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The Legacy of an industrial age educational system?

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The research by Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright provides a taxonomy to understand why people are where they are in an organization and why some people get “stuck” at a certain stage.

The research placed the majority of people in the “I am great – and you are not” category (Stage Three – see March 7 entry).  This is a category where individuals are addicted to personal success at the expense of team goals and a “higher purpose”.

The distinguishing attribute of Stage Three is a group of individuals where there is internal competition and overemphasis  on “Knowing all the answers”.

Here are a few of the  telltale signs of folks in Stage Three  (read the book for the rest)

  • They form a series of dyadic (two-person) relationships.  They get what they want by using some combination of personal appeals, charm, manipulating the truth, distorting information, trading favors, and selectively disclosing facts.  There is one set of communication from the above for each dyadic relationship.  As time goes it it may become a burden to keep track of which communication was used with each set of  relationships.
  • They may say they support team goals, but their behavior  shows they discourage teaming – unless it is a situation where they can be the star.
  • They hoard information – information is power.  To remain on top is to know more, and disclose less, than others.
  • Spoke of relationships.  They must be the center and no communication can be made without their knowledge.  A manager in this position will ask they be CC’ed on all e-mail and/or that all communication outside the team should flow through them.
  • They rely gossip and spies for information.
  • They talk about values but these are always their personal values – not group values.  These “values” are not empowering to anyone but themselves.
  • Managers in this position seldom hire people who they perceive as smart as themselves as these folks pose a threat to the managers “personal superiority”.  This is born out of insecurity.  Managers at this level hire people they can dominate  but can still do that work at a “Stage Two” (see March 7 posting) level.  In the movie Office Space, there is an employee , Milton…  he’s not even worth looking at.  You’re more interested in his space, and where he needs to get out of.  Milton ended up in the basement where his boss asked him to do his best to control the rat population.  This is someone Lumbergh, the boss, can dominate – the perfect hire.

How did folks end up here?  The authors of Tribal Leadership have an interesting take on the educational system…

For most professionals in the United States, Stage Three is the top of the mountain.  How did it get this way?

Between 1890 and 1920, along with the huge influx of immigrants , 80 percent of the rural population moved to the city to take millions of new factory jobs, and they brought their children with then.  On the farm, many children meant many helpers, but in the factory, many children meant many accidents and acts of exploitation.  Children s welfare and child labor practices became the issue of the age, and most people felt that something had to be done to protect and train the children while mom and dad worked in the factory.

The solution was to train a new generation of workers by teaching them inside a system that looked like a factory.  In school, bell rings, go to class; bell rings, recess; bell rings, go to class; bill rings each lunch; bell rings, go home.  At school, children with the right answers get a gold star, then an A.  A star pupil is one who does the homework and has the right answers.

The new system undid the classic liberal eduction, which said that the value was in the well-designed question, and this shift in focus made the worker exploitable…

In between bell rings, children learned what they needed to become effective workers, and that amounted to reading, writing, and math.

The system did not emphasize creative thinking, strategizing, leadership, or innovation.  Stars were smart conformists, and people who stuck to the pattern became model students.  That approach also bred the “I’m great (and you are not)” mentality, based on homework, grades, and knowing the right answer.  It did not emphasize empowerment, creativity, or individual satisfaction.

A star employee is one who knows that right answer to a factory problem, obeys rules, and doesn’t make waves.  People are encouraged to repeat this pattern until they retire.

Interesting.  A friend of mine with high-school age children told me that much of the time in school is spent on “teaching the test”.  The goal is to have the students, and the aggregate for the high school meet ( or exceed ) that expected scoring on standardized national tests.

Is “teaching the test” really an education?  It falls right into the observation above that this prepares children for question and answer rather than framing questions and critical thinking.  The “I am great (and you are not)” mentality and obsession with personal achievement “knowing all the answers” at the expense of others (alpha dog syndrome) and a higher goal beyond oneself  just may be a result of the industrial age educational system.  But, there are other options out there

Read about the Socratic Method of teaching and the value/advantage of a liberal education.

The cost of it all – the missed opportunity

So, what are the costs to a company with an abundance of individuals are at “I am great; you are not”?  One person can seldom have an impact on an organization – that takes teamwork.  But teamwork in a land of “big egos” and addiction to “besting others”, being a “star”, and a “sage on stage”,  does not promote teamwork.  Winning on a personal basis – is self-defeating.

A company with too many “I am great” players undermines the entire organization.  Individuals spend so much time competing with, undermining, and manipulating others, there is little incentive or time to focus on team goals (“We are great”) and tuning the energies of competition for competing with each other on an individual basis to competing in the marketplace with other companies.

And of course beyond competition in the marketplace is the desire to do something of historic importance .  This is best exemplified by a quote from Steve Jobs – “I want to put a ding in the Universe.”

Read more on the research – Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization and find out how to evolve a tribe from an over emphasis on personal achievement to team achievement with others and on to achieving a noble cause.

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Written by frrl

March 15, 2010 at 5:07 am

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