Category: Work and the workplace

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.

 

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.

How to change the people’s behavior: make it fun!

This was the first of a series of experiments for a VW brand campaign.

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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source – https://www.wired.co.uk/article/great-resignation-quit-job

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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source – https://blog.irvingwb.com/blog/2021/09/why-do-we-work-so-dam-much.html

Ready to go back to the office?

 

 

When in doubt, draw a distinction

By far the most substantial piece of content I read recently is from Jay Rosen. He is a press critic who writes about the media and politics. He is a professor at the School of Journalism at New York University.

Here is how it starts:

And here are some of the distinctions he draws in this Twitter thread:

  • Public vs. audience
  • Journalism vs. the media
  • Truth-seeking vs. refuge-seeking
  • Political vs. politicized
  • Issues vs. troubles
  • Ritual vs. transmission
  • Expect vs. predict
  • Subscription vs. membership

He says that

For distinctions to work, the terms have to be sufficiently close that prying them apart clears space for thought. If I write, “bending is not the same as breaking,” well, who said it was? That one is going nowhere. But “naked is not the same as nude” is an idea with legs.

It’s not just semantics. Well, it is, but it’s more than that. It’s a show of clarity of ideas in your field of endeavor. In his case, it’s media and politics.

And it occurs in all fields.

Just last week, I bumped into a few more instances:

  1. My friend and colleague Ed Carvalho invited us to draw a distinction between intelligence and intellect;
  2. And then this one in the Harvard Business Review between habit and routine:

When we fail at forming new patterns of behavior, we often blame ourselves, rather than the bad advice we read from someone who doesn’t really understand what can and cannot be a habit.
A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, while a routine involves a series of behaviors frequently —and intentionally— repeated. A behavior has to be a regularly performed routine before it can become a habit at all.
The problem is that many of us try to skip the “routine” phase.

There are other distinctions that Rosen does not discuss in his thread, including

  • Lying vs. bullshitting
  • Experience vs. expertise
  • Exit, voice, and loyalty
  • Information overload vs. filter failure

Anyone who took part in one of my leadership development programs will have heard me discuss exit, voice, “loyalty”/conformity, and sabotage as a way to distinguish how different people react differently to finding themselves in conflict situations.

The take-aways from this piece?

  1. When in doubt, draw a distinction;
  2. Doing so is a way to manifest that you are a thinker – that you don’t take things at face value but you do reflect on them and come out with your own thoughts;
  3. Drawing distinctions is also a manifestation of where you put your attention, that is, what your field of endeavor really is.

And since a lot of readers of this newsletter are managers then it begs the question: are your distinctions mostly about the domain of expertise that preceded your becoming a manager or are they about management itself?


The content of this post is an edited version of an entry in my free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

A genius is the one most like himself: Thelonious Monk’s tips for musicians

list of tips, onboarding

I’m a jazz fan, always have been. And I’m a Monk fan.

Monk created this list when a musician joined his band for a multiple-week gig.

I encourage the managers I work with to have a readme document for themselves and to have a structured, personal way of welcoming new members to their team. It also goes a long way for that welcoming to include peers.

In any case, here’s Monk’s list. What does yours look like?

 

  • Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  • Pat your foot & sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  • Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!
  • Make the drummer sound good.
  • Discrimination is important.
  • You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  • All reet!
  • Always know… (monk [backwards])
  • It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  • Let’s lift the band stand!!
  • I want to avoid the hecklers.
  • Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  • The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  • Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined.
  • What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.
  • Always leave them wanting more.
  • A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  • Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, & when it comes, he’s out of shape & can’t make it.
  • When you’re swinging, swing some more!
  • (What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!
  • Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.
  • These pieces were written so as to have something to play, & to get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  • You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (to a drummer who didn’t want to solo).
  • Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  • They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it.

Source: Open culture

 

 

Here’s why you are skeptical about empowerment

The principle: Humans crave independence and control so giving it to them at work should be a good thing.

The caveat: As people feel increasingly autonomous, they can also become unmoored from others’ needs, expectations and social norms.

Research results: Managers who value being respected will respond to empowerment initiatives by, in turn, empowering their workers. But, managers who value being in charge will respond to empowerment initiatives by closely controlling and dominating their employees.

In other words, empowerment can lead to more autonomous employees, but micromanagers will micromanage.

— from a journal article by Nicholas Hays and Russell E. Johnson of Michigan State University, and Hun Whee Lee from Ohio State University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paid vacation days per year per country