The corporation: it’s something more than the people in it

John Naughton is surprised at journalists and commentators being horrified at corporations doing despicable things.

Don’t they understand that a corporations is essentially a superintelligent AI which is entirely focussed on achieving its purpose — which in the case of corporations these days is to maximise shareholder value? That’s why Facebook could be entirely run by clones of Mahatma Gandhi and St Francis of Assisi and would still be a toxic company.

I have been taking an unscientific survey among friends, acquaintances, and clients about the type of manager they have had throughout their careers. No list of types or categories. I just ask. Bob Sutton would not be surprised to learn that most of the answers can be clustered around the concept of asshole.

But Naughton’s idea here is different. He is talking about the corporation as a whole. He calls on John Steinbeck to illustrate his pont:

a passage from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrathin which tenant farmers are objecting to foreclosure:

“Sure, cried the tenant men, but it’s our land… We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours…. That’s what makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.”

“We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.”

“Yes, but the bank is only made of men.”

“No, you’re wrong there — quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

The corporation is something more than the human persons in it. It’s a monster. They made it but they can’t control it.

 

My October newsletter is out!

Again this month it’s a combination of research and practical insights, some timely and some timeless:

– A Microsoft study on the impact of remote work on collaboration among its information workers,
– The best worker not always being the best candidate for manager,
– The real challenge about organizing data,
– Yo should up your hiring game,
– The weakest link in the collective intelligence of a team,
– The full dimension of a meeting’s “check-in”,
– It’s time to re-onboard everyone,
… and more!

Happy reading and feel free to share these management and leadership insights with your friends and colleagues.

Also, if you want to receive your own copy by email, subscribe!

You learn more and faster by writing things down

Study: participants had to learn to identify the letters of a language they did not know. The learning was prompted in one of three ways: writing by hand, typing, or watching videos.

“At the end, after as many as six sessions, everyone could recognize the letters and made few mistakes when tested. But the writing group reached this level of proficiency faster than the other groups—a few of them in just two sessions.”

Researchers also wanted to know if and when the three groups could generalize this new knowledge: spell like a pro, write words, spell new words, etc.

“The writing group was better—decisively—in all of those things.

“The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure. And they required less time to get there.”

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Report – https://hub.jhu.edu/2021/07/07/handwriting-more-effectively-teaches-reading-skills-brenda-rapp/

Paper – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797621993111

100 recommendations for making meetings more beautiful

Members of the House of Beautiful Business community shared ideas on how to improve meetings. Before you join your next meeting, have a read-through of what they came up with. See what the repetition is saying (or not saying).

Even better: before you schedule your next, ask yourself: does this really require a meeting?

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter.

Can we manage without managers?

In response to an article in The Economist about the need for middle managers, Michele Zanini writes:

Just because the ladder has fewer rungs doesn’t mean leadership opportunities are scarce-quite the opposite. By giving people the ability to gain influence (and compensation) based on accomplishment as opposed to advancement, an organization ends up with more, not fewer leaders. And these leaders don’t have to devote their talents and energy to politicking or sabotaging each other in zero-sum promotion battles.

The accomplishment-advancement distinction is worth exploring, but I don’t share Michele’s conclusion: the organization will likely end up with more spirit of initiative, not necessarily more “leaders”.

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter.

It’s time to rewild your attention

When you read what everyone else is reading, you’re likely to think what everyone else is thinking. And you might only be reading what the algorithms are putting before you. It’s time to rewild your attention.

Big-tech recommendation systems (…) pose a (…) challenge for our imaginative lives: Their remarkably dull conception of what’s “interesting”. It’s like intellectual monocropping. You open your algorithmic feed and see rows and rows of neatly planted corn, and nothing else. (Clive Thompson)

Here’s a simple idea: go to a bookstore or a library, look for a book, and let serendipity (the books around the book you’re looking for) provide surprises and discoveries.

Creativity is not about “being creative”. It’s work. And it doesn’t have to be hard work.

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter.

It’s not always rude to talk over each other

It’s called Cooperative overlapping.

It seems self-evident. Starting to speak before another has finished violates their right to the floor. In formal contexts such as political debates, it breaches the rules. In casual conversation, it is simply rude.

But it’s not so simple. As a linguist who studies the mechanics of conversation, I’ve observed and documented that beginning to talk while another is talking can be a way of showing enthusiastic engagement with what the speaker is saying. Far from silencing them, it can be encouragement to keep going.

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter.

Your own privacy policy

Food for thought about privacy policies from Doc Searls:

There is no reason why websites and services can’t agree to your privacy policy, and your terms of engagement. In legal terms, you should be able to operate as the first party, and to proffer your own terms, to which sites and services can agree (or, as privacy laws now say, consent) as second parties. That this is barely thinkable is a legacy of a time that has sadly not yet left us: one in which only companies can enjoy that kind of scale. Yet it would clearly be a convenience to have privacy as normalized in the online world as it is in the offline one.

Doc is Founder and director of ProjectVRM at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and Co-founder and board member of Customer Commons,

He is a blogger and he is a co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto.

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter

Doing novel things and doing old things… is not enough

Cliff Hazell:

Building a successful organization is a mix of doing new/novel things, old things, and very old things. I think we usually spend too much time talking about the new and novel as if it’s a silver bullet. Doing the old and very old things consistently and well is overlooked.

I would add an additional distinction: there’s the new/novel and there’s the timeless. There is also the timely: doing things at the right time.

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter.

Are you an Asker or a Guesser?

From The Atlantic:

In some [groups], you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

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Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter