Mar 15, 2017
Co-hosts Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos interview
Chris Paton (2 weeks before he had a brain tumor
removed - see notes below which are published with Chris’s
permission). Chris is the founder and Managing Director of
Quirk Solutions, a company that specializes in delivering Business
Wargaming to many organizations. Chris was a Lieutenant Colonel in
the Royal Marines and an advisor to the Cabinet and National
Security Council on Afghan strategy, and he leverages the wargaming
he learned as a tool to pressure test and evaluate business plans
before committing resources into action.
Listen in to learn more about how you can lead stress
testing in your organization to strengthen your plans and
Emails we received from Chris - this is one
tough hombre - and hope this inspires you as much as did
Feb 7 - Date show was recorded
Feb 24 - date of Chris’s surgery -
his comments below right after surgery:
Hi Jan & Jim. All done. Feeling a bit rubbish
and just recovering from anaesthetic now, but thanks to your kind
thoughts and prayers have come out the other side of surgery
Won't know more re how cancerous/benign it is for
2-3 weeks but already feeling up for the fight.
Whatever it is; It picked on the wrong
You know me; not about to let this get in the way
of what I want to do.
Really hope I smash the ball out of the park for
Looking forward to hearing what you come up with
as a title. Will cheer up a few days in hospital!
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I'm out
of immediate danger and now turning my energy back against my
As it happens, we had some amazing news this
morning. The results of the biopsy are back and not only did they
get all of the tumour out, but it seems it was totally benign and
there's no risk of cancer at all.
Big smiles this side of the pond!
[3:21] In the Royal Marines, Chris co-authored an
article on planning in fluid situations. That led to talks and
consulting, and he realized he had something important to
contribute to the corporate world. He left the military to create a
business planning consultancy. At each point of a client strategy,
Chris would pressure test it to find gaps and weaknesses. He would
also pressure test the options he delivered.
[6:24] Chris started to have clients create more of
the strategy, with more self-reliance; more responsibility for
their own planning. Chris ‘blew on the embers,’ with pressure
tests, to add the real value to the planning process.
[7:56] Military people go into business, aware that
the consequences of getting something wrong are so catastrophic,
that they don’t want to engage with it. Because of that, they spend
a lot of time preparing to get it right for the actual action.
Corporations sometimes just give it a whirl, to see what happens.
Military will not do that, because the cost of failure is too
[11:05] Chris runs sessions three ways. The first is
a pure pressure test. The second is to train the people to run
their own tests. The third is to train the trainer, to do it
independently. The pressure test is oriented around a Blue idea
team and a Red critical team. The Red are the people who will be
affected by the plan. Blue runs the ideas like game plays against
Red team. An umpire facilitates the wargame.
[17:38] Matthew Syed, in Black Box Thinking,
suggests an evolutionary process of trying and testing, failing,
trying, and testing. Chris combines that with technical expertise,
to start with a good initial plan. All affected parties are needed.
Executives arguing against executives will not find all
[19:54] One cause of organizational blind spots is
always recruiting people to be a good fit. Over time they end up
recruiting very similar people, who see things the same way.
Another blind spot is wilful blindness, from fear of the awful
consequence of failure. Chris insists organizations draw from their
own experiences in solving these challenges, for buy-in, using him
as a safety net.
[24:50] Representatives of every affected group are
in the room, and the facilitator urges them to use their voice to
discuss all aspects of the plan. It’s about giving people a
platform to critique the plans positively, and be a critical
friend: “I get where you’re trying to go, but if we did it slightly
differently, we’d probably have more success.”
[26:17] A leader who is too controlling causes
paralysis by fear among employees. By giving people permission to
fail, leaders reduce the instances of failure. A leader can humbly
say, “I don’t have all the answers; you’re going to have to help
me. I will make the decision, but I need you to provide me with the
expertise to help me make the right decision, at the right time,
and in the right place.”
[30:44] Chris hires people who want to contribute and
make a difference. To deliver the workshops they must be
ex-military, but Chris also requires three years of challenging
commercial experience before he will hire them. They need to have
engagement, warmth and openness. They are connected, and engaged,
and Chris rewards them.
[34:55] Chris has a story from his early business
days that still makes his toes curl. One of the corporate Blue team
members gaver a great presentation of his segment, but when
challenged, was unable to defend it, because he didn’t have a good
grasp of it. The Red team was recruited to generate ideas, and
Chris learned that he needed to pre-qualify all the presenters for
competence before pressure testing.
[39:50] Chris, 40 when he started, had no previous
business experience, but had a mortgage and teenage children. He
relies on his wife and family to sustain him in his entrepreneurial
journey. Chris also asked clients for testimonial support, which
they supplied freely. That was invigorating for him. Chris also
finds strength volunteering at CHICKS, a week-long outdoor
experience for disadvantaged children.
Books Mentioned in This Episode
Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their
Mistakes--But Some Do, by Matthew Syed
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in
Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey
"How the UK's Royal Marines Plan in the Face of Uncertainty," by
Arnoud Franken, Chris Paton, and Simon Rogers
In his former career, Chris was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal
Marines and advisor to the Cabinet and National Security Council on
the Afghan strategy. He was responsible for the design of the
drawdown of the UK presence in Afghanistan. He saw active service
in a wide range of places including Northern Ireland, Kosovo,
Georgia and Afghanistan.
In 2010, Chris co-authored a HBR article on planning
in fluid situations. This then led to his leaving the military to
create Quirk Solutions Ltd. Chris has worked with BUPA, Heineken,
Standard Life Investments, Shell and a wide range of SME
businesses. He uses his leadership, strategy and planning
experience to give organisations increased coherency, direction and
efficiency. Chris is also one of the UK’s premier exponents of
Business Wargaming; stress testing plans to identify risks and
Bi-lingual in French and with a Masters Degree in
International Liaison and Communication, Chris also provides
French-speaking performance consultancy to clients. Chris Paton is
an extraordinary polymath. His exceptional intellect and leadership
skill set is faultless and is combined, in his new career, with an
empathy to deliver, which at once inspires as much as it
Chris is an avid rugby man, as well as many outdoor
sports, trying to surf, and expending vast amounts of futile effort
trying to make his garden look presentable.
Quirk Solutions Ltd