Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

The Brave Insider - A Fit Counterpart To The Honest Outsider

on Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Note: This article was published in the "Get Ahead" section of (September 29, 2015)

Last year, I wrote a piece on the Transformative Role Of The Honest Outsider - and one of the examples I cited was that of Dr Bennet Omalu, a brilliant forensic pathologist who first identified the traumatic brain condition that is commonplace among American football players, CTE. He was reviled and mocked, but prevailed. His story is now being told in the upcoming movie, Concussion...and he's played by Will Smith. I can't wait to see the dramatic rendition of this remarkable human, who persevered in telling the truth, for the wellbeing of the players at large.

I was reminded of that post this morning.

I almost fell of the elliptical machine in the gym - I was watching Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha and was struck by the scene where General Yamagata goes on a tirade at his liege  the powerful warlord Lord Shingen Takeda. Here was a general who truly respected his master - who comes into the abode and takes a deep bow. However, when he hears Takeda go off on a tangential rant about another group that left the battlefield out of fatigue, he gets truly riled up.

"How old are you, sire? 53, as I remember. But here you are, acting like a 5 year old. People gather and disperse, following their interests. That is not surprising. But then I find you like this! with such narrow min, you must not dream of rulership. Go back to your own domain. You are a mountain monkey. You should be gathering nuts in the mountains of Kai.
Or you can remember what we are trying to do here."

The startled warlord Takeda first grimaces, grins and finally bows down to the General's heart-felt rant. Here is his advisor, cutting through the nonsense to remind him what he is trying to do.

When discussing the honest outsider, I mentioned that there were some best practices for being a good honest outsider, and also for being the insider who hears and uses the insights that the outsider brings to the table. 

  • Be true to the vision and ultimate goal - make sure your intent is true
  • Don't be afraid to speak your mind - while I haven't ever used the "mountain monkey" analogy, I've often found myself using the "rather than this, be that" exhortation
  • Be aware of context and space - if you were to watch the movie on Netflix, you'll see how General Yamagata comes in and is clearly deferential, then lets rip when he hears Warlord Takeda's shortsighted complaints, goes into his rant...and then resets as soon as the warlord smiles and gets back to the true business at hand. All this occurs in a closed room. You know that this particular conversation would never have occurred in the presence of any other person. This is about two people who can be extremely candid with each other.
  • Use your emotion well. My own vedanta guru would say, "Anger should be like a hand-kerchief. Take it out of your pocket, use it, and then return it to your pocket." As soon as Takeda shows he's listening, you see Yamagata relax and get back to talking in a reasonable voice. It's almost like the rant never happened. A laser-precise cut!
If you're a leader, reflect on those you have around you who could (for the right reason) call you a mountain monkey. Then take them out to a meal and thank them!

The Magic Of A Moment

on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Photo credit: Collage from various sources

Today, I was reminded of the magic of a moment. A New York Minute - a second which can shift perspectives - the golden moment, if you will.
It's the second day of jury summons - to those of you who haven't experienced this American civic duty, it's an interesting milieu of slight irritations, frustrations and adults behaving very well and not so well as we wait to see if we'll be placed on juries (about 200 of us across 3 galleries). The court houses have made the experience as comfortable as they can, though - there's wifi, snack dispensers, three types of spaces for different types of work and rest, etc.
Having rushed downtown to get to the courts, I logged on and started a search for some trends analysis... and saw the new Google logo. As the usual commentary came flooding in "what's the change about, anyway? I miss the old one, etc.", I suddenly put on the mental brakes, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and reopened them. I looked at the new logo like I was seeing the Google page for the very first time. This time I LOVED it - the clean lines almost reached out and pulled me in. 
I couldn't help but wonder whether we change consultants and strategists might be able to find ways to get change-resistant partners to do this more often. While there's a lot for these folks to hang on to and a lot that keeps them invested in the old way of doing things (the status quo), having them take a personal moment to stop and reflect from a clean slate. "What if this is the first time you were using our services? What if this was the first time you heard about this company? What if this was your orientation day?..." Would they like the new idea/new company/ new vision that was being proposed?
Over lunch, I was again reminded about the magic of a moment when I read Atul Gawande's Postscript piece on Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker. The fabulous author writes about how he had initially dabbled in writing, but a chance encounter with the great Sacks, who remembered one of Gawande's old articles resulted in a eureka moment for him. "I do remember the shift in me that came from our brief conversation....because Sacks seemed to be holding my work to a higher standard, I realized that I needed to as well."
How magical a moment can be - let's harness them for the insights that can spring from each one.