Desert, Meditation, and Preparation

Friends, you regularly ask me about my recent silence. Confinement is a time of desert, meditation and preparation.

Here are the 5 books I am (re)reading and studying in greater depth during this period:

  • The Dao of Capital and Austrian Investing in a Distorted World,
  • The Black Swan and The Impact of the Highly Improbable,
  • Antifragile and Things That Gain from Disorder,
  • Skin in the Game and Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life,
  • and last but not least To the Priests, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons.

My eternal gratitude to their wonderful authors.

And take care of you and your loved ones.


There is no harder work than not working

“There is no harder work than not working.” Years ago, I read this sentence from Guigues[1], one of the first Carthusian priors. It never quit me since then. Which life never goes through times of desert and dereliction? May this sentence of wisdom help you today during this worldwide long and total confinement period. Here is a full text you may also want to read and keep deep in your heart.

“The dweller in cell should be diligently and carefully on his guard against contriving or accepting occasions for going out, other than those normally prescribed; rather, let him consider the cell as as necessary for his salvation and life, as water for fish and the sheepfold for sheep.

For if he gets into the habit of going out of cell frequently and for trivial reasons it will quickly become hateful to him; as Augustine expressed it, “For lovers of this world, there is no harder work than not working.”

On the other hand, the longer he lives in cell, the more gladly will he do so, as long as he occupies himself in it usefully and in an orderly manner, reading, writing, reciting psalms, praying, meditating, contemplating and working.

Let him make a practice of resorting, from time to time, to a tranquil listening of the heart, that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages. In this way with God’s help, he will avoid the dangers that often lie in wait for the solitary; such as following too easy a path in cell and meriting to be numbered among the lukewarm.

Photo: Buckfast Abbaye

[1] GUIGUES LE CHARTREUX, Méditations, 50 (SC, 308, 120


Staffing a Transformation Program

In the sciences, the authority of thousands of opinions is not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man” How does this quote from Galileo Galilei apply to transformation programs? Staffing a transformation program requires a very specific type of strategy. First, there is a need for contributors who are external to the system to transform. Secondly, these contributors can be of two radically different types. The consultants and a champion are these two types that maximize your chance of success. The former corresponds to a statistical thin tail (close to the mean, small impact, the latter to a fat tail (far from the mean, high impact).

The difference between thin and fat tails matters in staffing a transformation.

With fat tailed distributions, extreme events (e.g. a champion joining the transformation program team) away from the center of the distribution (i.e. the organization’s population) create a strong impact on the final performance.

Not so in thin tail distributions (e.g. a group of consultants in the midst of the organization’s population) where you need a number of events (i.e. a number of different consulting teams) to achieve a visible level of impact.

An example of application in an organization is the decision to resource complex transformation programs with two separate (competing?) teams: a traditional consulting team and a single proven champion of the domain.

Why consultants and a champion? Simply because the transformation of a system needs an exchange of energy or information from within and with its outside world[1] to transform itself.

For example, transforming wheat and sugar into a muffin needs heat. And a caterpillar first stuffs itself with leaves, then digests itself and morphs into a butterfly.

This is what consultants and / or champions hired from outside do.

Here is a story explaining the consequences of such a choice.

An aerospace manufacturer had to dramatically and rapidly increase its competitiveness.

The board of directors launched a competitiveness transformation program.

Then, the directors formed a transformation program team with two separate arms.

One was a team made of management consultants (with a capability of, say, X, relatively above the existing organization’s capabilities).

The other one was a just-retired senior executive of the manufacturer’s top competitor (with a capability of, say, 2 X).

The consulting team

On one hand, the consulting team had twelve more or less junior individuals and a senior manager. They were all brilliant MBAs de facto structured around the consulting firm famous toolbox. Adding (or subtracting) a new consultant would not drastically change the consulting team contribution. Nor would this single consulting team impact drastically change the organization’s performance (say f(X)).

This arm of the program is the statistical domain of the thin tail.

The probability of hiring consultants higher than X twice in a row is greater than hiring them once with a capability higher than 2 X.

No single change in the consulting team resources could really modify their impact on the company’s performance. To strongly modify the resulting performance, you need a number of such consulting teams (associated with their high corresponding cost).

The champion

On the other hand, the former senior executive was a champion with a proven success in the domain. He had a level (2 X) of experience and knowledge well above the consulting team level. Plus, his seniority gave him a strong influence on the aerospace manufacturer leadership team. As a consequence, he offered an exceptional opportunity to increase significantly the level of performance (f(2 X)) of the company.

This arm of the program is the statistical domain of the fat tail.

With fat tailed distributions, extreme events (2 X) away from the center of the distribution play a very large role. The events in a fat tail may not be more frequent, but their consequences are much bigger.

The benefits

In my story, while the consultants got bogged down in number crunching and powerpoint presentations, the champion identified a weakness in the development of satellite antennas.

He simply proposed to focus on the antenna design as a primary driver of competitiveness. This single action was going to optimize the need of power necessary to cover a specific surface on the earth. Decreasing the need of power strongly reduces the global weight of the satellite. And a lighter satellite reduces the cost of its launch and its placement in orbit.

As a result, the champion identified a well-known mathematician, the best in this domain. And he recommended that we hire him.

Here, the probability of sampling higher than 2X once (with the antenna expert) is greater than the probability of sampling higher than X twice in a row. As a result, the champion can play a disproportionately large role in determining the new level of performance with a single high-impact event.

The counterpart

Of course, there is a counterpart to this resourcing strategy. The story ended very well. Yet it could have been deceptive.

For example, our famous champion used to fly (First Class) every weekend back home. One of those trips ended badly. Our champion had to spend a week in the hospital. He fortunately recovered quickly and went back to work.

Under fat tails, wrong choices (e.g. too frequent intercontinental travel) or mistakes (the wrong champion) can be terminal. Under thin tails, they can generate great learning experiences (e.g. visiting France during the weekends or hiring different consultants). The consultants and a champion are very complementary.

Key takeaway: a dual-mode transformation program resourcing strategy

There is a key takeaway though. This takeaway is that complex program leaders may have interest to use a dual-mode strategy in resourcing their program.

One mode relies on thin tail distributions with a number of traditional rather average-level people, the other one on fat tails with a recognized champion of the domain.

Again, the consultants and a champion are an excellent source of success in complex transformations.

Any comments? Here or on LinkedIn



You can also read some of my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO

[1] Read my articles about complex dissipative systems, for instance here.


Help Your Transformation Get Off the Ground

Very often a transformation stagnates or, worse, seems to fail during its early developments. And this may be really frustrating. But did you know that you can help your  transformation get off the ground and deliver unexpected benefits?

In complex transformations, uncertainty is indeed the norm. Observed past probabilities do not apply to future developments. On the contrary, new phenomena emerge. During the course of action, ups and downs are frequent.

Our natural tendency is too often to sweat through large losses and to take small profits. We all understand how difficult it is to stop a failing initiative, and how tough it is to get the full benefits of a good one.

But experience from successful transformation leaders shows that they do the opposite.

What do successful transformation leaders do?

Any time great transformation leaders can take a loss, they take it. Rather, as long as they get benefits, they continue the journey.

They reduce the risks when things do not go well. They increase the risks they take when things go well.

In practice, they do this for example during frequent transformation program decision-making. They look at the potential of the situation. They evaluate its ripeness. And they adjust the options they have in hand by reshuffling their portfolio of initiatives (stop, modify, pursue).

They are thus able to support the development of the transformation until it maximizes its final state.

What is your own experience?

To your success


High-Impact PMO

3 Laws for Anyone Leading a Transformation

Everyone leading a transformation must learn three laws:

  • The laws of project management—this is a problem that anyone directing a project must study and solve.
  • The laws of transformation management—this is a problem that anyone directing a transformation must study and solve.
  • The laws of transformation management in an organization—this is a problem that anyone directing a transformation in this organization must study and solve[1].

The original text comes from Mao Zedong. Replace war with project, revolutionary war with transformation, and revolutionary war in China with transformation in a (your) organization.

For CEOs, strategists, strategic inititiative portfolio managers, transformation and program leaders, as well as all sorts of “PMO”, the implications are exciting:

  • Managing strategy and managing change are similar. And change happens through projects. So executive sponsors, project, program and portfolio managers, as well as PMOs must first master the basics of project management.
  • Yet, transforming something is much more than a mere project. In projects, the efficacy of action is direct. The means lead to an end. But it is both costly and risky. In contrast, the efficacy of transformation is indirect. The conditions lead to the consequences. The potential of the situation accumulates during the course of the transformation. This is a completely different process. It is thus necessary to study and solve the laws of this particular process.
  • More importantly, not only is a transformation not local, as action is, but it is impossible to localize; its deployment is always global. It is also a process that affects the transformation of oneself as well as of others. So, one must consider the entire organization concerned by the change. Hence the need to study and solve the laws of transformation management in this specific organization.

There is also an important distinction between a project leader and a transformation leader.

  • The project leaders make the project outcomes visible. They get credit for the benefits.
  • Conversely, under the transformation leader’s influence, “the people day by day evolve toward the good without realizing who is making this happen”. And this applies equally to the leader’s PMO (“the court advisor”) according to the Chinese Mengzi.

Studying these three laws is perhaps one of the most important challenges to overcome in the domain of transformations!

To your continued success


High-Impact PMO