the contexts they move in. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize women’s achievements and build up their confidence in their own skills. However, much work remains to be done in this area.

Take the Nobel prize. The number of women recipients has risen in the past few years. Yet men are still far ahead in the race. Among the 919 people — not counting organizations — who have been bestowed a Nobel, only 19 women were chosen for their accomplishments in physics, chemistry, and medicine. And in total, only 53 women have been distinguished with Nobel prizes since they started being handed out 119 years ago.

When a woman has a mentor, a supportive community, or someone who believes in her and her abilities, extraordinary things can happen. They may be able to calculate a flight route for NASA’s first mission, like Katherine Johnson in 1961; or they can break the triple jump record, like Yulimar Rojas in 2020.

But even when no one supports them, women must believe in themselves and ignore that insidious inner voice that tells them they can’t do something or that they’re not good enough. They must commit to trying again and again until they achieve their desired results. They must understand that mistakes derive from what a person does, not from who they are. And if ever they doubt the worth of their contributions, they have only to look at the evidence, at history, or into the eyes of their children.

 

By Carmen Militza Buinizkiy
Cultural Transformation
Manager at OLIVIA

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Sebastian Firtman

Homo Digitalis

Are we the next step in evolution? 30- to 50-year-olds grew up in a world without smartphones, but they have adapted to them. After all, the world’s entire urban and professional population is beholden to such devices, which outsource our brains to the cloud.

This relationship is symbiotic. People spend 85% of their time a few feet away from a screen. Smartphones are extensions of our bodies, evidence of the digital transformation we’re currently living through.

It’s pointless to resist. Want to go somewhere? Use the Uber app and watch as your Uber driver asks Waze for directions. Are you lost in a new city or country? Pull up Google Maps. Want to know where to eat in Manhattan? Consult Yelp. It’s hard to get lost in today’s digital world. There’s an app and website for every need: for communication, for music, for film discussion…

The digital transformation has even altered how our brains perceive and process information, how we think, how we act, and how we feel. This implies new social spheres and new relationships. And in this context, organizations must develop new skills to survive.

We’re rebuilding ourselves at a rapid pace. We demand immediate resolutions to every problem and trust technology more than people when mining for answers. This has given rise to what we might call homo digitalis, the next rung on the evolutionary ladder after homo sapiens and homo videns.

What’s the difference between homo sapiens and homo digitalis? Let’s look at Maradona’s famous Hand of God goal during the 1986 World Cup. Had VAR been in use back then, Maradona’s illegal handball against England probably wouldn’t have gone unnoticed and Argentina wouldn’t have won the tournament. Homo sapiens, however, is biased against the VAR, because such technology allows no space for cunning and cleverness, which are essential parts of the game. But homo digitalis would not doubt the validity of the technology and of the objective evidence it brings to the table. This philosophical difference can be applied to any situation. If you go to a store in a shopping mall and you want to find out if a product is in stock, you’re more likely to check online before you ask an employee.

That said, there are two areas that remain resistant to the advances of homo digitalis. One is education: we still believe the classroom is where knowledge is passed on, while home is for homework and practice. Yet maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe the classroom should be a space for the sharing and exchange of ideas, for socialization, creation, and innovation.

The second area in question is the business world and its organizations. We still operate with structures and processes from the industrial and analogue eras. These are very deeply ingrained, preventing organizations from innovating and holding them back in their competition against digital startups. Today, a legacy company with seven decades of market experience, with an intricate organizational chart, with divisions and subdivisions, with expensive machinery and infrastructure, with a complex system of employee benefits and bonuses, such a company can be seriously threatened by four friends working from a garage.

These legacy companies were diagrammed and founded by homo sapiens, who believed their advantage came in the form of proprietary knowledge. Their enterprise cultures have no place in the digital era. Their views are too self-centered and leave the client aside. And that won’t do: the client is an all-powerful force in today’s economy.

Agility, flexibility, creativity, and client-centricity define modern-day organizational culture. Successful organizations must generate new experiences. They must differentiate themselves through their services and the quality of what they offer. Their business models must be geared towards constant innovation. And they must learn and understand data, automate learnings and insights, and predict market behaviors.

The question, then, is whether organizations designed by homo sapiens can be transformed. And the answer to that is a resounding yes.

Homo digitalis has reconfigured our thinking. It has brought upon a fusion between technology and our cognitive biology. We are now quicker, more precise, but also more human. Because technology gives us more time to be ourselves.

Yet we have to be prepared to make the jump. We have to understand and incorporate change. Everything nowadays is as good and as useful as it is exciting. Organizations face the same challenges people do. The world is full of possibilities if you know how to take advantage of them.

By Alberto Bethke, partner and CEO of OLIVIA

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Sebastian Firtman

Strengthening organizational culture in the age of remote work

Building a culture should be the goal of every organization – and the responsibility of every leader. A strong culture is the secret ingredient that allows companies to compete and thrive in their markets.

But in a pandemic, this difficult task has become even harder.

How can you maintain, build, and improve upon your company culture when collaborators work from home and no longer enjoy the team-building rituals that once brought them together?

That is what many leaders are asking themselves, as they face the prospect of a vanishing corporate identity. In response, they are finding ways to differentiate themselves and their companies in a work-from-home context.

Below, you’ll find some pieces of advice on reinforcing your company culture:

  1. Connect with your purpose. This is the perfect opportunity to place your company’s purpose front and center. Now more than ever, collaborators need to understand the reason for – and meaning of – their work. Purpose is an emotional anchor for your organization. It ensures everyone aligns with and commits to the same goal. Try to understand how your company culture generates value and strengthens the ties between different areas, products, collaborators, clients, and customers. Purpose is also crucial in retaining talent. Without an attachment to the company, your collaborators will set off for other, more purposeful shores.
  1. Generate new, strong connections. Do you remember what made your organization unique before the pandemic? What made collaborators identify with it? It was the company culture. That is, the values, priorities, and interests that create a sense of belonging and form connections between collaborators. Deepen these connections and make sure they are shared by new employees – both now and in a potential face-to-face, post-pandemic future.
  1. Communicate differently… and listen up. Communication is the lifeblood of an organization. Messages convey emotions, ideas, and dreams to all collaborators. Direct, honest, relevant, focused, and inclusive communication can unite the entire organizational system. So, analyze what you communicate up, down, within, and without your organization. Ensure important messages are heard by those who need to hear them and that they produce the intended, positive impact on stakeholders. More than that, however, listen – and listen more closely than ever. Communication is not about verbally bombarding your collaborators. On the contrary, a sharp ear is the foundation of all successful collaboration. You must understand what your collaborators are thinking, feeling, and living through. And you can do this through polls, collaboration platforms, meet-ups, bonding rituals, and so on. These will let you gauge your organization’s emotions and thoughts. Retrain leaders to adopt more humble, personal, and sincere forms of communication, so they can mitigate the solitude and isolation people are suffering during the pandemic.
  1. Preserve your organization’s rituals. Remember all those special events and get-togethers that gave collaborators space to have fun, plan for the months ahead, and bond with each other? All those lunches, onboarding meetings, and birthday celebrations? How many of these moments can be resurrected in the age of remote work? As it turns out, most of them! They just require more creativity to organize. But if these rituals are important to your organization, you must preserve them. So, figure out which rituals are the most unique and relevant – and reimagine them in a work-from-home context. Digital collaboration platforms, most of which are free, let you set up activities, group sessions, contests, and social events in a manner that is quick, remote, and hassle-free.
  1. Get everyone involved in charting the road ahead. Right now, most leaders are short on answers and have no idea what lies ahead. This is the perfect time to involve everyone in the decision-making process and strengthen participation and inclusion. With creativity and an innovative mindset, your organization can be fueled by your collaborators’ best ideas. Everyone should have a chance to shine, even if they used to be on the quiet side. This means more opportunities for all – and, in the long-term, intellectual capital for your organization, as more voices are heard.
  1. Improve formal and informal recognition. Our old metrics and models no longer work. Key performance indicators have changed and their time spans have shortened. In this context, you should not forget the importance of recognition. Make sure to applaud resilience, small and large accomplishments, and effective collaboration. This will build a positive and motivational atmosphere for your teams. In today’s remote workplace, every day can seem the same. Recognition can help against a backdrop of constant and monotonous uncertainty. In response, try to rethink and reinforce your monetary and emotional rewards.

To summarize, no one expects you to reinvent the wheel. The key is to listen, think, and recognize what makes your organization special – not only in the eyes of the world or the market but, more importantly, in the eyes of your collaborators. Because they are the ones who define the heart and strength of your organization, and who will allow it to face the future and thrive.

 

By Rogelio Salcedo, Managing Partner, OLIVIA México

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Sebastian Firtman

@FORBES.ES Star Wars, a visionary enterprise treatise

Forbes España

Not such a long time ago, in a corporate galaxy not that far, far away, an extreme situation tested people’s capacity to manage change.

 

Foto: Getty Images

* Spoiler warning for the Star Wars saga *

 

Not such a long time ago, in a corporate galaxy not that far, far away, an extreme situation tested people’s capacity to manage change. It was an unexpected and critical situation that put everyone — and an entire system — to the test.

We all know Star Wars was a turning point for the science fiction genre. It’s a cliché by now to say George Lucas was a visionary. But although this space opera is beloved by generations of moviegoers, few realize it can actually be interpreted as an enterprise treatise that anticipated trends decades before the fact.

The first Star Wars movie was released in May 1977, almost 44 years ago. My goal, in what follows, is to explain how it foresaw certain tendencies that company managements are only now beginning to see in 2021, amidst the profound transformations that organizations have endured in the past year.

Although Star Wars is obviously a fiction, it functions as a simple, didactic, and entertaining model that can help us understand the challenges our business culture faces in a pandemic context.

Star Wars: A New Hope tells the story of an Empire that seeks to extend its rule over the galaxy. They are opposed by the Rebels, a small, disruptive organization that is the empire’s main competition.

The Empire maintains a single, unifying management style and thought system, which every planet and inhabitant within their territories must follow. But this organizational vision proves to be far from inspiring. As the film shows, the size of an organization means nothing in a volatile and uncertain context.

Meanwhile, the Rebels cultivate a different vision, one that preaches freedom for the whole galaxy. Through them, George Lucas anticipates how a motivational vision can awake and sustain commitment in every member of an organization. Indeed, such a vision can be the motor that drives members to face impossible situations with courage — and emerge victorious. And that’s another thing Lucas foresaw: how an organization’s vision and mission are the keys to its success. In today’s parlance, we call this purpose.

 

The culture of fear

The Empire’s main strategy involves fear and control. This organization doesn’t seek to motivate its members or inspire their commitment. Instead, it imposes a strict rule: triumph or die. Failure is never an option. Darth Vader often kills whoever makes a mistake. One of his most famous lines is, “You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.” This is the opposite of a culture of learning. It’s a culture of fear, which leads its adherents to avoid transparency, hide flaws — and avert any kind of learning or growth.

In fact, the Rebels manage to destroy the Death Star, the Empire’s superweapon, not once but twice. And they’re able to do so because of the Empire’s incapacity to admit — and improve upon — its mistakes and design flaws. The Empire’s stormtroopers are yet another example of this. They can’t hit anything with their blasters, even when it’s only a few feet away. Their aim is almost comically bad.

Imagine a sales manager in such an organization, trying to make sales under pressure, following business indicators he or she barely understands, suffering a mental block out of fear of being laid off. What are the chances that such a person can succeed?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Rebels. Theirs is a transcendent vision, in which failure is permitted and even part of the learning process. One of the most famous phrases in Star Wars, spoken by Yoda, perfectly encapsulates their ethos: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Throughout the franchise, we see members of the Rebel organization make mistakes. And every time, the rest of the team responds by taking things in stride and being supportive of the person responsible. This allows the Rebels to cultivate a culture of learning, which proves vital to their success.

In recent times, authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer succinctly described this philosophy in their book, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. Indeed, Israel’s success in applying the Covid-19 vaccine has much to do with this way of thinking and acting.

 

A galactic molotov cocktail

In terms of organizational structure, the Empire’s culture is utterly hierarchical and pyramid-like. This means their decision-making, in contexts that require agility, tends to be extremely slow. Every decision has to be validated up their chain of command.

When you combine this rigid hierarchical structure with a culture of fear, it’s a molotov cocktail thrown at the heart of the organization. Thus does the Empire ignore every opportunity to change and become more competitive, since it employs few people capable of making decisions on the field.

This kind of organizational structure does not allow people to grow and learn. When people can only follow orders, learning becomes irrelevant. All of the organization’s knowledge rests with its executives, the Emperor and Darth Vader. It would, therefore, be a waste of time for anyone else in the organization to be capable of critical thinking.

There’s yet another factor that makes this organizational structure unstable: it pays no attention to the human element. Executive decisions do not take collaborators into consideration. This keeps employees from being truly committed to the Empire beyond their fear of it.

Let’s compare this to the disruptive organization, the Rebels. They have an agile structure, very much in the modern sense of the word, as used to describe one of the most popular current methodologies in company management. The Rebels are made up of small teams and they even call them “squads,” in keeping with an agile methodology.

All teams or squads have clear objectives, but enjoy freedom of movement. They are empowered to learn as they go and adapt to their circumstances. This proves crucial at several junctures throughout the franchise, allowing them to resolve extremely tricky situations. In Start-up Nation, we also read how these simple rules or methodologies can benefit, not just organizations, but society as a whole.

Finally, the Rebels put people at the center of every decision they make. They always consider the team and its emotional state, potential casualties during a mission, and other human factors. This strengthens the commitment of their collaborators, since all have faith in their victory and understand they are important to their organization.

Star Wars might be science fiction, yes, but it’s remarkable how fruitfully companies can apply its insights in a pandemic context.

 

In diversity lies strength

There is one final concept in Star Wars that is crucial for an organization’s success: diversity. We need to understand what this term means. Diversity is about more than bringing together different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and belief systems. It’s about respecting such differences and putting this respect at the heart of the company vision.

For the Rebels, diversity is key. After all, how can they hope to liberate the galaxy if its different races and cultures don’t feel part of the rebellion? Every team is made up of people who are far more diverse than we can imagine. In fact, diversity is part of the visual texture of Star Wars, from the Ewoks to the humans, Chewbacca, Yoda, and beyond. Every character represents a unique language, religion, social hierarchy, age group, and so on. Even among the humans, there are differences: Obi Wan is an aging master, while Luke is nearly an adolescent. Yet when it comes to figuring out how to beat the Empire, everyone has a role, everyone is listened to. And through dialogue and teamwork, they can create innovative and disruptive plans that take their enemy by surprise.

The Empire, of course, doesn’t believe in diversity. All its members look the same. They have the same ethnic background, they’re all human, they all wear the same uniforms, and they all share the same ideas or, if they don’t, they are certainly not permitted to defy the prevailing values of the organization. It’s only fitting, then, that the Empire’s assault troops are actual clones. There can be no clearer demonstration of the lack of diversity in the Empire.

 

Galactic conclusion

In terms of organizational management, then, Star Wars proposes a mix of purpose, agility, vision, diversity, and innovation. These are all the necessary ingredients for a company culture that is prepared to face new challenges. And this mix is what allows a small organization to beat an all-powerful Empire, a hegemonic enterprise that has monopolized the market. They achieve something that seems impossible. But if we look at our real world, we’ll see numerous examples of the same outcome.

So let’s return to our galaxy and time. Currently, 71% of companies in the world are starting to use agile methodologies, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI). The same report reveals that agile companies increase their revenue 37% faster and generate 30% more profit next to companies that have not embraced agile management. In other words, the Rebel formula for success — diversity, agility, shared and transcendent vision, innovation — simply works.

George Lucas doesn’t need us to label him an enterprise visionary. That much should be obvious to anyone. What we need to learn from his Star Wars model, however, is to understand when our organizations are inching closer to the dark side and to make the necessary efforts for our company and teams to feel rebellious, so the force is always with us.

 

By Oscar Velasco, Olivia Spain

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