The Wicked Podcast

Jonathan McMahon: Post-Pandemic

July 28, 2021 [email protected] Episode 56
The Wicked Podcast
Jonathan McMahon: Post-Pandemic
Show Notes Transcript

Pandemic stories from an investors perspective. We talk to Jonathan McMahon and his book Post-Pandemic.

Author page: https://www.jonathanmcmahon.co.uk/
Get the book: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/dp/1916099874/

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Marcus Kirsch:

Welcome to the wicked podcast where we read the business books you don't have time for. I'm Marcus Kirsch.

Troy Norcross:

And I'm Troy Norcross.

Marcus Kirsch:

And we are your co hosts for the wicked podcast.

Troy Norcross:

Marcus, I've done absolutely no preparation for doing something funny to start this episode. So over to you.

Marcus Kirsch:

Well, yeah, today's the day we shouldn't have to do too much work because it's your birthday. Happy birthday to co host I know you hate it. But anyway, well, it's definitely better to say something like that then you silly plan and trying to sneak up behind me in my place without knowing me, which makes no site sense on planet Earth. So I have no idea where that ever went. How did your smart man what to hear what the heck?

Troy Norcross:

I was gonna be creative. You were gonna have to be like theatrical. It was gonna work

Marcus Kirsch:

wonders, okay, focus on blockchain.

Troy Norcross:

blockchain Alright, enough of this dribble, who was on the show.

Marcus Kirsch:

So today, we have Jonathan McMahon on his book, post pandemic, great book on a lot of his personal stories in there, around pandemics, resilience, and the idea of basically getting through things and leadership and all that good stuff.

Troy Norcross:

I thought it was a really good book, I thought it was really well were it was an easy read, broken down into 12 really good lessons for leaders and trying to be able to manage a crisis. The interview had a couple of highlights, and one of them was a comment that Yeah, you really cannot be the kind of leader that has the three mile screwdriver. It's one thing to set the vision, it's the other thing to be constantly tinkering around. I love that. And the other one was, if you're a leader who's constantly making decisions, you're not doing a very good job. Because what you really want is a team that just kind of gets on with it, and then does it. He says you should be the kind of leader that you in case of emergency break glass, and I will make a decision if I have to. And I liked that sentiment a lot. Because as opposed to the kind of the command and control it is literally enable and give direction and let the teams get on with it. But those are my takeaways. What about yours?

Marcus Kirsch:

Yeah, so um, I was quite curious about when we got on to a little bit of that space. Because, as you know, my new second favourite is to look at the gap between leadership and teams. And there's a lot of stuff in the books that we've been through already. And in the future books we're looking at now. And I think that needs a more detailed conversation. So we had a good chat on exactly at gap where it is about well, okay. It's nice to hear that there needs to be a balance being struck between Well, you need to be able to ask questions, maybe push back on leadership, or have the team's ask some questions about the problem at hand. So you're not going the wrong direction. At the same time, you need a balance so that you know when you've talked enough and take action, right, and everyone gets that. So quite likely, we talked, I think, in more than one of the questions a bit about that striking that balance between you know, how can you ask new questions, explore things, experiment with things as much as enough talk, take responsibility and go with it. And responsibility? I think there needs to be a redistribution between leadership and teams, for sure. And we talk a bit about that. And the other part is about how much of questions can you ask in one step before you do something, and then you take another step in reiterating that kind of stuff. So it was a good conversation, I think a bit more from a leadership perspective on how to balance that and how to approach that and I quite like that, so that that's my main insight that maybe has two sides of sides of that coin, in particular.

Troy Norcross:

Nice. But Marcus, regardless of how many sides there are in a coin, what should we do now?

Marcus Kirsch:

I think we should go to that site where that interview is on if there's a side to it. before the interview, a quick word from our very first sponsor, sand caster. We use sand caster for all our audio and video recording and it's very inefficient. pool that splits up all the channels for very easy editing. suncast is used by 10% of all active podcasts, you can get 40% of the first three months and unlimited audio and video recordings with our special coupon code, wicked podcast, I repeat, repeat, repeat. We'll get podcast for 40% off. And now the interview. Hello, everyone. Today we have Jonathan McMahon with us. Hello, Jonathan, and welcome to the show. And thank you for your time. Great to be here. Thanks for the invitation. Lovely, we always start at the top, which means please tell our listeners who you are and why you wrote the book.

Jonathan McMahon:

Well, I'm a middle aged guy, which I guess puts me in pretty good company. And we're all feeling kind of deed safe. It's safe in that group, who's kind of days bookended by doing the school run. And in the middle of that I invest in a few different businesses and work with some young business owners. I provide advice to to one or two kind of clients, mainly in sort of financial services area, and I'm a board member of a local charity that looks after people, young people with special educational needs. So that's the kind of mix of my day really, there's no rhythm, there's no routine. And I kind of like the sort of general fluidity in the chaos that goes with that. And that probably is a pretty good way of leading into why I wrote the book, because I had no intention of writing the book, until I was actually on holiday with my family in Italy in the summer of 2019. And just proving that I'm completely susceptible to marketing. I was in a shop and saw this, you know, beautiful exercise book kind of school book, and thought, right, that looks great. If I buy that maybe I'll start writing. And I did I bought the book, I bought a couple of pens. And I sat down that afternoon and just kind of started writing. And I think it was just the inspiration was more about I, you know, went through this experience in my early 30s. In Ireland during the global financial crisis. The crisis before the last crisis, and just wanted to make sense of it. And writing was became the way of doing that. And one thing led to another and a book emerged from it.

Troy Norcross:

And I have to say, we've read just more than 50 books, haven't we, Marcus? Yep. So you write very well, it's a really easy read. And you bring home the relevant points. So your high marks to you for kind of starting writing kind of on a holiday and then turning out a good quality book. So

Jonathan McMahon:

well done. Yeah, well, thank thank you. I mean, I'm sure all authors have this, or anybody who writes has that kind of first, or anything that's involved in you know, creative process, you hear the first take, you watch the first take, you read the first draft and you think, why did I Why did I think why did I have the conceit that I could possibly do this, because this is this is crap. So through a process of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and getting comments from friends, eventually, he got into a shape that I was happy with. And the key for me was being able to listen to it. So I kind of use the speech function on, you know, popular word processing programme, I won't name the vendor, but everybody will have heard of it. And I just listened to it. And after a few more edits, I kind of got it to where I just state where it could be listened to, which kind of felt right to me.

Troy Norcross:

But you've also said a minute ago, but you started off kind of at the crisis before the crisis, which is now the crisis. And it sounds like reading a book was a bit of a crisis. But what's what's, what was the crisis focus? Was it just pandemic that made it crisis? Because in summer of 19, it was, yeah, pre crisis.

Jonathan McMahon:

Yeah. Yeah, everything felt pretty cool in the summer of 2019. Right? I mean, no one had any idea that this was around the corner. I think there was a sense that we'd left the global financial crisis, the effects of it, were largely kind of behind us, you know, and then bang, late in the year early in 2021. We get the pandemic. Now, what's interesting is if we roll the clock forward, what are going to be the aftershocks from from this, because I think everybody feels pretty good now, right? I mean, better than they certainly did, more optimistic about the future than they did maybe this time last year. But undoubtedly, there are things happening around us in the global economy, that You look at and think, okay, there are still some problems here that are going to need to be worked through in the next decade. So it won't be plain sailing. And I guess some of the lessons that we learned during the global financial crisis relearned during the pandemic will help us as we kind of work through the next decade with its ups and downs.

Marcus Kirsch:

So when we look at that, or in general, you know, there's there's a lot of different stories in the book. And some of the things you're talking about is something decided a balance between clarity and complexity. So and a crisis can always look quite complex. And but you know, try me Will wholly argue that you probably Same here, you know, even before the pandemic, a lot of things were really, really complex. And there's a call always for leaders to to bring clarity and simplicity into what for other people looks complexity in order to be able to lead. So where where do you then see when things like that happen? Maybe across the stories, but we already talked about two crisises? about, you know, where do you draw the line between looking at something really, really complex? And then how do you simplify it without missing the opportunity to potentially change, shift and overcome and those kind of challenges when you're in the middle of the middle of it?

Jonathan McMahon:

Yeah, well, I think this is going to be this is going to be hugely interesting period for us, isn't it because there's going to be a lot of people passing judgement on leadership during the pandemic. But in a completely different situation. You know, where things are now clear that we're far from clear, during the peak of the pandemic, I mean, it really was super clear, I think in the only thing that was clear, as it were, in March 2020 2020, was that things were not clear. And things were highly uncertain, potentially kind of highly volatile. And there's going to be all sorts of reviews of what happened and people are going to be criticised. The kind of beautiful, there's a lot of people sitting there with the kind of benefit of hindsight, assessing what happened. And actually, I think what we will kind of learn from that is how difficult it is to make decisions in those situations. But actually, how the kind of more effective, better leaders gave themselves a bit of time, what sort of calm, didn't rush to judgments one way or the other one, excessively optimistic, one excessively conservative or pessimistic, and just gave themselves the ability to react to new information, and new data as they went along. And undoubtedly asks themselves, you know, whether that data or information was significant, or not. And in this kind of audit that will take place, what we've just been through, we will undoubtedly see some good decisions and some, some bad decisions. But to my mind, what matters is, you know, how do people? What was the calculus that people use to reach those decisions? As opposed to the decisions themselves? And what can we kind of learn from that? They're both in our own business lives or in our kind of personal lives. And the importance maybe of taking the long view, people who can just sort of say, you know, yes, this is an acute phase, but actually to sort of pick up the medical doctrine and do no harm that you know, let's not make the situation worse here. Let's pause, think through what our options might be and sort of move forward from there. And you know, clearly a lot of learning has gone on in the system Let's just be parochial for a minute they can the UK had a bad first half of the crisis, but it's having a better second half on most kind of measures. Why is that? Well, because I think people the system was flexible and people kind of learn from it. So we will this will all be unpacked before us. I just hope that we don't get lost in the the kind of Yabu sucks finger pointing that usually characterises these exercises, and there's a bit of an opportunity for people outside the glare of the media to really reflect on what we could do differently in the future.

Troy Norcross:

So it's a really old story, but it's a joke more than anything else. Three frogs are sitting on a log one decides to jump off. How many frogs are on the log. At the end of the day, it's three because he decided he didn't actually jump And then it kind of leads me to this other half, which is perfect or imperfect decisions, and then perfect or imperfect actions. And and too many times people are afraid to do for fear of making mistakes. And I guess some of the leaders and businesses struggle with a lot is this whole negativity associated with failure of trying and having failed. So whether it was making the wrong decision, or having done the wrong thing, when you do consulting with leaders and with businesses, how do you help them kind of reframe that in a positive way? Because we're always trying to help people understand experimentation is the only way. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't mean it's bad.

Jonathan McMahon:

Well, and you're to be commended for that, because I think it's something that's kind of baked into, you know, I see it with my own kids who are doing exams, right, we're presented from a very early age, and with this idea that there's a kind of binary, it's, you're either succeeding at something or you're failing. And I think those are two of the most unhelpful terms, you know, to be told that you're a failure is an awful thing, I think to be told that you're a success is a pretty awful thing, as well, actually. And these, this, this terminology is we're confronted with it, you know, education, through our education system, through our families to an extent through culture, sport, the media, this kind of idea of, you know, it, you can only be either a success or a failure. And I just think this is really unhelpful terminology and, and really unhelpful way of thinking about pretty much everything in life, right? That all the richness of life is to be found in that kind of stumbles the errors? I mean, there is no foot Yeah, there is no, we have no, we have no footage of all of those sheets of music that, you know, so bark through to one side, because he thought it wasn't good enough. Yeah, then, and there must have been many more manuscripts, many more manuscript pieces of music that he discarded than he retained. We don't have the footage of Pele as a boy, not being able to kind of kick the ball in it, you know, in a way that we just don't have it, right. We only ever see the kind of polished finished article. And so we get we know, we're presented with ideas and figures who are held up for success. What we don't see is the is the journey that Gotland, they're on all of the stuff that was they tried and didn't succeed that to get them to where they are. And I think, you know, leaders maybe need to sort of internalise that. And perhaps it's about taking ourselves less seriously, perhaps it's about being less worried about the views of others, or that's hard, particular kind of listed company environment. And just recognising that progress comes through trial and error, and largely error. Right. And that's without that we live in a very dull and stultifying world, I think, in which progress is impossible because people freeze, they can't make progress. They can't do things differently. They just give up. And that's a terrible thing.

Marcus Kirsch:

So absolutely. And I think so I've just been over the last week, probably more than ever, now that we are getting a bit on the other side of COVID, at least of maybe variant one and maybe not variant Delta. that people are talking a lot about now hybrid work and going back to the office or not, and some companies trying to enforce it or not. And and that's a really interesting conversation yet again, because suddenly, we have something that seemingly previously sounded quite simple. And black and white, has now been becoming a very has been, has is becoming a more complex scenario where some people and I think it was on some statistics, I saw way over 50% of people who want to stay work from home at least three days a week and come in some of the other days. And now organisations are struggling with well, should we ask our people and let them decide themselves? Or should we impose a particular rule set? What would you say to leaders when you have something like that? And is that a new way of than engaging with the people who work for you? Is it is it is it different than before, just because of its complexity or because people are now seeing a different way of going about Work? What would you What would you say to leaders now that these things have sort of atomized and variants of those options?

Jonathan McMahon:

If you're lucky enough to have a great team of people around you, you know, whatever size it is, it seems to me that the least interesting question you could ask about that team is where are you working? Yeah, it seems to be the interesting questions are, are you being creative? Do you? Are you clear about your priorities? Do you know what you want to do next? Are you aware of what the competition's doing? Have you got some ideas on how we could improve things? It seems to me that and how we kind of define this, again, it's a binary thing, isn't it? how we define what you're either working, if you're at home, or you're in the office? Well, we all know that that's Bs, right? Because if you know, you go out for a walk, you sit on a plane, if anybody does that anymore, on a train, you're maybe you're wandering around your kitchen, making a cup of coffee, but actually, you're not focused on that you're thinking about what, that's all work, that's all productive time. It just happens to be, you know, going on obliquely in the background. So I think, if you're, if you've got a manager who's kind of obsessing about if I'm an employee, and my manager is obsessing about where I work, I'm seeing that as an alarm going off in my head saying, There's about 30 really interesting questions you could ask me and kind of where I'm working, I don't think is one of them. Really, clearly, there's a need for people to get together periodically, for all sorts of reasons. You know, particularly the kind of social capital that gets built up from being, you know, in a team and being together. But actually, you know, we're all different. We all work in different ways. And hopefully, the debate will move on to that rather than whether it's a kind of home office thing that doesn't strike me as particularly interesting.

Troy Norcross:

So spinning off on the diversity of teams, diversity of personalities, diversity of experiences, and the current, you know, topic visual, or is that, you know, diverse teams make better decisions. And yet, I've seen some companies become absolutely paralysed, because everybody and their brothers, uncles, dogs, nephews cousin, feel like they need to have a voice. And they need to contribute to every single decision. And suddenly, the leader is surrounded by 60 opinions, and no alignment and no anything. And if they take a decision and didn't consult all 60 people, there are real problems. How do you kind of how do you describe the right way to apply diversity without going to this other crazy extreme?

Jonathan McMahon:

Yeah, it's, it's tough, isn't it? Because as you say, there has been a kind of shift, I think, to sort of democratise the decision making process, if I can put it that way, which may, in a sense, hobble the dis, you know, prevent decisions happening. I think it kind of comes down to all of us to accept that. At the end of the day, things have to happen and things happen as a result of decisions being made. And, yes, I think there's a time and a place for views to be aired, and heard and listened to. And they may be in large groups, they may be one to one, you know, it kind of depends, I think on on the style of the leader. But that really mean a commerce business is all about execution is all about getting things done. The biggest single driver of productivity, I think it's fair to say is, is fast, rapid decision making good decision making, but faster, rapid decision making. And you will be putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage. If you're trapped in this kind of discursive loop all the time, and you can't move into the execution phase. I think it's as simple as that.

Marcus Kirsch:

And I think that gets us a lot into Well, I've been perceiving, often as a bit of a paradox at times, because, you know, I totally understand that. You have a lot of diverse voices, how do you prioritise what insight you take into account what not how do you balance that and often it's really hard to measure which piece is bigger than the other right? At the same time, you have to move forward you have to make a decision on but what I really see often happening and I think that goes back for me maybe into you know how teams can even go back and potentially change What the leadership direction sort of brings down on leadership not having all the answers? Naturally? You know, is there a possibility to to ask back in or give the team time to actually investigate? And I see that often overlooked, especially coming from a design thinking services and background, which does a lot of research to go like, Look, you have a question, you have a problem? Can we spend a week or two, at least on looking what the context is, because if we don't understand the context, we're often going, you know, we might easily run into a wall. And I've seen so many projects because of that being pivoted after the research, and without the research things just going right in straight into a solution and failing miserably, especially around it oftentimes, you know, big things being bought in without having been cross checked in terms of context. How would you say that, you know, how much leaders should be maybe listening or letting people you know, in maybe want to say, What's enough time to at least look at it and the context before taking action and solution arising? Is there sort of a rule or a tendency or something that's good enough? Because I know you talk a bit about leadership and asking the right question at the right time, or is it enough question I asked, and this is not just talking anymore? Do you have sort of a bit of guidelines or some example? Yeah,

Jonathan McMahon:

your your questions really interest, isn't it, because I think if you're a leader who's taking lots of decisions, somehow you failed as a leader, right? Because really, you ought to have a team of people around you, who are just getting on with it. So your job, it seems to me as a leader is to have a very clear idea in your own mind about where you're going to have communicated that to have set some parameters around, okay, this is where we're going. This is how, I'm not going to determine specifically how we're going to get there, but I expect you to do those things that will help us get there. If there's something really big, that's going to stop this getting there. Or that means we ought to change direction, let's talk about that. But actually, I don't want to get involved in that I want you to take responsibility for that. And, you know, really good people, I think we'll seek responsibility, that seems to me to be a hallmark of really good people, it's curiosity and a willingness to take responsibility. And as a leader, it should be your job to kind of cultivate those people to a point where actually, you're kind of there. In case of emergency, you know, kind of break the glass type of leader. And that, you know, people will get on with it, you know, the system will operate without you. And that's a, that's the kind of place you want to get to. And that But that requires a kind of sort of constant vigilance around your team and and making sure they understand that, and they actually live it out. But you've got a role model it as well, right. Because if you sweep in with the kind of three mile screwdriver and start messing around in bits and pieces, that's going to deter that type of behaviour as well. So let's call that the three mile screwdriver. It could be any length you want. Yeah, the 33,000. You know, if you're sitting in New York, and you're trying to do something in London, it just sucks the energy I think out of the team. If you've got somebody who constantly wants to be kind of fiddling around with the data, asking detailed questions is very important. fiddling around in the detail, trying to tweak things from upon high is a very symptom is a very kind of, it's a bit like breaking out kids when they built, you know, playing with Lego and sort of, you know, rather than just watching them create maybe are going to help in them coming and knocking it down and starting again. That's a massive disincentive ever to play with Lego, isn't it? You know, there's another Lego Movie.

Marcus Kirsch:

Yeah, I think that's that's exactly like a where I think every parent can relate to these things were more than a lot of other people who don't have kids, whenever I'm at work, and I think that that's a really great example. And that then gets me It gets me to a little bit more full follow up therefore is do you therefore see or to what extent you therefore see that there might be a shift in general, maybe for reasons of building better resilience or making better decisions that actually some of that governance should be shifting somewhat, to the teams could it feels often that you know, a lot of it comes from the old industrial revolution, factory setting of management or the smart people up down a room factory just executes and obviously we've moved far away from that in terms of necessity, but a system of a lot of organisations still do that rural employee How much? Or what's the easiest way? Or did you did you know? Do you have an example of giving up more, you know, shifting governance levels? Or enabling teams enough? Whatever, whatever word we use for that these days? Sort of what? Yeah, do you do believe in system was a system x versus system? Why do you do you think leaders should be way, way more? Um, enabling teams let her do the stuff?

Jonathan McMahon:

Yeah, I'm a kind of a kind of what works? Guy. Right. So my first question is, does it work? And do you have the people to kind of make it work? because these things are very context specific, right? I mean, to apply a system to a team without taking kind of cognizance of who's in that team. It seems to me that kind of wrong, wrong way around, you've got to get to understand the problem you're trying to solve, or the opportunity you're trying to exploit same thing, and then what resources you've got to deliver that. And you know, where you augment change, swap out some of those resources is, I think, very much driven by the kind of circumstance. Let's go back to your question about the sort of system. We live in a world now that we were in, there isn't that big gap in information, I think there probably once was between the kind of leaders and everybody else, right, people can find out fairly easily kind of what's going on, or reach their own view on things. And therefore, there's just so much more kind of information and knowledge available to people, that the idea that there is someone sat up there who has privileged information or privileged insight on that information is, is questionable. Now, I think the Emperor never really had any clothes. But I think we can possibly see that in some ways, they are perhaps more naked than that. Would they thought we thought already, we would like to believe Yeah, because we really would like to believe that. At some point during a crisis, there's somebody's going to appear. Who's like the grown up? It's going to sort everything out? Yeah. But then you realise, actually, the people in charge are as human as we are. And they don't know anymore. And that's simultaneously the terrifying fact of the crisis, but also the liberating fact, I think. And I think within a business environment, I think if people see that they can make as much of a contribution as the people above them, that seems to be an incredibly powerful thing, and a very engaging thing.

Troy Norcross:

Well, sadly, we always have more questions than we actually have time. So I'm going to ask one question, and I've got one observation before the question. The language you use is incredibly visual. Up there, Emperor, no clothes, three miles, screwdriver, break, glass, leader, incredibly rich, visual sort of things that are kind of all wrapped up. And you talked at the beginning of the book about the importance of stories, or understanding the context of numbers? How do you how do you convey the value and the importance of putting things into a story?

Jonathan McMahon:

Well, you know, we I'm not by far the first person says, but we're story telling mammals, aren't we? That's kind of what distinguishes us from the other kind of advanced primates. Yeah, we can tell, we can hear a story. And we can be inspired by it. And it's a very strange thing when you think about it. And indeed, you know, we live in a culture where we celebrate people who create stories, whether that or act them out. And to believe that this is not important in a commercial business environment would be, it seems to me to miss a hugely important part of human nature. So as a leader, I think if you can tell a story, paint a picture. You have done an awful lot of the work because people want it, and they understand it, because these things are with us from an early age. So plus, it's a more fun way to communicate, and I think a more intuitive way as well.

Troy Norcross:

Well, thank you so much for your time today. For the audience. It really is a great book. We encourage you to read it and we wish you a great rest of your week. Thank you very much. You've been listening to the wicked podcast with co host, Marcus Kirsch and me Troy Norcross,

Marcus Kirsch:

please subscribe on podomatic iTunes or Spotify. You can find all relevant links in the show notes. Please tell us your thoughts. thoughts in the comment section and let us know about any books for future episodes.

Troy Norcross:

You can also get in touch with us directly on Twitter on at wicked and beyond or at Troy underscore Norcross also learn more about the wicked company book and the wicked company project at wicked company calm