Wednesday, February 19, 2014

GE CEO Jeff Immelt and Theory of Algorithms

Jeff Immelt

In his talk at Stanford Graduate School of Business - Leaders Must Drive Change - GE CEO Jeff Immelt spoke to several things that resonate with Theory of Algorithms and The Core Algorithm.

Theory of Algorithms as a conceptual framework improves our efforts to solve all sorts of problems and sharpens our ability to know what we need to know.  Besides being a meta-model for problem-solving, it also aspires to be a complete epistemology.  The Core Algorithm is its practical applications model, and therefore lays out the meta-methods and meta-processes for actually solving problems and knowing things.

The following references what Immelt said and how it resonates thus with ToA and TCA:

GE does a lot of things in a lot of places, and consequently optimize its technology and costs.

It is important for GE leaders to truly understand how things work.  This is the seminal precept of ToA, when I first crystallized what I needed to do and could do: that is, to delve into things and truly grasp how they work.  It is a process I've come to call extracting the algorithms, because once this is done, then these algorithms are applicable across situations, purpose and organizations.  

For example, consider the engine of a motor vehicle.  Of course, over the past century, automobile companies have evolved the engine into something far more sophisticated than Henry Ford could've imagined.  Yet, its essential operation remains the combustion of gasoline, which produces energy that powers diverse models and types of vehicles.  That engine is an example of TCA and is thus a practical application of ToA.

That applicability is what can help companies operate more time-efficiently and cost-effectively.  In American parlance, We have invented the wheel, and we don't need to re-invent it.  

Immelt commends Stanford students as smart enough to do his job.  The question was, however, Do they want to?

Step 1 of TCA is `Begin with the end in mind.  It is important to clarify, as best as possible, what you're trying to accomplish, what problem you're working to solve, or what opportunities you aim to capture.  So in developing the corporate algorithms that are grounded on TCA, I work closely with a CEO on this first step, and ask the question that Immelt asks: How badly do you want this?  That is, How important is it for you to accomplish this goal?  We stay on Step 1, until we arrive at clear enough, satisfactory answers to this question.  

Many people set resolutions at the beginning of the New Year - such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or eating more healthy foods.  Those for whom these resolutions fall by the wayside may not truly want to work at these things.  So they, like a CEO, have to openly and honestly reflect on what they're trying to accomplish and ensure they have the requisite reasons and motivation.  

If not, then it simply doesn't make sense to whatever those aims.        

You can read 30 books on China, or you can spend 100s of days in China.

Immelt's point is that you have to be there to understand China, and suggests that you cannot learn by proxy.  I don't argue with this at all.  Rather, I offer two perspectives for CEOs to reflect on.  One, doing research on a country goes hand-in-hand with experiencing that country directly.  We can extract algorithms about any situation, yes, even from a distance.  But the integrity, strength and utility of these algorithms depend on multiple situations.  So the more varied we go at understanding China, for example, the better our efforts will ultimately be.  

Two, how you go about understanding China really depends on your situation, context and purpose.  For example, as a startup management consultancy, I have set China as a target market for way down the road.  I don't yet have the resources and funds to travel there, just as Immelt can, but I definitely can learn a lot about the country just from the means I have at my disposal, mostly free, such as business publications, videos and sites online.

Be able to see things from others' point of view.

I read recently that about 25% of the world population still believe that the sun revolves around the earth, that is, a geocentric universe.  I have argued in TCA that we as humankind are wired to be self-centered, as if the world did revolve around us.  But successfully hitting targets requires us, first of all, to step outside of ourselves and, second of all, to go into the future.  

In serving customers, forging partnerships, and engaging staff, the CEO must do both quite well.  Seeing things from others' point of view is the stuff of Emotional Intelligence, which comprises of both self awareness and social awareness.  

If you're going to do something different, people are going to hate you.

Social media has given us avenues to marvel at what some people do and to praise them accordingly.  It has also given license to would-be haters to do the very opposite.  I am very much in that boat of doing something extraordinarily different and complex with ToA and TCA.  I am very fortunate that the hateful, ignorant people have been far and few between, but they're certainly there.  While a growing few have been really interested, and worked with me on grasping this concept and this model, a good majority dismiss them. 

Understandably so.  For now, anyway.  

As I told one colleague a year ago, I'm doing unconventional stuff, so how I go about presenting it cannot be conventional.  Because it is not conventional, people are simply not going to like it all at first.   
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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