You are in a meeting discussing plans to move forward on a new tool. A business tool that many of the higher up believe will provide some great value to the company. But what this tool is and how to build it needs to be decided on. Many important people are gathered and one of them begins to speak. Suddenly, like a firework in the darkest night, bright and bold words illuminate the room. Many are enraptured, but you, you are struck with the cold truth. The bitter cup is yours. Those words, bright and flashy, are completely devoid of what any rational human would understand to be meaningful content. This one, this ejaculator of flashy phrases and buzzy business words, is dangerous.
He is a mortar launching booming phrases like;
“gamification of this current ideating segment”
“agile platform dashboards”
“thought experimental MVP”
“global-centric innovative cloud”
“but, what is the ROI on this?”
While admittedly there are times to ask that final question, the individual in question will ask it at every opportunity because at some point the shitty business leadership book they read said to keep it in mind. No situation is off limits to the ROI question or any term of similar ilk. A good example is asking in any situation “but how does this sound in the cloud?
This person can sink a project, cripple a meeting, and divide an organization. The danger lies not in spewing nonsense, any fool can do that. The danger lies in the fact that often these people become thought leaders among the insecure. It becomes imperative that this sort of mental heresy be identified and contained at the beginning, before it can spread. I will discuss how to contain the damage in part two of this topic.
Hegel is famous for one thing in particular, and that is the concept that history represents a progressive combination of diverse viewpoints as the Truth or Absolute slowly comes into focus.
Who knows what the hell that means, but the short version of most interpretations on this is that Philosophies and Ideas slowly become more perfect throughout history as new viewpoints appear to critique and enhance the original Idea as the result of this critique is a middle ground between extremes. (Think Democracy vs. Communism leads to Democratic Socialism and Socially Minded Democracy) For Hegel this virtuous cycle leads Ideas closer to perfection. While we wait to see whether he’s right on a meta-historical scale, let’s compare this to a small scale example: Corporate Projects
Ideas have this beautiful evolution in business, moving from thesis to antithesis in a wonderful melody of transformation… Except not necessarily in the divine, virtuous way Hegel posits, but also potentially in a vicious cycle that I affectionately call the Cyclone of Assistance.
The fundamental principle underlying the Cyclone is that sufficiently important activity has a habit of breeding attention in a corporate ecosystem. This attraction of opinion is healthy by bringing diverse thoughts to bear, but unfortunately can also bring a level of ego-driven intervention that disrupts progress and drains your energy.
This hindrance arrives most frequently in the form of too many requirements being demanded as a solution becomes over-engineered to diverse, yet highly focused implementations. Of course, the corporate ecosystem has a control on this behavior by limiting the scope of efforts once they’ve embarked, but for the one driving the work, deflecting interventions to bring about effective change is draining.
Effectiveness of the projects within the Cyclone of Assistance can degrade as time goes on and the intensity of opinions increase. It’s a reality of corporate work that there will be virtuous and vicious Cyclones and acting in the middle of them is the art of being effective.
Continue reading “Art of Being Effective: Cyclone of Assistance”
Soren Kierkegaard, philosopher supreme, considered spiritlessness one of the key human illnesses of our time. The spiritless person is dominated by a disconnect from responsibility to higher values*. While clearly having religious import to Kierkegaard, the observation also has a powerful analogy in the business world. I would suggest that a dimension of the problems underlying the ‘disengaged’ workforce is captured in Kierkegaard’s spiritlessness. That is, a disconnect between an employee’s understanding of their responsibility and the values of the organization leads to subpar results.
A few examples of the sickness of spiritlessness in the workplace:
Innocent Ignorance- “I only do ‘X'” mindset, which involves a poor understanding of what ‘X’ is. This comes about when task is thought more important than the intended outcome. (e.g., I heard once of a saleswoman that locked away promotional materials when people came by… because it was only her job to make sure the sales office had a certain volume of pamphlets on hand.” There is an innocence in the ignorance of “I only do X’ers” that makes it easier to push them towards understanding the value behind the why. I would suspect we’ve all been here and will all be here at times in our lives.
Unfelt Responsibility- “I’m sorry, but we won’t help you” This comes about when standard process came up short and the employee/manager has authority to assist, but won’t. See Manlius’ Jigger of Common Sense for an example here. The employee/manager doesn’t feel a responsibility to help and so refuses, even when it really ought to be their responsibility as in Manlius’ case.
Fear of Responsibility- In these cases the need to dynamically evaluate a situation is shirked and easy answers are chosen. This spiritlessness is particularly insidious in management, because it pairs well with authority and is often a reaction to potential threats to authority.
Of course, the real purpose of this concept in Kierkegaard’s philosophy was for the individual to come to grips with the implications that these higher values had on their choices with no easy outs or quick fixes. Business is rarely so broad in it’s pursuits, but organizations would do well to consider the ways in which these implications go unnoticed or are treated as trite aphorisms with no power to compel responsible action.
*Financial, societal, or personal, these are the systems behind the why of decisions an organization or person makes. For the sake of brevity they can also be construed as outcomes in certain circumstances.
Win, winning, win at winning! This has been the buzzword around my work recently. And it has turned into a bastardization of the English language. A complete forsaking of thought and content A list of recent examples in my life of “How to win” as modeled by managers and executives in meetings I have attended:
- “What matters is not if we fix the problem! We win when we make sure that the people with problems don’t get surveys!” – A local manger shares his thoughts on customer experience scores.
- “Good job everyone, we are now second worst in the company. This is a big win for us.” – This was true. Its amazing how satisfying lowering the bar can be.
- “Winning is all we do.” – this was the preface to the CEO’s internal letter about Q1 results which according to all involved were wickedly sub par.
- “SHOW ME HOW YOU WIN!” – an email from the regional sales president. Also the next hit from DJ Kahled. The color and size are toned down for the safety of the reader. Nothing makes me succeed faster than large, colorful language thrown my way, so I guess that’s a win.
- “I am winning currently by making sure that every interaction is a win. And those wins combine to really win at winning.” – This was an email I sent. I was kind of being a douche, but lo and behold the email was circulated to 1200 people in the region as an example of “an awesome attitude and approach.” FML
Maybe we would win if we dug our heads out of the winning ass and had real conversations about what we want. I know this sounds crazy but sometimes its okay to tone down the cult vibe and have conversations with people as though we were not all lobotomized by the winning machine. How refreshing is it when someone does more in conversation than ejaculate your local corporate business-isms on your desk and leave? It may sound anachronistic, but language was created to give transmission to the colorful and intricate workings of your mind we often call “thoughts.” We have a palate of words with which to convey deep meaning and intricate nuance, perhaps we could use them.
Or maybe DJ Kahled is onto something: All I Do is….