The perpetual balancing act between selfishness and selflessness, or self-interest and group-interest, is evolutionarily fundamental. So much so that it has been described as “The Paradox of Being Human.” Thus, while I have written about it before, I have not stopped thinking about it and it remains integral to everything I do. Recently, I have been seeking a way to portray it more effectively, and, in the spirit of “a picture being worth a thousand words”, more graphically.
Rather ironically, hours after posting my blog last week (Cats, Caterpillars and Business), I received reinforcing information that substantiated all my points. And from no less an authority than Professor Gary Hamel. He enumerates the staggering scale of efficiencies that I alluded to but couldn't quantify for myself.
Believe me, when I talk about staggering numbers, I am not exaggerating! Talking about the US alone, he quantifies “the prize” for “busting bureaucracy” as $3 trillion p.a.! Perhaps, writing it as $3,000,000,000,000 gives you a clearer idea of just how much that is. Especially when you factor in this is an annual figure! Even if that number is 50% over-optimistic it is still significant. And what if it is conservative? No matter how successful you are, the possibilities this presents have to make you curious.
Have you ever noticed how sensitive a cat’s fur is? Barely touch a sleeping cat and it will twitch where you touch it. It’s purely reflex, I know, but it is something I love doing and always makes me smile. But it provides a useful lesson.
Much as I would like to take credit for (what I think is) a catchy headline, it is actually inspired by an October 2016 Harvard Business Review article: “Why Leadership Training Fails – and What to Do About It.” The article justifies the phrase by saying that, globally, companies spent $356 billion on employee training and education in 2015 but are not getting a good return on their investment, as “learning doesn’t lead to better organizational performance, because people soon revert to their old way of doing things.” If you contributed to that global figure, I suspect you already know that!
Nevertheless, the “What to do about it” aspect makes the article worth reading. Beware, however, the “leadership training” focus. Its undoubted relevance to leaders ensures it inevitably applies to all organizational training. Any narrower focus, unfortunately, is limiting. As it is, I think it perhaps constrained the writers and led them to omit points that would increase the return on all training investment. Let me share some.
“It's happening. In the last three weeks alone, Foxconn announced it will replace 60,000 factory workers with robots, a former CEO of McDonald’s said given rising wages, the same would happen throughout their franchises, Walmart announced plans to start testing drones in its warehouses, and Elon Musk predicted fully autonomous car technology would arrive within two years.
Whether it's worker displacement, the skills gap, youth unemployment, or socio-economic stratification, the impact on society will be staggering. I’ve said it on multiple occasions and believe it even more so every day: creating economic opportunity will be the defining issue of our time.”
Those are the words of Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, taken from his publication of his email to all LinkedIn employees announcing the company’s acquisition by Microsoft. Like Weiner, I am concerned about the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) and its implications. Thus I am delighted by his recognition of the phenomenon and its impact. It is undoubtedly the defining issue of our time, not only because of the need to create economic opportunity but because of the dangers inherent in failing to do so effectively.
I am reading Brian J Robertson's book "Holacracy". As I do it has dawned on me that the reason why command and control management has not been buried – despite longstanding claims that it is dead – is because we have not yet found a model that replaces our hierarchical structures. I know that is rather an embarrassing admission to have to make, but the truth is I had never consciously thought about it in such simple terms before, despite all my efforts to help inter it. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to reflect on why that has been the case and to develop new ideas that will further the cause.
“Fear is the expectation of evil.” I came across and was struck by that definition recently. It came strongly to mind this week when I read a research report about CEOs’ greatest fears. Apparently, for a whopping 64%, the single biggest fear is of disruptive ideas and the impact they might have on their business.
Thus, according to that definition of fear, business leaders see new ideas as evil. You have to find that incredibly ironic if, like me, you believe:
- Business exists for the purpose of meeting needs;
- The more the business meets those needs the better the business will do;
- Business leaders are responsible for shaping the way the organisation meets those needs.
With that attitude, you might even say that CEOs could be the biggest barriers to change in their organisations.
If nothing else, that possibility should give you pause to think. As defence you may claim that there is a very big difference between “new ideas” and “disruptive ideas.” Maybe so, but where do you draw the line? How do you distinguish one from the other? More importantly, how do you know that you are not rejecting good ideas that could achieve wonders for your business?
Apparently the achievement of learning induces a chemical reaction within the body that makes the learner feel happy and good about themselves. This past week-end I experienced this for myself. In fact, I got such a ‘buzz’ that I cannot resist sharing what I learned. I hope you experience a similar ‘high’!
It all began with an introduction into Max Boisot’s theories about the learning. Like most people, I was already aware of the distinction between data and information and so the differentiation between information and knowledge was only a small step. Likewise to understand that knowledge has no value until it is put into use. However, the discussion was around why knowledge isn’t always put to use and that is what was so enlightening. The following diagram is my interpretation and helps explain better.
“Imagine for a minute, a workplace where everyone is aligned with business objectives; where everyone understands the value they contribute; an environment where people actively seek to build mutually beneficial relationships across the organization.” This invocative opening statement to a newsletter caught my attention because that is precisely the type of workplace that I aspire to help create - and would like to see as universal. But the next sentence struck me like a blow to the solar plexus.
My wife and I love this picture. So much so that, when our son gave it to us after we acquired our ginger cat, we framed it and put it on display. We found it funny, but, more than that, it also seemed true to life, because, when the kitten wanted food, his vociferous demands indicated that he definitely saw himself as a lion!
Yet the picture has a deeper message too. It also conveys the idea that we all have grand aspirations. In fact you could say it is a graphic illustration of an engaged employee! Unfortunately we often seem to forget that – especially in our dealings with other people, and employees in particular. Nobody wants to do a bad job. We all want to be lions. So, are you giving all your employees the chance to be the lion they envisage, or do you keep them as kittens?