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A few days ago this blog of mine got published on the HBR Blog Network where it is attracting a good deal of comment. You can read it in situ as well as the comments here (as well as see the great mongrel pic HBR selected!)
Here is the blog:
Humans engage with their world in two reciprocal ways: firstly as passionate participants and secondly as detached observers. As managers we cycle between these modes constantly. It’s the mark of a great manager to be able to judge, in a complex situation, when and how to use each of them.
Detached observation requires a certain maturity. Consider that we are born into the world immersed in context. We are embodied organisms, fine-tuned by evolution to garner cues to action from our surroundings. We pay attention when we see a face and smile when we are smiled at. We learn to walk and talk without explicit instruction. From about the age of seven onward, however, we develop the capacity for perspective-taking. We learn to distance ourselves from the world and to swap our roles as involved participants for positions as distant observers.
A Spectrum of Disciplines
When we attend school and university we discover the spectrum of disciplines available to us to observe the complexity of the world and learn about it. On the “left” are the fine arts, whose methods are basically analogical. They simulate our experience of complexity using many different media: their role is integrative — to make meaning. On the “right” are the hard sciences, whose methods are analytical. Each of these right-hand fields develops its own style of abstraction to study different aspects of reality: their role is to dissect complexity and to explain. In the middle of this spectrum are the liberal arts and the mongrel discipline that we call “management”. As Peter Drucker often contended, management is neither an art nor a science, but a practice with aspects of each. Its role is both to explain and to make meaning.
Ever since Descartes, the detached, rational objectivity of the observer has been prized over all other forms of knowledge. Applied to the study of matter and things it has generated huge benefits for humankind. However, the Cartesian agenda was always an imperial one and, emboldened by its success on the right, it has marched ever leftward on the spectrum of the disciplines. In the social sciences, the program has been much less successful. In management, in particular, it is clear that people, unlike objects, react poorly if they sense they are being treated as items; their behavior becomes erratic and unpredictable. People want to be regarded as ends-in-themselves, not as instruments of another’s purpose.Change, General | Tagged change, discipline, ecological rationality, logic, management, means and ends, mongrel, participant, rationality, spectator | Leave a comment
I returned to Canada over the weekend from Lithuania via London, where I “perched” over night before taking the afternoon Air Canada flight from Heathrow to Toronto. The highlight of the past week was my trip to Kaunas, Lithuania to take part in the annual meeting of the Baltic Management Development Association. I sat in on all the sessions that I could and delivered the final keynote on Friday before attending the gala dinner.
Early on in the week, however, I had the great pleasure of having lunch with Will Hopper at the Garrick Club in London. Will is the Chairman of the Peter Drucker Society in the United Kingdom and I had met him in Vienna at the Drucker Forum in November last year. His recent book, The Puritan Gift, offers an excellent perspective on the American management heritage and where it has gone so badly wrong. The Garrick Club itself is a marvel, founded in 1831 with a long distinguished history and a collection of theatre memorabilia and writings that would grace any museum. We sat at the Members’ Table for lunch, where I found myself seated next to a retired judge and across from Marcus Lovett, the current Phantom in the London production of The Phantom of the Opera. We all had a stimulating conversation over an excellent meal.General | Tagged Baltic Management Development Association, BMDA, Drucker Society, Garrick Club, Lithuania, Michael O'Leary, Puritan Gift, Ryanair, Will Hopper | 1 Comment
It’s been a great middle week of my trip to the UK and Europe. I had an excellent reception for the ecological perspectives from The New Ecology of Leadership in all the places I visited. In Nottingham about 50 people turned out for an early Breakfast Briefing and I spoke for just over an hour before handling questions. Nottingham itself, like so many former industrial towns in England, has been through a bad time, losing many of the industries that had propelled earlier phases of the Industrial Revolution. The textile industry collapsed following WW II and survives only as a small but vibrant fashion design cluster. Today there are only a few large firms around, the best known of which is Boots, the pharmacy retailer. The event itself took place on the new Jubilee Campus of the University of Nottingham, which stands on the site of the former Raleigh Bicycle Factory, whose bikes with their Sturmey-Archer three-speed gear hubs, were objects of passion when I was a boy of eight growing up in South Africa! Much has changed since then…
The Thursday evening session also saw about 50 people come to the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce session organized by Square Peg International at Macdonald House in Grosvenor Square. Apparently the Canadian Government is planning to sell the building and move into Canada House in Trafalgar Square in the next year or so. Estimated proceeds are about £500 million. There were people from a wide range of institutions and enterprises and they seemed to enjoy the presentation. As was the case in Nottingham, the highlight was the ecological take on Margaret Thatcher’s time in office and how her monomaniacal focus on breaking the unions and mobilizing the Conservative Party prevented her from building a sense of community that could embrace all Britons. This was the challenge taken on quite successfully by Tony Blair, whose election Thatcher enabled by forcing the Labour Party to abandon its unilateral policy for the nationalization of industry and its unconditional support for the unions. Some observers suggested that the ecological perspective would be really helpful if applied to the European Union and the bureaucracy in Brussels, which is totally stuck in gridlock.Change, General | Tagged Canada House, Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce, change, community, context, ecocycle, ecological perspective, emotion and reason, Henry Goodman, Macdonald House, narrative, Nottingham, Old Vic, Raleigh Bicycle, Rattigan, Square Peg International, Sturmey-Archer, The New Ecology of Leadership, The Winslow Boy, theatre | Leave a comment
Last week was the first of three weeks “on the road” for me in the UK and Europe. I am doing a series of corporate education sessions, and book-related presentations at business schools and management associations. The past week was spent in London on an intense development program for corporate managers for a large global company. I ran a 1½ day “learning” session, based on my work, and sat in on 3½ days of sessions run by others.
There were about 130 managers in total, divided into three groups – about thirty senior managers, who I was working with, another forty middle managers and sixty more junior managers. It consisted of a variety of feedback instruments ranging from the level of the personality to 360-degree feedback on their leadership styles together with sessions on leading change, power and influence and decision-making. Fortunately the dimensions of these different tests could be mapped onto the ecocycle and the ecological perspective seemed to help as an excellent integrating framework for the participants. The biggest hit during my session was when I used Itay Talgam’s great TED video to illustrate the different forms of power and influence and mapped it onto the navigation tools in the ecocycle.Change, General | Tagged Berkeley Consulting Group, Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce, change, complex systems, Doug Ross, ecocycle, ecological perspective, hunter-gatherer, Ken Starkey, London, London Business School, reform business schools, Square Peg, University of Nottingham Business School | Leave a comment
The study of business history in North American business schools has been on the wane for some time now, crowded out by “more practical”, “hard” topics. History is seen as nice, rather than necessary. But if contexts matter in management, then history matters. In The New Ecology of Leadership I have a chapter on the topic and give three reasons why the study of history is essential for managers:
- To understand how effective strategies (methods of getting things done) usually arise from competencies (virtuous habits acquired over time from many different sources) and are mediated by technologies of various kinds. This is the essence of organizational learning.
- To discover and discipline potentially helpful analogies drawn between past events in other organizations and situations to current predicaments. This is the essence of what we mean by “learning from the experience of others.”
- To understand the dynamics of cause and effect in complex systems and to think about both individual and systemic risk. The need for managers to distinguish the quotidian from the urgent and the trivial from the important is a constant challenge. By alerting us to important signals, a study of history can help us pay better attention to what’s happening now.
I found an excellent illustration of these benefits when I reviewed recently Andreas Kluth’s fine book, Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us about Success and Failure. When I first wrote this review for Strategy+Business Mr. Kluth was US West Coast correspondent for The Economist; he is now their Berlin Bureau Chief and German Correspondent.Change, General, Leadership, Strategy | Tagged anagnorisis, Andreas Kluth, change, context, disaster, German General Staff, Hannibal and Me, history, means and ends, narrative, Rudyard Kipling, staff ride, strategy.competency, The Economist, triumph | Leave a comment
The death of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Prime Minister from 1979 to1990, and her impending funeral have aroused passions and divisions as fierce as those when she was alive. Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, recalled parliament from its Easter recess to allow members to pay tribute to her. It is standard practice for both the Commons and the Lords to eulogize former prime ministers on their demise, but very unusual for parliament to be recalled. Some members of the Opposition fiercely criticized the move as a Tory attempt to represent Thatcher as a national figure, when during her time she was a quintessential partisan one.
The partisan nature of her legacy was clear in the street parties that erupted on the news. Her foes sang, “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz to celebrate her passing. A Facebook campaign succeeded in raising the song to the top forty, confronting the BBC with the dilemma of whether to play the tune or not on Radio 1, which usually does a top 40 countdown on Sunday afternoons, playing each song in its entirety. They have opted to go with an abbreviated version of it in conjunction with a news bulletin to explain its rise on the charts. In Ireland a wall mural read “Iron Lady: Rust In Peace”.Change, General, Leadership, Strategy | Tagged Argentina, Arthur Scargill, Britain, change, community, Conservative, David Cameron, ecocycle, ecological perspective, Edward Heath, Falkland Islands, Gorbachev, Gordian knot, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson, Iron Lady, James Callaghan, Kahneman, Labour, Margaret Thatcher, narrative, negativity dominance, power, Reagan, Shakespeare, Soviet Union, The New Ecology of Leadership, Tony Blair, turnaround, Tversky | 1 Comment
Last week I wrote about the cheating scandal in the Atlanta schools and the charging of 35 teachers and administrators with racketeering. The incident has created a furor in Atlanta over the charges themselves and the amount of bail initially required – up to $7.5million in the case of Dr. Beverly L. Hall, the superintendent of the schools district at the time. Indeed, to a Canadian ear, the charges and the bail conditions did sound like the overkill found all too frequently in the American justice system. Around the country the charges added fuel to the controversy about the role of standardized testing in schools.
The debate between the proponents and opponents of standardized testing shows the same, depressing absolutist “either/or” quality found in the wrangling over other political issues in America. The debaters may seldom be quite right, but they are never in doubt. Opponents of standardized testing say that it is damaging equality and equity. Proponents of testing, on the other hand, say that no progress is possible without it. Thomas J. Kane, Director of the Center for Policy Research at Harvard University was quoted as saying that abandoning testing would “be equivalent to saying ‘O.K., because there are some players that cheated in Major League Baseball, we should stop keeping score, because that only encourages people to take steroids.’” That’s really helpful…Change, General, Leadership | Tagged Atlanta schools, change, cheating, complex systems, context, ecological perspective, Finnish schools, Laurence J. Peter, means and ends, Peter Principle, Rittel, standardized testing, sweet zone, Toyota Production System, Webber, wicked problems | Leave a comment
Charles Goodhart, chief economic adviser to the Bank of England for many years, is credited with formulating the law that “As soon as the government attempts to regulate any particular set of financial assets, these become unreliable as indicators of economic trends.” This has been shortened and generalized to “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
There was a striking illustration of this in last Saturday’s New York Times, which reported on the indictment for corruption of 35 Atlanta educators by a grand jury. The indictment reads like a mobster’s rap sheet: racketeering under the RICO statute, false statements, and theft. The charges stem from a period when the Atlanta schools made apparently extraordinary progress in their performance on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRTC), Georgia’s primary measure of academic ability through the eighth grade. Although statistically the improvements had seemed “too good to be true” and there had been rumours of cheating, no evidence could be found. School administrators attributed the results to “talented” teachers, hard work, strong teaching programs and the “absolutely no-excuses” attitude of Dr. Beverly L. Hall, the District Superintendent.Change, General, Leadership | Tagged academic ability, Atlanta educators, Beverly Hall, change, Charles Goodhart, cheating, complex systems, CRTC, education, faith-based initiative, George Bush, Georgia, means and ends, No Child Left Behind, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, schools, testing | 4 Comments
It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere, or at least the calendar says it ought to be. But it has been cold and grey with a gusty wind here in Southern Ontario as we wobble our way back to the sun. Snow is still crusty on the ground and the destructive debris of winter lies all about the garden. But the clocks have changed and the sun is starting to develop some real warmth. The prospect of longer days and the rebirth of nature is no less thrilling than it always has been.
Birth, life, death and renewal are the essence of compelling stories and compelling stories create resilience in human groups. Research on strong families that stay together in times of stress shows that children that have the deepest knowledge of their family histories have a stronger sense of control over their lives and a belief that their families function more effectively. It is the single best predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness
Psychologists have identified three kinds of unifying narratives. The first is the ascending narrative, the rags to riches, Horatio Alger story that so captivated American minds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second storyline is the opposite of the first; it’s a descending tale of how we once had it all and then we lost it. The archetypal version of this might by the story of our expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The third unifying narrative is the combination of the first two; it is the oscillating account of how we had it, lost it and then got it back again. When it comes to boys getting and losing girls, it’s a Hollywood’s favourite. The oscillating story has an ecological dynamic and, not surprisingly, it turns out to be healthiest story of the three when it comes to creating resilient families. Children with such stories have a strong sense of their identity, of their “intergenerational self”. This is their role in following the traditions and living up to the standards of those who have gone before them and passing something of value onto those who follow.Change, General | Tagged beginnings, cardinal, centre of gravity, change, Christian, crucifixion, destruction, Easter, ecological perspective, Egypt, festival, fractal, Garden of Eden, Good Friday, Haggadah, Hollywood, Horatio Alger, Jew, Passover, Pope, religion, scale, spring, strong families, The New Ecology of Leadership, unifying narrative | 1 Comment
The value of an ecological perspective is that it views organizations primarily as movements, rather than as structures and it can be used at many different levels of analysis. It can be applied, for example, to the life of a city.
Detroit is currently in the news because, after over 300 years in existence, it seems to be in a spiral of decline. A century ago Detroit was a vibrant automobile ecology with hundreds of automobile manufacturers and “penumbra” of thousands of machine shops, metal-bashers and other suppliers that comprise an automotive ecosystem. The industry is unmatched for the range of technologies and skills that it requires; Peter Drucker called it the “industry of industries”. The city grew six-fold between 1900 and 1930 and reached its maximum population of just under 2 million in 1950. Then it was America’s fifth largest city. In 2010 less than 720,000 people lived there and it was ranked #18.
Many reasons have been advanced for this deterioration. Obviously the changes in the automobile industry are a major component of the problem. The automotive industry in the city went through a lengthy consolidation phase that culminated in the Big Three oligopoly of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. In the early 1970s the first of the “oil shocks” marked the end of the era of cheap energy on which the automobile industry had been built. The Big Three came under ferocious attack from the Japanese who had perfected their ability to build small cars with low costs and high quality via their “lean” manufacturing process. As the industry moved away from Detroit, the city lost its affluent tax base. Early in the 21st Century both GM and Chrysler had to go through the renewing fires of bankruptcy before they could compete effectively.
Of course the ecological perspective could be applied to the auto industry as well as its component firms, but this blog is about the city and why it has faired so poorly. After all, Buffalo and Cleveland went through similar declines without quite such horrible results and Pittsburg seems to have been able to reinvent itself after its steel industry went away. What went wrong with Detroit?Change, General | Tagged automotive, Buffalo, Chrysler, cities, Cleveland, community, crisis, decline, destruction, Detroit, ecocycle, ecological perspective, ecosystem, Ford, General Motors, means and ends, Pete Saunders, Peter Drucker, Pittsburg, sweet zone | 2 Comments ← Older posts