Why a management consultant uses an iPad for most of his work

Have you ever wondered whether you could work exclusively on a tablet? This article shares my experiences and insights on this subject, and how as a management consultant I’ve been able to do most of my work on it. 

I bought an iPad four months ago. I’ve never owned a tablet before. Now I’m using it to do 75% of my work; I still require my laptop to do the remaining 25%. I aspire to go ‘iPad only’ but I still need to make some shifts in how I work. 

The principles of this article will apply to any modern professional tablet with a stylus. However, I chose an iPad after watching colleagues hand write their notes on the screen using the Apple Pencil. I wanted a simpler computing experience and hoped that this device might offer it. I was also inspired by Michael and Radek on The Podcast, who frequently talk about how they use their iPads and how it has forced them to rethink how they work.

Identifying Simple, Complex and Wicked Problems

I’ve been helping organizations to solve some very difficult problems over the past months. This got me reflecting on the different categories of problems that are confronting social enterprises and non-profit organizations, both within themselves and the communities they’re striving to serve.

In this article I’ll discuss the difference between Simple, Complex and Wicked Problems, and how to identify them. I will provide many real-life examples.

Those of us who work in the social sector have an intuitive grasp of these problems.

How to develop a philosophy, vision and mission for your organization

Every organization has a philosophy.

Some organizations make it explicit and write it down. This helps their leaders to craft focused strategies and make decisions during difficult times. It also makes it easier for them to communicate with stakeholders and induct employees into their culture.

But for the majority of organizations, their philosophies are informal and unspoken.

The board and CEO are responsible for articulating the philosophy of an organization, and ensuring that its strategy, culture and operations are congruent.

In this article I discuss the philosophy, vision, mission, purpose and values of non-profit organizations and social enterprises. I provide some practical tips for how to craft these. My insights are based on over two decades of such work.

Passion is earned not found

The quickest way to troll me is to complain that you haven’t found work you’re passionate about. That you are somehow a victim of misfortune because of this.

It is the one behavior that will guarantee a lecture from me.

This is what happened yesterday. Someone close to me complained about this topic and I provided a monologue in response. 

To save time in the future, I decided to be expedient and write my thoughts down. Then when this happens again, I can just shut up and send them a link. It will save us all time.

Here are my thoughts on finding work you’re passionate about.

Manifesto on strategic clarity

Most of my time is spent helping leaders of non-profit organizations and social enterprises to cultivate strategic clarity.

I want them to think clearly about their organizations. I want them to make sensible decisions and act swiftly upon them.

But I’ve noticed how easily we get lost in the activities, documents and tools of strategy. These can become an end in themselves.

I recommend we shift our attention to what we’re trying to achieve: clarity of thinking and good decision-making. Then we become open to possibilities we never considered before. Sometimes, all we need is a good night’s sleep.

This article explores some creative ideas for how we can improve our strategic clarity.

Estimating probabilities is key to strategy

Leaders must be good at taking bets against the future. They must be able to choose a course of action that is most likely to advance their organization in an uncertain world. Competent leaders make the right bets most of the time; bad leaders don’t.

However, many of the leaders I help are overwhelmed by the strategic choices facing their non-profit organization or social enterprise. 

They have realized that they have limited resources such as time, attention, money and people. They recognize that they cannot pursue all opportunities. Neither can they protect against all threats and risks, with equal enthusiasm, despite wanting to do so. They have learned that the future is uncertain and unpredictable. They have begun to accept their limitations as leaders.

Leaders must learn how to embrace the ‘agony of choice’. They must become skilled at estimating probabilities. They must learn to act swiftly with imperfect information.

“The Pumpkin Plan”: a focused strategy for growing organizations

Recently I’ve been fascinated by the Pumpkin Plan – a business strategy described in the book “The Pumpkin Plan” by Mike Michalowicz. I found the book inspiring and accessible. It is currently my favourite book in this genre.

The Pumpkin Plan uses the example of farmers who grow gargantuan pumpkins that weigh over 500kg.

It is a focused approach to finding your ideal customer (or beneficiary), serving them with your unique ability, and designing systems for your enterprise to run more efficiently.

The Pumpkin Plan resonates with my philosophy of minimalism and simplicity because it requires a focused approach and the reduction of strategic clutter.

The Pumpkin Plan was designed for entrepreneurs who wish to set-up businesses that can be sold, or run without their constant involvement. It is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. However, I believe that many of its insights can still apply to social enterprises and non-profit organizations in South Africa.

Unique opportunities for social enterprises with a for-profit legal form

A social entrepreneur recently called me for some advice.

He had started a “social enterprise” with a for-profit legal form – a private company (“PTY”).

He had managed to secure the South African licence to sell a very promising product that serves the people at the “bottom-of-the-pyramid”.

He then approached some local foundations and corporate social investment (CSI) departments for funding. They said that he had to first create a non-profit company (NPC) and then use this vehicle to submit a funding proposal. In other words, these donors were suggesting that he create a hybrid social enterprise.

We had a short and productive discussion about where the best opportunities for his business were to be found. I explained that creating a hybrid model in this instance is most probably a bad idea.

Since I have this type of conversation quite regularly with social entrepreneurs, I decided to share and elaborate upon the six opportunities we discussed.

Work on a few strategic shifts at a time

My colleagues and I recently responded to a request-for-proposals to develop a batch of complex strategies for a non-profit organization.

While developing a proposal, we wondered how this organization would able to implement all these strategies at once, or whether a more focused approach might be more appropriate. We ended up proposing an initial strategic assessment that would shape the resulting strategy work.

This short article revisits the purpose of strategy and reminds us how organizations tend to have limited resources (e.g. time, money, people, mental and emotional space) that can be deployed to bring about strategic change.

Leading “start-ups” versus established organizations

Many social entrepreneurs set up organizations in order to change the world. Those working on a “start-up” enterprise need to think differently about their organizations from those who run established or mature organizations.

While start-ups require entrepreneurs to exist in a state of high-energy hustle, established organizations require leaders who are good at building systems and achieving results through others.

Treating an established organization like a start-up can do more harm than good! It may constrain an organization’s evolution by locking it into a developmental stage. Conversely, handling a start-up (with its limited resources and unrefined approach) in the same way that you would treat an established organization would make it difficult to get it off the ground.

The wisdom is knowing when your organization has become established (it normally takes around 5 years) and then shifting your thinking and behaviour accordingly.

This article explores how social entrepreneurs and leaders should see and treat their organizations, depending on whether they are busy setting it up or whether it is already established.

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