Mike Richardson is the President of Online Trading Academy. He joined the company in 2018 as co-pilot for the founder and CEO, to develop the enterprise-wide agility required for the company’s next phase of evolution and realizing its full potential.
Mike specializes in the agility challenges of CEOs and executives running small to medium-sized enterprises. He has developed insights at the intersection of his agility experiences in three worlds.
• In the real-world, he started his career working as a Petroleum Engineer on offshore oil & gas drilling rigs with Shell International and now studies other everyday agile leaders in the real world: fighter pilots, Navy Seals, Fire Fighters and others.
• In the business world, via an MBA at London Business School, he went into the Aerospace industry and ended up running the Aerospace Division of a British public company, Spirent plc.
• In the advisory world, for nearly 20 years as an author, keynote speaker, facilitator, coach, and board member, including 15 years as a CEO peer group chair and speaker with Vistage Worldwide. Mike’s first book is titled, “Wheel$pin: The Agile Executive’s Manifesto” and his second book is a work in progress titled, “The 5 Roles of Everyday Agile Leaders: Cracking the Agility Code for CEOs, Executives and Managers of Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises”.
Mike is English originally, American now, living in the beautiful Temecula Valley wine district of southern California.
Where did the idea for Online Trading Academy come from?
After losing his entire net worth in the Israeli stock market crash of 1984, founder & CEO of Online Trading Academy, Eyal Shahar, vowed to crack the code of trading and investing education to help other individuals across the world avoid similar misfortunes, starting OTA in 1997.
I met Eyal as he celebrated 20 years in mid-2017. I joined the company as President in November 2018 after working as a consultant for a year and a half helping them with my specialty of enterprise agility. After a career in Oil and Gas and then Aerospace, ending running the Aerospace Division of a British Public company, I had been independent for 16 years, was enjoying working with CEOs, executives and their teams across a diversity of businesses and industries, writing and speaking. I had an open ended intention to keep doing what I was doing and had no intention of rejoining a company. But I was astounded by Eyal, his people, their passion and their purpose, a notch above anything I had encountered before. We had a meeting of minds that I should join as a co-pilot to develop the enterprise-wide agility required for their next phase of evolution and realizing their full potential.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Not surprisingly, it looks and sounds very agile! A balanced combination of agile meetings, project management, and vocabulary, all helping us triage everything we have in motion, divergently and convergently, to sustain traction on our desired breakthrough trajectory.
The best way to triage is visually, so my office looks like it used to when I worked as a Petroleum Engineer on offshore oil and gas drilling rigs in my twenties. Whiteboards, pinboards, stuff taped to the walls, and not a square inch of wall space not devoted to a real-time heads-up display of the macroscopic big picture and the microscopic small details we have to be triaged for full situational awareness.
The wall space is one of the least utilized and most valuable assets we have in a business. Think cockpit of a commercial airliner and control room of a nuclear power station. Yes, I realize people might expect to see art on the walls of the CEO/President’s office, but I have never subscribed to that notion. It’s easy to give people directions to my office, “down the hallway, it’s the one with all the whiteboards and pinboards, you can’t miss it!”
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is probably the most important part of my role. Bringing ideas, issues, challenges, problems, and opportunities to life, and architecting breakthroughs with them on multiple fronts simultaneously.
We use an agile flow of summits, sprints, and scrums. We start with a summit for a few hours or half a day or a full day with all the key players in one of our large conference rooms that have huge whiteboards in them for this purpose. We loosely structure a free-flowing conversation to mind-map the scale, scope, shape, and color of our thinking, questions, decisions, and actions.
We then triage the mind-map marking up the priority items and who’s championing what by when. Whoever is the overall champion photographs the mind-map (often in sections because it is so large!) and transposes it into a simple Agile Project Management tool like Trello or Smartsheet or Planner inside of Microsoft Teams which we use, where we also form a Team and launch the process.
Then we roll into monthly Sprint Meetings and weekly Scrum Meetings to get the snowball effect rolling. When we need to, we will also have Daily Scrum Meetings, for individual breakthrough projects and/or for our Portfolio of Breakthrough Projects overall. Indeed, we have a weekly Executive Scrum on a Monday at 11 am standup in my office for 45 minutes with 15 people. When COVID hit, we were able to transition seamlessly to remote working without skipping a beat, and shifted to a daily Executive Scrum, in fact, twice a day when we were most in the flow of turbulence.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I have been excited about the Agile trend for nearly 20 years since we first started really using the word in the mainstream with the launch of the Agile Manifesto in 2001 for Agile Software Development. As a result, most people think Agile started with software companies and is just for software companies, both of which are myths. Agile is for all companies and actually started with hardware companies in the 1980s.
That is a long time already to call something a trend and yet it is still emerging as a new and paradoxical mystery for many. In facts, it’s a rapidly expanding universe of insights and inspiration, cluttered with an army of agile software development evangelists with a confusing array of competing methodologies, digital transformation case studies typically of larger corporations like banks and retail giants, big consultancy houses with agility practices pushing out research, books and magazine articles and classical coaches, consultants, and trainers hitching their wagon to the agile train!
But simultaneously, there is also a trend crystallizing a nucleus of clarity about who we need to be as agile leaders and some key attributes of agility to change our relationship with … chaos, triage, insight, luck, and journey-orientation … all of which are the subject of leading-edge research and thinking, not least of all by learning the secrets of everyday agile leaders in the real world. These are leaders who face the agility challenge every day in the real world, like fighter pilots, special forces, firefighters, ER doctors, airline pilots, Petroleum Engineers on offshore drilling rigs, and others. Their relationship with chaos, triage, insight, luck, and their real-time unfolding, high-stakes journey becomes very evident, very quickly, with few second chances, often with life and death consequences. Their agility secrets can teach us a great deal and translating them into business terms can be pivotal to developing enterprise agility.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have always been an early bird, starting my day at 4 am. I know that’s not for everyone, but it fits in with my energy cycle and rhythm which is the point. It’s when I am my most creative, holistic, and sensory, all essential for agility. I am also an introvert who has learned to extrovert, so it’s my essential me-time, to get my head straight before the flow of the day kicks in. If I am up against a deadline or a challenging issue in real-time, I would always rather get up an hour earlier than stay up an hour later.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Develop my whole-brain earlier. Agility is an integrative-thinking, whole-brained, and-proposition and I was a left-brained scientist, turned engineer. Fortunately, I evolved some right-brained activities early enough in my career, designing and racing hovercraft in high school and acting in amateur dramatics in my early twenties. But I so wish had stuck with learning a musical instrument as a kid, then a teenager, and then young adult. I know it would inform my agility senses so well. I know modern neuro-science shows that left-brain and right-brain is an oversimplification these days, but it’s still a useful reference. Whichever way around, the point is to actively develop the other side to evolve a more whole-brained capability.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Micromanagement is a good thing!
Yes, I know micromanagement has a bad reputation in the business. But any real-world everyday agile leader will tell you that there are two kinds of micromanagement. Bad micromanagement (breathing down someone’s neck, looking over their shoulder, second-guessing them and asking, “is it done yet?”, why is it taking so long?” and “how come you are doing it that way, not my way?) and good micromanagement (asking, “are we all fully in synch on the same page”, “what are we missing?” and “what gotchas are waiting to get us”).
Good micromanagement is essential for triage. You want your airline pilot doing good micromanagement! And your ER Doctor! Or bad stuff happens. And Petroleum Engineers on offshore drilling rigs or the BP Gulf Oil Spill happens!
It’s the same in business, as any everyday agile leader in the business world will tell you. That’s why we do daily scrums when we need to. To batch up a whole bunch of good micromanagement once a day so we don’t have to be doing bad micromanagement all day long. A CEO lamented that to me once, saying “I realize I spend my day walking around the business having the daily scrum meeting that I don’t have!”. Alan Mulally held weekly and daily scrum meetings when he was CEO of Ford and I spent a Sunday afternoon at his kitchen table a few years ago exploring that with him.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I have always done mind-mapping on paper since I can remember and started using some of the very first mind-mapping software packages back in the 1990s. Mind-mapping is a whole-brained and-proposition technique that aligns naturally with the way the brain works, exploring branches, making connections, and grappling with the macroscopic and microscopic simultaneously. I am constantly mind-mapping, in meetings, while planning and while debriefing, using software packages but actually, mostly just on paper, always having a stack of blank paper with me.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We call it our “Relentless Commitment”.
It’s our relentless commitment to student support and lowering the barriers for them to go on their student learning journey. The educational, technological, and self-confidence barriers. We are relentlessly committed to investing in our experiential education, support, and community, no matter what.
For us “Relentless Commitment” is a higher expression of culture and brand melding together as an and-proposition. The core values of your culture become the design criteria for your products and services, and ultimately, your brand.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
It took way too long to write my first book. 10 years in total. Mind you, it is a big breakthrough journey first time out. I eventually did what I should always have done. I got up at 4am and wrote for an hour every day, without fail. I took discretion out of the equation, not allowing myself the option not to. No matter if I had got back late the night before, or was just tired from a long week or just didn’t feel like it. Nor If I had to get up that early to run for an early flight, I would get up an hour earlier, as I couldn’t count of being able to get a quality hour in the lounge or on the plane. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, every day. I compounded enough effort to breakthrough.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Agile C2C: Conversation-Flow to Cash-Flow.
Think of your business as a microscopic transaction flow with your future. An unfolding flow of how you link and accumulate individual Thoughts, Questions, Decisions, and Actions (TQDA) which I call Conversation-Flow. Do I mean we should just sit around and talk? Clearly not. Notice that actions are a crucial part of the conversation. They are a conversation with reality. If only we will take more real actions sooner, we bring reality into the conversation, speaking to us loud and clear about what’s working and what’s not working. That idea, that actions are part of the conversation with reality, opens a door to an agile mindset.
With the speed of business and pace of change accelerating all the time, the reality is that where your Conversation-Flow goes your Cash-Flow follows, probably bigger, faster, and sooner than you think!. What you want of Cash-Flow is Quantity, Quality, and Cadence (QQC). It’s the same with Conversation-Flow. The trajectory of the QQC of your Conversation-Flow becomes the trajectory of the QQC of your Cash-Flow. Traction becomes traction and wheelspin becomes wheelspin. That’s the essence of Agile.
We used to say that cash-flow is king! Not anymore. Conversation-flow is king and cash-flow is just a way of keeping score!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I purchased a semi-professional grade dynamic microphone for my home office to give me great audio quality for podcasts and webinars. Audio quality is the determining factor.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We implemented Microsoft Teams about 3 months before COVID hit and it has been part of our seamless transition to remote working, not least of all because of all of its embedded capabilities for agile project management, mind mapping, OneNote, and other tools. I also use MS OneNote extensively as a flexible way to capture conversation-flow.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen (first published in 2001 and an updated edition in 2015).
I do a lunch and learn for our employees on Agile Productivity and I use this book as an introduction giving each person a copy. It is the best outline of our productivity challenge I have come across and provides a great platform for building on agile approaches to productivity.
What is your favorite quote?
From David Allen’s book above: “It is possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control. That’s a great way to live and work, at elevated levels of effectiveness and efficiency. Its also becoming a critical operational style required of successful and high-performance professionals. You already know how to do everything necessary to achieve this high-performance state. If you are like most people, however, you need to apply these skills in a more timely, complete and systematic way so you can get on top of it all instead of feeling buried”
I love that quote as, in my experience, most people hold the opposite belief that “it is impossible”. That is their reality which they are resigned to and are surviving as best they can. Yet, the right combination of toolsets, skillsets, and mindsets can open a door to a whole different reality. It’s the same with the bigger equation of enterprise agility.
- Where your Conversation-Flow goes your Cash-Flow follows.
- Inflect your trajectory by adopting Agile mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets, learning the secrets of everyday agile leaders, and keeping up with leading-edge research and thinking into key attributes of agility to change your relationship with.
- Agile is an integrative-thinking, whole-brained, and-proposition of the macroscopic and the microscopic.