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Posts Tagged ‘organizational behavior

Let’s not be so CALM

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From time to time, I encounter organizations that have some sort of “Authentic Leadership” or “Servant Leadership” initiative.

What differentiates these “leadership” (note the quotes) paradigms from others, is the primacy of  focus on the well being of the individual and the team within an organization.

Here is CALM:  ( I have made some highlights in blue)

As part of the Authentic Leadership, CALM  is “The Collaborative Authentic Leadership Model”.  The term Authentic Leadership sounds hokey but it is an approach to leadership based on self-knowledge, passion, integrity, consistency, and concern for others.

CALM places a value on:

  • Trust—the degree to which team members can be counted on to act in the best interests of the other team members.
  • Transparency—the degree to which there is clarity of purpose and intention behind decisions and actions.
  • Openness and realism—the degree to which team members are dealing honestly and directly with challenges and needs, both team and personal.
  • Fairness and respect—the degree to which team members are treated fairly, regardless of rank or role.
  • Inspiration—the degree to which there is understanding of what is important to each team member and a culture of support for helping each member realize his or her potential.

CALM is designed to:

  • Be invitationalCALM is something a team volunteers to sign up for, rather than something that is imposed on it from above or outside.
  • Be local—CALM can be employed within a team independent of what other organizations choose to do.
  • Apply to everyone at any level—CALM is not just for people in management positions or situational leadership roles. Collaborative Authentic Leadership arises out of personal influence, which is fueled by an individual’s passion, trust, empathy, and desire to act in the best interest of others.
  • Be ready for practical application—CALM does not depend on professional coaches or expensive “retooling” investments. CALM addresses the team-based project, organizational, and service context, including the types of challenges inhibiting authentic work environments.
  • Take a holistic viewpoint—The CALM framework covers personal development as well as team development, and the means are provided to help individuals extend CALM to their non‑business spheres of activity if they so wish.
  • Be flexible—CALM should be judiciously applied. Elements in each CALM dimension can be adapted to the degree that suits the business situation, team culture, and individual goals.

The Take

I’ve seen this several times times now.  What I can say, based on experience,  is that these sorts of leadership paradigms generally originate from the lower parts of the organization.  In large global publicly-held corporations Authentic Leadership and Servant Leadership are far from the first choice of a leadership style embraced by the executive management team for the organization.

At best, senior leadership gives lip service to these paradigms.  You may hear about these programs and read about them in the glossy publications for public consumption but they are seldom acted upon or implemented.  If an organization has programs and initiatives with names that sound like “employee first”, “voice of the employee”.. well, that’s a company that is trying to get its “employee engagement” scores up.

Can you handle the truth?

Authentic Leadership, Servant Leadership and similar models and paradigms stress the well-being of the individual in the organization.  The truth of the matter is, for a publicly held company, the well-being of the owners of the company are of primary importance and you have a Board of Directors that are there to ensure that this is indeed the case.  Publicly held companies are on a treadmill to produce results and report on those results in 3 month intervals (quarterly SEC 10-K).  The great thing about capitalism is that those companies that are not competitive are dismantled and the resources are re-distributed to those that can make better economic use of those resources.

If a company where to embrace the CALM value system, then…

  1. How would you ever fire anyone for poor performance or incompetency? “… team members can be counted on to act in the best interests of the other team members.”.  Team members should be counted on to act in the best interest of the owners of the company – not themselves or their other team members.
  2. How would you build high-performance teams?  “… team members are dealing honestly and directly with challenges and needs, both team and personal.”  If a team member has personal challenges, then maybe that team member has to be let go for the good of the team.
  3. “…understanding of what is important to each team member and a culture of support for helping each member realize his or her potential.”  For whom does a company exist?  Does the company exist for the employees or are the employees there for the benefit of the company and its owners?
  4. “…is fueled by an individual’s passion, trust, empathy, and desire to act in the best interest of others.”  Employee’s first or owners first?

Under the CALM system how could you downsize a company due to shrinking demand for products or services?  How could you close divisions because a product line is obsolete (e.g. photographic film processing, traditional print media, travel agents, booksellers, etc.).  If you strictly embraced the CALM value system then how could a company compete in a global marketplace and with rapid technological change if they put incumbent employee welfare and job security first as opposed to meeting the challenges with “workforce optimization” (code word) and corporate transformation?

As soon as employee’s at every level, including the C-Suite realize, that a company does not exist for them then the better off they will be.  Especially, when trying to understand why you got fired, laid off, offered early retirement, otherwise terminated.

CALM seems more of a recipe to further employee personal self-interest.  The losers seem to be the organizations customers and owners when their interests and their satisfaction play a subordinate role to employee well-being, self-interest, and job security.

Written by frrl

September 21, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Henry Ford: On Mens Desire for Corporate Advancement

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Heny Ford was one of the great industrialists of the turn of the 20th century.  He was born July 30, 1863 in Wayne county, Michigan and died April 7, 1947, Dearborn, Michigan.  Henry Ford revolutionized transportation and American industry through the mass production and the assembly line. (read more).

If you didn’t know – and now you do know, Henry Ford wrote a book, “My Life and Work”.  In this book you will find Ford’s thoughts on all sorts of subjects.  For example, here are a few chapter headings: What is an Idea?  What I learned about business.  The terror of the machine.  Wages.  Why be poor?  Why Charity?  Democracy and Industry.  And, What we may expect.

Published in 1922, My Life and Work  is now in the public domain and available for Kindle for free –
http://www.amazon.com/My-Life-and-Work-ebook/dp/B002RKR216/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1315949697&sr=1-1
(The Kindle reader is free as well for many devices)

If you are interested in the history of the industrial age in general or the history of the auto industry in particular or even the Zeitgeist of the time as told by one of the greatest people of the industrial age then this is a must read.

There are tons of interesting observations by Ford on the nature of work and man’s relation to work and business.

It’s now nearly 100 years after Ford wrote this book and Ford’s observation about Men and advancement in the corporate world has not changed much over 10 decades.  When I read the paragraphs below I remembered my experience of an employee who asked an executive in an “all hands” meeting with about 1,000 people listening… “What do the goals of this company have to do with me?”

To many other employees this was a legitimate question.
To the executives, this question was a shocker.

The education of any corporate executive, if they do not know simple facts already, should include the reading of this passage from Ford’s My Life and Work prior to being handed the key to the executive washroom.  It will save the executive years, if  not decades, of frustration over failed plans for employee innovation, expensive learning and  talent development programs, and any other device or machination intended to advance employees to the head of the class.

From My Life and Work by Henry Ford Chapter 6 – Men and Machines

There is no difficulty in picking out men. They pick themselves out because—although one hears a great deal about the lack of opportunity for advancement—the average workman is more interested in a steady job than he is in advancement.

Scarcely more than five per cent, of those who work for wages, while they have the desire to receive more money, have also the willingness to accept the additional responsibility and the additional work which goes with the higher places.

Only about twenty-five per cent are even willing to be straw bosses, and most of them take that position because it carries with it more pay than working on a machine. Men of a more mechanical turn of mind, but with no desire for responsibility, go into the tool-making departments where they receive considerably more pay than in production proper.

But the vast majority of men want to stay put. They want to be led. They want to have everything done for them and to have no responsibility. Therefore, in spite of the great mass of men, the difficulty is not to discover men to advance, but men who are willing to be advanced.

The accepted theory is that all people are anxious for advancement, and a great many pretty plans have been built up from that.

I can only say that we do not find that to be the case. The Americans in our employ do want to go ahead, but they by no means do always want to go clear through to the top. The foreigners, generally speaking, are content to stay as straw bosses.

Why all of this is, I do not know. I am giving the facts.

Has much changed in 100 years? Read a related article and a thesis on why engineers turn down offers of advancement
https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/the-quandary-of-career-advancement-of-technical-engineers/

Resources

Kindle Reader for your PC
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000426311

Henry Ford, My Life and Work (free Kindle edition)
http://www.amazon.com/My-Life-and-Work-ebook/dp/B002RKR216/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1315949697&sr=1-1

Written by frrl

September 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

TSA Blocking Web Sites – 1400 Internet Site Blocking

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This is an easy one and I think the early news media reporting this story have missed the point completely.

Blocking web sites is common practice at thousands of corporations.  In the US, sites are blocked primarily for reasons of degraded employee productivity – not one of censorship.  What company wants their employees wasting time “surfing the internet” unrelated to the employees job? More to the point, why would a company retain employees who are found to spend their time browsing web sites rather than doing their job?  Why would any company tolerate any of this time-wasting?

This is really a measure of toleration for poor performance.  And, I would venture a guess that there is a positive correlation among:  low performing organizations against peers in its industry,  the amount of time logged web surfing job-unrelated internet content, and the quality of the leadership in its tolerance for poor performance.

It really goes deeper than that.  Blocking game sites to stop employees from playing games at work is treating the symptom rather than the cause.  Mayor Daley in Chicago wants to take guns away from people so they don’t kill each other.  Taking games away from TSA employees, just like taking guns away from people in Chicago, doesn’t necessarily diminish the desire of these people to play games or kill people – maybe both for the right kind of games.

An opportunity to face Reality

In both cases, the real value of these types of events is that it gives one the opportunity to face reality in a few ways.  First, it is clear that the TSA recognizes they have a problem with employee behavior.  Second, they have treated the symptom rather than the cause.  Third, they are simply delaying the real solution to the identified employee behavior problem by not getting to the root cause of why these folks are going to these sites in the first place.

And I did not see “pornography” on the list of blocked sites.  So, that content must be, “OK”.  That activity seems popular at the Securities and Exchange Commission. (read and watch)

If TSA really wanted to block access by employees to sites of “controversial opinion” – if it really is a matter of censorship – then wouldn’t they have to block access after these folks left work and went home?  Not about censorship – it’s about employee productivity.

Written by frrl

July 6, 2010 at 5:16 pm

The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

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“The conscience of a people is their power” – John Dryden

“Minds differ still more than faces” – Voltaire

Have you ever heard someone say “I did nothing wrong” when in fact you and a great many other people thought what they did was very wrong?  In fact, so wrong that the majority of people asked themselves, “How could anyone possibly do that?”

The risk to yourself  is to think that other people think like you or me.  Or, to think that the great majority of people are ruled by some sort of  standard of right and wrong; standards of which, are accessible to all of us – a sort of 6’th sense that we all have.

Martha Stout Ph.D is a clinical psychologist in private practice who also served for twenty-five years on the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

Dr. Stout has an interesting description of public figures or people you might know

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern of the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members.  Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. 

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.  Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. 

Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.  You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness.  The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.  You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered.

How many people are like this?  Dr. Stout thinks that 1 in 25 people in the population is a sociopath.

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Written by frrl

June 23, 2010 at 3:15 am

The Law of the Lid Part II – The intractable definition of career success

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Surprised to see Lady Gaga at the front of the Fast Company list of the top 100 creative people for 2010? – well, maybe not.  A little more reasonable is number two on the list – Eddy Cue  ( read it )

Steve Jobs may own the limelight, but Eddy Cue, 46, holds the key to the Apple kingdom. Cue runs arguably the most disruptive 21st-century Web businesses: iTunes and the App Store, the latter of which is poised to create a $4 billion app economy by 2012. The unassuming Cue shot up through Apple’s ranks in the late ’80s, going from desktop support to Hollywood power broker, cutting deals for movies and music. Cue’s next campaign will be challenging Amazon’s Kindle dominance, with the Cupertino cocktail of the iPad and the iBook store.

It’s good to see someone who made it from “desktop support” to Apple Vice President.  That is quite a trip – from helping someone with their desktop hardware or software to leading a part of the Apple enterprise that is projected to tap a market to generate $4 billion in revenue.

If Eddy is 46 years old now as Apple VP in 2010, and if he started out in the 1980’s as desktop support – then that is a nearly 20+ year career journey.  Good for him!

The intractable definition of career success

It’s amazing the diversity of the definition of career success.  If Eddy, at 46, was still a desktop support person, would he be considered a failure?   Is there a “right way” and a “wrong way” when it comes to careers?  How and why is Eddy Cue, at 46, a Vice President at Apple and not a desktop support person? 

Is preference for progress or personal achievement an  unfair bias?

Is it an unfair bias to say that people “must” have a career progression – and if not, they have failed in their careers?  What about the “bias” of progress in history?  Is it a foregone conclusion that we must see progress in culture and history?  What if the colonization of America by Europeans resulted in the Europeans taking on the culture of native american indians and keeping the status quo?

If America was, in 2010, simply a static repetition of the native american culture and “progress” that we see today in 2010  (science, culture, technology) was erased then would America be a “failure” against its potential?  What makes one way better than another way?  If America never landed a man on the moon, never became a superpower, never built great cities, or did anything that America is known for, would it be considered a failure aginst its potential?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Are personal careers like the progress of a nation or culture?  Is “progress” demanded, and is it “natural”?  And if the progress in your career is like the progress of history and culture then is the lack of progress considered some sort of failure?  A failure of ability to achieve potential.  Again, why is “progress” better than no progress?  What about mediocrity?  What’s so bad about mediocrity – or just being “average”? It certainly takes less effort to be average than it takes to be remarkable?  Why be remarkable?  What drives people toward achievement?  And, why is mediocrity acceptable, and preferred, by some people?

If the worldwide global culture was still “swinging in the trees” would it matter?  Or, is there something “natural” in human being that progress is natural, and that lack of progress is somehow to be avoided,  undesirable, and to be discouraged?

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Written by frrl

June 21, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Toxic Corporate Cultures: Lessons from the Enron Debacle

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What can we learn about corporate cultures from the Enron Debacle?

Dr. Paul Wong, a Clinical Psychologist, took a stab at identifying five aspects of a Toxic Corporate Culture.  He wrote an easy-to-read 6 page paper – Lessons from the Enron Debacle: Corporate Culture Matters!

So, take a read

From the paper, here are the five signs of a toxic corporate culture and four signs of health.  This is just a summary.  Each of the these are treated in more detail in the paper along with background on how Enron conducted business.

Toxic Corporate Cultures

The following corporate cultures are described as toxic because they are dysfunctioning in terms of relationships and adjustment to changing times. They undermine the social/spiritual capital, poison the work climate and contribute to organizational decline.

  1. Authoritarian-hierarchical culture – The big boss alone makes all the major decisions behind closed doors. Even when the decisions are harmful to the company, no one dares to challenge the boss. The standard mode of operandum is command and control, with no regard to the well being of employees or the future of the company.   Hierarchies without accountability tend to have a corrupting influence on ambitious, autocratic leaders. When the boss is dysfunctional and has the power to impose his selfish, irrational decisions on others, the entire company suffers.
  2. Competing-conflictive culture – There is always some sort of power struggle going on. Leaders are plotting against each other and stabbing each other on the back. Different units and even different individuals within a unit are undercutting, backstabbing each other to gain some competitive advantage. There is a lack of trust and cooperation. People often hide important information from each other and even sabotage each other’s efforts to ensure that only they will come up on top.  There is no regard for the larger picture and the overall goal of the company. It is everyman for himself.  Both management and workers are obsessed with their own survival and self-interests.
  3. Laissez faire culture – There is a vacuum at the top, either because the leader is incompetent and ignorant, or because he is too preoccupied with his personal affairs to pay much attention to the company. Consequently, there is an absence of directions, standards and expectations. When there is an absence of effective leadership, each department, in fact, each individual does whatever they want. The leadership void will also tempt ambitious individuals to seize power to benefit themselves. Chaos and confusion are the order of the day. No one has a clear sense where the company is going. Often, employees receive conflicting directions and signals. Often, decisions are made in the morning only to be nullified in the afternoon. Given the lack of direction, oversight and accountability all across-the-board, productivity declines. In this kind of culture, the company either disintegrates or becomes an easy target for a hostile takeover.
  4. Dishonest-corrupt culture – In this culture, greed is good and money is God. There is little regard for ethics or the law. Such attitudes permeate the whole company from the top down to individual workers. Bribery, cheating, and fraudulent practices are widespread. Creative accounting and misleading profit reports are a matter of routine. Denial, rationalization and reputation management enable them carry on their unethical and often illegal activities until they are caught red-handed or exposed by correcting forces of the market. When management are blinded by greed and ambition, their judgment becomes distorted and their decisions become seriously flawed; as a result, they often cross the line without being aware of it. Enron serves as a good example.
  5. Rigid-traditional culture – There is a strong resistance to any kind of change. The leadership clings to out-dated methods and traditions, unwilling to adapt to the changes in the market place. They live in past glory and any change poses a threat to their deeply entrenched values and their sense of security. Workers are discouraged or even reprimanded for suggesting innovative ideas.

The five types of toxic cultures are not mutually exclusive. For an example, a corporation may be both authoritarian and traditional. Similarly, a corporation can be both authoritarian and corrupt. When a company suffers from a multiple of diseases, drastic operations are needed to save it from demise. Unfortunately, not many managers are competent in the diagnosis and treatment of toxic corporate cultures.

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Written by frrl

June 7, 2010 at 11:38 am

Who owns culture? Culture as a corporate differentiator

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Who Owns Culture?

Over the past few days we posted a few articles on culture.  To the question, “Who owns culture?” applied to society or to a nation, in a free society like the United States, one might say that “no one” (no person and no group) owns Culture. 

That is, in a free society, people are free to read the culture, and re/write the culture for this and the next generation.  For all we know, this is nothing more than a random walk into an uncertain future.  For people that take the long-view, this scares them.  (Read a related article.)

To the question, “Who owns culture?” applied to a corporation, the answer is easy.  The culture is owned by the CEO and the Board of Directors. 

Just about every major corporation has a page on their web site dedicated to “espousing” the corporate vision and core values of the corporate culture.  I say “espousing” the corporate values insofar as sometimes much of this is Public Relations for consumption by investors and customers. 

The real test of corporate values is behavior.  You only need to look at the behavior of Enron, WorldCom and other poster children of corporate corruptionto to see what can go wrong despite exemplary stagecraft of corporate value systems.

Zappos.com

Zappos.com is a real success story.  Started by Tony Hsieh in his early 20’s, Tony is smarter than the average CEO about corporate culture.  In fact, Zappos is built around living the corporate culture that it espouses.

Perhaps Tony’s emphasis on corporate culture was based on the previous company he founded, LinkExchange.  In one interview, Tony said that they hired people with the right skill sets and experience but were not culture fits – then the whole company went down from there.  Asked what he would do over when he started Zappos, Hsieh replied that he would “hire more slowly and fire more quickly”.

Paying new employees $2,000 to quit

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Written by frrl

June 7, 2010 at 3:24 am

The Law of the Lid and why Leadership can’t be taught

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The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and we miss it, but we aim too low and reach it. – Michelangelo

The Journey

Why do some people stay employees all their life?  Why do some people become self-employed and start businesses?  Why do some small businesses stay small businesses?  Why do businesses that start out as single-owner sole proprietorship stay that way and never become employer businesses?  Why do some companies grow to global enterprises while others never even have a nationwide presence?  Why are there enduring “Mom and Pop” businesses while at the time a single Wal-Mart store in Rogers Ark.  can grow to 8,400 stores, 2.1 million employees, and 400 billion dollars in revenue over 4 decades?

The answer to the question above lays in many parts – timing, circumstances, resources, and perhaps, just dumb luck and serendipity.  There is one aspect that one can ferret out of the numerous aspects that determine how far an individual, team, organization, or company gets on the journey to “success” – for whatever definition of success one chooses to define.

What is “The Lid”

The “lid” is a term used by John C. Maxwell.  Here is how he explains it

Leadership is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the leadership, the greater the effectiveness. Your leadership ability–for better or for worse–always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization. If you want to grow your church or company, you need to lift your lid.

A few years ago, I met Don Stephenson, the chairman of Global Hospitality Resources, Inc., an international hospitality advisory and consulting firm. At the time, his company took over the management of hotels and resorts that weren’t doing well financially. I asked him to explain how they did it.

Don said that whenever they went into an organization, they always started by doing two things: First, they trained all the staff to improve their level of service to the customers; and second, they fired the leader.

“You always fire him?” I asked. “Don’t you talk to the person first–to see if he’s a good leader?”

“No,” he answered. “If he’d been a good leader, the organization wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in.”

And I thought to myself, Of course. It’s the Law of the Lid. To reach the highest level of effectiveness, you have to raise the lid–one way or another.

The good news is that getting rid of the leader isn’t the only way. You can also do it through personal growth and development. 

To further illustrate the Law of the Lid, Maxwell tells the story of the McDonald Corporation.  Which, if you didn’t know, if it wasn’t for Ray Kroc,  would not be the global corporation that it is today.

If the McDonalds corporation was left to the McDonalds brothers – Dick and Maurice,  McDonalds would be a single restaurant on the corner of 14’th and E streets in San Bernardino California.

Here is the story of Dick and Maurice McDonald as told by Maxwell

Let me start by telling you a story that illustrates the Law of the Lid. In 1930, two young brothers named Dick and Maurice moved from New Hampshire to California in search of the American Dream. In their search for success, the brothers tried out a few business opportunities in and around Hollywood. In 1937, they struck on something that worked. They opened a small drive-in restaurant in Pasadena.

Dick and Maurice’s tiny drive-in was a great success, and in 1940, they decided to move the operation to San Bernardino, fifty miles east of Los Angeles. Their business exploded. Annual sales reached $200,000, and the brothers found themselves splitting $50,000 in profits every year–a sum that put them in the town’s financial elite.

As times changed, so did they. In 1948, they streamlined everything, reducing their menu and emphasizing service with speed. And their profits soared. The two young men had the golden touch.

Who were these brothers? Their names were Dick and Maurice McDonald. They had hit the great American jackpot, and the rest, as they say, is history, right? Wrong! The McDonalds never went any farther because their weak leadership clamped a lid on their ability to succeed.

It’s true that the McDonald brothers had one of the most profitable restaurant enterprises in the country. Their genius was in customer service and kitchen organization. But when they tried marketing the McDonald’s concept to open other franchises in 1952, their effort was a dismal failure. The reason was simple. They lacked the leadership necessary to grow their organization. Dick and Maurice were good restaurant owners and efficient managers. But they were not leaders. At the height of their success, Dick and Maurice found themselves smack-dab against the Law of the Lid.

In 1954, the brothers hooked up with a man named Ray Kroc, who was a leader. He soon struck a deal with Dick and Maurice, and in 1955, he formed McDonald’s System, Inc. (later called the McDonald’s Corporation).

Kroc immediately bought a franchise to use as a model and prototype to sell other franchises. Then he assembled a team and built an organization. The “lid” in the life and leadership of Ray Kroc was obviously much higher than that of his predecessors. Between 1955 and 1959, Kroc opened 100 restaurants. In 1961, for the sum of $2.7 million, Kroc bought the exclusive rights to McDonald’s from the brothers, and he proceeded to turn it into an American institution and global entity.

Today the company has more than 21,000 restaurants in no fewer than 100 countries. Leadership ability–or more specifically its lack–was the lid on the McDonald brothers’ effectiveness.

So, there are a couple of points to make

  1. The Law of the Lid sets the limit of effectiveness of an individual, team, organization, company, or for that matter – a society, culture, or a nation.  (If we extend Maxwell’s concept to the extreme.)
  2. According to Maxwell, Leadership can be taught. (“The good news is that getting rid of the leader isn’t the only way. You can also do it through personal growth and development. “)

Number one is true’; Number two is “maybe” and “usually not”

Here’s why

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Written by frrl

June 1, 2010 at 2:25 am

What Makes Men?

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Some thoughs based on the thinking of Ronald Heifetz at the John F. Kennedy School of Government

Some societies, social systems, cultures, and organizations “get stuck” – and in the worst case, die –  due to their inability to objectively face reality and constructively (productively) adapt. 

Ronald Heifetz calls this “work avoidance”.  You can observe this in politicians, CEO’s, and almost any place where the ability to objectively assess reality and face problems head-on is lacking.

From the “school of experience” perspective, one gains the ability to deal with these uncomfortable and distressful situations over time simply by being placed in these situations time and time again and gaining the proficiency to productively deal with them rather than falling into the trap of work avoidance. 

Sometimes people are challenged too quickly and they collapse into inaction or are paralyzed by the situation.

From Hiefetz:

People fail to adapt because of the distress provoked by the problem and the change it demands.  They resist the pain, anxiety, or the conflict that accompanies a sustained interaction with the situation.  Holding on to past assumptions, blaming authority, scapegoating, externalizing the enemy, denying the problem, jumping to conclusions, or finding a distracting issue may restore stability and feel less stressful than facing and taking responsibility for a complex challenge.  These patterns of response to disequilibrium are called work avoidance mechanisms… 

While more research should clarify the distinction between productive and avoidance behavior in different social systems, some rules of thumb are useful.  One might detect work avoidance when the subject of discussion is suddenly taken off the table…; when the focus shifts from attending to the problem to alleviating the symptoms of stress…; or when responsibility for the problem is displaced to an easy target (as with scapegoating).  One ought to take a skeptical stance, at least momentarily, when some action suddenly makes everyone feel good.

Again, some people placed into a position to solve these types of gut-wrenching problems are destroyed.  For others, the opposite happens – they are transformed by it.  Some have called this experience “The Crucible” – a sort of furnace of life-changing trials where one learns and earns confidence of rock-hard determination – a cauldron of turbulent crisis where both character, and sometimes, new societies are forged.

Think of the American Revolution and the founding fathers – Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and others.  What happened to folks like these?

The question is this, in the context of work avoidance and the idea of the crucible, “Did the situation make these men or would these men have risen to prominence without the situation?”.  There is no lack of “crucible situations” – but perhaps lack of people who are willing and able to step into the cauldron of a turbulent crisis and seize the opportunity to  “become” men.

Written by frrl

May 17, 2010 at 2:36 am

On Optimism and Confronting Reality

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The optimists.  Oh, they were the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas.”  And, Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.  Then they’d say, “We’re going to be out by Easter.”  And Easter would come, and Easter would go.  And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again.  And they died of a broken heart.  This is a very important lesson.  You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that might be.

— Admiral James Stockdale, talking to Jim Collins about his time in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner of war camp in Vietnam.  The optimists, said the Admiral, died first.

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May 12, 2010 at 4:25 am

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Making Innovation an Expectation & Celebrating Failure as Learning

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Try this at your company…

At the end of every meeting the chairperson should set aside 15 minutes for anyone who is exploring a new idea.  If no one has anything to say they are told that they are not doing their job.  This process, followed consistently, produces a stream of new ideas and creative thinking.

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE,  used to insist that every meeting include an exchange of new ideas or new techniques.

A “forgive and remember” learning culture…

We celebrated mistakes at a management gathering with 1,000 people in the room. A manager would get up and say why the environmentally sensitive light bulb or whatever it was…had failed…Then we’d give them $1,000 or a TV or something, depending on the scale of the thing. The point was to share the learning and get smarter as an organization. – Jack Welch

An early experience…

Kirsty Wark: “I understand one of the first things you did at GE was blow up the plant you were working in and that it had a profound effect on you. Can you explain?”

Jack Welch: “I did accidentally blow up the plant, yes. I was about 25 and had been experimenting with a different mixture. There was an explosion. I was scared stiff when I went to the manager. But, he was mainly curious as to why I had done what I had done and what I had learnt from it. ‘Would the process I was trying have worked,’ is what interested him!

That real encouragement to get it right rather than a punishment did have a profound effect on me, yes.”

The Innovation Machine at Google

Given the strategy to let a thousand flowers bloom, many products are bound to fail. However, Google executives appear to be undeterred by failure. In fact, Schmidt encourages it: “Please fail very quickly—so that you can try again” is how he described his outlook to the Economist. Similarly, Page told Fortune that he had praised an executive who made a several-million-dollar blunder: “‘I’m so glad you made this mistake. Because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don’t have any of these mistakes, we’re just not taking enough risk.’” Needless to say, that level of risk tolerance is rare in corporations, despite the widespread belief that error and innovation go hand in hand.
Reverse Engineering Google’s Innovation Machine, Harvard Business Review April 2008

Written by frrl

May 11, 2010 at 4:05 am

There is no such thing as a Dysfunctional Organization

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The theory is that there is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization.  That is, every organization is the way it is because the people in that system want it that way.  Organizations are already perfectly aligned to achieve the results they get.

Why do organizational change efforts often fail?  One reason could be that organizational change does not go deep enough.  Executives need to realize that they are not solving traditional problems, that  they “own” the organization they created, and that, they themselves, might be the problems.  Darwin is alive in the 21′st century global business environment.  Adapt or perish.

Read some interesting insights from Ronald Heifetz on adaptive change, the difference between authority and leadership, and what it takes for companies to thrive and compete in the context of uncertainty and complexity in the current economic environment. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm

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On Multiple Intelligences, Minds, and the Education for the Future

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A couple of decades ago (1983), Howard Gardner came up with this idea that IQ (“Intelligence” Quotient) only measures one type of intelligence.  Observation shows that people possess abilities that IQ tests can not measure.  Gardner got the idea that to really understand the full range of human capability it was necessary to extend the concept of “intelligence” beyond the traditional default definition.

Gardner came up with the theory of multiple intelligences.  The belief was that multiple  intelligences better capture the full capability of human being and that an individual, evaluated on traditional IQ tests alone, did not tell the full story on a particular individuals capability.

Here is a list of Gardners 9 intelligences Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

April 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm

For Accidental Entrepreneurs – 12 + 12 Factors to Consider in Starting a Business

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A while ago a new term entered the lexicon of popular culture; that term was “Accidental Entrepreneur”.  This came to denote a person who got laid off or otherwise lost their job and started their own business.  What could be better than being your own boss?  Well plenty, if you don’t know anything about business.  One would do well to remember the E-Myth:

… refers to the idea that most businesses fail because the founders are technicians that were inspired to start a business without knowledge of how successful businesses run.  The mythic and often disastrous assumption is that people who are experts regarding technical details of a product or service will also be expert at running that sort of business. Many small business owners eventually realize that just as they had to learn their technical skills, they have to learn business growth and management skills…. (read more)

Many Accidential Entrpreneurs don’t have a written Business Plan.  The point is not to have a business plan to have a business plan per se but to have a written business plan to demonstrate that you have thought it through and you have covered the predictable pitfalls that cause businesses to fail.

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April 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Dave, The Mechanical Turk, and the fate of ordinary people

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A few days ago I had a conversation with “Dave”.  This was part of an assessment of processes and software tools in use by a Fortune 100 Insurance company.  During the interview, I asked Dave some questions about what he did, how he did it, how what he did fit into the larger picture of the business unit that he was in, and what the future was for the applications and software tools he was using to do his job.  I also asked him what ideas he had to improve (make more efficient, easier, create more value for his effort, etc) the work he did or the work of the business unit in general.

Dave was an expert at what he did and how he did it.  As far as answers to the other questions, I got mostly “don’t know” or silence regarding ideas for changes or improvement.  When Dave recognized that he did not have answers to some of the questions he seemed annoyed that I was asking these things of him.  Dave said a very profound thing to me.

“I just do what my boss tells me to do”

The question to you is, … Is Dave the perfect employee?

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Written by frrl

April 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm

The Construction of Multiple Identities

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The advent of the internet and the rise of social networking has provided an opportunity we did not have before – the opportunity to construct multiple identities.  For some, the real world is good enough; for others, it is not.

A few years ago I listened to a program on NPR (National Public Radio) about the rise of local churches.  This was not so much about religion as it was about people who obtained papermill degrees in Theology, Ministry, or similar and then started a church placing themselves at the head of that church with their name prefixed with Doctor, Pastor, or similar title of authority.  In an institutional church, for example, Lutherans or Catholic, it takes many years to earn a degree with these titles.  But heck, if someone can send in $10 and get a degree – to get that identify – then why not?

People need self-validation.  For some, self-validation, a sense of worth, comes from inside – intrinsic.  For others, validation has to come from outside – extrinsic.  The challenge of extrinsic validation is that one needs to find an external environment, community, or organization where this can be accomplished.  If the door is closed in one environment, community, or organization you can always try to find another.  For example, a local condo or home-owners association can provide titles of President, Board of Directors, or similar titles and these can be filled by people who, in the real life of their jobs, have never  earned – or have been granted or entrusted with – any real management responsibility.  One night you’re on the Board of Directors at the home owners association – the next day you’re sitting in a fabric cubicle at work like Milton in the movie Office Space.

The real world is hard.  It does not comport itself to the easy wishes of those who desire extrinsic validation by titles or positions of responsibility in a real environment, community or organization where these titles and positions require a demonstrated competency and history of creating measurable results in order to get this positions or titles.

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April 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Insights on Innovation from Apple

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Steve Jobs on Market Research – and why they don’t do it.

It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do. So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what’s the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’’’
– Steve Jobs, Apple CEO

Read the full article –
http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/publications/magazine/6/4/you_cant_innovate_like_apple

Cached Copy –
https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/appleinnovation.pdf

Written by frrl

April 12, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Why Those with the “Right Stuff” Are Often the Wrong People

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We suspect that the mistakes happen when firms choose managers at any level – from CEO to business unit head to project manager – based on what we call “right stuff” thinking…

Many search committees and hiring executives classify candidates by right-stuff attributes.  The often look for an uninterrupted string of past successes to predict that more successes are in store.  The theory in use is that if you find someone with a track record and with the right-stuff attributes, then he or she can successfully manage s new business venture..

Managers who have successfully worked their way up the ladder of a stable business unit… are likely to have acquired the skills that were necessary to succeed in that context.

When a slow-growing firm’s leaders decide they need to launch a new growth business to restore their company to vitality, who should they tap to head the venture?  A talented manager from the core business who has demonstrated a record of success?  An outsider who has started and grown a successful company?  The school-of-experience view suggests that both these managers might be risky hires.

The internal candidate would have learned how to meet budgeted numbers, negotiate major supply contracts, and improve operational efficiency and quality, but might not have [any experience ] on starting a new business in his or her prior career assignments.  An outside entrepreneur might have learned a lot about building new fast-moving organizations, but would have little experience competing for resources, and bucking inappropriate processes within a stable, efficiency oriented operating culture.

In order to be confident that managers have developed the skills required to succeed at a new assignment, one should examine the sorts of problems they have wrestled with in the past.

It is not as important that managers have succeeded with the problem as it is for them to have wrestled with it and developed the skills and intuition for how to meet the challenge successfully next time around.

Failure and bouncing back from failure can be critical courses in the school of experience.  As long as they are willing and able to learn, doing things wrong and recovering from mistakes can give managers an instinct for better navigating through the minefield the next time around.

The above is a common sentiment based on examining the tenure of CEO’s.  Many CEO’s don’t have a “Second Act”.  A CEO brought in to turnaround a company sometimes does not have the skills to run the company after the turnaround.  A CEO that can run a company in predictable economic  times may not have the skills to deal with hyper-competition and an economic downturn – so s/he’s out.  Ever wonder why CEO tenures are so short?  External environments may just change faster than a CEO can adapt and individual CEO’s simply don’t have an infinite portfolio of skills to match the rates of external change.

Read more –  The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth

Read about Ed Zander and the Motorola Turnaround – http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=21251

And Zanders exit and severance package – https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/zander_severancepay.pdf

Written by frrl

April 8, 2010 at 4:51 pm

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When to Quit and When to Stick

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Complements of the mind of Seth Godin…

“If you are not going to put in the effort to be the best possible choice, why bother?  Is, “Well, no one better showed up” a valid strategy for success?  Are you hoping to become a success because you’re the only one being considered?

The reason big companies almost always fail when they try to enter new markets is their willingness to compromise.  The figure that because they are big and powerful, they can settle, do less, stop improving something before it is truly remarkable.

They compromise to avoid offending other divisions or to minimize their exposure.  So, they fail.  They fail because they don’t know when to quit and when to refuse to settle.

What Jack Knew

When Jack Welch remade GE,  the most fabled decision he made was this: If we can’t be #1 or #2 in an industry, we must get out.

Why sell a billion dollar division that’s making a profit quite happily while ranking #4 in market share?  Easy.  Because it distracts management attention.  It sucks resources and capital and focus and energy.  And most of all, it teaches people in the organization that it’s Okay not to be the best in the world.”

Written by frrl

April 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Keeping your company a “Bozo-Free” Zone – the Google Way

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A Bozo-free Zone

Google’s leaders believe that one exceptional technologist is many times more valuable than one average engineer; hence they insist on hiring only the brightest of the bright—folks out on the right-hand end of the bell-shaped curve.

They also believe that if you let one “bozo” in, more will surely follow. Their logic is simple: A-level people want to work with A-level people—fellow savants who will spark their thinking and accelerate their learning.

Trouble is, B-level people are threatened by A-class talent, so once they get in the door, they tend to hire colleagues who are as unremarkable as they are. Worse, a B-class staffer with a bit of an insecurity problem may opt to hire C-grade employees who lack the self-confidence to challenge anyone’s point of view.

As the ranks of the mediocre expand, it becomes harder to attract and retain the truly exceptional. And before you know it, the process of dumbing-down has become irreversible.

At Force.com

Conventional wisdom says you should hire people who are not like you.  That’s wrong.  Hire people who are like you, only better.  Growing up, my parents always told me to get better at tennis.  I had to play with “A” players.  By playing with the best, they said, my own game would improve.

Marc Benioff CEO Salesforce.com

More on management a la Google from the WSJ

The ultimate test of any management team is not how fast it can grow its company in the short-term, but how consistently it can grow it over the long-term. In a world where change is relentless and seditious, this demands a capacity for rapid strategic adaptation. In recent years we have witnessed adaptation failures by incumbents across a wide variety of industries: airlines, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, newspapers, and recorded music. In many cases, companies haven’t been changing as fast as the world around them.

What the laggards have failed to grasp is that what matters most today is not a company’s competitive advantage at a point in time, but its evolutionary advantage over time. Google gets this.

Evolutionary risk factor #2: A hierarchical organization that over-weights the views of those who have a stake in perpetuating the status quo. Google’s response: An organization that is flat, transparent, and non-hierarchical.

When power is concentrated at the top, a tradition-bound executive team can hold a company’s capacity to change hostage to its own ability to adapt. That’s why it so usually takes a financial meltdown and leadership change to set a company on a new course. It is noteworthy that neither Larry Page nor Sergei Brin, Google’s founders, has proclaimed himself “chief software architect,” the badge Bill Gates wears at Microsoft. Rather than assume they’re infallible seers with a divine right to dictate Google’s next strategy and the one after that, Messrs. Page and Brin have created a Darwinian environment in which every idea must compete on its merits, not on the grandeur of its sponsor’s title.

Google has invested heavily in building a highly transparent organization that makes it easy to share ideas, poll peers, recruit volunteers, and build natural constituencies for change. Every project team, and there are hundreds, maintains a Web site that is continuously monitored for peer feedback. In this way, unorthodox ideas have the chance to accumulate peer support — or not — before they get pummeled by the higher-ups. It also helps that Google is organized like the Internet itself: tightly connected, flat and meritocratic. Half of its employees — all those involved in product development — work in pint-sized teams, with an average of three or four engineers per team. Product managers typically have 50+ direct reports, making it hard for supervisors to micromanage. Critically, control is more peer-to-peer than manager-to-minion.

http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB114601763677436091-RZdaVtvykRAz4EhCKs0KervA0Eo_20060503.html

Written by frrl

April 3, 2010 at 4:58 pm

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Positioning Companies to Compete in Turbulent Times

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Some insights from Gary Hamel

Our premise is that a company can control its own destiny only if it understands how to control the destiny of its industry. Organizational transformation is a secondary challenge. The primary challenge is to become the author of industry transformation.

The real issue is whether transformation happens belatedly in a crisis atmosphere – or with foresight – in a calm and considered atmosphere; whether the transformation agenda is set by more prescient competitors or derives Not Only one’s own point of view about the future;

Only when restructuring and re engineering fail to halt corporate decline do most companies consider the need to regenerate their strategy and reinvent their industry.

The bullet list below are the sites of transformation, innovation, and corporate renewal that Hamel identifies as necessary to position a company for hyper-competition.  The items on the left side are what most companies do now.  To compete in the future, the “but also” needs to augment the traditional view.

Probably the most significant thing that Hamel points out is the need for the utter transformation of the traditional hierarchical corporate structure to a flattened or “lattice” organization.  The “amalgamation of the collective intelligence and imagination of managers and employees throughout the company who must possess an enlarged view of what it means to be strategic.”

This all may seem to be far out stuff.  But the number of companies that are hooked into these sets of transformations is growing.  As far as this idea of an “amalgamation of the collective intelligence” this is already being enabled by Social Business Software with remarkable results at many Fortune 500 corporations.

Here’s the leverage…

The Competitive Challenge

  • Not Only Re engineering processes but also Regenerating strategies
  • Not Only Organizational transformation but also Industry transformation
  • Not Only Competing for market share but also Competing for opportunity share

Finding the Future

  • Not Only Strategy is learning but also Strategy is forgetting
  • Not Only Strategy is positioning but also Strategy is foresight
  • Not Only Strategic plans but also Strategic architecture

Mobilizing for the Future

  • Not Only Strategy as fit but also Strategy as stretch
  • Not Only Strategy as resource allocation but also Strategy as resource Accumulation and Leverage

Getting to the Future First

  • Not Only Competing within an existing Industry structure but also Competing to shape future industry structure
  • Not Only Competing for product leadership but also Competing for core Competence
  • Not Only Competing as a single entity but also Competing as a coalition
  • Not Only Maximizing the ratio of new products but also Maximizing the rate of new market learning
  • Not Only Minimizing time to market but also Minimizing time to global Preemption

To compete successfully for the future, senior managers must first understand just how competition for the future is different Not Only competition for the present.

The differences are profound. They challenge the traditional perspectives on strategy and competition. Competing for the future requires not only a definition of strategy, but also a redefinition of top management’s role in creating strategy.

However lean and fit an organization, it still needs a brain. But the brain we have in mind is not the brain of the CEO or strategic planner.

Instead it is an amalgamation of the collective intelligence and imagination of managers and employees throughout the company who must possess an enlarged view of what it means to be strategic.

Read more on Social Business Software as an enabler of collective intelligence

https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/gartner-2009-mq-social-software-in-workforce_1.pdf
https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/forrester-wave-community-platforms-q1-2009.pdf

Read more from Gary Hamel on this topic
Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life

Written by frrl

April 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Insecurity and the Egoholic

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Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm– but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

— T. S. ELiot

I snagged the quote below off the web (see below).  But first a few comments.

Whoever wrote the quote got it wrong by mixing “egoholic” behavior in political and organizational situations and mapping this to insecurity.

Those is politics who have a desire to control everyone and everything do this out of ego but certainly not out of insecurity.  Quite the opposite.  Folks like Lenin and Marx wanted nothing less than to create a new form of human being and a new form of society – a Utopia – a Paradise on Earth – a workers paradise free from the exploitation of man by man and through the abolition of private property and a class(full) society.

Such a political aspiration to transform human being and society certainly is based on ego, but not concomitantly based on insecurity.

Obama and the Dems that want to control healthcare and everything that can be linked to it have big egos but these actions are not motivated by insecurity – quite the opposite.  If anything, its ego plus ideology and confidence.

Those in organizations who have a desire to control everyone and everything do this out of ego,  insecurity, fear, and self-doubt.  They have the need to find an environment where they can have control to compensate for situations where they have no control and are powerless.

There was this interesting suggestion by Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert …  As a reaction, these people create a fortress of technology competency and an air of superiority which, according to Adams, “is patently a compensation for their powerlessness” within the organization. Scott Adams was referring to people like Dilbert who are at the bottom of the organization and have no management or executive power to determine anything – in short, they are powerless – they do not contribute or control the corporate strategy or direction, control the allocation of resources, make personnel decisions, or even control their own assignments.

The result of this powerlessness can manifest itself as compensation played out as egotistical behavior and desire to control everything and everyone in situations and environments where they can find an opportunity to realize this.  The challenge for these folks is finding environments, situations, and people  where this can be realized.  That is, environments and people who will assent to this type of treatment.  The character of Milton in the movie Office Space is a good example.  Lumbergh can dispatch Milton to a basement office to have him “control the rat population”.  Milton is diminished as a person and Lumbergh can feel good about himself by being able to treat Milton in this way.  Milton and Lumbergh have a sustainable symbiotic relationship as long as each plays their part.  If you saw the movie, you can see what happens when Milton “snapped” and burned the place down out of being treated in this manner.  Milton became his own Lumbergh in this ultimate act of defiance of being powerless.  And so it goes.  ( Watch the Milton clips from Office Space here )

So, bottom line, big egos in politics is based confidence.  Egoholics in organizations .. just may be the facade for underlying insecurity, self-doubt, and compensation for other environments and situations where these folks are powerless.

Here is what I snagged off the internet that got me thinking

The Demise Of The Egoholic

We all know them, we have seen them at school, in work and we see them playing politics on TV and in the news.

The egoholic needs to control people and often to demean and belittle them, in order to validate themselves.

Whatever authority they have relies on their title, their uniform or intimidation.

When I was younger this kind of “authority” was normal, thankfully in modern organisations these characters are increasingly rare.

What drives people to behave this way is their own insecurity.  Insecurity or lack of self-confidence can lead to dramatically different behaviours.  At one end of the spectrum insecurity can lead people to be reticent and hold back, at the other end to be arrogant and intimidating.

The results of egoholic leadership are all around us and are blighting our lives and worse for many.  At the very least we are paying more tax to fund the excesses of egoholic bankers and to pay for the conflicts caused by egoholic politicians.

It is time to say good-bye to the egoholic.  Your drive and determination was valuable in it’s day, it lead us to a far deeper and greater sense of personal responsibility.

Ego and insecurity related to ideology and politics – hardly.
This poem written by Karl Marx

Then I will wander godlike and victorious
Through the ruins of the world
And, giving my words an active force,
I will feel equal to the creator

Ref: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/200911/ego-insecurity-and-the-destructive-narcissist

The bully’s ego is artifice. His arrogance is a hollow confidence. His condescension is a need to belittle. His rage is a need to control. This ego for him is a fragile thing, driven by fear and narcissism, not by power, nor by the power he wishes so desperately to possess. In fact, the bully is actually quite powerless, for he is only as powerful as the power we give him. He feeds on our fear, but his hunger is driven solely by his own.

The key for the bullied is to recognize that the bully’s bullying is not about us — it’s about him, and his weakness. It’s about his sense of being threatened, and his horror at being found out as an imposter or a poser. He is afraid — quite afraid – and all the time. With this recognition that it’s not about us, we can then stand firm, or even push back; thusly not get lost in the self-doubt and self-victimization that potentially perpetuates for us the abusive and socially sadomasochistic relationships in which we might find ourselves by accident, by choice or by default.

The bully is always the weakest kid on the playground. Push back, and watch with compassion as he collapses into a pale reflection of whom he pretends to be.

Related: ( Narcissistic Personality Disorder )  http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx36.htm

Written by frrl

March 25, 2010 at 4:59 am

The danger of outsourcing everything that is not your core competency

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This is a great story told by Clayton Christensen at a lecture entitled “Business Model Innovation”

Here is the get – “This is a very common phenomenon.  It is how the Indian IT companies are hollowing out the inside of their customers.  They started out just doing the bare bones simple code, and they just keep integrating more and more forward, taking more and more of the value-added until it is really not a, it is almost a, it is not clear whether the IT departments are outsourcing to TCS and Infosys or whether Infosys and TCS are outsourcing the brand from their customers”

Now there is another kind of disruption that occurs that is rooted in the gospel that we should always outsource everything that is not our core competence.  I’d like to just walk you through an interaction between a supplier and a customer that is typical of this interaction in many different industries.  So I am just going to describe this as an interaction between Compaq, a late, great computer manufacturer, and Flextronics, one of its suppliers.  But I’ll just use these as representatives of Dell and Asus Tech and a bunch of other interactions.

So Flextronics starts out making the simplest of the circuit boards inside of a Compaq computer, piddly little Singapore-based company.  They came to Compaq then with an interesting value proposition.  It was, “You know we’ve been doing a good job on the little boards, why don’t you let us do the mother board because circuit manufacturing isn’t your core competence, and if you give it to us we could fabricate those for 20% lower cost.”

Well Compaq’s analysts looked at it and realized, “Gosh, they could.  And if we gave the mother board to them, not only could we drop cost by 20%, but we could get all the circuit manufacturing assets off the balance sheet,” because it was very capital-intensive.

So they shoveled that over.  Compaq’s revenues were unaffected but their profits improved, it felt good to get out of the mother board.  Flextronics’ revenues improved and its profits improved.  It felt great to get into the mother board.

Then Flextronics came back.  “You know we’ve been doing the mother board for you, come to think of it, that is really the guts of the computer.  Why should you have to bother to assemble the rest of the stupid computer because assembly is not your core competence.  Let us do it.  We could do it for 20% lower cost.”

And Compaq’s analysts looked at it and realized, “Gosh they could.  And if we gave assembly to them, not only could we drop costs but we could get all the other manufacturing assets off of our balance sheet.”  So they shoveled that over.

Compaq’s revenues were unaffected but their profits improved.  It felt good to get out of assembly.  Flextronics’ revenues and profits improved, it felt good to get into assembly.

Then Flextronics came back.  “You know we’ve been assembling your computers for a while, doing a good job.  Come to think of it, you shouldn’t have to bother to manage the supply chain, dealing with the component suppliers, working out all these logistics headaches, shipping your dumb computers to your stupid customers.  And logistics isn’t your core competence.  Let us take on the supply chain.  We could reduce the cost by 20%.”

And Compaq’s analysts looked at it and realized, “Gosh, they could.  And if we gave the supply chain to them, not only could we drop costs even further, but we could get all the current assets off the balance sheet.”  And so they shoveled that over.

Compaq’s revenues were unaffected but their profits improved again, especially return on assets, because they’ve got no assets.  And Wall Street loves asset-like companies.  Flextronics’ revenues improved and their profits improved because they are getting into value-added services.  And Wall Street loves value-added services.  It felt good to get out of the supply chain and good to get into the supply chain.

Then Flextronics came back.  “You know we’ve been managing the supply chain for a while.  Come to think of it, you shouldn’t have to bother to design your dumb computers, because design really is little more than component selection and we’ve got all those relationships.  Why don’t you let us design your computers?  We could do it for 20% less cost.”

Compaq’s analysts looked at it and realized, “Gosh, they could.  And if we gave design to them, we could fire all of our engineers, drop our costs even lower because our core competence in the end really is our brand.”  So they shoveled that over.

Compaq’s revenues were unaffected but their profits improved.  Flextronics’ revenues and profits improved.

Then Flextronics came back one more time, but this time they did not go to Compaq, they went to Best Buy.  “You know here we are, one of the world’s best manufacturers and designers of the world’s best computers.  Come to think of it, you know those brands Hewlett-Packard and Compaq and Dell on your shelves, you don’t need to stock those brands.  We’ll give you our brand, your brand, any brand at 20% lower cost.”

And bingo, one company is here, another one takes its place.  And just like the mini mill story, you notice I was able to tell this story without using the words “stupid manager” once.  Because Compaq did everything that good managers are taught to do, focus on what they believe are their core competencies, outsource the lowest value added of the activities they are performing if there is somebody who could do it better.  And yet when this happens you create again that same asymmetry of motivation that one company is motivated to flee from the very market that the other company is motivated to attack, until ultimately the outsourcer liquidates its business model to its customers.

This is a very common phenomenon.  It is how the Indian IT companies are hollowing out the inside of their customers.  They started out just doing the bare bones simple code, and they just keep integrating more and more forward, taking more and more of the value-added until it is really not a, it is almost a, it is not clear whether the IT departments are outsourcing to TCS and Infosys or whether Infosys and TCS are outsourcing the brand from their customers

Written by frrl

March 24, 2010 at 5:00 am

The Game of Death – “We were just following orders”

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I read about this experiment a long time ago.  Basically, it shows that people can do all manner of torture to other human beings based on the wishes of an authority figure.  There is a French television show where this experiment was reproduced with basically the same result from the 1960’s.

In the TV show, they found that 80% of the subjects were willing to administer a fatal shock if told to do so … “Makers say 80 percent of those participating in the show were willing to give a potentially fatal electric shock, if show producers said they should…”

The writers of the article try to attribute this as the power of television… “They argue this demonstrates how TV shows can misuse their power and influence…” Well, not really.  The outcome of this experiment shows the influence of authority figures on typical people.  What happened on this French television show is just an instance of a general principle.

The Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,[1] and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.[2]

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question: “Was it that Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust had mutual intent, in at least with regard to the goals of the Holocaust?” In other words, “Was there a mutual sense of morality among those involved?” Milgram’s testing suggested that it could have been that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs.

Read more – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

Fast forward to 2010

In the ominously titled “Le jeu de la mort” (“The Game of Death”) participants were told to inflict pain on their competition if they answered trivia questions incorrectly.

This was done by flicking a switch to administer electric shocks of various levels up to a potentially fatal 460 volts. They would then watch the reaction of their rival (actually an actor) on a monitor.

The actor screamed in pain and begged for mercy with each wrong answer, until the contestants increased their “shocks” to a deathly level.

Makers say 80 percent of those participating in the show were willing to give a potentially fatal electric shock, if show producers said they should. They argue this demonstrates how TV shows can misuse their power and influence.

The stunt was based on the “Stanley Milgram Experiment” and will air tonight in France as part of a documentary on the manipulative power of television.

Keep reading to see footage. Remember, he’s an actor. But the contestants don’t know it.

http://www.asylum.com/2010/03/17/tv-game-of-death-france-game-show-torture/

Written by frrl

March 19, 2010 at 5:04 am

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.

Written by frrl

March 15, 2010 at 5:07 am

Parsing Corporate Cultures

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A group of management consultants undertook a 10-year study of more than 24,000 people in two dozen organizations and came up with a taxonomy of corporate cultures.  Here is a brief summary of what they discovered.

In their model, there are 5 types of “tribes” and these tribes (20-150 people) make up components of corporate cultures.  The different tribes are really stages in the evolution of an overall corporate culture.  The pitch is that the later stages of evolution make a company (ROI pitch) more competitive, productive, efficient and profitable than earlier stage cultural tribal states.  And, with enough management consulting fees, your company can get to later stages, perhaps Stage Five – or not.

In any case, its a good story.

Stage One – Theme – “Life Sucks”;
Mood – despairing Hostility (2% of workplace cultures)

These are groups of individuals that operate without social rules or values except loyalty to the group.  This is a group the consists of street gangs, motorcycle gangs,  and people who come to work with shot guns.  People at this stage are despairingly hostile and they band together to get ahead in a violent and unfair world. Organizations generally do not hire Stage One individuals.  Most anthropologists say that human society started at Stage One, clans scratching out an existence while fighting with each other.  Giving up is the only enlightened thing to do.  Generally, there are no professionals in this category.

Stage Two – Theme – “My Life Sucks”;
Mood – Apathetic Victim  ( 25% of workplace cultures)

Folks in this group generally use the phrase “my life sucks” and are passively antagonistic.  They never really get interested enough to spark any passion.  Their laughter is quietly sarcastic and resigned.  This is a cluster of apathetic victims.

There is little or no innovation and almost no sense of urgency.  people almost never hold each other accountable for anything.  Most companies have pockets of Stage Two divisions and departments that don’t have any impact on strategy or direction.

(Not) surprising(ly), the researches discovered that this stage was prevalent within an ( un-named) agency of the US Government.  When researchers showed up managers and employees stood in doorways looking out into the hallways holding coffee cups saying “I’d rather be fishing” and “I live for the weekends”

No amount of team building, motivational speeches, discussion of core values, or new strategic plans would make any difference with this group.

Stage Three – Theme – “I’m great and  you are not”;
Mood – Lone Warrior ( 49% of workplace cultures)

For this group knowledge is power and people hoard it.  People in this group have to win and winning is everything and its personal.  This is a collection of “lone warriors”.  In this group people are mostly interested in themselves.  “I am great”.  “A sage on stage”

These are the people with big egos.  For this group “success” is measured on an individual basis.  Values are “my values” not group values.  People talk mostly about themselves and focus on creating appearances to show that they are better than others.  People at this stage may appear to focus on team goals but their action shows that their concern are only personal.  People tend to form two-person relationships.  They rarely bring people together.

People stay (get stuck) at Stage Three due to the addictive  “hit”/enjoyment they get from besting others.

No amount of team building will turn this collection of self-described star players into a team.  Give it a new strategy and they will say they don’t need it.

Stage Four – Theme – “We’re great and they are not”
Mood – Tribal Pride ( 22% of workplace cultures)

The gulf between Stage Three “I am great” and Stage Four “We are great” is huge.  The theme of communication is “we” not “I”.  For people at this stage to take the team away a person suffers a sense of loss.  In the team people feel that they are fully themselves.  People in this tribe hold each other accountable and to shared values.  People at this stage will not tolerate bad behavior seen in the TV show The Office or the “I am great”  personal agendas of Stage Three.

The need for an adversary is built into the DNA of this tribal stage.  The bigger the foe the more powerful this tribe becomes.  The mood is one of tribal pride.  This tribe seeks its own competitor.  Football teams are examples of this type of tribe.

Companies that are run by people who all have the same background, temperament, personality, IQ, learning style are easy targets for competitors.  Disequilibrium is necessary to drive innovation and creativity.  This stage is the launching pad for Stage Five.

Stage Five  – Theme –  “Life is Great” (and we’re not doing drugs)
Mood – Innocent Wonderment ( 2% of workplace cultures)

Stage Five groups are wearing T-shirts that say “Life is Great” – and they haven’t been doing illicit substances.  Their  language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history – not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact.  This groups mood is “innocent wonderment” with people in competition with what is possible, not with another competitor.  The value system is based on “global” “resonant” values.  Examples of people are Stage Five produced the first Macintosh.  This stage is pure leadership, vision, and inspiration.

Each of the five stages has its own set of attributes for these components:

1. Values – What we stand for
2. Noble cause – What we live for
3. Outcomes -What we want
4. Assets – What we have
5. Behavior – What we will do

They put this all in a book – Tribal Leadership.

The book summarizes the five stages above, provides an in-depth description of each, then goes on to provide “leverage points” as to how one can facilitate the movement of groups of people along the stages along with success criteria.  If you are a HR person responsible for career development and/or talent management, an executive, manager, or just anyone who wants to better understand corporate culture, this study is worth taking a look-see.

You can read more about the research here – http://www.triballeadership.net/authors.php

Free Audio book

Zappos found itself to be a  Stage 4 Company.  Zappos is providing the Tribal Leadership Audio book for FREE.
You can get the MP3 of the book by registering at Zappos.com here – http://www.zappos.com/tribal.zhtml
Then download the complete audio book for free (285 MB) !!

We had the wonderful experience spending a day at Zappos.com, the world’s biggest online shoe store. They have truly perfected the art of culture. Not only are their core values well-known throughout the company, they actually have the means to track the values across departments.

In our estimation, Zappos is one of the few companies that have successfully entered Stage Four and are looking to stabilize it before being pulled into Stage Five.  This may seem easy at first glance for a company with happy employees and revenues that just broke $1 billion per year.  However, it’s inevitable that a company of 1600 people with departments whose goals are not always clearly in sync will run into growing pains.

If Zappos can create a culture of coaching and triads, around a noble cause that unites all departments, they will upgrade to a rock steady Stage Four, and as we demonstrated in the book, prime themselves for the world to call them into Stage Five.

Take a tour of Zappos.com – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5ZJE9zDpm0

Why Zappos pays people to quit – from Harvard Business

http://www.zappos.com/ ( but they don’t have the shoes I am looking for “Caterpillar Walking Machines”  – Check them out any way )

Written by frrl

March 6, 2010 at 2:59 am

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Are all great leaders Narcissists?

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By choosing the “nuclear option,” Obama is demonstrating do-or-die fanaticism. This makes for great TV football, but it’s very dangerous for the man in the biggest power seat in the world. We are seeing Obama the Radical taking over from Obama the Pragmatist — if that one ever really existed. From what we know about his fanatical associates like Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, sacrificing the Democratic Party majority in Congress would be only a small price to pay.

The question is what real damage Obama may do to the country. This man has been entrusted with the greatest power in the world. He will have that power for the next three years at least.

But he may not be able to emotionally tolerate any real limits on his need for self-aggrandizement and power. And still he can’t be allowed to beat the country into submission.

Check out this article on American Thinker by James Lewis regarding an assessment of Obama against characteristics of Malignant Narcissism.

A partial checklist of Malignant Narcissism from the article in American Thinker

  1. Common to malignant narcissism is narcissistic rage. Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury (when the narcissist feels degraded by another person, typically in the form of criticism).”
  2. When the narcissist’s grandiose sense of self-worth is perceived as being attacked by another person, the narcissist’s natural reaction is to rage and pull down the self-worth of others (to make the narcissist feel superior to others). It is an attempt by the narcissist to soothe their internal pain and hostility, while at the same time rebuilding their self worth.”
  3. Narcissistic rage also occurs when the narcissist perceives that he/she is being prevented from accomplishing their grandiose fantasies.”
  4. Because the narcissist derives pleasure from the fulfillment of their grandiose dreams (akin to an addiction), anyone standing between the narcissist and their (wish) fulfillment … may be subject to narcissistic rage. Narcissistic rage will frequently include yelling and berating of the person that has slighted the narcissist, but if strong enough could provoke more hostile feelings.”
  5. Individuals with malignant narcissism will display a two faced personality. Creation of a ‘false self’ is linked to the narcissist’s fear of being inadequate or inferior to others and this mask becomes ingrained into their personality so as to project a sense of superiority to others at all times.”
  6. The narcissist gains a sense of esteem from the feedback of other people as it is common for the malignant narcissist to suffer from extremely low levels of self-esteem.”
  7. The … false self of the malignant narcissist is created because the real self doesn’t meet his or her own expectations. Instead, the narcissist tends to mimic emotional displays of other people and creates a grandiose self to harbor their internalized fantasies of greatness.”
  8. The [false self] is used by the narcissist to present to the outside world what appears to be a normal, functioning human being and to help maintain his or her own fantasies of an idealized self. The narcissist constantly builds upon this false self, creating a fictional character that is used to show off to the world and to help them feed off the emotions of other people.”

There’s ongoing debate about “malignant narcissism” as a diagnosis, and some people prefer to use the standard DSM-IV version. It doesn’t make much difference in this case.

Here is Theodore Millon’s definition of the fanatic type:

fanatic type – including paranoid features. A severely narcissistically wounded individual, usually with major paranoid tendencies who holds onto an illusion of omnipotence. These people are fighting the reality of their insignificance and lost value and are trying to re-establish their self-esteem through grandiose fantasies and self-reinforcement. When unable to gain recognition of support from others, they take on the role of a heroic or worshipped person with a grandiose mission.

This is the definition from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition,

  1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  4. requires excessive admiration
  5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Written by frrl

March 5, 2010 at 5:15 am

Steve Jobs (Apple CEO): How to live before you die

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Death is the single best invention of life . . . Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. . . . Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose…”

http://www.ted.com/talks/steve_jobs_how_to_live_before_you_die.html

Written by frrl

January 25, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Why you should fire yourself – (before someone else does)

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It’s the start of a new year and a good time for a self-evaluation to avoid what could be called the “GM syndrome”.

Unfortunately, the GM situation reflects the reality that most managers become enamored with their own strategies and have trouble breaking free of their tried and true patterns. In other words, even when we intellectually understand that the world has changed and we need to do things differently, it’s difficult to let go. We become invested in what we’ve created and how we’ve learned to do things. And it’s not just managers at a troubled company like GM; it’s all of us.

Read the article – http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2009/12/why_you_should_fire_yourself.html

 Cached copy here

As an aside, back in 1985 former Intel CEO Andy Gove was in his office with Gordon Moore (Moore’s law) wondering how they would compete with the Japanese in the memory market.  Grove asked Moore “If we got kicked out of here and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?”.  Moore responded, “He would get out of memories.”  Grove said, “Why don’t you and I walk out of the door, come back and do it ourserlves?”

This was a strategic inflection point for Intel – exiting the memory market and getting into the micorprocessor business.  The story is told in Groves book: Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company

Written by frrl

January 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction

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“Clouds of blue-gray mist, laced with millions of minute metal particles hung in the air and brought to mind the movie about poisonous gas attacks in World War I… The factory floor was made of rectangular wood blocks, about the size of street bricks, saturated with filthy black oil that gave the plant an odor of sour rot as if the entire Industrial Revolution had died and was decaying right here in Sharonville… They were hard, resentful faces; unhappy miserable faces; dulled, stunned faces. Above all, hostile faces. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man glaring at me, and I could read his cursing lips.

Inside there were four dirty, dented gray metal desks. Ed herded me to the desk occupied by a man who looked like a fully clothed skeleton. His face was a mass of wrinkles, and his right eye was obviously false. A yellowish liquid like Elmer’s Glue, or the snot under a three-year-old’s nose seeped from the fake eye, which was tuned to the right even though his good eye was looking to the left.

The skeleton was aware that Ed and I were standing in front of his desk yet ignored us. Ed acted as if being ignored was normal etiquette at Ford Motor Company, and risked a long shot at the corner waste can. The tobacco juice fell short and ran down the side of the trash can over ageless stains of previous near misses.”

On the week of Christmas I took a trip to my local bookstore.  On the new books table I saw this book – A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction.

Since this was the week of Christmas I thought this would be an uplifting book for the holidays.  I grabbed the book and headed for the bookstore coffee shop. With a  Christmas Grande peppermint mocha in hand, and finding a nice overstuffed chair, I was ready to take a look-see at A Savage Factory.

Unlike a Dickens novel, there is no happy ending to this book.  A Savage Factory has numerous descriptions of the Ford factory that would match that  of a Victorian workhouse and stories of disdain for the working poor that Dickens so often attributes to some of his characters.

After about an hour of reading I decided that this book needed a much closer look than the time allotted by the grande mocha.

Many themes in this book

At the time of this writing, there are 33 reviews of this book at Amazon.com.  You can read those reviews for yourself here.

There are many themes running through this book.  The most prominent, of course, is the deplorable conditions at Ford’s largest transmission plant which was located in Sharonville Ohio.  The deplorable conditions are not only the physical working environment of the plant but also the relationships among management, hourly employees, and the UAW (United Auto Workers).  The relationship among these three entities could easily and accurately be described as an ongoing war.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

December 27, 2009 at 9:59 am

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