Lance Kurke

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

Do you plan in the shower

Do you do your planning in the shower? Planning is planning, isn’t it? When you wake up and plan your day, you anticipate opportunities, obligations, commitments, wants, needs, etc.

You make a list, mentally, on paper or in your hand-held computer, then play the game of completing the tasks that take you through the day.

Organizational planning is conceptually not so different, except that the planner needs to be more systematic and thorough. In this month’s column, I will sketch out a comprehensive overview of the planning process, and will elaborate in the coming months. This column provides the framework for that series — and your planning for years to come.

To grasp the simultaneous dichotomy of simplicity and complexity that is business planning, consider two comparable businesses, one which uses a simple plan and the other which conducts a systematic and thorough data collection process.

For this exercise, imagine your organization is more systematic than your competitor’s. Be aware that this process is not linear, but the act of writing and reading is, so our journey is necessarily misrepresentative of the actual planning process. In reality, many of these data collection activities would occur simultaneously.

To start, let’s gather data about the environment. In planning literature, we refer not just to the ecological environment, but to the political, regulatory, demographic, technological and social milieu that make up the context in which all organizations thrive.

If your business is more knowledgeable about, say, the demographic expectations of the industry for the coming decade, you can appreciate that your organization will be better able to anticipate and react to changes. You will not suffer as many surprises as your competition. If planning were nothing more that just gathering this kind of data, it would be invaluable.

Next, imagine you know more about your customers than your competition. If you understand the needs and wants of your current and future customers, clearly you would have an advantage over your competitor. Imagine you know more about your competitors than they know about you. Industrial espionage, so to speak, provides invaluable data with which to act.

A ubiquitous buzzword today is benchmarking. To me, benchmarking is really creative theft. Imagine that your firm systematically gathered better ideas about how to improve your organization’s processes and you implemented them, but your dead-in-the-water competitor did not.

Slowly but surely, you would get better, create higher quality and lower your costs. Eventually, you would grow market share and, quite possibly, own the competition. I would advise creatively benchmarking to compare your organization to organizations in other industries that share similar processes but which are not direct competitors. Both parties benefit.

One of the oldest planning tools is the SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. By systematically gathering these data, you are able to make important implementation decisions. Knowing your weaknesses allows you to circumvent or eliminate them. Anticipating opportunities prepares you to react more quickly than your competitor.

The next topics are best considered together: culture, leaders and vision. Each is so important that it warrants much more space than I can devote. Suffice it to say that you must assess your corporate culture, empower your leaders and create a desirable vision for the future that draws your work force into wanting to achieve it.

Your job becomes one of managing the culture to achieve the vision.

Once you’ve gathered the data, you’re ready to decide on a strategy. Every author has his favorite cookbook list of strategies, but what is important is that you systematically assess your primary alternatives and pick a small number (one to three). You may decide that vertical integration backward is more important that horizontal diversification (buy suppliers rather than competitors).

With your newfound clarity, decide how to implement your strategy. Implementation, which can take years, is where most plans fail. It is hard work. To simplify, consider that, conceptually, your primary tools are your people, your systems or processes and your formal organization.

Monitor your progress and feed back into the planning process what you learn — in a timely enough fashion to modify if it isn’t going the way you planned. You may need more sales effort or less advertising, more training in something, etc.

Now retrace our mental exercise: If you systematically plan and implement, but your competition does not, the outcome is obvious. Similarly, if your competition does so but you don’t, the outcome is reversed.

If you both plan, the outcome will largely be based on the quality of your planning process. I wish for you the first, admonish you not to let the second happen, and exhort you to improve if the third is your life.

Best of (no luck here) planning to you.

Lance Kurke, PhD., is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm. He is the recently appointed president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh and serves on the faculty of the business school at Duquesne University and as an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

The POWER relationship

Traditionally, an industry is analyzed by assessing five attributes: power of the buyers, power of the suppliers, threat of new entrants, threat of substitute products and extent of rivalry within the industry.

It’s important to gather and organize knowledge to understand your industry. Those who understand their industry have an advantage over those who don’t because they are able to foresee trends and respond appropriately.

It’s critical to understand the relationship between you and the people who buy your product or service. The issue is not with the customer, per se; it’s your power relationship with that customer. If you sell near-commodity products to a large concern that buys in huge quantities, you may have an excellent customer, but the customer has all the power.

Conversely, if you sell near-monopoly products to customers who buy in low quantities and who have few alternatives, you have greater power than your customers, regardless of your history with them.

You must also assess this relationship with your suppliers. Just because you’re the customer doesn’t necessarily give you the power in that relationship. Imagine Coca-Cola purchasing Nutrasweet when it was still a patented product.

Despite Coca-Cola’s size and industry clout, the power was with Nutrasweet. Nutrasweet set the price, not Coca-Cola. After the patent expired and several companies entered the aspartame market, the product became a near-commodity. Seemingly overnight, the power shifted from supplier to buyer, from Nutrasweet to Coca-Cola.

Another consideration is the threat of new entrants. How easy is it for opportunists to enter your industry? Can newcomers, suppliers, or competitors easily enter your specific market, whether by starting from scratch (newcomers), acquiring your customer list (suppliers) or by market diversification (competitors)?

If it’s easy to enter, then strategically you have to plan differently — perhaps by making longer term, committed customer relationships.

If it’s difficult to enter your industry and your customer and client relationships are mutually satisfactory, you have the luxury of allocating precious resources differently.

The fourth concern is the availability of substitute products (from adjacent industries, not substitute brands). For example, part of the problem the U.S. steel industry faced was not just low-cost, high-quality competition, but low-cost substitutes, such as the substitution of concrete highway barriers for steel guardrails.

Not only are they cheaper, but the concrete barriers are designed to make contact with the tire and wheel before the car body, drastically reducing damage and potential injury. The more substitutes that exist, the more of a fight you have to retain customers, which may change your strategic emphasis, perhaps to marketing or R & D.

Finally, ponder what the rivalry is like in your industry. If two like-sized firms compete to sell products that are not very well differentiated (Coke and Pepsi), expect fierce competition (cola wars). By contrast, if firms in an industry are seeing well-differentiated products or services, that difference essentially sells the product; rivalry is not as critical an issue.

Understanding your strategic industry position is essential: powers, entry, substitute, rivalry. Such understanding explains Microsoft’s dominating presence in its industry. A quick analysis reveals low-power buyers of its products, low-power suppliers to it, low potential for new entrants into its industry, few substitutes and insignificant rivalry.

Lance Kurke, Ph.D, is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm that helps companies with their customer and supplier relationships, among other challenges. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University, and is an adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University, where he teaches strategic planning and leadership. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 13:03

Of planks and people

Imagine a great wooden ship is built. To maintain the craft, planks are removed periodically, replaced by new ones. Eventually, all the planks are replaced. However, the old planks were kept and reassembled into an identical ship. Two ships now float side by side.

Which is the original?

Most managers assert that people are largely interchangeable, like the planks of our ship. They come and go, but the organization remains basically the same. Others believe that people are the organization and each plank is unique. Which is right?

Both views hold water. No one is irreplaceable but everyone is critical, some more so than others.

To the extent that you feel people are essential and irreplaceable, you should direct your efforts toward the activities, processes and policies that attract and retain the very best people. These include a great corporate culture, outstanding benefits, salary, work setting, desirable promotions that are evident to employees, stock or options.

If you feel the planks (and people) are interchangeable, you worry about different things and focus your efforts differently. People change careers every few years, so you don't worry about retention. Rather, you gear up systematically to hire great people. Use them up. Let them move on. There will always be a new cohort of good people coming along.

This also means that you want to implement a plan to recruit outstanding employees from others. The flip side of this is to get rid of the worst employees, although a great corporate culture is somewhat incompatible with doing so. If you have fair and reliable performance appraisals, however, you can use them to jettison poor performers. Lance Kurke is the president of Kurke & Associates Inc., a strategic planning and leadership development firm. He serves on the faculty at Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon Universities. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or lance@kurke.com.

Sunday, 16 March 2003 19:00

Of planks and people

Imagine a great wooden ship is built. To maintain the craft, planks are periodically removed and replaced by new ones.

Eventually all the planks are replaced. However, the old planks were stored and secretly reassembled into an identical ship. Two ships now float side by side. Which is the original?

Most managers assert that people are largely interchangeable, like the planks of our ship. They come and they go, but the organization remains basically the same over time. Others believe that people are the organization. In this belief system, each plank is unique. Which is right?

To the extent you feel people are essential and irreplaceable, you should direct your efforts toward the activities, processes and policies that attract and retain the very best people. These include a great corporate culture, outstanding benefits, salary, work setting, desirable promotions, stock or options.

If you feel the planks (and people) are interchangeable, you worry about different things and focus your efforts differently. People change careers every few years, so you don't worry about retention. Rather, you gear up systematically to hire great people.

Use them up. Let them move on. There will always be a new cohort of good people coming along. Lance Kurke is president of Kurke & Associates Inc., a strategic planning and leadership development firm. He serves on the faculty at Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon Universities. Reach him at (412) 281-2930.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

The big, bad bear

You’ve heard the tale: Two hikers were walking through the woods when they came upon a huge, hungry bear that was about to charge them. One hiker immediately put down his pack, took off his heavy hiking boots and started to put on his lightweight running shoes.

“What are you doing? You can’t possibly outrun that hungry bear!” his companion said.

The first hiker finished tying his shoes and looked up at his friend.

“I don’t have to outrun that bear,” he said calmly. “I just have to outrun you.”

Many executives seem paralyzed with fear, believing that the tasks facing them are impossible. They fear the bear when they need not. All they need to do is outperform their closest competitor.

This month’s column is about reducing, even eliminating the fear of the bear. In this continuing exploration of the strategic planning process, examine your operating environment to understand the real threats, which enables you to ignore imagined ones and make sound, reality-based business decisions.

Let’s look at four facets that constitute your immediate operating environment: competitors, suppliers, creditors and labor.

1. Competitors — Imagine that you systematically investigate, track and maintain records on your competitors, but they don’t monitor your firm or mutual competitors. This information lets you take advantage of many opportunities. Imagine you are trying to grow through horizontal diversification (buying competitors), and one of your sales reps discovers a competitor has a serious cash-flow problem.

This information gives you a significant advantage in timing and negotiating this acquisition. Gathering data can range from a full-fledged corporate espionage unit to simply having folders for information which members of your organization discover. As Sun Tzu once said, “If you know yourself and you know the enemy, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

2. Suppliers — Knowledge of your suppliers is critical. ISO 9000 certification is simply an institutionalization of such knowledge. Your ability to discern which suppliers can deliver needed components based on the strengths of each supplier (time, cost, quality, etc.) is a competitive weapon. As long as you maintain better relationships than your competitors, you need not fear the bear. Vendor certification programs are tools that enhance this advantage.

3. Creditors — In your business, your relationship with your banker, angel investor, venture capitalist or creditors may dominate everything. However, some executives obsess needlessly, questioning whether they have maintained adequate control of their firms. Accurate knowledge lets owners sleep at night. Your proper worry is your “relative” cost of capital, not whether it’s available — an imagined bear.

4. Labor — If you are unionized, understanding your relationship with labor can make or break your business. Putting into place a plan to improve that relationship may be the most important thing you do. But if you remain ignorant of your workers’ unified concerns, you can do irreversible harm — quickly.

Absent a union, you face a different, but no less important, set of issues. Building a corporate culture to recruit and retain the very best people is imperative. It’s one thing to instruct subordinates to perform tasks and quite another to inspire them to excellence. Only by really understanding their motivations, fears and hopes can you anticipate and respond appropriately.

Too often we fear being eaten by the proverbial bear. In a thoughtfully planned world, the real concerns are competition, suppliers, creditors and employees. If you do better in the latter three categories, and understand your competition, you need never fear the bear.

Lance Kurke, Ph.D, is president of Kurke & Associates Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University, and is an adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:38

Navigating in the dark

One of the most important change efforts a leader can undertake is cultural change. People routinize their behaviors. Most expect their work environments to remain constant -- they have their perceptions, take security in them and develop comfort zones around them. Cultures change only slowly. When you think about your current culture (where you are now) and the culture that is crucial to bring about your strategic vision (where you want to be), and realize there is a difference, it's time to institute change. How? Transition is an arduous, slow process. Consequently, you, as the leader, must provide the impetus, energy and motivation to bring about true change. You must champion the cause, perpetually exemplifying faith in the outcome (where you want to be). This is your crusade to change old habits. Here's where to begin:

Do something crazy, but in line with the new culture. Something has to signal the troops that a change is occurring. You have to get your employees' attention. For example, a client firm avoided OSHA problems and dramatically involved the hourly shop people by implementing a family culture -- literally treating employees the way the owners would have wanted their own sons and daughters to be treated.

They had a special day when they shut down the factory (a first!), cleaned, repaired, painted and generally addressed all of OSHA's (and the employees') concerns.

Prepare for crisis because people will test your resolve. "Do they really mean it this time?" "Is this the next program of the month?" The tests can be small and subtle or outrageous and obvious -- grapevine chatter to sabotage. Anticipate it, be clear on how you will deal with it, and act uniformly.

Be consistent in whatever you do. This is perhaps my most important admonition. If you tell everyone "Quality is most important" but ship known low-quality products to meet budget, your quality culture is dead. If you tell employees that they are the firm's most important resource, but fail to provide appropriate training opportunities, they will no longer believe you. If you commit to improving process, then balk at the cost, future "commitments" will be ignored.

Hire, promote, reward and develop employees in tune with the new culture. Termination decisions should also be made in light of the new culture. Remember the adage, one bad apple ...

Create new, or perpetuate existing, myths and stories for use as powerful tools for building and supporting your new culture. Getting people to talk about the crazy way you introduced your culture change helps maintain the aura and cement the change. Consistently drawing on your organization's history as it supports the new culture is a fabulous way of changing culture while maintaining continuity.

Start at the very top. Change has to begin with the top executives. Likewise, your senior line managers must be on board and committed to the vision, or the change will not occur. This is not a task you can delegate solely to the human resources manager. This change must speak with line authority.

To get started, you may need to invest some time to identify the key characteristics of your current corporate culture and assess whether it supports your strategic vision. Like the bat that navigates blind in a dark cave, you may be unaware of how your culture may be undermining your strategy (and success).

You are less likely to fly blind if you take control of the change and create the culture you want. Lance Kurke, Ph.D., is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University and is an adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Teaching a horse to fly

The Dervishes have a long history of using stories to instruct. I will tell you one of my favorites.

A horse thief and his partner were caught red-handed and sent before the local ruler for sentencing -- traditionally the death penalty. Just before sentencing, the thief made this impassioned plea:

"Oh great ruler, I am worth so much more to you alive than dead. You see, I was stealing this horse in order to teach it to fly, and then to give it to you as a gift. Should you see fit to commute our sentence, I will continue as before, and present you a flying horse in just three years."

The ruler, imagining the prestige and envy created by having the only flying horse, agreed.

"You and your assistant shall have room and board in the royal household, and unlimited access to the stables," he said. "I will see you in three years."

When the thief and his compatriot were finally alone, the compatriot asked, "What are you doing? You know you can't teach a horse to fly. In three years, we face a certain death sentence!"

The wise thief countered: "Besides the fact that we now have three luxurious years in the royal household, four things could happen in the next three years: The ruler could die; we could die; the horse could die; and who knows, we just might teach that horse to fly!"

In the next three years, at least 14 things could happen in your business. The question is, are you going to let them happen to you, or are you going to make proactive decisions to control which of them will unfold?

This column outlines the principal grand strategies available to a business. In the coming months, I will elaborate on the details of the strategies and when and why they may be appropriate for you. Incidentally, the number 14 holds nothing magical; some scholars use more, others less. What's important is that you be systematic in assessing your options so that none is overlooked.

Here is a simple but comprehensive list to consider in staying on top of what may occur over the next few years.

1. Concentrated growth. Keep doing what you have been doing because it has been so successful.

2. Market development. Enter new geographic markets.

3. Product development. Bring new products to market.

4. Innovation. Concentrate on research and development to change the nature of your industry's technological base.

5. Horizontal integration. Buy your competition.

6. Vertical integration, forward and backward. Buy a supplier, distributor, or retailer.

7. Concentric diversification. Buy into related industries, or perhaps machinery related to your core business.

8. Conglomerate diversification. Buy companies that are utterly unrelated to your business.

9. Turning things around. Actively and aggressively examine and repair your core business, usually with an eye on cost savings, process improvement, new technology introduction, changing vendor relationships or some combination.

10. Divestiture. Get rid of unprofitable or undesirable product lines or business units.

11. Liquidation. Acknowledge your failures, cut your losses and go out of business. Sell everything.

12. Joint ventures. Enter into agreements with suppliers, customers, competitors or appropriate others to create win-win situations.

13. Strategic alliances. Work with companies which otherwise are competitors to achieve mutually beneficial goals that are clearly delineated (like joint technology development).

14. Consortiums. Partner with other organizations (typically in your industry) to achieve outcomes beneficial to your industry.

I will elaborate in future columns. In the meantime, start thinking about your flying horse.

Lance Kurke, Ph.D, is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University and is an adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

OK, jump!

First-time skydivers confront two very specific emotions. You confront the first --terror -- when you stand on the strut of a small airplane, looking straight down two miles, and your instructors say, "OK, jump."

The realization strikes that we have millions of years of evolution to overcome to let go of the relative safety of that rickety airplane.

After jumping, the drogue chute slows you to a frightening 125 mph, which limits your free-fall to 20 or so seconds. Not until the opening of the main chute do you transition from terror to exhilaration, and you realize you are not going to die.

Euphoria takes over and you begin to settle in and enjoy the ride. The last mile can take 20 minutes -- 20 wonder-filled minutes. Other than the quiet, 5 mph wind flowing past your ears, it's absolutely silent. You are alone, quiet, completely undistracted, overtaken by the panorama before you. You can see forever.

Initially, strategic planning produces a similar set of emotions. You experience terror after realizing you may end up doing things that are counterintuitive to your business sense, such as buying a business, diversifying or undertaking other equally novel ventures. However, you feel exhilaration once you consummate the plan and begin to see the positive outcomes brought about by your decisions.

This month, as I continue to develop your strategic options, my purpose is simple: to admonish you to overcome your terror and open yourself up to exhilaration.

With an innovation strategy, a firm dedicates a large portion of its resources to changing the technological base of the industry. In other words, we are not just completing product innovations but really changing basic products or services.

In addition to concentrated growth, market development and product development, consider the following options:

Horizontal integration. Sometimes it's much faster to grow by acquisition than by new geographic market development and concentrated growth. Should you have the financial wherewithal, buying the competition enlarges your firm and introduces opportunities: new managers, experienced salespeople, new processes, new customers and new technologies.

It also may pose serious threats: too much debt, unmanageable remote locations, bad union relations. You get the idea.

Vertical integration, forward and backward. Sometimes the critical success factor to your business is a vendor, distributor or retailer. If this is true, consider incorporating that person directly into your organization, allowing you more control and producing a strong competitive advantage.

Concentric diversification. You may decide to capitalize on synergies and compatibilities between your business and another to create competitive advantages, increase your strengths and opportunities and minimize your weaknesses and threats. Moreover, you may face a shorter learning curve, your barriers of entry may be lower and your costs may be significantly less.

Conglomerate diversification. This strategy typically is used by larger firms. The primary concern when here is profitability. Companies you might consider attractive to acquire are those that are financially distressed, short on investment resources or undervalued.

By the way, skydiving instructors never tell you that the deceleration from 125 mph to 5 mph in the matter of a few feet causes serious bruising in the unprepared. Similarly, business owners may feel a few bruises from their first forays.

The pain passes. The exhilaration is worth it.

Lance Kurke, Ph.D., is president of Kurke & Associates Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University and is an adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University. He teaches strategic planning and leadership. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or lance@kurke.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Zen leopards ...

There is a Zen saying that goes something like this: "If a white leopard repeatedly breaks into the temple during the ceremony and drinks the holy water, incorporate the white leopard into the ceremony."

Zen masters would, no doubt, make good business gurus. They teach you to incorporate, rather than fight, the inevitable, to look past the obvious and seek the subtle, to know your limitations and then exceed them. This month, we look at "incorporating your leopard" as we visit the last six of what I call my 14 grand strategies.

Expecting the leopard

In addition to the grand strategies of concentrated growth, market development, product development and innovation mentioned previously, consider:

9. Turnaround. Sometimes, we get lazy and fat. Things are going well, we add overhead, nonessential personnel. We pursue peripheral markets and related but nonessential products.

We become inefficient and lose our edge. Eventually, it's necessary to aggressively examine and repair your core business, usually with an eye on cost savings, process improvement, new technology introduction, changing vendor relationships or some combination. Better yet, incorporate this strategy into your yearly planning activities.

Leaving the leopard and the temple

These strategies are for businesses nearing the end of their life cycles:

10. Divestiture. We sometimes end up with unprofitable or undesirable product lines or business units. Either our ego got in the way of our business sense, or we acquired something inappropriate during a business relationship or acquisition. Sometimes you must cast it away, no matter how much it hurts your pride.

11. Liquidation. You may never have to go out of business, but it happens. Sometimes we look carefully at our endeavors and have to admit they are no longer the best use of our short lives. There are now better ways to spend our time.

Invite the leopard into your temple

Horizontal integration, vertical integration, concentric diversification and conglomerate diversification fit here. Others are:

12. Joint venture. Opportunities abound to work cooperatively with other firms. Enter into agreements with suppliers, customers, competitors or appropriate others to create win-win situations. If a leopard is drinking your holy water, work with it, not against it.

13. Strategic alliance. Sometimes you'll find more expedience in working with those who otherwise are your competitors to achieve mutually beneficial, clearly delineated goals. This could be to lobby, to develop a technology or just to enjoy your competitor's holy water. U.S. electronics firms did this to develop a standard for High Definition Television, effectively shutting out foreign competition.

14. Consortium. Partner with other organizations to achieve outcomes beneficial to your industry. The tobacco industry formed a quiet little consortium to negotiate with Congress, and later, the States Attorneys General, to cut a deal on litigation protection. Foreign firms form stronger consortia, called cartels, which are illegal in this country.

Now that you have learned more about ways to incorporate the leopard into your temple's ceremonies, enjoy your holy water. Lance Kurke, Ph.D., is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning and executive education firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh, serves on the faculty at Duquesne University, and is an adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University. He teaches strategic planning and leadership. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at kurke@msn.com.

Thursday, 28 March 2002 11:08

A clean sweep

In 506 A.D., King Clovis wished to create what we would call a nation state among the Frankish speaking people.

To do so, he had to conquer the citadel of Carcassonne in modern southwestern France. His only option was to siege the acropolis to starve the inhabitants into capitulation.

The tactic was working -- the 20,000 people crammed into the town were starving. The leader of the citadel, Dame Carcas, commanded her personal bodyguard to lay down their weapons and armor, issued them brooms and baskets and had them sweep the towers that encircled the city.

They started on the top floor and worked to the ground floor, where they picked up all the detritus. Then, as now, rodents consumed as much as half of the stored food, and their effluent remained on the floors in the storage rooms.

The level above ground was where the soldiers lived and cooked. The ground floor contained the stables, until the horses were eaten. This detritus was dumped in a pile and sorted by the bodyguards, with instructions to pick out the rare grains of wheat, barley and so forth and place them in a single bushel basket.

Dame Carcas hand-fed the entire bushel of grain to her pet pig. She had her trumpeters sound at a particular point on the wall, and Clovis and his retinue assembled below that point where a stone abutment jutted out.

She then pushed the pig off the wall, where it hit the abutment and burst all over the assembled nobles below. One of the officers looked at the contents of the pig, which were all over the men, and pointed out that in the citadel, they still had animals, and the animals were being fed a wonderful mixture of grains.

Clovis decided to lift the siege because he concluded it was not working.

In a very real sense, we create our realities by making attributions. This is good and bad. It is bad because we can draw attributions that may be wrong and lead to bad outcomes.

It is good because the world is a highly ambiguous place and leaders, with their influence, can sway reality as they wish, within reason or persuasion. In a very real sense, leaders create realities by controlling attributions.

Lance Kurke is president of Kurke & Associates Inc., a strategic planning and leadership development firm. He serves on the faculties of Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon Universities. Reach him at (412) 916-2525 or at kurke@duq.edu.

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