Saying Sorry: Responding to Our Mistakes

Mistakes are a part of life. When they are made, I am most interested in how people or organizations respond to them. Late last week, Intuit software President and CEO, Brad Smith, provided a noteworthy example of how to gracefully respond to a mistake.

In late 2014 Intuit made an error. It wasn’t colossal, but it made their customers angry and resulted in a significant public backlash (see Forbes for more details). In short, they made changes in their tax software functionality from the year previous without letting customers know. As a result, some customers faced the unexpected need to upgrade their software (pay more money!) to get the supplemental tax forms they required.

Smith posted the following apology on LinkedIn:

“Even with the best of intentions, we find ourselves in situations where we mess up, letting down the people who count on us. The past two weeks have been a humbling refresher of this lesson for me and for our company. Our intention was to align our desktop, online and mobile versions to deliver faster innovation and improved experiences for all customers, but our execution left much to be desired. We didn’t communicate enough before implementing the change, and we were slow to react once we began hearing the much-deserved anger and disappointment from some of our customers. Simply stated, we messed up. This isn’t the first time we’ve made a mistake, and I wish I could promise that it will be our last. But I’m a realist, and I recognize that the pursuit of perfection doesn’t guarantee that outcome. What I can promise is that we won’t make the same mistake again. We have learned some important lessons that we have documented and shared across our company. My hope in sharing this with you is that we can pay it forward. 

To all of our affected TurboTax desktop customers, I am sincerely sorry. We earned our way into this, now we’ll earn our way out.  And above all else, if you mess up, don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry and make it right.

Last year, about 28 million federal tax returns were filed electronically using TurboTax, compared with 7 million combined for each for the two and three tax software competitors. This is a big market! As a result, cynics view this apology as the best way for Intuit to cover their behinds. Alternatively, others see it as a humble apology.

To me, this is a model of humility and how to say sorry. It should also remind us of the need to forgive. As the adage reminds us, fool me once, shame on me…fool me three times, shame on you!” Intuit does not have a track record of this behaviour. Should it do so in the future, we have a different situation. In the meantime, I laud the efforts of Brad Smith even if it cost me a few extra bucks this year.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


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Educational Sustainability: Another Housing Crash in the Making?

Mark Cuban is never afraid to be controversial. However, his latest verbal diatribe aligns with other recent articles which are expressing concerns about the shrinking middle class and the value of higher education.

In a recent article he notes,

“For years the federal government has been subsidizing loans, much like they did with houses ahead of the 2008 crash. This has led to increased tuition costs and lending to individuals who will more than likely never be able to pay back their student loans. The end result, according to Mark Cuban, will be a bursting of the debt bubble, a significant drop in college income, and an outright collapse of America’s institution of higher learning. We saw a collapse in the price of housing and we’re going to see the same collapse in the price of student tuition and that’s going to lead to colleges going out of business.”

In a post earlier this month I noted the trend of the rise of the shrinking middle class (Five Forecasts for ’15). It highlighted that the top one percent of Americans enjoyed 95 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2012. When we combine the trends of increasingly accessible loans and a less affluent middle-class, we have some of the ingredients required for a perfect storm.

This doesn’t mean that college education is not worthwhile. However, it likely means that every college education is not worthwhile! Future hot job projections, financial awards and alumni employment statistics are going to become the metrics which will increasingly be used measure educational return on investment

While both Cuban and the journalistic source of this article lean towards sensationalism, I believe that there is still truth to mine related to student debt. Debt is rising and at some point the risk versus reward ratio will be a negative one for higher education.

According to Cuban, it already is!


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman
Slavo, Mark (Dec. 28, 2014). Billionaire Mark Cuban Warns Of Massive Crash That Will Wipe Out America’s Colleges: “You’re Going To See A Repeat Of What We Saw In The Housing Market”. D.C. Clothesline,  Retrieved from

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Leading Globally: Understanding Cultural Assertiveness

A lasting impression from my trip to Indonesia is the pleasant smiles and accommodating nature of the locals I interacted with. In contrast, within hours of my arrival in Lithuania, a store check-out clerk brashly told me “No, no, no!” as I unknowingly attempted to purchase something I was not supposed to.

Both of these examples represent the cultural value of assertiveness. Cultural assertiveness reflects beliefs as to whether people are or should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive, and tough or non-assertive, non-aggressive, and tender in social relationships. When you experience a cultural assertiveness that is different than your own you often feel discomfort. It is also easy to judge the behavior as inappropriate (either too passive or to aggressive). However, these are just cultural norms that define how things are done. After spending time in Lithuania, I have grown comfortable with their direct nature as I have learned that assertiveness does not mean the same thing as being uncaring or rude.

The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between cultures or individuals with high and low assertiveness. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study.

GLOBE Assertiveness 2








This idea is supported by Howard Guttman in who specializes in workplace conflict. He believes that one of the sources of conflict is because of differences in our communication style. He labels these styles on as non-assertive, assertive or aggressive (see diagram below). When we encounter someone with a different style than our own, we often feel like a conflict is occurring rather than identifying it as a difference in our styles.

Guttman Communication Conflict

Whether in your workplace or in your travels, you have experienced differences in cultural assertiveness. As Canadians (a mid-assertiveness culture) who are living in the United States, our family has had to work to adjust to the high assertiveness of the US Culture. We cannot rely on others to ask us about ourselves and have to initiate more than we are used to. While it can be frustrating to adjust to different norms, it is a requirement of living in an increasingly global society.

As you understand differences in cultural assertiveness you can:

  1. Become self-aware: What is your cultural assertiveness norm? Where do you believe your communication style sits on Guttman’s scale?
  2. Validate your assumptions: Ask others the same question to see if your self-evaluation matches their experience.
  3. Assess your environment: How does the cultural assertiveness of your situation differ from your own. How do you need to adjust or act in this situation in order to be successful?
  4. Adjust: Learn to behave outside of your natural comfort zone.

I would love to hear examples of assertiveness differences you have experienced!

NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a GLOBE Assertivenessprofessor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Guttman, H.M (2003).When  Goliath clash.New York: Amacon

House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M, Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Fear This, Not That! You May be Afraid of the Wrong Things

Misdirected fear.

When our minds focus on the wrong issues, our misdirected fear can keep us from working on the things that matter. For example, in the weekend LA Times Parade magazine, Maura Rhodes provided a short list of what we tend to focus on versus what we should really be fearing (see graphic).Fear This Not That 2

Organizations also encounter this same problem. When we focus on the wrong thing we attempt to fix the wrong problems with misguided efforts. Here are three ‘Fear This, Not That’ scenarios that I bump into as I work with organizations.

1. Fear a faulty hiring process, not problem employees! No one enjoys a bad employee. However, if we aren’t careful with who we let in the front door, we can expect a busy back-door! I have inherited more than my share of bad employees. I’ve also hired a few myself. A consistent pattern with problem staff is that they provided early warning signals about poor performance (usually in the interview or during their probation period). If your HR office is not a strong collaborator during the hiring, probation and evaluation process, you can expect problem employees. When you are supported by a robust interview (which must include the three C’s – character, competency and chemistry), you will generally make good decisions. When we don’t, low performer employees cause leaders to develop a defensive leadership style. We create better leaders by hiring better employees.

2. Fear your strategic planning process, not the future! As a futurist, I consistently speak with people who hear what I do and say, “Oh, we need to understand the future better”. Then they go on to tell me about the many challenges that an uncertain future brings. Usually their focus is on what they don’t know. Very few speak about what they do know or how they can know more. If your strategic plan is not using the tools of strategic foresight as a means to proactively engage with the future, you have reason to fear it. As we equip ourselves with future knowledge we enable ourselves to build and activate better strategy. When we don’t, we fear the future.

3. Fear organizations who focus on leadership development rather than the development of good leadership. While this phrase may seem like I am splitting hairs, the difference between leadership and good leadership is immense. Leadership development focuses on what leaders do. While what a leader accomplishes is important, it is insufficient. Bin Laden, Hitler and President Mugabe (Zimbabwe) were effective leaders who left a path of destruction in their wake. Instead, when we focus on good leadership we discuss the hard issues – why are we leading, what is good and how do we improve our collective well-being. While that statement contains a throwback hippy sentimentality, the current rise of ethics, morality and ends-focus (not just the means) is also increasing in our business literature.

As we examine our fears, we need to ensure we are afraid of the right things. This requires us to challenge our assumptions. Learning to question our fears and identify the important ones can mobilize us from inaction to action.

I’d love to hear your own versions of misdirected fear in the workplace. ‘Fear This, Not That!’.


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Rhodes, M. (2015). Fears 2015. Parade Magazine via the LA Times. Sunday, January 18, 2015.

Fast Forward: Five Forecasts for ’15

Now that the New Year is well underway, I decided it was time to use my futurist skills and make some forecasts about things that I think will become prominent in the year ahead. So here it is, my inagural Five Forecasts for 2015!

  1. The ‘internet of things’ takes off: Eventually, the nebulous concept of ‘cloud-computing’ has made sense to those who use technology (which means almost everyone!). In a similar way, expect the concept of ‘the internet of things’ to creep into our vernacular in the year ahead. In simple terms, this idea refers to what occurs when we start linking our stuff to technology. Digital camera’s did not used to be connected to our digital world but now wifi enabled cameras are a part of the internet. Exercise used to be technology free but now we wear devices which uploads our fitness activities. Soon we will have clothing with digital sensors which will connect us to the internet. Even our thermostats are now part of the digital grid (think NEST). The internet of things is what cloud computing was five years ago and it will turn most of our non-digital world into something connected to the internet.
  2. Oil takes a back seat: As solar power becomes more affordable and people are learning how to create their own power microgrids, petroleum-based fuels will continue to decline in global importance. We will be oil dependent for several more years, but the role of oil and gas is shifting. It used to be the bus driver but is becoming just another passenger on the bus.
  3. US foreign policy shifts: With the rise of ISIS, the lingering aftermath of Bin Laden and the Middle-Eastern fall-out from the Arab Spring, I believe we will begin to see subtle indicators that the United States will shift its position as ‘the worlds police’. While readers of this forecast will have a diversity of personal viewpoints on this matter, this is a statement without prejudice. The rules and norms of global security have shifted and as a result, I expect methods and policy will as well.
  4. The rise of the shrinking middle class: The gap between rich and poor (measured by something called the GINI index) has historical links to stability/peace (a low GINI score or income gap) and instability/unrest (a high GINI score or income gap). Between 2009 and 2012 the top one percent of Americans enjoyed 95 percent of all income gains. This does not bode well for the middle class in America and we will begin to see more signs of unrest and this gap increases.
  5. Ethics enters the mainstream: As we begin to acknowledge the interconnectedness of our world we are going to take more responsibility for the effects of our actions. Consumers are already expecting that their brands behave ethically or give back to  the world. The example of the CVS drugstore chain (which stopped selling cigarette products because it did not support their brand promise of health) is an excellent example of the realignment of business and values.

As a bonus forecast, expect to hear more discussion about the post-capitalist era. Our literature and media is increasingly admitting that the economic capitalism is a broken model that is beyond repair (for example, review #5 above!). The collective culture will take some time to get used to this massive ideological shift (at least in North America). However, as this happens, watch for experts to begin proposing alternate concepts such as the sharing economy, economic democracy or economic sustainability.Granola Bar

And finally, I have one long-shot wish for 2015. I wish that food companies would begin adding the products % of daily sugar intake on food labels. Current law only requires them to list how many grams of sugar are in a product. As we shifted from away from high fat (a good thing), we simply replaced our problem with a new one – sugar intake. Low fat tastes bland so sugar has filled the void. Adding the daily recommended intake of sugar would be a big step in helping consumers realize this problem. When labels show that one granola bar contains 40% of our daily recommended sugar intake, attitudes and behaviors will begin to change!

Whatever occurs in the year ahead, I wish all of you a safe and joy-filled 2015!


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman