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Most projects end with a "lessons-learned" meeting, a much-cherished attempt to understand what could have gone better.

Adriano Pianesi hates them.

The Washington-based consultant believes in learning from mistakes but feels those ritualistic meetings fail the test of logic. The first fallacy is that the meeting involves a search for cause and effect – factors that led to specific problems. But reality is more complex than this simple process .

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"The idea that a variable – among hundreds – is uniquely responsible for a mistake is simplistic and misleading, as action happens in a context and many forces are at play. The mindset, 'A didn't work, then let's do B instead,' fails to understand that maybe 'A' was perfectly fine, but with the presence of factors (like 'C'), 'B' will fail too. Not to mention that variables change as the system changes," Pianesi writes on

The result, he argues, is a facile list of dos and don'ts abstracted from the deeper reality. Yes, you look managerially competent and intent on decisive, quick action – but not necessarily the right action. Instead of rushing to action, he argues we need to be proposing hypotheses and experiments to test the glimpses of learning we have teased out from the project. Learning is about reflecting, understanding the big picture – and doubting.

Pianesi also feels identifying errors and committing not to repeat them is an ineffective way to create change. "It's my experience that the pearls of wisdom identified in lessons learned meetings are either misunderstood or forgotten," he says.

"People don't remember how to apply lessons from a project that happened long ago to a new one. Even assuming that an efficient knowledge system exists to preserve findings, situations change and grant different priorities or prescriptions for success."

The lessons-learned meetings, for all their action-oriented façade, are inherently biased, he notes. They empower folks who relish the status quo to appear to be advocating for change. But those individuals are essentially covering their behind while avoiding tackling deeper issues that might open a can of worms. The sessions also tend to be narrowly defined, focusing on a specific project and avoiding the broader context.

Instead, he recommends:

  • Do a premortem instead of postmortem: Even before the project begins, or in its early stages, imagine that the venture has already been completed and examine the problems and setbacks you expect to encounter. “This is powerful because it allows you to take measures early enough to deal with the predictable snafu you will find on your way,” he says.
  • Hold 30-minute learning sessions during the project instead of at the end: This is more likely to work as a learning session given the timing. It helps to build your team’s capacity to handle the project. You can act on what you find for this project.
  • Create a mechanism to deal with the contextual issues affecting the project: When these issues emerge, handle them by coming to an agreement with the key stakeholders who influence those issues.
  • Develop your team’s ability to be comfortable with ambiguity: This helps your team to operate successfully in this project and beyond.

You want to improve and be continuously learning, but lessons-learned meetings may not be the best route.

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The seven brand characteristics that appeal to moms

New research has uncovered seven key elements that successful brands employ to appeal to mothers. And most of them will probably initially surprise you: Precision, sorcery, elasticity, showmanship, attentiveness, integrity and enhancement.

The research, by popular U.K. parenting site Mumsnet and the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency, asked U.K. mothers in consumer panels and focus groups, followed by an opinion survey, what most matters to them. Here's what proved important according to

  • Precision: Mothers are busy, so they appreciate brands that can save time and help make their lives run like clockwork. Save them seconds and you could have a winner.
  • Sorcery: Mothers regularly have to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the eleventh hour, so they appreciate handy brands that can help when under pressure. That includes brands that work their magic to entertain children.
  • Elasticity: Mothers need to stretch time and budgets. “This means they need brands that can work around their busy schedules and flex when they need them to flex,” marketing writer Charlotte Rogers notes.
  • Showmanship: Mothers want their children to be confident and indeed can struggle themselves to do the right thing. Brands that reflect confidence and establish themselves as leaders can instill similar confidence in mothers and their children.
  • Attentiveness: Many of the mothers described themselves as being like butlers, anticipating their children’s needs and serving them. Saatchi & Saatchi global planning director Liz Wolstenholme told Marketing Week successful brands have a sixth sense: “They just know what’s right for mums and what isn’t. They’ve listened and absorbed so much that understanding mums has become habitual for them.”
  • Integrity: The research suggests brands that are true to what they believe in translate that integrity to mothers, who can be their own true selves to their children. Brands can convey a sense of integrity by sharing their brand story.
  • Enhancement: Mothers want products that support – indeed, empower – them, such as health and beauty, food and drink, and entertainment products.

Questions to screen for innovators

If you had five minutes with the CEO of a company interested in hiring you, what questions would you ask that would enable the boss to rethink that business?

That may seem an odd, unfairly challenging question to put to a yet-to-be-hired recruit. But consultant Lisa Bodell says it's a handy way to discern whether a candidate is at heart an innovator. Here are 10 more questions she shares on Strategy + business:

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  • If you had one month and a $50,000 budget to tackle any project, what would it be?
  • Which external jolts or wild cards have the potential to significantly impact our industry?
  • Which new customer segments will emerge in five years? How will those customers discover our product?
  • What are the unshakable industry beliefs about what customers want? What if the opposite was true?
  • What steps do you take when you need to make an immediate decision but don’t have much data available?
  • Which systems, methodologies, or standards were changed in your previous organization because of your suggestions? How did it benefit the company?
  • What do you do when priorities shift quickly? Give me an example.
  • Share an example of a time when you were given new information that affected a decision you had already made. How did you proceed?
  • Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react?
  • You’ve presented a great idea to management, but they’re not buying in. What’s your next move?

Quick hits

  • Write down 25 career goals, then pick the five that are most important. Investor Warren Buffett says the remaining 20 are your “avoid at all cost list.” They will tempt you and you will be inclined to work on them intermittently. Instead, focus only on the top five and when those are accomplished you can expand to other objectives.
  • When e-mail threads get tangled, unsort them for clarity by changing the subject line when you respond , advises information specialist Nathan Zeldes. The revised subject should reflect the new direction while retaining reference to the original. For example: Subject: Recommended router supplier (was: network problem).
  • Workers terminated in a layoff are 65 per cent more likely to quit future jobs, according to research from Cornell University professor Paul Davis. If they are laid off more than once, that likelihood increases.
  • Best-selling author Patrick Lencioni notes that in Alan Mulally’s famed turnaround of Ford Motor Company, he fired almost no one. Instead, he held them accountable with “tough love,” insisting on proper performance.
  • Recent research suggests when someone is starting a challenging task, they need more positive reinforcement than negative feedback. As they start to master the task, negative feedback will help them improve.
Great leaders are able to adapt to situations and really add value Special to Globe and Mail Update
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