Resilience is also about building capability

Greg Case:

Resilience is typically defined as a defensive capability that’s needed to “protect the house.” At Aon, we consider resilience a company-building capability, which is a fundamentally different orientation. We define resilience as the ability to take actions at scale that simultaneously defend the house and build the house, and we’ve seen many opportunities to do both during volatile times.

The most compelling and durable source of resilience is organizational. About 15 years ago, we recognized that our clients’ needs were outpacing our ability to innovate, so we took targeted actions to improve. This included making structural changes to operate as a truly global firm, which we call Aon United.

Our organizational ability to deliver the best of Aon to our clients globally through this strategy has proven critical to our success. It’s helpful in times of crisis, but, as we’ve learned from our clients, it also enables us to see opportunity where others may see only volatility and risk.

Greg Case, is CEO of Aon, a global professional-services firm.

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.


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?

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”.

Highlighting content from my September 2021 newsletter.

Around the world, workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers

“Lockdown provided an opportunity to reflect – and help me realise what I want from work. I want a job that suits my life and means I’m not tied to a desk all day, every day. And if I don’t feel happy, I can just quit. There are more than enough jobs out there.”

“Workers are drafting up resignation emails, handing in their notices and heading for the exit door in their droves. The trend is worldwide.
In the UK, job vacancies soared to an all-time high in July, with available posts surpassing one million for the first time.
In the US, four million people quit their jobs in April – a 20-year high – followed by a record ten million jobs being available by the end of June.
A Microsoft study has found that 41 per cent of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year.”

They call it the Great Resignation.

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The answer is: we generated more needs

(in Jeopardy fashion) Why do we work so damn much?

Keynes predicted that, assuming no catastrophic events, the standard of living in advanced economies would be so much higher in 100 years that “for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure.” Most people would then be working a 15-hour week, which would satisfy their need to work in order to feel useful and contended.

As we approach 2030, how did Keynes do? Keynes’ predictions about capital growth, technology advancement and productivity were clearly wrong. “He massively underestimated the speed of advances in those areas,” said Suzman. We passed the thresholds of capital growth and productivity that he said would be necessary to usher a 15-hour week economic utopia in the 1980s. “Yet, here we are. And we’re working pretty much as long hours as people did in the 1930s when Keynes wrote the essay in the first place.”

Why is that? According to Suzman work is no longer driven by what we need. Instead, it’s driven by what we want and how society regulates or encourages these wants. We’ve long been able to satisfy our needs and wants with a 15-hour workweek. “But as we’ve gotten richer and built more technology, we’ve developed a machine not for ending our wants, not for fulfilling them, but for generating new ones, new needs, new desires, new forms of status competition.”

From a podcast with anthropologist James Suzman.

Suzman has devoted almost thirty years to studying and writing about the Ju’hoansi and other bushmen from the Kalahari Basin, who are among the world’s few remaining hunter-gatherer societies. He recently published Work: A Deep History from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, a book about his research.

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We witnessed the lynching of a black man

Note: For some reason (probably human error, that is, me) this entry did not post at the determined time, which was weeks ago now. I’m not saying anything new, but I am speaking my mind. I’m sure I will come back to this in later posts.

We witnessed the lynching of a black man. We all did.

And we were reminded of other similarly barbaric and despicable acts taking place in the recent past. Enough instances to lead one to conclude that this also is a pandemic.

I share Elie Wiesel‘s observation that

Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

Indeed, “we must take sides.” (Night).

Personally, taking sides consists not only in not being racist but, rather, in being anti-racist. Reading and reflecting on this hand-out from the Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing by Anneliese A. Singh, PhD, LPC is a good place to start.

For corporations, statements are a modest start but clearly not enough.