self-Obsolescence is the most impactful practice
a strategic alliance manager can embody.
The role of strategic alliance manager is a nontraditional role in business; there is nothing else like it.
We do the impossible
in the eye of a hurricane.
Therefore, being a strategic alliance manager requires us to use nontraditional and at times counter-intuitive approaches. This is especially true regarding the idea that we should actually strive to obsolete ourselves. We should freely give away our best ideas.
Am I crazy? Perhaps, but that is another topic. Read on.
We are empowered as we empower.
Paradoxically, the practice of self-Obsolescence[i] is about true empowerment. As we empower others by sharing our best ideas we end up gaining power. Rather than trying to control others or make them dependent on us, we empower them. The result is that we become more empowered. And we will be increasingly empowered as we continue practicing self-Obsolescence. We end up living in a virtuous cycle of empower, be empowered, empower, be empowered, …
For strategic alliance managers, this empowerment is not about formal power; it is informal. But our informal power can grow to exceed formal power. Later in this article you will read a real world example of how my informal power, as an alliance manager, grew to exceed the formal power of a Senior Vice President at Hewlett-Packard.
Striving to create new value in a strategic alliance brings us face-to-face with the impossibilities associated with our value-creating objective; in fact most alliances fail to achieve their full value-creating potential.
Creation requires a collaborative atmosphere based on high-trust and an appropriate level of openness. Instead of this we often have to deal with:
- Low levels of trust and a lack of openness.
- Reluctance to openly share ideas. In fact, there is a bias toward hoarding ideas. A common career strategy is based on the belief that “knowledge is power,” so we need to hoard it. If you accept this premise then you should not share your knowledge, insight and wisdom; you would be foolish to do so.
- We struggle to stay up-to-date with all that is happening in our alliance. Some people may be reluctant to include us in their projects, activities or communications. This behavior stems from their concern that we might steal some of the glory associated with a particular activity – they want to hoard success and don’t understand why they should include us. Or they simply forget to keep us informed.
- We have insufficient power to accomplish what needs to be done in our alliance. We often lament, “If only I had more direct control over people and budgets. If only I reported directly to the CEO, then I could make people do what needs to get done.”
- Overwhelming complexity and dysfunctional drama in our alliance. The solution to both of these problems is a process called the 2-Slide MethodologyTM. This methodology is mentioned here because it generates the ideas we need to freely share.
As a consequence of these challenges, we may feel insecure and uncertain about the value of our work. Others might ask us, “So, what is the value of a strategic alliance manager? What do you actually do? How can you help me?” At such times we may end up feeling inept and powerless. We may ask ourselves, “Why am I needed here? What is my value to the organization? How can I do my work in this situation?”
The practice of self-Obsolescence actually runs into and then through these questions of self-doubt. This practice is about going past our lesser self. It is about discarding this lesser self (grounded in ego), in order to embrace the emergence of our greater Self (based on love and in true abundance).
At this point you may be concerned about the spiritual tone of this article. If that is the case I suggest reading two articles: a spiritual disclaimer, and the ROI of spirituality.
Laying the Foundation
- Awareness and presence (possibly via some sort of meditative practice).
- The willingness to be ego-less.
- A growing appreciation of the need to be fear-less.
- The willingness to begin exploring the role of alliance manager (or identity).
Before you can be receptive to the “crazy” ideas in this practice, there has to be some interest in an increased consciousness or spiritual awakening. There needs to be some level of willingness to embark upon a spiritual (not necessarily religious) path.
Clearly, this will be an ongoing process. There is no litmus test that determines, “Now I am ready.” At a minimum there need to be ideas planted in one’s consciousness that suggest, “Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe I don’t really need to be a ‘driver-driver’ who forces things to happen. Maybe I don’t need to take all the credit for my alliance’s success nor all the blame for its failure. Maybe there’s a way for me to be more authentically myself, allowing others to do the same, and bringing more value-creation into my alliance. How can I empower myself? How can I empower others?”
If you are open to some of these ideas, then you are ready to at least consider Self-Obsolescence.
Read on …
Dealing with the problems of overwhelming complexity and dysfunctional drama is important to consider as we begin to embody the counter-intuitive practice of Self-Obsolescence. You might ask how bringing simplicity to complexity and neutralizing dysfunctional drama are related to self-Obsolescence. As we simplify our lives and eliminate drama, we change how and where we spend our time. We therefore free ourselves to consider new ideas.
We free up considerable time and energy as we change what we do as a strategic alliance manager. When we free up our time, time that was previously consumed by complexity and drama, we make room for a new Self to begin to emerge. Beyond the direct benefits of simplicity, the 2-Slide MethodologyTM brings two higher-level benefits to this practice:
- It frees up time and energy so that we have the “space” for developing a new Self.
- It provides us with the actual substance for the Self-Obsolescence process. The ideas in the 2-Slides are some of the most valuable things we give away and then receive back.
Before you begin to obsolete yourself, you need to be clear about the essence of your alliance. You should have at least started using the 2-Slide MethodologyTM. That process will start you on the path of deeply-creative listening and deep giving, central to this practice.
Next, you must cultivate a willingness to explore your identity and think deeply about what it means to be a strategic alliance. In the whitepaper on the strategic alliance manager role and in the book Spiritual Principles in Strategic Alliances, I suggest a bold, arguably grandiose, and possibly even heretical idea. I suggest that it would be helpful for us to think of ourselves as being the creator or “god” over our alliance.
This idea focuses us on understanding what it means to be a creator, a creator of value. It focuses us on the need to be helpful to others, to serve them. It focuses us on the realization that we are ultimately responsible for the climate in our alliance.
Thinking about being the value-creator of an alliance forced me to deeply consider my relationship with the attributes of deity (in Abrahamic religions), specifically omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience. In this one thought-exercise we reconsider the problems we face as alliance managers, shed light on the solution, and start illuminating the spiritual basis for Self-Obsolescence.
Omnipotence (being all-powerful) – given the overwhelming challenges we face, it is all-too-easy to simplistically think that we just need more power. We think that our lack of power is the problem. So, reporting directly to the CEO would be the solution because it would give us the formal power that we need. More often than not, most strategic alliance managers do not have this luxury. If we did have all the formal power we thought we needed, it would actually end up being an unhealthy luxury. It would prevent us from having to develop the informal power needed to bring more creativity into our alliance. More power is the answer, but we cannot achieve it via direct or formal means.
Omnipresence (ubiquity or being present everywhere) – given all of the activities that need to happen in a healthy value-creating alliance, and an unhealthy desire to control everything, we feel compelled to be everywhere, in the middle of everything, included in all communications, and present in every meeting. If we were somehow able to physically accomplish this omnipresent objective, we would either kill ourselves (i.e., burn out) or we would kill or stifle the value-creating potential in our alliance. Our presence does need to pervade the alliance, but it can only be accomplished as a virtual presence.
Omniscience (being all-knowing) – this is actually where our answer lies. As strategic alliance managers we are expected to be the most all-knowing person in the alliance. Everyone expects us to know the value expected from the alliance, the problems in the alliance, and the solutions to those problems. They expect us to help others work more effectively in the alliance. Management expects us to be able to clearly and powerfully articulate a compelling yet practical long-term vision for the alliance. But how do we accomplish this all-knowing objective? Can we do it by going around and demanding that everyone keeps us “in the know”? Or is there a more indirect and more helpful way?
Paradoxically, the way we gain knowledge is by giving it away. The teacher learns by teaching; ideas given away do not leave us. In fact, our understanding of these ideas grows and deepens via the simple act of giving and sharing. And if we give something of real value, the receiver is compelled to give back. It is in these interchanges of teaching and learning, giving and receiving, that we observe natural reciprocity in action.
As strategic alliance managers we are expected to give and share the following ideas throughout the alliance:
- A compelling and practical long-term vision that creates personal buy-in and enthuses our alliance team toward collective and individual greatness.
- A clear understanding of the incremental value being created in our alliance – what has been created so far and what it is expected to be created in the future.
- How each company will strategically benefit, directly and indirectly, near-term and long-term, from our alliance.
- Practical suggestions for how to work most effectively together. How individuals can bridge the cultural and strategic chasms that always exist between any two companies.
- How each organization is structured and how strategically important decisions are made. How resources get allocated and committed.
- How long-term intangible forms of value (e.g., trust and openness) lead to near-term tangible forms (e.g., incremental sales revenue).
- Why soft metrics are actually more strategically important than hard metrics.
- How relationship competencies are strategically important, in alliances and throughout the business.
When we share these ideas, when we provide real value to others, when we are the embodiment of value, our personal value increases; we then have more value to give. As we give we receive and gain value, we give and receive, and on and on. As we share our wisdom and great insights, those with whom we share are compelled to share back.
We become the central figure
in our alliance’s
virtuous cycle of value-creation.
More than sharing back, others are compelled to include us, directly and indirectly, in the things they are working on in the alliance. Our presence increases in a virtual manner. Our presence increases as we expand beyond our physical boundaries. Others naturally become our virtual eyes, ears, mouth, and hands; they share with others our vision. We all get on the same page, not because of control, but as the natural result of the free exchange of ideas with each other.
We become an omnipresent alliance manager as our influence pervades the alliance in a healthy value-creative manner. We attract others to be in our presence. Someone who honestly and naturally shares, serves and gives, ends up being attractive.
How we share our insights and wisdom is important. It is rare that someone will want or need to know all that we know. Therefore, we need to practice just-enough and just-in-time training and coaching. We need to sense what people need to know in order to accomplish the next task ahead of them, and then we help them take that step.
We need to be clear and bold in how we share our insights and wisdom. There is too much at stake for us to “tread carefully” or “mince words.” That said, we do need to share, serve and give from a place of love, grounded in humility.
As we begin serving our alliance in this manner, our lives will become more fiercely peaceful. We will increasingly find ourselves doing the impossible with nothing in the eye of a hurricane. We will be empowered as we empower others. We will increase our informal power and our virtual presence as we consciously strive to obsolete ourselves, as we try to teach all we know to everyone around us.
Every good teacher hopes to give his students so much of his own learning that they will one day no longer need him. Thoughts increase by being given away. The more we believe in them the stronger they become. Everything is an idea. How, then, can giving and losing be associated?
– A Course in Miracles
The following suggestions are specific steps you can take throughout your day that will help you practice self-Obsolescence:
- Reflect upon your core simple truths (click here for some simple spiritual ideas). The objective of this reflective period is to connect, get centered, or be grounded – whichever phrase you prefer. You know when you are connected.
- Prior to important meetings (and they are all important) remind yourself of your divine nature and the other’s divine nature. Maybe reflect upon a profoundly connective idea, such as the Hindu greeting Namasté, meaning “The divine in me sees and rejoices in the divine I see in you.” Therefore, this relationship you are entering into is sacred and eternal.
- Trust that things will work out if you are fully present and connected.
- Be fully present with all with whom you associate. Be here and now.
- Ask them, sense from them, or ask the spirit within, “How can I be of service to you? How can I be of value to you? How can I be the greatest embodiment of value, here and now?”
- And then deeply and holistically (with your entire being) listen for the answer.
- Serve, share and give. One of the best reference documents to refer to and share from are the 2-Slides for your alliance. Click here for examples from the HP/SAP and HP/Microsoft alliances. Be aware and avoid sharing too much and too quickly. Strive for just-enough and just-in-time training/coaching (see the second of the Cautionary Notes at the end of this document).
- Deeply listen to the other as he or she shares back. Take detailed notes. Deeply and holistically listen. If it’s appropriate, ask the other person(s) for their inputs or responses to what you have shared.
- Use their responses to add to the content of the 2-Slides for your alliance. This can apply to both incremental-value opportunities and value-impediments.
- This process of being deeply present, deeply listening, authentically sharing and serving will deepen your relationships and increase alignment throughout your alliance. Your knowledge, presence and power will increase as you deeply empower others.
Understanding the spiritual basis or the fundamental principles of Self-Obsolescence helps clarify how the suggested solution works, accelerate time-to-results, and improve value-creation in our alliance.
The primary spiritual basis for this practice is the idea of oneness. If we can at least entertain the idea that oneness might be real, we begin to see that it is by giving that we really receive. When we give we are actually giving to ourselves. In truth, we are giving to our greater Self.
Another spiritual idea which forms a basis for this practice is the idea that we are divine. At our core we are great. This practice is about clearing away what stands between us and our individual and collective grandeur.
Consider this quote from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:
It is when you give of yourself [your ideas] that you truly give.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life – while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
What does it mean to give of ourselves? It is to give of our best ideas.
Thoughts increase by being given away.
The more we believe in them the stronger they become.
Everything is an idea.
How, then, can giving and losing be associated?
Elsewhere in A Course in Miracles it says that we are but an idea in the mind of God. Everything is an idea. Creation begins with an idea. Empirically this idea seems to make sense and it helps explain such things as Karma and the Golden Rule.
I can best illustrate the results of this practice by telling a real-life story. At the time that I was developing a strategic alliance between HP’s enterprise printing business and SAP, I was also the strategic alliance manager for Adobe.
During this time, I had been explicitly practicing self-Obsolescence. I strove to obsolete myself by giving freely of my best ideas and my greatest wisdom. People gave back and included me in what they were working on. They no longer needed me, but they wanted me. I gained more insight and increased virtual presence and my informal power grew.
One day, a Senior VP from HP called me and actually asked my permission to do something with SAP. He wanted to include SAP in an upcoming HP product announcement. I reminded him how this activity tied back to something that needed to happen between HP and Adobe. So I actually gave him an assignment to get the CEO of Adobe to agree to this activity.
The next day the Senior VP called me back to report the accomplishment of his assignment with Adobe’s CEO. He asked again for permission to do the product announcement with SAP. I then gave him my permission.
After I hung up the phone it struck me. Over the prior 24 hours I had: told an HP Senior VP “no” and gave him an assignment; the next day he reported back that he had accomplished my assignment; and then I granted him permission. Wow!
Who did I think I was to act like that and treat an HP executive that way? Well, I was the creator over the alliance; in a sense I was the god of the alliance. I had gained enough informal power to apparently exceed the formal power of a Senior Vice President at Hewlett-Packard. That may not have been the actual fact, but it was the message I got from the Universe. I got the clear message that this self-Obsolescence practice is incredibly powerful.
A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. Fail to honor people; they fail to honor you. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim is fulfilled when they say, “We did this ourselves.”
– Lao Tzu
First – these ideas are merely my suggestions based on my experiences. As I say in the Spiritual Disclaimer, “Please do not blindly accept what I say to be true. Try it out and validate it with your own life experience.” You know what’s right in any given situation. You have the truth within you – trust that truth. If you want to try out these ideas, let the opportunities present themselves and continually listen to the spirit within you. There are clearly times when this sort of self-Obsolescence activity can be harmful and times when it is most helpful. You know when, where and how to be the embodiment of value to this degree.
Second – as we grow in our understanding, insight and wisdom it is very easy for us to completely overwhelm others with too much information, shared too quickly. We need to take it easy. We need to realize that the vision we have gained can very easily overwhelm others. Vision brings us insight coupled with enthusiasm – we can get excited by the opportunities we see. That combination can lead us to share more than others are willing to receive or able to handle. We need to stay in tune with the spirit within us and between us in order to gauge how much is just right for just-enough and just-in-time training and coaching.
Read about being a transformational strategic alliance manager to accomplish extraordinary results.
[i] Why do I use the phrase “self-Obsolescence”? I use those words because they best describe what this process is all about. It is about obsoleting our lesser self (i.e., lower-case self), the one grounded in fear and ego. The self that is based on a scarcity mindset where your win is my loss, where we are dealing with a fixed amount of value that is merely getting divided up between us. The ego is biased toward complexity and over-analysis, and so it obscures the simple essence of what’s going on in an alliance. self-Obsolescence is about making room for your greater Self to emerge. This is the Self grounded in love and spirit. It naturally has an abundance mindset where you and I are working toward our greater good, and there is no limit to the value we can create together. And this greater Self sees things simply, not simplistically but simply and powerfully.