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Jan’s Corner: Business Thanksgiving

This is the week that most Americans sit down around the table with the people they love to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is one of the national holidays that reunites families and allows them be present and thankful to each other, for each other as well as for what they already have.

My Own Thanksgiving

I really like the idea of stopping and giving thanks. More than fifteen years ago I was fortunate to have experienced the celebration with my friends and distant family in California.

It was much more than just dining with people I cared about and eating a large roasted turkey with mashed potatoes and a abundance of other types of food that filled the dinner table. In the atmosphere of the day I felt nourished at a much deeper level. The sacred and festive aura of the day expanded my sense of belonging, accomplishment, and commitment to what mattered most.

Team Thanksgiving

With the hindsight I wonder what if Thanksgiving was not just a practice and holiday that American families celebrate once a year? What if we could embrace this powerful idea and practice it regularly in our teams and within our businesses?

Yes, I might sound obvious or even trivial. However, how many opportunities do you allow yourself and your team to stop and just be together with the sole agenda of being thankful? Thankful for having had a chance to working towards a shared vision. Thankful for and present to everyone’s commitment and contribution. Thankful for what you have accomplished. Thankful for the opportunity to be and work together.

I know there are many corporate and team retreats where celebrating successes and acknowledging employees is on the agenda. However, what I suggest is maybe a bit deeper.

What if thanksgiving was not just a part of the agenda but the full agenda once, twice or several times a year?

In a way that encourages presence not just presentation, belonging not just gathering and appreciation of all not just praise of some.

Moreover, what if thanksgiving became a part of how everyday business done in your
team? In a way that thanksgiving and appreciation is given in small and frequent ways on a daily basis – many of its forms.

One Part of A Whole

As business is such an important aspect of our lives, our growth and our individual and collective contribution, I believe that equally here we would all truly benefit from the same sacred and festive aura of Thanksgiving to expand our sense of belonging, accomplishment, and commitment to what matters most as I did and many others have been experiencing with our friends and family on the special day.

Gandhi said that “there is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”

And the same is valid in business. Giving thanks may sometimes seem to slow things down, but because it reignites from within it might be one of the best investment that you make.

Thank you for reading and happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates it!

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Jans Corner: Trust is in the air

Trust is one of those invisible forces, like the wind. We cannot see it but we can feel it.

Like the wind, trust can blow extra air into our sails when we need to get things done. Like the wind, trust can clear clouds of misunderstanding in important conversations preventing  stalemates and conflicts. Like the wind, we can observe what is possible and how things flow when trust is present and what happens when it is missing – personally and in the business.

Despite the critical role trust plays in the business it remains a tricky subject in practice. Many managers would easily admit that having trust in business is important. However, because it is apparently hard to measure as objectively and readily as quantifiable variables, like financials, we often times make decisions that destroy or impair trust – with our colleagues, suppliers, customers or communities – and thus immediately or with some delay severely impair or even completely destroy our team performance, business results as well as the responsiveness, ingenuity and contribution of pivotal people around us.

Put very simply, without trust there is no sustainable business. What enhances trust enhances business, even if it is not visible straight away, and vice versa. We know that with low trust, everything lasts longer, costs more and flows less. So ignoring trust or putting it on the back burner could be a serious mistake of any business.

Organisations like Google, Apple, or Ocado (home delivery service in the UK) have shown that focus on continually building and growing trust with key people and parties involved makes very good business sense. They are willing to leave money and “irresistible” business opportunities on the table if it could impair trust and the quality of relationships with the these important constituents now and in the future. They know that even in the times of difficult trade-offs, imperfect information, unintentional mistakes and fast-moving changes, maintaining and restoring trust is pivotal to their thriving place in the market, engagement of their talent, performance under pressure and prospects for their future.

Focusing on and measuring trust is not just in the domain of the large and innovative companies anymore. Currently there are many ways to measure, and consequently cultivate trust on a regular basis for everyone – from simple and playful tools like the TRUST test on Facebook that gauges how people create value and most naturally build trust to more complex 360 tools that engage entire teams and organisations to monitor and accelerate their trust and flow quarter by quarter, month by month, and even day by day.

If trust is so important for your business and teamwork choose to regularly pay attention to it, track it, measure it – in all the key business relationships. You will find that it becomes the perfect catalyst for you make to magic happen in your business and keep it moving forward with both great speed and lasting joy – like the blowing wind moves the sailboat swiftly along its journey on the sea.


Jans Corner: The Positive side of Negative People

We rarely celebrate when we have so-called negative people around us. Often times our experience is that they zap our energy, slow down or demoralise our team and poke holes into our plans and ideas. It just seems that around them nothing is possible and everything is a problem.

Therefore at the workplace and in real life, we try to get rid of them, avoid them, minimise their impact or – for some of us – to convert them to the religion of positiveness.

The premise goes that everyone needs to be super positive otherwise they cannot function constructively in a relationship, team or business. Or that what they do is somehow harmful. However, being negative and being destructive are not the same thing. We often confuse negativism with someone not caring, not believing or not willing to contribute.

Often times quite the opposite is true. Negative people point out problems and highlight risks exactly because they do care and they see what others are missing. They might say “That will not work,” or “We have a problem here,” or “We cannot do this now.” It is useful to notice that they do not do it to rock the boat. Actually they most often do it with the intention to save the boat. To save it from trouble ahead. To save energy, time, money. To prepare for all eventualities.

What we perceive as negative, they may view as careful, prudent or realistic. And this can have great value for business.

The idea is not to ostracise them or shut them up but to fully use the power of their “negativity” at the right time and in the right way. Because without it bad things can happen to good people, well though-out projects can go terribly wrong (just think about the Challenger space shuttle incident in the eighties where a small neglected mistake caused a major catastrophe), and businesses with great potential can underachieve or falter.

So how can we turn the negative into constructive?

By seeing its purpose first and that is – like the police – to serve and to protect.

:: Where do you need more protection, more details to be paid attention and more risk to be seen and managed?

:: What products or projects would benefit from a more critical eye in terms of checking priorities, risk, cost and timing?

:: Where do you need to hear an honest assessment of the current situation and a pragmatic way to address current problems?

Interestingly, these apparently negative people can not just clearly see the risks and identify the shortcomings but also they will come up with surprisingly elegant strategies and solutions on how to deal with them – if you give them access to the data, space to analyse them and enough time to think.

We can choose who we surround ourselves with and whom we choose as business partners, employees or team members – and how we interact with them. In that choice, a balanced team and a successful business cannot afford not to have some “negative” people and make the most out of their gift. In the last analysis, it is not about who appears to be positive and who appears to be negative, but what allows the team and business to best fulfil on its mission. “Negative” as much as “positive” people are both mission critical.




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Jans Corner: Business as a force for greatness

It is sad and limiting to think about about business as a tool for solely making money or making shareholders rich.

How would you view a person who would dedicate their life solely to eating? For me that would be a very limited life purpose and an outright waste of potential. The same is for business. Why limit ourselves? As much as survival is important for every business, it should not confine its existence.

Just like a human being, there is so much more a ‘business being’ can accomplish, learn and contribute if it moves beyond the survival paradigm, beyond the business as usual. In his philosophy and book, Screw Business As Usual, Richard Branson asserts that businesses can be primarily a force for good, great contributors, collective organisms to solve the most pressing problems humanity faces as well as makers of positive difference to communities, locally or globally, on a daily basis.

When considering the question of what is the responsibility of any business, I see that it’s primary purpose is to add value to the market or community it serves, and enrich all the stakeholders it impacts – in the short term and long term, and to do it all by leveraging and best using their internal resources and external opportunities. In a way, as businesses are collectives of people and they exist to serve a wider group other people, they have primarily a social responsibility at any level, including the corporate, division, department or team. This allows us to redefine what we currently understand by corporate social responsibility. What if it was not not just a noble philosophy or a small department with a PR person and a lawyer located somewhere at the end of the corridor, but instead what if corporate social responsibility was a central theme for any business? The theme that allows us to focus on adding value to the people and communities we care about and impact and to do it in the most effective way, instead of focusing on making money and surviving the presumed corporate warfare.

:: How would you think and interact in your team and your business if that social responsibility lied at the centre of why your business exists?

:: What would happen to your experience, effectiveness, and contribution if you primarily focused – individually and collectively – on adding more meaningful value and creating more sustainable leverage?

:: What legacy would you leave if your business context shifted from just financial survival to a social responsibility and impact?

Businesses provide a wonderful opportunity for us to grow and make a difference together – to accomplish more, to leave behind more, and to give our talent and work more meaning. All we need to do is to upgrade what we see is their primary purpose – this may not be easy, but for sure it seems worthwhile.

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Jans Corner: Which Profiles makes for the best Leader?

We often get asked which of the Talent Dynamics profiles are the best leaders. On the surface the answer might seem very easy. Of course, the Supporters. Given their people focus, blaze energy, and extroverted action dynamics, Supporters are best at leading teams and organisations as they bring others together and motivate them to be their best naturally building collaboration, trust and loyalty critical for sustained high performance.

High profile Supporters, such as GE’s Jack Walsh, eBay’s Meg Whitman or Microsoft’s Steve Balmer, have shown how much they can accomplish if they put their talent at work.

This natural talent, however, doesn’t give Supporters a monopoly on leadership. Everyone can be a leader. Businesses are complex ecosystems and different talents come handy at different times and in different situations. All profiles can bring a valuable perspective and energy that can be used to build performance and increase flow depending on the teams focus, task at hand, nature and stage of business or season of the economic cycle.

Let me give you a few ideas about how to make the best use of the leadership potential of the other seven profiles (apart from the Supporter) in the team or businesses context.

Creators might not be the best people-people or data-driven analysts, but they lead best by setting the vision and a high standard to reach for. Being task focused to start things they lead others to reach their goals. They are best at the helm of new projects and initiatives, thinking out of the box and out of the ordinary. They are the best initiators and pioneers.

Stars are fast and often don’t wait for their team to catch up or bother with the details, but they will give energy and credibility to new ideas, projects, programs or strategies through the power of their personality. They can improvise while leading upfront to build and maintain excitement, momentum and buy in when it matters. They are the best promoters.

Deal Makers are true people’s people, but they are more private than a Star or Supporter, and prefer to work one-to-one. They bring people and opportunities together and lead best when they are able to be in constant conversation whilst listening closely to what is happening around them. They are the best connectors and negotiators of win-win solutions.

Traders thrive when they can build and grow a connection with their team or customers. They might be paralysed when facing a blank sheet to fill, or strategy to create, but will quickly make sense of what is going on around them. They lead best when immersed in daily action, when timing is of essence and when they have ongoing input from their environments and people to inform their decision-making. They are the best operations leaders and excel as hands-on troubleshooters.

Accumulators are excellent project managers given their analytical skills and sense of timing. They are reliable and will find the way to deliver what is needed on time. However, they have little interest in and are ill equipped to handle office politics. Accumulators lead best when a well defined task or project needs to be accomplished and when the detail and risk management are critical for success. They are the best planners, and project and risk managers.

Lords are great at finding inefficiencies because they patiently track data, analyse the detail and strive to stay in control. For this reason, Lords are best at leading through the numbers instead of through conversation and collaboration. Lords almost always value process and policy over people, and are great at providing leadership when resources and finances are tight and success requires efficiency and precision. They are the best data-driven analytics and efficiency leaders.

Mechanics constantly look for improvements and as a result they are continually challenging the status quo on the way things are done. This can be very stimulating for some, and very frustrating for others. The best way to for them to lead people is to make it easy for others to collaborate and perform indirectly, not through motivation but by perfecting the underlying processes, procedures and systems. They are the best systematisers, improvers and finishers.

If you currently experience frustration or ineffectiveness of leadership in your team or business, it might be that you are trying to put a square peg into a round hole. As businesses and demands evolve so will the need for the appropriate leadership. Chances are that you will not need to re-organise the whole team or organisation. For a start, just notice whose talent can help most with the task or challenge at hand and provide them a space to contribute it at the right occasion. Build from small opportunities, for instance, just allowing the right person to lead a meeting or spearheading a project – and then expand from there. The reward will be a more resilient and better performing team as well as increased engagement and flow of everyone in it.


Jans Corner: Upgrading to a 5 Star Business

Beginning of the year is a time of hope and excitement. Not just in our personal lives. Businesses and teams get inspired and energised by the year’s goals and visions too.

Yet as we may painfully discover, great visions may fall short not because we didn’t dream enough or strive enough but because accomplishing a lofty vision requires a change of our conduct, an upgrade in how we think, interact and operate on a daily basis. For a grand vision to be feasible we need to raise our standards – individually and collectively.

For an aspiring olympic athlete, high standards means a regular focused practice and meticulous approach to nutrition, regular mental training and enough time for recovery. It means having the vision in mind and translating it into productive daily habits that best support its accomplishment. It means saying no to things that may be attractive and comfortable in the moment but detrimental in the longer run.

Dan Gable, legendary U.S. wrestler and 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist, named “Sports Figure of the Century”, emphasises the importance of high standards for high achievement. He states that “I’m a big believer in starting with high standards and raising them. We make progress only when we push ourselves to the highest level. If we don’t progress, we backslide into bad habits, laziness and poor attitude.”

Pushing ourselves to highest level does not necessary mean we need to work harder. It means working smarter and more deliberately with the end in mind but feet on the ground and running – like Dan Gables indicated, not tolerating distractions, bad habits, laziness and poor attitude that limit our progress and spoil the journey towards our aspirations. Often times raising standard actually means doing less by focusing on what makes the biggest difference.

Raising our team standards need not take long, nor be complicated. For instance, agree to come to meetings on time and prepared. To bring constructive mindset and language to problems and disagreements. To listen inquisitively before advocating our own view. To threat colleagues with respect. To stop complaining and giving reasons, and take responsibility for the produced results – yours and the team’s. To plan in advance and then test and measure your progress and learn incrementally from both successes and missteps.

If you care about high performance and accomplishment of your shared vision for this year, I’d encourage you to sit down as a team and openly begin discussing where you can raise your standards to reflect your higher aspirations. Start simple. You may discover some obvious rules, routines or behaviours that might be small to make but can go a long way.

Be specific. Explore both what you can start doing to raise your standard and what you need to stop doing or stop tolerating because it constrains you or does not serve you anymore at this level of your game.

Raising the standard of how your team and your business operate is like upgrading from a three-star inn to a five-star hotel. It takes some commitment. However, soon you notice that at almost the same effort you create very different results and experience.

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Jans Corner: A radically better 2013

The end of the year is in business traditionally associated with both looking back and planning the next year. Normally, we approach the business plan for the next year as an extension of the previous year. If we feel pressed or optimistic, we budget in an incremental percentage increase. We feel really bold and daring when the percentage is in lower double digits.

What if we could approach next year differently this time? In a radical fashion. One that could mobilise us and awaken the latent potential in the business.

A radical approach starts with a radically different question. Rather than asking about what can we accomplish or improve next year, ask what if it was possible to double our business or team performance? Yes, to double productivity, sales, profit or whatever is the key performance indicator for you. Or whatever has been the biggest challenge in the past.

The magic that opens up from entertaining such a question should not be underestimated. An interesting phenomenon occurs when we acknowledge that something radical is possible. We begin to search, to look intensely for ways to find out, even if we don’t know how exactly in the moment. It opens a space for us to boost our collective creativity and collaboration in areas that remained unexplored before. Also old assumptions and ways of thinking and operating will surface and be up for a challenge and upgrade.

Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric, used to lead his executives to set two types of goals for themselves and their business units – a base goal and a stretched goal. The base goals were the minimum that had to be accomplished for the business to perform at a level, to stay competitive and profitable. Stretched goals were designed to target the bold ambitions and bring the best out people to on the way to accomplish them. One thing was obvious, if one wholeheartedly pursued the stretched goals, the accomplishment of the base goal was virtually guaranteed. So there was no pressure just the opportunity to stretch, to expand one’s capacity and discover the hidden potential. No wonder GE was growing in spectacular fashion for several decades.

You can capture the same untapped resources and creative energy whether you are part of a small or an international corporation.

Just consider the following questions as an example:

:: What if we could attract double the customers in half the time next year? Would we be willing to explore that? And plan for it?

:: What if we could spend just a third of the time in meetings while accomplishing more every single time we meet? Would you be willing to challenge how we think about and run meetings? And change the way we go about them?

:: What if we could double our profitability while working less and having more fun and fulfilment at what we do everyday? How would need to interact and approach each problem and opportunity? And what kind of work environment we need to create and sustain?

Often, what limits us most are not the realities of the outside world but the questions we don’t ask and the assumptions we don’t question – individually and collectively.

I wish you a radically better 2013, not because you should or have to, but because if you play you might as well play big. You might be surprised that it actually takes less time and effort and is far more rewarding whether you actually achieve your aspirations or not.

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Jans Corner: A lasting contribution or winning at all costs?

I’m a big cycling fan. Apart from an occasional bike ride I love to watch the Grand cycling tours, most notably the Tour De France – arguably the biggest and most prominent three week cycling race in the world. I have followed Le Tour, as they call it in France, for the past ten years ever since I spent some time in Paris and witnessed Lance Armstrong win it for the fourth time.

Lance Armstrong is a cycling legend having won the race seven consecutive times. He inspired millions of people – including me – by his story of overcoming a terminal illness and succeeding against all odds. He also was the one who pointed out in his books and interviews that success in cycling is less about the individual greatness and more about seamless team work. Over the years, I have drawn many useful lessons for teamwork and high performance from cycling in the Tour de France to business. Playing to ones strengths, adjusting strategy based on the terrain, optimising the teams’ energy and timing of tactical actions, are just a few of them.

However, today I’d like to point out something completely different. In the past week, Armstrong’s phenomenal success has been shockingly turned completely on its head. He and his past team members, as well as management and staff of his teams were accused of probably the greatest doping scandal in the sports history. Based on a detailed investigation of the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA), Armstrong achieved his extraordinary success and sports prominence to a great extent due to their sophisticated and systematic doping program that virtually everyone surrounding his team participated in over a period of 14 years. It seems now obvious that the performance and success have been built on a deceitful use of banned and dangerous performance enhancing substances and methods.

Basically, Armstrong created an amazing teamwork and a high-performance culture that delivered extraordinary wins consistently but that was completely violating the spirit of the sport and the agreed rules of the game.

The story is both shocking and sad and demonstrates not just that a reputation built over a lifetime can be destroyed in a moment but also that a winning at all cost attitude, that employs questionable means that justify the ends may reap short-term awards but in the long term tends only to destroy the value that it created and more. It has a devastating effect on the individuals who participate in it and on the trust in both the team and the sports as a whole.

Sadly, I see this approach sometimes applied in business situations. The same pressure to win at all cost as is used for justifying dodgy tactics and dubious means. Phrases “everyone else is doing it, so why not us” or “this is the necessary evil” come to mind. Moreover, short-term thinking drives executives to exploit the resources for quick but unsustainable performance increases and generous rewards that come with it, only to move on and have the successors to pick up and deal with the mess that happens afterwards. Many companies covertly circumvent regulations to save profitability targets only to leave employees, suppliers, communities and the environment paying multifold for these savings now and in the future.

Gandhi said that “means are results in making” and I believe that we have a unique opportunity to build our businesses and teams around values that not only respect the shared purpose of the enterprise and the agreed rules of game in the market or industry but also ensure that we play transparently and can always look straight in the eyes of those we are serving and impacting.

Lance Armstrong’s legacy that went way beyond re-writing cycling history, to making a difference to millions of cancer patients, got severely tainted if not completely destroyed over night. Let’s choose a different path. One that might be not as spectacular in its short-term triumphs but one that is sustainable in its long-term positive impact and contribution. And also one that we can be proud of even if someone discovers the secret of our success.


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Jans Corner: Team Learning and Collective Intelligence

Ever wondered why is it possible that a team of highly intelligent individuals is often behaving, well, not so intelligently?

Shouldn’t it be that intelligent and competent people naturally make intelligent and competent teams? Yes, in theory, but not necessarily in practice.

Why? Because the collective intelligence, competence and performance of the team depends not just on the quality of the individuals but also on the quality of their interactions.

The quality of the interactions will greatly depend on how well they can see, appreciate and draw out the best of the strengths and differing points of view of the other team members at the right time.

This doesn’t come necessarily easily or quickly and requires a collective learning process for the team to go thorough. Not just at the beginning of their collaboration through widely known process often referred to as – forming, norming, storming and performing – but continuously though team practice and synchronisation.

To co-create something magnificent together teams need to operate like orchestras.

We know that in an orchestra, learning and great performance come not from sameness and conformity but from diversity and harmony that comes from that diversity. The more diversity of musical instruments and the more in sync they play together, the larger the repertoire of music they can play and the more powerful and beautiful the sound.

Well, why do we in business have such a hard time to learn from performing arts, like orchestra music?

I would assert that it is because we treasure performing over practicing together. Even though they go hand in hand. Moreover, we are not used to and geared to practicing and learning together. We might be used to meetings and retreats, to debates and reports yet often without the extra benefits they may promise.

Peter Senge, worldwide expert in the area of learning organisations and the author of the seminal book the Fifth Discipline, points out that teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning units in modern organisations. “Unless teams can learn, the organisations cannot learn,” and of course cannot perform adequately to reflect the aspirations and intelligence of their individuals.

:: What do you do, to learn together?

:: How do you think and practice together as a team? Do you learn from every experience and improve the quality of every interaction? Or do you keep repeating the same experiences, fighting the same problems and expending energy on who is right?

:: How often do you practice? What is your practice rhythm? Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually?

Team performance can generate the business equivalent of beautiful music played by an exquisitely synchronised orchestra where everyone enjoys playing their part whilst appreciating the diversity they are part of.

How much we unlock our collective intelligence will, however, depend on how willing and open we are to continuously practicing and learning together.

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Jans Corner: Simply the Best!

London 2012 Olympic Game are over. Athletes and spectators from around the world have enjoyed these two spectacular weeks of games, competition and records.

We have seen that Usain Bolt is arguably the best sprinter in the world, and now an athletic legend. Michael Phelps is the planet’s best swimmer and by the count of gold medals the best olympic athlete in the history. American basketball team showed that they can put up a show as well as points when it mattered to claim yet another olympic gold.

It is tough to win the gold and therefore, it is adequately regarded and celebrated. It marks the reward for an arduous four-year journey and symbolises personal or team triumph. It is also a reason for great pride and celebration at the athletes’ home, wherever around the world that is.  And it is also a proof of being simply the best.

In business we like the sports metaphor – and it really comes alive during the Olympics or big tournaments. It can fuel us to be our best and motivates us during the time of uncertainty and challenge.

Yet frequently the sports metaphor brings along severe limitations and distortions when applied (or presumed) in enterprises, teams or business interactions. We can say that like a unleashed dog it can turn back to bite us.

As a result businesses obsess about winning in the market at all cost (mostly to their stakeholders and the environment), teams experience undesirable yet somehow unavoidable internal competition that wastes time and energy, and individuals give more attention to being right and defending their opinions and interests than doing their best.

The focus becomes winning and beating the competition not providing value, being of service to others and collaborating to effectively make a difference. Trapped in the competitive metaphor we are losing sight of the bigger picture which we are part of and our business’ primary purpose – to serve people and society.

:: What if, as a business, instead of seeking to be the best in the world, we sought to be the best FOR the world?

:: What if, as a team, instead of seeking to be the best in the business, we sought to be the best FOR the business?

:: What if, as individuals, instead of seeking to be the best in the team, we sought to be the best FOR the team?

You get the idea. Being best for the world is a very different context and metaphor for leading and operating in business than being a winner.

When I first heard Richard Barrett, the British social commentator on the evolution of human values in business and society, coin this phrase I saw the exciting possibilities of what we can accomplish together by seeing the big picture as well as how our experience can shift in everyday business by asking just slightly different questions.

What possibilities can you see when you try this on?

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