Last week I was working with a team of business school professors meeting in their annual retreat to plan their teaching for an integrated introduction to their MBA program. The professors themselves come from all facets of the business world: logistics, accounting, organizational behaviour, ethics, marketing. The often use the terms “hard” and “soft” skills, but only in reference to the stereotypes they are trying to confront in their students.
It’s always interesting to me to see where “hard” and “soft” skills blur, because in practice they truly do blur. In general “hard” skills refer to those practices in business that are about the external world: financials, accounting, finance, market surveys, logistics. “Soft” skills are associated with human resources, relationships, learning, personal development and ethics.
There is a false dichotomy in the business world between these two skill sets, and one of the professors obseved that one can be a good manager knowing hard or soft skills, but one can only be a good leader with both.
I have been thinking about this when today Rob Paterson posts an interview he did with the staff of silverorange, a tech firm in PEI. In the interview there was a great short summary of what it looks like in the real world when hard and soft skills blend:
Do you have a financial plan at all?
“Yes and no – most business plans are also based on a fantasy that you can predict the future in detail. Most also set tight goals when the environment is shifting that is also very risky. You can get trapped doing the wrong thing very hard when the environment has changed.
Instead, we set broad goals. (here is a link to Dan’s view of how best to plan for the future) In the context of never being able to know the future in detail we…(quote from Dan’s post) have no master plan at silverorange. The cat is out of the bag! We do however have broad goals and ideals that factor into our daily, monthly, and yearly decisions. We always have these goals and ideals in mind. We also make decisions the good old fashioned way. The necessary people sit as equals and hammer it out. Often the conversation becomes heated, in the good way. When we are done the best decision has been made for us.
When I look back over the past seven years of silverorange I see a route that has veered its way around tremendous obstacles, some we saw coming, and others we had no idea that we were dodging. Our process of quick, frequent, and small decision making has led us down a safe and secure path.
If I was an investor I would know that you pulled your cash flow projections out of your ass. I wouldn’t care. I would look for the following:
- What are the overall goals & ideals that you are striving for?
- Has you surrounded yourself with a team that can hammer out good small decisions?
- Are you willing to have your idea bend, warp, & mutate based on frequent, small, decisions?
I propose that we all change to process and people based business plans. One, maybe two pages at most.”
The religion of scientific materialism has privileged data over intuition, but the silverorange team is calling for a change, for a balance. It’s great to see this happening in business, and in business schools.
[tags]Rob Paterson, silverorange, business skills[/tags]